Sunday, May 24

West Ham and Big Sam fail to survive Survival Sunday

Newcastle 2 West Ham 0

I catch most of the Survival Sunday game in the Famous Cock Tavern and it’s a predictable end to the season. West Ham are Newcastle’s ideal opponents. Downing has a shot against the keeper’s legs in the first half and Newcastle have a couple of chances scuffed wide. In the second half, Newcastle want to win it a lot more. 

Our performance is typified when Cresswell appears favourite to win the ball but is outpaced and outmuscled by Janmaat, who nearly creates a goal. Alex Song is often brushed off the ball, and also seems to sum up WHU’s season, brilliant before Christmas but either injured or not putting a shift in once he decided he’s not going to sign for us.

Once Sissoko shows the desire to get between two defenders to score it’s all over. Cole heads way over and Nolan has a snap shot wide and that’s it from the Irons. Newcastle manage to break with four players free, only for Adrian to somehow prevent a goal with a great one handed stop. Newcastle guarantee safety when Gutierrez cuts in from the left to score with a deflected shot.

It’s been an awful end of season and the players certainly deserve stick for being unprofessional and not motivating themselves once safety was assured. Ironically, the side has stopped doing what an Allardyce side was meant to do; be dangerous at set pieces, get crosses in, work hard and know how to close out a game.

Soon after the final whistle the club announce the worst kept secret in football, that Sam Allardyce’s contract will not be renewed. Have the players realised he’s been going since Christmas? Would they have been more motivated had Allardyce been given a new contract at Christmas when the club was fourth? Who knows? Big Sam himself looks relieved and at the age of 60 says he plans to take a break from football. Or is this just his spin on being sacked? Certainly his body language has looked tired in the last two months.

It was always an uneasy marriage and Big Sam was often disastrous at PR with the fans. Saying he didn’t know what the West Ham way was when he first joined was a huge mistake and dismissing criticisms as coming from “deluded” fans talking “bollocks” made things worse and added to a public image of arrogance, as did the infamous ear-cupping to the fans after the Hull victory. There were little things too, like referring to “the West Ham fans” rather than “our fans”. And bigger issues like the fact that he kept Kevin Nolan in the side long after his form had declined.

On the other hand, disliking a manager is not necessarily a reason for getting rid of him. Nigel Pearson can be weird and unpleasant to journalists but has done a fantastic job at Leicester, while Sir Alex Ferguson had, at times, a distinctly nasty side to his character.

For his results, Big Sam deserves some credit and respect. It’s often underestimated how difficult it is getting out of the Championship. Only two out the last 12 clubs relegated have managed to come straight back up. Allardyce was left only Noble, Tomkins, Reid (who looked poor under Avram Grant) and Cole from the relegated side to build a team around. Had the team not gone up we might have ended up in the lower regions of the Championship like Bolton or relegated again like Wigan. Yet we saw West Ham win a final at Wembley for the first time in 32 years, so I’d like to thank Big Sam for that great day.

The football was never purely long-ball, otherwise the likes of Noble wouldn’t have been in the side. The side often played with two wingers, which was in principle exciting, though the likes of Matt Jarvis rarely found his man. At times it was rudimentary though, with the main game plan being the hope that Andy Carroll can win the ball and Kevin Nolan pick up the pieces. Yet there was a big improvement in the first half of this season, with some good signings, two strikers up front, and Downing a revelation in the midfield diamond. And perhaps the point was, we had to establish the team in the Premier League by any means necessary and now we’ve been there for three seasons.

Had say, Slaven Bilic, managed to get West Ham promoted, then finish tenth, thirteenth and twelfth, most fans would be saying he was a very good manager. It’s been a terrible end to the season, for which Allardyce must share the blame, but he has certainly left the club in much better shape than he arrived; in the Premier League, with a decent first eleven and Noble, Tomkins and Reid signed up to new contracts.

Yet what Sullivan and Gold will have also noticed this season was that whatever Allardyce does, some fans will never accept him. Some of the same fans who blamed Allardyce entirely for the club being in a relegation struggle and losing 6-0 at Manchester City in early 2014, then argued that the club’s rise to fourth was down to the influence of Teddy Sheringham and Big Sam getting lucky with injuries to Carroll and Nolan. If the manager takes the blame he should surely get the credit when things go well.


What the club now needs is a unity candidate. Someone who has looked up the West Ham Way on Google and will have all the fans behind them. Next season could be very difficult if West Ham are in the Europa League and it affects league form. We have to disprove the statistic that Allardyce teams go down after he leaves (like Bolton, Newcastle and Blackburn) and ensure we go into the Olympic Stadium as a Premier League team. 

Realistically, even if we play to our maximum potential, we will not finish above seventh without throwing massive sums of cash at the team. But with that stadium and the potential of the fanbase it’s also an enticing club for an ambitious manager. Sullivan and Gold once recruited Avram Grant; let’s hope they make a much better choice this time.


mj said...

Gawd 'elp us.

Pete May said...

On that form I agree! So much depends on the next appointment…

Matt said...

I agree with pretty much all of this. But I also blame the ref for everything.

Pete May said...

Cheers Matt. Bring back Mark Clattenberg is what I say…