A Win is Just a Win
At the end of the day it is 3 points earned. When we look back on the ‘lost’ 2016/17 season in years to come it will be recorded as a match won during a period where we rose from relegation possibles to mid-table obscurity. Just as the Noble strike will be recorded as a goal scored rather than a penalty missed, the manner of the victory in a forgettable game will be erased from the memory of even those who attended. There was no mass booing and ear-cupping this time around to trigger future memories and indifferent refereeing and an aggrieved losing manager are far too common to resonate past the next few matches. Four points in the last two games has given Slaven Bilic a welcome boost in the quest for 20 points by the end of the year and a chance of continued employment.
Closing Out Matches in a Game of Two Halves
Apparently West Ham have lost 12 points from winning positions this season which, had we not, would have had us riding high in 6th place in the Premier League table. In the post-match interviews Bilic was bemoaning the ability of the team to close out games and, for me, this raises the question of what his own role and influence in these circumstances? One wonders what his instructions were at half time and to what degree the players failed to execute them. There were a few home games last season where we looked on fire in the first half but turned into a damp squib in the second. When you have been comfortably on top (but only have a slender lead to show for it) it is rarely a good plan to surrender the initiative and invite the opposition to attack. There is far too much caution shown in these types of home fixtures for my liking.
West Ham are very bad at keeping possession of the ball. This is not the same topic as whether there is any relationship between amount of possession and winning a game. It is well known that when Leicester won the Premier League last season they recorded less overall possession than the opposition in many games. But when they got the ball they moved it quickly and incisively. When they didn’t have the ball they defended as a team and were prepared to let their opponents play around in harmless areas. West Ham’s problem is that once in possession they so frequently give the ball away cheaply. There are two key elements that result in effective passing; good pass execution (speed and accuracy) and range of options available for the player with the ball. As a rule we are slow to exploit and create space and when there are no options the ball goes backwards to keeper or defender who lumps it forward in desperation. In almost all the games I have seen this season we have been second best at passing and moving over the course of a game.
You’re Shaking My Confidence Daily
Much is made of confidence in football so I guess it must be a big deal. A run of defeats or playing in a new stadium can dent a team’s confidence; a point at Liverpool can boost it but failure to hold on to a lead can damage it again. We hear that such a player is a confidence player and just needs a goal to fire him in to action. I have to disclose a touch of scepticism here although I will be delighted if an ‘ugly’ win over Burnley can help to ‘kick-start’ the season, as they say. These are highly paid players who are meant to represent the very top of their profession; are they really so collectively fragile? Could you explain away your own lack of performance at work as a lack of confidence? To admit to lower motivation and fitness levels, compared to most opponents, would be more honest and believable. If confidence really is an issue then it is something for the coaching staff to address; not some an unmanageable external factor in the hands of the footballing gods.
Big Man Andy Carroll
I am pleased to see Andy Carroll back to fitness (crosses fingers, buys lucky heather, finds rabbits foot, avoids ladders and path crossing black cats). When Zaza has set the bar so low then anything is an improvement as far as our striking problem is concerned but Carroll is a massive upgrade. Bilic says he is a big fan of Carroll and considers that he is great in the air and on the ground. Difficult to argue with the first part of the assessment but the second is something of a stretch or, at least, unproven. He does provide a physical presence and will always be a danger at crosses and set pieces but he is unlikely to contribute much in slick passing breakaways or intricate penalty box interplay. The danger is that his strength in the air becomes our one and only tactic (other than trying to win a free kick) and although he can be effective in the right setup I don’t believe that is as a lone striker. To be effective he needs someone alongside to feed off the knock-downs. Unfortunately our midfield is too weak to release someone to play as a second striker.