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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 December, 2007, 12:00am

The managerial merry-go-round in the English Premier League has been spinning furiously this season, and this weekend three managers go into battle with their new teams.

Paul Jewell, formerly of Wigan, faces the most difficult task of all with rock-bottom Derby. Steve Bruce has taken the reins at Wigan, having left Birmingham, where his replacement is former Scotland manager Alex McLeish.

As usual, most of the managerial changes have come at struggling clubs, where panic tends to set in quickly among chairmen and supporters alike.

Of the bottom seven in the Premier League, five have changed manager with barely one-third of the season gone - the two teams that haven't changed are Middlesbrough and Sunderland.

Yet there is no firm evidence that changing manager during the season has a dramatic effect on the fortunes of a club, or even a positive impact at all.

Of 41 mid-season managerial changes in the Premier League in the past 10 seasons, only 18 yielded an improved league placing compared with the position when the previous manager left the club, and most of those improvements were marginal.

Considering that four of the teams to have changed manager this season were in the relegation zone at the time of the split, it is instructive that there have been 16 previous managerial changes by clubs in the relegation zone and only four of those clubs escaped the drop.

One of those was Newcastle in the 1999/2000 season, but their sacking of Ruud Gullit came in August, which meant that they were almost certainly in a false position near the bottom, and in any case there was plenty of time for them to climb the table. For Newcastle that season, read Tottenham this season, as it would be a major shock if they were relegated under new coach Juande Ramos.

The other three teams to have changed manager this season while in the relegation zone are Bolton, Wigan and Derby, and they will be drawing hope from the examples of the other great escapees from a similar position.

The most recent was West Ham last season, who were 18th when Alan Pardew left the club in December but survived in 15th place at the end of the season under Alan Curbishley.

Before that, Southampton climbed from 19th in late October to 11th by the end of the 2001/02 season under new management and Sheffield Wednesday went from bottom in early November to 16th in 1997/98. Those escapes pre-dated the introduction of the January transfer window, which now rules out the type of quick influx of players before Christmas that might in the past have paved the way for better results under a new manager.

The prospects look bleak indeed for Wigan and Derby, who have eight and six points respectively. Since the Premier League was reduced to a 38-match season, 13 teams have had a single-figure points tally at this stage of the season, and 11 of those were relegated.

The two exceptions were Coventry in the 1995/96 season (the first with 38 games) and Blackburn in 1996/97. Both clubs changed manager early in the season - Coventry in early November and Blackburn in late October - so there is a glimmer of hope for Wigan and Derby.

For the teams currently on 10 points (Middlesbrough and Sunderland) and 11 points (Bolton and Birmingham) the chances of survival are higher, but still it will be touch and go. Since 1995/96, 21 teams have been at that level at this stage of the season, with just over half (11) going on to be relegated.

Half of the other 10 finished only one place above the relegation zone, and only three of the teams managed to climb out of the bottom six, so the current bottom six should brace themselves for a hair-raising ride from now until the end of the season. Six of the bottom eight are in opposition this weekend, and one of those matches (Reading v Middlesbrough) provides the best-value bet in the Premier League. Reading won nine out of 10 at home to bottom-half finishers last season and they have continued in similar vein this season with three wins out of three against current bottom-half teams.

Jewell has a shot at a good start with Derby, who travel to third-bottom Sunderland. The hosts could be open to some improvement, however, as they have lost only one out of seven so far against current bottom-half teams, with two wins and two draws out of four at home.

McLeish faces a tough trip with Birmingham, who go to Tottenham. Under Martin Jol, Tottenham had an exceptional home record against non-big four teams, winning 32 out of 44, and that trend continued in Juande Ramos's first home league game when Wigan were beaten 4-0. Birmingham have lost on all four Premier League visits to White Hart Lane. Bruce starts at home with Wigan, though the visitors are third-placed Manchester City. Sven Goran Eriksson's side are clear favourites, but they rank only 12th on away form this season and could be vulnerable.

Reading and willing

Reading's win percentage at home to non-big four sides since promotion. Back them to boost that against Boro: 75

City blues

Away matches against north-west rivals without a win for Manchester City, who have lost 11 of the last 15: 15

Grounded Canaries

Defeats out of six for Norwich against current top-half sides in the Championship. Stoke should beat them: 6

Home comforts

Wins out of 10 at home to bottom-half finishers for Valencia last season. They look good to beat Bilbao at home again: 8


Karlsruhe, Hertha Berlin, Reading, Stoke, Palermo, Nuremberg, Valencia.

Hertha we go

Hertha Berlin's ranking in the home table this season. They can make it six wins out of eight against Leverkusen: 5


$150 Reading (HW, Sat), Stoke (HW, Sat), Valencia (HW, Sun). Last week: two winning bets out of five.


Arsene Wenger lost on his first two trips to Aston Villa in the Premier League but Arsenal are unbeaten in eight visits since, with four wins and four draws


Chelsea v West Ham

Blackburn v Newcastle

Portsmouth v Everton

Wigan v Manchester City

Sunderland v Derby

Reading v Middlesbrough

Aston Villa v Arsenal


Liverpool v Bolton

Tottenham v Birmingham