Hughton survives to fight another day at Norwich

Posted by Paddy Davitt

Clive Rose/Getty ImagesChris Hughton's Norwich City picked up a massive three points with a 1-0 win over Hull City on Saturday.

Chris Hughton's unflappable manner must have been sorely tested in Norwich City's Premier League win against Hull City. The Canaries produced again for their under-pressure manager, but Hughton was made to wait until the bitter end until Ryan Bennett's towering header secured a vital 1-0 win at Carrow Road.

- Report: Norwich City 1-0 Hull City

Make no mistake; this was Hughton's biggest match since West Brom's visit in the final home league fixture of last season when only victory would guarantee top flight survival.

City's abject FA Cup exit at Fulham earlier in the week extended a winless run to eight matches in all competitions and prompted chief executive David McNally to launch a bullish defence of the club's long-term strategy. It was not quite the dreaded vote of confidence for the man at the helm, but the implicit warning that should Norwich slip into the bottom three for any prolonged period was all too apparent. Hughton's job prospects hinge on the Canaries' retaining their Premier League status, but another negative outcome against the Tigers and you feared whether he would be around to see the project through.

Norwich were second best in the early sparring with Hull debutant Nikica Jelavic slamming the base of John Ruddy’s right-hand post before an unmarked Liam Rosenior skied over. The hosts looked edgy and ill at ease; it would have been surprising to expect anything else in such fractious circumstances. Yet Norwich had pulled back from the precipice on every previous occasion this season when Crystal Palace and West Ham both succumbed at Carrow Road in recent months. City's restless crowd remained largely patient, apart from the sporadic boos that accompanied the half-time whistle. Allan McGregor parried Robert Snodgrass' swerving strike before the interval and Ricky van Wolfswinkel looked more threatening that he had for months after an injury-interrupted debut campaign in Norfolk, but all the worrying frailties and brittleness re-surfaced when the breakthrough failed to materialise.

Norwich's attacking urges were fitful and less intense as the minutes elapsed in the second period. There was almost an air of resignation, and with it the inevitable searing focus that would have returned on Hughton and his own position in the context of a season that had appeared to have ground to a standstill. Hughton's decision to withdraw van Wolfswinkel for the more direct approach offered by Luciano Becchio failed to gain universal approval, but the Argentine's physical prowess did change the dynamic in the closing stages.

Norwich's most productive route looked to be from set pieces and it was central defender Bennett who succeeded where the hosts' strikers had ultimately failed for the opening 87 minutes. Steve Bruce was left to lament Rosenior's decision to leave his position on the line as Bennett's close range header flew into the space vacated by the attacking wing-back. The relief was palpable around Carrow Road. Tom Huddlestone's dismissal in the aftermath for a second bookable offence checked Hull's bid for a leveller, but this was Norwich’s day. They need plenty more to take the heat off Hughton.


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