Dangers of perception

"Perception" is one of Sam Allardyce's favourite words. He reckons he has suffered from an unfair perception about his style of play, and he's probably right...

Now we are suffering from a perception about our team. Sometimes it helps to see ourselves as other see us, to understand the problem. And there is now a clear perception that we are a bunch of argumentative cheats.

You only have to look at the amount of bookings this season for dissent to understand that. You have to search hard for cautions for arguing with referees in the top flight, but our crime sheet is littered with them.

Perception is a dangerous thing when it starts to work against you. Look at Luis Suarez. He is really suffering now, and not just because of the racist stuff from last season, criminally handled by Liverpool and Kenny Dalglish to the extent that it helped towards the manager's sacking.

Maybe I am in a minority, but I don't see too much wrong with Suarez. He is lightening quick, well balanced at speed and possesses great close control. Touch him and he will go over. If he was in our team, big Sam would be telling him to run at and commit defenders at every opportunity.

But now Suarez is branded a cheat. I even feel that the exaggerated swallow dive at Stoke was his way of showing exasperation to the referee at being continually kicked. Maybe I'm wrong, but surely it was too obvious to be taken seriously.

Suddenly Andy Carroll is finding himself tarred with the same brush. It seems to have started after the Southampton game, when I felt he was continually fouled and impeded. Southampton's youngster Adam Lallana started to moan in the papers that Carroll went down too easily.

Now referees read newspapers. And the performance of referee Jon Moss at Wigan on Saturday bordered on the disgraceful. He had it in for us from the word go. Mark Clattenburg, an officially I dislike intensely because of his infuriating self-importance - and whose shocking display at Chelsea yesterday just about sums up why I feel the way I do about him - started sticking the knife in at QPR.

He dished out countless bookings, some absolutely ridiculous but certainly some for dissent. Moss was no better, he was waving cards around whenever we complained about anything, and continually penalised Carroll.

Players and managers pick up on such things very quickly. Wigan's lot were pointing and moaning to the officially at every opportunity. We saw the same thing from Everton's David Moyes about Suarez ahead of Sunday's Mersey derby with Liverpool.

Don't forget that Moyes has employed Andy Johnson and Thomaz Radzinski in his time, two men not known for staying on their feet too long. Ironically, the only cheating came from his own captain Phil Neville's daft dive and booking.

But Moyes had openly complained about Suarez ahead of the game, trying to influence the official, Andre Marriner. This time it didn't really work. Suarez did little wrong but was verbally hounded by players and fans throughout, trying to underline the perception that he cheats.

Suarez's only suffering was the disallowing of what would have been his hat-trick and the winner, when he patently wasn't offside.

What I'm trying to do is explain why I believe we are now suffering because of a perception. Carroll is a big boy, he can handle himself and he is very good at getting his body between defender and ball. So if he is pushed, tugged (even his ponytail) or manhandled, of course he will go down. He has been fouled.

As for the moaning and dissent, yes, Kevin Nolan does maintain a near non-stop dialogue with officials which can look like a barrack roam lawyer at work. First Clattenburg didn't like it, and the inexperienced (at Premier League level) Moss has got in on the act.

The perception that we are only long ball has become tiring. But now every set of opposing fans takes the mickey. Southampton were the last, and they have Ricky Lambert in their squad! Wigan knock long balls up to Franco Di Santo. And then you get daft nonsense from Roberto Martinez claiming that he does not really approve of set piece goals!

That's only marginally worse than Fulham boss Martin Jol complaining that "West Ham's corners are really long balls, you know." Sometimes you can't make it up.

But all this adds to a perception about us, and it starting to hurt us, certainly as the cautions mount up and the decisions continually go against Carroll.

Mind you, even a perfect display from Mr. Moss would not have saved us at Wigan. We were awful, which was so disappointing for 4,000 plus of us who arrived at the DW stadium full of confidence after the mauling of Southampton and our high position in the table.

Sam, though, was never more than honest afterwards, even if we nearly sneaked a point at the end of a really inept display.

He picked up on our shocking lack of confidence in possession. Wigan pressed us really high up the pitch, no doubt to stop the supply to Carroll. They hounded our back line into countless mistakes and the defence never looked happy on the ball. Heaven help us against the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United in the weeks ahead.

Wigan also isolated our midfield men. They got between Nolan , Mark Noble and Mo Diame with neat passing. Sam also picked up on Wigan's better technique, and you could see that with their one-touch passing in tight situations.

It is very hard to tackle and win the ball if it is being moved first time, at pace. Wigan do not have better players than us, but on Saturday they had confidence in possession we never looked like matching.

But this may have quelled talk of Champions League positions for us. We are so far from that level it is laughable.

Our club website do not help but going on about records and high places. That only gives us unrealistic targets to match.

I got into trouble with my bunch of mates at the Southampton game by walking out of the Bobby Moore end proclaiming that we still needed 26 points to stay up. I hate to point out that it is still 26 needed, or in our case after recent history, a couple more than that.

I was told I should be thinking in terms of top four. Now this nonsense did not come from the youngest member of our group, nine-year-old Oscar, watching one of his first Hammers games. He was too bright for that (have you seen what nine year-olds can do with I phones? Frightening).

No, the misplaced confidence came from someone who can be free with grand claims (I wonder who he gets it from?)

Let's hope we can get things back into perspective now. I have done quick run-through the rest of our games, and reckon we may still have to get something on the last day against Reading. I hope not.

But we are now going into a seriously hard set of games, ones that Sam has been flagging up as very, very tough for some while. Frankly I cannot see us getting anything from the Manchester clubs, Chelsea, Liverpool, Newcastle, Spurs, Everton and Arsenal before the new year.

It means we must get something against Stoke, West Brom and Reading before the turn of the year. If we have six more points from those next 11 games I will be surprised.

Call me a pessimist, as people do. But I doubt Sam is counting on much more. I really hope I'm wrong. But that's the trouble with perceptions, they can give a false impression of things.

Mind you, a good time will be had by all on Saturday when we face Carlos Tevez and Manchester City. It's the home game looked forward to more than any other by my family and close friends, a group littered with fans of both clubs.

The worst thing about relegation was that the away-day trip from Manchester was put on hold. We travel down together on the early train (one lad is even bringing his wife this time!) and enjoy a beer or two ahead of the game, and a shandy on the way home. It's a cracking day out, even if the old hands struggle a bit to keep up the pace.

We don't hold out much hope of halting the champions, I know, but come on Sam and the boys, send me home with a smile on my face with all my City mates.

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