Chris Hughton is determined to look on bright side of life
If manager Chris Hughton is feeling the strain after Norwich City’s poor start to the Premier League season, he isn’t letting it show.
Tomorrow’s visit to league leaders and European champions Chelsea is hardly the ideal fixture for a team with three points out of a possible 18, the worst start the club has suffered in 23 seasons of top-flight football.
But one could almost hear the strains of “Always look on the bright side . . .” as the Canaries’ 53-year-old boss looked ahead to another big date in London.
Yesterday’s Press conference at Colney found him clearly relishing the prospect of taking on the capital’s top side.
City’s 1-1 draw on Hughton’s old territory at Tottenham five weeks ago was comfortably their best performance of the season, and he is hoping the trip to Stamford Bridge will elicit a similar reaction from his players as they seek to bounce back from their depressing 5-2 home defeat by Liverpool.
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“Whether it’s this week, next week or next month we have got to play Chelsea,” he said. “They are playing extremely well at the moment. They have good options in the team, they’ve probably changed the style of play slightly from last season. Perhaps if anything they are a bit more adventurous.
“It would be a tough task whether we were on the back of a defeat or in the middle of one of our better runs. The inspiration for the team should be walking out, up against quality international players. What a wonderful stage and stadium to go and apply your trade. I would be incredibly disappointed if there was one player who was not very much looking forward to that challenge.”
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One sincerely hopes City’s players will rise to it, just as they did last season, only to go down 3-1 to two late goals after being reduced to 10 men by the sending-off of goalkeeper John Ruddy.
If they fail, it will not be the result at Chelsea, nor yet the visit of Arsenal to Carrow Road a fortnight later, that really decides their fate this season. But going into game number nine at Aston Villa with just three points would be an uncomfortable proposition.
Hughton, however, insists he feels no personal pressure.
“No, you go through the emotions of every game and, of course, there are the highs and lows,” he said.
“It’s always disappointing when you’re not getting the results that you need to get. Every team of a similar level to ourselves will go through the good months and the bad months, but what you have to have is belief in the team and belief in what you’re doing. Their experience as players and my experience as a manager is that you have to ride the tougher times.”
The big question tomorrow is who survives the Liverpool mauling and who gets the axe, after what Hughton admitted were individual mistakes rather than collective failure.
He said: “I would see it more as individual errors last week. You want to defend well as a team but you are also relying on individuals playing well enough and not making mistakes and errors.
“I felt four of the goals were very much individual errors, which is disappointing. The three goals Luis Suarez scored were all very, very clinical, but of the five goals I felt four of them could have been avoided.
“You’re always considering your team and changing things. That is always the balance and the fine line. We had a really bad day last week but for four games, irrespective of points, the performance was quite consistent. Do you make changes for the sake of making changes or do you give the same players the opportunity to put it right again?”
We await the teamsheet with interest.
• PRICING POLICY GIVES TRAVELLING CITY FANS A POOR DEAL
Norwich City’s tremendous away support has been a notable feature of their success story over the past three seasons, but are their travelling fans getting a raw deal from some clubs?
The Canaries took more than 1,400 fans to Newcastle a fortnight ago, about 500 down on the corresponding fixture last season but still a tremendous turnout for another Sunday afternoon kick-off and a 500-mile round trip.
City supporters were charged �26 for adults, �21 for over-65s and �13 for under-18s for the game at St James’ Park, but when their unsold seats in the Sir John Hall Stand went on sale to Newcastle fans, the prices were �15 and �5.
It prompted one independent Magpies website to ask if they were breaking their own Supporter Charter.
The Canaries’ Premier League trip to Aston Villa on October 27 has produced another glaring anomaly.
City fans buying seats at Villa Park must pay �39 for adults, �30 for over-65s and under-21s and �15 for under-16s. Yet a special offer for Villa fans gives them the opportunity to buy four seats in the North Stand Upper for �44, a different area of the stadium but still a huge difference in price.
It was fairly inevitable that, unless the Canaries were playing brilliantly and challenging the top eight places, there would be a bit of a drop-off in their away turnout this season, especially for some of the longer trips – simply because of the increasing cost and the fact that visiting the big grounds loses its novelty value in the second season in the top flight.
The Yellow Army turnout at Fulham and Tottenham held firm at around the 3,000 mark, slightly up on last season in the case of Craven Cottage, but City have been running a Canary Store discount offer to try to sell all their 3,000 allocation for the game at Chelsea tomorrow.
Results will also clearly play a part in just how many fans are prepared to travel this season, but even-handed treatment from their Premier League rivals would also help.