What a difference a win makes! Wasn’t it a pleasant change to be able to enjoy the weekend without having to avoid the highlights shows and seeking out all the match reports you could find with a sense of satisfaction rather than dread?
It was a good West Ham performance throughout the 90 minutes – not the game of two halves that some have suggested. Although, as ever, it was the goals that eventually changed the complexion of the game. Two strikes from Danny Ings in as many minutes simultaneously putting a spring in the Hammer’s steps and causing Nottingham Forest to crumble with a whimper
It is interesting to speculate how and why West Ham at last came to adopt a significantly more positive attitude and approach in last Saturday’s game. Was it the result of tactical genius from the manager and coaches or had the behind the scenes player’s meetings forced them to act? It had been a long time coming but showed their is talent in the squad when given the right opportunity to express it.
It was disingenuous of David Moyes to claim ‘this was the performance I have been waiting for’ – as if the result was entirely down to te players putting in extra effort on the pitch, rather than changes to formation and the removal of virtual shackles from our attacking play. One must wonder why it had taken so long for the management to realise that Lucas Paqueta is so much more effective in a deeper role, as part of a midfield three. Or that playing with a natural finisher is going to going to bring in more goals than a succession of converted wingers. Or that allowing your wide attacking players to spend more time going forward than defending would create more chances.
Despite the improvements, it was only one game. Talk of a mid-season metamorphosis is massively premature until we see how things shape up against Brighton and Villa in the next two league games. Forest did not provide the sternest of tests – especially once they had inexplicably taken off Shelvey – but they had been on a decent run. The worry now is that the manager’s ingrained and deep-seated caution will find a reason to exorcise whichever carefree sprite had hijacked last Saturday’s team talk. I’ve yet to rule out a return to the well worn mantra of ‘not conceding is the primary objective’ when we take the field at the Amex Stadium.
Tonight, sees a break from Premier League relegation concerns with a trip to the home of regular cup tie opponents, Manchester United. The hosts are fresh from Sunday’s Carabao Cup final success and have lost just once in their last 21 outings. Although they have a fierce derby appointment in Liverpool on Sunday, it is unlikely that Erik ten Hag will want to risk losing momentum by resting too many of his first choices for the game. He will have eyes on a cup treble.
West Ham’s record in cup encounters against the Red Devils is a little less dreadful than in the league. Moyes even recorded a shock League Cup win at Old Trafford in September 2021. Indeed, there are several standout memories from cup games against Manchester United dating back to the glorious muddy semi-final win of 1964 that preceded the Hammers first ever trophy win. And who can forget the Di Canoi – Barthez incident of 2001, Geoff Pike’s bullet header in the 1986 5th round replay, Dimitri Payet’s sublime free-kick in 2016, or Jonathan Spector’s brace in the 2010 4-0 League Cup drubbing?
Moyes will be forced to make a handful of selection changes tonight. Danny Ings is cup tied while Lukasz Fabianski and Vladimir Coufal are the latest to check-in at the Rush Green infirmary, where they can hang out with Maxwell Cornet and Kurt Zouma. Moyes may also be reluctant to risk Angelo Ogbonna and Paqueta with important league games on the horizon. But the big decision is whether or not he listens to that little voice in his head urging to return to five at the back. David, be strong!
In the absence of Ings, it could be an opportunity to reintroduce long term injury absentee Gianluca Scamacca to the fray. Ideally he should start but will most probably be a 70th minute replacement for a puffing Michail Antonio.
The FA Cup has the look of a very open competition this season with several big names already fallen by the wayside. Manchester City are firm favourites to end up as winners with their close neighbours just behind. Difficult to argue with that assessment, and a West Ham win tonight would be quite the upset. It’s a one-off game though and anything can happen. But whatever happens, I really hope the boys are given the green light to make a real game of it. COYI!