Allardyce proves substance can triumph over style



Whether the news of West Ham's play-off final victory reaches the Blackburn Rovers owners, Venky's, in India may be irrelevant, but the man they sacked weeks after taking control at Ewood Park has proved what a bad decision they made. Sam Allardyce, 18 months after being unfairly jilted, is back in the Premier League. And deservedly so, as his Hammers side picked their moment, minutes from the end, to score the decisive £56 million goal.

For all David Gold's lavish spending on identified transfer targets, Allardyce still had a mountainous job on his hands when he arrived. Lifting the club off its knees post-relegation and, perhaps more poignantly, post-Avram Grant, was not the easy task those outside East London circles might have had you believe.

"I suffered two sackings that were harsh to say the least. I'm still achieving great things," Allardyce said, referring to his previous sacking by Newcastle. "I don't like seeing Blackburn going down, but they have done since I managed them. I must have done alright while I was there."

Clearly Gold and his business partner, David Sullivan, picked the right man. Sam's football is not as pure as that of yesterday's opposite number, Ian Holloway, but it is wholly effective. Had it not been for a surprising poor run of form at Upton Park, United would have finished the season in the automatic promotion places with questions surrounding style rendered moot.

But, as it was, Allardyce had to do it through the end-of-season lottery. Due a harder test, after brushing aside Cardiff City with laughable ease, he got one.

Blackpool will count themselves hugely unfortunate, having looked for much of the second half as if they would secure promotion themselves. Had it not been for early missed chances, it would have been Holloway's day.

"Some things in life are a little bit harsh, it certainly feels like that at the moment," the Seasiders' manager said. "I feel aggrieved. On another day we would've taken those chances."

The reason for Allardyce's sacking at Blackburn was the style in which he played the game. Not pretty enough, apparently. What Rovers supporters would now give for someone tactically wired to win matches of football. After months of discussion about whether his ideology is what they want, even the most ardent purist among Hammers supporters must believe that the person leading West Ham into the Premier League is the right man.

"You always get criticised in football. It's a minority at West Ham but they make themselves heard," said Allardyce.

But after the final whistle, as a Coldplay anthem, "Paradise", boomed out of the speakers, supporters close by tweaked the chorus to fit Allardyce's name. Although that was obviously of the moment, there are the signs of a genuine bond. As they warm to the manager, his toughest job will be managing the astronomically high expectations. The club's main aim must be to survive in what could be the most difficult Premier League yet. The graceful way Allardyce reacted to Howard Webb's final whistle indicated that he might just be able to do so.

Do not underestimate what a massive result this was on a personal level. With the club's expenditure funding an assault on promotion, there would have been serious questions raised over Allardyce's management had Blackpool prevailed. Some of the better players – James Tomkins for example – would certainly have been subject of bids from bigger clubs to test Gold's financial resolve, in light of the Financial Fair Play regulations.

"The Fair Play league would have been a huge problem and outstandingly devastating. According to the owners, we would have decimated our wage bill by £10m," Allardyce said, relief etched all over his face.

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