Only a dark hurt deep in his eyes betrayed the bleakness Hughton was feeling. Only private, whispered conversations revealed Delia’s mood. She was in pieces, but with practised sincerity, she produced smile after smile as countless fans asked her to be in their “selfies”.
Norwich were winning. Bringing Howson on would enable a switch to the 4-2-3-1 system which was so effective in a run of games before it was abandoned with disastrous results to accommodate Wes at Villa Park.
I understand that the only circumstances in which they might be prepared to part with Hoolahan in this transfer window is if they could sign someone better at his sort of role – operating centrally just behind the main striker.
City got the best “value per point” in the entire Premier League last season under Hughton. Finishing 11th cost just over £500,000 per point. Compare that with Chelsea, who blew £5m a point!
The most successful manager of all time, Sir Alex Ferguson, was loathed by fans and very nearly kicked out – before turning things around just a tad. A year ago Arsenal fans were telling Arsene Wenger he didn’t know what he was doing. Now they top the table.
He seemed indestructible, so the news that his brain has been dying, one cell at a time, is crushingly sad. But I am fortune enough to have a personal recollection which has made me smile down the years and which is help at this most mournful of times.
Hughton is not inherently cautious or defensive. How could ten different Tottenham managers have valued his coaching if he does not prize attacking play? Yes, he likes an organised defence. And he believed that was the area which needed improving when he took over at Norwich.
There were more misleading stats from the game. One set said Everton had enjoyed 67 per cent of the possession: an extraordinary figure for a visiting team. Opta, the company used by the Press Association and the BBC, later declared Everton’s possession to have been only 56 per cent – still good but not so substantially better than Norwich to raise alarms.
I can’t think of him without remembering the demolition derbies. In the first, at our place, Holty’s hat-trick epitomised his attacking qualities: never giving defenders time to think or room to move, always ready to indulge in low-level illegality to better an opponent, always alert to an opportunity, always striking the ball like someone who knows he can score rather than someone who hopes he might.
How could Chelsea fans stomp out on their kids? How could they become so sated by success, so flush with a sense of entitlement that they wouldn’t stay to the finish and applaud teenagers? It will never be like that at Norwich. We remember what failure feels like, so when success comes, boy, it feels so good. But we can’t take it for granted.
If Sunderland had won, Norwich would now be 15th, with confidence crushed. As it is, it is Sunderland who are 15th, four points above the drop zone and with belief of supporters and probably players deflated. As I have said on this site, Norwich will always have to chisel out every point in the Premier League and must treat every point won away from Carrow Road as a triumph.
I think of games under Glenn Roeder when Darel Russell was pressed into service as a striker. I shudder at the recollection of the string of genuine(ish) forwards upon who we invested our hopes: men like Elvis Hammond, Chris Brown and Paul Dalglish. I think of players in other positions – Julien Brellier, Steve Walsh and Simon Whaley among them – who stretched my determined optimism to breaking point.
Here is a truth which some will find unpalatable: as long as we live, Norwich will always have to scrap for every Premier League point. And any point earned away from home will be a good one…
I’VE had two spats with Norwich fans at recent matches. My wife tried to stop me, but sometimes I am so angered by some of the glass-half-empty contingent that I cannot bite my tongue. Both rows centred on Steve Morison. At West Brom, a guy behind me made a highly disparaging comment about Morison as […]
Looking back now, there are some lessons ahead of City’s reunion with Lambert. We certainly need to remember how we got him before we allow ourselves to be consumed with angst about how we lost him. And we need to realise that, once he moves on, there is no sentiment in his soul…
Instead, as the magnificent travelling fans yelled themselves hoarse and the players dug in for the draw which was the very least their endeavour and enterprise deserved, there was an almost palpable sense of: “We’ll be all right!”
He contrived to guide Birmingham into the play-offs, but you can see why Norwich – stable, Premier League, well-run Norwich – present Hughton with an opportunity. It will be a change to work somewhere sane. The calm man, who has shown time and time again that he can steady a rocking ship, has arrived at a safe harbour…
I could blather on about “sources” or bury you in coded cliches, but instead I assert baldy that I know for an absolute fact that Lambert understood and accepted the need for Norwich to keep the spending brakes on for two more seasons….
Of course people who pay to watch Norwich have a right to boo. Even keyboard warriors who stay at home have a right to boo. But the real question is why would you want to? Why would you look for negatives at Norwich City now? It is like winning the Lottery and moaning that it wasn’t the Euro Millions…
I always rage at the moaners and the snipers who, even this season, can find something to make themselves miserable before they phone Radio Norfolk or log-in to message boards. Yet Lambert was less able to deal with the [Manchester United] defeat than any of them. You’ve got to love the guy.