WHEN Manchester City were knocked out of the FA Cup by Nottingham Forest two weeks ago, more than one newspaper suggested manager Mark Hughes was on the verge of being sacked.
This was patently nonsense. Even a club with City’s flair for the unexpected wouldn’t fire their manager 24 hours after allowing him to spend £10million on a left-back.
Nonetheless, there’s barely a week goes by – barely a day, in fact – when one manager or another isn’t having to deal with reports that their job is on the line.
It’s almost as if English league football management has become some hideous never-ending version of The Apprentice. Every week, two or three managers are lined up to be fired, and maybe one of them will go.
But instead of reducing the number of contestants week by week until Sir Alan Sugar picks the wrong winner, who promptly fades into obscurity while one of the runners-up gets their own TV show, we get replacements coming in for the sacked bosses, and the whole thing goes round in circles.
(On that note, a big hello to Jimmy Mullen, who managed to get sacked by Walsall last weekend after their League One home game against Brighton was postponed. As plot twists go, that blows out of the water anything Sir Alan could have come up with.)
Last week, Luiz Felipe Scolari looked set for the chop. But then Chelsea came from behind to beat both Southend and Stoke, so everything’s OK again (leaving Roman Abramovich to concentrate on threatening the Sunday Times with legal action). This week, the names up for eviction are Middlesbrough’s Gareth Southgate and Newcastle’s Joe Kinnear.
(Feel free to add your own team’s manager if you’ve been feeling particularly grumpy this weekend.)
Last night’s final match: West Brom 3 Middlesbrough 0
Commentator: Dan O’Hagan
Middlesbrough have picked up four points from their last 10 matches, have dropped into the Premier League relegation zone after the Sunday fixtures, and so have become commonly known as Middlesbrough-are-in-freefall.
Yesterday’s 3-0 defeat at West Brom – courtesy of two slightly flukey deflected goals and a Robert Koren finish from Chris Brunt’s wonderful defence-splitting pass – forced Southgate to face the following question: Did he think chairman Steve Gibson might consider a change of manager?
“If Steve thinks there needs to be change, he will make a change,” Southgate said. “I could have no complaints if he did based on the results we have had.”
Several commentators have pointed out that Gibson stuck by Southgate when Boro had an equally dodgy run last season.
And it’s also worth pointing out that Gibson stuck by Bryan Robson even after he managed to get an expensively-assembled side relegated from the Premier League 12 years ago.
But the strange thing is that if Boro win at Wolves in the FA Cup next Saturday, he will no longer face questions about his future, as there will be another manager up for eviction instead.
While Boro are struggling in the Premier League, they are at least thriving on the Gubbometer, thanks to the first double of the season – their home game against West Brom was also last on Match of the Day back in September. And they lost that one too, also without scoring.
So cheer up, Gareth. At least there’s one league table where Boro are in the running to finish top.
1. Fulham: 6 (GD: +1; CD: +1)
2. Middlesbrough: 6 (GD: 0; CD: +1)
3. Wigan: 5 (GD: 0; CD: +2)
4. West Brom: 5 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
5. Capello: 4 (GD: +1; CD: +4)
6=. Blackburn: 4 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
6=. Bolton: 4 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
8. Stoke: 3 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
9. West Ham: 2 (GD: 0; CD: +2)
10. Newcastle: 2 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
11=. Gubba: 1 (GD: +1; CD: +1)
11=. Manchester City: 1 (GD: +1; CD +1)
13. Portsmouth: 1 (GD: 0; CD: +1)
14=. Arsenal: 1 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
14=. Everton: 1 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
14=. Hull: 1 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
14=. Sunderland: 1 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
14=. Tottenham: 1 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
19=. Aston Villa: 0
19=. Chelsea: 0
19=. Liverpool: 0
19=. Manchester United: 0
(NB: Teams level on points will be separated by Gubba difference: the number of times a team is last on Match of the Day with Tony Gubba commentating. If they are still level, they will be separated by Capello difference: the number of times a team is last on MOTD with Fabio Capello present.)