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Micah's backslap from the boss

Micah Richards 0809

Micah Richards 0809

Mark Hughes has saluted Micah Richards' return to form but warned the gifted young Blues defender that he must work even harder to embrace the long-term England career that many believe to be his destiny.

Manager Hughes was delighted to be able to hail his right-back's man-of-the-match performance against Sunderland, topped by the winning goal - his first successful strike in more than two and a half years.

But the Blues boss knows it is still early days for a blossoming talent and admitted he might have taken the still developing 20-year-old out of the firing line earlier this season if he had been in a position to do so.

Hughes said: "Micah got the headlines because of the goal, but I thought he played with real determination, getting forward and having a positive effect in the opposition half. He was tiring towards the end because of the amount of energy he has expended in two games during the week.

"Maybe in a few games this season he's lacked a bit of the confidence you would expect, but he's still a young man. We forget sometimes that he's only 20. He's had quite a number of games for somebody so young, but you will have fluctuations in form and that's what has happened to Micah this year.

"There have to be allowances for the fluctuations that all young players have. When they burst onto the scene, they shine brightly, but then there's a point where you need to take them out of the firing line.

"Maybe Micah hasn't had that opportunity because he's such an outstanding player and athlete that it's taken a couple of years for him to have a dip in form and that's a credit to him.

"For a consistent run of many games, he was outstanding but his form this year, along with others, has fluctuated. I haven't been in the position to give him the rest he possibly needs on occasion.

"That's when form is affected, but he's come through it - he's played his way through it and that's important. Now he seems to be coming good again at the business end of the season."

Micah, who became England's youngest-ever defender when he won the first of his 11 caps in November 2006, is again being mentioned in connection with a return to the international scene.

Hughes would be the first to congratulate him, but added: "Micah's got a lot of experience for a young man, but he's not the finished article, and everybody accepts that.

"He's got to keep working at his game, and there are elements of his game he has to improve, because if he doesn't then he won't get to the level that everybody wants him to get to."

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