West Ham – It’s a sad, sad, situation, and it’s getting more and more absurd

A little less conversation, a little more action please

Have you read Geoff’s article published yesterday? If you missed it look it up now. It tells you everything you need to know about West Ham’s current plight. The insipid display at Tottenham, the board dithering over a dithering manager who has presided over a team in freefall for more than a year now, unadventurous and inadequate tactics, lack of entertainment, a relegation dogfight that really shouldn’t be a situation for one of the world’s richest clubs, and a cautionary approach taken to another level last week.

Even our captain, Declan Rice took a veiled swipe at the tactics employed by our manager in the wake of last Sunday’s debacle. He was spot on when he was quoted as saying: “When you play with five at the back and the three like we set up today, maybe our strikers felt a bit isolated when we got the ball up to them – they didn’t really have enough around them, not enough support.”

He was only saying what a vast number of West Ham fans have been for some time now; the approach to games is wrong, and the fact that he sticks to a rigid formation when we don’t really have the right sort of players to make the most of lining up that way (for example wingbacks that are really just defenders and don’t really pose much of an attacking threat). It is no coincidence that we are seventh in the Premier League when it comes to defence and not conceding too many goals, but sixteenth when looking at goals scored (just 19 in our 23 games this season, a woeful figure).

If we are going to get out of the desperate situation we are in then we need to score more goals and win more matches. We need a more attacking formation, and not an isolated front man. Antonio was reasonably successful at this a year or so ago, but he has lost form, and he barely scores these days. The manager has even used others (Haller, Scamacca) in a similar role even though it is clear to most of us that they are not suited to playing in this way, their strengths lie elsewhere, but David Moyes (in his obstinacy?) fails to recognise this.

In previous articles I have been analysing the position and current form of the bottom teams. I will continue to concentrate on the bottom nine as Palace in twelfth place are only six points clear of the relegation zone. The points of the bottom nine (all with 15 games still to play) are:

Palace 26, Forest 25, Leicester 24, Wolves 23, Everton 21, Bournemouth 21, West Ham 20, Leeds 19, Southampton 18.

The points gained in the last 6 games shows today’s opponents Nottingham Forest ahead of the rest, but we have now slipped in this guide to current form:

Forest 11, Wolves 10, Leicester 7, Everton 6, West Ham 6, Southampton 6, Bournemouth 5, Palace 4, Leeds 2.

Ironically, the early season fixture won by Forest by a solitary goal could easily have gone the other way with a slightly different interpretation of rules (Benrahma’s disallowed goal) and a little more luck (twice hitting the crossbar) as well as a better taken penalty (Rice). If we had won that game then we would now be on 23 points and Forest on 22. But that’s football. Will that very first game come back to bite us at the end of the season?

And talking of interpretation of rules, that old chestnut (handball) has been a talking point in our last two games with Soucek (against Chelsea) and Kehrer (against Tottenham) both handling the ball in the process of falling and that was why penalties were not awarded against us. A new rule this season says that if a player is falling and the ball touches their hand / arm when it is between their body and the ground (but not extended to make the body bigger) then that is not handball.

Whether you like this new rule or others (designed to make the interpretation of handball simpler – ha ha), that is how the referees and VAR looked at these two examples although pundits on TV tended to disagree quite vehemently. As it happens it made no difference to the points in the Tottenham game, and we benefitted by one point (if the penalty had been successful) in the Chelsea match. But as far as Chelsea were concerned this was simply karma from the reverse fixture where we were robbed.

With the bottom five clubs achieving less than a point a game so far this season, averaging a point a game equalling fifteenth place in the table at present, and so many clubs potentially involved in the relegation struggle, then how many points from the final 15 games will be enough to ensure safety? I reckon that a final total of 37 or 38 might potentially be enough to confirm Premier League football next season. That would mean 17 or 18 from those games if my estimate turns out to be correct. Based on current averages then 35 could be enough. In the last five seasons the total needed to ensure safety was 36, 29, 35, 35, 34. In the ‘29’ season three teams were significantly detached which is not the case so far this time, so that one may not be representative of what is needed. Have a look at the remaining fixtures and see if you can tell where the requisite number of points will come from.

25/2 Home v Forest

4/3 Away v Brighton

12/3 Home v Villa

19/3 Away v Man City

2/4 Home v Southampton

5/4 Home v Newcastle

8/4 Away v Fulham

16/4 Home v Arsenal

22/4 Away v Bournemouth

26/4 Home v Liverpool

29/4 Away v Palace

6/5 Home v Man Utd

13/5 Away v Brentford

20/5 Home v Leeds 28/5 Away v Leicester

Five wins and two or three draws from those fifteen games might just be enough. If you think that should be easy bear in mind that we have only achieved five wins and five draws so far from 23 games, that is eight more played than those that are remaining. Of the eight home games, four are against teams in the bottom half (the next three and the last one). In the seven remaining fixtures away from home, three are against teams in the bottom half (three of the last four). Therefore, a fairly equal spread in terms of potential difficulty based on league positions.

I began this article referring to Geoff’s excellent summary of our current plight and the action perhaps needed (change the manager?) to stay up. He ended the piece with the sentence ‘It’s a sad, sad, situation.’ You know the Elton John song – Sorry Seems to Be The Hardest Word? Some of the lyrics from the song sum it up nicely:

It’s sad, so sad

It’s a sad, sad situation

And it’s getting more

And more absurd

Note to the board from an entirely different (Elvis) song – A little less conversation a little more action please!

Towering Incompetence: Incendiary West Ham Atmosphere May Be Fanned By Forest Fire

The ongoing saga of last chances for David Moyes has now been running for longer than an Eastenders story line – doof, doof, doof, doof, doof, doof, doof, doof, doof!

How many last chances does a failing manager get to have. I was convinced the game was up after et another typically insipid display at Tottenham. But no, he gets to fail another day.

I would have thought that by the time a Board gets to the stage of giving manager’s last chances, you might as well fire him and be done with it. It will only be a matter of time, anyway. Stupendous turnarounds in fortune rarely happen. And this is a team that has been in decline for over a year, and woeful for the best part of this season.

Should the Hammers eke out a victory win this weekend, and then lose (as usual) at Brighton, is the clock then reset once again to last chance for the home fixture with Villa? Repeat until relegated. What a way to run a football club!

Even the media have now woken up to recognise that David Moyes is an emperor without any clothes. At last, journalists are scratching their heads and questioning the merits of our unadventurous, unambitious manager. It is only fellow dinosaurs such as Graeme Souness who believes everything can be fixed by the players rolling up their sleeves up and showing some grit. The players are a victim of the tactics, not the other way round. The squad can’t be changed now, but manager and tactics can. Freeing the players from Moyes inertia is the only escape route.

We should remember, West Ham are one the world’s top twenty richest clubs. They have spent hundreds of millions on players. Yet Moyes talks about fans having unrealistic expectations as if it is a low budget operation. I doubt many supporters are demanding repeated top six finishes, but we would like to be entertained and should be nowhere near a relegation scrap. 

Last weekend was the latest in a string of tame surrenders – the scene set even before kick off. Fighting talk about drawn games not being good enough didn’t make it past the team selection. Starting the game with a maximum of two attack minding players in the side was all the incentive that the opposition needed to know the points were theirs. There is nothing to fear from West Ham at the best of times – no explosive pace, no accomplished dribbler, and the main set piece threat having been sold in January – but this was caution taken to another extreme. One more notch on the bedpost of failed away trips to ‘big six’ clubs.

It has been reported that the Board’s stance on a stay of execution was swayed by improvements in form since the Everton game. I do wonder what they have been watching from their lofty position? Had there been a run of victories then fair enough. But the club need a better rate of return than five points from four games if they are to avoid the drop.

It was supremely ironic to read David Sullivan’s rant in the week about how fantastic an organisation the Premier League is – and how it didn’t need regulation – when he is doing everything in his power to leave it by the trapdoor.

There was one piece of good news in the week as the U18s reached the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup for the first time since 1999 – the days of Joe Cole and Michael Carrick. There looks to be a lot of promise in the youth ranks, even if there is still a lot of development yet to be done. We hear mostly about the goalscorers – Divin Mubama and Callum Marshall – but George Earthy, Lewis Orford and Oliver Scarles all look to be great prospects. Interesting that the Youths play nothing like the first team in style or formation. The watching Moyes would have been livid with the boys pressing for a fourth goal once they had gone ahead in extra time. All behind the ball, boys!

The sad news of the week was the passing of John Motson. He and Brian Moore were both top class commentators who knew their primary job was to tell us what was going on – and knew when to let the action do the talking. Nostalgia’s not what it used to be but they were happier and simpler days at West Ham.

Oh, Devonshire round the back …… Oh, right across ….. It’s free ….. Driven in ……. And is it a goal? It is! Brooking, ………. Trevor Brooking. The ball ricocheted in off him and West Ham are in front.

RIP Motty 1980 FA Cup Final

Tomorrow’s game will be a first home league meeting with Nottingham Forest since January 2012 when two Mark Noble penalties took the Hammers to the top of the Championship.

It wasn’t long ago that Forest looked red-hot favourites for a quick return to the second tier, despite their early season win against West Ham. Yet an upsurge in results has lifted them to the higher fringes of the relegation quagmire. They currently sit five places and five points above their hosts. They are one of only three teams to have scored fewer goals than West Ham this season, while conceding nine more. Defensively they look suspect, but they do have pace in attack through Brennan Johnson and the always busy Morgan Gibbs-White. One-time West Ham nemesis Chris Wood might also feature in the game. Woods had been well marshalled in recent encounters by Craig Dawson, but obviously that is no longer an option.

So, what approach can we expect from the Moyes book of old school football tactics for this one? We know from experience that change only happens at glacial speed. He will usually stick with a formation, regardless of opposition, until something dramatic forces his hand to change it. It is a self-evident truth that the route to survival is scoring goals – it is only Moyes who believes not conceding them is more important. If he picks the same formation – with three/ five at the back – for this game, there could be mutiny in the stands before kick-off. It is overly cautious, and the wingbacks do not offer sufficient attacking threat to compensate.

I have argued for some time that West Ham should be lining up in a 4-3-3 formation. Ideally a midfield three of Rice, Paqueta and Downes but Rice, Soucek and Downes would do if Paqueta is unavailable. Then it must be a front three who are geared towards pushing forward and playing closer together. Is any more evidence needed that the isolated striker gambit is never going to work?

Forest will be well aware of a potential powder keg atmosphere at the London Stadium tomorrow. A trademark cautious team selection by Moyes and a typically slow start by the team will play right into the opponents hands. As a supporter I feel conflicted. I want Moyes gone but I would rather three of the most winnable points remaining were not sacrificed to achieve that. But it is hard to envisage a scenario where Moyes stays and we are not relegated. It’s a sad, sad, situation. COYI!