Friday 18 October 2019

David Kelly: 'Hughton's safe pair of hands once again dispensed with by trigger-happy owners'

 

Former Brighton & Hove Albion manager Chris Hughton. Photo: PA
Former Brighton & Hove Albion manager Chris Hughton. Photo: PA
David Kelly

David Kelly

Chris Hughton wouldn't have seen what was coming yesterday but when it did, the familiarity of it all might have seemed grimly ironic.

As with Norwich five years ago, Brighton, with a board supplying a budget that was the third lowest in the league, were another who felt that 17th was beneath them.

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There are echoes from Hughton's stint in charge of Newcastle United, too, another club who spend their time wallowing in delusions of yesteryear; he promoted them too, like Brighton, but was later summarily dismissed.

Their subsequent relegation was an almost inevitable karmic response; few would be surprised, or even would care, were Brighton to maintain this trend.

It is a familiar career trope for the manager, now. Deemed capable enough of calmly assuring solidity exceeding the expectations of many, before being ruthlessly discarded when those ambitions suddenly somehow fall short of the expectations of the few.

After all, Brighton, whatever one might think of Norwich or Newcastle - at least the latter have some sepia-tinted glories to tempt their illusions of grandeur - are more familiar with occupying the gutter than the galaxy of stars with which they shared the pitch last Sunday.

Indeed, it is only 15 years since they almost toppled into extinction; less than a decade ago, they were an anonymous, homeless presence in an athletics stadium playing in front of 8,000 people in League Two.

Before Hughton was appointed, they were on the verge of returning to that third tier of football until he earned them promotion and, until yesterday, assuring them of their status for a third successive season in the top-flight. In 118 years, they had only spent four of them in the higher echelon of English football.

Clearly, though, Brighton believe they can do better, perhaps dazzled by the dizzying play produced by the champions on their home patch last Sunday.

True, Hughton would not necessarily be the first manager one might point to as being an author of the type of football produced by Pep Guardiola but then again he has never claimed to be, nor have those who have employed him wanted him to. Or not, at least, until, their heads are turned by apparently impossible aspirations, far beyond their station.

Brighton, in ignoring Hughton's history and their own, instead panicked after a horrendous run of three wins in 23 games.

The Irishman's deviation towards conservatism seemed to grip his side with inertia; Iranian Alireza Jahanbakhsh, a record signing, failed to score.

Jurgen Locadia scored twice, a former record signing Jose Izquierdo none; a veteran, Glenn Murray, and a centre-back, Shane Duffy, represented the chief goal-getters.

Murray's pleading to alter his side's defensive style fell upon deaf ears, something which also happened at Norwich; intransigence in the dressing-room swiftly prompted action in the boardroom.

Style, not substance, in the eye of the beholders, stunted the club's faith in the manager, even if not expressed publicly; only last month, indeed, the CEO reiterated faith in Hughton's calm assurance.

Clearly, the club's owner was already plotting a quite different path, not deeming Sunday's assurance of Premier League safety a "celebration", as Hughton did, rather a cause for concern.

Already, the talk is of Graham Potter's appointment, the vibrant young manager who will introduce the sweeping, passing football desirous of those who until so recently didn't have a home to play any football in.

And Potter's influence might bear some fruit, initially at least, but one wonders how soon the supporters who called for Hughton's head might one day pine for his careful and cultivated control.

Mark Lawrenson pithily decreed Hughton was a Championship manager and his cutting words betray some truth; then again, the bottom tier of the Premier League is, aside from its over-valued rewards, effectively the same standard as the Championship, far removed from the other-worldly top six cohort.

Once deemed a suitable Irish candidate - and if Mick McCarthy is suitable enough so should Hughton be - the FAI's clumsy succession policy will put paid to that for a while yet.

Instead, Hughton seems primed yet again for a role in reviving a club yearning for the bright lights, before yet again being sacrificed when they become blinded by them.

Hughton is the man clubs hire when they wish for something careful and fire when they forget to be careful what they are wishing for.

Irish Independent

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