Tony Hanna's Musings
West Ham fans reaction to the defeat at Tottenham has been by and large fairly predictable. Any defeat leaves us fairly deflated for a day or two, maybe even more, but to lose 4-1 and to a bitter rival is a recipe for even more frustration and anger than usual. The knee jerk reaction in today’s “want it all now” social media driven society can often lead to false expectations but on this occasion I do feel we are right to have some minor concerns. So, should we be worried or are the inept performances at Watford and Tottenham a sign that other teams are working us out? We are currently 6th in the table, equal third highest scorers in the division and have pocketed four highly prized scalps but our team no longer looks like one that exudes confidence. The early losses to Leicester and Bournemouth did not seem to make sense when you look at the results either side of those defeats. Victories at Arsenal and Liverpool were much more palatable. However, the loss to Leicester has much more credibility about it now when you look at today’s Premier League table!
Slaven Bilic has been a breath of fresh air this season but he now has to contemplate some rather difficult decisions. Robbed of his star player Dimitri Payet for three months does not help matters but for me it is the defence and holding midfielders that should be put under the microscope. The goalkeeper, back four and two holding midfielders that played at Spurs are the same seven that pretty much played most games in the nosedive of last season. We top the league in defensive errors punished and we can take the rose tinted glasses off now – we do not look comfortable playing the ball out from the back. Many of the errors that have cost us goals this season have been due to poor passes more often or not because of the opposition closing our defenders down. Noble, Cresswell, Tomkins and Jenkinson have all been guilty this season and Slaven has to ponder how to put things right. Jenkinson and Cresswell in my opinion are the two players who are struggling this season and it is in the full back positions where we have the least amount of quality cover. Jenkinson is way down on last season’s form and Arsenal must be wishing they sold him to us now rather than extending and improving his contract at the Emirates. Cresswell, for me, has never been a good defender but the way he gets forward is exciting and fan pleasing. I am still dumbfounded as to how he won last years HOTY over Kouyate or Adrian?
I would be really surprised now if Ogbonna is not picked for the West Brom game. He is fit and raring to go and was a player that Bilic really wanted this season. He identified a centre back as his priority signing when he got the managers job. So, what will happen at right back? Will Tomkins move there or will Jenkinson hold his place? And what about left back? Perhaps Stephen Hendrie will be given his chance or will Bilic persevere with Cresswell? Indeed, Ogbonna can play at left back and he could leave the central defence unchanged?
On reading many of the comments on here, there has been a lot of negative chat about Noble and Carroll. With Song now back and Noble suspended this week, it will give Bilic the chance to see how the team performs without its skipper. Whilst Song is not fully match fit he has to grab this opportunity with both hands. I still think Slaven is working out a few players in this squad and he seems determined to give some of them a fair crack. After all, he played Maiga and Nolan several times at the start of the season. He could have asked us – we would have told him! But no, Slaven wanted to see for himself. And in many ways I liken that to the recent selection of Andy Carroll. I think Bilic would like it to work but from what we have seen it just does not. My view is that big Andy will not be with us for the start of the Olympic Stadium season. Unplayable? Sometimes yes, but Sam was right. For Andy to work you have to build a team around him and that is just not in our DNA any more.
So, whilst there is no need to panic, we still have the strongest squad in depth ever, but Slaven Bilic has got some difficult decisions to make to get the most out of this squad. I have not mentioned Antonio as yet and perhaps that is best left to another article. From what I have seen of the lad in Championship games he looked pretty decent? Again, time will tell, but in Slaven we must trust.