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Playing It Safe Will See Us Relegated

I don't like saying it, but I feel it's true - if we continue to minimise the risks that we take, relegation might be confirmed sooner rather than later.

Stu Forster/Getty Images

Let me get one thing straight before I start - this isn't me saying I don't want Sam Allardyce, or that I think he's doing a particularly bad job. It couldn't be any further from the truth, really. I like Sam, and have made this pretty clear over recent months.

That said, does anyone else feel like he's the right bloke at the wrong time?

Despite taking over eight games into the season - and undeniably improving the quality of our squad since arriving - Sam hasn't really improved our position in the league, certainly not to the extent that many were expecting. When Wahbi Khazri, Jan Kirchhoff and Lamine Kone were signed in January, I felt fairly hopeful we'd be clear of the bottom three by now, such was the instant impact of those three particular players. Sadly, we aren't winning games.

One win in the last ten league games is absolutely dreadful, lets be honest, especially when you consider the teams that we've played in that time.

When you look closer at those ten games, there are plenty of matches that you feel we could have won had we pushed our opponents that bit further and went for the kill.

The first of those ten was a 1-1 draw at home to Bournemouth - you might remember that, with us firmly on top going into the final throws of the match, Sam took off a striker in place of a midfielder, a decision many viewed as a negative substitution. The second was a 0-1 defeat at home against Manchester City, a fixture many - including myself - viewed as a turning point in our season. Despite being the better team, we lost.

Next was a draw away at Liverpool, a result we really didn't deserve. We fought our way back into the game and it was a result that felt like a win, considering we went into the final ten minutes 2-0 down. Then, we beat Manchester United. Excellent. We took advantage of a team riddled with injury and got a bit of luck along the way. Sadly, that is the only game we've won since mid-January.

We then lost away at West Ham. It was another performance where you feel we were better than our opponents yet got nothing. You might recall that with us desperate for a point, and with Dame N'Doye playing awful, Sam kept him on the pitch for the full ninety whilst we had Fabio Borini chomping at the bit to get on, and we lost without scoring a goal.

Since West Ham we've drawn each of our last four games, and in all of them we really should have taken all three points. Poor decision making from both the players and the manager has ensured that we've fallen short of achieving victory, and it begs the question of why and how this seems to have happened.

Sam can't go out there and make the players win games. Sure, he can motivate them and work hard tactically to ensure they are well prepared, but generally speaking he can't exactly run on the pitch and boot the ball into the opposition net for them. As with all managers, he certainly will have been harshly judged recently based on the mistakes of players that he cannot control. That's fair enough.

One thing I have noticed with Sam is that he's very reluctant to gamble in order to win games. I was massively disappointed not to see Jeremain Lens on the bench against West Brom, whilst on the pitch we persisted with three defence-minded central midfield players despite it being obvious at half time that it just wasn't working.

Sam's solution? To bring on Dame N'Doye with eight minutes left to run.

N'Doye sums up just about everything I dislike about Sam Allardyce's style - he's a safe, big option that is selected more for his height and ability to relieve pressure up the pitch than he is for his attacking and creative ability. Quite often when we need to go for the kill and win a game, Sam will fall back on N'Doye, despite him never showing that he's a particularly good attacking option when coming off the bench. N'Doye has only had one half decent game for us since arriving, and that's despite taking part in almost every fixture. It's something I can't quite put my finger on.

The situation we find ourselves in now is precarious. We have seven games left. Luckily, it's still in our hands, but only just. If anything we're clinging on by our finger tips and a loss this weekend coupled with an entirely likely Norwich win away at the league's most out of form side - Crystal Palace - could see us seven points adrift.

Can we really afford to keep playing it safe? Just look at the results, Sam. One win in ten. Six of those have been draws. Does that not tell us something? Yes, we are poor defensively, but do we help ourselves when we try to play safe instead of further increasing our leads? The Newcastle game was a prime example - you can't tell me that we went out in that second half to kill Newcastle off. With us 1-0 up against Palace we sat deep and within minutes we were losing. Southampton away we had victory in our grasp, only for a negative substitution and a change to a five-man back line with minutes left to play costing us. Are we noticing a theme?

It's all well and good drawing games and going for a clean sheet but our form over the last ten games shows we are only headed one way and that is down.

In past years - under Poyet and Advocaat in particular - we've found ourselves in a similar position with only a handful of games to go and those two managers went balls to the wall, took risks and we ended up surviving.

I really, really fear that Sam Allardyce isn't prepared to do the same, and that worries me immensely.

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