Pitchside Europe

Cautious Allardyce endangering West Ham United’s top-flight status

West Ham may have played their part in the thrilling 3-3 draw with West Brom, but Sam Allardyce’s guarded decision to sacrifice Carlton Cole at half-time hampered his side’s chances of retaining their top-flight status.

Here’s the scenario: you’re 2-1 behind at half-time in a match you've labelled "must-win". On the bench you have an assortment of players but only one – in this case Modibo Maiga – capable of adding an attacking thrust to your side.

That was the situation Allardyce faced as his West Ham troops sauntered back into the confines of the dressing room ahead of a potentially season-defining 45 minutes.

But instead of throwing on a second striker, Allardyce elected to make a like-for-like swap with Maiga replacing Cole who had bullied the Baggies defence throughout the first-half.

Some fans will sympathise with the decision to withdraw the big man given a string of frustrating performances and lack of goals, but in recent weeks there have been signs that Cole might just be returning to form – highlighted by strikes against Manchester United and Arsenal, even if the former came after Alexander Buttner was caught wandering whilst his teammates held an offside line.

Although West Brom had plenty of possession in the first-half, much of it was merely boosting their pass completion rate during spells of ineffective sideways passing, and the Hammers could have gambled by removing one of their five-man midfield.

Instead, Allardyce elected to swap their most prominent player for their only other attacking option with 45 minutes remaining – leaving him completely helpless to make any other meaningful change in the second half.

Yes, you could argue that the switch worked. Maiga was a constant threat and bagged the equaliser (thanks to hapless goalkeeping from Ben Foster) before setting up the third for Kevin Nolan. But when West Brom regained their composure and equalised through Saido Berahino, West Ham needed another dimension to force a game-clinching seventh goal.

That option was Cole, but he was back in his tracksuit on the sidelines as West Ham struggled to create a proper chance to steal a crucial three points and, in truth, perhaps should have fallen to defeat with the excellent Berahino crashing a free-kick against the post late on.

So the question remains: can Allardyce break free of his cautious self to keep West Ham in the division? His side have been desperately unlucky with injuries and are still to welcome back Andy Carroll in the new year, but he must be bolder if the Hammers are going to accumulate enough points to prevent slipping into the Championship.

There seems to be a growing fear amongst managers about deploying two strikers but when you’re trying to worm your way back into a match a like-for-like change upfront is often a redundant move – especially when you have no other options on standby.

Given Allardyce’s tactics are often to bypass the midfield with a hopeful punt downfield, it seemed unnecessary to keep Mohamed Diame – who endured a tough game – Kevin Nolan, Matthew Jarvis, Mark Noble and Joe Cole all on the pitch.

It might have resulted in defeat but when you’re near the bottom of the table and playing sides around you at home, it’s better to go all out for the three points rather than make decisions that leave you resigned to taking just one.

West Ham fans will hope that the two points dropped here don't come back to haunt them in May.

Ben Snowball - on Twitter @BenSnowball