How long for Chris Hughton to know his players, and why you love Paul Lambert
It’s a question that has been picked up by most City fans, and it’s not an easy one to answer: How long should it take a manager to know his players?
• Why do people keep suggesting Manchester City have been struggling or aren’t playing that well? They’ve twice come from behind away from home to win – this weekend with only 10 men. For me, they’re playing like champions and will take some stopping from repeating the trick.
• No need to thank me for talking-up Arsenal in my column last week – it was my pleasure. Maybe next time Arsenal won’t take a 14-minute flight from Luton…
Chris Hughton took charge in the close season – since which he has had eight Premier League games, two League Cup ties, seven pre-season friendlies and numerous training sessions to see his boys in action.
And for my money, numerous training sessions probably provide the learning worth of seven friendlies, two cup ties and about 15 minutes of top-flight football.
No doubt, Hughton’s learning is taking place in the toughest football environment there is.
The plan has been in place for some time – Alex Tettey’s August arrival was to pave the way for City to shape into a 4-2-3-1 formation. That was two months ago. Hughton finally dipped into it properly at the weekend for Arsenal’s visit. A fully acclimatised Tettey, and fully fit Elliott Bennett and Anthony Pilkington, helped bring it about.
And the result? A balanced, organised side that created a few chances and snuffed out their opposition. One that allowed Wes Hoolahan to operation how he can, without gaping holes behind him.
And also, a side that fitted into what a now-experienced Premier League club should be providing. The look of a club that knows what it’s doing.
The reciprocal belief from Carrow Road’s stands was something noticeably missing earlier this season – and palpable in its presence on Saturday.
Don’t underestimating how bad Arsenal were – the question we are yet know the answer to is why?
If it was of City’s making, we will find out at Villa Park this weekend and against Stoke seven days later.
Indeed, with a trip to Reading after that, City’s run of fixtures presents a genuine opportunity to get some points and positions on the board – a run they have to take advantage of if they are serious about booking season three in the promised land.
So what of this weekend’s big game? Well, I’m still surprised Paul Lambert hasn’t got Aston Villa going – if less surprised he’s ‘fallen out’ with Darren Bent.
Given they have only won once and face Manchesters City and United, Arsenal and a trip to Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland after Norwich’s visit, all the pressure will be on the hosts on Saturday.
The only question will be whether Lambert has engrained in his new charges the art of thriving off it… I wonder if that one takes longer than eight games to learn?
• Allow me, for a moment, to list a few brilliant moments in the recent life of a Norwich City fan…
A grudge match 5-0 victory of huge proportions at Colchester in the pouring winter rain.
That 1-0 win at home to League One title rivals Leeds, effectively booking silverware as well as promotion in a season that started with abject desolation.
City’s reunion with the Championship runners – and putting almost all of them to the sword, one by one.
The greatest derby double this club will ever see – 4-1 at home with Holt’s hat-trick and 5-1 away, with few words to do it justice.
That magic Monday at Pompey.
A Premier League ride that involved no fear and a fearsome threat to others; the complete rehabilitation of the football club and successive top-flight campaigns for the first time in almost 20 years…
I’m sure you all get what I’m doing. For some – and for me – City’s renaissance was driven by Paul Lambert’s fierce focus and ambition, as much as his ties with the club were always going to be ended by it. And predictably, in the fashion being played out.
Lambert wasn’t nice. His City weren’t nice. And we loved it.
There are two sides to the current stories of tribunals and writs, I’m sure. But there is only one side to what Lambert, Ian Culverhouse and Gary Karsa achieved at Carrow Road.
For that, Lambert remains a Norwich City hero and legend – and while there should be wry smiles and laughs if City do the business at Villa Park this weekend, the man that got the club there in the first place deserves more than to be hated.