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John Giles: Hughton in quiet Magpie revolution

JUST over a year ago, Newcastle United beat Huddersfield 4-3 in the Carling Cup. In midweek, Chris Hughton took his team to Stamford Bridge and beat Chelsea by the same scoreline. The quietly-spoken Irishman is making serious progress.

Anyone who wants to assess the job Chris Hughton has done at Newcastle over the last 12 months needs to look at the context of that win over Huddersfield. It was stark.

Newcastle were a club in disarray and, in pre-season after relegation from the Premier League, took a 6-0 pasting by Leyton Orient which might have ended Hughton's management career then and there.

His squad was decimated by a fire sale to cover debts. Shay Given left in the January transfer window along with Charles N'Zogbia, and Obafemi Martins. Damien Duff and Michael Owen, among others, followed them out the door. Hughton struggled to assemble a squad for pre-season.

Lurking in the background was Alan Shearer, who gave it a go for a few months when Mike Ashley waved goodbye to Sam Allardyce but couldn't prevent the drop from the Premier League.



Messiah

Still, the talk was that Shearer would be offered the chance to step back into the Messiah role as the man to lead Newcastle out of the Championship and back to the top flight.

Hughton's image as a great No2 meant that most Newcastle United fans were looking to Shearer for salvation but events overtook owner Mike Ashley and in the end financial circumstances, rather than smart thinking, forced him to appoint his caretaker as a full-time manager.

I must admit, I didn't see it coming. I've known Chris for a long time and gave him his first start for Ireland. He was always a gentleman and the consummate professional.

But I didn't see him as a manager in his own right and I thought he would either settle in under Shearer or another manager as an assistant or try to find a similar position elsewhere.

It certainly looked as if Newcastle was a basket case and Hughton might be better off cutting his losses.

But I was wrong and, like many others, underestimated Hughton's ability. Without fuss and without any of the more lurid headlines we have come to associate with Newcastle United, he set about getting promotion and achieved it with points to spare.

The advance he has made since that 4-3 win over Huddersfield has been truly impressive and as good as any I've seen from some of the very best managers.

To take a stripped down Newcastle team, completed by reserves and youngsters, to London and turn over a Chelsea side full of star names would be a feather in Hughton's cap on its own but the win, while unexpected, was more evidence that he can hold his own against the very best coaches in the Premier League.

What I most like about Hughton is his quiet manner and dignity and the fact that he can manage a football team in the Premier League without making a fool of himself.

He's not the first No2 to make the step up and, let's be honest, history hasn't been kind to the species.

The best example of how not to do it is Phil Brown, Allardyce's sidekick at Bolton before he stepped into the spotlight at Hull.

Brown did a great job with Hull until he reached the Premier League and began to talk about himself as a future England manager. His decline was as swift as his rise to prominence.

Hughton achieved promotion for a bigger club and with greater expectation weighing him down yet I can't remember one controversial sentence out of him all season.

Some suggest that Hughton's mildness is a handicap but clearly his players at Newcastle are responding well.They are working with him on a daily basis and obviously like what they see.

Apart from an opening day lesson from Manchester United, Hughton has overseen decent early results in the Premier League, most notably that 6-0 hammering they gave Aston Villa.

It's far too early to predict how the season will unfold for Hughton but the signs are very good and this latest result will give both him and his players a great lift in confidence.

It will also tell Hughton that his squad is, perhaps, deeper than he might have thought and that's very comforting for any manager trying to survive in the Premier League.

If he achieves that ambition, he will be worth his weight, quite literally, in gold. He has already delivered something in the order of £50m to his employer by bouncing straight back after relegation. Ashley should be down on his hands and knees thanking the accident of fate which made him choose a low key, low maintenance coach to run his side.


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