Mark Hughes believes Craig Bellamy can provide the firepower to shoot Manchester City into the Champions League after the striker’s goal earned a 1-1 draw at Aston Villa.
Bellamy hit his fourth goal of the season after half-time at Villa Park on Monday to cancel out former City defender Richard Dunne’s opener for the hosts.
Hughes’s side are now fourth in the table heading into the international break and the City boss is convinced they can stay there if Bellamy maintains his scintilating start to the campaign.
”He is playing out of his skin at the moment,” Hughes said. ”It doesn’t matter what position I use him in, he is still having a positive impact on the game and it was the same tonight.
”He is playing with great confidence. He always thinks he is the best player and most of the time he has been.”
Hughes had every reason to sing Bellamy’s praises after he ensured Dunne wouldn’t return to haunt his former club.
Dunne was sold by City just before the transfer deadline after Hughes splashed out on centre-backs Joleon Lescott and Kolo Toure.
The Republic of Ireland defender left on bad terms with City chief executive Garry Cook, who was reported to have said unglamourous players like Dunne wouldn’t sell enough shirts to fit the club’s new global image.
Dunne looked determined to prove a point as he produced a superb display from the moment he rose above former Villa midfielder Gareth Barry to head home a cross from Stephen Warnock after 15 minutes.
But he chose not to celebrate and received rapturous applause from the supporters City where he spent nine years as a player.
Hughes said: ”The City fans were fantastic in terms of the reception that they gave to Richard.
”He was a fantastic player over many years for City during the good and the bad times.
”Our supporters recognised that fact and it was really special.”
In contrast, the Villa fans constantly booed Barry on his first return since a £12-million move to Eastlands.
Hughes said: ”The reaction was quite predictable. I’m sure people here appreciate what Gareth did for Villa but the minority made the louder noise. I don’t think it affected him.”
Hughes revealed that Barry ended the game with a stiff back but does not believe he will be doubtful for England’s World Cup qualifiers with Ukraine and Belarus.
He said: ”Gareth had a stiff back at the end but I don’t think he’s a doubt for England.
”We will send him along and get him checked by England but I don’t think he’s a doubt.”
Villa boss Martin O’Neill insisted his players had not adopted a different approach to the game because of the Barry factor.
”Were we galvanised by Barry? I do not think that at all. My view was we had an important game to play and Gareth is part of the opposition now,” O’Neill said.
”It would have been quite strange for him coming back here. The players have a great respect for him and so do I.”
O’Neill added: ”I did not want half-time to come because we were so strong at that stage of proceedings.
”In the end I was disappointed with the result but not the performance.” — AFP