If anyone is in any doubt what the term ‘no-show’ means in footballing parlance, they could do worse than watch a DVD of Stoke City 1 Norwich City 0 (28/04/13).
While defeat at the Britannia wasn’t exactly unexpected – City haven’t won there since it’s opening in 1997 – the manner of defeat most certainly was. To have mustered not a single shot on target when the prize on offer was a free pass to the 2013/14 Premier League was disappointing in the extreme, and hardly smacked of a team fighting for their lives.
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 rap when things go belly-up – broad shoulders being a pre-requisite for any top level manager – it seems a little bizarre that the players have been almost absolved of any responsibility.
The same players who gave Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic his easiest afternoon of the season when he was probably expecting one of his busiest; the same group who gave the long-suffering Yellow Army another afternoon of mind-numbing ‘entertainment’.
The announcement of the City line-up gave more than a few clues to the manager’s thinking with the personnel virtually identical to those deployed at the Emirates; Ryan Bennett in for the injured Michael Turner being the only change. And, as far as I could see, there were few complaints.
Most agreed if they could find a similar level performance to that the one produced on that now infamous afternoon in North London, then City could come away from the Potteries with a decent performance and even a point or three.
With Stoke deploying their usual 4-4-2, on the face of it – and confirmed afterwards by Hughton – City expected to have the better of a 5 v 4 match-up in the centre of the pitch; the theory being they would make use of the extra man to retain some quality possession.
It didn’t happen.
While the Stoke set-up was intentionally ‘lop-sided’ – Charlie Adam assisting Steven Nzonzi and Glenn Whelan in the centre of the pitch – City still had a man advantage in the midfield, but some woefully slow, ponderous and sloppy passing rendered the manager’s best made plans useless.
It’s not as if the ‘Stoke way’ is a new way. The whole footballing world knows exactly how they play and, in fairness to them, they make no secret of the fact. Nothing fancy; no messing; back to front in as few passes as possible; the two strikers (Crouch and Jerome yesterday) winning headers and flick-ons; the midfield feeding off the knock-downs.
As simple as that.
Add some brain into the mix of brawn – Adam ticking that particular box – and there you have a recipe that has served Pulis and co so well over the last five seasons. They have a Plan A and they stick to it – Stoke don’t do subtlety.
It was even more disappointing therefore that City failed so miserably to make even the slightest dent in the Pulis model; the first half being amongst the scrappiest, most error-ridden and low-quality witnessed for some time. At no stage did Hughton’s men look like gaining control of the midfield – passing triangles seemingly something done by others – and subsequently the supply to a very isolated-looking Grant Holt was non-existent.
With Kei Kamara unable to reach the heights of his Reading performance, and Robert Snodgrass also having a rare off-day, the quality of delivery from out wide was of a similar calibre to the passing in the centre of the pitch – dire.
So poor was the delivery of crosses, Begovic’s second half was arguably less taxing than his pre-match warm-up – Holt cutting an increasingly forlorn figure with not a single goalscoring opportunity falling his way.
While many continue to blame Hughton – an increasing number it seems calling for a change – there’s little he can do once the players cross that white line. The best game-plan in football is worthless if those chosen to execute it fail to do so.
I’m not sure – given the opposition – there are many who would have picked a different starting XI and so why should the manager be the sole bearer of responsibility when they fail to deliver?
If there was a suggestion he’d ‘lost’ the dressing room and the players were simply not responding, then it would indeed be a cause for concern. As I understand it, that isn’t the case , so perhaps the issue is more one of quality; a lack of finesse and technique when something more than grit and determination is required.
To those who wish for a change of leadership: Hughton’s brief – back in May 2012 – was to ensure Premier League survival and despite events in the Potteries, he’s still only a couple of points away from fulfilling it.
With 28 of our 38 points having been amassed within the homely surroundings of Carrow Road, it seems only right that safety is finally assured there. With two consecutive home games on the horizon there is clearly still time for the mission to be accomplished.
So, let’s defer judgement until this time next season – once Hughton has had the opportunity to add more quality to the attacking third – and not chuck brickbats his way every time the players fail to deliver.
Finally – on a more positive note – the very best of luck to City’s Under-18s tonight in their FA Youth Cup Final first-leg tie against Chelsea. Make us proud lads.
On the Ball City…
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Howson was even more of a waste of shirt than normal on Saturday. We should have gone 4-4-2 for once with Pilks and Snoddgrass wide and Kamara and Holt upfront. This was never a game to be won or lost in midfield.
Whilst i’m absolutely sure that an immediate change at the top would serve no purpose at this stage of the season, and whilst he can’t be accountable for poor performances from individual players on the day, he can change formations during a match and he also has three substitute options on the bench to use! Far too often this season their seems to be no Plan B and/or substitutions are left far too late. It’s for these reasons that CH is testing the fans patience!
Completely stupid tactic if Hughton was really trying to dominate midfield – Stoke don’t play there.
Their goal came from Whittaker not tracking Adam and allowing himself to be blocked off – one error, but we never looked like even trying to score. I simply don’t believe the players when they say we were trying to win the game.
We set up for a 0-0 and had no idea what to do when they scored – exactly the same as at Arsenal except we nicked a goal from a set piece there which made everything look different.
When did we last get a midfielder in the opposition box at an away ground? When did a full back last get to the byline at an away ground? When did we last shoot from inside the box at an away ground?
It’s true that our home form will probably see us safe, but only because the management team have absolutely no idea how to play away.
Hughton will take us down. Whether that’s this season or next.
Completely agree with this article. Fans seem to blame Hughton when it’s the players failing to deliver. Countless times against stoke players got into good positions in which to deliver a good ball only for them to muck it up. It the tactics that got them into the positions, the lack of shots and goals is failure to execute the final pass..or seemingly any pass on Saturday.
Also to say Hughton doesn’t change formations is rubbish when Saturday saw us play 4-5-1, 4-4-2 and for the last 10 mins or so we went with 3 at the back. Also worth pointing out that Tettey came off for Hoolihan after 67mins and Bennett came on after 74, hardly the last minutes of the game..
Hughton has got things wrong this season, but yesterday was all down to the players IMO.
I agree entirely wi sgncfc comments. The manager sets the team up to play to his tactics and I am sick of them.
The set up for this game was never going to work, 5 in the middle was going to be a lonely afternoon as that’s not where you normaly find stoke players. Kamara on the wing is not where his is best used, to be kind to the lad he’s a bit of a headless chicken with lots of energy but no much control but if used he should be up front only. Wes should have been in the squad, Stoke are the biggest team in the prem and he’s the smallest. It should have been 4-4-2 from the start. None of our players looked like they wanted to bo there and clearly didn’t want to win relying on home games instead, I’m pleased I didn’t bother travelling this time, it sounds like another shocking away game again. Not sure I’ll bother travelling away again, if that’s the fare being provided why should I travel for hours at huge cost just to get bored for 90 + minutes.
I am not sure anyone outside of Carrow Road would know whether Hughton and Co have lost the dressing room, it wouldn’t be how shall we say Media Blackout Time.
The same as rumours that the latest recruit from Leeds stormed out of carrow Road last week whne he found he hadn’t even made the bench. Nobody really knows.
Mere mortals like us have to guess and surmise from what we pick up and see. More often than not we are well wide of the mark. Whether he has lost it or not. Results are extremely poor the Football content, I cannot rate much higher than results.
But players efforts and the looks on their faces do tell that things don’t sit quite right as they once did, which is vital to have have in these do or die final games
Gary Gowers says
A fair point Gordo; was basing the ‘hasn’t lost the dressing room’ comment on hearsay, and it’s true; unless you can get inside the heads of the players you’re never really going to know.
Let’s just hope they can scrape together another couple of points to give Hughton and co a chance to re-engineer the squad in the summer; flair and invention hopefully being top of their list of priorities.
I agree another season of the current fare would be unacceptable.
Thanks for your comments.
We’ve relied on set pieces and crosses for most of our goals this season which is something a stoke dude playing well will deal with.
I don’t get playing Whittaker offer Garrido or playing Howson over Hoolahan.
I’d love to see city go for it at times with either Johnson or Tetty alongside Hoolahan in a four four two. Too many of our central midfield aren’t a goal threat which us easier to defend against and adds more pressure to the wingers and strikers.
I was thinking back recently to the 2004 Prem season. We looked like a Championship side that had been promoted and continued to play the same way, with poor results. As the season progressed Worthington gradually changed the way we played and we got better – but it was too little too late. We came down and carried on trying to play in the new way, but it wasn’t right for the Championship by then.
I do think there are different styles of play in the two divisions – or at least effective winning styles of play.
This time round we came up with a Championship style and sheer momentum kept us going last season. But it could not last, and Hughton had to start changing our style to be harder to break down at the back. It takes time to change a team’s playing style, and this is a transition season in my view. We are (generally) much tighter at the back, but at the expense of creativity up front. Given his history with Newcastle and Birmingham – who were both pretty creative – I’m willing to give him time to get the back AND front of the team working well, perhaps with a few different players.
Keep us up this season – survive the transition season – and kick on next season. My glass remains half full…
Russell S. says
My mind goes back to the 4-3 win at Swansea – how could we have got it so right then and yet been so negative in recent away games?
Hughton was a defender and so has a defender’s mentality to his coaching. It’s difficult to see who we could attract to replace him so we start playing attractive, expansive football.
For all the initial hype, Kamara isn’t a goalscorer – Becchio is and yet seems to have been frozen out totally.
I fear Villa will beat us (again) at home which means we have to win against the Baggies – I hope they are in holiday mood by then.
I do agree with various comments above. However I think we need to look at our situatiuon sensibly for a moment & remove our yellow & green tinted spectacles. QPR & Reading are down, primarily due to their defence letting them down. The one positive, major thing (which will keep us up I believe) which Hughton has done is to shore up our defence.I agree that this has been at the expense of some attacking plays but some responsibility must lie at the players too. Villa is a big game for me & if we sit back we will be crucified. Simple. We need to attack and go at them & if we do, with the crowd in full voice I believe their defence will faulter. Lets get behind the team AND Hughton, stay up & I strongly believe their will be more money spent & changes on the horizon – Hooper being one. OTBC
colin brinded says
I have my doubts at this moment in time that if city should survive,the coaching staff and possible the manager have the coaching expertise to make city a mid table premier team,on evidence so far yes they have tightened the defence up to what it was in lambert days but at the expense of any attacking ideas,the players with creative skills are having to forgo that side of their game to help out in defensive duties ,and we all know you DONT win matches without scoring GOALS !!!!!
Sick and tired of the Hughton apologists trotting out the “it’s the players’ fault, they don’t show enough quality, the final ball was lacking” line – news flash people, it’s Hughton’s job to assemble the squad/pick the first 11 to ensure there is quality on the field! I simply don’t buy the argument that he has no responsibility for this – for 1) he has had two transfer windows to improve the squad and, 2) Lambert had us playing better with (arguably) less talent at his disposal.
Now, to be fair, I don’t think his transfer dealings have been bad – especially in his defensive recruitments, Hughton has done very well. But the attack is a shambles at the moment. I get that we couldn’t sign RVW in the Jan window, but why sign Becchio and not give him a chance? Morison (for all the accusations of laziness) was a half-decent striker at this level (9 goals last season!), so for that transfer to have made sense, Becchio needs to have played more than he has. Even with us crying out for goals, Hughton has not given him an opportunity, preferring an increasingly lacklustre Grant Holt up front. What I and think a lot of people would like to see is Becchio given a chance alongside Kamara, but CH has left it a bit late for that now! I’m wary of saying it’s all the strikers’ fault – it’s not, I could probably count on one hand the chances Holt has had to score in the last 2 months – but it doesn’t help not mixing it up. We have been far too negative for months, and that is the fault of CH for his preference for 4-5-1. Does he not realise the only league games we’ve won in 2013, we set ourselves up with 4-4-2 and proper wide players?! And that is Hughton’s weakness, made all the more glaringly obvious given Lambert was the complete opposite – that he is unable or unwilling to pick different players where the situation requires it. Howson has been in the lineup forever, can anyone name me a single decent game he has had in all that time?! Too lightweight, dallies on the ball, makes poor decisions and his passing is dire. Yet Hughton makes no change. I rest my case.
The irony is, sometimes PL’s team selections annoyed fans as he dropped players who didn’t deserve it. Hughton makes no changes even when the need is obvious. We’ve gone from one extreme to the other, where what we really needed was a happy medium.
Nice try Gary, but I’m afraid your defence of Hughton does not convince me. He has instilled a cautiousness in our style of play that is both dreadful to watch and fraught with danger, hence our very precarious league position.
Any attacking intent amongst the players seems to have been gradually beaten out of them, and the recent displays against very poor Wigan and Stoke sides was a clear indication of the lack of ambition amongst the management team. Hughton seems unable to influence a game from the sidelines, either by the use of imaginative substitutions or a change in tactics.
Hopefully we will survive this and move on to next season. However I would like us to bring in a new coaching team, that allows players some freedom to express themselves and yes dare I say it, actually enthuses the fans, the majority of whom are quickly becoming disullusioned with what is on offer at the moment.
Gary Gowers says
CanaryChibba / Andy – First of all, I’m not a ‘Hughton apologist’, and if I’m making anyone ‘sick and tired’ I apologise. Am simply saying it as I see it.
There’s no doubting the away form has been dire both in terms of entertainment value and results – no question about that – and Hughton is ultimately responsible. But those who still hanker for the ‘going for it’ style of our former leader are – in my opinion – wide of the mark.
Despite their emphatic win over Sunderland, Villa are still behind us in the league (albeit by a point) and have been for virtually the whole season. Gung-ho clearly worked last night, but it’s hardly been a recipe for success all season.
Hughton’s brief was clearly 17th place or higher. We no longer had the benefit of momentum from two consecutive promotions, second-season syndrome had kicked in and we were working on a budget a fraction of the size of many.
He needed to find a way of keeping us in the PL and identified the key component as a much tighter defence; hence the signings of Turner, Bassong, Tettey and Whittaker.
He also identified that within the group of players at his disposal, we don’t have the sufficient mix to comfortably play a 4-4-2. We simply don’t have a ‘four’ who are able to retain possession well enough – even when they’re playing against another ‘four’, let alone a ‘five’.
Players who would be capable of fitting into the dream ‘four’ come at a premium; Hughton spent his budget on solidifying the defence.
The board’s appointment of Hughton was for the long-term and so, personally, I think he should be judged in the long term.
No-one can argue that the fare on offer has been anything other than dire at times, but equally there have been some good days. Did any of us at the start of the season expect to beat Man Utd and Arsenal? I didn’t.
Despite what many seem to wish I think CH will be around for a while and, hopefully (assuming we stay up) we have an exciting summer ahead that will include the arrival of some midfield quality.
For what it’s worth, neither Birmingham or Newcastle, to my knowledge, played in a defensive, dour style.
I find it equally hard to see how the players are blameless.
Just my opinion.
Russell S. says
Seriously worried by Villa’s destruction of Sunderland ahead of their visit to us. Can Benteke be stopped?
Holty couldn’t hit a barn door with his banjo at present so (in agreement with comment 15) why not give the Kamara/Becchio combination an airing? It has to be worth a try surely?
Noticeable that all the ‘Hughton must go’ brigade fail to come up with any (let alone sensible) candidates to replace him – I hereby invite suggestions of who is out there (and that we can afford) to transform us into the Barcelona (or is that now Bayern) of East Anglia.
Sam Jermy says
I agree in certain degrees to the comments above. One thing I do know is that the entertaining football we have been accustomed to in the past couple of years has come to a sudden stop.
Does that matter if we finish 17th in the premier league for the next few years? Well to me it’s a yes, yes it does matter. When you’re paying £45 to watch a lacklustre 0-0 draw at home to Newcasle etc or making the effort to go and watch a toothless defeat at Stoke with NO shots on target then I think the quality does matter.
I just hope that we get the win against Villa or West Brom that we need, stay in the prem next year (I think we will, just!) And then really make a conscious effort to build out from the back.
The RVW signing makes me feel more optimistic, but i’m not sure if Hughton is the man to bring us forward. Personally I would like to see a bright young manager like Malky Mackay brought in. Failing that just more goals and entertainment next season please!
Happy to concede my earlier rant on here maybe wasn’t fully warranted in its vehemence. So apologies for that. I just feel strongly about the lack of entertainment value from CH’s side; and I believe that trying to win games where opportunities to win present themselves (in terms of the fixture list) is important. I simply don’t feel CH seizes the opportunity to play against and beat the sides around us, and that is a major issue for me.
I’m not advocating a “gung ho” style in every match – I find that a slightly misleading way of describing Lambert’s style from last season. From what I remember, he cut his cloth accordingly, and if for instance we were facing Chelsea away, he would play 5 at the back or in midfield. My point is that what Lambert wouldn’t do, is play with just 1 up front and set out to merely draw in what are obviously winnable matches such as Stoke away (or Fulham and Newcastle at home, I could go on). And Lambert would do that with apparently inferior players like Tierney and Surman occupying key positions in the 4-4-2/diamond formation, so while I would agree we don’t have the complete squad yet, I would question as to why one manager made do and another has not. Lambert definitely got the best out of his players where CH has maybe not done, particularly in the case of individuals like Fox who have been sidelined for no good reason. Again, not saying Fox is a Prem player in the long-term – but what I am saying, is that he might’ve been a better option in certain matches this season, much in the way Lambert used him at opportune moments last season. It’s not like he’s a much worse player than the other midfielders in the squad.
Russell (18 above) makes a good point about “hughton out” advocates not having any good suggestions for a replacement. I have to say, I personally didn’t put any out there because, hand on heart, as frustrated as I am, I don’t necessarily want him out (yeah I know I went over the top above and this wasn’t clear)! Hughton seems a very measured and likeable chap, he’s improved the defence no end, and IF we stay up I guess it’s job done.
But I do think the word “IF” that I used there is indicative of a problem – we’ve had so many chances in 2013 to pull away from the bottom 3, that I would say our survival should not be in as much doubt right now as it is. And I just want to see some more ambition from him in the winnable games that could’ve helped us past the 40pt mark by now.
I can see a Hughton-led Norwich having a long-term future in the Prem. We’ve drawn so many games this season, that you could argue just the addition of RVW makes us good candidates for finishing safely in mid-table next season if we survive (In an alternative universe where it’s still only 2 pts for a win, we’ve no doubt done rather well this season…). And his tactical nous has helped us compete so much better against sides like Man U and Arsenal and to get results against sides positioned near the top of the table, that bodes for future seasons. I just wish we could’ve gotten more results from the sides around us, which is what Lambert was able to mastermind so well last season and what was the bedrock of our survival in 2011/12. It would have made us all breathe so much easier!
Chris W says
Saturday will bring the “clash of styles” between last season & this into focus. Lambert’s Villa will come and attack us with exciting, young, attacking full backs & a front 3/4 with pace and power. Hughton’s Norwich will defend for it’s life with makeshift centre halves (assuming no Turner or Bassong), full backs that are not allowed over the halfway line, a midfield that cannot pass (forward or to a teammate) and strikers who have no pace and whose power is misdirected into trying to fight with defenders (Holt).
And whilst some change in style may have been needed to mitigate the 2nd season risk, surely the pendulum has swung too far. Even if Villa are “weak at the back”, we will not get near enough to exploit that weakness, we will still be reeling from their latest attack! No shots on Target, that’s us under Hughton, No shots on Target!
Sure you can blame the players (that old “when they cross the white line” chestnut) but it’s Hughton who tells the full backs to stay back, Hughton who picks 3 defensive midfielders with no creative ability (with Fox, Surman & Butterfield discarded & Hoolahan seen as a luxury we can’t afford), Hughton who persists with a striker who is clearly not mentally or physically with it, no matter how much we f**king love him! Hughton may get it right next season, he may buy a shed load of creative, pacy, powerful players fit for the prem, but those of us who watch NCFC every week are frankly more worried about this season! If Lambert shows us “what we’ve been missing” on Saturday, we will lose, no doubt. There is also no doubt that all we will get from the Etihad is a huge worsening of our already dire goal difference (tighter defence anyone?) and does anyone really see us getting more than a point against WBA, Reading they are not! Will 39 points be enough, maybe but only if Wigan play ball. Clearly it’s too late to change the manager, I just hope it’s not too late for him to change his style and save the season!
Why is it that so many people claim that we had been “found out” at the end of last season and that we had to change or we would have been down already.
Surely the argument could be made that we didnt have to change at all in terms of style, just the addition of Bassong to last years defence would have significantly improved things as shown by the disasters in games he has been missing.
Javier Garrido’s wikipedia page has the following line in it.
“He is a left back characterized by his constant overlapping runs”
What happened? Chris Hughton
He has coached the attacking life out of this team and to me its been as depressing as it been unneccesary. I would like to see him moved on at the end of the season and replaced with someone more in touch with the forward part of the game. Im sure there are some reasonable candidates who would be available, off the top of my head Di Matteo certainly seems a realistic suggestion.
Carl is absolutely right in analysis and prescription – we didn’t need (or want) Hughton’s radical change to how we play. And yes he does need to be ushered out at the end of the season regardless of whether we stay up or not.
Russell who has had lots of sensible contributions to the discussions here seems unable to deal with the issue of replacing CH & co by asking who we would recruit. Di Matteo is a good suggestion. Gianfranco Zola from Watford maybe? Someone suggested big Malky, but why would he leave Cardiff to come here?
Looking to the future, the club needs a different structure to plan the football strategy. That’s a bigger topic than needs aired here, but suffice for me to repeat previous posts that it is (and has been) crazy to not have a succession plan to maintain continuity and just grab someone and two pals to come in and do what they want.
However, in the short term we need someone new in PDQ to be able to be active in the summer transfer window.
Do any of you run the BBC website predictor? I’ve had us going down for weeks but since Newcastle’s rout by Liverpool, my predictions come out as them going down and us just surviving.
What outcomes are any of you getting?