Best wishes to Brighton boss Chris Hughton but the former Norwich City chief still has a lot to prove in the Premier League
PUBLISHED: 20:00 24 April 2017
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It’s more than three years since Chris Hughton was told to clear his desk at Carrow Road.
Norwich City have gone down, up and back down again in that time and yet the past weekend has revealed that somebody who is considered one of the nicest men in football remains a divisive figure in Norfolk.
The first thing to say here is that Brighton fully deserve to be promoted this season. They have risen to the relentless nature of a Championship season better than anybody else with an approach that again proves that while doing well in the division is tough it’s not rocket science.
The Seagulls have defenders that have defended well and attackers that have worked hard, played with flair and scored plenty of goals.
The way they took Norwich City apart in that 5-0 thumping back in October remains the most devastating performance I’ve seen from a Championship club this season. They are worthy winners of the title and deserve to milk every last drop of the applause that has been offered in their direction.
While a lot of people connected with Norwich City are pleased for Chris Hughton on a personal level, it was interesting to hear supporters wrestling with the moral conundrum as to whether it was right or wrong to applaud a former manager for his achievements at a different club.
I felt like something of a party pooper on Friday night when I was invited to take part in a programme on BBC Sussex, celebrating Brighton’s promotion and in anticipation of what they hoped would be a night that would end with their local team being confirmed as champions at Carrow Road. My role was to provide some context as to how Hughton is perceived by Norwich City supporters. I felt like the designated driver on a stag weekend as I passed on some of the sobering comments that had been made about his time in the City dugout.
His cautious approach to matches is the main gripe that stays with Canaries fans. The irony of Norwich City winning a game without mustering a single shot on target will not have been lost on those who watched Hughton apparently trying to do just that in the latter stages of the season in which they were ultimately relegated.
Brighton’s triumphant return to the top flight has opened up an opportunity for the former Norwich City manager to talk publically about his last spell in the Premier League. During an interview on BBC Five Live on Sunday morning he described guiding the Canaries to an 11th place finish in his first season as a “wonderful achievement” but when asked why things went so badly wrong after that he did slightly rewrite history by suggesting that asking the same players to repeat that effort was a tough ask. Hughton told Jonathan Legard “we were a lesser team in a big league and it’s difficult to make that team consistent”.
That answer highlighted another personality trait that often annoyed City fans. A habit of talking up the opposition in interviews rather than concentrating on the strengths of his own players may have been honest but it didn’t sit well with supporters wanting to see a bolder approach. He wasn’t helped here by having to follow the much more brassy Paul Lambert in the job.
Hughton also conveniently forgot to mention that in the summer between those two seasons he was afforded unprecedented access to the Norwich City piggy bank. His signings to strengthen the squad included Nathan Redmond, Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Leroy Fer and Martin Olsson plus Johan Elmander on loan.
It didn’t work and while Hughton didn’t officially get relegated he did leave Neil Adams with five games to save the club, four of which were against Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal. Ronnie O’Sullivan would be proud of a snooker like that.
It’s impossible to wish Hughton anything but best wishes for next season. It will be interesting to see how much he has learned from that nightmare second year at Carrow Road.
Dream pub quiz fodder
Any realistic chance of promotion has been off the table for Norwich City for several weeks now but it seems that Alan Irvine has found his own way of keeping the season interesting.
A look at his spell as caretaker manager suggests a man who is trying to create as many pub quiz questions as possible. He will even be the answer to one about the first Norwich City manager to inspire a team to score six first half goals in a single game at Carrow Road. The recent 7-1 demolition of Reading means that Irvine is guaranteed a place in the club’s history books.
Since then we’ve seen Norwich City win a league game against Preston at Deepdale for the first time in any month other than September and they followed that up on Friday with a forgettable night for Brighton goalkeeper David Stockdale.
His two own goals and being on the losing side without having to save a shot on target is another one of those Carrow Road nights that anyone who was there will remember in years to come.
But it’s not just Norwich City who have discovered a taste for the bizarre. King’s Lynn Town played their final league match of the season against Chesham United on Saturday. It was a feisty encounter which the Linnets won 3-1 to sign off an eventful campaign at The Walks.
The defeat was too much for Chesham’s captain Adam Martin who argued with the referee to such an extent that he was shown a red card after the final whistle.
This has been known before but as it was the last game of the season, and with the match officially over, he was actually sent off in between seasons, which takes some doing.
Cut out and keep this article and highlight some of the names because they’re bound to feature in those annoying end of year quizzes.