Saturday, December 1, 2012
Football fans can usually judge how well things are going for their club with a simple test – how much they look at the league table.
And it’s a rule you can apply to football managers too. Well, Chris Hughton at least.
Life for the Canaries has been good of late, even despite the terrible news of goalkeeper John Ruddy’s three-month injury absence.
All of those hopes, aims and ambitions Hughton would have gleaned from his pre-season plans and DVDs look to be manifesting themselves with a cohesive, organised, gnarly Premier League outfit currently sitting above the club that axed him so ruthlessly almost exactly two years ago.
And it so happens Newcastle United’s fiercest North East rivals are the visitors to Carrow Road tomorrow afternoon, facing a Norwich side aiming to add to secure a trio of 1-0 top-flight home league wins – thus ensuring those three away points from three games look better than ever.
Such runs would usually change the face of a club’s season – but the Premier League does not tend to do usual.
While the league position is healthier than a matter of weeks ago, it only requires a slip against Martin O’Neill’s strugglers to leave City too close for comfort to the current lead protagonists in the top flight’s scramble for higher ground.
So, far from easing fears or bringing a false sense of security, a good run of form only continues to bring Hughton the normal sensations any manager enjoys on a weekly basis.
“I look at the table more when things are going OK, that’s normal I think,” smiled Hughton.
“I don’t look at it too much I have to say – but in the build up to any game, nothing changes. You still have the same nervousness, the same apprehensions before every game. It’s still the same tough decisions – am I picking the right team? All the same things before every game.
“So whether that is on a good run or not such a good run, it is keeping hold of where we are.
“Right at the start of the season we all spoke of the challenges we have here – and those challenges are still here. Those challenges will be here right the way through the season.
“We can only win football matches if we play at our maximum. And we won’t win all our football matches. We won’t. We just hope that we win enough to keep the good form going and make life a little bit better for ourselves.”
Sunderland could do with that winning feeling too.
Remarkably, former Norwich boss O’Neill will stand in Carrow Road’s opposition dugout for the first time since walking out on them in December 1995 after just six months in the job.
The Northern Irishman has had fantastic managerial success since that departure – but it has not happened for him at the Stadium of Light after stepping into the shoes of another former Canary, Steve Bruce, 12 months ago.
Indeed you have to go back to March for the Black Cats’ last Premier League victory that came against 11 men; wins over 10-man QPR, Wigan and Fulham plug the gap.
“They seem a very tight unit,” said Hughton. “I know they conceded four at home to West Brom recently but apart from that they don’t look like conceding a lot of goals. And perhaps similar to ourselves earlier in the season, they’ve found it difficult to get the amount of goals you want. I think with them it is about trying to get the balances. They have got a lot of good footballers. Certainly in Steven Fletcher up front they have got someone who is a very exciting, very clinical finisher.
“I don’t think you are ever surprised where a side is because we are judged on the season’s football and there will be periods in the season where things are not going as planned or as well as you would want. It’s about where you are at the end of the season and getting through the difficult periods.
“At this moment we happen to be in a good run of good form but it’s such a tough division and such a long hard season that you have to be able to ride those ups and downs, and I’m quite sure they will.
“I have no doubt that with Martin in charge it is only a matter of time before they start to pick up the points they want.
“He is an excellent football manager from top to bottom. The team he has and the way he goes about things, his managerial style and enthusiasm that he shows and his experience. He’s not someone that is short of a few games and he’s been successful wherever he is.
“At this minute perhaps it’s not going as well as he would like, but there is nobody better than him to turn things around.”
The Canaries are on a roll, but haven’t had every bit of luck they could have wanted – Hughton admitted City “technically” should have had a late penalty as Robert Snodgrass was taken out by Luke Shaw at Southampton.
“To have a penalty certainly would be nice,” said the City boss, whose side have been awarded one solitary Premier League spot kick in 2012.
But defensively, Norwich are reaping everything their work and improved organisation has merited.
Goalkeeper Mark Bunn and centre-back Ryan Bennett, pictured left, have stepped into the breach with injuries to ex-Sunderland defender Michael Turner – set to be out for another seven days – and Ruddy.
But there is a different task that lies ahead for a player stepping in now, compared to the opening weeks of the campaign.
“I think because things have gone OK of late then sometimes if you have to make that change, they are coming into a fairly settled team,” added Hughton.
“Ryan Bennett has come in and I think has done well actually, and of course Mark Bunn has too. I think it hasn’t been that difficult because they are coming into a team at the moment that is doing quite well and there is a fair amount of confidence in the team.”