13 January ~ After six months at Stockport County, Paul Simpson became another of this season's managerial casualties on January 4. More worrying for the fans is that the club’s fate hangs in the balance again. When given the job last July Simpson said finishing third from bottom in League Two would constitute a successful season. Many supporters didn’t know until much later that the finances to achieve a mid-table position simply weren’t there, with Simpson having to assemble a side of unwanted journeymen and loan signings.
Avoiding relegation would now represent a huge success – at the moment we’re fourth from bottom. In this sense, Simpson was exceeding his own expectations. Nevertheless, the sacking was the right decision.
Simpson’s desperate signings, such as the error-prone defender Mansour Assoumani, wasted precious resources and, in one case, brought embarrassment – Irish striker Barry Conlon was sacked after his second conviction for drink-driving in December. Meanwhile, heavy defeats became alarmingly frequent, with 5-0 losses at home to fellow relegation candidates Hereford and high-flying rivals Port Vale.
Another 5-0 hammering, away to strugglers Morecambe, was soon followed by a woeful 2-0 defeat in the reverse fixture last Monday. Playing Assoumani as a makeshift striker was, along with five wins all season, the final straw.
Many argue Simpson should have been given more time, but the club couldn’t afford that. A side regularly losing heavily and Simpson’s long-ball style were turning off supporters by their hundreds.
While divided over Simpson, supporters agreed the only man to replace him was former manager Jim Gannon, who saved the club from relegation from the Football League in 2006 with a final-day draw against Carlisle. Coincidentally, Simpson was player-manager that day and led Carlisle to League One as champions. Of course, Gannon is now manager of Port Vale.
Caretaker-manager Peter Ward immediately brought in four loan players, including former striker Anthony Elding, and Blackpool’s Ishmel Demontagnac and Stephen Husband. But on the field it was the same story, his first game a 5-1 defeat at home to Gillingham. Tuesday’s performance brought some hope – a thrilling 3-3 home draw against Rotherham. Leading 3-1 with six minutes to go after playing attractive and attacking football, nerves cost us. Demontagnac and Holland scored the goals.
Ward has since applied for the position, with the Rotherham performance helping his cause. A win against Hereford on Saturday could earn him the job. Yet the pressure will be enormous: this would be Ward’s first official managerial post. If he saves the club then, like Gannon, he will be given hero status. But whoever is in charge when we face Gannon’s Port Vale in April – a game that could have huge significance – the next permanent appointment is arguably the most important in the club’s history. David Meller