Watching Sam Allardyce’s return to football after a two-year absence as West Brom took on Aston Villa last week, I was left thinking, ‘Well, this is awful, isn’t it?’
Or words to that effect.
The Baggies had bodies behind the ball for much of the game and, when they did occasionally get on it, they’d try to get into the Villa half and get one player, maybe two players, in behind them.
It was pretty routine for Villa to deal with, and it reaffirmed all the columns I’ve written questioning why such as Allardyce, Tony Pulis and Neil Warnock continue to get jobs ahead of younger, more progressive managers.
But then I saw West Brom pick up a point at Liverpool on Sunday and felt like, finally, I had my answer.
Because instead of going to Anfield and being Liverpool-lite — thus getting hammered by four, five, six or seven — West Brom went there and made things difficult for their hosts.
They said, ‘If we try to play their way, as so many do, we’ll get hammered, so let’s not do that.
‘Let’s go there and work hard to win the point or points we are in the Premier League to win.
‘And, if we can get enough of those between now and the end of the season, then with an extra £100million or so in the bank, we might just be able to strengthen again’.
Fair play to Allardyce for that.
Over the years, people like me have weighed into him, saying, ‘He’s a dinosaur with an over-reliance on corners and set-pieces’.
But after the game his players will have felt like World Cup, Milk Cup, Kentucky Derby and Grand National winners rolled into one, which ultimately is what football is about.
With results like that, teams gain confidence, take points, grow and move forward.
And it will be fascinating to see now how they build from the platform they have now given themselves having been down with the dead men a fortnight ago.
Don’t get me wrong, watching a team play what you can describe at times as anti-football isn’t an easy watch and I wouldn’t necessarily want to pay to watch it every week.
But I was thoroughly entertained by this game because I saw from West Brom a willingness to fight for each other and close down, and a determination not to be beaten, qualities that have been missing in some Premier League teams in the last decade.
For all the fancy stuff, many supporters still want to see hard work and discipline from their teams, and for them not to roll over and have their bellies tickled.
And as fans of the Premier League we should want that, too, because it means much more for the competition if the champions have to overcome four or five teams who aren’t just there to do that twice a season.
So while it’s obvious that most of us would rather watch a Marcelo Bielsa side every week than an Allardyce side, you have to remember football is a competition based on points earned, not style.
That means substance matters more than anything else in the professional game, which Allardyce knows, and you have to take your hat off to him for that.