Hughton was appointed the Magpies manager on a permanent basis in November 2009 following three previous spells in caretaker charge during times of crisis. He successfully helped to hold the club together during their lowest ebb following relegation in May. He managed to unite a previously divided dressing room while allowing players to leave who were no longer committed to the club. In his first ever managerial position, team spirit played an important role as Hughton led Newcastle to an instant return to the top flight, breaking the 100-point barrier in the process. An instant return was imperative given the financial implications of again missing out on the riches of the Premier League.
This season Hughton has given Newcastle fans some of their most cherished memories since the days of Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson. A 6-0 victory over Aston Villa was surpassed by a 5-1 humiliation of local rivals Sunderland. Hughton also recorded 1-0 victories away from home over Everton and Arsenal. Given a limited transfer budget by the board, he also showed a good eye for discovering talent. Mike Williamson, Cheik Tiote, Danny Simpson and Hatem Ben Arfa could all prove to key players for the future under whoever takes over the St James’ Park hot-seat.
Although a downturn in results over the past few weeks had seen an increase in rumours over Hughton’s job security, it still came as a shock when he was dismissed. Perhaps the writing was on the wall given the board’s refusal to offer Hughton a new deal despite his popularity among the Magpies faithful. They also refused to strengthen the inexperienced manager’s backroom staff, even after the departure of assistant Colin Calderwood. The players, who formed an extremely close bond with Hughton, were left shocked and saddened by Monday’s news. A number of players have voiced their disapproval of Ashley’s decision either through the media or on their social networking profiles.
The statement released by Newcastle has stated that the next manager must be experienced to help take the club forward. Although Peter Beardsley and Steve Stone have been placed in temporary charge ahead of the weekend’s game with Liverpool there is a belief that the new man will be in charge by then. The bookmakers have installed Dutchman Martin Jol, who recently resigned as Ajax manager, as the favourite to become Ashley’s fifth managerial appointment in four years. Other names to be linked with the post include Alan Pardew, Martin O’Neill and Alan Curbishley. It remains to be seen whether Ashley will loosen the purse strings in January ahead of what could be a long battle against relegation.