Five West Ham Takeaways from the Betway Cup

Ramping up my personal pre-season preparations with a look back at what we learned from the Betway Cup.

They are only pre-season games but …..

The primary purpose of pre-season friendlies is as preparation for the main event which is now just two weeks away even though an increasing number of teams have started to be use them as commercial revenue generating exercises in far off lands.  Numerous Champions Cup competitions featuring European giants have been spawned to replace what used to be a trip down the road to play against local lower league opposition.  Previously any notion of turning out against other top level sides from the same domestic competition before the Charity Shield had been held would have been vigorously shunned but now overseas exhibitions are now becoming the norm.  Results should still not matter though and although the Betway Cup might have been our best chance of silverware this season, defeat is of much less importance than building fitness and developing cohesion in the squad.   So what has the experience taught us?

Do We Have a Better Balanced Squad?

With the knowledge of hindsight I am confident that we look to be starting the season with a far more balanced squad.  Then again had you asked me that question at the same time last year I would no doubt have answered in the same way; basking as I was in the afterglow of a creditable seventh place finish, expecting more of the same from a happy Payet and without the knowledge of how bad our player recruitment would turn out.  This year’s transfer business feels a lot smarter with welcome in-comings and sensible out-goings.  My assumption is that rumours of Liverpool (and others) sniffing around Manuel Lanzini and the comical £9 million interest by Everton in Winston Reid are no more than wishful thinking on the part of the clubs involved.  Losing either would be a major blow to the make up of the squad.  The full-back situation appears to be more stable, at least for the time being, and the signings of Javier Hernandez and Marka Arnautovic provide better and more dangerous attacking options.  I remain hopeful that our transfer business is not complete and that the lack of pace in central midfield and at the centre of defence can yet be addressed.  The ‘One Out One In’ transfer policy, if it exists, should dictate more signings following Fletcher’s move to Middlesbrough and the imminent departure of Feghouli.

Are there any early signs of tactical changes?

The manager’s preferred style of play is still not clear to me.  Admittedly we have not been able to feature key individuals such as Lanzini, Hernandez, Reid and Michail Antonio in any of the pre-season games but, nevertheless, I would expect a manager to be clear and consistent  as to how he wants to set up his team, with occasional tweaks depending on opposition and available personnel.  The key decision for me surrounds the deployment of Hernandez; will he play in an unfamiliar loan striker role (which in West Ham history has involved chasing long hopeful high balls) or as part of a front two.  If there is a front two how does Bilic also accommodate Lanzini as well as ensuring that the midfield retains a solid defensive base to protect the back-line? A task that requires two defensively minded midfield players in my opinion.   From what I have seen of the pre-season games (only on streams unfortunately) the general level of fitness and stamina looked to be of a higher standard, suggesting that the training camp approach was an excellent decision.  The players also appeared to be more willing to press (rather than retreat) when the opposition had the ball and while recovering and keeping possession were notable improvements using that possession wisely was less impressive.

What do we do with the ball now that we have it?

Giving the benefit of the doubt, maybe it was the absence of the key players that contributed largely to the lack of ideas once in possession.  Even without the retarding influence of Mark Noble the reluctance to move the ball forward quickly remained with the first instinct still being to pass the ball sideways or backwards.  If a team is going to use a slow buildup then it needs players capable of producing unexpected quick bursts to create openings, either individually or through quick inter-passing movements.  In the matches against Bremen movement off the ball was still patchy, particularly in central areas, and the primary tactic was to get the ball out wide when in attacking areas, presumably to aim for the head of a ghostly Andy Carroll.  The approach reminds me of my Sunday League playing days where most goals are the result of defensive error rather than attacking craft.  Pump it forward with the hope that a defender will make a mistake and let the striker in.  It is encouraging that we now have a ‘fox in the box’ but even a fox needs something to feed from.

Give Youth A Chance?

An undoubted positive from the pre-season games has been the encouraging performances of academy players such as Nathan Holland, Declan Rice, Reece Burke and Toni Martinez.  In the last two seasons youth players were used in Europa League fixtures only to disappear off on loan once the season started.  I hope that this doesn’t happen again this time and that the pick of the crop are kept in the squad and introduced gradually and carefully into the first team.  I don’t mean to sit on the bench as an unused substitute for thirteen games or to come on as a ninety second minute time wasting replacement but to be given reasonably regular meaningful run-outs.  I believe that playing regularly in the Premier League 2 competition with the odd ten or fifteen minutes in the first team is better for a player’s development and integration than turning out for Peterboro against Rochdale in a League 1 relegation scrap.  I am not advocating throwing young players in at the deep end but why not use them as backup rather than keep rolling out the same older or under-performing senior squad members?

Part Two Of The Top Ten West Ham Sick-Notes

Concluding our look at the unfortunate West Ham players whose careers have been blighted by injury.

Today we conclude our look at the top ten players whose potentially sparkling careers at West Ham were cut short, curtailed or stopped before they even really started by the Hammer’s injury curse.  Part One Of The Top Ten Sick-Notes can be found here.

5          Paulo Futre

When he signed for West Ham on a one year deal in the summer of 1996, Paulo Futre was nearing the end of a distinguished career that included a man-of-the-match European Cup win with Porto in 1987.  Originally scheduled to make his debut in the season opener at Highbury he withdrew from the squad at the last minute upon discovering that he had been allocated the number ‘16’ shirt rather than the coveted number ‘10’ that his contract apparently stipulated.  Some days later a swap deal had been arranged with John Moncur; the number ‘10’ for free use of Futre’s villa in the Algarve.  Futre made a substitute appearance (as number ‘16’) at home to Coventry and then his full number ‘10’ debut in an enthralling home game against Southampton at Upyon Park where the Hammers came from behind to win 2-1.  Futre showed same wonderful touches in a West Ham side that included Bilic, Raducioiu and Dumitrescu.  His introduction to English football was completed on the day by a trademark Benali tackle which earned the Saint’s full-back a red card.  Sadly Futre’s dodgy knees got the better of him with his West Ham career fizzling out by November 1996, having played only a handful of games.

4          Diafro Sakho

Signed from French Ligue 2 side Metz, most believed that Diafra Sakho was yet another in a long line of cut price strikers who would be passing through West Ham.  To everyone’s surprise he hit the ground running with a return of eight goals from his first ten appearances, including six from his first six starts.  Sakho then started to experience a run of problems with his back (which may have been a pre-existing condition when he signed) and which led to a dispute between the club and the Senegal national team; this followed his withdrawal from the African Cup of Nations and his subsequent involvement in a cup tie at Bristol City for the Hammers.  He finished the 2014/15 season as top scorer with twelve goals from twenty six appearances.  The following season repeated the pattern with an encouraging start interrupted by injuries, limiting his participation to twenty four matches amid rumours of a fall-out with the management.  Further injuries in 2016/17, whether to his body or his pride, resulted in Sakho turning out on just occasions.  With a relatively creditable twenty goals from his fifty or so appearances it is unlikely that he will be seen in a West Ham shirt again.

3          Dale Gordon

Allegedly the love child of Flash Gordon and Dale Arden, Dale Gordon (or Disco Dale) joined West Ham for a fee of £750,000 in the summer of 1993 as West Ham’s prepared for their inaugural season in the Premier League.  Gordon started his career at Norwich before a big money move took him to Glasgow Rangers where he experienced mixed fortunes with injury limited his contribution to a brace of Scottish Championships and several cup wins.  On joining West Ham he claimed that his injury woes were behind him and secured a place in the record books by scoring the Hammer’s first ever Premier League goal, in a one-all drawn game against Coventry.  Best known for his moustache and fancy step-overs, Gordon played in a run of ten games at the start of the 1993/94 season until injury stepped-in.  In his autobiography, Stevie Bacon claims that although Gordon’s injury was reported as a ‘training incident’ it actually happened when he overturned a buggy on the golf course.  Regardless, Gordon spent most of the next two years on crutches missing the whole of 1994/95 and playing just twice the season after.  He retired from football in February 1997 having played just eleven times in three seasons.

2          Andy Carroll

Until recently West Ham’s most expensive signing, Andy Carroll initially joined West Ham on a season long loan at the start of the 2012/13 season.  Carroll made an immediate impact on his debut, against Fulham, setting up two goals before having to leave the field due to injury.  There was a further long injury lay-off over the winter months and he finished his loan spell with seven goals from twenty four appearances; despite the fact that he had picked up a heel injury in the final game of the season, this was felt to be sufficient evidence for West Ham to offer him a permanent six year deal.  Carroll missed the first half of the next season, returned to action for the run-in but then suffered an ankle ligament injury during the 2014/15 pre-season, once again restricting his game time.  Groin problems during 2015/16 meant that he was again used sparingly, and usually from the bench, but he was able to feature in a total of thirty two games overall.  In 2016/17 it was the knee’s turn to cause him grief, this time restricting his contribution to eighteen starts.  In total Carroll has appeared for West Ham in 110 games over five seasons scoring thirty goals. Although past performance is not an indicator of future results it would be a brave or foolish man that decided to build a team around Mr. Carroll.

1          Kieron Dyer

One of the many players to arrive during the mad Icelandic spending spree in the summer of 2007, Kieron Dyer made his debut for West Ham in an away win at Birmingham before featuring for England against Germany at Wembley just a few days later.  Unfortunately, his West Ham career had peaked very early as a double break to the leg, following a bad tackle in a League Cup tie against Bristol Rovers, kept him out for the remainder of the season.  Rehabilitation was slow and it was not until January 2009, after seventeen months out, that Dyer featured again as a substitute in an FA Cup tie against Barnsley.  A series of hamstring injuries continued to plague Dyer during both the 2008/09 and 2009/10 seasons where he made a combined total of nineteen appearances but failed to play an entire ninety minutes at any time.  It was more of the same in the 2010/11 although he did finally get to play a full game once more; a two-two draw with West Bromwich Albion in which he earned the penalty, converted by Piquionne, to give the Hammers a temporary lead.  Dyer was finally released in June 2011 at end of a four year spell at Upton Park, where he was reportedly the top earner at around £80k per week, having appeared in thirty five games with no goals.

Top Ten West Ham Sick-Notes Part One

Part One of a retrospective on players whose careers at West Ham were or have been blighted by injury.

West Ham seem to have had more than their fair share of injury prone players over the years, something which has been frustrating for both players and supporters alike.  Strangely some fans get very angry about players being injured, as if spending most of what should be a glamorous and lucrative career on the sidelines has been a conscious career choice.

Today, we take a look back at the first five of ten Hammer careers that were prematurely ended or seriously curtailed through the misfortune of injury.

10        Jack Collison

An immensely popular player at West Ham, Jack Collison had signed as a seventeen year old from the Cambridge youth setup and made his Hammers debut in a game against Arsenal in January 2008.  By the second half of the following season he had established himself in the West Ham midfield until a freak incident during an away game at Wigan in March 2009 saw him dislocate a kneecap when attempting to trap the ball .  Despite the horrific nature of the injury he was able to return to action for the final four games of the season.  In August of the same year Collison entered West Ham folklore by playing in the infamous Millwall League Cup encounter just a few days after his father’s fatal motorcycle accident.  Over the next five seasons he continued to suffer consequences from the injured knee including a long layoff between February 2010 and May 2011.  He was, however, able to make a significant contribution during the 2011/12 promotion season, including the successful Play-Off series, but was subsequently limited to occasional substitute appearances before his release and retirement.  He is warmly remembered for his poignant farewell letter to fans.

9          John Lyall

Legendary manager, John Lyall began his honourable thirty four year association with West Ham by joining the ground-staff from school in 1955.  Part of a talented group of youngsters at Upton Park that included Moore, Hurst, Peters, Boyce and Kirkup, he made his league debut in a 4-2 win over Chelsea in February 1960.  In only his second game, however, he suffered a serious knee injury that kept him out for the remainder of the season.   Fighting his way back to fitness Lyall had a successful 1960/61 season featuring in twenty five matches before injury struck him down yet again.  He was able to play in just four games in each of the next two seasons before being forced to retire aged twenty three.  Lyall was awarded a testimonial in April 1964 (West Ham versus All Stars XI) from which he received £3,797 and was given the job of wages clerk in the office at West Ham.  From there he developed into possible the finest manager in West Ham’s history.

8          Dean Ashton

The best twenty goals per season striker we never had and the most astute January transfer signing in West Ham history.  Dean Ashton was a product of the renowned Crewe Alexandra academy who arrived at West Ham via a year spent at Norwich City.  Unusually, West Ham moved first to secure his signature amid stiff competition from other Premier League clubs as Ashton joined the Hammers in January 2006 for a fee of £7 million plus add-ons.  Fortunately, he had been left out of the Norwich side beaten by the Hammers in the third round of the FA Cup and became an important part of the run that took the club all the way to the final in Cardiff; scoring two goals in the 6th round tie against Manchester City as well as West Ham’s second goal in the final.  Success at West Ham earned Ashton a call-up to an England training camp in August 2006 where a tackle by Shaun Wright-Phillips broke his ankle and kept him out for the whole of the 2006/07 (Great Escape) season.  He had a moderately successful come-back season in 2007/08 and looked to be on-form at start of the following season before the injury curse struck again.  He made no appearances between September 2008 and December 2009 when he announced his retirement aged twenty six.

7          Mauricio Taricco

A player whose West Ham career lasted precisely twenty seven minutes, Taricco was the first Argentine to turn out for the Hammers following his arrival in November 2004.  I’m not sure how Taricco originally joined Ipswich Town, from Argentinos Juniors, in 1994 (maybe he had an Italian passport) but he went on to play the majority of his footballing career in England; first with the Tractor Boys and then with Tottenham, where he became George Graham’s first signing on becoming manager.  Taricco was a fans favourite at both clubs, respected for his attacking prowess and his typical Latin robustness in the tackle.  He spent five years at White Hart Lane where, in typical Tottenham style, he played under a succession of managers including Graham, Hoddle, Pleat (caretaker on two occasions), Santini and Jol before being allowed to leave on a free transfer.  Taricco was signed by Alan Pardew as the answer to a problematic full-back shortage (plus ça change) and made his debut at The Den against Millwall shortly afterwards.  A torn hamstring midway through the first half ended his involvement and with the injury predicted to keep him out for eight weeks he gave the club the opportunity to cancel his contract; “one of the most honest things I have known a player to do” according to Pardew.

6          Richard Hall

One of a gaggle of players bought by Harry Redknapp in the summer of 1996, Richard Hall was a highly rated central defender on the fringes of the England national team.  Hall had begun his career at Scunthorpe but was soon on the move to Southampton where he made his debut in May 1991 as a substitute for Neil Ruddock.  He stayed on the south coast for five years making over 150 appearances and scoring sixteen goals.  Hall signed for West Ham in a £1.4 million deal to strengthen a defence that included current manager Slaven Bilic and Marc Rieper.  True to form a pre-season injury saw Hall sidelined for most of the season before finally making his debut in April 1997 and playing in a run of the games that finally saw the Hammers through to Premier League survival.  Injury kept him out for the whole of the 1997/98 season and he managed just one further appearance in 1998/99; as a second half substitute for Tim Breacker in the third round cup defeat by third division Swansea.  Hall retired from football in May 1999.

To be continued…….

Top 10 West Ham Has-Been Signings

Been there, done that, taken the open-top bus parade. How has signing experienced pros in the autumn of their careers worked out in the past for West Ham?

It can be tempting for club and manager to sign the occasional free transfer experienced professional when their time at the very top of the game is coming to end.  The signing of Pablo Zabaleta has been received very positively over the weekend but it is not the first time that West Ham have followed this route.  We take the opportunity to look back at some of the illustrious names who had been there, done that, taken the open-top bus parade and recall how they measured up during their time in East London.

10      Alvaro Arbeloa

Boasting a hatful of honours including one World Cup, two Euros, two Champion’s League and one La Liga, Arbeloa joined West Ham on a one year deal, aged 33, in August 2016; his signing seen as a temporary solution to long running right back problem.  Arbeloa made his debut against Accrington Stanley in the EFL Cup followed by his solitary Premier League start, against Southampton, where he played the whole game at left back in a 3-0 defeat.  He made two more substitute appearances as early replacements for the injured Byram and Collins respectively before permanently entering the twilight zone along with Gokhan Tore.  He was booked in each of his Premier League appearances.  There has been much unconfirmed speculation of a rift with manager Slaven Bilic over training methods and Arbeloa’s release was recently announced by the club; his pockets stuffed with reported £65k per week takings (close to a cool £3 million in total).

9       John Radford

The first of a former Arsenal quintet in our top ten list, Radford, a 1971 double winner, signed for West Ham in December 1976 as a relatively youthful 29 year old.  Radford had enjoyed a profitable career at Highbury and at the time of his departure was their second most prolific goal scorer of all time with 149 goals; since surpassed by both Ian Wright and Thierry Henry.  He joined a struggling West Ham side which had spent most of the season stuck in the relegation zone before finally pulling clear at the very last moment.  In his first season he played 19 games with no goals and drew a further blank from 11 games during the first half of the subsequent season.  He was transferred to second division Blackburn Rovers in late 1977 where he partially rediscovered his shooting boots to net 10 times from 38 starts.

8       Lee Chapman

A League Cup winner with Nottingham Forest and League Title winner with Leeds United, Chapman became a Hammer, aged 33, in September 1993 as West Ham competed in the Premier League for the first time.  Chapman made his debut in an away fixture against Blackburn Rovers alongside fellow new signings Mike Marsh and David Burrows who had arrived as part of the deal that took Julian Dicks to Anfield.  Goals form Chapman himself and Trevor Morley earned the Hammers a surprise win that lifted them out of the relegation places and set them on course for an eventual thirteenth place finish.  Chapman contributed 7 league goals from 30 appearances to the campaign. The following season he opened the season with no goals from 10 games before losing his place to the returning Tony Cottee and being transferred to Ipswich.  It was Chapman who Harry Redknapp famously substituted for a fan in a pre-season friendly at Oxford City.

7        Freddie Ljungberg

With a sackful of league and cup medals earned during his time at Arsenal, Ljungberg moved to West Ham on a four year contract, aged 30, as part of the Icelandic cash splashing revolution in the summer of 2007; a period that also heralded the arrival of Craig Bellamy, Kieron Dier, Scott Parker and Nobby Solano to Upton Park.  Ljungberg made his debut, as captain, in the season opener against Manchester City but a series of niggling injuries limited his contribution and it was not until February 2008 that he scored the first of his two West Ham goals.  Broken ribs in a game at Newcastle prematurely ended his season in April 2008 and he was not seen in a West Ham shirt again; the club paying off the remaining years of his contract in the summer (for a reported £6 million) while Ljungberg declared that he “had given his all for West Ham”.  Equally well known for his Calvin Klein modelling work, Ljungberg became something of a footballing nomad turning out in the US, Scotland, Japan and India before finally retiring in 2014.

6       Jimmy Greaves

Greaves was 30 years old when he signed for West Ham in March 1970 as a makeweight in Martin Peter’s transfer to Tottenham.  The previous season (1968/69) he had finished as the First Division’s leading scorer with 27 goals but had already lost his place in the Tottenham team before his move to Upton Park at the tail end of the 1969/70 season.  Greaves marked his West Ham debut with two goals in a 5-1 win at Manchester City and then scored on the opening day of the following season against his old club in a 2-2 draw at White Hart Lane.  His did not continue such a rich vein of form, however, and in a largely disappointing season he scored just 9 goals in 30 appearances.  His time at West Ham is perhaps best remembered for the Blackpool nightclub incident and his increasing dependence on alcohol; as he became disillusioned with both his own game and the abilities of the majority of his West Ham teammates.   He left the club at the end of the 1970/71 season and did not play professionally again.

5 Anti-Climactic Thoughts from the Last Day of the Season

The season is over. The next one will be along in 12 weeks time. What will happen in the interim?

5 Things WHUIt’s All Over Now

So there you have it.  It’s all over for another year and we can switch modes from can’t wait until this season’s over to can’t wait until the new season starts!   When all done and dusted the league table shows West Ham slap bang in the middle.  Whichever way you look at it: mean, mode or median it was an average one.  Looking back in five or ten years’ time it will have the appearance of a table from many other seasons.  The poor performances, the flirt with relegation, the scrappy and lucky wins against Bournemouth, Hull and Burnley will be consigned to history.  The highlight of heroic victory over Tottenham, putting yet another spoke in their title aspirations, will survive as the season’s only legacy; apart from £120 million in TV and merit payments.

A Table of Two Halves

Normal service was resumed in the Premier League after the interruption of Leicester City last time around.  The order rather than make up of the top six positions is the extent of the uncertainty.  The gap between Everton in seventh and Southampton in eighth was a whopping fifteen points while a meagre six points separated eighth from seventeenth.  One more win and on paper one could be mistaken for believing that this season was only slightly behind the previous one; yet performances, points and goal difference tell a vastly different story.  We wait expectantly to learn the close season plans for the club.  Will Slaven Bilic be given more time?  Will there be a more reasoned and less public approach to transfer dealings (and that elusive free scoring twenty goals a season striker)?  Are any of our players on the radar of bigger clubs?  Will we finally give a worthwhile and extended opportunity to younger players?  Will the club ever adopt a top to toe level of professionalism that a multi-million pound football business requires?

A Final Day Victory For Once

It was an unexpected win at Turf Moor and possibly slightly more entertaining than one might have hoped for in the circumstances.  With even more injuries added to the disinterested squad who succumbed so weakly the previous week, victory at a ground which had been a fortress for Burnley all season looked remote.  When the hosts took the lead after 23 minutes it looked a good bet that the form book would rule the day.  However, within four minutes a delightful equalising goal fashioned by the unlikely duo of Andre Ayew and Sofiane Feghouli caught everyone unawares.  Had it not been for the referee treating the game like a pre-season friendly he might well have given Burnley midfielder Westwood his marching orders on at least two occasions for a series of rash challenges.  Still the Hammers looked generally comfortable and the game was settled when a neat passing move resulted in the strangest of winning goals for the visitors.  A smart shot by Edmilson Fernandes was well stopped by keeper Heaton but his save sent the ball into an unusual orbit where, on re-entry, it bounced off the bar, onto Ayew’s head and into the net.  Ayew notching his sixth league goal to put him behind Antonio (9), Lanzini (8) and Carroll (7) in the scoring charts.

Back in 12 Weeks

There are just eighty two shopping days (or just over 12 weeks) to the start of the 2017/18 Premier League season on 12 August.  It is not clear how many of the players who have recently gone under the knife will be back, fit and ready by the big kick-off.  Recuperation times of up to eleven or twelve weeks have been mentioned for some of the ailments.  Added to that it is probably time to give up on Carroll and Sakho for good although the abuse they receive from some supporters for being injured is bizarre.  It was good to see Angelo Ogbonna back in action even if it deprived us of an opportunity to have a look at Declan Rice, apart from his added time walk-on part.  The academy seems to be specialising in centre backs these days and we now have Rice, Oxford and Burke ready to knock on the first team door, even if there are deaf ears the other side of it.  Both Ayew and Feghouli had good games yesterday to the extent that maybe they do have some part to play in the future of the squad.  Fernandes too did well and the question with him is how he fits into the team (with Lanzini) without weakening the defensive responsibilities of the midfield.  Perhaps we will know more when the manager creates a preferred formation and distinct style of play.

Not So Super Sunday

The TV crew did their best to instil some degree of excitement in the race for fourth place and the uncertainty did last until just before half time when Liverpool scored their first against Middlesbrough.  Had the referee awarded Boro a penalty for the foul by Lovren on Bamford (before that opener) then the nerves could well have got to the Scousemen.  As it was the tackle was deemed to be just the wrong side of that no-mans-land between ‘he went down too easily’ and ‘he was entitled to go down’ that is only visible to football pundits.  The final forty-five minutes of the season, therefore, was only interesting in guessing how many goals the top teams would eventually score.

5 Lessons from a Liverpool Drubbing

Dey do do dat dough don’t dey dough! Scousers give dreadful West Ham a pasting.

5 Things WHUSaving the Worst for Last

“Now I’ve swung back down again, it’s worse than it was before.  If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor.” So sung the band James in their 1991 hit Sit Down perfectly summarising the emotions that followed the highs of last week’s victory over Tottenham with the lows of the abject tame surrender to Liverpool.  There could be some mitigation in defeat due to absence through injuries but it is no excuse for a collective giving up after the first goal went in.  This was not the result of complacency at the end of a hard season but an abysmal capitulation at the end of a campaign where survival was by the slimmest margins of some lucky wins and one storming performance against Spurs.  The fans deserve and expect more and who can blame the majority for leaving before the lap of honour?   If the players couldn’t be bothered to put in the ninety minutes effort why should supporters, who have given up so much time and money, hang around to acknowledge them.

The First Goal in Cheapest

One of my problems with Slaven Bilic is that he is a reactive manager, and even then he is usually slow to react.  Having by accident or design hit upon a formation that tightened up the defence for a while he was always likely to stick with it regardless until it went horribly wrong.  Despite having allowed Kouyate and Noble to blag season ending sick-notes he attempted to maintain the same system equipped with unsuitable players against a Liverpool side that were set up very differently.  Even the half time break did nothing to address the obvious problems.  The only hope would have been to stop Liverpool scoring and settle for a goalless draw, a task that look beyond them as the visitors were repeatedly given space and time in the box.  The breakthrough when it came stemmed from a pointless and wasted Calleri flick, in a rare West Ham attack, followed by Dad’s Army defending;  Collins inexplicably leaving Sturridge all on his own while a daydreaming Fonte kindly played him onside to capitalise on Coutinho’s excellent through ball.   With no ideas how to respond the remainder of the game became an exhibition match for the visitors which echoed prior desperate defeats to Arsenal and Manchester City.  Still at least we beat Tottenham.

Ayew Having a Laugh?

I was trying to think of the worst open goal miss that I have ever seen.  There are quite a few compilations on Youtube; Ronnie Rosenthal normally sets the standard but  I am sure that the one by 20 million pound striker Andre Ayew on the stroke of half-time will feature regularly in years to come.  What made the miss so special was, not that it was only 2 or 3 yards from goal, but that having hit the post of an open goal once he did exactly the same again when the ball rebounded nicely to him.  In a typical game Ayew rarely contributes a great deal but he can normally be relied on to convert the simple tap-in.  On this occasion he failed on both counts and yet still survived for almost 80 minutes before being replaced by 10 million pound misfit Robert Snodgrass.  It is all well and good putting youngsters like Rice and Quina on the bench for matchday atmosphere experience but why bother if there is no intention of giving them a run out no matter what the circumstances?

Good Intent

I have become wholeheartedly confused recently about what does or doesn’t constitute a foul or a penalty (or a handball come to that); particularly in relation to intent.  The Winston Reid penalty claim incident that immediately preceded the third Liverpool goal is a perfect example.  Liverpool’s Wijnaldum jumped with arms raised and struck Reid in the face (plus he may even have also handled the ball).  The referee waved play on and compounded his decision by not stopping play despite Reid appearing to have a head injury.  Typically, Liverpool did not put the ball into touch even though Adrian had done so earlier when a Liverpool player went down injured.  I have since heard pundits (well Andy Townsend to be precise) say that there was no intent by Wijnaldum; but then that is often the case with many tackles,, which are mistimed or reckless rather than intentional, and where even the merest hint of a touch has players tumbling ground-wards to general ‘they were entitled to go down’ punditry.  Surely anyone raising their arms should suffer the consequences whenever a collision occurs, just as they should if the balls hits them.  What with the goalkeeper’s get out of jail card that we saw in the Loris challenge on Lanzini such game changing decisions are becoming more of a lottery year on year; not that this one decision was the excuse for yesterday’s defeat.

What The Feghouli?

For the first time yesterday we saw a Feghouli who actually resembled a top level footballer.  Although only on the pitch for just over half an hour he looked both lively and to have a bit of pace, and was one of our better players. Where had that performance been all season or was this a pop-up shop window display?  Too late to convince me that he has a future, however, and is one of several players, along with the likes of Calleri, Snodgrass, Ayew and Fonte, who I would be happy to see the back of.  My fear, though, is that the club would simply replace them with a procession of fading, over 30’s whose best days are well behind them, just being currently better than what we have is not sufficient justification.  Perhaps one day we will realise that success in modern football requires pace and stamina all over the park.

5 Lessons from being the Tottenham Nemesis

Everything comes together as West Ham smugly put an end to Tottenham’s lingering title aspirations.

5 Things WHUA Fitting Performance at Last

Well along with many other supporters I didn’t see that coming.  I can’t lie, I feared the worst last night sensing that keeping the score respectable would be the best we could expect.  Tottenham came into the match looking for a tenth successive win; they had the best defensive record and second best goal scoring record in the Premier League.  West Ham on the other hand, although unbeaten in four, had only won once in the last eleven games and had accumulated only a handful of points from top eight sides all season.  Never was the phrase ‘past performance is not indicative of future results’ ever more appropriate.  To say that it was West Ham’s best performance of the season does not do it justice; there is little competition for that honour.  This was an excellent performance worthy of any season and one that initially absorbed energy from the electrified London Stadium atmosphere and then generated excitement to power it further.  Proof that stadiums don’t create atmosphere but that supporters and performances do.  Despite continued snipes in the media the stadium is fine; not perfect but it is what we have and is a place that we need to make feel like home.

Game, Set and Match Plan

As Slaven Bilic said in his post-match comments; we had a game plan, we stuck to it and it worked.  It was a performance reminiscent of those last season where West Ham were the scourge of the elite clubs.  It was disciplined, well drilled and well organised involving defending in numbers, pressing and breaking at speed.  It negated the Spurs threat and exposed their weaknesses.  Apart from the odd moment of penetration Spurs were restricted to speculative shots from distance and their defence made to look uncertain.  One might ask where this commitment has been all season; why wait until the third last match of the season to bring it on.  Not unexpectedly much media attention has focused on Tottenham’s ‘lethargic’ performance rather than our own part in it.  I am sure that nerves did play a part for the ill-fated visitors but it was to West Ham’s credit that they were not allowed to settle.  The fact that Spurs needed to win and that a draw was good enough for West Ham worked in our favour.   That should not, however, take anything away from a memorable and tremendous night under the lights at Upton Park the London Stadium.

A Real Team Effort

It was a tremendous all round team performance and it would be churlish to pick out any individual man of the match.  Everyone played their part.  Adrian inspired confidence between the sticks and the save with his foot from Kane was pivotal.  The back three of Reid, Fonte and Collins were assured and effectively snuffed out the threat of Kane and Alli, the quarrelsome Alli in particular was a peripheral figure.  Byram and Cresswell produced performances usually associated with their opponents wing backs.  Noble and Kouyate were effective is denying space for Erikson to exploit.  Lanzini was busy, creative, influential and a goal scorer; what more can you say?.  Ayew enjoyed his freer role and demonstrated a far greater involvement and appetite for link up play than usual and even Calleri did a good job, at least in preventing Spurs building from the back.

End of Season Sale

So we are finally mathematically safe from the drop and momentarily, at least, have leapt into ninth place in the table.  For the remainder of this season time will tell whether we can be inspired by the Spurs win or whether players turn their attention to packing suitcases for a fortnight in the sun.  The incentive of a repeat against Liverpool might be compelling.  The important thing is to learn from the many mistakes of this season and start to build for the next one and beyond.  No doubt there are decisions to be made about the manager’s position and then the summer recruitment priorities.  There are also some important players that we need to do everything to hold on to.  Most notable among these are Lanzini (surely there will a whole host of clubs ‘monitoring’ a player of his age with pace, energy and dribbling skills), Reid (are there that many better central defenders in the Premier League?), Antonio and Obiang.  A club might be able to hold on to sought after players if there is belief in a long term plan but not if struggle and survival are all that is on offer.

Does He Stay or Does He Go?

The victory will certainly have done much to boost the manager’s chances of staying in post for next season.  With survival ensured and the owners not known for sacking managers under contract the odds are probably stacked in his favour.  I doubt there are many who dislike Slaven as a person but I remain among those who question his credentials as the type of manager who can build for the future.  Last season he was a breath of fresh air but since has been found wanting with recruitment, selection and tactics.  The win against Spurs equalled the highs of last season but it is struggles against lesser teams that should be dispatched with ease that is the Achilles heel.  Sentiment would see him remaining; business imperative requires an upgrade.  If he does stay then I hope he does well and can prove me wrong, but without other restructuring on how we recruit, promote youth and train then I don’t see that happening.

5 Lessons from the Stalemate @ Stoke

West Ham stagger towards the finishing line one point at a time.

5 Things WHUNot So Super Saturday

The self-styled best league in the world managed to serve up a complete boxed set of drab fixtures for a Saturday afternoon.  Despite Leicester’s unexpected success last season there has been a return to predictability where the sole objective of 70% of clubs is merely to survive to live another year in the money generating environment of the top flight.  Generally, it does not make for great entertainment and I get a sense that the overseas broadcasters are making a gradual move to the Bundesliga for their routine everyday football coverage.  The Premier League is becoming more and more like La Liga where interest beyond a limited number of glamour clubs is minimal, and when games are more about attrition than entertainment then it is not surprising that appeal does not extend to a wider audience.   As our game at Stoke progressed yesterday it was apparent that the priority of both sides was to preserve the point they started the day with rather than striving for more.

Four Unbeaten

I guess that after losing five games on the bounce then a sequence of four without defeat has to be seen as a positive.  The six points earned in those games against Swansea, Sunderland, Everton and Stoke are probably enough to keep West Ham safe.  I have not seen anything in the performances to convince me that  things have been turned around or that the ship has been steadied but it is an improvement of sorts.  Two cleans sheets in a row is not a regular West Ham phenomenon and it may well be that Bilic has accidentally and belatedly stumbled on a way to organise his defensive resources.  Listening to some debate after Sunderland’s demise on the position of David Moyes it was interested to hear a reasonable level of support for the Scot.  The argument being that Sunderland have lived for so long on the brink and focusing on short-term survival that time is required for someone to perform surgical rebuilding.  This is the great danger arising from our own lack of progress this season where there is no clear style of play and stuffing the squad with older or journeyman players.  Only a forward looking plan can elevate us above the relegation haunted pack on an ongoing basis.

Three to Go and Still Not Safe

With three games to play West Ham are yet to be mathematically safe.  The points cushion plus goal difference should be enough but when the number of clubs below you (who are still able to catch up) becomes fewer it is not the time to stop looking very carefully over your shoulder.  Past performance may suggest that both Hull and Swansea are unlikely to embark on sudden winning sprees but, as we are always reminded, past performance is not necessarily a predictor of future results.  Swansea getting something out of their visit to Old Trafford today would certainly bring the cats and pigeons in a proximity that is too close for comfort.  The overall table has a very lopsided shape to it with fourteen points separating 7th from 8th but only six points separating 8th from 16th.  Theoretically a top ten finish is still possible for the Hammers although 16th or 17th seems a more likely outcome.

Team Selection

In the circumstances of who was available, the starting lineup yesterday almost made sense.  It has been reported that Diafra Sakho’s absence was due to (another) back injury (and not a Di Canio style travel sickness) and with Andy Carroll also absent we were lumbered once again with Jonathan Calleri.  What Calleri has to offer remains a mystery to me and why he is preferred over Ashley Fletcher despite contributing little is puzzling.  Some claim that Calleri runs around a lot but that is no more a rational for selection than being born in Canning Town.  At least Calleri’s inappropriate rabona introduced some lighthearted comedy value into the game.  Nordtveit and Kouyate in central midfield did much to protect the defence and the three central defenders were all solid, including a man of the match performance from Winston Reid.  Personally, I thought Fernandes did well enough out of position at right wing-back but I still may have been tempted to have gone with Sam Byram.

Those Wacky Substitutions

Slaven Bilic has built up a reputation for his game changing substitutions.  Unfortunately these have a close correlation with the reputation for losing points from a winning position.  It seems that the Cresswell for Masuaku was due to injury so no real complaints with that one but the later changes were strange to say the least.  Ayew looked to be our greatest goal threat so the decision to replace him, rather than Calleri, was odd enough but bringing on Noble as the replacement only compounded it.  It effectively removed any notion that we would try to win the game and handed the initiative firmly to Stoke.  Ending the game with no strikers at all only added to the negativity even if the game was petering out by then and replacing Calleri with Snodgrass was hardly likely to make matters worse.

5 Lessons from Resisting Lukaku

A handful of Positives as West Ham play out a goal-less draw against Everton and Lukaku at the London Stadium

5 Things WHUA Little Organisation At Last

Let’s face it this was not the greatest game of football to grace the Premier League this season. However, it was a welcome point, when most (including me) felt that a convincing defeat was on the cards, and it was a much more disciplined and organised performance than most we have witnessed. There is a temptation to put the performance in the context that Everton were very poor on the day but a large part of football is preventing the opposition from playing to their strengths. For once, and possibly the first time this season, West Ham were effective at doing this and by neutralising the threats of Lukaku and Barkley they were able to protect the point quite comfortably.

Defending as a Unit

I am pleased that Slaven took my pre-match advice by playing with a back three, moving Fernandes to wing back and pairing Nordtveit and Kouyate in central midfield. The tendency is to always associate leaking goals with poor defenders, but that is only a part of the problem, and good sides both attack and defend as a team. The defence is not just three or four players but six or seven; plus the goalkeeper. Although all three of the central defenders acquitted themselves very well, the clean sheet also owed much to the efforts of the defensive midfield players. That it has taken so long to realise the importance of this nugget of football wisdom is baffling, but let’s hope that the penny has finally dropped for the games to come. Many observers singled out James Collins for particular praise and, as well as he performed, he was lucky to get away with the shirt pulling late in the game that could so easily have resulted in a penalty.

Wet Flannel Attack

For all the organisational positives, the creative and striking frailties within the team were still apparent. There were some signs of life, mostly in the second half, where delightful approach work was let down by a poor final ball or poor decision making. Lanzini showed some excellent touches but he needs better movement around him to provide more options. The persistence with Calleri is unfathomable. Surely there cannot be any intention of keeping him at the end of the loan so why bother? He has nothing more to offer than Fletcher and it would seem far more sensible to give our own player to show what he has. At least Sakho got half an hour without getting injured and hopefully he will be in the starting eleven next week.

Surprising Performances

I was pleased to see Adrian back between the posts. He is the best keeper we have by some distance even if he will always be prone to the occasional error. He presents a much more commanding figure in the area than Randolph. Apart from the early calamity when receiving the Fernandes throw-in he didn’t really have much work to do but I suspect the defence were more relaxed with Adrian behind them. Fine performances too from Arthur and Nordtveit. Arthur has amazingly quick feet for a defender and the wing back role suits him perfectly. You wonder if he might not be a little too laid back for sterner defensive duties but I do like watching him play. Nordtveit’s performance was a big surprise based on the evidence of previous performances, even if those were mainly out of position. He grew into the game and by the second half appeared to have picked up both speed and strength. Deserves to keep his place.

Sigh of Relief

Something of a reprieve for the manager to get the point with such a depleted squad. With both Hull and Swansea winning the point adds a little more reassurance in the absence of mathematical certainty. We didn’t have to endure Feghouli or Snodgrass at any time either which was a further bonus. I guess that we knew that Holland, Rice and Makasi were only on the bench to make up the numbers but bringing on Cresswell to play right wing back still seemed to be an odd choice. In the end it didn’t matter and we were able to go home and to our beds with calmness if not elation.

5 Lacklustre Lessons from the Stadium of Blight

More points thrown away as West Ham stumble towards the Premier League finishing like a marathon runner who has hit the wall.

5 Things WHUThe Worst Manager Still in a Job Award

And the nominations are: David Moyes at Sunderland  and Slaven Bilic at West Ham.  Actually, I think Moyes wins this one quite comfortably despite Slaven giving him a decent run for his money.  There are some things about football management that have always puzzled me.  Why are there no English managers?  How can a manager appear astute and organised at one club but completely lost at another?  How can a season of fresh air be followed so swiftly by one that smells so badly?

The football style or philosophy of Slaven Bilic remains a enigmatic mystery and his organisation, selections and tactics have frequently been found wanting.  It is odd that he still has a lot of backing among supporters.  If the attributes for the job are passion, being a nice guy and ‘getting’ us then you could easily pull a few out of the crowd to do the job each week; just as Harry did with a fan  during that pre-season friendly.  It is upsetting how things have worked out but we have been going backwards all season…….and fast.

Going Through a Darren Spell

Just what you have to do to lose your place if you are one of the manager’s mates is bizarre.  It was apparent some weeks ago that Randolph has too many weaknesses to be a Number 1 at Premier League level.  In these days where every match is recorded and analysed it is no surprise that opposition coaches identify these weaknesses and attempt to exploit them.  Perhaps we don’t yet have video technology in our own training HQ cabin.  Randolph has been clearly at fault for a string of goals over the past couple of months (more than any other player according to Opta) and a better keeper would have prevented both yesterday, even though the first might well have been disallowed for a foul.  Only a stupid or stubborn manager would not realise that it was time to make a change between the sticks, unless Adrian has been pencilled in at right back next week.

Perm Any 11 from 24

I am convinced that Slaven picks his preferred eleven players and then decides on the formation he is going to play to accommodate them.  This can be the only reason behind the square peg, round hole strategy.  There is no doubt that injuries have again been a curse but whether it is a case of bad luck or bad judgement is uncertain.  Losing Obiang, Reid and Antonio is most unfortunate but the injury prone nature of our strikers has been obvious for all to see for a long time.  I was pleased to see Fernandes get a start and do believe he can become a good player (with a decent re-sale value).  However, he is not a defensive midfielder and with Kouyate also lacking the discipline we were never going to control the central areas in order to dominate the game even against a team as poor as Sunderland.  Still the manager believes that midfielders are mutually interchangeable which invariable results in them turning out in their least effective positions.

Injuries, Suspensions and Fallings Out

With Sam Byram’s yellow card return averaging at one card every other appearance there was always a good chance that suspension for our only right back was never going to be very far away.  He was arguably unfortunate to pick up the first card yesterday but the second was much more clear cut.  With Byram joining Noble on the suspended list, a host of players in the sick bay,  Sakho apparently back on the naughty step (presumably with Arbeloa) and Tore missing presumed dead, selection for next week’s game against Romelu Lukaku  is going to be a fascinating one.  The squad is full of dead wood now.  In fact, of the team that featured yesterday I would only be disappointed if Lanzini, Fernandes, Kouyate and Masuaku  were not around next season.

Distressed Football Club Seeks Benefactor

The positive from yesterday was that both Hull and Swansea lost (and that Defoe did not score).  There is an extraordinary slim chance that both teams will get enough points to overtake our own tally particularly given the respective goal differences, and even though there is ample opportunity for us to ship a shed load of goals against Everton, Tottenham and Liverpool.  Thanks to there being at least three worse teams we should now be safe.  My expectation now is for a massively under-achieving 16th place finish.  Looking on the bright side it is roughly where Manchester City finished in their first season away from Maine Road.  Any sign of a pot of gold (not David) on the horizon?