Despite stumble, Norwich march on as Hughton makes his mark
A late goal by Romelo Lukaku condemned Norwich to their first defeat in ten games. But as the Canaries sit comfortably in tenth place, they will be delighted by the progress made under Chris Hughton.
Indeed, the acrimonious departure of Paul Lambert in the summer, combined with Grant Holt’s bizarre transfer saga, had threatened to derail Norwich’s superb work of the last three seasons. And a 5-0 opening day defeat at Fulham certainly seemed to show a club in disarray, much to the despair of Lambert’s successor and football’s Mr Nice Guy, Chris Hughton.
And yet the current Norwich manager is no stranger to clubs in turmoil. After all, he took a badly-run Newcastle back to the Premier League. His record at Birmingham, where he guided the Blues to the play-offs despite a season-long transfer embargo, also speaks volume for his abilities.
And it seems Hughton has worked his magic once again. While Paul Lambert’s accomplishments were nothing to sneer at, Norwich had become somewhat predictable. A pleasant ball-playing side, the Canaries nevertheless relied heavily on Grant Holt and John Ruddy’s contributions at both ends of the pitch. Notoriously adventurous and porous at the same time, Lambert’s side were predictably inconsistent.
After several games observing his new team, Hughton added steel and discipline to his side while keeping their creativity alive. Each line of his revamped 4-4-1-1 has seen the influence of players brought to the club by Hughton.
Sebastien Bassong in particular has been a shrewd transfer. Norwich were often too soft and vulnerable at the back, where Daniel Ayala and others often forced Lambert to play Russell Martin out of position from right back in order to close the gaps.
Hughton quickly identified such a weakness and brought in the strong, quick Frenchman from Tottenham. Bassong has emerged as a vocal and organisational leader at the back, helping Norwich concede only 16 goals in the 15 games he has played in. This run has also included five clean sheets. For a club which conceded 66 goals in the league last season, Bassong’s arrival has stabilised a previously failing backline.
Similarly, Hughton has remodelled the midfield to add solidity to an area of the pitch in which Norwich lacked no guile last year. The introduction of the powerful Alexander Tettey from Rennes has enabled Norwich to give more protection to its back four, while letting Wes Hoolahan run the team in his favoured role behind the striker. The redeployment of the indefatigable Bradley Johnson in a deeper position has also helped give more freedom to the exciting Pilkington and Snodgrass on the wings.
With this new-found balance, Hughton has made Norwich harder to beat though still letting his creative players flourish. The results have been promising with notable victories against Arsenal and Manchester United.
The stability Hughton has brought to the club, both on and off the pitch, has turned Norwich into what appears to be a genuine Premier League club. With the sympathetic former Newcastle man at the helm, the Canaries are taking the right steps towards establishing themselves in one of the hardest leagues in world football. And, with many “big teams” failing to ensure the usual status quo, could Norwich aim higher this year already?
Baptiste Reynaud, Football correspondent