Paul Ince made a modest start at Notts County two days after his appointment as manager, so modest it was almost invisible. Beforehand, with the wave of a man who has done nothing but get the job, he took his seat in the stand, where he was condemned by a five-match touchline ban from last season with MK Dons; this was the fifth. Afterwards he was condemned for leaving the postmortem to his assistant, Alex Rae, who had been at Meadow Lane for half as long.
Between times County lost 3-1 to Southampton, having taken an early lead and then the rough edge of a penalty decision that also reduced them to 10 men with the dismissal of their captain, John Thompson, for the last quarter. Lee Barnard, who "won" the penalty converted by Rickie Lambert, soon enjoyed Lambert's feed for a tap-in. The third, in added time from Adam Lallana, was needlessly hard.Rae was all sunshine. "The manager was very encouraged. Until the penalty we were comfortable and with a bit of luck might have scored just before it." Karl Hawley and Thompson flashed headers over in quick order after teasing free-kicks by Ben Davies, a tricky winger whose corner had been met by Mike Edwards for County's goal. Of Ince's no-show Rae said: "It's his prerogative."
It is Ray Trew's, as chairman and owner, to fire and hire managers. Ince is County's sixth in 13 months, not all Trew's doing. "The club wants stability," Ince said on Friday with impressive perception. "Attacking-wise we create a lot of chances," though on Saturday they were without Lee Hughes, suspended, and Craig Westcarr, their top league scorer with seven; Davies has five. "Maybe defensively we are not as compact as we should be," though they held up well until depletion against increasingly buoyant opponents. New managers can raise adrenaline levels but Ince saw it differently. "It's hard for players and important to make them feel relaxed, not too uptight," he said.
Having saved Macclesfield from going out of the league, playing his last match there as manager against Notts County, he rocketed up with Milton Keynes to Blackburn, where Venky's may soon have them playing like headless chickens. He was the top tier's first homegrown black manager, matched now by Chris Hughton, the pair of them assuming charge of the league's Magpies. But after 17 league games he was sacked.
He will know how Craig Short feels, the man he replaces. Short, a club legend from their First Division side of 1991-92, had 13.
He was preferred to Ince in June, when Trew may have been playing the popularity card. In revoking so soon he has played the opposite. He made the money with which he picked up the club for £1 in February as a recruitment entrepreneur. Perhaps he is practising on County.
More importantly he has picked up their debt, sustained their climb out of League Two as champions, averted administration and embraced Nottingham Rugby Club. A year ago County were prostituting themselves for Middle-Eastern money. As the oldest professional league club in the world they may have felt entitled.
Trew is still in credit, despite the Short cut to his ambition of the Championship in three years. But the hasty injustice of his axe may be seen in the League One table. County started two points and two places behind Southampton, whose victory took them to within a point of the play-off spots, with County 10 places behind. Without that penalty decision County might have been a point above Saints.
On 30 October 2004 Southampton drew at Arsenal and County lost 5-1 at Rushden & Diamonds. Movement is life and it is livelier outside the Premier League.
Short, wise to the club's financial straits, left with a three-month pay-off from a three-year contract ? once a legend always a legend. Trew has yet to attain that status. In appointing Ince he said: "He had some big ideas [Guv'nors do] and was ready to get stuck in straightaway" ? nothing new there, though it turned out otherwise and, as Ince said on Friday: "I am going to have to sit with the chairman, which is not the best position for me." From his seat he may have seen the blot on a fine old football view above the Jimmy Sirrel stand. The incinerator, probably full of former managers, sounds to have his name on it.
? This piece was altered on 1 November 2010 to correct the sentence that said Paul Ince was the Premier League's first black manager.
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