Thursday 23 November 2017

Stephen Hunt: If Palace lose they're in trouble, but Big Sam has seen it all before

Sam Allardyce's Crystal Palace will ensure survival if they avoid defeat against Hull today. Photo: PA News
Sam Allardyce's Crystal Palace will ensure survival if they avoid defeat against Hull today. Photo: PA News
Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt

If any manager can deal with the pressures of a relegation survival battle, it is the Crystal Palace boss Sam Allardyce - who has, until this season at least, never been relegated from the Premier League.

Twelve months ago, Big Sam was at Sunderland and he guided them to safety from an almost impossible situation when he took over. This season he is at Crystal Palace and, despite some brilliant recent results against Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal, his side are still far from safe.

If they lose today at home to Hull City they are in serious bother - and they will have given Hull and Swansea City additional hope going into next Sunday's finale. Hull are at home to Spurs, Swansea face West Brom and Palace go to Old Trafford.

When Allardyce first went into Selhurst Park, it appeared from the results that the Palace players were taking a little time to warm to him and his style of management and football. I get the feeling he is a manager who makes it clear to his players, from the start, that it is his way or the highway, and that he sets his marker down from day one to emphasise who is the boss. Once those parameters are established, and he gets to know his players, he will start to put his arm around those that need it and kick others to get the best out of them.

You don't have to be liked to be a good manager and players don't have to like you to be successful. After just six months under Giovanni Trapattoni, we all knew things were never going to change training-wise but it did not mean he would not be a success with Ireland. Allardyce doesn't care if his players don't like the training sessions, and Trap was the same. It's all about winning matches and getting results. They might be nice occasionally when results go their way but they really don't care whether the players like or dislike them.

Like his former Bolton assistant Phil Brown, who was my manager at Hull, Big Sam appears to be a mixture of the modern manager who is into his stats and hi-tech devices and methods but who is also old-fashioned in getting his messages across.

Brown was arguably the best coach I worked with from a tactical perspective because he would focus on every little detail he had on the opposition, working out their weaknesses and strengths. The basics were always right before games. He did it with a firm hand and was able to put his arm around you, if you needed it, at the same time as being firm and to the point. You would like him and want to play for him one minute, but then other times you would be thinking, 'what are you doing?'.

I never responded to being complimented. What I needed was a good rollicking. I was the worse for compliments. There would be times when I was playing well (and Phil and his) coaches would say to each other 'don't tell him'. He got the best out of me in a short space of time and I was flying that year until I got injured.

I remember at Wolves once and he came in at half-time furious with us. "How can I manage England with you lot?" he said. It was no joke to him. He said it in the heat of battle, but most of us had to stifle the laughter. I was sitting next to Kevin Kilbane, who was tapping my leg with his leg trying to make me laugh out loud.

But the bottom line is he was a good coach, and he believed in himself and, like a player who wants to play for his country, he wanted to manage England. He saw nothing wrong in setting out his ambitions, even if we didn't always have the same belief in him as he clearly did.

The modern-day manager doesn't usually get close to his players. He avoids complication and confrontation and is happy leaving everything to his director of football. Steve Coppell was the master of it. But Big Sam is different. You can imagine Allardyce sitting down with players when there is a problem, or when things are going well, and knowing when to put an arm around them.

Phil Brown had his own methods to provoke a reaction from his players. One week he closed down the canteen at the Hull training ground. On another occasion, he took away the balls and cues from the pool table. And then the darts went missing. He would take away the simple perks of being a footballer just to get a reaction from us, even though most of the lads really weren't that bothered by such things.

During that season at Hull, I remember we went down to London for a six-pointer against West Ham and when we got to the team hotel, Phil had arranged for steak and chips for all the team the night before the game. I could see why he had done it, but I didn't want anything to do with it. I didn't see it as the ideal pre-match preparation for me so I left the restaurant, pretending that I wasn't hungry, and instead sneaked out to the Italian restaurant across the road to have spaghetti bolognese on my own.

Phil still doesn't know to this day that I went off on my own, and I speak to him quite a bit, but that was his way to get his players to relax on that occasion. Before games, he was always meticulous and his Friday sessions were always good.

We would walk through the shadow-play and team shape and slowly go through your own position. He was really good at giving information to the players and would walk around the group during the session, talking individually to all the players so they knew what their job was the following day. It was a brilliant way of getting you into shape but also taking information on board without wasting energy in an 11 v 11 game. I know he did the same when he worked with Sam.

Allardyce of course started his managerial career at Limerick and I am sure there are things he learnt there in those first few months that are still with him today, and that he has taken to every level since. It would have been interesting if he had stayed in charge of England to see how he would have coped at the highest level, preparing the best of the best to play the world's best. It is a real shame that it was taken away from him, even though it was his own fault, because he won't get a top-four club now and he won't get the England job again.

Hull are in the bottom three and have the harder run-in. The pressure is on Crystal Palace, in front of their own supporters, to get a result. Although it is set up for Allardyce to get the draw he needs, it would not surprise me if Hull won.

Win this and Palace know they are safe, but the reality is that if they lose, they are in deep trouble, with Manchester United and Allardyce's old mate Jose Mourinho to come. The Manchester United manager is already threatening to play a weakened team for that final game, which is disrespectful. He didn't have to say that. Even if he does intend to field a team with fewer first-team players before the Europa League Cup final, he doesn't need to tell the world. And as Allardyce knows, going to Old Trafford to play a so-called weakened United will be no guarantee of success. But it definitely helps.

Sunday Indo Sport

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport