The Managerial Hitlist – Mark Hughes, Rafa Benitez and Phil Brown

The season may be still very much in its infancy but as Bryan Gunn at Norwich, Simon Davey from Barnsley and Peter Jackson of Lincoln have all found out, it is never too early to be fired. Managers in the Premier League are usually afforded that little bit more patience with boards loathe to admit that the millions of pounds worth of summer transfer spending has been in vain before the transfer window has even slammed shut. However, with the chance to buy new players now gone and the international break signalling that the season really starts here, underachieving top flight managers the country wide will be nervously looking over their shoulders.

Things change quickly in football, and for some that is good news. Alex McLeish’s days looked numbered at Birmingham despite securing promotion, with rumours abounding that he and his employers did not see eye to eye. A solid start to the season and the likely takeover by Carson Yeung means Big Eck can breathe easier for now. Likewise David Moyes, who has recovered from a disastrous opening day hammering by Arsenal and fans’ frustrations at a lack of summer spending by splashing the cash received for Joleon Lescott and making progress in Europe. Here we take a look at some of the managers who are still walking the managerial high wire.

In the firing line: None… yet.

Looking over their shoulder: Mark Hughes (Manchester City), Rafa Benitez (Liverpool), Phil Brown (Hull City), Gary Megson (Bolton Wanderers), Paul Hart (Portsmouth).

Safe as houses: Carlo Ancelotti (Chelsea), Harry Redknapp (Tottenham Hotspur), Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United), Tony Pulis (Stoke City), Arsene Wenger (Arsenal), Martin O’Neill (Aston Villa), Steve Bruce (Sunderland), Owen Coyle (Burnley), Gianfranco Zola (West Ham United), Alex McLeish (Birmingham City), Mick McCarthy (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Roy Hodgson (Fulham), David Moyes (Everton), Roberto Martinez (Wigan), Sam Allardyce (Blackburn Rovers).

Mark Hughes – So far, so good for Mark Hughes’ Manchester City team in the league. Three games have brought three victories and the Citizens sit high up the table, level on points with rivals Manchester United. With summer spending rivalled only by Real Madrid however, this is the very least expected of Sparky and his team considering the standard of opposition faced. Blackburn, Wolves and Portsmouth are all more likely to be fighting relegation than pushing for Europe come May and much sterner examinations await the Blue half of Manchester. With the greatest respect to the former Wales boss, Hughes is hardly the marquee name that would be expected to be in charge of a billionaire funded club. Whether he proves himself to be more Avram Grant than Jose Mourinho will have a lot to do with how long Hughes remains in the job. City has already equalled the number of away wins that they achieved last season, one of the biggest criticisms aimed at the first year of his reign. Coming up after the international break are much stiffer tests at home to Arsenal and away to United in the Manchester derby and much more will be known about the prospects of the expensively assembled team following those two games. Two good showings and a handful of points will signal that City are contenders. However, two defeats might signal that Hughes and his team are not reaching their potential and it might be an expensive new manager being recruited to go with all the pricey players.

Rafa Benitez – There is something not quite right at Liverpool. For a club who came close to winning their first league title for two decades last season, rumours of a managerial change are startlingly common. The problem seems to emanate from a lack of unity between Liverpool’s warring owners and Benitez himself. The crazy level of borrowing needed by Messrs Hicks and Gillett to fund their unwanted purchasing of the club has left Rafa without sufficient funds to challenge in the transfer market. In have come Glen Johnson, Alberto Aquilani and Sotiris Kyrgiakos but out have gone Xabi Alonso and Alvaro Arbeloa for a net spend of around £0. To qualify for the Champions League and finish as runners up in the cash-rich Premier League and still have to sell to buy does not bode well for a manager looking to improve his squad enough to make a sustained push to end a long title drought. No wonder Benitez is gloomy. To compound matters, the Reds have followed up a poor pre-season with a dire start to 2009/10. But for the harsh dismissal of Bolton’s Sean Davis, Liverpool might have struggled to overturn a deficit at the Reebok on Saturday, a result that would have left them with three defeats from four games. As it stands, they are only six points from top, but given that they lost the league by just four points last season, this could yet prove to be a critical gap to have opened up already.

Phil Brown – As Christmas approached in 2008, Phil Brown was more popular in Hull than Santa. A phenomenal start to their maiden Premier League season had seen the Tigers beat the likes of Arsenal and Spurs and sit in and around the European places in the table. Hull were a breath of fresh air in a league full of over-paid egos and prima donnas and were fast becoming everyone’s favourite other team. Fast forward a few months and Brown and his side were fast becoming laughing stocks. One win in their last 22 league games of the season was worse than relegation form and Hull only stayed up by virtue of Newcastle’s failure to pick up points themselves. It all seemed to go wrong – at least in the public eye – at half-time of their match away to Manchester City on Boxing Day, with the now infamous public dressing down afforded to the players by Brown. Having lost 4-1 at home to Sunderland in their previous game, Hull now trailed City 4-0 and the former Derby manager let his team know what he thought of them on the pitch in front of the travelling supporters. Although the team picked up in the second half, the dismal run of results that followed suggested Brown had lost the dressing room. Having taken an opening day lead against Chelsea this season, Hull ended up losing to a last-gasp goal and one wonders where the surprise bonus points they gained last season will come from this time around if they are to let such opportunities slip.

The Managerial Hitlist

Mark Hughes, Rafa Benitez and Phil Brown – September 3

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