Man City 0 Nottingham Forest 3
The future of Manchester City boss Mark Hughes is once again under the microscope after his side suffered FA Cup humiliation at the hands of Championship strugglers Nottingham Forest.
City’s Abu Dhabi-based backers have resolutely stuck by their manager throughout this season’s struggles but their faith will be tested as never before after Hughes’ side capitulated against a once-mighty Forest, whose own dismal form this term means Billy Davies will take over as boss on Monday.
Davies will do so on the back of a fully-deserved success, masterminded by temporary boss John Pemberton in which Nathan Tyson and Robert Earnshaw established a clear first-half lead before Joe Garner finished City off.
Garner’s goal was the cue for City supporters to stream out of the stadium, hurling abuse at Hughes as they went.
The Welshman still has a number of January transfer targets he is confident will improve his team markedly. The question now is will he be given the chance.
Less than a week ago, Hughes was hailing his side’s battling qualities at Blackburn, believing a corner had been turned in the battle to turn the Blues into a top-flight force.
Unfortunately for Hughes, it was nothing more than another dead end.
In parading £10million England defender Wayne Bridge immediately before kick-off, City were supposed to be ushering in a new dawn.
Instead, as whistles echoed around him at half-time, Bridge must wonder what he has let himself in for.
Forest might have been ahead before the breakthrough eventually came but headers from Lewis McGurk, Matt Thornhill and Ian Breckin all flew narrowly wide.
In fairness, after a sluggish start, City had their chances as well with Paul Smith making a couple of superb saves to deny Felipe Caicedo and Daniel Sturridge, paired together in attack as Robinho was rested.
The hosts’ cause was not helped by the loss of Shaun Wright-Phillips to a hamstring injury after just 18 minutes.
While there was no flow to disrupt as such, it robbed Hughes’ side of their major attacking threat – a mantle Elano never looked like inheriting.
Still, with the clock ticking down towards half-time there was little sign of the drama to come as a long ball was lofted into the City box.
Micah Richards got his head to it but only saw the ball drop perfectly for Tyson, who let fly with a dipping first-time volley that gave Joe Hart no chance as it whistled into the City net.
The hosts were still clearing their heads when Forest doubled their lead.
In a season dogged by inconsistency, Pablo Zabaleta has been one of the Blues’ more effective performers.
But the Argentina star was robbed far too easily by Chris Cohen close to the touchline, setting the Forest man haring into the box where he found Thornhill with a precise cross.
The midfielder’s shot was hopelessly off target. But that was just fine for Earnshaw, who coolly steered it into the corner.
Not for the first time this season, Hughes was left to raise the flagging morale of players capable of far better than they had delivered.
The chants of ’sacked in the morning’ from the massive visiting contingent reflected a view amongst the Forest faithful that he was not up to the job.
And the truth was City were no better.
Caicedo twice forced Smith into fine saves, without which a recovery may have been on the cards.
But without Wright-Phillips, there was no spark from the hosts.
Sturridge tried manfully to prompt a comeback, as he did at Ewood Park.
But a teenager cannot be expected to carry such a heavy burden and he rushed his best opportunity – a lofted shot as Smith advanced, and dropped it onto the roof of the net.
Jo has failed to impress anyone since his £18million arrival from CSKA Moscow in the summer but he would probably have pulled a goal back if Wes Morgan had not made a brave block 20 minutes from the end.
But Morgan did his stuff and, not long afterwards, substitute Dietmar Hamann failed to spot Garner lurking with intent as he tried to find Richard Dunne with a throw-in and the young midfielder gleefully drove home.