When the manager was putting together the storyboard for Season 2 of the David Moyes show, he may well have visualised a few games that would stabilise the perilous league position followed a crowd pleasing run at this year’s FA Cup. Unfortunately, it hasn’t quite gone according to script.
After a run comprising one win, one draw and two defeats in the league, West Ham sit precariously just outside the relegation places – on goal difference only. Perversely what might in other times be seen as the comfort of a game in hand over our relegation rivals, could realistically see the Hammers drop into the bottom three after it is played next Wednesday. Equally, Moyes boast of an unbeaten home record will have been thoroughly tested by next weekend. The manager’s dilemma then is what permutation from his slow and ageing squad does he send out to face West Bromwich Albion in Saturday’s FA Cup Fourth Round tie? The strongest possible side and risk further fatigue to worn-out limbs or adopt a cautious approach and risk stoking the fires of supporter outrage? Either way, the options are few!
Three weeks into the transfer window and it is still more talk than action at the London Stadium – the return of Darren Randolph being all there is to show from the alleged ‘working all the hours efforts’ to bolster the squad. I suppose it is typical of the Used Car Salesman approach to running West Ham that no ‘oven ready’ list of new recruits had been drawn up prior to the window opening – despite the desperate position the club finds itself in. For the past two or three years many of us have been banging on about a general lack of pace and athleticism throughout the squad; and specific weaknesses at full back and in central midfield. Any chance that the message has finally got through to those charged with running the club?
Adding to the foolishness of the situation is that two of the most promising academy players (Nathan Holland and Conor Coventry) have already been shipped out on loan to lower league sides. Maybe all well and good for their long term development but they could have played some part in proceedings between now and the end of the month.
Perhaps the most interesting dimension to the weekend’s game is the return of the manager formerly known as Super Slav. Since leaving the Hammers, Bilic had a brief unsuccessful stint at club management in Saudi Arabia before being appointed Head Coach of West Bromwich Albion during the close season. It has been a promising start for him at The Hawthorns, although a recent alarming dip in form (no wins in eight games) has significantly tempered Albion’s billing as runaway promotion certainties. They have been very difficult to beat but have been prone to drawing too many games. The distraction of a cup run may not be the highest of priorities for them right now.
This will be West Ham’s sixth meeting with Albion in the FA Cup dating back to 1913 when Southern League West Ham beat First Division Albion in a first round second replay at Stamford Bridge. There were further upsets in 1933 and 1980 when the Second Division Hammers eliminated their First Division opponents while Albion were easy winners in 1953 and 2015 – scoring four goals on both occasions. Hammer’s fans with long memories will need no reminding that it was the 1980 victory that launched West Ham on the road to Wembley, and our most recent trophy success. Sadly, there will be very few players with the genuine quality of Parkes, Stewart, Lampard, Bonds, Martin, Devonshire, Brooking, Allen, Cross and Pearson available this time around.
Quite what line-up Moyes will go for, with an eye on two important Premier League games in the following week, is impossible to call. Can old-timers Pablo Zabaleta, Mark Noble and Robert Snodgrass really feature in four games in ten days? If not, who can replace them? We are probably looking at starts for Carlos Sanchez, Albian Ajeti and Fabian Balbuena. Hardly the glamour of the cup! It is no wonder that FA Cup attendances continue to fall when there is no telling just how seriously clubs will be taking the games. I am not expecting too much!
One-nil to the cockney boys!