Friday, March 7, 2014
Circumstances meant the moment was rather lost – but it was actually something of a red letter day for Chris Hughton at Villa Park. Sadly, the special occasion wasn’t finally getting one over the man he replaced at Carrow Road – I’m sure a few fans of a yellow persuasion would rather this column had the chance to take such a line.
Rather, the game against Aston Villa actually made Chris Hughton Norwich City’s longest serving Premier League manager.
Sunday at the Villa was Hughton’s 66th league fixture in charge of the Canaries, which topped Mike Walker’s previous mark of 65 Premier League games – games that introduced Norwich City to England’s brave new football world back in 1992.
Hughton has actually held the honour in terms of time since the turn of the year.
It all brings into stark focus exactly how fleeting City’s duration as a Premier League club has been, even if they can call themselves one of the founding members.
• It’s probably been brought up on this page before, but Adam Lallana’s ascension into the England squad only ever seemed a matter of time – and to be honest, once he was in you knew he would have enough about him to stay there. Lallana is a wonderful player to watch – he has been for years – and he can be a real focal point for England in Brazil.
• I still stand by my assertion Sebastien Bassong had been in good form – it’s just that it went missing at Villa Park on Sunday. On the flip side, Jonny Howson didn’t take long to look good on his return. Wes Hoolahan was the best City player on the pitch – but for me, both Howson and Wes need to be involved from the start against Stoke; a game Norwich have to win to keep us all sane for a week.
• The inflated Euro 2016 finals may well be ridiculous – but a plus point would be someone like Gareth Bale actually getting to make it to summer climax. His talents would grace such a stage.
As does the fact City’s longest serving Premier League boss hasn’t even reached two full seasons yet – that shouldn’t be lost on any Norwich fan in terms of the Canaries’ place in the recent footballing world.
Now don’t go jumping down my throat – I am well aware football didn’t start in 1992. Before the Premier League was a land of four Football League tiers, sharing similarly sized divisions with supposedly more amenable financial parameters for any club wanting to make progress.
And it’s worth remembering too, that City’s top-flight excellence runs much deeper than the current Premier League. It makes for interesting comparisons – Hughton’s tally of top-flight games is dwarfed by Canaries legends John Bond, Ken Brown and Dave Stringer; all at a time when City often gave every side in England a run for their money.
Where exactly City’s place in the football world lies is something behind a lot of this season’s unrest.
The recent rise from League One cannot be ignored. No City fan would exchange it on a regular basis for where Norwich are now.
And they know 72 clubs below would swap places in a heartbeat.
I spoke to a former City employee this week whose frustration at the weight being placed on City’s style and entertainment factors was clear to see. Mark Lawrenson even made the succinct point (no, really...) that all teams in the bottom half of the Premier League should see survival as the equivalent to a trophy.
Likewise, there is the still relative paucity of City’s involvement in the Premier League – this is the first time the Canaries have enjoyed a third successive season.
Yet, look at those numbers racked up by Bond, Brown and Stringer. Season after season competing in the top flight, with four top-10 finishes in English football – something to happen once in the Premier League; that first season.
It’s a tug of war City may struggle to shake off.
How this season finishes is almost certain to define Chris Hughton’s reign. Even if he secures Norwich City a fourth season in the Premier League, it could be he won’t be the man in charge for it. Time will tell.
But whatever the future holds, what is secure is Hughton’s place in one of City’s real high-flying periods.