Championship Review: Owen Coyle’s Wigan make initial charge through second-tier minefield

 

The life expectancy of a manager in the Championship is now between eight and 10 months, which is only marginally better than an officer in the trenches on the Western Front.

There are differences. Should he fail, Harry Redknapp will be given a pay-off and probably be allowed to keep the Mercedes rather than be subjected to mustard gas or have to advance towards German machine guns kicking a football, as the men of the East Surrey regiment did in 1916.

However, it was perhaps appropriate that Redknapp should watch Queen’s Park Rangers’ opening-day victory on crutches after undergoing knee surgery. Those who relegate a club are already among football’s walking wounded.

Of the sides who went down to the Championship last year, Blackburn Rovers got through four managers, Wolverhampton Wanderers three while Bolton Wanderers just made do with sacking Owen Coyle, who committed the fatal error of overseeing a relegation and then never suggesting it was something he could recover from. Even Coyle’s bond with the Bolton chairman, Phil Gartside, proved insufficiently strong.

Coyle is less vulnerable than Redknapp in that he played no part in his new club Wigan Athletic’s demise. However, it is a rule of thumb that clubs that go down late, especially those such as Wigan who have convinced themselves that they will  always escape, suffer more of a toxic shock than anyone else.

For previous generations Southampton and Coventry City were Wigan’s equivalent at the art of escapology. The former took seven years and a further relegation to recover while Coventry spent the opening day of their season at Crawley; their club in the throes of liquidation, their fans spilling on to the pitch to protest at the scandalous mismanagement of a sporting institution that will play every one of its games away.

Under the circumstances, Wigan’s 4-0 win at Barnsley was a grand statement of intent. However, just as no club since Preston North End in 1964 has won promotion while reaching an FA Cup final, then no club has had to endure the burden that Wigan face – to win promotion while defending the FA Cup and embarking on the endless demented tour of the Continent that trades under the name of the Europa League.

Like every manager who had tasted victory on the opening afternoon, Coyle pointed out that there were still 45 games to go. In Wigan’s case there are rather more.

Reading, the third of the demoted clubs, also won, the first time they had done so at home on the opening day since 2006. This may be the season  when the Premier League’s payments to clubs that have gone down do exactly what they say on the parachute. 

Barton impresses on pitch, if not online

Joey Barton is a man who has used Twitter to articulate his world view and his observation, delivered after Rangers’ relegation, that “some strange people think that I’ll be playing in the Championship next season. Good one. QPR might. I won’t” was duly relayed over the internet. Barton may be one of the first to employ Twitter’s new “report abuse” facility when he next logs on.

Barton’s position is similar to Joe Cole’s 12 months ago. Had he moderated his wage demands, Cole could have spent a second season at Lille tilting at the European Cup, instead of wandering through 10-minute spells at Liverpool before returning to West Ham United, a club where he is unequivocally loved.

There have been too many burnt bridges for Barton to feel much love anywhere, though he was admired at Marseilles, who could offer him the Champions League but not the salary he is accustomed to.

Should he remain at Loftus Road and play with the swagger he employed against Sheffield Wednesday, he might find that love in the same way that Kevin Keegan was adored as a player at St James’ Park for driving Newcastle back into the top flight and then departing from the centre circle, by a helicopter. For a man with Barton’s sense of the dramatic, that might be as good a template as any.

Beattie begins at the bottom with Stanley

There is no shorter-odds candidate for the sack than Paul Ince, whose Blackpool side cruised to a bookies-defying 3-1 win at Doncaster Rovers. One of Ince’s most admirable traits as a manager was his decision to begin at Milton Keynes rather than insist the Premier League was the only arena he was worthy of.

Equally refreshing was the sight of another one-time England international, James Beattie, holding aloft the scarf of Accrington Stanley when he was appointed manager of one of the clubs who founded the Football League 125 years ago.

None of the others suffered in quite the way Accrington did, although Beattie has tried to change the club’s perception of itself, not least in taking his players on a pre-season tour of Portugal, which is not always how they have prepared in this part of Lancashire. Beattie pointed out it was the first time his goalkeeper, Andrew Dawber, had been on an aeroplane.

The landing was uncomfortable. Perhaps no League Two club would have coped at Newport, where they were celebrating their return to the Football League for the first time since 1988, but 4-1 was a deflating scoreline.

Beattie has said that he will pick himself “only as a last resort”, which might be nearer than he thinks. Living on the South Coast, Beattie faces one of football’s longest commutes and the one consolation he will cling to as the service stations hiss by is that things can only get better.

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