MARK Hughes is encouraging City to enjoy the big-game pressure ahead of their Sixfields showdown with Northampton.

A sold-out home crowd tomorrow expects to see the Cobblers seal promotion to League One.

City, who have a game in hand on all their rivals, still have an outside shot at third place but need the points towards rubberstamping their play-off entry.

Hughes admits it will be the kind of high-stakes occasion he savoured during his playing career - and he wants his team to feel the same way.

He said: “I found the bigger the game, the more excited I got.

“The challenge really stimulated me. That’s what got my adrenaline and juices going.

“Everybody’s different but all of these guys have come on a football journey.

“They are at a good level, a professional level, and that tells you they’ve got a lot of traits they need to be really resolute and strong in mind and body.

“Some will clearly be stronger than others. But I just try and emphasise to the guys that these are the games you want to be involved in, the bigger, the better.

“Get excited by it. Don’t be apprehensive, just enjoy going up against opposition who want to stop you fulfilling your goals.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Andy Cook is sandwiched by two Northampton defendersAndy Cook is sandwiched by two Northampton defenders (Image: Thomas Gadd)

“If you give everything that you’ve got, then you can look at yourself in the fall-out after the game and say, ‘there was nothing more I could have done’.

“It’s a case of really giving what you have on the day and enjoying the moment. That’s the key for me.

“Be excited by the challenge. Why not?”

Hughes is clearly buzzing to have so much to play for at the end of his first full season back in management since his three-and-a-half years out of the game.

“Where we are at the moment has fulfilled what I hoped it would do in terms of being involved at the business end of a difficult season,” he added.

“We’re in a position that we haven’t been in for a number of years and I’m really enjoying it. I hope that is easy to see.

“It’s difficult sometimes when things don’t quite go to plan but the actual process of getting to this point of the season and still having the chance to achieve is something you have to embrace.”

City looked nervy in the first half against Gillingham last week but cleared their heads after the break.

Hughes believes the way the players responded - despite that painful last-gasp equaliser - will set them up for the huge battles they now face.

“Decision-making on the football field is key for me. It’s thinking clearly under pressure when everything is flying around and it’s an intense game.

“You’ve just got to have that mindset and clarity of thought.

“We’ve got to try and get that into our play for the games that we have left.”

Hughes is full of admiration for the way Northampton have picked themselves up from the “unbelievable” scenario last season when they had promotion wrenched away on the final day.

The Cobblers won their last game - but then saw Bristol Rovers steal into third spot on goals scored after firing seven past Scunthorpe.

“That disappointment was huge,” he said. “Those circumstances were unique - I don’t think they are ever likely to happen to the same extent ever again.

“It was an unbelievable situation they found themselves in.

“Clearly at the point where they’ve won their game, they’ve done what they thought would be enough. Then the result coming in from elsewhere has affected that.

“That was probably a big factor in the reason they weren’t able to go up through the play-offs.

“It was always going to be difficult for them to be the team that was hurt by that situation.

“But they’ve regrouped, as you have to, and they’ve gone again. That’s credit to the manager and staff.”