By Marcus Cleaver
Newcastle crashed out of the Carling Cup on Wednesday night to a young Arsenal side who seemed to dominate every blade of grass at St. James’ Park. Goals from Theo Walcott, Nicklas Bendtner and a Tim Krul own goal humbled the Premier League new boys and now the Magpies’ boss Chris Hughton is feeling the pressure as the club felt it necessary to come out and back their man. Speculation has it though that the former Ireland international could be the next Premier League manager out of a job as some bookmakers even suspended betting on Hughton’s continued presence in the North-East. If Hughton went though this could prove to be a disastrous move in the context of Newcastle United. After guiding the Toon back to England’s top league last season they are currently sitting comfortably in the top half after nine games with wins over West Ham, Everton and who can forget their 6-0 drumming of Aston Villa back in August?
Hughton himself has come out and attacked the allegations saying that “it doesn’t distract me from the big job I have – I have a remit to do the best I can for this club” before adding “My remit this season is to keep the club in the Premier League and so far it’s going okay. Nothing has changed from yesterday.” This may well be the case but it is also part of the problem for Hughton who is still in something of a contractual limbo. The board have promised to re-negotiate his contract in the New Year but this is a tentative policy which, rather than showing confidence in their manager, looks like a convenient excuse to wait and see whether the club are still outside the relegation zone when the transfer window next opens.
Other events also seem to be conspiring against the beleaguered boss as star striker, Andy Carroll, was found guilty of assault this week. The 21 year old pleaded guilty at Newcastle Crown Court and though Hughton has refused to comment on whether Carroll has been subject to internal club discipline, he was fined £1,000 and had to pay a further £2,500 in compensation. Hughton hopes that the verdict means that Carroll will learn from his mistake and that, more importantly, the story can once and for all be put to bed but admits that "It affects all us. It's something that everybody has been talking about for a while.” Whether the England u-21 star can get back to scoring goals could prove decisive in terms of Hughton’s own future.
Another factor that could help decide his fate is this weekend’s Tyne-Wear derby game against Sunderland; probably the biggest match of the season for most fans. Hughton will hope that Carroll is straight back into scoring form for the game but the mid-week hiding dealt out by Arsenal was hardly the best way to prepare. The Newcastle boss can though draw some solace from the fact that his counter-part at Sunderland, Steve Bruce, has offered him some words of encouragement telling the press “I've got the hugest admiration for what he's achieved.” High praise indeed for a boss at St. James’ Park but certainly no more than the truth. Hughton worked hard to secure the full-time position at Newcastle after previously only being an assistant and then caretaker manager whilst his long-term experience at the club is another positive and something that money can’t buy.
It’s not just Bruce who has recognised the talent in Hughton though. The 51 year old has won plaudits from right across the football community for the way that he has saved the Toon from going the way of other big clubs that have dropped out of the top flight. It would certainly be no understatement to describe him as Newcastle’s saviour considering the position they were in at the start of 2009. This is not a question of luck or timing but rather Hughton’s own managerial ability. His calm demeanour provided the right attitude needed to stabilise the club and now through his tactical prowess the club has been able to push on. His dealings in the transfer market have also proved to be just as shrewd as the signings of Wayne Routledge, Dan Gosling and Hatem Ben-Arfa (to name but three) have all been something of a coup.
Chris Hughton may be a quiet kind of guy compared to many other managers but that shouldn’t detract from his ability and the Newcastle board would be foolish to overlook this. If he were to go before January I don’t doubt for a second that he would be successful at another club and many would be glad to have him. Whether Newcastle United would have such bright post-Hughton prospects is more uncertain.