Hammers’ Limitations Exposed At Tottenham but we are still outside bottom three! Just!

I have written frequently about West Ham’s limitations and there is no need to continue with them here. We were second best to a Tottenham side that had more attacking ideas than we did, but nevertheless we were unfortunate to go behind when VAR once again failed to do its job in spotting that the ball came off an attacking arm before the unfortunate Soucek deflected the ball into his own net. Apparently our manager is in trouble for remarks he made about the VAR referee, but I find it absolutely incredible that the handball was not seen. When you think back to our game at Sheffield United and the decision that went against us there when the ball brushed Declan Rice’s arm in the build-up to an equaliser, you have to say that we haven’t had the benefit of dodgy decisions this season, despite VAR being there to correct them. The second Tottenham goal came as a result of us pushing forward when Kane broke away to score, although in all honesty, we rarely looked like scoring.

Yes the lively Bowen was unlucky with his shot that came back off the post, but for the second game running Fornals missed by a mile when he should have scored with a little composure. Antonio also managed to balloon one over the bar when leaning back as he was clear on goal. But apart from Bowen and Rice, who was once again magnificent, few of our players finished this game with much credit. The manager was also culpable in my view for the way he set us up, and his poor choices and timing of substitutions.

Yet we are still outside the bottom three. But only just! Two tough games to go against Chelsea and Manchester United, who have both resumed after lockdown in good form, but five games remaining that we can certainly get something from against Newcastle, Burnley, Norwich, Watford and a potential last day decider against Aston Villa. Three of those are at home, although in the current circumstances home advantage is not really what it was beforehand. And if we don’t get the results then of course we deserve to go down anyway.

Unlike so many on social media I don’t believe that we will be relegated. Brighton may have done enough to pull away, and their odds on being relegated are now a fairly longshot at 14/1. Norwich are 1/50 to go down and it will take a miracle for them to survive, so it looks like it will be two from Villa, Bournemouth, Watford and ourselves to join them. Despite our shortcomings, I still believe that looking at the games remaining we will have enough to save ourselves. I agree with the bookmakers in that Villa (2/9) and Bournemouth (2/5) will go down because of the difficulty of their fixtures. Our relegation odds are 11/8 and Watford are 5/2.

Liverpool were deservedly confirmed as champions today when Chelsea defeated Manchester City although it was inevitable wasn’t it? They won it with seven games to spare, although by clinching it on June 25th it must be the latest date by a long way. The race for European places is still in force which will keep some of the top teams interested in the remaining games, and I’m confident that they will all be doing their utmost to gain the necessary points. Once again the tussle to stay up will produce the most interesting football for the remainder of the season.

We will need to improve in the remaining seven games, and I believe we will. But I am afraid that next season will be another of the same unless there are radical changes at the club. And I’m not confident of that.

It ain’t what you do, it’s the place that you do it. Can West Ham get results in N17?

After a worst possible start and performance on Saturday, West Ham need to up their game considerably if they are to get a result and chase off the creeping shadow of relegation

As 1980’s pop philosophers Bananarama succinctly put it “It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it, that’s what gets results.” Looking back to West Ham’s opening restart efforts on Saturday evening I can only conclude that ‘if that’s the way they intend to do it’ then we are irretrievably doomed to relegation. It has a look of inevitability about it unless something drastic happens. Or unless we are able to rely on Villa and Bournemouth being equally poor.

Sure, Wolves are a particularly good, efficient, if not spectacular, side that cause problems in every game they play, no matter who the opposition is. A stark contrast to the lack of endeavour that characterises David Moyes side on most occasions.  Notable is the success that Nuno has had in integrating his many Portuguese imports into the English game when compared to our own Fun Boy Three (Anderson, Fornals and Lanzini) who might as well have stayed locked down for all the difference they made – Specials they are not!

I feared that we would get a slow and stuttering restart, and that is exactly what happened. No plan, no purpose, no passion – and no points. Yet another performance where the players looked to have little idea what they were supposed to be doing. Moyes had set up for the point and once Wolves had scored it was game over, such was the complete absence of any creativity or goal threat.

Not that you can blame Moyes for the disastrous transfer spending during Manuel Pellegrini’s time at the club. It may be 2020 hindsight but if we had kept Moyes and given him the same transfer budget we wouldn’t be where we are now. That’s not to say we would have been enamoured with the style of football.

As I mentioned before the Wolves game, the dearth of central defensive and striker cover are negligent and damaging for a Premier League club. An extended absence of Angelo Ogbonna and Sebastien Haller will be a massive blow to our prospects, even if neither are exactly world beaters. Will there now be a temptation to rush them back before they are ready? How to keep players fit is another tip we might ask of Nuno.

The big selection conundrum concerns Declan Rice (looking a lot less Irish these days with longer hair and a beard) who is both our best defender and best midfield player. Unless he can be cloned this is a dilemma, although on balance I see his energy and discipline in midfield as the bigger loss. Ogbonna is an acceptable enough replacement in central defence but Fabian Balbuena isn’t – at least not on the evidence of the season to date – where The General has become a general liability. I never thought I would say it but, hurry back, Angelo.

Rice apart, there were few positives coming from the Wolves game although I thought Jeremy Ngakia was one of our better players, particularly when going forward. With no genuine wide players in the side, width has to be provided by the full-backs, even though that makes us (even more) susceptible to the counter attack. With the ongoing uncertainty regarding Ngakia’s future, Moyes may opt to start Ryan Fredericks against his former club. There is no such alternative at left back where Arthur Masuaku’s absence means Aaron Cresswell will continue despite his feeble attempts to handle game-changer Traore on Saturday. Unless, that is, Moyes thinks Ben Johnson is up to playing on his wrong side.

The striker dilemma, should Haller be once again unavailable, is whether Michail Antonio can handle another 90 minutes of football so soon. Antonio made little impact against Wolves, although he had little in the way of support. I read that Felipe Anderson was meant to be playing alongside him in a 4-4-2, but you could have fooled me. The alternative would be to use the-still-recovering-from-injury Andriy Yarmolenko in a striking role. There is, sadly, little news to inspire confidence.

Moyes will no doubt be looking for a midfield shuffle. If Rice has to play centre-back then Mark Noble will need to find the stamina to again partner Tomas Soucek. It is then a  case of picking any three from Anderson, Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals, Jack Wilshere and Yarmolenko (if he is not playing up front) to make up the numbers. No combination jumps out as ideal.

Whatever the line-up, Moyes will be setting his side out to preserve the point they started with. A fortunate set piece winner being the extent of our ambition. As we saw on Saturday, the drawback of that cunning plan is having no alternative strategy in the event of the opposition scoring.

To compound the negativity surrounding the club right now, both manager and captain have been playing the role of victims in bemoaning the fixture scheduling. Not a good stance to take when courage, diligence and unity are required more than whinging.

Our north London friends have not had the best of seasons, but they may still believe that a Champion’s League place is a possibility – let’s face it they are an eternally credulous bunch. Mourinho is likely to have a full squad to choose from with Kane and Son recovered from pre-lockdown injuries and Alli available after suspension.

Today’s Matchday officials are Craig Pawson (on the pitch) while David Coote is once again on the VAR controls back in Stockley Park.

My own confidence level that this West Ham squad have what it takes to escape relegation has been reset to approaching zero. The adjusted Under The Hammers ‘R’ (for relegation) values (the closer to 1 the more trouble you are in) following the latest round of matches are: Norwich (0.99), Villa (0.96), Bournemouth (0.95), West Ham (0.95), Watford (0.92) and Brighton (0.91).

As for the pundits, their predictions for tonight are Lawro with an expected 2-0 home win; while Charlie Nicholas believes that a sluggish Spurs might be surprised by West Ham’s tenacity, earning the visitors an unlikely 1-1 draw. Controversial stuff, Charlie.

As I recall, the Bananarama girls went on to advise that “it ain’t what you do, it’s the place that you do it” is also of equal importance if you want to get results. For a Hammer’s fan there surely cannot be a better place to do ‘it’ than in N17, as indeed happened last season. Can it happen again? Even with the claret and blue spectacles on it is a difficult scenario to imagine I will be hoping for a snatched draw, but fully expect a convincing defeat.