Football has a wonderful capacity to induce contrasting emotions. Chris Hughton must have lurched from trepidation to exhilaration before Norwich City progressed in the Capital One Cup at Watford's expense Tuesday with a come-from-behind 3-2 victory.
Premier League longevity is the only barometer to judge Hughton’s work at Carrow Road. The financial uplift from top-flight membership dwarfs the greater tangible rewards from the cup adventures clubs like Swansea, Wigan and Bradford have savoured in recent times.
Yet the Canaries’ extra-time third-round away win might have lasting ramifications on a rather fitful opening to the club's third consecutive Premier League campaign. Defeats at Hull and Tottenham were displays rooted in futility, days when City only fleetingly threatened to prevent their hosts accumulating a routine three points. Paul Lambert’s latest successful return to Norfolk with Aston Villa at the weekend triggered waves of discontent around Carrow Road.
Hughton was subjected to a barrage of terrace disapproval that, both in its volume and intensity, perhaps marked a watershed moment in the Norwich manager’s relationship with the City support. The underlying frustration at a perceived lack of genuine growth despite a summer spending spree unparalleled in the club’s history burst to the surface after Norwich failed to overcome a Villa outfit that finished the game without key injured duo Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor.
Hughton needed a big night at Vicarage Road. His players delivered in every sense of the word. But when Davide Faraoni lashed a long range strike past Mark Bunn to double the Hornets’ lead in the 55th minute, Hughton must have felt very isolated as he stood at the front of the away technical area.
Football management is a lonely business, as Paolo Di Canio brutally discovered earlier this week. A miserable cup exit after patchy Premier League form would have only intensified the scrutiny on Norwich’s earnest manager.
What followed was a reaffirmation in the wonderful unpredictability of the beautiful game. Josh Murphy’s introduction for his senior debut was the catalyst to a breathtaking turnaround. A highly rated teenager taking his first steps in the professional game dragged the Canaries' back into a tie which by that stage was a contest in name only.
Murphy thumped home from fully 25 yards before Gary Hooper moved centre stage on his full competitive debut since heading south as part of the new wave.
The ex-Celtic player rose majestically to glance home Nathan Redmond’s cross in the 95th and final minute of normal time. There was not even time for Gianfranco Zola’s men to restart before the official ushered in extra-time. That was how close Hughton came to another searching public enquiry into his methods. City grew in stature. Leroy Fer's vision set Hooper away before a cheeky slot through the legs of Watford keeper Jonathan Bond completed a comeback of epic proportions. City progressed to the last 16 on the night, but the rejuvenative impact for Hughton and Norwich's Premier League prospects may be the lasting legacy from the miracle of Vicarage Road.