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Mar 28, 2013

Trading Faces: Management SOS calls

The managerial merry-go-round, over the past two weeks, has seen Reading ditch the man (Brian McDermott) who got them promoted to the Premier League and employ a replacement (Nigel Adkins) who had already received the same treatment from Southampton.

Neither club is safe with eight games remaining in the season and Adkins has less than two months to galvanise a squad of players he barely knows into a miracle escape. Can it be done? We take a look at past stories of success and failure.

Bryan Robson - West Brom 2005 - SAFE

Arguably the greatest final day in the history of Premier League relegation battles. West Brom, Norwich, Crystal Palace and Southampton all had the chance to stay up on the final Sunday, but only one team would be successful. Southampton - relegated by two points - led for a while against Manchester United but ultimately lost 2-1. Norwich - relegated by one point (effectively two due to their goal difference) - were hammered 6-0 at Fulham. And Crystal Palace - relegated by one point - led at Charlton until the 82nd minute when Jonathan Fortune pegged them back to 2-2.

That still would have been enough had West Brom failed to beat Portsmouth at the Hawthorns. The Baggies had been bottom at Christmas (no club had ever survived after being bottom of the Premier League at that time), and they were still bottom on the final day. But nearly 28,000 fans roared them to an historic victory as Geoff Horsfield and Kieran Richardson secured a 2-0 triumph, before being hoisted onto the shoulders of their pitch-invading followers. Robson had joined in November, and pulled off what no other manager has achieved in the Premier League era, although he did take them down the next season.

Alan Shearer - Newcastle 2009 - RELEGATED

Aided by the gift of hindsight, Newcastle's decision in April 2009 to replace caretaker boss Chris Hughton - now a highly respected and talented manager at Norwich - with Alan Shearer - a BBC pundit offering only the occasional hint of insight on Match of the Day - looks a crazy one. However, even back then it seemed 'romantic' at best to turn to the club's record goalscorer with no tangible coaching experience, after permanent boss Joe Kinnear had been forced to undergo heart surgery.

"It's a club I love and I don't want them to go down. I'll do everything I can to stop that," Shearer instantly declared, backed by the same supporters who had rode the Kevin Keegan roller-coaster to the brink of a Premier League title years earlier. Shearer, as it turned out, needed only two wins from eight games to save the club, but as they entered the final day of the season he had only managed one win and two draws. A Damien Duff own goal at Aston Villa sealed Newcastle's fate, after which Hughton was recalled - taking the club back into the Premier League at the first attempt.

Roy Hodgson - Fulham 2008 - SAFE

The Great Escape was a 'great' movie and has been used as a term to sum up many a near miss from relegation, but the ultimate came in 2007-08 as Roy Hodgson started his way on the road to England manager by saving Fulham.

"Under Lawrie Sanchez they were built to battle and punt but didn't have sufficient guile to prosper in the Premier League; Roy Hodgson brought a more nuanced philosophy," Paul Doyle wrote in the Guardian. Indeed, when Hodgson took over on December 30, the Cottagers were 18th and had only won two games all season.

Things did not look great as they picked up just nine points from his first 13 games, despite a host of January signings built to boost their hopes. But survival was achieved by four wins in their last five games - including a winning comeback from 2-0 down against Manchester City - culminating in victory over Portsmouth to keep them afloat on goal difference.

Mick McCarthy - Sunderland 2003 - RELEGATED

This one just did not work. Sunderland were a diabolical team, and whether it was Howard Wilkinson at the helm, Mick McCarthy or even Jose Mourinho - they were next to useless. On March 12, McCarthy and his dulcet tones were brought in to inspire a side who had won four of 29 league games, losing their last six. Furthermore, they had scored a measly 19 goals.

McCarthy barely made things any better, in fact he probably made them worse. In the nine remaining games Sunderland failed to pick up another point as they lost all nine. They scored two goals in that time, chalking up an 18-2 aggregate deficit, and even lost at home to fierce rivals Newcastle. In fairness to McCarthy, he did a fine job of deflecting the blame and helped the club bounce back two years later.

Harry Redknapp - Portsmouth 2006 - SAFE

Whenever "Harry Houdini" gets credited with Portsmouth's 'great escape', it's possibly worth mentioning that the club weren't actually in the bottom three when he took over in December 2005. However, by March 11, 2006 they were being written off across the country - ultimately needing five wins and two draws from their last 10 games to beat the drop (they survived by four points, so 17 would have been enough rather than the 20 they achieved).

The revival was kick-started by Pedro Mendes - who suddenly couldn't miss from any range as he scored three times in wins over Man City, West Ham and Fulham. Two draws and a win over Middlesbrough followed as Fratton Park became a fortress, but a loss at Charlton threatened to derail the juggernaut. When Pompey then fell behind first to Sunderland and then to Wigan, it seemed they would come up short, but on both occasions Matt Taylor hit match-winning penalties to cement their survival before a final day clash with Liverpool.

Attilio Lombardo - Crystal Palace 1998 - RELEGATED

If truth be told, Crystal Palace needed one key player to be fit in their battle to beat the drop: Attilio Lombardo (or the Bald Eagle as he was affectionately known). The former Juventus and Sampdoria man was a star boasting vision, grace and no little skill. When he suffered injury with the Italy squad in November, Palace were 10th. By the time he returned, they were bottom.

Boss Steve Coppell was moved into a director of football role with ten games remaining, ushering Lombardo into a caretaker-player-manager position, and just to confuse matters further Tomas Brolin was his translator. Having gone the whole season without a home win, Lombardo managed to inspire a couple of victories at Selhurst Park but it was too late. Palace picked up ten points under his guidance but needed another nine to survive (given their poor goal difference). He later left for Lazio in 1999.

Owen Coyle - Bolton 2010 - SAFE

It has to be said that, going by the numbers, it is amazing that Owen Coyle not only saved Bolton from relegation, but did so by nine points. The Scot was brought in to replace the axed Gary Megson, and given half a season to turn the club around when he arrived on January 8. Bolton had 18 points under Megson, and only amassed another 21 under Coyle - yet finished comfortably in 14th.

Coyle started with back-to-back defeats and only picked up five points from his first eight games. Wanderers then put back-to-back wins together but still only managed 16 points from their last 12 matches. They were somewhat fortunate that 31 points was enough for survival that season (they got 39), although to be fair to Coyle he then finished 14th again in the next campaign - with a 46-point haul.

Peter Shreeves - Sheffield Wednesday 2000 - RELEGATED

Having had a relatively unheralded playing career at Reading and Wimbledon, Peter Shreeves' greater impact on the game has come as a manager - in particular at Sheffield Wednesday. In all he had three spells as Wednesday manager - either in a caretaker or full-time capacity - experiencing both the low of relegation and the high of promotion during those periods.

In March 2000, he was brought to the club for his second reign when Danny Wilson was sacked with Wednesday seven points adrift at the bottom. The Owls had a foreign influence in the likes of Gerald Sibon, Gilles De Bilde and Niclas Alexandersson, yet they desperately lacked backbone. Shreeves managed to add ten points in his nine games in charge but Wednesday were relegated in an agonising penultimate fixture at Arsenal, which ended 3-3. They then won their last game 4-0 but it meant little as nearby rivals Bradford pulled off their own miracle by beating Liverpool to stay up.

Alan Curbishley - West Ham 2007 - SAFE

The feat achieved by Alan Curbishley after joining West Ham in December 2006 was, in itself, a fantastic effort. After Alan Pardew was dismissed for leading the club through their worst run of defeats in 70 years, the Hammers won seven of their last nine games under Curbishley, including results against Blackburn, Everton, Bolton, Wigan, Arsenal and Middlesbrough. Their last triumph, at Manchester United on the final day, secured the club's survival but that was just the start of the story.

Scorer of the winner at Old Trafford was a certain Carlos Tevez, who had already been the subject of headline-makers when West Ham were fined earlier in the season by the Premier League for breaking rules on third-party player ownership. Without Tevez's goals West Ham would surely not have stayed up, given that they survived by three points. Sheffield United (relegated instead) knew it, and after a lengthy legal battle the Blades won an out-of-court settlement against West Ham in the region of £15-20 million. Tevez, meanwhile, joined the club against whom he scored on that final day, later winning a Champions League at United before defecting to their rivals City.

Iain Dowie - Hull 2010 - RELEGATED

When Hull City found themselves in trouble during the 2009-10 season, they turned to Mr Bouncebackability himself Iain Dowie. A master with previously-unrecognised words, Dowie was unfortunately less impressive at steering a ship to safety, and promptly took Hull into the Championship.

Phil Brown, who looked like a man whose expenses bill would run into the thousands for sunbeds, was placed on gardening leave on March 15 despite City being only three points below the breadline. Dowie won one match during his spell; he has since left management to become a pundit.

Terry Venables - Middlesbrough 2001 - SAFE

Bryan Robson had form for beating the drop when he achieved it with West Brom, having done so four years earlier with Middlesbrough - although the majority of the credit went to Terry Venables. Formerly of Barcelona, Tottenham, England and Australia, Venables had been out of the game for nearly two years despite talk of roles with both Wales and Chelsea.

When he linked up with Robson in December 2000, the pair found themselves in one of those awkward 'management partnership' arrangements - with Venables named the head coach. Liverpool could already testify to the potential nightmare of having two bosses after the Gerard Houllier/Roy Evans embarrassment, but the tandem setup of Venables and Robson actually led Boro to a 14th-placed finish - although both left at the end of the season.

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