Jones makes it a bad day at the office for Wilkins

Southampton 0 Rochdale 1

On the face of it, the managerial position at Southampton should be one of the most attractive in English football. Admittedly, a club that rubbed shoulders with the elite in the top tier of English football for 27 successive seasons have fallen from grace over the past few years and currently content themselves with visits to such far-flung League One outposts as Exeter and Hartlepool.

But the 32,000-capacity St Mary's Stadium, impressive training facilities and even the strength of a fully fit squad suggest the infrastructure is in place for Southampton to ease back into the Championship and then concentrate on a return to the Premier League.

Why then are they searching for their 15th manager in a little over 10 years? It appears that every time someone arrives at the club with the knowledge and experience to build or rebuild, he is jettisoned by person or persons at boardroom level who think they know better.

The former chairmen Rupert Lowe had accusing fingers pointed at him by many Southampton supporters for interfering too much in team affairs and transfer dealings. Now the boardroom power is in the grip of executive chairman Nicola Cortese

Alan Pardew became their latest managerial casualty, shown the exit less than 48 hours after he masterminded an impressive 4-0 victory at Bristol Rovers.

His departure remains a mystery. Rumours are rife that Cortese deliberately waited until after the best performance of the campaign to oust Pardew, to show it was not results related.

Within days of Pardew's exit, Cortese received some 16 applications, many from highly respected candidates. A rapid replacement should have been a formality, like most clubs with promotion aspirations would want. But this is no ordinary football club, even if Cortese appears to be a typical chairman – one who seemingly pretends to know much more about the game than he actually does. A banker of Swiss-Italian origin, Cortese's position at Saints became even stronger a month ago following the death of the owner Markus Liebherr. He is the man who will listen to the views of others, and then decide himself who succeeds Pardew. He is thought to be leaning towards a coach, possibly from Italy, who would work closely alongside – or more likely under – Les Reed, the club's director of football in everything but name.

Cortese insists it will be "however long it takes" to name Pardew's successor, so in the meantime the former assistant Dean Wilkins has been put in temporary charge. It was Wilkins who prowled the St Mary's technical area yesterday, hoping to impress Cortese, but winning few friends from off the terraces. Rochdale could not have envisaged such a comfortable afternoon and enjoyable trip home.

The visitors took the lead in injury time of the first half, Chris O'Grady steering a shot through the legs of Kelvin Davis in the Saints goal after a clever break by the captain Gary Jones, and when Jones struck a 25-yard shot midway through the second half to double the advantage it became even sweeter for Rochdale, while the Saints faithful responded with chants of "there's only one Alan Pardew".

Keith Hill, the Rochdale manager, said: "It is an incredible feeling to come to a place like Southampton and win. These are very special days for a club like Rochdale. You have to play with bravery to secure such results." Jones added: "That was the best goal I have ever scored. We can surprise a few teams this season."

The Saints caretaker Wilkins was left to muse on a bad day at the office. Perhaps this Southampton managerial vacancy is not such a good prospect after all.

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