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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

I Can't Get Started

Nobes considers the struggles of Championship managers Phil Brown and Micky Adams as they toil to turn the tide at their respective relegation threatened clubs.

Time is running out for Phil Brown at bottom of the table Preston North End

Two years ago Sheffield United and Preston North End faced one another in the Championship play offs with a place in the Premier League well within their sights.

They failed in their quest for the top flight that season though, and now the pair appear doomed to relegation to the third tier of English football.

It's a decline in fortunes that has been both surprising and rapid. Perhaps most tellingly of all though, there's a feeling that both clubs' struggles have been of their own making.

For Preston, currently propping up the rest of the division and a full 11 points from safety, more than a decade spent in the Championship is fast coming to a close.

It's been a tenure characterised by punching above their weight, finishing in the top six on four occasions and twice ending up losing play off finalists.

They were the inspiration to all other clubs looking to compete with bigger and richer teams chasing a ride on the Premier League gravy train.

In truth, they were thankful to outstanding work by a succession of managers - David Moyes, Billy Davies, and finally Alan Irvine in 2009.

You could also argue that the work of another manager has been influential in their current predicament at the bottom of the division.

When a difficult run of form saw the Lilywhites sack Irvine 15 months ago, it was a decision which rocked the Football League. Replacing him with Darren Ferguson - a manager who had failed in the second tier - resembled a huge gamble.

Preston twisted - and have ended up big losers. Ferguson's destruction of a solid spine and competitive Championship team was swift. His signings were largely mediocre and ill suited to a scrap for survival.

North End owner Trevor Hemmings - believed to be instrumental in Irvine's dismissal and Ferguson's hiring - must take a large shame of the blame for their imminent demotion.

For all the money he has pumped into the club to keep them afloat over the years, his judgement was badly lacking and the Ferguson regime will,
for years to come, go down as a catastrophic mistake.

His failure to bring an abrupt end to Ferguson's reign when it was quickly apparent that he was wholly incapable cost Preston valuable time and games with which to keep themselves in the division.

When he eventually did receive the push with 2011 dawning, Preston were already deep in trouble - sitting bottom and five points adrift of safety.

Successor Phil Brown, an effusive and relentlessly positive character, has done his best to instill some belief and hope into North End ranks in their quest to pull off the most unlikeliest of escapes.

However, Hemmings's reluctance to release proper funds for strengthening an under-equipped squad, as well as letting top scorer Jon Parkin leave Deepdale, has left Brown with an impossible challenge.

It's not that North End are lacking in fight and spirit - with four of the six points they have garnered under Brown being earned via late equalisers.

However, it's wins that they require to dig themselves out of the bottom three, and the former Hull boss has yet to record a three-point haul in his nine games at the helm.

Having signed an 18-month deal with the Lancashire outfit, Brown will now be charged with trying to build a side capable of challenging at the right end of League One next term.

The Sheffield United dream has turned into a nightmare for Micky Adams

A similar prospect haunts Sheffield United whom, while also in the bottom three, retain hope that they can make up the six points that separates them and fourth bottom Crystal Palace and beat the drop.

However, just as Phil Brown is still seeking his first win as Preston boss, his counterpart at Bramall Lane, Micky Adams, has yet to taste victory in ten league games in charge.

The 49-year-old answered an SOS from the club he supported as a boy in January - swapping a promotion push in League Two with Port Vale to sit in the dugout he had always wanted to.

After defeat to bottom three rivals Scunthorpe last week though, it was suggested to Adams that his dream move had turned into a nightmare. It was a bitter irony that the Yorkshireman was pained to recognise.

He was supposed to the be the safe pair of hands perfectly suited to the perilous situation the Blades found themselves in.

His organisational and motivational skills, as well as experience in the Championship with Leicester and Coventry, made him the ideal candidate in the club's hour of need. Or so they thought.

Adams has claimed just four points from 30, and has admitted that, with the ways things have transpired, he wouldn't be surprised if the club decided to bring his brief spell to an abrupt end.

Considering the Sheffielder is already United's third permanent boss of the campaign, it's hard to know whether the idea of a fourth different manager of the campaign would be that much of a surprise.

It's a statistic which has been at the root of their struggles at the wrong end of the second tier this season.

When they decided to part ways with Kevin Blackwell just two games into the season it was a move celebrated by the majority of the Bramall Lane faithful.

Despite guiding them to the 2009 play off final, Blackwell's style of long ball football had turned fans off and a disappointing 8th placed finish last term had put him under intense pressure.

How they would take 8th place now though. For all his critics, Blackwell's record in the Championship pointed to a manager who knew how to get results. It's hard to imagine United would be in their current position had he been left in charge.

However, it is the timing of Blackwell's departure which really defied logic. Sacking a manager two games into the season having given him an entire summer and pre season made no sense.

If a change was going to be made, it should have been at the conclusion of last season. Once they had given him the summer, he should have been allowed longer in the current campaign to prove he could get the Blades challenging.

The sacking now appears drastically premature and the hopes they invested in rookie boss Gary Speed misplaced.

The Welshman's four months in charge were less than impressive, and when the chance to coach his national side became available he didn't hesitate to jump from United's sinking ship.

Now Adams is fighting to turn around the flagging fortunes of the red half of the Steel City and avoid a reunion in the third tier with arch rivals Wednesday - relegated
themselves 12 months ago.

He will hope to be still be in his post when United make the trip to Deepdale in mid-April. By then, North End could already be consigned to the drop. Failure to start winning soon, and so could United.

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