Wednesday 17 January 2018

Hughton reveals his relief after Howsonrocket takes heat off Norwich

Stoke City 0 Norwich City 1

Graham Chase

Even though we are not yet in October, there was an acknowledgement from Norwich City manager Chris Hughton that this was a crucial win.

Jonny Howson's long-range effort in the opening period was enough to settle an utterly forgettable encounter at the Britannia Stadium and the relief gleaned from what was just the third away win in the Premier League since Hughton took over in the summer of 2012 was clear.

With Paolo di Canio now removed from Sunderland, Hughton looked to be the next in the firing line but this victory, coupled with Fulham's continued dreadful form, leaves Martin Jol as the bookmakers' favourite to be the next manager sacked.

Hughton is a far from outwardly emotional character but, after significant summer investment and just one win before yesterday, anxiety was clearly building. Fourth from bottom before the match, they are now level on points with Manchester United.

Hughton said: "It's a nice feeling. It's a big lift, more so because away from home our results haven't been the best. It feels like a big result.

"Before the game we were sitting fourth from bottom and that's pressure. We haven't got some of the results we'd have liked to have got.

"There's nobody that puts themselves under more pressure than the managers because we take every defeat heavily and the burden of results is always on you. But you have to be able to cope with that and have a belief in your abilities and what you can do with the team or you wouldn't take the job in the first place."

Hughton's plan to harry and press Stoke certainly worked from the start, forcing the hosts into comfortably their worst performance since Mark Hughes took charge in the summer.

His central three of Howson, Alex Tettey and Leroy Fer dominated to such an extent that Hughes changed two of his five-man midfield at the break and still saw little improvement.

Stoke's new-found weakness at set-pieces was demonstrated within just a few minutes of the kick-off as a Robert Snodgrass corner made it all the way to the back post where Ryan Bennett prodded on to the bar before Asmir Begovic gathered the defender's attempt to reach the rebound.

Norwich's only flicker of concern was a Charlie Adam free-kick that Tettey headed past his post but the visitors took a deserved lead just after the half-hour. Stoke gave the ball away yet again from a Geoff Cameron throw and Anthony Pilkington fed Howson for the former Leeds United midfielder to thump past Begovic from 25 yards.

An Adam corner was headed just wide before the break and three minutes into the second half the home side should have had a penalty when Fer grabbed Kenwyne Jones's shirt in the area. "I pulled his shirt, just a little bit," Fer, a £4.5m summer signing from FC Twente, said with a chuckle afterwards. "It happens."

The half-time additions of Stephen Ireland and Jermaine Pennant made little difference and Snodgrass was only denied a second for the visitors when his fine curling effort was tipped away at full stretch by Begovic.

Although Norwich were forced deeper, their goalkeeper John Ruddy was never extended beyond a simple save from Jones before Ryan Shawcross headed wide from Jermaine Pennant's late corner. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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