City boss laments Bellamy absence

Mark Hughes admits the absence of Craig Bellamy will leave a major hole in his Manchester City side to tackle Aston Villa at Eastlands.

Bellamy will be out for at least two weeks with a knee injury, with Hughes desperately hoping scans on the problem he suffered at West Ham on Sunday do not indicate the damage is more long term.

After his £10million January arrival from the Hammers, Bellamy has certainly stirred things up at City, scoring four goals as the Blues marched to the last 16 of the UEFA Cup and also having cross words with record signing Robinho over a perceived lack of effort against Portsmouth.

With Robinho missing too, Hughes must decide whether to select Felipe Caicedo, Darius Vassell or long-term injury victim Valeri Bojinov to spearhead the City attack.

But whoever gets the call, Hughes knows Bellamy will be missed.

"Craig has been outstanding since he came to the club," said Hughes.

"He has been carrying the fight for us and his goals have been really important.

"He is going to be a big miss because against a team like Villa you need as many avenues to cause them problems as possible."

At least there is an outside chance Micah Richards may recover from a hamstring injury in time to face Villa, who have suddenly started to wobble.

Although the midlands outfit remain fourth, they are on a run of five games without a win and tossed away a two-goal lead in the final three minutes against Stoke on Sunday.

It gives Hughes cause for optimism as he looks to put the Blues' inconsistencies behind them, although he still feels Martin O'Neill's men have what it takes to claim that coveted Champions League place.

"Maybe Villa's current run is due to a little bit of anxiety starting to creep in," said Hughes.

"But I can definitely see them staying in the top four.

"They are a big strong side and if their delivery is good and they get the breaks at the right time, they can score even when they are not playing well."

After another disappointing away display at West Ham, City need to maintain their impressive home form if they are to remain in the hunt for a place in the re-branded Europa League, having fallen four points behind the Hammers.

Manchester United's Carling Cup win has opened up the possibility of seventh place being enough as the runners-up in the FA Cup will not qualify if the eventual winners have already secured a European berth through other means.

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