You get the impression that Paul Lambert isn’t much of a gambler. He is a manager who has a method and a preferred formation – a counter-attacking 4-3-3 – and who puts his faith in that approach, come what may. If he were a casino player you get the impression he’d be backing the same numbers at the roulette table spin after spin.
The roulette analogy is an interesting one because it highlights not only Lambert’s mind-set, but also the alternative strategies that he might employ. Anyone who suggests that the FA Cup is not to his taste is never going to be a long-odds punter, is he?
In fairness, Lambert’s job is about the steady accumulation of Premiership points more than it is about spectacular one-offs. The danger from a fan’s viewpoint is that we put more store by a handsome win – or a cup run – than we do in a hard fought point at West Ham. To think about it in gambling terms, we should be treating this more like a professional than a starry-eyed punter. We should be counting the cash across the piece rather than getting all excited at the prospect of the sweet taste of victory.
Admittedly, we’re on a losing run right now but again let’s think about this from the gambler’s perspective. That means cutting out all sentiment and honing in on the numbers. Imagine Lambert was playing roulette: just as many players always bet on the same numbers, he’s gone in with a method and a strategy that has stood him really well over a career that stretches back nearly a decade (his managerial debut at Livingstone was back in 2005). Over that time he has won more than he’s lost and his career showed a steady upward trajectory.
If you take the long view it’s hard to argue that he does have a solid winning method even if that headline description is let down by recent events. For example, although his winning ratio increased throughout his career – he won just shy of 50% of his games at Norwich – he has struggled to match that at Villa. His win ratio in B6 is actually down around 30%. That’s not disastrous, but it’s clearly not satisfactory either.
In other words, things aren’t right but it’s not time to walk away from the table just yet. Patience and perhaps a tweak or two are what’s needed. What the numbers suggest is that – for all the doom and gloom that inevitably follow a disappointing run of results – Lambert is not as far away from finding the right formula as our emotional state would lead us to imagine.
December’s fixtures look to be as close to low-hanging fruit as the Premiership has to offer. The professional gambler wouldn’t lose his nerve at the prospect of fixtures like Palace, Leicester, West Brom and Sunderland – and neither should we. If the big scares are Swansea and a Manchester United game at home we really shouldn’t be losing faith just yet. This is precisely the time to hold our nerve and to stick by the manager’s longer term credentials. If it’s a case of stick or twist, now is most definitely the time to stick with Lambert.