• Sam Byrne

The contenders for the Stockport County hotseat

Nine months after the appointment of Brighton U23 boss Simon Rusk, The Hatters are again seeking a new man at the helm.

Rusk, dismissed after Tuesday's 1-2 defeat to Barnet and after a poor start to the National League campaign, paid the price for five defeats in the club's opening twelve, with the decision feeling inevitable following both a style of play and a lack of success on the pitch which combined to leave the former York City midfielder's position untenable at Edgeley Park.

Club stalwart Dave Conlon will take the team for Saturday's trip to Dover Athletic in the National League, with Conlon even potentially in line to continue for The Hatters' big FA Cup tie at Bolton Wanderers a week on Sunday, although things may yet move quickly in that regard.

Naturally, there has already been an avalanche of names linked with the role, from the absurd to the fantasy, to everything in between.

Firstly, let's run through the absurd. We all know the ones, the names you see popping up from a Twitter account keen to get a laugh or a wind-up, or on supporters messageboards at 3am.

Duncan Ferguson

This seems to have been doing the rounds between supporters that much, that even the bookies have picked up on it and added Ferguson to their odds lists. The rumour may stem from Robert Elstone's links to Ferguson's longtime club Everton, but is just that - a rumour. There is nothing in the Ferguson talk and can be ruled out.

Sol Campbell

See above, but with even less credence to this rumour.

Paul Ince

As above. There seems to be a common theme of the same big names being linked with any and all lower league job that crops up, but comes more from those bookies desperately trying to pad out their shortlists with high-profile, often former Premier League, ex-footballers with either no experience or that experience coming a fair few years prior, with varying levels of success and failure.

County fans can confidently rule out the above.

Now, with the dust settling on Rusk's departure, here's a look at the early contenders.

Dave Challinor

Rightly or wrongly, County have shown that they are capable of prising big names and seemingly unavailable talent from the Football League, with Paddy Madden, Scott Quigley, John Rooney, Ollie Crankshaw and, most recently, Antoni Sarcevic dropping down the leagues after County successfully attracted all to make the move.

Hartlepool fans, rightly delighted with their man in charge, would - understandably - question why Challinor would drop back down to the National League after working so hard to get a really good Hartlepool side out of the division last season. And it would be a fair question, and one which County fans would be asking if the roles were reversed. Challinor has also recently penned a new deal with The Pools, where he is again doing a sterling job following promotion to League Two.

As with all of the above former EFL men, the answer would, largely, come down to the resources that County are able to offer their potential new manager. The club are understood to be keen on the former Hatters defender, and - whilst by no means a definite goer or a firm favourite for the role as things stand - would probably go down as the first choice at present. There would be an awful lot of work to do to get there, and Challinor may well come back (if things ever moved to that stage) with a flat-out no, but County seem hopeful that it may just be possible.

Michael Appleton

As with Challinor, this would be a bit of a surprise to wider football fans - more so than the Hartlepool boss.

The current Lincoln City boss is also admired across endless footballing circles, including at Edgeley Park. Good experience, good levels of success and would be a huge coup given his current role and some of the roles he has been, and continues to be, linked with.

Again, one that cannot be ruled out despite the obvious difficulty of attracting such a manager to the National League, and one that could ultimately lead to nothing, but Appleton can, at present, be considered a contender in terms of being someone County would love to lure away from The Imps.

Michael Flynn

The former Newport boss recently left his role due to an apparent dispute over the direction the club was heading. Flynn did a fine job with the Welsh side, taking the club to two League Two play-off finals in three seasons.

The 41-year-old has good qualifications and impressive experience to back them up, after also guiding Newport to a famous cup run in 2019 with wins over Leeds Utd, Leicester City and Middlesbrough all thrusting the Rodney Parade side into the limelight under Flynn.

The Welshman is currently one of the favourites for the Cardiff City role, but should the Bluebirds go in a different direction, Flynn may well become more of a leading contender at Edgeley Park. As with the above names, Flynn is one that the club are thought to be considering as part of a 'thorough' recruitment process.

Derek McInnes

The Scotsman - a former County loanee in his playing days - started his managerial career with St Johnstone, securing promotion to the SPL and finding himself linked with the likes of West Brom, Watford and Bristol City.

McInnes ultimately made the move to Bristol, saving the side from relegation to League One and securing the club's spot in the Championship.

Up next came Aberdeen, where McInnes enjoyed his longest managerial spell to date, joining the club in 2013 and departing in March of this year.

McInnes guided Aberdeen to a first trophy in almost twenty years with Scottish League Cup success, as well as European qualification through a third-placed finish in the SPL early in his tenure.

The 50-year-old turned down offers from Sunderland and Rangers in the latter years of his spell, before departing after a poor run of form this year.

McInnes remains unattached at present, and has been mooted as a possibility around the Hatters camp. As with the names already outlined, the former Scottish international would provide real experience - albeit not of the National League in this instance.

Naturally with any football manager appointment, further names may come and go, and some of the above may drift away. With the club reportedly currently fielding applications for the role, it may be inevitable that a name can always come out of left-field - but, as things stand, County seem to have an idea of the direction they'd like to take in an ideal world.

For now, the task again sits with first-team coach Dave Conlon to guide a low-on-confidence Hatters side past Dover Athletic this weekend.

A spell with Conlon, a well-liked and well-respected figure around the club, may just prime this squad perfectly for a new man to come in to a much happier camp than may have been expected after back-to-back defeats to end Rusk's reign.