Like a forgotten ornament on the mantel piece, it’s astonishing how quickly the shine and sparkle of four victories can dull following consecutive away defeats to Everton and Stoke City.
If you recall my article from Saturday’s edition I wrote that I was surprised at how Sam had set up the team to play against Everton. Coming off the back of four wins, which also included a trip over to these sunny shores, I had expected a bit more positivity from the gaffer rather than an appearance of holding out for a draw.
Yes our defence had been performing well but they were not going to keep a clean sheet in every single match until the end of the season so I had hoped he’d have a bit more faith in a team that had been scoring on a consistent basis throughout our February winning streak. A week on and another trip on the road provided an even worse result, going down 3-1 after Carroll had put us ahead. You could argue luck was against us, we should have had a penalty, etc, but at the end of the game we’d clocked up the stat of two defeats on the bounce and the fact we’re starting to pick away at all the good work we’d done the month before and sliding back down the table once more.
Aside from the curse of the Manager of the Month award possibly sealing our fate, it was interesting to hear Allardyce saying (after he’d gone through all the other reasons) that he’d picked the wrong team. Now I don’t know what he was getting at here and I’m hoping he is not thinking that he wasn’t defensive enough. Sure, the defence was poor, but as mentioned above they’re not going to perform heroics every week.
Sam’s comment, however, got me thinking as to whether he does actually know what kind of team to put out against the sort of opponents we come across most times we go away. By that I mean teams not in the bottom three or in the top four or perhaps even top six. If we suggest that Allardyce’s tactic is ‘park the bus’ when away against the top four and that he uses the ‘it’s highly unlikely they’ll score against us that’s why they’re in the relegation places’ tactic against teams in the bottom three, which is a risky one which definitely has proven to fail in the past, then what do you use for teams that are roughly give or take a player, goal, point or two in the same ball park in ability?
You’d like to think a razor sharp tactician would slyly outfox their rueful opponents and, indeed, we have seen that happen if we think back to the 3-0 victory at White Hart Lane. However, we could look at it another way and suggest it was complete fluke much like in Football Manager when the team you pick plays dreadfully against Wycombe Wanderers in the FA Cup one week and then, after you can’t be bothered making any changes, goes off and thumps Man City at the Etihad the next.
If you look at the away record as a whole and check on who we’ve beaten and who we’ve lost against and drawn against, no real discernable pattern arises. Let’s face it, the sample size of victories would not be permissable in any statistical analysis, and although a couple of results stand out the record kind of looks how you’d expect. If you break it down into seasonal blocks, though, is there a pattern that emerges which shows that Sam’s hand has been forced due to injuries, injuries, more injuries, bizarre referee decisions, suspensions and injuries?
You do wonder if we had a completely injury-free season whether Sam’s idea was to complete an entire 19 match away campaign with every result being 0-0. Two away matches in and things were going according to plan. We’d gone to Newcastle and Southampton, two points on the board and no goals conceded. If that was Sam’s thought process, it came unstuck in away game three with those pesky Tigers who could only beat us by a penalty.
Without that harsh decision we’d have had a hattrick and Sam could have continued to dream of a perfect away campaign. Alas it was not to be and, of course, things got a lot worse before they got better, before getting worse again. So a victory against Hull would be the perfect revenge against the team that ruined Allardyce’s away plan.