Dowie sacked after 15 games as Charlton hit panic button

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Charlton Athletic last night panicked over their desperately poor start to the season by sacking their manager, Iain Dowie, after just six months - and 15 matches - in charge.

The 41-year-old became the first Premiership manager to lose his job this season with Charlton issuing a brief statement on their club website. " The Addicks announced on Monday night that head coach Iain Dowie had left Charlton," it said. A fuller statement has been promised later today.

Alan Curbishley, the man Dowie replaced after a decade and a half at The Valley, last night categorically ruled himself out of the running for a return to the club. Curbishley, who is free to take up a new job after the expiry of the terms of his departure preventing him from working until 1 November, said he was looking for fresh challenges and would not be going back.

Instead, the focus is likely to settle on Cardiff City's Dave Jones, even though his club is top of the Championship, while the former Rangers manager Alex McLeish is keen to make a move into English football - and previously applied for the jobs at Southampton and Portsmouth. But McLeish may be deemed too much of a risk for a club looking for an experienced candidate with a proven track record to make sure they avoid relegation.

Another possible candidate is Claudio Ranieri although the former Chelsea manager, despite being extremely keen to return to management, has previously priced himself out of the market with his high wage demands. David O'Leary is also looking for a return to football as is Glenn Hoddle.

Although the Charlton board have risked ridicule by sacking Dowie, who signed a three-year contract during the summer after quitting at Crystal Palace, they are understood to have issued an ultimatum several games ago that results had to improve.

Despite a run of five matches unbeaten, and a last-eight place in the League Cup, the 3-2 defeat to Wigan Athletic last Saturday - with striker Darren Bent later venting his frustration - kept the club at the bottom of the table with just two wins from 12 games.

With fixtures away to Reading and Sheffield United and home to Everton and Blackburn Rovers coming up it was felt by the directors that now was the right time to make the change, however, especially as another raft of new signings were being planned for January.

The assistant coach, Les Reed, is set to take charge for the next match although it is unthinkable that Charlton have not already made efforts to find Dowie's successor.

Charlton spent more than £10m in the summer transfer market - an unprecedented amount for them - and also took on high-earners such as Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink. However, by doing so they have put themselves further into debt and simply cannot afford to slip out of the Premiership this season.

Dowie's arrival at the club was laced with controversy following his sudden departure from near neighbours Palace. His former chairman, Simon Jordan, is taking Dowie to court over the move - a case that is being contested - but last night offered his support to his former employee. "I think Charlton haven't really given him a chance," Jordan said. "It's a shame because Iain is a bright young coach, and he's a strong character. One of the things Iain brings to a football team is strong leadership.I don't wish anybody the sack.

"Gutless, faceless people take those decisions, don't they? You don't get people after 12 games pulling the trigger because something hasn't gone right. You get behind the guy if he is doing things the right way." That may not come as much comfort to Dowie but it may do so for Peter Taylor, his successor at Palace, whose position has looked even more vulnerable of late.

How Dowie's departure will affect the forthcoming court case remains to be seen. Indeed, on the day he was unveiled at Charlton a writ was issued by Palace for "fraudulent statements about his reasons for leaving the club ". Palace claimed they waived a £1m compensation clause because it was thought Dowie was going to move closer to his family home in Bolton.

Despite Dowie's reputation as a bright young coach there have also been signs of discontent among the players while his methods have, in private, been questioned. Injuries have also, however, been an undeniable factor. To his credit Dowie, a former Northern Ireland international striker with Southampton and West Ham before taking his first steps in management at Oldham Athletic prior to joining Palace, said he was prepared to take the pressure and the criticism - and has constantly accepted responsibility for the club's poor form.

"I am very happy to take the blame for the start of the season because I am the manager," he said recently. Unfortunately, that blame means he is no longer in his post.