Five Takeaways: West Ham’s Abysmal Defeat by Brighton

Surely it is farewell to Slaven Bilic following the Hammer horror show home defeat to newly promoted Brighton.

Poor Organisation and Individual Errors

Unfortunately there is great deal of repetition in any West Ham match review as the underlying problems that haunt the team’s performance continue to go unresolved.  There have been times when these sub-par performances have resulted in narrow victories leading to a temporary sense that maybe things aren’t as bad as they seems.  Then the cycle starts again and, to be honest, I expected another plundered 1-0 win from last night’s contest with Brighton.  What we got, however, was quite possibly the most woeful, collective demonstration of West Ham’s inadequacies for some time.  No player came out of it with any credit with the possible exception of Pablo Zabaleta who at least gave the impression that he was prepared to try for the whole ninety minutes.  Post-match reviews frequently look back to individual errors when goals are conceded (and of course they do happen) but with West Ham it has largely been the absence of structure and organisation that has been the downfall; the players consistently look like a group of strangers who have rarely met before and have no idea as to what is expected of them or how they are supposed to support one another.  We have by no means the worst squad in the league but I have rarely seen a team at this level do such little work off the ball.  It is a total shambles.

How To Turn It Around When You Don’t Know Where You’re Heading?

Supporter’s views on the manager have become sharply polarised by now.  There is the growing camp who believe that he is clueless, has no game-plan and cannot motivate or prepare his team properly either in terms of fitness or tactics.  The other group is the Slav’s a nice guy camp who admire his passion, believe that he ‘gets us’ and that he should be given more time to turn things around.  There is a third group, of course, which comprises the board who know that he is useless but are prepared to give him more time if they don’t have to pay compensation.  If there was any hope of Bilic turning things around then it would need some clear direction of where we were heading in the first place.  I have seen no evidence of this and only see a side that stumbles from one crisis to another.  One report summed West Ham’s performance up as a confused mess and quite frankly that is how it has been since the start of last season.  From where we are now it is impossible to see any way of avoiding a frantic relegation scrap (for which we are ill equipped) without changing the manager and coaching staff.

Organisation and Discipline Again

As shocking as West Ham were, some credit has to go to the opposition for having a game-plan and sticking to it.  It is a perfect example of what organisation and discipline can bring to a set of less talented players.  Brighton are a team without any stars, reputations and egos.  They are aware that it will be a difficult first season in the Premier League for them but that by putting in the effort, pulling together and sticking to a plan it gives them a shot at survival.  Contrast that attitude to the West Ham one, which assumes that simply turning up is enough.  I have written before that being the ‘fourth club in London’ is a potentially huge disadvantage for us as it attracts players of a big-time-Charlie persuasion who see themselves equivalent to their counterparts at Arsenal or Chelsea but without the need to put in the required level of graft.  One imagines that our nice-guy manager is not so hot on player discipline and this is carried forward on to the pitch.  Sure, he has petulantly fallen out with a few players over the years but that is not the same thing as having strict standards of behaviour.  It should be no surprise that the multi-millionaire young men that make up the footballing elite nowadays need strong discipline to keep their feet firmly on the ground.

Time For The Board To Act

On the evidence of social media, there is a very toxic atmosphere associated with the club at the present time.  I have to say that this is not necessarily affirmed by those that I talk to in the real world who tend to apply more perspective.  The more vociferous keyboard supporters lay much of the blame for the current malaise at the door of the Board or the move to the London Stadium; or both!   Everyone, of course, is entitled to their opinion but the reality is that neither of those things are going change any time soon without time travel.  Further, neither of those factors are responsible for the poor football that is being served up week on week.  Performances on the pitch are directly down to the manager and his coaching staff who are tasked with getting the best out of the resources available.  We have not been plucky losers but lethargic pushovers. As painful as the defeat to Brighton was, if it heralds, as it should do, the end of  the manager’s reign then it would have been a medicine worth taking.  Where the board are culpable, in my view,  is in continuing to oversee the amateurish approach taken to the footballing side of the club; in the long term it will be a more important factor for revenue growth than selling a few more Hammer’s souvenirs.  Until a long term football strategy is developed (with Sullivan stepping back from his de facto Director of Football role) and there is proper investment into training and youth development we will continue to punch well below our weight.

Who Should Be The Replacement

It will be hugely disappointing if Bilic is still in charge by the time our next game comes around.  I do not profess to have the low down on what managers are available but I am hoping (maybe optimistically) that soundings have been taken and the market scoured to find the right replacement.  Whoever comes in (and please not serial failure Alan Pardew) needs to have a tactical brain, obsessed with fitness and be strong on discipline.  I remain convinced that a decent manager can create a competent top half team from the under-performing collection of players that would be at his disposal.  Personally, I would liked to have gone for Marco Silva in the summer but that ship has sailed.  Maybe Roberto Mancini is the man.

Matchday: Friday On Our Mind as West Ham take on Brighton

Gonna have Friday night fun in the city as a place in the top half awaits the winners of tonight’s Premier League clash.

The latest in a regular series of ‘must-win’ games sees West Ham entertain Brighton & Hove Albion at the London Stadium.  Although there is always something special about night-time football under the floodlights there is also something unnatural about games being played on a Friday night – surely this should be reserved for clubs such as Southend United.  On the other hand, West Ham have a 100% win record for home Friday night Premier League fixtures which we should have a good reason to preserve against the south coast day trippers.

Today’s visiting manager is one-time Hammer Chris Hughton, who having spent most of his playing career at White Hart Lane was signed by Billy Bonds, as cover for the injured Julian Dicks, and became a regular during the promotion season of 1990/91.  His management career has been a mixed bag: having been unfortunate to be dismissed from Newcastle in favour of Alan Pardew; taking Birmingham City to the Championship play-offs; before experiencing a less successful period in charge at Norwich City.  In his third season as manager of Brighton the club achieved automatic promotion from the Championship to earn a return to the top tier of English football for the first time since 1983.

“We have improved results, we have players back from injury and the players who missed a big part of pre-season have their match-fitness. We improved and we are on the right path, so it’s much better.”

– Slaven Bilic

Having watched Brighton’s home match against Everton last weekend it was apparent that Hughton has put together a resolute and well organised side even if it lacks something in creativity and goal threat.  Although Everton dominated first half possession they moved the ball forward far too slowly (very reminiscent of how West Ham play) allowing Brighton to easily re-group and defend in numbers.  If the Hammers adopt that that usual ponderous and pedestrian style again tonight it will turn out as another frustrating ninety minutes at the London Stadium.

Head to Head

If you ignore Southern League and war-time cup games then West Ham and Brighton have only crossed swords on twenty-one occasions, with the Hammers winning eleven and losing five of those encounters.  On home soil, West Ham have won nine out of the twelve games played.

The single Brighton victory in the east end was in a Championship game in November 2004 and may serve as a warning against what could happen tonight.  West Ham dominated the entire game (mugged off in the words of manager Pardew) mustering seventeen attempts on goal, of which only three were on target.  Conversely, Brighton scored the only goal of the game from a rare foray into the West Ham half.

Team News

With Andy Carroll missing through suspension cue an injury to Diafra Sakho, joining James Collins on the treatment table.  There is a slight doubt about Javier Hernandez but he is expected to start.  The disappearing striker phenomenon could possibly open the door for Tony Martinez to spend an evening on the bench.

In normal circumstances I would say that tonight’s team picks itself with Pedro Obiang coming into the side in place of Carroll as the only change from the eleven that started at Burnley.  This would allow Hernandez to play alone up front but with support from Michail Antonio and Marko Arnautovic in wide positions while Manuel Lanzini is given more freedom in a central attacking position behind the striker.  In fact, this may well be the best balanced eleven that we have in the squad.  Whether Mr Bilic has the same idea remains to be seen.

There has been much praise in the week for the performances of Jose Fonte, proclaimed as West Ham’s most improved player of the season,  Although this probably reflects on how bad he was previously than on any sudden display of brilliance.  The back four is generally competent at heading the ball away and is only exposed when it comes up against attackers with pace and movement.  It is doubtful whether Brighton, in the shape of 34-year-old Glenn Murray, will be asking too many questions in that respect this evening.

“It’s going to be about away form that’s going to be the most challenging. It’s a game away from home, in a big stadium, against a very talented team.”

– Chris Hughton

Brighton hope to have Shane Duffy available after picking up an injury last week but otherwise have no injury woes.  The danger men for Brighton would appear to be Pascal Groß and Anthony Knockaert

Man in the Middle

It is a second encounter of the season with Martin Atkinson from West Yorkshire, Atkinson having previously officiated in the season opener at Old Trafford.  He was in charge of four Hammer’s games last season; defeats to Watford (Home) and Arsenal (Away) and away wins at Palace and Middlesbrough.

Predictions

Merson has this down as a 1-0 Hammers win while Lawro goes one better by predicting a 2-0 home victory.  The match has the look of an only goal of the game victory to me and fingers crossed it will go our way.  One-nil to the cockney boys is fast becoming our trademark home result (particularly in ‘must-win’ games) and it will also be consistent with the two previous Friday night Premier League wins.

An early West Ham goal could, of course, put a completely different complexion on the game while the longer Brighton can hold out the more frustrating the game could become.  Long gone are the days when you would experience that feeling in your water that the Hammers could very well go on a goal scoring rampage at any time.

Five Takeaways: More Red Card Madness for West Ham at Burnley

Pleased with a point or unhappy at dropping two as an early red card defines West Ham’s latest Premier League awayday.

The Starting Eleven

At first glance, the starting eleven was once again a little bewildering. It was perhaps as adventurous but looked fragile in the centre of midfield where the pairing of Cheikou Kouyate and Manuel Lanzini lacked the necessary defensive discipline to combat Burnley’s five man midfield. With Andy Carroll and Javier Hernandez playing as a front two, the attack minded Michail Antonio and Marko Arnautovic providing midfield width, and a flat back four it looked like trying to shoehorn in the preferred players rather than setting up in a conscious style of play. As it turned out, Burnley did not attempt to exploit the apparent frailties in the system and the game, although it offered incident, lacked any real quality. Even so, it was more interesting than the massively over-hyped, ‘greatest game of all time’, Liverpool versus Manchester United anti-entertainment that went earlier. The limitations of the formation meant that Pablo Zabaleta and Aaron Cresswell rarely ventured forward into the opponents half and Lanzini was bypassed (later to be isolated on the wing) as once again the main tactic was to aim for Carroll’s head. The bench comprised the usual suspects with not a young player in sight. I am fairly confident that West Ham having a reasonable enough squad if only it could be assembled into a cohesive unit properly.

Route 1 Please, David

If ever there is ever any doubt as to what a Route 1 goal looks like then in future you can just search out Antonio’s goal on Youtube. The longest and most hopeful of punted clearances from Joe Hart, a shocking misjudgement of the flight of the ball by the defender, and Antonio nipping in to nudge it past the keeper and then roll it into the net. In striking contrast West Ham were unlucky not to double their lead just after half time when a delightful move involving Hernandez, Pedro Obiang and Lanzini ended with Antonio unable to find a way to guide a relatively easy chance past the keeper. The briefest of glimpses at some uncharacteristic excellent movement by the team and a reminder of a style of football that West Ham used to play it.

Red Cards and Referees

It is not difficult to see why referee, Stuart Attwell, is not trusted to take charge of more high profile Premier League games, such was his inconsistency and lack of authority. To be fair he made a common refereeing mistake by allowing a period of lenience in the opening stages of the game before (apparently) deciding that the next wholehearted challenge would end with the perpetrators name going in the book. The unsuspecting victim of this ill-conceived, totting up, the next-fouls-a-booking interpretation was Andy Carroll whose challenge, in my mind, was innocuous and without intent; if it was even a foul. You would like to think that an offence is an offence regardless of the circumstance but that doesn’t seem to be part of the referee’s code; they prefer to apply a random filter that is largely based on outcome rather than the actual level of recklessness – as witnessed by the reaction to a number of recent raised foot incidents. If the first booking was harsh then the second was sheer stupidity on Carroll’s part and reflects a wider issue with ill-discipline in a squad that leads the field in red cards. To restore balance after the sending off Atwell turned a blind eye to what looked like a certain penalty (when Joe Hart felled the Burnley attacker) and later allowed several challenges as bad or worse than Carrolls to go unpunished.

Scheduled or Tactical Substitutions

In the circumstances of playing over an hour with ten men then it would be churlish to complain about the result. Overall the players put in a great shift to limit Burnley to few goal-scoring opportunities. The introduction of Pedro Obiang was no surprise other than it did not take place until half time. It is difficult to conclude whether the other substitutions had any material impact. I have a sense that Bilic has a substitution timetable and that Diafra Sakho was always going to replace Hernandez at or around 70 minutes regardless of what was taking place on the pitch. I saw this as an unnecessary change as Hernandez was still full of running and was doing a job of holding the ball up very well. In hindsight, bringing on Masuaku earlier to double up after the introduction of Gudmundsson might have made sense. Both Cresswell and a tiring Antonio should have done better to prevent the cross that led to the equaliser.

Reflection on The Summer Signings

The stand-out success from the summer transfer business has to Zabaleta who continues to show determination and passion in his claret and blue shirt. Arnautovic was again disappointing and was the right player to sacrifice after the sending off. Apart from some impressive moments in the Bolton EFL Cup game he has done nothing to justify his huge fee. Perhaps it is still early days but the jinx of the record signing shows no sign of going away. My worry that he is a player who only shines when things are going well. I have yet to see what improvement Hart offers over Adrian – a strange set of circumstances when you consider he is only on loan. Hernandez was rightly disappointed at being substituted once again. Let’s hope that he does not easily become despondent.

Matchday: Can West Ham Triumph In Turf Moor Claret and Blue Derby?

Chim chiminey, chim chiminey, chim chim cheroo. Who are the b*st*rds in claret and blue?

The staccato Premier League season resumes today with a short burst of winnable fixtures for West Ham that commences with today’s visit to face Burnley at Turf Moor. The rub of the green in these games could see the Hammers scramble into the top half of the league (or first page of Teletext as it used to be known). That we tend to divide games into winnable and write-offs is a sad indictment on the predictability of the league but nonetheless they are the games where points are required if a messy relegation scrap is to be avoided.

Burnley are the surprise team of the season so far occupying sixth place in the table under the leadership of flavour of the month manager, Sean Dyche. In recent weeks, it has been claimed that Dyche’s name has been added to the list waiting for Slaven Bilic to be relieved of his London Stadium duties as well as being touted as an unlikely successor to Arsene Wenger at The Emirates; albeit only by Ian Wright. The suspicion though is that, as well as Dyche has done at Burnley, he is a graduate of the Allardyce/ Pulis school of difficult to beat and ugly wins rather an exponent of the expansive football yearned for by bigger clubs. Perhaps one day he will get the chance to prove his mettle at the top table.

The claret and blue derby is probably not the most eagerly anticipated in most people’s football calendar and a game between two of the division’s most direct sides is unlikely to dominate today’s Match of The Day coverage or engage the average neutral.

Turf Moor is one of the few remaining old school stadiums having been Burnley’s home since way back in 1883. It has previously also served as both a cricket ground and a horse race track which hopefully does not give our own owners any fresh ideas.

Head to Head

West Ham have won thirty-six and lost thirty-one of their previous eighty-four encounters with Burnley. In history the game has largely gone in favour of home advantage whereas, in more recent times, the Hammers have generally been in control – winning nine of the last twelve (home and away) and, more impressively, having secured seven wins out of the last twelve encounters in the north-west.

West Ham’s first win at Turf Moor was at the seventeenth attempt in the opening weeks of the 1959/ 60 season, a season in which Burnley went on to win the second of their two First Division titles. An amusing ‘typical West Ham‘ event occurred in November that season when, having just beaten current champions Wolves to retain top spot in the table, they then travelled away to face Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough only to lose 7-0. “They gave us a jolly good whacking” was the honest opinion of West Ham manager Ted Fenton.

Team News

Most unusually West Ham are reporting an almost fully fit squad with only James Collins unavailable for selection. Perhaps it is a coincidence or simply good fortune but sick bay occupancy has reduced remarkably since the appointment of Gary Lewin as chief medic during the summer.

It is rare for Bilic to bring a player returning from injury straight back into starting eleven contention; a state of affairs that prepares us for the (bad) news that Mark Noble will be preferred to the more effective alternative of Pedro Obiang in the centre of midfield.

In fact, we shouldn’t expect too many changes from the game against Swansea given that we ended up victorious, no matter how unconvincingly. I would imagine that Manuel Lanzini will start in a five man midfield and that we will play just one up front, where Diafra Sakho or Javier Hernandez would be the best option – so expect Andy Carroll to get the nod.  I don’t see Slav pulling any other selection surprises opening the door for Declan Rice to reprise last season’s 93rd minute substitute role.

So confident is the manager as to the squad’s level fitness and preparation for today’s game that he gave the players extra time off during the international break.  I wish this was a confidence shared!

Burnley are without several long term injuries including keeper Heaton, summer signing Walters and Marney.  It will be between Wood and Vokes as to who takes their own lone striker role.

Man In The Middle

Today’s referee is Stuart Atwell from the West Midlands. I read elsewhere that Atwell had not previously taken charge of a West Ham game but that is not the case; having officiated in Hammer Premier League away wins against Wigan (2009) and Blackpool (2011). He was subsequently demoted from the Elite referees list only to return several seasons later. He now spends time between the Championship and Premier League but is not yet trusted to handle top six games.

The 1-0 win at Wigan in 2010 was notable for Carlton Cole’s finest ever goal when he rounded off a fine Parker, Noble, Di Michele move with a ‘sumptuous’ curling finish from the edge of the area; Cole was later sent off for a second bookable offence. The game will also be remembered as when Jack Collison picked up the knee injury that would ultimately cause an early end to his career.

Predictions

Merson is going for a 1-0 Burnley while Lawro is firmly on the fence at 1-1. It is difficult to see this game as a classic. Both sides are way down the rankings for successful passes in the final third which is consistent with their direct approaches. Burnley have allowed their opponents to take way more shots than any other team in the league this season which could be encouraging if the kit-man has packed our shooting boots. West Ham have scored a meagre thirty six goals so far during 2017 – which is exactly the same number as Harry Kane!

While West Ham have the better squad on paper the evidence suggests that Burnley have superior organisation and team spirit. I can only see this as a low scoring game settled by a mistake, set piece goal, wonder strike or deflection. Finger crossed that it goes our way.

Curbing Our Enthusiasm at The London Stadium

Hope generally trumps expectation but is it time to forget the promises of next levels and accept our role as Premier League also-rans?

The story behind the naming of the hit TV show Curb Your Enthusiasm is that it was a reaction by creator, Larry David, against the many people who lived their lives projecting false enthusiasm and also to urge viewers not to raise their expectations too high.  Regrettably there is no connection to former Hammer’s manager Alan Curbishley!  False enthusiasm and the managing expectations do, however, play a large part in the current undercurrent of discontent that continues to surround West Ham and the London Stadium.

My personal view about the current board is reasonably ambivalent.  It makes no difference to me how our owners originally made their money; suffice to say that they have been successful business people which allowed them to take control of the club at a very uncertain time of it’s history.  Nevertheless, they cannot dine out on their reputation as the club’s saviours forever.  I do not subscribe to the view that their tenure has been synonymous with penny pinching yet do not feel that they have spent their money wisely; the value of their asset has undoubtedly increased but on the back of the money pouring into the game rather than as a result of their own efforts in develop the footballing side of the club.

Expectation management is the biggest concern in particular the misleading naming of high profile transfer targets where we have little hope of persuading the player or deep enough pockets to meet the demands of his current employers.  Supporters often focus only on net transfer spend but in reality there is no such thing as a separate transfer budget.  Clubs will focus on total expenditure (against revenues) which includes transfers, wages and agents fees.  That West Ham were ranked sixth in agent fees paid last season and have several players (with limited re-sale value) earning more than anyone at Tottenham just doesn’t seem to make any long term sense.

Many of us were no doubt carried away a little by the prospect of a new golden era of prosperity following the move to the new stadium even if there were differences of opinion as to how many years this would take.  Fine talk of regular European football and an assault on eventual Champion’s League qualification is a commendable dream (and there is nothing wrong with having a dream) but a dream without a plan is nothing more than a wish.   The structure of the club in terms of footballing direction, scouting, coaching, fitness, youth development and training facilities are way behind other Premier League clubs and leaves the impression of muddling for the sake of survival rather than with any loftier ambitions.  To borrow from The Waterboys, the Owners had promised us ‘the whole of the moon’ but have, so far, we have only seen ‘the crescent’.

It will be no surprise when the end of season Premier League table is almost identical to the amount of money that each club rakes in.  The outlier my well be ourselves in finishing well below the 7th or 8th position that our revenues would suggest.  Despite the Leicester blip, money has increasingly become the determining factor to league position.  As I see it, there is even a split in terms of financial muscle in the so-called big six with the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea now well ahead of the remainder.  Large external investment is the only way to get onto the top table on a regular basis.  Arguably the Premier League is more competitive than other European leagues where one or two horse races have become the norm.  The dilemma for top Premier League clubs is does this relative greater competition diminish their chance of Champion’s League success.

As TV and commercial revenues become far more dominant to the wealth of clubs it is impossible to see how a next level can be achieved simply by year on year incremental and organic growth.  If Gold and Sullivan intend to pass on ownership of the club to their families there can be and never will be a new promised land in east London football.  Perhaps we should just accept our place in the scheme of things to make up the numbers.  An occasional tilt at a Europa league place or a domestic cup every few decades is, maybe, the best a West Ham man can get.

The status quo leaves West Ham in a difficult position leaving the club as it does as the fourth largest in London.  I have long wondered whether it is this factor of geography that makes a large contribution to our recurrent under achievement.  Proximity creates far greater competition for the signature of the brightest and best youth players; and from clubs with better facilities, as evidenced by the poor productivity from the academy over the last ten years or so.  On the other hand established players signing for a London team, with the attraction and distraction of the bright city lights, may well become complacent big-time Charlies now that they have made the big time; without the need for the hard work that a more competitive squad would require.

An interesting blog from When Saturday Comes published in the Guardian by a Swansea supporter questioned whether, for teams with limited resources, perennial struggle in the Premier League was better or worse than being reasonably successful in the Championship.  Certainly the allure of the Premier League is great but does it wear thin after a while It is an intriguing dilemma for supporters as to whether the chance to see world famous footballers in live action makes up for the disappointment of regular defeat.  (For me, the article was spoilt by the cheap, needless and irrelevant swipe at the London Stadium – it is fine for own support to slag off the club but others should keep their unsolicited views to themselves; particularly where it is not pertinent to the point in hand.)  As the Premier League becomes more polarised around money there should be no circumstances where mid ranking clubs such as West Ham or Newcastle ever get relegated and even to flirt with it is a sure sign of mismanagement.

We have the worst of all worlds at West Ham at the moment.  A manager who, with no chance of a new contract, few tactical ideas, regularly prepares teams with questionable fitness and deployed with no overall system or plan, is limping along from week to week in an attempt to scrape together enough points to avoid the sack.  It is a sorry state of affairs. At least the team will not this time have a hangover from a warm weather break in Dubai to disadvantage them when Premier League action resumes at the weekend.

The highlight of the international break was seeing Iceland qualify for the World Cup finals for the first time.  With a population of around 330,000 (just a few thousand less than the borough of Newham), this is some achievement and a great example of producing a team that is greater than the sum of its parts.  Perhaps part-time manager (and dentist) Heimir Hallgrímsson could do a job at West Ham even if it is only filling in until the end of the season!

Five Takeaways: West Ham Get Out of Jail Against Swansea

A last gasp goal in West Ham’s lucky victory over Swansea throws yet another lifeline to Slaven Bilic.

Another Very Poor Game

Based on the last published information available, West Ham and Swansea have a combined annual wage bill in excess of £160 million paid to players considered worthy of featuring in the world’s elite football league.  It would be difficult to imagine a more uninspiring, dull and turgid ninety minutes of football than what these highly paid superstars served up.  In fact, you would need to go as far back as two weeks ago to find a game that was anywhere near as poor; when West Ham visited West Bromwich Albion.  The money that has attracted managers and players from all around the world to the Premier League has also ensured that the game, in its lower reaches, is characterised by the fear of failure and relegation; any pretence at entertainment has seemingly disappeared .  Barring one or two touches of quality there was nothing to justify the lofty admission prices.  The first half was poor and the second even worse, with only the relief of a last gasp winner providing a moment to remember.  If this were any other business very few would bother to turn up next time around.

The Circle of Strife

It is quite clear that this season is unfolding as a replay of the last one: a run of poor, disjointed, dispirited performances; the manager under increasing pressure; a must win game against a fellow struggler; a lucky sneaked victory; brave talk of taking confidence from the win; rinse then repeat.  For most of the game yesterday West Ham were the inferior of two bad sides.  Thankfully, Swansea, for all their neat midfield possession, carried even less of a goal threat than West Ham.  The win will temporarily ease the pressure and give the board an excuse to take no action as we muddle through to the next game, at Burnley, after the international break.  Slaven Bilic had the look of a haunted man as he stood forlornly on the touch line watching his misshapen team attempt to make sense of what they were supposed to be doing.  Even he must know that his days are numbered.  It can’t be in anyone’s interest to extend the agony any longer.

What’s In A Formation?

Just a few weeks after claiming that a Carroll – Hernandez partnership was impossible, Bilic decided to give it a try anyway.  Swansea manager, Paul Clement, sensing perhaps that this was a game his team could win also opted for two up front.  If anyone thought that such adventurism would open the floodgates to a pulsating attacking master-class then they were sadly mistaken.  I had previously suggested that Bilic would stick with a back three until we lost a game and then immediately revert to a back four.  Even so, I was surprised by his decision to do so for this game but assume it was the only way to shoehorn in the two strikers.  Defensively West Ham were sound enough and apart from one Bony drive, that Hart parried, and an Olsson shot just past the post, our goal was rarely threatened.  In attack, however, there were few ideas on show.  A central midfield duo of Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate has rarely clicked and offers nothing creatively; Michail Antonio either had a very bad day or, more likely, wasn’t really fit; and Andre Ayew was as astonishingly ineffective as ever.  Whatever it was that had been hoped for from a front two failed to materialise as once again, regardless of formation, the assembled eleven gave the impression of a group of strangers.

That Genius Substitution

The late goal probably saved Bilic his job (for now) and he also received heaps of praise for his inspired, genius and game changing substitutions, when Arthur Masuaku set up Diafra Sakho for the only goal of the game in the final minute.  Yet that one moment barely made up for what had gone on in the previous ninety minutes with his selected eleven.  I am no fan of the Carroll style of player but, if that is what you are starting with, then you have to give him the service he needs.  Even when there were opportunities from set pieces to aim for Carroll’s head we chose to go short and backwards instead. There were a few crosses by Aaron Cresswell in the first half but all from positions that favoured the defenders.  I don’t remember any West Ham player getting behind the Swansea defence in a wide position prior to the goal.  There was no width in midfield and no support for the full-backs when they endeavoured to get forward.  For those few minutes when Cresswell and Masuaku were able to double up on the left hand side it led, not only to the goal, but also to Carroll striking the woodwork.  Starting with Masuaku rather than Ayew would have made far more sense and Sakho must surely be, despite his recent problems, the most complete striker on our books.  The substitution did reap benefits but maybe they both should have been in the field from the start.  I cannot recall any dangerous crosses coming in from the right even though Pablo Zabaleta put in another spirited display; I wonder what he makes of it all after his time at Manchester City?

Is There a Bright Side?

It was great to see Manuel Lanzini back on the pitch.  We should make the most of him as I can’t believe he will stick around too much longer; gone in the summer if not before.  In the meantime it is difficult to know how he fits into Slaven’s master plan (if there were one!)  The squad has clearly been assembled with no system or design in mind.  As long as we stick with Bilic (or any unimaginative replacement that may happen along) then I don’t see anything other than plenty more of the same.  We probably have enough talent to finish lower mid-table but no better than that; certainly under-performing for the seventh largest revenue generator in the league.  Of the recent much lauded arrivals: Zabaleta has been the stand-out performer; Hernandez will score goals in the right system; Arnautovic has yet to impress; and loanee Hart has done no better or worse than Adrian would have done.  I really wish I could feel more positive.

Matchday: Hopeful Hammers Take On Stuttering Swansea

In the latest instalment of must win games for manager Slaven Bilic, West Ham entertain Swansea City

It was the visit of Swansea at the tail end of the 2015/16 season that raised the first alarm bells as to the vulnerabilities of Slaven Bilic’s side; notably showing up the shortcomings of players being played out of position as right back Michail Antonio was exposed for two of the goals in a 4-1 home defeat that finally ended any lingering Champion’s League aspirations that we may have held.  The ‘blip’ was soon forgiven and forgotten as a consequence of the emotional last game at the Boleyn victory over Manchester United just a few days later; but the Swansea performance has set the tone for much of what has come since.

West Ham come into the game having lost four out of six Premier League games from a relatively benign set of fixtures and now embark on a run of so-called ‘winnable’ games (including today’s) in an attempt to demonstrate there might be something to the season beyond a desperate survival battle.  A great deal of last year was wasted wishing that the season would soon be over and there is a huge danger of this happening again.  Yet again manager Slaven Bilic is under immense pressure and his continued week to week employment renewal is likely to remain a defining feature for much of the campaign.

At the time of Swansea’s victory in May 2016 their manager was Francesco Guidolin who, having steered the Swans to safety, was out of the door the following October following a terrible start to the season.  His replacement, Bob Bradley, had only been in post for eighty-five days when a 4-1 home defeat by the Hammers led to his dismissal.  Bradley was subsequently replaced by current boss Paul Clement who worked wonders to stave off what looked like certain relegation.  Swansea’s recent seasons have been characterised by poor starts and storming finishes which makes their current position look like over-achievement, even if they are only a point better off than West Ham.

Head to Head

West Ham have won twenty-eight and lost eighteen of the previous sixty-one meetings between the two clubs.  The last twelve meetings have seen five West Ham wins and three Swansea victories.

In the thirty-one of the matches played in London, the Hammers have won twenty-two, lost only twice, never failed to score and have averaged over three goals a game.  The victory in 2015/16 was Swansea’s only win in their last twelve visits during which time they have left empty handed on nine occasions.

Team News

It is reported that both Manuel Lanzini and Michail Antonio are available for selection while James Collins, Pedro Obiang and Edmilson Fernandes are unavailable.  The barnstorming finish that put an undeserved gloss on last week’s defeat at the hands of Tottenham might lead our manager to conclude that he ‘can’t change a losing team’.   We will see!

I probably have more chance of picking the first three (in order) at tomorrow’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe than successfully predicting how Slaven will choose to start the game this afternoon.  On paper it remains a strong looking squad but with all the ingredients selected independently of any particular recipe it is impossible to know what will be served up.

Personally, I would like to see Hernandez back in a central position with Lanzini in a more advanced role just behind him.  Swansea have yet to concede on the road this season and need to be unlocked rather than bombarded.  More likely though we will resort to the trademark direct style built around Andy Carroll’s head.  There were probably times when such a tactic was effective (the 1970’s for instance) but just like typewriters, floppy disks and VHS tapes the rest of the world has moved on.

Swansea have no significant injury concerns and are likely to be very compact defensively.  How adventurous they are will be interesting as a front three of Wilfred Bony, Tammy Abrahams and the talented one from the Ayew family definitely have the ability to upset West Ham’s suspect defence.

Man in the Middle

Once again we have a referee, Roger East from Wiltshire, who rarely gets run out at a top Premier League game.  East was at the London Stadium twice last season for the defeat by Leicester and the dull goal-less draw with Everton.

Predictions

Both TV pundits, Lawro and Paul Merson, have today’s game as a 2-0 home win; each feeling that Swansea lack the form or confidence to harm the Hammers.  I wish I was as confident as there is every chance, based on their away performances so far this season, that the visitors have enough to frustrate West Ham.  The shape of the game will depend on whether Swansea will show any attacking threat or belief; they have the potential but maybe not the appetite.

On previous occasions when Bilic has been desperate for a result to save his job the team has come through for him and this will probably be no exception.  This should not be the first West Ham to fail to score at home against Swansea even if a glut of goals in unlikely.  I will keep everything crossed for a narrow victory.