By Simon Glanville
Newcastle United like surprises. First it was the return of ‘King’ Kevin Keegan. Then they plucked Joe Kinnear back from the football wilderness. This time it’s the ruthless sacking of Chris Hughton.
This is a club that got rid of the great Sir Bobby Robson after all; maybe we should have seen it coming. Question marks have been hanging over Hughton’s future for a while. Not because of results on the pitch - far from it – but due to the apparent lack of support from owner Mike Ashley and MD Derek Lambias.
Assurances were made in October that talks with the 51-year-old – out of contract in the summer – would start in the New Year. That was the sign that Hughton was on borrowed time. According to the club they are looking for someone “with more managerial experience”.
The dismissal seems incredibly harsh, with Newcastle sitting in eleventh place in the Premier League after comprehensively winning the Championship last term.
If a five-game winless run is the reason why, football really has gone crazy.
At the end of October, Hughton was the hero on Tyneside after masterminding the Toon’s 5-1 hammering of North-East rivals Sunderland. Six were put past Aston Villa in their opening home game of the season, while on the road there have been wins at the likes of Everton and Arsenal. Even his last home game in charge saw Newcastle hold the current Premier League champions.
Sunday’s defeat at West Brom did leave the Magpies with just two points from a possible fifteen since their victory at the Emirates on 7 November, enough for Ashley to say goodbye.
A well-respected football man, the treatment of Hughton has not gone down too well. But niceties aside, Newcastle may have just made a massive mistake. Just over eighteen months ago they were a club in disarray. Relegated to the Championship, put up for sale and strongly tipped to struggle to bounce back. The ‘experienced’ names didn’t want the job.
It was Hughton who stepped up when the club badly needed him.
Despite limited funds and a mass exodus of players, Hughton’s Newcastle flourished. A return to the Premier League was secured with five games remaining, and their final total of 102 points earned them a new club record.
This season his side has flirted with the top six and remained with in breathing space of the bottom three, but that is clearly not enough. Expectations are clearly high on Tyneside, but the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
It remains to be seen who will fill the huge void left by Chris Hughton’s departure. One thing is for you, they are very big shoes to fill.