Allardyce lacks options against Forest
5 January ~ The City Ground, Nottingham, at lunchtime today is the last place West Ham United boss Sam Allardyce would like to be this weekend. With his team currently sitting in the Premier League relegation zone three points from safety, his medical room looking like an A&E unit on New Year's Eve and his captain suspended for the foreseeable future due to what is kindly being described as a "rush of blood", Allardyce will no more want an FA Cup run than he would a vote of confidence from his, so far, patient board.
He's also got to contend with a League Cup semi-final against Manchester City next Wednesday where once again his need to protect players for the league campaign will rub up against an understandable desire from the club's success-starved supporters to at least have a go against Manuel Pellegrini's side.
While bad luck can be blamed for a number of the fires Allardyce is currently having to battle, deep down he will also know that at least some of the problems have been self-inflicted. The decision to put so much faith in Andy Carroll is the most obvious and one which the club have been trying to redress since the summer transfer window closed. Allardyce, normally so sure of himself, also seems to be riven by self-doubt this season. Of course injuries have meant personnel needed to be shifted around making a settled team impossible, but tactically he seems to have lost confidence.
Despite the absence of Carroll, he continued to play with a lone striker for the first part of the season, despite it being clear from early on that Modibo Maïga was not up to the job if the side kept the same tactics. Switching to a 4-6-0 formation against Spurs had instant success and Allardyce was not shy to let everyone know how successful he had been. But again he clung to the system as some kind of comfort blanket when all around could see he needed to be more flexible. Another switch led to a second win against Tottenham but also another false dawn as league defeats against Crystal Palace and Fulham, and home draws against Sunderland and West Brom, have left the Hammers second from bottom and desperately looking for answers.
Owners David Gold and David Sullivan have stayed loyal to their man and it looks like he will be in charge of a January recruiting campaign where some of the mistakes of the summer will look to be fixed. And while there could be some bargains to be had as out-of-favour players look for a move to secure their spot in a World Cup squad, attracting players to Upton Park could still be a problem – although the Hammers are on the verge of signing 6ft 8in Ivorian striker Lacina Traoré on loan from Monaco until the end of the season.
It's unlikely West Ham will have any new recruits in their line-up against Forest but some of the fringe players on show could still have television viewers scratching their heads. For Allardyce a win against Forest today and even City three days later will be irrelevant, he'll just be hoping his players come through unscathed ready for bigger battles ahead. Mark Segal