While the short-term fear of relegation certainly played a role in Norwich City’s decision to part company with Chris Hughton at the weekend – the reality is that even if Norwich avoided the drop under the former Spurs man, he’d have been looking for a new job come the summer.
Defeat at Carrow Road to fellow strugglers West Brom on Saturday dealt a potentially critical blow to City’s Premier League survival hopes and proved to be one too many for the club’s hierarchy. Yes, they still had 15 points to play for, and yes, they were still five points clear of third bottom Fulham – but given their run in, the board had finally abandoned hope that Chris Hughton could steer them to safety – let alone drive the club forward next season.
In terms of their battle with relegation, back in February after an encouraging draw at home to Manchester City, I wrote that the Canaries would probably need to be safe before their last four games – trips to Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge and home games against Liverpool and Arsenal – the run in from hell.
At that point, I’d pinpointed home games with Stoke, Sunderland and West Brom as their best escape route, given their relative strength at Carrow Road. Nine points were a must from these fixtures – but Hughton’s men only managed four. In fact, since that draw with City, Norwich only managed another seven points from the twenty four on offer – all from home fixtures. Trips outside of East Anglia saw them fall to comprehensive, indeed limp, defeats at West Ham, Aston Villa, Southampton and Swansea. The manner of those defeats troubled both the board and the fans alike.
Saturday’s loss in the relegation six pointer with the Baggies left Hughton’s men stuck on 32 points. And in truth, given their remaining fixtures, it had become increasingly difficult to make a case for them raising that tally too much before season’s end.
Against West Brom, their failings in front of goal, a season-long theme, condemned them to a morale-sapping defeat and left Hughton a dead man walking. Norwich dominated possession (68% to West Brom’s 32%) and created more goal-scoring opportunities (12 to the visitors’ 8) – but simply couldn’t make their pressure tell. Only Crystal Palace have scored fewer goals than Norwich’s 26 this season – but their improved defending since Tony Pulis took charge and their recent ability to turn chances into goals sees the Eagles two points clear of Norwich with a game in hand.
Norwich and Hughton must have had high hopes coming into this season with the signing of strikers Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper. Even experienced loanee Johan Elmander would have been expected to pitch in and help fire the Canaries to a comfortable season, building on their creditable eleventh place finish last term. But a tally of just seven league goals between the three of them – with Hooper bagging five – explains much of why Norwich have struggled this season.
And the reality is that their failure ultimately reflected badly on the hapless Hughton. Having backed him financially in the summer (spending over £20 million – big money for Norwich), the club’s hierarchy clearly came to doubt his judgement and his coaching ability given the disappointing return. If Norwich do stay up, the board have clearly calculated that it will have had more to do with the shambolic nature of the clubs below them that anything Hughton ultimately managed. On that basis, he had no long term future at Carrow Road.