The five shrewdest Football League appointments of the season so far

Jack Kitson by Jack Kitson / 30 March 2020, 16:08

As of late March, there have been 35 appointments this season across both the Premier League and Football League.

Six have taken place in the top-flight - two of which were at Watford - while the Championship has seen seven switches, League One has witnessed eight changes, while there have been a league-high 14 new additions to League Two.

A fraction of these arrivals have back-fired. Quique Sanchez Flores oversaw just 12 games in what was a disappointing return to the Hornets nest, Leyton Orient gave Carl Fletcher the boot after just 29 days, and Graham Westley managed just one league win in his short-lived fourth stint at Stevenage.

On a more positive note, we’ve pooled together five of the shrewdest appointments of the season to date. 

We must stress that we’ve not simply just listed the managers who have accumulated the most wins since their respected arrivals - after all many gaffers joined clubs in despair - but instead we’ve focused on a manager’s overall impact.

With that in mind, we’ve been forced to leave out the likes of Neil Harris (Cardiff City) and Gary Rowett (Millwall) who have both done fine jobs at their respective Championship clubs, both of whom are on the periphery of the play-offs. 

As well as Phil Parkinson, who stuttered out of the blocks at Sunderland but has since got them ticking - sort of - while Glyn Hodges has done a very commendable job in difficult circumstances at AFC Wimbledon, as has 34-year-old newbie Russell Martin at MK Dons.

**Note: We’ve only included managers that have overseen 10+ matches**


A risk worth taking: Both Stoke and Michael O'Neill took a gamble in November

Michael O’Neill (Stoke City)

If only results since Christmas were taken into account then Stoke City would be third in the Championship with 24 points from 14 matches - and that’s having played a game less than Nottingham Forest (25 points).

The club’s transformation since November, when they replaced Nathan Jones with Michael O’Neill, has been pretty damn impressive, although it’s worth recalling that both club and manager made a risk when putting pen-to-paper. 

The Potters were recruiting someone who had never managed in England and hadn’t managed at club level in eight years. While from O’Neill’s perspective, he was joining a side that were not only rock-bottom of the table, but a club that had blitzed their way through four managers in less than two years.

O’Neill romped to victory in his first game, as Stoke thundered four goals past Barnsley. They’ve since scored five goals on two separate occasions, beat the Baggies at the Hawthorns, won more league games at home (seven) in the space of five months than the whole of the previous year, and in turn propelled themselves off the foot of the table up to 17th.

Above all, Stoke fans actually enjoy supporting their rejuvenated team once again, and if the club continues on its upwards trajectory then a future promotion push could be on the cards.

Appointment: 8th November 2019

Games: 23

Win Rate: 43.4%

Ian Holloway (Grimsby Town)

The managerial arena had been a quieter place without Ian Holloway, who made a surprise return to the dugout with Grimsby Town on New Year’s Eve, 18 months after he left QPR. 

But, not only was The Sack Race columnist back in management, he’d also become a director, having bought shares in the club.

Simply put, he’s been a massive hit with the club and the community.

Holloway, in true Ollie fashion, has thrown himself into his new surroundings with buckets of enthusiasm and charisma; from significantly improving both performances and results, to taking his players on bowling trips, and visiting local schools. 

Upon his appointment, Holloway took charge of a confidence-crushed and demoralised Grimsby side who had failed to win any of their last 15 matches dating back to September. He subsequently won his opening game in charge, and has since stamped many more victories to the board with his troops rising from 21st up to 13th in League Two; one point off the top-12 and 25 points clear of the relegation zone.

Appointment: 31st December 2019

Games: 14

Win Rate: 42.8%

Danny and Nicky Cowley (Huddersfield Town)

Back in September the Cowley brothers made the difficult decision to leave Lincoln City after a hugely successful three years, during which they; cannonballed the club from non-league up to League One with two league titles, lifted the EFL Trophy and reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.

The dynamic duo then jumped up a division to join Championship side Huddersfield - a club they’d beaten in the cup the previous month - who were 23rd and winless, while they’d only won one of their last 31 league games over the course of the previous nine months.

The Cowley’s lost their opening two games before accumulating 15 points from a seven game unbeaten run. Fast-forward to the current pause in play and the Terriers have barked their way out of the bottom-three up to 18th.

The Cowley’s have raised spirits, made shrewd loan signings, and have not been afraid to shake things up. The promotion chasing trio of Brentford, Nottingham Forest and Bristol City have all been disposed of, while The John Smith’s Stadium is bouncing again with fans treated to five wins from their last eight visits. 

Furthermore, the club’s tally of 41 points from 31 league games under Danny and Nicky Cowley surpasses that of David Wagner's opening 31 matches at the helm (29 points) - as calculated by Examiner Live.

For a more in-depth review of the Cowley’s impact, check out this article by Gab Sutton, who recently looked at six ways the brothers have got Huddersfield Town back on track.

Appointment: 9th September 2019

Games: 32

Win Rate: 34.3%

John Yems (Crawley Town)

A run of 14 defeats from his final 18 matches saw Gabriele Cioffi lose his job at Crawley Town back in early December. 

In came the club’s former boss John Yems, who said upon his re-appointment: "I want to get the feelgood factor back at the club and have everyone on board and pulling in the same direction."

Yems has been more than true to his word, transforming a club that couldn’t stop losing into a solid and well structured outfit who have become difficult to beat. So much so that under Yems’ tutorship, a re-energised and organised Crawley have since lost just three of their last 18 games, with their only defeat in their last nine matches at League Two leaders Crewe.

In turn, the club has moved from 17th up into the top-half of the table and within 10 points of the play-offs, so watch this space!

Appointment: 7th December 2019

Games: 18

Win Rate: 33.3%

Mark Bowen (Reading)

We now head back into the Championship for our fifth and final appointment: Mark Bowen at Reading. 

We could have easily included Gary Rowett or Neil Harris instead, but despite the controversy surrounding his appointment - more of that in a second - we’ve got to give credit to the job Bowen has done in charge of the Royals. The surprise element of his impact also helped our decision.

Back in October Bowen, at the time Reading’s sporting director, caused a real stir when he sacked manager Jose Gomes, then helped appoint himself as the replacement, despite having no managerial experience to his name.

However, the Welshman swiftly ended the club’s seven game winless run by overseeing a 98th-minute victory against Preston in his opening game. In fact, he recorded 10 points from his first four games, and has since taken Reading from the relegation zone to 14th, and within three points of the top-half. have done the maths; reporting that Reading would be fifth in the table based solely on Bowen’s 26 matches in charge, with the boss taking 40 points from a possible 78.

“I felt myself and my staff could make an impact,” Bowen told the media outlet. “It gives me a little bit of pride when I look at the 26 games and where we've come from and where we've been.”

There will always be question marks over his initial appointment, but few can argue with the results Bowen’s obtained so far.

Appointment: 14th October 2019

Games: 31

Win Rate: 38.7%

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