Saturday 24 March 2018

Allardyce running out of time and tricks to save plummeting Eagles

Allardyce: Facing tough battle. Photo: Tony O'Brien/Action Images via Reuters
Allardyce: Facing tough battle. Photo: Tony O'Brien/Action Images via Reuters

Jason Burt

Sam Allardyce has gone from managing England, and the issue of lessening the fear that grips the national team, to trying to save Crystal Palace from relegation. And few jerseys, if any, weigh heavier on the shoulders than those with the thick blue and red stripes.

"Fear, fear, fear, fear," Allardyce said in desperation after the horrific 4-0 home defeat by his former club, Sunderland, on Saturday. It provoked such a powerful reaction that Palace chairman Steve Parish went into the dressing room afterwards to lay it on the line to the players, explaining just what it means to represent the club and the depth of the fans' feeling.

That unusual step took place with Allardyce's blessing because, right now, the manager is running through every trick in the book to elicit a response from a squad heading towards relegation.

Allardyce had his players at the training ground at 7am on Sunday and went through in forensic detail the video of the Sunderland loss. It was a brutal deconstruction.

And deconstruction appears to be the key for Allardyce, who has never suffered a top-flight relegation in his long managerial career and does not want to countenance one now - even if he is aware that there may have been a blithe assumption by some - his players possibly included - that he will simply turn up and sort it out.

Instead he has to break what he terms the "circle of fear". It leads to relegation. Sometimes the appointment of a new manager breaks that circle and there has been that kind of reaction at Swansea City, under Paul Clement, and Hull City, with Marco Silva.

Statistics actually show that a new manager 'bounce' is limited.

A turnaround usually must come down to the players, which is why that circle has to be broken. Otherwise it becomes a prison; the players are trapped by it, with no way out of a downward spiral.

That has been proven at Palace. There is an ingrained sense of fear at Selhurst Park that predates Allardyce and even his predecessor Alan Pardew, and is all the more astonishing given that the passionate home fans generate a generally positive atmosphere. It has not turned poisonous, nor are the fans unrealistic in their expectations, but the statistics have been damning since the club returned to the Premier League.

This season Palace have lost nine of their 12 league games at Selhurst Park. Last season only bottom-placed Aston Villa lost more home league games (12 to Palace's 10); the season before, when Palace finished 10th, no team were defeated more often at home (Palace lost 10, while even bottom-placed Queen's Park Rangers lost only eight) and the season before, the club suffered eight defeats. Over the same period, Palace have won just 22 of 69 Premier League matches at Selhurst Park and, remarkably, lost 37. In total, they have won 76 points from the 207 available at home.

The trajectory is damaging and there has to be a psychological fault at its heart. As soon as something goes wrong, the team fall apart and they appear to lose any semblance of how to reorganise themselves.

They seem frightened. It means Allardyce has no option but to take a 'back to basics' approach to strip down the way the team play, simplifying everything.

Palace need to recalibrate, in fact. Last summer there were laudable intentions to move the team forward under Pardew, which involved changing to a more expansive playing style and the recruitment of the likes of £27 million striker Christian Benteke. Out went 'old guard' stalwarts, including club captain Mile Jedinak, sold to Aston Villa, because it was deemed he was hampering a more progressive approach.

It is why fresh faces were needed last month. The dynamic of the team had to change again; change back. Paying £14 m for Patrick van Aanholt seems like a huge outlay, but the defender has worked under Allardyce recently and avoided relegation at Sunderland, while Jeffrey Schlupp achieved it the year before with Leicester City and went on to help them win the title.

Mamadou Sakho is a powerful defender, and defensive midfielder Luka Milivojevic is a hardened campaigner, perhaps a Jedinak replacement (with an eye for goal).

There was logic in the changes made last summer, but Palace moved too far away from another mantra that is important to a manager such as Allardyce: respect the point. An examination of how he started with Sunderland when he was appointed in October of last season shows that it takes time to turn things around and stabilise a team.

While they won league games, they lost them too, including five in a row in a terrible December run. Not until March and April did it change and the key was a sequence of four draws in a row followed by three clean sheets in four matches. Of Sunderland's last 14 matches, they actually won only four but, almost as importantly, lost just two. They were stable.

They also met the mantra that says: goals win matches but clean sheets keep you in the league.

That is what Palace have to learn. That is what Parish meant when he appointed Allardyce and spoke about "turning the dial back". That circle of fear has to be broken or Palace, with one win in seven league games under Allardyce, will not escape. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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