Marks Out Of Ten…

Is time up for Big Sam already? 

Marketing booboo or not, yesterday Everton sent out one of their fan questionnaires to season ticket holders with the aim of establishing their satisfaction with Sam Allardyce.  Fans have been asked to rate the statement:

“I have a high level of trust in the current manager and coaching staff… e.g. in making the right decisions to get the best out of the team.”

Pretty soon Big Sam will know exactly where he stands with the Everton faithful, who have recently been increasingly vocal with their discontent towards the former England Manager.

The fans were hostile during the Swansea game and the atmosphere at Goodison for the recent Merseyside Derby was muted, almost resigned.  In post match press conferences the manager has received flack for seemingly absolving himself of any blame whilst simultaneously suggesting he deserves a lot of credit for what he has achieved this season.  So is this criticism deserved and is the writing already on the wall?

His mission? 

Allardyce has rightly or wrongly established a reputation as a manager who gets teams out of trouble and then makes them hard to beat with robust defending and direct football.  His record at the seven Premier League clubs he’s managed demonstrates his effectiveness at turning it around in an initial ten match period.  This is probably what forced Farhad Moshiri’s hand in November last year. However a closer look at the situation at that point suggests that relegation was not the spectre the board feared.

Big Sam watched from the stands as David Unsworth saw out his final match in temporary charge on 30th November.  Everton thrashed West Ham 4 -0, with Rooney getting a hat-trick and helping to lift his side to thirteenth in the table and five points clear of the relegation zone.  The caretaker boss had been unspectacular but ground out seven points from six games, loosing just one from his final four. Now thirteenth in the table is by no means a great position, but their form with Unsworth had seen them drag themselves from 18th when Koeman was sacked on 23rd October. This is hardly suggestive of a club in free fall.

Be that as it may, Allardyce came in to a muted response from Evertonians.  At best he was seen as the only option available.  With Everton out of the relegation zone and indeed the bottom six, it is justifiable for some of the fans to question him when he suggests he inherited a mess.  It also raises questions as to what his overall mission was for the season.  Had the board written this one off?  Was Allardyce told to do the best he could in the circumstances?  It’s hardly an enticing job pitch for a sixty-three year old.

Improvement and Issues

Anybody who has read my previous posts, knows that I’m not one for relying overly on stats.  But the evidence shows improvements during his Everton tenure. Twenty-seven points from twenty games, is a better return as is his defensive record.  Goals had been flying in the wrong end before November and the club had managed just two clean sheets in fourteen, this has jumped up to six in twenty under the current manager.  On the face of it, this is a considerable improvement and certainly something for any fair minded fan to consider when filling in their questionnaire.

It is however, the perceived style of play under Allardyce which has been one of the irritants for the fans. The manager must surely be aware of the heritage at the club, from the Holy Trinity to the School of Science; this is a fan base which has enjoyed some great football sides.  A direct, flat and dull style to grind out results just won’t cut it for the Everton fans, nor will averaging just one goal a game. The grumbles from supporters about a lack of style and ambition from the coach has echoes of Paul Lambert’s ill-fated time at Aston Villa and we all know what happened next with them.

He has also made a few odd statements about great draws at the Liberty Stadium and comments alluding to just how well he has done there this season.  Comparisons to West Ham United won’t have helped either and it is this attitude twinned with a predictable style of play which has grated on supporters.  In the past he has boasted about his suitability for top jobs in Europe whilst never having won a major honour in the game and he has not lasted at clubs where expectations are higher than simply being robust and hard to beat.  This must surely be on the minds of those season ticket holders.

He is right to absolve himself from the failures of the previous summer’s recruitment. However, it would be fair to argue that the current crop of players at his disposal is the best he’s worked with in his Premier League career.  Regardless of current form, there are some gifted players in the squad and to be ninth in the league, looking over your shoulder at a limited Newcastle United must be hard for the fans to accept.

The Burnley problem

It would be a legitimate lament for Evertonians to point to their North-West rivals up at Burnley as a marker for where they want to be. Surely with their outlay on players over the past two windows, there is enough quality to match what Burnley has achieved with a mere fraction of the budget.  For the Turf Moor outfit to be just two points behind Arsenal, on the same games played is a minor miracle.  Europe is a very real prospect given their current form and there is a sense of unity and purpose which has simply evaporated at Everton.  Yes Allardyce has improved results, just about, but for the fan base to be so against the management is a failure in itself.  Everton have not got the quality to be top four contenders, but if Burnley can be challenging for Europe then so too should they.

Things aren’t looking good for the Big Sam.  If he stays, it may well help some of the anxieties in the squad over the immediate future.  On the other hand this could further alienate the fan base and leave some empty seats at Goodison, if all they can realistically expect is mid-table again next season.  Swapping and changing managers is not ideal. However, if the board does respond to these questionnaires, surely a younger coach with a more expansive style is a not a bad shout.  Paulo Fonseca or Eddie Howe would be good targets with the former guiding his Shaktar side into the last sixteen of the Champions League this season.  If they do swing the axe, they must appoint a man who can reengage with the fans, excite them again and certainly score higher on any future surveys.

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