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Nov 26, 2007

Patience is a virtue

Football fans are a fickle bunch. It's only a few months ago that Newcastle fans were ready for the long haul of a major rebuilding process under Sam Allardyce, even if he was not the most popular of appointments. Thirteen games in and the vultures are not just circling but ready to swoop down and pluck him from the St James' Park hot seat.

It's an all too familiar facet of the modern game that impatience often brings irrational reaction.

Billy Davies' exit from Derby County on Monday means almost a quarter of managers in the English professional leagues have been ousted since the start of the season. It's a remarkable state of affairs when we haven't reached the end of November.

The speed of Allardyce's demise on Tyneside is all the more surprising considering that the Magpies are actually eight points better off than at the same point last season. And despite the apparent gulf in class from the 4-1 home defeat to Portsmouth they are still just eight points behind Pompey, who occupy the likely second UEFA Cup spot, with a game in hand.

Granted, the 3-0 reversal against Liverpool in similarly worrying fashion was hardly the reaction Allardyce would have been looking for but the supporters in the north east need to consider the bigger picture.

'You don't know what you're doing', 'Big Sam for England' and 'We've only had one shot' could be heard from the stands during what was a dismal performance against Rafael Benitez's side. Benitez, incidentally, is the only manager in front of Allardyce in the betting for the next managerial casualty.

Allardyce's response was to lock the players in the changing rooms for 40 minutes and call them in for an extra training session on Sunday.

Is the need for a team which plays 'sexy football' so great that it matters above all else? Do they really believe that sacking Allardyce and replacing him with a manager with a better media profile for his style of football will bring success any sooner?

The fans still long for the football of the Kevin Keegan and the Sir Bobby Robson eras and are finding it increasingly difficult to adapt to Allardyce's more functional style. But pretty football does not necessarily equal successful football.

This is a results business and it's certain that if Newcastle's record over the past seven games had been somewhat better than seven points out of a possible 21 few would be so critical.

Would any Chelsea fan - both those from pre and post Roman Abramovich - change the silverware-laden three-season era of Jose Mourinho just because they were not exactly entertainers? Maybe the purest of purists would grumble but when your team is winning it's hard to find cause for complaint.

It is true that Allardyce's brand of football would seldom be heralded as a prime example of 'the beautiful game'. However, he does suffer from a media-influenced reputation for tactics akin to Wimbledon of the Crazy Gang era whereby his team concentrates on nothing more than kick and rush.

His style is far more sophisticated than that, relying on a direct approach which looks to utilise the wings quickly and get balls into the box while also capitalising on dead-ball situations. Accusations that Bolton were a long-ball side, putting it over the top at the earliest opportunity, are wide of the mark.

Blackburn, Portsmouth and Everton - the 'second tier' teams which have battled for UEFA Cup football in recent seasons - have all had their empires built over time. Mark Hughes, Harry Redknapp and David Moyes have each been afforded the time to mould their clubs in their own vision not just on the pitch but off it as well.

Allardyce achieved the same at Bolton, building from the bottom up. He will have to do the same at Newcastle and when you also consider this is a club which has had long-standing injury concerns as well as doubts over the overall structure it's not a situation that can be put right overnight.

Without the behind-the-scenes infrastructure in place any success in the long-term would surely be doubtful. What Allardyce would put in place would be a specially-designed programme for both diet and fitness intended to create a squad of players equipped to last the full 90 minutes and prepared to work hard for the entire game. It's an approach which Allardyce feels can get extra percentage out of players.

Such a dramatic change in lifestyle for a professional footballer will not have immediate results. It's a gradual process as the body adapts to a new approach.

The manager is finding it difficult to come up with the tactics and formation to suit this new group of players and that, too, takes time.

Added to that, Newcastle had a high turn over of players during the summer with nine players signed and 11 departing at a net cost of £12.2million. And Allardyce has barely been able to call on Joey Barton, a near-£6million capture from Manchester City, following his pre-season metatarsal break. Expecting immediate results is simply unrealistic.

It can't simply be put down to the perceived lack of 'style' on the pitch. The arrival of a new owner in the form of Mike Ashley came just weeks after Allarydce had walked through the door at St James' Park. And with the sports store millionaire clearly having the ability to fund another push for glory the fans were expecting European football for 2008/09 as a formaility.

Allardyce, who has far too much on his hands to consider the vacant England job this time around, has effectively been handed the dreaded 'vote of confidence' via a statement from Chairman Chris Mort and Ashley. And with things unlikely to get better with a tough trip to Blackburn up next, followed by the visit of Arsenal, there may be more for the fans to endure yet.

Despite what the supporters would tell you, Newcastle have no divine right to recapture the dream of Champions League football which they last tasted, for the third time, in 2003/04. The club must earn the right to join the other clubs battling it out in the top half of the Premier League and that will not be achieved through short-termism but through continuity and cohesion.

  • Any thoughts? Then you can e-mail Dale Johnson.