Mark Hughes is waiting to see if the absence of Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford will alter the public’s perception of how visiting teams are treated by match day officials under David Moyes.
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Ferguson’s all-powerful persona was credited as the reason why so many opposing supporters felt they were short-changed by referees and assistant linesmen and were rarely handed key decisions by officials.
Stoke boss Hughes was on the receiving end as a manager on numerous occasions, none more so than the famous episode of “Fergie time” during the 4-3 Manchester derby defeat in 2009.
Michael Owen’s winning goal for United came in the sixth minute of stoppage time after the fourth official had held up the board indicating four minutes of added time, to leave then Manchester City boss Hughes furious in what appeared another example of the hold Ferguson and his team held over officials.
Ferguson himself has admitted to putting officials under “pressure” and with the Scot no longer in the technical area, Hughes will be interested to see how officials react for the rest of this season now that Moyes has taken over.
“I have to be careful talking about referees before games, but yes it’s difficult to get key decisions because there are 75,000 spectators there and it’s a huge club,” said Hughes.
“And if mistakes are made in officiating the key moments then it gets highlighted more than most so there is possibly a bit of reluctance to do that, but it’s not questioning the integrity of the officials it’s just human nature, it’s understandable to a certain extent. That happens.”
Hughes has already spoken of United losing their aura since the departure of Ferguson and how precarious their title challenge is looking so early in the season.
After three defeats and just one point from their last two home games against West Bromwich Albion and Southampton, United sit in the mid-table in eighth position.
Hughes recalls the days when as a player and a manager he has seen teams “beaten in the tunnel” such was the intimidation of Ferguson and his players, but that has been removed and players and managers are no longer afraid.
“When I was playing for Manchester United you thought you had teams beaten in the tunnel,” he said. “That is what Old Trafford can do to teams and players. Sir Alex was part of that.
“He has driven the club for the last 25 years and the determination of the group of players he had at any given time. It was a huge challenge to go there and beat those teams.
“You sense that the Premier League is so strong now that teams from top to bottom back their abilities to have a go, maybe more so this season than most. Southampton and West Brom did that.”
Hughes achieved the double over United in 2005 when he was manager of Blackburn Rovers and goes to his former club seeking his 100th victory as Premier League manager, urging his Stoke players to end a run of one point from four games and 334 minutes without a Premier League goal.
“I need to make sure the players are confident and show them I am confident in them,” he said. “That is what I always do when I go there. For me it is a case of the bigger the game, the bigger the challenge.
“That is what stimulated me as a player, so when I don't see players stimulated by facing some of the best players in world football then I question them why they don't back their own ability.”