Another busy weekend has flown past again, this time with the addition of the Manager of the Month awards for the Football League. As usual, there were no surprises, and wise choices were made as those commended have led their respective sides to a successful month on the pitch.
Sheffield Wednesday boss Alan Irvine picked up the gong in the Championship, having led his side to four wins out of their five fixtures. Not bad at all, especially considering that the former Preston boss was only appointed the Owls’ new manager a month ago. These were not just any five fixtures, but his first five in charge at Hillsborough. People often talk about the so-called ‘New Manager Syndrome’, but Irvine has taken it to the next level, only tasting defeat thus far with Wednesday at fellow strugglers Scunthorpe. Many will point to the fact that these opening games have come against other relegation candidates but the fact is that you still have to beat these sides. They won’t just roll over because of their league position. Three points against relegation rivals often feels like two victories in one, and so the importance of Irvine’s impact this month cannot be understated. It’s also worth noting that he has taken his side to high-flying Blackpool and left Bloomfield Road with a victory there too. No mean feat at all, and so Alan Irvine is a very worthy winner of the Manager of the Month accolade. No doubt Wednesday fans will be keeping everything crossed as he looks to lead them further away from danger.
Norwich City may have succumbed to Millwall on Saturday, but prior to that, they had not tasted defeat in the league since mid-October. That statistic alone is testament to the effect that Paul Lambert has had on the side since he arrived at the club earlier in the season. The Canaries had a very shaky start to say the least in League One, but the appointment of the former Wycombe and Colchester boss has seen the Carrow Road ship steadied, and the Norfolk side now find themselves sitting pretty at the top of the table. Six straight victories in January (eight if you dip into December too) is a record that speaks for itself. At the start of the campaign, it seemed as if Norwich might need a period to adjust, before potentially making a push for promotion next season. Lambert has proved such a theory to be nonsense and, sitting as they do now, anything less than an immediate return to the Championship will have to be seen as failure. However, it is only right that Lambert is applauded for what has been achieved thus far, and his recognition is well deserved for the month.
January has seen Northampton Town shoot up into play-off contention in League Two. Ian Sampson picked up the award for the bottom division, as his Cobblers side have started the New Year unbeaten, notably picking up a victory at Bournemouth, who look set to be in promotion contention come May. Northampton are a side who have bounced between Leagues One and Two in recent years and following their relegation last season, they were perhaps expected to perform better than they have done. Should they continue their good form into February and beyond, there is no reason to doubt their play-off credentials. It is also worth noting that Sampson’s men were the only of the three winners to avoid defeat this weekend just gone, recording a 1-0 victory away to Dagenham. It would seem that the ‘Curse of Manager of the Month’ hasn’t struck the Sixfields side.
Sticking with Northampton, the club recently announced a new scheme for fans wishing to purchase their season tickets for 2010/11. Fans who buy theirs before March 5, will be rewarded with a free week’s accommodation in either Spain or Tenerife. This is the latest in a string of initiatives offered by clubs across the country who have sought to attract more support into the grounds. It’s an interesting offer and although it may not be a complete holiday (you’ll have to pay to get yourself there), it is still a fantastic incentive to get your ticket early on, and potentially attract a number of new fans to the club. Another deal from a few seasons ago was introduced by Bradford upon their relegation to League Two, who slashed season ticket prices and were thus able to announce sales of over 12,000 prior to the start of the season – a truly phenomenal number for a club who had just suffered relegation to the basement division.
Unfortunately, Bradford didn’t achieve promotion and currently still find themselves in League Two. Manager Stuart McCall has today decided to step aside from the managerial hot-seat, despite his love for the club and determination to bring success to the Bantams. McCall had threatened to step down at the end of last season after City failed to reach the play-off’s, but was eventually persuaded to stay on. However, the Scotsman has been unable to improve the position of the Yorkshire side, and met with his bosses this morning to discuss the best course of action.