Were there any fans at Saturday’s match between Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion, both sets of fans would be looking at the opposition bench and reflecting on what a good job the opposing manager did in their time at the club. Allardyce definitely left the Eagles in a better place than when he took over (ironically from another future Baggies boss, Alan Pardew), while many Albion fans see Roy Hodgson as their best manager in the Premier League. Furthermore, significant portions of each fanbase are hoping that their current boss will soon be leaving the club. However, I’d suggest that very few Palace fans would want Big Sam back at Selhurst Park while there are plenty amongst the Albion faithful who would welcome a return for Uncle Woy.
The Eagles have had a mixed season and have been nervously looking over their shoulders at the bottom three, but the win in their “derby” game at Brighton a few weeks back has probably given them enough breathing space and they now sit in 13th place on 34 points, eight points clear of the drop zone.
Their signing of Eberechi Eze last summer has helped to take some of the pressure off Wilfried Zaha, but his early season displays have dropped off a little recently and their points tally without their talisman remains much reduced. Unfortunately for the Baggies, it looks as though he will be fit for Saturday’s match.
However, Hodgson’s injury list is still fairly long with James McArthur, James McCarthy, Nathaniel Clyne, Mamadou Sakho, James Tomkins and Tyrick Mitchell all ruled out. The name missing from that list is, of course, Nathan Ferguson who has yet to make an appearance since his move from Albion to Palace last summer. It is great shame for the young man “discovered” by Slaven Bilić, but there will be few Baggies fans offering too much sympathy given his apparent decision to abandon the Hawthorns and chase the money after a mere half-season of first team experience.
Despite his injury, Ferguson will probably feel that he made the right decision given the relative positions of the two clubs. It seems highly unlikely that the Eagles will suffer relegation and it surely needs a miracle for Albion to survive. If that miracle is to happen, three points at Selhurst Park are an absolute must. With six of the Baggies remaining nine games after this weekend against sides in the top half of the Premier League, it is a fixture that they must take advantage of. In reality, however, those opportunities have already been missed with recent games against the other five teams in the bottom six earning just five points.
Nevertheless, they will fight on and look to build on the improved performances in recent weeks.
With a three week break after the Palace match, thoughts will inevitably turn to the summer irrespective of the result. There is already plenty of discussion about whether Allardyce will continue beyond the end of the season and, of course, who might replace him should he go. And with managers formerly linked with Albion recently coming available in Derek McInnes and Chris Wilder, speculation is rife.
I suspect that Allardyce will not formally make any decision until Albion’s fate is mathematically confirmed, but I suspect discussions between him and the board will take place in this break in fixtures, and it would be remiss of the club hierarchy not to start planning for either eventuality.
In the meantime, Big Sam faces a former club for the fourth time in his Albion career looking for his first victory in those encounters. I’m expecting a similar line up to Sunday’s game with Newcastle although perhaps Robert Snodgrass may get the nod this time. Allardyce drew some criticism for not making changes earlier on Sunday but he obviously doesn’t feel he can trust his substitutes.
I am personally disappointed that we have seen very little of Callum Robinson in recent weeks – he hasn’t played a minute since being substituted 68 minutes into the defeat to his former club, Sheffield United at the beginning of last month. Allardyce and his coaching team obviously can judge on his performances in training, but I think Robbo offers something different to Albion’s other attacking players with his direct running and his willingness to shoot early.
Maybe we will see him at Selhurst Park, and maybe we will see a second away win for the Baggies season. We can but hope.