As Brighton and Chris Hughton hover into view the inevitable debate around his City tenure has been resurrected. For many it seems, the pain still lingers.
Upon his appointment to Brighton there was a wave of Twitter spite – many commiserating with the Seagulls for their pending defence-minded, joyless footballing era.
It left a rotten taste, as in truth did much of the bile that was fired in his direction when he was manager at Norwich.
For what it’s worth, when he was appointed to the Amex hotseat it felt to me like a decent fit. Since he has been there he has lifted them five places in the table and, more crucially, ten points clear of the relegation scrap. So, on the face of it, it could be considered a success.
While Brighton still need four wins from the seven remaining games to be mathematically safe, it looks from the outside as if they are all but safe. Given that they were 21st when he took over I’d call that a decent appointment.
But for some in these parts he will be remembered as nothing but a ‘clown’ – the guy who sucked the lifeblood out of our football club and who left as his legacy a squad devoid of confidence, belief and the wherewithal to fend off relegation from the Premier League.
Part of that is true of course – his second season did end in a relegation – and few, even the diehards, questioned the board’s decision to relieve him of his duties. But the bit I failed to comprehend – and still do – is the need for the such venom to be spewed in the direction of one who always handled himself with dignity.
After throwing my own weight behind Hughton for admittedly too long – although I still argue he did a fine job in his first season – it was impossible to contest David McNally’s decision to finally pull the trigger, even in the face of a national media, Lineker-led outcry.
Some under-performing signings aside, Hughton’s penchant for retreating further and further into his defensive shell when the going got tough was ultimately his undoing. Recent events have confirmed the Canary faithful’s love of those who ‘give it a real go’, and back then it just felt the mindset was so conservative it was almost impossible to do so.
His time was up, no question, and the relief from the Y’Army as they watched Neil Adams march, suited and booted, across the Craven Cottage pitch was palpable. The rest is history of course but at all times, even in the face of his ignominious Carrow Road, Hughton’s dignity shone through.
So when I read and hear of those just itching to give Hughton ‘the treatment’ tomorrow it saddens me. We had no divine right to stay in the Premier League last season, and we were relegated because collectively we were not good enough. The manager was ultimately responsible and duly paid the price. But that, in a nutshell, is football.
As gut-wrenching and sickening as it felt at the time, we now find ourselves again in decent shape. It’s even been fun at times. Such is football’s cyclical nature.
Ironically I believe Hughton would have been well equipped to oversee a crack at promotion from the Championship. While the Premier League appeared a step too far, at least when handed a modest sized purse, his record in the second tier is a good one, and which is why Brighton and Hughton – to me at least – look a good match.
But, having spent nearly 600 words on the subject, Hughton is most definitely the past as far as Norwich City is concerned. I hope he’s not ridiculed tomorrow but, equally, I see real no reason for warm applause. I’d suggest indifference is the answer with every last breath being saved to roar Alex Neil’s Canaries on to victory.
It won’t be easy however. Brighton, for all the reasons stated above, will be organised and difficult to break down, not to mention keen to do their manager a favour. Football is notoriously full of twists and ironies and for Hughton to put a spoke in the wheel of City’s promotion bid would be almost par for the course.
While the ever preceptive Neil will pay no heed to the potential for such footballing quirks, he will be ensuring that nothing is left to chance in the Canaries’ search for three points at the Amex. City too will be organised, motivated and will be encouraged to play with freedom, but freedom within ‘a structure’. He likes a structure.
In terms of team news it is all positive. Those returning from the four corners all did so minus injury, Bradley Johnson has managed to shake off the effects of a bruised foot and both Bennetts are now back in contention, although the trip to the south coast has come a little too soon for Elliott to renew acquaintances.
Even Lewis Grabban’s recovery from that ankle operation is ahead of schedule – albeit one that’s still being managed carefully.
So, with those bloomin’ internationals now out of the way, here we go again. Seven games for the Class of 2015 to make their mark in the Canary history books. Seven games to confirm to us all that ‘the best squad in the division’ is exactly that. And seven games to spare us all the nerve-shredder that could be a two-legged Play-Off semi-final against that lot.
Fasten your seat belts…