Big Sam’s seven-point PL survival blueprint proves idiot-proof as Leeds draw with Newcastle
Sam Allardyce revealed his secret survival sauce on Monday Night Football in 2017, and Leeds followed his seven-point blueprint to beat the drop to claim a vital point at Elland Road.
Having defied the odds to keep Sunderland and Crystal Palace up in 2015/16 and 2016/17, Allardyce sat down with David Jones and Jamie Carragher on Monday Night Football in September 2017 to share his blueprint to avoid the drop. The Ray Mears of Premier League survival has since suffered relegation, with West Brom in 2020/21, but in the draw at Elland Road we saw his Leeds players follow the blueprint to give them hope of yet another miraculous escape under the old dog who doesn’t need new tricks.
His seven-point masterplan ranges from the intriguing to the downright obvious, starting with 1) ‘Keep clean sheets’. They still haven’t done so since February 25, with the two Newcastle scored on Saturday making it 33 goals conceded in their last 12 games. Max Wober – the £11m January signing from RB Salzburg – put paid to the clean sheet hopes after half an hour in which Newcastle had barely had a sniff.
After Junior Firpo slipped in pursuit of a what looked to be a relatively harmless pass into the Leeds box, Wober took a big old swipe at the ball rather than poking it beyond Alexander Isak, leaving the big striker in a heap on the floor. Callum Wilson calmly dispatched the penalty two minutes after Patrick Bamford saw his frankly terrible spot-kick saved by Nick Pope, who would barely have needed half of his 6ft 3in frame to dive and stop it.
Nowhere in Allardyce’s blueprint does it advise players to score penalties and not concede them, though it probably goes without saying. But point 3) ‘Play the first pass forward’ and 4) ‘Win the knock-downs’ were in evidence in the build-up to Leeds’ opener.
The ball was chipped towards Bamford first time on two occasions, with the second one knocked down by the striker, before he got the ball back and executed point 7) ‘Quality in the final third’ to a tee as he delivered a perfect cross for Rodrigo, whose header was parried by Pope and knocked in by Luke Ayling, celebrating his 250th Leeds appearance in style.
“The Premier League is so good that the opposition can capitalise massively on those mistakes,” Allardyce said in that MNF masterclass. “You give the ball away there and the opposition are at your back four or your back two and they are shooting and scoring goals.”
Point 2) ‘Don’t lose possession in your own half’ was particularly evident after half-time. As Allardyce presumably reiterated to his Leeds players at the break: you can’t give the ball away in your own half if you boot it clear every time you get it.
The clearances were aimed at Rodrigo in the right channel, which was perhaps an indication of Big Sam’s attempt to put point 6) ‘Exploit your opposition’s weakness’ into action, with Leeds’ best forward sticking religiously to the side patrolled by Dan Burn, who’s having an excellent season, but is the weak link in an otherwise top notch Newcastle back four.
Leeds did the defensive aspect of point 5) ‘Prioritise set pieces’ reasonably well, with Kieran Trippier’s dangerous deliveries from dead balls dealt with by hook or by crook, with no small amount of panic quite a lot of the time, but dealt with all the same.
The offensive part consisted almost entirely of long throw-ins from Weston McKennie, sometimes from about 40 yards out, until a late surge, after Newcastle had gone 2-1 up.
Unfortunately for Leeds, the blueprint doesn’t legislate for the stupidity shown by wide receiver Junior Firpo, who looked as though he was attempting to catch a Hail Mary as he finger-tipped the ball away from Isak to give Wilson another chance from the spot, which he converted despite the gamesmanship from Joel Robles.
Firpo somehow avoided a second yellow in that instance but was eventually given his marching orders for another bizarre challenge, this time on Anthony Gordon, just outside the box in the 90th minute.
But Leeds were by that point level and perhaps should have been in the lead after commitment to points 2), 3) and 4) gave them a chance to put illustrate point 7) by virtue of point 5).
Adam Forshaw, brought on at half-time perhaps with set piece delivery in mind, played one corner short to Wilfried Gnonto, whose cross eventually found Rasmus Kristensen to rasp home via a deflection. Another corner soon after was swung right on top of Bamfrod, who needed the slightest of touches but instead shouldered the ball nowhere.
Allardyce said before the game he would take a point, and if these Leeds players can continue to follow his seven-point survival blueprint and cut out the daft errors, Premier League safety is in the offing.
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