Sam Allardyce needs to stop the negativity at Everton and prove himself
Everton manager Sam Allardyce has managed seven Premier League clubs across a managerial career spanning more than 1,000 matches in English football. His current job is the biggest and toughest club job he has taken in that time, but it should also be the most exciting.
With Everton's spending this season netting out at around £200 million, the one-time England manager has a chance to finally dispel the longstanding criticism directed toward his agricultural brand of football and cautious approach.
Allardyce is running out of chances to make a lasting impact at this level. In that sense, after the 5-1 defeat to Arsenal and later fallout, the manager appears to already be fighting a losing battle. Disgruntled supporters are seeing little sign of the changes needed to take Everton forward.
Not long after his appointment, Allardyce noted that his tenure depended on two things: results and entertainment. When inheriting a team with two wins in 13 games and conceding an average of three goals per match, there was temporary goodwill on the entertainment front as Everton needed results.
Supporters could abide dull football as an initial seven-game unbeaten run steadied matters, but over time, results are drying up and the entertainment is still to arrive. Expected solidity has disappeared as a run of five defeats in the last seven matches has seen 17 goals conceded and just six scored.
One win in nine and no clean sheets in that time is the product of defensive reshuffles and countless changes to the starting XI. Old habits are proving hard to shake as the tendency to revert to safety-first football continues to limit any hope of progress. The Arsenal defeat left little doubt as to the bleak reality of life under Allardyce as the only plan Everton could muster was no plan at all.
Allardyce conjured up a setup tantamount to surrender as inexplicable tactics and sweeping changes left Everton on a hiding to nothing in North London. Combined with his long-ball approach in its most primitive form yet, this felt more like a poorly disguised forfeit than a genuine attempt to fashion a result. Such narrow-minded thinking has little credibility, and none whatsoever should Everton not beat Crystal Palace at home on Saturday.
Even though Everton sit in the top half, there is talk of relegation at every turn, paving the way for him to bask in his saviour status once Everton preserve their Premier League safety. "We need to avoid the threat of relegation and it needs to start with Crystal Palace," said Allardyce on the eve of this match.
This is the same manager who detailed his survival blueprint on Sky Sports earlier in the season. Relegation talk suits Allardyce perfectly as, once expectations are set so low, it becomes easy to improve upon them. Set the bar at staying in the division and Allardyce can claim anything above that as the latest example of his self-hyped managerial skills. An example of this scaling down of expectations saw him refer to Everton's four-point return from the last four games as "quite positive."
Earlier this week, Allardyce outlined the need to quickly write this season off and start planning for the next. The idea that Everton can afford to write-off the season with more than three months and close to a third of the campaign still to play is absurd. Even if some supporters might share Allardyce's view, it is not something the manager should be publicly stating. Players hearing such words from the person responsible for motivating them is hardly the best inspirational tool with 12 league matches left.
Despite the grim negativity permeating from the man in the dugout, Everton are closer to seventh place and potential European football than the relegation zone. Apart from a trip to Burnley, who are five points ahead of Everton in seventh, four of the next five matches are against teams below them in the table. Home games against Liverpool and Manchester City are the only remaining fixtures against teams in the top six.
Though recent evidence may suggest Everton climbing the league table is about as likely as a cat landing a spaceship on the moon, bridging the gap to Burnley in seventh must be the target. Otherwise, there is little point in keeping this charade up. If Allardyce sees so little value in the 36 points still up for grabs this term, then there really is no point in him being here.
Instead of viewing upcoming matches as an inconvenience blocking the path to next season, Allardyce should dispense with the caution and negativity and use this time to make a case for him reaching next season still in charge. Because the present argument for him staying at Everton beyond this campaign has never been weaker.
Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.