Dreaming Dreams of a Top Eight Finish for West Ham

Today Under The Hammer’s Richard Bennett looks forward to the new Premier League season.

The 2017-18 season has arrived. Being a bit of a traditionalist, in the past the opening day was always one I looked forward to. All teams in the top flight would kick off at 3pm on the first Saturday, and by 5 o’clock you could see the first league table with all the teams having completed their first game. Of course, because of television that is not now the case, and this season the opening games begin on Friday evening, and continue through until Sunday, when our game at Old Trafford is the last one.

I had to smile when I saw the BBC league table where we were showing in 20th place (because of alphabetical order) before a ball has been kicked. By Saturday evening we will have moved off the bottom provided all the games on Friday and Saturday haven’t ended in draws! And when we kick off we will know what we have to do to be top of the table at the completion of matchday 1, or alternatively what we need to do to avoid being bottom of the pile.

This is written in jest of course, because the league table doesn’t really begin to take shape until at least half a dozen games have been played by each side. But by then, it is important not to be close to the bottom, as psychologically you feel that you are in a relegation scrap from the outset if you are. By the time we reach the third international break early in November, 11 games will have been played, five at home and six away, and by then we will have a good idea how our season will pan out.

By Christmas Day we will have reached the half-way point in the season (19 games played), but unusually we won’t have played all the other 19 teams at this point. The fixtures computer usually (in recent years) arranges it so that we have played them all, but by Christmas we will have played Newcastle home and away, but not played Bournemouth at all. We play them on Boxing Day.

But is it really that difficult to predict the eventual outcome in the Premier League by the end of the season? Last season my co-weblogger Geoff Hopkins and I made a forecast before the first games were played as to where each team would finish at the end. Our predictions were relatively accurate, as we predicted the top six (though not in the correct order), and not one of our finishing positions was more than six places out from the eventual outcome. This was no great achievement because it is not hard to know roughly what will happen before a ball has been kicked. Of course we were all taken by surprise with Leicester the season before, but that was a one-off which is extremely unlikely to happen again. Going back a few years it was much harder to forecast what would happen each season.

The Premier League is actually more open than almost all the other leagues in Europe, in that before the season starts there are likely to be anything up to six teams who may be in contention for the title. Compare that to other countries where the champions will come from perhaps two or three teams at the most.

Nevertheless despite the apparent predictability, Geoff and I will forecast the finishing positions of each team in the Premier League in the form of a friendly competition (see Geoff’s prediction here.). We score 0 points if we get the finishing position spot on, or one point for each position that we are out. Like the quiz Pointless the lowest score wins. Last year our scores were 54-57, so on average we were less than three positions out for each team, confirming the predictability of the league.

Last time I predicted a seventh place finish for West Ham to match the successful season that preceded it. We eventually ended up in 11th, although of course we were only one point behind the eighth placed team. Only six points separated 8th from 17th in the Premier League, so it can be close for the teams vying for the 8th spot, which if it follows last season, will be a competition in itself, because I believe the top seven spots will already be taken. Of course I hope I am wrong, and that our pre-season fixtures are not a true indication of how we will perform. Perhaps we can do a Leicester? If you believe that then the majority of bookmakers will offer you odds of 500-1.

My forecast for 2017-18 is as follows:

  1. Manchester City
  2. Manchester United
  3. Chelsea
  4. Arsenal
  5. Tottenham
  6. Liverpool
  7. Everton
  8. West Ham
  9. Leicester
  10. Newcastle
  11. Crystal Palace
  12. West Brom
  13. Bournemouth
  14. Southampton
  15. Swansea
  16. Stoke
  17. Burnley
  18. Brighton
  19. Huddersfield
  20. Watford

Can The Hammers Enjoy a Season in the Sun?

A review of the West Ham and the upcoming 2017/ 18 Premier League by Under The Hammer’s Geoff Hopkins.

As we prepare for the start of another Premier League season I find myself in a similar position to the one that heralded the final year of Fat Sam’s reign.   Unfortunately, I don’t believe we have a manager that can deliver in the long term and yet, regardless of circumstances, I always want the team to win every game, and so could take no pleasure from being proved right about the manager’s limitations.  In fact, I would be more than happy for him to prove me wrong by as much as he likes.  The trouble is I see little to suggest that anything has changed in the management and coaching mindset to address the many problems that we witnessed in team performance and organisation last year.

I understand it is a reasonable argument to put forward that Bilic has had one good season in charge and one poor one; and so deserves a third as an opportunity to prove himself; but it leaves everyone in a rather precarious and uncertain situation of a manger in the final year of his contract where safety first will be the order of the day.

Two years ago when West Ham faced Arsenal away on the opening weekend of the season and came away with a stunning 2-0 victory it seemed we had struck gold with a tactically astute manager playing attractive football at the helm at last.  This was quickly followed up with a run of other unexpected wins against top clubs before performances started to gradually fall away despite the emotion generated from the last season at Upton Park.  In a season where the big clubs largely under-performed the Hammers were inspired by the flair and free-kicks of flawed Frenchman Dimitri Payet.  Yet a system and passion that worked well against elite clubs often failed to deliver, at least on a consistent basis, against the lesser teams where the team lacked shape, pace and penetration.  With poor recruitment the following summer and once Payet had downed tools, the underlying cracks in organisation and tactics were revealed for all to see.  It would not be the first time that a manager had done well in his first season built on a predecessor’s foundation but then faded badly.

The general consensus is that West Ham have had a spectacular summer transfer window.  In contrast to last summer, and the bizarre January recruitment, that may well be the case but it seems premature to pat ourselves on the back too enthusiastically just yet.  Let’s wait and see how the new signings perform before getting too carried away.  Does Zabaleta still have the legs and motivation?  Can Hernandez deliver as a regular lone striker starter?  How consistent will Arnautovic be?  Does it make sense for your first choice keeper to be only on loan?  Will Bilic, given his uncertain position, take the risk of blooding any young players?   We can all speculate but only time will tell for sure.  I would like to believe in my heart that we could be competing for a best of the rest seventh but my head says mid-table at best.

As for the squad itself, it looks stronger on paper when compared to how we know the team performed last season.  But a performing team needs to be more than the sum of its parts and in modern football attack and defence must be conducted as a unit and requires organisation, pace, mobility and fitness in addition to the underlying technical skills.  Too often West Ham teams have a disjointed look with the merest hint of cohesion between the constituent parts of the formation. In a Premier League awash with money every team has good technical players and so how those talents are utilised and integrated becomes even more important and is the true measure of coaching.

In goal, Hart is an upgrade (but not a massive one) on Adrian and if the rumours of Adrian wanting out are true then we could be left with a bit of an embarrassing hole between the sticks.

The defence says old, frail and error prone to me unless it is strengthened before the transfer window closes (and not with Kone!).  Reid is a top quality defender but is not without injury concerns.  Ogbonna has a tendency to switch off and allow opponents too much room, Collins is decent as emergency cover but Fonte looks something of a dud, at least in a back four.  It is a case of wait and see as far as Zabaleta is concerned while Cresswell, Masuaku and Byram are all better when going forward than defending.  Will Rice be given a chance?  Maybe, but most likely as a defensive midfielder from the bench.

The squad is packed with midfield players of one type or another but the optimum combination is difficult to identify.  West Ham rarely dominate a match these days and that is a direct consequence of poor ball retention, options and movement, particularly in the midfield areas.

Any team needs to be solid at the centre of midfield where defensive and pressing responsibilities are key.  Obiang is a class act but Noble, bless his claret and blue cotton socks, is too slow in movement and distribution these days while Kouyate, despite his athleticism, lacks the required discipline and is a poor passer of the ball.  Fernandes is sometimes mentioned as an option but, for me, needs a more attacking role that suits his physique and range of passing.  An additional defensive/ holding midfielder would be another at the top of my priority list.

The realistic attacking midfield options are Lanzini (assuming we keep hold of him), Antonio and Arnautovic backed up by Ayew, Fernandes and possibly new signing Haksabanovic.  I suppose there is also Feghouli and Snodgrass until we hear otherwise.  Hopefully Arnautovic can assist Lanzini in the creativity department but can he help out his full-back when required?  Will Antonio get a long run in his preferred and most effective wide right position or does Bilic have different plans for him?  Will Haksabanovic be given a chance and what exactly is Ayew’s position?

The troublesome striker position now has a potential solution with the recruitment of Hernandez.  On the assumption that he will be the main striker playing up front on his own it will be interesting to see how he adapts.  His goals scored per minutes on the pitch record at Manchester United was impressive and came courtesy of some very clinical finishing off the bench; his role at West Ham will be a whole new challenge for him.  At the moment the only back-up is from perennial sick-notes Carroll and Sakho.  Could a Hernandez/ Carroll partnership work?  Possibly in certain circumstances but taking a player out of a fragile midfield would create its own problems.

I don’t expect a season of struggle but I do foresee an unspectacular one with a disjointed team that relies heavily on set pieces for its goals.  I don’t disagree with Bilic that individual errors need to be eliminated but that is by no means the extent, or even the most important, of the shortcomings.

Mentally, I would include West Ham in a group of teams who should be capable of grabbing seventh spot with the help of a good following wind and good fortune with injuries and refereeing decsions; alongside the likes of Everton, Leicester, Southampton, Newcastle and even Palace.  Everton have lost Lukaku and have the distraction of European Thursday night football, Leicester have bought and retained well, Southampton and Palace have new managers inexperienced in English football and Newcastle need to adapt to life back at the top.  There is a chance but do we have the confidence, desire and discipline to take it?  I really hope we give it a go and can show the same commitment as if we were playing Tottenham every week.

In time honoured fashion I will end with my prediction for the final Premier League table season 2017/18:

1          Manchester United
2          Manchester City
3          Tottenham
4          Arsenal
5          Liverpool
6          Chelsea
7          Everton
8          Leicester
9          Southampton
10       Crystal Palace
11       West Ham
12       Newcastle
13       Watford
14       Bournemouth
15       Stoke
16       Swansea
17       West Bromwich Albion
18       Burnley
19       Huddersfield
20       Brighton

West Ham: Arrivals, Lineups, Formations and Substitutions

With our new arrivals, what is the best West Ham team for the coming season? Have we now got enough quality players to use impact substitutions to change a game if necessary?

I am old enough to remember the days when football was strictly eleven-a side. Teams would start with 11 players and finish with the same 11 players. If anybody was injured or out of form then that was just tough; there were no substitutes sitting on a bench to replace them. When West Ham won the FA Cup in 1964, the same 11 players started and finished every game in every round, including the Cup Final itself. Those days are long gone.

The ability to use increased numbers of replacements was a gradual one.  In the English leagues in the mid-1960s each side was permitted to use one substitute (just one player was nominated to sit on the bench), but only if a player was injured. This rule was relaxed a couple of years later to allow the substitution for tactical reasons. As time has progressed the number of substitutes that can be used has gradually increased so that now (in competitive matches, as opposed to friendlies) a maximum of three new players can be brought on, out of seven who are sitting waiting for a chance to come on.

As a follower of Rugby Union I have noticed a similar situation, where although 15 players start the game, the squad consists of 23, and I believe all 8 who start on the sidelines can be brought on at some time. If football follows a similar pattern then I can see the day not far off when perhaps five substitutes can be used, and a whole team sits on the side, allowing for tactical substitutions to be made in all positions on the field.

But, even though the game is now 14-a-side, do managers make the best use of the players at their disposal in each game? How can West Ham make better use of players sitting on the bench?

With the new players that have arrived during the current transfer window, many West Ham fans have taken to social media to set out their favoured starting eleven for the new season assuming everybody is fit, which of course is a situation that never seems to happen with our club. I have analysed a number of these, and it would appear that the following 11 players are the ones most nominated (in the manager’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation):

Hart

Zabaleta, Reid, Ogbonna, Masuaku

Obiang, Kouyate,

Antonio, Lanzini, Arnautovic,

Hernandez

Of course not everyone is in agreement, (and the manager himself may be one of those!) and the players closest to appearing in the starting eleven not in this team, would appear to be Cresswell, Noble, and Ayew. So our most recently capped England international, our captain, and our (until recently) record signing would be amongst those sitting on the bench. Other contenders for substitute would be Fonte and Collins at centre-back, Byram at right back, Fernandes in midfield, and the (seemingly) perpetually injured Carroll and Sakho up front. Snodgrass, Feghouli and Fletcher would also come into the equation if they remain with us, together with the young players such as Rice, Burke, Cullen, Quina and Martinez and perhaps others, if they are given a chance.

Of course, at times as last season progressed, we stumbled upon a 3-5-2 formation which had some initial success, and if this formation was deployed, who would be the back three? Even though Zabaleta is a full back by trade, he could perhaps be used alongside Reid and Ogbonna, although perhaps Fonte could come in? No doubt Byram or Antonio would be used as the right wing backs, and Cresswell or Masuaku on the left.

Assuming Obiang, Kouyate and Lanzini are picked whatever the formation, this would leave Hernandez and Arnuatovic as the two up front, with Carroll and Sakho (if fit) being more than useful substitutes, especially the former if a tactical variation was used. However, I personally doubt that we would start with a 3-5-2 formation with the players in the squad now, but it would be good to think that the players could adapt to this (mid-game) if necessary.

Most observers and fans seem to agree that this has been a superb transfer window so far (although some will never be happy, of course), and according to various media we haven’t finished yet. But I doubt if there will be more additions unless some go out of the exit door. But whatever your opinion, we now have much greater pace in attacking positions, allowing for a potentially completely different dimension to our forward play. We have a variety of alternative attacking options, and hopefully we will use substitutions wisely to make full use of them. We now seem to have a squad which will allow us to play with a Plan B, C, D, and I hope that we make full use of all the possibilities to enable us to score more goals.

My concerns for the forthcoming season are diminishing, although we will still rely on Lanzini to make us tick in the middle, and I’m not sure we have anyone to fulfil a similar role if he is out. If only we had another £40-£50 million to splash out on a Sigurdsson or Barkley? Similarly, whilst we have four very experienced international centre backs to choose from, I worry about a lack of pace in that area when facing nimble attacking opposition.

I firmly believe that we now have the players that will enable us to comfortably finish in at least eighth place in the Premier League. It would be good to think that we could challenge for a higher finishing position, and we should hopefully be closer to the top teams than we were last season. It will still be difficult to break into the elite six or seven teams at the top, but you never know.

Matches Made in Heaven: The Fixtures Computer Has Its Say

Next seasons fixtures have been belched out by the computer with just 59 days to go to kick-off.

The Fixture Computer has completed its complex computations, the lights have stopped flashing, all whirring and clicking has ceased and floppy disks have been dispatched to the anxiously waiting media.

True to form, West Ham have been scheduled to play every other team in the league two times during the season but despite this certainty there is plenty of opportunity to agonise over the order of games.

The season kicks-off on 12 August (TV schedules permitting) with a visit to the Theatre of Defeats where Jose will be unveiling several hundred millions of new talent. The following weekend is meant to be a home game against Southampton but as the retractable seating will yet to have been bolted back together after the World Athletics Championships then this match will need to be rescheduled; I assume by swapping it with the Saints away fixture in March 2018.

The first game at the London Stadium will be against relegation fodder, Huddersfield Town on September 9 while they are still in the Premier League honeymoon period of insane effort and optimism. At least the transfer window will have finished by then and all the last minute loans will be in place.  A good start to the season is always welcome as it serves to relieve any early pressure or uncertainty but it would be a surprise to earn such a luxury this coming season. Still there is always the odd early season surprise.

Injuries, suspensions, fixture congestion, cup runs and loss of form are all more likely to impact the progress of the season than the order in which the games are played. Nevertheless, if we do experience a repeat of last season’s poor performances the run-in is not the one you would have chosen; featuring as it does four of the big six (plus Everton) in the last eight games. Fingers crossed that we have accumulated forty points by Easter.

To date it remains pretty much as you were at West Ham and at this stage the Hammers must be regarded as at least a metaphorical twenty points behind in the polls. Never say never, though, and all that is required are inspired signings, better tactics, sharper training, improved fitness and a more objective approach to team selection and we could end up as contenders.

The fixtures in full:

Saturday 12 August

Manchester United v West Ham United

Saturday 19 August

West Ham United v Southampton

Saturday 26 August

Newcastle United v West Ham United

Saturday 9 September

West Ham United v Huddersfield Town

Saturday 16 September

West Bromwich Albion v West Ham United

Saturday 23 September

West Ham United v Tottenham Hotspur

Saturday 30 September

West Ham United v Swansea City

Saturday 14 October

Burnley v West Ham United

Saturday 21 October

West Ham United v Brighton & Hove Albion

Saturday 28 October

Crystal Palace v West Ham United

Saturday 4 November

West Ham United v Liverpool

Saturday 18 November

Watford v West Ham United

Saturday 25 November

West Ham United v Leicester City

Wednesday 29 November

Everton v West Ham United

Saturday 2 December

Manchester City v West Ham United

Saturday 9 December

West Ham United v Chelsea

Tuesday 12 December

West Ham United v Arsenal

Saturday 16 December

Stoke City v West Ham United

Saturday 23 December

West Ham United v Newcastle United

Tuesday 26 December

AFC Bournemouth v West Ham United

Saturday 30 December

Tottenham Hotspur v West Ham United

Monday 1 January

West Ham United v West Bromwich Albion

Saturday 13 January

Huddersfield Town v West Ham United

Saturday 20 January

West Ham United v AFC Bournemouth

Tuesday 30 January

West Ham United v Crystal Palace

Saturday 3 February

Brighton & Hove Albion v West Ham United

Saturday 10 February

West Ham United v Watford

Saturday 24 February

Liverpool v West Ham United

Saturday 3 March

Swansea City v West Ham United

Saturday 10 March

West Ham United v Burnley

Saturday 17 March

West Ham United v Manchester United

Saturday 31 March

Southampton v West Ham United

Saturday 7 April

Chelsea v West Ham United

Saturday 14 April

West Ham United v Stoke City

Saturday 21 April

Arsenal v West Ham United

Saturday 28 April

West Ham United v Manchester City

Saturday 5 May

Leicester City v West Ham United

Sunday 13 May

West Ham United v Everton

The Fourth International Break

With a quarter of the season remaining we project where West Ham will finish in the Premier
League based upon current form.

bpl

Here we are roughly three-quarters of the way through the season and we have the fourth international break. Only three league games had been completed when we had the first, seven games for the second, and just eleven when we had a free weekend for the third. I guess it is about time for another one! Due to the EFL Cup and FA Cup, the number of league games played by Premier League clubs varies between Manchester United and Southampton on 26, and a few teams like ourselves on 29. We therefore have just nine games left to finish in as high a position as possible. But how high will that be?

Pts.

Left

1

Chelsea

69

10

2

Tottenham

56

11

3

Man City

56

11

4

Liverpool

55

10

5

Arsenal

50

11

6

Everton

50

9

7

Man United

49

12

8

West Brom

43

9

9

Stoke

36

9

10

Southampton

33

12

11

Bournemouth

33

9

12

West Ham

33

9

13

Burnley

32

9

14

Watford

31

10

15

Leicester

30

10

16

Palace

28

10

17

Swansea

27

9

18

Hull

24

9

19

Middlesbrough

22

11

20

Sunderland

20

10

Looking at the current league table above, which shows the points achieved so far and the number of games left in the season, then nobody could possibly bet against Chelsea coming out on top, although the fight to get into a top four position is not yet cut and dried. At the bottom, then the three most north-easterly clubs in the country look in trouble. We are in that cluster of clubs fighting for a ninth-place finish, as the top eight are now well clear barring a significant change of fortune.

Of course we don’t know what will happen between now and the end of the season, but one possible indicator is to look at the recent form of all the teams, and project this forward to the season’s end. As they write in all financial services advertisements, past performance is no guarantee of future results, but companies nevertheless still provide projections to enable potential investors to consider what might be achieved. So for this prediction exercise I looked at the number of points per game that all the teams have achieved in the most recent 10 games, and then multiplied this by the number of games that each has to play, to come up with a forecast of the final positions based on the form showed in their last ten games. And this was the result.

End of Season Predicted Points Tally Based on the form of the last 10 games

1

Chelsea

92

2

Tottenham

81

3

Man City

78

4

Man United

75

5

Everton

71

6

Liverpool

70

7

Arsenal

68

8

West Brom

58

9

Stoke

50

10

Southampton

47

11

Leicester

43

12

West Ham

43

13

Bournemouth

41

14

Swansea

41

15

Burnley

40

16

Watford

40

17

Palace

40

18

Hull

34

19

Middlesbrough

26

20

Sunderland

26

No great surprises here, although Manchester United would achieve a top four finish. We would finish in twelfth spot (as now) and the bottom three teams would be unchanged. Somebody I showed this to suggested that to look at the form of the last ten games would not be as accurate as considering the most recent results achieved, and it might be worth looking at a shorter time frame. So I carried out the same exercise looking at the most recent six games, and then projecting the end of season points totals from that, and this was the result:

End of Season Predicted Points Tally Based on the form of the last 6 games

1

Chelsea

92

2

Man City

82

3

Tottenham

76

4

Liverpool

72

5

Everton

70

6

Man United

69

7

Arsenal

61

8

West Brom

58

9

Southampton

51

10

Palace

48

11

Stoke

47

12

Leicester

45

13

Bournemouth

44

14

Watford

43

15

West Ham

41

16

Burnley

37

17

Swansea

36

18

Hull

35

19

Sunderland

28

20

Middlesbrough

26

This table produces greater variation than the previous one because we are looking at a smaller time frame. Some will argue that this could be more accurate as it is based upon more recent form. But as West Ham fans, we know that form can change. When we go along we never quite know what West Ham team will turn up, or what we can expect. Our form fluctuates more than many others. Nonetheless, this projection is more worrying in that we end up down in 15th place. Palace, on the other hand, finish in the top half of the table.

Mischievously, partly because I have a good idea what the results will be, I did a final calculation of end of season positions, based upon form in the last three games only. This is, perhaps, too narrow a time frame to be realistic. Or is it? The result is shown below.

End of Season Predicted Points Tally Based on the form of the last 3 games

1

Chelsea

99

2

Man City

82

3

Tottenham

78

4

Man United

77

5

Liverpool

75

6

Everton

68

7

Arsenal

61

8

Leicester

60

9

Palace

58

10

Southampton

57

11

Bournemouth

54

12

West Brom

52

13

Stoke

48

14

Swansea

36

15

Burnley

35

16

Watford

34

17

West Ham

33

18

Hull

33

19

Middlesbrough

26

20

Sunderland

23

I knew roughly what this would show, as we are the only team in the Premier League without a single point in our last three games. But if this did prove to be an indicator of the end of season position, then it would be a matter of goal difference as to whether or not we play in the Premier League next season! One thing is for sure. Our current form needs to improve, and we probably do need a few more points to be safe.

Down with the Christmas decorations?

We look at whether the West Ham reputation of coming down with the Xmas decorations is fact or myth.

Christmas Decorations

I first went to Upton Park in the 1958-59 season. That means that this is my 59th season of actively supporting the team. Of the 58 completed seasons, 49 have been spent in the top flight of English football, and just 9 in the second tier. I have seen us relegated five times and then promoted back five times.

We’ve always had a reputation for coming down with the Christmas decorations. So I thought I’d conduct some research to ascertain whether this is a fact or a myth. Looking at those 49 seasons at the top table I found that on 22 occasions we finished the season in a lower position than we held on Christmas Day. And 22 times we actually finished up in a higher position at the end than we were at Christmas. Five times we ended up in exactly the same position. So in reality, on average the second half of the season has been equally as good as the first.

It is true that in the 1960s and 1980s the trend was to fall in the league table after Christmas more often than not. But since 1993-94, our first season in the newly formed Premier League, we have been in the top flight for 20 seasons, and in that time we have only finished the season in a lower position than we were at Christmas on three occasions. In 1993-94 we dropped from 11th to 13th, in 2000-01 we fell from 10th to 15th, and the biggest fall was in 2014-15 when in Big Sam’s final season we went from 4th at Christmas to finish 12th. In every other year we have either retained or improved our position in the second half. So apart from Big Sam’s swansong, we have never fallen to a lower position at the end of the season than we held at Christmas in our last 12 seasons in the top flight.

Our Christmas Day position this year is 13th. Our average finishing position in the 49 seasons in the top division in my lifetime is 13th. Of course 3rd was our best performance of all in 1985-86. That season we were 3rd at Christmas too. And on the five occasions when we were relegated, our positions on Christmas Day were 21, 20, 18, 20, 20. So if history (especially recent history) is anything to go by, what is there to worry about?

Of course we have played indifferently in quite a few games this season. But our five 1-0 victories, and four draws, leave us on 19 points from 17 games. It has not been a good season, especially compared to the last one. Our manager and the players still have a lot of work to do to ensure that we keep our distance from the relegation places, and hopefully push on upwards towards the top half of the table. We must stop throwing away points when we are leading in games too. The 12 points we have dropped from leading positions, would have seen us in 5th place in the table if we had held on to the lead in those matches.

It’s not all doom and gloom as some articles in the media would suggest. It hasn’t been the best, but trust me we’ve been here before. We’ve never been relegated from this position in the table at Christmas, and it won’t happen this season either. We are only five points behind seventh place in the table, which is where we finished last season. I’m looking for us to move upwards after Christmas, just as we have done in most seasons in the twenty-first century.  The generally held belief that we come down with the Christmas decorations is a false one.

Who is to blame for our poor start to the season?

Who is in the firing line as disappointed fans look for someone to blame for the current shortcomings.

Board, manager, playersThe move to a new stadium often results in some people being unhappy. Most clubs when they move take a little while to settle. It’s the same as moving house. It takes a while to get used to your new surroundings. A trawl through social media reveals how when results are going against us, or when we are not playing well (to put it mildly), then individuals want to blame someone, or a group of people, or an inanimate object as to the reason for it. Sometimes it’s the players, or the manager, or the board, or the stadium. Sometimes it is all of them added together.

I can understand the disenchantment with players, especially when sometimes they don’t appear to be giving their all. I can understand that the buck stops with the manager when he is responsible for picking the team, devising tactics etc. If he is unhappy with the effort being put in by players at training, then it is his responsibility to do something about it. When things are not going well then the board will inevitably come in for criticism from some fans too. Certainly the summer transfer dealings which resulted in some very average recruitment, the proposed payments to Tevez, and anticipation of a “marquee” signing, would have been better kept in-house rather than discussed with media outlets. But the vitriolic personal attacks by some on social media are totally unnecessary, although I guess are just a consequence of the computer age, and happen in other spheres of life, too.

The one that really gets me is the criticism of the stadium. It’s just a football pitch surrounded by stands. I understand all the talk about it not being a football stadium, further from the pitch etc., so how comes we turned in the performance we did against Chelsea in the League Cup? Did we play it somewhere else when I wasn’t looking? The atmosphere at that game was at least equal to anything ever produced at Upton Park. The decibel levels when Antonio nodded in the late winner against Bournemouth, or when Payet scored his wonder individual goal to equalise against Middlesbrough went off the scale. And if you study the statistics, Upton Park was rarely a “fortress”.

I’m not one of the new breed of plastic supporters that I see written about. I spent 58 years going to Upton Park. I loved it in the old days when we stood on the terraces and were close to the pitch. Yes, sometimes a crowd of 20,000 would generate a fantastic atmosphere, but only at times when we were lifted by the players on the pitch. When we weren’t playing well you could almost hear a pin drop at times. And with the redevelopment of Upton Park into an all-seater stadium following the Taylor report, we weren’t that close to the pitch either. I am more than happy with the new stadium, as are most of the people I’ve discussed it with who sit nearby. But everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I always respect other opinions.

But I personally don’t understand why fans keep going on about it. There is no going back I’m afraid. There is no point in posting pictures of the Boleyn Ground in various states of demolition. I’ve even read pleas to wealthy West Ham fans to come forward, and put together a new team, a bit like what has happened in Manchester, and even try to buy the Boleyn Ground from the developers and build a brand new purpose built football stadium there. Quite a project to undertake.

Perhaps the reason for our poor start is a mixture of players, injuries, the manager and coaching staff, the training facilities, the board, and the stadium. I believe that with a good run of results, much of the negativity will disappear. Everyone has to pull together to turn things around. But if we are still hovering around the relegation zone at the turn of the year, then I am afraid that the current discontent will continue. Let’s hope that everyone involved does their bit to ensure a big improvement in the remainder of the season.