Survivor Sam: how Allardyce defied the odds yet again

Sam Allardyce on the touchline for Crystal Palace Source: Getty Images

There are few certainties in life but death, taxes and Sam Allardyce overcoming every plausible obstacle to survive relegation are three of them.

It is a truly remarkable statistic for a man who has been coaching in the top flight for almost two decades.

Given he’s been in charge of Bolton, Newcastle, Blackburn, West Ham, and Sunderland in that time, it's implausible that he’s never been in charge of team that’s gone down.

All of those clubs, with the exception of West Ham, have been relegated after his departure, and who knows how long that record will last given the Hammers' volatility.

Barring a catastrophe, Big Sam will again find himself in the Premier League next season.

Tonight, Crystal Palace can seal their place in the top flight for another season when they take on one of the League’s big dogs, Manchester City (LIVE on SBS from 9pm AEDT) at Etihad Stadium.

And don’t write off Palace’s chances of taking a point or better from their trip north.

Under Allardyce’s reign since Christmas, they’ve pulled off wins over Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.

How impressive would it be to round off their season of scalps with three points from Pep Guardiola?

City will be nervous going into this fixture, too. On 66 points, they are fourth, and just one point ahead of Manchester United after failing to beat the Red Devils at home last week.

The battle for that fourth and final UEFA Champions League spot will probably come down to the final day of the season.

Of course, the inevitable comparison when Allardyce is pitted against Guardiola is their attitudes to how the game is played.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Guardiola wants to keep the ball on the ground, Allardyce likes to put it in the air. That’s the theory, anyway.

But while the conflation of direct balls with dinosaur football isn’t entirely wrong, it sells the Allardyce package short.

His data-driven approach is highly systematic – and is from where he draws his tactics. It’s no secret that his philosophy is about minimising risk first and then, if possible, maximising opportunity.

Upon his arrival at Selhurst Park, Allardyce implemented what could be be described as an analytical blitz.

He bombarded players with information: statistical break downs, videos of opposition players and diagrams, all delivered to their phones, tablets and laptops.

His ambition is to create smarter players, ones capable of knowing what an opposition player is likely to do even before that player has made up his own mind.

There’s the physical side, too. He makes sure to take the players to the heat of the Middle East (preferably Dubai) mid-season, where the relaxed pace makes for a welcome change from the bitter English January.

He’s also big fan of the technology behind cryotherapy as the best way to recover from matches.

Now, while none of this will be radical news for teams at the top end of the Premiership – they have entire medical and video departments to address these things – it does perhaps prove how Allardyce gets ahead of those other teams at the bottom.

They generally lack the resources and know-how, and usually end up chasing their tails until relegation inevitably occurs.

He’s got this group of Palace players believing in his mission, most notably their high-profile quartet of Wilfried Zaha, Andros Townsend, Yohan Cabaye and Christian Benteke.

All are in great form – they haven’t even really missed the oft-injured Loic Remy.

Mamadou Sakho’s loan deal does not have a clause to make his stay permanent but Allardyce will surely make that happen in the coming weeks.

His presence has made Martin Kelly look far more comfortable at this level. Even much-maligned goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey seems to have improved since the new boss came in.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in all of this is Allardyce himself. He left the England job in disgrace, yet how is it that 67 days in charge now seems like a lifetime ago?

Credit to Palace owner Steve Parish for having the guts to see what his club really needed after Alan Pardew’s spell had to be cut short.

And credit, too, must go to Allardyce. He’s laughing, joking and smiling in every press conference, almost as if the England debacle never happened. Now that takes some serious resilience.

Say what you like about Allardyce – his ethics, tactics or approach – but as a survivor, there are few better.