“Please don’t dwell upon your wooden leg, your limp is boring me”
I’ve never been this confused. We were meant to hate him. And yet when I look at that big, ruddy cheeked face, jaw furiousing clamping down on a stick of Hubba Bubba, that oversized 2003 Bluetooth headset, the sweating, hulking figure clad in a TK Maxx overcoat, my mind is in knots. Do…. do I like Sam Allardyce?
A midweek trip to one of the least salubrious suburbs of Sunderland for St Domingos and Big Sam kept faith in the XI that started the second half at the giant four hole punch monument at the weekend, with the in form Rooney keeping the captain’s armband in the continuing absence of Leighton Baines. The target was a first away win in the league since January when the manager was in the opposing dugout.
Newcastle started brightly with a lot possession, the Everton back four looking relatively solid bar a rasping effort from Ritchie that shook Pickford’s goal frame. Yet barely a minute later, the blues were in front. Slick one touch passing from Rooney, Sigurdsson and Calvert-Lewin, the latter with a beautiful clipped cross that Aaron Lennon headed goalwards. What should have been a routine save for Darlow was inexplicably spilled and Wayne Rooney was on hand to slide home his 9th league goal of the season.
Within 5 minutes, the home side fired another warning shot across the boughs with a thunderous effort from 30 yards rattling off the inside of Pickford’s other post and rolling perilously close to goal line before trickling wide. In truth though, it was the last time they looked remotely like scoring, with Big SAM’s Beef Blockade (© @gwladysoptimist) willing to sit deep and soak up everything that was thrown forward.
I’m going to break slightly from the norm and highlight something tactical here. If you’re only here for horrible insults and cheap throwaway lines, feel free to skip to the last couple of paragraphs. One thing I noticed was that although the back line was happy to drop deep and invite the hosts forward, any time the ball came within 30 yards, there was two or three blue shirts immediately pressing, sniping away and forcing mistakes. The difference under Allardyce in Williams and Martina is startling, transformed from bumbling oafs to rock solid stalwarts. High praise also to Jonjoe Kenny and Mason Holgate, the latter keeping the club captain and the new £25m signing out of the team. His reading of play and positioning is as good as I’ve ever seen in a young centre half at the club.
Right, that nonsense out of the way, the only stand out moment of the closing stages was a second booking and slightly early bath in injury time for Newcastle’s resident Gail Porter impersonator and all round Shelvey. A quick mention to Rafa, whose post match interview was littered with whinges about time wasting and gamesmanship. Wouldn’t it be delicious if he relegated them biffs twice in two calendar years?
The Gravy Express rumbles onwards, slowly yet unrelentingly towards who knows what sort of meaty destination. I hope you’re all hungry for the feast at the end.