So that’s it now. Defeat at Bournemouth means we cannot mathematically win the league this season! Seriously though, we can still go down! But we won’t. We are just one of those cluster of teams in mid-table that doesn’t have the capability to challenge the top six, but have just enough to keep clear of the relegation dogfight. I have noticed that this weekend social media has gone into overdrive with so many fans telling us what has gone wrong, why it has gone wrong, and who is to blame, whether it is the board, poor recruitment, the manager, the coaching, the fitness of our players, players playing in wrong positions, the stadium, the size of the pitch, the tactics, poor officials, or whatever. And everybody knows the answer, and so many of the answers are different! And if you disagree with the opinion of the author of a comment then you are an expletive. So many pick the team that they believe should play, and then so many disagree with some of the choices. Who’d be a manager?
With Bournemouth not having won a league game in 2017, and our penchant for helping teams to end bad runs of results, then I always had a suspicion that this might happen. With my optimistic hat on (as always) I didn’t really think that it would, but how many times have we done this? And how many times this season have we dropped points from a winning position? And how many times have we conceded goals in the last few minutes of games this season? And come to that, how often have we started a match, or the second half, slowly, and conceded an early goal? Questions, questions, questions. But what are the answers?
I have been following the team now since 1958, and the one thing that has been consistent in all that time is our inconsistency. You just never know what you are going to get from one season to another, from one game to another, or indeed from the first half to the second half of a game. In 1958-59 following promotion to the top tier (called Division One at the time) we finished sixth and actually led the league at one point. The following season we finished 14th. In 1961-62, Ron Greenwood’s first full season as manager we finished 8th. Did we push on from there? I’m afraid not. For the next decade, despite our wealth of talent, including three World Cup winners, we generally finished between midway and the lower reaches of the table, although on more than one occasion we led the league during the season.
By 1970-71 we finished 20th, just above the relegation places at the time, but two seasons later we ended up 6th. The following year we were 18th and several poor seasons followed (from a league perspective) until relegation in 1977-78. We came back up in the early eighties and had some top half finishes most seasons, culminating in the best ever third place in 1985-86. But in the following two seasons we were 15th and 16th before relegation the season after. I could go on. It happened under Fenton, Greenwood, Lyall, Bonds, Redknapp, Roeder, Pardew, Curbishley, and Zola. Consistently inconsistent. Our most consistent seasons were under Grant (just one awful year), and Allardyce, who many fans disliked, perhaps because of the consistency? As West Ham fans we are used to inconsistency.
Going back to the game itself, we conceded two penalties, neither of which were scored, so our defeat could potentially have been heavier. Randolph was man of the match according to one report that I read. Three goals conceded is his best performance against Bournemouth, and in five games against them has had to pick the ball out of the net 23 times. But I don’t think he could have done much about the goals that went in. For me, Kouyate is a very strange choice as a right back. He can be quite fast, but only when he gets into his stride. A bit like Usain Bolt really. He might win a race over 100 metres, but would not be ahead after 20. Surely he is a box to box midfield player? Why do we keep a specialised right back on the bench? I’m afraid our manager has a blind spot when it comes to right backs.
Reid and Fonte don’t seem to have gelled as a partnership if you look at the goals conceded, although Reid has put in some good individual performances, and for whatever reason, Cresswell is a shadow of his previous self. Obiang, Lanzini, and Antonio are playing well enough, but many doubts exist amongst fans in recent times regarding Noble, Feghouli, Snodgrass and Ayew, although to be fair to the latter he has shown he can put the ball in the goal in a couple of recent games. Carroll varies from unplayable to playing averagely.
We complained to the officials that one of Bournemouth’s goals followed a handball, although I didn’t see it personally. Conversely, I thought that there might have been a hint of offside (Byram) as he set up Ayew’s equaliser. Surely we could have no complaints about the penalties we gave away? Why do we concede so many? The standard of the two spot kicks was so woeful it is hard to believe that Bournemouth hadn’t missed a single penalty all season.
So I think that the officials and the stadium are off the hook for this defeat, but all other potential reasons are still in play! And by the way, so many TV pundits keep saying that our pitch size is the reason for our poor performances at home and that we should reduce it. Many fans have jumped on this particular bandwagon on social media too. They say it is larger than it needs to be. Some have said that is a ploy by the board to bring it closer to the fans.
It is my understanding (I haven’t measured it personally!) that our pitch is exactly the size of the majority of pitches in the Premier League, that is the exact size as recommended by the Premier League and UEFA, and that all clubs should have a pitch of 105 metres x 68 metres unless the confines of the stadium do not allow it. We are not allowed to reduce the size, unless it is structurally impossible to meet the standard requirements! Incidentally, Upton Park was the same width but 4.5 metres shorter.