Baggies pile the Blues on Hughes

MARK HUGHES was recently told to go and get Messi by Manchester City’s Arab owners, but maybe something was lost in translation.

At the moment, the only thing messy about City’s situation is their position in the relegation zone and the doubts are now escalating as to whether Hughes can survive the sandstorm that is whipping around him.

Sheikh Mansour and his Abu Dhabi United group bought City in September with bold promises and ostentatious demonstrations of their money-no-object plans — to such an extent that they are willing to pay Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi in excess of £150,000-a-week.

Whether Hughes will be around to attempt to spend such lavish amounts of money next month as manager of the world’s richest club has to be in serious question.

Hughes, the manager Sheikh Mansour inherited, is up to his neck in trouble as a result of this latest embarrassment and the Abu Dhabi group must be wondering whether the former Blackburn Rovers manager is the right person to entrust with the keys to the bulging safe.

Hughes insists he has been given assurances that he will be in a job next month but he was still baited by his own fans with chants of “you’re getting sacked in the morning” during their pathetic capitulation here.

Asked if he will receive the considerable financial backing of the club’s owners when the January transfer window opens, he was defiant. “It is my intention to spend the money,” he said. “Time is something that we all need, myself included.

“There has been speculation about my future in the job since the new owners took over, so I am used to it. I’ve had assurances from Sheikh Mansour and the chairman Khaldoon (Al Mubarak). They have been very, very positive.

“They understand where we are in our development. They are pragmatic people. They know things don’t happen overnight. Although some people expect it to.

“At this moment in time we are hurting because of the situation we are in in the league. We never envisaged being in this position, but there is a big project here and we cannot change the culture and mindset overnight.”

One person who may not be part of Hughes’ New Year plans is Brazilian midfielder Elano, who was left out of the travelling party

“He is not injured — we thought it was best he stayed at home,” Hughes added. “His performance level is not what it should be at the moment and we thought it was a good chance to give some of the younger players a taste of being around the first team.”

Roman Bednar’s fifth goal of the season, in the second minute of stoppage time, was the final straw for City supporters who coughed up £40 for the dubious privilege of witnessing their abject side, now without a win in six games and with fewer points at the same stage of the season than when they were relegated under Joe Royle in 2001.

City are now just one victory ahead of Albion, who up until this point had managed a paltry two points from their previous 10 games.

Even with their huge vaults of cash, persuading world superstars to join a relegation scrap is likely to prove difficult. No wonder Hughes was kicking water bottles in frenzied frustration at the final whistle.

In 2005, Albion famously became the first ever club bottom of the Premier League at Christmas to survive the drop under their former manager Bryan Robson and Luke Moore’s first goal in 14 months certainly helped breathe fresh life into their campaign.

Albion still had to endure the fortunate equaliser of Equadorian substitute Felipe Caicedo, via a back heel, which was deflected off Brunt’s leg, into the net, via the fingertips of Scot Carson. But they have a depth of spirit City clearly lack.

“We have never felt out of our depth and hopefully we can grow in the second half of the season,” said Baggies manager Tony Mowbray.

“The celebration at the end was for the fans and it is important that we stick together,” he added.

If only City’s central defensive pairing of Micah Richards and Richard Dunne had done likewise as Gianni Zuiverloon’s 45-yard angled cross found acres of space between them for Bednar to head past Joe Hart.

For the second time in successive Premier League games, Hughes and Co were undone by a dreadfully late goal, but they can have few complaints with defending of such a juvenile nature.

REFEREE: Chris Foy (Merseyside) 7: Would have made things much easier for Albion if he had not penalised Bednar unnecessarily moments before Craig Beattie scored.

MATCH RATING: **** The have-nots brought the ludicrously rich to their knees. It was wonderful stuff and thoroughly deserved, too.

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