Paying the price

Newcastle's decision to sack Chris Hughton was shabby, but entirely predictable, says Peter Fraser

Last Updated: 06/12/10 9:39pm

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Ashley: Searching for experience

Ashley: Searching for experience

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Even Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand has already had his say, or should that be Tweet, on the recent decision-making policy at Newcastle United. The England captain said via his Twitter account: "Chris Hughton it April Fools?!"

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The reaction has been mirrored around the country, with a general sense of disbelief meeting the news that St James' Park owner Mike Ashley has decided to give the club's manager the bullet after a run of five Premier League games without a win.

But Ferdinand has not been 'merked' and it is not 1st April. It is early December and, as shabby as the treatment has been perceived, that makes Hughton's dismissal entirely predictable. It was generally assumed before the start of the new season that he would have done very well to still be in a job by Christmas.

Ashley apparently wants a manager with "more experience", according to a statement on the club's official website, but it has been abundantly evident that Newcastle have been unconvinced by Hughton since returning to the Premier League.

Never mind the recent run without a win, the neccesary evidence was there when a new contract was not on offer after the mass demand for such action in the wake of the famous destruction derby victory over Tyne-Wear rivals Sunderland at the end of October. The departure of his No.2, Colin Calderwood, earlier in the season also weakened his position.

Rocked the boat

Controversy and drama are never far away from St James' Park, which makes the club so interesting and plays a part in the passion of supporters. It is always engrossing viewing and in comparison with years gone by you could have been forgiven for thinking things were at times a little boring this season. Stability, that was what Newcastle needed, but you spoke too soon.

Newcastle do not seem to be capable of going about life the easy way and Hughton's exit is the most recent time the boat has been rocked when it was completely unnecessary.

The 51-year-old brought calmness, dignity and respect to the Magpies' dugout, which has been missing in the past tenures of the likes of Alan Shearer, Joe Kinnear, Kevin Keegan, Sam Allardyce, Glenn Roeder and Graeme Souness.

Newcastle may not have been swaggering to the spectacular style of previous years, but the task Hughton performed in rescuing the inherited malaise in the North East following the relegation from the Premier League in 2008/09 was nothing short of exceptional. A newly-promoted club sitting 11th in the table, at the time of writing above Liverpool, Aston Villa and Everton, what more does Ashley want?

The famous pre-season humiliation in July 2009 against Leyton Orient seems like an eternity ago after Newcastle earned promotion from the Championship as title-winners at the first attempt as Hughton, with his hands tied by a limited transfer budget, restored morale and combined spirit at an incredible and highly commendable speed.

'Cockney Mafia'

Hughton's players, such as Andy Carroll and captain Kevin Nolan, were performing on the pitch, although perhaps not always off the field, in a reflection of their boss and that continued this season in the hammerings of Villa and Sunderland, the dramatic Carling Cup win at Chelsea, and the league win at Arsenal.

Of course there have been recent low points, with Sunday's dire defeat to West Brom proving the straw that broke the camel's back in the wake of a 5-1 drubbing at Bolton, but it should be remembered that a respectable draw with defending champions Chelsea was sandwiched in between.

It would appear that Ashley, who bought the club for £55million in May 2007, and his managing director, Derek Llambias, were looking for an excuse to remove former Tottenham and Republic of Ireland assistant manager Hughton, who himself will be due a minimal pay-off due to the fact that his contract was set to expire in June 2011.

Ashley has never been a popular figure at St James' Park and he was even forced into hiding by the furore surrounding the exit of Keegan after the so-called Geordie Messiah's second spell in charge, but he had rectified some of the damage over the past six months. That will now have been undone.

Rumours have crept along the Quayside to suggest that Hughton's dismissal is a tactic to attract an unnamed American buyer to take Newcastle off the hands of Ashley, who is understood to remain keen to sell the club after initially putting it up for sale in 2008 before changing his mind when an appropriate buyer could not be found.

But if that is true why, with Peter Beardsley in temporary charge for next weekend's meeting with Liverpool, has it been reported that Ashley and Llambias have already lined up former West Ham and Charlton boss Alan Pardew? Did someone say 'Cockney Mafia'? Part of the problem with Ashley is that he is as good as mute in the public domain, we never know what he is thinking.

Hughton has paid the price, but it is likely that the man will be far too honest and genuine to throw any mud in the aftermath. It should not be long before he finds employment elsewhere and hopefully at a club with principles to compare to his own.

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