It is the race that nobody wants to win, so Nigel Adkins will not have been disappointed to see Mark Hughes inching ahead of him in the bookmakers' list as the first Premier League manager to be sacked this season. Yet a resounding first win of the season for Queens Park Rangers at home to fellow strugglers Reading today and the odds will change again – for Reading's Brian McDermott too – ahead of Southampton's visit to West Bromwich Albion tomorrow.
November is the cruellest month for such unhappy souls, when chairmen take to studying the League table with increasing concern, calculating how much money relegation will cost and whether they can trust the present incumbent to spend however much is available in the January transfer window. In recent years the shockingly early dismissals of past seasons have abated; but it will not have escaped Adkins's notice that one of the worst examples was perpetrated by Southampton, who two years ago sacked Alan Pardew before the end of August.
Like Hughes at Queens Park Rangers under the Malaysian owner/chairman Tony Fernandes, and McDermott with the young Russian Anton Zingarevich, Adkins is working for ambitious foreign owners. In his favour is having secured successive promotions for the club since Nicola Cortese was put in as the representative of the late owner Markus Liebherr. As well as those successful campaigns and two promotions with Scunthorpe, this is the third season that Adkins has been down at the wrong end of the table.
He was relegated once with the Lincolnshire club, but also won one of those struggles by keeping them in the Championship on the division's smallest budget and lowest crowds. He knows the score, in every sense.
"We are working very hard behind the scenes, but even before we kicked a football this season, I was the favourite to get the sack," he says. "So it doesn't faze me one iota. I am very ambitious, and we are very ambitious here at Southampton. But what will be in football will be, so we will take it from there. We will keep to our beliefs and stick at it. My take on it is that the supporters and the players are still with us, and I am with them."
Facing both Manchester clubs and Arsenal in their opening four games left no one at the club under any illusions about the task this season. The disappointment was losing the other game, at home to Wigan, and then, after beating Aston Villa, taking only one point out of the next 12 available.
But Adkins insists: "I love the challenge. This is what you want to be in football for. You can hide away or face up to it, but I am loving being in this situation."
Inevitably there has been talk of another figure waiting in the wings; not so much Harry Redknapp along the South Coast at Poole but Alan Shearer, for whom one route back into management was derailed last week by Blackburn appointing Henning Berg. At The Hawthorns tomorrow Adkins will doubtless find sympathy from Steve Clarke, who in his first season of management was widely tipped to struggle against relegation and the sack; the only question for some pundits and odds-layers being which would come first. Yet Albion go into the game in the top half of the table on the back of four fine home wins. For all Clarke's success so far in his first job, experience is always believed to count for something, which is why Hughes is being backed to come through in some quarters despite deeply unimpressive statistics: the same number of points per game as Neil Warnock, whom he replaced, and QPR's worst start since 1968, when they went on to finish bottom.
Fernandes sacked Warnock in January but appears genuine in his backing for the present incumbent: "Mark's a good manager, as I keep saying. You can't really blame Mark for the position we're in. Fans will talk about selection and such things but we're a vastly more consistent team than we were.
"I'm an old-fashioned guy that believes in stability and giving people time. QPR do not need managers being changed every few months. It's going to achieve nothing."
Such votes of confidence generally count for little. But McDermott, as manager of the only other Premier League side without a win, and Adkins, stuck in between the other two stragglers and strugglers, would doubtless rather hear one than not. The clock is ticking and the calendar is turning.
Queens Park Rangers v Reading is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 1.30pm; West Bromwich Albion v Southampton is on Sky Sports 1 tomorrow, kick-off 8pmReuse content