Monday 18 December 2017

Hughton savours 'massive test'

In any other week, the towering event for Chelsea would be tonight's FA Cup replay at Birmingham City. The prize is a home quarter-final against Leicester City -- and a good shot at a Wembley semi-final.

With Andre Villas-Boas sacked, this is a difficult first game for the new management team of Roberto di Matteo and Eddie Newton -- and not just because of the crisis at Stamford Bridge, the players' shattered confidence and their lack of form. Birmingham, sixth in the Championship, have lost just one league game out of 13.

However, they have taken just one point from their last two matches, against Nottingham Forest and Derby County, and manager Chris Hughton is looking for tonight's occasion to galvanise his players.

"It's such a long, hard season, you can't be at the top of your game all the time," Hughton said yesterday, as Birmingham approached their 47th match of the campaign.

"The disappointment (from Saturday's 2-2 home draw with Derby) we will take very much as a team and look to bounce back as a team. It's a massive test but it's certainly one we'll enjoy."

Hughton will be without defenders Stephen Carr, Steve Caldwell and David Murphy, while Peter Ramage is Cup-tied and Curtis Davies is doubtful. Andros Townsend, Erik Huseklepp and Caleb Folan are also unavailable.

Three years ago Roman Abramovich sacked Luiz Felipe Scolari mid-season, only for Guus Hiddink to win the FA Cup. City might feel they stand in the way of history tonight.

Birmingham v Chelsea,

Live, ITV, 7.45

Irish Independent

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