The Blind Hammer Column

Bilic–Round Pegs In Square Holes?

Blind Hammer asks if Bilic really has a flaw in playing Players out of Position?

The encouraging performance against Bolton gives further evidence that our season is recovering after a horrible start. Nevertheless criticisms persist that we are wasting Hernandez’s talents, marooning him out wide on the left. Bilic has been slated for allegedly misusing Hernandez in much the same way as he previously experimented with Antonio at Right Back.

There is little evidence that Chico is enjoying his current role yet playing players out of position is not necessarily a managerial flaw. In some cases it may actually represent managerial genius. Moses at Chelsea and Valencia at Manchester United have both thrived when converted to Wing Backs. We can forgive Bilic for attempting the same with Antonio but perhaps not for how long he continued with the experiment.

We also have an honourable and illustrious tradition, as a club, at effectively switching players from one position to another. Ron greenwood was particularly adept at recognising where players could thrive in alternative roles. Geoff Hurst did not start out as a Centre forward; it took the vision of Greenwood to transform him from what would now be described as a defensive midfield player into a World Cup hat trick hero. Similarly Trevor Brooking started his West Ham career as a striker alongside Geoff Hurst. I remember Shoot Magazine celebrating how brooking had “taken the pressure off” Hurst. It was the astuteness of Greenwood and lyall which transformed an ordinary striker into a world class midfield player. The history of West Ham is sparkled with examples of player’s successfully switching position. Billy Bonds was a legend whether he played at right back, central defence or midfield.

So playing players out of position is not necessarily wrong. Football is not like a game of Tetris where pieces simply have to be in the right places for success. It comes down to judgement. Playing Moses at Right Wing Back was good judgement, playing Antonio there was not.

So the real question is one of assessing Bilic’s judgement. Most importantly this judgement has to extend beyond any particular game to strategic recruitment and squad design. It is here that we can find the reason for Hernandez’s seemingly strange role.

Some transfers have been peculiar. Players have been, on the face of it, recruited to play to their weaknesses rather than their strengths. Snodgrass was bemused that Bilic did not understand where he preferred playing after signing. His record of success came largely from a role on the right. Yet playing on the right was a berth from which he was unlikely to depose Antonio. The transfer was muddled, Snodgrass should not have been signed as a Payet replacement given he had no record of success in the Payet role.

Similarly Zaza had no successful track record as a solitary striker, preferring the second striker role. Yet it was this lone striker role, to his advisors apparent perplexity, that West Ham expected Zaza to thrive in.

Now Hernandez, famed for his operations in the penalty area, is tactically playing wide.

So what should perhaps be criticised is not the playing of people out of position but the apparently confused recruitment policy. Developing talents in your clubs by testing them in different roles is one thing, to significantly invest in players and then play them in roles in which they have no record of success seems strange.

To be fair Bilic has denied deploying Hernandez as a winger and has instead described him as developing a partnership with Carroll. He has also admitted it is not an ideal situation. This is probably true but at the start of the season it was Hernandez who had the central striker berth around which the team was to be built. The horrible start to the season caused a late SOS call to Carroll to instead fulfil this role.

What is really driving the playing of Hernandez wide left is the early crisis in defending which beset our team. Bilic admitted he was thinking about the sack before the Huddersfield game and probably realised that even the West Ham Board would part company with him unless he managed to repair what was then the worst defensive record in the league.

The sticking plaster, given our defensive fragilities, is to play 3 at the back. Whilst this has addressed the crisis in defensive performance, it has left us depleted of creative midfield resources. Bilic has little choice but to adjust for this by relying on the direct approach deploying the skills of both Antonio and Carroll. Hernandez is the sacrificial lamb who has to try and fit into this system. This is probably not what he anticipated. Other teams will be designed around his skills, here he is trying to adapt to the skills of Andy Carroll.

Despite the encouragement of the Bolton game I believe Bilic has little choice but to pursue this course for the time being at least. It would be the height of folly to abandon 3 at the back against Spurs based on the challenge Bolton presented. He is paying the price for not addressing the weakness in central defensive cover over the summer. Collins injury has exposed this particular foolishness even more now.

The real weakness at West Ham is not so much the playing of players out of position but confused transfer recruitment over the last 18 months. We need to more accurately identify the players to play in the system we need. Three at the back as an option was completely disregarded over the summer despite the fact it was a critical element in our eventual survival.

What is clear that the number one priority for the team was to stop the disastrous shipping of goals and build a team strategy that all could draw confidence from. In the short term it is unavoidable that Hernandez has to either fit in with this defensive solidity or feature from the bench. We do not currently have the squad talents to fight fire with fire and play “gung ho” attacking formations. A heavy defeat to Spurs could jeopardise the green shoots of recovery we are now witnessing.


David Griffith

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Dawud Marsh's Photo Diary

Arnautovic Shines in Hammers' Caraboa Cup Win Over Struggling Bolton Wanderers

Match Thread

Match Thread: West Ham v Bolton Wanderers

West Ham v Bolton Wanderers
League Cup
Olympic Stadium
KO: 7.45pm
TV: None

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

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Dan Coker's Match Preview

Match Preview: West Ham v Bolton

Blast from the past

West Ham United have met Bolton Wanderers in the League Cup on five previous occasions. The first of these meetings was also in the third round in east London in front of 20,510 on the 11th October 1967, two days after the execution of Che Guevara. The Bee Gees were number one with ‘Massachusetts’ and Richard Burton was in UK cinemas in Doctor Faustus as the First Division Hammers emerged victorious against Bill Ridding’s Second Division Trotters with a 4-1 win – England striker Geoff Hurst (pictured below) bagged all four goals for the hosts at the Boleyn Ground.

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Ron Greenwood’s Hammers progressed to the fourth round, where they were knocked out by Second Division Huddersfield, losing 2-0 at Leeds Road. Leeds United would win the 1968 League Cup, beating Arsenal 1-0 in the Final courtesy of a Terry Cooper goal. Bobby Moore was voted Hammer of the Year, with Trevor Brooking runner-up.

West Ham United: Bobby Ferguson, Billy Bonds, John Cushley, Bobby Moore, John Charles, Harry Redknapp, Ronnie Boyce, Martin Peters, John Sissons, Peter Brabrook, Geoff Hurst.

Aside from this third round victory in 1967, West Ham’s remaining League Cup record against Bolton is as follows:

1968 – West Ham 7-2 Bolton (2nd round)
1994 – West Ham 1-3 Bolton (4th round)
2005 – Bolton 1-0 West Ham (3rd round)
2009 – Bolton 3-1 West Ham (3rd round, after extra-time)

Club Connections

Reece Burke and Josh Cullen are currently on loan at Bolton from West Ham. Joey O’Brien has also played for both clubs and is currently training with Wanderers in the hope of landing a permanent deal after being released by the Hammers 15 months ago – O’Brien played for Bolton’s Under-23 side against Bristol City last night. Others who have turned out for West Ham United and Bolton Wanderers include:

Goalkeepers – Steve Banks, Joseph Hughes, Jussi Jaaskelainen.

Defenders – Abdoulaye Faye, George Kay, Tyrone Mears, Harry Kinsell, Archie Taylor, Tommy McAteer, George Eccles.

Midfielders – Robert Hall, Kevin Nolan, Nigel Reo-Coker, Franz Carr, Matthew Taylor.

Strikers – David Cross, Les Ferdinand, Ricardo Vaz Te, Billy Yenson, Bill Joyce.

Sam Allardyce played for and managed Bolton before managing West Ham.

Today’s focus though is on an Israeli international who excelled with the Trotters before spending a loan spell with the Hammers. Tal Ben Haim was born on 31st March 1982 in Rishon LeZion and began his career with Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2001, winning a league title in 2003 and being named club captain before moving to Sam Allardyce’s Bolton at the age of 22 for £150,000 in the summer of 2004.

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Ben Haim made 27 appearances in his first season with Wanderers and scored his only goal for the club in a 3-1 win over Tottenham on 1st February 2005. Ben Haim attracted interest from West Ham, Tottenham, Chelsea and Allardyce’s new club Newcastle in 2007 – he moved to Stamford Bridge in the summer of that year on a Bosman free transfer. Ben Haim had scored one goal in 88 appearances for the Trotters.

The centre-back spent one season in west London before moving to Manchester City for £5m the following summer – he spent the second half of his only season with the Sky Blues on loan at Sunderland. After just one season on City’s books, Ben Haim was on the move again, this time to Portsmouth on Summer Transfer Deadline Day 2009. Again, just a year later, relegated Pompey’s administrator Andrew Andronikou wanted Ben Haim’s crippling salary off the club’s wage bill – the Israeli teamed up with former Chelsea and Portsmouth boss Avram Grant at West Ham in a loan deal with a view to a permanent move.

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The 28-year-old Ben Haim made his Hammers debut in a 1-0 League Cup second round win over Oxford at the Boleyn Ground on 24th August 2010. He made eight Premier League and four League Cup appearances for the Irons, including the famous 4-0 quarter-final victory over Manchester United (in which Ben Haim is pictured above). Ben Haim played across the back four during his time in east London and appeared in a 3-1 Boxing Day win at Fulham and set up Freddie Sears’ goal in a 2-0 New Year’s Day win over Wolves at Upton Park. His final appearance in claret and blue came in a 5-0 defeat at Newcastle on 5th January 2011 – after 12 appearances for the club, he returned to Fratton Park.

Ben Haim has since had spells at QPR, Standard Liege in Belgium and Charlton. Now 35, he is back where his career started at Maccabi Tel Aviv. Ben Haim has also won 92 international caps for Israel, scoring two goals.


Tuesday’s referee will be Wiltshire-based Simon Hooper, who will take on his second ever Hammers appointment – his only other match involving West Ham was the 1-0 home win over Coventry in January 2012.

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Hooper has refereed eight matches so far in 2017/18 – six in the Championship and two in the League Cup. He has dished out 21 yellow cards and one red card in those eight games and awarded two penalties.

Possible line-ups

West Ham United have James Collins, Edimilson Fernandes and Manuel Lanzini on the injury list. Mark Noble is available again, while youngsters Declan Rice, Domingos Quina, Sead Haksabanovic and Nathan Holland are all in the squad. Andy Carroll will be rested. It is unlikely that Pablo Zabaleta will play, but the Argentine is one yellow card away from a ban. The Hammers have progressed into the next round in five of the last six games against lower league opposition. The Irons are unbeaten at London Stadium in the League Cup, having secured a 1-0 win against Accrington and a 2-1 victory against Chelsea in last season’s competition.

Bolton Wanderers manager Phil Parkinson will be without Reece Burke and Josh Cullen, who are ineligible to play against their parent club. Strikers Adam Armstrong, Adam Le Fondre and Aaron Wilbraham could figure after coming off the bench at Ipswich on Saturday. Centre-back Dorian Dervite and central midfielder Darren Pratley are also in contention as Parkinson looks to shuffle his squad. The Trotters have lost three of their last four League Cup encounters with Premier League opponents – each of those three defeats have come in London. Wanderers are currently bottom of the Championship having gained promotion back to the second tier last season. Bolton won 2-1 at Crewe in the first round and secured this tie with the Hammers by beating Sheffield Wednesday 3-2 at the Macron Stadium in the second round.

Possible West Ham United XI: Adrian; Rice, Reid, Ogbonna; Byram, Noble, Obiang, Masuaku; Ayew, Sakho, Arnautovic.

Possible Bolton Wanderers XI: Alnwick; Osede, Dervite, Beevers; Darby, Little, Karacan, Robinson; Buckley, Armstrong, Wilbraham.

Enjoy the game – Come On You Irons!

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The HamburgHammer Column

Put the pea in the pod - the ponytailed battering ram is too predictable!

Alright, I’ll admit it, I drifted off during the West Brom game, the telly was on but after half an hour our so the football on display had bored me senseless and I didn’t watch the game as intently as I usually do. I found myself browsing the Saturday newspaper casually (with the German election coming up next weekend it’s important to know about the various promises and projections made by the various politicians and parties on offer, you know), looking up at the screen whenever the commentators indicated with their tone or volume of voice that something interesting might be in the offing.

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At the end of the day it was a goalless draw of the boring variety, but considering our abysmal start to the season you won’t hear me moaning too much about a clean sheet away from home and another point in the bank. One point I would like to make though is that I feel sorry for Chicharito, trying to do his best out there on the wing, drifting inside whenever he can. That is not his natural game and I wouldn’t want to try turning him into a player at his age he simply is not and will never be in his career.

If you want to get the best out of Little Pea, put the pea in a round hole where he fits. He is a poacher, a fox in the box, a guy with the instinct to get to rebounds and put the ball over the line before anyone else can react. The more you put the ball in and around the box for him the more goals he will score. That’s why we brought him in, not to be a makeshift wingman (literally) for Andy Carroll.

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Don’t get me wrong, I know what AC can do when he is healthy, his ability to score with thunderous headers is second to none and he can also kick a ball too as proven in masterly fashion with his bicycle kick wonder goal against Palace. I would love it if AC could make it through the season now for once without suffering another major injury.
But I do absolutely not agree with Carroll (once again) being counted on as a focal point in our attack, it does severely limit our gameplan and is far too predictable to be successful on a long term basis in my view.

Some teams may have no defensive means to deal with AC and hence will lose games against us, even when they know in advance exactly what’s gonna hit ’em.
Yet there will also be teams, like West Brom, that will be happy enough to sit deep, keep AC in check and leave the pitch after 90 minutes being over the moon with a 0:0 draw.

I have been an advocate of the “Carroll as a super sub” approach for a long time now, unless of course you are brave enough to play both AC and Hernandez upfront together in a 3-5-2 or 4-4-2. I wouldn’t want to mess with our defensive setup at this point though because it begins to look like the perfect set up for our defenders and things will get even more interesting with Lanzini, Noble and Fernandes coming back into the equation.

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Overall I like the look of our squad, provided we can keep injuries to a minimum as it’s very threadbare and while I’m always happy to see youth players get their chance I’d rather see them getting their gametime in a controlled and planned environment so to speak, not watching them thrown to the wolves out of necessity expecting them to perform like experienced pros week in week out. Although I’d expect someone like Rice to adjust quickly and find his mojo without too much hassle.

Of course I don’t know all the ins and outs of what happens at training, but I find it peculiar how Bilic really seems to expect AC not only to stay fit but also to carry the team almost on his own. I am not convinced AC can do that, so I would rather hope we will eventually see a set up, a formation which plays to the strengths of our entire team, not just one player. With Lanzini, Antonio and Arnautovic in the side we have pace, tricks and physical presence in abundance and I am sure Chicharito would love to lurk around the box to feed off their passes.

We shall see what the future brings…starting with the small matter of the cup game against Bolton tomorrow (no stream likely for this one which means I will follow the game via the live ticker widget of my betting account) and the derby game against Spurs on Saturday which is going to be my first game of the season.

Yes, the claret and blue German is flying into Blighty again.
Lock away your daughters and sisters (whichever applies) and also your pantry, and if I were you I would also count your pies, burgers and sandwiches!

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Yes, I will also bring some clean socks as I will be staying for a long weekend, hopefully allowing for plenty of time to meet some of you guys and gals (again) in the process. Since my usual result when coming to the London Stadium is a 1:0 home win (on all four previous occasions) I wonder if the upcoming Spurs game will be the same, I certainly wouldn’t complain if that were to happen – my actual calendar is still pretty empty which is unusual. But no other games in or near London are scheduled for my visit (involving our development squad, the U18s or Dagenham&Redbridge, not even Leyton Orient), but I am sure my WHTID family won’t let me down when it comes to meeting up, sharing some food, drinks, banter and laughter in the process.

One thing on my bucket list is to finally meet The Ribman down at his stall and try one of his famous pork rolls with hot sauce. That guy by all accounts is somewhat of a West Ham legend in his own right and I can’t wait to say Hello and try his nosh.

It’s been a while now since I’ve been over and I am looking forward to hearing that much beloved Cockney or Essex accent in my ears again, I do really miss that and watching Eastenders every once in a while is no proper substitute as they rarely discuss West Ham.

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As for the quick Concordia updates, it was a highly successful weekend for the lads (and me), starting on Friday with the first team winning their game away to Suederelbe (wrong side of the river, but nice little ground) with a 4:0 scoreline under the lights which always creates an extra bit of atmosphere. Mind you, there was one moment I didn’t like and that was our third goal. Our winger Kevin Zschimmer (the Infirm City Firm have seen him play before) knocked down a quick pass to initiate a counter attack on the halfway line, quite obviously using his arm to control the ball before sprinting away for a one on one with their goalie to score easily.

The referee had allowed play to continue, but the protests from the opposition players (and fans) was so intense that the ref asked his assistant first (who had not spotted the handball either) and then directly approached the goalscorer, enquiring if, hand on heart, he had handled the ball. Kevin though told the ref it was his thigh, not his arm, he controlled the ball with and so the goal was given.

I found that not exactly fitting the spirit of the game and at 2:0 up with 15 minutes to go I felt it would have been the right thing to do to simply admit that his arm was involved which would have won him massive plaudits from the ref and the supporters too.

At the end of the day it was a third win on the spin and Cordi are now back on track in the promotion race, although there is still some catching up to do.

Yesterday then saw my brother join me for the Cordi 2 game, playing away in Bergedorf, close to where my brother lives. The Cordi second stringers won the contest 14:1, yes, that’s correct, FOURTEEN goals! Which is not that surprising at all when you consider that Cordi 2 are a very decent and freescoring team anyway and that the opposition on the day only had 11 players available at the start of the game and no substitutes, so once they were down to ten men after an injury and once their ten guys got tired after the hour mark it was unrelenting one way football with another goal every two minutes. No more than a practise game really.

Cordi 2 could even afford to miss a penalty and several other sitters. And the opposition goalkeeper was heavier and shorter than me, so the final scoreline was actually quite flattering and didn’t tell the whole story. So, my local football after a spluttering start to the season is finally fun to watch again.

I hope the same will soon apply for West Ham games as well again. I cannot quite put my finger on a reason why, but I have a positive gut feeling for the Spurs game. The London Stadium will be rocking yet again as if it’s Cup Final Day and you can expect this Kraut Hammer to be loud and proud on the day. COYI!!!

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