In the aftermath of victory at the Etihad Chris Hughton could have been forgiven for giving his critics a metaphorical two fingered salute.
He resisted… he’s better than that.
The crescendo of abuse fired in his direction post-Villa was uncomfortable to say the least and indicated the ‘out’ campaign had just started to gain momentum in a Worthington style. Even those of us who had spent large chunks of the season defending his penchant for substance over style had started to question the legitimacy of our faith.
We veered away from an unswerving belief to one that could see where the anti-brigade ‘were coming from’ and, even if stopping short of jumping on the wagon, we inadvertently added some half-hearted fuel to a fire that was starting to flicker.
But we were wrong. I was wrong.
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… part of our DNA. And while the gaffer was insistent on patience being a Yellow Army virtue he’s been in football long enough to know it was a futile request.
Luckily for all of us, those with their finger on the trigger chose to ignore the calls for change; McNally and Bowkett both standing firm in the face of challenge – a first for both since taking over the Carrow Road reins.
Clearly we’ll never get close to knowing the innermost thoughts – actions even – of the City board room, but I suspect the notion of managerial change was given only the most cursory of considerations. Team Hughton was always viewed as a long-term appointment and it was going to take more than the mother of all mid-season wobbles for those at the top to veer from that meticulously honed path.
It’s easy to forget how well our club is now being governed, the days of lurching from one crisis to the next now a thing of the past. Where once we were the victim of short-termism, now we have seven-year plans; where once we recruited by virtue of a scatter-gun, we now seek out our number one target and leave the rest to McNally.
Clinical; business-like; 21st century. No more ‘little Norwich’.
All of which leaves little room for snap judgements that rely on the direction of the wind, Bowkett, McNally and the board instead relying on those carefully manicured plans to steer the ship through choppy waters.
And thank goodness for that.
It is surely no coincidence the four top-tier clubs who elected to change manager mid-season all finished below City. While Sunderland and Southampton could argue their decision to opt for a ‘sexy’ foreigner in place of one of the traditional ilk was justified, both now find themselves a few million shy of us in terms of Premier League prize money.
Some will argue – already have in fact – that we shouldn’t judge Hughton’s first season off the back of two good end-of-season wins; both against sides with nothing to play for. And they have a point. We can’t simply airbrush the really bad days from history and there’s no escaping the fact we lost to non-league Luton in the FA Cup and failed to muster a single shot on target over the course of 180 less-than-captivating minutes at the DW and the Britannia.
But for every Luton (h), Wigan (a) and Stoke (a) there was a Man Utd (h), Arsenal (h) and Man City (a); for every moment of excruciating, gut-wrenching agony there were occasions that brought equivalent amounts of unbridled joy.
Yesterday was one of them.
With the club’s external debt due to be paid off in the next couple of months Hughton will be trusted with a summer war-chest unlike any other afforded to a City manager. While Ricky van Wolfswinkel can now start dreaming of donning the famous green and yellow, there will be names aplenty mentioned in the same breath and the next few months promise to be as exciting as it can get in a close-season minus a World Cup or European Championship.
If Hughton’s summer 2013 forays in the transfer market prove as successful as last summer’s – Seb Bassong and Robert Snodgrass coming first and second in Player of the Season – we can expect a gem or two to be pitching up at Colney at the start of July.
In the same way we have learned to trust McNally and Bowkett, we should now trust Hughton, Calderwood and Trollope.
With the shackles off, the class of 2012/13 proved to us again yesterday that they are capable of playing some decent football and the notion of playing one up top can be anything but a defensive set-up. It is hard to recall a better ninety minutes from a City side on the road; Canary Call suggesting yesterday’s was the ‘perfect’ away performance.
The thought of bolting some quality on to the heroes of the Etihad is indeed a mouth-watering prospect – even if it means some of our current crop will have unfortunately played their final game in the yellow.
So… in the ever revolving door of the Premier League it’s a case of mission accomplished and now the hard work begins all over again.
While no-one would deny Mr and Mrs Hughton a few days in the sun before he begins the tours of Colney and Carrow Road (perhaps Mrs Hughton can be spared the box of DVDs this time round), he can at least return safe in the knowledge that the ghost of Paul Lambert has finally been laid to rest.
Well done fella; you’ve done us proud.