Hughton wary of relegation repercussions
His previous managerial achievements make impressive reading, but Chris Hughton is convinced that keeping Norwich City in the Premier League this season would rank as the finest accomplishment of his management career.
Such is the scale of the task Hughton inherited from Paul Lambert last summer that the Irishman has suggested a successful survival effort at Norwich would usurp his achievements of securing promotion to the Premier League with Newcastle in 2010 or guiding cash-strapped Birmingham into last season's Championship play-offs.
However, his pessimism is laced with real confidence and ahead of Saturday's clash with Premier League leaders Manchester United at Old Trafford, Hughton sat down exclusively with ESPN to give his thoughts on a turbulent first few months in the Norwich hot-seat which have tested his resolve to the full.
"I was under no illusions about the scale of the task I was taking on at Norwich, so I can't say I'm surprised by what I've found here ," Hughton begins. "Given the resources this club has, the strength of the squad and the quality of opposition we are up against on a weekly basis, I would say this is the toughest task I have taken on in my career.
"You look at what I inherited at Newcastle and while it was a team suffering from the disappointment of relegation from the Premier League, the basic core of that squad still had a lot of quality. It was a case of pushing them in the right direction, reminding them of some good habits and getting the back on their feet, which I did successfully.
"Birmingham was different because of the financial situation at the club and we did so well to get into the play-offs last season, but I look at the job I've taken on at Norwich and it's a real tough one. I would not wish to criticise the previous manager for one moment because he did a wonderful job here, but Paul Lambert knew the time was right for him to leave when he did last summer.
"I'm sure Paul appreciated that this season would be very tough at Norwich because the surprise element that served him well in their first season back in the Premier League is gone and it is a case of working hard to get points now. It's not easy, but I'm enjoying the challenge."
Hughton admits the seven-game winless run at the start of his Norwich career tested his personal resolve to the full, with the mood around the club changing in an instant once that first three point haul was collected with a memorable 1-0 win against Arsenal last month.
"It wasn't just the fact we were not winning games that concerned me at the start of the season. The worry was we were playing well, competing in away games against top sides like Tottenham and Newcastle and not quite getting the results we deserved.
"Then you have a defeat like the 5-2 against Liverpool and it is a concern. That performance annoyed me, I have to say, and from that moment on, we have changed the way we have approached the game to an extent. Maybe we have taken something away from the offensive side of our game to ensure we have become more solid defensively, but it had to happen.
"The Arsenal game got everything moving in the right direction for us. We needed that first big win to set us off and running and since then, you can see the confidence returning to the players and the belief coming back in tandem. When you look at upcoming fixtures against Manchester United and then a trip to face an in-form Everton side at Goodison Park, we need to be solid first and foremost and I'm sure we will be."
Hughton admits the prospect of a lucrative new television contract kicking in at the start of the 2012-13 Premier League season means the stakes have been raised in the relegation battle this season, as he feels a weight of responsibility to maintain Norwich's top flight status.
"The additional cash on offer if you are in the Premier League next season is such a big incentive for a club of our size," stressed Hughton. "The pressure to stay in this division is always massive, but the need to be here next season is more pressing than ever this time due to the finances involved.
"You know when you start a season that five or six teams will battle it out for the places at the top of the league and the rest of us are in a group were survival has to be the first target. We want more than that if possible, but it staying up is clearly a priority."
Norwich's eagerness to get their slice of the financial windfall coming the way of Premier League clubs next summer would be given a huge boost if they can secure a famous win against Manchester United on Saturday evening and Hughton has urged his players to embrace the challenge in front of them.
"These are the kind of games any footballer want to be a part of," Hughton concludes "Manchester United are a name that means so much to so many people all over the football world and I will have no difficulty motivating my players for this one.
"We have had a good week training as only three of my players have been away on international duty and we've had a chance to freshen up a few bodies after a hectic period of fixtures, but we appreciate what we are up against.
"I would expect Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney to be firing on all cylinders this weekend after they dropped out of their international squads and the quality in the United squad speaks for itself. It will be tough for us, but that is the case every week in this league."
The eloquently spoken Hughton may sound like a manager fearing the worst in his first season as Norwich boss, but this shrewd tactician has yet to fail since making the step-up form long-time assistant to highly respected manager and he does not intent to be tainted with his first setback at Carrow Road.