Friday 15 December 2017

Birmingham could do without ‘hindrance’ of Europe: Chris Hughton

BIRMINGHAM boss Chris Hughton has admitted he could do without the added burden of the Europa League.

The Blues face what Hughton describes as an "unforgiving" programme of fixtures in the run up to Christmas that may yet have a damaging effect on their bid to return to the Barclays Premier League.

However, having qualified for the Europa League group phase, which starts tomorrow night with a clash against Portuguese side Braga at St Andrews, Hughton has every intention of enjoying the occasion.

"Can it be a hindrance? Yes, it can be," said Hughton, of a tournament that has never garnered much affection of late.

"But if you looked at the atmosphere and what the players gave in the home (qualifying) game with Nacional to get us to this stage, I don't think you would have seen it as a hindrance then.

"It's a competition that opens doors for the players, takes them to a different stage, and of course of what it does for the club.

"Could we do without the extra games? Yes, arguably we could do, but we're here, and once you're in these games they are exciting to play in."

Hughton concedes there is now considerable responsibility on his shoulders as he attempts to strike a balance with a squad not the best equipped for such demands, and for the fans who have been so starved of European football over the years.

"If you look at our fixtures, we effectively play two games a week all the way through to Christmas," added Hughton.

"Yes, it will be tough. We will certainly have to use the squad we have, but if you ask any of the players what they like doing best, it's playing games.

"But I have to get the balance right because after this we've a tough game away on Sunday against a very good Southampton team.

"It's unforgiving the amount of games we have to play, but the one thing I am sure of, whatever the game and the 11 on the pitch, they will be doing their best to get a result for us.

"Of course, our main responsibility this season is to finish as high up in this league as we can, and ultimately it's about getting this club back into the Premier League.

"But then we've also a responsibility to give the fans something to cheer about.

"The fact they will be turning up in their numbers again underlines what they see in this competition and how excited they are to be here."

City could not have asked for a much tougher opening fixture than against the number one seeds for the competition after they ended up as beaten finalists just a few months ago.

"They've great quality, no doubt about it," said Hughton.

"They are the favourites because of where they've been in recent seasons, and more so last season, so we are very conscious of that."

Hughton will again be without striker Nikola Zigic (groin), but fellow forward Marlon King, who made his debut in Saturday's 3-0 win over Millwall following a recent knee injury, is available despite missing training today.

Hughton, meanwhile, is giving Stuart Parnaby a chance to prove himself under his leadership after the right-back was released at the end of last season when Alex McLeish was in charge.

"He is a player, of course, who knows this club very well so it hasn't taken him long to settle in," said Hughton.

"It's only his second day training with us, but there are discussions that are very open. We are looking at him to see where he is now, fitness wise.

"He is a player of quality, and we will assess it as time goes on."

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