1 March ~ It has been a tough few weeks for managers of clubs in League One's play-off pack. First Lee Clark was sacked from Huddersfield Town and now Gary Megson has lost his job at Hillsborough, despite leading Wednesday to a 1-0 victory over Sheffield United on Sunday. The departures have been met with widespread surprise across the football world. How can managers be sacked when their teams are within striking distance of automatic promotion? Closer to home, the announcements have been greeted with less shock.
Clark led Huddersfield to the League One play-offs last year and the season before. This term his side had been defeated just three times and set a new Football League record for 43 consecutive unbeaten games.
Therein lay the problem for Huddersfield's chairman, Dean Hoyle. Despite breaking records and receiving plaudits, Huddersfield were still only fourth in League One, with their chances of promotion uncertain. Clark's dismissal was applauded by many Huddersfield fans.
Gary Megson's tenure at Hillsborough has been shorter and his sacking met with more divided opinion among the club's fans. When he replaced Alan Irvine as Wednesday manager last February, the Owls were 12th in League One and falling fast. A final position of 15th showed just how poor Wednesday's team were and yet another summer of player upheaval began.
Despite taking Wednesday to second by January this year, Megson complained about the lack of transfer activity. While their promotion rivals Sheffield United, Charlton, Huddersfield and MK Dons all strengthened, Wednesday were weakened by their inability to keep key loan signings. Megson indirectly pointed the finger at those above him, which will not have gone unnoticed by his bosses, particularly at a time when Milan Mandaric was on trial for tax evasion.
A run of four defeats in a row, including a 1-0 loss at local rivals Chesterfield, who are bottom of the league, severely damaged Wednesday's automatic promotion hopes and left Megson on the brink. Had it not been for Wednesday's win over United on Sunday, it is unlikely this sacking would have been met with any shock at all. Last night's announcement was made just as United took the lead against Scunthorpe and extended their lead over Wednesday to five points.
It is hard to see what a new manager could do to get Wednesday into the automatic promotion places this season. If United win their other game in hand, the gap between the clubs will be eight points with only 13 matches left. Taking Wednesday from lower mid-table to third was not enough for a chairman whose goal is to get the club promoted, increase their value and sell them on for a profit, risking as little as possible in investment in the process.
Suggested replacements for Megson so far include Dave Jones, who reportedly had a meeting with Mandaric last week, Mick McCarthy, Paul Ince, Paolo di Canio and Sean O'Driscoll. Whoever is appointed, nothing short of promotion this season will ease the pressure of Mandaric's quick trigger finger in the Hillsborough boardroom. Tom Hocking