5 April ~ The uneasy truce which has existed between Sam Allardyce and many West Ham fans has become increasingly strained over the past few weeks. Defeat against Barnsley in the Good Friday clash could break it all together. After losing to Reading last Saturday, the Hammers’ hopes of automatic promotion are all but gone. Although a place in the play-offs is secure, the six matches between now and the end of the season could go a long way to defining the future of the club. The marriage between Allardyce and West Ham was always going to be a tricky one to manage for both sides. From the start it was clear that Allardyce was going to do things his own way and not play the "West Ham way".
That style of play is one that fans of the club have seen only in brief glimpses over the past 20 years. During his time at Upton Park, Allardyce has often played with just one striker and it is clear his players have been told to get the ball from back to front in the shortest time possible. While he was winning it didn’t matter. The problem was that Allardyce had no credit in the bank and when things started to go wrong, as they have in recent weeks – a slump in form coincided with Reading’s surge up the table – he had nothing to offer the fans that would buy him a bit of time.
As the season reaches its finale, Allardyce will have to contend with a volatile crowd as well as a squad that seems to struggle in the big matches. On at least five occasions this season the Hammers have gone into a match knowing victory would send them top of the table. They failed in all but one game. They have also developed a habit of conceding crucial goals in the dying moments of games. These factors make fans nervous at the prospects of the play-offs.
For West Ham to succeed in the end-of-season shootout it will be crucial to go into them on a decent run of form, starting at Oakwell. The Tykes appear safe from relegation and the Hammers’ form has been significantly better away from home this season, so three points should be achievable. But with play-off chasing Birmingham, Brighton and Hull all still to visit Upton Park, that end of season bounce which could propel the Hammers back into the Premier League might be hard to come by. Mark Segal