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Although the Hammers' public backing for their boss is commendable, the likes of Crystal Palace, Sunderland and Fulham show that a fresh approach can be key to survival

ANALYSIS
By Alex Young

Traditionally the biggest tell-tale sign that a manager is under pressure is a public backing from a club's owners. The dreaded 'vote of confidence'. The apparent need to tell the world that, in fact, their employee is doing a good job and has their support often speaks volumes about the real concerns lurking just below the surface.

Sam Allardyce was the latest to be afforded such a privilege, with West Ham co-chairmen David Gold and David Sullivan underlining their faith in their manager and even detailing their troubles with injuries and positive transfer news to appease the fans.

BATTLE AT THE BOTTOM


15. Norwich
16. Fulham
17. Cardiff
......................
18. Crystal Palace
19. West Ham
20. Sunderland

PLD


20
20
20
........
20
20
20


PTS

20
19
18
........
17
15
14

GD

-16
-21
-17
........
-16
-11
-18
Scorn can easily be thrown in the direction of Upton Park but the fact remains that Gold and Sullivan’s backing is commendable. They are attempting to allay Allardyce’s fears in the hope that he can concentrate on and improve on-field matters.

After all, the likes of Malky Mackay could only wish for such support when Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan told his former manager to resign or be sacked. Naturally Mackay chose the latter and was shown the door, along with a hefty pay-off.

But when really is the right time to call it a day and turn over a new leaf? When is change good?

So far this season, six Premier League managers have left their clubs - be it by mutual consent or not-so-mutual consent - with four of those clubs currently occupying the bottom five places in the league standings; Sunderland, Fulham, Cardiff and Crystal Palace.

Starting with the league’s bottom side, Sunderland, Paolo Di Canio was dismissed on September 23 after a return of just one point from their opening five league games. The Black Cats still reside in 20th place but with a healthier return of 14 points from 20 games - with Gus Poyet leading them to 13 points from his 15 games in charge.

Poyet immediately altered Sunderland’s style of play, ditching the formulaic two-up-top approach the Italian utilised, with a slightly more defensive-minded lone striker supported by the likes of Fabio Borini, Sebastian Larsson and Emanuele Giaccherini out wide - while reducing the pressure to perform on the likes of Adam Johnson - who went from playing every minute this season under Di Canio to playing the full 90 minutes just once in the Premier League since the Uruguayan took over.

The former Brighton manager also reinstated Phil Bardsley and Lee Cattermole. The latter made just one appearance under Di Canio this season and was stripped of the captaincy, but has made 11 since Poyet’s appointment. The manager recently said he had "no words high enough" to praise the midfielder.

But the true revelation of Poyet’s tenure has been the resurgence of Bardsley. The defender was suspended by Di Canio following a string of off-field troubles but has been an ever-present under the new manager. Indeed, he is now the club’s joint-top scorer with three goals and was instrumental in Sunderland’s 2-1 victory over Manchester United on Tuesday night.

Poyet’s answer to Sunderland’s problems was to give the squad a much-needed fresh start, and it’s worked.
Fulham is a tough one. Results have evidently improved, even performances have more vigour than the last few under Martin Jol but the 6-0 embarrassment at the hands of newly-promoted Hull is an unavoidable black spot as Rene Meulensteen otherwise manages to steady the ship.

BETTER OFF?
POINTS-PER-GAME RATIOS

0.2

DI CANIO VS POYET

0.3

0.25

JOL VS MEULENSTEEN

0.42
0.9
MACKAY VS SOLSKJAER

N/A

0.13

HOLLOWAY VS PULIS

0.42
The Cottagers were unlucky in defeat at Craven Cottage to Tottenham in the Dutchman’s first game in charge, with a man-of-the-match display from Hugo Lloris seeing the home side end up empty-handed, but a much-improved performance from Dimitar Berbatov guided the team to victory over Aston Villa three days later - ending a run of seven consecutive defeats.

And that has been the main highlight of Meulensteen’s tenure thus far. He has re-energised the older, more experienced members of the squad, such as Berbatov, Scott Parker and Damien Duff. This, in turn, has given the youngsters a new lease of life - the performances of the likes of Pajtim Kasami and Alexander Kacaniklic had waned after bright starts to the season.

Indeed, Fulham look a far more expansive unit under the former Manchester United first-team coach, and chairman Shahid Khan continues to bolster the club's staff - as shown by the appointments of Alan Curbishley and Ray Wilkins in backroom roles.

Meulensteen has taken charge of seven Premier League games - recording three wins and four defeats - since taking over from Jol and in that time their attacking prowess has increased remarkably; registering 116 shots on goal, 44 of which have been on target. In Jol’s last seven games before being sacked, Fulham's record reads 57 shots, 12 on target.

Meulensteen’s approach at Craven Cottage was to utilise the vast experience in Fulham’s ranks and, in turn, re-inspire the fledging talents, which has evidently worked. But it’s still early days.

Speaking of early days, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has taken charge of just one game since replacing the fired Mackay, but it did result in a first win over Newcastle United in 51 years and a place in the FA Cup fourth round.

BARNES BACKS ALLARDYCE
13/8 West Ham are 13/8 with Paddy Power to be relegated
And, with the Magpies going ahead through Papiss Cisse on the hour-mark, the Norwegian acted quickly to introduce Craig Noone and Frazier Campbell - with the former scoring within two minutes and Solskjaer’s ex-Manchester United team-mate notching the winner 10 minutes from time.

Many Cardiff fans were sad to see Mackay go, especially given the circumstances, but the club’s record of just one win in their last 10 Premier League games - a run including six defeats - is relegation form. Thus the tactical nous shown by Solskjaer in just 90 minutes, not to mention two titles and a cup with Molde, is very promising indeed and should give fans reason to be optimistic.

Tony Pulis at Crystal Palace is the biggest success story of those battling it out at the bottom. The former Stoke City manager replaced Ian Holloway after his predecessor departed - commendably citing the need for a new approach in an attempt to avoid relegation.

Before Pulis’ appointment, the Eagles had just one win to their name - losing the other seven games - and were sticking to Holloway’s attempts at expansive football. Pulis has taken charge of eight Premier League games since his appointment and immediately improved Palace’s performances.

A return of 10 points, plus an FA Cup third-round win away at West Brom, has seen the Londoners close the gap between themselves and safety from five points to one - and goal difference from minus five to minus one.

Alan Pardew described Pulis’ approach as "physically demanding" and "direct", a style he honed at the Britannia Stadium, which is in stark contrast to the open, counter-attacking football under Holloway.

Palace conceded 39 shots on target in Holloway's eight Premier League games in charge - an average of 4.8 per game - with 17 goals conceded - a dire average of 2.12 per game. Under Pulis, the shots-to-game ratio reduces to 3.6, with just eight goals conceded.

The shape of the team is far more concise and regimented under Pulis, giving the squad more direction - vital in a relegation battle that currently, realistically, includes teams all the way up to Hull City in 10th spot.

Pulis’ answer to a Crystal Palace side which seemed overawed by their first exposure to top-flight football for the first time since 2004-05 was to, typically, make them a far tougher team to break down. It isn't necessarily pretty but a new-found focus evident at Selhurst Park is crucial.

So, following yet another cup humiliation for West Ham, is now the time for Gold and Sullivan to entertain the thought of a new man? If the Hammers’ fellow relegation rivals who are under new direction are anything to go by, then the answer is a resounding yes.

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