If football clubs were run as fan-based democracies, Norwich City might well be looking for a new manager on Monday morning – and looking, perhaps, no further than their former captain and fans’ favourite Malky Mackay, late of Cardiff City.
Things are so condensed in the lower half of the Premier League that when Norwich kicked off against Hull City on Saturday the potential was there for them to end the day in a relegation position, or as high as 12th place. The latter turned out to be the case, thanks to defender Ryan Bennett’s 87th-minute header.
Had it been the former, manager Chris Hughton would have fallen foul of chief executive David McNally’s midweek insistence that he must keep the club out of the bottom three or pay with his job.
At the start of play, a fans’ poll on the local paper website showed 78 per cent of those who voted wanted Hughton to go if they lost to Hull – and 43 per cent favouring his sacking whatever the result.
If they came not to praise Hughton but to bury him, however, they remained notably quiet about it.
Not once during the game was Hughton’s name chanted, either in support or condemnation – an unusual occurrence and a clear indication of a collective mood of “wait and see”.
Hughton himself looked on the bright side, declaring: “I thought the supporters were excellent today. Considering it’s been a difficult time and we know that we haven’t got the results that we wanted, I thought they were excellent right the way through, stayed with the team. What they could see was that the team was having a go.”
Having a go proved enough finally against a Hull team who began brightly but seemed long before the end to be intent on nothing more than earning a first away clean sheet of the season. What Norwich lacked was not spirit but quality, for which Hughton – who spent considerably more in the summer transfer market than any previous Norwich manager has been afforded – must also be held at least partly responsible.
He did not, or so he claimed, share the general perception that this was a critical match for his continued job prospects. “I don’t tend to think that way,” he said. “I want to do the best job that I can. With every manager there’s trust put in [him] to develop a group of players and try to do as well as you can, so I always feel with any result very much for the players, the club and of course the supporters.
“It’s so tight down there it’s very difficult to talk about must-win games, but I know it’s an important win, for the fact that the opposition is close to us in the division, and it’s a home game. It generally is [home games that determine your fate].
“It’s a nice feeling [to be 12th]. You want to be in a position where you’re looking upwards. Everybody spoke about how well Hull have done – it’s so tight that a win put us on the same points as Hull.”
That, as Hull manager Steve Bruce acknowledged, is not a position of safety. “When you look at the bottom 10, we’re all in it,” he said.