THE sacking season is well and truly underway as the International break looms large. Yesterday, Peter Houston became the first Championship casualty of the season after a dreadful start to their campaign.
By lunchtime today, Ross County followed suit by giving Jim McIntyre his P45 after a run of six Premiership games without a victory, becoming the top flights second sacking after Ian Cathro’s dismissal just nine hours into August.
Whilst the sackings of Houston and Cathro are understandable given the expectations of their respective clubs, the fact McIntyre has been ditched after over three years was very surprising given what he’s achieved at the club.
Looking doomed midway through 2014/15, County embarked on a great run after the winter that saw them survive comfortably in 9th place. The following season saw further improvements with a top six finish and their first major honour following a 2-1 victory over Hibs in the League Cup Final, the clubs finest hour. Last season, they struggled to hit the same heights but, helped by the Premiership top scorer Liam Boyce, they again comfortably survived, finishing in 7th place.
This season was always going to be a testing one for McIntyre, particularly without Boyce who was sold to Burton Albion for around £500k in the summer, and they have found goals hard to come by, hitting just five in their opening seven matches as they search for their first win since the opening day of the season.
However, there is no question that Roy McGregor has hit the panic button far too early with this move given McIntyre’s record and the fact that County traditionally finish the season strongly after an inconsistent start.
McGregor has also not taken into account that County have had some difficult fixtures to start their campaign, taking on last seasons top three, hosting Hibs and travelling to in-form Motherwell. A trip to Kilmarnock, who possess a poor home record, and home matches against Hearts and Hamilton offered them encouragement that they could pick up some points sooner rather than later and bring their first win since defeating Dundee on the opening day.
It is understandable that McGregor would be worried at his sides slump as they seek to preserve their top flight status that they earned in 2012, and had it continued further into the season he could’ve made a greater case to make a change. He will argue that doing so now gives a new manager a better chance of assessing his squad and making changes that will bring survival, but McIntyre had earned the right to pull the club out of their current predicament.
McIntyre’s sacking does beg the question – what is the ambition for Ross County?
If it is survival first, then today’s announcement is even more ludicrous. McIntyre was doing that and more, including leading his team to League Cup glory, and Dingwall has become a difficult venue for opposing teams during his tenure. Even the most diehard County fan would find it difficult to say that the club should be doing more than just survive given the resources they have compared to the top clubs in the League.
It’s not the first time that Roy McGregor has binned a popular manager. Derek Adams was controversially removed to make way for McIntyre in 2014, though that decision was based on Adams foreign recruitment policy and constant refereeing outbursts as much as results. That proved to be a good decision, so he’ll be thinking that lightning can strike twice in that his next appointment can improve the clubs current run of results.
County won’t be short of applicants. Paul Hartley has made no secret that he wants to return to management after his dismissal by Dundee, and he won’t be phased at going to the Highlands considering he applied for the Inverness Caledonian Thistle job back in 2013. He’s just one of many who will, likely, be putting their CV to Roy McGregor.
Whoever gets the job will have the task of ensuring that County preserve their five year reign in the top flight, and try to threaten for a place in the top six. They also have the unenviable task of getting goals out of a side who’ve struggled to hit the net since Boyce’s departure, whilst their defence and goalkeeper need to stop conceding poor goals at the other end, as emphasised in their recent defeat by Rangers.
County have good enough players to pull them away from safety, as they’ve proven throughout the last few seasons, so a new manager is not necessarily inheriting a bad squad, just one lacking confidence. Will a new voice get the best out of them?
Ultimately, time will tell if the new manager can emulate the job of Jim McIntyre, and his predecessor Derek Adams, as Roy McGregor prays that this hasty decision doesn’t come back to haunt him come May.