Midweek Miscellany: The Hip Replacement Guy

The close season resembles an episode of Casualty as manager Bilic joins his players in the operating theatre.

Slaven Bilic

One joke that never fails to make me smile is the one about the two coolest dudes in the hospital being the Hip Replacement Guy and the Ultra-Sound Man.  Now that his team’s limp season has come to an end, our very own cool manager will be joining a host of players by going under the knife with Slaven opting for a hip replacement that is likely to keep him out of action for up to 6 weeks. We wish him a speedy and full recovery and hope that he will emerge far more flexible in every sense of the word at the end of his recuperation.

With no news to the contrary, the assumption has to be that Bilic will be staying in the West Ham hot seat, at least for the time being, to begin the final year of his current contract. It creates both an added incentive and pressure to get next season off to a flying start if he is to avoid dead-man walking status by the time the festive period comes around.


With Slaven temporarily out of action there must be potential implications for the allocation of war-chest funds during the upcoming transfer window. If we are to believe what we read, transfer decisions are collectively agreed by Bilic, transfer supremo Tony Henry and David Sullivan, in his role as de facto Director of Football and as the man signing the cheques from the Bank of Dave. With two shocking transfer windows behind them what could possibly go wrong?

The chatter (or is it the chtwitter) coming out of the club is that sights are set on three of four new signings to launch that leap to the much vaunted next level. The one name cropping up with great regularity in that sense is 32 year old Pablo Zabaleta: better than what we have?, yes; a signing for the future and a statement of ambition?, no! It is my over-riding fear that transfer focus will be on experienced but past-their-best individuals that offer little but to keep the club treading water.


A transfer rumour that cropped up today was a swap with Inter Milan that would see 30 year old Eder heading for London and 23 year old Arthur Masuaku going in the opposite direction. I sincerely hope that this one is from the made-up nonsense basket as neither part of that exchange holds any attraction. Masuaku looks just the sort of prospect that we need to keep despite the suspicion that he has contracted Rush Green syndrome (formerly known as Chadwell Heath syndrome) whereby a player has an irrational fear of leaving the treatment room.

I was relieved to hear that Jermaine Defoe had taken his ageing shooting boots to a more suitable retirement home on the south coast.  He is another that could make a reasonable short term difference but no more.  The motto: “good is the enemy of great” should be prominently displayed on the wall of the transfer control nerve centre as a reminder of our supposed ambition; right next to the one that says “You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps!”

Burnley 1 West Ham 2

A win in the North-West to finish the season.

So we have ended a so-so season with a victory. And for a change, instead of relinquishing a lead and giving up the points we did it the other way round. When we fell behind midway through the first half I feared the worst, but a spirited comeback against a side with an enviable home record, and other results going our way, meant that we finished the season in eleventh place, just one point behind eighth, albeit with an inferior goal difference. Many have commented that with just one more victory we would have been clear in eighth, and it is easy to look back and see where that additional win might have come from, as we lost 22 points from a winning position.

The difficulties in settling in to a new home have been written about extensively, and whilst there is perhaps some merit in the change of stadium being the reason for our indifferent home form, I do not subscribe to it being such a key factor. Quite frankly we played poorly in so many home games, and we cannot blame the stadium for that. We just didn’t turn up at times, and failed to put in the level of commitment that we showed in our better performances. If the stadium was such a key factor, then where did we play the home game against Chelsea in the EFL Cup? And where did we play against Tottenham in the penultimate home game of the season?

The inability to score goals at the London Stadium is something that we will need to rectify next season, as in this one we only managed to score two goals or more on four occasions. On the other hand we scored at least two goals in nine of our away games. Compare this to the previous (successful) season when we scored at least twice in 23 of our games (12 at home, and 11 away).

The season was a balanced one in that we picked up 22 points in the first 19 games, and 23 in the last 19. Some of our 1-0 wins were fortunate, but all sides have those. The aforementioned 22 dropped points would, had we won the games where we were in front, have seen us finish in sixth place in the table. But it was not to be.

Injuries to key players was perhaps another factor in some of our poor results, but again many sides have those. Quite what is the reason for so many injuries is a debatable point, but we either have to improve our training facilities (the reason given by some), or consider our training methods and performance of the people behind the scenes who are responsible for ensuring the fitness of players. Or is it just bad luck? I’m not so sure.

Transfer target speculation is already well under way, and I hope we can secure some quality signings this time. But most of all I’d like to see us adopt a method of playing where we have a definite plan (and back up plans) where we find a successful formula and stick to it. To me, we appear to pick what the manager considers are his best eleven players available for each game, and because of injuries we bring in alternatives who don’t necessarily fit the same style of play. It is no coincidence that the two best teams in the country, Chelsea and Tottenham, have a style of playing where, in the event of injuries, they bring in players who fit into their pattern. They don’t just pick their best eleven players available and change the style to fit them.

We also need to consider what is one of the most important facets of the game at the top level, and that is pace. Teams can afford to have the odd player here or there who may be lacking in this if they bring other additional qualities to the team. But to me we seem to be lacking in this aspect in too many areas of the pitch. Some of our build up play is predictable and laborious with not enough movement off the ball. Sometimes when I watch our pre-match routine where the players play five against five retaining possession of the ball in a confined area I marvel at their ability to find space with quick movement, but we often cannot seem to replicate this in the game itself.

And one other thing I’d like to see. How many times have we had a free kick (or even a throw in) in the opponents half of the pitch, and several (mainly sideways and backwards) passes later it ends up with our goalkeeper, who then kicks the ball long and possession is lost? So many times we take a quick free kick (and there is nothing wrong with that in itself), but we don’t appear to give it much thought. Sometimes we need to consider what we are going to do. A quickly taken free kick can be a good attacking option, but only when the players are ready for it. It has the most effect when played in a forward direction.

Having said all that, despite some indifferent displays we finished eleventh, and could have even been higher. But I think that our mid table position was just about right. Some people writing on social media suggest that it was the worst season ever. No it wasn’t. Remember Glenn Roeder and Avram Grant? Our average finishing position in the Premier League era is around 12th / 13th. So it was just about right. Typical West Ham you might say.

Looking ahead I cannot foresee any changes to the top seven places in the table, and reckon that at our best we would be challenging with so many others in the mid-table cluster for eighth place. I hope I am wrong. I hope that we see some quality recruits, a definite style of play, and better luck with injuries. Only time will tell, but the new season is less than three months away, and a lot of work needs to be done behind the scenes to give us a chance of improvement. I hope it happens.

This Week in Hammer’s History

Two Play Off final appearances conclude the Hammer’s History series as we look at the period from 22 to 30 May.

This Week Hammers HistoryIn the final instalment of this week in Hammer’s History we will take the liberty of slightly elongating the week to the nine days, 22 to 30 May, in order to capture the two Championship Play-Off Finals of 2004 and 2005.

The 2003/04 season was Alan Pardew’s first in the managerial hot-seat.  He joined on 18 October 2003 with the Hammers in 4th spot in the Championship and after an initial wobble they remained a top six occupant for the majority of the season without ever threatening the automatic promotion places; eventually finishing back where Pardew’s tenure had begun in 4th position.

The Play-Off final was an all-London affair against Iain Dowie’s Crystal Palace, who owed their play-off spot to a late West Ham equaliser against Wigan in the final match of the regular season.  The match was played at the Millennium Stadium and, despite having secured a ticket, work commitments meant that I ended watching on TV in a Las Vegas bar at 6 in the morning.   After a frenetic opening the game settled into a cagey affair, with West Ham’s dominating possession but with few real chances at either end.  Palace took the lead when Stephen Bywater could only parry a shot from Johnson allowing the overweight Shipperley to nip in and score from close range.  West Ham had ‘goals’ from David Connolly and Bobby Zamora ruled out for offside, and a blatant foul on Michael Carrick in the area was ignored by the referee, in the aftermath but were unable to get back on level terms.  An abiding memory from the day (apart from the hostile atmosphere in the bar and the helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon in the afternoon) were the strange substitutions by Pardew when he hauled off all three of his strikers once we had gone a goal down and were in desperate need of a goal.  Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!

Bywater, Dailly, Melville, Mullins, Repka, Carrick, Etherington, Lomas, Connolly (Hutchison), Harewood (Reo-Coker), Zamora (Deane)

A year later it was back to the same venue for another go, this time against old foes from the 1964 Cup Final, Preston North End.  In the league the Hammers had failed to impress and only confirmed their place in the Play-Offs on the last day when they scrambled into 6th spot; opponents Preston had finished one place higher and had completed a league double over West Ham.

It was Hammers who were quickest out of the blocks in the final with Tomas Repka’s shot against the post after four minutes the first of a handful of first half chances that went begging.  West Ham were also solid in defence and although Preston were able to threaten from set pieces the game remained scoreless at the break.  The multi-million pound breakthrough and winning goal came after 57 minutes as a Matthew Etherington cross was hooked home by Zamora.  There was late drama when Jimmy Walker had to be replaced by Bywater due to injury but the Hammer’s resisted a late Preston push for a leveller to reclaim top flight status amid huge sighs of relief.

Walker (Bywater), Repka, Ferdinand, Ward, Powell, Newton (Noble), Reo-Coker, Mullins, Etherington, Harewood, Zamora (Dailly)    

5 Anti-Climactic Thoughts from the Last Day of the Season

The season is over. The next one will be along in 12 weeks time. What will happen in the interim?

5 Things WHUIt’s All Over Now

So there you have it.  It’s all over for another year and we can switch modes from can’t wait until this season’s over to can’t wait until the new season starts!   When all done and dusted the league table shows West Ham slap bang in the middle.  Whichever way you look at it: mean, mode or median it was an average one.  Looking back in five or ten years’ time it will have the appearance of a table from many other seasons.  The poor performances, the flirt with relegation, the scrappy and lucky wins against Bournemouth, Hull and Burnley will be consigned to history.  The highlight of heroic victory over Tottenham, putting yet another spoke in their title aspirations, will survive as the season’s only legacy; apart from £120 million in TV and merit payments.

A Table of Two Halves

Normal service was resumed in the Premier League after the interruption of Leicester City last time around.  The order rather than make up of the top six positions is the extent of the uncertainty.  The gap between Everton in seventh and Southampton in eighth was a whopping fifteen points while a meagre six points separated eighth from seventeenth.  One more win and on paper one could be mistaken for believing that this season was only slightly behind the previous one; yet performances, points and goal difference tell a vastly different story.  We wait expectantly to learn the close season plans for the club.  Will Slaven Bilic be given more time?  Will there be a more reasoned and less public approach to transfer dealings (and that elusive free scoring twenty goals a season striker)?  Are any of our players on the radar of bigger clubs?  Will we finally give a worthwhile and extended opportunity to younger players?  Will the club ever adopt a top to toe level of professionalism that a multi-million pound football business requires?

A Final Day Victory For Once

It was an unexpected win at Turf Moor and possibly slightly more entertaining than one might have hoped for in the circumstances.  With even more injuries added to the disinterested squad who succumbed so weakly the previous week, victory at a ground which had been a fortress for Burnley all season looked remote.  When the hosts took the lead after 23 minutes it looked a good bet that the form book would rule the day.  However, within four minutes a delightful equalising goal fashioned by the unlikely duo of Andre Ayew and Sofiane Feghouli caught everyone unawares.  Had it not been for the referee treating the game like a pre-season friendly he might well have given Burnley midfielder Westwood his marching orders on at least two occasions for a series of rash challenges.  Still the Hammers looked generally comfortable and the game was settled when a neat passing move resulted in the strangest of winning goals for the visitors.  A smart shot by Edmilson Fernandes was well stopped by keeper Heaton but his save sent the ball into an unusual orbit where, on re-entry, it bounced off the bar, onto Ayew’s head and into the net.  Ayew notching his sixth league goal to put him behind Antonio (9), Lanzini (8) and Carroll (7) in the scoring charts.

Back in 12 Weeks

There are just eighty two shopping days (or just over 12 weeks) to the start of the 2017/18 Premier League season on 12 August.  It is not clear how many of the players who have recently gone under the knife will be back, fit and ready by the big kick-off.  Recuperation times of up to eleven or twelve weeks have been mentioned for some of the ailments.  Added to that it is probably time to give up on Carroll and Sakho for good although the abuse they receive from some supporters for being injured is bizarre.  It was good to see Angelo Ogbonna back in action even if it deprived us of an opportunity to have a look at Declan Rice, apart from his added time walk-on part.  The academy seems to be specialising in centre backs these days and we now have Rice, Oxford and Burke ready to knock on the first team door, even if there are deaf ears the other side of it.  Both Ayew and Feghouli had good games yesterday to the extent that maybe they do have some part to play in the future of the squad.  Fernandes too did well and the question with him is how he fits into the team (with Lanzini) without weakening the defensive responsibilities of the midfield.  Perhaps we will know more when the manager creates a preferred formation and distinct style of play.

Not So Super Sunday

The TV crew did their best to instil some degree of excitement in the race for fourth place and the uncertainty did last until just before half time when Liverpool scored their first against Middlesbrough.  Had the referee awarded Boro a penalty for the foul by Lovren on Bamford (before that opener) then the nerves could well have got to the Scousemen.  As it was the tackle was deemed to be just the wrong side of that no-mans-land between ‘he went down too easily’ and ‘he was entitled to go down’ that is only visible to football pundits.  The final forty-five minutes of the season, therefore, was only interesting in guessing how many goals the top teams would eventually score.

Matchday: Going Through the Motions at Turf Moor

It’s dead rubber day in the Premier League as the Hammers go limp in Lancashire.

Burnley West HamI used to think that a dead rubber was a used condom until I started to read about the finale to this season’s Premier League programme.  Paradoxically at the time when condoms were actually made from rubber (rather than latex) they were considered reusable and so, technically, not dead once they had performed their duty.  Of course, the UK’s most famous condoms were produced just a short ride around the North Circular by the London Rubber Company using a brand that took its name from the phrase Durability, Reliability and Excellence.  If only our team could have demonstrated such admirable qualities this season and been as effective in both scoring and preventing leaks.  In truth the term dead rubber should only really apply in a ‘best of’ series between two competing sides where the contest is decided before the series has been completed; today’s games are merely mostly meaningless.

If Burnley round off the season by maintaining their impressive home form with an expected win against West Ham today they will also leapfrog the Hammers in the table at the same time.  With Palace likely to pick up at least a point against Manchester United reserves this will see us dropping to 14th or possibly lower unless Stoke come back from Southampton empty handed.  Overall it is difficult to put a spin on the season that is anything other than a complete disaster, even if there are some mitigating factors related to injuries and the stadium move.   It looks to me that the club has taken several steps backwards this year and is now barely in a better position than a newly promoted side.  Looking for a bright straw clutching side one could point to Machester City’s first campaign after leaving Maine Road where they finished 16th with only 41 points.  The chances of history repeating itself now rest solely on the emergence of rich foreign owners with very deep pockets.

We don’t need squad players.  Take our last game against Liverpool. We were without eight players but still had a decent team so that shows that squad-wise, with the quantity of the players, we are okay.

– Slaven Bilic on his squad’s okayness

After 9 months of competition and hype the Premier League season ends in somewhat muted fashion with the majority of teams playing only for pride; an amusing concept in itself.  The desperation in the media to talk up the battle for fourth place illustrates perfectly how much the game has become a slave to money, for which Champion’s League qualification is the perfect embodiment.  We are meant to rely on relegated Middlesbrough and manager-less Watford to generate the day’s excitement.  I’m sure I would feel differently if it were the Hammers fighting it out for that final spot but then we all know what would happen once drawn against the Romanian or Latvian champions in the qualifying round don’t we?

Head to Head

The inaugural meeting between West Ham and Burnley took place at Turf Moor in 1923 following the Hammers promotion to the top flight for the first time.  West Ham keeper Ted Hufton was beaten five times as the Clarets ran out 5-1 winners.  Huddersfield Town pipped Cardiff City to win the league that season with a goal average difference of 0.024; now that is what I call a close finish.

Since then West Ham have shaded matters and recent results are heavily skewed heavily in our favour, having won eight and lost only two of the last twelve meetings.   West Ham have only lost at Turf Moor once in the last 39 years.

Team News

Winston Reid has joined the long list of players revealed to have been playing (or battling on) with a chronic long term injury that required immediate surgery.   Let;s hope for a speedy recovery as Winston is one of our better players.  I wonder who gets to wear the captain’s armband this afternoon?  Probably Jose Fonte!

There has been some speculation that Bilic will give a debut to young Declan Rice but it would be truer to form if he recalled a fit again Angelo Ogbonna to the side.  The bench is likely to have a few youngsters sat on it but whether any will get more than a token five minutes as the clock ticks down is anyone’s guess.

We’ve added to the squad but we still need to look at the market again – we want to keep upgrading not just for for the quality, but as an in-house challenge to the players.

– Sean Dyche plans an upgrade

Burnley may have Michael Keane back for what will most likely be his last game before a big money move to one of the big boys.  Final tests don’t come much sterner than having to keep Argentine hotshot Jonathan Calleri quiet for the afternoon!

The Man in the Middle

The Premier League website has some timely insights into the matchday routine of today’s referee Robert ‘Bobby’ Madley from West Yorkshire.  You will be enthralled to know that he will have enjoyed an early hearty breakfast of porridge and a couple of poached eggs before getting mentally prepared for the game by listening to Ocean Colour Scene in the dressing room.

Madley has been in the middle for three West Ham games this season; home wins against Sunderland and Burnley and an away defeat to Bournemouth.  In 34 games he has issued 142 yellow and 4 red cards.

 

 

 

 

I Wouldn’t Bet On It 43

The final week of the Premier League season

Fancy A BetOur bets on West Ham to beat Liverpool fell down spectacularly last Sunday, just like the team themselves. So as we reach the final week of the league season we are 16.5 points in profit, and have had a lot of fun bets on the way. At times we’ve been unlucky, but everyone who ever puts money on football, horse racing, or any of the other thousands of things you can bet on these days, will tell you similar hard luck stories.

But to be 16.5 points up is quite an achievement, and this time we’ll concentrate on some unlikely fun bets to finish the season.

I haven’t got a clue what will happen this week, so here goes:

2 points on Burnley to win and both teams to score @7/2 (9)
2 points on West Ham to win and both teams to score @9/2 (11)
2.5 points on a drawn game @12/5 (8.5)
1 point on half time Burnley 1-0, full time Burnley 2-1 @25/1 (26)
1 point on half time West Ham 1-0, full time West Ham 2-1 @30/1 (31)
1 point on half time 1-1, full time 2-2 @40/1 (41)
1 point on half time 0-0, full time 2-2 @100-1 (101)
1 point on half time 2-2, full time 2-2 @275-1 (276)
1 point on half time 0-0, full time Burnley 2-1 @40/1 (41)
1 point on half time 0-0, full time West Ham 2-1 @50/1 (51)
1 point on half time 0-0, full time 1-1 @16/1 (17)
1 point on an accumulator on the 10 Premier League games on Sunday, predicting that there will be no draws and the following 10 teams will win: Arsenal, Burnley, Chelsea, Tottenham, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester United, Southampton, Swansea, Manchester City @128/1 (129)

We’ll make a tidy profit if any of the half time / full time predictions come to fruition, and even if not, we’ll get something back if either team wins providing both teams score, or if the game ends in a draw. Total stake 15.5 points, making our balance for the season +1 point.

The potential returns for each bet are in brackets. What are the chances?

The Lawro Challenge – Week 38 – The Conclusion

Lawro has the pomagne on ice while Rich needs snookers if he is to prevent the BBC pundit from snaffling the predictor challenge.

Lawro Crystal BallIn Week 37, Rich scored 10 points, Geoff 6 points, and Lawro 10 points. Lawro has retained his 8 point lead as we move into the final set of games for the season.

He now looks a shoe-in to win the challenge although it is not mathematically certain yet.

In this challenge we award one point for a correct result, and a further two points (making three in total) if the score prediction is spot on, so there are still 30 points up for grabs.

We now proceed to week 38, the final week of the Premier League season.

 

Rich

Geoff

Lawro

Total after 36 weeks

273

224

281

Score in week 37

10

6

10

Total after 37 weeks

283

230

291

 

 

 

 

Predictions – Week 38

 

 

 

 

Rich

Geoff

Lawro

Sunday

 

 

 

Arsenal v Everton

1-0

3-0

2-0

Burnley v West Ham

2-1

3-1

2-0

Chelsea v Sunderland

4-0

4-1

3-0

Hull v Tottenham

0-3

1-3

0-2

Leicester v Bournemouth

3-2

2-2

2-0

Liverpool v Middlesbrough

3-0

4-0

2-0

Man United v Palace

2-0

0-1

1-1

Southampton v Stoke

2-0

1-0

1-2

Swansea v West Brom

2-0

2-0

2-1

Watford v Man City

0-4

0-2

0-3