There’s Dimitri Payet and Andy Carroll, a commanding Mark Noble and maybe Manuel Lanzini. But West Ham’s clash with Sunderland on Saturday will be about one man – Sam Allardyce. At least before the kick-off
The Black Cats boss returns to the Boleyn Ground unclear what kind of reception he will receive from the Bobby Moore stand.
Here was the manager that brought West Ham back from the brink – he called them a “broken club” this week – and took them into the Premier League. Here was a manager who put a trophy in their hands – the 2012 Championship play-off final against Blackpool. Here was the manager that stabilised a club prone to the yo-yo of relegation and promotion.
And yet… and yet. Somehow the chemistry wasn’t right. Despite warm words from the boardroom, his departure at the end of last season was timely and appropriate – and a decision that looks even more audacious in hindsight now that Slaven Bilic has the east Londoners purring.
Bilic himself was clear about how the fans should react. Ahead of the Saturday’s early afternoon kick-off he said: “They should respect him, he did great for West Ham. He is one of the most famous and long serving English managers, 20 years or so, very successful and charismatic one. He got us back from the Championship and then stabilised the club in the Premier League so he has done amazing job and he should be praised big time.”
Big Sam has bigger challenges that overcoming the terrace chanting. His side hovers at the bottom of the league like they’re scared of heights and he needs to take points from West Ham beyond the dreams of self-satisfaction.
Bilic assesses it like this . “He has done a good job already stabilising them and they are harder to beat, they are more organised. They got four points against Liverpool away and Manchester United, any club in the world would take that. Even when they were 2-0 down at Anfield, they didn’t give up. There’s still a long way to go but they have a big chance to stay up.”
Allardyce said this week : “Whatever happens [with the fans on Saturday], it’s not one of those things that will be a complete surprise. It is what it is. People will have their opinion, whether I think it’s right or wrong. They have paid their money.”
As for the roster of injured, Bilic said “[Winston Reid and Andy Carroll] are back in training so that is a positive. Manuel Lanzini has been back in training for a while so that’s good, and he is getting back to full fitness. Andy is back which of course is good. Winston is improving, maybe not for Saturday but soon. But it is looking good, touch wood.”