Sunday was abysmal, there’s no hiding it. To lose 3-1 to the worst side in the league at home with one of the greatest ‘snatching defeat from the jaws of victory’ performances I’ve seen was demoralising and embarassing and it just goes to show then how long two days is in football. The opinion on Hughes has swivelled from almost unanimous calls of ‘HUGHES OUT’ to ‘Well he’s alright really’.
No bones about it, the win at Stoke was massive, not just for Hughes but for our season. When we were threatened to being cut off at the bottom of the table we pulled a gritty, determined performance out of the bag. After two great goals from Chris Baird (saying that will never ever get old) we went through to half time fairly comfortably. AJ went close to scoring and Murphy cleared off the line but other than that the other 35 minutes weren’t particuarly eventful. The second half however called for big performances from the players with Stoke pumping their typical long balls into our box for almost all of it, and thankfully they delivered. Hangeland, Hughes and Schwarzer deserve to come out of the game with alot of credit. They coped admirably with the aerial bombardment at the heart of our defence and set the tone for our performance.
As I said this result meant alot to Hughes. We are still in the relegation zone but only 3 points seperate us in 18th and Everton in 11th, and from there it’s only another 3 until Blackpool in 8th. The season then is no where near set in stone and if we get a good run of results going we could be pushing for a top ten place. Our problem since Zamora got injured is basically a complete lack of end product in the final third; build up play is nice to watch and our defence is pretty good (no one’s conceded fewer goals away from home) but as soon as we get in and around the penalty area we fall apart, demonstrated in painful fashion against West Ham after controlling the vast majority of that first half. Bairdinho sorted that out for us on Tuesday but we can’t rely on 20 yard screamers every game so it was good to see Hughes in post-match interviews confirm he’s in for a striker or two in January.
The fist pumping by Hughes to the away fans was good to see, it shows that after calls that he isn’t that bothered or motivated to succeed he does very much care about what he does here and hat action alone also seems to have increased his affinity with the fans a fair bit going off the post match reactions on the messageboards. He still seems a bit of an awkward fit here but hopefully at Spurs and West Brom we’ll hear more ‘Marky Hughes Blawhiarmayy’ from the stands. Also interesting to watch was how the players acted. Also in the face of calls that Hughes no longer has the players support we saw a side work exceptionally hard and make a point of all grouping together after the goals. I didn’t think he lost the players and the Stoke game showed it, the players really did look pumped up for it and they went mental after scoring the goals. It was a shame about Pulis not shaking Hughes’ hand, it was a bit childish really, but Hughes dealt with it well in the interviews after the game.
So next up is Spurs away. It would be unfair to expect a win at one of the best teams in the country but I’m feeling optimistic that if we put in a good performance we could nick something after finally banishing that away hoodoo for another season at least. After that we have West Brom and Peterborough at home in League and Cup respectively, so by the time we’re into the second week of January we could be looking at a couple of home wins. I’d expect to win those two and it would give Hughes a bit of breathing room if we do. It’s always nice to go far in cups and it’ll be a good confidence booster to get a comfortable home win after a poor one of results at Craven Cottage. I hope we get a good crowd in though, Peterborough have already sold three and a half thousand tickets!
More important for Hughes and us though is that the transer market is reopened in 2 days. I’m genuinely really looking forward to Hughes will do here. His record at Blackburn with regards to player buys is very very impressive and some of the names we’ve been linked with are exciting, and although we need to take most rumours with a truckload of salt there are some solid articles that we can believe, such as the quotes from the Romanian press of Lacina Traore joining, Bentley coming on loan and the potential transfer of Ochoa (although that’s no longer happening, it’s good to see we’re being linked with some of the worlds best young talent, something we haven’t seen for a while). It also shows the support Hughes has from up above, and if he’s being given a few quid to spend to build a team then it’s likely that he will be around until the end of the season and probably for a few more after that. I think that with this Stoke result Hughes has turned a corner, and with the January additions I am confident that we’re going to have a good second half of the season.