Sixty-seven minutes into the game against Stoke, the fourth official held up his board. The number in red was 14. The number in green was eight.
It seemed to me a straight-forward, sensible substitution. But, of course, 14 is Wes. And the man who had decided on the change was Chris Hughton. So a simple replacement became imbued with all the angst and anger, all the division and derision in which our club is seeped.
To me, it was plainly desirable to get Wes off. Six days earlier he’d had 90 draining minutes at Villa Park. He ran his spheroids off but wilted and ran a lot less in the last half-hour. That had been followed by 61 minutes of international football for the Republic of Ireland on the Wednesday.
It seemed plainly evident at Carrow Road against Stoke that he would wilt again. It was equally obvious that Howson needed game-time to get closer to match-fitness.
Norwich were winning. Bringing Howson on would enable a switch to the 4-2-3-1 system which was so effective in a run of games before it was abandoned with disastrous results to accommodate Wes at Villa Park.
The substitution made such sense that I think every other credible manager in the land would have made the same switch.
But then events intervened. Seb Bassong made an unnecessary challenge and, suddenly, Stoke were level with a penalty. Then that bloke from that London overspill town in Suffolk clattered Alex Tettey and got a red card.
Norwich needed a goal. Norwich needed to break-down a ten-men Stoke team who were packing their area. Norwich needed someone who could provide penetrative passes or shimmy past a couple of bulky defenders. Norwich needed Wes. But he had gone.
And so, as despondent home fans sloped home that evening, there was much ill-considered talk about how the substitution had cost us the match. The adjectives “negative” and clueless” were casually tossed in. Later, the deeply offensive picture of Hughton as a clown reappeared on Facebook.
The story of the game was rewritten with an almost Stalinist zeal by people whose minds are made up and closed. The “outers” are so convinced of their case that every event affecting our club is seen through the prism of that conviction. Every set-back is Hughton’s fault.
I have another example. I’ve heard folk talking about the defeat at Cardiff and asking: “What on earth did he say to them at half time.” Well, I’m pretty certain he didn’t say: “Hoops, I want you to slap a loose pass across the face of our penalty area.”
Meanwhile, down at the foot of the Premier League, the other six in the bottom seven have all sacked their managers. Fulham have done it twice, for heaven’s sake!
Martin Jol had won 25.6 per cent of the available points when they got rid of him. Rene Meulensteen’s success rate was precisely identical when he got the boot after 13 games. Felix Mcgath has won 11 per cent of the points.
At West Brom, Steve Clarke was given his P45 for winning 31 per cent of the points. Pepe Mel has won 19 per cent.
At Cardiff, lovely Malky won 31 per cent. OGS has won 25.9 per cent.
Yet at Sunderland, Swansea and Palace, managerial changes have brought improvements – although I’d say that there were special circumstances concerning the men who went. Paulo Di Canio at Sunderland was barmy and had an open revolt on his hands. Michael Laudrup was disaffected at Swansea and, by some accounts, going through the motions. And Ian Holloway admitted he was overwhelmed by the task at Palace and had lost confidence in his own ability to deal with the task confronting him.
None of those three sets of exceptional circumstances apply to Hughton at Norwich.
But, let’s stick with the statistics. Seven managerial changes at six struggling clubs. Three made things better. Three made things worse. One made no difference.
So the two assumptions underpinning the beliefs of the “outers” at Norwich are shown to be wrong. The first flawed assumption is that a change would definitely help. The second is that nobody could do any worse.
Have a word with West Brom supporters, or Fulham fans.
There’s a third fallacious assumption. It is that we “should” be doing a lot better.
After watching the Stoke game from my season-ticket seat, I went around to the media suite to join the press pack to do my work for the Express. I hate working at Norwich and usually manage to avoid it, but not this time.
Darren Lewis of the Mirror and Alyson Rudd of the Times, two good friends of mine, were also covering the game – but with the more orthodox approach of sitting in the press seats for the action. When I joined them in the interviews area, they noted how gloomy I was but both, separately, said things like: “Surely you expected Norwich to struggle this season”. Alyson actually said: “I am amazed that Norwich fans have turned on the manager. Where did they expect to spend this season? In the top half?”
As ever, it is about expectations.
But is it too much to expect that Norwich supporters would think things through when a substitution is made? It was the knee-jerk response that “Hughton’s got it wrong” which was negative and clueless.