It’s been intriguing to read much press talk lately concerning the managerial ‘bump’ that Premier League teams have got and not got since changing their managers recently.
Fulham (twice), Sunderland, West Brom, Crystal Palace, Swansea and our own beloved Cardiff have all changed the man at the top since November 15th when Gus Poyet took over at Sunderland. I’m ignoring Tim Sherwood at Tottenham replacing Andre Villas Boas for very different reasons.
Aston Villa, West Ham, Hull, Stoke and Norwich have all maintained their management teams until now. As there is a fair, almost 50/50 cut of the bottom 11 teams in these actions, it would be interesting to look a little deeper into the facts.
The best bump for the money comes from Palace’s decision to appoint Tony Pulis as manager. The battle hardened native of Newport has galvanised his team into a tough to beat, defensively solid unit. In his 14 league games to date the Eagles have amassed 22 points at 1.57 per game with a W4 D5 L5 record, easily good enough to keep them up if they continue in the same vein. Yet despite Pulis’ determination and resting at 15th place in the table, they are still only 2 points off the first relegation place. Even so now would not be the time to hit a poor run of form. Without doubt Palace has received a significant bump by changing managers.
Sunderland was the first of the relegation threatened clubs to make a change. Paulo Di Canio received his marching orders and Gus Poyet took over on the 15th November. The Uruguayan had to go six league games before registering his first win, 1-0 at Everton, in a game where the home team were reduced to 10-men after goalkeeper Tim Howard was sent off in an incident that led to Ki-Sung Yeung converting the resultant penalty-kick. The Wearsiders held on desperately to take maximum points. As doomed as Sunderland looked before that fortuitous win, they proceeded to pick up 14 points in eight games, at 1.2 per game to lift out of the relegation places before dropping back in again with a 0-2 reverse at home to Hull City the last time out. On this occasion it was Sunderland who became the victim of an early penalty-kick award and subsequent red card. Like Palace they cannot afford to drop away from their previous good form now. Did Poyet give his team a bump? Yes, eventually he did but not right from the off like Pulis.
On December 1st Fulham dispatched Dutchman Martin Jol to be replaced by his countryman Rene Meulensteen. The former Manchester United coach had been working as Jol’s first team coach since early November before replacing him. Muelensteen won three of his first seven games taking nine points in the process and indeed gave the Cottagers the bump they were looking for. However Fulham took only one point from the next six games and sunk to the bottom of the table, the bump well and truly over. Meulensteen was fired and German Felix McGrath awaits his turn ready to test the bump theory. Fulham were W3 D1 L9 for an average of 0.7 pts per game but 0.16 in the last six.
Cardiff’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer arrived on the 2nd of January after watching his new team almost hold Arsenal at the Emirates and with an FA Cup match to follow before taking charge of his first Premier League game at home to West Ham. OGS had a little time to get everything ready for the task ahead. A much changed team surprisingly beat the Magpies at St. James Park and confidence must have been high, ready to translate itself into the required ‘bump’. It never materialized and West Ham hung on for a 2-0 victory in a game Cardiff for the most part was unfortunate to lose. With games at Manchester City and United to following, two losses duly arrived and Solskjaer was 0-3 in his first league tests. Since then a win at home to Norwich, a loss at Swansea and a draw at home to Aston Villa put Cardiff at W1 D1 L4 for 4 points at 0.6 points per game. If there is to be any sign of a bump Cardiff must take maximum points from the next two home games against Hull and Fulham and something from away games at Tottenham and Everton.
Pepe Mel at West Bromwich Albion is yet to win a game, so no bump there. The Midlanders are now showing a W0 D3 L3 record since the Spaniard took over on the 9th of January. Three ponts at 0.5 per game will have to be improved upon, starting with Fulham at the Hawthorns on Saturday.
Swansea replaced Michael Laudrup with Gary Monk and he started his campaign with a fantastic 3-0 Welsh derby victory over Cardiff and followed that with a 1-1 draw at Stoke City. The Swans are looking more like their old selves and are probably good enough to stay clear of trouble, currently in 10th place.
Norwich, Hull and Stoke have all decided, so far, to stick with their current managers. All three bosses have previous Premier League management experience, something Fulham, Cardiff, Sunderland and West Brom do not possess. Those four lay in the bottom four places in the league, coincidence or not? Time will tell.
Norwich under Chris Hughton is W1 D5 L5 in their last 11 games for a 0.7 pts per game average.
Steve Bruce’s Hull show a W2 D4 L7 record in their last 13 games for a 0.7 pts average per game.
Stoke City under Welshman Mark Hughes have gone W1 D4 L7 in their last 12 games at 0.58 pts per game but are unbeaten in their last three games including the lone win over Manchester United. As poor as their long term form is, they may have turned a corner but face Manchester City away and Arsenal at home in the next two games.
Aston Villa and West Ham have, in my opinion, done enough and will do enough under Paul Lambert and Sam Allardyce respectively to ignore for this debate.
Therefore the ‘bump’ effect doesn’t seem to be a definitely effective manner in which to turn a relegation threatened team around except for the glaring example of Crystal Palace and Tony Pulis. Gus Poyet earned his bump by changing things over his first few weeks in charge despite not winning games. The big task for both now is to keep it going or risk falling back into the mire from where they are still too close for comfort.
Maybe the more important facts are this. Against teams in the top half of the table Crystal Palace and Fulham have taken only one point apiece, Norwich only seven points. This might suggest that the other teams are more likely to gain unexpected points in games they may not have expected to do so. If this trend continues then Fulham and Palace are in trouble for sure.
West Brom (11 pts) and Sunderland (10pts) are having trouble winning against teams in the bottom half of the table, a problem they will need to overcome or also find themselves cut adrift.
The remaining fixtures will be important when it gets down to the wire especially who each team has yet to play. Six-pointers like Cardiff v Hull on Saturday and no hopers like Sunderland should be against Arsenal on Saturday can be season changing events.
How would you fancy this run to play out your relegation chances this season – Liverpool H; Man U A; Chelsea A; Arsenal H; How much importance does that put on the four previous games of Sunderland H; Swansea A; West Brom H; Fulham A; Those are Norwich’s last eight games.
Sunderland on the other hand plays only Chelsea (A) of the teams in the current top four. Advantage Sunderland, at least over Norwich.
All the teams at the bottom have enough points to play for. It is going to be the closest relegation battle in Premier League history.
The three teams that stuck with their managers, Hull, Stoke and Norwich are teams currently on bad runs of form. There will be no bump for them just hard work with their current squads unless jittery owners react to any continuing poor results. Chris Hughton is probably in the most tenuous of all positions right now. Surely at least one of these three teams will fail to arrest their descent? With Norwich’s fixtures I go for them to go down.
Fulham will need a bump from Felix McGath but it might be too late already unless he can win that first game on Saturday at West Brom. That would leave one other team to fill the bottom three and keep Cardiff up. If West Brom does not win soon it could be them headed for the Championship but if they beat Fulham on Saturday a revival may be on the cards. A Fulham win might switch it around for both clubs with the Cottagers escaping. I have to go for Fulham or West Brom or both to go down.
The Cardiff v Hull game is much the same. A Cardiff win will drag Hull right into the mix but a Hull win could very well doom the Bluebirds.
Both these games will likely end up as draws just to keep the pressure going.
I have a feeling Sunderland might still go down. If their bump is over, Gus Poyet may well have to fight even harder to prevent his team losing ground after such an impressive looking half escape.
As it is now and assuming Cardiff beat Hull, I go for a Fulham, West Brom, and Norwich relegation trio. Let’s hope so bump or no bump from Ole.