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Feb 11, 2011

Hodgson gets early redemptive chance

A month ago, Roy Hodgson cut a forlorn dash. Here was a man isolated and friendless at Anfield. It was a shame to see one of English football's confirmed gents looking so sorry for himself, his face wracked with mental pain, his body language agitated, his public statements beginning to lose sense. But when the end came, it was no surprise and, among the disappointment, there must have been relief for Hodgson. At Liverpool, shoots of recovery are highly apparent, as Kenny Dalglish reclaims what most believed was his right, with Hodgson only a temporary tenant of the throne. The Kop has what it wants and is enjoying itself again. Now surely only the hardest of Scouse hearts would not wish their former boss good luck in his new job? They may have flown in the face of their repeated pledges to always back a boss, and many still yearned for the martinette charms of Rafael Benitez, but Hodgson entered a club in turmoil, a team without direction. He was unable to turn matters around and better men would have suffered a similar fate. Some bad decisions were made, and he failed to strike up any relationships that could pull him through the difficult times. Whether he has recovered from the experience is likely to be a repeated question. A chance for Roy's redemption has arrived sooner than expected at West Bromwich Albion, and against the expectation that Chris Hughton would be the man to succeed Roberto Di Matteo. Hughton had looked nailed on, with bookmakers closing their market on his arrival at the Hawthorns. An about turn has occurred, the stumbling block seemingly centring around the former Newcastle manager's desire to bring in Colin Calderwood and Paul Barron as his wingmen. Hughton's proposed coaching structure flew in the face of what owner Jeremy Peace and sporting and technical director Dan Ashworth see as the model to follow. After his Newcastle experiences, Hughton has perhaps had too much of interference from above to accept a further lack of self determination. Hodgson, meanwhile, having managed on the continent, and worked for the strong-willed likes of Massimo Moratti at Inter Milan and Mohammed Al-Fayed at Fulham, probably felt able to cope with such an approach, and is given the title of "head coach". A contract until June 2012 suggests this is not a long-term appointment and it seems that Ashworth and Peace may favour a passing of the honour on to Michael Appleton once that tenure is done. Appleton had been expected to be in a caretaker role for rather longer than just Saturday's crucial six-pointer against West Ham United, and is highly regarded. But, at 35, his playing career having been ended by injury in 2003 and a coaching career mounted since, the future is expected to be his. It would have been too much of a risk to expose him to what looks like a perilous relegation battle. Here, Hodgson has pedigree, having hauled Fulham from the very precipice of a drop into the Championship in 2007-08 when replacing Lawrie Sanchez between Christmas and New Year. Fulham were in a far worse position than the Baggies are now, with far fewer positives to take from their season. Di Matteo's removal comes after a juddering fall from the heights of winning at Arsenal and being the only team so far to escape Old Trafford with a point. Di Matteo's departure was still a surprise, but Peace and Ashworth have taken a now tried and trusted approach in making a change when a series of vital and winnable games approach. Dalglish has benefitted from the same at Liverpool and now has four wins in a row to his name. Hodgson faces a run of fixtures that will likely decide their fate. After the Hammers come Wolves, Stoke and Birmingham, and West Brom's bigwigs are hoping for the bounce that a new manager often brings. There is talk that West Brom have abandoned footballing principles in going for Hodgson. His approach is certainly defensive away from home, with defenders sitting deep in their own half and did not fit a team like Liverpool, expected by their fans to attack, attack, attack - though a conservative outlook was often accepted from Benitez. However, Fulham fans will tell you that their team played some of their finest football under him, and Danny Murphy was a player particularly allowed to demonstrate his flair. Hodgson is still a considerable risk. He has had failures before; do not mention him within earshot of Bristol City fans of a certain vintage, for example, and there are likely to be residual effects of his Liverpool experience. A lingering question remains: can a man of 63 who has just suffered the greatest reverse of his professional career recover his mojo in just a month?

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