Tuesday 20 March 2018

Hughton bares teeth in bid to ward off circling vultures

Garry Doyle

Norwich City manager Chris Hughton knows he needs to avoid another humiliation today if he is to hold onto his job.

While the former Ireland international has been backed publicly and privately by the club's board, they are being subjected to increasing pressure from supporters' groups to make a change, making today's visit to West Brom even more vital.

The board has kept faith in Hughton, not just because he was the man they head-hunted from Birmingham City 18 months ago, but also because he guided the Canaries to 11th place last season.

This year, however, has not been as productive, particularly on the road where Norwich, have won just once, losing their last four on the spin, including a 7-0 embarrassment at Manchester City in November and a 5-1 capitulation at Liverpool on Wednesday.

Following that defeat, Hughton – who has consistently deflected blame away from his players – changed tack and delivered what was, by his standards, a harsh assessment.

"There is no doubt that at moments you need to be emotional and you need to shout and criticise," he said.

"I am capable of doing that. It's a man's game and you have to be prepared for that.

"If there is something that I see that I don't like to see, then can I be aggressive? Yes, of course, I can. It's part and parcel of the game."

So too is dealing with speculation about your future. Largely unfazed by the line of questions that have come his way, Hughton has no plans to walk away, knowing that if a doomsday scenario arrives, he will receive £1.5m in compensation.

That his position is under threat is undeniable, although defeat today will not automatically spell the end. Rather, it is the nature of the performance.

Should Norwich's players surrender as meekly as they did at Eastlands and Anfield, then the pressure will ratchet up. But should they go down with a fight then Hughton will surely live to fight another day.

His cause is hardly helped by injuries, record signing Ricky van Wolfswinkel joining Anthony Pilkington, Robert Snodgrass and Alexander Tettey on the absentee list.

An worrying statistic, however, is the fact that since Hughton took charge, Norwich have lost 18 of their 26 Premier League away matches, and with the second worst defensive record in the division, today's trip to the Hawthorns is fraught with tension.

David McNally, who is the real power-broker at Carrow Road, downplayed the gravity of Hughton's situation, saying: "We believe we can turn this situation around."

If they are to do so, they have to defend better.

"We have to tighten that up," said Hughton. "We're going through a period where every mistake we make is being pounced upon."

In this league, mistakes cost money. When Hughton arrived, Norwich were £24m in the red but after keeping them up last season, their debt has been cleared, despite his heavy investment of £20m on five new players over the summer.

Another year of survival will net another £50m.

Relegation, though, would be a disaster. So there is a lot at stake, not least a man's job.

Irish Independent

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