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Hughes salutes an heroic defeat

Mark Hughes 0809

Mark Hughes 0809

Mark Hughes could not hide his pride in the City players who almost pulled off one of the comebacks of the season in a bitter-sweet 2-1 victory over Hamburg that could not prevent a 4-3 exit from the UEFA Cup.

The Blues boss was gutted for an injury-hit team that made the Bundesliga high-fliers sweat even with ten men - and awed by the 47,000 home crowd that urged their heroes on for the third goal they needed to force extra time.

Having started the quarter-final second leg without key attackers Craig Bellamy and Shaun Wright-Phillips, City conceded the crucial first goal and had skipper Richard Dunne sent off 15 minutes from time for a second yellow. But they still had Hamburg praying for the whistle as the ten men, inmspired by Robinho and man of the match Elano, pressed hard to add to Elano's first-half penalty and the 49th-minute winner from Felipe Caicedo.

In the end City were left cursing Elano's luck with free kicks that hit the bar and a post. Hoarse but proud manager Hughes said: "There was a real sense that we were trying to make something special happen.

"They (the players) knew the importance of the game and sensed the opportunity to make a statement. Elano and Robi were very much a part of that. We can't go into games with players not performing at their optimum level, as has happened at times.

"Unfortunately we didn't get that break when we needed it when were in the ascendancy. But we still asked the questions. Hamburg are a good side but we made them struggle at times to stay in the game.

"We started really brightly but in their first attack the ball went through Bridgey's legs, got a clip off Vinnie (Kompany) I think and fell right to their guy's feet. It was a poor start but we didn't let it affect us.

"We took the game to Hamburg and on another night those chances would fly in and you win the tie. Nobody gave us any chance of turning the tie around, but we came very close. Elano was outstanding. He has great ability at set plays, and we just needed one of those to go in.

"The atmosphere was outstanding. Even at ten men when we were obviously struggling to keep the momentum going, the crowd kept forcing us forward, they were the key to us being able to sustain what we did ten against 11."

City's players were given an appreciative ovation as they came off by a sell-out City of Manchester Stadium crowd that included a top Abu Dhabi delegation headed by chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak.

Hughes added: "Emotions can be draining as well as the physical exertion of a high-intensity match like that. They are very low in the dressing-room, but we have a very big game here on Sunday. It's a case of making sure we recover and clear our heads to go again. We will take encouragement from this to finish the season well.

"At times it's been a long journey, and a lot of effort has been expended along the way, sometimes at the expense of the Premier League. But it's been a great experience and we'll benefit in the long term.

"Hopefully there will be more great European nights to come. It's been an emotional night, a big night for everybody. We needed to make a statement and I think we did with the level of performance.

"Things are happening here, and when we produce it on a regular basis we will be very difficult to overcome. Now we have to finish strongly and address the away form that people have used to hit us over the head with."

Match Report

City v Hamburg SV 16-04-2009

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