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Monday, Dec. 21, 2009

Hughes sacked after City victory

MANCHESTER, England (AP) Manchester City fired manager Mark Hughes on Saturday and immediately hired former Inter Milan coach Roberto Mancini in an effort to turn an expensively assembled squad into title challengers.

While Hughes had lost just two matches this season after spending around $330 million on new players inside a year, the club's wealthy owner was dissatisfied with a string of draws that left City sixth in the Premier League.

Hughes did manage to mastermind a 4-3 victory over Sunderland on Saturday before the announcement, but his fate had been sealed by a 3-0 loss at Tottenham on Wednesday.

"A return of two wins in 11 Premier League games is clearly not in line with the targets that were agreed and set," chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak said in a statement less than two hours after the final whistle. "(Owner) Sheikh Mansour and the board felt that there was no evidence that the situation would fundamentally change."

After taking charge in June 2008, Hughes soon had the backing of the vast wealth from Abu Dhabi after Sheikh Mansour's takeover in the September.

To produce City's first major title since 1976 and break into the top four of the league, Hughes was given more than £200 million ($328 million), which he spent on top talent including Robinho, Carlos Tevez, Gareth Barry, Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure, Roque Santa Cruz and Joleon Lescott.

"Prior to the current season beginning, with significant investment in players and infrastructure in place, the consensus between the board and coaching staff was that appropriate agreed targets should be set," said Al Mubarak, who had previously stated publicly that a top-six finish would have sufficed this season.

"The targets were agreed as a result of the player acquisition strategy of the club being radically accelerated in the summer as a result of very favorable conditions for any buying club.

"It was also based on the fact that the infrastructure of the club had been overhauled completely at great cost in order to create the best possible environment for the team."

Mancini had been out of work since leaving Inter in 2008 after steering the Italian club to its third consecutive Serie A title.

Fulham blasts United

LONDON (AP) Fulham swept to a stunning 3-0 victory over Manchester United and last place Portsmouth beat Liverpool 2-0 on a day of shocks in the Premier League on Saturday.

Danny Murphy, Bobby Zamora and Damien Duff punished United's makeshift defense at Craven Cottage and denied the defending champion any chance of drawing level on points with leader Chelsea.

United's fifth loss of the season could now leave the team six points off the pace if Chelsea wins at Upton Park.

Nadir Belhadj and Frederic Piquionne fired home angled shots as Portsmouth stunned 10-man Liverpool to put more pressure on manager Rafa Benitez.

Making his first league start for three months, Algerian international Belhadj struck the first in the 33rd minute before Liverpool's Javier Mascherano was sent off for an ugly foul on Tal Ben Haim.

Piquionne added the second in the 82nd to improve Portsmouth's chances of avoiding relegation. It was Liverpool's seventh league loss from 18 games and the defeat pushed the Reds further out of title contention.

"If you analyze the first half I think we were doing well," Benitez said. "We conceded a goal and then the sending off of Mascherano changed everything."

Arsenal outplayed Hull 3-0 to stay in third and move within two points of second place Man United with a game in hand.

Goals by Denilson, Eduardo da Silva and Abou Diaby settled a game that had a first half flareup with several players pushing each other after a challenge by Samir Nasri on Hull's Richard Garcia.

Two goals by Peter Crouch steered Tottenham to a 2-0 victory at Blackburn and Aston Villa beat Stoke 1-0.

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