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Hartley moves from part-time to unemployed

THE glass was left half empty at Recreation Park on Saturday. It was the result of Paul Hartley having his fill as manager of Alloa Athletic and taking the decision to tender his resignation, following a match which had already left his erstwhile side feeling a bit sore.

Paul Hartley resigned as Alloa manager after Saturday's 5-1 loss at home to Dumbarton. Picture: SNS
Paul Hartley resigned as Alloa manager after Saturday's 5-1 loss at home to Dumbarton. Picture: SNS

Hartley has departed a club one place above the SPFL Championship relegation play-off spot but would delay his exit to open a bottle of wine with chairman Mike Mulraney and toast their past successes.

The pair had taken Alloa from the third division to the Championship in only two seasons, and Hartley from a bold appointment in 2011 to the top of shortlists at top-flight clubs looking for new managers.

He led a part-time team to consecutive promotions - Alloa won the third division title and then advanced to the Championship via the play-offs - and speculation linking him to more auspicious posts followed close behind.

The 37-year-old was measured up for vacancies at Aberdeen and Hearts before being interviewed for the manager's position at Inverness Caledonian Thistle late last year.

That will have given the former Scotland midfielder a glimpse of a bright future as a manager. A run of just two wins in Alloa's last eight league matches might also have brought into view a less glamorous reality; the part-time side had flirted with the promotion play-off places earlier in the campaign, while their true ambitions remain married to their current league position.

Alloa advanced quickly as Hartley introduced modern fitness techniques and video analysis but his club's aims lean more towards tradition - a part-time team in the Championship can be content to simply stay there.

His own imperatives have perhaps been promoted before this campaign is over and Hartley will likely hope that his decision to step away on Saturday will take him closer to realising a grander ambition. "It wasn't something that we anticipated happening," Mike Mulraney, the Alloa chairman, told Herald Sport. "We had been working on signing a player and had extended a player's contract on Friday; we were looking at other things, too. But there are two things: once Paul has made his mind up that's it and he knows his own mind. You've got to respect that.

"I said to all the boys in the changing room to enjoy [their final farewells with Hartley] because they will be telling their kids and their grandkids that they played for that man.

"They are going to be able to say that because they will see him managing at the highest level. But you have to respect his opinion on his position as manager and Paul felt he had reached the end of the road."

That would become a little bumpy during his final 90 minutes at the wheel, as Alloa suffered a 5-1 defeat at home to Dumbarton on Saturday.

The visitors were strolling comfortably into the promotion play-off places before Kevin Cawley caused a minor irritation with a goal to make it 3-1 midway through the second half. It would be salved by a second goal for Chris Kane, on loan from St Johnstone, and another from Jordan Kirkpatrick late on.

Those goals punctuated the biggest margin of victory registered by Dumbarton this season and it is a record which is likely to prove lasting, as is the involvement of Kane. The Championship side have spoken to St Johnstone about extending the young striker's loan agreement until the end of the season.

"It's good to hear that [Ian Murray, the Dumbarton manager] wants to keep me," said Kane. "I've spoken to Tommy Wright [the St Johnstone manager] and he's happy for me to stay, so I'd just like to keep scoring goals and doing what I'm doing."

The obligations of Paddy Connolly have changed temporarily, though, with the Alloa assistant manager having been placed in charge of the first team on an interim basis. He has since informed Mulraney that he does not wish to be considered as a long-term successor to Hartley.

The position of manager remains essentially vacant, then, even if it can be filled with expectation following the club's recent successes. Alloa's stature as a part-time club might work to narrow the scope of potential applicants but it remains a club which is stable off the pitch and employs a playing squad strong enough to keep the likes of Cowdenbeath and Morton at arm's length this season.

Hartley and Mulraney would settle for holding two glasses out on Saturday. "It says it all that after the game he is up having a glass of wine with me," added the Alloa chairman. "How does it get any better than that?"

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