HARTLEPOOL United were today searching for their THIRD manager of the season.
Paul Murray, together with assistant Willie Donachie, were sacked following the 2-1 second round FA Cup defeat to Blyth as Pools’ season lurches from one crisis to the next.
Their departures came as a shock given the pair had only been in the job 45 days and had been allowed to bring in eight new signings.
But defeat to non-league Blyth – which scuppered a potentially lucrative third round draw – and the desperate league form led Pools to act.
In the seven matches Murray had been in charge he’d won just one, against East Thurrock, in the first round of the cup with no wins in five league matches, leaving Pools bottom of the Football League.
Chairman Ken Hodcroft and chief executive Russ Green are now searching for the club’s 42nd permanent manager and the 12th by owners IOR since they took over in 1997.
Former assistant Craig Hignett is the early favourite with bookmakers Sky Bet.
The 44-year-old left his job as number two to Aitor Karanka at Middlesbrough last week and remains a popular figure at Victoria Park.
Pools’ form slumped last season when he left in March to take up the job at the Riverside, with Colin Cooper’s side narrowly avoiding relegation.
Hignett has been a regular visitor since, watching several Boro players who had loan spells at Pools.
Player coach Sam Collins, placed in temporary charge, is second favourite, while former Scunthorpe United manager Brian Laws is again among the frontrunners.
Laws put himself in the frame last time following Cooper’s resignation but it is understood he wasn’t interviewed before Murray was appointed.
Other names include Gateshead boss Gary Mills, former Leeds United head coach Dave Hockaday and Paul Cox.
The manager’s job at Pools may be seen as a poisoned chalice by many but last time round there were 70 applicants wanting to take over.
Murray and Donachie were shortlisted as the two stand-out candidates and the club asked if they would be willing to work together but their tenure lasted less than two months.
It is the second time this season Collins has been made caretaker, the 37-year-old won one of the three league matches he was manager for in October,
Club officials have refused to elaborate further on Murray’s dismissal.
A short statement said: “Hartlepool United can announce that manager Paul Murray and assistant manager Willie Donachie have been released from their contracts.
“Sam Collins has been placed in temporary charge of first team affairs.
The club will be making no further comment at this time.”