Saturday 26 May 2018

Outside the Box: 'Sack race' stats show that it's not all down to the manager

Chelsea players celebrate Pedro’s goal in their victory over Sunderland in the first game since Jose Mourinho was sacked Photo:Reuters
Chelsea players celebrate Pedro’s goal in their victory over Sunderland in the first game since Jose Mourinho was sacked Photo:Reuters
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

After several seasons of discontent, he brought the club back closer to where they felt they belonged courtesy of a league title won playing with a swagger that had been missing for a few years.

One or two players were sold or not signed and went on to be huge successes elsewhere, but optimism was still high going into the season. A sluggish start meant he was living off last season's results a little, before a brief revival gave hope that everything would be fine.

This, however, proved to be a false dawn and, on Thursday, to the sadness of many supporters, the special one was gone as John Still was sacked by Luton Town. A few hours later, Jose Mourinho was sacked by Chelsea, although "sacked" didn't feature in either club statement.

In much the same way that, technically, it would be a mutual decision for one person to jump off a cliff seconds before another pushes them off, both statements mentioned "mutual consent" in the opening paragraph.

Both feature the word "immense" regarding the contribution of the two managers and the template similarities didn't end there.

Luton: "The Hatters' Board felt, with a heavy heart, that a change in manager was necessary in order to turn around the team's fortunes."

Chelsea: "Both Jose and the board agreed results have not been good enough this season and believe it is in the best interests of both parties to go our separate ways."

Luton: "In a short space of time, after years of built-up tension and irritation on the terraces, John instilled a confidence into the team and pride back to the Club and the supporters. And that is a feat too immense to quantify. Thank you, John."

Chelsea: "Always remain a much-loved, respected and significant figure at Chelsea ... he will always be warmly welcomed back to Stamford Bridge."

On Saturday, Chelsea, so it would seem, were freed from the tyranny of Mourinho with a performance of such vigour it could be construed that they had been playing with fear for the past few months. Or, perhaps, it was just that they were playing Sunderland.

Luton's game against Exeter seemed to be going the way of so many others this season when they were 2-0 up after 70 minutes and level 11 minutes later.

This, after all, being the team that were 2-0 up at Yeovil in August and lost 3-2 (that is one of Yeovil's two wins from 22 games); came back from 2-0 down against Notts County in September then lost 3-2 in injury time; 3-1 up at home to Carlisle after 65 minutes and lost 4-3 and, in Still's final game against Northampton last week, leading 1-0, losing 3-1, drawing 3-3 then lost 4-3.

So when nine minutes of injury time were announced at Exeter, there seemed to be only one team that would win it. Instead, in the 100th minute, Paul Benson scored for Luton and, like Chelsea, hope sprang eternal.


No doubt, other clubs will have taken note at the apparent revival in fortune that comes with sacking a manger but, this season, victories after sacking a manager have been very much the exception.

Of the 92 clubs in England's four divisions, a staggering 27 of them have changed managers in the opening four months of the season.

Of those 27, just five teams have won the first game after a manager departed and even that comes with an asterisk as Walsall won after Dean Smith left to take over at Brentford with the players seemingly keen to prove that the manager wasn't the sole reason for their good start.

Peterborough were the first club to sack their manager when Dave Robertson departed on September 6, with the three-year deal he signed in the summer not proving to be worth much.

Robertson left Peterborough 20th in League One having lost four out of their opening six games and must have felt much the same way as Mourinho and Still did on Saturday when he saw Posh thump Oldham 5-1 in the first game after his departure. They have lost only four out of 18 since and now lie sixth.

Losing 5-1 at home proved to be the end for Oldham manager Darren Kelly, who lasted just nine games into a two-year deal and their season is far more typical of what happens when a manager is sacked.

Kelly left when Oldham were 19th in the table with one win from seven. They have two wins from their next 14 and are three places worse off than they were while he was in charge.

Oldham drew the first game after Kelly's departure - one of eight clubs to do that this season after a manager left - but are showing that the solution isn't just as simple as getting rid of the man in charge.

For every revival like the one at Peterborough under Graham Westley or Brentford under Smith or Swindon after Mark Cooper's departure (12 points from 13 when he was there, 16 from nine since), there are others like Fleetwood, Sunderland, Aston Villa or York where, it turns out, the team just aren't very good.

Sam Allardyce hasn't mentioned his template to avoid relegation much now that Sunderland are five points off safety, Aston Villa are inching towards improving Tim Sherwood's record of four points from 10 with three points from seven since while, further down, York's players had the decency not to show up Russ Wilcox when they lost eight in a row after he was sacked.

Dean Saunders was sacked at Chesterfield when they were 16th (they are now 18th), Graham Alexander's Fleetwood had nine points from 10 and they've rocketed to 12 in 11 since, while Fulham sacked Kit Symonds due to the "higher level of success that we expect from our manager and our players". They were 12th then, they are now 18th.

Fourteen of the 27 clubs who sacked their manager this season lost the next game, but that won't matter to the chairmen who saw the results involving Chelsea and Luton this weekend and think their club could do the same.

They could, but more often than not, they won't.

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