Hull and Swansea went against convention with their new managers, and are being proven right

Hull City and Swansea City, who will contest a crunch clash at the KCOM Stadium on Saturday, went down a different path, favouring coaches who had never managed in the Premier League before.

Hull City manager Marco Silva. Lindsey Parnaby / AFP
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According to conventional wisdom, Premier League experience is everything. Whenever a club near the bottom of the table is searching for a new boss, many assert that the most important characteristic any prospective candidate can have is knowledge of the inner workings of management in the English top flight.

Sam Allardyce, for instance, was seen as the ideal man for Crystal Palace when Alan Pardew was relieved of his duties in December. The former Bolton, Blackburn and Sunderland chief had been there and done it in the battle to avoid demotion to the Championship, and it was widely presumed that he would have little trouble guiding a talented squad to safety.

Hull City and Swansea City, who will contest a crunch clash at the KCOM Stadium on Saturday, went down a different path, favouring coaches who had never managed in the Premier League before.

Despite his accomplishments with Estoril, Sporting Lisbon and Olympiacos, Marco Silva was dismissed in some quarters when he was chosen as Mike Phelan’s successor at Hull. His side remain mired in trouble, but the 39-year-old has undoubtedly instigated an improvement in performances since he took charge two months ago.


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Paul Clement was not the target of the same sort of scepticism as Silva, yet his appointment as Swansea manager was also deemed a major risk. Although he had previously worked in the Premier League with Chelsea and Blackburn, as well as at European giants Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich, Clement’s only prior taste of management was a 33-game spell in charge of second-tier Derby County in 2015/16.

Yet the 44-year-old has done brilliantly to lift the Welsh outfit out of the relegation zone. When Clement took over at the turn of the year, Swansea were rock-bottom of the standings and four points adrift of safety. Ahead of this weekend’s trip to Hull, they have a five-point cushion above the drop zone thanks to vital victories over Crystal Palace, Liverpool, Southampton, Leicester City and Burnley.

The latter three of those successes came at the Liberty Stadium, where Middlesbrough, Tottenham Hotspur, Stoke City, Everton and West Bromwich Albion still have to visit this term. Another trio of triumphs in those matches may be all that is needed for Swansea to extend their stay in the Premier League to a seventh successive season.

That prospect did not seem at all likely when Bob Bradley’s men succumbed to a 4-1 defeat to West Ham United in front of their own supporters on Boxing Day. Swansea may have kept just a single clean sheet since then, but the statistics show that Clement has tightened up a previously porous defensive unit: after conceding an average of 5.2 shots on target per game under Bradley, Swansea are now giving up only 3.9 per 90 minutes — and those figures are based on a period in which they have faced Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea.

That increased solidity has not harmed the team’s attacking output. Swansea have scored in all but one of Clement’s eight league games at the helm, and have found the net a total of 14 times since he was named as the club’s third full-time manager of the season.

Continuity of team selection has also helped. Having made the second-most line-up changes in the division under Bradley and Francesco Guidolin in the first 20 games of the campaign, Swansea have now settled on a first-choice system and, for the most part, starting XI — which includes astute January signings Tom Carroll and Martin Olsson — in recent weeks.

A lack of previous Premier League experience has clearly not hindered Clement, who looks set to keep Swansea’s heads above water.

Given that the competition belongs to them, it is only logical that the Football Association promote the virtues of the FA Cup, which largely revolve around an unseeded draw and its consequent giant-killing potential.

Yet even English football’s governing body could not conceive of non-league Lincoln City, who travel to the Emirates Stadium to take on Arsenal on Saturday, making it as far as the quarter-finals of the 136th edition of the tournament this season.

The semi-finals of another of their competitions, the FA Trophy — which is contested by sides from the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth tiers — were also scheduled to take place this weekend, with Lincoln forced to rearrange their first-leg clash with York City because of their trip to north London.

It is another reminder of the extraordinary nature of the club’s achievement in making it through to the last eight of the oldest cup competition in the world. Danny Cowley’s side, who defeated Altrincham, Oldham Athletic, Ipswich Town, Brighton and Hove Albion and Burnley to make it this far, are the first non-league outfit to reach this stage of the FA Cup since Queens Park Rangers in 1914.

It is not as if they have had nothing else to focus on, either. As well as advancing to the last four of the FA Trophy, Lincoln are closing in on a return to the Football League — their lead at the top of the fifth division stands at six points with 12 fixtures left to fulfil. They have already played 46 times this term, which amounts to six more matches than Arsenal and two more than Manchester United, the Premier League team who have completed the most games in 2016/17.

Lincoln head to the Emirates on Saturday more in hope that expectation, but the mere fact that they will be there is cause for celebration in itself.

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