Boss Hughes eyes seventh spot for struggling Manchester City

05 March 2009 05:11
Mark Hughes has set Manchester City

the minimum target of a seventh-placed finish and a spot in next season's new Europa League from their inconsistent campaign.

As has been the case so often, City followed up a poor result at West Ham on Sunday with a positive one, the 2-0 win over Champions League-chasing Aston Villa providing further proof of their undoubted ability.

The difficulty has been producing it on a game-by-game basis, particularly on their travels.

Cool customer: Elano cooly scores from the penalty spot against Aston Villa

However, having clambered back into the top eight, Hughes is now demanding his team go at least one step further, knowing seventh is likely to be enough to claim a place in Europe.

'Seventh has to be realistic for us and we will work to that end,' he said. 'We have targets. We are still in the UEFA Cup and we have high hopes of progressing further.

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'But our bread and butter is the Premier League and I would like to think we can achieve something in it this season.'

As City have a winnable tie against Aalborg in the last 16 of this season's UEFA Cup, Hughes' first full year at Eastlands could yet end with him ending the club's 33-year trophy drought.

Hopeful: Mark Hughes is targetting a positive end to the season

That would represent a superb return on the first year of Sheikh Mansour's investment in the club.

However, even without the additional silverware, if a further year of European action could be achieved, Hughes would regard it as a season of success given the massive turnaround in playing staff and the various off-field complications he has had to deal with.

'It has been difficult as everybody knows,' he said. 'On occasion a lot of focus has been put on us and sometimes we have been playing under more pressure than some of the players have been able to deal with.

'We are getting used to that now. We are growing as a team and a club.'

The irony of last night's win was that it was achieved without Robinho or Craig Bellamy, signed for a combined cost of about £45million.

Instead, Felipe Caicedo's extra strength provided Shaun Wright-Phillips, Stephen Ireland and Elano with the room to exhibit their more delicate footwork, which Hughes admitted, in the first-half at least, Villa had no answer to.

'Their movement and understanding of where space was and their rotation of positions caused Villa a real problem,' said Hughes.

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'They did not work it out and as a consequence we were able to exploit the confusion that was created. It was a really good performance.'

At times such as these, it is easy to feel Hughes' groundwork is starting to bear fruit.

Yet questions remain unanswered, such as why Elano - and Robinho for that matter - are capable of performing so well at home, then fade into obscurity when City leave their Eastlands base.

Similarly, without Micah Richards, the Blues were durable and dogged at the back, repelling Villa with a degree of comfort once Martin O'Neill's men got their act together.

Hughes would argue continuity of selection is a key factor. But that would not explain why Richard Dunne has suddenly rediscovered the form that has made him City's player of the year four seasons on the trot.

It will take more than a single win over Villa, or indeed a place in the last 16 of the UEFA Cup, to silence the cynics.

However, for the first time in quite a while, there appears some substance behind Hughes' words as he delivers an end-of-season rallying cry.

'We are looking to finish strongly,' he said. 'It was disappointing to lose at West Ham last weekend because if you look at the results we could be in seventh place.

'But I do feel our performances away from home will improve from now until the end of the season.

'We have difficult matches to come at Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United but they are the ones that enable us to raise our game.'

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Source: Daily_Mail