The extraordinary failure by West Ham to complete any business in the January transfer window has continued to reverberate among Hammers supporters since Monday’s deadline. Even allowing for years of bitter disappointment and the slippery nature of our owners, many of us were left incredulous that no much needed reinforcements to the threadbare London Stadium squad would be arriving.
Without any official explanation of what happened during those 31 days of January it was left to guesswork and supposition to fill the information vacuum. A litany of claims, theories, and hard-luck stories about time running out. I was very disappointed in David Moyes puff PR video on the official site where the manager trotted out the perennial ‘we tried our best, it’s a difficult window, everybody worked very hard’ mantra. I have always considered Moyes to be a decent, straightforward and honest chap who is above such corporate whitewash. While I hadn’t expected him to rage against the owners (as a Mourinho or Conte might have done) – he is far too diplomatic for that – he shouldn’t be the one making excuses on their behalf. His praise for the support received from the Board felt way over the top.
The three probable record bids that are being talked about are likely nothing more than a smokescreen. If bids are made too late, are just enquiries, or set well below valuations, they may as well have never happened. I have read ‘reports’ that there was a real bid submitted for Darwin Nunez but too many people were involved to get it completed in time. Really? With the player away in Uruguay and all the agents who are known to be party to any deal, it came as a surprise that it couldn’t be completed in three hours?
I can accept that the nature of the January window means that most deals are completed in the final hours. But that’s not an excuse not to get the groundwork and preparation sorted well in advance.
The worry at the back of my mind is how the ownership conundrum may be impacting the club’s transfer activity. It is widely anticipated that Gold & Sullivan will wave farewell in 2023 once their obligations under the London Stadium deal come to an end. Indeed, it was reported that Daniel Kretinsky already has an agreement in place to buy the remainder of shares at an agreed price once that happens. Does that mean G&S are only going to be interested in essential maintenance between now and then? Is there any incentive for them to invest further or push forward? Although the Kretinsky deal may only be an option, it does cause concern at a time when the club is enjoying its best period on the pitch for several generations.
West Ham return to football action this weekend with a Saturday lunchtime FA Cup kick-off at Kidderminster Harrier’s Aggborough Stadium. On paper, one of the easier ties of the Fourth Round that pits the Hammers against the lowest ranked side left in the competition. In practice it will a difficult test for a club that is no stranger to embarrassing cup upsets.
Kidderminster are enjoying a successful season in the National League North (the sixth tier of English football) where they currently sit in third place. Tomorrow’s tie will be their seventh in this years Cup having already seen off Sporting Khalsa, Ware, Bedfont Sports, Grimsby Town, FC Halifax Town and Reading.
In the 3rd Round the Harriers came from behind to defeat Championship side Reading with an unusual winning goal where a Kidderminster player was sitting on top of the Reading keeper when the ball went in. An old fashioned goalmouth scramble with no VAR available to get Reading out of jail. VAR will again be absent today in a match which must end in a winner, with extra time and penalties if needed.
The only previous meeting between West Ham and Kidderminster was a 5th Round FA Cup tie in February 1994. The match played at a misty, muddy incarnation of Saturday’s venue. The Hammers squeezed through 1-0 thanks to a second half headed goal by Lee Chapman. The line-up that day was: Miklosko, Breacker, Potts, Martin, Rowland, Bishop, M Allen, Marsh, Holmes, Chapman, C Allen (Morley). Imagine having the luxury of three strikers in a Matchday squad of twelve!
Moyes will want to field a strong side for the game. One that will be up for the physical challenge against a highly motivated opponent. However, with Premier League games against Watford on Tuesday and Leicester the following Sunday, some rotation may be necessary.
Michail Antonio is a likely absentee after his international duty in the Americas with Jarrod Bowen taking over striker duties. It was unusual comment from Moyes to suggest that Bowen is the ideal replacement for Antonio as they are very different types of player. The only similarity is that neither is a natural finisher. And Bowen switching to the centre leaves an almighty gap on the right hand side of attacking midfield.
Moyes does have options in midfield where Mark Noble and even Alex Kral (is he considered good enough for this challenge) could allow Declan Rice or Tomas Soucek to be held in reserve. I’m hoping there is a recall for Ben Johnson in defence as it was a mystery why Ryan Fredericks was preferred to him at Old Trafford. I am also hoping that Kurt Zouma plays given that I have lost all confidence in the Craig Dawson/ Issa Diop partnership.
My predicted line-up: Areola, Johnson, Zouma, Dawson, Cresswell, Noble, Rice, Vlasic, Fornals, Benrahma, Bowen
Despite West Ham’s vulnerability to shock FA Cup exist, they have yet to be eliminated by a non-League side. At least not since they were elected to the League themselves. There have, though, been several squeaky moments. Such as needing two games (both at Upton Park) to get past Farnborough Town in 1992 and the narrowest of victories against Emley in 1998. It is a record that should be extended this weekend. I’m not expecting an easy game but have to believe we have too much quality not to win by at least two goals. Perhaps there might even be an opportunity to see a couple of academy players from the bench rather than the usual tired, predictable substitutions we are usually treated to. COYI!