Chris Hughton solving more problems
Never let it be said that Chris Hughton doesn’t like a challenge. There’s no such thing as an easy job in football management, but the former Newcastle and Birmingham boss appears to actively pursue roles that start from a disadvantageous position. His managerial career might only be three years old and this might only be his third job, but it’s a clear trend – is it intentional or just coincidence?
The situation Hughton inherited at Norwich last summer was a stroll in the park compared to the crises he had to manage at St James’s Park and St Andrew’s before he could get down to the business of what his job is supposed to be about. Nonetheless, following Paul Lambert into the Carrow Road hot seat was the psychological equivalent of a hospital pass.
If any club has over-reached across the previous three seasons, it’s Norwich. Back-to-back promotions followed by a 47-point haul on their return to the top flight, it’s a level of success that’s extremely difficult to sustain. It leaves the Norfolk club with few places to go other than backwards. And yet, if you repeat the same standards, that’s only what’s expected.
However, Hughton is a man who seems immune to negative circumstance. He doesn’t give misfortune the time of day, he rolls with the punches and his strength of character trumps most of what fate can throw his way. He appears not to understand the meaning of the word ‘pressure’ and it’s a characteristic that tends to command huge respect from players, even if those players often struggle to articulate why.
In every problem, Hughton sees an opportunity and it’s a trait that helps us to explain why Norwich are suddenly coming to terms with a new way of doing things, having endured a horrendous start littered with heavy defeats. Hughton isn’t a visionary, he’s a pragmatist. He finds a problem and he solves it, usually on the training ground, usually with simple advice based on his vast experience as a top-level coach.
And because he’s a man of principle, a man who commands instant respect whenever he walks into a room, a man who other men admire for his undeniable strength of character, players tend to listen when instructions are being issued. Hughton isn’t someone who needs to indulge in eccentricity to engage his players, you suspect his man-management technique seldom amounts to much more than a quiet word.
Last season, Norwich over-achieved in relation to the level of Premier League experience in their ranks, but they did so with the worst defence of any team outside of the drop zone. So there was Hughton’s problem to fix, and if he needed any indication of the extent to which he had to change the culture, he got it on the opening day against Fulham as the Cananries were caned 5-0 at Craven Cottage.
Since then, seven out of nine league games have finished in binary form, with neither side finding the score sheet twice, although the two exceptions – against Liverpool and Chelsea – have clouded the overall sample to the tune of a dozen goals, nine of them against. After ten matches, 78 per cent of the goals conceded by Norwich have arrived in just three of them.
Clearly, it’s a process that’s taking time. It was never going to be an overnight transition but already Norwich are lurching towards the defensive consistency that coloured Hughton’s time at Newcastle and Birmingham.chris hughton, Norwich, Paul Mabert
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