Chris Hughton wants to get Norwich City’s mean streak back for the Premier League run-in

Chris Hughton believes Norwich City made it too easy for Sir Slex Ferguson's side in the latter stag

Chris Hughton believes Norwich City made it too easy for Sir Slex Ferguson's side in the latter stages of Saturday's 4-0 Premier League defeat at Old Trafford. Picture: Paul Chesterton / Focus Images - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Chris Hughton has warned his Norwich City players they need to quickly recover their mean streak ahead of a defining phase of the Premier League season.

The Canaries were breached four times against Manchester United at Old Trafford after conceding only one top flight goal in the whole of February. City host Southampton this weekend at Carrow Road followed by away trips to Sunderland and Wigan that could go a long way to securing their Premier League status. Norwich were ruthlessly punished by the champions-elect in the closing stages on Saturday, but Hughton insisted his side made it too easy for Wayne Rooney and company.

'We afforded them far too much space and time to be able to finish,' he said. 'They have quality players and on a good day they are able to score at ease and as the game opened up they were able to capitalise. We tried to open up in a fairly disciplined way and if you do that then you never know in the final five or ten minutes what can happen. You always want to be a threat and test their keeper but you have to be realistic.

'Coming to Old Trafford with the quality they have and the team they put out is always a tough ask. You need to stay in the game for as long as you can. There are not many teams of our stature who will come and have loads of chances, but we should have done better. You cannot afford a player of his quality (Rooney) to have that space to strike from the edge of the box. It is a big month for us but that is the case for a load of teams. All the games for us our big games.'

City's rearguard did manage to keep Robin van Persie quiet for a second consecutive Premier League game. The Dutchman has enjoyed a superb debut season since his summer switch from Arsenal and is a leading candidate to retain his player-of-the-year crown in what Hughton believes is a three-man shortlist.

'For me, the three stand out players would be van Persie, (Luis) Suarez and Gareth Bale,' he said. 'If anything van Persie is the one who has been the most consistent from day one at United and the impact he has made at the best club in this division at this moment. Suarez we know so much about him and having had two big defeats against them we know what he is capable of achieving and he has been excellent. Gareth at this moment is the one that is really stepping up.

'We sampled that in recent weeks and he is almost unplayable. Everything that he strikes seems to go in. The goals are getting better and better and he is improving season in, season out as a player. I'm sure he would thank the managers he has worked under who have developed him and he is now getting a lot of joy in that central role which gets him opportunities closer to goal. They are three outstanding candidates. Fortunately I don't have to pick one but I would welcome any one of those three.'