Championship managers feel the heat

PUBLISHED: 10:23 06 September 2010 | UPDATED: 17:31 10 September 2010

Norwich City boss Paul Lambert is one of the few managers in the Championship not looking over his shoulder.

Norwich City boss Paul Lambert is one of the few managers in the Championship not looking over his shoulder.

Chris Lakey

Steve Coppell was the first, Kevin Blackwell the most recent, but they won't be the only casualties this season as English football attempts to shorten the career-span of their managers.

Steve Coppell was the first, Kevin Blackwell the most recent, but they won't be the only casualties this season as English football attempts to shorten the career-span of their managers.

Remember when David McNally explained the sacking of Bryan Gunn after just one league game last August by talking in percentages?

“It sounds daft in the middle of August, but we have already used up four per cent of the season,” he said. “Every game that goes on is another two point whatever per cent so we needed to act with a real sense of urgency.”

It made headlines everywhere you looked, but Blackwell's sacking by Sheffield United after two games raised nowhere near as many eyebrows.

Perhaps it's becoming too much of a norm, but managers are becoming increasingly dispensable.

Paul Lambert has called it “a tough, tough job, really hard”, and regularly suggests that a couple of defeats and he could be on the dole, although you suspect his year in office has given him a longer shelf life.

Whatever, the job is a precarious one, and even now, midway through the enforced break because of internationals, the speculation is over who will be next.

The odds are determined largely by the position a manager has managed to acquire for himself in the early stages of the season.

And you don't have to be in the bottom three to qualify: in League One, Southampton parted company with Alan Pardew after a 4-0 away win which took them to mid-table. Not great, but not awful.

However, our interests are with the Championship, where managerial futures aren't exactly helped by the wide range of clubs with genuine claims this season.

It's a worn-out cliche, but any one of, what, a dozen or more clubs could be in with a shout.

So, with four games already gone, and another 42 to go, who's doing what, and why?

Of the top half dozen sides - QPR, Cardiff, Ipswich, Millwall, Burnley and Leeds - only two are a little surprising.

Millwall were seen by more than a few to be the weakest of the three teams that came up, while Leeds were considered more favourably than the Canaries for some reason.

The fact that City are one place off, in seventh, suggests that either the League One promotion race last season was better than many believed, or that the respective managers have bought well during the summer. Or both.

QPR clearly have money to spend, whether their supporters like that mentioned as a reason behind their early success or not, and in Neil Warnock they have a good manager.

Like him or not, he knows this part of the football ladder pretty well - and he's brought in some familiar faces who are equally au fait with the Championship.

Add to that one of the most exciting talents in the division, Adel Taraabt and he has a powerful squad.

Cardiff and Ipswich, like QPR, are on 12 points, but you do feel their respective managers, Dave Jones and Roy Keane, are under the sort of pressure which isn't reflected by those positions.

Jones has made the highest profile signing of the summer in Craig Bellamy, but the financial restrictions and associated controversy at the Welsh club taint everything it does.

Keane didn't come up with the goods last season, and owner Marcus Evans appears to be too close for comfort to a few potential successors.

If Town aren't up there at the turn of the year, you fear for Keane.

Millwall are a surprise package, but their formidable home advantage will always be a major factor, while Burnley are nicely placed, and have money to spend if necessary - and that's going to be key between now and the second stage of the season.

This period between transfer windows is a crucial one for clubs and managers.

Big decisions have to be made in January and clubs will demand their managers make the right ones - if they make it that far.

It's the time of the year when the picture appears to be a little more clear.

There are several scenarios facing a manager: you're well placed for promotion; you're on the fringes; you're not going up or down; you're in a relegation battle.

1: You add a little bit of help here and there, possibly not too much because you don't want to disrupt. Then you spend the second half of the season under immense pressure to stay at the top.

2: You definitely need a hand to elbow your way past other contenders and into the thick of the race. You need to spend the money wisely. If you don't you could screw up your chances and end up and also-ran. And on the dole.

3: Middle of the table and an uninspiring four months on the cards. Perhaps the owners will give a new man the chance to bed in for next season.

4: You need help to get you out of a mess, but as you're the one who is responsible for that mess then perhaps you'll have been replaced already. If not now, then maybe the end of the season.

Four situations and in each one the manager is under pressure.

If, like Millwall, where Kenny Jackett is perhaps over-achieving, then he's safer than, say Simon Grayson at Leeds, where expectations are much higher.

And what of Carrow Road, where Lambert is king and can do no wrong?

Expectations are high, but surely not significantly higher than most clubs of City's size.

Lambert has started the season well. City have improved since day one when they looked tentative and a little out of their depth.

Fast forward to game four and a team with just three changes were unfortunate to leave last year's third-placed team, Nottingham Forest, with just a point for their efforts.

City's football was strong and disciplined, but at the same time measured, calculated and accurate.

It flowed, but it was rugged when it needed to be. It looked good.

Lambert's only incursion into the transfer market was to bring Leon Barnett in because of injury to Michael Nelson.

Otherwise, he has kept faith with those who have served him well - and perhaps that faith is being repaid by the players.

His decision to act quickly in the transfer market back in June and July meant there are few strangers in his squad: it has bedded in quickly after the initial teething problem.

Too much too quickly can be problematic, which is where we cast our eyes down the table and see some names we surely expected to see at the other end.

Portsmouth are in troubled times, but 10 of the 11 players who started their last game - a 2-0 home defeat by Cardiff - appeared in the Premier League last season.

If you want a quick comparison, City had just one - Andrew Surman. Pompey appointed Steve Cotterill as manager in the summer after Avram Grant left for West Ham: it was arguably the hardest job in the division.

Leicester's should have been one of the better ones, considering that Nigel Pearson took them into the play-offs last season before making the still questionable decision to move to Hull City.

Paulo Sousa left Swansea to take over, but he has struggled: the Foxes are second bottom, against all odds, and Sousa's job is on the line.

Other “big name” clubs struggling to get going are Crystal Palace, Forest, Hull and Middlesbrough.

George Burley has taken over at Palace where money matters are also too close for comfort, although the lifting of a transfer embargo and a takeover by a consortium of wealthy fans does mean the ex-Ipswich boss is starting from scratch.

Forest boss Davies is favourite to be Championship manager number three to leave his job: his habit of speaking his mind doesn't always sit well with those in control and combined with a shaky start, means he could be worth a flutter.

Pearson is struggling at Hull, where the Premier League is but a memory as money problems hit home: players have left for pastures new and Jimmy Bullard - arguably the best in the division - couldn't get a game because they wanted to flog him.

They didn't, and now they may finally decide to play him and get a return on their £45,000 a week salary.

Perhaps the most high-profile manager in the division is Gordon Strachan, whose chairman at Middlesbrough, Steve Gibson is likely to stand by his man, even though the money he splashed out over the summer isn't gaining much in the way of immediate returns.

Four points from four games has left them in that middling area which, if they stay there, becomes increasingly distant from the business end.

The truth is, of course, that if you're in Middlesbrough's position, you may well need a couple of wins and one or two other results to go your way and suddenly you're in the play-off positions.

It's early doors, as football folk like to say, but McNally's words are true. Dropped points can't be retrieved.

The ones lost now could prove to be the difference between going up and staying down - or worse.

Look at May 2 - Blackpool beat Cardiff, Swansea drew at home to Doncaster.

Blackpool finished sixth, a point ahead of the Swans, went on to win the play-offs and are now in the Premier League, having banked upwards of £60m in the process.

t THE SACK RACE

Billy Davies (Nott'm Forest) 3/1

Gordon Strachan (Boro) 4/1

Steve Cotterill (Portsmouth) 8/1

Brian McDermott (Reading) 8/1

Keith Millen (Bristol City) 9/1

Darren Ferguson (Preston) 9/1

Paulo Sousa (Leicester) 10/1

Malky Mackay (Watford) 12/1

Mark Robins (Barnsley) 14/1

Nigel Adkins (Scunthorpe) 14/1

Nigel Clough (Derby) 14/1

Simon Grayson (Leeds) 16/1

George Burley (C Palace) 16/1

Nigel Pearson (Hull) 16/1

Aidy Bothroyd (Coventry) 18/1

Gary Speed (Sheff United) 18/1

Kenny Jackett (Millwall) 20/1

Sean O'Driscoll (Doncaster) 20/1

Paul Lambert (Norwich) 20/1

Roy Keane (Ipswich) 20/1

Brian Laws (Burnley) 22/1

Brendan Rodgers (Swansea) 25/1

Neil Warnock (QPR) 25/1

Dave Jones (Cardiff) 25/1

t LONGEST SERVING MANAGERS

Dave Jones (Cardiff) 25/05/05

Sean O'Driscoll (Doncaster) 08/09/06

Nigel Adkins (Scunthorpe) 07/12/09

Kenny Jackett (Millwall) 06/11/07

Simon Grayson (Leeds) 23/12/08

Billy Davies (Nottm Forest) 31/12/08

Nigel Clough (Derby) 08/01/09

Roy Keane (Ipswich) 23/04/09

Malky Mackay (Watford) 15/06/09

Paul Lambert (Norwich) 18/08/09

Mark Robins (Barnsley) 09/09/09

Gordon Strachan (Boro) 26/10/09

Brian McDermott (Reading) 01/12/09

Darren Ferguson (Preston) 06/01/10

Brian Laws (Burnley) 13/01/10

Neil Warnock (QPR) 02/03/10

Aidy Boothroyd (Coventry) 20/05/10

George Burley (C Palace) 17/06/10

Steve Cotterill (Portsmouth) 17/06/10

Nigel Pearson (Hull) 29/06/10

Paulo Sousa (Leicester) 07/07/10

Brendan Rodgers (Swansea) 16/07/10

Keith Millen (Bristol City) 12/08/10

Gary Speed (Sheffield Utd) 17/08/10

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