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Strugglers must stand by managers
In recent years, managers come and go quiet often. A bad run of form can quickly see a manager's tenure at the club come to an end.
The timing of Brian McDermott's dismissal as Reading manager on Wednesday came as a surprise. With only nine Premier League league games remaining and the club sitting 19th on 23 points, level with bottom-of-the-table side Queens Park Rangers, bringing in a new manager is risky business.
If a club wants success in the long term, stability is key - just take a look at Wigan. Chairman Dave Whelan has said he will never sack Roberto Martinez. This vote of confidence relieves the stress which comes with survival battles, and gives Martinez and his squad confidence and room to breathe. You wonder why Wigan are always hovering around the drop zone, but never seem to get relegated.
McDermott had been at the club since 2000 as a scout-coach under then manager Alan Pardew and has built relationships with many of the players, on and off the pitch. You cannot replace that. What kind of disharmony is that going to create in the dressing room if a new guy comes in? The squad must feel as if they let McDermott down. Even if a permanent manager does arrive before Saturday's match, he is still left in the same difficult situation as before: 23 points, nine games left.
Sadly, the task doesn’t get easier for Reading. The Royals' next two games are at Manchester United (live, FOX Soccer, Saturday, 1:30 p.m. ET) and Arsenal with home stands against free-scoring Liverpool and Manchester City still to come.
Academy head Eamonn Dolan is in charge of first-team duties as interim manager until a permanent appointment is made. Former Swindon boss Paolo Di Canio has been linked with the job, but even if the outspoken Italian does arrive at the Madejski Stadium, it's hard to see Reading pulling the rabbit out of the hat with the fixtures they've got, beginning with this weekend's trip to Old Trafford.
There is bound to be a hangover due to McDermott's departure, something the club could do without as it bids to beat the drop. A manager familiar with success as well as failure is QPR manager Harry Redknapp.
When Redknapp took over the Loftus Road helm in November, the club had accrued just four points from 13 games. Since then, Harry 'Houdini' has taken 19 points from a possible 48, with the Londoners' last match producing a thrilling 3-1 comeback victory at home to Sunderland.
"To go one down against the run of play and then come back and equalize I thought it was an excellent first half," Redknapp said. "Second half I thought they started better than us for the first 10 or 15 minutes…but we came back into it again and got goals at the right time."
All three goals came from January transfers; Loic Remy, Jermaine Jenas and Andros Townsend. The goals from Townsend and Jenas were special, but the win as well as the performance surely gives Rangers the spark needed to reel in their relegation rivals.
"We need to have a real run of results like that to get out of trouble…six points in two games has made a big difference to us," added Redknapp.
Saturday's crucial match at Aston Villa (live, FOX Soccer 2Go Saturday, 11 a.m. ET) is essentially a six-pointer. If QPR wins, it could potentially move to 18th place on 26 points, narrowing the gap on 17th placed Villa (27 points) and 16th placed Southampton (28 points).
Aston Villa is also heading into Saturday’s game on the back of a 2-1 comeback victory against fellow strugglers Reading. After going down 1-0 to an own-goal, in-form striker Christian Benteke brought the Villans back into the game with a close range finish a minute later. Gabriel Agbonlahor contributed with what turned out to be the game winner just before the halftime interval.
A win for Villa changes the relegation landscape, distancing themselves from the drop zone ahead of some winnable fixtures, barring Liverpool at home and Manchester United away: Stoke City (A), Fulham (H), Sunderland (H), Norwich City (A).
It’s worth noting that the last three league meetings between Rangers and Villa have ended in a score draw, but that's all in the past. What's more interesting is whether their present squad – in particular QPR’s January signings, like Jenas and Christopher Samba - will bring their Premier League experience to bear. The latter is accustomed to relegation dogfights.
QPR have got momentum and should prove too good for Aston Villa, but only just. Redknapp has galvanized the team, they are all working for each other, while Villa just seems to be relying on Benteke too much.
Wigan has an advantage heading into its Sunday meeting with Newcastle (live, FOX Soccer 2Go Sunday, 12 p.m. ET). Martinez's men have a game in hand after last week’s game against Manchester City was postponed because of the FA Cup commitments. A victory would lift them to safety, while nothing would change with a defeat, but they cannot bank on winning their make-up game because it's against the reigning Premier League champions. Even though the Latics reached the FA Cup semifinals, Martinez maintains his commitment to staying up in the Premier League rather than a chance at FA Cup glory.
"The priority will always be to stay in the Premier League," Martinez said. "We do want to win trophies and play at Wembley, but never at a cost. It is paramount that we stay up."
The Latics will struggle to get anything from Sunday’s match against Newcastle despite being at home. The DW Stadium is rarely full for home matches and there is rarely a big enough crowd to generate an intimidating atmosphere. Wigan may have the right manager for the job, but this game looks to be beyond them.
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