Tony Hanna's Musings

In Slaven we Trust

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.

The S J Chandos Column

Should a Song-Obiang partnership start Vs WBA, with Kouyate pushed further forward?

The Spurs match was an unmitigated disaster. A combination of tactical mistakes, selection issues and poor team application/player form directly contributed to a comprehensive defeat. Much as I hate to admit it, Spurs were far better on the day and, crucially, we did not handle their high, aggressive, pressing game at all well. Indeed, one of the things that I found slightly alarming is that this is the second consecutive match where we have been out-muscled by the physical approach/tactics of our opponents. Although we all want to see the present transition to the expansive, passing game under Bilic, I had hoped that we would still retain the physicality that we developed under Allardyce and the ability to meet ‘fire with fire’ in such situations.

With Mark Noble now suspended for the WBA game, there is the opportunity to fundamentally re-jig the midfield. In particular, there is the prospect that we can inject some extra steel in to the side by selecting a new partnership of Alex Song and Pedro Obiang in the dual defensive-anchor role. That would then allow Bilic to push Kouyate forward to play in the central role in the three forward positions supporting Sakho up top (with Carroll on the bench). Arguably that would facilitate Kouyate using his power, physical presence and eye for goal to the best possible effect. It would also have the added bonus of allowing Lanzini to continue working his magic on the right flank, with either Moses or Antonio on the left. With Payet missing we need a major adjustment in our approach, to find a new winning combination, and I would contend that the best solution is pushing Kouyate in to this more advanced attacking role.

In defence, one could argue that it is time to reconstitute the Ogbonna-Reid central defensive partnership. Whether Tomkins steps down to the bench or replaces the ‘out of sorts’ Jenkinson, at right-back, is a moot point. On balance, I would probably stick with Jenkinson. Mostly because of the assurance provided by Obiang and Song and the potentially decisive role the full-backs could play on the overlap, providing extra width and stretching WBA’s defence. The key question is: are Song and Obiang fit enough to start? Is it an excessive risk playing two players only recently back from injury lay-offs? I am not currently sure about Obiang’s fitness, but hopefully he is ready. And I really like the idea of playing this particular combination together in front of our defence.

The one thing I do not want to see is Tony Pulis’ WBA coming to Upton Park and winning the physical contests. Otherwise, a little bit of a negative pattern could establish itself, which other sides learning from and adopting it as part of their tactics at Upton Park. In retrospect, we are extremely lucky that Winston Reid did not receive a serious injury in the Spurs match. Walker’s ‘over the top’ tackle on Reid could easily have broke his leg. Luckily Reid emerged uninjured, but it could have been a very different outcome. In my view, Walker should not even have been on the pitch to score that fourth goal.

In conclusion, we need a positive response from the squad. We were bound to hit a difficult patch at some point and with one point from the last three matches, this is probably it. We need Bilic to make some decisive changes in selection and find a new winning combination. My view is that Song, Obiang and Kouyate could be key to finding it. We are still 6th in the table, but this poor run of three games have allowed some of the teams behind us to make up ground. There is no need to ‘wake up to reality’ or ‘down grade our ambitions’ as some would have us believe. What we need to do is rejig effectively to compensate for Payet’s absence and get firmly back on track. I am not sure Lanzini in a central attacking role is necessarily the answer, but perhaps Kouyate is?

SJ. Chandos.

Talking Point

We needed a big defeat to bring us back to earth

Oh here he comes, Bobby Shovels and his “theory of negativity.” That’s the cry I get a lot, and fair enough a lot of that criticism holds up, in that I do not have as rosy an outlook as others.

Yet, if you look at my “negative” ramblings since the start of the season, a lot of it implied a catastrophic defeat against Spurs: the reliance on Payet, the individual errors, the lack of defensive cohesion, the inability to even impose ourselves on lower opposition. Everything was building to a disaster when all of those failures, that have been papered over by some fortunate results, all came together. We have conceded the most goals (eight) from defensive errors this season – many of us were worried about this earlier in the season; others just said it was the occasional error. It’s not occasional anymore: it’s a huge problem. When we play a team

Sorry guys, but I think Sunday showed that some of that talk of top six finishes or – as the KUMB podcast tried to vaguely argue – this being a team akin to 86, is not really going to hold true. I’m not saying that we’re awful and we’re going to get relegated, but as I have said countless times, the over excitement about the first 12 games went too far.

Already I feel bored that everyone goes on about us beating City, Liverpool and Arsenal away – has anyone noticed that the City game was back in September? That since then we’ve lost away to Watford and been thrashed by Spurs? Our season is already becoming defined by our exploits in the first few weeks. Furthermore, I am delighted at the fact we beat all those teams, but would I rather have maybe lost against City and had a better result against Spurs? Of course. The Tottenham game was a wake-up call.

Yet, we should learn from Spurs. They have had many false dawns in the past few years – like the time when AVB beat United away – their first league victory there in ages, or even when Sherwood did the same – each time the club thought they had turned a corner, but they hadn’t. Now, giving Pochettino a year or so to bed in and make the team his own, they are reaping the rewards. Spurs have spent a while trying to get themselves into the top four, and they may just do it now.

Similarly, we need time to do the same. Hence, I have always said that those saying we’re going to be miles ahead of last season in Bilic’s first year in charge is ludicrous. We need time to become a big club – and I think our disaster at White Hart Lane should have silenced those who think our away form at the start was a sign of things to come. Fact is, we’ve had one point out of our last possible nine, and we face a West Brom side who we haven’t beaten at home in the last two years (3-3 and 1-1) and lost against 4-0 in the Cup. Furthermore, they’re coming off the back of a victory against Arsenal – a victory much more in the recent memory than our Emirates triumph. A win against us and they’re only one point behind us. Indeed, look at the table, and another loss and we drop into tenth or lower – it’s fine to embrace the good start, but remember how close this league is becoming, how many teams are clustered in the middle of the pack: one point in nine and already we are falling back.

This is not a blog to brag or boast that I warned you of a sign of things to come against Spurs. Just that this defeat should not be seen as a surprise nor something to make us negative: more it shows that there is a long way to go to ensure we are at the consistency and high level of Tottenham. That’s not a nice thing to say, but if we admit our failings, we have a realistic idea of what is to come this year, and the amazing potential of future seasons.

The HamburgHammer Column

No Payet, no payoff! Are we useless without our playmaker ?

Defeats hurt. They hurt especially when they happen against our archrivals from North London. But what happened on Sunday was even harder to swallow.
We were completely outplayed, outfoxed, outperformed, outpassed, outclassed by, I’m sorry to admit it, a VERY good Tottenham side.
Initially I thought we might be able to cope, even without Dmitri Payet on the pitch. How wrong I was! But then again, I’m not strictly sure if Payet’s absence is the only reason we got torn apart at White Hart Lane. It surely played a part, but the entire team looked second-best, not just in terms of skill and performance but unfortunately also in terms of desire, effort and determination. Mixed in with some more individual blunders leading to goals we looked tooth- and spineless on the day.

Again, Spurs are a side flying at the moment, with good players spread all over the pitch, a quality Premier League outfit. Then again, especially after a lengthy International break, our lads should have been up for this game which in many ways is the most important one of the season for many fans.
Bilic will have his hands and mind full of how to adjust our team into life without Payet. If you want to be a challenger in this league you cannot be overreliant on one single player.

Injuries can always happen, sometimes even without an opposing player getting his foot in. You need to have the kind of squad and tactical nous to deal with these things.
They happen. They will happen again to other influential players at our club. Things are still tight in the table, go on a run of successive victories and you’re right back up there, for now though we have pretty much crashed back down to very earthly reality with fortune trying to hide once again.

But it obviously is not all doom and gloom. Future opponents will be of much lesser quality than Spurs. Players like Song, Obiang and Ogbonna may start to stake their claim now that some other players, especially in defense, have looked less than convincing in recent games. Starting with Carroll still doesn’t quite seem to work. There is still quite some quality available in our squad, Bilic merely needs to find the right formula in training now and go with it.

What’s even more important though is that we approach the games with more hunger, desire and passion than in recent games.

Against Spurs we were clearly second best, losing the ball numerous times, failing to find teammates with a pass, struggling to get anything going in terms of attacking football.
It almost appeared as if Spurs had a man advantage which appears to indicate that their players showed more movement and effort all over the pitch.
We need to put this game behind us quickly, reshuffle our pack and get back on track at the earliest opportunity, hence our next game against West Brom.

On a personal note this will be an emotional week for me. I’m doing what West Ham will have to do in the summer: Leaving behind a beloved home for many years.

Friday is the official date of our notary appointment when my brother and I will be selling my parent’s house and our childhood home which was built by my parents nearly 40 years ago. Many memories are crammed into this building, good ones and bad, and this house has been a massive part of my life.

It’s a weird thought that soon enough it will be a canvas for a new (young) family to make their own memories, It’s the circle of life I suppose. My brother has a house of his own twenty miles away and contrary to him I have no wife and kids which would probably have allowed me to keep the house within our family.

It will take a while for everything to sink in and it’s going to be tough for a while. But like West Ham I just need to move on somehow. Hopefully onwards for bigger and better things to come. Should fortune decide to come out of hiding and give us a big fat smile for a change. COYI!

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Talking Point

Take A Step Back, Breathe Deep And Relax

Losing to Tottenham hurts. Leaving White Hart Lane, feeling like 4-1 was a lucky escape is just embarrassing. There’s not much that can be said about yesterday afternoon’s performance. In fact, the less said, the better. After looking forward to the fixture all day, I sat down with my notepad in hand, eagerly anticipating a decent game of football. In what was a dull, yet satisfactory opening twenty minutes, I’d only managed to scribble a few lines. After fifty minutes, both my pen and notepad were thrown across the room and my fingers were itching towards the remote to turn the TV off and end the misery. I’m not going to deny that it was an incredibly frustrating game to watch but it’s one we need to learn from, not moan about.

Yes, Bilic got the tactics wrong. Leaving Andy Carroll up top, when trying to soak up pressure and hit them on the break was never going to work. We can all have our say and pick holes in the performance, but it’s in the past. It may well be that the system and tactics implemented under Sam Allardyce would have made for a different game but I’m quite happy to take the losses that will inevitably come in our transition away from the previous approach that many were so unhappy with. Some will say we should pick and choose when to use such a style of play but unfortunately, we can’t have the best of both worlds. We’ve now got an important fixture against West Bromwich Albion to look forward to and a chance to see just what the squad and staff our made of.

I’ve previously spoken about how big an impact a disappointing result can have on the week that follows a West Ham fixture and this one is no different. Well, it being our worst performance of the season and against our bitter rivals does perhaps make it slightly different, but you know what I mean. Although it’s an incredibly bitter pill to swallow, it’s one that comes with an antidote. An antidote that can be provided with a return to winning ways against West Brom next week. We only need to remind ourselves of the dire performance against Bournemouth to see how quickly things can change. With criticism flying in from left, right and centre, we went unbeaten in seven league games, beating Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea along the way.

I’m fully aware that if the team and tactics used on Sunday were to be used for the next seven games, we could see ourselves tumbling down the table at a rate of knots. I’m sure (and hope) there are many that share my faith in Slaven Bilic and the squad at our disposal having the ability to figure out a way to right the wrongs we all had to witness yesterday afternoon. I appreciate that after such a shocking display as the one we saw against Spurs, sometimes a good vent of frustration is needed. The time for that has now passed. The club is still in a very good position (if I was offered 6th place in the table and 21 points after 13 games, I’d have taken it without a moment’s hesitation) and we should be looking up, rather than down, forwards instead back.

I’d like to think the majority are like myself and let optimism prevail over disappointment. From some, the negativity will stream forth until they have no other option but to be positive and that really doesn’t bother me. What I can’t understand is the onslaught of criticism for players who are part of the club we all love so much. It was hard to watch Andy Carroll practically walk around the pitch and struggle to have any input, I know. For me, he still doesn’t seem fit. He doesn’t move in the same way. He doesn’t play with the intensity we all know he can but does that really mean he should be shipped out and forgotten about? I might be in the minority but I truly believe he can still do a job for the club. We may have paid over the odds for what could now be considered an ‘impact sub’ but he’s still an impact sub that can really make a difference in games when we’re running out of options, one that I think would be sorely missed later in the season if we were to let him go.

Mark Noble is a fan favourite in more ways than one. The local lad, adored by so many, is often the first port of call for those looking to dish out some criticism. There’s no room for sentiment in football, I know that. I might have grown up watching Mark Noble play, hearing of the potential transfers that have never materialised due to his commitment to the club but that isn’t why I like him as a player, it’s because of his ability. He might not be as nippy as some fans think is necessary for his role but he does what is asked of him and to a standard I believe has a positive influence on the team. I know they’ll be a stream of comments that counter that claim and feel free to do so, I’ll just have to save the full scope of my opinion for an article in the future.

They’ll be people out there that have to deal with the aftermath of yesterday’s result for the remainder of the week and unfortunately, I’m in the same boat. At least the boat we’re in isn’t sinking. It’s one that can be patched up and prove the doubters wrong next week. We have the opportunity to show that we can perform without the likes of Payet and Valencia and I firmly believe it’s an opportunity that will be taken.


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