Wednesday, November 14, 2012
I was reminded of a conversation I had recently with Colin Calderwood and Paul Trollope in the aftermath of Norwich’s goalless draw at Reading.
Sat there in the Madejski media suite on Saturday evening waiting for Chris Hughton to offer his post-match thoughts there was an interesting debate in progress on my Twitter timeline.
The gist of which centred on whether a point at a promoted club scratching around for their first Premier League win of the season was a decent day’s work for the Canaries. Or whether it was a massive opportunity lost to put further daylight between Norwich and those currently thrashing about below the waterline.
Hughton delivered his now customary honest appraisal. No, his side had not scaled the heights of recent weeks. Yes, the attacking dimension to their play fell some way short of the incisions that ultimately sunk Arsenal and Stoke in the league and Tottenham in the cup.
But Hughton was adamant any point away from home will always be a decent return for a club with one clearly defined aim this season - whether it comes at one of their potential survival rivals or European contenders Tottenham, as Hughton’s men demonstrated in such stirring fashion at White Hart Lane.
Hughton’s tactics and formation at the Madejski came under scrutiny from sections of the Twitterati. Charges ranged from the Norwich manager’s inflexibility to alter the flow of a drab contest to his apparent reticence to try and force a decisive winning outcome using his available reinforcements.
Hughton accepted the premise I put to him he must have been tempted to introduce the likes of Elliott Bennett and Steve Morison earlier in the piece with a forgettable game opening up in the final quarter, but he also cautioned about the perils of twisting and coming away empty-handed. Not to overlook the potential fillip to Reading’s collective self-confidence from beating one of the teams Brian McDermott may have targeted to finish above come May.
Calderwood and Trollope have both been managers in their own right; which means they share that same unique insight into what it takes to put 11 names on a team sheet every other weekend. There may well be 26,000 opinions at Carrow Road this Saturday for Manchester United’s visit, but only one counts.
That is a huge burden to carry for any individual. For my money, Hughton has been faultless since the last international break. The upward trajectory of City’s results, the clean sheets, the points accumulated all point to a skilled, experienced operator at his craft.
I don’t recall too many dissenting noises when he introduced Grant Holt for the final eight minutes with City trailing Spurs in their Capital One Cup tie. Fellow second half arrival Alex Tettey helped draw the Canaries’ level two minutes later, with the aid of Jan Vertonghen’s fortuitous deflection, before Holt rose highest to force Hugo Lloris to spill at the feet of City’s third substitute of the evening, Simeon Jackson, who applied the coup de grace.
No doubt more than a few questioned the wisdom of taking Jonny Howson out of the firing line at the time, but Bradley Johnson and Tettey have been fundamental to the recent turnaround.
Recalling Michael Turner looked an even bigger call. Here was a man, who by his own admission, had hardly endeared himself to the faithful on the evidence of his early outings. Now when he hits the deck after putting his body on the line for the cause you can almost hear the audible intake of breath from the terraces before Turner hauls himself back to his feet to resume the battle.
Hughton’s ability to keep getting more of those key decisions right than wrong is what can ultimately ensure Norwich remain in the Premier League.