Monday 15 October 2018

James Lawton: Sam and Wayne show won't be short of drama

Manager can make impact at Everton but he will need more Rooney heroics to restore squad’s lost confidence

Sam Allardyce and Wayne Rooney will be hoping that their work on the training pitch pays dividends for Everton. Photo: Getty Images
Sam Allardyce and Wayne Rooney will be hoping that their work on the training pitch pays dividends for Everton. Photo: Getty Images
James Lawton

James Lawton

Sam and Wayne may sound more like a raucous situation comedy than a master plan of football re-construction but the pilot show at Goodison Park on Wednesday didn't go so badly, did it?

It wasn't Manchester City seeking new horizons under their master coach Pep Guardiola. It wasn't the passion of Antonio Conte or the mysteries of Jose Mourinho.

But it was certainly theatre, it boasted a goal for the football ages, and, who knows, maybe it will turn out that it also had a plot-line concerning Premier League survival.

There was big Sam Allardyce, another £9m richer and hailed as the "strong man" to rescue Everton by chief shareholder Farhad Moshiri, casting the new emperor's gaze from the directors' box.

And there was Wayne Rooney, aged 32, rising superbly out of some of the ruins of his brief, flawed stint under the fallen Ronald Koeman.

despair Admittedly, West Ham United were the despair of their new manager David Moyes - how he must have yearned for some of the competitive certainties he had been able to create in his 11-year reign at Goodison.

And it also must be acknowledged that an impressively balanced team performance had been shaped by club loyalist David Unsworth, who now steps back into the margins with the U-23 team.

But, then, the worlds of Wayne and Sam could hardly have collided more encouragingly.

No, the odds are that Allardyce will not linger much longer than his contract for the rest of this season and next.

Big Sam has cast himself, very profitably, as the man to go to when higher, fancier hopes have come crashing down on the boardroom floor. He will take the best of what he finds and push hard, extremely hard, to make it work.

In an earlier life, the 63-year-old put in an impressive eight-year stint at Bolton Wanderers, taking them to the verge of Europe, and despite some stylistic debate managed West Ham relatively successfully for four years.

Now, after his misadventure as England manager, his function is impact, a driving sense of what is required out on the field if not for supreme success but the dispersing of fears of disaster.

He did it at Sunderland and Crystal Palace in quick succession and when Everton slid into the bottom three it was inevitable that he would be seen potentially as a big, bluff but effective man in a perilous situation.

Rooney was candid enough about his imperative to make the right impact in front of Allardyce.

His return to his roots, greeted joyously but marred soon enough by a drink-driving conviction which incensed and bewildered Koeman, has had some more impressive moments than that fall from grace.

But nothing compares with this week's eruption - and first hat-trick for the club where as a boy he announced something thrillingly close to genius.

His third goal, from inside his own half, was, he speculated, possibly the best he has ever scored.

The top scorer of England and Manchester United was quick to add that - like the rest of the team - he was deeply aware of the significance of the night.

His goal, he allowed, was extraordinary but so was the degree of the team's commitment after being dismantled by Southampton at the weekend.

Against Southampton, they were a team utterly devoid of confidence and unity. Against West Ham they had method and, most vitally, significant hints of self-belief.

statesman Rooney has rarely sounded more like a football statesman, saying: "For me just as impressive as that goal which may have been my best was the clean sheet. I'm so glad we put in a defensive performance as well as score some goals because it is what David Unsworth deserved.

"He stepped in at a difficult time for the club and he's an Everton man through and through.

"Of course, we also realised how important it was to play in front of a new manager.

"We knew it was a big moment for us as a club. It was a big game with the new manager coming in. We needed a big performance. We had to show what good players we really are."

Perhaps, especially so in front of an Allardyce on record with the view that Everton's disintegration, after showing such promise for much of Koeman's time, was due almost entirely to the departure of Romelu Lukaku and his goals.

"You need to be scoring regularly to believe you're a real team," said Allardyce. "When the goals stop, so many other things do too, and the first is confidence in your ability to play."

Rooney has plainly not offered himself as a one-man solution to the absence of the predatory Lukaku.

He was apparently in agreement with Unsworth that at 32 he is best equipped to operate in midfield with the kind of striking potential that was so luminously announced when West Ham's Joe Hart strayed momentarily from his goal-line.

Said Unsworth: "Wayne agreed with me that maybe at 32 he can make his best contribution from a more withdrawn position and we saw plenty of evidence of that tonight.

"We expected to be higher than this in the league but we have a platform and there was confidence out there tonight.

"The lads played without fear. It has been a tough six weeks but moving from the bottom three to 13th is definitely a step in the right direction. It's over to Sam now and obviously he has my full backing."

We can only speculate on how tightly Unsworth gritted his teeth when he genuflected to Big Sam. Some within the dressing room no doubt felt the irony that Unsworth was returning to the shadows at precisely the time the team he had found so stricken had emerged.

It is, of course, one of the ways of football, and Allardyce has come to know them better than most.

In one of his more philosophical moments he said: "I am exceptionally lucky. Or am I exceptionally good? I suppose you'll decide that along the way."

About one thing we can be certain. However long it lasts, the Sam and Wayne show will not be an easy one to ignore.

Irish Independent

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