Mid table marvels – five bosses worthy of praise

There have been several managers that deserve praise for Herculean efforts this season. Sean Dyche’s remarkable season with Burnley, Russell Slade making Leyton Orient genuine automatic contenders, and Tony Pulis turning a doomed Palace side overnight into a viable Premiership survivor to mention but a few.

But what of those that have perhaps had less attention due to their mid-table status, in itself an impressive season given their club’s situation? A season of ‘mid-table mediocrity’ when avoiding a damaging relegation battle isn’t something to be taken lightly, but often gets lost in the excitement of the action at both ends of the table. Those that have quietly had a pretty decent year, despite what expectation levels of some of their own fans may have been.

Here are five managers sitting safely who fit the bill.

1. Eddie Howe
Steady Eddie returned to Bournemouth last season with them in a complete mess. But with a rapid turnaround and remarkable run Howe steered them from relegation battlers to a surprising automatic promotion. It’s only 5 years ago that they clung on for dear life in League 2.
21st would have been a great achievement for a club that hadn’t been at that level since 1990. But with some shrewd signings like Elliott Ward and Yann Kermorgant added last summer, Bournemouth haven’t really looked like relegation fodder at any stage of the season. Which is a huge credit to Howe, who’s been rewarded with a contract extension to 2018.
2. Paul Cox
Mansfield’s promotion from the Conference ended five seasons out of the Football League. In the process, Paul Cox started appearing on the promising manager radar. Avoiding relegation was the minimum expected from Stags fans, and all began well. In October Mansfield were around the playoff zone, with Cox being linked to the then vacant jobs at Notts County and Sheffield United.

That purple patch was followed by the doom and despair of three winless months. No wins in 13 saw the Stags drop to within a point of the relegation zone – with fans’ patience at a low. But Cox has turned them back round in 2014 – last week’s impressive 4-2 win at Hartlepool highlighting their revival. Mansfield now sit in 12th, practically safe. That would have been a decent achievement at the start of the season – bearing in mind their position at the turn of the year, Cox has done really well. His promising reputation duly saved.

3. Micky Adams

A 5-0 thrashing by Bristol City last week, where Adams was subjected to abuse from some of the Vale fans – the suggestion that Adams deserves big praise might raise an eyebrow. But like Bournemouth, having gained an impressive promotion last season the key factor was to stay up – and they too have been comfortably out of what’s a highly competitive battle at the bottom of League 1.

Unlike Bournemouth, they are all over the place off the pitch. The chairman has this season banned the main local paper from the club, told a number of football agents in December that the club was temporarily unable to pay money owed to them, and has even struggled to pay policing bills for Vale Park. And last week, as Adams prepared to get an emergency goalkeeping loan in, he discovered Vale were under a transfer embargo. Sitting 11th, 11 points off the drop zone, with the resources available to him, Adams has perhaps been the only reliable thing at Vale this season.

4. Stuart Gray

Put simply, Stuart Gray shouldn’t be in the driving seat at Hillsborough. Milan Mandaric hurled him the keys after Dave Jones’s sacking last December, with a very clear intention at the time that this would be temporary. After all, while a loyal assistant in his career (mainly to Jones), his brief disappointing spell managing Southampton and his disastrous spell at Northampton didn’t give Gray a great managerial CV.

But while Neil Warnock dithered over the job, Gray began to impress in his caretaker role. With no other candidates meeting Mandaric’s standards (or with no decent candidates willing to work with Mandaric), Gray earned himself a full time contract to 2016. So far he’s brought much-needed stability and led a turnaround in form. Whereas the managerial changes at Barnsley, Blackpool, Charlton, and Millwall haven’t significantly impacted on league position, Gray has lifted the club from 23rd to currently 14th. And he’s managed not to incur the wrath of Mandaric – an achievement in itself.

5. Mark Hughes

It may raise a few eyebrows that Hughes completes this list – not least in Stoke itself where there seems to be something of a divide among some sections of the Britannia. Many were fond of Pulis, and will no doubt be looking at his transformation of Palace as further justification he shouldn’t have been moved on.

Wherever Hughes has gone he’s never seemed to gain complete support. But Stoke fans need to look at this as quite an encouraging building year for the club. Hughes has overnight steered the club in a completely different footballing direction – and often, that sort of drastic change can create resistance. It wouldn’t have been at all surprising to have seen Stoke at this stage in the midst of a relegation battle, rather than effectively safe in 10th. And for that alone, it’s success for Sparky.

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