Football

Manchester City Vs Sunderland, Sat 19 Dec 2009

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Mark Hughes can understand why Sir Alex Ferguson never identified him as a potential manager.

When Ferguson looked around his Manchester United dressing room in 1994, there were some who stood out as management material.

Bryan Robson, Paul Ince and Roy Keane for a start, then there was Steve Bruce, whose Sunderland side Manchester City face at Eastlands on Saturday looking to get their season back on track.

Hughes, a quiet and reserved figure in a team full of loud voices, never seemed suited to the manager's hot-seat, but has gone on to prove his old mentor wrong over the past decade.

"It is 15 years ago," Hughes said of Ferguson's verdict. "There is a lot of change and development in me as a football person in that time.

"Sir Alex is basing his opinion on what he saw in me as a player. At that time he was probably right in saying he couldn't see me as a manager. I would like to think I have changed and proved I am capable in that respect.

"Yes, there are certain players you think are more inclined to go into management. They are usually the ones who are loudest in the dressing room.

"But it doesn't matter whether you shout and bawl, you have to say something of substance."

Nigel de Jong will miss City's encounter with Sunderland due to suspension, so his midfield spot is likely to go to Vincent Kompany.

Although the Blues had lost just one Premier League game all season prior to Wednesday night's 3-0 defeat at White Hart Lane, they are now on a run of one win in 10 and will be desperate for a return to winning ways to ease the pressure on Hughes.

The next couple of weeks will be critical in determining whether City retain a realistic hope of finishing in the top four or ending a 33-year trophy drought, either of which would instantly end any negative talk about Hughes' future.

Two matches against Manchester United next month will determine whether the Blues are to make progress on the latter front in the Carling Cup.

On the former, City must recover the momentum gained by back-to-back wins against Arsenal and Chelsea by beating a Sunderland side which has impressed in plenty of big matches this season before crumbling in recent weeks.

"Sunderland are a good team this year and they will be difficult opponents," said Hughes. "They have a threat up front with Darren Bent and Kenwyne Jones.

"Bent is playing really well. You are always a little bit apprehensive about what he is able to produce.

"They have invested in the team and they have bought well. As a consequence they are a better side this year than they have been for quite some time.

"Saturday's game is going to be a big test for us."

Sunderland will be without skipper Lorik Cana after he was sent off for two bookable offences during Tuesday's 2-0 home defeat by Aston Villa.

Manager Bruce will make a late decision on whether to start with Lee Cattermole, who played the final 19 minutes of that game on his return from an eight-week lay-off with a medial ligament injury.

In addition, Michael Turner will undergo a fitness test on the ankle he damaged in midweek.

Bruce is desperate to rid his club of their "typical Sunderland" tag after seeing an excellent start to the season unravel alarmingly.

The Black Cats head for Eastlands having not won away from home since the opening day and on a run of four successive defeats on the road.

But perhaps more worryingly, they have taken just five points from the last 24 on offer, with three of them coming from a home victory over Arsenal on November 21.

In the meantime, defeats to Wigan, Fulham and Aston Villa, coupled with only a point from lowly Portsmouth's visit to the Stadium of Light, has seen the Black Cats slip to 10th place and off the pace set by the European contenders.

Bruce said: "You are only ever as good as your last game and that's the frustration of football, especially, in my experience, in the Premier League.

"You are going along very, very well... we beat Arsenal a month ago and looked at the fixtures and thought, 'What a great opportunity'. We had a great win against Arsenal and shot ourselves in the foot against Wigan and Fulham in particular."

"Some would say - and a steward told me the other day - that's typical of Sunderland. It's typical, and that's what we have got to try to change.

"I have got to try to change that mentality and that's going to take time. But it is frustrating for us."

Copyright (c) PA Sport 2009, All Rights Reserved.

Topics:
Sunderland
Football
Premier League
Manchester United
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