What can we expect from Chris Hughton?

Out with Sabri Lamouchi, in with Chris Hughton… the manager merry-go-round continued at Nottingham Forest yesterday as the former Brighton & Hove Albion manager stepped into the hot seat at the City Ground

Sabri Lamouchi signed a new contract on 19 June. Some might’ve questioned the wisdom of doing so before the season had ended, but the outpouring of love for the French manager was clear to see. The next day the 2019/20 season resumed and the much-discussed collapse began.

Just 16 weeks later here we are… the most successful season in a decade, admittedly a failure given the circumstances, proving that while a week is a long time in politics, a month is a lifetime in football.

Chris Hughton arrives with one of the most respected reputations in English football. Tributes from the likes of Henry Winter, Ossie Ardiles, John Barnes, Ray Clemence and Adrian Bevington flooded Twitter on the announcement.

With a long career at Tottenham Hotspur — 13 years playing alongside Glenn Hoddle and Ossie Ardiles, as well as Steve Hodge and Johnny Metgod, and 13 years coaching — the 61-year-old has over 10 years’ management experience.

He moved up from coaching at Newcastle to the top job in 2009, and won the Tyneside club promotion back to the Premier League at the first attempt by winning the Championship in 2010. He took Birmingham City to a fourth-place finish in 2012 in his one season there, before spending two years in the Premier League at Norwich City.

Having joined Brighton & Hove Albion in December 2014, the south coast club finished third in 2016 and went on to win promotion, finishing second, in 2017.

So what can expect from Chris Hughton? We might not see an immediate change from 4-2-3-1… it’s the formation we’re most familiar with, one which we have the personnel for, and how Brighton lined up more-or-less in their first season in the Premier League. That said, a change could easily happen. Hughton has over 40 years’ experience in the game, and will know the advantage of being tactically fluid.

Discussing his career in The Coaches Voice, he said: “In my time at Newcastle, Birmingham and Norwich, I’d generally played a certain way — but, as a modern coach and manager, you have to be flexible.

“On most occasions, though, it’s about the type of players that you’ve got. It’s true that, as a manager, I’ve mostly tended to play 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 – but in my last season at Brighton I played more 4-3-3 than perhaps I have done at any other stage.

“So the formation that you want to play comes first, and then it’s about a way of implementing that formation. I’m the type of coach who very much wants to work off a solid base. I wouldn’t call it a defensive strategy – it’s setting up a team to be compact while also having strong attacking aspects from the way the team is set up.

“Ultimately, it’s about winning football matches, and how you do that comes down to the level of club that you are managing and the players that you have.”

Hughton dealt admirably with the shambolic state of Newcastle in 2009, he’s a calm head and one whose influence permeates thoughout the club. The respect he has from former players and fans, as well as across the industry, is more than a measure of what he will bring to the City Ground.

His pragmatic approach begins with a defensive base, and a hard-working philosophy. So far, so Lamouchi. But his attacking mindset is perhaps the difference — hopefully he can realise this sooner rather than later. And picking up where Lamouchi left off is no bad thing — the premise was right, the execution not so much.

Having seemingly favoured the classic two banks of four shape, Brighton adapted into a 4-3-3 in the Premier League in 2018/19. However, this shift did not ultimately prove to be popular or effective:

“… we don’t have a specialist defensive midfielder to make the system work… the main issue seems to stem from the fact that without two out-and-out wingers, the Albion can’t deliver the early crosses and balls into the box on which [Glenn] Murray thrives on.”

Graham Potter has evidently taken Brighton to new tactical levels in the Premier League, but that’s not a problem we really need to worry ourselves with.

No doubt Hughton continually reassesses what went right and what went wrong, and evidently knows that his management approach changes depending on the club, the expectation and the players. He will know many of our existing players, and will have sounded out those he knows (Colin Calderwood?) about the ins and out of Nottingham Forest.

But as I said back in February, you can’t fix Nottingham Forest in a season. And every time we start from scratch it’s a new beginning — new manager, new coaching staff, new philosophy, new tactics, new players…

Patience is again required. Hughton may well hit the ground running — we have one of the best squads we’ve had in years (and there’s still time to add or subtract) and turning results around only needs, well, a few goals. But the new players need to gel and the long-standing brittle mentality remains an issue.

More importantly, the club needs to take a long, hard look at itself — why back Lamouchi with new coaching staff and 13 players, only to lose patience after four league games? What is the club’s strategy, given that we’re on to our fifth manager in three years? And who is responsible for transfers? Hughton will no doubt have sought reassurances — significantly he is manager, rather than head coach.

Let’s hope there is some joined-up thinking and a united front going forwards.