Paul Newman: When fighting fires call in the Red Adairs of club management

The Football League Column
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The Independent Football

With two months of the season to go there is still no sign of an end to the flow of managerial sackings. Twenty-seven managers have left the 72 Football League clubs since the start of the campaign, including 15 since Christmas.

When you get to this stage of the season clubs tend to go for experience when they decide to make a change. That was exactly the route that Swindon Town and Northampton Town took last week after Danny Wilson and Ian Sampson were shown the door.

Swindon appointed Paul Hart, the Red Adair of football management, until the end of the season. In recent times he has earned a reputation for steadying clubs in the throes of a relegation crisis. Last season the former Leeds United and Nottingham Forest defender steered Crystal Palace to survival in the Championship despite the deduction of 10 points after the club went into administration. Hart was given his first taste of management by Chesterfield 23 years ago and has since had spells in charge of Nottingham Forest, Barnsley, Rushden & Diamonds, Portsmouth, Queen's Park Rangers and Palace.

Northampton recruited Gary Johnson, who has been in regular employment with League clubs since leaving his job with the Latvian national team 10 years ago. He has also managed Cambridge United, Yeovil Town, Bristol City and Peterborough United.

If Wilson's departure was understandable following Swindon's slide into relegation trouble at the foot of League One – the former Sheffield Wednesday manager offered his resignation after a poor run over the previous two months – Sampson might consider himself hard done by, particularly given his association with Northampton going back nearly 18 years. The former defender made 449 senior appearances for the Cobblers – only Tommy Fowler played more times for the club – and was subsequently employed as youth team coach, first-team coach and manager.

Less than six months ago Sampson was in charge as Northampton enjoyed one of the greatest days in their history, beating Liverpool on penalties at Anfield in the third round of the Carling Cup. Results were mixed thereafter, but they had gone eight matches without defeat – a run that included six successive draws – before they lost 3-2 at home to Burton Albion last Tuesday in his final match in charge. Indeed, until facing Burton, Northampton had lost only three of their previous 19 League matches.

Sampson said he was "deeply saddened" to leave Sixfields. "Given the budget at my disposal at the beginning of the season and our plan for the development of younger players, I thought our mid-table position at the turn of the year was about right," he said. Money was subsequently spenton strengthening the squad in January, but Sampson said that injuries and suspensions meant he had been unable to field his strongest line-up.

A 3-2 defeat on Saturday at home to Shrewsbury Town in Johnson's first game in charge left Northampton in 16th place in League Two, nine points above the relegation zone. Johnson's first verdict was that his new charges, having twice taken the lead, had tired too quickly and did not defend well enough as a team. Nevertheless, the new manager is looking forward to the challenge ahead. "This is the right club at the right time for me," he said.

Swindon are in the more precarious position. Saturday's goalless draw at home to Walsall – only the fourth point the club have taken from their last 12 matches – leaves Hart's team three places off the bottom and three points away from safety.

The new manager said he was "very pleased" with the way the team had gone about their task, while the Swindon public also responded well to the club's plight. The attendance of 10,489 was bettered in League One only by Charlton and Sheffield Wednesday and was the highest at the County Ground since Southampton's visit six months ago.