City must build on unity in the camp
08:19 25 January 2014
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While I am not going to suggest that last week’s win should obscure the previous barren spell, nor that it will end the wider debate about Chris Hughton, it should at least draw a line in the sand for this season.
If change was going to come it had to be this week. By the time of the Newcastle game the transfer window will be almost shut and City cannot afford to further delay the process of recruitment. Additionally, any potential new manager would be unlikely to relish inheriting a squad on which he couldn’t put his own stamp by bringing in players. Whatever people’s personal views, common sense dictates that Hughton will now remain in charge at least until the summer.
There have been all sorts of “insider” stories circulating recently, as is always the case when things aren’t going well, but any suggestion that the squad isn’t united was surely put to bed on Saturday. It was instructive to listen to Ryan Bennett’s post-match interview in which he not only stressed how strong the bonds within the dressing room are, but also how upset the players were at being met with an anti-Hughton banner at Fulham.
There was no sign of one on Saturday, and after a shaky start the performance against Hull inspired the Carrow Road crowd to a strong vocal performance, which visibly lifted the players when heads could have dropped. Just for once it seemed that everyone was united, although presumably that doesn’t include the City “fan” who apparently laid a £100 bet on Hull to win.
Once again we saw a variation of formation with Robert Snodgrass and Jonas Gutierrez tucking in when Hull had the ball to disrupt the supply lines between their central midfield three and the wingbacks, neither of whom was significant factors in attack after the first five minutes.
The other consequence of City’s more compact midfield shape was that Tom Huddlestone was hardly a factor, noticeable only for his two yellow cards. Given that Huddlestone had run the game when City visited the KC stadium in August, that was a tactical triumph for Hughton and his coaches.
Gutierrez impressed on debut, surprising many with his strength in possession, and it was good to see a winger carrying the ball infield without the sole aim of a shot on goal.
He is clearly a shrewd acquisition and with Alex Tettey and Anthony Pilkington back from injury the squad is suddenly looking much stronger.
There is still an awfully long way to go, but a win always makes things seem that little bit brighter. In fact I felt so cheerful on the journey home from the game that I listened to the 6.06 phone-in, which proved an instructive experience as it seems that fans of most of the teams around us see the sacking of their manager as the panacea for all their problems. Sometimes it really does help to look outside the goldfish bowl to get a sense of perspective.
While it’s disappointing to be out of the FA Cup, the extra rest available from a fixtureless Saturday is no bad thing as the squad gears up for Newcastle. It’s essential that City squeeze as many points as possible from their remaining home programme and last week’s win will ensure that there will be renewed confidence, both on the pitch and, hopefully, in the stands on Tuesday.
Hughton will be looking to his defence to keep up their recent good work, with Saturday’s clean sheet their seventh in the league, one more than at this stage last season, but his primary concern will be getting his players converting more chances. If they can start to do that the rest of the season could be much less stressful.