Tag Archives: manager

Sheffield United labelled “prehistoric” by angry managerial candidate

Sheffield United have been branded “prehistoric” by a man they hoped would be their next manager.

Former Australia manager, Graham Arnold, took the unusual step of publically slating the club after he was interviewed for the job by the Blades board. The West Coast Mariners boss was so disgusted by his interviewers’ attitudes towards football he actually quit the interview, which was being conducted through video-link, and stormed out half-way through.

Sheffield United have been labelled "prehistoric" by Graham Arnold.

Sheffield United have been labelled “prehistoric” by Graham Arnold.

Arnold told The Australian: “In all honesty, I didn’t have to think too long or too hard about it. It just wasn’t for me.

“Forget that the financial offer in itself was quite poor, but I would have been taking three steps backwards in my development as a professional coach if I had gone.”

“I walked out of that meeting with the club’s board and football director Dave Bassett, and said ‘Wow’.

“It just blew me away. Being one of the bigger lower league clubs, I was expecting a lot more in terms of how they wanted to develop as a club on the field.

“But they just didn’t seem interested when I was talking about playing a short passing game and taking the football another level up. It was about smashing the ball long and working on set pieces. It was prehistoric stuff. That’s not the way to develop a football team.”

 Damning

The comments were a damning indictment of Sheffield United’s take on the beautiful game and a huge embarrassment for the Bramall Lane bigwigs.

Fans have traditionally taken pride in the “Sheffield United way.” This style of football prioritises effort, physicality and a desire to win over skill, elegance and aesthetics. Visitors to Bramall Lane in recent decades have often been left frustrated by their hosts’ old-school style of play and their questionable discipline.

Managers such as Kevin Blackwell and Neil Warnock nurtured teams who were tenacious, hungry and forceful but who also had a choice reading of the laws of the game and a Machiavellian approach to the sport.

The “Battle of Bramall Lane” in 2002 is infamous because it is still the only Football League match to be abandoned because a team did not have enough players to continue. Sheffield United had three players sent off against West Brom, and were lucky not to have a fourth expelled, before Warnock allegedly told two of his players to fake injuries in order to get the match abandoned.

Sheffield United now find themselves in League 1 and although Danny Wilson tried to improve the style of play at the club, it was still brutal on the eyes. It worsened when United legend, and the “Sheffield Way” personified, Chris Morgan took over towards the end of last season.

 Ugly and unsuccessful

Arnold’s comments on Sheffield United were scathing and with the Blades preparing for a third straight season in England’s third tier, there are many fans who believe the club’s board should use his criticism constructively.

The Australian’s opinions have highlighted what many fans already knew; their club’s stubborn refusal to keep up with the times has left them looking backwards, stranded in the dark ages. The people who run United are still thinking the way directors were thinking in the 1970s, and though Stoke City is an obvious anomaly, clubs tend not to see long-term success by adopting long-ball, bully-boy tactics these days.

Sheffield United is a big club with a substantial fanbase but since 1994 they have only had one season in the top flight.

Despite adventurous and entrepreneurial ventures off the field, which include twinning with Chengdu Blades in China, the people running the club have bafflingly stuck with a failing system on the pitch.

Graham Arnold had ideas about playing progressive, passing football at Sheffield United, but Dave Bassett and the Sheffield United board wanted to keep playing the percentages and concentrating on set-pieces. For some reason they wanted somebody who was going to employ the same style of play which had seen Sheffield United fall short in recent years.

The two clubs promoted automatically from League 1 this season, Doncaster and Bournemouth, succeeded by playing aesthetically-pleasing and positive football, despite having far smaller resources than the Blades. This shows the way smaller clubs are excelling in the third tier by playing the ball on the floor.

 Look to the future

Sheffield United will celebrate their 125th birthday next year but unfortunately for the fans, the board and Dave Bassett are looking to the past for inspiration instead of adopting a more positive approach.

Traditionally the supporters have embraced United’s traditional ugly style of play, but times are changing and across the country clubs are looking for managers who play entertaining football. This isn’t because they’re arrogant or because they have illusions of grandeur. It’s because this is the way most successful clubs play their football by now.

Graham Arnold has shamed Sheffield United by putting the club’s backwards approach under a spotlight. The comments were damning but they’re completely justified and those in charge of the club need to use this embarrassing mess as a catalyst for change.

The board must abandon its bizarre and short-sighted stubbornness in favour of a more positive approach, otherwise the club will remain trapped by the myths of its own history.

Would you want Paolo Di Canio at your club?

The most controversial and entertaining manager in the Football League has quit his job, so what next for Paolo Di Canio?

The flamboyant Italian left his post at Swindon Town after getting frustrated with the League 1 club’s troubling finances, and the effects they were having on his preparations. He is already being linked with Leeds United, where Neil Warnock doesn’t seem to be enjoying life, but there are a few factors chairmen need to consider before giving Di Canio a job.

 

Football genius or troublesome fascist?

Football genius or troublesome fascist?

Di Canio was a very unlikely manager, and big questions were asked when Swindon appointed him in 2011.

As a player he was capable of spectacular skill and breath-taking goals, not least his beautiful bicycle volley against Wimbledon for West Ham in 2000, which is still considered one of the greatest goals of the Premier League era. But he was also an unpredictable personality, who could implode at any time.

In 1993 he left Juventus after falling out with legendary manager, Giovanni Trapattoni, and in 1996 he repeated the trick at Milan by quarrelling with Fabio Capello. In a match between Sheffield Wednesday and Arsenal, Di Canio pushed the referee to the ground, and received an 11 game ban which ultimately signalled the end of his tenure in the Steel City.

In England he is best remembered for his time at West Ham, but even there, where he is still adored by supporters, he was considered as stable as a tower of jelly. Tantrums and fallouts were commonplace and he barely played in his final season at the club because of a spat with manager, Glenn Roeder.

He had a comparatively problem-free time at Charlton, before returning to his childhood club, Lazio. Back in Rome, he wound up opposing fans, fraternised with right-wing ultras and regularly gave supporters a fascist salute.

His former manager, Harry Redknapp recently claimed he never once believed Di Canio could be a manager.

But his record at Swindon is quite remarkable. In his first season in charge at the County Ground he led Swindon to the League 2 title, and the final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

He leaves Swindon in the League 1 play-off spots, and just three points off the top of the league. They are unbeaten in their last 11 league games, and have a great chance of going up this season, either automatically or through the play-offs.

Di Canio has left as a result of the poor state of the club’s finances, and in his statement to the press he cited the sale of playmaker, Matt Richie, to Bournemouth, as a major reason for his departure. Ritchie, who has excelled under Di Canio, was sold behind the manager’s back in the January transfer window, and since then relations between the manager and the boardroom have been strained.

But Swindon’s financial crisis is down in no small measure to Di Canio and his spending.

Di Canio was given hundreds of thousands to spend on players in order to manufacture a squad capable of storming up the leagues, and in an aesthetically pleasing style. Swindon spent more on agent fees over the past year and a half than any other club in League 2 and League 1, such was the club’s commitment to getting the players Di Canio wanted.

The Roman has expensive tastes, and any chairman who chooses to employ him must be prepared for arguments over transfer funds, unless they want to overspend and encounter the kind of problems which are currently crippling Swindon. Di Canio has an eye for talent, but it comes at a cost, and it’s still unclear whether he could work within a strict budget, or even whether he would be willing to try such a strategy. It appears he was looking to leave Swindon as soon as the cheque book was put back in the drawer.

Whichever club picks up the fiery Di Canio will also have to put up with his bizarre personality.

At Swindon, Di Canio’s passionate press conferences and tempestuous touchline antics entertained the masses, but he was sometimes guilty of bringing negative attention upon the club.

Di Canio’s fallout with Leon Clarke was damaging, but accusations of racism by French striker, Jonathan Tehoué were very difficult to deal with. Di Canio is a self-confessed fascist and a Mussolini sympathiser, so accusations of racism are likely to stick, and no club wants this kind of bad publicity.

Jekyll and Hyde

He’s a brilliant, passionate lover of the sport, whose Swindon team played gorgeous, entertaining football as they climbed from League 2 to the verge of the Championship. He understands football better than almost any other manager in the Football League and he will always strive to win, but in a style befitting his perfectionist streak.

However this Jekyll and Hyde character comes with a reputation and a troublemaking tendency, which will always cause problems for clubs. His departure from Swindon with the club so close to the top of League 1 shows Di Canio’s unpredictability and spontaneity.

Wherever Di Canio ends up next, fans, and more importantly chairmen, must prepare for a rollercoaster ride, which will inevitably consist of great football and controversy. It’s up to them to decide whether the Italian stallion is worth the hassle.

League 1 half-term report

Halfway through the season and League 1’s seen a bit of everything; sackings, scandals and financial troubles, and that’s just what’s gone on off the field.

Here’s how each club has fared in the first 23 games of the season:

Sheffield United top the table at the halfway stage

Sheffield United top the table at the halfway stage

 

Sheffield UnitedA- – Recovering from last season’s agonising play-off final penalty defeat was always going to be tough. United will be content with the way their season has gone so far. Danny Wilson’s team are extremely difficult to beat, with only two league defeats so far. Man City are the only club in the top four tiers of English football with fewer losses. But United’s lack of firepower has held them back; before this weekend they were the lowest scorers in the top 10 and seven of their eleven victories have been by a single goal, which is very unusual for a team top of the league. Nick Blackman has nine goals in the league, but United’s second highest scorer is centre-back, Neil Collins, with four goals. The Blades have been great at grinding out results, but they don’t look as strong as the team which narrowly missed out on promotion last term.

TranmereA+ – Tranmere’s form this season has surprised everybody, including manager, Ronnie Moore. Whenever Moore gets interviewed these days he keeps emphasising how stunned he is to be top of the league. The Merseysiders didn’t lose any of their first twelve games, and looked to be racing away with the league. They are the league’s top-scorers with 38 goals, and the goals have been shared with Jake Cassidy, Andy Robinson and Jean-Louis Akpa-Akpro all netting regularly. But they’re currently suffering their first blip of the season, which includes Friday’s shocking 5-0 defeat against Swindon. How they react will go a long way to determining where they’ll finish this season.

BrentfordA – Uwe Rösler’s side are the form team in League 1 going into the second half of the season. After a steady but unspectacular start to the season, the Bees burst into life in late October as they embarked on a nine match unbeaten run, which includes seven wins. In recent weeks they’ve recorded extremely impressive victories against Sheffield United and the MK Dons. Strategically and organisationally, Brentford have been the best team in the division this season, but their success has been helped by the goals of Clayton Donaldson. The big striker, nicknamed Donaldinho, is the league’s second highest scorer. The Londoners are on a roll and are aiming for promotion to the second tier for the first time in over two decades.

DoncasterB – Dean Saunders has rebuilt the team after relegation, and the Yorkshiremen continue to play an aesthetically pleasing style of football. The star of the show has been David Cotterill, who’s been banging in the goals from midfield, and looks to have regained his confidence after some tumultuous times. Doncaster have more wins than any other team in League 1 and they have been very exciting to watch. However there’s still room for improvement. They remain on the lookout for a goal-poaching striker to take some of the pressure off Cotterill, and there have been some very unconvincing performances in the midst of all the great football. Automatic promotion is the aim, but a play-off spot would be a fine achievement.

SwindonA- – Last year’s League 2 champions were expected to have a huge impact on League 1, and though they’ve been inconsistent, they’ve proved they have the quality to challenge at the top end of the table. With Paolo Di Canio as manager things were never going to be boring, and there’s been plenty of excitement at Swindon games. They’ve scored 37 goals and conceded just 18, but when they concede first they tend to lose; they’ve picked up just two points from losing positions this season. Matt Richie has continued his brilliant form from last term and he’s already netted nine goals this season. The magnificent 5-0 victory against Tranmere suggests Swindon could still challenge for an automatic spot if they develop a bit more consistency, although if they get a play-off spot nobody will want to face Di Canio’s side and their beautiful football.

MK DonsB – It’s been a strange season for MK Dons fans. They’ve been used to seeing their side score freely and concede regularly in recent years, but this season the Dons have tightened things at the back at the expense of their attacking fervour. The Dons have been wasteful in front of goal at times, but perhaps that’s changing as we enter 2013. Along with every other club currently in the play-off spots, the Dons lack a top goal-scorer, and this is keeping them outside the top two. Karl Robinson’s team play some of the most beautiful football in the league, but in recent years they’ve lacked the killer instinct required to take them up. It remains to be seen if that’s changed this year, and although the Dons look a good bet for a play-off spot once again in May, they must be aiming for a top two finish.

StevenageB – After a blistering start to the season, Gary Smith’s side have lost their way slightly and have won just one game (against lowly Hartlepool) in their last six. They began the season with an incredible 11 match unbeaten run and it appeared as though the Boro were going to seriously challenge for an automatic promotion spot. Stevenage were unable to challenge healthily in last season’s play-offs because the squad was too small and tiredness had taken over, and this season the small squad once again looks to be having an adverse effect on their promotion push. Stevenage could do with a potent goal-scorer; Robin Shroot is an amiable, impactful forward, who will score a fair few goals over the course of the season, but a natural goal-scorer would go a long way towards securing another play-off for Stevenage. The aim for the season is to get back in the play-offs, but competition is fierce.

Notts CountyC+ – After narrowly missing out on 6th place last season, County were expected to make a strong push for promotion this year. But after a positive start to the season the Magpies have found wins hard to come by, with only four league victories since September. County, like so many clubs in League 1, are in need of a goal-scorer who can turn draws into wins. Keith Curle’s team are resilient and difficult to beat, but four draws in their last six games highlights County’s frustrations this season. Notts County have the makings of a good side, and at times’s they’ve looked like genuine play-off contenders, but a lack of cutting edge could cost them a place in the top 6.

BournemouthC+ – Bournemouth’s turnaround from relegation battlers to play-off challengers has been astounding to say the least, and it’s down to one man: Eddie Howe. When he returned to Bournemouth for his second stint as manager in October, the Cherries were in the bottom four having won just once in their first eleven league games. However since Howe’s arrival Bournemouth haven’t lost a game and they’ve shot up the league with 27 points from a possible 33. Howe never settled at Burnley, and it’s clear he belongs on the south coast. He understands the club and knows how to succeed at Dean Court. Former Rotherham striker Lewis Grabban has flourished under Howe, and Bournemouth look like very good candidates for the play-offs, now that the club’s regained its confidence.

CrawleyB- – It’s fair to say Crawley expected more from this season. They won promotion convincingly last season, but a transitional summer was poor preparation and they’re now suffering as a result. The promising start to the season under Richie Barker now seems a long time ago; the Red Devils have won once in the last nine games, and they’ve steadily drifted down the table. If they are to mount a serious play-off push, they need to start winning again quickly, before their downward slide goes too far. Crawley will have no problem staying up, which is every promoted club’s first priority, but sights were set a little higher. Crawley’s best player so far this season has been Hope Akpan, whose physical performances in midfield have been highly impressive. Unfortunately his indiscipline has resulted in several suspensions, which doesn’t help the Crawley cause.

YeovilC+ – The Glovers began the campaign spectacularly; winning three and drawing one of their first four games. Then they lost six games in a row, sparking fears of another season fighting relegation. Since then they’ve been on a run of inconsistency, struggling to build any kind of momentum. They have no problems scoring goals, but at the other end they’ve been porous; they have the worst defensive record in the top 16. Yeovil will be happy if they avoid getting dragged into the relegation dogfight this season, and a mid-table finish would represent progress for one of the smallest clubs in the division. They’re far too inconsistent to challenge for a play-off spot this season.

CreweA- – Crewe were a joy to watch last season as their late surge took them up via the play-offs. But their joy was short-lived as they lost two of their top performers, Nick Powell and Ashley Westwood, to Man Utd and Aston Villa respectively. Unsurprisingly they were hot favourites for relegation, but they’ve defied the odds and look set to stay up comfortably. The signing of striker Mathias Pogba (brother of Juventus’ Paul Pogba) from Wrexham has been a good one and the team play an attractive, but sturdy style of football. There’s a brilliant team ethic at Crewe and manager Steve Davis deserves a huge amount of credit for the job he’s done. It’s doubtful they’ll be able to challenge for a play-off spot, having said that they enter the second half of the season in great form with just one defeat in their last seven games. They’ve done brilliantly.

CoventryC- – Coventry fans must have thought things couldn’t get worse after their relegation from the Championship last season. But this is Coventry, and for the Sky Blues trouble always seems to be around the corner. Andy Thorne was sacked as manager just three games into the season, and Coventry went on a run of five consecutive losses before their first win of the season against Oldham on September 29. However since then, new manager Mark Robins has slowly but surely turned things around, and Coventry have now only lost once in their last nine games. With the team hitting form, and League 1 top scorer David McGoldrick (15 goals so far) continuing to impress, Coventry could compete for a play-off spot. Unfortunately off-field problems continue to cast a shadow over any on-field success. The club’s owners aren’t able to pay the hefty rent for the Ricoh Arena, and they could be forced to look elsewhere for a home ground, with non-league Hinckley United’s 4,329-capacity Greene King Stadium seen as a genuine possibility.

Leyton OrientC – An up and down season for Orient so far, where losing runs have quickly turned into winning runs, and feast has quickly turned to famine. Orient fans really have no idea whether they’re in a relegation fight or whether they have an outside chance of getting a play-off spot. Amazingly, Leyton Orient have only drawn one game this season, against Crewe in September. The Londoners have 10 wins and 11 losses so far, making them one of the league’s most unpredictable (and exciting) sides. Kevin Lisbie continues to roll back the years, but his team-mates aren’t contributing enough goals. Orient have only netted 25 goals so far this season, although in recent games they’ve been scoring far more regularly. The tendency this season is that when Orient score, they win. They’ve only lost twice when they’ve scored this term.

PrestonD+ – Graham Westley still hasn’t settled at Preston and the play-offs look an unlikely proposition by now. Westley made wholesale changes to the playing staff in the summer, but that’s resulted in the team looking dysfunctional and awkward. The style of football has been criticised by fans who want to see less of a long-ball game from their team. The Lilywhites lack a potent goalscorer, and they struggle to win games. Preston are winless in their last six games and only Sheffield United have drawn more games than the Lancashire club this season. It’s tough to see Preston go down this season, but it’s even tougher imagining them snatching a spot in the top 6. Things aren’t clicking at Deepdale and fans are frustrated. Attendances are regularly less than 10,000 and there’s an air of negativity surrounding the club.

OldhamC- – It’s another frustratingly low-scoring season for Oldham as they’ve averaged just a goal a game in their first 23 games. Paul Dickov was a tenacious striker in his playing days, but the Scot just can’t get his strikers to score, and were it not for the brilliant José Baxter, Oldham would be in severe trouble. The former Everton youngster has excelled in the Latics midfield, and he’s shown Premier League class on a regular basis, netting eight goals in the process. But Baxter’s only one player and Oldham sit just five points above the relegation zone. They’re once again scrapping for safety and with little money to spend in January, Dickov may have to make do with what he’s got. It’s going to be a long second half of the season for Oldham fans, who’ll be praying Baxter stays fit.

WalsallC – The Saddlers started the season brightly and they were 4th as recently as October. But a dramatic collapse in their form has seen them plummet down the table. Their win against Colchester on Saturday was their first in 13 games, and a vital three points for the Midlanders. Manager Dean Smith has tried to get his team playing a more aesthetically pleasing brand of football, but unfortunately the players at his disposal probably aren’t good enough to play the style he demands. Apart from Carlisle, Walsall have conceded more than any other team outside the relegation zone, and with goals in short supply, it’s a worrying statistic. Walsall have defied the odds and miraculously stayed up for the past few seasons, and they’re hoping the win against Colchester can inspire them to do likewise in May.

ShrewsburyC- – I expected more from Shrewsbury this season and I didn’t expect to see them so close to the bottom four. The Shrews were promoted last season thanks mostly to their brilliant home form, and it’s their results at New Meadow which keep them outside the drop zone this season. All 5 wins have come at home, while they’re yet to win on their travels. The team has changed little since last season, and perhaps Graham Turner should have bought more players who had experience of League 1 football. Marvin Morgan can be a real handful on his day, but he’s not consistent enough for Town. If he can get on a good scoring run, it would make a huge difference to where they finish. Safety would represent a good season for Shrewsbury after spending 15 years outside League 1. Turner has a united dressing room, with some good footballers, and I expect them to dodge the drop.

ColchesterD- – It’s been a bitterly disappointing first half of the season at Cuckoo Farm. John Ward was dismissed after failing to win any of the first eight games of the season. His assistant Joe Dunne has been in charge since then, and initially the appointment appeared to have galvanised the squad, with Colchester winning five out of their next six games to climb into the top half. But The Us have only won once since October and they’ve lost the other seven games, including a 5-1 hammering at Stadium MK. Their morale-crushing defeat against Walsall in the last game emphasised the extent of Colchester’s woes. They sit just two points and two places above 22nd placed Portsmouth. Their main problem is up front, where the strikers have found scoring difficult. Jabo Ibehre has four goals so far and Ian Henderson has three, and Colchester average just a goal a game, which is always cause for concern. Colchester are in a bad way, and if things don’t improve they could very well be heading back to League 2 after eight years away.

CarlisleD- – Greg Abbott’s side are in deep trouble, and they could easily go down this year. Last season Carlisle finished a very respectable 8th, but the sale of star player Francois Zoko to Notts County meant a repeat this time round was unlikely. But there’s no way they could have predicted such a difficult season. It was the Cumbrians’ dreadful defence which cost them a play-off spot last season, but this year Carlisle have been chronic at the back. They have the worst defensive record in the league and have kept just one clean sheet in their first 22 games. United’s back four have been truly diabolical, but they’ve received little protection from the midfield. The defensive catastrophe puts a lot of pressure on forwards to counterbalance. 28 goals is a decent return for a team fighting relegation, but when the defence is so poor, there’s only so much the forwards can do. Carlisle will go down if Abbott can’t solve the defensive crisis.

PortsmouthE- – It’s never dull at Fratton Park, and this season possibly been the craziest so far in Portsmouth’s fight for stability. After relegation from the Championship the entire professional playing staff was forced out of the club in order to keep Portsmouth FC in business. Since then Pompey have relied on academy products, short term contracts and loans from other clubs. At first the team struggled to adapt, but towards the end of September Michael Appleton got his team to function. But Appleton, fatigued by off-field matters interfering with his coaching, left Portsmouth in November to take over at Championship Blackpool. Caretaker boss, Guy Wittingham, is still waiting for a first win in charge, but the club seems doomed to another relegation. They remain in administration and a 10 point deduction seems inevitable at some point in the season. Though good players such as Scott Allen, Ákos Buzsáky, Gyepes Gábor and Luke Rodgers have represented the club this season, and Izale McLeod has netted 10 times in the league already, the team doesn’t look unified. Portsmouth’s fans are taking control of the club’s finances, and it’s the club’s existence which matters most to them at the moment. On the field, relegation appears to be unavoidable.

BuryD- – Losing manager, Richie Barker, to Crawley shortly before the first game of the season was a bitter blow and it momentarily sent the Gigg Lane club into turmoil. Former Leeds and Sheffield United manager, Kevin Blackwell, took over from caretaker manager, Peter Shirtliff, eight winless games into the season. It wasn’t until October 23 that the Shakers recorded their first victory, with goals from Tom Hooper and David Worrall enough to defeat Hartlepool. They followed up this result with three wins in five games. They haven’t won yet in December but hope has been restored after a dreadful start. Steven Schumacher is still the leader of the team and an important influence as Bury try to drag themselves out of the mire. There are some very poor sides at the foot of the table, and Bury are by no means doomed.

ScunthorpeE – After a disappointing season last year, the Iron were hoping for a much stronger campaign from Alan Knill’s boys. What they got was a dreadful set of results and a managerial change. Four straight defeats at the start of the season set alarm bells ringing and although Scunthorpe recorded two wins and two draws in their next four games, the poor form soon returned and Alan Knill was sacked with the club third from bottom. Former manager, Brian Laws, took over and when he won his first two games, it appeared as though everything would better from then on. But since then, Scunthorpe have lost three games, including a damaging defeat against relegation rivals Bury. The 1-3 victory at Leyton Orient on December 15 gives Scunthorpe slight cause for optimism, but it still looks like being a very tough season. They’ve only taken six points at Glanford Park this season, and only Carlisle have conceded more goals in the division. Brian Laws has a tough job on his hands.

HartlepoolF- – Nightmares don’t get any worse than the one Hartlepool are suffering at the moment. With just one win and nine points in their first 22 games, the Monkey Hangers must already be preparing for life in League 2. Neale Cooper lost his job towards the end of October with the club rooted to the foot of the table. His replacement was John Hughes, who has improved the style of play at Hartlepool, but if anything the results have worsened. Hughes has picked up a solitary point since his arrival; a 1-1 away at Walsall. Hartlepool have by far the worst squad in the division, with a porous defence and strikers who can’t seem to score. 15 goals in 22 games is an appalling record by anybody’s standards, and they’ve only kept two clean sheets all season. As things stand the Pools don’t look confident or spirited enough to win games. They’re almost guaranteed to go down, and they’re doing it embarrassingly.

John Ward aims to get Rovers back to winning ways

John Ward is the latest manager appointed with the goal of getting Bristol Rovers back on track after some disappointing campaigns.

rovers badge

Mark McGhee lasted less than a year at the helm before he was dismissed with the Pirates in the League 2 relegation zone having lost eight out of their last ten games. The dismal 4-1 home defeat against York on Saturday was the final straw for chairman, Nick Higgs, who sacked McGhee, claiming he had to do so before it was too late.

Everybody associated with the club is fully aware of the seriousness of their current predicament. Rovers have been in the Football League for 92 years, but 18 points from 22 games means they face a fight to stay up.

A closer look at the club’s fortunes in recent years shows the problems at Rovers are deep-rooted. The current poor form is simply the latest stage in a two and a half year malaise which has existed since Paul Trollope’s time in charge.

Recent decline

Trollope is the most successful manager in the club’s recent history, and his five years at the helm are remembered fondly by fans. Under Trollope the Bristolians won promotion to League 1 via the play-offs, had some very respectable seasons in the third tier and performed well in cup competitions.

Unfortunately the party came to an end with a poor start to the 2010-11 season and ten days before Christmas 2010, Trollope was relieved of his duties. The aim was to ensure a continuation of League 1 football at the Memorial Stadium, however the second half of the season was chaotic.

Former Doncaster manager, Dave Penny, lasted just two disastrous months before being given the boot. Club legend and former captain, Stuart Campbell, was made player-manager for the remainder of the season but he too was unable to alter the Pirates’ poor form and the club was relegated after four seasons in League 1.

It had been a catastrophic season but Rovers were eager to put it behind them and achieve promotion back to the third tier at the first attempt. Paul Buckle, who had led Torquay to the League 2 play-off final just a few days earlier, acrimoniously left his post in Devon to join Rovers.

The young Buckle was widely seen as a great appointment and the perfect man to transform spirits at Rovers. Unfortunately Buckle failed to settle at the Memorial Stadium and by January 2012 he too was deemed surplus to requirement, with the club hovering above the League 2 relegation zone and playing miserably.

Mark McGhee kept Rovers up last season and had a positive effect on results but this was just a short respite for the Gasheads.

This season has been woeful for Rovers, beginning with a seven match winless streak, and they now sit 23rd with the leakiest defence in the division. The Pirates’ top players haven’t performed this season and McGhee admitted himself, performances have been embarrassing.

The job ahead for John Ward

John Ward takes over a club which is in gradual, but substantial decline, and his first job is inspiring not only the players but also the fans.

This is Ward’s second stint in charge of Rovers, but the club has changed considerably since he left in 1996.

Some Rovers fans are sceptical of Ward, with concerns raised he may not be the right man to turn things around. But Ward has a wealth of experience in the lower leagues and he has performed well at Cheltenham, Carlisle and Colchester.

Ward is a likable personality and a good motivator, and Rovers hope he can put these skills to good use and get Rovers out of the drop zone.

It’s a tough task but Ward has some talented players at his disposal who are capable of dragging the team up the league. With other clubs above them like AFC Wimbledon struggling, and matches against fellow strugglers Aldershot and Plymouth over the Christmas period, there’s no reason why Rovers can’t quickly climb up the league under Ward.

Can John Hughes save Hartlepool?

If there’s one club in the Football League that needs a lift it’s Hartlepool United.

The beleaguered Monkey Hangers are rock bottom of League 1, six points off 23rd place Shrewsbury and nine points off safety. The club’s only league win this season came on September 1 against Scunthorpe and on October 24 manager Neale Cooper resigned.

Phil Brown, Colin Cooper and even Sven Goran Eriksson were considered by the Pools but in the end they chose Livingston manager John Hughes.

Hughes has been linked with Hartlepool before and with the club in dire straits he’s decided to join. His only previous experience of working in the English league came at Swansea where he spent a short spell as a player in the 90s. He later went on to play for Celtic, Hibs and Falkirk in Scotland.

His managerial career has been mixed. He began as player-manager at Falkirk in 2003, hanging up his boots in 2005 after winning Scottish Division One and the Challenge Cup. In the SPL they overachieved and in the cups they excelled, finishing as Scottish Cup runners-up to Rangers in 2009 and qualifying twice for the Europa League. Hughes’ Falkirk team were highly praised, not just for their comparatively high league finishes, but also for their aesthetically pleasing passing style.

In 2009 Hughes left Falkirk to join his hometown club, Hibernian. The Edinburgh club expected great things from Hughes, and the Scottish media looked forward to seeing Hughes prove himself at a bigger club. His first season ended in Europa League qualification and a 4th place finish, six points ahead of hated rivals Hearts. His second season started poorly and the fans quickly turned on his bungling side when it became apparent Hibs were in a relegation battle.

He’s been at Livingston for less than a year and in that time he’s struggled to motivate the team. Livingstone are thought to have one of the best squads in the division but they’re currently stuck in mid-table.

In truth, although Hartlepool are in huge trouble at the foot of League 1, the manager’s job has become available at a good time for Hughes. Thing had gone stale in Scotland and Livingston fans were ambivalent about his departure. It was now or never if he was going to test himself in England.

What can he do?

So what awaits Hughes at Hartlepool? Probably the biggest challenge of his football career.

Morale is predictably low and Hartlepool have huge problems at both ends of the pitch.

In most games this season the Pools defence has looked decidedly shaky and increasingly nervous. Only Carlisle have conceded more goals and the Hartlepool defence has developed a worrying trend of dropping too deep and panicking whenever their opponents are on the ball.

The defenders’ jobs are made harder by a midfield that struggles to hold onto the ball and lacks any sort of creativity.

When midfielders aren’t creating chances, life is difficult for the strikers. Life is particularly difficult for Hartlepool’s mishmash strike-force. Youngsters Franks and Poole have seriously struggled for confidence in a losing team and veteran Steve Howard, back at his first club, has looked way past his sell-by date.

Will he be able to save Hartlepool from relegation?

Hughes is a manager that’s often spoken about long-term aims and building success over several seasons. This was how he flourished at Falkirk, and it may explain why he didn’t last at Hibernian or Livingston. But Hartlepool don’t need a long-term project, they need a quick fix. They need results to change drastically before they lose sight of the other 23 teams in the division.

I don’t give Hartlepool much hope for the rest of the season. They have one of the worst squads in the division and their league position is a fair reflection of their performances. More than anything I don’t see any individual in the squad that can raise their game and lead the charge towards safety.

I wish John Hughes all the best because as a football purist that encourages passing football, he’s the kind of man we need to see working in the Football League. Unfortunately I don’t think he’ll have enough time to turn things around at Hartlepool and save them from relegation.

Why is Freedman leaving Palace?

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As I write this Crystal Palace are preparing for their away game at Barnsley, knowing that Dougie Freedman won’t be on the touchline. Instead he’ll be in Wolverhampton, watching his new team, Bolton Wanderers at Molineux.

Many Palace fans will feel deeply hurt by Freedman’s decision to leave the club with the team riding high, 4th in Championship and just two points off the top spot.

His decision to leave was surprising because having worked hard over the past two years on a very limited budget he’d managed to build a unified, formidable side that looked set to challenge for a place in the Premier League.

Freedman’s transformed Palace from relegation favourites to promotion chasers and also took them within a penalty shoot-out of Wembley in last season’s League Cup.

At any other point in his managerial tenure nobody would have blamed him for leaving the cash-strapped Londoners for a “bigger club.” But now seems a strange time to make the switch from Palace in 4th to Bolton in 16th.

Under Freedman the Eagles have shown great maturity, style and determination following a poor start to the season. They lost their first three games but turned it around, winning six and drawing just twice in their unbeaten surge up the Championship table.

Bolton on the other hand have struggled to adapt to life in the Championship after a painful final-day relegation from the Premier League last season. At times the Trotters have looked promising but all too often they’ve disappointed. Results under Owen Coyle were inconsistent and it’s easy to see why the Bolton board wanted a replacement.

It’s obvious why Bolton have gone for Freedman. He’s worked wonders at Palace with limited funds and a small squad. He’s been very astute in the transfer market, something that couldn’t always be said of Coyle. Freedman’s also shown plenty of faith in youngsters and appears to be a talented man-manager.

So why has Freedman gone to Bolton?

Yes, Bolton are a bigger club than Palace (though I’m sure many Palace fans would disagree with me), Freedman will probably get more funds to work with at Bolton than he received at Palace and I think it’s fair to say that the Bolton squad, on paper at least, looks stronger than Palace’s.

But I can’t be the only one struggling to understand the timing of Freedman’s departure. He’s left just when his carefully moulded team’s clicked and began turning heads. It’s like spending two years building a model aeroplane then throwing it away before even playing with it.

Freedman has the materials at his disposal at Bolton to get promoted this season and to accomplish more in the long-term than he ever could at Palace.

Having said that, wouldn’t it have looked better on his CV had he taken his carefully nurtured Palace squad into the Premier League? In my opinion promotion with Palace this season, or even a top-6 finish would have triggered job offers from Premier League clubs.

I understand why Crystal Palace fans would be slightly confused by Freedman’s departure but I sincerely hope they remember his enormous contribution to their club over the years. Fans will greet his move with sadness and anger but in the long run I hope they can forgive him because despite his questionable decision to leave Selhurst Park, he’s done enough to merit a warm welcome when he returns there in January.

And who’s to say with the right appointment, Palace’s new manager can’t carry on Freedman’s good work?