Sturrock sidesteps 'pure speculation' over Leeds job before difficult game at QPR

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The Independent Football

Gordon Strachan may be the most famous Scottish manager on the south coast of England to be mentioned in connection with the vacant Leeds job but he is not alone. A few miles west of Southampton, Paul Sturrock has been obliged to say whether he might consider himself a candidate.

It is hardly surprising. Since venturing south in October 2001, the former Dundee United manager has steadily turned Plymouth Argyle from a team seemingly becalmed in its Devonian Third Division backwater to one with a sound chance of riding the rapids in the First Division next season.

Those kind of credentials soon come to the attention of Premier League clubs in peril, although so far there seems no more likelihood of the 47-year-old Sturrock succumbing to any advances from Leeds than any other on the unofficial shortlist. "It's pure speculation and I'm not prepared to discuss surmise," he said this week. "I've got a job of work to get on with and I'd rather concentrate on that."

Sturrock was named as the Third Division's manager of the year after steering the Pilgrims to a title-winning campaign in his first season in charge, and his work this season earned him the manager of the month award for October after Argyle claimed top place in the Second Division. Inevitably, this has been followed by a dip in results -- Argyle went out of both the FA Cup and the LDV Vans Trophy last week -- and the divisional leadership is on the line today when Sturrock's team travel to second-placed Queen's Park Rangers, who are unbeaten at home.

The Loftus Road game, which is expected to attract a crowd of more than 15,000, is arguably the Nationwide League's match of the day, pitting Sturrock against another manager tipped for future success at higher levels. Ian Holloway, who succeeded Gerry Francis at QPR in February 2001, achieved recognition for turning around a stricken club last season, reaching the play-off final against Cardiff. This time he feels Rangers have the chance to skip the play-off lottery and take the direct route, with today's match offering the opportunity to put daylight between themselves and Plymouth, both of whom have 31 points.

Should his side win today, Holloway might find his name coming up at the next Leeds board meeting, particularly if the chairman, John McKenzie, likes a manager with a colourful turn of phrase.

In his latest description of his team's qualities, for example, Holloway likened his midfield player, Marcus Bean, to a "piano carrier". "You've got to have a balance," he said. "You've got to have a team who can carry the piano on to the stage and one or two who can play it. That's been QPR's problem, too many show-off soloists.

"Marcus isn't the best passer of a ball but is great defensively. I wasn't the most popular player at QPR but did a job so Ray Wilkins could play. I remember getting booed at times, but couldn't give a monkey's because Ray appreciated me." Plymouth will be without one key soloist in their top scorer, David Friio, who is suspended, and Sturrock appreciates the difficulty of the task facing his team.

"They're a tough team to beat on their home patch," he said. "If I had to pick one team to finish the season in the top six it would be QPR."

The First Division will have new leaders should Norwich beat struggling Watford at Carrow Road. No other side inside the top nine is in action today.

As an former Leeds player, the Norwich manager, Nigel Worthington, has also faced the inevitable question, to which he, too, had a clear answer: "Why leave a club that is two quid in debt for one that is 80 million in debt?"