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A Week In Football – Sacking Season?

Christmas time, tis the season to be jolly etcetera, but spare a thought at this wonderful time of the year for those poor Premier League manager who are struggling during this very difficult run of games. Steve Clarke got the boot on Saturday, following Di Canio and Holloway out the door on the list of Premier League managers dismissed so far this season. The decision followed 1-0 defeat at the hands of Cardiff that leaves West Brom treading water just two points above the relegation zone. Although Mourinho’s former assistant was the only manger to get the sack this weekend, there will be a few other Premier League managers nervously shuffling their feet, praying for a Christmas miracle.

Clarke has referred to unfinished business in the wake of his dismissal, and the former Baggies boss probably has every right to feel a little sorry for himself. Results have not been good enough for West Brom since the turn of the year, there is no debating that. It is hard to defend Clarke’s record as a manager so far this term, especially when compared to the lofty 8th place finish. However, these contrasting achievements really have to be placed into context. West Brom have done remarkable in the past few seasons, achieving three consecutive mid-table league finishes since their return to the Premier League following a second place Championship finish in the 2009/2010 season. However, prior to these recent successes, West Brom were a perennial yoyo club for the best part of ten years and further back than that had not featured in England’s top division since 1986.

The fact of the matter is that West Brom are not a mid-table club, at least not yet; last season’s remarkable 8th place finish was simply the pinnacle of an extended period of over achievement. Clarke’s sacking is a part of a worrying and frustrating trend in which managers are sacked for not living up to their own previous overachievements. West Brom’s expectations should be to avoid relegation, a target that the club are currently on the way to achieving. That Steve Clarke managed to guide the club beyond these targets should be a sign of optimism and faith that he is the right man to bring the club forward; instead he has been indicted for not replicating this success.  The keys to West Brom’s success last season were twofold, the powerful double pivot of Mulumbu and Yacob and an ability to score more goals than any team that finished below them. Romelu Lukaku, now shining on loan at Everton, was a major factor in the Baggies’ ability to score goals last term, and was a Steve Clarke signing. Claudio Yacob is another Steve Clarke signing that is even more impressive, a free signing from Racing in Argentina; Yacob was a real risk, but a huge success.

In these two players, Clarke has made a case for possessing considerable transfer nous. It is a skill that bodes well for the possibility that if he had been given more time, Clarke may well have been able to build something at West Brom. It may well be that Clarke will not be the last manager to receive the axe over the holiday season. Fingers have been pointed at Manchester United manager David Moyes in recent weeks, with some of the more fickle Red Devils fans calling for blood. It is hardtop argue that Moyes has done a good job so far at the Theatre of Dreams, but everyone knew that it was always going to be an impossible task to replace Sir Alex Ferguson. On a six year deal, and with the backing of the majority of the Old Trafford faithful, it is highly unlikely that Moyes will be next Premier League manager to be chopped. The Scott received a reprieve this weekend, with under-fire players Welbeck and Cleverly starring in a 0-3 away win over Aston Villa.

Sam Allardyce will continue to receive flack for as long as West Ham are not scoring, having invested his entire summer transfer kitty on the notoriously injury prone Andy Carroll. Whether Big Sam can make it through to January to be given the chance to rectify this error in judgement will be down to the patience of the board, and the results achieved over the remainder of the holiday season. If there is one single candidate for next up to the chopping block then it must be Andre Villas Boas at Tottenham. Having spent in excess of £100 million over the summer, quite obviously the indifferent form shown by Spurs so far this term is not acceptable, and following another drubbing by Champions :League place rivals this weekend, questions are quite reasonably being asked of Villas Boas’ leadership. Manchester City have been irresistible at home so far this term, with only their away form standing between the Citizens and the top of the table. They hit six goals past Tottenham earlier in the season, a feat they repeated against Arsenal this weekend, heaping further pressure on Villas Boas, and once again Spurs slumped to a heavy defeat this weekend. Liverpool continued their title challenging form against Tottenham on Sunday, scoring five without return at White Hart Lane. Suarez was imperious as always, but what will really please Brendan Rodgers were the displays of Sterling and Henderson. The result leaves Tottenham five points adrift of the Champions League places, and eight points off of top placed Arsenal, to ensure that Andre Villas Boas spends the winter nervously sweating.