Norwich City 2 Newcastle United 1
IT may have been 17 years since Chris Hughton hung up his boots, but the Newcastle United manager has lost none of the defensive instincts that saw him mix it with the very best during his days as an international-class left-back.
While a make and mend Newcastle back four shipped a couple of alarmingly soft goals to consign United to an early pre-season setback at Carrow Road, their manager was showing them how to shut up shop properly in the post-match Press conference.
Four times Hughton was asked about further recruitment plans immediately after the game, and four times he offered the straightest of bats to his inquisitors.
“How close are you to adding to your tally of two signings?” asked one.
“We know what the period is (to make additions). I have said all along we need to make additions to the squad and we know it will be a tough season and we need to add to the squad,” he replied.
Undeterred, a second attempt was made. “Without asking for specifics, how many players do you want to bring in?”
“It’s very much our decision at club and staff level. We need to bring in players in the right positions to strengthen the squad,” he said.
A third effort – this time to draw out the departments that he would like to add to – drew another stoic response.
“Well, that would also be telling. We do realise that to go through a tough season we need to add to the squad,” he said.
“So the strength of the squad as it stands would not be good enough?” a fourth questioner chipped in.
“We’re on the back of a good promotion season and the nucleus of the squad will be that squad; they deserve the opportunity,” Hughton countered. “But we know we need to add to it and we will.”
It is no criticism of Hughton that he plays his cards close to his chest. He is consistently polite and helpful with the media. But he believes that refusing to expand on transfers, Steven Taylor’s shoulder injury or anything much when it comes to recruitment gives him the best chance of making a breakthrough.
The Newcastle boss deserves the faith of his public after a stunningly successful first term – but the longer the shadow he draws over his transfer plans, the more that fretful fans will begin to worry.
We are far from the point of panic but Taylor’s likely eight-week absence means acquiring a ready-made Premier League hardened centre-back is more vital than ever. And given that they need to strike up a partnership with one of Fabricio Coloccini or Mike Williamson, time is of the essence on that front.
It was the back four that caused most concern during a useful 90 minutes at Norwich. The League One champions are no mugs and, perhaps chastened by their own midweek friendly setback – a defeat by Dagenham – they set about Newcastle from the off.