Mike Ashley could be facing winter of fans' discontent
The shock decision to sack Chris Hughton is in danger of reawakening an angry mood of discontent. Chief Sports Writer Luke Edwards looks at a decision that could do more harm than good for Mike Ashley.
AS Newcastle United's manager Chris Hughton not only brought stability to a club in turmoil, he also brought dignity and class to a regime apparently lacking both.
It was Hughton who repaired the damage done by relegation and it was Hughton who successfully guided the club back into the Premier League when most feared they were sliding towards a terminal decline.
It was results on the pitch, not interest-free loans from owner Mike Ashley, that brought promotion. It was Hughton’s presence in the dressing room, not the owner’s in the boardroom, that nurtured team spirit and restored a collective purpose.
Ashley paid the bills and covered the losses. He protected Newcastle United as a business – but Hughton rebuilt it as a football club.
He was the man who kept his head in the aftermath of relegation to the Championship when everyone around him seemed to be losing theirs.
He was the man who steadied the ship in the eye of the storm and carefully steered it away from a sea of uncertainty into calmer waters. And then he was pushed overboard.
He will not sink. A rookie manager when took on the United job 19 months ago, he has done enough to ensure he gets another job as a manager in the future. He deserves it.
There was widespread scepticism when he first stepped out of Alan Shearer’s shadow, but the “Hughton is a Geordie banner” unveiled before the start of the Tyne-Wear derby back in October said it all.
There is no greater honour for an outsider at St James’ Park to be adopted as one of the supporter’s own and few managers have generated as much affection as Hughton has over the last 18 months.
His achievements on the pitch brought respect, promotion was so special because it had been so unexpectedly straightforward, but it was the manner in which he conducted himself that earned a unique place in United hearts.
He will never be a Kevin Keegan or Sir Bobby Robson, but it is not an exaggeration to suggest the way he has been treated has generated almost as much anger among supporters.
The reason there have not been any anti-Ashley chants for months is because Hughton ensured the focus remained on the team, on their trials and tribulations, not what was or was not happening in the boardroom.
He has never been in any way critical of the regime that employed him, not when the club released a ridiculous statement back in May inferring they would not be paying any transfer fees over the summer, not when they refused to open new contract talks and not when they tried to make him have Peter Beardsley as his assistant.
He will be deeply upset about what has happened. He will feel betrayed and let down and he will be frustrated he has not been given the chance to right recent wrongs – but you doubt that you will hear him say any of it in public.