Joe Drabble assesses how Chris Hughton stuck with his own philosophy to preserve Norwich City's top-flight status.
By Joe Drabble - Twitter: @SkySportsDrabs. Last Updated: 22/05/13 9:58am
Seb Bassong was superb in defence for Norwich
Norwich City were expected to suffer a severe case of 'second season syndrome' following the acrimonious summer departure of Paul Lambert, but Chris Hughton seamlessly stepped in to secure an 11th placed finish in his first term in charge.
Survival appeared inevitable when the Canaries racked up 25 points before Christmas, but just one win in 16 games thereafter plunged the men from East Anglia back into the relegation scrap.
Defeat to Lambert's Aston Villa left Norwich facing a potentially win-or-bust showdown with West Brom on the penultimate week of the season, a match they came through 4-0 before stunning former champions Man City 3-2 on the final day.
The lofty finish has boosted the coffers at Carrow Road and with record signing Ricky van Wolfswinkel on his way in the summer, the future looks increasingly bright for Norwich fans.
Player of the Year
Seb Bassong became the first non-British or Irish player to be named Player of the Year by the Carrow Road faithful after a stellar debut season for the Canaries. The Cameroon centre-back formed a solid partnership with Michael Turner as the season progressed, missing just three league fixtures, in which 12 goals were conceded. Bassong also played his part at the other end, chipping in with three goals to help preserve Norwich's top-flight status. Former Leeds duo Robert Snodgrass and Bradley Johnson also deserve mentions for committed displays throughout a virtually ever-present campaign.
Ratings Player of the Year
The skysports.com reporters were most impressed with the effervescent Snodgrass this season with the Scotland international coming away with an average match rating of 7/10. Central defensive pair Bassong and Turner were also rated highly by our writers, as was playmaker Wes Hoolahan. Our readers gave stand-in goalkeeper Mark Bunn the highest weekly rating (7.4) after the former Blackburn and Northampton 'keeper recorded four clean sheets in the space of eight games after Christmas.
Breakthrough Player of the Year
Norwich boss Chris Hughton proved to be a creature of habit in terms of team selection and resisted the temptation to give any of the Youth Cup-winning squad a taste of Premier League action. One of the reasons for this was perhaps the consistency of players such as Snodgrass, who could count himself unlucky to miss out on the Player of the Year accolade. The Scot ended his first season in Norfolk with six league goals, including wonder strikes at Swansea and West Brom. His nine assists were equally valuable for the goal-shy Canaries. Former Leeds team-mate Jonny Howson also grew into his role as the season progressed and could be one to watch next term.
Signing of the Year
Hughton: We gave the fans something to cheer
Eyebrows were raised when Hughton splashed a then record £5.5 million transfer fee on Bassong but the Cameroon defender has already gone a long way to justifying his price tag. Former Newcastle boss and Tottenham No.2 Hughton knew all about Bassong from his time in the North East and North London and, after conceding 66 goals last term, saw him as the ideal man to tighten the backline. Snodgrass, Javier Garrido and Mark Bunn also proved shrewd signings, while Sierra Leone striker Kei Kamara added fresh impetus in attack during a brief loan spell.
Could do better
Grant Holt's return of eight league goals was well down on last year's haul and was one of the main reasons Norwich failed to secure safely well before the penultimate game of the season. The burly frontman was often deployed as a lone striker, which certainly didn't aid his cause, and looked off well off the pace either side of Christmas, where he managed to find the back of the net only once between October 20 and Feb 9. Holt came to the fore when the Canaries needed him, though, finishing the season with three goals in as many games and will hope to form an effective partnership with Ricky van Wolfswinkel when the Dutchman arrives in the summer.
Hughton faced a tough job following in the footsteps of Lambert at the start of the summer but can reflect on a job well done when embarking on his post-season break. One of the most popular managers on the Premier League circuit, Hughton calmly dealt with the pressure of beating the drop before eventually finishing one place higher than Lambert achieved in 2011/12. His cautious style was criticised by home fans at various stages of the season, however his brief was to survive and a number of shrewd acquisitions, particularly in defence, ensured that his mission was complete.