A Fitting Performance at Last
Well along with many other supporters I didn’t see that coming. I can’t lie, I feared the worst last night sensing that keeping the score respectable would be the best we could expect. Tottenham came into the match looking for a tenth successive win; they had the best defensive record and second best goal scoring record in the Premier League. West Ham on the other hand, although unbeaten in four, had only won once in the last eleven games and had accumulated only a handful of points from top eight sides all season. Never was the phrase ‘past performance is not indicative of future results’ ever more appropriate. To say that it was West Ham’s best performance of the season does not do it justice; there is little competition for that honour. This was an excellent performance worthy of any season and one that initially absorbed energy from the electrified London Stadium atmosphere and then generated excitement to power it further. Proof that stadiums don’t create atmosphere but that supporters and performances do. Despite continued snipes in the media the stadium is fine; not perfect but it is what we have and is a place that we need to make feel like home.
Game, Set and Match Plan
As Slaven Bilic said in his post-match comments; we had a game plan, we stuck to it and it worked. It was a performance reminiscent of those last season where West Ham were the scourge of the elite clubs. It was disciplined, well drilled and well organised involving defending in numbers, pressing and breaking at speed. It negated the Spurs threat and exposed their weaknesses. Apart from the odd moment of penetration Spurs were restricted to speculative shots from distance and their defence made to look uncertain. One might ask where this commitment has been all season; why wait until the third last match of the season to bring it on. Not unexpectedly much media attention has focused on Tottenham’s ‘lethargic’ performance rather than our own part in it. I am sure that nerves did play a part for the ill-fated visitors but it was to West Ham’s credit that they were not allowed to settle. The fact that Spurs needed to win and that a draw was good enough for West Ham worked in our favour. That should not, however, take anything away from a memorable and tremendous night under the lights at Upton Park the London Stadium.
A Real Team Effort
It was a tremendous all round team performance and it would be churlish to pick out any individual man of the match. Everyone played their part. Adrian inspired confidence between the sticks and the save with his foot from Kane was pivotal. The back three of Reid, Fonte and Collins were assured and effectively snuffed out the threat of Kane and Alli, the quarrelsome Alli in particular was a peripheral figure. Byram and Cresswell produced performances usually associated with their opponents wing backs. Noble and Kouyate were effective is denying space for Erikson to exploit. Lanzini was busy, creative, influential and a goal scorer; what more can you say?. Ayew enjoyed his freer role and demonstrated a far greater involvement and appetite for link up play than usual and even Calleri did a good job, at least in preventing Spurs building from the back.
End of Season Sale
So we are finally mathematically safe from the drop and momentarily, at least, have leapt into ninth place in the table. For the remainder of this season time will tell whether we can be inspired by the Spurs win or whether players turn their attention to packing suitcases for a fortnight in the sun. The incentive of a repeat against Liverpool might be compelling. The important thing is to learn from the many mistakes of this season and start to build for the next one and beyond. No doubt there are decisions to be made about the manager’s position and then the summer recruitment priorities. There are also some important players that we need to do everything to hold on to. Most notable among these are Lanzini (surely there will a whole host of clubs ‘monitoring’ a player of his age with pace, energy and dribbling skills), Reid (are there that many better central defenders in the Premier League?), Antonio and Obiang. A club might be able to hold on to sought after players if there is belief in a long term plan but not if struggle and survival are all that is on offer.
Does He Stay or Does He Go?
The victory will certainly have done much to boost the manager’s chances of staying in post for next season. With survival ensured and the owners not known for sacking managers under contract the odds are probably stacked in his favour. I doubt there are many who dislike Slaven as a person but I remain among those who question his credentials as the type of manager who can build for the future. Last season he was a breath of fresh air but since has been found wanting with recruitment, selection and tactics. The win against Spurs equalled the highs of last season but it is struggles against lesser teams that should be dispatched with ease that is the Achilles heel. Sentiment would see him remaining; business imperative requires an upgrade. If he does stay then I hope he does well and can prove me wrong, but without other restructuring on how we recruit, promote youth and train then I don’t see that happening.