Monday, 21 September 2009

What Hughes should really learn from United defeat

Sir Alex Ferguson's gloatfest after Manchester United's last-gasp win over City is a test of Mark Hughes' young blood. Hughes needs to muster all of his comparative inexperience to deflect Fergie's taunts and take the 4-3 defeat on the chin.
Sir Alex disregarded City as "noisy neighbours" counting United's Liverpool games as the real local derby against a domestic City squabble. His words, just one more swipe in a week sprinkled with barbs slung from both sides of Manchester in the preamble to a 96-minute Old Trafford classic. And when Michael Owen won this derby the old streetfighter gave the game away.

As Owen's goal hit the back of the net and Hughes attempted to decipher the logic of a winner being scored six minutes into four minutes of stoppage time, Fergie was almost lost in ecstasy.

He charged around the touchline, jigging with players and staff - while also considerately sparing a thought for the stricken City fans with an emphatic and defiant double-clenched fist salute in their direction.

Despite apparently playing down the signficance of the fixture, this meant a lot to Fergie. He wanted victory so badly to remind City where the power lies in Manchester and when he got it was happy to show his delight to the world.

Hughes kept his composure in the aftermath of a contentious conclusion but issued an ominous warning to all, especially Ferguson, when he said: "We're not going away any time soon. We are around for a long time. I can assure everyone of that. We have got the means, resources and will to be better in the future and that is what we are going to do." If only Kevin Keegan had taken a chill pill that night, Newcastle fans would be looking back at a Premier League winning season today.

Hughes' main bone of contention was how fourth official Alan Wiley's board went up for four minutes of stoppages and United struck well into the sixth. The explanation was the length of time City spent celebrating their third equaliser, plus a substitution - but it was not one that satisfied Hughes.

The timings have since proved to be borderline but remember four minutes was a "minimum" and it should not be ignored that the time was added on for City as well as United. Their respective priorities in those extra minutes, however, were different.

But for all of Sparky's contentions over timekeeping, the simple truth is that United fully deserved to win, despite a City performance that suggests they'll be a danger to the best this season. City needed to defend to the death, but two pieces of brilliance from Ryan Giggs and Michael Owen opened City up in a second. United's slick football did the talking.

So Hughes must put this defeat into perspective. To use it as a flag in the sand by which he can measure future progress - and to remember the sharp pain of this kind of defeat so it doesn't happen so much in the future.

(with thanks to Phil McNulty of the BBC)

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