Talking Point

We've Had The Right Results And Records Aplenty. Is It The Best Season We've Had?

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!


My West Ham Story

The Night It Clicked For Me at West Ham

Guest Post by Paul Cramer

I have been supporting West Ham since the late 60’s, although I was too young to realise, my dad later told me that in the first game he took me, Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters all played. I’m really proud to have known that.

My greatest ever Boleyn memory was the 75/76 European Cup Winner Cup semi-final 2nd leg match against Eintracht Frankfurt. I have never in all my 46 years as a Hammer heard Bubbles sang so loud and with so much passion. Even the stewards were singing. I get goose bumps even now thinking of that night.

Trevor Brooking’s winning goal on a rain soaked muddy pitch under the lights, when he switched the ball from his left to his right and calmly slid the ball into the bottom corner is my favourite Boleyn goal moment of all time.

It was that night that it all clicked for me and the connection with the club and the stadium was made that would last a lifetime.

I know a lot of people are going to find it hard and will miss the old ground, I will too however if we stay we are basically saying we are happy accept more of the same and let’s be honest very little success. To those who say we have now got a great squad and the future is looking bright, I would say that without the Olympic Stadium next season we would lose Payet, Kouyate, Lanzini and probably Cresswell and probably a couple of them to Spurs.

That’s what people have to remember when saying we should stay.

I have enjoyed reading through lots of fantastic stories and memories, best thing about them is they are safely stored in the memory bank forever. I think it’s best to plan what you want to do for the last game in advance.. maybe a photo here and there, a goodbye visit to Ken’s café or the chip shop outside the station.

I plan to sit in my seat for a good while after the game and think of as many moments as I can, all the mates who were part of the experience and all the various positions we stood or sat. No doubt I will get choked up but it needs to be done for my own personal farewell.

The clicking of the turnstile as I enter the ground for the last time will have so much more meaning. I’ll look around at all the usual season ticket holders in and around me that have become my second family over the years. I haven’t talked to them all but they are always there and a reliable presence. I’ll even miss the woman behind me that moans at everything, even if we are 3-0 up. I won’t miss the 3 year old who constantly kicks the back of my seat though!

Final thought …. I wonder if the person responsible for switching off the floodlights for the last time will understand the enormity of that moment.

The HamburgHammer Column

French Bubbles, Oxford and the pursuit of happiness

How dare I even contemplating to disagree with our skipper, Canning Town’s finest and most famous son (from a West Ham fan’s perspective anyway), Mark Noble. He said after his arguably best performance of the season how he just didn’t want this season to end. How true this is! Not only do we finally have our West Ham back (at least in terms of the football we play these days), we are constantly improving and will start to challenge the big boys now on a more regular basis.
Not necessarily for titles just yet, but certainly for the Europa League and CL places.

If you had told me at the start of the season we’d still be in the race for a Champions League place with only three games left in the season I’d have made that call to the emergency boys with the straightjacket at the ready to come over sharpish and take you away for a lock up in a soft cell. There are so many refreshingly positive things to say about our team this season that it is totally understandable to wish for a neverending season (which would bring the added bonus of getting more games at the Boleyn of course!).

The cameraderie and togetherness displayed by the team on and off the pitch is wonderful to see, watching Payet and Noble interacting with each other at the West Brom game with those proverbial Cheshire Cat grins on their boats really brings a similar facial expression to me whenever I think about it.

It’s easy to forget that with a fully fit squad we do have quality players in our squad that no longer get much of a look in these days, guys like Song, Valencia and Obiang.
Thing is, we are not really missing them. Yet we will need a big and happy squad obviously should we get Europa League or even CL football next season.

Our upwards projections allow us to attract much better players for the summer transfer window and by the looks of it Bilic and our main scout Tony Henry appear to want our main business done early, basically at the very start of the transfer window. Recent rumours seem to indicate that Lyon’s striker Alexandre Lacazette might just warm to the idea of coming to East London next season. Initially it was thought that only a club being able to offer CL football would be good enough for Lacazette.
Then again West Ham negotiators must have left quite an impression with Lacazette’s representatives, selling the West Ham idea to them:
Up and coming club, playing in one of the most attractive cities in the world, new iconic stadium, 50.000 season tickets already sold and of course the prospect of starting games, rather than warming the bench at the likes of Barcelona or Spurs.

Not to forget a certain teammate from the French national side already plying his trade at West Ham. I reckon Payet may well put a few selected enticing words into Lacazette’s ear about what to expect at West Ham if he decided to join the Bilic Boys. Lacazette at West Ham is a truly slavitating thought.
He is young, a fantastic finisher, a great dribbler and passer of the ball (West Ham fans always loved those types) and if we were to sell him on to another club eventually he’d actually have a market value.

If we somehow signed up Ibrahimovic we’d be paying massive wages for a season or two without any prospect of recouping any kind of money at the end of his tenure at the club. Lacazette would add another French element to our team which isn’t a bad thing as the French still play some nice football and I’m sure the likes of Noble and Tomkins will make sure that those guys buy into the English/East London culture thing without secluding themselves away in a French clique at West Ham.
If we do actually manage to pull off the Lacazette signing that is! But what a prospect to even think we are in with a chance in this case!

Talking about prospects young Reece Oxford got another few minutes on the pitch on Saturday. He seems to have dies his hair claret if I saw this correctly on my internet stream. So he seems to be quite happy at West Ham for the time being. He’s also likely to feature again in the seond leg of the Development Squad’s Cup Final at Hull later this week. But obviously the vultures have already started circling: Man City apparently are interested in signing him up and their new manager Pep Guardiola has a certain reputation of helping young players make that transition from reserve teams into the first team squad.

So there is an obvious danger there. As he is only 17 West Ham haven’t had the chance yet to sign him up to a long-term deal and at this stage we can only speculate if Oxford would actually be willing to sign a long-term deal with us. He’s been mentioned in the same breath with Rio Ferdinand who of course was a world-class defender.
So in reality Reece Oxford will very much have a choice of several top clubs to join soon. The tricky task for Bilic will be to decide how to use Oxford next season.
Will he keep him regularly in and around the first team squad and give him more playing time ?

Which is difficult of course with the Reid-Ogbonna CB partnership looking very comfortable (with Tomkins, Collins and Reece Burke also waiting in the wings). Sending him out to a decent Championship club on loan next season would give him regular starts probably, but it might also frustrate Oxford who probably wants more first team football at West Ham a lot sooner, not the season after next.

As with other decisions pending at the club I put my full trust and confidence in Bilic to handle this situation in the right manner.
Oxford knows he’s likely to have a big future in football anyway, the question is how confident he is that all his dreams and ambitions can be fulfilled at West Ham or whether he reckons he’ll have better chances (and earlier too) elsewhere.

Keeping quality players happy, even if they don’t start games, is a major task for Bilic now for the rest of the season and beyond. So far guys like Pedro Obiang never managed a proper run in the team, maybe because there haven’t been a lot of injuries in their particular position or because other players ahead of them in the pecking order have performed far too consistently to warrant a change just for the sake of it. Whenever I’ve seen Obiang play he looked extremly comfortable on the ball and assured in the tackle.

It is another pleasing aspect of watching West Ham this season that I never avert my eyes in disgust when a substitute comes on for us.

That’s because of the quality players we have available on the bench these days. Whether we bring on someone like Tomkins, Obiang, Valencia or even Emenike I never think “Oh my God, this is terrible!” On the contrary I feel rather excited, looking forward to what the substitute player will actually contribute in the game.

It won’t be a 25 million marquee signing determining our fate on the pitch next season, it will be maintaining that cameraderie and team spirit that has been so apparent for us this season. It surely is an environment at and around West Ham these days that not only us fans enjoy a lot but one which is also extremly attractive for the players.
The ones already at the club (most of them anyway) and those who might ponder wearing the famous claret and blue shirt next season. COYI!

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Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

Treble at the Hawthorns

POSITION UPDATE: We end the matchweek in 6th following Manchester United’s 1-1 draw over Leicester City, who failed to clinch the title today.

This is the first time we have gone an entire 10 league matches unbeaten in the Premier League. And what a way to set a new personal record with a 3-0 win! We have won our last two matches by two goals or more, so the players mean business. We have also possibly ended our drawing streak for good with a second consecutive win. This has put us right on track for yet another season in the Europa League, and this time, the experience from before ought to help Slaven and the players, what with the pre-season starting earlier than others. The Baggies could have scored early on with some of the chances they had, but Adrián and the defenders did very well to prevent an early setback away from home.

Throughout the season, our attacking threat has been very strong. We are the fourth side to get 60 goals this season. Our attack was the more efficient, as we made better use of the shots we had, with a higher proportion on target than West Brom. Jonathan Leko, became the first player to start a Premier League game, having been born in 1999. He was quite calm when he came out to warm-up, and made it very difficult for Cresswell, getting in sensational crosses. He also had a good dribbling ability. Craig Gardner missed quite a few chances set up by the youngster, which could have given them the lead, but we can thank our players for being clinical. Speaking of which, all three of our goals came from our midfielders. West Brom were pressing forward, which gave us chances on the counter, which we scored through stunning build-up play. Payet has assisted us wonderfully with 10 assists from him in the league. The last player to get into double figures for assists was Paolo di Canio with 13 assists in the 1999/2000 season. We know how to play to our strengths. West Brom tried to get a goal back, but they were bound to leave room for a certain player – I think you understand. Even when Carroll hasn’t managed to score goals, we have stuck to our guns, which is partly why only Southampton have scored more headed goals than us this season with 14, as opposed to our 13. 5 of those have come from Andy Carroll.

The win has reignited our hopes of maybe getting a Champions League spot. A loss for Manchester United today will put us ahead of them of goal difference having played the same number of games. A win for Leicester City, and they’ll be champions. The Foxes are unbeaten since Valentine’s Day (9 matches), however Man United are only unbeaten in their last 2 matches. A couple of seasons ago, Everton finished in 5th. Ever since, they bought Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea for a record fee of £28M, as well as Funes Mori. We have another Belgian in mind in Michy Batshuayi, or the better proven Alexandre Lacazette. These signings have increased expectation. However, this is something that the club have failed to rise to. Last season, they finished 11th, and are currently in the same position in the league. There is growing pressure on Martinez to resign. These expectations have come about from pundits, the fans themselves, and owners of the club. The positive to take from all this is that the constant attention Everton receives helps them to improve for the better with a lot of evaluation, not to mention the fact that they won’t be relegated in the near future.

We have had the luxury of playing with an almost fully-fit squad. We didn’t need Obiang in that match, though Valencia could have been a better substitution for Payet, as opposed to Moses. Antonio played well as a right-back making two vital clearances. Looks like Byram really is one for the future. Either that or Bilic doesn’t want to have Antonio on the flanks as a winger, but more like a wing-back for the time being. Another two wins from our next two matches could keep our top 4 hopes alive if City fail to win most of their remaining fixtures.

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David Hautzig's Match Report

West Brom 0, West Ham 3. We've Got Bilic.

If you don’t follow Andy Caulton on Twitter, you should. Lifelong Albion supporter and a real encyclopedic knowledge not only of his side, but also of the game. I posed a question to him this morning, knowing he was visiting family and would attend the match. Is it hard to watch a Pulis team in the same way it was hard for many to watch Sam?

His reply was insightful.

“Quandry. Guilt or Greed? We are safe. Incredibly early in the season for us. Many teams who have spent more money are imploding. Birmingham neighbors would die for where we are. But with Pulis you ought to know how things are going to be, just like Sam. Is it hard to watch? Once bitten twice shy. Game 1 this season v City, Pulis attacked from the off. It was invigorating, exciting, shocking. But after missing chances an inspired Silva killed us. Risk taken, risk lost. Pulis blamed the defeat on himself. He just hates to take risks. Pragmatism is in his blood. Organization is his DNA.”

If the opening minutes were a foreshadow of things to come, it would have been an awful trip back to London. The Baggies pressed high up the pitch, which seemed to take West Ham by surprise. And if Craig Gardner had buried one of his early chances the day might have taken on a different hue. In the 8th minute, West Brom’s 17 year old debutante Leko took Cresswell to the end-line on the right and showed good command by beating Cresswell before rolling a pass to Gardner. Antonio blocked Gardner’s first effort and Adrian took care of the second. Minutes later an awful touch by Noble in the West Ham penalty area allowed Gardner to latch onto the ball and try a curling left footed effort. It looked goal bound before Adrian used the hangnail on the pinkie of his right hand to steer the ball around the post.

It wasn’t until the 20th minute that West Ham even made it look like scoring was part of the plan when Lanzini got the ball on the right and sent a cross into the box for Carroll, but the big man’s effort was weak and over the bar.

West Brom applied more pressure and came close to an opener in the 23rd minute when Evans sent a cross from the left over everyone and looked destined to go out for a goal kick. But somehow it hugged the line and Leko retrieved it. Another cross found Gardner, and a man who could easily have been looking for a stunning early hat trick put his headed effort wide.

Obviously I cannot read minds. Except when my wife is annoyed with me. For another time. Where was I? Right. In the 26th minute it looked like Antonio had looked around, saw Gardner with multiple chances and the whole of West Ham with basically none, and said enough is enough. Spark time. He embarked on a run down the right from inside the West Ham half, at one time running faster than a well kicked ball to get around Olsson. The make shift right back sent a cross that Carroll couldn’t get to and was cleared. Cresswell got to it and re-started the attack with Payet, who sent a through ball down the left that Cresswell sent low and into the box. Sakho tried to slide in for a tap in but just missed.

West Ham really started to assert themselves in the 33rd minute when Lanzini dribbled out of danger in the West Ham half…those words, particularly the word “dribble”, feel good to keep saying….before passing to Payet. The soon to be Hammer Of The Year rolled the ball to Sakho down the right before shooting, but Foster put it out for a corner.

The Hammers finally had their breakthrough in the 35th minute. The Baggies tried to clear the ball from their own end, but Reid stayed with it and while fighting for possession forced a deflection out wide to Payet. The Frenchman sent a sublime cross to Kouyate, who headed it back towards the far post and past a helpless Foster.

West Brom 0, West Ham 1.

I know we are playing some wonderful football, and the edict from Slaven is to try and play out of the back when at all possible. Still, my stomach turns whenever we play quick, short passing football in our own end. I’m sorry. It’s no different than still telling my kids to watch their heads when I close the trunk/boot of my car, even though they are well aware of their surroundings by now. So in first half added on time, when we were passing the ball in little triangles, spaces so tight any whiff of body odor could have caused damage, I was anxious. I could easily envision the ball popping out, going to Rondon, and an even scoreline at halftime. I could not easily envision what I did see. An Ogbonna pass that Lanzini let slide past him, knowing Kouyate was on the run. Then Kouyate continued his run before laying it off for an onrushing Noble, who after a heavy first touch calmly poked it by an absolutely shell shocked Foster. The players certainly did the work on the pitch, but that was a Bilic goal. A goal brought on by the belief that they are allowed to take that chance and that they can play that way. It was glorious in its own way.

Halftime: West Brom 0, West Ham 2.

The passing game that started midway through the first half continued in full Technicolor in the second. At times I decided not to even try and keep up with who was passing to whom because there were just so many. West Brom must have felt like they were playing against 14. In the 55th, what seemed like more possession based time killing turned into another quick counter led by Cresswell. The West Ham left back had looked like he could be on the verge of a horrible day early in the first half. He certainly pressed the reset button and sent a cross that Carroll did very well to reach. Man Bun’s header back across the face of goal was begging for someone to be there. Nobody was, and West Brom were allowed to think they could still get back into this game.

They should have cut the lead in half in the 64th minute when Rondon did what big men are supposed to do. He won the ball and layed it off for someone near him in the box. This time it was recent substitute Berahino, who probably should have scored but put his shot wide. A few minutes later, Dawson found their other recent sub Sandro thirty yards out. But his shot rolled harmlessly wide. You know, the way QPR shots roll harmlessly wide.

I happen to love when bands cover each other’s stuff. I’ve got tickets to see Sting and Peter Gabriel touring together this summer, and it will be fun to hear them interpret each other’s music. West Ham put an emphatic end to any hope West Brom had of getting anything from this game in the 79th minute with their own type of cover work. Carroll crossed from out wide to Noble in the box who volleyed it home.

Final Score: West Brom 0, West Ham 3.

We all know the records from today. Highest point total in our Premier League history. Unbeaten in ten matches for the first time in thirty years. Destined for our first ever EPL positive goal difference. It’s astounding.

Back to Andy.

WHU were brilliant. Was right next to Bilic. Energy levels and guidance even at 3-0 was simply inspirational. He never stopped. Balance of WHU was outstanding. Noble was fantastic, dictated the game with Kouyate. Reid was a rock. And in possession, you were so smooth. Bilic gave a master class in coaching. I’ve never seen anything like it in person.

I’m adding a song, although the lyrics are far from done.

We’ve got Bilic.

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