Norwich City boss Chris Hughton hurting after defeat to Chelsea
Canaries boss Chris Hughton admitted he was left hurting after his side's Boxing Day defeat to European champions Chelsea.
Hughton had no qualms about losing to the London club's world class array of talent at Carrow Road, but the Norwich City chief felt the Canaries contributed to their own downfall.
Juan Mata slammed home a 38th minute winner after the hosts were guilty of conceding possession in the build up – a trait that annoyed Hughton in the opening period.
'There is certainly no shame for us in losing to a real top, top team,' he said. 'But it hurts. Up until this game we had only lost once here so we want to get back on track at home.
Hughton revealed afterwards he was a confirmed admirer of Chelsea's Spanish match-winner Mata.
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'He is definitely one of the best in the league,' he said. 'I thought we actually restricted him to an extent and the qualities he can show. If you talk about what he has produced this season then he has been outstanding. He is right up there. The fear is always when you face the likes of these teams if you do open up they have such great quality. When you see them at first-hand and the players they have got, players like (Eden) Hazard who they are able to leave out, and he showed what a good player he was when he came on. I thought we dealt with them for really big periods of the game, the chances they had I thought were fairly minimal, we restricted them.'
Norwich centre-back Sebastien Bassong's towering far post header deep in stoppage time, which bounced over the top from close range, was arguably the only real moment of alarm for Chelsea's number one Petr Cech.
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'I must admit I thought Seb's header was in at the end,' said Hughton. 'There was a fair amount of height on the ball and if anything he had to generate his own power on the ball and got too good a contact on it but at that stage I felt he might have got us the draw.'
Mata's strike sealed a Chelsea league double over the Canaries this season, but Hughton has not detected a major shift in emphasis under interim manager Rafa Benitez after succeeding Roberto Di Matteo until the rest of the campaign.
'I don't think the team is different. What has changed maybe between now and last season is they have more exceptional players,' he said. 'Mata was incredible last year and they have now brought in Hazard, Oscar and of course (David) Luiz playing in midfield. The difference from last season is the quality of offensive player they have brought in.
'This is a side on the back of scoring eight in the Premier League. Not many can do that. We got beat 4-1 at Stamford Bridge so if anything we have done better today but they are a wonderful outfit with a wonderful manager. What impresses you about all the best teams is the work ethic. You can talk about quality or the money they have spent but they also work really, really hard. These, I am quite sure, will be pushing right through until the end of the season.'
City have reached the halfway stage of the campaign on 25 points, three more than at the same stage last season.
'If you had offered that to me at the start of the season, then yes, certainly, I would have taken it,' said Hughton. 'You only have to look at the Premier League week in, week out and see some of the results and that emphasises what a good run we were on.
'Although we've lost the last two games we lost them by the one goal and possibly in both of them we could have got more.'
He said more of the same would do nicely in the second half of the season.
'There is no points target, it's about producing what we have in the first half of the season,' he said. 'We know what we have to do to get the points we need. It's a tough ask because of the quality of this division but we've got to replicate more of that.'