After Saturday’s defeat to West Brom at Carrow Road, the Norwich board have decided enough is enough and sacked Chris Hughton. At a crucial stage of the season and a massive fixture away to Fulham next weekend, have the club made the right decision?
The result against West Brom saw Norwich drop to 17th place, and just 5 points ahead of a Fulham side they face next weekend. With a horrible run of fixtures to end the season – Liverpool (h), Manchester United (a), Chelsea (a), and Arsenal (h) – the need for points at Craven Cottage is incredibly high as the likelihood of obtaining any points from the last 4 matches is a relatively low prospect. The argument for experience in the dugout during this period will be highlighted, but a record of just 4 away wins during Hughton’s 2 seasons at Norwich – as well as previous struggles at Fulham – makes it plausible whether it would have an effect.
Chris Hughton had a record of 18 wins out of 71 league games, a win percentage of 25.4%, and 31 defeats during this time, a loss percentage of 43.7%. It was the form during a crucial run of fixtures that ultimately got him the sack, however, with 4 defeats in their last 6 matches, with the majority of teams faced in matches they would expect to pick up points before their horror run-in that meant the former Newcastle and Birmingham manager lost his job.
During Hughton’s tenure in Norfolk, the lacklustre and low on quality performances have been ever present away from home – something that recently saw the Norwich players refund fans that travelled to Swansea – and often crept in the matches at home against the teams around them. Every month there seemed to be a must-win home game and Hughton managed to get through it, but his luck ran out on Saturday.
Struggles in front of goal have also been a common theme since Hughton arrived at Norwich – 26 goals is the second lowest in the league this season. A dreadful conversion rate of 9% proves this – and the signings of Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel have failed to have the desired effect. The blame can be put to the feet of the strikers who haven’t lived up to their transfer fees, £5m and £8.5m respectively; however, with both strikers’ strengths being in the 18-yard box the system employed doesn’t favour either of them as they are often forced to come deep to collect the ball. Reliance on wing-play with inverted wingers becomes easy to defend against as it restricts the movement in the attacking third – something that has been lacking as well too and the consistency of this suggests that there were problems within the coaching staff.
Seen as a defensively minded manager, Hughton has helped Norwich to 11 clean sheets this season and seen them keep 5 clean sheets in 7 home matches. However, the amount of goals conceded this season by Norwich (52) and big defeats to a number of clubs, including Manchester City and Aston Villa at home, has seen some atrocious defensive positioning that has left John Ruddy to regularly keep Norwich in games (104 saves), but ultimately condemned Norwich to defeats in games they could have picked up points.
The inability to change a match when falling behind has often seen fans consign themselves to defeat with reason. Norwich have failed to equalise a Premier League match in 2014 and only one substitute all season has managed to score or assist a goal; these struggles meant heads dropped and whilst the players must take some blame, the guidance from the touchline was also lacking.
The most interesting part of this is Neil Adams, the Under-18s manager, being promoted to first team manager for his first professional managerial job – a big risk. Adams has impressed many at the club with his achievements since taking control of the Under-18 side and won the FA Youth Cup last season playing good football along the way. The promotion from within will mean Adams and the players will not need time to familiarise to each other, which will could make up for the lack of experience Adams possesses in management.
The appointment of a club legend and fan favourite has already raised morale amongst most fans, which in the short-term could be enough for Norwich to get over the line if it has the same effect on the players. What is definitely guaranteed though is the angry atmosphere that was present in the closing stages of the West Brom match will be replaced with a crowd fully behind their team and manager – that unity will needed as points become so important in the final 5 matches.
Chris Hughton has always come across as a very nice bloke wherever he’s been in football, but it never seemed to work out at Norwich and looked likely he would be out of a job in the summer whether he kept the Canaries up or not due to a lack of progression of long-standing problems. While the timing may have come too late to save Norwich from the drop, the decision to sack Hughton is a justified one.