Why Sacking Sheridan Before August Is Out Makes Little Sense

Despite picking up just two points from their first three league games Chesterfield FC were wrong to sack their manager, argues Will Strauss.

Right, I’m going to set my stall out early so there is no confusion.

I don’t agree with either the sacking of John Sheridan as the manager of Chesterfield FC or the timing of it. Nobody was happy with relegation last season but I believe that, if he had to go, he should either have been sacked in May following confirmation of our return to League 2 (giving a new man a full summer to bring in his own players) or he should have been given until Christmas to prove that he was pointing the club in the right direction. Relieving a manager of his duties when there are still 129 more points to play for is quite simply too early.

There, I’ve said it. Now, with that out of the way, let’s try to look at this more objectively.

Although Sheridan is currently on gardening leave we must assume that the decision was made for footballing reasons.

So, let’s look at the results. We’ve only picked up two points from three league games. And we’ve been knocked out of the League Cup. In modern football this constitutes a ‘bad start’. And, as we have to consider everything in the context of modern football, questions should be asked (even if, last season, Reading lost four of their first six matches and still won the Championship at a canter).

Having been to two of those three league games I am reasonably well placed to provide some background.

Away at Wimbledon on the opening day of the season, such was our dominance of proceedings that we could’ve been 4-0 up inside twenty minutes. As it turned out, we weren’t, the home team scored a breakaway goal and that, as they say, was that. A lack of confidence and temperatures hovering above 30 degrees centigrade both played a part in our inability to get back into the game.

Surrender Possession

At home to Rotherham on Saturday, we surrendered a lot of possession but we created just as many openings as our expensively assembled opposition (who, for the record, played some decent stuff). The Millers had more shots on target and had a goal disallowed while we hit the post twice and had decent claims for a penalty turned down. A 1-1 draw was about right.

To my mind at least, there wasn’t much difference between the teams other than the excellent Kayode Odejayi, a player that we also struggled against last season when he was at Colchester. My major concern was our inability to work the keeper. When Rotherham got into decent positions, they tested Tommy Lee and forced him to make several good saves. When Chesterfield created openings, they did not make Scott Shearer do likewise.

I didn’t go to the Rochdale game but, by all accounts, we had four attempts cleared off the line. So, adding all that up, with a bit more luck we could have, say, five points right now instead of two.

Surely, such fine margins are not a big enough stick to beat a manager with?

One thing that I did notice on Saturday was how ineffective some of our new signings were. Our best players on the day (Lee, Mark Allott, Neal Trotman and Nathan Smith) were all at the club last season. Marc Richards, the striker, as well as defenders Sam Hird and Terrell Forbes looked short on confidence, despite their obvious attributes.

At the time I dismissed it as it can often take a team a bit of time to gel. But, in hindsight, if you’re the chief executive and you’ve just agreed to splash out several thousand pounds a week on their wages, perhaps it’s more of a concern. Sam Togwell, another new signing, had a poor first half too but a much better second one. So it wasn’t all bad news for the new boys. If the board were looking for signs of an early return on their investment, however, there may not have been that many.

Player Power

The suggestions I keep hearing are that ‘Shezza’ didn’t have a great relationship with the players and this may have had an impact on his future employment prospects. But several tweets in the last few hours contradict that. Former players Dwayne Mattis, Dean Holden and Craig Davies as well as last season’s loanees David Davis and James Hurst have all made positive noises about Sheridan. Admittedly, winger Dean Morgan didn’t (but that won’t come as much of a surprise to those that follow him).

As you would expect following relegation, crowds are definitely down. The 7,232 that turned up at the weekend were bolstered by nearly 2000 from South Yorkshire. Our average crowd last season was 6,530. Against Rochdale, only 4,595 turned up. A season back in league 2 will certainly come at a financial cost.

But is any of that evidence enough to get Sheridan the boot before August is out? Not least as, statistically speaking, clubs changing managers during a season subsequently tend to perform worse than those that do not.* Fortunately, I suspect it is not. From what I have read it does not seem like a potentially embarrassing knee jerk reaction. It was one based on the last twelves months, not the last twelve days.

In an interview following the announcement of Sheridan’s departure, chief executive Chris Turner said: “We have to be conscious of the fact that we were relegated last season, but we did win the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, the squad was assembled this summer and out of the four games we’ve played we have yet to win one. Added to those factors and one or two others things that were here in the mix, the decision was made.”

The important line coming out of the football club is that the board wanted “the football club to kick on again” and to be seen to be “moving forward”. And I cannot argue with that sentiment. But, contradicting it somewhat, they’ve put the previous manager’s assistant in charge and they “are not looking at making an immediate appointment.”

I like Tommy. He seems like a decent lad. And he’s far less grumpy in front of a TV camera than Sheridan (which can only be a good thing). But I don’t see how his this will rectify any of the problems highlighted above.

He won’t excite the crowd, bringing thousands of floating voters back to the TAFKATBS (The Arena Formerly Known As The B2Net Stadium) and with the wage bill limit now reached, he’ll be stuck with the same players.

Maybe he can enthuse those players in a way that his former boss could not. I don’t know.

What I do know is that I will back Tommy Wright and whatever he does but, even when I attempt to look at it objectively, the decision to sack John Sheridan before the end of August makes very little sense.

By Will Strauss. As well as writing about his first love, Chesterfield FC, Will is currently coming up with articles for DPR, the roofers in Leeds.

* “The Performance of Football Club Managers: Skill or Luck?” (November 21, 2011). ICMA Centre Discussion Paper in Finance No. DP2011-24. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1962574