A Perfect Time To Panic
Football folklore has it that each year there is a team that comes out of nowhere, from a position of relative comfort, to snatch the final relegation spot. Normally, it is someone like Norwich ….or Sheffield United….., but could this year be the turn of West Ham to earn this dubious distinction. Many more dismal performances like the one served up at the Liberty Stadium yesterday and it is a very real possibility. The pre-Christmas bounce when the team were demonstrating a sense of cohesion, teamwork and effort has since evaporated and been packed away with the decorations. Yesterday was as inept a performance as we have seen all season; right down there with the capitulations against the other fellow relegation candidates such as Newcastle and Brighton.
Tin Foil Hat Time
Ending the year with an obviously imbalanced and injury prone squad and then failing to have a coherent recruitment plan, selling two of your strikers (including one to a relegation rival) and finally allowing two young defenders to disappear on loan is the stuff of conspiracy theories. Could a more disastrous set of decisions have been made if they tried? The desire for players with proven Premier League experience has become shorthand for putting together a bunch of football pensioners. The lack of legs and pace in the team is woeful. Add in the fact that Winston Reid and James Collins are frequently crocked then the decision to let Jose Fonte leave as well is bewildering. What might you expect from a back three of Pablo Zabaleta, Aaron Cresswell and Declan Rice? Once again in yesterday’s game West Ham lacked any width going forward and, while other teams look to their full or wing backs to provide width, what are the chances of the seventy year old legs of Zabaleta and Patrice Evra bombing forward throughout ninety minutes? Yesterday Swansea not only wanted the game more but were also streets ahead in composure and technique.
Central Midfield Black Hole
West Ham’s weakness in central midfield has been talked about and understood for quite a few seasons now. It must be clear to even the most shortsighted Sunday League manager that the partnership of Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate is a hopeless one. Neither has the requisite skills to protect the defence and they do not get close to complementing each other. Since the injury to Pedro Obiang West Ham have picked up just four points from five games including three heavy away defeats; and the sad thing is there doesn’t seem to be any obvious solution to the problem for the remainder of the season. Failure to strengthen this area may turn out to be a very costly mistake. The desperate defensive record (joint worst in goals conceded with Stoke) stems from this inherent weakness. It is lucky that, despite not having any effective recognised striker, West Ham’s goals scored is the highest among the teams in the bottom half of the league. As it is, there are only three teams now with a worse goal difference than the Hammers; something that could be a deciding factor come the final reckoning.
Poor Performances All-Round
There were no good performances from any West Ham players yesterday. If I were giving ratings only Rice would score as high as a ‘5 out of 10’ and maybe Michail Antonio who arrived after most of the damage was done – he really needs to start to inject both pace and width into the side. The rest, for me, would average ‘3 out of 10’. None seemed particularly interested in the game other than picking a fight with Jordan Ayew. You might have expected them to run around more if only to keep warm. I would suggest that the board, manager and players donate their week’s wages to the fans who made the long and treacherous journey to South Wales in freezing conditions to support them. They deserved far better.
More Goals Conceded
The outcome of the game was certain by the half time whistle. Any hope of a comeback only existed in that small hyper-optimistic part of the brain that refuses to recognise reality and experience. The first goal seemed to roll into the net in instalments. The player given far too much room to shoot and even though Adrian may have been unsighted he should have done better to deal with it. I don’t think you could blame Adrian for any of the other goals but it would be no surprise if we see Joe Hart back between the sticks next week. Both the second and third goals were as a result of a lack of defensive height once Reid had departed; the first of those two being the major blot of Rice’s afternoon’s work. The challenge by Kouyate for the penalty was as lazy and clumsy as they come. After that, Swansea had thankfully stopped trying.