Originally published: 19/12/11 @
When the announcement broke that Big Sam would be taking over from Avram Grant the news was met with mixed emotions from the West Ham faithful.
Following a dismal twelve months under the Baron Silas doppelganger, which ended in relegation to the Championship, the common feeling around Upton Park was that his successor would be an attacking minded manager with the prowess and ability to bring the goods times back to E13. Whilst his credentials cannot be questioned, Allardyce’s philosophies are the antipathy of ‘beautiful football’ and show scant regard for the traditions of a club renowned for its style of play.
Throughout the decades West Ham have tried to keep the ball on the ground with silky passing and intricate moves and this mantra has been passed down from first team to youth academy level throughout history. The Hammers have always attempted to play ‘Champagne football’ , although often the execution makes it feel more like Carver, and Big Sam’s route one tactics leave a lot to be desired for a large portion of the East End support.
As has been the case for the majority of his managerial career, Allardyce was the Marmite of football with half the fans loving the appointment due to his track record whilst the other half loathed him for his style, or lack thereof. Six months down the line little has changed but, whether you agree with his tactics or not, his results for speak for themselves.
Saturday’s final match prior to Christmas was just the latest example of the somewhat prehistoric tactics as the home side lined up with Carlton Cole, John Carew and Freddie Piquionne all in attack. Some will argue that Allardyce’s hand has been forced due to injuries in the squad, most noticeably Sam Baldock, but nonetheless the selection of three six foot plus powerhouses sent out a clear signal of intent from the off.
When deadlock was broken from a sixth minute corner when Papa Boupa Diop, another player known chiefly for his ‘wardrobe’ stature, rose highest to nod home it was hardly surprising that the goal had come via this method. More predictable still was the yawn inspiring eighty five minutes that followed.
In fact the second half was such a drab affair that the biggest cause for excitement came courtesy of a stray cat, which somehow found its way onto the hallowed turf before completing a lap of the pitch to rapturous cheers from the sell-out crowd of over 34,000. It was a great show of agility, an attribute which abandoned John Carew’s clown feet at birth.
Nonetheless, despite the evident lack of elegance amongst a strength driven attacking unit, the Hammers are a potent outfit in front of goal and sit third in the scoring charts (behind only leaders Southampton and free scoring Peterborough) after finding the net 37 times in their 22 games so far. Amongst the 37 strikes have been a high percentage of goals resulting from set-pieces or route one football, although the occasional moments of brilliance synonymous with the West Ham way of playing have also lit up the East End. Often it is Nolan the architect.
Allardyce’s right hand man, who is almost as ever present as Big Sam’s tactics, has been the key to much of the Hammers success this season. An extremely talented player at this level, Nolan not only plays in a role that enables him to link midfield to attack but he provides the outlet to allow the two contrasting styles to flourish.
At home, Allardyce’s Army are regularly met by an opposition whom simply turn up to park the proverbial bus. These negative tactics are something that West Ham sides of yesteryear have struggled to overcome. No matter how attractive and intricate the swift passing football may be, it is extremely difficult to find a way through what is often a compact and rigid unit. However, with Nolan in support and three big targets to aim for up top the Hammers have been able to grind out results like the 1-0 victory overBarnsley.
Away from the Boleyn Ground, where home teams are under pressure to perform, West Ham usually find themselves with more freedom to play in a far more expressive manner. For all the physicality within the side, players like Noble, Collison, and Taylor are all fantastic passers capable of slicing more forgiving defences wide open. On their travels, Big Sam deploys a team far more reminiscent of what the fans expect to see and it comes of no surprise that they’ve managed to outscore their opponents by two or more goals on four occasions in contrast to only twice at E13. It seems Allardyce has got the blend just right.
Some sections of the West Ham faithful might not like to hear it but football is a game of results (just ask Avram Grant) and ultimately if winning ugly culminates in promotion then it surely has to be deemed as the right way. Just look to Stoke for confirmation.