West Ham United v Sunderland

This week sees the return of Sam Allardyce to the Boleyn. You'd expect Preview Percy to be a bit stranger than usual. But TORTOISES???

Next up it's Sunderland at home. The TV companies have their hooks in things again so it's a 12:45 kick-off. The usual engineering works will be in place between Liverpool Street and Ingatestone which, given the early start, might mean it's worth investing in a tent and camping out overnight outside the ground. You might be able to pick up a cheap telly while you're at it.

Our visitors are in trouble. They are second from bottom having a seven point cushion over Villa. This means that they are effectively fighting to keep out of one of the two remaining relegation spots. Their 23 points from 26 matches is one point fewer than that amassed by Newcastle and Norwich and four shy of Swansea. It has the capacity to get a bit tight down there then.

They've won three times since the turn of the year, though, since the first of those was a 3-1 home win over Villa that one probably doesn't count. The other two wins came courtesy of a 4-2 defeat of Swansea on their own patch and, most recently a 2-1 win over Man Utd on Wearside. So three of their six wins this season have come in the last two months, albeit all against teams who are struggling for form at the moment.

Of course the main headline-grabber when you dial them up on Ceefax or whatever it is you young people do these days is less concerned with football and more to do with their former player Adam Johnson, whose case has finally come to court after what seems like an eternity. Initially, Johnson was suspended by the club when the charges came to light. However, the player was later re-instated to the team with the club willing to embrace the concept of "innocent until proven guilty", Johnson having (one presumes) informed the club of his intention to plead "not guilty" to all charges. However, when the trial finally opened earlier this month Johnson pleaded guilty to two of the charges facing him prompting Sunderland to dispense with his services.

Moving on to less unsavoury matters, the match does of course mark the first return to the Boleyn of Sam Allardyce. The arguments raged - and continue to rage - long and hard as to the pros and cons of his tenure in these parts. From this correspondent's viewpoint there are items on both sides of the ledger as far as he is concerned. On the one hand there is no denying that the club was in a right two and eight when he arrived. We had the debacle of the Avram Grant reign to consider - not for nothing is this place known as the Avram Grant Olympic Rest Home For The Bewildered. Grant had given up all pretence of knowing where the plot was well before relegation and we had a team so bereft of ideas and leadership that in the mainstream press the name "Scott Parker" was invariably preceded by the words "West Ham captain" despite Matthew Upson actually having that job.

So stabilising the team and getting us promoted at the earliest possible opportunity were required and to be fair to Allardyce he did that. However, on the debit side of the ledger was his innate stubbornness, something that manifested itself last season. The season started well and we were top four by Christmas playing some decent football. Then bang! A defeat or two was seen as vindication of the manager's principles. It was almost as if he were saying "look - playing decent football doesn't work after all so we'll go back to doing it my way". This attitude resulted in one of the most listless second halves to a season I can remember in years and most of us wanted it to be over well before that day in Newcastle in May when the announcement of his departure was made before he'd had a chance to shake hands with the referee.

From my own point of view it was that obdurate manner that grated most. When we stopped playing football shortly into the new year and results started going awry, if he'd stood up there and said something like "we didn't play well and could have done with mixing it up a bit" that might have been at least an acknowledgement that whatever was going on wasn't working. However, week-in - week-out we'd be presented by reams of statistics that proved that, despite the evidence of our own eyes, we had been watching Barcelona all along and we were just a bit unlucky that's all. This was an attitude that would insult the intelligence of a Spurs fan, let alone someone who actually owns brain cells in the plural. Contrast this with the current manager who, when we play rubbish, comments to the effect that, shock horror, we played rubbish (though I do wish he'd speak up sometimes - hearing aid batteries aren't cheap you know).

So overall there were few tears shed - on either side - when the "contract won't be renewed" statement came out and it was difficult to judge whose sighs of relief were louder. Meanwhile, no doubt he will be given a rough ride on his return from the home support - though I have to say the sight of 30,000 supporters cupping their ears in unison in his direction would be funny.

Allardyce took over from Dick Advocaat in October, just after the Dutchman (named after a scene from one of SuGo's videos) resigned, the departure taking place immediately after the reverse fixture between our clubs (a 2-2 draw you will recall). Since then they have flitted in and about the bottom three with only the (now regular) defeat of Newcastle providing them with much to shout about. In fact the highest they have been all season is 17th, a position they attained at the end of November following back to back wins away at Palace and at Home to Stoke. They repeated the back-to-back trick at the start of the year with wins over Villa and Swansea but since then their only win was the victory over Moan U.

The January transfer window required some urgent work, if only to freshen things up. As those of you who could be bothered to read last week's preview would have ascertained, they managed to offload Danny Graham, a striker with the unique selling point of not being very good at scoring goals, to Blackburn whence he will almost certainly not return, the end of his loan spell coinciding neatly with the end of his contract with Sunderland.

In came in centre-back Lamine Kone from the French version of Leyton Orient. The work-experience kid with the Harry Potter spectacles tells me that Kone eventually cost ?5m. I say "eventually" because every time you picked up a paper in January there was a statement saying Sunderland had pulled out of the deal. It got so bad at one stage that the French club started to threaten legal action, proving that the froggy Barry Hearn shares much in common with his English counterpart. The deal finally went through and Kone claimed the winner against Man Utd the other week, though it was actually a de Gea own goal. Kone went through the French youth system and was capped at age level up to the U20 age group, whereupon he remembered he was Ivorian after all. To date he's just made the one appearance for them.

Another new arrival who has had difficulty remembering his nationality is midfielder Wahbi Khazri, whose name sounds like one of those they used to make up in the "Carry On" films to denote any foreigner from east of Turkey. ?9m secured his services from Bordeaux. Khazri was born in Corsica of Tunisian stock and started off his international career with the Tunisian U20 side, scoring in his only appearance for them at that level. That was back in 2009. By 2011 he had one of those lightbulb moments. "Blimey" he said (or the French equivalent thereof) "Corsica - it's part of France. I'm French after all" and off he went humming the Marseillaise in the general direction of the French U21 side. After a solitary appearance for "les tadpoles" as the French junior teams ought to be nicknamed but probably aren't, the Tunisians came a-knocking once more. "Gosh" he said (or the French equivalent thereof) I've really not been too true to my roots have I? "You know on the whole I rather think I'm Tunisian after all. What's that? A major tournament coming up as well? What a stroke of luck!" and off he went in the general direction of the African Cup Of Nations, humming, well I have no idea what the Tunisian national anthem is but you can bet that whatever it is that they hum on these occasions it isn't the Marseillaise.

Khazri, whose role was played by Kenneth Williams in "....up the Khyber," was also on the scoresheet in the Man Utd win, scoring direct from a free-kick so it would be a good idea not to give any silly free kicks away just outside the box (though having seen this weekend's referee there's no guarantee that one won't be awarded anyway).

They also brought in a striker to replace Graham. Well admittedly they could have brought in a chloroformed tortoise in the middle of his winter nap and got just as good a goals per game return. However, anaesthetised hibernating reptiles with proven goalscoring records don't come cheap and signing one might have messed their Financial Fair Play budget up. So they went into the loan market and brought in "Nothing Like A" Dame N'Doye from Turkish outfit Trabzonspor until the end of the season. This is actually N'Doye's second visit to these shores. He signed for Hull in February 2015 but never really settled on Humberside (let's face it who does - even the goalscoring tortoise would probably think twice about Hull unless you used extra chloroform). Having scored five goals in 15 league matches as Steve Bruce took them down (ho-ho). N'Doye didn't hang about and upped sticks to Turkey this August. As far as I can work out he's an old fashioned sort, having appeared for nobody other than Senegal, for whom he has six goals in 26 appearances, at international level. What a quaint concept.

Goalkeeping cover arrived in the shape of former Newcastle custodian Steve Harper who was available for nothing as a free agent. His arrival on Wearside prompted the rest home's resident Geordie, Preview Alastair, to shake his head sadly, commenting "I know the lad has to earn a crust but couldn't he have chosen something a bit more honourable to do. Like cleaning out the bogs in a brothel" adding somewhat belatedly "er, whatever that is".

And what's been happening in the world since we last met? Well the referendum which is going to be boring the pants off everyone for the next 4 months has been announced. This follows David "Aston Villa" Cameron's triumphant return from Brussels where he negotiated a revamp of the Eurovision Song Contest voting rules and something about straight croissants. Something like that - as I say I got a bit bored with it so only scanned the newspapers.

"What's all that got to do with football"? I hear you ask. Well obviously a withdrawal from the EU is a long way away if it happens at all. But there would be ramifications for English football clubs. If we were no longer part of the EU it would be quite lawful for the powers that be to impose restrictions on EU nationals playing in the game - much in the same way as work permits are required for non-EU citizens at the moment. In fact football in Europe as a whole got away with this for quite some time until the Bosman ruling established that having quotas that applied to EU players was illegal. I'll bet that doesn't get raised in all the discussions that we'll have inflicted on us in the next four months.

Meanwhile in darkest Lancashire we waltzed our way through to the next round of the cup. I will admit I did have concerns over the tie - our traditional frailty against lower league opposition, opponents who were likely to go for it in front of a packed partisan crowd...... In the end Lambert elected to play five across the middle and, in Brown, a lone striker whose strike record makes the cup-tied Graham look like Lionel Messi (I'll bet you won't often find those two put together in the same sentence!). They were more surprised than we were when they took the lead but once their 'keeper had made a mess of Moses' shot there was only going to be one winner.

The sendings off? Well the first yellow given to Taylor was given as much as for totting up a number of sly little trips as it was for the final challenge on Payet that led to his first goal. The second one was just silly, the cynical cessation of Moses' run being as pointless as it was daft given the yellow card that had already been shown. Kouyate's was slightly different. Henley had lost the ball at the time of the "coming together" so the question of Denial of Goalscoring Opportunity ("DOGSO" in ref-speak) really shouldn't have arisen in the first place. At least it shouldn't have to a referee interested in applying the laws of the game. Unfortunately those are as rare in England these days as a Euro 16 scarf in Scotland. Thankfully common sense prevailed at the FA - another sentence you rarely see - and the appeal was upheld.

Injury news is good Sakho, Carroll and Reid all returned to training this week. Valencia will need a few more days but Byram will be available to resume at right back after being cup-tied for the Blackburn match, something that will free up Antonio for more attacking duties.

Prediction? Well despite their lowly position they won't be easy to beat. As we well know, rightly or wrongly, their manager sets his teams up to avoid defeat first and then see what they can get later. They will be in good spirits having beaten Man Utd but that's not as much of an achievement these days as it once might have been.

I still think we ought to have too much for them though, especially with those likely to be returning from injury and, for that reason I will be taking the ?2.50 I had earmarked to send to Sepp Blatter to help him get through the next 6 years over to Winstones The Turf Accountant and placing it on a 2-1 home win.

Enjoy the game!

When Last We Met At The Boleyn: Won 1-0 March 2015 A rare post-Christmas win as Sakho's 88th minute strike gave us the points in a match for which the word "uninspiring" was tailor-made. The match was the first in charge for Dick Advocaat who had been appointed until the end of the season to replace the recently-dismissed Gus Poyet. Adam Johnson came on for the last 15 minutes, the club having lifted his suspension the previous day.

Referee: Mike Dean. Arrogant and smug twit who has the PGMOL gold pass that enables him to dispense with the laws of the game as he sees fit to enable the game to progress in whatever manner he fancies. Famously at his most bent whenever there are live tv cameras about the place to mug to. Has the just as bent Mike Jones on 4th official duties with him so even if Dean picks up an injury we're stuffed.

Danger Man: Jermain Defoe. Not only do we have an application of the Law Of The Ex to worry about, we have that law applied to someone who is still a natural goalscorer and represents their best chance of staying up.

Irritating Celebrity Supporter Of The Week>: Sir Tim Rice. Ok not quite as irritating as his erstwhile collaborator Lord Lloyd-Webber but still at least partially responsible for some or the blandest stuff ever heard outside a lift. Any Dream Will Bloody Do? A song you thought couldn't get any more annoying. Then Jason Bloody Donovan did it. That's 50% your fault that is Rice. (For those interested the remaining blame can be apportioned thus: 25% Lloyd-Webber and 25% whichever composer Lloyd-Webber plagiarised for the music).

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