Saturday 18 November 2017

Hughton fully focused on promotion despite WBA interest

Brendan McLoughlin

Chris Hughton has shielded his players from the uncertainty over Birmingham City's finances and his own future as the manager prepares for the "biggest 90 minutes of my managerial career" against Blackpool tonight.

A Wembley date with West Ham awaits the winners of the Championship play-off semi-final second leg at St Andrew's, where Hughton's team must overturn a 1-0 deficit to claim the prize.

Events will be watched with interest at nearby West Bromwich Albion, who have held tentative discussions with Claudio Ranieri over replacing the outgoing Roy Hodgson, but are understood to view Hughton (pictured left) as their preferred target.

If they fail to make the final, Birmingham are braced for an approach from Albion to speak to Hughton in the next few days. "For me, it's certainly no distraction -- it's too important a time for that," insisted the Birmingham manager. "I am only 100pc focused on a big game that will, hopefully, lead us to another big game."

Although the play-off final is billed as the £90m game, Birmingham still have three years of parachute payments to come worth £32m.

However, failure to make an instant return to the top flight could hold dire consequences for the futures of many of the players at the club, whose transfer embargo will continue following parent company Birmingham International Holdings Limited's recent failure to file their financial results for a fourth time.

Hughton, though, insisted his players remained unaffected. He said: "When you are a player going into big games there is such focus the only thing probably on their minds is whether they are playing."

Hughton concedes the match is his most important as a manager and believes his team can take inspiration from the crowd and the "massive feat" of losing just once at home in the league all season. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Birmingham v Blackpool,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 7.45

Irish Independent

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