I was on a training course last week and amid the strains of FreeLove Freeway, one nugget of wisdom stood out – apparently, it’s unfashionable these days to recruit an expensive new CEO from elsewhere as empirical evidence shows promoting from within often bears better results.
I’m in no position to refute this thinking and this season’s Football League skirmishes have been characterized by a recruitment policy that is fully in keeping with these straitened times.
Witness how Barnsley turned to David Flitcroft on the ousting of Keith Hill, the way Doncaster chose to promote veteran campaigner Brian Flynn when Dean Saunders upped sticks to Wolves and Gareth Ainsworth’s clambering into the Chairboys’ chair at Wycombe.
But perhaps the most understated appointment of all was that of Joe Dunne at Colchester United.
Dunne’s has been a long managerial apprenticeship – he enjoyed a previous spell as caretaker boss after Paul Lambert departed for Norwich in 2009 while he has also occupied the positions of under-17s, youth and reserve team coach.
That same course asserted the importance of ‘coaching’ in today’s business environment and if an insistence on the use of open questions bears little in common with the formation of tactics on North East Essex marshes, it was encouraging to see the Irishman gain his chance.
Not that the champagne corks were popping, mind. Despite over a hundred games for the U’s, fans had become jaded by a run of nine games without a win at the start of the season. John Ward had gone and Dunne’s promotion seemed strange given his linkages to the old regime.
Despite getting off to a fine start with a 3-1 win over bottom feeders Hartlepool and an unlikely 1-0 success at Swindon, come the turn of the year and United were back in trouble. Indeed, a spell of exactly two months between late November and late January saw Colchester lose eight on the spin – a 5-1 reversal at MK Dons merely the lowlight of a painful period.
Dunne was perhaps fortunate to hold on to his job but on the evidence of Saturday’s scrappy 1-0 win over Preston North End, he may now cling on.
The secret has been an astute pillaging of the loan system – not so much the odd judicious signing here and there, more a swingeing overhaul.
Most notable among the arrivals have been Chelsea youngsters Billy Clifford and Sam Walker and Burnley wide man George Porter – and while Dominic Samuel has already returned to parent club Reading, Dunne also countersigned a number of permanent deals – Jack Compton and gigantic centre back Josh Thompson joining from Portsmouth, David Wright coming in from Crystal Palace and Jabo Ibehre moving from Milton Keynes after an earlier temporary stint.
All the newcomers had good games against Graham Westley’s punchless team – another side in trouble with one win in thirteen and whose fans were not slow in showing their disapproval.
Walker looked particularly impressive in goal – mirroring the opponents’ Thorsten Stuckmann in his comfort under the high ball and commanding his area well. With Thompson forming a solid central defensive partnership alongside Magnus Okuonghae, a player tipped to move to Reading in last January’s transfer window, the U’s had little trouble dealing with a North End attack that lacks a reliable source of goals.
At full back, John White has played more matches than most for Colchester this campaign and looks worth his regular starting billing while wouldn’t it be good if Brian Wilson were to continue to emulate him? I wonder if he sings Sloop John B in the dressing room?
Wright mops up in front of the back four, diminutive and tenacious, while Clifford really stood out as the more attacking of the midfielders. My PNE supporting travelling companion took an instant dislike to the Slough man, but he’s the kind of player you’d want in your team – skilful and a little fiery.
It was a Colchester line up equipped with attacking intent and Gavin Massey’s thunderous smacking of the upright sounded a middle of the first half warning while Porter was rightly man of the match on the day – up against a more than competent left back in David Buchanan, his deft abilities occasionally recalled another Clarets’ wing man in Glen Little – there can be no higher praise.
If Ibehre was ineffective in the first half, he grew in stature as the piece unfolded and became a real menace in the latter stages – to the extent that a tangle with headbanded Aussie and Christian name dodger Bailey Wright led to the latter receiving his marching orders – presumably for something he said to the referee.
Which leaves Freddie Sears – a man who has often appeared like the word ‘forlorn’ was invented to describe him – not least this season when he started appallingly and not least despite many, many attempts to establish himself at West Ham – that ghost goal in an earlier loan appearance for Crystal Palace at Bristol City has often seemed to haunt him.
In truth, he was quiet here too – looking put upon in comparison to the energetic promptings of Massey, Porter and Ibehre – but that didn’t stop him capitalising after the Preston defence parted like the Red Sea – the game had been destined to finish 0-0 at that point.
So following on from a 2-0 defeat of Walsall and a 3-2 victory at hapless Portsmouth, Dunne’s charges can now rest a little more easily, even if gates remain worryingly low at the Weston Homes Community Stadium.
Indeed, a glance at the programme reveals Tranmere and Yeovil as the next two visitors to the city, while Sheffield United at Bramall Lane is not the kind of fixture you need when points are at a premium. Still, with Portsmouth and Hartlepool looking doomed, The U’s are currently well positioned to stave off the dreaded drop.