Hughton under threat? The case for the defence.
Bookies` odds suggest that Hughton is on his way out. Amid the speculation TOTT explores the case for keeping the manager.
This is not the first time this season that Hughton`s position has been questioned. He was in fact the bookies` favourite for the chop shortly after the season started. Perhaps it was hardly surprising that a "big club" were perceived by the media to need a "big manager".
The speculation comes no doubt for a few reasons. Traditionally, managers are under threat with a loss of form. In Newcastle`s case, form this season has been patchy to say the least, losing games at home that were seen as easily winnable, but winning games away that were seen as tough.
Nobody in the media, or indeed on the terraces would suggest that Hughton is anything other than an honourable and decent man. He has done a remarkable job in managing supporters` expectations with his low key approach. His honesty has shone through when performances have been below par, and he has consistently avoided the typical mangerial excuse of poor refereeing.
Some will look at Hughton`s record as a caretaker. Probing beyond a poor run of results two seasons ago, most will recall that he took the reins in times of immense difficulty, which should be argued as mitigation.
What Hughton has achieved has been quite remarkable.Having taken over the job with a relegated squad, there was a huge outflow of experienced players, Owen, Viduka and Martins up front, with defenders such as Beye, Faye and Cacapa. Midfielders such as Duff soon followed along with younger players having leaked from the club, such as Bassong and Milner.
Against that backdrop, a team low on morale was pulled together to achieve promotion at the first attempt, the first time that has been done in the Magpies` history.
The squad that returned to the top flight was supplemented by loan signings, with further strengthening from bargain transfers in. The net balance for transfers since relegation has provided a surplus of around £15m, Hughton being the first manger to sit on a surplus for many years.
Of course, Keegan brought the Toon back up in his first full season, backed at the time by Sir John Hall`s millions. Hughton has had a negative budget.
OK, so the team is not at the top of the Premier League, and has been outspent by many rivals. However, it is to the manager`s credit that, with Andy Carroll,he is the first manager since Sir Bobby to have developed a young player into the full England squad, not to mention the likes of Kadar and Vuckic into their national sides.
Two away defeats, and a home draw against the Premier League champions do not constitute a crisis. The manner of the two away defeats, as well as a couple of poor showings at home might give cause for conjecture, but the points tally overall suggests that the stated aim of survival should be achieved.
If fingers are to be pointed, they could be pointed higher up the club than the footballing management. Transfer funds made available have been below those last season of the survivors being used as role models, Wolves and Birmingham.
Yes, the defeat at West Brom was a poor showing. Absent were the mainstays of central defence so far this season, Coloccini and Williamson. Of the midfield, the most experienced performers, Nolan and Barton were missing through injury. The potential creator in the team, Ben Arfa is out for a long time.
The recent run has also coincided with the absence of an experienced assistant to Hughton. Yes, Paul Barron has a fantastic track record as goalkeeping coach, but every successful management team has been with a strong partnership. It is almost 2 months since Calderwood left for his own managerial position.
To think of Hughton`s departure gives rise to thoughts about who might follow. The first group is the unemployed seasoned managers; O`Neill who left Villa wanting a bigger budget, Curbishley and Pardew who have little experience of the North East hotbed, and those who have done the job before, Souness and Dalglish.
The next category is the European coach. The budget would not appear to stretch to some of the greats of European club management, leaving Jol, whose time at Spurs was not the greatest, Marcelino who seemed preferred when speculation raged a couple of years ago, or even Steve McLaren who might relish a return to the Premier League, but would not be a popular choice.
Other options could include managers as yet unproven in the Premier League, perhaps Holloway might enjoy a bigger club, but his loyalty would be stretched. Of past Newcastle players, Lee Clark has made a bright start, but at a lower level, with Gary Speed also on the managerial ladder. Conventional wisdom suggests that such choices would be laden with risk.
The case to keep Hughton appears stronger than the case for change. Instead of allowing the speculation, it is time for the owner and Chairman of the club not just to make vague statements, but to back the manager fully in three ways. Firstly, he needs the certainty of a contract that stretches beyond the end of this season, secondly, the appointment of an assistant of his choosing, and thirdly, the promise of sufficient funds to strengthen the squad in January.
To see Hughton go now would smack of a plan that had been kept under cover, using the most convenient time of the season, a prospective run of the toughest games during December, to fufil other motives.
While this view may not be representative of all Newcastle supporters, there are many who consider that after what Hughton has given, within severe constraints, he at least deserves support.