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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Let Me Hear Your Trumpets Ringing Out

Nobes salutes some of the clubs and managers who, despite staying out of the spotlight this season, deserve recognition.

Barnsley boss Mark Robins has overseen a year of progress at Oakwell

They say no news is good news. Find that your club is constantly overlooked and fails to grab the national media's attention, and you can count on that being because things are ticking along just nicely.

No manager being sacked and, although not involved in the race for promotion, there's no relegation battle to be fought either.

It's all too easy to gloss over such clubs and the work of their managers. However, they are often the bosses who consistently do the best jobs without receiving the recognition they merit.

Take Barnsley's Mark Robins, for example. When the Reds turned to the 41-year-old last term, they found themselves struggling at the foot of the table after a poor start to the campaign.

However, the former Rotherham manager soon turned things around and, at one point in the spring, the Oakwell outfit were even on the cusp of the play offs.

A late dip in form eventually saw them finish 18th in a congested mid-table. However, he has built on that first season with a term of solid progression and development.

Saturday's 4-1 defeat to resurgent Leicester left the Tykes in 13th, a full 13 points clear of the bottom three. Also, since a 4-0 loss at QPR on the opening weekend, they haven't dropped lower than 18th all term.

For a club who fought the drop for three successive seasons under his predecessor, Simon Davey, it's clear that Robins has moved the team on to another level.

Not that he's had the greatest resources available to him. Indeed, Barnsley are outperforming sides with higher wage bills who have spent more, and that is testament to the manager.

Coaxing consistently fine performances, as well as goals, from winger Adam Hammill also earned the club £4 million from Woverhampton Wanderers in the January transfer window as they sought to secure his services.

He will undoubtedly be a loss to the Reds for the remainder of the season, but they were quick to replace his goal threat with the signing of Bristol City striker Danny Haynes.

The summer captures of centre half Jason Shackell and Serbian midfielder Goran Lovre have also been astute moves, and Garry O'Connor from Birmingham is a proven forward in the Championship.

Robins, who notably had to overcome financial problems, points deductions, and a temporary home when in charge at Rotherham, is proving himself to be a young manager of increasing capability - who gets the best out of what he has available.

Not that he's the only one. Indeed, across South Yorkshire, Sean O'Driscoll continues to establish Doncaster in the second tier, as well as furthering their reputation as purveyors and protectors of the beautiful game.

It's earned the boss himself admirers - he was strongly linked with the Sheffield United job over Christmas. Perhaps that has proved a distraction, with Rovers losing four of their last five games to drop to 15th.

However, they still remain secure in the middle of the table, which is no mean feat for a side on modest resources with some of the smallest attendances in the Championship.

It is also a sign of the job the Irishman performs at the Keepmoat that pundits were all confident that Rovers wouldn't figure in the fight for survival at the bottom.

Although not advocating the same footballing principles as O'Driscoll, Millwall boss Kenny Jackett also deserves praise for the way his side have adapted to life in the second tier.

Kenny Jackett is ensuring promoted Millwall make a bright return to the Championship

I spoke after their opening day 3-0 win at Bristol City that the Lions were in good hands under Jackett's guidance. A hard-working pragmatist, opposition managers always speak in glowing terms about his team's endeavour and the danger they pose.

While they may not be the prettiest team to watch in the Championship, they also don't have the money of some of their rivals. Fine recent form has even propelled them up to 7th - albeit having played more games than some of the sides around them.

However, successive promotions aren't out of the question should the London side repeat their exploits of 2002 in qualifying for the play offs the season after coming up from the third tier.

It is a tier itself which is home, too, to managers quietly and efficiently going about their business.

Take Exeter City's Paul Tisdale, a manager who has rejected offers from other clubs to remain in Devon.

The Grecians are one of the smallest clubs in League One, but Tisdale has stayed loyal to them to help further his managerial education while competing against most illustrious opponents.

After a last gasp escape from relegation on the final day last season, City have held a place in mid table since August.

Not only that, but he guided them through to the regional final of the JPT this season - the run ending with an aggregate defeat to Brentford over two legs to deny them an appearance at Wembley.

They also continue to play the brand of fluid passing football which the manager has implemented since their days in the Conference. It's the mix of style and substance on a limited budget that so often eludes other bosses.

Keith Hill is not one of them though. The Rochdale supremo wrote his name into the Lancashire outfit's history books when promotion last term ended more than 35 years spent in the basement division.

However, after a poor sequence of results at the end of last season, allied with a difficult time in the summer transfer market, Dale fans were concerned their stay in League One would be a brief one.

They currently sit in 9th though, and continue to adhere to playing the game the right way.

The boss has also shown great character and nerve to turn around a worrying slide down the table from the dizzy heights of 4th to just above the drop zone in 18th. Even if Dale do end up in the bottom half, they have been one of the season's surprise packages.

As have Milton Keynes Dons. Indeed, naming the then 29-year-old Karl Robinson as manager last summer was a surprise in itself.

The youngest manager in the Football League was also taking over at a tricky time in the short history of the club. Paul Ince brought an end to his second spell at stadium:mk last season citing budget cuts and differing ambitions for his departure.

It appeared as though the ambitious Dons, who reached the play offs in 2009, would now have to scale back their dreams. However, Robinson has them competing once again for the top six.

To be doing so in his first job, as well as outperforming Ince despite less money to work with, is an achievement which should not be overlooked. You may not like the Dons, but the manager deserves some kudos.

The experienced Paul Sturrock is giving a masterclass in crisis management at Southend

While they profit under the leadership of a rookie, it's an experienced pro who is once again proving his worth in League Two at Southend United.

The Shrimpers went close to going out of business during the summer after relegation from League One, and a transfer embargo was only lifted days before they kicked off their season against fellow financially-troubled Stockport.

However, unlike the currently flailing Hatters, United boss Paul Sturrock used his many years in the game, as well as his various contacts, to fashion together a team that, while quickly assembled, currently sit just three points off the top seven.

It's no mean feat to bring a large collection of players in all at the same time and gel them into an effective and winning unit in a matter of months.

While promotion via the play offs may well prove beyond them this term, the Scot, who has previously guided both Plymouth and Swindon out of League Two, will be a good bet to lead the side from the Essex coast up next season.

Down on the South Coast, another boss who consistently does his job well - without receiving the recognition he deserves - is Torquay United's Paul Buckle.

During their time in the Conference he guided the Gulls to Wembley on three occasions - including winning the play off final in 2009 to return to the Football League.

Last season, he established them back in League Two and the Devonians have kicked on from there, comfortably sitting in mid table and earlier in the campaign went nearly 1000 minutes without conceding a goal.

It's not just their league form which should be praised though, but their recent record in the FA Cup also tells the tale of a manager who treats the competition with respect - not afraid to progress at the cost of not playing in the league.

They've reached the third round in three of the last four seasons, twice making the fourth round, and claimed the scalps of Blackpool and Coventry along the way.

Buckle has also earned praise for the way he conducts himself, including the dignified manner in which he dealt with their disappointing FA Cup exit amid the antics of Crawley last month. No surprise bigger clubs are already sniffing around the 40-year-old.

It's a mystery why John Coleman continues to be overlooked for positions though. There is arguably no manager in the Football League who so regularly gets his side to punch above their weight than the Accrington Stanley boss.

No club
in the Football League attracts smaller crowds or works with an inferior budget than the Lancashire outfit. However, they are well on their way to securing a sixth successive year in League Two.

Coleman is the architect behind it and, although he can sometimes let his passion overtake him, it is impossible not to admire his achievements and longevity at the Crown Ground.

Basement division rivals Lincoln were rumoured to be interested in the Liverpudlian earlier in the campaign, but he eventually signed a new deal to remain with Stanley.

While it would be a wrench to leave the club after 12 years though, it is remarkable that more clubs haven't tested his loyalty by giving him the chance to prove what he can do at a bigger club with greater resources.

If only he could afford a bigger trumpet.

1 comment:

  1. Good to see the real King Kenny getting the praise he deserves. He's taken us from League 1 relegation fodder to Championship play-off contenders in three years. On a low budget to boot. We may not play tiki-taka, but our football isn't as bad as is sometimes suggested. The likes of Liam Trotter, James Henry, Danny Schofield and Steve Morison gives us a bit of grace to go with the hard graft.

    Second the comments on John Coleman. I'd love to see a man like that given a chance at a higher level, but he seems like a `hand in glove' at Accrington.