HAMILTON Accies midfielder Jon Routledge has had what he calls “a hard week”. “It’s been emotional,” says the garrulous Liverpudlian. He has watched as an inspirational figure cut ties that have long bound the pair. Too soon, believes Routledge, in his second spell with the Lanarkshire club.
Speaking to the 25-year-old, you wonder if he will ever get over his beloved Steven Gerrard leaving his beloved Liverpool. “I’m gutted. I love him,” says Routledge, who was in the Liverpool youth ranks and was in Istanbul to watch Gerrard “pulling us through” to win the Champions League in 2005.
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Routledge wasn’t prepared for Gerrard’s departure. Yet, though he acknowledges the suddenness was “still a shock”, he wasn’t “exactly surprised” at the loss of his Hamilton manager Alex Neil to Norwich City, capping a mentally draining week. “Not with the results we have been having and all the attention he has been getting,” says the midfielder.
The question that will now be answered is how fundamental Neil was to the incredible upswing in fortunes of the most modestly resourced team in the Scottish top flight – a rise that will see them aim to reclaim third spot from Inverness and extend their one-point lead on Dundee United when the sides meet tomorrow at New Douglas Park.
Martin Canning has been installed as interim player-coach. Initially he will be assisted by trusted Neil lieutenant Frankie McAvoy, but only until he joins up at Carrow Road on 1 February.
“We will carry on as best as we can, obviously,” Routledge says. “We always try to work together as a team and we will just try to carry that on. Obviously the manager is a big part of that but a lot of the players have played together for a lot of seasons now. I hope we can carry that on and continue doing well for the remainder of the season.”
The elevation of Canning was considered a natural step by Routledge. The “interim” prefix in Canning’s job title allows for an out but, in terms of continuity, you can see a certain logic in a long-serving 33-year-old Hamilton defender having replaced a long-serving 33-year-old Hamilton midfielder.
Neil, though, is a tough act to follow. His first full season in management was the 2012-13 campaign in the second tier. He was placed in permanent charge – he too started as an “interim”, taking over from Billy Reid in April 2012 – of a team that hadn’t been near the promotion race the previous season.
Fortune may have favoured him with the penalty shoot-out win against Hibernian that earned Hamilton a return to the top flight, but the club’s ability to operate at the top end of the top tier has been testament to Neil’s work.
Routledge has no doubt Neil can transfer his skill set to the English Championship. “There is no reason why he can’t also be a success down there. He is single minded. If he knows people have got question marks about him that will just make him work even harder just to prove them wrong. But he will do it for himself first of all. He will let the players know what he is about straight away and get the team ticking over and playing well.
“He doesn’t take any nonsense from anyone. He doesn’t care who you are or what you are earning. He is a great man-manager and great with us. Maybe there will be a few more egos [down south], a bit more money in their back pockets – but he will handle it well. They will know that if they are not pulling their weight that they won’t be playing. I think he will get that right down there as well.
“There is no reason why he can’t reach the play-offs. I am hoping he does. He who works so hard. He is an honest man and he deserves it. I wish him nothing but the best.”
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