Monday, 26 September 2011

The day Martin Hayes and I lost our jobs

We always knew it would come to an end sooner or later. Neither my time with the Kent on Sunday sports desk or Martin Hayes' tenure as Dover Athletic manager seemed destined to be long-term marriages, but what chance both of us embracing the world of unemployment on the same autumnal morning?

The warning signs were there in each case, although an element of shock always seems to come as standard with these sort of things. In my case, a batch of New Year redundancies was not enough to satisfy the number-crunchers and a second editorial cost-cutting cull left me clearing my desk once the final deadlines had passed last week. For Hayes, questions over his ability to lead Dover into Conference Premier had rumbled on for months and Saturday's 1-1 draw with Havant & Waterlooville proved the last straw. That the final nail in Hayes' coffin should be an unsatisfactory result in front of the ├╝ber-demanding Crabble faithful was apt, given that the former Arsenal winger picked up only 20 points from a possible 81 at home during his time with the club.

Things hardly went according to the script from the start. Dover chose Ian Hendon to replace Andy Hessenthaler as their manager in May 2010, but Hendon was off to Gillingham as Hessenthaler's assistant just 18 days later, without taking charge of a single game. When Hayes was unveiled, Dover chairman Jim Parmenter insisted he had been on a 'shortlist of two', but the fact remained the Whites had missed out on their number-one target.

Such a turbulent pre-season left Hayes playing catch-up when the Conference South season got under way. Fine form on the road was undermined by anxiety at Crabble, as the Whites reached Christmas with only two home league wins to their name. A run to the FA Cup third round was always likely to buy Hayes more time with the Dover fans, although regular visits to the online fans' forum revealed that for many, his face simply did not fit, irrespective of results.

From a reporter's perspective, Hayes was as good as any other Kent manager. Rarely difficult to contact, always willing to analyse success and tackle criticism with equal vigour, he was a thoroughly pleasant interviewee, but the fact remained he simply was not picking up enough results to drag the club into the play-offs. A 4-0 defeat at Dartford extinguished the flickering hopes of a late jump into the top-five and turned up the heat on Hayes, who had been offered a new contract back in March.

Key players moved on in the summer. Jon Wallis, hugely popular with the Dover fans, left to join Dartford, while Ross Flitney and Matt Fish rejected contract offers before joining Gillingham. Priestfield was also the destination for Adam Birchall, the subject of a very different transfer tale, although Dover's over-reliance on the prolific striker last season begged the question of how exactly the goal-scoring void could be filled. To his credit, Hayes assembled a squad unrivalled in the division during a hectic close-season. Dover's ambition was a big draw for the likes of Ed Harris, Michael Corcoran, Billy Bricknell and George Purcell and back-to-back 4-0 wins to open the campaign suggested Hayes' summer business had been hugely astute.

The next nine games, though, were to prove Hayes' last nine in the Crabble hotseat. They yielded just one win, seven goals and nine points and while abusive anti-Hayes chants left Parmenter unimpressed, dwindling home gates prompted a reaction. Only 735 turned up for the visit of Havant, just over half the 1,385 inside Princes Park to watch Wallis and Dartford beat Tonbridge Angels. The chairman's pre-match programme notes read: "If adjustments are required they will be made, but only if and when the board decide it is necessary."

That 'adjustment' was quick in arriving. This week, for both Hayes and I, suddenly takes on a different complexion. Meanwhile, Dover are looking for their fourth manager in 16 months. Ah well, it was fun while it lasted. Good luck, Martin.

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