A few people have asked me recently whether I think Chris Hughes’ position at Newtown is under threat following a disappointing season to date.
My answer has been: “no, and nor should it be”.
True, the Robins’ poor start has been one of the talking points of the season so far and although their record of one league win in 13 whilst languishing at the foot of the table doesn’t make for good reading, there remains an awful lot of football to be played in a league in which every team bar the leaders are frequently capable of scoring points off each other.
Going into last Saturday’s match with Llandudno at Latham Park, Newtown were on a run of five-straight WPL defeats with an extra-time League Cup defeat to Carmarthen, midweek, rubbing further salt in their wounds.
The fact of the matter however is that Newtown are not a million miles off their opponents – the team aren’t getting whitewashed or ripped apart week in, week out via repeated mistakes. They’ve been competitive in pretty much every game this season and five of their seven-defeats have been by one-goal. Winning and losing can be a fine margin in any league but when taking into the consideration just how evenly matched the majority of WPL teams are, a negative sequence of results should not trigger an overreaction.
In search of what would be just their second WPL victory of the season on Saturday, Newtown threw everything bar the kitchen sink it seems at Llandudno, who found themselves down to ten-men following Lee Thomas’ 39th-minute red card, but could only come away with a goalless draw.
It was no doubt a game in which Chris Hughes would’ve felt his team deserved to win, similar to the week before when he felt Newtown were worthy of a share of the points after being resolute for long periods before finally coming unstuck in the 83rd-minute in narrow defeat to runaway leaders TNS, and I presume he’d have felt equally hard done by when his side were toppled by Carmarthen in extra-time. When the chips are down… and that certainly seems to be the case at Newtown at present. That’s not to say Hughes isn’t cutting the mustard however – his track record isn’t based on failings having steered Newtown into the top-six in each of his previous three seasons at the club (finishing 5th, 6th and 5th), including a famous Europa League run which saw them take on Maltese side Valletta and FC Copenhagen.
As we’re just over halfway through the first phase of the season it’s going to be difficult (but not impossible) for Hughes to lead Newtown to another top-six finish, but that shouldn’t be seen as a significant underachievement. Newtown are on a similar parallel to many of the clubs who’ve finished below them in previous seasons, assembled on one of the more modest budgets in the league. Newtown simply don’t have any right to count themselves as a ‘top-six’ club year upon year and their success over the last three seasons has been a credible overachievement.
They might well miss the boat for the Championship Conference this year but at this moment the club are not in danger of getting relegated. Hughes and his team haven’t suddenly become a bad outfit over the course of a few weeks, Newtown have strong side with proven WPL players. It’s important that Hughes and his squad now stick together and keep doing what they have done that’s worked so well for them and ride this bad phase out.
If there is any question over Chris Hughes’ long-term future at Newtown then he is merely a victim of his own success at Latham Park.