Top-four ambition drives Hughes
Manchester City have made a smooth start to what Mark Hughes realises is going to be a long journey to the top of English football. While controversy still swirls around the Eastlands side over their pursuit of Joleon Lescott, they have at least been able to put some of the talk to one side in favour of action. And, after a summer of immense upheaval, and six new players so far, the early indications are Hughes' recruitment policy has been astute.
He spent £25m on Emmanuel Adebayor and was rewarded with a third-minute opener in City's 2-0 win at Blackburn Rovers. Then two more new faces, Kolo Toure and Shay Given, who arrived from Newcastle United last January, signalled City's defence does not intend to be quite so leaky as before, with fine individual displays to repel Sam Allardyce's men before Stephen Ireland wrapped up the points in stoppage time.
"We are trying to break into that top tier of English football," said Hughes. "It is very difficult because the top four are some of the best clubs in world football. It will be a long journey, but it is a task we have set ourselves and we have made a start."
In fact, the manner of City's victory was probably better than a comfortable start to life at the top table. If nothing else, it proved why Hughes is trying so hard to prise Lescott away from Everton.
For years, Richard Dunne has been the rock at the centre of City's defence, winning the player-of-the-year award four seasons on the trot. Yet alongside Toure, the Irishman's positional deficiencies are exposed, the last-ditch tackles more like attempts to make up for mistakes, however small, rather than astute defending.
As City are learning, the ambition attracts attention, not all of it positive. "At times we are a bit bemused about the strength of some of the comments," said Hughes.
"All we are trying to do is make our club better. There is expectation now, and we are going to have to deal with it. For the moment we are just hoping to do better than we did last year."
As City finished tenth last term, that should not be too difficult given in excess of £200m has been spent in the last 15 months trying to improve an already competitive squad. Lescott would be the last addition of the summer and, for all the posturing of David Moyes, senior football figures expect a deal to go through at some point before August draws to a close, for a fee around £22m.
That would allow City to march forward with confidence, knowing their first two opponents immediately after the next international break are Arsenal and Manchester United, providing the first indication of their present position in the Barclays Premier League pecking order. It also promises to be a major test of Hughes' management abilities, given he must handle the collection of talents at his disposal. The performance of Adebayor suggests the first bit has gone well, with the Togo talent confirming life at City is a welcome change from the Emirates, where it is said he did not see eye-to-eye with all his team-mates, or the Gunners fans.
"It is very different from Arsenal," Adebayor said. "I want to give back to the supporters what they give to me. I am working hard for the team, everybody is. It is important to keep that going. I've shown the fans I'm here to fight for the club, and we'll carry that on."
With Everton involved in Europa League action, City now have a free mid-week, which they are filling with a trip to the Nou Camp to face Barcelona. Carlos Tevez should be involved, which could put him in line for a full debut against Wolverhampton Wanderers next Saturday as he inches towards recovery from a knee injury.
Rovers and Black Cats
For Sam Allardyce, it will be a trip to Sunderland, with no doubt added speculation over the future of Stephen Warnock, who was overlooked for the captaincy in favour of Paul Robinson once Ryan Nelsen was a confirmed non-starter.
"When we come up against a team who are not as good as we are, we have to enjoy it and try to get some points because that will be our bread and butter," said the Rovers manager.
"If we can get the odd shock result against one of the big boys we will regard it as a bonus."