Filed: Tuesday, 17th December 2013
By: Paul Walker
Big Sam Allardyce finished another woeful Saturday knowing he was the last man standing in the sack race at the bottom of the Premier League.
West Brom’s decision to axe Steve Clarke, once our first team coach, as the Hawthorns chief - the news breaking around 9.00pm while me and my son were on a very boozy train heading back north - means all three of the clubs below us and the one now directly above us in table, have pressed the panic button.
Paolo Di Canio was dumped by Sunderland in September, Ian Holloway left Crystal Palace the following month, Fulham sacked Martin Jol after we beat them 3-0 a couple of weeks ago and now Clarke has paid the price for just seven wins in 34 league games in 2013. Sam has won nine in 38 in the same period, not much difference, really.
Our own leaders have gone the other way. Joint chairman David Sullivan had done a Football Focus interview screened at lunchtime ahead of the Sunderland game, insisting that Big Sam would hang onto his job, and in fact, would not be assessed until the end of the season.
Then of course we all had to witness an awful goalless draw against Sunderland, and I wonder whether Sullivan regretted being so strong in support of his manager just a few hours earlier. Only he will know, but it is getting more difficult with each depressing game to hold the party line.
It’s the stick or twist choice. Do you axe a manager who seems at the very least to be treading water until the transfer window(or Andy Carroll)comes along to save him? Or do you opt for patience, a clear head and steel nerves and stay with the man who is renowned for getting teams out of the mire?
He is famous for never having taken a team down under his watch, but both Bolton and Blackburn have gone down pretty soon after he has left them. In the circumstances, the second option is brave, while the first could be considered pig headed in the face of everyone else doing the opposite.
And Sullivan and David Gold (plus Ms Brady) know it is not going to get any easier before January dawns. Spurs away in the League Cup, then a trip to Manchester United on Saturday before a Boxing Day home game with Arsenal are the next three, and anyone who witnessed Saturday’s painful display cannot be expecting much else but three more defeats.
Sullivan, I recall, said last week that he wanted to see an improvement in performance and results on the back of the shambles at Crystal Palace and the defeat at Liverpool.
Well, that has not happened. Our points tally is now eight worse than at the same 16-game stage last season, and although I would not accuse our players of lack of effort on Saturday, there were times when nerves and tension got the better of them and maybe, just maybe, they could sense the prospect of their boss being sacked sooner rather than later.
I heard Matty Etherington on Goals on Sunday saying he had spoken to his mate James Collins after the Sunderland draw and our tough Welshman told him it was all down to confidence. I just wonder what else the pair discussed about the current situation that Matty was unwilling to mention on TV.
On the subject of Etherington, Sky produce a nice little film sequence of our former player’s best moments with us, in particular the goals he scored coming in off the left wing… Hopefully someone can do a copy and give it to Matt Jarvis!
John Cross in the Mirror has been writing material that suggests what is being said in public by our owners is not the same as what is being said privately about Sam. Now I know John is a big Arsenal fan, but he’s not all bad for a Gooner and would not be making up such stuff, even if he has to use ‘ a source said’ quotes.
And of course we are now hearing from inside the club that there are doubts about the medical advice over Carroll from way back in the summer, and the quality of the treatment he has had abroad. We are now reaching the ‘ you couldn’t make it up’ part of the saga.
But Sullivan was very clear. “We review a manager at the end of the season. Where do you get someone better than Sam to do the job that is now necessary? I believe Sam is the man for the job. If he wasn’t our manager he is exactly the type of manager you would be bringing in,“ was the gist of the interview.
But six points from the last 27, nine wins and just 36 goals in 35 league games this year, plus a points haul of 38 from the last 38 league matches, does not strengthen Sam’s case one bit.
But the fact that Gold, Allardyce and Kevin Nolan sat side by side at the season ticket holders’ forum last week, spoke volumes. Nolan could easily have ducked it after his Anfield red card and Allardyce could also have found something more pressing. But I was impressed they were all there, it was a collective front.
Etherington mentioned that sometimes players know something is about to happen, and that is why performances can be so poor and disjointed as the Sunderland game, where - dare I say it - we missed Nolan’s organisation and leadership from midfield.
You can bet we would not have witnessed the spectacle of Joe Cole wandering all over the pitch and leaving Guy Demel totally unprotected down our right flank. Sunderland poured through the gaps there, while Lee Cattermole was the best midfielder on the pitch.
Say what you like about Nolan, none of that would have happened if he had been out there. Cole was dragged off against Chelsea for the very same sort of dereliction of duty.
That he lasted 75 minutes was something of a miracle, by which time we’d needed to bring on Jack Collison in a central midfield role to try to gain some control there, with Jarvis taken off and Rav Morrison moved to a flank role. Sam was fighting fires everywhere.
As Dan Silver in the Sunday Mirror pointed out, you don’t want to see a good man lose his job, but sooner rather than later something will have to be done. Palace, Fulham and Sunderland have experienced a bounce - initially - after sacking managers, let’s hope that West Brom don’t do the same when they come to the Boleyn for the last game of the year.
Sam admitted in his Evening Standard column that we will need a new striker to hit the ground running in the first week of the window, while Carroll will surely be risked around the same time. If those two things happen, Sullivan may not have to eat his words. Time of pressing, tough, as we all know.
The only thing to cheer me up this weekend was watching Spurs get thumped by Liverpool while I was writing this, and to see two of their players pick up suspensions that will keep them out of Wednesday’s League Cup quarter final… You have to be thankful for small mercies these days!
Daniel Levy does not mess about, AVB was on his bike before lunch on Monday, maybe even that will work against us with Tim Sherwood a steady hand at WHL, and the pressure will be off them now. And Sam will not now have the chance to take the mickey out of the Portuguese coach like he did when we won 3-0 there in the league.
Doesn’t that seem a long time ago now?
Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.
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