Alan Biggs: Don’t rush to judge managers

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Bradford City and, to a lesser extent, Barnsley have been two of the success stories of recent times. Good on both of them.

Far be it from me to inject a sour note into proceedings. There is only sweetness for a fourth tier side going to a Wembley final, even if it results in a 5-0 defeat. And Barnsley’s upset at Bristol City - also conceding five - was not bitter enough to eclipse the six-match unbeaten run that’s given them real hope of surviving in the Championship.

But forgive me for feeling that the feting of the two managers behind these achievements has been a touch OTT.

Yes, Bradford’s Phil Parkinson has earned his place in history for the sensational Capital One Cup run that accounted for Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa.

Yes, David Flitcroft has had an inspirational impact at Oakwell since stepping out from the shadow of his managerial mentor Keith Hill.

Spare a minute, though, to check out the Bantams’ mid-table position in League Two. That is punching below their weight, even allowing for games in hand.

Without detracting from Parkinson, who I’m certain is on the way up in his own right, players don’t need much motivating against Premier League outfits in cup competitions.

Yet suddenly Parkinson is one of the most coveted managers in football, wanted by several higher up the chain. That for me - without a promotion bid on his Valley Parade CV - is another example of the fickle nature of a game that all too readily follows fashion.

Now to Flitcroft, who has made all the right noises and nearly all the right moves as a clearly popular coach who has instilled a renewed belief into Barnsley’s players.

He’s done brilliantly, yes. So far. But there is nothing particularly new in any of this.

The cult of the caretaker boss - which Flitcroft became during Barnsley’s ill-fated pursuit of Sean O’Driscoll and Terry Butcher - is no longer a phenomenon. In fact, it has become normal for results to improve. Initially.

Malcolm Crosby is a name to conjure with here. Who? Precisely. Crosby was the stand-in manager who became an overnight hero by leading Sunderland to the FA Cup final in 1991, which was enough to land him a job from which he was sacked within a couple of seasons. Crosby has stayed in the game but well below the radar, currently chief scout at Birmingham.

Which is not to say a similar slide will befall Flitcroft or Parkinson. Simply that they need judging over a longer period. Just as we are far too quick to accuse managers of “failure”, we can be equally premature in awarding accolades for “success.”

Wilson remains above negativity

Turns out the scout who helped Russell Slade plot Leyton Orient’s point at Sheffield United is a bloke I’ve known for years. But I don’t have to unmask him or break any confidences to deduce that the masterplan was to smother a Blades midfield revolving around the creativity of Kevin McDonald and Barry Robson.

It worked, as did Slade’s surprise omission of top scorer David Mooney in the hope nippier players would test United’s centre backs for pace.

Yet Danny Wilson had an answer for it all at the end of a frustrating night: “It’s easier to destroy than to build.” Even easier was the defence that his team are still in an automatic promotion spot after five unbeaten matches and 13 points.

This is a manager talking a better game than his players are playing in some cases.

But even the most frustrated fan - and with some justification there were many on Tuesday - would have to concede that Wilson’s positivity is working in the face of an atmosphere of negativity.

Your columnist hasn’t seen the better displays but can see why superior individual quality could decide many a tight contest to come. The Barry Robson pass - one of several defence-splitters from the former Celtic and Middlesbrough star - that home-debut striker Dominic Poleon poked wide was an absolute peach.

Goalkeepers count in this, too. Had Tuesday’s been a hard-won away draw then George Long would have got far more credit for some quite brilliant saves.

The teenager’s agility and positioning was the major plus point, barring the point itself that kept United in a great position.

Milan is right to be looking up

Two things leapt out at me from Milan Mandaric’s progress report on Sheffield Wednesday’s website this week. He talked animatedly about “next” season (suggesting Leeds can run alone with their ownership saga for a fair bit longer) and he seemed not to allow for the possibility that the Owls would be playing in anything other than the Championship.

Then again, a few Wednesdayites I know would haul him over the coals for seeming to rule out a spectacular push for the play-offs!

Some might accuse the chairman of arrogance or over-confidence for making bold noises with Dave Jones’ team only five points clear of third bottom.

But it’s hardly complacency to be promising a summer strengthening initiative and indicating that the planning is already underway.

I’d prefer to give Mandaric credit for the power of positive thinking. It’s true that Wednesday can’t afford to lose sight of what’s behind as well as in front of them. But the owner’s optimism can be as infectious as an impressive run of form.

And however close-run his decision to “resist” a change of manager and keep Jones in charge, it’s likely there will be clubs at all levels regretting that they did not do the same.

Keith does it by the book again

The title comprises four words that would strike fear into most of us: “You are the Ref.”

Who in their right minds would want that job? But the invitation to be a referee from the comfort and safety of an armchair is irresistible. After all, it’s from there that we all make far better decisions than the actual man in the middle.

So there’s no risk whatsoever in becoming a virtual match official courtesy of Sheffield’s former FIFA referee Keith Hackett and artist Paul Trevillion.

They have teamed up again to provide another superbly illustrated guide to the complexities of the job. It’s out in the spring - watch this space for a detailed review shortly.

Pawson steps up to the big league

Congratulations and good luck to Sheffield referee Craig Pawson on his promotion to the Premier League.

Last weekend Craig was presiding over the lowly League One encounter between Scunthorpe and Hartlepool... this Saturday he takes charge of Capital One Cup holders Swansea versus Newcastle.

Craig’s top flight debut comes in his fifth season as a Football League referee and reflects the high marks that have given him a shot at joining the select group.