While Hughton continually asked to be judged after 38 games – not an unreasonable request – it was never going to happen. We’re football supporters after all; knee-jerk reactions and snap-shot judgements are what we do… they’re built into our DNA.
Norwich set the tone early on with a really positive start – Robert Snodgrass and Wes Hoolahan both prominent in the opening exchanges as the home side began in ponderous fashion. A couple of decent looking penalty shouts – a scythe on Snodgrass and a handball shout against Joleon Lescott – both went unnoticed by referee Mark Halsey, in his last game before retirement, but did nothing to deter the City spirit.
So, while we can rest safe in the knowledge that events in Eastlands will have no impact on whether next season we dine at The Ivy, with the likes of Chelsea, or at a ‘greasy spoon’ – with the likes of Ipswich – it will impact on Hughton’s summer transfer kitty.
Despite Andy Townsend’s best efforts to persuade us that last night was merely a triumph of guts and determination over class and skill, it was no fluke. Flukes don’t tend to happen over two legs, especially those where the same team wins both games.
Alas, my fears were unfounded and, to a man, those in yellow took not one backward step yesterday. From minute one to minute ninety-three they were ‘on it’ – every single one of them – and from somewhere found a performance right up there with anything we’ve seen in the McNally and Bowkett years.
The mathematicians amongst us have suggested a single point on Sunday may be enough, but I’d hate to think Chris Hughton would set City’s stall out for anything other than victory. It wouldn’t sit comfortably with the Yellow Army for sure, if that were the case – caution playing a far too prominent role in the 2012/13 campaign.
That Paul Lambert chose to prance across the pitch to boisterously celebrate Premier League survival with his new charges merely added salt into an already open wound – magnanimity never one of his finest qualities.
The home wins over Arsenal and Man Utd were the stuff of dreams but were arguably gazumped by that thrilling 4-3 away win at the Liberty Stadium. Little were we to know that victory at Swansea was to prove to be the season’s only away success, assuming the final day road trip to the Etihad doesn’t throw up the shock to end all shocks.
A lump in the throat quickly became a tear in the eye as those lads – off the back of 94 gruelling minutes – somehow managed to edge themselves ahead in the most thrilling of circumstances; McGeehan’s badge thumping summing up the mood to perfection.
Typically, the resulting inquest has pretty much laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of Chris Hughton; his pragmatic approach – especially away from home – again coming under intense scrutiny. But, while it’s normal for those at the top of the pyramid to take the wrap when things go belly-up, it seems a little bizarre that the players have been almost absolved of any responsibility.
The league table would have looked even worse for City but for Emerson Boyce’s 90th minute own-goal at the DW Stadium, one that saw Tottenham earn a point from a game that looked to be heading the way of the Latics. In short, that late twist at the DW may have a greater bearing on the final outcome than events – or non-events – at the Britannia.
All in all a little bit of a mess for a young man who, on Saturday, turned in a tremendous Man-of-the-Match performance that included notching the all-important first goal; such is the life of a professional footballer. From hero to zero in the space of four days.
The Club, in their own attempt to fire up the atmosphere, were handed a trump card in the form of the Under-18s, and even minus the clappers their pre-match ovation would have been of the rousing variety. As it happened the lads played their part in proceedings perfectly and were ably by a trio of legends – Messrs Eadie, Dublin and Huckerby all still proving capable of playing a Carrow Road blinder.
One hopes their call for the #Yellarmy to create a cauldron will have the desired effect – although it would be good to think that unequivocal backing of the Yellow Army would be a given on such occasions regardless. It’d certainly be helpful if the dissenters could find it in themselves to ‘button it’ from 2:45 to 5:00 on Saturday afternoon.
The sense of injustice we all felt post-Stadium of Light was certainly back, and back with a vengeance. Whether that feeling of being shafted is as justified now as it felt at 17:00 on Saturday – with the adrenalin still pumping – remains to be seen, but to watch those three points slip through the fingers in such agonising fashion was painful either way.
The game’s pivotal moment came on 84 minutes when, from a hotly disputed corner – Snodgrass looking as though he’d successfully shepherded the ball out for a goal-kick – the ensuing scramble resulted in Kamara harshly being adjudged to have pulled Giroud’s shirt.
The simmering discontent over Chris Hughton’s management style has taken on a life of its own of late – Twitter and the message-boards affording the dissenters a disproportionately loud voice – but the depth of feeling of some was brought home to me over me pre-match drink last Saturday.
If there was a positive to be gleamed from the game – other than the fact they didn’t lose – it was the way the City players responded to adversity. After being horribly outplayed for half an hour, and with the faithful getting increasingly restless, they somehow managed – completely out of the blue (apologies for using the word) – to conjure up the unlikeliest of equalisers.
When presented with his first Norwich City fixture list, back in June 2012, Hughton will have looked at the final few home games of the season – Swansea, Reading, Aston Villa, West Brom – and considered each to be winnable. Nothing has changed.
Thanks to a fruitful autumn – that ten game unbeaten run now taking on the form of a lifeline – they still find themselves with a small but eroding cushion. Quite how much longer I’ll be able to say that I’m not sure, although Aston Villa’s ‘charge’ being halted by Liverpool yesterday certainly helped.