CHRIS Hughton is convinced his Newcastle United players will draw strength from a turbulent week in the build up to today’s crucial trip to West Ham United.
Hughton has had to deal with an array of distractions this week, most of them concerning troubled striker Andy Carroll, who started the week with a charge of assault and ended it with his car being torched outside the home of team-mate Kevin Nolan.
Carroll was in the squad which travelled to London yesterday, although Hughton is yet to make a decision on whether the number nine should start at Upton Park.
He is confident the striker is still in the right frame of mind to play – although The Journal understands Carroll is upset at the car incident as it happened outside Nolan’s home with his young family inside – but Shola Ameobi has probably done enough on purely football matters to oust him from the starting line up this evening.
Regardless of the drama surrounding Carroll, as well as the negative speculation about his own position as manager following the failure to beat Wigan Athletic last weekend, Hughton is confident the players will respond as they always do to adversity.
“One thing the players have always realised is what Newcastle is and what the club represents,” said Hughton, whose calmness in the eye of the storm has been particularly impressive this week. “These are the same group of players who have already been through a lot
of ups and downs here. We have had issues to deal with in the past, but they have protected the good spirit in the squad.
“Irrespective of other things that have been going on, the fact is we are in a far more difficult league than last season. We were very aware there were going to be ups and downs and we would lose a lot more games than we did last season.”
Indeed, despite the great results at home to Aston Villa and away at Everton and Chelsea, and for all the positives in promotion from the Championship, the Magpies were always likely to be involved in a relegation battle.
After eight games, that prediction already looks accurate although a good result at West Ham would lift them back into the middle of a congested top-flight table.
For Hughton, the early season pressure on him is part and parcel of every manager’s job and his main interest is in how the players respond to the setbacks.
He added: “We have spoken to the players about dealing with defeats this season. The most important thing is that the players stay strong through the difficult times, but they have so far been able to do that. The last-minute goal against Wigan showed what we have in the team.
“Away from home our form has been quite good apart from the defeat at Manchester United on the opening day of the season. Even there, for the first 37 minutes we were very much in the game.
“We fared very well at Wolves in a game we should have won and beat Everton. We should have got some reward at Manchester City. There are still far more positives than negatives.
“We expect a very tough game at West Ham, they have been in good form. They are close to where we are and it will be as big for them as it is for us.
“But this is what we have to contend with, week in, week out in the Premier League. I’m quite sure if we go into the game with the same focus as our previous away games this season we’ll be fine.”
Hughton has been impressed with a number of players on their return to the Premier League, although none have stood out more than Fabricio Coloccini.
The Argentinian was derided during his first season in English football, but the fact he was given the captain’s armband against Wigan last week in the absence of Nolan illustrates how far he has come.
Hughton said: “He has been arguably our most consistent player this season. He is a quality player and an international player and has now settled in. Sometimes you forget it is easier for some to settle than others, but he has been very consistent.”