The Mike Ireson Column

Good defeats evil

What a difference a week/day/45 minutes (delete as appropriate ) make. Rollercoaster ride doesn’t get close to describing what it is like to be a Hammers fan at the moment.

Just over a week ago West Ham had their proverbial pants pulled down and Manchester City administered a humiliating bare backside thrashing. One of the most depressing displays many of us can remember, made all too worse by the fact it was beamed live around the world.

As an advert to entice other players and global supporters to join our merry band it couldn’t have gone more disastrously.

We would have made a more positive impression if we had sent the Chuckle Brothers round to take a dump on the carpet in front of the TV.

Then just as we thought it was safe to venture out in public again our ‘star player’decided he didn’t want to be our friend anymore and was going to refuse to have a kick about with us because he wanted to go and play with the bigger boys.

Wallop! We took that sucker punch right between the eyes. We’re on our knees having been globally shamed and someone decides to aim a half eaten, luke warm, covered in chilli sauce kebab at our head.

Oh the indignity of it all. We spent the whole summer fending off the jibes that ‘star player’ was too good for us and he’d go to a ‘proper club’ etc etc.

It’s ok he’s signed a new contract. He is one of us. He’s got his own song.

That’ll teach us.

So it had been a pretty bad week overall. We were lower than the morals of an ungrateful French alley cat.

We needed something, anything to cheer us up. After the first 45 minutes against Crystal Palace it didn’t look hopeful.

But then something magical happened. There is a God after all. We got a second half display to warm the most miserable of cockles.

Over Christmas I had spent an enjoyable couple of hours watching Escape to Victory. And this was ours. No we didn’t want to leg it at half time down the tunnel that the resistance had made for us. We wanted to go back out and win the game.

Come on lads, let’s stick it to Johnny foreigner from south of the river. Andy Carroll did his best Pele impression walloping the ball in to the back of the net with both feet as high as his head.

This is what we needed. A display of old. Lanzini, Carroll and Antonio reminding us that we had more than one ‘star player’.

Oh how good it was to be a West Ham fan again. All was not lost, good always defeats evil (sorry, slightly over dramatic).

I could watch those 3 goals over and over again. Not just for the quality but for the significance that after a week of absolute s###, all was not lost.

Everything was going to be alright. That stray dog on the street wasn’t going to the pound, little Timmy and his family were going to take him in and make it all better.

Well that’s where we are now. Let’s see what the next week brings ……….


The HamburgHammer Column

Brave Bilic the key to better days ahead

Take a bow Slaven Bilic! Our manager has been through what must have been a few miserable months, capped by the last seven days which surely will have been not your average rollercoaster of emotions for our Croatian manager, more like the Nemesis ride at Alton Towers. Now, initially I had planned to try and write my column without even mentioning Dimitri Payet just in order to prove a point. But frankly, while a lot of us may consider him to be history already and prefer to move on without ever hearing his name again, the truth is that he is still legally a West Ham player and until his sale has been completed he is still the massive bullfrog (or yellow-bellied toad if you prefer) in the room so to speak, so he will of course feature in my column after all.

But first things first! What a fantastic team performance that was. That’s right, TEAM. Which translates as Together Everyone Achieves More. The keyword being together.
Our team hasn’t been together for a long time, I would say not from the very start of the season, coinciding with Payet’s return from the Euro Championships.
Where surely he was tapped up, maybe multiple times. I’m sure by now everyone will have read about how our club and also Bilic bent over backwards in order to make Monsieur Payet feel wanted, loved, appreciated – hindsight is a wonderful thing, and in hindsight it appears that we have rather overdone the royalty treatment.

We’ll see what comes out eventually about Payet’s true motives of wanting to leave NOW rather than wait for the summer when apparently West Ham were quite ready to sell him at that point for the right price, not wishing to stand in the way of an unhappy or homesick player.
The way though in which Payet basically shat on everything he had at our club, not acknowledging the role of our club in making him the household name he is in international football today is truly sad. And a bit pathetic.

From the very beginning he was welcomed and worshipped like a true legend by the Hammers fans, it felt as if he had been at West Ham for years already rather than being a new signing. It indeed was a love affair, alas affairs tend to usually end a) rather quickly and b) rarely on amicable terms – the love between the player and the club, manager and fans is totally lost now for obvious reasons.

But you know what? It’s a mighty relief to finally have identified the main root of our problems this season, at least in terms of the team (ignoring the stadium move for a minute). It looks like indeed Payet’s special treatment he got from the club and management drove a massive wedge right through the dressing room and also the training pitch at Rush Green. It must have been so frustrating for the other players seeing it all being about Payet without our star player backing up all that admiration (and money) with even halfway decent performances on the pitch. The rest of the team obviously felt disrespected and undervalued – and all over a guy who essentially has been a one season wonder for us. Yet the board tied him down to an improved long-term deal while refusing to afford our manager the same courtesy, citing their desire to find out if Bilic was a one season wonder first…

We will now see if the club are willing to let Payet rot for half a season in order to get the right price for our prize asset or cave in and sell on the cheap, just to get rid. With Chinese clubs becoming interested in him too now Payet can not expect to go back to Marseille for ten million quid and six bottles of vintage claret, although both he and Marseille for sure would prefer that of course. I want the club to show some backbone here, sending out a clear massage to the world that no West Ham player (no matter how good he is) can just down tools and strop in order to push through a transfer to his prefered destination for peanuts despite having signed a long-term contract (and a loyalty bonus of 1 million quid too) just recently.

Players are on long-term contracts for a reason. They can ask for a transfer obviously if they no longer wish to stay, but certainly not on their terms. Clubs need to be protected in a way that they get at least their fair share should a player want to leave well before reaching the expiry date of his contract.

So, to finish off the Payet issue: Sell him as quickly as possible, yes, but only for a price that mirrors his true market value for his next club. That is much closer to 35 or 40 million rather than 20 in my book. With China involved maybe even 50 million. How our owners will decide to spend that kind of money, if they spend any that is, is anybody’s guess though.
I’m confident we will make at least a few signings in January, not necessarily for NOW as we are pretty much safe from relegation already, but maybe we will pick up some players for the future (like Hogan) now in order to not miss out on them in the summer (similar to what we did when we picked up Byram).

It was a pleasure to see our team perform, well, like a team on Saturday, especially in the second half. All the players suddenly seemed to have found another gear or two being freed from the shackles of forever running about in the shadow of the French Messiah (he’s not really, just a very naughty boy!). The lads played (and celebrated the goals) like a team should, together, happy to sweat blood and guts for each other. It also seemed to unite the crowd at London Stadium and Lanzini’s jump into the stands was a nice touch.
(Although only West Ham players seem to get punished with a booking for this kind of thing these days.)

I am not sure if Lanzini did it on a whim or whether it was premeditated (as a nod to the Tevez celebration after he scored his first for West Ham or as a subtle hint in the direction of a sulking Frenchman that he was neither needed nor wanted back in the team anymore). Either way, it felt incredible to hear the whole ground singing Slaven’s praise and boy, did the man deserve it!
If there is one guy this club should be built around, if our fanbase should rally round one chap capable of putting some pride back into this club it is not a player, but our manager.

Sure, he makes mistakes too as he is only a human being after all (trying to turn Antonio into a RB obviously was a massive clanger). But for me he is the perfect link connecting us to the passion, traditions and values that are so dear to loyal Hammers fans all over the globe. If we want things to improve for us in the next few years, we need to make sure to keep Bilic at West Ham for a long time, so rather than throwing money at another bigger than his boots primadonna player I would offer Bilic a contract extension NOW.
Send out a signal that Bilic is our man for the future and then bloody support him with transfer funds too. It’ll be money well spent in my view.
(Well, Bilic didn’t know that Tore would get a long-term injury at West Ham, did he ?)

A final word needs to be said about Andy Carroll. That was a world class goal indeed and it’s highly encouraging to see him score goals like that because it very much proves that on his day he is so much more than just a battering ram, thundering in headers or knocking balls down for his teammates. We may have to wait for another goal of that quality at London Stadium for another 20 years or so.

The key for him will be to look after himself and stay injury-free, then the sky will be the limit for him really. Oh yes, also try to play with two strikers more in future.
I don’t even think it matters that much if it is Sakho, Fletcher, Martinez, Calleri (or Hogan?) – as long as you have another outlet upfront, staying close to Carroll, pouncing to exploit any space or opportunity created by Carroll’s presence we will begin to score more goals on a regular basis.

What a great feeling to be talking about positives again for a change! It’s vital now that our board don’t rest on their laurels or sit on their hands and wallets. Our fanbase deserve to see investment in our team. Our manager deserves support in his endeavour to build a great team. A great team for West Ham will always be more about players working well as a unit, a well-oiled machine, rather than trying to keep superstar primadonnas happy. Maybe that just isn’t the West Ham way.

Maybe it’s a lesson learned the hard way with Payet. Maybe we don’t need 40 million quid players after all, even in a 60.000 seater stadium. Maybe we just need to sing more songs for Bilic and keep him happy, it’s certainly worth a try! COYI!

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Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

Nothing languid from Lanzini

We haven’t had it easy this season moving into our new home with relegation a possibility. Just when 2017 was starting to look brighter, Payet requested a move elsewhere. With our star man out, we had to show everyone that we are not a one-man team. We needed something going into this match and we got it: a gem was unearthed and polished ready for the game.

Enter Manuel Lanzini. The Jewel had a reputation to uphold of scoring in crucial matches. In May 2013, he scored in the Superclásico derby after just 43 seconds against the Boca Juniors. He is still remembered by the River Plate fans for that moment of magic. No stranger to a difficult climate having played for al-Jazira with Summer temperatures of 45C, he delivered in the way only an Argentinean legend could.

Having scored into an open net, he went and jumped into the crowd who embraced the new legend in the making. What a way it was to assert his position at the top! Manu has scored a goal in each of his four PL appearances against Crystal Palace; double the amount he’s scored against any other PL club. It was reminiscent of Tevez scoring his first goal against Tottenham, as yet another Argentine ran into the crowd scoring in a derby.

He has been left out of the starting XI on a few occasions, however Lanzini knew the importance of playing, regardless of whether it was his preferred position or not, as he took on more defensive roles. Even Antonio got the message, as he has been directly involved in more Premier League goals than any other West Ham player this season – 11 (eight goals, three assists). It is important that our current players take initiative in light of recent events.

Slaven has the full support of the club and fans alike, as he has handled the situation terrifically. When Payet revealed his true intentions of leaving, it was seen as a sign of betrayal. Why was he not upfront when Slav had asked him a few days before when he had the chance? The manager has handled the situation very well. Despite what was happening, he even invited Sam for “a glass of wine after the game whatever the result.” He probably didn’t want to appear disrespectful, so didn’t say pint of wine, though that’s probably what Big Sam ordered. That’s our Slav! He can read the situation well.

Bilic was right to have a meeting to discuss things with Payet. You don’t even need to have any affiliations with the club or watch the matches to know that Payet is unhappy. His last Instagram post of him in a West Ham shirt was back in October! It is no surprise that Payet wants to leave. He hasn’t even seemed that bothered this season. In 2010, while with Saint-Etienne, he was accused of showing a lack of aggression by teammate Yohan Benalouane. When team captain Blaise Matuidi suggested the same thing, the pair had to be separated.

The following year, when his club said he could not move to PSG, he refused to turn up for training and was demoted to the reserves. The Frenchman hasn’t changed at all. He may have the talent, but that is the only reason why he has been tolerated. I’m afraid it will take a lot more than a free kick for his standing at the club to change. At the moment, Payet says he has a bad back to avoid being docked wages. With a move to the wealthy Chinese Super League the second-likeliest transfer according to the bookies, it is clear what Payet has his heart set on.

The first half was very nervy with both sides struggling to get a foothold of the match. Even though we have more than enough quality to beat Palace, we were under a bit of a malaise as we hadn’t played without Payet for quite some time. The expectation was immense. But some of our players were really up for it. Carroll’s passing was simply unreal, and he also did well in the air. Lanzini was getting constantly fouled whenever he was looking dangerous. So far, we didn’t look too different without Payet, as Lanzini stepped up. We didn’t pose much of an attacking threat, but neither did Palace.

Tomkins had the best chance of the game so far, but dragged his shot wide from close range. It reminded me of when we comfortably scored against Rob Green when we played for QPR a few seasons ago or like when Paul Koschesky’s poor backpass was intercepted by Carroll who scored. Wins on those days was a good sign watching this match. At HT, it was goalless.

Now, Slav must have had an awful lot of pressure on him during that HT team talk. We will never know what was said, but it was the unheard harbinger that massively eased everyone around the club. It has given us tremendous belief that we can turn it around. I think Carroll says it best: “No player is bigger than the club. We showed that today and came together as a team to get a result.” Truer words were never spoken. If it’s Dimitri, then just make the la-la sound. Turn it into a sing-song tune to annoy him as well. Our enhanced Dimi chant is catching up as well.

There were several good performances out there. Given that most of us were closely examining the attacking players (as we played without one of our top creators – had to be said), it is wonderful to see our most attacking players all play a part in those goals. For all three of them to score (Carroll, Feghouli, and Lanzini) showed that they wanted to desperately win this. Even when we were 1-0 up, we still put a bit of emphasis on attacking… and it worked! The big man Andy Carroll could have headed the goal in. But what’s the fun in that? Palace have conceded too many worldies. Dele Alli, Andy Carroll, a move with over 20 passes with Lanzini scoring, and a good free-kick from a garcon mauvais (that’s French for “bad boy”) have scored them. We went from losing 5-0 at home to winning 3-0! That is easier said than done.

A special mention has to go to Michail Antonio. He deserved to show off another 90’s celebration, but got three assists instead. He is the first West Ham player to provide three assists in a Premier League game since Paolo Di Canio vs Coventry in April 2000. Cult hero. Now just don’t go all political like Paolo did with his fascism, and turn into Mikhail Gorbachev. Then, we’ll have no reason to doubt you. At the moment, he is quickly turning into Mr. West Ham. Sure, he came from Tooting & Mitcham in South London, but he rejected Spurs. That’s our man!

Finally, we have to sign a striker sooner or later. It is worth keeping in mind that spending a lot of money is not necessarily the answer. Palace spent £32.5M to get Benteke, but he was missing in the match. He even missed a penalty against us in the reverse fixture. At the time, we thought that it was a good buy from them. But given the fact that he has only scored eight goals in the league so far this season, you have to be smarter then that. Given our record of Championship purchases has been good, we need to keep spending there until one of them flops, Then we’ll know that our luck has changed. We can expect a draw at the very least against Boro given that they have failed to score in five of their last seven Premier League games, recording just one win in that period. But it is all about the three points to be quite frank.

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Match Report

Match Report: West Ham 3 Crystal Palace 0 - Thanks to Super Slaven Bilic

Andy Carroll, quoted after the game…

“No player is bigger than the club. We showed that today & come together as a team to get a result.”

Scores on the doors

Randolph 7, Cresswell 6, Reid 7, Collins 7, Ogbonna 6, Bryam 7, Noble 5, Obiang 6, Antonio 7, Lanzini 8, Carroll 8, Feghouli 7

Those of us at the game were somewhat bewildered at the end of a very tedious first half. None of us saw the second half coming. At all. But at half time Slaven Bilic substituted Angelo Ogbonna and brough on Sam Byram. We reverted to 4-4-2, with Antonio playing up front with Andy Carroll. Almost immediately, you could see and feel the difference. And it was this tactical change which won us the game.

Instead of the languidity of the first 45 minutes when no player seemed to have the desire to do anything but pass sideways or backwards, there was an urgency to our game. We play best when the players inject some pace and that’s what happened for the whole of the second half. We went at Palace in a way we didn’t in the first half and it meant that they were put on the back foot. That’s not to say they had no attacks. They did. But we had more and as the second half wore on we always looked the more likely to score. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

When I saw Slaven Bilic’s team selection I was surprised to see James Collins in the lineup in a 3-4-3 formation. That’s not to say I don’t rate Collins. I do. But I did wonder whether this wold work today. I was also surprised to see Fernandes left out of the starting eleven. We had a reasonable first ten minutes, but Palace then came back into it. Given who their manager is I was surprised at the intricacy of their passing. We had more possession than they did, but we kept giving it away. Mark Noble was the worst culprit. Several people around me were saying they reckon Nobes has ‘lost it’ On this performance, especially in the first half, you would have to agree with them. Over the 90 minutes I’d say he was the weakest West Ham player on the pitch.

If you don’t believe me when I say that we had an awful first half, our first shot came on 27 minutes, and Palace’s first shot didn’t come until three minutes later. It was dire stuff. In the first half only Carroll and Lanzini really looked up for it and on it. Carroll played some delightful first touch passes and was awesome in the air. Lanzini had his little tricks but was constantly fouled just when he looked dangerous.

As the second half developed, and we got used to 4-4-2, Sofiane Feghouli came into his own. He’s another Antonio in that you wonder if he has a clue what he is to do next, but in a way that makes him even more dangerous, because if he doesn’t know what he’s about to do, neither do the opposition. He delivered a superb cross from the right which Andy Carroll was unlucky not to score from. You could almost tell something was about to happen. And happen it did.

In the 68th minute the Palace goalkeeper rushed out to the edge of his area on a suicide mission to close down Michail Antonio. At this point, just remember that last night Antonio was running a temperature… Antonio dinked the ball past the keeper, then placed a superb cross (or was it a shot?) for Feghouli to bundle into the net under severe pressure from a Palace defender. Cue mass delirium.

The most important thing after getting a goal at that stage of the match is not to give one away, and to be honest we never looked like doing so. When Loic Remy entered the fray, I was a little concerned as he has scored several against us in the past. Today he looked a shadow of his former self.

Seven minutes after the first goal it was Antonio again who proved the provider. Again from the left. Andy Carroll was waiting seven yards out from the goal level with the right post. It was like watching a ballet dancer in slow motion. Up came his legs, rising behind his body and then bam. Scissor kick, into the top right hand corner of the net. Cue not just delirium, but cue mass delirium. It was a goal to rival that Di Canio one against Wimbledon. It was no more than Carroll deserved. He was the best player on the pitch by a country mile.

The third goal was almost as good, and it came from West Ham’s second best player, Manuel Lanzini. Lanzini has it in him to replace Payet and it has to be said we didn’t miss Payet at all today.

.bq “We had Payet. Dimitri Payet. We just don’t need him anymore…”

And that’s the only mention the disloyal moneygrabbing French **** will get in this article. Lanzini took a delightfully timed pass from Antonio to dink it over the oncoming Wayne Hennessy into the net. This was Antonio’s third assist of the game, the first time a West Ham player has provided 3 assists in a game since 2000. They were also his first assists of the season, which is a bit of a surprise.

Manuel Lanzini has scored a goal in each of his four Premier League appearances against Crystal Palace; double the amount he’s scored against any other Premier League club.

Surprisingly we only had 44% of the possession. We only had three shots on target, all of which resulted in goals.

I thought this was one of the loudest crowds we’ve had at the stadium so far, but it really only came to life in the second half. The first half was a bit of a library. It’s clear that it’s up to the team to lift the crowd at the moment, rather than the other way around. At Upton Park there were games when the crowd realised the team needed a lift and they provided it. So far this season that has never happened. One other point. We were told the match was a sellout prior to the game, so no doubt we will see an attendance of 57,000 listed in the papers. No way was that a sellout. There were at least 2-5,000 empty seats.

One final word. I thought Sam Byram was a revelation today. He hasn’t played for three months, yet looked totally comfortable both in defence and attack. He made some crunching tackles, made several timely interceptions and also nearly bagged a goal. Think of the contrast between the performances of Havard Nordtveit in that position. I pray he will keep his place and get a good run of games under his belt.

We are now twelfth in the table, our highest position so far this season. Our goal difference has been reduced to -9. We can look forward to the Middlesbrough game next week with some confidence. As long as we play 4-4-2.

PS David Hautzig is away.

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Match Thread

Match Thread: West Ham v Crystal Palace

West Ham v Crystal Palace
FA Premier League
Olympic Stadium
KO 3pm
TV: None
Radio: BBC London

Crystal Palace Starting XI

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

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