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Boss backs Bellamy to cut a derby dash

Craig Bellamy

Craig Bellamy

Mark Hughes is banking on his big-match players to come out of the pressure-cooker derby at Old Trafford tomorrow lunchtime with their unbeaten opening to the season intact.

But while Kolo Toure, Joleon Lescott and Gareth Barry will step boldly onto the big stage for their derby debuts, manager Hughes will look to a fellow Welshman for inspiration.

In-form Craig Bellamy, who missed the 2-0 away defeat in May, will be charged with taking the heat off his injury-hit team as the Reds look to end City's turbo-charged start.

Hughes has spoken of fashioning a team from "the right stuff" to challenge for honours, and fast-breaking striker Bellamy is ready to shoulder a huge derby responsibility.

The Blues boss said: "Craig has been one of our stand-out performers. He's a great outlet for us - he shows huge endeavour and a fantastic ability to drive with the ball and take the fight to the other end of the field when you are under pressure.

"That quality is invaluable, certainly away from home where you are more likely to be under sustained pressure. There has to be an outlet there to relieve the pressure so you can change the momentum of the game. Craig has done that in a number of games this year."

Bellamy is City's only fully-fit striker despite Carlos Tevez's gallant bid to face his former club, but Hughes has complete faith in the side he will send out tomorrow.

Having recruited carefully in two transfer windows, the manager explained: "We wanted to change the mentality - we are trying to get together a group of players who believe they are going to win every game, rather than just hoping they are going to win.

"We've shown in a number of games already the mentality that we will need to sustain us through the season, and if we don't have that we will have no opportunity to be successful.


You need a strength of character and strength of will to come through, because there will be periods when we come under pressure and have to dig in

 Mark Hughes


"So you have to have guys who will look after each other, stick together, and make sure that if you do get beaten, it's because you ran out of time, not because you were poor."

Twenty years ago, City beat United 5-1 in a never-to-be-forgotten derby. Hughes, who scored the Reds' goal that day, said: "Both clubs are in different situations now. We've got a proud history, and our veteran players tell me they are keen to see new heroes.

"United will be up there again, that goes without saying. But you want to take points off the teams around you, and that's where we expect to be this year. If we take points off them, who knows, we may be higher in the League than them - let's hope that's the case."

But with the smile he has worn all week as City's renewed ambition has irritated some Red faces, Hughes warned: "Derbies don't always go to form - and the way we are playing at the moment, maybe we are the form team!"


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