The forgotten midfielder. I’ll be honest, I like Stephen Hughes. When he joined the club nearly two years ago, he seemed to be nailed on for a first team place, and there was a time just after Lambert came in that he was meeting that expectation. Several good performances, both starts and from the bench, coincided with good Norwich results or turnarounds. We seemed to play better with Hughes on the pitch. Give that was in comparison to, say, Owain Tudur Jones, maybe that isn’t a surprise.
But things started to turn for Hughes once Lambert settled on his diamond. Lappin and Korey Smith became his first choice centre pairing with Russell holding firm at the base. No one dislodges Wes from the top. Once that became settled, it was tough for Hughes to break in the side, and a season of benchwarming was on its way, but he performed admirably whenever given the chance and, for me at least, was a valuable member of the team.
But given the wages he is supposedly on, it was a surprise that a new club wasn’t found for him at the start of the season, especially with Norwich retaining the services of OTJ and Gill while bringing in new faces. The queue in front of him is daunting; Surman, Fox, Crofts, Lappin, Korey Smith, Lansbury and Gill all being preferred at some point in the season. When you add this to an ankle injury, it becomes no surprise to see that he was shipped out on loan, playing a few games for MK Dons.
So, when you look back at Hughes’ contribution to this season, you see just one league appearance, as a sub. It is maybe fortunate that Lambert has had such a selection of players to use in the middle of the pitch, because a player of Hughes’ ability would no doubt be playing at other clubs in the division, and most in League One. Yet it would be absolutely no surprise, and I guess is expected, that he will be doing so next year. Hughes, along with some other players who have been bit part performers this year, is expected to leave and this is probably for the best. Like Gill, the club has grown to the point that competition will only get fiercer, and for a player who has ambitions of again playing for Scotland, first team football has to come first.
It is to Lambert’s credit that he makes the squad players feel as important as the first teamers. Stephen Hughes joined everyone in celebrating promotion, was on the lap of honour, and took part in the parade. If that’s his last memory as a Norwich player, then it’s a pretty good way to go out.