Tag Archives: new manager

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.

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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.

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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.