Chris Hughton is not a man who betrays outward emotion. But the double-fist pump that greeted Norwich City’s priceless 1-0 Premier League away win at Stoke Sunday was a big moment for the man and the manager.
The Canaries’ chief has found himself in the spotlight after anaemic awaydays this campaign brought no league goals and precious little entertainment for a hard-pressed away support. Defeat at home in the Premier League last time out to Aston Villa and Paul Lambert brought unwanted pressure from outside forces who questioned Hughton’s suitability to remain in the post at Carrow Road.
City’s players answered in emphatic style for their manager at a Britannia Stadium which, for the past five years, had been a veritable graveyard. It may well now become synonymous with Hughton’s resurrection. Jonny Howson’s 34th-minute match-winner was the bare minimum Norwich deserved for a dominant first half that prompted Potters’ chief Mark Hughes to make two changes at the interval.
Jermaine Pennant and in particular the cultured Stephen Ireland injected a badly-needed thrust for the hosts immediately after the interval, but in truth Hughton’s side played out the final quarter with few alarms. But for Sunderland keeper Asmir Begovic’s athleticism, they would have doubled their advantage when he went full length to claw away Robert Snodgrass’ goalbound curler.
Ryan Bennett had also thudded a close range strike against the bar in an opening period when Norwich looked the team full of confidence and belief. There were few visible signs of Hughes’ positive impact on the Stoke squad he largely inherited from Tony Pulis. The Potters looked leggy and lethargic with Norwich’s midfield trio Howson, Leroy Fer and Alex Tettey the outstanding players on the park.
Peter Crouch’s arrival for the final half an hour was textbook Pulis, despite empirical evidence Hughes is trying to evolve the Potters’ direct style of football. Norwich’s Premier League odyssey will get little easier with games against Chelsea and Arsenal to come either side of the next international break, but a trip to the Britannia underlined there is precious little to choose between large swathes of the Premier League on any given afternoon.
Norwich proved in one 90-minute shift they have the talent and the quality to prosper under Hughton’s guidance. The City boss has remained steadfast in his beliefs, but this win will bolster those elements outside the game who felt the manager was in a vulnerable position.
The ultra-competitive nature of the Premier League suggests respite may only be temporary, but Norwich on their best days continue to demonstrate they can achieve their stated aim of top-flight consolidation.