SAM'S ERSATZ FOOTBALL
Mickey Blue Eyes
Sam Allardyce has been around as manager: two years at Preston, two years at Blackpool, two years at Notts County, eight years at Bolton, one year at Newcastle, two years at Blackburn, almost three years (so far) at West Ham, and won almost 40% of his games. Yet he is not loved. Instead, he is often accused of coaching his teams to play ersatz football, accusations that always seem to appear when his teams have ground out a good result against one of his "betters." Yes, Sam is one of those football personalities who split opinion.
Count me as one of those between extremes. No, I do not like the way his teams play; no, I would not want him in charge of Everton; but yes, I do admire his ability to do much with little. With Sam, you get what you see. Large, craggy, uncompromising......just the kind of manager hapless West Ham United needed to get them out of relegation trouble. It takes all kinds.
It also means he has few friends when events turn against him, as they did earlier this season. It means he is merely tolerated when events flow his way as they did with a four match winning streak prior to our game on Saturday. I suspect he would be the first to tell you of the weird pathological hatreds that bedevil all sports. Who can forget the images of two Newcastle fans shouting their venom at him during a match? Not surprising, I suppose, coming from the same source that saw one lunatic punch a police horse. That is what irrational hatred does to the human psyche.
So I was not looking forward to Saturday's match that much. I anticipated a gruelling encounter, hoping Roberto's butterfly would not be broken on Sam's wheel. The former transpired, the latter not. We won in the end, but only just.
Sadly, again there is not much to say for the match. As usual we had most of the possession and often looked on the verge of a breakthrough. Equally as usual we failed until after the substitutions. Up to then it looked a nailed on scoreless draw in spite of increasing pressure on the enemy goal, hopeful long range shots punted anaemically wide, no central penetration whatever. Like all Sam's teams West Ham are big, muscular and mostly irritating more than threatening: except for the disgusting thug Nolan, who really should be doing time in the slammer for the damage he has done to the sport and opponents. The sooner he is gone the better for decency in the sport.
The substitutions made all the difference. McGeady managed to produce some runs down the right that replaced Deulofeu could not summon - frequently lost the ball in fact - while Lukaku meant they had to pay attention to his very large presence. It told in the end when Pienaar and Bainsey carved their umpteenth move down our left and Bainsey hit a speculative ground cross the incoming Lukaku sidefooted home from right of the penalty spot. It was well deserved but tenuous to the end.
Actually, I got more entertainment from watching and listening to the fans in my immediate vicinity. For a change I was in the Family Enclosure. It was fascinating listening to parents trying to explain the game to their offspring without breaking into expletives at the referee or Nolan; they failed on a few occasions so it had its comic moments, including a cascade of boos for the ex-pinky Carroll when he warmed up in front of us. It helped to relieve the cold as the sun sank beneath the yardarm.
So we won 1-0 and sent West Ham back to all those aptly bent office buildings in London. What else did you expect against a Sam team?