Let’s make this clear from the off. I do not agree with Newcastle United ‘s decision to sack Chris Hughton. I do not agree with the way they have treated the man who rescued them and prevented them from turning into one of football’s ever-increasing ‘fallen giants’.
But, I can see a logic as to why Newcastle chairman Mike Ashley would think Hughton is not the right man to consolidate The Magpies back in the Premier League.
After Geordie hero Alan Shearer failed to keep Newcastle in the highest echelons of English football two seasons ago, Hughton was given the task of guiding Newcastle back to their rightful divison. Originally given the role in a temporary basis, the decision of Ashley not to sell the club to local businessman Barry Moat back in October 2009, coupled with a promising start to their Coca-Cola Championship campaign, meant that Hughton was handed the reigns on a permanent basis.
Newcastle’s passionate support were originally sceptical about a ‘Southerner’ taking control of the club, just as they were about Ashley and the ‘Cockney Mafia’ buying the club, and many of them wanted Shearer to take the role.
However, after countless hours on the training ground, Hughton revived the passion and belief of his squad and lead them to the Championship title, narrowly missing out on Reading’s 106 point record in the process.
But this was when alarm bells began to ring. Hughton was offered a contract extension, but one presumes it was hardly in line with his Premier League counterparts, and Hughton rejected this. Ashley immediately withdrew the offer and said that a new deal would not be spoken of until the New Year.
Hughton, effectively, was back ‘on trial’ at the club.
Ashley had been stung by Sam Allardyce when he had to pay him £3million to terminate his deal, and it is evident he does not want to commit to another long-term, big-money deal.
The season could not have thrown up a tougher start though, Manchester United away. A fixture they lost 3-0. all could have been different had Andy Carroll scored a great chance to put the Magpies in front, but on such moments are games against the big boys won and lost.
The first game of the season at St. James’ Park could hardly have gone any different. A 6-0 mauling of Aston Villa left the Geordie faithful flying high. But nothing pleased the fans more than the Tyne and Wear derby victory over Sunderland. Kevin Nolan scored a hat-trick as Newcastle ran riot over their neighbours.
Add to that a recent 0-1 victory against Arsenal at The Emirates and a 1-1 draw at home to Chelsea, and you would think everything was rosy at SJP.
These are all the points that the media focus upon when analyzing the dismissal of Hughton, but look a bit closer at their other results this season, and it all starts to turn a bit sour for Hughton.
A 0-2 defeat at home to supposed relegation rivals Blackpool was followed up at home by a 1-2 defeat to Stoke City. The Potters are not to be taken lightly after a few years of consolidation under Tony Pulis, but if Newcastle want to follow the mould of teams such as Stoke, they would have been looking to take something from that game.
The next home game wasn’t much better. They found themselves 0-2 down to Wigan after two goals from ex-Newcastle winger Charles N’Zogbia. They eventually showed enough character to bounce back and draw the tie 2-2, but the game would have been viewed as a chance to pick up three crucial points.
It’s not so much the fact they took only one point from nine in these games, but more important was that they dropped points, at home, to teams who they will expect to be in and around them come the end of the season. Wigan have been poor all season, Stoke were in turmoil at the time of the game and Blackpool’s bubble could burst at any time. These points could be the difference between staying up and being relegated come May.
I won’t ignore impressive away victories over Everton, and less impressively, West Ham, but after these results came yet another home loss, this time to Blackburn Rovers – another team the Magpies were capable of taking points from.
As we stand, Hughton has been dismissed by Newcastle United with the team occupying 11th place in the Premier League and looking more Jekyll and Hyde than a Robert Louis Stevenson novel, an achievement not to be sniffed at.
He has turned Andy Carroll into an England international and an exception to the rule that ‘white men can’t jump’, whilst he has also rejuvinated the career of serial criminal Joey Barton (who has assisted over half of Carroll’s goals). He also has a contender for signing of the season in Cheik Tiote, the Ivorian holding midfielder who has broken up attacks in a fashion that Claude Makelele would be proud of.
But all this begins to count for nothing when you throw away points at home like Newcastle do. As glamorous as the results may be, would Geordie fans swap their Emirates victory for a win over Blackpool at home? And would they rather have drawn with Stoke or Blackburn than Chelsea?
As a Birmingham fan, I have been told countless times that we must win the ‘mini-league’ that develops at the bottom of the table in order to stay up. This means that Newcastle’s poor home form and toothless performances against lesser clubs must improve quickly.
Can Newcastle afford to rely on beating the bigger teams this season and base their season on picking up points away from home? Neither of these scenarios will last all season and it is then that Newcastle will regret not beating the likes of Blackpool, Blackburn, Stoke and Fulham at home.
Ashley has called for a manager with a bit more Premier League experience and I can see why. Any manager worth his salt will realise that the important fixtures are those against relegation rivals, not away days to London.
Maybe Hughton could have rectified this home form by the end of the season, but if he couldn’t, Newcastle could easily have slipped back to square one and Hughton would then have left the club in exactly the same position he picked them up from.