Championship sack race: Norwich, Derby and Wigan join managerial merry-go-round but Lee Johnson wins reprieve at Bristol City
With several Championship clubs opting to replace their manager in recent weeks, Sky Sports football reporter Michelle Owen explores why they have chosen now as the time for a change in the dugout.
The Championship is often labelled as the toughest league to get out of. The fixture schedule is relentless and recently it seems like the managerial merry-go-round has been in full swing. There have been some mind-boggling dismissals. Gary Rowett is the one that sticks in my mind most, but three in the space of a few days has added to the discussion.
Alex Neil, Steve McClaren and Warren Joyce all had a rotten weekend and were given the boot. It would seem there is something in the air. I saw a stat that showed 25% of clubs in England’s top four divisions have changed managers in the last 100 days – an incredibly high proportion.
The timing of Neil’s dismissal took me by surprise. Why did Norwich let him conduct the press conference in the afternoon and take the team for training in the week? It is no secret the club’s ambition was promotion but it was apparently not due to the club’s form that Neil got sacked. Delia Smith warmly embraced him after beating Cardiff City a few weeks ago… How quickly everything can change.
Smith, Neil and the board are reported to have clashed over the club’s future direction and concerns over some of his signings. Steven Naismith and Alex Pritchard being two that have under-performed. Neil was touted as one of the most promising young managers in the game. He is now joining a raft of managers looking for a new job.
McClaren got the sack from Derby for the second time this week. Chairman Mel Morris said the club needs a manager who “shares our values and is prepared to develop the team.” I was taken aback by his dismissal as he has only been there five months. When McClaren took over the club were in the bottom four. He pulled them out of danger and they even started to push up the table. It has only been recently that results have begun to drop away. I believe he had planned a major overhaul of playing staff in the summer. However, Morris is not known for his patience having presided over four managers in just over a year.
As for Joyce, Wigan had to beat Bristol City for the former Manchester United Under-21 boss to keep his job. He had won just one of 24 matches since taking charge in November. There are just nine games left in the Championship so the person coming in is going to have to have some impact. The Latics sit second from bottom and four points from safety.
These three sackings have made fans at Bristol City question why their manager remains. The man in charge, Lee Johnson, has had a tough time of it. It all started so well. In the early part of the season City found themselves in the play-off places but gradually slipped down the table.
If it wasn’t for those early points they’d be in a position more similar to lowly Rotherham. Their win against fellow strugglers Wigan at the weekend was the proverbial six-pointer. They had not won on the road since September and the three points moved them out of the relegation zone on goal difference.
Bristol City 0 Fleetwood 0 How to describe that? Dire. Dull. Slow. Unimaginative. Credit to the Fleetwood fans who didn’t stop singing.
— Michelle Owen (@MichelleOwen7) January 7, 2017
Johnson has been under immense pressure. In January, I tweeted that City were dire and uninspiring in their goalless FA Cup draw with Fleetwood. A week later, after City lost the Severnside derby, Johnson commented that he had seen my tweet about their performance against Reading – but he meant my post regarding the Cup match.
I knew he must be referring to the Cup tie because City played well against Reading but simply crumpled in the final moments. However, I can only think he was surprised I had criticised their play and now he jokes before we do post-match interviews that I should “be nice!”
If he thinks I was critical (and that is the only time I have tweeted about the team’s performance being so poor) he hasn’t seen some comments from City fans! However, I really like Johnson; I believe him when he says how much he cares about the club and that this is his dream job. I have no doubt he is doing it to the best of his ability and changes in the staff have been made which may aid him going forward.
I can’t see him going anywhere now these changes have been made. Credit to the owners for sticking by their man. However, the teams around them have appointed new managers – Tony Mowbray at Blackburn and also Mark Warburton at Nottingham Forest. We will only know if the loyalty to Johnson will be wise come the end of the season.
Change for the better
Being a manager does seem to be a thankless task a lot of time. No matter what contract is signed no one is safe. But this is football, and it seems the lure of adrenaline on a Saturday afternoon is too much to resist for many.
Indeed, one managerial change that seems to be working out nicely is the appointment of the man who just keeps coming out of ‘retirement’: Neil Warnock, who has gone to Cardiff City. Predecessor Paul Trollope had taken just eight points from 11 games. Warnock has now signed a long-term deal with the Bluebirds. He has hauled them up the table and believes promotion is a real prospect for next year.
His trademark is pulling teams out of trouble but he has achieved promotion to the Premier League before. It will be interesting to see if he can achieve it again in South Wales. In his own words, on the good days, it is more exciting than sitting on his tractor in Cornwall!
You can follow Michelle on Twitter at @MichelleOwen7
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