Sam Allardyce treading dangerous path by criticising fans

Sam Allardyce (Picture from The Guardian)
You watch your team put in a sluggish and wasteful performance on a dreary Tuesday night and see the gap at the top of the league widen to five points.

With 22 minutes left, your in-form striker Sam Baldock – four goals in four games – is hauled off in favour of Carlton Cole, who is searching for his first league goal since 10th September.
You boo this decision, knowing that it will not help Cole, Allardyce or the team in any way, but you are voicing your discontent in the only way you can. The game finishes goalless despite numerous chances for your side. The performance has been of a high quality but no goals have been scored.
And then the manager goes and insults your intelligence with a throw-away comment in a post-match interview.
Sam Allardyce was always going to be put under pressure. Perhaps, because of how he has instructed his clubs to play in the past, he always will be. It is easy to dislike Big Sam: his football is direct bordering on aggressive hoof-ball; despite his reliance on technology and modern science, he rarely comes across as a particularly intelligent man; he appears to be ambitious but this can sometimes translate as egocentric, arrogant and oblivious to his own deficiencies.
The days of West Ham United playing attractive, expansive football are long-gone but that does not make the square passing around the back-line followed by the punt upfield any more entertaining to watch.
But, as Allardyce hints at himself, winning is what really matters in football. If you don’t play a fluid passing game, then you must at least win the match. And that, mostly, is what West Ham have been doing this season.
Only losing three of their fifteen Championship games so far – Cardiff and Ipswich at home and Southampton away – the Hammers are soaring in a league full of quality. Last season’s relegation and the disappointment from the last few seasons appears to be behind them – they are bouncing back.
Of course, nothing is perfect. The Olympic Stadium issue is yet to be resolved, with a move away from Boleyn still a source of much debate between fans and club officials.
On the pitch, West Ham were embarrassingly knocked out of the League Cup by Accrington Stanley back in August, while some tame performances this season have worried fans, especially as their injury concerns continue to deepen.
Last night’s performance was promising in terms of the chances created but worrying in that they failed to score past a side staring relegation in the face. It was not, by any stretch of the imagination, ‘outstanding’and to say so makes one wonder what sort of performance would be seen as a disappointment by the former-Bolton and Blackburn manager.
On the whole, the season has been a promising one for West Ham and they are on of the clear favourites to reach the Premier League next season. On the face of it, Hammers fans should be much cheerier than they appeared last night.
Anger, pain and displeasure are all relative, though. There are teams in worse positions than they are, but that will hardly make fans of the claret and blue feel any more comfortable with a disappointing performance against a poor – albeit resilient – Bristol City side.
Allardyce refused to acknowledge the frustration at dropping two points in his post-match interview with BBC Radio 5Live when he was questioned on the clear dissatisfaction coming from the stands.
“I don’t really think the fans reaction is worth talking about” he said. “The crowd doesn’t know better than me.. if they did they’d have my job.”
This is the sort of comment that can infuriate fans of any club up and down the country. Instead of solving the problem or at least discussing the issue, Allardyce brushes the criticism aside. He is by no means under any obligation to discuss the issue there-and-then in the interview, but to insult the fans with an irrelevant quip such as this helps nobody.
Many managers have made the mistake of aggravating their own fans in a minute yet significant way, most recently Roy Hodgson at Liverpool and Steve Bruce at Sunderland. As seen time and time again, it is a dangerous path to take.
Allardyce, next time, would be better off saying that the next performance will be better and then move on – do not defend yourself or your team by attacking the fans. It only serves to antagonise the supporters who can either push you on or push you out.

Premier League round-up: Matchday 33

Picture from Who Ate All The Pies 
The Premier League title race might be all but over but the relegation battle certainly is not. An error-strewn Blackpoolperformance has left Ian Holloway’s side in the relegation zone, with Wigan leaping above The Tangerines after a comprehensive 3-1 victory. Roberto Martinez described the win as a “huge victory” and praised his side for controlling the game and continuing to heap pressure on the sides around them. The Latics pressured Blackpool early on and, within three minutes, Hugo Rodallega gave them the lead, capitalising on a lazy Craig Cathcart pass in the middle of the pitch.

The early goal seemed to unsettle the hosts and, just before half-time, Wigan extended their lead, Charles N’Zogbia finishing off an unchallenged run to slot home. The game was finished as a contest by the 66th minute, Diame’s shot going in off Neal Eardley, although DJ Campbell did get a goal back for Blackpool late on.
Wigan are now just above the relegation zone on thirty-four points, with Blackpool below them on thirty-three. Just eight points separates bottom-placed Wolves and Aston Villa, who sit in ninth after a late Gabriel Agbonlahor header gave them victory over struggling West Ham. The Hammers had got off to the perfect start as Robbie Keane gave them the lead after two minutes, but Darren Bent equalised for Gerard Houiller’s side before half-time with a simple header, before Agbonlahor scored from three yards out to ease fears of relegation.
Villa’s local rivals, Birmingham, also recorded a victory, beating out-of-form Sunderland2-0 at St Andrews. Sebastien Larsson gave The Blues the lead and Craig Gardner scored a fine volley midway through the second half, but Sunderland did have their chances; Asamoah Gyan and Lee Cattermole both forced saves from Ben Foster, while Jordan Henderson and Sessegnonalso went close. Sunderland have struggled since Darren Bent left for Villa in January but they have also suffered from injuries, which has clearly knocked the confidence of the Black Cats.
In contrast to Sunderland’s poor run of form, Everton, who had a shocking start to the season, continued their rise up the table with a 2-0 win against a hapless Blackburn. In-form Leon Osman put the Merseysiders in front just after half-time and Leighton Baines smashed home a penalty with fifteen minutes left after Rovers defender Paul Jones brought down Seamus Coleman in the area.
Blackburn rarely threatened, although Pedersen should have scored late on for Steve Kean’s side, who are now just two points above the relegation zone, from six yards out. Everton are now 7th, six points off a Europa League spot.
West Brom have been revitalised under manager Roy Hodgson but The Baggies suffered their first defeat under the former-Liverpool and Blackburn man as Chelsea kept their slip title hopes alive. Peter Odemwingie gave West Brom the dream start with a tidy finish after seventeen minutes, but poor goalkeeping from Scott Carson allowed The Blues back into the game. First, Didier Drogba profited, smashing home from close range and, just four minutes later, Kalou neatly finished to give Carlo Ancelotti’s side the lead.
Foster did redeem himself somewhat with a great save from a Frank Lampard freekick but the midfielder was not to be denied his tenth goal of the season, finishing off well after a splendid solo run from Florent Malouda. Chelsea did hit the bar late on and Fernando Torres had a goal ruled out for offside but the points were in the bag; they are now eight points behind leaders Manchester United. West Brom are 11th, six points above the drop zone and surely safe.
On Sunday, Arsenal and Liverpool both left it late to register a goal each. Robin Van Persie fired home a penalty after Jay Spearing had fouled Cesc Fabregas in the box in the eighth minute of injury-time, surely securing the win for The Gunners. Three points would have kept Arsenal’s slim title hopes alive but, after Emmanuel Eboue clumsily fouled Lucas in Arsenal’s penalty area, Dirk Kuyt smashed in the penalty to equalise in the twelfth minute of added-on time.
Matchday 33 results: Birmingham 2-0 Sunderland; Blackpool 1-3 Wigan; Everton 2-0 Blackburn; West Brom 1-3 Chelsea; West Ham 1-2 Aston Villa; Arsenal-Liverpool
(Manchester United face Newcastle on Tuesday night, with ChelseaBirmingham and TottenhamArsenal the following night. Manchester City defeated local rivals United 1-0 on Saturday in the FA Cup, with Stoke thrashing Bolton 5-0 in the other semi-final.)
Matchday 34 fixtures: Manchester United-Everton; Aston Villa-Stoke; Blackpool-Newcastle; Liverpool-Birmingham; Sunderland-Wigan; Tottenham-West Brom; Wolves-Fulham; Chelsea-West Ham; Bolton-Arsenal; Blackburn-Manchester City.
This article originally appeared on Sports Haze.

West Ham United: The Great Escape?

20th December 2010. Roy Hodgson’s Liverpool side gain a much needed three points to send them 9th in the league table, just one win away from fourth spot. Goals from Glen Johnson, Dirk Kuyt and a penalty from Maxi mean an easy win over West Ham is achieved at Anfield.

This was an easy win over a side struggling both defensively and offensively. In what was West Ham’s 14th game of the season, Avram Grant’s side succumbed to their seventh defeat of the season, with just one win recorded.
The fans, and many pundits, bemoaned the lack of passion, the lack of drive. Most simply saw a team that wasn’t good enough. Grant blamed injuries for the defeat, with Manuel Da Costa, Jack Collison, Thomas Hitzlsperger and, most importantly of all, Scott Parker, all out through injury.
West Ham, just five days before Christmas, were bottom of the Premier League, five points away from safety. They were favourites for relegation. They were dead and buried.
And then came the turnaround.
Well, kind of. A 3-1 win against Wigan set The Hammers on their way and, while three games without a win followed, victories against Fulham and Wolves saw Grant’s side rise to 15th in the table, one point above the relegation zone.
Another run of three games without a win meant that, by the beginning of February, the East London club were back at the foot of the table, two points away from 17th placed Birmingham.
The January transfer window, though, saw Wayne Bridge, Robbie Keane, Gary O’Neil and Demba Ba all join the club, with the latter signing from German club Hoffenheim for £500,000.
Ba has scored four goals in three Premier League starts, giving the team a much needed threat when going forward. He’s lifted the mood around Upton Park with his ability to run at defenders, while he’s also capable of acting as a poacher – finishing off attacks that Carlton Cole would usually spoil with great ease.
Hitzlsperger, who signed for West Ham in the summer but only recently regained fitness after a thigh injury, has performed exceptionally well for his new side, starting against Liverpool and Stoke alongside Scott Parker and Mark Noble.
The German has made two assists in two games (as well as a smashing goal against Stoke in a comfortable 3-0 win) and, just like his midfield partners, is a hard-working, almost box-to-box midfielder. His return to the side will almost feel like a new signing for Grant and Hammers fans alike and, as Parker continues to put in Man-of-the-match performances every week, the immediate future, suddenly, doesn’t look so bleak for West Ham.
Questions still remain, however, over whether West Ham can steer clear of relegation for the second season in a row. The Irons finished 17th last season, just five points above relegated Burnley, and many fans were hoping for a not-so-stressful season.
At the moment, they must be pretty content. West Ham haven’t lost in the Premier League since the 6th of February (a 1-0 home defeat to Birmingham City) and, in 2011, they’ve only surrendered to three League defeats: Newcastle, Arsenal and Birmingham.
The form table places West Ham in fourth, behind Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, while the sides around them in the table are seriously struggling. Blackburn have lost their last five games while Blackpool have only won one in six, as have West Brom and Wigan.
West Ham’s next six Premier League fixtures don’t bode well, with Tottenham, Manchester United, Bolton, Chelsea and Manchester City all coming up by the beginning of May, but their last three fixtures are a little more positive, with fellow strugglers Blackburn and Wigan the opponents before a home game against Sunderland brings the season to a close.
Whether West Ham stay up this season is almost impossible to predict given that they’ve seriously struggled against the top-half sides, who they face in the coming weeks, this season. The return of Hitzlsperger and the signing of Ba means that West Ham now have a good, solid core, with Parker, Noble and O’Neil all excellent going forward, while Upson, Jacobsen and Da Costa add some much needed experience at the back. Their recent results, as well as the inability of the sides near the bottom to establish any sort of positive run, suggest that Upton Park will play host to Premier League football next season.
This article originally appeared on sports website Sports Haze, which is now unfortunately defunct.

Premier League Preview: West Ham United

My Premier League previews continue with Avram Grant’s West Ham United now in the spotlight. After the shambles that occurred last season the Hammers will be looking to improve immensely this term.

Gianfranco Zola’s unfortunately poor time at West Ham meant that Grant was made manager after the 2009/10 season. The decent signings that the former Chelsea manager has made, though, may not be enough to move the side up the table.
Pablo Barrera has joined from UNAM Pumas for £4 million. The winger scored eighteen goals in eighty-five appearances for the Mexican giants. The twenty-three-year-old has already played twenty-four times for Mexico and appeared three times in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. West Ham have also recruited three players with Premier League experience. Thomas Hitzelberger enjoyed nearly four seasons at Aston Villa while Tal Ben Haim has been in the Premier League for six seasons now, playing for Chelsea, Sunderland and Bolton. Frederic Piquionne has also signed for the club, joining for £1 million from Lyon. The striker played on loan at Portsmouth last season where he scored eleven goals in forty-five appearances. The majority of the squad has been kept by Grant, although rumours suggest that Scott Parker could be on his way out of the club.
Parker will be the main man for West Ham this season. He played thirty-one games last season, creating goals and holding the midfield together. The English central-midfielder uses his vast knowledge of the game and his awareness on the ball to carve out chances for the East London side. Parker will be key to West Ham’s success this season.
The middle of midfield is quite a strong area for West Ham. Mark Noble has established himself as a fine attacking midfielder after four strong seasons in the Premier League. Jack Collison is definitely a prospect for the future; after coming out of West Ham’s famous academy Collison played twenty-four times for the Hammers last season and will be looking to establish himself in the side this season. West Ham also have the experience of Radoslav Kovac on their books. The midfielder can sit in-between the defence and forward lines, linking the team together.  
The wings of West Ham are not so brilliant. Valon Behrami endured injury after injury last season and only managed to play twenty-seven games. The former Lazio star will be looking to stay fit this season as his accuracy when passing and quality on the ball will be important to the Hammers. Junior Stanislas is another one to look out for next season. The left winger has played thirty-five times for West Ham and four times at England youth level.  West Ham could do with a little more pace on the wings, which could help in feeding the strikers.
Carlton Cole looks to be staying with the club after a summer of rumours involving his place in the team. Manchester United, Stoke City and Aston Villa were among the sides being linked with a move for the English striker. After scoring ten goals last season Cole is imperative to West Ham as they have little else up front. Benni McCarthy is not what he used to be and Freddie Sears isn’t ready for the Premier League. Zavon Hines is a good young striker but he may not be ready for this season, while Piquionne, on the basis of last season, isn’t good enough. If West Ham are to succeed this season they should buy another striker, with Nice striker Loic Remy currently being linked with the club.
West Ham do look relatively strong at the back although the right-back position is a problem. Matthew Upson is back from South Africa after an unsuccessful England World Cup campaign, while Danny Gabbidon, Manuel Da Costa or Ben Haim are likely to partner him in the centre of defence. James Tomkins is another impressive young player at West Ham and could feature a lot this season. Herita Ilunga has impressed in the Premier League and looks to be a solid left-back but on the opposite side they have very little; they may end up playing one of the centre-backs there. West Ham will survive this season but it promises to be another unbearable term for the West Ham faithful.
Where will they finish?: 15th
Official relegation odds: 9/2 (Bet365)
Star man: Scott Parker
Ones to watch: Jack Collison, Zavon Hines and James Tomkins
Main weakness: Lack of goal scoring prowess and no pace down the flanks