Of Moyes and Men: Will We See Yet Another Cautious, Cowering, Timorous West Ham Display As They Face Newcastle at the London Stadium?

There was a boost to survival hopes at the weekend as relegation rivals jostle for position. What approach will West Ham take as they use up one of their games in hand?

Picking up three points in the weekend fixture at home to Southampton was a welcome relief. It lifted West Ham clear of the relegation places for now, with the battle for survival not showing any signs of becoming less congested. The fat lady hasn’t even had her hair done and there’s much to play for before we know whether she’ll be blasting out a rendition of ‘Bubbles’.

Last night’s results did little to provide further clarity on who is most at risk for the drop. The Hammers go into tonight’s home game with Newcastle in 15th spot but only outside the bottom three courtesy of goal difference. If West Ham should win (strange things can happen during a full moon) then it would rocket them up into 12th place above Crystal Palace.

Sunday’s victory was hardly an inspiring one, with the team once again serving up a lethargic opening 20 minutes – preserving the record of being the only Premier League not to have scored in the opening quarter hour. The tone was set several times in the opening exchanges when Said Benrahma chose to come back inside and play the ball sideways rather than try his luck down the line. Whether that was under orders, to avoid the manager’s wrath, or the sign of a player low on confidence is open to speculation. It was one of Benrahma’s more frustrating afternoons, despite what appears to be a growing understanding with the rapidly improving Emerson.

Although David Moyes has made a slight adjustment to tactics in recent weeks with a formation that is closer to 4-3-3, it is not without its faults in terms of deployment. Declan Rice may be the best candidate to sit and protect the back four, but the team collectively loses out from other important aspects of his game. He is the only player in the squad capable of running with the ball at speed. In this current role, those surging runs are largely curtailed. And Tomas Soucek as part of a midfield tasked with probing and keeping the ball moving is possibly the greatest miscasting since Elijah Wood played Matt Buckner in Green Street Hooligans.

Equally disappointing was the situation up front where the isolated figure of Danny Ings must be wondering what he has let himself in for. I was dumbfounded by Moyes post-match comment that: “we’re only just getting to know him. He’s someone who probably might need more people around him.” Really, David? Isn’t it your job to know these things? Had you never seen him play and recognised his strengths and weaknesses before he signed for West Ham? Mr Due Diligence? Even if Ings was a gift from the Chairman, surely you must have watched him at least once or twice on Match of the Day!

The Saints have an increasing look of doom about them and as things stand are my favourites for the drop along with Forest and Bournemouth. The huge Southampton weakness was the absence of any significant goal threat until they threw on the lanky lad at the end.   

For the Hammers, it should now be a case of three or four more wins to ensure survival in a season that most of us just want to forget. I am clinging to the hope that the manager will be shown the door at the end of the season. There’s nothing to suggest that Moyes has any other game plan than caution, low blocks, breakaways and set pieces. Pre-season talk of a more possession based game turns out to hove been pure fantasy. There is small consolation in the circumstances in that West Ham have one of the better goals conceded records in the Premier League (6th best) – built upon the unadventurous nature of his ultra-low block and massed defences. The elephant in the room for survival is the atrocious away form, and we will need to wait until the weekend to see if that pans out.

This evening’s visitors are having a tremendous season in the league and can now only miss out on Champion’s League qualification with a Kevin Keegan style blowout. Underpinning their success is a surprisingly miserly defence which has conceded just 19 goals all season, seven less than their nearest rival. They have not been an especially high scoring but usually enjoy the lion’s share of possession. I expect Moyes to be targeting a scoreless draw.

The Newcastle team sheet doesn’t look overly fearsome on paper, but Eddie Howe has them playing with a pace, energy and intensity that West Ham supporters can only dream of. Indeed it is a side blessed with pace that are sure to create chances even if they are not the best at converting them. With a bottomless chest of tainted Saudi blood money still to spend they will be a force in English football for years to come. Unless a reappraisal of the fit and proper ownership rules is entered into.

As ever, optimism for the game will probably last until the team-sheets are released an hour before kick-off. Surely, the time has come to give Soucek some bench time. I would prefer to see Flynn Downes as the holding midfielder, allowing Rice to get more involved further forward with Lucas Paqueta. I really don’t see Pablo Fornals as the answer in a deeper role as some have suggested – there is not enough to his game other than running.

Something must also change up front. Ings as a lone striker is nonsense. If Jarrod Bowen cannot be played further forward and closer to Ings, then I would prefer to see Michail Antonio, with all his faults and poor control, in that role. His physical presence and pace is still capable of unsettling defences. Perhaps it is also time to give Maxwell Cornet a run. We badly need a wider distribution of pace across the park.

The Hammers earned one of this season’s modest tally of six away points in the reverse fixture at St James Park in February. The Magpies were without the suspended Bruno Guimarães that day which was quite fortuitous. They are a more complete side when he plays. Another draw wouldn’t be the worst outcome, but ambitions should always be set higher – plan to win, prepare to draw. Unfortunately, we now that type of thinking is not in the manager nature. COYI!    

6 thoughts on “Of Moyes and Men: Will We See Yet Another Cautious, Cowering, Timorous West Ham Display As They Face Newcastle at the London Stadium?”

  1. Great piece, Geoff. It reflects strongly the comments I’m hearing at the stadium, and my own impressions. Having Ings on his own up front always was, and remains, a non-starter. Someone has to be closer to him. We can all see it. Why does DM such ludicrous statements?! The Soucek situation is beyond a joke. He was terrible in the last game. I agree: use Downes to release Rice to advance more. It’s the only way we will get anything out of this game. If he tries the same ‘tactics’ (if such they are) as last weekend, we’ll lose. Glad you picked out Emerson, he’s not been getting the credit he deserves. Also Kehrer did well this time. But we still lack what Coufal once provided…

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    1. It’s weird that what is obvious to a good many supporters is lost on those whose full-time job it is analyse and refine the way a team plays. I know fans can sometimes adopt knee-jerk reactions but the decline has been going on for far too long now. Yet very little has changed by way of tactics or personnel. Agree that Kehrer had a good game on Sunday – I’ve never thought he was as bad as some make out even if he does make rash decisions. I do think old style Coufal would be a better option against Newcastle’s wide men though.


      1. Kehrer’s had problems adapting but I think he’ll come good. But Ings isolated up front, and Soucek in no-mans-land is strange to watch. There’s also the matter of the clip-boards they thrust at the subs with 5 minutes to go…What’s on them? From the look on the face of Fornals, designs for a nuclear power station – though after hearing a DM press conference I suspect its noughts and crosses.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Someone told me (though no idea if it is true) that they give last minute instructions for what the subs role should be at set pieces. But might as well be an electric wiring diagram for a Ford Focus.


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