In the barren couple of months leading up to this weekend, the sight of David Moyes and Mike Phelan became almost too much to bear. Gone was their love of life, gone was their usual elfin sparkle, gone was the poetry of their magnificent souls, and in place of it all stood a pair of blanched ghosts, two dessicated human husks, two bags of shrivelled skin stretched over a couple of lifeless mannequins. This is what managing Hull or Sunderland does to a person, and it is equal parts cruel, poignant and inherently tragical. So thankless a task has the ability to turn men in the prime of their life into pallid, drudging, miserable clockwatchers. So menial an existence has the power to transform a duo of brilliant, inspired creatives into shabby middle-management types, and faint shadows of their former selves.
Thankfully, this weekend brought some relief to two of the Premier League's most beleaguered managers. Sunderland got their first win of the league season against Bournemouth, while Hull put an end to a six-match losing run with an upset against in-form Southampton. With Moyes and Phelan giving off the air of a couple of burnt-out office workers, three points each was just what was needed to boost their flagging morale. Their seasons so far have been the equivalent of a week where you spill a Pot Noodle over your work laptop, lose a comprehensive annual sales report, and give yourself a near-fatal electric shock while trying to sponge the thing down with a teatowel. Beating Bournemouth and Southampton, for the sake of this analogy, was like earning mild acclaim for a competent Powerpoint display. It's a modest achievement in the scheme of things, sure, but a timely reminder that Moyes and Phelan aren't actually shite at their jobs.
Having both inherited difficult situations at the start of the campaign, Moyes and Phelan have basically been left to make do with what they've got. Neither Hull nor Sunderland did enough in the transfer window, neither squad has seen the requisite investment in recent times, and their owners and financiers are ultimately responsible, as opposed to the managerial fall guys faced with a scrambling struggle against the drop. Were Moyes and Phelan actually working in middle management, they would have found themselves lumped with a team of employees many of whom struggled to answer the phone, send emails, and get to grips with Microsoft Office. Strategy, tactics and a holistic approach only go so far, especially when a knackered Steven Pienaar is the closest thing your team has to an inspirational figurehead.
While Moyes and Phelan were already worn down by the burden of their thankless work, Bob Bradley is only just learning of how draining the relegation battle can be. He has come at the Premier League with all the zeal of a transatlantic HR guru, and so far the response to his methods has been one of listlessness, indifference and general lethargy. Swansea are now firmly entrenched in the bottom three alongside Hull and Sunderland, and Bradley was denied even a modest boost this weekend owing to a comprehensive defeat at the hands of Manchester United. With Moyes and Phelan looking slightly less crushed that before, it will be interesting to see how long it will take before Bradley's veneer of enthusiasm starts to crack.