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The Brighton game was a kick in the guts, make no mistake about it. Holding a two goal lead late in the game and still not coming away with three points is hard to take.
As we all know, being a West Ham fan is a test of character, time and time again. This game was one of those character-building instances, with potentially massive ramifications for our club at the end of the season.
I needed cheering up before starting to type out the column on Sunday, so I followed the progress of the U23s at the away game against their Sunderland counterparts via my betting account game tracker, basically a boring old stats screen showing which team is currently attacking, shots on goal, possession of the ball and so on.
Sunderland were dead last in the table and the West Ham lads of course chasing promotion, albeit without the luxury of counting on budding prospects like Holland, Coventry, Powell and Kemp for the rest of the season.
But other guys were back in contention, like Xande Silva and Mesaque Dju.
So I expected a glorious win to give me a West Ham related lift. Easy, tiger!
It didn’t look good for the first 80 minutes as Sunderland had other ideas and somehow managed to go into an unlikely 2:1 lead, courtesy of a brace scored by their striker Joe Hugill (isn’t it ironic ? Actually, I have no idea if the lad is related to our own Jordan “Can’t wait to walk out here with all the bubbles” Hugill, but I couldn’t help but notice that name).
Then West Ham equalised ten minutes from time and went on to romp to a 4:2 victory in the course of just five frantic minutes of clinical efficiency. Including goals from our substitutes Silva and Dju. That’s how you do it! Three crucial points in the bag in the race for promotion, goal difference improved further, giving us an edge over promotion rivals Manchester United.
One tiny step closer to the next level…
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So, my mood finally was good enough to sit down at my keyboard and begin gathering my thoughts about our first team. Snatching a draw against Brighton from the jaws of victory is not something to get ecstatic about. We needed that win desperately. For confidence more than anything. We didn’t win a point. We lost two.
19 points lost this season from winning positions. That’s not the way to stay in the Premier League.
We neatly giftwrapped those goals for Brighton and had two massive defensive brainfarts to thank for our downfall.
But, just for a change, I will try to focus on some positives in my column today. Not easy for me to do at all, but try I shall. All the other business of owners, training facilities, net spend and apologetic statements by Sky Sports will take care of themselves anyway.
Let’s see then, shall we, what positives we still have going for our fight against relegation. And there still are some that might just about be enough to see us through…
Those brainfarts we suffered on Saturday are what they are, they happen occasionally, even to decent players, but they are few and far between in professional football.
Only at West Ham two of these could happen in quick succession in the same bloody game. But even at West Ham they are unlikely to happen much more often this season. I would hope so at least.
Fabianski will probably punch a clearance onto a teammate’s back like this once every 80 games, so that’s out of the way now. Ogbonna and Diop will have learned their lesson as well, maybe continue to work on similar situations in training, so next time a ball bounces around that dangerously close to our own penalty box, one of them will unceremoniously belt that ball into Row Z++ of the Lower Tier. Or into the Upper Tier, but I’m not sure it’s possible even for a PL player to kick a ball that far…
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What else ? Ah, yes, Tomas Soucek had his debut, freshly arrived in the most recent transfer window. Our new midfield chief of staff who I prefer to call Sous Chef, but that’s just me being silly and interested in good food…LOL
Like others on here I was really impressed with his first game. Considering he can’t have been 100% match fit due to the winter break in the Czech Republic, he showed everything I want from a good midfielder: Graft, constant running, an eye for a pass and the desire to help his team. He also was a leading figure on and off the pitch at Slavia apparently and you can never have enough leaders in your side when your back’s against a relegation wall.
When he joined the goal celebrations he looked like a seasoned old West Ham stalwart who was in the middle of his 143rd game at the club, not his first. To see him celebrate with Snodgrass was like watching two good mates who had known each other for ages when they had probably just been introduced 48 hours earlier.
Soucek is still young, a good all-around player, highly spoken off in his country and his previous club Slavia Prague. And he is bringing some fresh impetus, unstained yet of any negativity surrounding our club at the moment.
Apparently his biggest strength is his positional awareness, so he will rarely be caught off-guard which should mean our midfield won’t get overrun quite as easily and often as before.
My hope is that his arrival, drive and enthusiasm will rub off on his teammates (rather than the other way around) and he can help make all his teammates perform and play better in the process, whoever David Moyes may choose to pick in the remaining games. We need players running, tackling and playing their hearts out. Only then do we stand a chance to be a PL team in August.
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The same very much goes for Jarrod Bowen who arrived on Deadline Day from Hull. YouTube highlight reels can be misleading, but he certainly looks like a very useful attacking player, one of the most effective at Championship level, having his feet in plenty of goals, scoring a lot, assisting quite a few.
If he turns out to be a slightly healthier and more robust version of Antonio we have another weapon in our armoury as we certainly cannot expect Antonio to feature in every game from now until the end of the season, unfortunately, as Antonio is pretty much our personified “Get out of jail free“ card.
The more he plays for us, the better our chances of winning.
More positives ? Well, we are in the bottom three at this point and we have the two worst imaginable games coming up next, Man City and Liverpool away. Two games that the entire world, the football gods and their goldfish expect us to lose. Heavily at that.
So, two massive footballing lessons on the way there, with 5 goals conceded in each one ? Possibly, but not necessarily. For me, those two games are free hits. Go out there, try to frustrate them, nick whatever you can get in terms of goals or points. We have a tendency to raise our game against the big boys on occasion. Both City and Liverpool may consider those games as easy pickings, so they may rest some of their top players, maybe putting them on the bench.
And our new boys, Soucek and Bowen, will cherish the opportunity to play in these games against two of the top club sides on the planet. No way will they approach these fixtures as lost causes before a ball has been kicked. Again, I’m counting on their enthusiasm and fresh impetus to shine through and give our team a shot in the arm. We all know football is not being played on paper.
Liverpool and City are massive favourites to wipe the floor with us, on paper. But maybe, on the pitch, they will have a brainfart or two of their own to work in our favour. Maybe they have a really bad day at the office and we a surprisingly good one. Silly ? Maybe. But what reason would I have left to still watch those games if I wasn’t clinging on some faint and tiny hope at least ?
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Oh, I have more positives! Felipe Anderson should return to the fold in the not too distant future, adding some much needed pace and creativity to our play.
And if you look at the table there are more than just three teams involved in this very relegation scrap. Whereas the battle for the title is pretty much decided already, the fight against the drop features six or seven teams.
And all of them have very difficult games coming up in their respective fixture calendars.
They will also take some points off each other in certain fixtures.
Very difficult for any of the teams in the bottom 6 or 7 to put winning runs together. This will go right down to the wire.
If you look at their squads they don’t have better players at their disposal than us, they are simply getting more out of these players at this point, but that can easily change. Confidence is key. It’s probably fairly low for our team right now, but again, it doesn’t have to stay that way.
Bottom line: We have to make sure that we’re better than three other teams this season, no more, no less. It’ll not be easy, but it can still be done.
West Ham have looked atrocious so far this season, in quite a lot of games unfortunately.
But so have Norwich, Villa, Watford and Bournemouth. Palace and Brighton too are far from safe yet.
It’s frustrating, of course, that at this point we cannot simply look forward to our games as opportunities to watch beautiful football or guaranteed wins. But at least the players now have a clearly defined aim and task in front of them:
To run, sweat and fight in order to keep West Ham in the top flight.
It’s not quite the aim we envisioned at the start of the season, but, like it or not, we now need to navigate this ship called West Ham around those rocks and shallows of another relegation scrap and somehow reach dry land.
But it requires the crew of our vessel to really work their socks off at the pump to get all that bloody saltwater out of the boat that threatens to sink our ship. Players need to stand up and be counted. Go the extra mile. Players need to get this club out of the relegation zone and keep it outside the relegation zone.
Do it for good old-fashioned pride. Do it for the shirt. Do it for West Ham.
Do it to make yourself a transfer target for bigger or better clubs in the summer, if need be.
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Or maybe just do it for the myriads of fans who still want West Ham to win every game, those who go to the stadium or watch the Hammers on the telly from afar. This club is still loved by hundreds of thousands of supporters all over the globe, breathing and bleeding claret and blue.
And there is a new generation of fans growing up as you’re reading this, blowing bubbles, dreaming dreams, learning to be claret&blue and West Ham till I die.
For kids today this may entail buckets of popcorn, overpriced bags of pick’n’mix and watching the team play in a big bowl that was built for athletics events, but still these kids join their dads, moms, uncles, aunts or grandparents at the football and go to the games, watching their beloved Hammers. Join the others in singing Bubbles. And probably end up crying bitter tears of disappointment at the final whistle whenever we lose.
If not for us old moaning gits, make those kids proud to be West Ham.
Give them something to cheer. Something to hurl back in the faces of their smug mates at school who support Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United.
The best way to do that is to show heart, play good football and win some games. Staying up will then be a realistic (first) target.
Afterwards we can worry about other, bigger things again. About progress, development and next level. But we simply cannot afford to go down.
So, in that spirit:
Dear West Ham team, you all know how to play football, every single one of you, otherwise you wouldn’t have made it this far. You are in the PL for a reason. Start showing the fans (and the pundits) you deserve to be PL players and you will get all the support from the West Ham fans you could ever wish for.