Graphic: Norwich City’s route under Chris Hughton
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The shoes to fill were big when he arrived. The ones he left behind, not so much. Chris Hughton enjoyed the longest spell of anyone managing Norwich City in the Premier League. He had the transfer budget to dwarf all others shelled out at Carrow Road. He kept City up once. We will never know if he was about to do it again – his side’s huge unpredictability, in terms of results at least, made it almost impossible to call.
As has been said, the decision to remove Chris Hughton is not the surprise. The timing is.
That doesn’t make a decision wrong. There was national uproar when Bryan Gunn was dismissed one league game into the 2009-10 season and following a 4-0 League Cup away win.
The brink was somewhere Hughton appeared to stand at regular intervals – yet Saturday’s defeat was arguably the first time a result encouraged City’s board to push.
Southampton proved you don’t have to sit there and wait – but City did, almost in defiance of top-flight fashion.
They pulled out epic wins during Hughton’s time in charge, but the good times always felt like anomalies.
Last season, 10 games unbeaten was a wonderful achievement – but completely out of keeping with the other 28. The final two performances were exceptional – but it’s hard not to feel they owed more to the coastal attitudes of West Brom and Manchester City, if only on the evidence of how City approached everything else apart from trips to Swansea. And even that one gave way this term.
Can you remember the last time City beat a team in good form? Or some luck seemed to go his way?
And while they could be as resolute as the best of them, the lack of occasions when City fought back after going behind was, in all honestly, never good enough.
Chris Hughton carried himself brilliantly. He is a gentleman – and yet, far from too nice for the job; a job he succeeded at last season.
But his 22-month reign was a patchwork many Canaries fans have already folded up and tossed into the loft, only to be forgotten.
Curiously, it may be the five games following his departure that actually define how history will treat Hughton’s time at the helm.
Should his successor, Neil Adams, produce some free-flowing football, a few goals and more than three points, it would be hard to argue against all manner of preconceptions about Hughton’s spell. The shackles. The caution that preceded any approach to a game. The difficulties in changing that approach once City kicked off. And the argument that this really is the best crop of players Norwich have had at their disposal since returning to English football’s top table just three seasons ago.
It’s just that it wasn’t working with the man who signed most of them.
Yet Adams’ appointment is a roll of the dice. For all his clear passion and definite youth-coaching pedigree, no one knows how this is going to pan out. And should the wheels come off from here on in, then the decision to remove Hughton – a man still convinced he could see the Canaries to survival on Saturday night – will look hasty.
The approach may not have been to people’s liking, but could it have earned that one win at Carrow Road to keep City up?
Might stability have worked in the Canaries’ favour in the end?
Would the City faithful have actually managed to be onside for the underdog challenges against Liverpool and Arsenal?
We will never know the answers, of course. But what happens between now and May 11 will define Chris Hughton’s reign, almost as much as Adams’ future. And it’s probably the case that only one of them will end up with a favourable outcome.