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Exclusive: Mark Hughes harbours no 'sour grapes' for Moyes over Everton exit

Mark Hughes knew the moment he needed to leave Everton, even if nobody else saw it coming.

Having joined his boyhood club at the age of seven, Hughes had become reserve team captain and was training regularly with the first-team under David Moyes.

Signs were promising when, after signing his first professional contract in the summer of 2006, Hughes made his full Toffees debut against Peterborough in the League Cup. A half-time substitute appearance in the next round against Luton Town meant Hughes was on a roll.

But even after making his Premier League debut off the bench against West Ham in December, the young centre-back knew his time at Goodison was limited. A month later he decided to take an offer from League One club Northampton Town.

Moyes' Everton teams were always dogged and punched above their weight. The Scot relied on an experienced back-line, featuring club legends such as Phil Neville, Alan Stubbs, Joseph Yobo and Tony Hibbert, to take on the Premier League big boys and succeed. What made it worse for Hughes, who was then 20, was having to watch academy teammates James Vaughan and Victor Anichebe notch up regular first-team appearances.

Reflecting now on leaving his beloved club, Hughes identifies an FA Cup tie against Chelsea when Moyes' team selection left him stunned.

He told "It was a tough one for me because I left when I was in and around the first-time for two years. I came through with James Vaughan and Victor Anichebe. I do think it is a little bit different being a striker, but they were getting chances. David Moyes used to say if you get a chance you'll stay in.

"I remember playing a game, it was on the TV, against Peterborough. I played, done really well and got man-of-the-match. And then I played the next round in the Carling Cup against Luton. We won 4-1 and Luton were a Championship team then. I just remember thinking I've got a chance here.

"But every time a Premier League game would come they'd always shuffle the park. I remember one game it was an FA Cup game against Chelsea. At the time Everton's defence was Alan Stubbs, David Weir and Joseph Yobo. All three of them were injured, there was only me to play.

"I remember all week a lot of the senior pros were saying you're going to be playing this week. I had it in my head that I was playing. Then David Moyes named the team and Phil Neville and Tony Hibbert were centre-halves, and Simon Davies, who was a midfielder, was playing right-back.

"I remember thinking to myself that my time is up, to maybe go down the leagues and come up that way. Every week just seemed to be a knock-back. I was doing well, captaining the reserves. I was in the reserves for three or four years, and you just come to a point in your life where you're just thinking I can't be doing this at 23 or 24, I need to get out there and start learning to play men's football.

"And that was when Northampton came up, who were a League One club at the time, I went and spoke to them. It was really tough because it was my dream to play for Everton but it just didn't feel the same not having a run of maybe five or six games in the Premier League."

Hughes left Northampton for Walsall two years later, before joining North Queensland Fury in 2010. The Liverpudlian has since spent time at Bury, Morecambe and Stevenage, before signing with current club Accrington Stanley in 2016.

Despite not getting back to the Premier League, Hughes insists he holds no bitterness towards current West Ham manager Moyes.

"It is what it is and I'm not going to have sour grapes for David Moyes because he's obviously become a good manager. To be honest I think he'd be a different manager now because of his experience. He used to give James and Victor a chance, but it's different for a striker, you get on in the last ten minutes and if you score, you score.

"I just think in the position I played, he just seemed to like that experienced player, he just didn't really give us a chance when I was chomping at the bit. I remember knocking on his door and he was like 'you'll get your chance, you're trying so well'. But it just never materialised. I didn't feel I could do much more at the time."

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Andrew Maclean
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