CHRIS Hughton says one of the hardest tasks facing Newcastle United is not getting carried away with the thought of returning to the Premier League.
Five points clear at the top of the Championship with 14 games left, the Magpies look a good bet to return to the division they were relegated from in May.
But while some fans will be mentally planning for life in the top flight, Hughton is refusing to.
"It’s very difficult for some people not to think about next season," he admitted. "It’s perhaps easier for me because I’ve got a team to work with week-in, week- out. We’ve got this gap at the top but it changes on a weekly basis and with the amount of games we’ve got coming up in the last two months of the season, two defeats in a week and two wins for someone else changes things dramatically. What you can’t afford to do is look too far ahead."
Newcastle will be hoping to at least consolidate their position at Watford tomorrow, but must do so without a quartet of players who at the start of the week they were expecting to have fit. Hughton had hoped José Enrique (hamstring), Peter Løvenkrands (leg), Wayne Routledge (calf) and Nicky Butt (thigh) would all be available at Vicarage Road but each prognosis has proven over- optimistic.
The game marks Hughton’s second anniversary at the club and he used the opportunity to reflect on his management career.
"Have I enjoyed being the manager? Yes, I’ve enjoyed it to whatever extent
you can," he said. "There’s the pressure and stresses and ups and downs that go with the job. I’ve enjoyed the challenge. I’m fortunate we have a challenge and something we can go for.
"Early in the season it was week by week because I didn’t have the job (permanently) initially. Probably the most pleasing part is the challenge.
"I’m not sure what I expected. What I’ve been blessed with is a talented group of players in this division. We started to answer a few questions early on in the season when most people weren’t sure what they weren’t going to see – a team in freefall or one that responded really well."
Hughton’s attitude is not a case of "do as I say, don’t do as I do". When asked if he will renegotiate his contract – which expires in the summer 2011 – in the event of promotion, he replied: "At this particular moment contract issues are not an issue. The only focus I have is getting promotion. It’s not one I’ve thought about."
Patrick van Aanholt’s loan from Chelsea is due to end tomorrow and Hughton will not look for a replacement when he heads back to Stamford Bridge. The Magpies, though, are hoping to delay that "just a touch longer".
"We’re assessing whether we’re able to keep him for just a touch longer," revealed Hughton. "That’s what we’re deciding on at the moment and any dialogue towards that will happen.
"He’s enjoyed it, very much. He’s come and played every game. He’s played in some big games and gained great experience."
Spaniard Enrique is hoping to face Barnsley next week and with Chelsea having to play winger Florent Malouda at left-back in the San Siro on Wednesday, the 19-year-old could be of use to his parent club, though Hughton doubts he will go straight into the Blues team.
Although van Aanholt’s departure would again leave United with just one specialist left-back, Hughton is content to keep his squad as it is until emergencies present themselves.
"We’ll be okay, any problems we feel we’d have in a certain position we could bring in an emergency loan," he pointed out. "It’s only if we get injuries we would look at that, though."