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Football: HUGHES IN SKY BLUE MURDER; Crewe 1 Coventry 6 Lee's glee at wrecking Crewe.

Byline: John ARNFIELD

LEE HUGHES hates being dropped - and how Crewe paid as they crashed to their worst defeat at Gresty Road in 18 years under Dario Gradi.

The pounds 5million Ginger Ninja was relegated to sub in midweek as boss Roland Nilsson tried to shake up his attack.

It worked a treat as the Sky Blues conjured up their best win since they beat Bolton 5-1 in 1998.

Hughes responded to his demotion like a wounded tiger, coming off the bench to score against Rotherham in midweek and following it up with a glorious hat-trick and an assist.

And Nilsson saluted Hughes, saying: "He'd been looking tired but came back more eager than ever. He responded in just the right way and got his reward.

"This will lift our confidence and shows we can be up there."

Hughes took his tally to 12, while Belgian winger Laurent Delorge repaid the faith Nilsson had shown in him with a couple of goals himself.

Little David Thompson added the other as Coventry had a field day.

But they were given a huge helping hand as defensive blunders left Crewe demoralised a week before their FA Cup trip to Everton.

Gradi said: "At least it takes the pressure off us. No one in the country will give us a chance at Goodison. They'll say it's a foregone conclusion.

"But we can bounce back. There was nothing fundamentally wrong with our football. It was down to individual mistakes, something we are good at."

Everton No 2 Archie Knox didn't see the best of Gradi's team, who had won four out of their last five games.

And he saw the worst of keeper Ade Bankole, who had a nightmare and was booed off when he was subbed after conceding all six goals. Added Gradi: "I took him off for his own good. He'd had enough."

The Nigerian keeper started the rot as he ducked out of taking Hughes' cross from the left. Delorge flicked it from his hand and stroked it into the net. Crewe pulled one back in first-half injury time when top scorer Rob Hulse marked his return from injury with a header from Shaun Smith's corner.

But it all turned sour before the break with Hughes shooting home after hesitation by Efe Sodje.

Seconds after the interval it was all over as Hughes headed into the net. He completed his hat-trick by going round Bankole for the sixth goal.

Between Hughes' second and third goal, Delorge sent the keeper the wrong way with a simple shot while Thompson snapped up a rebound.

Happy Hughes said as he left with the match ball: "I wish we could play Crewe every week."

CREWE: Bankole 4 (Ince 75mins) - Wright 5, Sodje 5, Foster 5 (Walton 61mins, 6), Smith 5 - Lunt 6 (Rix 64mins, 6), Sorvel 6, Brammer 6, Vaughan 7 - Ashton 6, *HULSE 8.

COVENTRY: Hedman 7 - Quinn 7, Konjic 6, Breen 7, Hall 7 - Delorge 8 (Fowler 90mins), Safri 6, Healy 6, Thompson 7 - Mills 6 (McSheffrey 78mins), *HUGHES 9. Referee: G Salisbury 8........................

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CREWE CUT: Lee Hughes plunders part of his hat-trick Pic: NORTHPIX
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Feb 10, 2002
Words:524
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