Paul Ince is understood to have met with Derby County yesterday afternoon, just hours after Billy Davies became the latest Premier League manager to part company with his club. Ince, who is manager of the former Wimbledon, MK Dons, immediately attracted an avalanche of money on betting exchanges, suggesting that many consider his appointment a formality.
The Derby chairman, Adam Pearson, has settled on a shortlist of three. Ince, and Paul Jewell are thought to make up two of the three, with some reports claiming that Steve McClaren, once first-team coach at Derby, completes the list. "There are three serious candidates and that's about as far as I'll go," Pearson said. "We've got a shortlist. If the candidate is in work, then we'll be contacting their club and if they are out of work then we'll be contacting their agent. It's a very tight list of people who we think can put the pride back into the team and the club. We'll be making the decision very promptly. We're talking about names that we think are exciting and will take the club forward and put it back on the front foot."
An MK Dons spokesman said yesterday on hearing of Ince's link to Derby: "Paul Ince is the hottest young manager in English football and it comes as no surprise that his name continues to be linked to managerial posts in higher divisions."
Ince had previously been at Macclesfield and kept them in the Football League last season. Initially, Derby had been thought to want Jewell as Davies' successor. It is believed the former Wigan manager would consider moving to Pride Park, even though Derby are bottom of the league. Any move for McClaren is likely to be stymied by financial considerations.
Pearson, said that whoever the board appoints to replace Davies must believe they can keep the club, who face a key trip to Sunderland on Saturday, in the Premier League. The Rams have looked short of the wherewithal to win games in the top flight since gaining promotion via the play-offs and Davies, who departed Pride Park by a mutual arrangement after a meeting with Pearson, repeatedly admitted that he needed substantial reinforcements to make the team competitive.
But Pearson wants such talk to be consigned to the past and has charged the Scot's successor with a survival mission – not one of damage limitation. "We're looking for someone with passion for winning games, with pride in this football club," he said
Davies took over as County manager in June 2006 with the side struggling at the wrong end of the Championship and, although he leaves them a division higher, their return of one win and six points from their first 14 games was not enough.
Pearson, who was the subject of some thinly veiled criticisms from Davies after the club's 2-0 reverse to Chelsea at the weekend, nevertheless paid testimony to his achievements. "Billy would be one of the best managers to get us back up [if relegation happened] and I'm sure there will be Premier League and Championship clubs looking at him to do that," he said. "But there comes a watershed between club and manager where it is time to move on. There was an ongoing investment issue which kept cropping up – he feels it is time to move on and we, as a board, think so too. He is a good manager, there's no doubt about it, but this club will be going forward with a new one."
Davies insisted that he had left his post full of pride at a job well done. "All I've got to do is thank the players and staff for wonderful support and thank the Derby County fans for what has been a fantastic time for me, the players and the club alike," he said. "I'm walking out with head held high."
Kevin Thelwell, the club's academy director, will take charge of the side against Sunderland.
Premier League exits this season
* JOSE MOURINHO (Chelsea, departed 20 Sept)
Untenable situation at The Bridge led to the Special One's jaw-dropping departure.
* SAMMY LEE (Bolton, sacked 17 Oct)
Dismissed after one league win in nine. Was always likely to suffer in succession to Sam Allardyce.
* MARTIN JOL (Spurs, sacked 25 Oct)
Directors' infamous meeting with Juande Ramos ultimately led to startling exit during Getafe match.
* CHRIS HUTCHINGS (Wigan, sacked 5 Nov)
Was never likely to replicate Paul Jewell's record at the JJB.
* STEVE BRUCE (Birmingham, departed 19 Nov)
Left St Andrew's for Wigan at the weekend after week of delays over image rights.
* BILLY DAVIES (Derby)
Packed his bags yesterday following defeat to Chelsea, the third manager this season to lose his job after a home defeat to Avram Grant's side.
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