Wayne Rooney has been sacked by Birmingham. The right call?
DG - “When you go five games without a win and take one point from those games, people ask 'is this a mistake?'
“The Birmingham board got their timing all wrong. (In the first five matches they played) Middlesbrough, Hull, Southampton, Ipswich and Sunderland. Even with John Eustace, they might have made a better fist of competing in those games but I'm not sure they would have won them. So, I think the timing was all wrong and it instantly puts Wayne Rooney on the back foot.
“Because he's Wayne Rooney, he is always in the spotlight with everybody watching and wanting him to fail. I had it when Graham Taylor was Wolves manager because he was Graham Taylor and the former England manager. It was my first experience of people wanting somebody to fail so they can jump all over them. It's not nice and I felt that has gone on with Wayne Rooney.
“The first five games were difficult before beating Sheffield Wednesday and then they played against the likes of Leicester, Coventry and Leeds. These are difficult games. Scattered in amongst those losses, there were some games you would expect them to do better in.
“But believe me, when you play five games under a new manager and you're outplayed and look way off it, there's only one way confidence goes and that is down. The spotlight then increases on Rooney and it (Birmingham City) would have been a very difficult place to be.
“The hierarchy must've been questioning themselves but Wayne Rooney is right, nobody can build something in 87 days. When I say build something, I mean getting a group of players that are used to playing in a certain way, ripping it up and starting again. There are not many people who can do that. Let alone, somebody in the first knockings of his coaching career with a backroom team (John O'Shea and Ashley Cole) who are in exactly the same boat of learning and gaining experience. Wayne has my sympathy.
“I think the two performances that really broke the camel's back were Stoke City and Bristol City at home. They were poor performances, I don't think people could see what the tactical style was meant to be. It was certainly not 'no-fear football.' After those two performances, they were never going to beat Leeds United at Elland Road.
“The hierarchy are now under pressure, they have to get this appointment absolutely spot on. If they don't, all the good sentiment that they've gained from the fans will dwindle quickly. They've done so many brilliant things off the pitch like completing stadium work and improving the training ground. They are serious people and are investing. They are here for the long haul and want to take Birmingham City to the Premier League but due to the decisions and choices that they have made, it is a lot harder for them to do so now. They need to get this appointment right.”
Where does Rooney go next - does he really have what it takes to become a top manager? What went wrong for him?
DG - “He's been brought in to change the style and, therefore, probably felt obliged to do so. I haven't been on the training ground and seen how he's gone about doing it (changing style), but I listened to an interview with Graeme Souness who said how his biggest regret was trying to instantly change everything from day one when he became manager of a great Liverpool team and it all backfired.
“I wonder if that was the case with Wayne Rooney, especially in the first five games when he wanted the players to press higher and push the full-backs high and they got punished by teams with quality. He might have tried to change things too quickly.
“Ultimately, he realised they needed to stop conceding goals. Conceding 32 goals in 15 games is unsustainable and will get you sacked. It did in the end.
“I understand his (Rooney's) pain and frustration. His statement says it all and he's hit the nail on the head with the statement on two fronts.
“I think 87 days is no time at all (to change things) but I also think now is the perfect time for him to have a breather, re-gather his thoughts and decide how he moves forward from this point. Because he is Wayne Rooney, you would expect that he gets opportunities but I have no idea where and at what level they may be.”
What next for Rooney?
Who do you think Blues should appoint as their next boss? Tony Mowbray is strongly linked…
DG - “To me, he'd (Tony Mowbray) be a very safe pair of hands. But he might be greeted in the same way he was greeted at Sunderland and at Blackburn Rovers (with discontent from fans). The Birmingham fans might not be convinced but I know his style of play is exactly what the Birmingham City board wanted Wayne Rooney to bring when they breezed through the door and let John Eustace go.
“Tony Mowbray is a seasoned and experienced coach with a seasoned and experienced coaching team behind him. He would make a much better first of it (implementing an attractive style and results), without being disrespectful to Wayne and his stint at the club, I have no doubt about that.
“Being in January, you would hope that whoever gets the job will have funds to spend. Although paying off John Eustace and Wayne Rooney might have reduced their financial capabilities in terms of recruitment!
“To me, Mowbray is the obvious and safe pair of hands that can develop players. He's done it his whole career, he develops players and makes them better.”
Should Mowbray be the number one target? Gary Rowett has also been mentioned
DG - “Again, I know Gary very well but I also know that his DNA and way of winning football is not the 'no-fear' style. It's more solid and he makes sure his teams are hard to beat first and foremost.
“Gary deserves to be a candidate. What he did at Millwall was phenomenal and there is no doubt his hat should be in the ring. If Birmingham appointed Gary Rowett, there is no chance I'll be saying they've made a mistake.
“But in my opinion, if you are Birmingham City and want this change of style, I don't see anyone better than Tony Mowbray.”
Are the wheels beginning to fall off for Ipswich Town? Winless in five with Southampton closing the gap…
DG - “It's a tough one, isn't it? Because for around the first 10-15 games, we were all waiting for the wins to slow down but they (Ipswich) kept on winning and winning. If they drew, they would then win and bounce back every time anyone asked a question of them. But they're now five without a win and have injuries to key players.”
“I think players that struggle the most when you move up a division are the defenders because the calibre of striker you are up against enhances by a couple of levels and it has shown with Ipswich. They only conceded 35 goals across the whole of last season but they have already conceded 33 and that's after back-to-back clean sheets.”
“So I think that the defence has struggled a little bit, but it has been masked by the fact they have been a free-flowing and goalscoring team for a long period of time. They've also lost George Hirst, who is a key striker and brings more than just goals and assists by occupying defenders, he is big, strong and quick, closes down from the front and holds the ball up well. They are going to miss him.
“Their next two games are Sunderland at home and Leicester City away and if they lose those two games, they will not be in second place anymore. Southampton play Sheffield Wednesday and Swansea. With the way Southampton are playing, I would expect them to get six points from those games.
“So the pressure is now on, whereas previously they consistently had a cushion of around 7-10 points over the teams below them. It's now down to three so the pressure is on.
I think they could do with a morale-boosting win in their next game. They will also need to be active in the transfer window.”
What does Kieran McKenna need in January to get his side over the line? Jay Stansfield linked with Ipswich. Could he be the key to promotion with George Hirst injured?
DG - “I think they need a striker. Freddie Ladapo and Kayden Jackson are excellent squad players at Championship level and are prolific in League One but their careers and respective track records show that they struggle to make the step up to the Championship if they have to start week-in-week-out. Jay Stansfield would be a very good addition.
“Based on what I've said (about defensive struggles), I think they need to bolster the defence, perhaps with someone who is a leader and can help them get organised at the back because the likes of Leif Davies, Harry Clarke, Brandon Williams and Wes Burns love to bomb forwards and it does leave defenders exposed.”
McKenna needs to bolster defence
Leicester are running away with it. While their squad is undeniably too good for the division, how impressive is it to have 65 points by the end of New Year's Day? How much credit does Enzo Maresca deserve and why?
DG - “I think the only people who refuse to give Enzo Maresca the credit he deserves are the people who say, 'they've got the best squad in the league, they are Leicester City and should be at the top.' I expected them to be at the top, but I did not expect them to have 65 points at this stage.
“I think it's a remarkable achievement and there are factors you have to take into consideration. They lost James Maddison, Harvey Barnes, Youri Tielmans, Timothy Castagne and Caglar Soyuncu. That's five top Premier League players and there's more.
You've got to factor in a complete change of style, you have to factor in that there would have been Premier League-quality players who probably didn't want to be at the club and in the Championship. He's brought them into the group and encouraged them that the best decision for them is to stay and help Leicester return to the Premier League.
“You have to factor in their recruitment because that's where it sometimes goes wrong for relegated clubs. The players they brought in during the summer have been absolutely first-class.
While this is the best Championship squad we have ever seen and I wouldn't argue with that, it's not just that straightforward. We have seen talented squads come down and struggle but we have never seen a talented squad respond as emphatically as Leicester's have.
“I would be surprised if they don't break most Championship records.”
It’s been an iffy festive period for Leeds United. Is Daniel Farke the right man to pursue ambitions of a top-flight return?
DG - “I don't understand how anyone can say Daniel Farke isn't the right man (to help win promotion). He won the title the past two seasons he has been in the Championship. Yes, they were different times with a different team, but look at the mess he inherited at Leeds United this summer.
“Players were going on strike, players did not want to be there and the takeover was in the process of happening. He was the one who was being pushed out to field questions in the media when somebody higher up should have taken the pressure off Farke and said 'let us deal with off-field stuff and you focus on the football.' They did not do that, he had to be front and centre.
“That, along with the fact that their transfer business was done late due to the off-field situation, is probably why they endured a slow start. Having said that, they then found their mojo and rhythm to become a monster. Nobody could deal with their front four.
“It's just gone a little bit pear-shaped across the last few games. It's their away form which is letting them down. Leeds have won 17 points away from home, whereas Southampton have won 23, Ipswich have won 25 and Leicester have won 32. There is a big difference between 17 and 32 points.
“Their last three away games saw them lose to Sunderland 1-0, lose to Preston 2-1 and lose 1-0 to West Brom. They have been struggling to break down teams that sit in, make it hard for them and don't allow them to counter-attack, which is a massive strength of theirs. That's where they will need to improve if they want to challenge Ipswich and Southampton for second.”
What have you made to Michael Beale’s start to life at Sunderland? How do you rate their chances of winning the derby on Saturday?
DG - “It's been difficult for Michael Beale due to the way he left Queens Park Rangers and it did not go well for him at Rangers. So he's straight onto the back foot joining a massive club that liked the previous manager and thought he did not deserve to be sacked. He then lost his first home game, against an excellent Coventry team who will be very close to the play-offs.
“Going to Hull and winning cut him some slack. Now they're unbeaten in three, though it was disappointing to draw at Rotherham. Despite Rotherham making it hard for teams, you would have thought Sunderland would have had enough to beat them. He's got seven points from nine and has recovered from what was a terrible start.
“He's now going into an FA Cup tie against the enemy where nobody thinks that Sunderland will win. But they have half a chance if everything goes right. Sunderland certainly have the ability to hurt Newcastle and cause them an awful lot of problems.
“It's a free hit, they do not have anything to lose. What Mick Beale will want, more than anything, is a performance. Win, lose, or draw, as long as they give a performance where the fans can see they have left it all out there, everything will be fine and they can go into the next set of league fixtures feeling pretty confident.”
Jack Clarke has been linked with a move to Sheffield United - what would you do in his situation?
DG - “He is, without doubt, one of the best players in the Championship whose next port of call, with or without Sunderland, will be the Premier League. I think he should stay.
“I will compare him to Gustavo Hamer as Sheffield United have been linked. I was surprised when Gus Hamer went to Sheffield United as there was a huge likelihood that he would be a Championship player again very quickly and it looks like that will happen.
“Jack Clarke has two-and-a-half years left on his deal. If he stays and continues this vein of form, he will have better options with respect to Sheffield United. I think it would be greatly appreciated by the Sunderland fans if he does everything in his power to get them in the play-offs and tries to help them get promoted over the course of the next six months.
“If it doesn't happen and Sunderland accept a juicy offer in the summer, the fans and everyone would then forgive Jack Clarke for pursuing a move to the Premier League.”
Are David Wagner’s days numbered at Carrow Road? Have Norwich lost the swashbuckling, attacking and fearless identity that made them such a threat in this league previously?
DG - “We've seen a different type of Norwich (compared to their previous teams). There's no doubt they have been a club in transition from the minute Daniel Farke left. They had Dean Smith and it's been difficult for David Wagner.
“But if you're Norwich City in the Championship, you have to be near the top. You have to be in the top six at the very least. They finished 13th in their first season back in the Championship after relegation.
“However, for as bad as they have been and how much they've struggled, they're still only five points off the play-offs. It's a difficult situation. I look at their record against teams in the top-six, which is played seven and won none. Broadening it out to teams in the top-half, they've won three games out of 13. That might be an indicator of where Norwich City are at this moment in time.
“Defensively is the biggest issue. They've conceded 43 goals which is unbelievable! When you look at the central defenders at the club, you'll find that they're all over 30. You've got Shane Duffy, Danny Batth, Ben Gibson and Grant Hanley. They're all 30+ and not overly mobile. It's an area of concern.
“The fact that the Director of Football, Stuart Webber, has left and been replaced by Ben Knapper has probably helped David Wagner a fraction. It's maybe given him a little bit more They are only five points off the play-offs, meaning they're still in with a shout and while they're still in with a shout he'll probably maintain the support of the hierarchy.
“There's no doubt about it, the next four or five games are massive for David Wagner's Norwich City future. They have to do better in the Championship have to.”
Wagner under pressure
Boro just can’t seem to put wins together at the moment. What is it they are missing compared to last year? Will they come good?
DG - “They (Middlesbrough) haven't been on point at both ends of the pitch. Luke Ayling has been linked and he's an absolute leader, who would do them the power of good.
“When I look at their XG conceded, I see it's 29. But they have actually conceded 39 goals with a difference of 10 which is way, way, too big. That will have to change if they are to mount a play-off charge. I believe they have the ability in the building to do so.”
“They've scored 38 goals and they've missed the most big chances in the league. Obviously, they've lost Chuba Akpom, Cameron Archer and Aaron Ramsey and the guys that have been brought in to replace them, (Emmanuel) Latte Lath has five goals, Morgan Rogers has two goals, Sammy Silvera has two, they haven't quite hit the ground running. Chances are being missed.
“So, this is a good team that needs to tidy up at both ends of the pitch. If they do that during the second half of the season, they won't be far off the play-off spots because they are a good team that should have a lot more points on the board than they have got.”
What did you make of Steven Schumacher's appointment at Stoke?
DG - “I would have tipped him (Schumacher) for any job in the Championship. I think he's been brilliant and a breath of fresh air. I think what he did with Plymouth last season was miraculous, with the budget he had, the style of play, the way he unearthed players, the way he brought the best out of players like Morgan Whittaker, Bali Mumba and Finn Azaz.
“I think Stoke may have finally found the right manager. But only if they remain patient, only if they accept that it might be a rollercoaster at the start. Because his teams are so front-footed, they often leave themselves exposed defensively.
“They won't be able to do that (leave themselves vulnerable in defence) if they want to get to the Premier League, however. So he's going to have to find a way to combine that front-foot ideology with making Stoke harder to beat and difficult to score against.
“If I was a Stoke fan, I would be very excited to watch the kind of football he serves up.”
Finn Azaz looks destined to join Boro. Another big blow for the Pilgrims. Will they be able to survive despite these departures?
DG - “I think Plymouth Argyle will understand where they are in the food chain and that these things are always going to happen. If it wasn't him (Finn Azaz), it would have been Morgan Whittaker or somebody else because they've got a brilliant recruitment system and unearth gems.
“If bigger clubs, and with all due respect Middlesbrough are a bigger club, cherry-pick their prized assets, every player has their price. Obviously, he's a Villa player but because he's done so well at Plymouth it has always meant he was going to end up somewhere else. It's just the territory Plymouth find themselves in.
“What I like is that Plymouth have coped with adversity before, and they will cope with adversity again. They lost Morgan Whittaker for the second half of last season when Swansea recalled him from his loan spell, but they still found a way to cope. They also lost Niall Ennis to Blackburn Rovers this summer and still found a way to continue scoring goals.
“Even though Steven Schumacher and Finn Azaz have left, I still back Plymouth to survive relegation and be okay.”
Were Coventry City the biggest winners of the festive period? They are on the march. Where do they rank in the play-off race?
DG - “They're (Coventry City) a good team. I've been very impressed and have barely seen them play badly, even though they found themselves entrenched within the bottom-half of the table for most of the season.”
“Their underlying numbers are really good. They were losing games that they should have drawn and they were drawing games that they should have won.
“They're now unbeaten in seven, winning four and drawing three. They probably should have won more than four, too. Obviously, Swansea City scored a last-minute equaliser against them. I expect them to kick on and be in the play-off chase.
“The biggest improvement is that Coventry are now taking their chances. It wasn't that long ago when Coventry had missed the most big chances in the league, but now Middlesbrough have overtaken them. Coventry have found their shooting boots, scoring 14 in those seven games unbeaten, whereas they had only scored seven in the eight games prior to them.
“There's your obvious difference. It's also not lost on me that Callum O'Hare is back in town, back on the pitch and enjoying his football again. While they keep him fit and at it, they will have a great chance (of making a play-off bid).”
WBA still fifth and in the play-off spots. But do they have a strong enough squad to genuinely reach the play-offs?
DG - “There is no doubt that they (West Bromwich Albion) are overachieving. There is no way they are the fifth-best team in the league and I say that with the greatest respect.
“The results say they are because that's where they are in the league, but if I look at performances they are solid, resistant, difficult to beat, know how to win games of football and know how to implement tactical instructions from the master tactician Carlos Corberan. They are a really experienced group.
“In terms of watching them, they are not the fifth-best team in the league. There are teams with better players that are below West Bromwich Albion, but they are finding a way to be genuine play-off contenders and they will be.
“The worry is this lack of money (provided by the ownership). It's a huge worry and is like a dark cloud hanging over the football club. In the face of such adversity, Carlos Corberan and the players are doing a fantastic job.
“With no money, the only option in January will be loan signings and they need to be creative. They need more bodies if they are to maintain their play-off status but they have given themselves one heck of a chance.
“Before a ball was kicked in August, I never saw them being in this position.”
What do you make of Hull City's play-off ambitions?
DG - “At Hull, the manager and hierarchy are very aligned in what they want to achieve. I know Liam Rosenior has the full support and backing of the hierarchy.
“He's doing an excellent job. When looking at the style of play and how Wayne Rooney struggled to implement it at Birmingham, Liam Rosenior managed to change Hull City's style of play while taking them from 21st in the league towards the top end of the table.
“They are a genuine play-off candidate but could do with tightening up. They have conceded nine in the last four games, with one clean sheet in their last 10 matches.
“However, they can hurt you at the other end of the pitch. Rosenior has helped Liam Delap find his mojo, helped Aaron Connolly find his mojo, and helped find Ozan Tufan's mojo. That's what a good coach can do, get the best out of players that were previously underperforming.
“(Jaden) Philogene has been a big miss, he has been sensational. Chuck in the ability of Scott Twine and that pool of five attackers can really hurt you. It's just a question of them tightening up at the back.
“Fifth and sixth will be between West Brom, Sunderland, Hull, Coventry, Watford and Middlesbrough. Which is leaving out a few teams in the mix. Without being disrespectful to others, they are the teams I can see putting a run together at the back end of the season. That's a compliment to Hull City and Liam Rosenior.”
Can I get a prediction for Cheltenham vs Portsmouth?
DG - “Cheltenham Town have only scored 17 goals, while Portsmouth have only conceded 20. People say 'are Portsmouth having a wobble?' But that's only because they've set such high standards.
“They have only lost 2 in 25 and haven't lost against anyone in the bottom half of the table and that won't change.
“Cheltenham have only won 1 in 13 against top-half teams and while Darrell Clarke has overseen a miraculous upturn, winning this game is just a bridge too far.
“I've gone for Cheltenham 0-2 Portsmouth.”
Prediction for Fleetwood vs Derby?
DG - “Fleetwood Town is Charlie Adam's first job, they are bottom of the table and it's a tough one. They are bottom of the table, they have only scored 21 goals and have conceded 42. You're always going to have problems if those are your numbers. They have won one, drawn three and lost 14 against top-half teams.
“Derby, while they lost against Peterborough in the last minute, they had won eight and drawn one of the previous nine. For me, it's an away win all day long.
“I don't often go big but I've gone for Fleetwood 0-4 Derby.”
Can I get a prediction for their game against Crawley on Saturday?
DG - “Bradford have been involved in low-scoring games recently, so they have tightened up but are struggling to score goals. It's a surprise considering Andy Cook got 28 last season.
“They are five points off the play-offs and had previously put together a really good run by winning four in a row.
“Crawley have not drawn in their last 11, winning five matches and losing six. Four of their losses have been away this season and that's the reason I'm going for a home win here.
“Bradford City 1-0 Crawley.”
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