I don’t think the May Bank Holiday weekend could have gone much better. A convincing 3-0 win for West Ham, Liverpool gave us a bit of breathing space after losing to Swansea, Manchester United dropped points at home to Leicester and to round it off nicely, Manchester City go and lose to Southampton. I don’t know about the rest of you, but to me, it seems like everything is falling nicely into place in terms of Champions League qualification. There may only be three games to go but what a three games it promises to be. There’s no need for algorithms and complicated scenarios, if City lose to Arsenal or Swansea and we win our final three games, we finish fourth in the Premier League. It’s as simple as that.
Some might think we’ve left it too late, others might still be harping on about the points referees have cost us but not me. I’m thrilled with where we are and what we could achieve. I’m still struggling to come to terms with the fact that we’re in with a credible shout of not just qualifying for the Europa League, but the Champions League as well. My recent memories of the Premier League are filled with the stress and worry of relegation or the boredom of a season ending early thanks to mid-table obscurity. Thanks to Slaven Bilic and a carefully constructed squad that have consistently played out of their skin, I now get to experience something new. Success, excitement, exhilaration. I’ve always been proud to be a Hammer, in the past it might have felt like hard work but I think that’s what makes life so much sweeter now. We’ve been low, up and down from the Championship, almost imploded financially and been a bit unlucky but now, we’re really on the up. I think what makes it feel so special is that we’ve worked hard for it and deserve what we’ve got This is no foreign money, overnight success job. This is people trying to do things the right way, setting realistic targets that, one by one, are being achieved.
I’m not going to analyse the success we’ve had or try and pinpoint the change we’ve seen in the club. I don’t want to pick out the players who have made the biggest difference or the games that have perhaps ‘defined our season’. Instead, I’m just going to admire and appreciate where we are. We’ve been through a whole host of emotions this season. Perhaps that fact that it’s our final year at the Boleyn Ground has heightened each and every one of those emotions but with so little left in the campaign, I’ve spent the last few days reflecting on 35 games of great Premier League football and regardless of what happens from now until the end of the season, I’m going to enjoy it.
It’s been a bit of strange one this season. We were flying high and had found real consistency in our performances, only to go off the boil and start slipping down the table, before turning it around and going on the march once again. We’ve come through some spells of serious squad depletion through injury, as well as dealing with more than our fair share of bad luck in terms of decisions against us, yet we still find ourselves with a fighting chance of breaking into the top four. We’ve only got 270 minutes of Premier League football to decide our fate and it really could go either way. Swansea and Manchester United at home, followed by Stoke away on the final day is all that lies between us and a chance to make our own piece of history. The coaching staff and squad have given everything they’ve got this season and all we can ask is that they do the same for those final three games. In the past, three wins from those fixtures might have felt like a big ask but I genuinely feel confident that it can be achieved. If Arsenal and Swansea can do us a massive favour and take care of a City side who may have a Champions League hangover (or even be resting players if they manage to get to the final), the preparations for Europe’s elite club competition can begin.
As great as Champions League football would be, there will be a lot of fans out there with a slight degree of concern about whether or not we are ready for that step up just yet (I must admit, I understand where they’re coming from). Of course, fourth position doesn’t gain entry into the competition proper, there’s still a knock-out qualification round to negotiate before making it to the group stage, where people might claim we’re ‘out of our depth’. The worry if we make the cut and aren’t quite ready? We can certainly compete at that level, don’t get me wrong. Our form against the only teams above us in the table is evidence of that. The only minor concern is the impact it may have on our first season in the Olympic Stadium. Would the fixture list be too much to handle? How will Bilic juggle squad rotation and continue our progress towards competing for silverware and higher positions in the Premier League? I suppose it’s something we’ll only know about once we get there and I’d certainly rather make it happen and see, instead of thinking about the what ifs.
I was planning on designating some part of this article to consider who we should or even could purchase in the summer transfer window if we did manage to do the unthinkable (except, it’s not really the unthinkable anymore). It just doesn’t seem right to speculate though. We can all comment on the rumours that are going around and we know that we’re trying to get business done early but the direction of that business will only be determined after our final three fixtures. Champions League football makes it easier to hold on to players who may be tempted away in the summer (there isn’t much out there that is more of an enticing prospect than West Ham at the moment) and it certainly sets the bar higher in terms of the calibre of player we would be targeting and expecting to join the club. Regardless of where we finish, I expect a busy period in terms of transfers but at this moment in time, speculating on potential comings and goings would just be wasted energy.
In short, this season has given us a reason to be optimistic. Success so often has a bearing on expectation and although we’ve now experienced the former, we need to be careful and not get carried away with the latter. We’ve set a top-flight record of 15 games unbeaten in the league at home, we’re currently on our best unbeaten run in the Premier League with 10 games and counting, we’ve more than halved our record number of losses in a single season, previously 13 and currently 6 for this campaign and we’ve got the best goal difference we’ve had in years. All those stats combined with wins at the Emirates, the Etihad, the treble over Liverpool and some truly great football along the way puts this up there as one of, if not the, best season as I’ve had as a West Ham fan. And the best thing about all that? It could get even better!