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When form hits the fan call ‘Big Sam’

When form hits the fan call ‘Big Sam’

FOOTBALL: If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find him, maybe you can hire: Big Sam.

FootballPremier-League
By Ben Tirebuck

Tuesday 29 December 2020, 02:30PM


Sticking it to the man: Big Sam Allardyce. Photo: AFP.

Sticking it to the man: Big Sam Allardyce. Photo: AFP.

That has been the modus operandi for several Premier League clubs over the years who have been desperate to preserve their top-flight status and, crucially, the riches and recognition it entails.

Like a one-man A-Team, 63-year-old Big Sam Allardyce has carved out his niche position by never experiencing relegation with any of the seven top-level clubs he has managed. Bolton, Newcastle, Sunderland, West Ham, Everton, Crystal Palace and Blackburn have all been grateful recipients of his alchemy and wizardry.

It was therefore somewhat inevitable that West Bromwich Albion would turn to him next. Promoted to the promised land last season under the stewardship of Slaven Bilic, the Baggies had found life tough back amongst the big boys and subsequently fired their coach on Dec 16, despite a credible 1-1 draw against Manchester City only a day before.

West Brom’s owners had clearly lost faith in the Croat and become anxious that their Premier League experience would be short-lived. Rumours that they are keen to sell the club made it imperative that they maintained their top-flight status.

Enter ‘Big Sam’.

He was appointed manager on the same day that the unfortunate Bilic was bowing to the exit sign, with the team in 19th position on a meagre seven points and clearly facing an uphill slog ahead.

If Allardyce needed further proof of the task at hand, his first game against local West Midlands rivals Aston Villa delivered a sobering reality check after a 0-3 reverse.

Next up came reigning champions Liverpool, top of the league, in their own back yard where they hadn’t dropped a league point in 34 games. A daunting task but a glimmer of hope lay in the fact that Allardyce was the last manager to emerge from Anfield in the league victorious after a 2-1 win with Crystal Palace in April 2017.

Jubilant Celebrations

At the conclusion of the first half on Sunday (Dec 27) it was quite baffling how the Reds were only one goal ahead thanks to Sadio Mane’s 12th-minute opener.

They attacked in droves with wave after wave of red domination accounting for 84% of possession but were unable to unpick the stubborn backline of their opponents to add to their tally. By the end of the game Liverpool had enjoyed 78% possession and a shot count of 17 to the Baggies’ five.

Yet Allardyce had his master plan and his troops stood firm. The master escape artist had, after only 90 minutes of football, weaved his spell in record time by seemingly hyptonising his team to mirror his resolute demeanour and robust tactical style on the pitch and they often looked the better team during the second half.

In the 83rd minute West Brom defender Semi Ajayi scored an equaliser to silence the 2,000 fans inside fortress Anfield and prompt jubilant celebrations from the away team and manager.

It meant Allardyce has now not been beaten in his last four away league games against Klopp’s Liverpool with four different clubs.

“We’ve got a point against Liverpool, which no-one outside of us in the dressing room thought we’d get,” Allardyce told the BBC post-match.

“Every man today showed the spirit this team needs to get out of this position. I saw a lot of guts, a lot of determination and a lot of quality,” he added.

Of course, one swallow doesn’t make a summer and there is still a long, hard road ahead if the Baggies are to achieve their goal and thus maintain their new manager’s record. They are, at time of press, still five points off safety ahead of their home game against Leeds this evening (Dec 29).

But a result like this breeds immeasurable confidence and is testimony that Allardyce’s philosophy and style achieves the desired effect, and quickly. Clearly his players have bought into it already and opponents in the coming weeks will be a lot less confident than they were a week ago.

Could he do it with his eighth club? One thing is assured: ‘Big Sam’ loves it when a plan comes together, so don’t bet against it.

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