Five Takeaways: West Ham’s Abysmal Defeat by Brighton

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

Poor Organisation and Individual Errors

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

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

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

Organisation and Discipline Again

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

Time For The Board To Act

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

Who Should Be The Replacement

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

Burnley 1 West Ham 1

Is it a point gained for West Ham or two points lost?

So the bookies were spot on. The most fancied scoreline for this game was 1-1, and that is how it ended up. But was it a point gained or two points lost? Certainly, when you are in fifteenth place in the table and playing away from home to an in-form team occupying a position in the top six, and you have to play for more than an hour with only ten men, then surely it is a point gained? But on the other hand, when you hold the lead for most of the game, and then concede an equaliser in the 85th minute, then it seems like two points lost?

In some respects we were perhaps lucky as we could have conceded a penalty when Hart dived at the feet of Wood. Sometimes in situations such as these they are given and sometimes not, but they often are when it is a player from the home side who goes down. Also Gudmundsson’s shot came back off the post and might have gone in off Hart’s back, but luckily it stayed out. Conversely the best move of the whole game was a slick passing movement involving several of our players, and Antonio’s shot was well saved by Pope in the Burnley goal.

I’m often surprised by the reaction of fans who like to see the big teams lose. Personally I look at the bigger picture, and think of the Premier League as two leagues. The “top division” of the six elite teams who will surely finish the season in the top six places, and then the remaining teams who make up “Division Two” of the Premier League. Whatever we like to think, that is the reality. The fourteen teams outside of the “big six” are really only fighting for a seventh placed finish, and to keep out of the relegation dogfight.

So when we see the other results, then I am personally disappointed to see Crystal Palace defeat Chelsea, much as I dislike the West Londoners, and to see Watford score a last minute winner to beat Arsenal. Palace and Watford are in our “league” so I don’t like to see them picking up points against teams that will be in the top six at the end of the season. I particularly enjoyed seeing Manchester City put seven past Stoke, firstly because I don’t like the way Stoke play football, and secondly because that result ultimately helps our cause in finishing as high as possible in the table. It also puts a dent in one of our competitor’s goal difference statistics. And much as I don’t like Tottenham, their 1-0 win over Bournemouth will benefit us in the long run.

When other teams in “our 14 team league” are playing against each other, then my favoured result is a draw so they only get one point each. So it was good to see Brighton drawing with Everton, and Southampton sharing the spoils against Newcastle. All four of those teams will be joining us in an attempt to finish seventh in the Premier League this season. I’ll be hoping for a similar result when Leicester take on West Brom on Monday, even though the Baggies are the team I dislike the most. In the short term it might seem better to see Leicester defeated at home opening up a three point gap between the bottom three and the rest, but in the longer term I feel a draw would be the best result.

Prior to Monday night’s game, the league outside of the top teams is taking on a similar feel to last season and  is looking very close, even at this early stage, with Newcastle in ninth on 11 points just three points ahead of Stoke who now occupy 17th. It won’t be long before Watford and Burnley drop down to join the rest of us leaving the elite six to fight out the top places.

There is some debate on social media as to whether or not Andy Carroll’s red card was justified, but unfortunately I think the referee was right. And much as I don’t like to see our players unavailable for games, I don’t personally believe that playing without Carroll will harm us, and hopefully will lead to a better approach as to how we play the game. By our standards we have a fit squad of players to choose from, and I don’t think he will be missed. At best I see him as an impact substitute these days rather than someone who should be in the starting line-up, but I guess it is all a matter of opinion.

So, rather like the manager I am in two minds as to whether it was a point gained or two points lost. We won’t really know until we see what happens in matches to come.

Personally I had two excellent days at Newmarket races, including picking the winner of the Cesarewitch amongst other notable selections that made the racing profitable as well as enjoyable. I hope you noted my tip in the Burnley preview on Friday.

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

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

The Starting Eleven

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

Route 1 Please, David

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

Red Cards and Referees

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

Scheduled or Tactical Substitutions

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

Reflection on The Summer Signings

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

Five Takeaways: West Ham Get Out of Jail Against Swansea

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

Another Very Poor Game

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

The Circle of Strife

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

What’s In A Formation?

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

That Genius Substitution

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

Is There a Bright Side?

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

West Ham 2 Tottenham 3

A spirited comeback from West Ham but nothing to show for it.

Saturday’s result means that we move back into the bottom three in the Premier League. Six games played, four points. Four games away from home have yielded just a single point, and a win plus a defeat at home give us another three. To get back on to an average of a point a game we must win at home to Swansea next Saturday. The pressure is once again back on the manager, and this will increase still further if we don’t collect all three points in that game.

The Tottenham game was a strange one in many ways. I was there to watch it live as usual, and then saw re-runs of the game on TV later and the usual analysis on Match of the Day. I guess that each time you watch you pick up something new.

For much of the game we matched Tottenham for effort, but were lacking when it came to skill, and a tactical plan. Of course it didn’t help that Antonio picked up another muscle injury before half an hour had elapsed, and I was as surprised as those around me that Carroll was the manager’s choice to replace him. Once again Chicarito was moved to a wider position which, although he possesses a lot of skill it is not his forte. So much of football depends on the officials and their interpretation of events, but I could see quite clearly from a distance of 100 yards away that Arnautavic was having his shirt tugged when put through by Noble fairly early in the game. To my mind it was a clear penalty, (and even possibly a sending-off offence?) and if it had been converted, a 1-0 lead would have put a totally different complexion on the game.

But referee Oliver thought otherwise. He could see that the tackle was clean enough but apparently couldn’t see the shirt pulling. In many ways Oliver is a fine referee, although many social media views from West Ham fans suggested otherwise. They say that if you are good enough you are old enough, but I’m not entirely convinced that this applies to football match officials, particularly at the highest level. He wasn’t any older than some players on the pitch, and I’m not sure that he seems to have the authority necessary to handle a game.

Poor defending let us down, and I hope that when they look back at the game, then Carroll, Kouyate, Cresswell, Reid, and Fonte, will all feel that in different ways they could have done better for the first Tottenham goal. Similarly Carroll and Ogbonna for the second. And everyone back for the free-kick when Kane hit the post seemed transfixed when Eriksen stroked home the third.

But that wasn’t the end of the game, and our heads didn’t go down. A spirited comeback picked out a particular weakness of Tottenham for the ball in the air, and the headed goals from Chicarito and Kouyate led to an exciting climax. I felt that Carroll was moving at speed to head in the equaliser at the end when he was pushed just enough to put him off, in a similar way to Zabaleta conceding the injury-time penalty at Southampton that cost us a point. But once again referee Oliver thought otherwise, and our late pressure petered out with some handbags in the middle of the field that wasted endless time that stifled our momentum.

For me, Zabaleta was our best defender, but nobody else really stood out in the team apart from the short cameo from Masuaku in the latter stages, who showed good ability and looked dangerous going forward wide on the left. Cresswell can cross a decent ball at times, but doesn’t have Masuaku’s ability or pace to go past players. But neither are the best left-sided players around from a defensive point of view.

If you watch the game again you can measure how much time elapsed for each of the three goals scored in the second half and when the game was restarted. Add that to all the second half substitutions, the time taken for players to leave the field, and the Tottenham timewasting in the last twenty minutes and then try to reconcile that with the paltry four minutes that were added. The first half also had two goals, one substitution and Antonio’s injury, yet a mere two minutes was added. The sooner the authorities change the timing system in games, so that the clock is stopped every time the ball goes out of play or the game is halted, and then only re-started when the game resumes, the better. As spectators we are getting short-changed, and teams with a narrow lead are getting away with blatant timewasting.

We could possibly have got a point out of the game, but our shortcomings and contentious decisions not going our way let us down once again. Tottenham showed in many respects why they will probably end up in the top four or five in the league once again, although I cannot see them challenging the two Manchester clubs or Chelsea for a tilt at the top three. I believe that our lowly position is a false one, and that we have the quality of players to be a side challenging for a position in the top half of the table, but no better than that. But I’m not sure that we have a manager with the ability to motivate, and tactical awareness necessary, to go any further than that.

I’d love to see him prove me wrong, but unless we pick up three points against Swansea, then with the second international break following that game, I wonder if the board will lose patience and will give him the opportunity to do so.

Five Takeaways: Late Hammer’s Surge Papers Over The Cracks

A more resounding defeat than the score suggests ends West Ham’s run of clean sheets.

A Flattering Scoreline or Spirited Fightback?

Yesterday’s game was nowhere near as close as the record books will show for eternity.  After a cagey opening period Spurs, realising that there was to be no early West Ham onslaught, upped their game and, by the early part of the second half, had taken a commanding hold on the match .  The visitors with a midweek European adventure on the horizon decided to ease up rather than go for the jugular in the way that Arsenal and Manchester city had previously done at the London Stadium.  West Ham, to their credit, did not implode on this occasion despite heads appearing to have dropped at the time of the third goal.  The two headed goals plus the sending off leading to a barnstorming finale that was out of character with the rest of the match.  It was not that West Ham lacked spirit but they were very much second best in terms of quality and cohesion.  Should the Hammers find the same desire (frustratingly reserved for matches against the north Londoners) in the coming run of fixtures then a reasonable haul of points might be expected.  How can it be that the team is not ‘up for it’ every week?

Decide On A Shape and Stick With It

With the players available most were happy with the starting lineup and for the opening twenty minutes or so the team pressed and blocked well.  On paper Spurs looked vulnerable in the centre of midfield where expensive misfit Sissoko filled in for the absent Wanyama and Dembele.  Although the Hammers did little to exploit this weakness they were more than holding their own until the Michail Antonio injury.  Antonio’s pace, power and stamina are one of West Ham’s greatest assets and he was always going to be missed but, even so, it was a baffling decision to replace him with Andy Carroll and to meddle with the shape of the side so early in the match, given that things were going reasonably well.  It should be safe to assume that our preparation had been based around playing in a particular shape and style; to change it appeared, and was ultimately proved, to be foolish.

Individual Errors, Collective Disarray

When any goal is scored I guess you can always point to someone who could have done better to prevent it.  Yet I believe that individual errors are far more costly when a side is poorly organised, where players are not firmly drilled in what is expected of them and where the need to cover for each other is not apparent.  Giving the ball away cheaply is an all too common feature of our play and Carroll’s attempted pass, without looking, on the half way line led directly to the opening goal; as did his half-hearted challenge for the second one.  On both occasions, however, Tottenham still had lots to do and it was disappointing that there was so much space for them to exploit and that a number of players were merely ambling back. In different circumstances it would be possible to admire how fast clinical Spurs were on the break; an ability that is in stark contrast to our own laboured efforts to turn defence into attack.

Arnie Is Back – To Being Moody

In what was probably our best move of the game, Mark Noble played an astute pass to Marko Arnautovic who powered past his marker only to be denied by what one commentator describe as ‘an absolutely brilliant tackle by Aurier’, when in fact the tackle was only possible due to the fact that the defender was tugging at Arnie’s shirt.  Why this was not a foul and yet Alli’s blatant cheating dive in the build up to the third Spurs goal was, is anyone’s guess.  Not that the officials can be blamed for our defeat and, despite claims at the time, there was no offside for either of the first two Tottenham goals.  After his encouraging performance in midweek it was a disappointing show from Arnautovic who doesn’t look the type of player you can rely on to run his socks off each week.  Sadly there are too many like that on show in the current team which continues to give the appearance of a group of strangers rather than a well oiled machine.

Dead Manager Walking

Almost everyone you talk to believes that it is only a matter of time before Slaven Bilic is replaced as West Ham manager.  Maybe the mood in the boardroom is to allow him to see out his contract (whether this is out of loyalty or to save money, you can decide) although such procrastination is a dangerous game, as we know only too well from the Avram Grant experience.  As I have mentioned before, I see no scenario where Bilic is still manager at the start of the 2018/19 season.  Everyone must know that including himself, the coaching staff, players and the tea lady.  It must produce a completely negative and toxic atmosphere around the club.  It is not impossible that the team could muddle along and collect enough points here and there to survive but it is not going to be pretty to watch.  The ongoing concern is that with over two years under his belt we are no nearer seeing any emerging direction or style from Slaven.  Although I have no knowledge of who the potential available replacements might be I still see little justification for putting off the inevitable any longer.

West Ham v Bolton: Hammers Breeze Into Round 4

West Ham march into the last 16 of the Carabao Cup

I am old enough to remember the early days of the League Cup, currently the EFL Cup, and as a result of sponsorship known as the Carabao Cup this season. It has been a competition with a number of guises (mainly drink ones), the Milk Cup, the Littlewoods Cup, the Rumbelows Cup, the Coca Cola Cup, the Worthington Cup, The Carling Cup, and the Capital One Cup, and perhaps others that I have forgotten, but essentially the competition has remained unaltered since its inception, being open to the 92 clubs in the four divisions of the Football League.

The first Wembley final was in 1967, when third division Queens Park Rangers produced a comeback of Lazarus proportions against West Brom to win 3-2, after being two goals down at half-time. Prior to this the final was a two-legged affair. With effect from then, the winners gained a passport into Europe, initially the Fairs Cup, and now the Europa League, provided that they were in the top flight of English football, although that rule has since been relaxed.

Despite this, it continues to be perceived as a lower priority tournament than the more prestigious FA Cup, although it is surprising that many teams outside of the elite do not appear to take it more seriously with the carrot of Europe on offer to the winners, especially as it is perhaps the only realistic chance of qualifying.

West Ham’s first ever game in the competition was 57 years ago next Tuesday with a comfortable 3-1 win over Charlton. But in the next round we began a long history of being dumped out of the tournament by lower ranked teams when we lost 3-2 at Darlington, despite fielding a full strength team. It is a competition that we have never won and it is about time that we did.

So far this season the draw has been kind. In the last round we were drawn at home to Cheltenham, almost bottom of League Two, but of course had to play away from home as the stadium was not yet ready for football. A 2-0 win created the opportunity to progress further when we were handed another home draw, this time Bolton being the visitors. It is hard to believe but Bolton have made a worse start than ourselves, with two draws and six defeats leaving them rooted to the foot of the Championship. It was therefore a formality that we would move into the Fourth Round, or last 16, leaving us just two wins away from a two-legged semi-final appearance.

And a formality it was with an excellent commanding performance from an almost wholly changed team, including younger players being given their chance. Everyone played well, especially Arnautavic who played as if he owed the supporters something, and ran the show. Almost certainly I can see him filling in Lanzini’s position while our diminutive Argentinian remains injured. I hope the manager can see the same. And how good was it to see a centre back so comfortable on the ball with excellent distribution, as well as defending well, albeit against weak opposition. I wonder if Declan Rice will be given another chance as a starter, but this time in his natural position?

Ogbonna’s early goal was a boost and gave the side confidence from the start. Once Sakho had doubled the lead the game was over as a contest, and Masuaku’s thunderbolt at the end was the icing on the cake. Despite the impressive performances all over the pitch it is unlikely that more than two or three of the team will be in the starting line-up when Tottenham are our visitors next Saturday lunchtime.

In the meantime we move into the last sixteen of the competition hoping for another kind draw, which takes place at 10pm this evening. After the farce of the second round draw where John Salako confused the issue, and then the third round draw taking place in the early hours of the morning in China, I wonder what they have in store this time? Perhaps it could take place in a rocket orbiting the earth if they can overcome the gravity issue? Or even under water in Thailand? Anything that can boost the name of the sponsors is usually the order of the day.

Last Saturday we took part in one of the most uninspiring games in the Premier League when we came away from the Hawthorns with a goalless draw. My web colleague Geoff Hopkins wrote an excellent review of this game and I don’t propose to add anything further. Since then our manager is reported to have said that he is finding it difficult / it is challenging / he is struggling / he is finding it almost impossible to pair Carroll and Hernandez up front in the same team. Yes, the “big man / little man” combination has never worked in football has it! Come on, let’s make it work! Hernandez is a goalscorer of the highest calibre and we need him up front, and not cast aside out of his best position on the left wing. Surely it cannot be rocket science. Work on it and find a way to get the best out of both of them if you want them both in the side. Don’t just accept the situation. How long did it take to realise that Antonio was not a right back? We need to play to players’ strengths, and fit them into a workable formation.