Return of Hughes unlikely to upset ready City
Alex Ferguson joked that Queens Park Rangers would have a better chance of getting something out of their final game of the season at Manchester City if Mark Hughes was playing for the London club instead of coaching them. That was more a commentary on the QPR squad than a criticism of the 48-year-old Hughes' managerial abilities.
Hughes faces the almost impossible task of helping the worst away team in the Premier League achieve a positive result against the best home team. Adding spice to the occasion is that another of his former sides, Manchester United, will almost certainly clinch their 20th title if he succeeds.
Since taking over in January, Hughes (pictured), a former Wales striker has looked like he has enjoyed his new job about as much as a trip to the dentist. He has winced and grimaced on the sidelines as QPR found different ways to self-destruct.
The Hoops have shown a habit of getting players sent off, especially when they are ahead in home matches. Their defence can be porous and none of their strikers has got double figures on the league scoring charts.
Even a hardened Rangers fan would find it difficult to talk up the merits of a hotchpotch collection of players: rushed August and January transfer window signings with a handful of survivors from the Neil Warnock era. 'One of the better 'bad' teams' was about the best compliment that any of the UK soccer scribes has given them.
But despite their many flaws, QPR have developed a feisty, fighting quality that has echoes from Hughes's previous coaching stints at Blackburn and Fulham. Seemingly dead and buried in late February, they showed mettle in a 1-1 home draw with Everton on March 3 and then went on a run of five home wins, including over Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham.
After fate had seemingly conspired against them in the first half of the season, they have ridden their luck to pick up a respectable 15 points out of a possible 27 leading up to the trip to Manchester City.
Curiously, QPR are no less vulnerable to relegation under Hughes in their position of 17th, than they were when Warnock was sacked in early January. Even so, Hughes has done a commendable job - 20 points from 17 matches is an improved return - considering the hand he has been dealt.
'The players talk about how the new boss gave them a lift when he came in,' Warnock said in February before taking the Leeds job. 'But what else can they say when the reporters ask them about the change of managers?'
Returning to the Etihad Stadium is bound to open up old wounds for Hughes. He will never forget the morning of December 19, 2009, when he woke up to text messages and telephone calls from friends and reporters, informing him that he was about to get the sack.
His frantic calls to the club seeking clarification went unreturned. Sure enough, after presiding over City's 4-3 victory over Sunderland that afternoon, he was finally given the news that Roberto Mancini would be replacing him.
On the day that Hughes was dumped by the Citizens, Queens Park Rangers laboured to a 1-1 home draw with Sheffield United under new manager Paul Hart to sit 10th in the second division. Adel Taarabt is the one survivor from that side just 21/2 years ago.
Hughes never worked with the likes of Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and David Silva, but he did sign Vincent Kompany, Joleon Lescott, Carlos Tevez, Nigel de Jong and Pablo Zabaleta. His insider knowledge was reflected in February 2011 when his former club, Fulham, achieved an improbable 1-1 draw at Eastlands that effectively ended Manchester City's title challenge.
Taarabt, along with City rejects Joey Barton, Nedum Onuoha and Shaun Wright-Phillips, holds the key to Hughes's plot to rain on Mancini's parade. The moody Moroccan remains as slow as a wet weekend, but has the flair and technical brilliance to surprise City.
It is unlikely Hughes will remain at Loftus Road should QPR be relegated. Remember this is man who walked out on Fulham less than a year ago for a perceived lack of ambition. Even with the millions of Malaysian owner Tony Fernandes, it is difficult to imagine he has the stomach for a promotion bun-fight in the Npower Championship.
The best chance of QPR securing Premiership survival will not be found in Manchester. Instead, it lies 70km south at the Britannia Stadium, where Stoke host Bolton. If the visitors fail to get anything but three points, QPR will survive, regardless of their own result.
Hughes' performance in the 2011-12 season will be judged solely on whether QPR stay up or not. In this case, the difference between miserable failure and resounding success - not to mention a celebratory glass of red wine for Ferguson - is minuscule.
Number of games Manchester City have lost at home this season. QPR have lost 13 of 18 so far