City boss Chris Hughton may still have a soft spot for this weekend’s visitors Newcastle United, but business is business in the English Premier League.
The Canary chief led the Toon Army out of the Championship at the first time of asking and was sat in 11th spot in the top flight when Magpies’ controversial owner Mike Ashley wielded the axe in 2010.
And while his decision to install Alan Pardew in the hot seat was amply rewarded last season, this year the going has got tough again with United heading to Norfolk five points adrift of Hughton and Co.
Nor is the January transfer window playing out well. Already out of the door has gone star striker Demba Ba to Chelsea. Now today the club has been rocked by the news that skipper Fabricio Coloccini wants to head back to Argentina ‘for personal reasons’.
Only in October, boss Pardew was likening the cultured, 30-year-old centre-half to Bobby Moore. It is probably no coincidence that Coloccini’s difficulties this season – including niggling injuries and three-match bans – have coincided with a distinct decline in United’s fortunes.
A big away win at Carrow Road would certainly ease some of the nervousness on Tyneside. But, by the same token, defeat would send the alarm bells ringing as the Canaries re-started their own survival campaign after those four, back-to-back league defeats before last weekend’s comfortable FA Cup triumph.
United, by contrast, went out with a whimper at Brighton.
Not that Hughton is setting too much store by that.
“On Saturday we’re playing at home and it’s an opportunity for us to get back to winning ways [in the league] irrespective of the form of Newcastle, but of course it’s a game that they’ll want to get back to winning ways in too,” he told the club’s official site ahead of this weekend’s clash.
The big question, of course, is whether or not Norwich’s own, talismanic skipper will make this weekend’s date after a hamstring strain saw Grant Holt sat on the sidelines over the festive period.
He is clearly being eased only gently back into the fray. But with the transfer window yet to yield any fresh reinforcements striker-wise, there might be an element of needs must with Steve Morison likewise hit by niggling injury.
The combination of Simeon Jackson and Elliott Bennett worked wonders in their cup absence, but United are a far more difficult beast to master than a limp Posh side stuck at the wrong end of the Championship.
“Grant is going to be close for the Newcastle game,” Hughton revealed. “He trained on Thursday morning, and we’ve just got a decision to make on his reaction to the training, but he is close.”
Jackson did himself no harm with his performance at London Road. Nor did David Fox. Though Bradley Johnson could expect a swift return to the heart of that Canary midfield after his recent one-match ban.
But, at least, Hughton has such positive decisions to make. Despite that four-game losing sequence, everyone still seems in an upbeat mood – free from the doubts and alarms that would appear to be besetting both the Toon Army and their equivalents at Villa Park.
“Simeon is certainly in the squad and I thought he played very well at Peterborough and of course scored,” said Hughton, as he threw Jonny Howson back into the midfield mix. “Jonny Howson is fine, he’s just missed a couple of days of training, but he will train on Friday.”
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