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Managerial Carousel: Bristol City and Rovers seek new leadership after dual firings

Kieran Warren analyses recent dismissals from Bristol City and Bristol Rovers.

Manager-less Bristol in action Epigram / Kieran Warren

By Kieran Warren, Sport Deputy Editor

It comes as a shock to see not one but two managerial dismissals within the same city, this being the circumstance currently plaguing Bristol City and Bristol Rovers. 

Both Nigel Pearson and Joey Barton started their respective roles on 22nd February 2021, with both teams facing the drop to lower divisions. In their first seasons, Pearson and Bristol City narrowly avoided leaving the Championship by finishing in 19th place. Barton and Bristol Rovers were not so lucky, falling fate to the depths of League Two.

Both managers would soon find their individual successes. Pearson's development of youth prospects, such as Alex Scott, became essential to creating a well-oiled machine; in this he hinted at the possible return of Bristol City's glory days and playoff battles. In his second season, Barton would lead Rovers back up to League One, pulling off a miracle on the final day of the 21/22 season with a thumping 7-0 win over Scunthorpe United. This provided the additional five goal difference necessary to leapfrog Northampton Town and secure a promotion.

However, following an unsteady set of results for both clubs early in the 23/24 season, it seemed to be time up for both Pearson and Barton. Barton was dismissed on 26th October 2023, with Pearson following only three days later. Both Rovers and City were sat in 15th place in their respective leagues, but despite the mediocre form the teams displayed, both managerial dismissals seemed to lack any strong conviction from the owners of the clubs.

With both clubs being one win away from pouncing into the top half of the table, their performances did not reflect those of a team in complete disarray, prompting the question – were the owners wrong in their decisions?

Historically, both clubs performed better under the two managers, with Pearson bringing City from 19th in 2021/21 to 14th in the 2022/23 season. Furthermore, Barton, despite starting with the club in an almost guaranteed relegation spot, managed to promote and keep Rovers in League One, with a momentous effort to secure 17th place and keep a place for the following 23/24 season.

As shown by results this season, neither club has been struggling with relegation. Both teams are comfortably placed in 15th spot with just one win allowing both to jump to the top of half of the table. So, what justification do the owners have for sacking both individuals?

Simply, it can be seen as a lack of patience from the owners of both City and Rovers, however it doesn’t justify their decisions, especially with the approach that Pearson was taking in producing young talents such as Alex Scott, Sam Bell and Tommy Conway: all of which have proven to be great successes. Scott earned a move to Premier League side Bournemouth for a club record fee of £25 million, whilst Bell and Conway have proven to be key components for City. Pearson’s project was structured around youth development, a process which requires time and patience and perhaps takes inspiration from the Dutch team, Ajax. Furthermore, to help further the owner’s apparent ambition for success, the failure to act with approving transfers, (the record fee being Alex Scott's transfer) is something that certainly does not make sense for the goals of promotion as claimed by City Chairman, Jon Lansdown. The goals set by the chairman are somewhat ludicrous considering the club have not challenged for playoffs actively since the early 2000's.

Like Pearson, Barton’s managerial style was that of a no-nonsense attitude, which was prominently shown whilst at Rovers. Whilst this management style has been criticised for affecting team moral, it certainly seemed to work positively for Rovers with their instant promotion from League 2 in the 2021/22 season following their relegation the previous year. Barton’s attitude to his team and club held moments of hot-headedness, but were a result of his passion for the sport rather than a lack of rationality; he remained unafraid to call out individuals who were not putting in the right performances or efforts at the club. This management style has been proven effective most notably with Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, whose first few seasons saw him have a negative impact before he hit the ground running. In all this, we can observe how the sacking does not make logical sense. Fans from both clubs did not ask for this, and were certainly not pleased when it occurred.

At the time of my writing this article, Rovers had won their following two matches against Northampton Town and Whitby Town, followed swiftly by a draw away at Reading in League 1 and the FA Cup. However, these results are somewhat expected with Northampton sitting 20th and Reading 24th, which leads one to consider whether the draw was poor as well... As for Bristol City, I personally attended their home fixture against bottom-of-the-table Sheffield Wednesday who, despite no Pearson and Sheffield being down to 10 men early on, struggled to demonstrate any signs of improvement. City thus scraped a 1-0 victory for the three points.

Overall, the sacking of both Pearson and Barton was done without proper thought or justification, both of whom took that of an Abramovich approach to their ownership styles in the hope that it would benefit them in the long run. At the time of my writing, City have just employed Oxford United coach Liam Manning to take the reins, whilst Rovers look to be allowing interim manager Andy Mangan the opportunity to perform due to his unbeaten start. Despite this, fans have stated that their draw to bottom-placed Reading was the worst performance in the three matches by some margin.

Hopefully, for the sake of both City and Rovers, these decisions from the club owners do turn out for the better.

What do you think of these recent dismissals?