Five Takeaways As West Ham Banish The Blues

What else did we learn from this excellent West Ham victory other than how sweet it is to get one over on Chelsea and the snarling Cesc Fabregas?

A Famous Victory

It is rare for me to get a prediction correct and so when it happens I will take just a brief moment to gently blow my own trumpet.  In my match preview I predicted a nail biting one-nil victory and that is exactly what we got.  While that is probably me done for the season there is a great deal of encouragement that can be taken from yesterday’s victory, as well as the gutsy performance in last week’s defeat at Manchester City.  West Ham are still in the bottom three but now have momentum and, with plenty of ‘at risk’ clubs around us, any three of the bottom ten could be in for the drop come the end of the season. At last we are beginning to look like a team rather than a collection of strangers and once players starting performing as a unit then understanding increases, creativity improves, pressure reduces and individual errors start to reduce.  Full marks to David Moyes and his team for putting pride and belief back into the club in a relatively short space of time.  There is still some way to go but all of a sudden everything is looking just a little rosier.

Pundits Know Nothing

To most supporters who had watched West Ham during the early part of the season (and the better part of last season) it was glaringly obvious that the team lacked organization, fitness and discipline.  I don’t recall any of the pundits who regularly interrupt our enjoyment of the football action pointing this out.  To them, Slaven Bilic was a nice guy and a great coach who just needed a little more time and maybe a bit of luck with injuries and transfers to turn things around.  Now though, through the wonder of hindsight, it is now revealed that the shambles that had been allowed to develop at the club is taken as read.  Now I know the pundit’s job is simply to wax lyrical about the top six clubs but this is surely another example of their lack of credibility – time to phase them out and concentrate on more action.  Equally as damning were David Sullivan’s admission (in response to a question about whether he was the de facto Director of Football at West Ham) that no-one at board level appeared to have any idea about what went on at the training ground.  Another sign, if needed, of the club’s ongoing and long standing amateurish approach to football matters.

A Fine Team Performance

There were understandable rave reviews for Marko Arnautovic and Arthur Masuaku following yesterday’s game.  Yet, if anything, this was an outstanding team performance.  The whole approach to the game was tactically superb by the coaching staff and brilliantly executed by each and every player.  Adrian inspires a confidence that Joe Hart does not; an unlikely back three of Winston Reid, Angelo Ogbonna and Aaron Cresswell suddenly looks solid and courageous; the midfield players didn’t stop running, harrying and denying space; and Michail Antonio and Arnautovic showed why movement and mobility is so important up front at this level.  It was great that some players stood out but to criticize any individual would be churlish – although some fans couldn’t help themselves by still having a dig at their favourite bête noire.  Could we have done better with ball? For sure! Do we still need reinforcements in the transfer window? Undoubtedly! But until then I will enjoy this victory and look forward to a repeat performance on Wednesday.

Those Special Mentions

Massive team performance aside it would be unfair not to give special mention to several stand-out players.  I thought Declan Rice was unlucky to be left out of the starting eleven but his replacement, Winston Reid, had the type of game that made premature reports of his being washed-up look ridiculous.  My previous reservations about Arnautovic were also torn to shreds by his application yesterday.  As well as scoring the winner he was a handful all afternoon and was more than willing to perform his defensive duties.  My only question to him was why stop when you thought Christensen had handled in the box? Taking Arnie off first in preference to Antonio who had run himself into the ground by the hour mark was the only strange decision of the afternoon but it all worked out marvelously in the end.  Finally there was Masuaku.  For a period in the first half it looked like the ball was magnetically attached to his boot such was the trickery of his footwork.  It was great to see panache back in the side and to witness some wonderful combinations with Manuel Lanzini.  Arthur had a more restrained second period and I wonder whether that was under instruction?  Sometimes knowing when and where to turn it on is as important as the ability itself.  A note to the referee: why no foul throw for the Pedro incident?

Where Do We Go From Here?

It is difficult to imagine that the approach against Arsenal will be much different to what we saw yesterday.  The reality is that whatever West Ham can get out of games against top six sides at the moment are bonus points.  The season will be defined by how well we can do against the rest.  I still believe that we have one of the best ten squads in the league provided that they can be molded into an effective unit.  If there are going to be additions in January, particularly in the problem central midfield area, then even better.  What I am looking forward to seeing is how Moyes can take this new found attitude and organization and deploy it in a way that dominates teams that we really should beat.  At least now I can look forward to that prospect with some optimism.

Five Takeaways: Spirited West Ham Close To Pulling Off A Major Shock At The Etihad

The predicted City storm fails to materialise as an encouraging West Ham performance almost leads to a major shock.

So Much Better Than Expected

It is an unusual sensation to have finally lost the game but still feel strangely positive about the performance at the Etihad Stadium yesterday.  I read that the odds at start of play of West Ham losing by eight goals were shorter than those for a single goal defeat.  Yet the drubbing that many (including myself) had predicted was not forthcoming.  Despite a lengthy list of absentees West Ham managed to fashion themselves into the best approximation of a football team that we have witnessed so far this season.  For the most part the tactics were spot on in preventing Manchester City from getting into their rhythm and were reminiscent of the smash and grab approach that reaped such unexpected rewards in the early days of Bilic’s inaugural season.  In the first half City were limited to speculative long shots and that the game was ultimately lost to a pair of relatively scruffy goals should not detract too much from the many positives on display.

Pep The Poor Winner

Without doubt there is much to admire about the way that Pep Guardiola has got his Manchester City playing.  Apparently his match-day squad cost in the region of £550 million in transfer fees with the starting eleven costing an average of £35 million per player.  A bottomless transfer budget is not a new phenomenon for modern day City but under Guardiola the quality and style of play have reached new levels.  It is a shame, therefore, that he feels the need to come across so petulantly as a winner.  Of course clubs with fewer riches will seek to stifle the fluidity of his team but why the need to make stuff up about the opposition having “ten men in the box”.  West Ham’s approach was pragmatic rather negative and his comments were as wrong as they were unnecessary. .  A little self-awareness and humility might go a long way for Guardiola.

Organisation and Fitness

For the first time in many months our players looked like they knew what they were supposed to be doing and what was expected of them; attacking and defending as a team for once.  Not only that but there was a demonstrable game plan which the players stuck to it despite the make do and mend look to the line-up.  Everyone played their part and as well as a spirited defensive display there were further chances to to add to Angelo Ogbonna’s fine headed goal for Michail Antonio, Manuel Lanzini and Diafra Sakho .  Possibly fitness told at the end but it was great to see players on their toes for a change and giving it their all.  In truth I am not sure that many of the absentees would have performed better than their replacements although further injuries to Cheikhou Kouyate and Antonio could be cause for concern.

Stand Out Performances

Within a solid team display there were stand-out performances from Adrian and Declan Rice, an honourable mention for Arthur Masuaku and strong leadership from Pablo Zabaleta.  Not only did Adrian make some fine saves but hw instils a far greater sense of confidence in the box and in the air than Joe Hart.  It would be a travesty if he does not keep the shirt for the upcoming games.  Rice gave a mature and assured display in the makeshift backline suggesting that he needs to be given an extended run in his proper central defence position.  There were some suggestions that he might have prevented Silva’s winning goal but, for me, the responsibility was that no-one tracked Silva’s run into the box, after he had played the ball to De Bruyne, rather than it being Rice’s failure to cut out De Bruyne’s fine pass.  Masuaku was once again a willing runner demonstrating an eclectic mix of exceptional and over-elaborate footwork.

Onwards and Hopefully Upwards

The levels to which organisation and fitness had fallen under Slaven Bilic really are quite shocking and the hope is that that these can be reversed before it is too late.  The four games played under David Moyes have yet to follow any discernible pattern or consistency; two poor efforts at Watford and Everton interspersed with encouraging signs at home to Leicester and at City yesterday.  The games against Chelsea and Arsenal will be useful in building understanding and momentum (even if we cannot expect too many points) but after that we need to embark on some serious point collection in the games against Stoke, Newcastle and Bournemouth if survival is to be assured.  While there were many positives to be taken from the defeat to City it will be time very soon to turn encouragement into something more tangible.  As it is West Ham have never had fewer points after fifteen games of a Premier League season and those alarm bells need to be silenced immediately.

Five Takeaways As Hope Of A West Ham Revival Crashes and Burns

Despite the pre-match hopes the inevitability of another tame defeat at Goodison Park is visited on the Hammers.

The Green Shoots Of Recovery

Well the green shoots of recovery that were seen last Friday didn’t survive very long and it is back to the drawing board and back to square one for David Moyes and the Hammers.  Once again the attitude of the players, particularly in the first half, has been rightly criticised.  Tails should have been well and truly up from a good second period against Leicester and after witnessing Everton’s troubles at Southampton.  Fast out of the blocks and putting their players under immediate pressure from the off was what was required.  As it was the hosts were allowed to play themselves into the game as West Ham sat back and took it easy.  Surely, that could not have been the team orders, could it?  If we thought we were rid of one Everton bogeyman in Lukaku then Rooney was afforded every opportunity to replace him as West Ham’s nemesis. Why does it so often need a half time bollocking to get any response from our players?  It is far too early to lay the blame on the new manager but how long can we wait for signs of improvement if the worst nightmare is not to become reality?

Line Up Conundrums

There were certainly reservations about the line-up.  In the absence of Andy Carroll the decision to start with Andre Ayew as his replacement rather than Diafra Sakho was a strange one.  Is Moyes falling in to the old West Ham manager trap of having a preferred list of players and selecting them in turn when an opening arises regardless of which position is vacant?  Is it the lack of options that has bred complacency in the squad? Collectively the defence has looked weak all season and we continue not to provide enough defensive support from midfield.  Right now we need at least two players in midfield whose priority is to defend.  None of Obiang, Kouyate or Noble is good enough on their own and Kouyate seems to have a remit to get forward as much as possible increasing the fragility.  The slow and ageing back-line needs far more support.  Once again Joe Hart failed to impress and, if there was a chance to get back in the game at 2-0, it was scuppered by his dreadful attempt at a clearance that fell to Rooney’s feet.  It is difficult to understand why Hart (especially as an on loan player) is preferred over Adrian.

The A Team

It has been apparent for some time that being the record signing at West Ham has resulted in little success for the players concerned.  Andy, Andre and Arnie have all failed to impress in terms of both attitude and aptitude, and the winners in each of those deals has been the selling club.  Their overall contribution has barely repaid the first instalments on the combined £50+ million transfer fees and whatever wages are involved.  Player recruitment and the reliance on agents rather than scouting continues to blight the club.  There was a welcome return to match-day action for that other A-man, Michail Antonio who is needed back at his sharpest and fittest without delay.  Those of us around for the Roeder relegation season will remember the season’s oft-repeated lament of “if only Kanoute had scored that penalty against Arsenal”; if things continue as they are we might soon be hearing the regular refrain of “if only Antonio had taken the ball to the corner flag against Palace”.

Penalty Posers

There has been a lot of debate about the penalties awarded in the game yesterday.  It seems quite difficult to articulate what the exact law is nowadays but, within the current interpretation of what is and isn’t a penalty, it was no surprise that both were given by Michael Oliver.  The danger is that this interpretation is moving football even further towards being a non-contact sport, particularly anywhere in the area, which is to the ultimate detriment of the game.

What Next

Things look bad.  The three games where points were meant to be available before the run of games against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal have yielded just the one point.  The return of points on games played to date would give us only 27 points if projected to the end of the season.  It may seem obvious but, when looking for the likeliest relegation candidates, the teams with the worst goal difference are always at greatest risk; evidence as it is of problems at both ends of the pitch.  At the moment West Ham, Palace and Huddersfield have the weakest goal differences and with the prospect of a double figure defeat at the weekend it might get a lot worse.  For those interested in the record books we are closing in on Everton’s current position as having lost the most Premier League games since its foundation.  We are just three defeats behind despite having played four fewer seasons.

Five Takeaways From West Ham’s Weekend

An early set back, a spirited response and a passionate crowd sees highly paid Hammers settle for a Premier League point.

What a Difference a Crowd Makes

Without doubt the crowd played a massive part in lifting the gloom that had surrounded the club in recent weeks and proved that if the players are putting in a shift then the supporters will get behind the team.  There remains a lot of animosity towards the Board but venting that anger and frustration without it affecting the team performance is a dilemma.  I guess the best way to grab the owner’s attention is through their pockets rather than by match-day protests or Twitter rants.  David Moyes would not be the first choice of many supporters but together with his coaching staff deserves the opportunity to prove his worth and show that he can steer the team towards safety.  It is not his fault we find ourselves rooted in the bottom three and there was, at least, an indication of improved attitude, energy and spirit during last Friday’s match.

Another Bad Goal Conceded

Going a goal behind after only eight minutes was far from ideal and once again it was the result of a gift from the West Ham defence rather than earned by the guile and ingenuity of Leicester’s players.  Inexplicably, Zabaletta had gone walk-about (something he did repeatedly during the course of the game), Reid allowed Vardy too much space to cross and Ogbonna failed to deal with what should have been a routine clearance.  Apart from that early glitch the defence look reasonably sound although they were not really tested and it was to the team’s credit that they did not crumble after the early reverse.

Getting The Balance Right

Looking through the squad, even if all the players are fit and available, it is difficult to select an obvious effective starting eleven, such is the imbalance with the players and skills available.  While playing three centre backs might look attractive do we have wing-backs competent to both attack and defend?  When playing as a back four can we provide adequate defensive cover in midfield?  If we play with a lone striker how do we prevent him from becoming isolated?  If we play two up front how to avoid being over-run in midfield?  In the two Moyes matches to date it looks like Kouyate has been under orders to get forward more to support the striker with Arnautovic also getting into more central positions as his defensive responsibilities allow – in fact Kouyate and Arnautovic have taken up more dangerous positions than Carroll who has preferred to lurk out towards the edge of the area well away from where any crosses are aimed.   There were signs on Friday that improved fitness had led to better organization but there is still a long way to go in improving quality; maybe that can come with confidence.

The Wages Explosion

There were reports over the weekend that West Ham were among the top twenty clubs in the world as far as wages paid are concerned.  When you look at what has been served up on the pitch over the past year or so you can only conclude that we have been done!  Yet the club are likely to present this astonishing fact as something to be proud of.  My personal view is that claims that the owners are penny pinching is exaggerated but they really don’t spend their money wisely.  A strategy based on players with Premier League experience (any who are likely to be attracted to a mid-table or worse club at that) is always going to be short term and expensive.  More money on wages means less money on transfers.  The lack of planning at West Ham continues to scupper any notion of continued improvement.  A much better scouting network is required to unearth value which is what most other teams at our level try to do.  Improving this requires David Sullivan to step away from his de facto role as Director of Football and bring in someone who really knows the game.

Paying The Penalty

What is and what isn’t a penalty continues to bemuse me.  At what stage does ‘there wasn’t much contact’ become ‘he was entitled to go down’.  And does attempting to stay on your feet mean that it cannot be a penalty?  Diving is cheating and one of the curses of the modern game but it seems if you want to get a penalty you must end up on the floor for the referee to award it – and so referees are in effect encouraging it provided the player passes the entitled test.  The recent rule of retrospective bans in situations where the referee has been conned is unlikely to make much of a difference.

Five Takeaways: Humdrum Hammers Stung By Hornets

There is no new manager bounce as West Ham once again meekly surrender the points, this time away at Watford.

Nobody Said It Would Be Easy

There was no new manager bounce on show at Vicarage Road and David Moyes will now have a much better idea of the challenge that lies ahead of him.  Looking at the immediate fixture list, Moyes must have pencilled this in as one as of the easier games to pick up points from between now and the end of the year, but it was not to be.  If there was any discernible difference between this performance and West Ham’s other attempts away from home over the last twelve or so months it was difficult to detect.  An energetic, forthright opening frenzy petered out after the first twenty minutes and by then the Hammers had found themselves a goal down courtesy of typically sloppy defending that allowed Watford to get their noses in front.   With players absent over the past two weeks on international duty, injuries and a low starting threshold there was little evidence of the new training intensity being translated into something positive on the pitch.  Whether it was stamina, confidence or attitude the team looked completely spent beyond the hour mark.  It is far too early to finger for Moyes & Co for the poor performance but improvements cannot be too long coming if there is to be any chance of disaster being averted.

Missed Chances and Opportunities

The game plan was very much a safety first one which was clearly undone by the early goal.  Watford looked far more comfortable in possession and their familiarity with each other and the ball far exceeded our own efforts and understanding.  Even so, the hosts didn’t appear to carry a huge goal threat.  Although West Ham had offered nothing going forward, the first half ended with the Hammers squandering two excellent goal scoring opportunities.  First Kouyate fluffed his lines from Noble’s fine through ball and then Arnautovic brought a smart save out of Gomes only then to lack conviction in trying to convert the rebound.  My mood at half time was (foolishly) optimistic with an expectation that a stiff half time talking-to would galvanise the players enough to drag themselves back into the game.  As it turned out West Ham were even worse in the second period allowing Watford to dominate proceedings at their leisure.  In the long period of play when Sakho was waiting to replace Carroll (and which ended with Watford scoring their second goal) the ball refused to go out of play as the Hammers collectively demonstrated some of their finest ball watching.  For me, it was a clear hand ball in the build up to Richarlison’s goal but that didn’t excuse the halfhearted attempts to prevent it being scored.  Ironically, West Ham also had two more gilt edged chances to score in the second half with Kouyate blasting wildly over and Lanzini’s shot lacking both power and accuracy.

Big Reputations

In his post-match comments, Moyes took aim at big reputation players who had failed to deliver.  It is a fairly widely held belief that West Ham have a better squad (on paper) than at least half of the other teams in the Premier League.  That belief is largely built on the reputations of the players (the fact that they are well known names) rather than any performances that they have been putting in for the last season and a half.  Although there were no names mentioned the comment could have been aimed at almost all of the team that turned out yesterday.  If level of reputation is synonymous with size of wage packet then the likes of Carroll, Arnautovic, Noble, Reid (and others) might need to take a good long look at themselves.  I have to say I am also not convinced by Hart, who despite a very good game at Palace, looks no better than Adrian; he appears rooted to his line (Randolph style) most of the time and is often slow to get down, as he was for the second Watford goal.

Arnie: Will He Be Back?

After Arnautovic’s injury I was half expecting to wake up this morning to news of his obituary.  I admit to never having broken (or fractured) a thumb but I have played in matches where much worse has happened and the injured player has never gone into full body convulsions.  Maybe it hurts more than I imagine but I can’t help thinking of Stuart Pearce trying to play on with a broken leg.  That moment of over acting aside, Arnautovic did get more involved than in most of his previous appearances although much of his work was deep in his own half.  He could, and should, have got his name on the score-sheet and also set up the second of Kouyate’s missed chances; a tally which may well have doubled his statistical contribution for the entire season.  The introduction of Masuaku, following his departure, was one of the few positives in the whole match for me where he demonstrated nifty footwork and put in some decent crosses during his twenty minute cameo.  Masuaku is something of an enigma in that he can flip between top class and pub team player from one week to the next.  In truth, he is probably a very decent wide midfield player but not cut out to play at full back.

Whatever Next?

Getting the excuses in early our unfit squad has only five days to improve and prepare before the next time out against Leicester at the London Stadium on Friday night.  Perhaps each small, incremental step up in fitness will add some value but the immediate challenge is how to assemble the odds and sods of the squad into a competent, functioning unit in the meantime; we are like a pack of self-assembly furniture where many of the pieces are missing and the instructions are only available in Croatian.  The formation that Moyes employed at Watford (or at least the way that it was executed) failed to address the many long standing problems with the lopsided squad that has been put together.  Carroll or whoever plays lone striker is isolated, there is no width or penetration in attacking positions, there is little creative influence with Lanzini wasted stranded out on the wing, midfield players do not do enough to support the defence and passing decisions and execution are poor.  There is much to improve before a difficult game on Friday.

Five Takeaways: West Ham’s Shambolic Self Destruction Against Liverpool

Surely the latest is a series of spineless, self-inflicted surrenders will spell the end of Slaven Bilic’s tenure at West Ham.

The Shots Statistics In Full

Shots Off Target = 5; Shots On Target = 1; Shots Into Own Foot = 4
It was a bright enough opening.  West Ham got past the opening fifteen minutes where no-one seems to want to score in a Premier League game these days with some ease and had, in fact, come closest to scoring when Ayew’s shot, from Lanzini’s deflected pass, hit the outside of the post.  When the Hammers won a corner and our three centre backs all sauntered up-field I am sure that the gaps they left behind would have been visible from space.  A quick Liverpool break resulting with three against Cresswell and it was one-nil.  A few moments later it looked like game over as Noble supplied his first assist on the season to set Liverpool up for their second.  The briefest glimmer of hope, early in the second half, from a smartly taken Lanzini goal was quickly extinguished by another rush of gung-ho defending that left keeper Hart grounded with a resigned WTF look on his face.  The final goal was purely academic but was again the result of shambolic defensive organisation that involved lots of pointing but little positioning.  It was just lucky that Liverpool themselves had an off-day and barely needed to break sweat.

The Lost Art of Preparation and Coaching

For once it was not a lack of fitness or effort that caused the Hammer’s downfall but it was disturbing at just how quickly heads dropped after the opening goal.  Defensive suspensions and injuries hadn’t helped in selections but the defence has hardly been a strong point even with a fully fit and available squad to choose from.  Who could have imagined that Fernandes would do a job at wing back against the returning Mane?  It is plainly obvious that preparation and attention to detail is not a core competence in the current coaching set-up.  Rather than it being form that is poor it is discipline and organisation that is missing.  I can only describe Bilic’s style of play as anarchic (or anarchico as it really needs to have an Italian name) where players are allowed to do what they want, when they want.  The notion that players do not need to be tightly coached and expertly drilled, given the small margins at play in top level sport, is beyond belief.  Although it is always tempting to focus on individual errors those apparent errors are more often than not caused by collective disorganisation.

Were There Any Positives?

The only West Ham player who looked like he belonged in the Premier League on the strength of yesterday’s performance was Manuel Lanzini.  It is not difficult to imagine him in a Liverpool shirt by the start of next season (but hopefully not that aberration of a third kit sported yesterday as if it was a goalkeeper’s fancy dress party!)  Lanzini aside the best performance of the evening was from the Bugler who topped anything else I have witnessed from the Remembrance observations over the last two weekends.  There was one thing that I heard on a commentary that amused me laugh when it was suggested that Slaven Bilic was making use of all his offensive tools.  That I found the idea of Carroll and Sakho described as offensive tools to be one of the match highlights shows how starved we have become of entertainment.

Has Anyone Thrown The Towel In Yet?

I was fully expecting an announcement that the axe had fallen on Slaven Bilic’s reign at the London Stadium before this article was ready for publication.  Surely it is now simply a question of timing.  The image of our manager looking forlorn and lost on the touchline, like Bambi after his mother had been shot, and you sense that putting him out of his misery is the kindest thing all round.  The International Break at least provides breathing space for someone to try to re-arrange the current shambles into the semblance of a football team.  Sticking for a moment longer with Bilic suggests certain relegation to me.  It is not too late for someone to come in and knock what should be a mid-table squad into shape.  Assuming that we take no points off the top six clubs then our target is to pick a point and a half per game against the rest for safety (over the course of a season.)  Currently we are just three points behind that target and so all is not yet lost provided action is taken.

Jobs For The Moyes

The strong media speculation and bookmakers seem to point to David Moyes taking over, possibly with a contract to the end of the season.  He would not be my first choice as a next level manager but beggars can’t be choosers and the better opportunity for change was missed in the summer. It is difficult to know how to assess Moyes. He had a good record at Everton, picked up something of a poison chalice at Old Trafford (despite being recommended by Sir Alex) and was woeful at Sunderland.  My big fear is that there are too many parallels between ourselves and Sunderland where a big shiny stadium is expected by those in charge to guarantee success.  With Moyes it won’t be pretty but, in my opinion, it should be effective enough, at least for the remainder of the season.  As a longer term solution I am not excited either by his dour demeanour and how that is reflected on the pitch.  Equally, I wouldn’t be happy with the return of Allardyce or Pardew.  Perhaps some exciting young coaches working alongside the manager could help freshen things up and avoid a repeat of what we have now where the manager has surrounded himself with his mates leaving no caretaker option available.

Five Takeaways: West Ham’s Lack of Intent and Professionalism at Crystal Palace

No turn-around as West Ham deliver another dreadful display in letting slip a two goal half time advantage

Where Was The Big Performance?

In the build up to the game our manager was promising a big performance.  What we go was a big disappointment.  When the manager said he wanted the midweek heroics at Wembley to be the benchmark for the rest of the season on-one believed that it was throwing away a two goal lead that he was talking about.  The sad truth, however, is that, although losing two points with the last kick of the match to the team bottom of the table, was disappointing it does not really come as a surprise to many West Ham supporters.  Conceding at least two goals has become the norm in our Premier League games and all too frequently these happen as the result of naivety, stupidity or a lack of concentration.  The performance, in fact, had far more in common with the defeat against Brighton than it did with the unexpected Wembley win.

Turning Things Around – Nothing Has Changed

Whether the ‘two games to save his job’ was truly an ultimatum from the owners or a mere media invention we will never know.  West Ham avoided defeat in those two games but where does it now leave us?  In the quarter final of a competition which we are most unlikely to win given the nature of the subsequent cup draw and on the brink of a relegation dogfight; having in the last two games lost at home to a hot relegation favourite and scraped a lucky point against the bottom placed side – and with a tough run of games now to face through to Christmas.  Nothing has changed and there is no sign of any turnaround.  The underlying issues with lack of fitness, movement, organisation, tactics, structure, understanding, intelligence and leadership remain, with no evidence to suggest that the manager and coaching staff have any clue as to how to improve matters. On the current trajectory relegation is a distinct possibility.

A Tale of Two Goals – And Little Else

There were few moments of West Ham quality and, once again, few players came out of the game with any real credit.  Joe Hart possibly had his best game in a West Ham shirt and without his intervention it could easily have been a comfortable Palace victory – although could he have done better for the equaliser? Standing out in an otherwise dreadful performance were the two West Ham goals whose execution were totally out of character from the rest of the afternoon.  The first, the result of a delightful quick passing move involving Lanzini, Ayew and Cresswell and finished with predatory panache by Hernandez.  The second, a splendid individual run and strike by Ayew after Fernandes forced an error in the Palace midfield.  It was an all too brief glimpse of the type of football that we all yearn for.

Where Were The Tactics –  And The Senators?

The two goals aside, the first half was a disjointed and disappointing affair.  Palace were very poor and only looked to carry any threat from set pieces.  Bilic had spoken pre-match about his senior players being ‘senators’ who would inspire the team to achieve great things; but if that group included the likes of Noble, Fonte, Zabaleta and Ogbonna then they failed to deliver big time.  Bilic claimed that his second half tactics were to get his team to exploit the space behind Palace as they pushed forward and adopted a more direct approach.  Palace improved immeasurably after the break but mainly because West Ham’s negativity allowed them to do so.  Giving away the early pointless penalty didn’t help but as a response there was no intent by our side to pose any further threat to the Palace goal.  As usual our passing and ball retention were woeful with the only tactic being to give the ball away cheaply whenever in possession.  Against the team bottom of the table we offered nothing but an open invitation for them to come at us.

What Has Happened to All-Action Antonio?

As needless as the penalty was, the last minute equaliser was the epitome of a lack of professionalism.  Deep into the last minute of added time, Antonio in possession, unchallenged and alone by the corner flag, with three colleagues in the middle marked by only one defender.  Keep the ball where it is and the clock runs safely down.  There is a chance of a killer goal if he can be sure to pick out the right pass (although we hadn’t tried to score for the rest of the half) but by chipping the ball aimlessly into the centre merely conceded the possession that led to the goal – and having committed players forward we are now outnumbered in Palace’s last push.  Whatever was he thinking -or didn’t he care?  In truth, a change in attitude by Antonio has been evident for a while now.  Gone is the all action, full of running, happy to be in the Premier League player to be replaced by a more moody and sullen one.  Is this personal to him or a reflection of a deeper discontent within the squad?  Whatever the reason it is deeply disturbing with a player who has been one of the few successes over the past eighteen months or so.