x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Singing the wrong Toon

Chris Hughton barely put a foot wrong as Newcastle United manager, writes Thomas Woods.

Chris Hughton worked on a small budget at Newcastle United.
Chris Hughton worked on a small budget at Newcastle United.

It is hard not to feel sorry for Chris Hughton, who was sacked by Newcastle United on Monday after a topsy-turvy start to the season. The sentiment grows when you consider his record in charge of the club.

Usually managers are given the boot when their team are languishing near the bottom of the table, struggling to win games and failing to please the crowds. None of the above apply to Hughton.

The statistics give more weight to the theory that Hughton, in his first managerial role after several years as assistant, was always seen as "just a caretaker" despite guiding the club to promotion back to the Premier League last season.

He was shown the door after a start to the season which has seen Newcastle climb to a respectable 12th place, beat their biggest rivals Sunderland 5-1, triumph at Arsenal and outscore Liverpool and Manchester City.

True, those impressive results were in sharp contrast to poor home defeats by the likes of Blackpool and Blackburn Rovers, but Hughton had produced Newcastle's best results for years.

His win ratio of 56 per cent was better than any of his recent predecessors and even topped that of Kevin Keegan (55 per cent) during Newcastle's most succesful recent spell in the mid-1990s.

Granted, Hughton's first season in charge was in the Championship, a lower level of quality to the Premier League, but a victory is still a victory.

Furthermore, a lack of investment at the club meant Hughton was working with pretty much the same squad of players with whom the likes of Sam Allardyce, Keegan, Joe Kinnear and Alan Shearer failed spectacularly.

And Newcastle signed just four players this summer. Two free transfers - including the 36-year-old Sol Campbell - while James Perch and Cheick Tiote were signed for modest fees.

Yet Hughton fashioned a team that held their own in the first half of the Premier League season and helped Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan into the top goalscorers chart.

While Jose Mourinho (67 per cent) has the best win ratio of recent Premier League managers, Hughton was not far behind Sir Alex Ferguson (59 per cent) and Arsene Wenger (57 per cent) and he bettered Rafa Benitez (55 per cent) with Liverpool.

In other words, Mike Ashley and the Newcastle board appear to have made a mistake.


Gunners go to Old Trafford with best record on the road

Arsenal’s last sojourn to Manchester yielded a 3-0 victory but it was difficult to read too much into that win as they played against 10 men for 85 minutes.

A more accurate gauge of their title credentials is likely to come in the much-anticipated showdown with Manchester United on Monday. Arsenal will, with some justification, travel to Old Trafford brimming with confidence as they possess the best away record in the league.

This will be an encouragement for their fans as the last two times they finished a league season with the best away record – 2003/04 and 2001/02 – they won the title.

Arsene Wenger’s smooth-passing side seem to relish playing away from the spotlight and expectancy that, for some reason, envelope their games at the Emirates Stadium this season.

Their haul of 17 points from eight games includes wins on the road at tricky venues such as Ewood Park, Eastlands, Villa Park, Goodison Park and Molineux.

Seeking to break the duopoly Chelsea and United have enjoyed on the away league table in the last six seasons, the Gunners have one win more on their travels than Manchester City, the team with the second best away record, and two more than Chelsea in third place.

The 500 club

While he did not have the greatest of games, Sol Campbell’s appearance for Newcastle United on Sunday in the 3-1 defeat at West Bromwich Albion put him in a unique group of only four players to have made 500 or more Premier League appearances.

He joins Ryan Giggs, Gary Speed and David James. The non-British player with the most games under his belt is Mark Schwarzer, Fulham’s Australian goalkeeper, with 420 appearances.

Chelsea swagger gone

Under Jose Mourinho, when Chelsea won back-to-back Premier League titles in 2005 and 2006, the club turned Stamford Bridge into a fortress.

In fact, Mourinho’s arrival sparked an 86-game unbeaten run at home. Now, Chelsea are in the midst of a mini crisis, having failed to win for four league games. And their home ground has lost its aura – they have dropped as many points there (five) as they did in the whole of last season.

Efficient at home

Team Points dropped at home 2010/11

Manchester United 2

Chelsea 5

Liverpool 7

Sunderland 8

Tottenham 9

Arsenal 9

Manchester City 9

Can’t buy an away win

Speaking of home records, Fulham have droppd 14 points at home in eight games, winning just two. That would be acceptable if their away form was not so bad. Mark Hughes’s side have not won on their travels for 26 games, the second worst run in Premier League history. Who beat that? Fulham again, who went 33 games winless from September 2006 to March 2008.