The HamburgHammer Column

You look like the Ant that swallowed the canaries - 4 goals, one step closer to safety

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I had quite a choice of puns this time around with several more in the pipeline to pick from for my column’s headline after our away win against Norwich.

Eventually I simply picked my personal favourite.
Which came to me just after Antonio had scored his second goal just before halftime.

Also in contention were “Canaries buried in goal mine collapse”, “Canaries’ survival hopes have flown south“, “Don’t be Kruel – No Mercy Antonio strikes!”, “The Canaries have ceased to be in the Premier League, this is an ex-canary!“ or, for all you Beatles fans out there, “And your bird can sink”. And how about “Canaries pining for the swords!“ ?
Maybe even “Killing 11 birds with one Antone“.

All brilliant of course…but I needed only one headline…;-))

Shame that these birds have flown now, Norwich are such a lovely source for finding all kinds of witty puns and you all know by now how much I just love my play-on-words. Is punability even a word ? ;-)
If it is, the Canaries are definitely in the Champions League of punability.

Be that as it may, more important than even the funniest pun could ever be is of course the fact West Ham now have three more vital points in the bag! Which spells trouble for both Villa and Bournemouth accordingly, despite the fact they won their respective fixtures too yesterday. But there’s only three games left. Which means every game is a Cup Final now…

OH YES!!! If you had offered West Ham fans the world over this result and performance before kick-off, I bet that Hammers everywhere would have snatched all your arms and legs off without thinking twice, regardless if he or she was following the game in Hackney, Hainault, Huddersfield, Hamburg, Helsinki, Honolulu, Hanoi or Houston.

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What they saw was a solid team performance against a home side that was frankly so harmless and tame it was actually painful to watch at times.
Like an experienced and armed hunter walking into a petting zoo of cuddly and furry guinea pigs, bunnies and kittens.
It never felt like an actual contest between equals.
Men against boys more like. With us being the men for a change.

No wonder then that Norwich were the first team this season to have their relegation status officially confirmed. On the strength or rather weakness of that performance they won’t be missed much in the PL except as a courteous opponent dropping plenty of points. And for being very punable of course…;-))

But you can only beat what’s in front of you and our players certainly did their bit to ensure we will see PL football being played at the London Stadium next season after all, be that with fans inside the stadium or not.
Every single player did contribute in a positive way for us. Nobody had a stinker of a game for West Ham. Which was nice and rare to see.

We are not mathematically safe yet, I am aware of that.
But looking at the remaining fixtures, the league table and, more importantly, current form shown over the recent FIVE games played by each team, then Bournemouth and Villa don’t just have still quite a mountain to climb in order to stay up during the final stage of this crazy season, they will have to do it barefoot, without rope, cord or webbing, in a hailstorm with no gloves on, without the guiding light of a headtorch while the peak of the mountain lies somewhere way up shrouded in fog.

They need a lot of other games going in their favour while still winning at least two of their own remaining games. It’ll be incredibly hard for them.

So, in short: I don’t see either of them two reaching the top of that mountain. Neither will be in the Premier League next season.
And I still believe this to be the case despite Villa and Bournemouth winning their respective games yesterday.
They have closed the gap a bit to make things a bit more interesting. I still don’t see enough in both the Villa and the Bournemouth side to keep them up now. Too little too late. I think. And hope.

Where then to start with our win against Norwich ? With Michail Antonio of course! It is rare for any player to score four goals in a single PL game. Even if you are a very good striker. It gets even harder if you’re a West Ham player. We simply don’t score four goals in a game often. We concede four or more, no problem! Scoring them is a different matter.

Still, Antonio did it. Against a woeful defence, granted, but he took his opportunities in clinical fashion. Like the lethal striker he probably is after all despite actually having played mostly as a winger in his career – not to mention the occasional stint at RB. Maybe Antonio is a great goalkeeper as well, who knows ? Maybe we will find out next season. LOL

So Antonio scored four, with a bit more luck it could easily have been seven or eight goals in total for us, with Bowen, Soucek, Fornals and Antonio missing several more opportunities to add to our tally.

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You have to go back all the way to September 1981 by the way (I was nine years old at the time) to find the most recent West Ham quadruple goalscorer in a league game for West Ham, prior to Antonio.
It was none other than David “Psycho“ Cross against Spurs.

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Cross is a wonderful man, not just because he scored four times against our friends from North London (a feat very likely to guarantee yourself instant legend status at West Ham), but because I got to meet him and have a chinwag at an event in Dagenham a while ago and Cross is such an easy guy to root for, very approachable and chatty, with both feet firmly on the ground and still a big West Ham fan of course. Not a Psycho at all these days…

Saturday was very much Antonio’s day but every player in our team put a proper shift in. To be fair, Norwich pretty much handed our players the key to the city on a velvet pillow, our lads had so much space and time on the pitch that it was not only almost farcical at times.
I was also already chilled and completely at ease once we had managed to score the first goal at Carrow Road.
It felt like game, set and match there and then.
From that point onwards Norwich looked like a relegated team, a beaten side. And not even a good one at that!

Of course we didn’t have a perfect performance, not every pass of ours found a teammate, not every shot was on target, but we looked composed throughout and all that confidence which was gushing from the Norwich players in buckets seemed to get soaked up readily and gratefully by the boys in claret and blue.

If only we could play like this more often against better sides too. But at least our team should now be able to approach the upcoming games with a bit of swagger and freedom. Maybe play with a bit weight lifted from the players’ minds and shoulders, to perform more freely and just enjoy their football again. As that would translate into the fans as well being able to enjoy watching West Ham afresh.

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A key player for us on Saturday was Mark Noble who always seems so much better and more driven when starting a game after a short spell on the bench. He was also being played in a more advanced role which I thinks suits our Mr.West Ham just fine. When he has to do a lot of defending, tackling and sliding his socks off in the midfield engine room he tends to pick up (unnecessary) yellow cards from late tackles and such like and he is also not really in a position then to play key passes near the opposition’s box.

Playing further forward on the other hand allows him to chase defenders around, win balls for the team and bring others into play with pinpoint passes or chipped balls into the danger zone. He looks more efficient that way, it’s definitely a role Noble might and should play more often now and also next season.

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I’m trying not to get too far ahead of myself mentally in terms of next season. I’m pretty sure we’ll be playing in the PL. I’m also certain we might be losing a player or two that our fans will not be happy to see depart. Rice being the obvious elephant in the room. Anderson another name on the list. Or Sebastien Haller. Some fans may also wonder if we will actually be able to sign Soucek on a permanent deal or if a bigger club will step up now, trying to tap up the Czech midfield maestro and strike a deal with him and Slavia, thus nicking him away from Stratford.

We will see. What will be will be. Financially it’s paramount for our club to still be in a plush and comfy seat in one of the carriages of the big money gravy train bearing the Premier League logo.

You don’t want the turmoil and financial chaos associated with another relegation at West Ham, not in the current climate, not while we’re playing home games at the London Stadium, not while we’re trying to find new owners in the short to medium term.
Sullivan and Gold won’t be around forever and they neither have the funds nor the nous to take this club further.

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Can David Moyes take this club further ? I have never been his biggest fan. Never have been, unlikely to ever be in future. But more than anything at this point in time we need stability and continuity at the position for a while.

I certainly hope that Moyes is the kind of manager who can spot some decent and affordable talent from the Championship (Bowen) and abroad (Soucek) while also bringing more youngsters closer to and into our future first team matchday squads. That’s, in my view, how Moyes can really help our club with steadying the ship. Building a younger, hungrier and cheaper squad in financially trying circumstances at West Ham while making sure we don’t find ourselves in a relegation dogfight time and time again.

A lot of other issues are up to the board though which is where our real limitations a s a club currently lie. But that’s a discussion we’ve been having on here a lot in recent years.

My gut feeling tells me it’ll soon pop up again in conversation on here, especially once the transfer ballyhoo starts rearing its head once more in a few weeks’ time.

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Right, Watford next. Loads of players available for selection, maybe even Anderson and Snodgrass. Guys like Wilshere, Lanzini, Yarmolenko, Haller, all itching for a start in a crucial game against local rivals and current neighbours in the league table. Another very winnable game for us.

A point will probably be enough for us in the end, thanks to our cushion and goal difference, and push us over the finish line. I would very much prefer though if we took the momentum and swagger of the Norwich performance right into the Watford game and get another three points. This season has been a gruesome test of endurance for our fanbase and a rollercoaster of emotions, Alton Towers Nemesis style, in more ways than one.

Let’s reward the faithful Hammers fans wherever they may be with another good performance, more goals and our next PL win. COYI!!!


Match Report

Anyone Seen My Dopamine?

It used to be the moment to savour. The moment we all wait for. The moment when West Ham score. Dopamine is released in your brain and for a few moments you become a drug junky.

In these present times, I feel almost nothing. Antonio scores four goals and I sit there staring at the screen, trying to recall the manic outbursts of the past.

So, what do I think is going on?

Firstly, everything about the club in recent months has had a depressing effect on my personality – the ground, the owners, the players and the manager. Why do I keep repeating the same behaviour time after time when I know that the result is likely to be disastrous? Why don’t I take up watching Australian rules football or skiing? I must be a fool to keep watching West Ham , either at the ground or on television, with my stomach churning, biting my nails. My wife cannot understand my nonsensical behaviour. It must be that I am a masochist. I repeat this behaviour, because I believe I deserve it. She thinks I’ve regressed to the level of a kindergarten participant.

Secondly, football is supposed to be a spectator sport. And by spectator, I mean someone watching in the ground, not on television. It is a living spectacle. In these horrible times we are living in, football has been reduced to a sterile experience, compounded by the fact the fake crowd noises have to be added to the action to lead us into a world of make-believe. Essentially, we are watching practice game, where there is no home advantage.

Thirdly, we the watching public fool ourselves into believing we are watching a competitive sport. We know it is no such thing. Money rules. Some clubs are able to spend tens or even hundreds of millions of pounds on players. We have countries with few human rights owning football clubs. The Premier League is about to let in a murderer as a club owner. I don’t understand how the financial fair play rules work.

The game is run by crooks. The last President of FIFA was as bent as a nine bob note. Russia won the rights to the World Cup by bribery. The next World Cup is in Qatar – that is some joke! Many FIFA representatives have ended up or will end up in jail.

In the Premier League, there are Russian oligarchs who, rather than helping out their own country men, choose to waste their money on English clubs. Some clubs closer to home are run by pornographers, who now call themselves ‘businessmen’. I thought we were living in times when society were coming down hard on those individuals who may have abused women in the past.

And the players themselves are vastly overpaid. We have had to watch many games this season, where our players have barely been able to pass a ball and a goalkeeper who couldn’t catch a ball.

Fourthly, we have VAR. It has drained the excitement out of goal scoring. Everyone is looking round to see if the goal has to go to VAR. And some of the decisions and rules have been absolutely appalling. And for the spectators in the stadium sit there like lemons until a decision is reached.

So, for me, the enjoyment of watching the game has been reduced to the level of eating a bag of crisps. And what will I do? I’ll keep eating those crisps next season.


David Hautzig's Match Report

Norwich 0, West Ham 4. Can We See The Light?

I did not set an alarm for this morning, and I was kind of hoping the exhaustion of current life would catch up with me today and just let me sleep through what I was concerned would be a disastrous day for us. Now that both kids are sleeping like true to form teenagers, there was a shot. But the furry feline child is always the wild card, and she was having none of it. “Get up, dad! You have a game to watch! And while you’re at it, feed me”. So up and at em I guess.

Noble stepped back in to the starting eleven, and in a way I can see the logic. The problem was that logic seemed to indicate Moyes thought that we needed some stability to help avoid a bad result against the worst team in the league, at a stadium we have not won in since the year before Richard Nixon resigned. With Villa playing Palace tomorrow and Bournemouth, perhaps buoyed by their point against Spuds, playing Leicester we could have been looking at a truly awful weekend. Thanks to Antonio, that won’t happen.

West Ham had the first opportunity on the day when Antonio split the defense coming in from the left. He tried to find Soucek in front of goal, but the Czech midfielder’s first touch was a little heavy and his shot hit the side netting. A few minutes later the same pair hooked up again, with Antonio tee-ing up Soucek near the top of the Norwich eighteen yard box but his low shot went wide. In the 11th minute Cresswell was sent on a run down the left. His cross connected with Antonio in front of goal but Krul got a hand on it and sent it out for a corner. The initial delivery was cleared for a second corner, and the this time West Ham took care of business. Diop got a touch on the set piece, sending it to the far corner where Antonio was unmarked and found the back of the net.

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Norwich 0
West Ham 1

Norwich put a little fear back into the West Ham faithful in the 17th minute when Hernandez sent a through ball into the West Ham box that Buendia chased, but Fabianski just beat him to the ball. Moments later Cresswell put a cross into the Norwich penalty area that was a hair behind Antonio, and his attempted volley went high and over the bar. A few minutes later Norwich were on the attack with Lewis finding Pukki in the box with a cross, but Finnish striker’s header had no pace and floated over the bar.

Norwich had a golden chance to equalize in the 30th minute when Lewis again got on the ball on the left, a spot they seemed to want to test, and his cross went to Hernandez in front of Fabianski. But his side footed effort went wide when almost anything on target would have done the job. MInutes later Fornals was called for a foul, and Norwich had a free kick from 25 yards out. Vrancic stepped up, but his shot went over the bar. West Ham came back down with Antonio and Bowen combining near the top of the box, but the January signing’s low shot went wide.

In the 37th minute Fornals won a free kick on the left side of the Norwich penalty area, and with The Canaries troubles on set pieces it was a real opportunity. But Noble’s free kick to the far post was too high for Soucek to handle and it went out harmlessly for a Norwich goal kick. Five minutes later Krul made a very good save on a Soucek volley, putting it out for the first of two West Ham corners. But the visitors couldn’t capitalize on either.

Just before halftime, West Ham got a vital second goal after a foul by Buendia gave The Hammers a free kick. Noble’s set piece from just outside the penalty area hit Antonio in the box, and the seven million pound bargain from Nottingham headed it home.

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Norwich 0
West Ham 2

The Hammers could have made it 0-3 when Noble sent a pass to Fredericks streaking down the right, but his shot went over the bar. Then Fabianski was forced to make his first difficult save of the day just before halftime when a Buendia shot forced the Hammer’s keeper to punch the ball away.

Halftime
Norwich 0
West Ham 2

West Ham started the second half brightly, winning a corner in the opening minute. But the set piece amounted to nothing, and when Bowen had the ball with a bit of time and a bit of space near the top of the Norwich eighteen yard box he skied his shot into the empty stands. Moments later West Ham won a free kick just outside the Norwich box. They tried something off the training ground, with Noble looking for Rice inside the box. But the shot was blocked, so more work on the training ground might be in order for that little move.

The match, and perhaps West Ham’s Premier League survival, were possibly wrapped up in the 55th minute when Noble sent a through ball in between Godfrey and Klose that Antonio ran onto. Bearing down on Krul, Antonio tried to side foot it past the Norwich keeper who made the initial save. But the ball bounced high and behind him, Antonio never stopped running, and a header into the open net finished the job. Hat Trick Time.

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Norwich 0
West Ham 3

Reading the play. I wonder how long it will be until Fornals starts to anticipate the movements of his teammates. In the 64th minute he and Antonio were together in the Norwich box, and the man on the hat trick expected Fornals to cut into the area right in front of Krul. He didn’t. Earlier in the match Soucek rolled a pass on the right fully expecting Fornals to move into that space. He didn’t. Both times, Fornal’s teammates looked shocked that the young Spaniard was not where they expected him to be. And there have been more than a few moments like that this season. I still feel Fornals will come good, because the ingredients are all there.

The 74th minute delivered something I don’t think I have ever seen from a West Ham player. To be honest, I don’t even recall the last Hat Trick, although my mate Alex reminded me that it was Andy “Man Bun” Carroll. But when Bowen kept the bull alive near the top of the Norwich penalty area with a looping pass to Fredericks on the right, a possibly historic play was set in motion. Fredericks overpowered Lewis and then rolled a ball to Antonio in front of Krul. Surrounded by three Norwich defenders, Antonio showed a bit of craftiness by nudging the ball with his heel into the near corner. Thanks to my best mate Jon and likely Google, I can now confirm that David Cross against Spuds was the last time a Hammer bagged four on the day.

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Norwich 0
West Ham 4

The most noteworthy moment after Antonio’s fourth was when Troy Deeney scored his second penalty of the day at Watford, giving the Hornets a late winner and pouring the bad news thick and heavy on Villa and Bournemouth. Me being me, I of course took the news badly for us. It’s just how I’m wired. Sue me.

Full Time
Norwich 0
West Ham 4

I won’t say survival is now assured, because results tomorrow could re-ignite my anxiety. Not that it takes much to do that. And rest assured, I will be given a lot of stick by Jon, Nigel, Sean and the gang for my negativity going into today. But without a win there in close to 40 years, coupled with our innate ability to turn an opportunity into a problem, I think trepidation was appropriate. But thankfully we did the business, and our overall play looked like a side deserving of another year in the top flight. Our play the last four matches has been far better than in the first two of Project Restart, Burnley included, and there is reason to hope for a few more points in our last three games. In fact, a draw against Watford helps both sides, so is it hard to see a Moyes-Pearson snoozefest on Friday?

I’d take it.


Match Thread

Match Thread: Norwich City v West Ham

Norwich City v West Ham
FA Premier League
Carrow Road
KO 12:30pm
TV: BT Sport
Radio: 5 Live

Please use this thread to comment on the game as it progresses.


Talking Point

Would Sean Dyche be an upgrade on David Moyes?

One of Green Street’s great qualities (the place before anybody thinks I am about to endorse one of the worst Cockney accents in the history of film) is its timelessness. Upon leaving the station, a short walk past the various takeaway shops, open-air market and the remaining eclectic establishments makes you feel this could be any year since 1970.

With the world slowly disintegrating into squabbling factions, each convinced of their own righteousness and despising the other, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Nostalgia can be an effective method of coping with the present.

Of course, this timelessness can extend to the performances of the team once found on Green Street. Wednesday’s defeat to Burnley was as frustrating as it was predictable. Comfortable in their own skin, organised and competent, Burnley are exactly the kind of team West Ham have traditionally hated to play against. For Burnley, read Big Sam’s Bolton or Wimbledon in years gone by.

A chance to put clear day light between the Hammers and the relegation zone was missed, evidence of the club’s commitment to taking one step forward and two steps back.

For many supporters, this confirmed everything they believed about David Moyes. While his team created numerous chances in the first-half, the longer the game went on the more likely defeat appeared.

No change in tactics to stem the inevitable tide, substitutions ineffective and pointless – the Scot could be seen standing on the touchline looking unerringly like Moe Syzslak. Creative players such as Lanzini and Wilshere left on the bench in the manner of an Action Man figurine that the owner refuses to take out of the box for fear of damage (justified in the case of Wilshere). His game management can best be described as timid and reactive.

While Moyes may well ensure survival this season, largely down to the awfulness of the other bottom dwellers, the conventional wisdom is that he and West Ham will be fighting relegation again next year, the proverbial turd circling the toilet bowl before eventually being flushed away. Any sense of optimism surrounding the club has long since been punctured, hope and ambition lying dormant beneath the crushing sense of reality and weariness.

However, just as cod-liver oil medicine is unpleasant but ultimately beneficial, it can be argued that Moyes could be the man to lay some solid foundations for the future.

The signings of Soucek and Bowen, that have injected some desperately needed dynamism into a previously moribund midfield, demonstrate that he can spot a player. While results have not dramatically improved, the team are more organised and determined than the final months under Pellegrini. Underneath the desolate wasteland of misplaced expectation it is possible to see some green shots of recovery.

Indeed, there are intriguing reports that Moyes wishes to construct a recruitment model based upon RB Leipzig, which would target young and talented players with significant re-sale value. Music to the ears of those who witnessed the trundling performances of Patrice Evra in claret-and-blue, but it should be noted that the source of this information is Joe Cole. While it is endearing that former Chelsea employee Cole still refers to our club as ‘we’, it must also be remembered that he previously endorsed Glen Roeder’s management skills.

Despite this, it is admirable that Moyes has such vision for the long-term future of the club. Personally, if I had been through his experiences with Manchester United and Sunderland, I would have given up football management and made a career out of placating Roy Keane on Sky Sports.

While some wags on social media label Moyes as the ‘dementor of football’, sucking all the joy out of his surroundings, I believe he is notably more optimistic at West Ham than he has been for years. Speaking as somebody whose personality does not scream ‘sunshine’, this trait should be admired, especially after so many setbacks.

It interested me recently to see that Sean Dyche has been linked with the West Ham job. There are murmurs of discontent coming out of Burnley that suggest Dyche is unhappy with the size of his squad as stalwart players are released and belts tightened. He has undeniably worked miracles in Lancashire, establishing the small-town club in the Premier League in the age of huge budgets and even bigger hubris is no small achievement. No team in the division relishes a trip to Turf Moor.

For his own part, Dyche has appeared extremely interested in working at West Ham. Rumours linking him to the job first appeared when Slaven Bilic was sacked in 2017. Two years later, Dyche was reported to be eager to speak with the club when Pellegrini was ousted. Certainly, one recent interview in which he failed to rule out leaving Burnley spoke volumes, offering all the reassurance of a dissatisfied wife who believes she has outgrown her current relationship and has decided to offer veiled threats to her partner.

Another factor is Dyche’s friendship with Karren Brady, which does not reflect upon his managerial skills but does demonstrate questionable taste. Using her reprehensible column in The Sun, Brady has frequently praised the Burnley man, often in strange ways.

In 2017 she wrote that ‘with a trim goatee, together with his well-razored hairline, Dyche has the air of a man in complete control’, ignoring the fact that the incompetent contestants on The Apprentice are often manicured to within an inch of their lives. Later, Brady wrote that Dyche ‘looks even more of a Spanish grandee than Rafa Benitez’, obviously recalling how the carrot-topped midfield of Xavi and Iniesta dominated world football ten years ago.

More seriously, it can be argued that Dyche would simply not be a good fit for West Ham. His tactics, while more refined than Tony Pulis, can be most kindly described as direct. Dyche preaches simplicity, which sounds like bad news for Felipe Anderson. Casting my mind back to the reign of Sam Allardyce, where the travelling fans serenaded the team with ‘we’re West Ham, we play on the floor’ during one match at Peterborough, it is hard to believe the fanbase would tolerate Dyche’s brand of football for long if results were not forthcoming. Rightly or wrongly, belief in the ‘West Ham way’ still underpins this club.

While undeniably effective, Burnley are usually one the league’s lowest scorers. West Ham are addicted to flair players. Most of Dyche’s marquee signings have failed to pay off, from Joe Hart to Ben Gibson and Matej Vydra, although this trait suggests he would fit right in with us. Call me cynical, but this does not sound a substantial upgrade on what Moyes offers.

It goes without saying that there are a myriad of issues at West Ham. For all the owners point to the amount of money invested, this becomes irrelevant when glancing through our lopsided squad that contains so many holes you would believe it was constructed by Dominic Cummings. This is without even bringing up our spectacularly ill-conceived stadium.

Our club will never progress while we possess the worst pair of full-backs in the league. Too many players have been bought on reputation rather than suitability. It is damning that Mark Noble, thirty-three going on fifty, still commands a regular spot in midfield despite having the mobility of custard. Clubs of similar stature such as Wolves or Leicester have much more effective recruitment policies and a clear ethos that underpins every decision made. The comparison with West Ham is night and day.

Moyes is making the right noises about tackling these problems and has taken baby steps towards solving them. While offering support for him on some social media platforms is met incredulously, it is hardly as if the alternative is Pochettino. West Ham are simply not an attractive club to manage in its present state. After keeping us up once and being two results away from doing so again, it would hardly be fair upon Moyes to sack him for achieving what he was asked to do.

Of course, this would become a footnote if the current season ended in relegation. However, if the worst-case scenario were to be avoided, there are worse choices than David Moyes to stabilise the club. Until the ownership of the club changes, there is simply not much more to aspire to.


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