Allardyce takes his Albion team to Villa Park on Sunday evening knowing that the gig is almost up in his attempt to keep his record of never being relegated from the Premier League.
When the Baggies meekly surrendered to Dean Smith’s team in his first game in charge in the reverse fixture in December, I wonder whether Big Sam was still confident of turning around the fortunes of the team. To a degree, he has, but it took a lot longer than was required and Albion now need to produce their best ever run of form in the Premier League to give themselves a chance of survival.
The Baggies’ best return from six Premier League games is 13 points in a run under Tony Pulis from New Year’s Eve 2016 with four wins, one draw and one defeat. A repeat would be a remarkable return, but the 37 points that such a run would amass is unlikely to be enough to secure Premier League football for another season.
The defeat to Leicester City on Thursday evening was not a surprise, although the nature of Albion’s performance was at odds with the previous two games. The intensity and commitment that we had seen against Chelsea and Southampton was not there, other than for the opening few minutes, and the Baggies looked alarmingly open at the back. To be fair, the Foxes were excellent and would most likely have taken the points had Albion been on top of their game, but that first half performance was certainly the worse we have seen for several weeks.
The short trip to Witton is the first of back-to-back derbies for Albion as they welcome Wolverhampton Wanderers to the Hawthorns on Bank Holiday Monday. If you are looking for good omens, the last time Albion faced these two clubs in successive games was in October 2011 when Roy Hodgson’s side followed up a 2-0 home win over Wolves with a 2-1 win at Villa Park in what was a very satisfying week to be a Baggie.
Dean Smith’s side have won just one of their last seven games but put up a good if ultimately unsuccessful fight against champions-elect, Manchester City, on Wednesday evening. He will still be without his talismanic captain, Jack Grealish, and the stats suggest that he is a massively import player. In their first 22 games of the season with Grealish in the side, Villa amassed 36 points at a rate of 1.64 per game. In the nine games without him, they have picked up just eight points at 0.9 points per game. His absence would certainly seem to make Albion’s job easier.
However this season turns out, a win over Villa will always make it sweeter and, if Albion can produce the same intensity, commitment and finishing we saw against Chelsea and Southampton, three points could be there for the taking.