As the King’s Road’s finest await, the question is… does pressure bring out the best in Chris Hughton?Fri 4 Oct 13 by James Kent
I think most of us thought the worst about those away trips to Watford and Stoke and few people would have expected us to win both games. However, hopefully that has changed some people’s opinions about Chris Hughton’s ability to secure results away from home.
As many people will know, I have written plenty about Hughton some of which is on the positive side while some is more negative. Nevertheless, at the current time he has done a decent job to get us where we are. Like everyone else, I have my frustrations about certain things – but to be fair that would be the case for any manager.
If we go back to last season, the manager was under pressure early on when results didn’t look to be going Norwich’s way. It’s fair to say that a number of us wondered about his future for a while there. But he turned that all around with an unexpected home win against Arsenal that started to reverse the trend, especially when the Canaries went on that 10 match unbeaten run.
It was a similar story at the end of last season when Norwich needed a few results to secure Premier League survival, and they certainly arrived. As well as Hughton did last season I think it’s fair to say that he had something to prove this season, at least to some of the fans. In general, Norwich have performed to a decent level at home but not away.
Therefore, the game against Stoke was certainly a big one for Hughton to prove that he can get results away from home. I think it’s fair to say that the result has relieved the pressure on Hughton for now at least and given fans hope that the team can progress this season.
However, the thing that concerns me is how the team will perform when the pressure or heat isn’t under so much scrutiny. A classic example of this is Sunday’s game against Chelsea. Although, Chelsea hardly have their house totally in order, the chances are Norwich are not going to get anything out of this match.
In a way, it’s good that the manager performs well under pressure because many top coaches at this level don’t. We have seen two strong performances against Stoke and Southampton this season, but it still remains to be seen if a consistent performance can be found. We hope that now the team will begin to settle down, and a consistency in results will be seen.
At this early point in the season, it’s hard to tell if the club will improve on what they did in the last campaign. Most fans would accept that the squad has a lot higher quality players, but it remains to be seen how they will be translated to performances on the pitch. Hughton elected to change the system for the Stoke match, and I personally really liked the midfield balance of Jonny Howson, Leroy Fer and Alex Tettey. It certainly seemed to have potential and he is likely to stick with if he gets the opportunity.
The attacking trio of Anthony Pilkington, Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Robert Snodgrass always seemed to have a certain amount of promise, so I would also expect Hughton to persist with that combination if he can.
However, it’s worth remembering that there is a balance with the strikers to be considered as well as other players that might not fit into the system. The obvious examples being Gary Hooper. The English forward has still yet to start a game in the Premier League, despite arriving in the summer for over £5 million.
On the other hand, Ricky van Wolfswinkel has only scored once despite his fee of around £8.5 million. I think it’s clear that they aren’t to be used as a pair in Hughton’s eyes. Looking at the form, RvW is lucky to still be in the team, but I can see the Dutchman is not going to react nicely to being dropped from the team. And these are the sort of issues that the Norwich boss has to deal with.
Another player that is out on the fringes of things at the moment is Wes Hoolahan, and this is another area where the new-look system causes a problem. Nevertheless, Premier League clubs need to evolve quickly in order to survive and progress.
That may simply be what is happening at Norwich, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, time will ultimately be the judge of that. However, for now, Hughton and Norwich need to focus on sustaining a consistent level of performance. And that ultimately will be the big test over the next few weeks of the season, especially as Hughton decides how to approach Chelsea.