Five Takeaways: They Think It’s All Over, It Could Be Now!

Some People Are on the Pitch They Think It’s All Over It Could Well Be Now! The chances of Championship football rattling around the London Stadium next season increase significantly after a disastrous afternoon in Stratford.

Some people are on the pitch…..

Probably it is no surprise that events unfolded as they did.  It started with a show of unity in memory of Bobby Moore and ended with a shambolic descent into chaos both on and off the pitch.  I would defend the right of any paying customer to make their feelings known but there is a time, a place and a way of doing it.  Perhaps the board do not have the interests of the club at heart (beyond the value of their own investment) but then neither do those who ran onto the pitch – their only objective was personal attention seeking.  In typical West Ham fashion the response was slow and late and there are sure to be consequences; how serious we will have to wait and see.  Disgraceful scenes were beamed around the world.  For a while, it looked as though the players might be taken off the pitch and the director’s box was more or less emptied for the safety of its occupants.  By the end a forlorn Trevor Brooking sat alone as the baying crowd sang ‘he’s one of our own’.  I doubt that a respectable man like Sir Trevor was sharing the same sentiment.

A Darkest Hour

It is difficult to see how there could be any positive outcome or acceptable way back from yesterday’s debacle – at least during the short term that remains of the 2017/18 season.    There will be action by the FA for sure – perhaps it will be just a fine but games played behind closed doors or away from London are other options they will be considering.  We are a club to make an example of, after all.  The pitch invaders will undoubtedly be banned from the stadium but how does the club with Board, players and fans at each other’s throats navigate the rest of the season while at the same time battling a desperate relegation fight.  For me, this now puts West Ham as one of the strongest of favourites for the drop – just behind West Bromwich Albion.  Perhaps some will see that as a price worth paying if it means farewell to Gold and Sullivan but I would view it as a disaster from which recovery will be slow and painful.

Shuffling The Bare Bones

Moyes decided to shake things up after heavy defeats at Liverpool and Swansea.  But with a third three goal defeat on the trot and the disappearance of what was once a slight goal difference advantage the changes badly backfired. The Hammers have conceded more goals than any other team in the division and now boast the fourth worst goal difference as they sleepwalk towards relegation.  Rather than strengthening the squad in January it was weakened by more leavers than joiners.  Further injuries mean that few to no options are available in an ageing and lopsided squad; while potential youthful reinforcements were allowed to go out on pointless loans.  I predicted that Moyes would reinstate Joe Hart but this was a mistaken gamble as demonstrated with the third goal.  Michail Anntonio made a welcome return to the side but he is wasted on the left where good positions created are undone by an inability to deliver from his weaker side.  Declan Rice did not deserve to be left out and could have done a job either in central defence or midfield.  Once again, the defensive midfield resistance was as flimsy as a David Sullivan promise.

Another Self Inflicted Defeat

West Ham bossed the first half without being able to turn better chances into anything tangible.  Marko Arnautovic should have done better when through on goal and Manuel Lanzini really should have scored.  By the time the half was coming to a close it was clear that Burnley had realised that the Hammers were ripe for the taking.  In the second half the visitors were by far the more composed side from the start and when Dyche introduced the second striker things started to look very ominous.  The breakthrough goal was a typical piece of lackadaisical Angelo Ogbonna defending.  We have seen him do this so many times in the past where he switches off and enters standby sauntering mode.  He should never have allowed Woods to outpace him and then give him all the time in the world to pick out Barnes.  After that the spirit visibly drained from West Ham and with further goals following swiftly it was the cue for the disgraceful crowd scenes to  unfold.  There was not even time for the consolation goal of previous weeks.

I Think It’s All Over

There is no game for three weeks now and it seems that the players are off on holiday to Miami.  We know how well these warm weather breaks have worked in the past and so expectations are low.  West Ham could well be in the bottom three by the time the next game comes around; wherever that will be played.  Suddenly the relegation battle looks to be narrowing down to a five horse race – or four teams competing for the remaining two places on the assumption that West Bromwich are already certainties.  Present form suggests that one of those unfortunate two may well be the Hammers.

Can West Ham Rise Above The Chaos To Beat Burnley In The Claretsico?

The nail-biting, nerve-jangling, too-close-to-call relegation battle enters another round with the Hammers seeking to reverse their wretched run of poor form against Burnley.

When I first started following professional football more seriously as a boy, when my preferred bedtime reading was the Playfair Football Annual, Burnley were one of the top sides in the English league.  At the time I would have been able to recite their preferred line-up from memory; which started something like Blacklaw, Angus, Elder, Adamson and so on.  They had won the old First Division in 1960 and were runners-up in both league and cup in the 1961-62 season.  It is fair to say that times have changed dramatically since those days when even Tottenham Hotspur didn’t choke in the final furlong.

Nowadays, most Hammers probably regard Burnley as one of the minions of the Premier League (and in financial terms they languish some way behind West Ham) and yet they sit comfortably in 7th place with the luxury of looking down leisurely at the frantic scramble below them for top flight survival.  Much of the credit for the new found stability must go to gravelly voiced manager, Sean Dyche, the most famous product from Kettering since Weetabix.  Burnley sensibly stuck with Dyche following relegation in 2015 and, following a quick return, they have emerged as a hard working, difficult to beat Premier League outfit.  There are many parallels with Fat Sam’s old Bolton Wanderers side but with several shades less negativity.

In contrast, things are so bad at West Ham at the moment that it feels like the club must have collectively got out of the wrong side of the bed at the start of the season.  A mini-revival in fortunes at the 2017 has faded and died and there is now the very real danger of relegation haunting the London Stadium.  The Hammers appear to have hit a wretched run of form at just the wrong time.  Mark Noble writing on the official West Ham website has told us not to worry and that everything will be OK.  I am not sure if those are reassuring words or cause for even more worry by what could be taken as a show of complacency.  What is needed is a fight and commitment shown by a team who know they are in a very perilous position.  The current off-field disenchantment around the club doesn’t help either and it has created a toxic environment that must have a knock-on effect to the players.  Not that there are not genuine grievances that, until now, have fallen on deaf ears in the boardroom.  But I do wonder whether now is the right time to air them when the team need a united support to get them across the seventeenth position line.  At least the threat of the march has disappeared but not without a degree of farce reminiscent of the splitters in Monty Python’s Life of Brian – the ‘Poplar’ Front of Judea maybe!

Head to Head

Although the all-time record against Burnley is close to neck and neck, the Hammers have bossed recent meetings having won eight of the last twelve (home and away) and ten of the last twelve home games.  The last Burnley win was at Upton Park in December 2011 when the Clarets came from behind to win 2-1 and prevent the West Ham going to the top of the Championship. The most recent top flight Burnley win was a 2-1 victory at Turf Moor against Gianfranco Zola’s Hammers in February 2010.

In the reverse fixture in October the Hammers were on course for a welcome three points until the game changing and unnecessarily foolish sending off of Andy Carroll.

Team News

Apparently today is designated in the gaming community as Mario Day (on account of it being MAR10) and just maybe this is an omen for a super display from our Portuguese loanee who, so far, has flattered to deceive.  At this stage of the season we need to clutch at any straw that is available.

After two feeble 4-1 reverses on the road we should expect to see several changes today.  It would not surprise me if Joe Hart replace Adrian in goal although it is difficult to pin much blame on the Spaniard for recent performances.  In the centre of defence we will need height to combat the visitors most dangerous threat.  With Winston Reid (and Sam Byram) reported to be out for the season options are limited and the hope is that both Angelo Ogbonna and James Collins have recovered from their problems of last week.  The presence of Aaron Cresswell in the back three always makes me nervous and especially so against a team who are strength is aerial power.  Declan Rice deserves to keep his place but the dilemma is whether to play him at the back or as emergency central midfielder to cover for the continuing flaws in the Noble – Cheikhou Kouyate partnership.

In the more advanced positions there is a desperate need for width and surely Michail Antonio will be a starter this week.  Unfortunately neither Pablo Zabaleta nor Patrice Evra can offer much of an offensive threat which maybe another argument for returning Cresswell to a left (wing) back role.

It is difficult to see how Javier Hernandez fits into the equation.  Undoubtedly he is the best natural finisher at the club but usually offers little outside of the penalty area.  Somehow fashioning Mark Arnautovic, Manual Lanzini, Antonio and Joao Mario into an effective attacking unit could be the best option of causing Burnley damage.

Burnely have their own injury problems and are reported to be without Arfield, Defour, Walters, Brady (who has frequently given the Hammers a torrid time) and keeper Heaton.

The Man in The Middle

Lee Mason from Greater Manchester controls his third Hammers match of the season with the previous two ending as 3-2 defeats: away at Southampton (where he sent off Arnautovic) and home to Newcastle.  In his twenty outings this year his record is fifty-three yellow and three red cards.


The safest prediction of the week is that Lawro would have this down as a 1-1 draw. Merson, on the other hand, senses a West Ham reaction and a 2-0 home win.  Burnley are not going to be worried about possession stats and will put the onus on West Ham to break them down.  The usual laboured slow-slow predictable build up is not going get very far.   Maybe we can hope for a little less desire from Burnley with thoughts shifting onto the summer holiday brochures after a job well done.  In any case West Ham need to be fully up for today’s game and I will have everything crossed to take anything from a scruffy win to a pedigree performance.  Perhaps it will turn out to be an opportunity for Joao Mario to celebrate his special day by netting a glorious winner.

Five Takeaways: West Ham’s Shambles In The Mumbles

Another desperate and disinterested performance ends in a disappointing and embarrassing defeat at the hands of fellow strugglers Swansea City. What did we learn and can the terminal decline be halted?

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.

A Chilly Welcome In The Hillside As The Hammers Head To Wales

Hoping there are no ‘leeks’ in the Hammers defence as West Ham venture to the land of dragons, sheep and daffodils for a crucial relegation encounter.

Not exactly an unstoppable force meeting an irresistible object but today’s game does pitch a ‘must win’ Swansea side against a ‘mustn’t lose’ visiting West Ham.  Both sides were on the wrong end of heavy 4-1 away defeats last weekend, against Brighton and Liverpool respectively, although the Swans have since picked themselves up, dusted themselves down and made it through to the sixth round of the FA Cup.

The Swans are still in the throws of  a new manager bounce following the appointment of Portu-geezer Carlos Carvalhal in December 2017, their ninth manager in ten years of whom only Roberto Martinez has lasted more than two years.  With Carvalhal’s record of seventeen jobs in twenty years it would be ambitious to expect long service awards at the Liberty Stadium any time soon.  That aside, Swansea have won their last three home league games (and last six in all competitions) to rejoin the pack of clubs with all to play for in the relegation stakes.  A win today would put them on equal points with the Hammers.

West Ham, on the other hand, will need to up their game considerably from that on display during their defeat at Anfield although the prospect of facing a pair of Ayews is far less formidable than what the Merseysiders had to offer; even for West Ham’s timeworn and dawdling defence.  The other variable for today’s game is the weather conditions and although technology has meant that Premier League games are no longer called off due to frozen pitches, there will still be safety concerns for those attempting to travel to South Wales this afternoon.

Head to Head

West Ham have won six of the last twelve fixtures with Swansea and have also been victorious in five of the last twelve away games.  The last defeat on the road was in August 2012 and last season the Hammers came away with a resounding 4-1 Boxing Day victory.

Team News

The usual names are on the West Ham absentee list which is thankfully shorter than a few weeks back.  Arthur Masuaku serves the fifth of his six match spitting ban, Pedro Obiang is, of course, out for the remainder of the season and the Hammers are also without the elusive Andy Carroll and the even more elusive Edmilson Fernandes.

Changes from last week’s starting eleven should be expected and I would hope to see either Winston Reid and/ or Declan Rice returning to the back line and one of Michail Antonio or Little Pea starting in place of Joao Mario.  Any realistic solution to the fragility and ineffectiveness of the Noble – Kouyate central midfield partnership seems as unlikely as finding a simple answer to the frictionless Irish border conundrum.

Swansea are without long term injured Bony, Fer and Angel and look set to give a first start since his return to Wales to former Hammer, Andre Ayew.

The Man in the Middle

Familiar face Martin Atkinson will be officiating his fifth West Ham contest of the season but has yet to see a Hammers win.  Previous attempts have ended in defeats away to Manchester United and at home to Brighton plus two home draws with Leicester and Bournemouth.  Atkinson has been in charge of twenty four games this term issuing eighty-one yellow cards and four red ones.


Lawro has returned to his favourite 1-1 scoreline for today’s game while Merson is predicting a 1-0 Swansea win.  Chances are that the Hammers will need to rely on the form of Marko Arnautovic once more to get anything out of the game but the hopeful presence of Manuel Lanzinin and Antonio can also cause the home team enough problems to compensate for erratic defending at the other end.  With all of my frost bitten fingers and toes crossed I am banking on Marko showing himself as the true beast from the east today and  inspiring the Hammers to an odd goal victory.

Five Takeaways: West Ham Unable To Resist Rampant Reds

West Ham’s Dad’s Army put up plucky resistance but eventually succumb to Klopp’s superior firepower. What did we learn?

An Expected Result

In the scheme of things the outcome of this match doesn’t really change anything as far as West Ham’s battle for survival is concerned.  I doubt that anyone working out their predictions and permutations for the remainder of the system, from the team of analysts with a supercomputer to man with a pencil and the back of a fag packet, expected West Ham to take anything out of yesterday’s game.  If there was disappointment it was the size of the defeat and it’s resultant hit on goal difference, which at -15 is now worse that two of the teams below us.  Mark Noble claimed that the scoreline was harsh on West Ham but it could easily have been worse if Liverpool had been more clinical.  At what point a routine defeat turns into a thumping is debatable but the Hammers were well and truly beaten by a talented and in-form Liverpool side.  The Merseysiders were allowed to dictate the game and took full advantage and although the West Ham players put in a decent amount of effort the impression was that there little belief to go alongside it.

The Strangest Selection

The team selection surprised me.  I had doubted that we would see Joao Mario and Manuel Lanzini on the pitch at the same time and yet David Moyes was happy to give the combination a try.  The result was a narrow formation that lacked width without solving the usual inability to provide an outlet for besieged defenders or to keep the ball once in possession.  I thought Mario was poor throughout and although he was not alone in that it was his most ineffective game since coming to England.  Starting with one of Mario and Lanzini along with Michail Antonio would have made more sense and, for a brief period after his introduction, the presence of Antonio appeared to unsettle Liverpool’s defence.  This wasn’t a game where West Ham lacked effort but effort alone is not enough at this level.  Players giving 100% should be a given and what West Ham need are skillful players giving everything; not players who make up for lack of techniques with effort.  An honourable exception to the lack of quality on show in claret and blue yesterday was Marko Arnaoutovic who once again demonstrated what an exceptional player he can be.

Dad’s Army Defenders

When the referee called Mark Noble over following the yellow card shown to James Collins I imagined the conversation going: Referee – “what’s his name?”; Nobes – “don’t tell him Ginge”.   With the introduction of Patrice Evra into the Hammers rearguard we now have a defence worthy of the veterans league.  Looking at all of the outfield players with mainly defensive responsibilities (i.e. everyone except Mario, Lanzini and Arnie) they are characterised by an overall lack of pace throughout.  Once again the central midfield pairing of Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate failed to get even close to impressing and allowed Liverpool to attack the backline with impunity.  Evra and Pablo Zabaleta might have shown admirable commitment but with the best will in the world they are never going to be able to bomb forward to provide width in support of their forwards.  What a contrast to Alexander-Arnold and Robertson for the Reds.

Assists For The Opposition Goals

Despite Liverpool’s dominance the Hammers once again contributed to their own downfall in the goals conceded.  The opener by Can was just the type of goal I had not expected to concede; a simple header from a corner.  It did appear to me that Adrian was badly impeded but this seems one of those rules that is now considered optional by referees.  The second goal was the killer coming so soon after half-time and some blame must go first to Kouyate for a series of powder puff challenges and then to Aaron Cresswell for not getting close enough to Salah.  The third was a result of Mario giving possession away cheaply and compounded by Adrian’s poorly judged rush from the area (but please no recall for Joe Hart) and by the fourth the players were just hoping for the game to end as quickly as possible.  Giving a team like Liverpool so much of the ball was always going to be a huge risk.  The weakness in central midfield, a lack of belief in being able to keep the ball and players bunching rather than spreading play all served to surrender the initiative to the opposition.  Conceding was only a matter of time.

The Table Doesn’t Lie

West Ham slip to 13th position just three points (four if you count goal difference) out of the relegation places.  Assuming that Palace do not beat Tottenham today by two goals or more the standings will be unchanged before the crunch game next weekend away at Swansea.  At least Swansea also experienced their own thumping yesterday meaning that both teams will need to demonstrate ‘bouncebackability’.  With the bottom of the table so compressed and so many teams in relegation danger there are few yet in a position to start thinking about the summer holidays.  Leicester had the look of going through the motions about them yesterday and maybe Burnley and Everton do as well.  Some consolation in that these are three teams we have yet to play.

Where is the best place to park the West Ham bus at Anfield?

Can the Hammers bring back anything better from Merseyside than a respectable narrow defeat to maintain their relatively superior goal difference advantage over the relegation rivals?

Apparently a grand total of 29 players have played for both West Ham and Liverpool over the years but there is one other thing that connects these two clubs – that their best days were back in the distant past.  While most West Ham fans have their tongues firmly planted in the their cheek when claiming that the Hammers won the World Cup it is still many years since the scent of glory was detected anywhere near the east-end of London; in fact, the closest in living memory for the majority of supporters would be the infamous ‘drawn’ 2006 cup final against today’s opponents.

Liverpool, on the other hand, were the undoubted superstars of the English First Division for a good part of the 1970’s and 1980’s.  Yet they now only sit above West Ham in the list of Premier League titles won by virtue of alphabetical order – much to the frustration of their entitled supporters.  Perhaps a more fitting anthem for the Merseysiders than the maudlin ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is the refrain from the song Sit Down which desribes their predicament most succinctly: “Now I’ve swung back down again, and it’s worse than it was before.  If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor!”

In truth, Liverpool under Klopp are one of the most exciting sides to watch in the Premier League; alongside Tottenham (whose own delusional sense of glory is based solely on winning the double almost sixty years ago).  It would be no surprise if it were one of those two teams who ended up in second place to runaway leaders Manchester City, even if they will both have effectively been lapped, come the end of the season.   The big challenge for will then be to hold on to their top performers (and managers) when the truly big clubs come-a-knocking.

Head to Head

If the north-west in general is not a happy hunting ground for the Hammers then visits to Anfield are a desolate wasteland with a return of just four wins (forty four defeats) from sixty six attempts.  West Ham are, however, unbeaten in their last three visits including the memorable 3-0 victory for Slaven Bilic’s side in August 2015.  It was, however, defeat by Liverpool at the London Stadium in November that hammered the final nail into Bilic’s managerial career at West Ham.

There are some bad memories associated with Liverpool and relegation as it was the Reds who had beaten the Hammers in the final matches of both the 1977/78 (crushing my belief that West Ham were a perennial top tier club) and 1988/89 seasons to confirm the worst.  At least there will still be ten games to play after today.

Team News

West Ham resisted the urge to jet off somewhere exotic for a spot of warm weather training during their week off; a tactic that in previous years has precipitated a run of poor form.  It is reported that both Manuel Lanzini and Winston Reid are available for selection while Jose Fonte has popped out for a Chinese.  My sense is that while Reid may play, Lanzini will be start on the bench.  Whether we will see much of Lanzini and Joao Mario on the pitch at the same time will be interesting but I can’t see it happening at Anfield.

There are no prizes for guessing what the West Ham tactics will be for the game and a repeat of the backs to the wall and hope for a smash and grab approach that almost upset Manchester City and earned a point at Tottenham is to be expected.  The problem with parking the bus at Anfield is that there is a high probability that some scally will sooner or later turn up to nick a goal (as well as the hubcaps.)  While I would have confidence in our central defenders deftly heading away crosses until the cows come home, they typically struggle against the trickery and rapid interplay that is a feature of Klopp’s team.  If and when the first Liverpool goal goes in it is difficult to see where a West Ham response could come from; and there is goal difference to play for as well as points.

Liverpool, who took a break to Marbella as reward for their FA Cup exit, have no injury worries unless a late outbreak of Spanish tummy runs through the squad.

Man in the Middle

Today’s referee is Stuart Atwell from Warwickshire who should be fresh in the memories of supporters as the man who overruled his assistant to allow the offside/ handball Bournemouth equaliser having previously shown undue leniency to a Cherries defender for a reckless red card challenge.  He owes us one for that.  He also, with some justification, sent off Andy Carroll at Turf Moor earlier in the season.  In twenty games this season, Carroll is his only red card to go along with seventy yellow ones.


In a rare alignment of the planets, both Lawro and Merson are going for a 3-0 home win.  I admit to having drawn a huge sigh of relief at reaching thirty points after the win against Watford but subsequent results served to trim the breathing space back down to a measly four points.  This game might be seen as a free spin for West Ham but it is vital that it is not a crushing defeat.  Perhaps the away win unicorn could put in an unexpected appearance or inspired defending could secure a precious point but, in reality, confidence is not high of getting anything from the game other than a respectable scoreline and no further injuries.

Five Takeaways: Pulling Together The West Ham Way

As David Sullivan calls for unity and the need to pull together, a Marko Arnautovic inspired West Ham bounce back from their recent doldrums to record a much needed win over Watford. What did we learn from the game?

We All Pull Together

The team performance against Watford was a perfect reaction to the disappointment of half-hearted effort on show at Brighton last week.  In David Sullivan’s attempt at a damage limitation video (that was posted on the official West Ham website) he repeated, in a style reminiscent of Theresa May’s much ridiculed strong and stable slogan, the mantra as to how we all needed to pull together to drag the club out of its current plight.  I am all for unity but for it to be achieved everyone has to see that striving for it is to their advantage.  Donating my time, effort and money simply to line someone else’s pocket is just not tempting enough to earn my unquestioning support unfortunately.  Still the players responded well and they ably demonstrated the spirit, determination and togetherness required to earn a valuable three points from what looked to be a troublesome fixture against a confident Watford side.

Arnie Is Back

In my match preview I predicted a point at best and that we would be lucky to see Marko Arnautovic on the bench.  The inaccuracy of that latter expectation had a direct impact on the imprecision and negativity of the former.  While I am in confession mode, I will admit to having been ambivalent about the signing of Arnautovic.  Not that I was a huge Stoke City watcher but the impression I had was of an inconsistent, fair-weather, sun-on-his-back type of player who would pick and choose which matches he would contribute to at the best of his ability.  His early outings in claret and blue did little to dispel that assessment.  He looked moody and disinterested and added an early blot to his copybook with a needless sending off at Southampton.  Then suddenly, after thirteen goalless outings, he was given a more attacking role by David Moyes, free from tracking back along the wing, and goes on to score seven times in the next eleven games.  And it is not only in goals that he is contributing to the cause as his overall effort, strength and impressive close control have made him into a defender’s nightmare.  It is difficult for me to remember ever being so completely wrong about a player in the past.   When the new golden age of player recruitment, as promised by the Board, becomes a reality let’s hope there are a few more Arnies up their sleeves.

The Legendary Game Of Two Halves

In many ways it was an unusual game.  The first half West Ham were very much on the front foot with great movement and invention on show.  Cheikhou Kouyate was a midfield driving force demonstrating a power and energy that has largely been missing from his game in recent times, and with the ball at their feet the combination of Arnautovic, Michail Antonio, Joao Mario and Javier Hernandez always looked threatening and capable of opening up the Watford defence.   A goal disallowed for the thinnest of offside margins, a denied penalty appeal and a spurned Arnautovic chance all preceded the opening goal.  When Hernandez headed home after a fine Antonio run and cross it felt like we were on a roll.  The second half was a very different animal and it was difficult to tell whether this was because Watford had upped their game or whether West Ham had decided the best tactic was to defend deep and deny the visitors any chance of a quick counter attack.  The inability of West Ham to keep the ball for more than a few touches and the tendency to go for the long ball was a concern but for all of Watford’s possession they created little.  Watching live it seemed a very long second half that was all Watford, but watching the highlights later it was apparent that, apart from a free kick well saved by Adrian, it was West Ham who enjoyed the clear cut chances.  Ultimately it was the Hammers who secured a further (rather scrappy) goal to seal the match and claim the points.

Heads Up

Initially the starting line-up puzzled me when it was first announced.  I was sure it was going to be a back four and when it was apparent that this was not the case I was concerned about how well the Angelo Ogbonna, James Collins, Aaron Cresswell threesome would deal with Watford’s creative players.  Cresswell has performed adequately in his new role but I am yet to be convinced that his lack of height will not be exploited by more astute opponents.  For all of Collins limitations against more mobile adversaries there are few better when the opposition decide to rely on the lofted cross as their main form of attack.  Similarly the aerial assault plays to one of Ogbonna’s main strengths; the other being wrestling with opponents at corners.  Much was made of Watford’s 64% possession but it should be obvious to most by now that possession does not equate to dominance.

Canny Jock Or Dour Scot?

It remains tight at the bottom end of the Premier League table but the thirty point milestone is a good one to have crossed with still more than ten games to go.  When Moyes took control of the team, West Ham had recorded nine points from eleven games and were sitting in eighteenth place.  In the sixteen matches since he took charge his team have amassed twenty one points and now sit in twelfth place.  It is a decent achievement and current trajectory should ensure a safe end to the season and even eyes on a top ten finish.  The likelihood that at least six out of the eight teams sitting below West Ham in the table outperform them by a sufficient margin in the remaining eleven games is a slim one.  What happens at the end of the season though is anyone’s guess.  Personally, I think Moyes should be given the opportunity to show what he can do (both in terms of success and style) after a sensibly planned transfer window.  Whether he wants to, or will be allowed to, depends very much on what the new strategy of pulling together actually means in reality.