Hunter's PG tip

DAVID CUFFLEY Martin Hunter handed over the reins to new Norwich City manager Peter Grant today - insisting the Scot was inheriting a squad well capable of pushing for promotion to the Premiership.


Martin Hunter handed over the reins to new Norwich City manager Peter Grant today - insisting the Scot was inheriting a squad well capable of pushing for promotion to the Premiership.

The future of first-team coach Hunter, caretaker boss for Saturday's 3-3 Coca-Cola Championship draw at Queen's Park Rangers, was expected to become clearer after a meeting today between Grant and the existing City staff.

The Yorkshireman declined to discuss his future with the Canaries after the six-goal thriller in West London, but did not give the impression of a man about to leave the club.

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And he talked of a “proud” group of players determined to push City back up the championship table under their new boss.

Club officials kept Grant well away from reporters at Loftus Road, but with inevitable questions over whether he will keep the current Colney coaching staff or bring in his own men, Hunter said: “We'll meet with Peter on Monday as a staff before we train in the afternoon and then we'll take it from there.”

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Asked if he had been given any assurances about his future with City, Hunter replied: “I'd prefer to talk about the game if I could, please.”

Watford defender Malky Mackay, Grant's former team-mate at Celtic and Norwich, has already dismissed suggestions that he may return to Carrow Road as part of a new management team.

Grant takes charge for the first time for tomorrow night's Championship trip to Birmingham (7.45pm), but while a new manager watching from the stands may have had a bearing on City's improved display on Saturday, Hunter also pointed to other factors.

“Yes, that's obviously a possibility, but professional players are sometimes - they might not look like it - wounded. Their pride's wounded, so sometimes we get a lot of stick and rightly so, but I can tell you now, there's a lot of proud people in that dressing room.”

Another possible hint that Hunter will stay came when he was asked about the number of goals City were conceding - 17 in the last six league games.

“That's something we will discuss and put right on the training pitch,” he said. “That's a problem that will be addressed. There are no short cuts on that, you've got to work hard."

Hunter said he did not fear for City despite their current position of 19th in the Championship table, and believes they can swap a bottom six place for the top six.

He said: “Look at the league. Nobody's going to be Reading this year. You put a run of four or five games together or don't put a run of four or five games together and you change very dramatically in the league. We said at the start of the season it's going to be a very, very tight league, probably going to the last few weeks of the season. Anybody in this league can beat anybody.”

Hunter said his afternoon in charge of City had been “frustrating” but there had been “more positives than negatives”.

He said: “The old end-to-end football, it certainly prevails. Great for the spectators, horrible if you're sat on the bench. But a great game of football.

“There was more of a steel to us today. I would mention Jason Shackell and Craig Fleming, who dealt with two difficult customers in the QPR team.

“But for me there were two defining moments, both saves from Paul Jones.”

Rangers goalkeeper Jones denied Robert Earnshaw with exceptional saves in each half, before he was beaten from the penalty spot by his Wales team-mate seven minutes from time.

But City's Lee Croft missed an open goal in the second half and Hunter sympathised.

“He doesn't need telling about that. He's in tears,” he said.

Midfielder Andy Hughes was the one casualty from the Rangers game, hobbling off with a hamstring injury 15 minutes from time.

Meanwhile, Mackay, mentioned as a possible right-hand man for Grant, says he wants to continue playing Premiership football with Watford - and reckons Grant will be a success story in his own right.

"I am contracted to Watford to the end of the season and I am thrilled at playing in the Premiership," said Mackay yesterday. "At this moment in time, that's how it stays. Peter is a friend of mine, it's his job and I am delighted for him. He will be a fantastic manager.

"A few people have been putting two and two together and making five. I didn't apply for the job - there are a lot of boxes to tick and I wasn't ready. Maybe one day in the future, but at the moment I'm not ready to take that jump.

"But Peter will do an excellent job. He has got great credentials, his background, his work ethic, his man management, his commitment and passion - he is an up-and-coming manager who is open to ideas and in my mind Norwich have got the right man. The club is obviously close to my heart and I wish Peter and Norwich well.”

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