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Friday, December 17, 2010

The Fixed Period

After Bristol Rovers part company with manager Paul Trollope, Nobes wonders whether managers sometimes simply have a shelf life at a club.

Rovers have been on a downward trend under Paul Trollope recently

"Performances like this have to stop," fumed Paul Trollope after Bristol Rovers slumped to a 6-2 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday last weekend.

"If it means changing personnel, then that's what we will have to do." Unfortunately for Trollope, the board at Rovers were listening and in full agreement.

The Hillsborough loss - which stretched their winless run to seven games - saw the Gas slip into League One's bottom four.

Tuesday night's Johnstone's Paint Trophy defeat to Exeter proved the final straw though, with Gas chairman Nick Higgs determining it was a change of manager that was required to turn their fortunes around.

It brings to a close Trollope's five-year reign at the helm, a spell which made him the seventh longest serving manager in the Football League.

However, after initial success when he became only the fifth manager in the club's history to take them to promotion, Rovers have been on a downward spiral for the final 12 months of his tenure.

Higgs's decision is one that has generally been met with approval from fans - with falling attendances an indication of the disenchantment with the current regime.

However, while in agreement with the decision to remove the manager, Gas supporters can take some happy memories from Trollope's reign.

After succeeding the unpopular Ian Atkins, the managerial rookie took the Gas to promotion via the League Two play offs in his first full season.

With the vastly experienced Lennie Lawrence acting as his guide in a Director of Football role, Rovers enjoyed a memorable 2006/7 campaign.

As well as ending their six-year spell in the basement division, they also saw off local rivals Bristol City on their way to the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final.

Although they were beaten by Doncaster on that occasion, it was still a sign that the West Country club were beginning to move in the right direction. A feeling confirmed a couple of months later in their play off final win over Shrewsbury at Wembley.

Back in the third tier, Rovers's management duo guided the club to a respectable 16th place finish and navigated a route through to the FA Cup quarter finals - equalling their best ever performance in the competition.

Successive 11th place finishes in the past two seasons continued that progress. However, there was an undeniable feeling, even before this term's slump, that things had started to become a bit stale at the Memorial Stadium.

It raises the issue of whether or not managers can have a shelf life at a club. Whether there is a fixed period a manager can stay in one place before hanging on too long. Whether there is a time when a fresh slate and a new start can be beneficial to both man and club.

Trollope's departure has echoes of Martin Ling leaving Leyton Orient a couple of seasons ago. Another manager who had taken his club into League One but, after six years, seemed to have run out of ideas.

The conclusion of Steve Tilson's seven-year reign at Southend was a similar tale. Even after his highly successful time at Roots Hall, relegation back to League Two seemed to mark the right time for a change.

Lennie Lawrence was by Trollope's side until leaving the club in May

In hindsight, perhaps the writing was on the wall when Rovers brought to an end Lawrence's employment. Often a focus of blame from supporters, the 62-year-old left his Director of Football position at the end of last season.

It followed an alarming sequence of results in the second half of last season. After hitting the heights of 3rd after the opening 10 games, Rovers lost 20 of their remaining 36 matches.

Heavy defeats, with five goals being conceded on three occasions, allied with a more turgid brand of play also served to alienate frustrated supporters.

Perhaps the decision to remove Lawrence though was simply an attempt to freshen things up without having to make the ultimate sacrifice and sack the manager himself?

In hindsight, perhaps the managerial team - just as they both took acclaim for Rovers's achievements - should have shared the blame for the team's failings.

Without his mentor, Trollope has struggled badly. His choice as his new assistant, Darren Patterson - someone who failed to impress at Oxford - was also surprising.

Questionable transfer moves - the signing of striker John Akinde in particular - have also raised concerns over Trollope's handling of an area Lawrence had significant influence in.

There are mitigating factors in the 38-year-old's defence though. Rovers's financial position is not healthy, and the club's continued problems in the expensive re-development programme of the Memorial Stadium continues to be a burden.

Trollope's successor will not walk into a job with much funds available to turn things around in the January transfer window. Indeed, most pressing will be to hold onto eight-goal striker Will Hoskins, key to any hopes of survival.

However, maybe it is just a case of Trollope's time being up. For a manager, when poor results are followed by grumblings over the quality of football and players being selected out of position, the sack is often just around the corner.

Variety is the spice of life, too, and just like fans can become tired of the same person offering the same kind of excuses, players can begin to switch off and tune out after hearing the same voice on the training ground for too long.

Football is also about vision and, as much as some clubs with grand plans are living in dreams worlds, it is important to have a sense of purpose and direction.

Arguably, until their ground issue is sorted, Rovers will forever be in limbo. Hoping to stay competitive in the third tier, but knowing they will be forced to sell any top players they have - as was the case with lower league goal machine Rickie Lambert last year.

A new man at the helm can help provide some kind of focus and new energy to a club, however. Naturally, it must be the correct appointment - which is the challenge now awaiting Higgs and his colleagues.

The right choice to replace Trollope though, and the Gas can be fired up once again.

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