The first thing to say is last night was not the best barometer of the progress (or otherwise) of Hughton’s class on 2013/14. The second however is that in terms of pure entertainment it was right up there.
Southampton – on Saturday – will of course be the acid test, but if it’s thrills, spills and goals that rock your boat, as will have been the case for many of the ‘kids for a quid’, then it had pretty much everything.
Bury, and their vociferous travelling support, made it obvious from the word ‘go’ that it was never going to be one that fizzled out with barely a murmur. Quite the opposite in fact, and with a wall of sound that should be the envy of many a Premier League away following, they maintained a cup-tie tempo from minute one to ninety-five.
That a few of their number should choose to start fighting amongst themselves was a shame and spoiled what had been an exemplary display of roaring your team on in the face of adversity. Luckily it was an isolated incident that fizzled out as quickly as an Ipswich Town promotion push and so is not one to dwell on.
What is worth dwelling on is the way Chris Hughton was able to name a side that contained no fewer than eight changes to the Hull starting line-up, yet looked every inch a first XI, not only on paper, but also in the professional way it set about tackling the latest banana skin chucked in their path.
I’m fairly sure Messrs Fer and Elmander will have little or no knowledge of January’s FA Cup defeat to Luton, but it’s an afternoon that’ll stick long in the memory for many, particularly when lower league opposition pitch up in the fine city. Ditto – albeit to a lesser extent – the two early-round Capital One victories last season against Scunthorpe and Doncaster, when City huffed, puffed and limped through to the next round by virtue of single goal victories.
All too often in recent the past we’ve given fringe players a chance to shine in Cup games only for them to confirm their rightful place on the periphery with tepid, unconvincing displays.
For the Shakers to be swept aside in such clinical fashion was a little ‘un-Norwich like’ and, in addition to confirming the credentials of Hughton’s ‘fringe’, it also gives the manager a few days grace from the circling vultures.
Whether the confidence gained from a thumping win over League Two’s 16th placed team will impact on Saturday’s clash with the Saints is of course impossible to quantify, but there was little to emerge from last night that won’t have had a positive impact ahead of the weekend – the sight of a limping Ryan Bennett aside.
Post-match, Hughton confirmed that Bennett’s injury remained a ‘slight concern’ although he did comment on the valuable game time enjoyed by both Sebastien Bassong and Anthony Pilkington; the latter marking a useful comeback from injury with a thumping drive to make it 2-0.
Interestingly he did also drop into the conversation that Leroy Fer is ‘still finding his feet’, which explains why the Dutchman – along with Russell Martin and Bradley Johnson – was offered another 90 minutes to get up to speed with the overcrowded and breakneck nature of an English midfield.
In fairness to the Dutchman, he looks to be ‘getting there’ and has done more than enough in his fledgling City career to suggest good things ahead. For what it’s worth, this layman thinks he looks happier playing deeper – as opposed to being Ricky’s number-10 – where he’s able to use his strength, energy and technique to greater effect; not to mention the opportunity it affords him to get box-to-box, as demonstrated by his goal.
Johan Elmander was another worthy of praise in Hughton’s post-match assessment – the manager ‘delighted’ with the Swede’s performance – and his two goals were the perfect way to mark his Carrow Road debut. At 32 years-old, the Swede can ill afford time to find his feet and what better way to confirm the ground has been well and truly hit while on the move than a brace.
Equally, the Swede’s similarity to Grant Holt was there for all to see last night, not only in terms of looks and demeanour (if only Holty had grown a beard to accompany that Movember ‘tache) but in the way the ball was held up and laid off ‘back to goal’; his touch at times even usurping that of the great man.
Hughton did understandably pass comment on his ‘disappointment’ at conceding three goals and behind all the positives there clearly remains a nagging concern that ‘if Bury can do it…’ But for those who continue to yearn for a return of the Lambert years what better way to pay homage to Birmingham’s finest than a nine-goal thriller. I’m sure the ruddy-faced one approved.
So… while the evening’s events should be considered in context, the positives did far outweigh the negatives and that’s at least two steps up from Hull.
I’ll leave the final word to Stephen Fry – Director and Tweeter extraordinaire.