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Five EFL Managers to watch in 2023

Five EFL Managers to watch in 2023
Five EFL Managers to watch in 2023

EFL pundit Gab Sutton picks out five EFL managers to watch in 2023. The usual suspects of Michael Duff, Richie Wellens, Mark Robins, Paul Heckingbottom and Ian Evatt continue to impress, while Vincent Kompany and Michael Carrick are showing the potential to have glittering managerial careers to match that of their playing days - but these are five, slightly less obvious, names…

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Matt Gray (Sutton United)

Carlisle fans might disagree, but Sutton United had been arguably the most unlucky team in League Two with injuries in the first half of the season, with the list of absentees extending into double-figures.

Many clubs in that situation, especially those with limited resources like the U’s, would have found it very difficult to put any distance between themselves in the bottom two.

There’s something about the honest, workmanlike culture that Matt Gray and the management team have created, or at least further fostered since Paul Doswell left in 2019, that has carried Sutton through.

They’ve been able to battle for points with right-back Joe Kizzi at centre-back, winger Enzio Boldewijn at right-back, a teenager in Adam Lovatt starting in midfield and a raw, unproven bench.

This “head-down, get on with the job” mentality has partly been what has carried the Amber & Chocolates through in adversity, with nobody mentioning the R-word.

Centre-backs Ben Goodliffe and Aaron Pierre are now back for Gray’s side, along with midfielders Harry Beautyman and Ali Smith, while winger David Ajiboye – a star of the previous two seasons – has returned on loan from Peterborough.

After the perfect festive period of three straight wins, the upwardly-mobile South Londoners are now a mere three points off the Play-Offs.

While Sutton under Gray fancy themselves from set pieces, they’ve scored four from open play in the last two games and have been playing better football than a hardworking 4-4-2 outfit might normally get credit for.

Sutton League Two Promotion Odds

Sutton United
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Odds correct as of 2023-01-29 05:26 Odds subject to change.
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Gary Caldwell (Exeter City)

13 points from 10 games represents a steady start for Gary Caldwell as Exeter boss, after back-to-back away wins over Bristol Rovers and Oxford either side of New Year’s Eve.

Caldwell had felt that performances in the preceding weeks, especially those in draws with Morecambe and Sheffield Wednesday, had hinted at an upturn in results, and his side were rewarded for their efforts at the Mem and Kassam respectively.

It was a dramatic win over the Gas, with two late goals from Timothee Dieng and Sam Nombe overturning a second half deficit in an enthralling game, which showed how much there has been to like going forward about the Grecians this season.

Whether it’s been Jevani Brown in the #10 role using his skill and craft to unleash the pace of Nombe and Jay Stansfield in the front-two, or Brown and Matt Jay doing the creating for a standalone striker, City always look capable of creating chances.

Defensively, Exeter have looked vulnerable at times, not helped by the absence of Sam Stubbs, but the key centre-back returned to their squad and didn’t need to get on the pitch in a solid 1-0 victory at Oxford.

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Caldwell’s most recent success as a number one came at Wigan, where he won the League One title in 2015-16, and was considered Scotland’s next hot managerial property.

After a controversial exit from the Latics, the former centre-back fell on harder times and perhaps picked the wrong clubs in Chesterfield and Partick Thistle, before spending a period at Premier League clubs Newcastle and Man City, as Under-23s and Loans Manager respectively.

Those stints have boosted the 40-year-old’s knowledge and contacts, but in terms of getting back into senior management as a number one, he needed to pick a financially stable club, with sound ownership and a positive culture already in place.

Caldwell has certainly found that at Exeter, though that’s not to say he hasn’t had challenges in Devon: staff changes, injuries to key players and a tough fixture list made the run up to 2023 tricky, but he and the management team have overcome those obstacles with a healthy points return and competitive performances.

If Caldwell can continue to iron out the defensive issues whilst maintaining the most appealing parts about City with the ball, including the exciting progression of right-sider Josh Key and playmaker Archie Collins, then 2023 could be a big year for the Scot, and for Exeter.

Exeter City League One Promotion Odds

Exeter
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Steven Schumacher (Plymouth)

In 51 games as Plymouth Argyle boss, Steven Schumacher has seen his side take 100 points.

The Devoners have found incredible consistency under Schumacher, who replaced the man he assisted, Ryan Lowe, back in December 2021 and hasn’t looked back since.

Argyle are competing with Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich, the two biggest clubs in the division with the best squads, for automatic promotion, so for them to be four points clear of third is hugely impressive.

Schumacher inherited the 3-5-2 template Lowe left, and has very steadily evolved the tactics towards a 3-4-2-1 with two number 10s behind a main striker.

The 38-year-old has worked his magic in the loan market this season, too, with the inspired acquisitions of Bali Mumba from Norwich, Finn Azaz from Aston Villa, and Morgan Whittaker from Swansea.

Injuries haven’t made consistency easy, and a four-game winless streak including a 2-0 home loss to Port Vale saw some members of the Green Army hit panic stations, but fears have since been allayed by a four-game winning streak.

Bolton, Ipswich, Derby and Sheffield Wednesday are to come in the next six games, so if Argyle are in the same position or better after that run, they have a great chance of securing Championship football for the first time in 13 years.

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Schumacher is more understated, perhaps, than his predecessor, but his tactical nous has seen him, too, linked with Championship jobs like West Brom.

The former midfielder, though, has to be careful not to give up what he has at Home Park too easily.

Argyle have one of the best owners in the country in Simon Hallett, who has employed a top Chief Executive in Andrew Parkinson, Director of Football in Neil Dewsnip, and Head of Recruitment in Jimmy Dickinson.

Schumacher looks a fantastic manager, and he’d be the first to say he’s also a beneficiary of a fantastic structure, which streamlines his remit to coaching and managing the team – with that kind of support, it’s much easier for a manager’s ability to shine through.

Plymouth League One Winner Odds

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Liam Rosenior (Hull City)

Calm, thoughtful and well-spoken, Rosenior has made a quietly impressive impact at Hull.

The former left-back inherited a Tigers side struggling in 20th, one point above the drop zone, in early November, but now his side have lost just one in eight: seven points clear.

Key to City’s transformation is, simply, becoming consistent at the basics.

The build-up play is sharp and crisp. There are the correct distances between units. Hull are defending effectively, as a team. Players know where to be and what to do.

On paper, it all sounds so simple, and yet it’s so much better than what had been served up under the previous regime.

If the mooted January additions of Malcolm Ebiowie and Aaron Connolly, on loan from Crystal Palace and Brighton respectively, can add some extra stardust to Rosenior’s smoothly-rounded side, there is no reason why 2023 cannot be a huge year for him and Hull.

PPG projections would say City need 67 points to reach the Play-Offs, and a continuation of the 1.63 PPG under Rosenior would put them on 66, so if they can take 7-9 points off Huddersfield, QPR and Cardiff, and possibly get something at Bramall Lane, the run towards Spring could hold some intrigue…

Hull Championship Promotion Odds

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Rob Edwards (Luton Town)

The greatest manager in the modern era of Luton Town is unquestionably Nathan Jones.

It’s ironic, then, that both times Jones has departed Kenilworth Road, the team has got better: the Hatters went from 4th to 1st under Mick Harford in League One in 2018-19, and have gone from ninth to fifth this time around under Rob Edwards.

In many respects, both improvements are a credit to the foundations laid by the fiery Welshman, without which it’s difficult to imagine Harford or Edwards being able to do what they’ve done.

And yet, Luton have been able to keep the aggression and intensity about their game under the latter, whilst being cuter in their use of the ball.

While the Bedfordshire outfit were a great footballing side in Jones’ first spell, in League Two and League One, since he returned for life in the Championship, they’ve evolved into more of a direct outfit.

Luton thrived off crosses into the box, chiefly for Elijah Adebayo last season and Carlton Morris in this one, whereas Edwards has employed a more patient approach play.

The former Forest Green boss has established some lovely patterns of play, like converted James Bree into an overlapping right centre-back and combining with Alfie Doughty, an inverted wing-back.

Edwards has also got the athletic Amari’i Bell playing to his full potential at left wing-back, while he has a midfielder in Louie Watson who is always available to collect the ball off the back-three, and progress it to the relentless Allan Campbell and stalwart Pelly Ruddock-Mpanzu.

With the right January additions, Luton could be in the Play-Offs once again, perhaps even at the expense of Watford – the club who claimed they’d back Edwards “through hell or high water”, only to sack him 10 games in! 

Luton Championship Promotion Odds

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