Lack of realism as Staggies and Bairns press the panic button

Comment: Lack of realism as Ross County and Falkirk press the panic button

Jim McIntyre was sacked by Ross County chairman Roy MacGregor. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS
Jim McIntyre was sacked by Ross County chairman Roy MacGregor. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS

But, when Crystal Palace’s chairman panics after his manager 
loses the first four games of the season and sacks him, we say to ourselves: “Thank goodness that kind of knicker-wetting madness doesn’t happen here.” Except it does. Ross County supremo Roy MacGregor has just dismissed Jim McIntyre before September is done.

Fair or unfair? Unfair, I’d say. And McIntyre’s departure, coupled with that of Peter Houston at Falkirk, exposes the aspirations of these clubs to the fiercest scrutiny. It’s okay to think big, to dream, but are they being entirely realistic?

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The Staggies are desperate to hold on to their Premiership status. Of course they are. But there’s no divine right. Cynics – and one of that breed impressed this upon me yesterday – would argue that County are an “artificial” club. Bobbing on top of an oil geyser, propelled there by a North Sea tycoon’s 
money. Down below – way down below – is the tiny town of Dingwall with its miniscule football heritage. Few local lads play for the team, only slightly more go along to watch them.

This, I stress, is not my view. I’m not part of the grumpy Lowlands rump irritated by the speed-camera tyranny of that three-hours-plus drive which wants the Highland sides banished. It might have been through gritted teeth that I said “Well done” when County won the League Cup but that was only because I’d really wanted the other team to win.

MacGregor may have bought the cup heroes but to ensure they became heroes, to assemble a winning formation, to outwit Hibernian’s Alan Stubbs on the day, was the job and the achievement of McIntyre and his assistant 
Billy Dodds. That should have been credit in the bank for the pair, buying
them more time than five games to get County going this season, but MacGregor clearly doesn’t do his sums that way.

“We just felt maybe a change was what was needed,” the chairman said. You’d think McIntyre had been in Dingwall for as long as Houston has been in management; in fact the cup-winning season was his first full campaign. You’d think allowances would have been made for their tough run of opening fixtures – all five defeats coming against sides currently in the top six. You’d think there would have been acknowledgement that clubs like County only hold on to prolific goalscorers like Liam Boyce for a short while – and that trying to replace them can drive managers mad because 20-goal men don’t grow on posts like speed cameras.

You’d just think McIntyre would have been given a bit more time. After all, the Staggies are far from adrift and not even bottom. Until Monday morning McIntyre was looking down on Alan Archibald at Partick Thistle and Lee McCulloch
at Kilmarnock. Archibald is often called one of Scotland’s brightest young managers. McCulloch recently earned praise from Brendan Rodgers who’s making a habit of possibly surprising choices in who he anoints as he moves through Scottish football. Last season it was Jack Ross.

McIntyre might not have been fashionable to the same degree but Ross County are an unfashionable club and – though we’ll never know – I don’t think he would have got them relegated.

Who can get Falkirk promoted? Not just that, who can be a “hands-on head coach who is committed to building and maintaining a competitive and successful football team through winning, attack-minded, skilful and inspiring football”? Who can get the Bairns up and keep them in the top flight? Who’s prepared to live “within travelling distance of Falkirk and [the training base at] Stirling”?

Who is this man, this superhero? I think he just shot over Westfield’s blasted heath, travelling thataway.

Truly, the job-spec for replacing Houston is astonishing. Like McIntyre, Houston found replacing his best players a challenge. When Falkirk almost got promoted they were powered from midfield by Blair Alston and Will Vaulks, who promptly left. This season – all that there’s been of it – Falkirk’s struggles have come while rivals Dunfermline Athletic have soared to the top of the Championship, which has probably been crucial in this sacking. But back in 2015-16, just like the Staggies, the Bairns were punching well above their weight, their canny boss almost succeeding in turning water into Bovril.

Good luck to Houston and McIntyre’s successors – they’ll need it.