Graham Alexander
Credit: Salfordcityfc CC under Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International

With the season barely under way, Salford City are already looking for a new manager. For those who follow the club closely, however, the move is not as surprising as outsiders may suspect.

Graham Alexander was a little over halfway through his 4 year contract at the Peninsula Stadium. The 49-year-old former Preston North End defender was dismissed at lunchtime on Monday, following Saturday’s 2-2 draw at home to Tranmere Rovers in SkyBet League Two.

There has been a mixed reaction from the fanbase but the one constant that they are all aware of at Salford City, is change.

Johnny Crowther was born a mile away from Salford’s home ground and is regularly part of the club’s commentary team. He gave his reaction: “It’s not a shock to me. It’s a high pressure environment there and you’ve got to deliver.”

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Playing without style?

The club, who have been backed heavily by billionaire Peter Lim and the Class of ´92 co-owners, have clear ambitions for promotion this season.

Against that backdrop, Saturday’s draw with Tranmere Rovers was seen as a huge disappointment for a side that could have gone into second position in the League Two standings, had they not squandered a two goal lead with four minutes left of normal time.

Mr. Crowther added: “For me, I wouldn’t throw all the blame at Graham Alexander and [assistant manager] Chris Lucketti. They got them up to League Two, at the end of the day. But I don’t think recruitment has been good enough.”

The Ammies brought in a raft of new players this season, including former Rochdale striker, Ian Henderson. The 35-year-old front-man is The Dale’s second highest all-time goalscorer and joined in the summer. Whilst he has five goals in seven games for his new side, the team as a whole has struggled to match playing expectations.

Season ticket holder, Dave Farrar, has been watching the Ammies since their amateur days in the Manchester League and believes that the style of play of the team has been behind the decision.

“They do not play attractive football. You look at the stats this season – the opposition has had more shots on goal than us in every game. [Goalkeeper, Václav] Hladký has covered up an awful lot of, dare I say, weaknesses in the team,” Mr. Farrar said.

Mr. Farrar, 66, is also an administrator of the Salford fans Facebook group and added: “Graham is a lovely bloke but I think he’s just too cautious. He wasn´t willing to take games by the throat… but the pressure is ridiculous.

They’re expected to win every game and if you don’t, this is what happens.”

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Panicked or Decisive?

Alan Howarth has been a season ticket holder over the last decade. The 33-year old points to the departure of the previous co-management pair of Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley as form that the owners can wield the axe at any time, putting the Graham Alexander situation in context.

“In the last two or three years, it’s got more and more like a circus really, with the sacking of [Graham] Alexander. It’s not the first time… Bern [Bernard Morley] and Jonno [Anthony Johnson], got us promoted [to the Conference National] and then lost their jobs,” Mr. Howarth said.

Cruising with a 2-0 lead against Tranmere, Alexander brought on striker, Tom Elliott, to replace the injured midfielder, Darron Gibson, instead of possibly consolidating the lead by bringing on a defender.

Howarth believes that this decision, combined with the ensuing draw, cost Alexander his job, adding: “If you want to see the game out when you’re 2-0 up, why bring on a striker? Why not bring on a centre back in Tom Clarke, who has Championship experience?

“The players idolise Graham… they were into his ideas. When a club’s in decline, you can just tell by performances on the pitch that they’re not playing for the manager… but that wasn’t the case on Saturday, they were there playing, 2-0 up and in a comfortable position.

“I think the club have just panicked. They’ve looked at the tactics on Saturday and they’ve panicked.”

Ammies season ticket holder, Andy Thurston, feels that the decision to part with Alexander was based on the side’s previous performances at the Peninsula Stadium. He points to the team’s poor form, in front of the owners, as the reasons for his dismissal:

“He didn’t win enough games at home. And the thing you’ve got to remember is, the Class of ’92 are watching at every home game and… [winning] three games in the last twenty – the writing’s on the wall isn’t it?

So, I was gutted, shocked but not surprised.”

Rapid success but are the club prepared?

With football facing an existential crisis and many League Two clubs struggling to survive due to the impacts of COVID-19, Mr. Farrar believes that the wealthy owners know how important it is to get promotion this season.

“You can’t complain. It’s their baby. And that’s the thing. They’re putting the money in, rather than the fans… and this season is the season to get promoted. It’s an open goal, with COVID… it’s too good [an opportunity] to miss,” Mr. Farrar added.

Fans have witnessed a meteoric rise for a side that was playing in the 8th tier of English football six years ago. For some, the pace of change may have been too fast, for a side only into its second ever season in the Football League. Mr. Crowther believes that changes on the pitch have led to a loss of a local connection for the side.

Reflecting on the changes, he added: “I don’t see as many local lads in the club any more. When Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley were there, they were very much about that. Liam Hogan was club captain, he was a local lad.

“When you’ve local lads playing for a local club, they always give that bit extra…. but I know it’s hard when you move higher up the leagues and you’re going to get more established and experienced players in – you can’t choose where they’re from.”

Alan Howarth was watching Salford City back when they were in the Northern Premier League Division One North and is wary of how rapidly progress is being sought.

Mr. Howarth said: “You’ve seen clubs before – they go up too quickly, and get back to back promotions and then they get back to back relegations because they just haven’t got that structure in place.

“The thing that confuses me even more is how many times do you see Gary Neville on Monday Night Football [on Sky Sports] say, ‘give the manager time, give him support’ and he’s only given Alexander  five games of the new season. Bear in mind that we’ve been in a pandemic; the players haven’t played, they’re not fully up to speed and we’re unbeaten. It just contradicts what he’s saying.”

Whatever the thinking behind the decision, the target for the new boss will be to achieve promotion and do it in style. And if the manager cannot achieve that, they need to merely look up to the stands and see the expressions on the faces of the Class of ’92.

Salford City will play Port Vale at Vale Park on Saturday and will be led by caretaker manager and co-owner, Paul Scholes.

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