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Terry Pierce - New year, new start for Championship strugglers

Published: 04 Jan 2011 - 09:15:03

The festive season is always cited as a key period of the campaign, a make-or-break run of fixtures that can turn a club's fortunes around. But failing to make the most of the hectic schedule and passing up the opportunity to gain some momentum can be costly, as three struggling Championship managers found out over the last week.

Brian Laws left Burnley on Wednesday afternoon despite sitting just outside the play-off picture and just a couple of hours later Lancashire rivals Preston North End had also decided a change at the top was needed, with Darren Ferguson given his marching orders. And, following Saturday's heavy defeat to London rivals Millwall, George Burley was relieved of his duties at Crystal Palace.

Although it's never nice to see managers fail, it's hard to argue against the decisions made by the three clubs. Ferguson had to guide Preston through frugal times but leaves North End rooted to the foot of the Championship table and staring down the barrel of relegation.

He was finally sacked exactly one year after his predecessor, Alan Irvine, was asked to leave the club with his side sat in a relatively lofty 16th, and it now looks increasingly likely even the safety of 21st may be beyond their reach. The Lilywhites are out of form, with crowds plummeting and the financial picture still looking grim.

Couple that with the immediate termination of six loan deals, including Josh King and Ritchie De Laet from Manchester United and Stoke’s Micheal Tonge, and the departure of fans favourite Jon Parkin, who is set to join Cardiff, and the feeling among fans is understandably one of resignation.

David Unsworth has been named caretaker and has a real shot at landing the job on a more permanent basis, with very little money about to attract a more experienced name or finance a move for a manager already in work. And with the belt-tightening set to continue, relegation seems inevitable, and a massive summer rebuild is in order.

Down the road, at Turf Moor, Laws can consider himself slightly more unfortunate to receive his p45 but the Burnley board made the wrong decision appointing him in the first place. Laws' record at Sheffield Wednesday wasn't great, and his move to then Premier League Burnley left many fans and pundits scratching their heads.

The appointment stunk of acceptability and the cheap option, but the Clarets' board hid behind an apparent complicated algorithm that suggested Laws had a fantastic points-per-pound record. This season he had the budget to compete right at the top of the Championship but, after a promising start, his side had faded and had a wretched record away from home.

Clarets' fans will still feel they can challenge for an immediate return to the top fight if a swift and positive appointment is made and the top job at Turf Moor should be an attractive position for the usual names, with Phil Brown and Paul Jewell linked immediately. It would seem one of those two is a shoe-in, but don't dismiss the possibility of a more left-field appointment - possibly an impressive, sought-after young boss like Paul Tidsdale or Eddie Howe.

Former Scotland boss George Burley had only been in charge at Selhurst Park since the summer, but with Crystal Palace facing yet another relegation battle, he's been on borrowed time from day one.

Off the pitch the Eagles are in their best shape for a long time, with the CPFC 2010 consortium led by Steve Parish and Martin Long saving the club during the close season and hoping to push towards mid-table comfort this campaign. But, following the 3-0 reverse at the New Den, Palace languish just one place off the bottom.

Relegation could undo so much of the hard work put in by Long, Parish and everyone else connected to the club so it came as little surprise that they dispensed with Burley's services. Chris Hughton and Palace legend Steve Coppell are the favourites in the early betting and either would seem to be a popular replacement among the club's long-suffering support but, again, a quick appointment is key.

It makes far more sense to change manager at the beginning of the winter window, but only if replacements are found quickly. So time is of the essence, at least for Palace and Burnley, who have realistic hopes of significantly improving under the guidance of their new bosses.

FOLLOW TERRY ON TWITTER @telpierce
DSG


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FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:terry pierce
Terry was born and bred in Wiltshire, and is a massive Swindon fan - travelling the length of the country most weekends to watch the 'mighty' Reds. He also manages a successful(ish) Sunday league side, and his life pretty much revolves around football. Five-year-old Terry was in the crowd when Swindon won promotion to the Premier League in 1993 with a 4-3 play-off win against Leicester. He cried after every goal. Read Terry's thoughts every week on life outside the Premier League. Follow Terry on Twitter @telpierce.

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