Friday 20 July 2018

Shocked Allardyce fears being sucked back into relegation mire

Sam Allardyce was frustrated after Bournemouth's late winner
Sam Allardyce was frustrated after Bournemouth's late winner

Jim White

At Wembley on Saturday evening, there was a remarkable symmetry between Everton's supporters and their team.

In the dying embers of the match, as Tottenham's forwards conjured up a lovely fourth goal, the yawning gaps in the rapidly emptying away section perfectly mirrored the holes in the visitors' defence.

Frankly there are damp paper bags that have put up more resistance than Everton did. And this from a Sam Allardyce team.

"I think, like everything else, the honeymoon period is over," said the chastened Everton manager after watching his side slump to their fourth defeat in a row.

"And the players have got to get back down to listening to what we need to do to make sure we don't get drawn back into the relegation zone because that's exactly what we're doing at the moment."

What clearly alarmed Allardyce - and those few Evertonians who could bear to stay to the end of this 4-0 Tottenham hammering - was that all the improvement he delivered in his first seven games seems to have disappeared.

After starting brightly, Everton sank into inertia as the game progressed - disorganised and shambolic, unable to maintain shape or defensive discipline.

So much for the Big Sam Bounce that had been expected.

"I just need to digest the shock I've experienced by that second-half performance," he said.

"Explain to the players, 'here's why you didn't perform in the second-half lads and if you really are going to get better then you're going to absorb this information and take it into practice immediately going into next week's game'."

The problem for Allardyce is that when he arrived on Merseyside he identified a lack of goals as his most pressing issue.

Buying Cenk Tosun, who made an unobtrusive debut here, and bidding for Theo Walcott was meant to address that.

After watching his backline falter, after seeing Jonjoe Kenny bewitched and bewildered at right-back and Cuco Martina post in an excuse for a performance on the other flank, he may well believe he is in need of signing an entire new defence.

"Well one manager would say you'd always need more," Allardyce said.

"It depends where we want to go in this window. We're trying to finish in the top half and fill areas.

"Certainly the goalscoring area has been lacking all season before I got here and since I came here."

That said, a defence featuring Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi would not find it easy to contain this Tottenham side.

Just as Everton are sinking, so Spurs are hitting form at precisely the right moment.

Harry Kane scored a pair here for the fourth time in a row against Everton, in the process overtaking Teddy Sheringham to become the club's leading Premier League scorer (though he has some way to go before he matches Jimmy Greaves, Cliff Jones, Martin Chivers and several other serial scorers in the pre-1992 era).

But whatever the quality of his finishing, what Mauricio Pochettino's side are demonstrating is that they are far from just the 'Harry Kane team' of Pep Guardiola's dismissive insistence.

The fleet-heeled Son Heung-min took advantage of Everton's preoccupation with Kane to score for the fifth successive home game. Alongside him, Christian Eriksen's passing (and finishing for the fourth goal) was sublime, Mousa Dembele provided eye-catching power and drive from midfield and Serge Aurier, in danger of contracting agoraphobia such was the space afforded him by the Everton defence, was a rampaging presence at right-back.

On this sort of form, second place in the Premier League does not look unobtainable.

Pochettino, as is his wont, was keen not to overstate the possibilities.

"To fight for top four this season is so tough. It would be fantastic to be in the top four. It would be a massive achievement," he said.

Allardyce, meanwhile, is looking in the opposite direction. "I think next week's game is massive for us now," he said of Saturday's fixture with West Bromwich Albion.

"Next week's game is massive on whether we're going to start slipping into that relegation zone or decide we don't want to be there and put three points on the board."

© Daily Telegraph, London

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