Big Sam Allardyce got his first taste of failure and relegation as his beleaguered Blackburn Rovers dropped into the Championship with barely a whimper in the 2023/24 campaign. However, there was no time to hang around as we simmed ahead to Christmas Day 2024 to discover the fourth task on this Football Manager Experiment.
Bottom At Christmas Season 4
Interestingly, the team bottom of the Premier League at Christmas 2024 was West Ham United – another real-life former Big Sam club. West Ham were predicted to finish 15th, so it wasn’t that big a surprise, but they were only 2 points from safety and, for that matter, 6 points off 14th.
How West Ham had ended up in this position was fairly baffling. They had the likes of Jarrod Bowen, Max Aarons, Tomas Soucek, Kaiky and Kurt Zouma, who’s joining Barcelona at the end of his contract, who were all more than capable. But beyond that was a lot of dross and they were sorely lacking a half-decent striker. In fact, the lack of depth was so poor that after Big Sam went through and offered all the dross out to clubs they only had 17 first-team players.
Big Sam was immediately thrown into the thick of it with three away games in his first week. First up, they nicked a 0-0 at Brighton on Boxing Day before a 2-0 loss at Chelsea and a 1-1 at Leicester.
Strengthening West Ham
Big Sam’s task began with an £8m budget, which he increased significantly by bringing in £80m in sales! He began investing that by taking a massive gamble to bring in Coutinho for £850k from Barcelona. He’s still undoubtedly technically brilliant, but can Big Sam find a tune from the Brazilian?
Big Sam’s first task was to get a striker, which he immediately achieved by signing Ivan Toney for £2m from Leeds and a well-known face in Tyrese Campbell, whose £0 relegation clause was still active!
He also added some much-needed steel to the midfield as Geoffrey Kondogbia arrived for £6.25m from Lazio. He strengthened in central defence as Felix Uduokhai came in for £5m from Bayern and Becir Omeragic joined on loan from Man United. And they were joined by exciting wonderkid left-back Ivelin Kurekov for £4.2m, and his value instantly jumped to more than £60m!
They lost first-choice goalkeeper Joe Pursik to Bayern, so he was replaced with Gavin Bazunu from City for £10m. A bit of midfield flair and depth arrived by loaning in Harvey Elliott from Liverpool and Thorgan Hazard from Ajax. And the spending continued on deadline day as Conor Gallagher arrived from Chelsea for an initial £9m and right-back Nathan Patterson for £8m from Rangers, after Ben Johnson had gone the other way for £14.5m!
In total, Big Sam signed nine players and sold 17! With that rebuild complete, Big Sam opted for a solid-looking 3-4-3 that gave wide attackers Coutinho and Bowen space to roam and look to dominate.
Can Big Sam regain his survival specialist reputation?
January and February would be crucial to Big Sam’s mission to save West Ham as they faced all the teams around them before a treacherous run of games through March and April.
The first game with the new formation saw a Soucek goal, assisted by substitute Campbell on his debut, nick a 1-0 win at home to Newcastle. And a similar story saw Nikola Vlasic come on to score the only goal at home to Fulham, this time assisted by Coutinho, to drag West Ham out of the relegation zone.
A run of big games against teams around them continued as they defeated bottom side Palace 2-1 away, thanks to goals from Aarons and Soucek, then a late Campbell goal nicked a 1-1 at Wolves. The striker really found his form with four goals in a 5-1 FA Cup thumping of Lincoln. And he carried that into consecutive braces in a 4-1 thumping of Watford, in which Coutinho scored his first for the club, and 5-0 hammering of struggling Burnley.
That strong run of six games unbeaten moved West Ham 11 points clear of relegation and up to 13th in the Premier League – and surely they were set to survive?
The run came to an end with a 3-1 loss at Everton, where DCL obviously scored two headers, which began a ridiculous string of fixtures. Luckily, a Soucek goal secured a 1-0 win at Aston Villa to take them to 34 points. Things really got tough as they lost 2-0 at home to Liverpool to Mo Salah and Erling Haaland goals, 1-0 to a Marcus Rashford goal at Man UFC, 3-1 at Spurs but stopped the rot with a 0-0 at home to Arsenal.
Unexpected cup run
Campbell’s good form continued with yet another brace to see West Ham past Brighton in the FA Cup 5th round. Then Bowen bagged a brace of his own to see off Championship side Cardiff 2-1 and send West Ham into the semi-finals. Right in the middle of that tough league run, the semis saw them take on Man City. And they nullified City, restricting them to 0.67xG, and hitting them on the counter with goals from Campbell and Hazard in injury-time. And Big Sam was off to the FA Cup Final!
The tough run dragged West Ham closer to the relegation scrap but still eight points clear with five games remaining. Middlesbrough and Palace look doomed and Brentford have some tricky fixtures.
A week after beating City in the cup they welcomed them to London Stadium but lost 2-1 to a Vinicius Junior double. West Ham then got thumped 4-0 at Southampton before a trip to Brentford, where they just needed a point to confirm survival. And they managed it as a late Hazard goal nicked a 1-0 win that relegated Brentford.
The season rounded out with a dreadful 0-0 at home to Middlesbrough then a 2-1 win over Brighton thanks to Soucek penalty and a late Campbell winner.
That saw West Ham leapfrog Brighton to finish 13th in the Premier League with 42 points. Big Sam picked up an impressive 29 points from his 20 games in charge, compared to the 13 in 18 games before he took over.
FA Cup Final
With survival confirmed, all attention was trained to a big day at Wembley and an unusual looking FA Cup Final as 13th in the Premier League West Ham took on 10th place Everton. But a pretty dire match was decided by an 83rd-minute Everton winner from Folarin Balogun.
Big Sam was delighted with his half-season in charge of West Ham and, in other circumstances, would have been extremely keen to stay at the club. Esepecially as the board handed him a £57 million transfer kitting for the summer!
His key performer, once again, was Campbell, who scored 15 goals in 20 games in all competitions. He is a great little striker for any mid-table Premier League team. Other new signings had a big impact as Coutinho did well, with 7 assists in 22 games, while Gallagher got a 7.01 average rating from centre midfield and Patterson got a 7.03 rating. While another key man was Zouma, who was dominant in the wide centre-back role.
After four seasons of Bottom At Christmas, Big Sam now has three survivals and one relegation to his name. But will he return for a fifth attempt?