Sunday, 10 November 2013

Hughton Survives Another Day...For Now

One team conceding eleven goals in the space of a week and the other team holding the third-best defensive record in the league, it was clear in the build up to the #SNF clash between Norwich City and West Ham United which manager was under the spotlight.

Under Paul Lambert, Norwich fans were spoilt with an attacking and positive style of play, which produced lots of goals and exciting football. If Norwich were losing a match with 10 minutes to go, Lambert would throw on four forwards to get a goal. The team would never give up on gaining a victory and was one of the main ingredients for promotion to the Premier League back in 2011.

However, Hughton has a completely different philosophy. A more defensive-minded approach, crowding out the midfield with a 4-1-4-1 formation and setting out the team to be hard to score against rather than a free-scoring team . This was a tough change for canaries fans to accept, but a strong end to last season and the summer influx strikers such as Van Wolfswinkel, Hooper and Elmander showed a possible change of intent and allowed Chris Hughton to keep Norwich fans on his side.

However the stats speak for themselves this season. Failing to score more than one goal in a single game since the opening game of the season, only one goal scored between three strikers and playing most games with only one striker...Norwich fans certainly haven't had much to cheer about this season. There was such a buzz around Carrow Road surrounding the summer signings and a real high expectation that the new strikers would allow Norwich to challenge higher in the table. A large amount of money was spent on strikers, but Hughton has refused to play more than one striker. Why spend a fortune on strikers if you are not going to play them?

Norwich fans would probably accept the more defensive approach under Hughton if it yielded positive results. As we know, football is a results-based business. 1-0 wins or 0-0 draws would be
adequate as the realistic aim for Norwich City is survival. However, this has not been the case. We have set a team out week in week out this season to defend and not concede, but the system just hasn't worked. The 7-0 loss against Manchester City was the breaking point for many Norwich fans and has left the Norfolk outfit humiliated for the past week. Something had to change.

The #SNF match against West Ham United was certainly D-Day for Chris Hughton and was a massive game for Norwich City Football Club. Defeat could see Norwich's season unravel and could see the media and fans turn on the players and manager which would have a detrimental effect on confidence and morale. Defeat could more crucially see the chief executive David McNally wield the axe on Hughton, knowing an international break is on the horizon after the game to give any possible time for change in management. McNally is a ruthless businessman. After sacking Bryan Gunn after one game in charge, which infamously saw Norwich lose 1-7 to Colchester in League One, I would not be surprised in a quick and decisive action being taken by McNally if Norwich were to lose to West Ham at home.

The first question most canaries fans were wondering before this game: 'Will Hughton play two strikers?' To my astonishment, he had decided to go with Elmander and Hooper up front. However the reality was that Hughton had no choice. He had to go against his core beliefs and go for broke as he probably knew himself that anything less than defeat just wouldn't be accepted after the mauling at the Etihad Stadium. West Ham United had striker issues of their own with Carroll still injured and Vaz Te also out through injury, forcing the manager to make the bold move of playing with no recognised striker. It was therefore inevitable that West Ham was going to dominate the midfield and possession, which is what exactly happened as Norwich City and West Ham United kicked off. West Ham looked comfortable on the ball throughout the first half. Norwich looked nervous. Possession was yielded too easily throughout the first half and Norwich lacked confidence or ideas when trying to attack the West Ham goal. Hooper and Elmander were showing glimmers of a promising partnership, but were let down by the midfield who just had no clue when going forward. West Ham deservedly took the lead through Morrison's tap in after good spells of pressure and had plenty more chances to add to their total. The end of the first half was greeted by a chorus of boos and Hughton's half time team talk was probably the biggest one of his managerial career.

The second half resumed in similar fashion to the first half. However, a fumble by Jaaskelienen allowed Hooper to snatch the ball and force the foul. Penalty given, which was hammered down the middle by Hooper. Confidence is a massive aspect in any job and after the penalty the Norwich players were simply brimming with it. They were moving the ball around with purpose, Snodgrass looked a completely different player from the first half, Redmond was taking on any West Ham player in front of him and Hooper and Elmander were linking up more and more. Suddenly the game had changed completely, which was evident when a long range shot by Howson smashed against the bar. Snodgrass was immediately fouled to earn a free kick in a dangerous position. Only one man was a contender to take it. As soon as it left Snodgrass' foot there was no doubt where it was heading and the goal sent Carrow Road rocking. A late Fer goal added a gloss to the score and the full time score was greeted by a sigh of relief in Norwich, with the biggest relief coming from the manager.

West Ham simply threw away their good work from the first half  and Norwich edged the game through a bigger desire for the result. The game was after all probably bigger for Norwich than for West Ham. Seeing two strikers up front was fantastic and it is important for the canaries to now build on this result. However I feel the international break won't do any favours for Norwich. The last win for Norwich came against Stoke in September, just before another international break, which in my opinion loses a bit of momentum you gain from winning a premier league game.

The result will obviously mean Chris Hughton will live to fight another day. I am just concerned as a Norwich fan that he only played two up front through desperation and will now revert back to his old tactics when he visits his former employers Newcastle United. I feel Norwich must be more ambitious when going into the next few games and allow a striking partnership to form and develop. I really like Chris Hughton as a person. He speaks very well to the media, seems to have the right attitude and I feel he really does care about Norwich City Football Club. There is nobody that wants him to succeed at Norwich City more than I do. Norwich fans simply want to see more attacking ambition and I hope Chris Hughton can deliver this and take the club forward.