Was Owen Coyle right to leave Ross County?

Was Owen Coyle right to leave Ross County?

By James Cairney

Owen Coyle called time on his five-month stint as Ross County manager last Thursday, leaving the club at the root of the Premiership table in much the same state that he joined them: three points adrift at the foot of the league.

 

Last week’s 2-0 defeat away to St Johnstone ended up being the last time Coyle would stand in the County dugout. The Highland club have appointed former players Stuart Kettlewell and Steven Ferguson to take the reins until the end of the season. Both have experience of coaching the current Ross County squad, having been part of the backroom staff previously.

 

Now, they face a huge challenge. Ross County have played in the top flight for six consecutive seasons yet never before has the threat of relegation been so realised. The duo have nine fixtures to overhaul eleventh-placed Partick Thistle if they’re to beat the drop.

 

 

It’s fair to say Coyle’s resignation was a surprise to many of those who follow Scottish football – Coyle had given no previous indication of any intention to resign, left at a crucial juncture in the season and was considered to be doing a decent job in Dingwall.

 

With his family based down in England, it’s possible the decision was motivated entirely by non-football factors. It could also be the case, however, that the Irishman no longer felt up to it. Either way, one pertinent question remains – was he right to go?

 

A quick look at Coyle’s points per game ratio certainly suggests so. His record of 0.81 is one of the lowest of any Premiership manager this season – only Jim McIntyre and Lee McCulloch have lower rates (both of whom were sacked earlier in the season).

 

 

It’s noteworthy, however, that Coyle’s record was only very slightly worse than Alan Archibald’s. Having said that, if Coyle was gaining fewer points per game and started off with a lower total than the Thistle boss, then surely there’s no way Ross County could overtake the Jags, right?

 

Not necessarily. In most leagues this would be the case but not in the Premiership, thanks to the quirks of the split. In fixtures against the entire league, County looked doomed. But what about matches against other teams in the bottom half of the table?

 

 

The chart above compares each manager’s points per game against teams in the (current) bottom six. This gives us an idea of how teams are likely to perform post-split and interestingly, the results are a perfect mirror of the league table. Stephen Robinson and Tommy Wright are the best of the rest, while Coyle and Archibald are languishing down the bottom.

 

These results suggest that Coyle was perhaps right to go – again, his points per game ratio is significantly lower than that of his rivals. Against the entire league, the 51-year-old’s record wasn’t great. Against the bottom six it’s a slight improvement, yet he still has the worst points per game ratio of any Premiership manager.

 

 

The above graph shows our manager power rankings for the managers of the bottom six clubs. While Coyle isn’t rock bottom in this regard, it adds further weight to the case against the former Bolton boss. Results had picked up a bit in recent weeks and by the time he quit County, he was tied with Wright with +7 overall.

 

Now, this table doesn’t include managers in the top half but compared to managers in the bottom six, Coyle’s record is again poor. Our power rankings aren’t a perfect metric, but they do demonstrate how well managers are performing. In the case of Coyle, he simply wasn’t doing as well as many of the other managers around County in the Premiership table.

 

All in all, then, it’s probably fair to say that Coyle was unlikely to save Ross County from relegation. It’s strange timing for the ex-Burnley manager to quit the Highland club but, all things considered, it might just work out best for the Staggies. Appointing Kettlewell and Ferguson is a brave call but Coyle’s resignation – twinned with a lack of available candidates – has forced the board’s hand. The next nine matches will prove decisive for Ross County – fans will be hoping their new coaching team will have enough about them to stave off the drop one more time.

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