Question of timing over Dooley and the latest axe

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WHEN a couple of the Wednesdayites in the office have walked past my desk during the last week or two they’ve asked light-heartedly, even after the derby: “Is he still there?”

The “he” of course being Gary Megson, and the answer was yes, for surely the derby had at least given him more time.

But his sacking on the face of it was strangely timed.

The fact that Megson has gone after a momentous victory against United and with the Owls third in the table makes it the most bizarre Hillsborough dismissal in terms of timing, since I began covering the club in 1980, if not quite up there with the Derek Dooley affair of 1973.

Dooley, of course, was sacked on Christmas Eve, and the way it was done causes some amusement on the sports desk to this day whenever it is mentioned.

There are two announcements, said the club in a phone call to The Star: one, Arthur Broomhead has been appointed vice-chairman, two, Derek Dooley is sacked.

With the newspaper already prepared, production staff were in the pub having a Christmas drink but had to be recalled.

Megson was called to a meeting with Milan Mandaric at around 8pm on Wednesday, the announcement was made about an hour later, and for everybody the realisation sank in that the derby had not brought a reprieve.

Megson had appeared to be in peril after strugglers Chesterfield made it three defeats in a row for the Owls, and his strained relationship with Mandaric had worsened.

I don’t think anybody would have been surprised if, rightly or wrongly, Megson had been axed in the event of Wednesday losing the derby.

Megson, it is understood, regarded it as inevitable sooner or later - even as he looked back on one of the most satisfying days of his career: triumph against United in a Sheffield derby in front of a Hillsborough full house.

If the writing was on the wall after the Chesterfield game, then the eventual timing could be interpreted as not so strange after all.

The derby would have been a monumental task for a new manager. If the Owls lost under Megson and he was subsequently sacked, there would have a lesser outcry.

If they won and Mandaric was still determined to dismiss him, then, yes, the shocked reaction of fans was predictable - but it could present a new manager with a seemingly less formidable start: the next two games are against struggling Rochdale tomorrow and 14th-placed Bury on Tuesday.

The chairman sees promotion as vital. While I would not suggest he is at Hillsborough just for the money, as he obviously enjoys his football and being in charge, he has never denied that one day he could sell if the offer is right for him and in the best interests of the club.

He could probably make a big profit already on what the takeover cost him (less than £10 million), and a vibrant Wednesday in the Championship would be even more valuable. But he has said he will never let the fans down or leave the club in bad shape, and there is no overt sign yet that he feels his Hillsborough challenge is done.