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Is tiredness a factor?

"Tiredness was a significant factor, we were missing key senior players today and we needed some energy because of a lot was expended on Thursday. We made a few changes to protect some other players as well the next game coming up.

"I was reasonably satisfied with 1-0 at half-time, Fulham were quite prepared to get people behind the ball and make it difficult for us. Stevie's goal was a fantastic strike, and in the second half we looked to keep it solid.

"Every goal we conceded was a poor goal, and the second made it really difficult because the energy we had used up in midweek made chasing the game difficult. We just did not have enough left to affect the game and get up to the Fulham players, who were quite happy to keep possession and pick us off in the end. There were just too many of the team feeling the effects of a long season and a difficult week."

>>mcfc.co.uk

History shows that sides who have competed in the InterToto Cup or early UEFA qualifying stages have always struggled towards the end of the season, specifically that their season begins in earnest weeks earlier than the rest of the league - leading to tiredness towards the latter stages of the league season as the early start and extra games take their toll.

It is also worth noting that Aston Villa entered the UEFA Cup via the InterToto competition this season, and from March onwards (after a lengthy run in Europe) they have seen their season unravel with their squad struggling to cope with the demands of an extended season.

For all the criticism Hughes has received over the past week, mental and physical fatigue has surely been a factor in both defeats - with both Hamburg and Fulham looking fresher and livelier than ourselves.

However, despite the squad not being blessed with an abundance of quality in depth, there are plenty of capable players in the squad at a Premier League level. One of the strengths Hughes talked about (when referring to himself) was the increased fitness levels that he would bring.

A lengthy run in the UEFA Cup was always on the cards, yet throughout the season there has not really been evidence of players being rotated in order to maintain fitness and freshness levels required at the 'business end' of the season.

This season is in real danger of mirroring the 2007/08 campaign. If we exit from the UEFA Cup later this week, there will be no focus in either league or Europe for the remainder of the season - which could do little for Hughes's long term prospects.