Relegation battle shaken up by the sack race
The relegation battle was shaken up on Sunday, as one manager likely preserved his job while another likely lost his.
Last season, virtually every team in the bottom half of the Premier League was fighting off relegation. The situation isn’t quite so bad this year, but the lower third are still panicking, with just seven points separating 14th and 20th. Virtually every manager in those places is fighting for his job right now, (just ask Neil Warnock) and every match can make a huge difference in their job security.
No one appreciates that more right now than Leicester City manager Nigel Pearson, who lead his side to victory for the first time in 14 matches against fellow strugglers Hull City. Their last win came all the way back in September, a shock 5-3 victory over visiting Manchester United. Since then, they’ve scored just eight goals (including their winner against Hull), and been shut out eight times. That’s … not good, and it’s little wonder that many writers polished up their “Pearson sacked” pre-writing before Leicester went to Hull on Sunday.
Pearson’s Foxes played with more focus and determination than we’ve seen from them in a long time, however, snaggging a goal in the first half and hanging on for dear life the rest of the way. It took some clever tactical substitutions to get the job done, as well as a little luck after defender Paul Konchesky got sent off late in the match, but Leicester City got their win, got their three points, and Nigel Pearson got his reprieve… at least for now.
Not so lucky was West Bromwich Albion manager Alan Irvine. After stepping up from the ranks of youth coaches to take over the club, expectations weren’t terribly high for Irvine, particularly after last season’s relegation battle. He’s still managed to fall short, though, with West Brom sitting in 16th, just one point clear of the drop zone after Sunday’s 2-0 loss to Stoke City.
That was the Baggies’ second straight loss, third in their last five matches, and already their tenth of the season, third-most in the league. What’s worse is how West Brom are losing; too often they’re unfocused and undisciplined, leading to easy goals on the counter or goals simply given up through mistakes. There’s been increasing pressure on Irvine of late, and some felt he had to at least get a draw at Stoke City, who have been struggling more than expected this season themselves, in order to make his job a little safer.
At first, it looked like he could pull it off; the Baggies played fairly well in the first half, and while they struggled in the final third, Stoke had no more luck. The second half was a different story, though; West Brom looked listless and unfocused once again, and a Mame Diouf brace sent them packing — possibly costing Irvine his job as well.
Heading in to the holiday weekend matches, if you had to pick one of these managers to get sacked by New Year’s day, you probably would have picked Pearson without hesitation. The Foxes, dead last, had already fired their director of football. Crystal Palace firing Warnock could’ve lead to more heads rolling, and Pearson was likely playing for his job.
Yet Pearson managed to buy himself some time, while Irvine, who’d previously looked to have a long leash, may have just shown himself the exit. The fates are having fun this weekend.