Come in No 23: Why Cowley is already on front foot as Jackett's successor
Thursday, 18th Mar 2021 22:09 by Steve Bone
Come in No 23! No, not a call you will hear at Canoe Lake once outdoor sports and swan-shaped boat hire are permitted once again from the end of the month (well actually, maybe you will), but my cry to Danny Cowley as I welcome him through the Fratton Park entrance – metophorically, of course – as the next man to be given the honour of being Pompey manager.
Yep, in 40 years of watching the Blues, I have seen the them operate under 25 different reigns – but under 22 managers in person, as that three of those have done it twice, rash fools that they must be to come back knowing what the job entails.
For the record, the managers I've seen us play under are Frankie Burrows, Bobby Campbell, Alan Ball, John Gregory, Frankie again, Jim Smith, Terry Fenwick, Bally again, Tony Pulis, Steve Claridge (in this list even though he says himself he was later told by Milan Mandaric he was only ever a caretaker), Graham Rix, Harry Redknapp, Velimir Zajec, Alain Perrin, Redknapp again, Tony Adams, Paul Hart, Uncle Avram Grant, Steve Cotterill, Michael Appleton, Guy Whittingham, Richie Barker, Andy Awford, Paul Cook and Kenny Jackett.
They fall into two main categories in terms of how they were viewed when they took over: ones who were welcomed with open arms because a change was clearly needed, and others who were up against it from the start because many fans didn't agree with the axing of their predecessor or were dismayed by a boss's exit.
The former category includes Campbell, Burrows (for his second reign), Ball (for his second) and Awford; the latter group would certainly include Gregory and Fenwick.
Because of the way this Blues season has come off the rails, Cowley is firmly in that former group. I'm not sure I can remember a clamour for change from fans growing for so long and to such an extent as did the campaign for Jackett to be replaced.
Mark Catlin could have appointed the former Hampshire spinner Nigel Cowley and been given a thumbs-up by most, the way Jackett's stock had fallen so dramatically in recent weeks. And yet, if you'd named Cowley (the former Lincoln and Huddersfield boss, not the spinner) as the incoming man at any point before the rumours became reality, I think the response might have been luke-warm. Many would have said 'Can't we get a bigger name?'
Even when the axe did fall on Kenny, Cowley was not – if you take Twitter as a measure of Pompey public opinion (a dangerous thing to do) – the favourite of 'those available'. There was big support for Daniel Stendel as soon as his name was mentioned, the German's Barnsley efforts seemingly luring some into believing he was the best bet, even if some were going by the shots he might have with fans in the pub more than those his team might get on target.
There seemed some resistance to Cowley, but that has reduced at roughly the same rate his odds for the job have fallen. People have taken the time to look into what he (and his brother Nicky) did at Sincil Bank and at whatever Huddersfield's ground is called these days (I've only just updated my records with news of their sad departure from Leeds Road).
Their philosophy at Lincoln was that they tried to build a team in the style of the city and the area – and this seems to have gone down very well, helped no doubt by the fact it worked beautifully as they took the Imps back into the Football League, where, ironically, they currently sit a few points and few places above our Super Blues in League One.
There are murmurs about the style of football Cowley gets his team playing – though opinion is divided: is it route one, or is it a lovely, flowing, pass and move game? As with almost all managers, the truth is doubtless somewhere between the two.
In my experience, complaints about a team or manager's style of football only surface if they're not winning enough games. Some will tell me they hated so-called 'Jacketball' even when we were top of the table, but I don't remember hearing many of them jump and down on the occasions when we were.
I have always been a results-led fan and if Cowley gets Pompey winning more than they lose or draw, I am sure I will delighted, and I am sure most in the fanbase will feel the same. If it's high-octane, thrill-a-minute, have-20-shots-on-goal-a-game football, even better. Happy days will be here again, but let's not hope for too much all at once.
I think the worst aspect of the last months of Jackett's reign were that, for many, apathy had taken over from anger. People who previously cared deeply about every Pompey performance sometimes didn't even realise we were playing at a particular time. They didn't really care if we won, drew or lost – worse still, some were willing us to lose games just to hasten the manager's exit. That's not an approach I could ever entertain, but it's what it came to for a few.
I'd not have been against Jackett getting the push at the end of last season after that insipid play-off effort against Oxford and the very odd decision to drop Tom Naylor from the two games. That said, I was not that surprised the owners didn't make a change then – and at the start of this season I was tipping Pompey to finish second, much to the amusement of many who wanted a pint of what I was on.
Pompey have been shrewd in giving Cowley a short-term contract. It gives them an easy get-out if the appointment proves not to be a good fit, and should also prove to be a motivating factor - to the new man if he wants a longer deal and, providing they are inspired by the change of guv'nor, to the players if they want to work him long-term and give themselves a chance of coming with the club to the Championship, this season or next.
You often hear of the 'new manager factor' that can give a team a lift. It certainly seems to work for any team we play against who have just made a change, and it has certainly worked for Sunderland – who I take now to be favourites for the title – this season. So let's hope this comes into play in the next few games and Pompey get themselves back in the top six by early April – then we can see what might be possible from there.
If it doesn't happen, perhaps the fanbase as a whole won't be too disappointed and will be glad to be able to look forward to a proper promotion bid next season, either under Danny Boy if he has done enough in his 'probation period', or someone else if he hasn't.
It's interesting to note that having missed the first 83 years of Pompey's existence, I was deprived of witnessing Fratton life under only 14 different gaffers. In other words, until 1981 they lasted for an average of six years. Since then, they've lasted, on average, a year and eight months or so. I suspect similar figures are true of many clubs up and down the land, but it does show that, not only is no appointment forever in football, very few these days are anything like long-term.
There are those that will wish Jackett's reign had only lasted a year and eight months, but I am happy to admit I had a higher opinion of him than most. I was keeping the faith right up to the defeat at Doncaster the other week, but I firmly believe he sealed his fate in between the final whistle at the Keepmoat and the half-time whistle at Northampton four days later.
Was there ever any coming back from the infamous 'It was a good way to lose' line and that first-half showing at Sixfields that prompted a savage but spot-on analysis, post-match interview and match report from The News' Neil Allen?
Perhaps a win over Sunderland and something better than the frankly insulting performance at Wembley would have bought him more time, but surely not a lot. Fans would have been waiting for the next horror show or surrender and the axe would have fallen soon enough.
I wish Kenny all the best in whatever he does next and, of course, I wish Danny Cowley the very best of luck (of which he will need plenty, along with talent and application) in his new job. And I hope I do not have a need to get the loudhailer out and yell 'Come in No 24' for a while. You never know, if things go spectacularly well, we might even finish second. But then, who was it that was saying half an article ago not to get carried away...?