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Hughes can be Mr Dependable
Lewis Dunk has been ruled out of the rest of Albion’s pre-season trip to Spain.
But an ankle injury will not wreck the young central defender’s hopes of staying in the mix under Sami Hyypia.
Dunk was hurt during the second half of Albion’s 4-0 stroll against Partick Thistle in Pinatar on Saturday evening.
Soft tissue damage will sideline him from tomorrow night’s clash against Real Betis.
Hyypia and his players fly home on Friday and Dunk is expected to be available for either the friendly at Crawley next Wednesday or the penultimate warm-up at Peterborough three days later.
The 22-year-old’s injury setback has coincided with the addition to the squad of experienced Northern Ireland international Aaron Hughes.
Hyypia’s first signing is in pole position to partner captain Gordon Greer, with Dunk and 23-year-old Latvian international Vitalijs Maksimenko as back-up.
Maksimenko is eager to push on under Hyypia in the final year of his contract following loan spells in the last two seasons with Yeovil and Kilmarnock.
Hughes, Greer, Maksimenko and development squad prospect Glen Rea could all feature against Betis in Dunk’s absence.
Albion could not have found a better replacement for Matt Upson than Hughes after losing their player of the season in May to Premier League newcomers Leicester City.
Hughes, like Upson, is a model professional with a wealth of experience at the highest level.
The ultra-consistent Upson, who was 35 in April, is a hard act to follow.
He featured in 43 of Albion’s 46 matches in the Championship last term and was sorely missed when a persistent ankle tendon problem ruled him out of the second leg of the play-offs at Derby County.
The record of Hughes, seven months Upson’s junior, suggests he is every bit as dependable.
He has made 604 club appearances for Newcastle, Aston Villa, Fulham and Queens Park Rangers, the vast majority of them in the Premier League, since his debut for the Toon against Barcelona in the Champions League at the Nou Camp in November 1997.
That compares favourably with Upson’s 447 outings for nine clubs, including Arsenal and West Ham, over a slightly longer period.
The competition is far less severe but Hughes has also been capped 90 times by Northern Ireland, many of them as skipper, compared to Upson’s 21 caps for England.
There are two other benefits accompanying the capture of Hughes – his versatility and composure.
Centre-half is his main role but he can operate as well in either of the full-back positions or in midfield.
There is also no chance of Hughes losing his head when the heat is on. Astonishingly, he has never been sent off.
Half of the spine of the Albion team is now in place for Hyypia, with defensive midfielder Nzuzi Toko signed prior to his appointment.
The remaining issues are the goalkeeping replacement for Tomasz Kuszczak and the uncertainty surrounding the future of Leo Ulloa, who could still end up as a team-mate of Upson once more in the East Midlands.
Hughes and Northern Ireland launch their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign away to Hungary on September 7. They also have Hyypia’s Finland, Greece, Romania and the Faroe Islands in their group.
Greer, meanwhile, has a European Championship qualifier against World Cup winners Germany in Dortmund on September 7 and a friendly against England at Celtic Park on November 18 to look forward to with Scotland. Greer was an unused substitute in Scotland’s 3-2 defeat by England at Wembley last August.
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