Mark Hughes has distanced himself from suggestions he is being lined up for the Everton job as he looks to end Stoke City’s recent slump.
Roberto Martinez’s position at Goodison Park appears precarious following a season of underachievement, highlighted by supporter dissatisfaction in recent weeks.
Fans have held banners calling for the Spaniard to go and backed Leighton Baines after the left-back was forced to apologise for saying Everton lacked ‘chemistry’. More protests are planned for Saturday’s home game against Bournemouth.
Hughes, who had a brief spell as a player at Everton towards the end of his career, has been linked with succeeding Martinez, but Stoke have indicated that they would not welcome an approach.
Hughes himself was unhappy at the way Manchester City sacked him in December 2009, approaching Roberto Mancini behind his back, and he said: “It’s just speculation and I don’t encourage that. Certainly not when someone is in the position.
“It’s happened to me in the past when I’ve supposedly been under pressure at clubs and I heard other manager’s names banded about and I didn’t appreciate it then so I don’t want to be part of that to be perfectly honest.”
Asked if it was still flattering that his name was being linked with other jobs, Hughes joked: “On the back of three poor performances then it’s positive speculation I suppose!”
Stoke have lost their last three matches and are without a win in the Premier League since March.
Injuries have hampered Hughes’ team during that run, although the Welshman tried not to use that as an excuse, and he now has a fresh absentee with goalkeeper Shay Given out with a groin problem.
Leading scorer Marko Arnautovic is also a doubt with a groin injury and will undergo a late fitness test, but fellow forward Jon Walters could return for the first time since having a knee operation.
Xherdan Shaqiri (hamstring) has also returned to training while Erik Pieters is welcomed back from suspension.
Whoever he has available against Sunderland on Saturday, Hughes is expecting an improvement in the team’s performance.
“I’m not one to hide behind injuries but the reality is that we haven’t been at our best form because maybe key individuals aren’t available and we’ve had to make changes within games. That affects continuity,” said Hughes.
“It has had an impact but even so we’ve been disappointed with the last three games and we need to get back on track.
“In all three games we’ve had decent periods, but at this level if you lapse then you get punished
“But we’ve trained really well this week and I’ve sensed the disappointment with how we’ve performed as individuals and collectively, and I’m sure there will be a marked improvement.”