The Best Supporters
Pride of place goes to the supporters who once again proved that they are the club’s greatest asset. Despite an indifferent start to the season and continued mutterings about the London Stadium experience almost 36,000 turned out to watch the third round EFL Cup tie against Bolton Wanderers. Maybe the fans see this competition as the best route to glory and silverware but it is still an outstanding effort compared to the less than 24,000 that rattled around in the national stadium at Wembley on the same evening. Should there ever be a Board and team who get even close to the enthusiasm, loyalty and persistence that the supporters show then what a force that could turn out to be.
A Very Satisfactory Performance
There is nothing to criticise about the performance. Bolton were clearly low on confidence and offered little in the way of threat or resistance yet the West Ham performance was efficient and economical. As they say ‘you can only beat what is in front of you!’ A third clean sheet in a row should be a tremendous boost for confidence as we embark on a run of important games. With the first goal going in so early in proceedings the game was effectively over as a contest as soon as it started. Following the second, the match became something of a formality with little incident of note until the super third goal by Arthur Masuaku at the death; a strike worthy of both Julian Dicks and Frank Lampard (senior) in their prime. We can now look forward to today’s fourth round draw and make sure that, at least for now, we keep the weekend of 25th February 2018 free in our diaries.
I’ll Be Back!
The stand out contribution on the night was from Marko Arnautovic in providing the assists for both of the first two goals. Slaven Bilic was right in saying that this was ‘the beginning of the comeback’ for Arnie and to emphasise that ‘more was required’. As the Hammer’s record signing, he needs to atone for his stupid sending-off at Southampton and start to perform on a consistent basis regardless of opposition; he needs to prove that he can be a game changer as well as a player who shines when we are on top anyway. At the moment, there is an impression of a luxury player who after demonstrating a flash of undeniable skill then spends the next ten minutes reliving and admiring it in his head. A fine performance but more of the same please.
The Promise of Youth
Each of the young players that were given a chance acquitted themselves admirably. It would nice to think that they will not just be packed away until the next round but also given a look-in on Premier League match-days; and not just as 92nd minute substitutes. Declan Rice looked much more at ease in his natural central defensive role and is by far the most comfortable of our centre backs when in possession. Sead Haksabanovic put in a tidy performance, as did Nathan Holland when he replaced the Montenegrin just after the hour, while Domingos Quina also contributed an encouraging cameo during the final fifteen minutes. It would be foolish to throw them all in together in league games but careful management with occasional starts or fifteen to twenty minutes off the bench would be very welcome.
What Lessons Learned?
There is apparently a big game coming up at the weekend and it will be interesting to see what if anything has been learned from last night’s more fluid performance? The presence of Diafro Sakho in the lone striker role offers far greater movement and mobility creating space and options for the midfield passers and runners; yet, he is likely to remain behind Andy Carroll and Javier Hernandez in the pecking order. Just how do West Ham accommodate a player like Hernandez or has the ‘signing of the summer’ suddenly become no more that the impact substitute that he was at Manchester United? Is Arnie the best option to fill the creative void left by the continued absence of Manuel Lanzinin? Will Bilic be brave enough to let Rice to show what he can do at centre back in the Premier League and should Sam Byram and Arthur Masuaku be challenging Pablo Zabaleta and Aaron Creswell for the wing back berths? Stay tuned and all will be revealed on Saturday.