Richard Sutcliffe: Impressive managers are showing that Yorkshire is in bloom

Sheffield United's manager Nigel Clough. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Sheffield United's manager Nigel Clough. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe.

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A QUICK glance at this season’s Championship may not suggest that Yorkshire football is in the rudest of health.

Not with the quartet of Huddersfield Town, Leeds United, Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday all marooned in a footballing no-man’s land, where the play-offs are palpably out of reach and relegation is something for others to fight against.

Barnsley are faring even worse, sitting three points adrift of safety, and it is clear the Reds badly need another of their famous rescue acts to kick in.

Completing Yorkshire’s list of representatives in the second tier is Doncaster Rovers. Before a ball was kicked in August, Rovers – along with Huddersfield – were priced as third joint-favourites after Yeovil Town and Barnsley to be demoted.

So, Paul Dickov’s side being on course to stay in the Championship deserves praise. Even so, a Championship table where our teams can all be found in the bottom half of the rankings suggests Yorkshire football is struggling.

Scratch below the surface, however, and the opposite is true. Hull City, for instance, are on course for their highest ever finish in the league while next month they head to Wembley for a first appearance in the FA Cup semi-final for 84 years.

Sheffield United lie in wait for the Tigers after a quite remarkable turnaround in fortune that has had records tumbling and a feel-good factor return to Bramall Lane that has not been seen since Neil Warnock took the club into the Premier League.

Rotherham United and York City are also on course to reach the play-offs in Leagues One and Two respectively.

York, in particular, didn’t expect to be sitting seventh right now and, for that, Nigel Worthington must, at this stage, be seen as a contender for what I consider an award that can act as a true gauge of how the county’s football scene is faring. Yorkshire’s Manager of the Year.

Just look at last season, one of the most memorable for the county in several years with four promotions in the Football League and not one relegation.

For this correspondent, Phil Parkinson deserved the mantle of top boss for taking Bradford City to the League Cup final and play-off success. But only just in front of Steve Bruce and Steve Evans, who also led their respective teams to promotion.

There were several other managers who deserved to be placed in the ‘highly commended’ category, too, with Brian Flynn doing an admirable job after replacing Dean Saunders and David Flitcroft leading Barnsley to safety when all hope seemed lost at Christmas.

And let’s not forget Worthington and how he steered York to safety via a 13-point haul from the final five games.

This time around, Bruce has to be a contender again. Hull, second favourites for the drop in August, sit in mid-table while victory over the Blades on April 13 will mean the Tigers becoming only the eighth Yorkshire club to compete in an FA Cup final.

A United win, meanwhile, and Nigel Clough – an inspired appointment – will create history as the first manager to lead a team from the third tier to the final. And if that doesn’t make the Lane chief a leading contender then I don’t know what does.

Across the Steel City, Stuart Gray may not have Wembley to look forward to., but he can bask in a remarkable recovery job that has seen Wednesday ease clear of relegation trouble.

Another fine season for Rotherham – for so long seemingly Yorkshire’s only hope of promotion this term before the revivals of York and the Blades – also makes Evans’s case as he chases back-to-back promotions.

As impressive as all these managerial performances are, however, perhaps the most remarkable job right now is being done at Conference side FC Halifax Town.

The Shaymen are part-time in a division where tomorrow’s visitors to the Shay were last week watched by a crowd of 8,500 and yet Neil Aspin’s men sit just one point outside the play-off places.

This, despite his players working during the day and midweek games meaning the Halifax squad can only train once a week on a Thursday night.

Halifax might not make the top five but, even so, Aspin’s job deserves recognition.

The next six weeks or so will, of course, decide who deserves to be the county’s top manager this season. But don’t let anyone say that Yorkshire football is struggling. Not with so many bosses doing such a fine job.

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