Mark Carruthers: Why the job of caretaker manager has always fascinated me as ex-Sunderland forward takes on new role

The role of caretaker manager has often fascinated me.

Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 4:50 pm
Mark Carruthers returns with his latest non-league column.

After all, it is a role cruelly laden with contradictions.

Responsibility without real authority, expectation without pressure and coping with managing results and performances with a background of uncertainty and doubt.

By contrast, it also offers opportunity for anyone willing to step into the role at a time of crisis.

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That is why I have watched on with interest as former Sunderland forward Craig Lynch took temporary charge of Northern Premier League club Morpeth Town over the last week.

Lynch formed a key part of the backroom staff of former manager Stephen Turnbull and was handed the caretaker reigns for a run of key fixtures in the aftermath of Turnbull’s departure from the club.

Taking over a side sat bottom of the Premier Division table with just one win from their opening eight league games was never going to be an easy task and that is why I felt the need to be at Craik Park last Tuesday night.

An unpredictable Lancaster City were the visitors for Lynch’s first game in charge and the two sides produced an eventful 90 minutes that could leave nobody in doubt over the commitment or passion of the Morpeth squad.

Although they could only battle their way to a 2-2 draw, the Highwaymen players showed plenty of desire as they moved on from an utterly dreadful 2-1 home defeat against fellow strugglers Witton Albion just three days earlier.

After recovering from falling behind in the first 20 minutes, Morpeth looked on their way to a much-needed win thanks to two goals in nine minutes from Andrew Johnson and Michael Turner.

Only a late - and some would say harsh - penalty decision robbed them of an invaluable three points but Lynch had seemingly provoked a reaction from the players under his temporary charge.

A quiet chat after the game revealed some frustrations from the former Black Cats youngster - but there was a quiet satisfaction about the performance his players had put in.

The two sides met once again four days later with a place in the FA Cup third qualifying round on offer in their Craik Park reunion.

Just as he had in his first venture into caretaker management, Lynch had to content with a whole host of unavailable players and injuries - and was forced to name three academy novices and his goalkeeper coach Dale Walker amongst his substitutes.

Once again, to their credit, the Morpeth players produced a performance full of heart, desire and no lack of skill as they blew away their step three rivals with a 4-1 win that was as deserved as the scoreline unquestionably suggests.

But what now?

Saturday brings an even tougher looking contest with a trip to face a Buxton side that have been widely tipped to push South Shields for the league title throughout the season.

At present, the Derbyshire outfit sit in fourth place in the table, five points behind the table-topping Mariners - but they possess a squad full of players with experience of life in the top tiers of the non-league pyramid.

The game kicks off another critical week for Morpeth as they prepare for two more away days at Hyde United in midweek and next Saturday’s FA Cup third qualifying round tie at Radcliffe.

There has been significant interest in the vacancy from within the professional game North and South of the border and it has been suggested that an appointment could take up to two further weeks.

There is no rush to appoint a new man - and that, in part, is down to the severity of the situation and the need to allow the right person to manage and impose his stamp on a club with undoubted potential.

But the ability to take their time in perfecting their search for Turnbull’s successor has also been aided by the calming influence of Lynch and the support of his senior players.

Had the Lancaster results gone the other way, you suspect a new appointment may have been hastened.

There is a long way to go and Morpeth still lie at the bottom of the Premier Division table.

A big challenge lies in wait for the next manager, and you suspect Lynch would not be willing to convert his caretaker role into a permanent position - not yet anyway.

But he has shown enough in the early days of his temporary stint in the lead role to suggest any new manager could do a lot worse than making him a key part of his backroom staff.

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Something is stirring in the West End of Sunderland and it is time for the local community to respond.

Under the management of Keith Graydon and Steven Stewart, Sunderland West End have made their way into the top five of the Northern League Division Two table with a fine run of results.

With 41 goals in their 13 games, attack-minded football is guaranteed and young striker Cameron Old is quietly forging a reputation for himself with nine goals in his last eight appearances.

If there is one slight disappointment, it is the fact that West End’s entertaining brand of football is only attracting average attendances of just 84 - the sixth lowest in the division.

Sunderland are not the only Wearside club pushing for promotion this season - and just as the local public have responded to events at the Stadium of Light, it is time for them to get behind West End and their own bid for success in the Northern League.

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