Hughton turns Norwich into very solid citizens

 

There is more than one way to skin a cat; and to stay in the Premier League. The Canaries of Norwich City have adopted a different method this season from last, and been equally successful so far in teasing some of the fat cats while staying out of trouble. Yet it is a more dangerous approach, which makes an encounter like this afternoon's at home to Sunderland of heightened importance.

Dean Ashton, the former striker who liked the city so much during his time at Carrow Road that he moved back there after a distressing enforced retirement from West Ham, watches Norwich regularly and says: "From last year, when they were very attacking under Paul Lambert and throwing the kitchen sink at teams, they've gone more defensive and controlled, more solid. But it's still bringing the results and I think the fans are happy with that."

The statistics underline the point emphatically. Last season, only the top six in the League scored more goals; in this campaign, only Queens Park Rangers started the weekend with fewer. Chris Hughton might argue that when his team have opened up they have taken a battering: 5-0 at Fulham in his first game; 5-2 at home to Liverpool in the only match where they have scored more than once; and 4-1 at Chelsea after taking an early lead.

Yet from seven games without a win to start the season they are unbeaten in seven, the past three at home being 1-0 wins over Arsenal, Stoke and Manchester United.

"The Fulham game was a bit worrying," Ashton says with mild understatement, "but it was always going to take time for Chris Hughton to get the right players and the right system, and I think he's got that now. I think that's why they're on such a good run, because of the system he's playing.

"He's now brought in [Alex] Tettey in midfield and he and Bradley Johnson sit in front of the back four, making it very difficult to get through. Then Wes Hoolahan, arguably their best player, has that free role in front of them, which causes problems for teams."

There have never been vast amounts to spend at a club where Delia Smith and her husband, Michael Wynn-Jones, have remained the majority shareholders for many years. Tettey, from Rennes, was one of half-a-dozen summer signings, most of whom have forced their way into the team.

Win at home and draw away has always been a recipe for a successful season. The worry is that the margins this time are so thin and that a heavy burden is falling on the shoulders of Grant Holt, without a goal before or since a run of three in three games in October. Ashton says: "They look to Grant for a lot of the goals and to lead the line, and others have been chipping in, but I think it's going to be one of those seasons that's about being hard to beat rather than scoring lots. Sunderland are similar in that they have got [Steven] Fletcher who can score goals, but without many others chipping in, that makes it difficult."

Ashton scored 18 goals in 47 games for the club before costing West Ham £7 million, but never fully recovered from breaking an ankle at an England training session in 2006 and was forced to retire three years later aged only 26. These days he does media and charity work – he was speaking at an England Footballers Foundation event in London – enjoying life back in Norfolk but inevitably wondering what might have been.

"I'll never get over it [retirement] and whenever I think about it, it's always going to make me sad. But you move on, I'm still lucky to be in the situation I am, and there's plenty of things for me to do." Including heading to Carrow Road today.

Norwich City v Sunderland is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 4pm

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own