RICHARD Hughes believes struggling Portsmouth will provide Cherries with one of their toughest tests of the League One promotion run-in.
Pompey old boy Hughes has sounded out a warning as the clubs prepare to do battle on Saturday – in their first league meeting at Dean Court since 1989.
High-flying Cherries are the bookies’ favourites to prevail with second-bottom Pompey heading west on the back of a dismal 17-match winless league run.
But although Pompey’s midweek defeat at Scunthorpe was their eighth on the trot, Hughes says the pressure will be off the visitors and firmly on the shoulders of Eddie Howe’s men.
Hughes, who spent nine years at Fratton Park, told the Daily Echo: “These are the sort of games that worry me. People look at the table and, automatically, think we are going to win.
“There will be no complacency on our part because the manager will not allow it. We will have had a free week to implement a structure and a plan to deal with the game and it is a huge one.
“They will bring lots of supporters and create a good atmosphere. If you are a Pompey player, it is a fantastic game to play in because the expectation will be off them and that is not always the case when you play at Fratton Park.”
Hughes’s experience proved vital as Cherries bounced back from defeat at Walsall last month to record an emphatic victory at Hartlepool where the 33-year-old was restored to the starting line-up.
He also featured from the bench as Cherries sustained their promotion push by going on to record a hat-trick of victories with wins over Crewe and MK Dons.
Hughes added: “The reaction to the Walsall defeat has been really encouraging for us. When you go on a long unbeaten run, you know it has got to end at some stage. One of the most satisfying aspects was that we were able to bounce back and start another one.
“The three games were all very different and posed different challenges. But our preparation was spot on and the lads put into practice what the manager had worked on in training. It has been a fantastic collective effort and some of the football we have played, particularly in the two away games, has been excellent.
“When we are at home, things are more congested and there is a demand and expectation on us to attack at every given opportunity. That is why the home game against Crewe presented a different challenge and one we responded to.
“It took us 45 minutes to come to terms with it but, once we had, we created numerous chances. It has been a really good run and we need to continue it. Before the MK Dons game, the manager said we hadn’t picked up too many points against the teams challenging at the top end of table. He tasked us to try to beat a play-off contender on their own patch and every player rose to the challenge.”