Fulham defender Aaron Hughes today held up Fulham’s fighting draw at Eastlands as proof of the progress the team are making under boss Mark Hughes.
Last November, the defender was in the side crushed 4-1 by Manchester City at Craven Cottage.
That game came in the middle of a month when Fulham failed to win any of their five Premier League fixtures, causing questions to be asked about the manager’s ability to repeat the success enjoyed by predecessor Roy Hodgson.
Yesterday, only winger Simon Davies was missing from the starting line-up for that first game against boss Hughes’s former club. Yet the performance was so much better that Fulham were unfortunate not to have come away with all three points.
What was especially impressive was the manner in which they recovered from Mario Balotelli’s opener for City to equalise three minutes into the second half, when Damien Duff turned in Andy’s Johnson’s whipping cross.
Balotelli’s 26th-minute goal, a long-range snap shot, was totally against the run of play but Fulham were not fazed.
Centre-half Hughes said: “What’s important is your reaction afterwards. You have to get on with it, not panic or suddenly try to change your style of play.
“We got the early goal in the second half, which gave us something to build on and try to add to, although at the same time staying wary that they did pose a big threat, especially with the lads they had up front. It was a case of keeping the balance right and I thought overall we did that well.
“It’s something the manager has been getting us to do more over the course of his time here. It has been a development of the team and it’s slowly but surely come together, which is why we’ve been getting some good results over the past couple of months.
“This game was another good example of what happens when we do the things the manager is asking us to do. If you stay on the front foot, then you do get positive results.”
Manager Hughes agreed that the draw, which lifts Fulham to 13th in the table, is a fair reflection of how his players have responded to his methods since that setback three months ago.
“You saw a different type of performance,” he said. “In that first game City were excellent and we didn’t have any answers. But in the return we restricted very good players to very few opportunities. That’s a reflection of the work we’ve done and the commitment the players have shown me.”
No Fulham player exemplified that commitment more than Duff, who showed an energy and fighting spirit that was distinctly lacking among a flat City side.
Hughes said of his team-mate: “Duffer works hard in every game, he gives everything, so when he gets a goal it’s a nice reward for him.”
With Dickson Etuhu returning from injury to replace Steve Sidwell, out for at least another fortnight with knee ligament damage, there was not one weak link in Fulham’s side. Deserving of special mention, however, was goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, who made stupendous saves from Carlos Tevez and Aleksandar Kolarov.
Those stops ensured Hughes had a satisfying return to City, even if he did lose his cool at the end. The Welshman wheeled away in a display of theatrical indignation after Mancini failed to look him in the eye as they shook hands at the final whistle.
Hughes had a touchline spat with Stoke’s Tony Pulis earlier this season and admits he went overboard this time. He said: “I apologise, it’s probably my fault again. I’m a little bit old-fashioned, I always think if you offer your hand then it should be accepted, regardless of the circumstances.”