x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Modest Chris Hughton is succeeding in adversity again at Birmingham

Saturday's FA Cup draw was evidence of the under-rated manager's credentials and he is well placed to take a team into the Premier League for the second time in his career.

Hughton has revived Birmingham after relegation.
Hughton has revived Birmingham after relegation.

On a day when the futures of both Andre Villas-Boas and Arsene Wenger were called into greater question, the words "crisis" and "management" occurred in the same sentences with greater regularity. Meanwhile, the master of crisis management passed comparatively unnoticed.

It is typical. Chris Hughton has never sought the spotlight but, while focusing on the failures of favourites can obscure the achievements of underdogs, Birmingham City's 1-1 FA Cup draw at Chelsea was laudable. It is not merely the results, but the context that renders his reign in England's second city so impressive.

The team was relegated, the owner, Carson Yeung, faces money laundering charges and, as a result, the club appear in a perilous position financially. Following a fire sale only Stephen Carr and Keith Fahey of last season's Carling Cup-winning side remain at the club. Hughton needed virtually an entire new team but without the resources to properly build one.

And, to further complicate his task, Birmingham were involved in the Europa League. Others would have quietly sanctioned an early exit. Not Hughton, who has abided by the old-fashioned mantra of trying to win every game. The consequence is that Birmingham have played 43 matches, more than any other side in English football, without showing signs of fatigue.

If anything, their efforts have intensified as the fixtures have piled up. They are now unbeaten in 14 games, having only conceded twice in the last nine. Should they beat Barnsley tonight, they could go third in the Championship.

An immediate return to the Premier League is appearing ever more likely; if achieved, it would be an action replay of Hughton's promotion with Newcastle United two seasons ago. Then as now, he inherited a mess, rallying a troubled club with understated skill and calm determination.

By any standards, Chelsea were mediocre on Saturday. Yet that should not detract from Birmingham's performance. They displayed focus, organisation and commitment, the essences of teamwork and, while Chelsea's absentees attracted more attention, the visitors were not at full strength either. Throughout the season Hughton has rotated his squad intelligently to cope with the huge demands placed upon them.

While under-pressure and unpopular coaches become newsworthy, their thriving counterparts can be ignored, especially when they are as unassuming as Hughton. But, in circumstances that would make many a manager grumble every time he saw a microphone, a modest man has revived a fallen club in uncomplaining, outstanding fashion.

 

sports@thenational.ae