An inability to finish off opponents may finish off Chris Hughton

For readers of a younger age than myself, many a youth in the 1990s was misspent playing the popular video game Mortal Kombat.

An inability to finish off opponents may finish off Chris Hughton

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March 12th, 2014

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For those unfamiliar with arcades and consoles, this particular beat-em-up would always end with the defeated opponent left dazed and confused for a few seconds instructing the victor to “Finish Him”. The winner then had a few seconds to pull off a gruesome – and humiliating – ‘fatality’ via a combination of button presses and joystick waggling. When executed correctly, heads would be pulled off, corpses would be burnt to a crisp, arms would be ripped off, hearts would be pulled out of the chest – you get the idea.

However, for those less experienced gamers, when presented with the chance to perform this move all that a frantic series of button presses would produce would be a punch, a kick, or – even more embarrassing – a jump as their defeated opponent simply slumped to their knees. If Chris Hughton played Mortal Kombat then this is how he would finish his battles.

Hughton’s tenure as Norwich City boss has been littered with an inability for his side to finish off a team. This was illustrated perfectly on Saturday in the 1-1 draw at home to Stoke. After Bradley Johnson headed the Canaries into a second-half lead the stage was set to add a second and kill the game – an ineffective Stoke side would never have come back from two goals down. Indeed, many didn’t even expect them to equalise before Sebastien Bassong’s clumsy challenge on John Guidetti gave the visitors a lifeline, with Jon Walters dispatching the resulting penalty to see John Ruddy concede his first goal at Carrow Road this year.

Even after Walters saw red five minutes later for a rash challenge on Alex Tettey the Canaries were unable to create a winner. Hughton’s insistence in playing wingers on the opposite side to which foot they kick the ball with best (in his defence, he’s not the only manager to do this) with the left-footed Robert Snodgrass on the right and the right-footed Nathan Redmond on the left has seen a lack of outswinging crosses into the box. Their constant tactic of cutting inside has left the likes of Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Gary Hooper and John Elmander denied the service all strikers need.

The only supply coming through the middle is at the feet of Wes Hoolahan – City’s most skilful and creative player, but one who expressed an interest to leave in the January transfer window, citing lack of first team opportunities. In fairness to Hughton every Norwich City manager who has had Wes at his disposal has had trouble placing him in his team, even Paul Lambert, but he has always come good in the end.

Dropped in favour of Player of the Season Jonny Howson, the Irish international has become frustrated at sitting on the bench – reported to have referred to the club in less than glowing terms off-camera, putting in a transfer request and, more recently, the lack of celebration after giving City an early lead at Villa Park. Hoolahan has never been much of a showman when it comes to marking his strikes but, even for him, the less-than-enthusiastic fist pump after beating Brad Guzan was muted. Personally, I don’t care how City players celebrate goals, just as long as they score them – not something Hughton’s team are known for.

There are just nine games to go and nine more points should see City safe. Fortunately for the Canaries there is a considerable amount of dross in the top flight this season, and wins at home to Sunderland and West Brom with points at Swansea and/or Fulham should see them survive in the Premier League for another term. Whether Chris Hughton does or not will depend on the performance of his players in those final games. They say they’re all in it together and playing for the boss. Time to prove it.

PHOTO CAPTION: Wes Hoolahan on the bench for his country – not a happy place for the City star this season, Picture by Michael Kranewitter, Wikimedia Commons, CC-by-sa 3.0/at

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