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Saturday, November 17, 2012
Chris Hughton could well have borrowed a motto synonymous with the club indelibly linked to his football past to prepare for Manchester United.
‘To dare is to do’ is emblazoned everywhere around White Hart Lane and the man who spent nearly three decades of his life at Tottenham is acutely aware it will take such fearlessness to hold back the red tide at Carrow Road.
“I think it is a defeatist attitude to go into any game almost admitting that you are not going to win,” he said. “You have to demand that your players play well enough. Of course against this sort of quality you can play well enough and still lose the game. I know Norwich played well last season in this fixture, but if you wanted an indication of what Manchester United is about, it was there. They can score at any time - even in extra time when some might think it is all over - and if you look at the philosophy of their club that is very much entrenched.
“There is an in-built determination, always, that stems from the manager and what his expectations are. Those players know his expectations and those of the club. They are never out of a game and you can’t achieve what they have over the years without that. They are an intimidating outfit.”
If City needed a fresher, United’s comeback against Aston Villa seven days ago was a reminder that Sir Alex Ferguson’s latest crop retains all of the Glaswegian’s legendary street-fighting instincts.
“Nothing sums up Manchester United better than their last game when they were 2-0 down because even then you always know with the changes they can make that they will always be in the game,” said Hughton. “You have to be able to soak up pressure. What Villa did very well is that they knew they couldn’t soak up pressure for 90 minutes, otherwise you get done. You have to be a threat yourself. You have to have periods when you keep the ball.
“Certainly in an open game with them they can be very extravagant, so you have to make yourself harder to penetrate, but if you sit back for 90 minutes there is only one outcome. One thing I think Manchester United do better than any team is keep their width better than anybody else. In a period where teams are playing 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1 or 4-3-3, United will generally have two wide players and it is a wonderful thing to watch.”
Hughton accepts Norwich will have to collectively scale new heights to maintain their recent unbeaten Premier League run, but the City boss insists the gap can still be bridged to the big-spending elite over any given weekend.
“Yes, any points you get against them are a bonus. They are such a quality team, like (Manchester) City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal,” he said. “You know you have to either have that little bit of fortune against them or you have to play very well. If I look at our game on Saturday we will need every bit of what we have shown in the last few weeks to get something from the game.
“The main emphasis is still about how are we going to play. You look for every advantage you can. We are at home, we are in good form and we have to use that. It is possible, and that is the reason why you have a group of players who will very much look forward to the opportunity.
“Other clubs can afford to buy the best players and spend the money, but there has always been that gulf and that distance between the top and the bottom in terms of the quality of the player. Perhaps what has altered is there is bigger money being paid these days.”
A large slice of which enticed Robin van Persie north from Arsenal in the summer to supplement a squad that only missed out on the Premier League crown to their city rivals in the final seconds of last season.
“There is no doubt that signing was a magnificent signing,” said Hughton. “Probably because of his knowledge of the league it hasn’t taken him long to settle in and from day one he has shown his real quality. Is this our biggest game of the season? I think so, and that is not being disrespectful to any other team in this Premier League.
“A visit from Manchester United is always special for lots of reasons, the history they have and of course what they have done over the last decade or so winning numerous trophies. Generally when you are on a decent run the feel around the place is different. That is normal, but there is always a nice build up to a big game.
“What is different this week is that it has also been the international fixtures. They might have had more players away on duty than us, but they have a squad full of international quality. You can’t compete at the level they do week in, week out, year in, year out without that quality of squad; when they lose one player another of equal ability steps in.”
The Canaries retain more modest ambitions for the season compared to the illustrious visitors this evening, and Hughton is adamant that will not change irrespective of the outcome after a confidence-boosting recent run in league and cup football.
“It gives us a slight bit of comfort that we are not in the bottom three,” he said. “We have some very tough games coming up and unless you can keep that momentum going it is very difficult to get points. We are delighted to have kept away from that bottom three and our responsibility is to make sure we continue to do that.
“For the likes of ourselves and other clubs it is still very much about making sure we are in this division next season. This Premier League is such a high quality, demanding league and it is where you want to be. At the start of the season, we didn’t have any (specific) targets, we didn’t know what the season held for us.
“As you make progress of course you are enlightened by some of the things you see along the way and for us it is about performing the best we can and the highest quality we can every game.”