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Chris Hughton is too classy an operator to bear grudges over his treatment by Newcastle's hierarchy. The reaction of the home fans on his first competitive Tyneside return earlier this season with Norwich City spoke volumes.
Saturday, January 12, 2013
Anyone labouring under the misapprehension Newcastle appear a club in crisis heading to Carrow Road this afternoon should seek Chris Hughton’s counsel.
Norwich City’s boss retains a special affection for the Magpies, despite the sour nature of his dismissal which paved the way for Alan Pardew’s appointment, but Hughton only earned his shot after Newcastle’s relegation from the top flight for the first time in 16 years.
Hughton inherited a dispirited squad, a bloated wage bill and a disgruntled fan base. The City chief has seen much darker times than the current struggles from deep inside that north-east footballing hotbed.
Which is why Hughton’s verdict comes with a degree of authority – Newcastle are suffering a stressful blip on their recent timeline. The Norwich chief confidently forecasts better times ahead with Pardew retaining the majority of the same ingredients that propelled the Magpies into Europe this season.
“We know it is not one of their better periods, but we also know what quality they have in the squad,” he said. “They can win any game, they certainly play a style of football that enables them to be in every game and have that opportunity to win matches. We have to be very guarded. They have too many good players for us not to be. When a team is not having one of their better runs there is generally an answer.
“I would look at their injuries and their involvement in the Europa League. That has certainly stretched the squad. Perhaps without the injuries they would have been able to cope a lot better than they have. Any club in the exact same position would have found it tough to cope with both of those aspects, but most would expect them once they get their bigger players back to start climbing the table.”
Hughton is too classy an operator to bear grudges over his treatment by Newcastle’s hierarchy. The reaction of the home fans on his first competitive Tyneside return earlier this season with Norwich spoke volumes. Pardew’s on-going struggles to halt a decline may resonate on a human level, but the north-east soap opera is no longer Hughton’s concern.
“My concern is here and the job I am doing here. In general, yes, we would like to see managers given more time, to put their stamp on the club, to go through difficult times but anything regarding Newcastle is not my concern,” he said. “But it would probably be wrong of me to not say that it was quite a nice feeling to get that support. I think it is perhaps an appreciation of a job I did there.
“As soon as that whistle blows, though, it is about business, trying to play well enough to get the points and we did play well there. That was one of those games we could have got something from. I was delighted with the performance.”
Norwich’s FA Cup win at Peterborough does not mask a recent downturn in the Canaries’ own Premier League fortunes. The same question could reasonably be levelled at both clubs this weekend. When does a blip become a slide?
“We are on the back of four league defeats, all by one goal, and that is the margins you have in this division,” said Hughton.
“Do we feel that our performances now are any worse than the period when we had a lot of good results? The answer is probably no. It is just fine margins of either getting that draw or win. We are at home this weekend and it is an opportunity to get back to winning ways – irrespective of the form of Newcastle. They have not done so well on the road of late but you expect them to pick up. For us, we hope that is not this weekend.”
Grant Holt’s return to the ranks after his recent hamstring problems and the impressive cup outing by many of Hughton’s shadow squad offer plenty of scope for flexibility.
Goalscoring Peterborough displays for Elliott Bennett and Simeon Jackson give Hughton an alternative to the lone front-running option, with Bennett and the versatile Robert Snodgrass more than capable of reprising Wes Hoolahan’s chief support role.
“There is no doubt without Grant or Steve Morison playing it perhaps has to be a slightly different game, although you would like to think that in the majority of areas on a football pitch it doesn’t matter too much,” said Hughton. “You still want to play a good passing game, but without Grant perhaps you don’t have that physical presence. I think about things every game and formations - the right formation - every game.
“What I have played mostly this season is one up and one off the front, which has probably been down more to the form of Wes. You have someone like Robert as well who is having an excellent season so far and he could play that role.
“What he has done is both contribute goals and score them. If you are asking me what his best position is, it is where he is playing now – which is wide on the right, because he is someone who can generally get into the box from there. He will also get crosses in so for me he is in his best position.”
Cup progress may have been the headline news at London Road last weekend, but it also brought confirmation Hughton possesses a wider group of players who could leave an imprint on the Premier League campaign over these remaining months.
“You want those (headaches) because it is about having competition in the squad,” said Hughton.
“We have been fairly consistent in the team over a period of time and that is because the performance levels have been good, but you want that competition. You want them to ask questions but you also know you will not go through periods without picking up injuries.”