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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Last Roll of the Dice

After struggling Leyton Orient replace boss Geraint Williams with Russell Slade, Nobes examines changing managers late on in the season.

Orient had been in free fall under Geraint Williams in recent weeks

One win in their last 11 matches, and failing to score in five of their last seven outings. They're the worrying statistics which have accompanied Leyton Orient's recent slide down the League One table.

It's a run which culminated in Saturday's 3-1 defeat to fellow strugglers Hartlepool - a result which forced O's chairman Barry Hearn into the drastic action of sacking manager Geraint Williams.

The Welshman had only been in charge at Brisbane Road for 14 months - when he was hired to save the Londoners from relegation to the basement division. It was a mission he successfully accomplished.

Now, the boot is on the other foot. Orient are once more in relegation peril in League One, and it's Williams who has been removed in the hope a new saviour is just around the corner.

After last season's success deploying the same tactic, perhaps it's no surprise that Hearn has been quick to act when a return to the division they were promoted from in 2006 began to become a real possibility.

It's no surprise either that the man they've turned to is Russell Slade. The experienced former Yeovil boss left his position at Brighton & Hove Albion earlier in the season.

they looked dead and buried in the same division last season when Slade was appointed. Four points adrift of safety with 13 games remaining - Albion were heading into League Two.

After an initially slow start though, 16 points from their last seven games secured survival on the last day of the season.

Slade joins the O's with the club only above the bottom four on goal difference. Crucial six pointers against relegation rivals Tranmere and Oldham have recently been lost too.

Fresh impetus, a new voice on the training ground, and someone to inject confidence and belief in a dispirited squad of players is what's called for. All in the hope that a few positive results - enough to avoid relegation - can be strung together.

It is the phenomenon referred to as New Manager Syndrome, or NMS. The belief that a team's fortunes can be instantly, if only temporarily, improved under the guidance of a new manager.

There are good examples of its effect this season - Barnsley's sudden improvement under Mark Robins and Alan Irvine's immediate transformation of Sheffield Wednesday to name just two.

However, after the new man's 'honeymoon period' - as the series of positive results are sometimes referred to - more regular, inconsistent, form returns to the team.

It is that 'honeymoon period' which Orient are now banking on their new man experiencing to deliver them a fifth consecutive season in English football's third tier.

It would follow too that, a team with just a few games of the season remaining, would be the perfect side to benefit from such a short-lived run of positive results.

It may appear to be a risky strategy, but Slade's record, as well as other past evidence, actually supports the theory. A change of manager, however late, can have the desired effect of helping a struggling side avoid the drop.

Take Martin Allen, who had an even tougher job than Slade's at Brighton when he took over at Brentford in 2004. The Londoners had just nine games of the season left and found themselves four points off safety.

'Mad Dog' as Allen is affectionately known, engineered a stunning turn-around in form however, winning five and losing just one of their remaining matches to avoid relegation to League Two.

Ex-Brighton boss Slade will be hoping to pull off another great escape with Orient

It seems that the shorter the time a manager has, the more impressive the form - and the escape from relegation.

When Ian Atkins assumed the managerial reins at Torquay, the Devon side were bottom of the entire Football League and had just half a dozen games to save themselves.

That task looked even harder after defeat in his first match, but four wins and a draw from their remaining five games completed a remarkable act of escapology from the Gulls.

Things looked bleak for Crystal Palace in 2001 too. The Eagles were three points adrift in the drop zone of the Championship with just two games left when they turned to club stalwart Steve Kember.

Remarkably, Kember inspired Palace to win both matches, staying up by just a single point on a dramatic final day. It remains one of the most powerful and effective uses of NMS in the game.

It almost worked, too, for Exeter City in their battle against the drop into the Conference in 2002. The Grecians, bottom of the table, had played more game than all their rivals and were staring relegation in the face.

They turned to the ex-Preston manager Gary Peters to save them but, despite gaining 20 points from their last 13 matches, City went down by a single point. Had he been in place just a couple of games more, they probably would have stayed up.

Two years later, and Macclesfield Town were more fortunate in their late change of managers. The experienced Brian Horton was drafted in to work with Silkmen legend John Askey as the Cheshire outfit struggled to stay up.

Horton's impact was immediate, leading Town to 13 points from a possible 21 to preserve their Football League status.

The fortunes of another experienced manager, Joe Royle, were less impressive when he attempted a similar late rally last season.

Play-off chasing Oldham turned to their legendary former boss to help resurrect their flagging top six challenge after the departure of John Sheridan.

At that stage, Latics were just a point off the play-offs, but Royle failed to win any of his first eight games, and a final day victory left them 11 points off 6th. It had been a failed experiment.

It suggests that late changes of manager are more effective when a team find themselves towards the bottom of the table rather than the top.

Either way though, it represents a gamble as to whether a last-gasp switch in managers works or not. Orient will be hoping their last throw of the dice is, once more, a winning one.

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