Wednesday 15 August 2018

Aidan O'Hara: Relegation scrappers simply reaping what they have sowed

Southampton manager Mark Hughes. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Southampton manager Mark Hughes. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

In most seasons, there is a team in the Premier League's relegation scrap at this time of the year that supporters of other clubs would like to see stay up.

This time, it's probably Crystal Palace with players including Wilfried Zaha and Yohan Cabaye, a decent style of football and a manager who, beyond those at Liverpool who still dislike him for his time there, comes across pretty well.

After five games of the campaign, Palace had no points and sacked Frank De Boer. Roy Hodgson will never be a particularly sexy choice but at least his recent record at Premier League level stood up to scrutiny.

At West Brom, Hodgson had picked up 47 points to finish the 2011-2012 season, finishing 10th before getting the England job.

That stint in international management was a stain on his record which, just like Liverpool, probably proved he hasn't got the required capabilities to thrive under the scrutiny that comes with taking the helm of a high-profile tea,. Crystal Palace, on the other hand, suited him perfectly.

Compare his record at that level to the three managers who find themselves in the relegation zone and it's one of the reasons why it's so difficult to have much sympathy for West Brom, Stoke City or Southampton.

There's a line in Shawshank Redemption when a young inmate lists the prisons he has been in before being interrupted by Andy Dufresne.

"Perhaps it's time you tried a new profession," suggests Andy. "You're obviously not a very good thief."

By opting for Alan Pardew and Mark Hughes, West Brom and Southampton went with managers who, as the press release to herald their appointment might say "have vast Premier League experience". That, however, is the same reason that young Tommy in Shawshank has vast knowledge of prisons.

Before being sacked by Crystal Palace at the end of 2016, Pardew had overseen a run of one win in 11 games and a total of 26 points won from 108 available in the calendar year.

In the middle of that came the FA Cup final defeat to Manchester United which was heartbreaking enough for Palace fans without having to put up with endless repeats of their mid-50s manager dancing like something from a bad MTV video after Palace had taken the lead. Despite all of that, somebody in West Brom felt he was the one for them.

Not all of it is Pardew's fault and there's a real danger that, having sacked Tony Pulis, West Brom may go a similar way to Charlton under Alan Curbishley when the impression was created that the manager had taken them as far as he could. In part, that was true but ignored the reality that the direction they were more likely to go was down.

Bleak

Last month, West Brom chief executive Mark Jenkins painted a bleak picture for the future, which contrasts with the much-touted notion that the club simply need a year or so in the Championship to sort themselves out.

"We have wages, transfer fees and loan fees running at record levels and yet we find ourselves in this position," revealed Jenkins. "There is no more money for wages."

Some of those wages have gone on Grzegorz Krychowiak, who the club have paid £110,000-a-week this season while he is on loan from Paris St Germain, and James Morrison, who is earning £80,000-a-week.

Morrison might be a decent player, he might even be a lovely bloke, but if that's a barometer, it's little wonder that things have unravelled so quickly. Mick McCarthy is the bookies' favourite to replace Pardew but, having endured fire-fighting jobs for so much of his career, would want to do plenty of homework.

Southampton might have the excuse of several seasons losing managers and selling their best players, but the choice of Mark Hughes to revive a flagging squad was strange given that already this season, at Stoke, he had helped bring a club into a relegation battle.

Their two most recent fixtures looked difficult on paper but, against Arsenal and Chelsea, Southampton found different ways to lose by the same scoreline, 3-2, despite both opponents having precious little to play for.

As Newcastle showed yesterday, Arsenal have given up on this season's league yet Southampton contrived to both take the lead at the Emirates and then score a late equaliser to gain some momentum but still come away with no points.

On Saturday, again against a team of players who look to have stopped listening to their manager, they couldn't take anything from being 2-0 up at home to Chelsea. The players have certainly got the club into this mess, but they don't seem to have a manager who can help get them out of it.

Had they tried a little bit harder to get Martin O'Neill, it's difficult to believe that Stoke could be any worse off than they now are under Paul Lambert which - after one win in 10 and with an inferior goal difference - means they need seven more points than Swansea over the final five games.

Like Hughes and Pardew, it's impossible to blame Lambert for accepting the job but, again, it's baffling that a manager last seen in the Premier League leaving Aston Villa 18th in the table three years ago was deemed to be the best man they could find.

Yesterday at Old Trafford, West Brom, under Darren Moore, earned their fourth point in two games - the same tally as Pardew managed in the previous 11.

It was a performance of energy and organisation under a manager with something to prove and to whom the players were committed. Everyone at the club, and at Stoke and Southampton, must wish they'd tried it a little sooner.

Irish Independent

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