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Fair play for an honest day's work

TERRY BUTCHER may be the man to get the managerial roundabout spinning once more.

Despite his side's position at the foot of the SPL, the Dundee board decided manager Barry Smith had earned the right to carry on the fight for league survival. Picture: SNS
Despite his side's position at the foot of the SPL, the Dundee board decided manager Barry Smith had earned the right to carry on the fight for league survival. Picture: SNS

At the moment, nobody is getting on or off. The Clydesdale Bank Premier League has moved beyond the halfway point and all 12 managers who started the season are still in place. The only change throughout the whole of 2012, in fact, was John McGlynn replacing Paulo Sergio at Hearts.

Even the Scottish Football League has been fairly constant, with only half of the six changes since the summer arising as a result of managers being sacked. Given the level of turbulence that Scottish football has endured in the last year, it should probably be considered something of a blessing that the clubs have elected not to add it, although Barnsley and Doncaster Rovers' interest in taking Butcher from Inverness Caledonian Thistle may finally be the start of some brief upheaval.

It is almost unheard of for all 12 top-division clubs to stick with the same manager for an entire season. Sometimes a change is forced upon them – as was the case with St Johnstone last season when Derek McInnes moved to Bristol City – but normally it is the clubs themselves who feel it prudent to bring in a new man to try to stimulate a slumping side.

Dunfermline Athletic sacked Jim McIntyre towards the end of last season in the hope that Jim Jefferies could keep the team up (he couldn't), while Hibernian replaced Colin Calderwood with Pat Fenlon earlier in the same campaign to try to ensure they moved away from the foot of the table (they didn't). Hearts had acted even sooner by replacing Jefferies with Sergio with season 2011/12 barely underway, a Scottish Cup triumph perhaps sufficient evidence to suggest they were right to do so.

It has been the same over the years. Not since 2008/09 has the SPL got to the turn of the year without a manager resigning or being sacked, and there hasn't been a single season since the league's formation in 1998 when the same 12 managers who stood on the touchline for the first game were still there come the end.

Faced with a side struggling to meet expectations, clubs have often taken the approach that it is better to do something than do nothing at all and try to ride it out.

It has been a different story so far, however. With Rangers out of the picture, this was always going to be an unusual season in the top division but, by and large, every club has performed as expected.

Celtic are, belatedly, streaking clear at the top, with progression in the Champions League making manager Neil Lennon almost untouchable.

At the other end of the division Dundee have struggled, hardly surprising given they only discovered late in the summer that they would be promoted as Club 12. The Dens Park board met last week to discuss Barry Smith’s position and elected to keep faith in their manager despite the nine-point gap between them and safety. There would have been a temptation to make a switch just to see if a new manager could deliver better results, but the board decided Smith had earned the right to carry on in the fight for survival.

The other 10 clubs have been unsurprisingly inconsistent.  Some, like Inverness and Motherwell, have exceeded expectations, while the rest have tended to follow bad results with good. Throughout it all there has been a noticeable willingness on the part of the clubs to give their managers a decent crack at it.

Finances may have played a part in that – in these straitened times nobody wants to pay out compensation unless they really have to – but clubs have also elected not to act upon short-term fluctuations.

Hibs’ faith in Fenlon after last season’s heavy defeat in the Scottish Cup final and accompanying league struggles  has been repaid with a side who temporarily led the table this season. St Johnstone failed to win any of their first seven games but stuck by Steve Lomas, also being linked with the vacancy at Doncaster, and went on to win six games in succession. St Mirren lost six league games in a row but never considered getting rid of Danny Lennon.

Since then the Paisley side have lost just once in nine games.  It seems, after years of chopping and changing, clubs are reaping the benefits of a more patient approach.

“It’s a pleasant surprise to see that managers are staying in their roles longer this season,” said  Alex Smith, chairman of the League Managers’ Association.

“There could be a few reasons for it. It could be a lack of money meaning clubs can’t afford to pay anyone off. I think there’s also less pressure. The feeling was always that Celtic would move away at the top, Dundee might struggle a bit at the bottom and the rest would be much of a muchness in the middle and that’s largely been the case.

It was good to see common sense  [at Dundee] and decency prevailed there and he can get on with the job.

“Clubs are only going to progress if there is continuity. You’ve got to give people time to do the job.  Clubs now seem to be recognising that and long may that continue.”

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