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Defensive focus of Chris Hughton’s reign has had far-reaching effects for Norwich City

Chris Hughton saw his Brighton side lose 2-0 at Carrow Road in April, as they allowed the Championship title to slip from their grasp.  Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Chris Hughton saw his Brighton side lose 2-0 at Carrow Road in April, as they allowed the Championship title to slip from their grasp. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

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As Brighton head for Carrow Road during pre-season, DAVID FREEZER looks at the ripples still spreading in yellow and green waters from Chris Hughton’s reign

Chris Hughton was given a warm reception when he returned to Carrow Road last season.  Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Chris Hughton was given a warm reception when he returned to Carrow Road last season. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Chris Hughton’s return to the Premier League will be watched closely by Norwich City supporters this season.

The former Canaries boss infuriated fans for being overly defensive in the top flight in 2013-14 and retains a large part of the blame for that season’s relegation.

The aftereffects are still being dealt with, as City try to find their feet after slipping back into the clutches of the Championship.

Hughton returned to Carrow Road for the first time in April, receiving a good reception as his Seagulls side lost 2-0. That late-season defeat to Alan Irvine’s team proved damaging as Newcastle pipped Brighton to the Championship title but that only took a small amount of gloss off a superb season.

Norwich Caretaker Manager Alan Irvine and Brighton & Hove Albion Manager Chris Hughton before the Sky Bet Championship match at Carrow Road, Norwich
Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd +44 7904 640267
21/04/2017 Norwich Caretaker Manager Alan Irvine and Brighton & Hove Albion Manager Chris Hughton before the Sky Bet Championship match at Carrow Road, Norwich Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd +44 7904 640267 21/04/2017

The previous campaign had finished in play-off semi-final heartbreak during Hughton’s first full season in charge but few teams were as impressive in 2016-17. They had the best defensive record, conceding 40, matched only by Newcastle, but also scored 74 goals, bettered only by Brentford (75) and Norwich, Fulham and Newcastle (85).

More: ‘Workaholic’ Daniel Farke will do what it takes to bring the good times back to Norwich City

So has Hughton – still regarded as a thorughly decent man – learned the lessons of his Norwich failure? We will find that out when the south-coast club get stuck in to their first top-flight campaign since 1983.

The former Birmingham boss arrived at Norwich in the summer of 2012 after Paul Lambert had left for Aston Villa and his first season went well, finishing 11th with home wins over Arsenal, Manchester United and Everton along the way.

Michael McGovern is robbed of the ball by Glenn Murray of Brighton who then put the ball into an empty net to open the scoring during City's 5-0 loss last season, with the striker going on to score a hat-trick. 
Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Michael McGovern is robbed of the ball by Glenn Murray of Brighton who then put the ball into an empty net to open the scoring during City's 5-0 loss last season, with the striker going on to score a hat-trick. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Yet in 2013-14 the tactical compass had shifted too far in the direction of defence for many fans, with a 0-0 home draw with Manchester City and a 1-0 win over Spurs at Carrow Road proving bittersweet as City parked the proverbial bus.

More: Charlton boss backs Norwich City to ‘be a real force’ in the Championship during the 2017-18 season

The 28 goals scored that season – concluding in relegation as Neil Adams replaced Hughton with five games remaining – is comfortably the lowest ever return in front of goal in Canaries history, at any level, trumping the 36 scored in the club’s very first top-flight season back in 1973.

Alex Neil lurched in the other direction, with his teams scoring goals but being poor in defence.

Daniel Farke’s task is to now find a better balance and avoid joining the likes of Ipswich, Leeds and Nottingham Forest in being away from the top table for an extended period.

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