Hughton's reality check will resonate with fans

Posted by Paddy Davitt

Paul Thomas/Getty ImagesChris Hughton: Words of caution at a crucial time in the season for Norwich

Chris Hughton used his pre-match Premier League briefing ahead of Southampton's visit to Carrow Road to deliver a cautionary warning that will strike a chord with many Norwich City supporters.

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The Canaries' policy of stealth has edged them to 32 points, ten league games from the finish. A last-gasp victory over Everton last time out on home soil propelled them further clear of a clutch of teams in far greater peril. The struggling Saints clearly fall into that category. City also know they control their own destiny with five of the seven clubs currently below them still to face between now and mid-May.

Gather their fair share of points from those encounters and they also inflict collateral damage upon those fighting for their top flight futures. Hughton and his players would never publicly admit it but the hard work looks to have been completed. All that remains is to apply the garnish to a campaign that will be framed as a second season of toil, interspersed with heavy reverses and some sublime victories over the Premier League's established order.

Hughton did not sound like a manager who feels the job is done when he spoke to the assembled media at City's Colney training base. The experienced Hughton pointed out many a club and many a player have been caught out by the volatility of the headlong dash for safety that shreds the current form guide every season. Wigan's annual success in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds to retain their Premier League status is the prime example for anyone connected to a club like Norwich who may feel they cannot be sucked back in.

A Southampton victory at Carrow Road this weekend and Norwich's margin shrinks to two points over the Saints. The Canaries' loyal fan base will need no reminding of the harsh realities of Premier League life after exiting the most exclusive clique in world club football on the final day of the 2005 campaign. On that occasion a win was all they required at mid-table Fulham to remain amongst the elite. What they got was a hammering at Craven Cottage that triggered a seismic decline and descent to the depths of League One before Paul Lambert plotted a revival that Hughton is now tasked with maintaining.

For most of that testing campaign, City had struggled below the waterline before a late flourish - the like of which will certainly happen again to one or two of the principal relegation candidates right now - injected renewed belief when all hope looked beyond them. As it was, West Brom were the great survivors on a Super Sunday that lived up to its billing. The contrast in the sombre scenes by the Thames and the celebrations at the final whistle at The Hawthorns that afternoon stay etched in the collective consciousness of the Norfolk nation.

That is why Hughton's fresh sound bite will not have gone unnoticed outside the inner sanctum. If the message was meant for a fan base who might reasonably expect City not to become embroiled in a desperate scramble for safety, there really was no need. The lessons of history remain raw in the psyche of all those who endured 2004/05.

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