Another Look At Managerial Stability

With half of the clubs in the nPower Championship having replaced their manager at least once since June last year, it’s time to revisit this post from October 2010.

After the recent outbreak of  ‘sack the manager’ I’ve got to admit that quite frankly I’ve got no idea what some of these clubs are trying to achieve. I’m happy to accept poor results as a good reason for getting rid of the gaffer: if a bigger club comes in for a successful manager (or a smaller club comes in for an unhappy one – see Eddie Howe) that’s fine too. However, far too many of the recent moves seem to be based on questionable boardroom decisions.

Then there’s Watford, which I’ll come to later: there’s also Michael Appleton, but a consensus seems to be emerging that no-one in their right mind would want the Blackpool job – which is why Appleton and Ian Holloway have both left this season. What happened to Nick Barmby at Hull seems to have been a matter of internal discipline more than anything else and doesn’t fit into the overall picture.

In the poor results corner, we have Barnsley, Bristol City and Ipswich. They needed to replace Keith Hill, Derek McInnes and Paul Jewell respectively because their records were poor and all three clubs felt they needed a change in order to avoid relegation. However, Bristol City in particular have a recent track record of managerial turmoil: since the end of the 2008/09 season, they’ve had five managers, none of whom lasted either a full season or had any previous managerial experience at this level. However, although it could be argued that Bolton and Wolves fall into this category, I’m placing them in another.

In the ‘replacement due to recruitment’ group we have Birmingham, Burnley and Crystal Palace. Lee Clarke is presiding over a poor season at St Andrew’s but Sean Dyche and Ian Holloway are all doing fine at the moment.

Which brings us on to ‘questionable decisions at boardroom level’, which is exemplified by Blackburn and Nottingham Forest but which also contains Bolton and Wolves. You’ll notice immediately that the three clubs that were relegated from the Premier League last season are in this group: although it’s not unreasonable to dismiss a manager following relegation, it’s verging on the ridiculous to get rid of him because either:

(a) you think you should be undefeated at the top of the table at the end of September either because you’ve underestimated the level of competition in the Championship and/or you have assumed you’ll win promotion immediately (Steve Kean at Blackburn and Owen Coyle at Bolton)

(b) you made a questionable decision in the first place (Stale Solbakken at Wolves or Henning Berg at Blackburn, but with Nottingham Forest before the Al Hasawi takeover not far behind)

(c) for no discernible reason whatsoever (Nottingham Forest since the Al Hasawi takeover )

The most intriguing change of the lot has been at Watford. Sean Dyche did a great job in Hertfordshire last season, but when the Pozzo family took over at Vicarage Road, Dyche had to go. It seemed unfair at the time, but subsequent results under Gianfranco Zola has made the ‘Watford Project’ one of the Championship stories of the season. Other clubs have had a substantial foreign involvement at both board and managerial level, but the key difference between Watford and both Forest and Blackburn is that it’s obvious the Pozzos know what they’re doing.

At the other end of the scale, we have the likes of Cardiff City, Millwall and Peterborough. Cardiff are currently eight points clear at the top of the Championship, having only had three managers since they were promoted almost a decade ago: Kenny Jackett is the longest serving manager in the competition and currently has Millwall in a good position for a playoff run and despite an awful start to the season. There are some encouraging signs that Darren Ferguson may be the first manager in Peterborough history to keep them in the second tier of English football for three consecutive seasons.

Just three games to get excited about this weekend, but for a change at least one of them is on TV. Middlesbrough and Leicester (Sky Sports 1, 7:45pm) are only separated by goal difference, although to be fair, the Foxes have the best goal difference in the competition.

Leicester’s strength is their home form – they’ve only lost three times at the King Power Stadium since last April – and after tonight’s game they’ll only have two more matches against sides in the current top six. They’re on course for a play off place at the very least, but aren’t out of the race for automatic promotion by any means and with Chris Wood on fire since Christmas (five goals in three games including a first half hat trick at Bristol City last Saturday) a return to the Premier League could be on. On the other hand, Middlesbrough have struggled away from home recently: four defeats in their last five and an increasingly leaky defence could undermine any promotion hopes in the long term, but Lukas Jutkiewicz is worth keeping an eye on in case the hosts have an off day.

The other games that caught my eye are at London Road and Portman Road but before I go any further, I’d like to point out that there’s been a sending off in all of the last four games between Derby and Nottingham Forest (1:00pm Saturday). Hull have won their last two games at Peterborough, but Posh won at the KC Stadium at the end of September and with three wins in their last six, Darren Ferguson’s side look as if they won’t go down without a fight – they’ve not failed to score in a league game since the end of November and The Tigers have only kept one clean sheet in their last six away games.

Ipswich take on Barnsley in a game that’s not really a relegation six pointer, but David Flitcroft was appointed Barnsley manager earlier this week and the Tykes will be out to impress him. However, Portman Road isn’t a happy hunting ground for the team from South Yorkshire: since the turn of the century they’ve only won there once and have failed to score in four of their last five visits.

Finally this week, the FA Cup 4th round has been clarified and – for once – it’s possible that at least four Championship teams can reach the last sixteen. There are three guaranteed places and although it’s not impossible, Aldershot winning at Middlesbrough is unlikely. However, with four teams facing Premier League clubs with home advantage, another shock could be on the cards: with only one league game that could have an impact at either end of the table next weekend (Bristol City v Ipswich), I’ll take a closer look at FA Cup next week.



FA Cup 3rd Round Review: A Good Start For Championship Teams

It’s nice to see some signs of life from Championship teams in the FA Cup: the last couple of seasons have been a disappointment, but with eight teams definitely through, one of the replays guaranteeing another place, six potential qualifiers from the other replays and a reasonable fourth round draw

Brighton were the only team to beat a Premier League side (Newcastle again) and Crystal Palace, Blackpool and Bolton face replays against Premier League opposition. The latter pair took the lead in their respective ties, but Bolton managed to blow a two goal lead against Sunderland at the Reebok Stadium and have probably lost the best chance of qualifying for the fourth round.

The biggest shocks in the round involved Championship teams: Wolves and Cardiff lost at Luton and Macclesfield. Stale Solbakken was sacked immediately after Wolves’ defeat: Wanderers had fielded a full strength team (presumably in an attempt to salvage a season which was going nowhere) but I always get the impression that Luton are the Cardiff of the Conference. As I posted at the weekend, Malky McKay chose a young and largely inexperienced side for Cardiff’s game at Macclesfield. At the risk of sounding cynical, it’s obvious what the priorities are for the Welsh club.

Managerless Nottingham Forest’s home defeat at the hands of Oldham was somewhat overshadowed by Wolves and Cardiff falling at the first hurdle, but the visitors scored three of the first four goals at the City Ground (Forest took the lead thanks to a Matt Smith own goal – no, not the Matt Smith that regularly saves the universe) and only a last minute consolation goal from Billy Sharp made the scoreline look respectable.

The fourth round draw looks favourable for Championship teams:  two guaranteed fifth round spots with a third possible if Hull beat Leyton Orient. Middlesbrough should fancy their chances against Aldershot and if Bradford City can beat Aston Villa, then Millwall ought to be able to do the same. There could be some high profile ties for clubs involved in replays but I’ll mention them if and when they come up.



Solbakken Sacked After Wolves Crash Out

More on Monday, but having lost at non-league Luton Town (it’s still weird writing that) in today’s FA Cup 3rd Round tie, Wolves have parted company with Stale Solbakken after just under five months in charge.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve written, said or thought this since the season began, but I’ll say it again: in order to do at least reasonably well in the Championship, it’s vital to appoint a manager that has experience in the Championship – regardless of whether that’s as a player or a manager. It’s been very apparent this season that the new arrivals from the Premier League have not been adequately prepared for their campaigns: at least Bolton were able to get hold of Dougie Freedman when they binned Owen Coyle.

The other big upset today was Cardiff losing at Macclesfield: however I get the feeling that being able to concentrate on winning the league is something that Malky McKay had in mind when he basically named a youth team to play at Moss Rose this afternoon.

Update: to be fair to Wolves, they moved quickly after getting rid of Solbakken. Dean Saunders – who took over at Doncaster Rovers last season after Sean O’Driscoll was sacked – takes over at Molyneux.

Back tomorrow with a quick review of the FA Cup: there’ll also be a post on Friday evening taking a look at the weekend’s action.