West Ham 0 v 5 Manchester City

Calm down, calm down (part two)

Calm Down Image

I find it interesting to read fans views which say that the current performance of the team is the worst ever, this manager is the worst ever, we have the worst board ever, and the stadium is the sole reason for our current position. Even fans who have been supporting the club for many years claim to hold some of these views. I beg to differ.

Despite our exit from the three cup competitions in which we took part, which is certainly not satisfactory, we still sit in 13th place in the Premier League at the turn of the year, roughly midway through the season. On the other hand we are just one win away from being in the top half of the table, but seven points clear of the relegation places. In our last ten seasons in the top tier our position on January 1 each season was as follows:

2015-16 (8), 2014-15 (6), 2013-14 (19), 2012-13 (12), 2010-11 (19), 2009-10 (17), 2008-09 (10), 2007-08 (9), 2006-07 (18), 2005-06 (10). Average of the last 10 = 13th!

So Slaven Bilic is the worst manager ever? There are some short memories I believe. Where shall I start? Who remembers Macari, Roeder, Grant, Allardyce, Pardew, Zola? Even John Lyall, who is revered by many, and who took us to our best ever league position when we finished third in 1985-86, took us down twice.

This is the worst board ever? Really? Yes they need to learn to keep their mouths shut at times. I’d love to play cards with them – I reckon they reveal their hand too easily. But who remembers Brown (the Bond scheme debacle), or the Icelandics (who almost bankrupted us)? Yes there were some poor signings in the summer, and they must take their share of the blame for that, but was it all their doing? How much say does the manager have?

Some write that the stadium is to blame; if only we could go back to Upton Park they say. Look back at the statistics. Was the Boleyn Ground really a fortress? No it wasn’t. The board and many others believe it was the only chance of trying to move to the next level. It hasn’t happened, yet, but it might. But there is no going back now. We can’t continue to harp on about it, and hide behind it for some poor performances. Yes, sure, there are a few tourists; that will happen, there will always be a handful, but we haven’t got 20,000 people sitting down eating popcorn, or asking who the players are. In my opinion such a lot is out of proportion to reality.

Another theory I’ve heard bandied about is the size of the pitch. Well the pitch at the London Stadium is 105 metres x 68 metres, exactly meeting the standard that the Premier League want all clubs to have. More than half of them do. If the stadium doesn’t allow it then a smaller pitch is permissible. Upton Park was one of those examples. The pitch there was 68 metres wide too, but was just over 4 metres shorter in length than the London Stadium. Does size matter? Do the extra two metres in each half of the field really make a difference? When we played so well against Chelsea, did we reduce the pitch size?

In reality I believe there are a number of reasons for a season that, to date, is just an average one in the history of our football club. The summer transfer dealings didn’t improve the team as many hoped they would. The board haven’t succeeded in attracting the right players for us to move upwards. The manager doesn’t appear to have a clear strategy with the players at his disposal. The players have not performed as they did last season for whatever reason. We have had, not for the first time, more than our fair share of injuries to key players. We are in transition stadium-wise. Many other clubs found it hard at first, but they adapted and became used to new surroundings.

But let’s get it all into perspective. It is not the worst season ever. It is certainly not the best either. It is just another average season in the history of West Ham United Football Club. Our average finishing league position in the last fifty years in the top flight is around 12th to 13th. We are on course for another average finish. Of course the fans want better. I’m sure the board, the manager, and the players want better. I want better. This is my 59th season of supporting the club. But as so many people eventually find out, that well-worn phrase, be careful what you wish for.

It may be that the season gets worse from here. If so, changes will have to be made. If it gets better then we (or at least some of us) will be happy for the time being. But whichever direction it does head in, we may not be the best, and we may not be the worst. We are West Ham. Usually, somewhere in the middle of the top tier. But that’s what supporting the club is all about. Perhaps it is the sheer unpredictability that we love. We never know what to expect from one season to another, from one game to another, and even from the first half to the second half of a game. Some will disagree but that’s how I see it!

Click Here to Read Part One of this Article

This Week in Hammer’s History

More scrapings from the barrel that was Hammer’s History in the week 9 to 15 January.

This Week Hammers HistoryToday we are thumbing through the week 9 – 15 January in Hammer’s History and, to be honest, there is not a great deal to get excited about.  Nevertheless we will start with the undoubted high which was a 6-0 annihilation of Barnsley in a 1998 Premier League fixture at Upton Park.  At that time Harry Redknapp’s side were capable of some barnstorming and free flowing performances and this victory was their 9th at home so far that season.  Goals from Lampard, Abou (2), Hartson, Moncur and Lazaridis made it a day to remember where the’ boos’ ringing out around the ground were in praise of striker Samassi Abou who, in addition to his two goals, also had a hand in several others.

Forrest, Potts, Lazaridis, Unsworth, Ferdinand, Pearce, Impey (Moncur), Lampard, Hartson, Berkovic (Alves), Abou

As FA Cup holders we started its defence in the 1964/65 season with a home 3rd round tie against Birmingham City.  Goals by Hurst (2), Byrne and Sissons in a 4-2 victory were enough to send the Hammers into the 4th round draw.

Some years later in 2011 Birmingham were once again cup opponents but this time in a League Cup semi-final.  The first leg at Upton Park between two of the leagues struggling sides (both of whom would go on to be relegated) ended in a 2-1 win to give West Ham the advantage and dreams of Wembley.  Mark Noble volleyed the Hammers ahead in a one-sided first half but we were unable to convert any of the numerous further chances before the break.  In the second period an improved Birmingham performance saw Ridgewell equalise and when Victor Obinna was sent off it looked like it could be game over.  However, Carlton Cole (on as a replacement for Piquionne) scored with a trademark scuffed shot from a Spector cross to notch an unlikely winner.  There was intense speculation at the time that defeat in this game would cost manager Avram Grant his job but football moves in mysterious ways and he was able to survive to steer us on to relegation (but not to Wembley).

Talking of the League Cup this week also hosted the replayed 5th round encounter against Aston Villa in January 2000.  The match which had to be played again as a result of the Mannygate debacle saw West Ham go a goal up through Lampard Junior, Di Canio have a penalty saved by David James, and Villa score twice in extra time to win the day.

We round of the week with two of those embarrassing banana skin FA Cup defeats.  In 1974 we had drawn our initial home tie with 3rd division Hereford and so made the trip to Edgar Street four days later for the replay.  West Ham took the lead through a Clyde Best header before Keith Coleman gave away a penalty that led to the Hereford leveller.  With about a quarter of an hour to play Hereford scored again to prompt wild scenes by the home crowd; the match ending 2-1.

Day, Coleman, Lampard, Bonds, Taylor, Wooler, McGiven, Paddon, Lutton, Holland, Best

Ironically, the same largely uninspiring West Ham line-up managed to beat Manchester United 2-1 at Upton Park on the following Saturday (Bonds, Holland) in a season where the Red Devils were ultimately relegated to Division 2 with ourselves just above the drop zone.

In the 3rd round of 1979, second division West Ham were away to 4th division Newport County in a game that was postponed on Saturday due to bad weather and re-scheduled for midweek.  With the core of the team that would win the Cup the following year the Hammers suffered a humiliating 2-1 reverse which I believe John Lyall once described as the low point of his managerial career; Pop Robson scoring our goal.

Day, Lampard, Brush, Bonds, Martin, McDowell, Taylor, Devonshire, Cross, Brooking, Robson

West Ham 0 v 5 Manchester City

Calm down, calm down (part one)

EPL MoneyIn the aftermath of the massively disappointing defeat at the hands of Manchester City on Friday night, social media went into overdrive, possibly exceeding what has gone before this season. I guess that the match being shown live on terrestrial television had something to do with it. Virtually no credit was given to our opponents who played some breathtaking stuff at times, just as Arsenal did a few weeks ago. Quite frankly after the first 25 minutes we could not live with them. But then once again, a soft penalty was awarded to a top team. How often does this happen? They are better than us anyway, there is no need to give them an unfair advantage! Yes, to some extent we capitulated in the second half, but I don’t believe it was lack of effort. We just have to accept that we are not good enough to compete with the best.

Once, in a training exercise in the work environment, we were asked to come out with one thing that we really liked about social media, and something that we didn’t like. I liked the fact it enabled individuals to express an opinion which could be seen instantly by many people, sometimes thousands of them. For the dislike I toyed between the anonymity that social media provided, which meant that individuals often make derogatory or rude comments about others that they wouldn’t make to their face, or alternatively, the inability of people as a whole to accept that others have a point of view that may differ from their own. I guess the latter is a fact of modern life that seems to be shared by so many who believe that their opinion must be right, and any other views are not acceptable. I found that much of this was in evidence on social media in the immediate aftermath of the game, and has even continued in the couple of days that have elapsed since then.

In my view (and I accept there may be alternative views!) the top 6 teams are now getting further away from the rest of the Premier League than ever before. The three London clubs, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham, in conjunction with the three north-western giants of the two Manchester clubs and Liverpool, have so much more money than the rest, despite the massive injection of TV cash that some thought might equalise the situation. Of course, many who disagree with this will point to last season when the “Big 6” didn’t occupy the top six places, and the title was in fact won by a rank outsider, Leicester. For me this was a complete one-off freak season that I cannot see being repeated.  And when you think about it, despite their indifferent seasons, all of the Big 6 finished in the top 10, despite the interlopers like Leicester, West Ham, Southampton and Stoke.

The Big 6 are showing an even greater domination of the Premier League this season, and I don’t think many would disagree that they will finish way ahead of the chasing pack. These are the same top six clubs that occupied the first six places in 2014-15. The season before, 2013-14, these six finished in the top 7, the other team to join the party were Everton. In 2012-13 we had the same situation, that is 6 out of 7 plus Everton. When we were relegated in 2010-11 it was the same top 6 plus Everton were seventh. In 2009-10 the Big 6 finished in the first seven, this time Villa crept in to the group and Everton were 8th. Can you see the pattern here? The top six are consistently much too good for the others over the course of a season, although there are some short-term minor blips. Everton are the next team down in the pecking order.

After last season, the expectation of fans for this season went through the roof, and partly this may have been fuelled by the board, insisting that to compete with the very top clubs we needed to move into a bigger stadium, enabling us to significantly increase our income. This is probably true to some extent, although many will point to Leicester, whose ground capacity and revenue falls well short of our own when we were still at Upton Park, and despite this they still managed to come out on top.

For more than 20 years the accountancy firm Deloitte has produced revenue statistics of football clubs. It is released in February each year relating to the season most recently finished. Generally you can measure the league success of teams by their income, and in broad terms the income league table is not too dissimilar to the current Premier League table. The top six clubs mentioned previously are the top six in the income league table too, albeit in a slightly different order. In income terms we sit in tenth place which is close to our league position, too. The same is true of most clubs in the Premier League. The problem for lower teams is that the gap is getting wider, hence the reason to move to a larger stadium where possible, just to try to halt the growth in the income gap.

To be continued …..

Sharing The Transfer Window Pain

Much ado about nothing in the first week of the January transfer window.

Transfer WindowIt promises much but the January transfer window is generally an anti-climax, although that does not stop the speculation industry going into overdrive in tempting you to visit their websites with an enticing story about the latest 24 year old goal scoring sensation linked with a move to the London Stadium. Like the Transfer Deadline Day of old the January window is dominated by desperate measures of clubs eager to avoid a relegation battle or to boost their flagging chances of promotion or European qualification.

For me, the winter deadline is characterised by pointless loan deals for the likes of Ilan, Mido, Pogatetz, Chamakh, Diego Tristan, Benni McCarthy and Roger ‘The Relegator’ Johnson. It has rarely led to the recruitment of quality players with the possible exclusion of Dean Ashton in 2006 and Demba Ba in 2011.

West Ham go into the window with a very unbalanced squad that includes some gaping holes of which the most notable are at right back, striker and, probably, central midfield. The failings of the summer transfer deals which focused on quantity rather than quality to support an expected but unrealised Europa League campaign is there for all to see. Summer recruits Zaza, Tore and Calleri are all likely to be out of the door and could soon be followed by Feghouli if in-the-know gossip is to be believed; then there is the question of Dimitri Payet about whom there is a growing consensus that he is unhappy, disinterested and wants away.  If that really is the case is it worth holding on to him?

If West Ham were a few points better off then maybe we could just write the season off as a bad job and address the squad problems in the summer when there is more time and more options. But with the relegation places not too far away then doing nothing in January would be a very foolish strategy despite the fact that getting good value in the window is rare. We were unable to improve the team in the summer so what are the chances of doing so now?

The difficulty arising from our situation is that clubs know we are desperate and so will be inflating prices. We are most likely to overpay for players who are expedient stopgaps and not part of a project to build an ever improving side. The forward players who have been most regularly linked, Defore, Long and Snodgrass, are all in the wrong age profile for the longer term even if they might prove useful for the survival imperative. Scott Hogan is in the right age group but is relatively inexperienced while Moussa Dembélé is likely to be unavailable and destined for greater things than east London.

Something has to be done about the right back position which has been a blind spot at West Ham over many years. The approach reminds me of Sunday morning park football where you put the lads who are no good anywhere else at full back. Maybe Sam Byram will make a injury free return but we need backup and it should be someone other than Carl Jenkinson again.

We are a week into the window and nothing has happened apart from some outgoing loans and the transfer of Lewis Page to Charlton. Usually nothing much happens until the last few days anyway but let’s hope that this time the money is used wisely.

5 Observations from the Latest Capitulation

The Friday Night Hammer House of Horror Show

5 Things WHUThe Result in Context

I have to confess that I did not watch the match live. Sometimes when this happens I try to watch the whole game on a re-run but on this occasion all I could face was the extended highlights; and even then had to watch from behind the sofa as if it was one of the late night horror films that they used to show after News at Ten. In the context of the season it is difficult to know how to gauge this match; there is nothing left in the season apart from avoiding relegation and/ or attempting to maximise the league placing ‘prize’ money. The first week in January is very early to accept that your season is pretty much over. I hate to think what our team performance and effort will be like if/ when Premier League safety is ensured.

Line Up & Penalty

Prior to the match I was hoping that we would go all out for a win. In theory we probably did but unfortunately Manchester City had the same idea and fielded a very strong team that included some of the best attacking players in the league. To face them with a makeshift right back and only one defensive minded midfield player was a courageous folly. Arguably it was a soft penalty that started the rot but after that heads dropped quickly and the towel was firmly thrown in as City ran riot. Referee Oliver is one of the top penalty givers and so it should have come as no surprise when he pointed to the spot. In the spirit of the game Zabaleta should not be looking for that faint touch that players use to send them spinning to the ground but in the circumstances there was no need for Ogbonna to make any contact. It simply gave Oliver the evidence he required to impose the current letter of the law. Ogbonna has ridden his luck with his manhandling attempts this season and this time it caught up with him.

The London Stadium Effect

The way some people talk about our performances at Upton Park it is surprising that we ever lost a game there. It is pointless to get into any further debate about the stadium as there is no going back; although I understand that steps would seem necessary to improve the matchday experience for spectators. It may also be true that the new stadium eliminates the advantage that Upton Park could provide for those occasional special nights under the floodlights. The stadium doesn’t prevent good football as a number of opposition teams have ably demonstrated. Pep Guardiola was reported as saying that the wide open spaces helped his side because it gave the perception of space for his players. It is my opinion that this perception is due more to the fact that we fail to close down and deny space due to inferior organisation and fitness levels.

Performances this Year and Last

I have seen much debate about performance last season and this. Before the start of the season my view was that we would be unlikely to repeat the excellent results against the top teams that we saw last year. I was still expecting, however, an exciting and profitable campaign based on the assumption that we could fix the problem of not beating the lesser bottom half teams. This has proved not to be the case and now with the majority of remaining home games against top half teams and the majority of away trips to lower half teams we look very vulnerable if past performance is at all indicative of future results. We may need to rely on there being three teams performing even worse than we are.

The Slavenometer at All-time Low

I was reading that pundit brotherhood all agree that Slaven Bilic’s position as West Ham manager is secure and I would guess that Slav is a popular guy amongst the mutual backslapping football fraternity. Others say that it is not the manager but the players that need to take responsibility but even if there is an element of truth in that I would ask who is responsible for selecting, organising and motivating the players other than the manager and coaching staff? Has he lacked resources? Possibly if you are comparing West Ham with a top 6 club but not compared with the rump of Premier League teams. We have no Russian gangster or Middle Eastern sovereign fund to throw cash in when needed (and there have been few saleable player assets in the recent past) but transfer funds have been available and spent; just not very wisely. It is the manager’s job to ensure he does the best with what is to hand, build a well balanced squad, ensure fitness levels are acceptable and establish a consistent style of play. Unfortunately as things stand I do not see progress on any of these fronts. The 3 league wins in December probably saved Bilic his job and making a reaction change now would be difficult. If it was my decision I would be making definite plans for a new manager to come in during the summer.

I Wouldn’t Bet On It 26

Taking a punt on the lottery that is FA Cup Round 3.

Fancy A Bet

We lost our stake of 15 points on the Manchester United game. I hold Mike Dean totally responsible! Our balance is now 115 points.

For the Manchester City FA Cup third round game, anybody who read my book, Goodbye Upton Park, Hello Stratford, may recall some bad luck I’ve had in the past when betting on West Ham playing City games in the past, especially placing correct score bets on a 4-1 score.

Of course betting on FA Cup games, especially in the early rounds can be a bit of a lottery, as it is difficult to gauge the strength of the teams that the managers will select, based upon their desire to win the game. But I am feeling confident, based upon our performance on Monday night.

For this game I have found the following odds on Betfair and Paddy Power, and with my optimistic hat on my stakes are as follows:

10 points on a West Ham victory @4.7/1 (Betfair) (57)
4 points on a draw @3.3/1 (Betfair) (17.2)
1 point on a West Ham 4-1 victory (Paddy Power) @125/1 (126)

After placing these bets our balance is down to 100 points, which is exactly where we started! Potential returns if correct in brackets.

What are the chances?

Matchday: Hammers host City in the Cup

Could she be wearing a claret ribbon in the merry month of May?

City in the CupIt is FA Cup time once more and the stage where the big teams finally enter the famous competition which started with the Extra Preliminary Round on 6 August 2016. A total of 672 ties have been played to date with another 63 to play before someone lifts the trophy at Wembley on 27th May. In total 828 teams will have featured in the competition and there can only be one winner; can the ribbons on the cup this year be claret and blue?

There were 64 teams in the hat for 3rd draw and so it was rather unfortunate to get drawn against one of the big 4 or 5 clubs. Still it is a home tie and the Hammers have only lost one of the last 8 home FA Cup encounters and that was last season in the 6th round replay against the other team from Manchester.

This is a big game for us and big game for them, it is the FA Cup and it is big for the fans.

– Slav says the right things

The FA Cup is the only remaining chance of glory for West Ham this season following our exit from both the Europa League and EFL Cup and the continued struggles in the Premier League. It is only 5 games to the Final so anything could happen and a win today can take us a step nearer the prize. Unfortunately there are only 4 all Premier League ties in this year’s 3rd round draw (and one of those is Hull v Swansea) and so there is no opportunity for the bigger teams to knock each other out and create a clear path to the Final.

Head to Head

The overall record against Manchester City of home turf remains a positive one although we only won one of the last 6 meetings at Upton Park. The record against City has been on a downward trend since they were adopted as a Middle Eastern plaything in 2008 and during this era we have only beaten them 3 times out of 16. West Ham have only met City three times in the FA Cup before and hold a 2 to 1 advantage in the series.

 

P

W

D

L

F

A

Sequence

Home

48

24

12

12

81

52

DWLLDL

Away

51

11

8

32

65

105

LWLLLL

 

99

35

20

44

146

157

 

Team News

Ever since Manchester United withdrew from the 1999/2000 completion the FA Cup has lost some of its glamour and sparkle. Managers of top teams began to treat it very much as a secondary priority behind the cash-raking goal of Champion’s League qualification and began to field ‘weakened’ teams made up of squad or younger players. For some unaccountable reason managers of other Premier League teams have adopted the same tactic possibly in the hope that it deposits some big-time manager stardust onto their shoulders as well. The consequences are that it is almost impossible to predict how the teams will line-up especially during the early rounds.

The cup is special because the lower team can beat the big teams, which is why it is fascinating, I’m looking forward to it, but of course it’s a Premier League game so it will be tough. We were unlucky in the draw.

– Guardiola on the FA Cup

I am hoping that Slaven Bilic is confident enough in his ability to stay away from relegation trouble to give this one his best shot. We don’t play again for 8 days and so fatigue should not be an issue and, my perception is, that most injuries occur in training rather than in competitive games anyway. Kouyate and Ayew have now set sail for the Africa Cup of Nations while Mark Noble, Reece Oxford, Sam Byram and James Collins may be available. Someone definitely available is Sofiane Feghouli after his ludicrous Mike Dean red card was rescinded by the FA Incompetent Referee panel. If Manchester City have a weakness it is in central defence particularly if it comprises Otamendi and the massively over-hyped John Stones; for this reason I would like to see birthday boy Andy Carroll let loose on them with maybe Michail Antonio playing just behind.  I assume that Adrian will back, courtesy of the Cup rotation code, helping the Post to keep the score respectable.

Manchester City are missing Gundogan, Kompany, Sane and possibly Fernando (through injury) and Fernandinho )through suspension). It would be nice if Aguero, De Bruyne and Sterling were also given the night off (although Guardiola always took cup games seriously whilst at Bayern); not that I rate Sterling too highly in the normal course of events but he always seems to give our defenders the run around.

The Man in the Middle

A first encounter this season with young Michael Oliver from Northumberland. Oliver was in charge of two West Ham games last season; both at home against Southampton (won 2-1) and Swansea (lost 1-4). In 21 games this season Oliver has shown 70 Yellow cards and a solitary Red. Despite his prudence with red cards Oliver is one of the top penalty givers (just behind Mike Dean) with 8 awarded so far this season.