How Michael Hughes dealt a blow to Manchester side's title dreams
Published 09/05/2014 | 10:58
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers and his players could still become champions, according to a man who knows all about the changing fortunes of a Premier League title race on the final day of a season.
Almost 20 years ago, former Northern Ireland hero Michael Hughes played a huge part in a thrilling climax to the 1994-95 campaign.
And if Liverpool fans are searching for hope ahead of Sunday, they need look no further than the co-Carrick Rangers owner who scored a vital goal for a West Ham side to stop a team from Manchester collecting the crown.
How the Kop would love another Michael Hughes to step up and do the same this weekend.
Manchester City, fresh from a 4-0 victory over Aston Villa, are now two points ahead of Liverpool, who have lost to Chelsea and drawn 3-3 with Crystal Palace in their last two matches.
Due to their vastly inferior goal difference, the Reds must beat Newcastle at Anfield and pray that West Ham defeat City at the Etihad to savour a first league championship since 1990.
Hughes, who won 71 caps for his country, insists amid the tension of a final day title battle, anything can happen.
It certainly did in 1995 when league leaders Blackburn Rovers, managed by Kenny Dalglish, lost 2-1 at Liverpool providing Manchester United with the opportunity to overhaul them, only for Sir Alex Ferguson's men to draw 1-1 at West Ham, presenting the title to the Ewood Park outfit.
That afternoon in the Kop, with Reds fans hoping United would not clinch a third title in a row, Hughes's strike in east London was cheered like a dramatic Liverpool winner.
While 19 years on ex-City star Hughes maintains his old club are firm favourites for glory, given his own experience, he is refusing to rule out a remarkable twist that would see the Premier League trophy end up at Anfield and in the arms of countryman Rodgers.
"It's no foregone conclusion because nerves and jitters come into play in situations like this," says Hughes.
"City should do it but it's a strange situation with them needing just a point. Will they look to contain West Ham and control the game that way or go out and try to score goals from kick-off?
"If it gets into the last half hour and is still 0-0 there will be edginess, make no mistake about that. At the same time Liverpool have to win their game against Newcastle. The year we drew with United, Blackburn didn't win their last game either yet finished as champions."
Reflecting back on 1995, Hughes recalled: "Even though we were safe from relegation and had nothing to play for, we were aware of the magnitude of the match. We were playing for the integrity of the League, the integrity of all the other teams and we didn't want to let anyone down.
"We knew a lot of people would be watching so we wanted to perform to a high level and make sure that no one could accuse us of lying down.
"With West Ham against Manchester United there's always been a bit of history so our fans were desperate for us to stop them winning the title at Upton Park.
"That day you could feel the tension in the Manchester United players.
"It was 0-0 when I scored. The cross came in and I made a lovely clean, controlled contact and the ball ended up in the net. Our fans went wild but it wasn't a goal that made me feel any better or worse than scoring in other games.
"They roared back in the second half, equalised and battered us for the last 20 minutes. Our goalkeeper Ludek Miklosko made six or seven unbelievable saves when they were piling the pressure on to get the winner which would have clinched the title.
"When I came home to Northern Ireland, Liverpool fans were delighted with me for scoring but all the Manchester United fans hated me. I kept telling them it wasn't my fault United didn't win the title over the course of the season and if they were blaming anybody from the final day it should have been Ludek Miklosko!"
Two years ago, City won the league in the dying seconds of the season. Could it be Liverpool's turn this time with a little help from the Hammers?
Hughes says: "I wouldn't count it out that one of the ex-Liverpool players could score a winner for West Ham. Andy Carroll is obviously a big threat.
"On the last day things can change in the blink of an eye. One goal can make all the difference. Liverpool can still win the title... it could happen. Their fans have to keep believing."