Sunday, November 7, 2010

Eleven days is a long time in a Newcastle managers tenure

Eleven games played, seventeen points garnered, eight points off top spot. Newcastle United are now sitting proudly in fifth place in the Barclays Premier League – the Europa League qualifying spot.
It now seems barely credible that a mere eleven days ago the Newcastle United board felt it necessary to issue a statement backing their manager Chris Hughton. That statement was issued amid growing speculation over Hughton’s future in the St. James Park managerial office. That evening Newcastle were at the wrong end of a 4-0 scoreline at home to Arsenal in the last sixteen of the Carling Cup. A drubbing no doubt but Newcastle were ninth in the Premier League at the time, a very respectable position for a promoted side in late October. To many observers the negative speculation surrounding Hughton’s tenure that evening seemed harsh and premature in the extreme, now it is revealed to have been ludicrous and ill-founded.
The speculation seemed well timed to increase the pressure even more on Hughton to produce a result in the impending Tyne – Wear derby the following Sunday. One thing that is sure to raise the ire of the Toon army is a negative result against Sunderland, especially at St. James Park. If Sunderland could turn over Newcastle then Hughton could start to lose some of the supporters. Suddenly those that dismissed the speculation the previous Wednesday as nonsense may start to look for the fire that allegedly accompanies all manifestations of smoke.  The speculation that could have been dismissed as smoke and mirrors may now resemble cloak and dagger, the statement of support issued by the Newcastle United board would now be categorised as ‘the dreaded vote of confidence’.
Its four minutes into first half stoppage time and Shola Ameobi steps up to take a penalty, penalty converted, Newcastle United 3 Sunderland 0. Crisis, what crisis, the smoke is now drifting off into the air; whatever fire was supporting it is not even a pile of glowing embers now. The game ends in a morale boosting 5 -1 victory to the home side. Chris Hughton is the toast of Newcastle. The cloak and dagger will be put away for another day. The white hot passion and supposed unpredictability of a local derby aside, this weekend’s plundering of the Emirates for three points further illustrates Hughton’s nous as a manager and should add to his credentials among the more informed sections that follow football.
  Chris Hughton it seems has always struggled to get due credit for his achievements in the dugout. He was twice caretaker manager at Newcastle before he was entrusted with the top job, and it wasn’t until late October and a very positive start to the Championship season of 2009 – 2010 before the Newcastle board finally out their confidence in Hughton, albeit with an eighteen month contract. Not exactly handing him the keys to the kingdom just yet.
Hughton started his coaching career at Tottenham Hotspur in 1993 and in his fourteen years as coach and assistant manager at White Hart Lane he saw ten managers come and go. His demise at Tottenham came when he was on board the sinking ship that was the Martin Jol regime, this despite Jol leading Tottenham to two consecutive fifth place in the Premier League.
It was at White Hart Lane where Hughton spent the bulk of his playing career, winning two FA Cups and one UEFA Cup along the way. Hughton represented his country, the Republic of Ireland, fifty three times in an international career that spanned twelve years. He was part of the Republic side that made the breakthrough qualifying for their first tournament, Euro ‘88. A side that were the width of a post away from a European Championship semi – final. Hughton again answered his country’s call in 2003 when Brian Kerr asked him to serve as assistant during Kerr’s ultimately unsuccessful two years at the helm.
If come the end of the season Newcastle United are still in fifth position it would be a remarkable achievement. This scenario hardly seems likely but their start to this season suggest that they are most definitely of the required standard for a top half finish. Such an outcome should ensure Hughton secures a contract longer than 18 months, one that demonstrates the trust that he would surely deserve. A finish anywhere above the relegation zone is normally considered a successful outcome for any side promoted to the Premier League. Even though both Blackpool and West Brom, now sitting eleventh and ninth respectively in the table, may currently have loftier ambitions one suspects they would now gladly settle for the guarantee of a seat at the top table of English football for the season 2011 – 2012.
Recent speculation indicates that a seventeenth place finish may not be enough for Hughton to secure a contract extension at Newcastle.  This illustrates the uphill struggle that faces Hughton, and most recent managers at Newcastle. Those who follow this so called ‘sleeping giant’ expect their giant to be wide awake and smiting all comers. This unreasonable expectation leads to unreasonable pressure which leads to unreasonable decisions being made where reason is most called for. 


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