Take the skinheads the Boleyn, take them the Boleyn.
Everton go to West Ham United for this Barclays Premier League match minus their two famous Belgians as well as Tony Hibbert and, so it’s not only David Moyes who always brings his absence up, Victor Anichebe.
The chances are Steven Naismith will move up into the Tim Cahill/Marouane Fellaini/false-number-nine-or-genuine-number-ten/Peter Beardsley/Nigel Clough position with Steven Pienaar and Bryan Oviedo swapping wings every 15 minutes. That would seem to make the most sense anyway: Naismith is hardly electrifying out wide so he might as well have a little go up front where he can re-establish the partnership with Nikica Jelavic that was once the scourge of Falkirk and Gretna.
It’s going to be a hard game then for a side that is struggling to win games anyway, going to somewhere like West Ham shorn of both its quickest attacker and its most powerful. And Victor Anichebe.
While not quite as brazen as Stoke City in their approach, the Hammers are nonetheless managed by the living embodiment of all that is absurd about top flight football, Sam Allardyce, and so any visiting team has to cope with what that entails. ‘Keeping the ball alive in the box’ is the phrase they use to describe what Allardyce teams do well, and that seems to involve lobbing the ball up in the air in the vague direction of the goal and having a load of big fuckers challenge for it rather eagerly.
That’s fair enough – Everton are hardly averse to swinging the ball in towards Fellaini, or occasionally that young Greek chap, and hoping that it falls for Jelavic. See Hotspurs, Tottenham, for a prime example.
While they are doing well – and for West Ham, let’s face it, they are doing great – there are going to be very few supporters getting too uppity that they have moved away from their traditional ‘pass it around neatly and lose’ style that now has its most fervent disciple much further north. And west. Brendan Rodgers, if you need it spelling out for you.
Say what you like about Allardyce, but his approach means he kind of lives and dies by results more than most. There’s no ‘creating a narrative’ like Rodgers has done at Liverpool, whereby you insulate yourself from a certain degree of criticism because there is always the promise of jam tomorrow once the players understand your style or you finally get enough cash to assemble a squad that can match your exacting standards. Standards like they have at, ooh, let’s think, Barcelona, for instance. With Supersized Samuel the football is never going to be attractive but it has been proven to be effective over and over again. The moment it stops being effective though and West Ham have a bad spell you can guarantee the ‘we just want to see some decent football’ cudgel is the first one his critics reach for.
In Kevin Nolan, Allardyce’s Phil Neville if you will, the Irons have a player disliked by Evertonians for a number of perfectly valid reasons, most notably his utter Kopitiness, that challenge on Anichebe at St. James’ Park, the fucking ballbag chicken dance celebration and just his overall unnecessary sweatiness. For all that though, you have to give him some grudging respect. Well, obviously you don’t have to, but it’s churlish to completely ignore his footballing qualities just because everything else tends to mark him out as something of a massive twat.
If nothing else his goalscoring record from central midfield is impressive, averaging about one in three during his time at Newcastle United and West Ham, but he’s also one of those fellas who looks like he genuinely hates losing. Let’s face it, if Allardyce always wants you in his team it’s clear that you are not some massive fanny; you’re the kind of leader or strong character who, we are always led to believe, you absolutely need to make a team work in what is a pretty cut-throat sport. You could even go as far as to suggest that there are times when Everton seem to be crying out for a few like him, especially since Tim Cahill left.
Going back to Allardyce, taking the piss out of him feels old hat now, especially since the advent of The Big Sam on Twitter, and he does seem to have mellowed somewhat since he moved to London. He’s tried to smarten himself up a bit too, and as a result he now constantly has the look of the father-of-the-bride who is beginning to feel a bit tired and emotional as he delivers a speech where he goes completely off-script and starts telling everyone just what he really thinks of them.
‘No, I won’t be piggin’ quiet, Margaret. I paid for all this and it’s about time some of these heard a few home truths…’
Fair enough, old habits die hard.