Thursday, 21 November 2013

Big Sam in big trouble if Carroll doesn’t return soon

Another dismal home defeat and a performance without goals or goal threat. West Ham's 3-0 reverse at home to Chelsea increases the pressure on Big Sam.

Kevin Hatchard's piece written the Friday before Chelsea is equally applicable now. Big Sam needs luck with injuries and a tactical rethink to avoid trouble at t'Boleyn.

When you look at the betting markets regarding which Premier League manager will be the next to lose his job, the odds available tell an intriguing story. Fulham’s Martin Jol is the odds-on favourite – his position has been further weakened by the installation of Rene Meulensteen as head coach – while Norwich’s Chris Hughton is 6-1 second favourite.
Where do West Ham's goals come from?
While the white-hot glare of the media spotlight has been consistently trained upon Jol and Hughton, West Ham’s Sam Allardyce has been able to exist fairly peacefully in the shadows, and he is a hefty 25-1 to win the “sack race”. This appears to be a strange state of affairs when you examine both the Premier League table and recent results.

West Ham are 16th, only out of the dropzone on goal difference. They have ten points – the same tally as Jol’s Fulham and one point fewer than Norwich, who beat the Hammers 3-1 in the most recent round of Premier League fixtures.

That defeat at Carrow Road has alarmed some fans, as it featured an inexplicable second-half collapse. At half-time West Ham were 1-0 up and cruising, but after Jussi Jaaskelainen made a rare error and conceded a penalty, the claret and blue wheels came off. A midfield that had played calmly and intelligently in the first period resorted to panicked hoofs upfield, which allowed the home side to get a grip of possession that had utterly eluded them in the first half. This unexpected midfield meltdown put intolerable pressure on a defence that was missing its best performer Winston Reid, and it starved a strikerless formation of any attacking thrust.
Andy Carroll's as important as ever to Big Sam

Glass half-full optimists will point to West Ham’s exceptional defence, and they are right to do so. The Hammers had one of the best defensive records in Europe’s top five leagues ahead of their fateful trip to East Anglia, and they have kept an impressive six clean sheets in 11 league games. However, with towering aerial presence Reid potentially out of action until the New Year, his fellow centre-backs James Collins and James Tomkins will feel the weight of responsibility.

It is at the other end of field where West Ham’s real problems lie. They have scored just nine Premier League goals in 11 games, and have failed to score in six of those matches. Allardyce has persisted with a 4-6-0 formation in recent weeks, and barring the notable exception of a 3-0 win at Tottenham, this tactical set-up has failed to yield many goals. Rising star Ravel Morrison is the club’s top scorer with three league goals, and none of his fellow midfielders have scored more than once. Morrison and Kevin Nolan are the most advanced midfielders in the strikerless formation, but Nolan has huffed and puffed his way through the campaign. Of the 20 shots the veteran has attempted, just four have been on target, and he has had the look of a faded boxer who has accepted one fight too many.
Morrison has exquisite skill and huge potential
Allardyce has fairly bemoaned an unfortunate injury list which has featured the name of star signing Andy Carroll since the start of the season. An unusual foot injury has sidelined a man who the Hammers’ entire style of play is geared towards getting the best out of. While it is understandable that the vast majority of Allardyce’s transfer kitty was spent on securing Carroll’s move from Liverpool, the motley crew of backups at his disposal warrants scrutiny.

It’s been clear for some time that Allardyce doesn’t have much faith in Modibo Maiga, as he has granted the former Sochaux forward just eight Premier League starts since he joined the club in the summer of 2012. Ricardo Vaz Te and Mladen Petric are both injured, so the focus has shifted to the curious case of Carlton Cole. Released by the club in the summer, he was then re-signed on a three-month deal. Cole has never scored more than ten goals in a Premier League campaign, and he hasn’t hit double figures at the top level since 2009.

Such muddled and apparently ill-conceived business is out of keeping with a manager who has built a career on transfer acumen and attention to detail. If funds are available in January, Allardyce must bring in an effective back-up for Carroll, as the club surely cannot afford to pin its hopes so firmly on a player with Carroll’s recent injury record. At present, some of the Hammers players are acting as if Carroll is part of the team – Razvan Rat supplies a constant stream of excellent crosses from the left, with no-one there to profit from them, while a lack of support in the centre often forces the likes of Stewart Downing and Matt Jarvis down blind alleys.

I am a big fan of Allardyce (he should have got the England job when it was erroneously given to Steve McClaren), which is why I’m surprised that he has not only allowed this situation to develop, but has proved tactically inflexible in recent weeks. When Carroll is eventually restored to the team, it may be the stimulus that sends the Hammers soaring clear of the dropzone. But if he doesn’t return soon, Allardyce could find the light of that media glare spilling in his direction.

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