Hart takes pole position to lose the sack race

Will all the top-flight's managers hang on into October? Mark Fleming reports on the pressures mounting for those in the firing line

The macabre betting on which manager will be first to get the sack in the Premier League this season has gone into overdrive this week. Ranting supporters in Hull have been calling for the head of manager Phil Brown; fans at pointless Portsmouth have lost faith in Paul Hart; and Gary Megson at Bolton has been on the receiving end of more vitriolic abuse at the Reebok.

The trio face tough matches this weekend, so the sack may only be a few days away for one of them. And history is heavily stacked against them. Only three times in the last 11 Premier League seasons have we entered October without at least one managerial casualty in the top flight. Last year Alan Curbishley left West Ham on 3 September; the season before Jose Mourinho was turfed out of Chelsea on 20 September.

Hart is at greatest peril, with Portsmouth firmly rooted to the foot of the Premier League without a single point. The chances of them ending that run at home to Everton look remote, while speculation mounted yesterday that the club's chief executive, Peter Storrie, is about to resign. He is said to be on the verge of walking out after admitting to having difficulty working alongside the club's new owner, Sulaiman al-Fahim.

The Arab businessman was due to hold a meeting with fans yesterday, but cancelled it at 24 hours' notice because he was "concerned the coverage generated will distract the players from their preparations for Saturday's crucial game".

Hart is clearly feeling the heat, snapping at reporters in a pre-match press conference: "What are you asking for, a fourth vote of confidence in three weeks? Whatever supporters are feeling, magnify that by one million and you'll get to where we at the club are."

He may yet survive even if Portsmouth lose today, as the financial repercussions of sacking him could damage the penniless club. But defeat to Wolves in a week's time would probably seal his fate.

Over at Hull, Brown has four games to turn it around, so some observers say. Others reckon six. It is all a far cry from a year ago this weekend when he was masterminding the club's historic 2-1 victory over Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. Now he has chairman, Phil Duffen, going on local radio to voice his unequivocal support for his manager after Hull's 4-0 home defeat to Everton in the Carling Cup on Wednesday. Duffen told BBC Radio Humberside: "I would say it's pathetic. The Premier League season is only six games old. This is a manager and coaching staff that have delivered this football to the city. It's despicable."

Brown was defiant after the midweek humiliation, saying: "Everybody is expecting us to go out of this division because of the second- season syndrome. It is about rolling the sleeves up now and fighting even harder.

"Hopefully, whatever team I pick at Liverpool [today] will respond in the right manner. Nobody likes being in the bottom three, but we have a job to do that is a long-term plan. That long-term plan is six games in. We have got a long way to go."

After Saturday's trip to Liverpool, Hull then face a crucial October as they meet Wigan, Fulham, Portsmouth and Burnley in more winnable games.

Megson takes his Bolton side to Birmingham today, grateful for the blessed relief of a midweek victory over West Ham in the Carling Cup.

The Bolton manager is confident he will survive this latest test of his management. "The spirit in the dressing room is good," he said. "Only we seem to know that in the last five games we have won three, drawn one and lost one, and that was against Liverpool with 10 men. There are one or two other football clubs who would swap with us at the moment."

First out the door: Recent seasons

*3 September 2008

Alan Curbishley West Ham (resigned)

*20 September 2007

Jose Mourinho Chelsea (mutual consent)

*13 November 2006

Iain Dowie Charlton Athletic (sacked)

*24 November 2005

Alain Perrin Portsmouth (sacked)

*23 August 2004

Paul Sturrock Southampton (mutual consent)

*21 September 2003

Glenn Hoddle Tottenham (sacked)

*7 October 2002

Peter Reid Sunderland (sacked)

*30 September 2001

Peter Taylor Leicester City (sacked)

*12 September 2000

Gianluca Vialli Chelsea (sacked)

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