5 Observations as West Ham go down to Hull

A fourth successive defeat leaves the Premier League trapdoor too close for comfort.

5 Things WHUThe Next Level

There has been a lot of talk about the club moving to the next level but not many have until now considered that the new level could be downwards into the Championship.  Yet another abject performance and the surrender of a further three points from a winning position leaves West Ham just six points away from the last relegation place.  By Wednesday the gap may well have narrowed to three.  With Leicester and Palace on an upward trajectory the number of teams that we now need to outperform are becoming fewer.  Although another three or four points may be enough for survival, current form makes it difficult to see where these might be coming from.

Another Fine Mess

Once again there was scant evidence of shape, tactics, organisation effort and fitness from the boys in claret and blue.  Hull were not much better but they had spirit, work-rate and determination, particularly in the second half.  Even with the injury situation the team selection was difficult to understand.  A lack of pace throughout the team and little protection in midfield for the ageing centre back pairing was an open invitation to the opposition.  One assumes that Bilic has had a falling out with Nordtveit who despite failing to impress seemed to be the obvious choice for a defensive midfield role, particularly if Noble was deemed not ready to return.  Missing three weeks with a dead leg appears curious and suggests our treatment room is on a par with the training ground for effectiveness.  Expect Manuel Lanzini to be ruled out for the season with a paper cut next.

Bits and Pieces Players

While other teams in the lower reaches of the Premier League rely on cohesion and hard work it feels like we expect to coast through games in the mistaken belief that we have better players who don’t really need to try too hard.  The squad is being filled with an assortment of players of ordinary ability who fail to complement each other in any way.  Feghouli is definitely not a Premier League footballer; he has no powers of anticipation and simply reacts should the ball come in his direction.  Snodgrass is a luxury free-kick specialist who has now lost that spark of enthusiasm that he first arrived with.  Ayew has managed to get in good scoring positions but makes little contribution in all-round play; whatever his best position is we have yet to find it.  Randolph is not a Premier League Number 1.  Even now we are being linked with even more players aged 30 and over which, if true, suggests a very worrying limited and short term view.

Can We Fix It?

There are different schools of thought as to where the blame lies for what has turned out to be a dreadful season.  It is either the fault of the Board, the Stadium, the Manager, the Players or it is merely the West Ham way to be average, disappointing and under-performing.  Of the above there is limited short term room for manoeuvre.  The Boleyn has gone and, like it or not, the London Stadium is home for the foreseeable future.  I can accept that moving to a new ground can dissipate home advantage but it doesn’t explain poor performance.  The Board are the owners of the club and are going nowhere soon.  The Daves have their faults but it is wrong to suggest that they have not backed their managers in the transfer market.  At this stage of the season there is no quick fix to the playing staff and may, in fact, require several windows to shift out the latest collection of recently acquired dead wood.  That leaves the choice of doing nothing (because it is fate) or replacing the manager.

Goodbye Slav (and thanks for some great results last season)

I think we can all agree that Slaven Bilic is a great bloke and has oodles of passion.  He may even ‘get us’ whatever that means.  I cannot, however, think of any footballing reasons why he should be kept on as manager.  We have become a team that lacks a clear style of play or formation; that is short on tactics, fitness, pace and mobility; and that is stumbling from one disaster to another.  There is no vision, plan or strategy to build for the future.  A good manager makes the best of the resources that he has and Bilic has been unable to create a team unit that is greater than the sum of its parts.  Past results unfortunately mean nothing as has been demonstrated by the situation at the resurgent Leicester.  Even assuming we do manage to stay up with Bilic in charge then I can only see a repeat next season.  The club needs a manager with ideas and with tactical and organisational excellence.  This is not unfortunately Slaven Bilic.  As much as I would have loved to see him succeed the wise decision now is to dispense with his services now rather than having a dead man walking until the end of the season.

Matchday: West Ham on the road to Hull

It’s no early April joke as an injury hit and out of form West Ham take the road to Hull.

Hull West HamSo where were we before that unwelcome international break came along? Oh yes, that’s right, a club in turmoil; just one win in six, three defeats on the bounce, one clean sheet in the last fourteen, Bilic in, Bilic out, sack the Board and supporters wishing for the season to end. Not only that but now we are a club in turmoil going into a game without our three best players, all injured last time out.

Any team desperate for relegation saving points would be eagerly scanning the fixture list for an encounter with a lacklustre, formless, shapeless and complacent mid-table West Ham.  Hull will be no exception and will be confidently targeting a full complement of points from the game. They are a hard-working side who enjoyed an upturn in fortunes following the appointment of Marco Silva but come into this game off the back of 4-0 hammering by Everton and still sitting in the last of relegation places.  It is three years since a Marco Silva side lost a home game.

I just concentrate on my job. I am totally focused on the next game. The speculation does not worry me. I am not reading it or making phone calls or whatever.  We are in a position where we can have a good finish to the season. We have a lot of games to play and there is a lot to play for.

– Slaven Bilic

The home match against Hull was one of several lucky wins that played its part in putting the thinnest veneer of gloss on the season allowing the Hammers to scramble briefly into the top of half of the table. The man-of-the-match performance of the post has now joined Fat Sam’s ear-cupping into the annals of West Ham – Hull folklore. Slaven Bilic might want to consider putting a few extra posts on the bench today given that it wouldn’t noticeably weaken the squad.

Head to Head

A West Ham win today would be a first ever Premier League victory away to Hull and would also be the first time that this fixture has been won by the away side in the Premier League. I don’t imagine too much work for the record book writers this afternoon, however. West Ham have recorded a total of four away victories outside of the Premier League at Hull; the last of these a 2-0 success in 2011 with goals from Jack Collison and Sam Baldock.

Team News

With Winston Reid, Pedro Obiang and Michail Antonio absent through injury the greatest conundrum for Slaven Bilic would seem to be where to play Cheikhou Kouyate. Does he play in central midfield and allow the Dad’s Army pairing of Fonte and Collins to play at the back or does he play him as a central defender and combine Mark Noble (back from his holidays) with either Edmilson Fernandes or Havard Nordtviet in the centre of midfield. Although I would like to see Fernandes given more opportunity he is not really a defensive minded player and so maybe we will see a return for Nordtviet (who apparently did well for Norway during the break). Fonte and Collins can only work if Hull guarantee only to play high balls into the box. I’m not sure they will oblige and the idea of them facing pacey players without the covering of Obiang would be of great concern to an already leaky defence.

We have done well at home of late and we want to win again. The secret to our home form is work – hard work.

– Marco Silva

Further up-field we have Andy Carroll, still on his 49 Premier League goals mark, and Andre Ayew who is on a light mauve (if not full blown purple) patch of goal-scoring of late. Robert Snodgrass remains Hull’s leading scorer this season but has yet to pull the trigger (!) for his new club. We will remain lop-sided in attack without an effective left sided player given that both Ayew and Snodgrass prefer to play on the right or simply go walk-about.

Hull have a number of injuries including Mbokani and Mason but Michael Dawson may be fit enough to feature. Tom Huddleston begins a three match suspension following his dismissal at Everton.

The Man in the Middle

Today’s referee is Mike Jones from Chester (are there any southern based referees?). He is another of the occasional visitors to Premier League officialdom and the only previous encounter this season was in the EFL Cup defeat at Old Trafford. Jones was in charge of two West Ham league games last season; away trips to Norwich and Stoke.

In his 25 games this term he has awarded 97 Yellow and 4 Red cards.

West Ham v Hull Preview

This weekend West Ham visit the 2017 city of culture, the home to Britain’s oldest living man (who was 109 this week); a city with three professional football teams, although two use the oval ball. We are the only Premier League team without a point in the last three games, and need to reverse our recent form to ensure we don’t get dragged into the end of season relegation dogfight.

Noble Hull

At last the Premier League is back. OK I know it is only a fortnight since our last game, but it seems like an age, especially when you have sat through the tedium of England trying to break down the world-renowned defence of Lithuania. Fortunately, one of our ex-players, Jermaine Defoe, knows how to put the ball in the net.

And talking of tedium I am well and truly brassed off by the continual coverage on TV of the forthcoming (in about two years time at least) UK exit from the EU. I know this may well be momentous in our history, but I get very bored by news programmes showing the letter from our Prime Minister making its way to Brussels via the Channel Tunnel, and the continual speculation of how the negotiations might go. Let us just wait and see. And the jargon! Hard Brexit, soft Brexit, extreme Brexit, trigger, Article 50. I think I’ve heard the word “trigger” more times in the last few weeks than if I watched a whole box set of all the Only Fools and Horses episodes, or a re-run of all the Roy Rogers western films (ask an oldie!).

So what is the connection between our visit to Hull and Brexit? Although we only began the formal process of withdrawal from the EU with the triggering of Article 50 last Wednesday, one of the issues that will need to be resolved and agreed as part of the negotiations is the right of EU nationals to live and work in the UK. Some Premier League clubs might be affected more than others if we end up with a “hard Brexit”.

To date this season, 38% of Premier League appearances have been by non-UK EU nationals. But there is a massive variation by club. Chelsea top the list with 74%, followed by Manchester City with 59%, and then ourselves with 57%. On the face of it, when I look at our squad I find it hard to reconcile these figures, but according to http://www.football.london, that is the case. On the other hand, our opponents this weekend, Hull, would potentially be the least affected, as, along with Burnley, only 5% of appearances have been by non-UK EU nationals. The numbers may appear higher than one might expect, but a number of players have EU dual nationality e.g. Luiz (Chelsea) Brazilian / Portuguese, and in time these may be affected. To be honest, I can’t see it being an issue, but some believe it might. Again, we’ll just have to wait and see.

With just nine games of the season to go Hull are in trouble. They have won just six of their 29 games, and are currently three points adrift of safety. In addition they have the worst goal difference in the league (-32). It all looked so different for them with victories in their first two games of the season (against defending champions Leicester, and then away at Swansea), meaning they were joint top of the league at that early stage. But since then they have only recorded four further wins, all at home (to Southampton, Bournemouth, Liverpool and Swansea). Like ourselves they have drawn 6 games, so the only difference between West Ham and Hull this season is that we have won three more games than them, and lost three fewer. So, if we had lost three of the games that we won (think back, it could have easily happened!), then we would be where they are now!

Some say we have enough points in the bag already, but defeat in this game would leave us just six points (two wins) ahead of Hull who will still be in the bottom three. With games running out, we probably are OK already, but we need a win or two to be absolutely certain, and victory would be a timely boost. Defeat would mean four losses in a row, and no win for more than two months, hardly good news for the manager in discussions with the board regarding his future.

And finally, as a long term advocate of video assistant referees, I was pleased with the successful use of technology (as part of the official trial of its use), in the Spain victory over France in the international friendly in Paris this week. Firstly, Griezmann scored a goal for France which was offside, but the linesman didn’t raise his flag. The goal was disallowed by the video assistant who could see clearly that he was offside. Secondly, the reverse happened, as Spain’s second goal was flagged for offside (wrongly as seen on video), and the goal was awarded quite correctly. Video technology detractors are worried about the potential effect on the flow of the game, but both decisions were made in an instant and didn’t affect the flow whatsoever. What is more, two incorrect decisions which would have had an important effect on the result of the game were overturned. FIFA are considering the introduction of video technology in time for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. It can’t come soon enough in the Premier League in my opinion. How many additional points might we have gained in the last two or three seasons if it had been in use?