The sack race

by Patrick Curry

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Just over half a dozen games in and the Premier League is beginning to take shape.  There have already been some heavyweight clashes with the newly oil rich Man City upsetting Big 4 stalwarts Arsenal while Spurs’ flying start was kept in check by Manchester United and Chelsea.  With the electric Fernando Torres leading the line Liverpool have steadied the ship after a nervy start and last year’s pretenders, Aston Villa, have picked up useful points despite not fully hitting top form yet.

At the wrong end of the table things are looking far less rosy for a number of teams.  It is about this time that chairmen begin to get itchy trigger fingers and there will be a number of managers who are enduring one or two sleepless nights at the moment.

This time last year both Alan Curbishley and Kevin Keegan had resigned from West Ham and Newcastle respectively while Juande Ramos was less than a month away from getting the chop at Tottenham.  In that sense it has been a fairly sedate start to managerial proceedings in the top flight.  However, with points being dropped and every game being as crucial as the next it won’t be long before an axe is wielded in earnest.

Current bookies favourite to win the sack race is Paul Hart.  Statistically Hart has overseen the worst start to a top flight season ever.  7 defeats from 7 has thrust the spotlight on the softly spoken former Leeds man but while his team languish 4 points adrift at the foot of the table there seems to be a groundswell of support following the recent turmoil that Pompey have endured.  With a whole raft of quality players shipped out since he took over from the hapless Tony Adams, Hart has done well to put together any sort of side.  Recent performances against Villa and Everton suggest that a first point or even victory might not be too far away but time is not on Hart’s side.

One rung above Hart in the table is headset fan and tanning salon favourite Phil Brown.  A revelation in the first half of last season Brown has overseen a downturn in fortunes of almost biblical proportions since he publically castigated his troops on the Eastland’s pitch at half time last December.  Rumours of dressing room unrest allied to Brown’s habit of continually berating his players in the media paint an unhappy picture at the KC stadium.  Throw in the sale of his best defender to Premiership rivals Sunderland and it might not be too long before the Tigers go in search of fresh blood.

Alongside Hart and Brown in the sack race sits Championship doyen/Premier League deadbeat Mick McCarthy, bumbling along nicely at Wolves.  If ever a man were suited to a level it seems that it is he with Championship football.  Not satisfied with bringing Sunderland up a few years back with a record points haul he followed that by making Wolves into second tier champions as well.  However, once in the top division he seems to freeze like a gruff Northern rabbit in the headlights as his players flail helplessly while the goals fly in around them.   With last years stars Sylvain Ebanks Blake and Michael Kightly in the squad there is always hope but with the big man at the helm it could be that a McCarthy-style witch hunt might be Wolves best chance of survival.

Of the other candidates, Owen Coyle must feel relatively untouchable at pre-season drop favourites Burnley.  An inspired victory over Man United was followed by a solid win against Everton.  Home form will be crucial if Coyle is to have a successful first year as a Premiership manager but if early indications are anything to go by he will adapt nicely.  Alex McCleish’s squad at Birmingham and Gary Megson’s at Bolton look awfully thin on quality and they will struggle on their travels.  West Ham’s early form will be a slight concern to Gianfranco Zola but there is enough talent within the squad to pick up points and climb the table.  Sam Allardyce has crafted a squad in his burly image at Blackburn and while they won’t play very attractive football they should bully enough physically smaller teams to stick around for another year.  And while Roy Hodgson at Fulham has not started too brightly, he has bags of experience that will come in to play should Fulham continue to occupy a spot near the wrong end of the table.

So the race is on to become the first managerial casualty of the Premier League season.  While it doesn’t quite engender the same thrill of a neck and neck title chase it should be remembered that with any casualty a fresh replacement comes into the fold.  And with such past visionaries as the aforementioned Adams stepping up to (and then down from) the plate, surly that’s something to get excited about?  And if that’s not enough then a mere mention of one of the names mooted to be in line to replace Hart should get the blood pumping – the one and only David O’Leary.  Bring on the axe!

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  • Darren

    Mick McCarthy’s record as a Premier League is simply woeful. For that reason, he’s ooout! Followed by Rafa Benetiz, there’s been unrest with the board for ages, they’ve already lost 3 games this season, how long with the rather impatient Liverpool fans stand for it? They already believe they have the right to win the Premier League, which, less face it, looks beyond them this season.

  • Matt Quinn

    Just reading an article that says that Liverpool this season have lost to Villa, Spurs and Fiorentina- who, incidentally, are the only half-decent teams theyve faced so far this year. Perhaps a sign of things to come? A mid-table finish?
    I doubt it- but its an interesting point.

    Villa should be discounted for any chance at the big 4. Very disillusioned with them at the moment. We play some terrible football and we are missing Gareth Barry. Teams have realised that once you double up on Ashley Young, the rest of our team is incapable of creating anything. I wish we had the creativity that Everton suddenly possess… Pienaar, Cahill, Bilyatedinov, Fellaini etc…

    In fact, most Everton fans would now have Tim Cahill on the bench. (like i wrote in a previous article- hes massively overrated anyway!)…. i think im just having a massive crush on Everton at the moment. Really like a lot of their players!

  • Matt Quinn

    I meant Arteta, not Cahill, when listing their creative players!

  • Patrick

    I hope that crush doesn’t extend to Phil Neville Matt!

  • Nev Napier

    I am conjuring up images of the managerial merry-go-round feature from Fantasy Football, in particular the week when Gerry Francis was on there, his feathered mullet flowing gently in the wind.

    It kind of summed it up though, one manager will be awful for one club but a hero at another, with a few exceptions, Roy Evens for instance. I can’t help but think Megson is skating on thin ice, Bolton have got a couple of decent results recently but the crowd seem to detest the man. I think McCarthy is safe, Wolves owe him one for getting them promoted, I think the situation is similar with Burnley and Fulham.

    The papers reckon Brown has only four games to save his job, that probably means his job is the safest then! But Hart However, is the proverbial ‘dead man walking’. If only they could find someone who’d want the job, step up Paul Jewel.

  • Darren

    Paul Jewel took over at Derby to save them, he won 1 game in 25? Megson is an awful manager. The man has no charisma what so ever, in fact, he’s one of those managers that you liked to throw a bottle of wee over, he’s that boring!

    Liverpool will struggle, I didn’t watch the game but I heard they played a left back in center mid. Can someone enlighten me on this one please. I was busy watching Arsenal create 233 chances and only converting 2.

  • dexylong

    Aurellio came in for masha who i believe has picked up some strain. It wasn’t his greatest game, especially chucking him in there when he is left back (a decent one an all) and just coming back from injury. Goes to show how thin the scousers 2nd string is. Rafa must be praying for the new signing to get on the park. Lucas is improving with every game but he’s no Alonso/Masha.

  • Mike Somerville

    I’ve got a feeling that Phil Brown will keep his job this season. When Jimmy Bullard comes back they will do just enough to stay up.

  • Finn

    Martin O’Neill must be under a bit of pressure surely, more than before at least. Fights with players, Barry gone and a very one dimensional game plan – this really could be the season that Lerner starts to get itchy if they aren’t constantly in or around 5th/6th place.

    As for the others – I agree with the above – Benitez has alot riding on this season. Selling Alsonso for a crock seems a bit stupid, Liverpool haven’t looked all that (as a team, individual displays have been good i.e. Torres against Hull). And I agree with you Pat; Mick McCarthy, whilst not a shoe-in for the sack because he got Wolves up, is so obviously a Championship manager at best – lovely guy but I can see Wolves going back down straight away.

  • Finn

    Oh, and Paul Hart going wouldn’t really feel like the first sacking of the season because, to be quite honest, Portsmouth have been a mess not of his making so sacking him and therefore trying to make him into a scapegoat just wouldn’t work – so if he were sacked it wouldn’t really count. My money is still on Phil Brown – he’s lost the team completely.

  • Patrick

    O’Neill is not a terrible shout. He’s an excellent manager but if Villa slip behind the top four plus Everton, Man City and Spurs then Lerner could look elsewhere. What price them bringing Big Ron back into the fold?

    By the way, I don’t dislike McCarthy I just think he’s punching above his weight. He did it at Sunderland and I reckon he’s doing it now as well. Phil Brown, however, seems a bit of an eegit. The singalong on the pitch last year after they got battered for 6 months and just stayed up by the skin of their teeth? Surely any self-respecting manager would recognise they’d just had a hell of a lucky escape and keep his head down a bit.

  • montaz ali

    if hammers lose to stoke tomorrow 17-10-2009,gianfranco zola and steve clarke must resign and bring back curbs and day for the rest of the season or put tony carr and kevin keen in charge till the end of season,then in the summer bring slaven bilic,igor stimac and davor suker to take full control for season 2010/11

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