Curbing Our Enthusiasm at The London Stadium

Hope generally trumps expectation but is it time to forget the promises of next levels and accept our role as Premier League also-rans?

The story behind the naming of the hit TV show Curb Your Enthusiasm is that it was a reaction by creator, Larry David, against the many people who lived their lives projecting false enthusiasm and also to urge viewers not to raise their expectations too high.  Regrettably there is no connection to former Hammer’s manager Alan Curbishley!  False enthusiasm and the managing expectations do, however, play a large part in the current undercurrent of discontent that continues to surround West Ham and the London Stadium.

My personal view about the current board is reasonably ambivalent.  It makes no difference to me how our owners originally made their money; suffice to say that they have been successful business people which allowed them to take control of the club at a very uncertain time of it’s history.  Nevertheless, they cannot dine out on their reputation as the club’s saviours forever.  I do not subscribe to the view that their tenure has been synonymous with penny pinching yet do not feel that they have spent their money wisely; the value of their asset has undoubtedly increased but on the back of the money pouring into the game rather than as a result of their own efforts in develop the footballing side of the club.

Expectation management is the biggest concern in particular the misleading naming of high profile transfer targets where we have little hope of persuading the player or deep enough pockets to meet the demands of his current employers.  Supporters often focus only on net transfer spend but in reality there is no such thing as a separate transfer budget.  Clubs will focus on total expenditure (against revenues) which includes transfers, wages and agents fees.  That West Ham were ranked sixth in agent fees paid last season and have several players (with limited re-sale value) earning more than anyone at Tottenham just doesn’t seem to make any long term sense.

Many of us were no doubt carried away a little by the prospect of a new golden era of prosperity following the move to the new stadium even if there were differences of opinion as to how many years this would take.  Fine talk of regular European football and an assault on eventual Champion’s League qualification is a commendable dream (and there is nothing wrong with having a dream) but a dream without a plan is nothing more than a wish.   The structure of the club in terms of footballing direction, scouting, coaching, fitness, youth development and training facilities are way behind other Premier League clubs and leaves the impression of muddling for the sake of survival rather than with any loftier ambitions.  To borrow from The Waterboys, the Owners had promised us ‘the whole of the moon’ but have, so far, we have only seen ‘the crescent’.

It will be no surprise when the end of season Premier League table is almost identical to the amount of money that each club rakes in.  The outlier my well be ourselves in finishing well below the 7th or 8th position that our revenues would suggest.  Despite the Leicester blip, money has increasingly become the determining factor to league position.  As I see it, there is even a split in terms of financial muscle in the so-called big six with the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea now well ahead of the remainder.  Large external investment is the only way to get onto the top table on a regular basis.  Arguably the Premier League is more competitive than other European leagues where one or two horse races have become the norm.  The dilemma for top Premier League clubs is does this relative greater competition diminish their chance of Champion’s League success.

As TV and commercial revenues become far more dominant to the wealth of clubs it is impossible to see how a next level can be achieved simply by year on year incremental and organic growth.  If Gold and Sullivan intend to pass on ownership of the club to their families there can be and never will be a new promised land in east London football.  Perhaps we should just accept our place in the scheme of things to make up the numbers.  An occasional tilt at a Europa league place or a domestic cup every few decades is, maybe, the best a West Ham man can get.

The status quo leaves West Ham in a difficult position leaving the club as it does as the fourth largest in London.  I have long wondered whether it is this factor of geography that makes a large contribution to our recurrent under achievement.  Proximity creates far greater competition for the signature of the brightest and best youth players; and from clubs with better facilities, as evidenced by the poor productivity from the academy over the last ten years or so.  On the other hand established players signing for a London team, with the attraction and distraction of the bright city lights, may well become complacent big-time Charlies now that they have made the big time; without the need for the hard work that a more competitive squad would require.

An interesting blog from When Saturday Comes published in the Guardian by a Swansea supporter questioned whether, for teams with limited resources, perennial struggle in the Premier League was better or worse than being reasonably successful in the Championship.  Certainly the allure of the Premier League is great but does it wear thin after a while It is an intriguing dilemma for supporters as to whether the chance to see world famous footballers in live action makes up for the disappointment of regular defeat.  (For me, the article was spoilt by the cheap, needless and irrelevant swipe at the London Stadium – it is fine for own support to slag off the club but others should keep their unsolicited views to themselves; particularly where it is not pertinent to the point in hand.)  As the Premier League becomes more polarised around money there should be no circumstances where mid ranking clubs such as West Ham or Newcastle ever get relegated and even to flirt with it is a sure sign of mismanagement.

We have the worst of all worlds at West Ham at the moment.  A manager who, with no chance of a new contract, few tactical ideas, regularly prepares teams with questionable fitness and deployed with no overall system or plan, is limping along from week to week in an attempt to scrape together enough points to avoid the sack.  It is a sorry state of affairs. At least the team will not this time have a hangover from a warm weather break in Dubai to disadvantage them when Premier League action resumes at the weekend.

The highlight of the international break was seeing Iceland qualify for the World Cup finals for the first time.  With a population of around 330,000 (just a few thousand less than the borough of Newham), this is some achievement and a great example of producing a team that is greater than the sum of its parts.  Perhaps part-time manager (and dentist) Heimir Hallgrímsson could do a job at West Ham even if it is only filling in until the end of the season!

What has been going on in the Second International break?

I’d prefer to watch a re-run of the West Ham v Swansea game (or even paint drying) rather than watch England play

I’ll begin my international break review with my usual rant. Why do we have to put up with these breaks so early in the season that totally disrupt the Premier League campaign? OK, so England have qualified for the finals tournament of the World Cup to be held in Russia next summer. Is that really much of a surprise when we were in a group of world football powers such as Scotland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta? The combined population of those five countries when added together totals around 16 million.

The biggest surprise is the fact that we haven’t actually won all of the games in the qualifying group. With one game to go we haven’t even averaged scoring two goals a game! When you compare our 17 goals against the other leading European nations it is clear that we are nowhere near their level, and if we continue to struggle to score goals against such weak teams in qualifying, then what chance will we have in the finals themselves? To be fair though, our goals conceded record is not bettered by any other team in any of the qualifying groups, so look forward to some low scoring games when England are playing in the tournament.

Fortunately I was playing football myself on Thursday evening when we clinched qualification, so I missed what must have been a performance equivalent to watching paint dry. I saw that Joe Hart was named as man of the match, so that says it all really. One wag wrote that Southgate comes from the same school of football tactics as our manager, in that a free kick in our opponents half ended up with Joe Hart after a succession of sideways and backwards passes, and then possession was given away by a long aimless kick upfield. Southgate was quoted as saying that we are “a work in progress”. A bit of an understatement?

So what else has been happening on the club front? I see that Reece Oxford is back after what appears to be an unsuccessful loan spell in Germany. I wonder if he can recapture the early promise that he was showing a couple of years ago? Or is he going to be one of those players that appears to have it all at a very young age, and then fades from the scene?

The manager seems to have survived the rumours that suggested he could be on his way out during the break, although constant speculation as to his successor continues in the media. The latest names that I’ve seen linked are Sean Dyche, who has done an excellent job at Burnley, our next opponents, and Carlo Ancelotti who is said to be taking a break from football for the remainder of the season, making him available for recruitment at the end of the season. Who knows? I reckon that provided we have an OK run from here and don’t dabble with relegation, then perhaps our owners are prepared to let our manager continue until the end of his contract. It would probably take a final league position of around seventh or eighth for him to be given an extension, and based upon what I’ve seen so far this season I would say that is extremely unlikely, though I would love to be proved wrong.

There hasn’t been much in the way of original transfer speculation, although I read that Everton are prepared to bid £20 million for Carroll in January! Walcott and Wilshere from Arsenal are names that we are constantly linked with, but we shall see what happens when the next window opens.

Many West Ham fans have been complaining on social media regarding our ticket allocation for the next round of the Carabao Cup against Tottenham at Wembley. I believe that they have failed to realise that Tottenham and the police have put a maximum crowd for the game, and as such the allocation is exactly what should be given to us.

Apparently there is much speculation that Sky Sports want to televise our game against Newcastle just before Christmas, and want to put the game back to a 1.30 kick-off on Christmas Eve. I can imagine that going down well with the Westfield authorities, not to mention the travelling support who would have rather a long journey at a time when all the transport systems will be closing down for the Christmas break. If true, it reinforces the belief that the TV companies who sponsor Premier League football to the tune of around £11 million a game, have no regard whatsoever for football supporters.

Our former captain, Kevin Nolan, has made an excellent start to his career as manager of Notts County and has won the League Two Manager of the Month award. The award itself is usually the kiss of death to a manager and it remains to be seen if he can follow this up throughout the season.

There have been many calls for both Sakho, and particularly Masuaku to be in the starting line-up in the Burnley game. I’m assuming that the majority of our injured players will be back available for selection in the near future, so soon we will have a fully-fit squad, which is most unusual. It will be interesting to see our line-up and formation for the forthcoming run of fixtures, which (on paper) is as easy a run of games that you can get in the top flight. If we don’t manage to start climbing the table in the next month then the speculation concerning the manager will once again reach a crescendo.

Premier League clubs will be voting soon on the distribution of overseas broadcasting TV rights. At the moment this money, which is expected to rise considerably at the next renewal in 2019, is shared equally among all clubs in the top division, but the elite teams want to see a change (unsurprisingly) such that it is based upon finishing positions. Reports initially suggested that we would be voting for this change, but latterly I have read that we intend to vote against, and quite right too in my opinion. The revenue received by the top teams is already way ahead of the rest, and this would exacerbate the divide still further if passed. Fortunately, it requires a majority of around two-thirds to go through so I can’t see it happening.

Some commentators are speculating that failure to make the change will result in the acceleration of the set-up of a European League for all the top clubs in Europe. Let it happen I say. Perhaps then our domestic football will be more of an equal contest among the remaining clubs. We are already seeing the boring predictability of the same six clubs dominating the Premier League season after season, and more games are finishing with these teams easily beating the rest by three or four goals in unequal contests. It is becoming rarer for the “also-rans” to beat the top sides, and I, for one, would much rather see closer games of football. I’m not sure that it would be beneficial for the national team, but as I grew up in an era of Moore, Hurst, Charlton, Greaves, Peters, Banks, Ball etc., then current international football leaves me cold anyway.

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.

Matchday: Hopeful Hammers Take On Stuttering Swansea

In the latest instalment of must win games for manager Slaven Bilic, West Ham entertain Swansea City

It was the visit of Swansea at the tail end of the 2015/16 season that raised the first alarm bells as to the vulnerabilities of Slaven Bilic’s side; notably showing up the shortcomings of players being played out of position as right back Michail Antonio was exposed for two of the goals in a 4-1 home defeat that finally ended any lingering Champion’s League aspirations that we may have held.  The ‘blip’ was soon forgiven and forgotten as a consequence of the emotional last game at the Boleyn victory over Manchester United just a few days later; but the Swansea performance has set the tone for much of what has come since.

West Ham come into the game having lost four out of six Premier League games from a relatively benign set of fixtures and now embark on a run of so-called ‘winnable’ games (including today’s) in an attempt to demonstrate there might be something to the season beyond a desperate survival battle.  A great deal of last year was wasted wishing that the season would soon be over and there is a huge danger of this happening again.  Yet again manager Slaven Bilic is under immense pressure and his continued week to week employment renewal is likely to remain a defining feature for much of the campaign.

At the time of Swansea’s victory in May 2016 their manager was Francesco Guidolin who, having steered the Swans to safety, was out of the door the following October following a terrible start to the season.  His replacement, Bob Bradley, had only been in post for eighty-five days when a 4-1 home defeat by the Hammers led to his dismissal.  Bradley was subsequently replaced by current boss Paul Clement who worked wonders to stave off what looked like certain relegation.  Swansea’s recent seasons have been characterised by poor starts and storming finishes which makes their current position look like over-achievement, even if they are only a point better off than West Ham.

Head to Head

West Ham have won twenty-eight and lost eighteen of the previous sixty-one meetings between the two clubs.  The last twelve meetings have seen five West Ham wins and three Swansea victories.

In the thirty-one of the matches played in London, the Hammers have won twenty-two, lost only twice, never failed to score and have averaged over three goals a game.  The victory in 2015/16 was Swansea’s only win in their last twelve visits during which time they have left empty handed on nine occasions.

Team News

It is reported that both Manuel Lanzini and Michail Antonio are available for selection while James Collins, Pedro Obiang and Edmilson Fernandes are unavailable.  The barnstorming finish that put an undeserved gloss on last week’s defeat at the hands of Tottenham might lead our manager to conclude that he ‘can’t change a losing team’.   We will see!

I probably have more chance of picking the first three (in order) at tomorrow’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe than successfully predicting how Slaven will choose to start the game this afternoon.  On paper it remains a strong looking squad but with all the ingredients selected independently of any particular recipe it is impossible to know what will be served up.

Personally, I would like to see Hernandez back in a central position with Lanzini in a more advanced role just behind him.  Swansea have yet to concede on the road this season and need to be unlocked rather than bombarded.  More likely though we will resort to the trademark direct style built around Andy Carroll’s head.  There were probably times when such a tactic was effective (the 1970’s for instance) but just like typewriters, floppy disks and VHS tapes the rest of the world has moved on.

Swansea have no significant injury concerns and are likely to be very compact defensively.  How adventurous they are will be interesting as a front three of Wilfred Bony, Tammy Abrahams and the talented one from the Ayew family definitely have the ability to upset West Ham’s suspect defence.

Man in the Middle

Once again we have a referee, Roger East from Wiltshire, who rarely gets run out at a top Premier League game.  East was at the London Stadium twice last season for the defeat by Leicester and the dull goal-less draw with Everton.

Predictions

Both TV pundits, Lawro and Paul Merson, have today’s game as a 2-0 home win; each feeling that Swansea lack the form or confidence to harm the Hammers.  I wish I was as confident as there is every chance, based on their away performances so far this season, that the visitors have enough to frustrate West Ham.  The shape of the game will depend on whether Swansea will show any attacking threat or belief; they have the potential but maybe not the appetite.

On previous occasions when Bilic has been desperate for a result to save his job the team has come through for him and this will probably be no exception.  This should not be the first West Ham to fail to score at home against Swansea even if a glut of goals in unlikely.  I will keep everything crossed for a narrow victory.

A preview of West Ham v Swansea

Will Swansea be the swansong for our beleaguered manager? Plus a few thoughts on the continuing effect of the London Stadium hosting the World Athletics Championships in August.

It’s a weird feeling isn’t it? A home league game that kicks off at 3pm on a Saturday. The first one of the season, so make the most of it if you are a fan of the traditional kick-off time, as it won’t be happening again until at least 9 December. The second international break of the season is upon us, and begins after the Swansea game. I wonder if it will be a swansong for our beleaguered manager who seems to be under more pressure than ever if media reports are to be believed.

I wondered about the derivation of the word swansong. Legend has it that swans are mute throughout their lives, but they sing beautifully and mournfully before they die. Let us hope that the team performs beautifully for the manager on Saturday, and that we pick up the much needed three points that would take us out of the relegation zone.

We only have one home game in the month of October (Friday 20 October 8pm v Brighton), and by the end of the month 10 league games will have been played (four at home and six away). November is a more balanced month with two home games (Saturday 4 November v Liverpool 5.30pm kick-off, and Leicester (Friday 24 November 8pm), and two away. Of course the third international break takes place in that month to continue the stop-start to the Premier League season that we endure every year now.

Seven games are scheduled for December, with just three at home and four away. The next potential Saturday 3pm kick doesn’t happen until the 9th when Chelsea are our visitors, but once the Sky / BT schedules are announced that may of course change. By the time we sit down for our Christmas lunch we will be exactly half way into the season, having played 19 games, 9 at home and 10 away, but visits to Bournemouth on Boxing Day, and the return fixture at Tottenham four days later, mean that we will once again be in the position we were in just three games into the season, that is having played three more games away from home than at the London Stadium!

We are forever behind, and the effect of the World Athletics Championships being held at our stadium will be a significant one if we are still lingering in the lower reaches of the table by then. The home / away balance doesn’t even itself out until the end of March, at which time we will have played 16 games at home and the same number away, with just six games left in the season at that time.

If you look back on the history of Swansea visits to West Ham, we have an overwhelming superiority. But I’m not sure that statistics such as these are a good thing! In almost 30 home games against them we have only lost on two occasions. The first of these was in 1956 when we were both in the second tier, but that was too long ago for even me to remember.

The second I can recall very clearly though. It was of course the penultimate game at Upton Park and the last to be played on a Saturday. We went with high expectations as a record-breaking season was coming towards a close and were thrashed 4-1, with a certain Andre Ayew scoring one of the Swansea goals. Of course this massive disappointment was soon forgotten in the following week when we met Manchester United in that never-to-be-forgotten final game at the old ground.

Last season we beat them in April with that terrific strike along the ground from Kouyate from outside the box which was the only goal of the game. That left Swansea in big trouble in the bottom three with just half a dozen games of the season to go, but they escaped the drop with a fine finishing run.

This season, their seventh consecutive one in the top flight, they (like ourselves) have not started as well as they would have hoped. They have lost all of their three home games at the Liberty Stadium, 4-0 to Manchester United, 1-0 to Newcastle, and 2-1 to Watford. But we need to be wary, as their form on the road has been excellent. A goalless draw at Southampton to begin the season, a 2-0 win at Palace, and then another goalless game at Tottenham has given them five points, all away from home. This puts them in 15th place, just one point above ourselves. It is a bit early I know, but we could perhaps call this a “six-pointer” this weekend, as well as an extremely important (must win?) game for our manager.

I rarely manage to accurately predict our starting line-up, as the manager always seems to throw in a surprise or two that I wasn’t expecting. But this time I am confident that he will start with the following eleven:

Hart, Fonte, Reid, Ogbonna, Zabaleta, Noble, Kouyate, Cresswell, Ayew, Arnautavic, Chicarito.

If the manager subscribes to the “horses for courses” theory then he will be tempted to include Carroll in view of his fine goalscoring record against today’s opponents. Apparently Lanzini is now fit, but I expect him to start on the bench, although I would personally include him from the start in place of Ayew. But I reckon Ayew will get the nod, particularly as the game is against his former employers. Depending on how the game is going I would expect important contributions as substitutes from Lanzini, Carroll, Masuaku, or Rice. I don’t think anyone else will get a look in.

The bookies make us favourites to win the game and we are slightly odds-on to do so. Swansea are around 3/1 plus, and the draw is around 5/2. Given Swansea’s away form, especially the fact that they have yet to concede a goal on their travels, the game is likely to be a tight one. Despite the tension surrounding the manager I hope that we can win a close game, possibly by the odd goal, just as we did about six months ago. A repeat of that scoreline, with the same goalscorer, is on offer at around 33/1.  

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.