x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Key to West Ham survival lies in Sam Allardyce's direct style

The football from the east London club's manager may not be so pretty but he has the evidence to prove he knows how to keep a team in the top flight, writes Richard Jolly.

Sam Allardyce, the West Ham United manager, has previously managed Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers in the Premier League.
Sam Allardyce, the West Ham United manager, has previously managed Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers in the Premier League.

It is 15 months since West Ham United summed up a season in an afternoon. It was a day of extraordinary drama, providing irrefutable evidence of an error-prone side's self-destructive streak.

Two goals ahead at relegation rivals Wigan Athletic, they lost in injury time, were demoted and the shuffling, mumbling manager Avram Grant was dismissed in the tunnel.

It was an embarrassing, expensive relegation that prompted a radical change: not just in their division, but in the structure and ethos of the club.

Enter Sam Allardyce as West Ham entered into their version of a Faustian pact.

His task: to deliver Premier League football, no matter how. The mission was achieved in the play-off final. Allardyce insisted it was accomplished with attacking, entertaining football.

Many others disagreed: "the West Ham way" - a nebulous concept - was much discussed last year.

"We are West Ham," the fans chorused. "We play on the floor." The implication was that Allardyce's teams do not.

This season may be seen as a sequel to the Faustian pact. Allardyce's aim: to keep West Ham up. Style may be a secondary consideration, even if it is safe to assume the manager and his critics will be on different sides of the argument.

Should the Hammers struggle, debates may become increasingly vitriolic.

Yet a study of Allardyce's record suggests they will be safe. In a decade in the Premier League - all bar a few months of it at Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers, two of the division's smaller clubs - he has always stayed up.

Survival has come his way and the chances are it will again.

Study Allardyce's signings and three names stand out: Jussi Jaaskelainen joins the large contingent of former Bolton players who have gone from North West to East End; Modibo Maiga and Mohamed Diame are the latest additions to a lengthy list of sizeable, physical West Africans the West Midlander has signed.

It is also the third transfer window when Allardyce has been allowed to spend. Few promotions have been as costly - or, to put it another way, few have kept and brought in as many established Premier League players in a lower league.

Indeed, Kevin Nolan ranked among the top flight's top-scoring midfielders the year before he dropped a division to captain West Ham.

While it failed, Allardyce's attempt to reunited Nolan with his former Newcastle colleague Andy Carroll was both evidence of funds - a £2 million (Dh11.5m) loan fee plus a £17m permanent deal - and an indication of direct football.

Upton Park could be the land of the giants this season but, after their plunge to the depths of the Championship, West Ham are likely to scale comparative heights.

They may have been the least convincing of the three promoted sides last season, but they stand the greatest chance of spending a second successive season at this level.