Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughPlaudits for hard-working Hughton - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Plaudits for hard-working Hughton - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Plaudits for hard-working Hughton

On Tuesday night, Birmingham City hit their 15th goal in four league games as they stormed to a 4-1 win away at Leeds United, taking them up to fourth in the Championship table in what has been a remarkable achievement when it is compounded with the fact they are into the fifth round of the FA Cup, a marked turnaround in the weather when it is considered the stormier climbs that had threatened to destroy their season before it had even commenced.

Under the grim skies of disillusionment that came with owner Carson Yeung’s extradition to Hong-Kong to faces charges of fraud and a possible poor-finance induced fire-sale that had engulfed any kind of stability that Chris Hughton was seeking upon first succeeding Alex McLeish in June. Birmingham saw over 15 departures from the ST Andrews playing staff over the summer, yet Hughton has managed to negotiate a relatively thin squad to touching distance of promotion with no other tool but hard graft and enthusiastic endeavour.

There are currently 26 players with squad numbers available to Hughton and seven of them are teenagers in their professional infancy, yet such low numbers has not compromised a Europa League campaign, of which they gave a creditable account of themselves, and a run to the play-off spots that has been glinted not only with the substance shown in their 0-1 edging of Wolves in the cup, but with style; a six goal thrashing of Millwall at the Den, a 4-0 cup thrashing of Sheffield United at Bramall Lane and the latest rout, Nikola Zigic’s quadrant of goals making it six wins on the bounce in a run that has not seen the Blues beaten since the 19th December, a sequence of ten matches.

In typically Hughton fashion though, the success has all been rather quiet and understated. He has not sought plaudits or even voiced his frustration at having a budget tighter than the string on his shoes. Liam Ridgewell and Jean Beausejour have left in this recent transfer window for a total of £7 million while £25 million worth of talent was sold off in the summer to ease the potential financial crisis, in the form of Roger Johnson, Scott Dann, Craig Gardner and Cameron Jerome. Against all of this, the grand total of Hughton’s expenditure has been £500,000 for West Bromwich Albion’s cast-off centre-half Pablo Ibanez and not one poison word or excuse fed to the press. It could have easily gone the other way, caught in the flames of financial horror; they could have gone the way of Bradford or Plymouth, but Hughton has refused to follow such a script.

He has done so by turning to the stock-pile of unwanted players cast to the wilderness under the guise of free-agents; Jonathon Spector, Chris Burke formerly of Cardiff, Wigan’s Steven Caldwell, Boaz Myhill from West Brom in a make-shift array of free-transfers  and loans which also included Morgaro Gomis and Adam Rooney, both plucked from the Scottish Premier League. But none have been a gamble like Marlon King, still dogged by his recent criminal past, Hughton sought him from Coventry and the faith has been repaid with 11 goals. Rooney has 6.

It has also been an effort based on the fine harvest of talent that has arisen from their youth set-up. 20 year-old Midfielder Jordan Mutch has taken advantage of a successful loan spell at Watford to emerge as a regular, while attacker Nathan Redmond has already amassed 22 appearances at the tender age of 17, breeding inevitable rumours and links with moves into the league above. Hughton may have got lucky in inheriting the fine work done on producing this crop of talent which also includes teenagers Akwasi Asante and Eddy Gnahore that have played their way into the fringes of the full-squad, but there has been nothing lucky about the way the 53 year old manager has dragged this ramshackle squad that has been begged, stole and borrowed against a tide of the sale of all his best players, to within the reaches of a spectacularly unexpected immediate return to the promised land.

Hughton has history in this kind of sustaining job of course; one casts their minds back to Newcastle’s return to the Premier League which had begun with a 6-1 pre-season humiliation at Leyton Orient with the manager’s job still up in the air. Hughton managed to stamp out all the potential fires of Mike Ashley’s chairmanship at St James’ as he stormed promotion, before the drama returned to the fold and he was jettisoned from his job in the most outrageous of circumstances. But, in true Hughton fashion, he never courted sympathy or played the headlines, he just persisted to get on with it and here, just over a year since his Newcastle sacking, he’s embarking on a return to the Premier League in what would be an achievement of truly miraculous proportions. Will he take pleasure in spiting Ashley and the Newcastle board that removed him from his position in the most cowardly of ways? No, that’s just not the Hughton way.

Written by Adam Gray; @AdamGray1250