x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Chris Hughton: Europa League schedule 'can be a hindrance'

The Birmingham City manager respects the Uefa's tournament but focused on doing well in the home fixtures with an eye on English Premier League qualification next season.

Chris Hughton, the Birmingham City manager, says he could do without the added burden of the Europa League.

His Carling Cup winners face what Hughton describes as an "unforgiving" programme of fixtures in the run-up to Christmas that may yet have a damaging effect on their bid to return to the Premier League.

However, having qualified for the group phase, which starts on Thursday night with a clash against the Portuguese side Braga at St Andrews, Hughton has every intention of enjoying the occasion.

"Can it be a hindrance? Yes, it can be," said Hughton, of the tournament.

"But if you looked at the atmosphere and what the players gave in the home [qualifying] game with Nacional [of Portugal] to get us to this stage, I don't think you would have seen it as a hindrance then.

"It's a competition that opens doors for the players, takes them to a different stage and, of course, of what it does for the club. Could we do without the extra games? Yes, arguably we could do, but we're here, and once you're in these games they are exciting to play in."

Fulham are also in action on Thursday night and Wout Brama, the FC Twente midfielder, believes silencing their fans will be key to his side's hopes in their Group K opener.

Brama and his teammates arrived in London yesterday ahead of their clash with Martin Jol's men.

Brama told his club's website: "We must continue to play football and keep the ball in possession as long as possible. This way, we can cause unrest for the opponent and the spectators. We will be patient."

Laszlo Boloni, the PAOK Salonika manager, has told Tottenham Hotspur's young players they will receive a raucous welcome when they take on his side in Toumba Stadium tonight.

Awaiting Redknapp's team will be a sell-out 32,000 crowd with a reputation for being one of the most fanatical in Europe.

"This is their game. Tomorrow is their day," Boloni, the former Al Wahda coach, said yesterday.

"They have to show what they can do. Tomorrow is Sunday for PAOK fans. Sunday is when everyone goes to church and here everyone comes to the stadium. In this way I hope with our players we can give them a good present."

Stoke's record signing Peter Crouch will miss clash with Dynamo Kiev having stayed at home as a precaution. Crouch sat out a training session after making his debut against Liverpool on Saturday and has not travelled to Ukraine.