The venom directed towards Chris Hughton on Saturday caught me a little off guard if I’m honest.
Not because it revealed discontent at his perceived management style – a quick dip into any Canary Call since the turn of the year would have confirmed that – but (1) because of its sheer ferocity and (2) because of the proportion of the Yellow Army who now appear to be part of the ‘out’ movement.
For the first time (on this particular issue anyway), I’m feeling a little out of step with the majority.
While the boos and chants that greeted the withdrawal of Nathan Redmond may have been music to the ears of a ruddy-faced Scot in the opposite dugout, they were quite the opposite to a bald forty-something sitting with his young son in the River End.
Aidan: “What are they singing dad?”
Dad: “They’re telling Chris Hughton that they don’t think he knows what he’s doing”.
Aidan: “Why are they saying that Dad?”
Dad: “Ermm…” *Silence*
In whichever camp you find yourself, and there don’t appear too many in ‘no man’s land’ on this one, more of the same could soon see us edging toward ‘civil war’ on a Worthington and Roeder scale… and that’s not good… for anyone.
If supporting Norwich for over forty years has taught me one thing, it’s that scenarios such as this rarely end well. While there has been much talk of Hughton ‘losing the dressing room’ – something that will remain conjecture to all but a few – to lose the crowd is arguably even more damaging.
For many however the die was already cast; the bleak mid-winter of 2012/13 evidence enough for some that the new manager’s pragmatic style was not for City. Even the ten-game unbeaten run is now being perceived as one huge but glorious blip in an otherwise conservative and cautious reign of Team Hughton.
What the indifferent start to the new season has done is to give those who fell silent at the back end of last season a renewed voice; to them this is further confirmation that their questioning of Hughton’s stewardship was justified. And now they’re growing in number.
But were they right all along? Or is this a typically over-the-top knee-jerk reaction from City supporter?
No rights or wrongs course. We all have an opinion and we’re all entitled to voice it, but there is a tipping point where such vocal and public displays of dissent end up having an unavoidable impact.
Both sides are convinced their arguments are so compelling it’s inconceivable that Hughton should stay/go (delete as appropriate) and the issues are crystal clear. Black and white.
Alas the reality is never that clear cut.
In the event that David McNally saw fit to pull the trigger, how easy would it be to replace Hughton? The obvious names of Di Matteo and Poyet would get bandied around, but assuming Sunderland are shopping in the same aisle and/or neither fancies a spell in Norfolk where then? Presumably we move on to the ‘Alan Curbishly pool’, and I’m sure we don’t want to go there.
And there’s the messy and thorny issue of compensation. With fingers still burning after the last episode I’m fairly sure Delia and co will be doing their upmost to avoid another.
But what’s the alternative I hear some cry…
Do we stick with what we’ve got on the basis that the talented eleven individuals we currently have masquerading as a team will eventually gel as one?
I’m loath to mention the name, but Lambert’s City succeeded where others had failed because (with apologies to Aristotle) the team was greater than the sum of its parts. Alas, as things stand, we’re in opposite territory with a group of talented individuals playing as if they hardly know each other… which, in all likelihood, is a reflection of reality.
We all – well most of us anyway – hope that sooner rather than later things will click and we’ll start seeing value for our £27 million, but with Stoke (a), Chelsea (h) and Arsenal (a) on the horizon it needs to happen quickly. Whisper it quietly, but three defeats from those games and the brow of McNally would be getting ever more furrowed and, perhaps, the finger a tad twitchier?
But Norwich being Norwich we’re not beyond getting an unexpected result or two in these next three weeks; stranger things have certainly happened, like beating Manchester United and Arsenal within the space of a month last autumn.
Unfortunately, as things stand, that’s the only way I can visualise the heat being taken out of the current head of steam.
Certainly Hughton did himself no favours around the issue of Saturday’s penalty taker. His uncertainty when questioned by Chris Goreham told a story of its own, and I can only hope his desire to keep such matters in-house prompted such a vague response.
Ricky van Wolfswinkel should be on penalties – end of – and just because Robert Snodgrass “felt good about it” and threatened to take his ball home should not matter one jot. With man-management playing a bigger role than ever in Premier League management (just ask Paolo di Canio) it’s inconceivable that McNally wouldn’t have made a mental note of this particular sub-plot.
Hughton’s desperately needs the respect of the players, without which City will be heading southwards sooner than you can say Ipswich Town. As far as the Yellow Army is concerned, for some I fear the point of no return has long been passed. When that changes from ‘some’ to ‘most’ is when the rot really starts to set in.
We’re not there yet, and a win at Watford would certainly afford him a lifeline, but consecutive defeats in the upcoming league games and… well, let’s not go there.
When all is said and done the biggest problem currently befalling Hughton is the one he can do not one jot about.
He’ll never be Paul Lambert.
However, ‘in McNally we trust’ is a mantra that has served us well so far. I see no reason for that to change now.