Chris Hughton returns to Carrow Road on Friday evening for the first time since he was fired as manager in 2014. Ironically, his Brighton side will be crowned Champions with a win. Through this, and on the back of October’s 5-0 humiliation of City, the 58-year-old has certainly had the last laugh.
Evaluating Hughton’s City legacy is a tough one. His side played some of the dourest football that I have ever witnessed. His painstakingly cautious, safety-first approach made going to see Norwich away from home a chore.
Hughton spent much of his career at Tottenham and was accustomed to a big club setting. In comparison, he saw Norwich as far smaller and reminded everyone of our limitations on a weekly basis. You never felt that Hughton believed he could take us further and this eventually took its toll on the supporters.
Hughton also spurned the perfect opportunity to transform us into an established Premier League club. We only really needed to survive one more campaign. The City board recognised this and provided him with the biggest budget any Norwich boss had ever had. In signing van Wolfswinkel, Gary Hooper, Redmond, Fer and Olsson, Hughton parted with £25 million. Unfortunately, neither striking additions suited the system that he was insistent on playing and we haplessly struggled for goals. Ultimately, we got relegated.
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It was not all bad, however.
Our final position of 11th in his first season marked our highest finish since 1993 and encompassed many fond memories. The 10 game unbeaten run, which involved toppling Arsenal and Manchester United, represented a club record in the Premier League. Furthermore, our 3-2 victory at the Etihad on the final day goes down as one of my favourite ever away games. With one of the smallest budgets in the division, Hughton guided us to a comfortable mid-table finish. Taking over from Paul Lambert was an unenviable task. Lambert left behind a squad of over-achieving players who were no longer riding on the crest of a wave. For me, the fact that he even managed to keep us up once is commendable, despite his later failures.
Perhaps most importantly, Hughton always conducted himself with unwavering class. Despite harsh treatment from certain sections of City supporters, he remained honourable throughout and not once has he had a bad word to say about the club in the years since his departure. That, more than anything else, should assure him of a warm reaction when he returns on Friday evening.