The crunch games keep coming, but for how much longer can Hughton nail the ‘must-wins’Thu 6 Mar 14 by Robin Sainty
As David McNally recently reminded us, manager Chris Hughton usually gets a result at home when he needs it most. Obviously, it’s credit to him that he is able to do that because I can think of plenty of managers that would crumble under such pressure. It’s a point I have made before, and it’s probably the fundamental reason why he is still in a job.
The performance against Spurs last time out at Carrow Road was hugely encouraging and was deserving of more praise from the likes of Danny Mills. However, it seems that taking one step forward and two steps back is the story of our season. There were a number of very encouraging stats going into the game against Aston Villa, such as their poor recent form and, in particular, their struggles at home.
Add into the mix, the fact that Christian Benteke was having an indifferent season, and I genuinely thought that we had an excellent chance of taking all three points from the game. In fact, we started very brightly and appeared to be full of confidence following that result against Spurs. Therefore, it was hardly a massive surprise that we were able to take the lead through Wes Hoolahan.
At that point in the match, it seemed that there was only going to be one winner. However, despite things being difficult for Benteke this season, he showed a glimpse of last season’s magic to get Villa back in the game. From that point on, Norwich completely crumbled – for what reason, we can’t really say.
Obviously, 4-1 down at half time was a nightmare scenario, and Hughton’s chances of turning the game around again were always going to be limited. Nevertheless, like most Norwich fans, I was expecting for him to at least have a go at it. This is no doubt a big problem area with our manager is the mentality where you just accept a defeat.
I know we have a poor goal difference and it wouldn’t do us many favours to have lost 5-1, 6-1 or even the dreaded 7-1, but when your manager says after the game that he brought Johan Elmander on to consolidate the position it rightfully sets off a few alarm bells. I think it’s fairly basic that you don’t take off a winger, bring on a striker and then play him on the wing.
Many of us are fond of the Championship/Football Management computer game series, so let’s think what we would do at 4-1 down in a game. Personally I would increase tempo and attacking mentality, and probably make two or three changes. Obviously, this isn’t real football management – but the point here is we wanted our manager to have a go.
If we go back to the start of the season we have won some big games at home against Southampton, West Ham, Crystal Palace, Hull and Spurs. Impressive stuff of course but there is always another side to the story. That being that Hughton does set himself up for crunch games at home due to the poor results away.
If we just focus on recent history, we’ve suffered some bad away defeats against Cardiff, West Ham and Aston Villa. For a manager who so often looks like he wants to draw away, we would have been better off if we had drawn those games rather than lost them. The difference may have only been three points, but by losing those games we have given those teams hope over us – and created the idea that if we get a crunch game away from home it is likely we will lose it.
I don’t want to say too much more about Hughton because I have talked about him plenty this season already. However, I do think that the board need to have a long, hard look at the long-term strategy for the club this summer, irrespective of the division that we are playing in.
Maybe he is a manager that can keep you in the Premier League. After all, he did manage to do that last season, and I personally believe that he will just succeed again. However, that’s largely as a result of over teams having bigger problems than us. For instance, had West Brom, Cardiff and Fulham stuck with the manager they had at the start of the season things may look somewhat different at this point.
I don’t believe we can afford to rely on there always being three teams worse than us in the league. I know that this board has aspirations to be in the top-half of the Premier League, and I think there is enough evidence to suggest that he is not the right man to achieve this. Simply put, he is reactive rather than proactive and won’t gamble on a game to get a result. Instead, he would rather accept a 4-1 defeat.
I don’t feel this is a mindset compatible with our fans. You have to ask serious questions about a manager who can’t string two wins together – and who routinely gives himself a game that he simply has to win. In all likelihood he will slip up eventually.
Nevertheless, let’s look ahead to Stoke City. As we all know it’s another must-win game.
Of course, there are some encouraging stats for Norwich fans, but I’m not going to pull those out because I would have said the same about the Villa match. The big talking point ahead of the game will probably be on Wes Hoolahan. I think most of us would agree that in many respects he is the most technically gifted player we have.
However, I was not particularly impressed that he decided not to celebrate his goal, which was certainly disrespectful to the fans and the club. I think unless things change dramatically, he won’t be here next season. Personally, I wouldn’t start a player that isn’t committed to the club, and would agree that his appearance against Villa was probably a one-off.
Jonny Howson is now fit again and he is one to slot back into the team in the absence of Leroy Fer. Other than that, I wouldn’t expect many changes. Let’s remember that we haven’t conceded a goal at home in the last four and Stoke City is one of those teams we have beaten this season. So let’s hope we can get another win as well as pushing ourselves closer to survival.