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Hughes out of Albion's struggle to stay afloat.

West Bromwich Albion must fight their last five battles for First Division survival without the striker whose 32 goals saved them from certain relegation last season.

Gary Megson's team were shaken to the core yesterday with news that Lee Hughes is out for the rest of the season with a chipped bone just below the left knee - an injury he sustained in a shuddering collision with Richard Wright in the 1-1 draw with Ipswich Town at The Hawthorns ten days ago.

Albion's chief executive and former captain John Wile, for one, was not happy with what looked like a late challenge by the goalkeeper after Hughes had slid the ball under him to score his 16th goal of the season.

'I felt at the time that the keeper followed through on Lee unnecessarily, but these things happen,' Wile said. 'That was my first reaction, but it's very difficult to point the finger in a case like this and I wouldn't like to.'

With Hughes now sidelined, Albion's First Division future hangs on a knife-edge. 'It's a big blow for us,' Wile said. 'But we've just got to manage without Lee for the last five games. There's nothing we can do about it.'

The Football League has no provision for a club to make an emergency loan signing of an outfield player, so Megson will have to make do with a combination of two from Bob Taylor, Fabian De Freitas and Mickey Evans.

De Freitas staked his claim for recognition as Taylor's partner for the rest of this season with a determined performance in the 2-2 draw at Barnsley last weekend, and Megson will almost certainly start with the Dutchman against Taylor's old club Bolton Wanderers at The Hawthorns tomorrow.

Albion's consolation for the loss of Hughes is that they managed to score twice at Oakwell without him, Taylor bagging his first goal since returning to the club from the Reebok Stadium.

Megson had hoped to see Hughes back before the month was out, believing the former Kidderminster Harriers striker had suffered bad bruising below the knee, but an X-ray and scan showed up the fracture.

'The damage is just below the patella,' the Albion manager revealed. 'It's not a serious break, but bad enough to put him out for the rest of the season. Any team would miss a goal-scoring talent like Lee's.'

Meanwhile, fitness coach Frank Nuttall has left the club a little more than a fortnight after the departure of first-team coach and Cyrille Regis.
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Title Annotation:Football
Author:Ward, Michael
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 14, 2000
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