Pat Nevin: Falkirk would be foolish to let go of their pass master
NO ONE enjoys being on a sinking ship, and right now Falkirk's position in the SPL is perilous. With only six wins in their 33 outings so far, it is no surprise that the mutterings from the disgruntled fans below decks have grown inexorably towards full mutiny over the past few weeks.
The sporting press are always quick to jump on to a bad news story, particularly if it involves a possible sacking, so why have they generally been so reticent about demanding that John Hughes walks the plank?
He is popular of course, as well as likeable and always good for copy with his candid, unpretentious, vernacular answers. Being a friend to the press will not overly impress the Bairns fans, but the press like him for more than that, they generally rate him as a coach. So do most football fans outside the Falkirk Stadium, as well as most of the professional football fraternity. Have we all gone mad? Are we simply not seeing the team perform, or fail to perform, week in, week out like the fans are?
The real reason why most of us think Yogi is getting a raw deal at the moment is that up until very recently he has been about as successful as it is possible to be in the circumstances. Since arriving at the club he has guided them first into the SPL itself and then to finishes of 10th, 7th and 7th. Considering the finances, the last two would be the high water mark for just about any manager at the club.
In any year there are generally only six clubs with a chance of going down – the Glasgow and Edinburgh giants along with Aberdeen and Dundee United really shouldn't be involved unless their bosses have made a real mess of things. For the rest it is a scrap and this year no one has been really cast adrift, until now.
The problem for Hughes's side is that they do not seem to be set up for a relegation dogfight. The pleasing football has been successful for six years now, but because of circumstances – and I think bad luck plays a big part here – they finally might have to change their style, much to the manager's chagrin.
A couple of weeks back Kilmarnock, or more specifically Kevin Kyle, showed Falkirk exactly what kind of fighting spirit is needed right now. There was a turning point with the majority of the travelling support when they sang, 'You don't know what you're doing' to their manager after a particularly unpopular substitution.
It was an insipid performance, but he had youthful, injured and ill players sitting on the bench beside him, making his options even more limited than the fans could have known. On top of that it is worth remembering that prior to that day no team outside the Old Firm had beaten Falkirk in the league this season by more than one goal.
Apparently a big part of the problem is that since the departure of Anthony Stokes there is no one to put the ball in the back of the net with any regularity at the end of those long passing moves. But even this cannot be the entire truth: only Motherwell from the bottom six have scored more goals than Falkirk in the league.
It could well be that John has lost his golden touch but it is more likely that it is just a season when things have not gone his way in the league. Even if Falkirk were to go down I would argue that he should have at least another season to get them back up again, because the brutal truth is that this is where the club lives, in between the top two divisions.
It is often said that the worst thing a manager can do for job security is to get his over-achieving team promoted, and this is a perfect example of raised expectations haunting the successful.
Another reason why Hughes continues to get so much support outside his own club is because of his success in getting to two major cup semi-finals this season, with a chance of going one better today.
The board must fear that having come so far with Yogi, a new manager would do very well indeed to be at least as successful. Football is littered with clubs who had fine managers jettisoned because 'He has taken us as far as he can'. Ask Charlton Athletic fans how they feel now about getting rid of Alan Curbishley. He had established them in the Premier League for almost 16 years. As they face the third tier of English football next season I wonder if they are as negative about the man now?
This season another fine young manager, Billy Reid, started out with the same high-minded ideals as Hughes about sticking by his football principles. Pragmatism took over after a torrid few months and the results improved almost immediately. Yogi, on the other, hand has relentlessly continued trying to get his team to pass its way to success since 2003.
This is the main reason why he was able to talk Arsene Wenger into giving him the talented Stokes on loan; it is also probably the main reason many of us think that Hughes shouldn't be lost to Scottish football. He is trying to do precisely what is needed for the long-term future improvement of the game. Because of this Falkirk will have more fans willing them on today, even if they don't support the club and even if they are only shouting at the pictures on the TV instead of being there.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east