City boss Chris Hughton read straight from the managerial textbook as he pondered this weekend’s magnificent 1-0 win over Arsenal – don’t get too down when you lose nor get too excited when you win.
In short, keep calm and carry on.
The Canary chief would have every reason to grin like the proverbial Cheshire cat after yesterday’s first win of the season – his first win at the helm of his new club.
It has been a tense autumn for the former Newcastle and Birmingham boss; bottom three with a sorry looking defensive record and the inevitable comparisons with his immediate predecessor – there was ammunition a-plenty out there for those swift to judge the board’s latest managerial appointment.
By seven o’clock, however, and the whole dynamic of the last two months had been turned on its head.
Courtesy of Grant Holt’s third goal in as many games, Norwich travel to Aston Villa next weekend looking down on their previous mentor, not up. It is Paul Lambert with it all still to prove to his new employers, not Hughton.
Should the Canaries build again on this weekend’s success and come away from the Midlands with any kind of result, it will be Lambert facing the bigger inquests; Hughton having done much to quieten his immediate critics with this weekend’s one result.
“It was certainly worth the wait,” Hughton told the BBC afterwards, betraying little by way of the unbridled joy he must have been feeling inside. Personally – over and above lifting Norwich out of the bottom three – that was a big, big result for him.
But he stayed calm and carried on.
“Arsenal are always going to have a lot of the possession because of the quality that they have got, but I thought we restricted them to minimal chances and if anything towards the end of the game – particularly when we broke away – we could have made it a little bit more comfortable for ourselves.
“But I thought it was a well-earned three points. Overdue, but we went about it the right way today.
Holt had the clearest chance to put the game beyond Arsenal’s reach with a solo break-away that, in the end, resulted in no more than a gentle lob back into the keeper’s arms.
But the 31-year-old had already more than earned his keep again with the 19th minute poacher’s strike that punished Arsenal for a generally limp away day. A busy international week might have tired the Londoners minds and limbs less than their hosts, but the same argument could apply to the likes of both Manchester City and Chelsea – never of whom faltered in their stride.
It also proved that in Holt Norwich have a player that can ruffle the feathers of the Premier League’s finest. He just needed that little bit more by way of the rub of the green to get his season back into last year’s gear.
“He’s a proven goal-scorer,” said Hughton, whose first managerial act almost was to get his skipper that prized third-year on his contract. One is now repaying the other with those goals against Liverpool, Chelsea and now Arsenal.
“The likes of your Grant Holts are always going to go through little barren spells,” added the City chief, who opted to reunite Holt with his favoured side-kick Wes Hoolahan in front of the watching Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trappatoni.
“But you always know at some stage that he’s going to get back on track again. He’s scored an awful lot of goals over the last three seasons and that [goal] was no coincidence – right place at the right time.
“But it was about a team performance today and I thought whichever 11 players were on the pitch, we had that today.”
They had shape, work-rate, discipline and timing – all of which, on other days, has been missing. And they had the extra bonus of a return for Anthony Pilkington who, from the second minute, gave the Gunners something to think about.
“You have to be able to stifle them,” said Hughton, whose decision to pair Alexander Tettey with Bradley Johnson in the heart of that midfielder paid rich dividends as the pair denied Arsenal the kind of space they thrive in.
He also got a clean sheet under the belt of Michael Turner whose confidence will have leaped on as a result.
“We’ve had four good performances and we just needed to turn a couple of those draws into wins,” added Hughton, the home draws with QPR and West Ham United still niggling. “So there’s never been a lack of belief there – we just needed to be better than we had been on our last two occasions.”