Football: Harford favourite to replace sacked Pleat

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The Independent Online
David Pleat became the first Premiership managerial casualty of the season yesterday. As Phil Shaw reports, Sheffield Wednesday hope to appoint a successor this week.

Sheffield Wednesday, propping up the Premiership, are expected to make a third attempt to take Ray Harford to Hillsbrough after confirming David Pleat's dismissal as manager.

Harford, currently in charge of West Bromwich Albion, turned down the post when he was manager of Wimbledon and later when he was coach at Blackburn. The fact that he has not signed a contract with the First Division club means that Wednesday, who aim to name Pleat's successor before Saturday's visit of Bolton, could avoid a protracted wrangle over his services.

Albion's chief executive, John Wile, put a brave face on the possibility of losing Harford last night. "We'd be disappointed if Ray hadn't been mentioned because he's a quality coach," he said.

Other names set to come under Wednesday's scrutiny include Sunderland's manager, Peter Reid, and Bruce Rioch, coach to Queen's Park Rangers. As in the case of Harford, the recruitment of either would not not break the rule introduced to prevent poaching within the Premiership.

Wednesday have been on the receiving end of such machinations, though that will not necessarily stop them pursuing Barnsley's Danny Wilson, Leicester's Martin O'Neill or Derby's Jim Smith, a lifelong Wednesdayite who lost out to Pleat in 1995.

The availability of Joe Royle and Lou Macari, both out-of-work managers with high-level experience, should also ensure their credentials are examined. Completing one of the longest shortlists of recent years are Barcelona's eminence grise, Bobby Robson, plus two ex-Wednesday managers, Ron Atkinson and Howard Wilkinson. Peter Shreeves, Pleat's assistant, has taken over on a caretaker basis but is not interested in stepping up more permanently.

The Wednesday chairman, Dave Richards, said: "There are many big names in the frame already and I can tell the fans they'll see someone fairly quickly. We won't see someone before the Bolton game but you will have a name."

Richards informed Pleat his two-and-a-half-year reign was over less than 24 hours after the 6-1 defeat at Manchester United on Saturday. "It's always difficult when you take somebody's livelihood away from him," he said. "But at the end of the day the manager carries the can."

Last season, which Wednesday opened with four successive victories, Pleat steered them to seventh. This time, despite bringing in six new players, they have won only two out of 13 League matches and were put out of the Coca-Cola Cup by Grimsby. Compounding their fans' frustration, Sheffield United are enjoying a resurgence.

Pleat, who suffered the same fate at Leicester and Tottenham, said Richards had phoned him, warning that it was "the call he feared". With 25 games left, Pleat felt there was time to "turn things round", yet acknowledged that directors act on results rather than performances.

"We've played some good football in the last few matches. Unfortunately, drastic mistakes, particularly in defence, gave us mountains to climb. Some players have done so well, others have not. We've also had a nightmare in terms of injuries to people who were so crucial to last year's good performances, but that's history now."

Pleat spent pounds 26.32m on 18 players, recouping pounds 17.37m from selling 15. Four foreign signings - Marc Degryse, Regi Blinker, Orlando Trustfull and Darko Kovacevic - did not stay long, but his replacement will inherit talents such as the Italian attackers, Paolo Di Canio and Benito Carbone, as well as a transfer kitty of pounds 10m.