Premier League Sack Race: Hughes Must Pay Price For QPR Short-Termism

If the usual media mouthpieces are to be taken at their word, then the Premier League has already had everything this season. 

Astonishing comebacks, individual brilliance, cats amongst pigeons, toys out of prams, tactical mastery, tangible misery, upsets, upstarts, uphill struggles, a West Brom team that can defend, a Man United team that can't. Danny Simpson's text messages alone providing more disbelief and discontent than other leagues see in a decade.

But if there's one thing we've been missing (aside from the inevitable Balotelli mini-soap) it's been the thudding sound of a manager's p45 as it's pulled towards the earth by the gargantuan weight of the pay-out it's tethered to. Like a parachutist with elephants for socks. 

Much like the proverbial school sports day, the sack race is awkward to watch, and usually won by someone who'd rather not have been in it in the first place. We've sat and watched patiently as the likes of Chris Hughton, Paul Lambert, and the taxi driver in charge of Reading have batted away their detractors, and this past weekend the prime candidates for the push faced off in a match that was dubbed “El Sackico”.

Eye rolling play-on-words aside, Saturday's crunch match between Nigel Adkins' happy-go-plucky Southampton, and Mark Hughes' arse-from-stray elbow QPR seemed about as close as football could get to those PPV Wrestling matches where the drama is cranked up by sacking the loser. Both managers could, despite their positive crooning in the press, feel the searing chill of the breath of a nervous board on the back of their necks, and knew that their only chance of placating their pay masters was by winning. Naturally, I bet heavily on a 0-0. 

As it was though, Southampton came out on top, scratching and biting their way over the sinking corpse of their opponents and getting to within one point of the surface of the relegation zone. Nigel Adkins earning the right to put on his best cardigan and jive to the latest upbeat melody at the local discotheque; Mark Hughes consigned to an evening of watching his Barca highlights on VHS while the wife asks him when he's going to fix the latch on the shed.

At the time of writing, Mark Hughes is still in a job, but his position is so tenuous that it might simply be because Tony Fernandes was unable to find neither a pen, nor a stationary shop that was open on a Sunday. Less than a year after Sparky took the job, and mere months after vowing not to get caught in a relegation bun fight again, Mrs Hughes has already started circling senior positions that appear in the classifieds of the local rag.

Had it been a different result on Saturday it might well be Mrs Adkins making “oooooh” noises at a supervisor vacancy at B&Q, but ultimately this has to go down as not just a victory for Southampton, but a minor triumph for the good guys.

Southampton are, even by their own admission, probably overachieving to even be in this league. Back to back promotions to the top flight a mere three seasons after going into administration is the sort of ascent that would make most of us need to sit back down in the chair for a moment. Despite that, they've stayed true to the club’s traditions by signing Jay Rodriguez, Gaston Ramirez, and Emmanuel Mayuka – three players unproven in this league/country/continent, and all still young enough to qualify for a discount railcard.

Contrast this to the expensively assembled and drastically under-performing squad assembled by QPR since their promotion. A team that now includes four Champion's League winners, but started the season with a grotesquely bloated first-team, half of whom now firmly camped in the 30+ age bracket. Then the acquisitions started - Ryan Nelsen is 34, Andy Johnson 31, Rob Green 32, Park Ji-Sung 31, Cesar 33, and Jose Bosingwa 30, and they'll all be happily running down their bumper contracts when the side needs another expensive overhaul in two years’ time.

Mark Hughes, in his solitary year at the helm, has conducted an embarrassing campaign of short-termism. Not only that, but the financial crowbar required to unseat him from his £3million-per-annum throne might take up whatever budget his replacement would have had for January. In short both he, and whoever was upstairs okaying everything, have created the sort of mess that would have gotten most of us grounded a few years ago.

Meanwhile, down on the South coast, Adkins, a physiotherapy graduate and former Bangor City goalkeeper, has bought himself a stay of execution. His young (average age at the weekend: 23) and free-scoring (more goals than any other team in the bottom half) side still have a lot of work to do this season, but given the immense pressure they've been under to get a result lately, their ability to play with complete freedom and belief on Saturday in going forward is a glaring, throbbing hint that they've got the right man in charge.

Click here to read more from Bet.Unibet columnist Adam Clery.