Many a football manager has been likened to Red Adair, the legendary Texan oilfield firefighter, but Paul Hart may have staked an unarguable claim to the analogy after taking over at Crystal Palace yesterday, his third troubleshooting job in 13 months.
Last February Hart took over at Portsmouth, saved them from relegation, but was then embroiled in the club's takeover nightmare. After starting the season with seven defeats he was replaced by Avram Grant, but soon returned to management in Queen's Park Rangers' revolving dugout, becoming Flavio Briatore's seventh manager in little over three years. Five matches and 28 days later he quit. Yesterday he resurfaced again, taking over from QPR-bound Neil Warnock at Palace, who are presently in administration and out of the Championship's relegation zone only on goal difference. He has also managed Nottingham Forest during a period of financial difficulty.
Hart said: "It's quite obvious I like a challenge, and this is a big one. There's only one objective and that is to stay in this division. There are many similarities to Portsmouth; there are 14 games left, an experienced squad who can play, and I feel with a few tweaks we can get there." He will hope the similarities end there, though with no immediate sign of a buyer appearing at Selhurst Park the administrators are still seeking to cut costs wherever possible. This could lead to player departures on loan but Hart insisted: "No players will be leaving this club between now and the end of the season."
Former Palace players Dougie Freedman, yesterday released from his post as Southend's assistant manager, and John Pemberton, who was with Hart at Forest, will join as coaches. This follows the departure of Mick Jones and Keith Curle to go to QPR. It was because their exit was still being negotiated that Brendan Guilfoyle, Palace's administrator, said yesterday morning that reports claiming Warnock had joined QPR were "premature". It is understood Warnock will not join the club until today.
QPR have lost six of their last seven and face second-placed West Bromwich Albion at Loftus Road on Saturday. "I'm looking forward to it," Warnock said. "There are players with ability and I hope to channel that. The situation is the same as at Palace, a relegation battle. I know the players at Palace inside out and I know they are up for the fight, I want to see if the players at Rangers are."