Saturday, February 9, 2013
Friend or foe it matters little for Chris Hughton as he attempts to steer Norwich City to Premier League safety.
Fulham counterpart Martin Jol was one of Hughton’s formative managerial influences in a partnership which successfully established Tottenham as a serial top five entity before the duo parted company.
Craven Cottage was not the happy reunion the Norwich boss would have hoped for on the opening day of his City tenure, but the protagonists re-oppose on equal terms in the current Premier League standings.
Hughton will have no trouble putting his friendship on ice this afternoon to try and return the favour by making life just as uncomfortable for Jol and the Cottagers.
“Knowing Martin, he won’t be satisfied (with their league position). He’ll want and expect them to do better,” said Hughton. “At any point during the season you will come across old teams or people you have worked with. It doesn’t add anything extra to the game. I assisted Martin over a three year period and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it. He is a very good coach and manager. It is no surprise to me that since leaving Tottenham he went on and did well at Hamburg, Ajax and now Fulham. He is someone I have a lot of time for. I worked quite closely with him, probably because at that stage I had been at the club for quite some time. I worked more with him than any of the other managers there. Although he had played here (in England) before he was effectively a foreign manager coming over. We got on very well and I certainly learnt from him in respect of the way he sets up his teams, what he wants from his sides and the relationships he had with players.”
Hughton’s chastening experience on his first official day in the job reinforced the belief Fulham remain a beacon for clubs of Norwich’s stature to try and emulate.
“Absolutely. They are a very well-established Premier League team now,” he said. “They have had changes over the years, but they had to do it initially a certain way and to a certain budget which they had to work around; very similar to ourselves. What they have been able to do is develop year in, year out.
“You look through the team and they have many good, class individuals. It’ll be a really tough game. They had quite a few international players go away if you look at the top 11 or top 14 players in their squad and that is a testament to what they have there. Whether that means it is a good time to play them you only know that after the game. You always want good preparation leading up to any match and when there is disruption it really comes down to who can manage that better. I look back to QPR, where we had played on the Wednesday and they had an extra day to prepare, so it is all about on the day.”
Hughton was impressed by Fulham’s most recent outing in defeat to champions-elect Manchester United who edged home courtesy of Wayne Rooney’s late finish by the Thames.
“I watched it and I thought they played well, Fulham. That shows how the league is because a lot of people felt United might win quite comfortably there,” he said. “I must admit I never thought that. If you were a betting man, you would have gone for an away win but Fulham were good on the day. I am not quite sure of the stats but historically they have been a better team away from home this season and over the seasons they have had some difficulties playing away from home. You could say the same for all the clubs in that similar bracket. They are usually involved in close games and they have a lot of quality, a lot of good, offensive options which allows them to be in most matches.”
Harry Redknapp labelled Norwich’s visit to Loftus Road a ‘must-win’ ahead of last weekend as his strugglers looked to remain in touch with their relegation rivals, but Hughton is not interested in playing the same mind game.
“It is another three points for us. There are a lot of points to play for,” he said. “It is the biggest one because it is the next one and we are at home and of course you want to do well and you feel there is a need to do well in those home games.
“We just want to win every game and particularly those you might view as winnable ones. I couldn’t say there isn’t a difference between Fulham at home and games away at Manchester United or City or Arsenal and everybody would feel the same way, so I can see why Harry probably looked at Norwich at home after facing Chelsea and Manchester City and viewed that as a winnable one.”
Hughton, however, is acutely aware just what a first Premier League win since beating Wigan on December 15 would mean to those who rally behind the Canaries’ cause. “If we continue how we have played in the last couple of games we’ll be fine. They were two good draws,” he said. “Gareth Bale showed again for Wales the quality of his play and we were denied the win with his wonderful strike at Carrow Road. He is an absolutely top player. You look at these players and say can they play in the best teams in the world, not just here, but Real Madrid, Barcelona and AC Milan. Gareth Bale is right up their and he could get into those squads because of the quality of his game. Then against a resurgent QPR away from home, another draw is not a bad result.
“But I felt in both games the performances were better. I think you are always conscious of where you are (in the table). Our season has been a mixed one. Certainly at the start of the season would we have been happy with the points we have now and I think probably the answer is yes. Now we want as many as we can as quick as we can.”