West Ham: Allardyce must try and smile though the pain.
By Dan Wheeler
Sam Allardyce, apparently, has a well-developed sense of humour. Judging by the form his team has shown over the last six weeks he will be well served by any ability to see the lighter side of life.
The impact Allardyce has had at Upton Park over the last 20 months has been documented before in these pages and it is a good job his start to the current season was so impressive because, at the moment, the team appears to be spluttering towards free-fall.
Back in mid-December West Ham had one of the best defensive records in the Premier League, with only one team - Stoke City - claiming more than the Hammers’ six clean sheets. They sat comfortably in mid-table and could look back on excellent performances at Manchester United and Liverpool and that image-defining win over Chelsea.
Since their goalless draw at West Brom though not a lot has gone right. In seven games, only one has been won and one drawn. The rest have been surrendered in an alarming fashion as the goals have flown on. Boy have they flown in. Twelve in the last four games. No team is going win any games if they have to score four times. Least of all a side who are to scoring goals what Mario Balotelli is to having a quiet night in in front of the tele.
The latest defeat at Fulham was one of the worse yet. The fact that it was against the Cottagers served as an appropriate reminder how vividly things have deteriorated for the Hammers.
Back in September West Ham, with the help of a seemingly rejuvenated Andy Carroll, took Fulham apart. The gorge between the two sides was so vast you could have built a glass-bottomed viewing platform and retired on the profits. On Wednesday it was the same, only this time it was Allardyce’s team who are staring worriedly at what’s below them, hoping their gellitin-knees hold out.
Yes, Dimitar Berbatov was offside when the scored Fulham’s opening goal but that should not mask anything. West Ham’s deficiencies were all over the pitch. Especially at the back. The way Hugo Rodallega, a welterweight at best, out-jumped, out-muscled and, frankly, out-desired three Hammers defenders summed it up pointedly.
In fairness it has always been something of a fine line for Allardyce. As well as his defence played in the early months of the season, form being what it is, that was never very likely to last. You can get by for so long on being stingy at the back but it was a vulnerable strategy, especially if the attack continued to show the cutting edge of a cushion. Which it has.
Of the defenders only Winston Reid has maintained a semblance of consistency. Certain mitigation has to be found for Guy Demel and Joey O’Brien because of injury but James Collins has had more peaks and troughs than the Black Mountains, James Tomkins looks timid and although the statistics say few goalkeepers save more shots that Jussi Jaaskaleinenn, you are left with the impression that few keepers present the opposition with more second chomps at the cherry on the rebound too. The pending arrival of Paul Robinson should help that though.
Quite how Allardyce is going to sort out the problems up front is anyone’s guess. Kevin Nolan is still the club’s top scorer and a striker has not found the back of the net since Carlton Cole put them ahead against Everton three days before Christmas.
Just like last season in the Championship, the forwards are letting the side down. Carlton Cole continues to look like he should play for England one minute and Enfield the next. Andy Carroll had a great hour against Fulham back in September but since then injuries have returned and so has that lumbering, cumbersome demeanor when he has got out there. He remains a hard one to figure out.
As does the club’s loan acquisition Marouane Chamakh. Although he is clearly shy of match fitness his early displays have explained the smugness on a number of Arsenal supporters’ faces when news of the move broke. He is a player that seems to “do exactly what it says on the tin”, trouble is the tin does not have a label.
West Ham fans can only keep their fingers crossed regarding another loanee - the unknown quantity that is Wellington Paulista. The Brazilian is exactly the sort of wildcard David Sullivan likes to take a cheap punt on and, in fairness, it is an indulgence that has worked. Ilan did a throughly decent job three years ago and Christophe Dugarry and Mauro Zarate are still fondly remembered at Birmingham City for what they did.
Much more responsibility must rest on the shoulders of players like Matt Jarvis and Ricardo Vaz Te. Jarvis, the club’s record signing, seems to undermine all his hustle and bustle with a whale-thick veneer of diffidence. Often, when it is crying out for him to deliver, he is seen shifting the ball for someone else to cross. He is a one-dimensional player but his one dimension can be very good. Maybe he is not getting enough of the ball? Certainly he is not getting it quick enough.
Vaz Te, like Jarvis, is convincing many that he may not possess that extra bit of quality to turn him from a very good Championship player into one capable of making a consistent impact at the highest level. He will forever have his name etched into the club’s history for his goal at Wembley but, although injuries have affected him, he has looked well short of good enough.
West Ham’s seven goals away from home is the worst in the Premier League. Their defending is deteriorating. At the moment they are seven points clear of the relegation zone. More pressure will be heaped on the home form and with their next three games at Upton Park against Swansea, Tottenham and Manchester United, Allardyce may well have to fall back on his ability to laugh through the bad times.