Thursday 18 January 2018

'Stars have aligned' for Hughes to spoil City party

QPR 1 Stoke City 0

Jason Burt

And in an instant, everything changed. Rangers appeared buried. All but relegated. A draw not enough. And then not only did Djibril Cisse score, re-paying another part of the debt he said he would cover for those two red cards, but West Brom drew level at Bolton. The landscape at the bottom of the Premier League was turned upside down. In little more than 80 madcap seconds.

It means that Mark Hughes, a former Manchester United player and ex-Manchester City manager, returns to the Etihad Stadium next Sunday to try and poop that title party. A draw would mean whatever Bolton do at Stoke the same afternoon is immaterial. Either way, Bolton have to win to have any chance of remaining in the division.

Hughes had an interesting way of putting it. "The stars have aligned," he said, and it does indeed appear fated that he returns to Manchester with so much at stake. He had, when appointed Rangers manager in January, checked the fixtures. Next Sunday's stood out for him and although he will not want his own involvement to become a focus it adds another dimension. Not that one is needed.

"That fixture loomed quite ominously in the distant future when I first looked at them," said Hughes. "It does feel a little bit fated, maybe. We've had conversations about what if, for them and for us.

"That's how we find ourselves. For them and us."

Margins at this level of football are tight. But this was ridiculous.

There was no discernible sign that all those permutations would be possible going into the 89th minute of this contest. Hughes had rolled the dice, thrown on the substitutes, prowled the technical area as if he was going to burst out of his suit.

Stoke had controlled vast tracts of this encounter, looking far the more assured, threatening side. Then Cisse scored, Peter Crouch missed a late opportunity and when the final whistle went, there was a mass pitch invasion of bewildered relief. Cisse fell to the turf, almost in prayer, mobbed by his team-mates.

It was an astonishing scene as had been his goal celebrations as he tore away, having swept in Anton Ferdinand's header from a corner and raced down the touchline. Seven matches for Cisse now -- five goals and two red cards -- and seven missed through suspension.

"The one guy you want to be in the situation we found ourselves in, in terms of a guy in the box, was Djib," Hughes said. "He's an outstanding finisher. He's been involved in moments like that throughout his career."

Another looms next weekend. What a finish. After that most dramatic of finishes. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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