The GoatyGav Column

We’re So Fickle

I remember signing the above words, to the tune of ‘let’s all do the conga’ but with an unrepeatable between ‘So’ & ‘Fickle’, on the terraces of the North Bank back in the ‘80’s. One minute we’re hailing players as the new Messiah, the next they’re “Not the Messiah – they’re a very naughty boy!”

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Don’t get me wrong – some players deserve the stick. I know he’s probably going to be the HOTY but I was just a little bit vexed at Arnie for his lax stroll towards the ball, in an off-side position, for Fernandes’ excellent strike. Sometimes his attitude is all wrong for me but his overall contribution to the team, this season, has been superb.
When it comes to players some are class and some show form. There’s no doubt that Arnie is class but, frankly, he’s not the only one. There are others, who’ve already won the coveted HOTY title, who deserve better support.

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Matchdays are a hotbed of emotion at the best of times – entirely bellicose at others. The WHTID forum is no different. All those powerful feelings pulling your insides around like the churning of your matchday shirt and lucky undies in the washing machine. Words, and no doubt, gestures just seem to emerge without invitation. Just pop up with the irrepressibility of weeds in spring (like most of my garden at the moment). It’s a release which does show that we have passion and care but I do wonder, sometimes, whether the same words would appear on threads at other times.

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We’re all guilty of it. Whilst we have our favourite players we also have those that we don’t fancy so much. It’s human nature. Earlier this season I, regretfully, suggested that Mark Noble looked past it. How wrong I was and extremely happy about it I am. Egg on my face bigtime. Although not everyone agreed I thought the skipper was superb on Monday night. Another who has come in for a lot of stick this season has been Kouyate. Ok, so box to box midfielders are becoming old hat in the modern game, but he’s definitely one with class and a temporary dip in form. The injuries haven’t helped. Like Antonio I really don’t think he has deserved the stick he’s received. I’d like nothing more than for Nobes, Chek and Michail to have the seasons of their lives in ’18-’19. Perhaps less work on endorsements might help…….

Only joshin’. We know where the hamstring problems have come from and the look on Michail’s face when it went after 9 mins of the Southampton game said it all for me. Gutted for him. Personally I’d like to see some science, or at least stats, behind the amount of injuries that occur at teams who play on larger pitches compared to smaller ones.
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When I found myself venting my spleen at a particular player I’ve often come to regret it later on. At matches I now prefer to stay tight lipped if I think any of the lads on the pitch are below par or, in the worst case, a liability. In our minds we’re all there, on the pitch, kicking each ball and making each run which is why so many of us vociferously express our exasperation.

In the current squad there isn’t a single player who the fans attending games have ‘turned on’. In the odd game, here and there, and, possibly, over the course of 3-4 matches there are first teamers who’ve been getting a bit of grief but, thankfully, nothing too nasty or sustained.

After my praise for the club last week I, unfortunately, have to report that the flag for the coffin at today’s (tomorrow as I write) funeral of Alan Thurston didn’t arrive on time. A real shame. I’ve no idea why this was as Debs, Alan’s sister, has been trying to find out what’s happened to it since Tuesday. Debs has told me that she thinks she’s managed to get hold of one but I’ll be taking one of mine as backup just in case.

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As for our hopes of staying up now I’m optimistic. Not counting chickens but I expect us to put some points on the board which will make it very difficult for Stoke and Southampton to catch us. Of the two Stoke look more up for the fight. Yes, they could win 3 games, but I really don’t think they’ll manage it. Palace will, at least, get a draw and Burnley are simply too good for them. That leaves Liverpool and Swansea making it a big ask. Then you’ve got the others between us and the bottom 3 as well. This is West Ham, however, so it would be unwise to think we’re ‘safe’ just yet.

I’ll be at the Arsenal game on Sunday where I hope we get something. Definitely not beyond the realms of possibility with the Gunners having one eye on their big Semi Final against Athletico Madrid. A point there and things will look even better. Dare I dream we take all 3?


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The Blind Hammer Column

Squad Enigmas

Blind Hammer considers who to retain out of our squad enigmas

In over half a century of supporting West Ham I do not think I can recall a squad with so many enigmas. That is, players who seem a busted flush one day, but a match winner the next. Hart is the latest example, advancing recently to hero only to instantly retreat to zero. His point saving performance against Chelsea blotted by a calamitous mistake which finally destroyed any prospect of a longer term West ham future. Hart’s inconsistency, gifting Stoke a lead, threatened to pitch our precarious season into a final and terminal decline at the death.

Fortunately an even more enigmatic performer re-emerged, marching in turn from zero to hero. Carroll’s dramatic 90th minute equaliser reignited yet again the case for his retention, recovering some of his recent reputational damage in a blink of an eye. Impatience with Carroll’s awful injury record has recently increased with whispers that some of these problems are self-inflicted. Irritation if not anger has grown with allegations of poor lifestyle discipline. Many West Ham fans and commentators have suggested it is time for Carroll to move on. In particular repeated reports of inappropriate drinking have led to suspicion that his poor injury and recovery resilience has been further weakened by avoidable alcohol intake. Worries grew that Carroll did not respect his body, his career or West ham. Actions spoke louder than words, choosing to drink in bars seemed to demonstrate a poor commitment in return for the drawing of his massive wages.

The problem is that our squad is top heavy with enigmatic performers. Carroll has been joined this season by Hernandez on even higher wages. Despite the many calls for Hernandez to start against Stoke Moyes would never take this risk. Not only is West Ham’s record with Hernandez starting in the team less than Stella, it is clear to nearly everybody, with the possible exception of West Ham supporters, that West Ham’s most strategic weakness not just this season, but for nearly 2 and a half years now, is their appalling defence. West Ham have been thumped not just by top six sides but regularly conceded heavily against moderate or poor sides. Only recently our defence shipped 7 goals against the combined might of Burnley and Swansea. Stoke are one of the tiny number of sides, and the only one below us, who actually have a worst defence than us. Given what was at stake it was fanciful that Moyes would take the risk of opening up midfield against Stoke in the hope of running an exciting, expansive game. Whilst you cannot plan or legislate effectively if your goalkeeper consistently makes howlers, in general such an approach would have left us even more vulnerable to a sucker punch. Lambert has similarly tightened up Stoke and it was predictably an edgy affair. Hernandez has proved that he is a powerful weapon to deploy from the bench and in that capacity he almost repeated his successful intervention against Chelsea.

Unfortunately it appears that Antonio has joined our growing casts of enigmas. Antonio has fitness issues. However, analogous to Carroll, whispers and rumours have emerged that reflect on Antonio’s allegedly poor attitude to training. On one occasion his lateness for a team meeting was outed publically by Moyes, possibly in an attempt to shock the player. Whatever the cause Antonio has retreated from the performances which made him one of the biggest and most consistent stars at the club to a player who sparkles occasionally but more frequently disappoints.

All of these players can, on their day, deliver match winning or point saving performances. None of them are, for various reasons, delivering these performances consistently. Match winners do not come cheap and West Ham will not for the foreseeable future, and probably never, be able to purchase from the top drawer of match winning global talents. We are likely to rely upon enigmas to some extent. Certainly West Ham cannot afford to be tactically a one trick pony, relying solely on the skills of a Marko Arnautovic. Teams would rapidly “work us out”. Alternative match interventions from the bench will remain critical.

So who out of our cast list of enigmas should we retain? Sadly hart has finally proved that his standards have declined, and that his confidence, concentration and distribution identified as issues at Manchester City are long term. Despite extended opportunities to demonstrate he has overcome these issues at Torino and West Ham, he has failed to show he is a keeper of premiership standard. A keeper cannot simply rely on making outstanding saves whilst failing to address other weaknesses.

The case against Carroll relies on his poor injury resilience and his reported wages. Despite this I am not persuaded that West Ham should jettison him. Despite making a tiny number of appearances this season, his goals against West Brom and Stoke may well be the factor which keeps us up this season. Where would we be now if we have had to launch Hugehill and not Carroll into the fray against Stoke? Even if Carroll is on the reported full £85,000 a week, unlikely given his lack of bonuses and game time, this would still equate to only £4.5 million a season. In other words approximately 50% of the transfer fee we paid for the services of Jordon Hugehill from Preston in January. Whilst £4.5 million is not chicken feed, where else are we likely to recruit the abilities of a player able to influence games in such dramatic fashion?

Carroll is more likely to fit into a Moyes game plan. However there should be no expectations that he has the requisite injury resilience or body capacity to be a regular starter for West Ham or any other Premiership outfit. West Ham should deploy him in precisely the way Chelsea wanted to. He should be seen as a squad player, playing not all games but with the priceless ability to enter games and provide telling match winning or saving contributions. His next contract with West Ham should reflect this. It should be heavily skewed to a pay as you play deal.

Of course much of the above applies to Hernandez as well. I would love to retain Hernandez but doubt that Moyes could ever plan a starting team based around him. On wages reportedly nearly double that which Carroll currently draws it may well be that Hernandez is simply not a fit at West Ham, though if he was willing to stay in the impact role I would keep him in a heartbeat.
This finally leaves Antonio. I really hope that this season’s fall from grace is not about attitude and is about fitness. We can all have sympathy for Antonio not being played in a position to his strengths but professionals sort this out in a professional way. Fitness can recover, attitude may be impossible to amend. My instinct is that Antonio is another who may be reaching the exit door, though I would love to seem the surging Antonio of old again.

David Griffith

The S J Chandos Column

In retrospect, the crucial thing on Monday evening was not to lose!

Like most of you, I am frustrated that we failed to secure a crucial win over Stoke City. To have done so would have put us 10 points ahead of Stoke and 9 points ahead of Southampton. As it is, we are now 7 points ahead of both clubs, with 4/5 matches to play. Whereas, if Stoke City had secured a travesty of a victory, the gap would have been reduced to a far less comfortable 4 points and given them great momentum going in to their next fixture at home to Burnley. So, in retrospect, it could be the case that the crucial thing was that we did not lose on Monday evening. Tough as some of our remaining fixtures are, I still reckon that we will accumulate the necessary points to preserve our PL status. I am also comforted by the thought that it is very unlikely (based on prior/current form) that either Stoke City or Southampton will secure the three victories out of their final four games that they probably need to stand any chance of surviving at our expense.

I am greatly encouraged by the timely return to fitness of Lanzini and Carroll, plus the apparent determination of Hernandez to stick to his striking task, regardless of the fact that he cannot be happy that he is not starting games. Other notable sources of encouragement are the brilliant form of Rice and Ogbonna, the strong leadership of Noble and the continuing effectiveness of Arnautovic in his central striking role. On the down side, Hart remains prone to silly errors, but we still need to get behind him as I have a suspicion that he will probably remain our first choice custodian for the remainder of this season. Personally, I am also spurred on by the knowledge that the players have previously responded well, under Moyes, when faced with some very tough fixtures against the top sides. For instance, we beat Chelsea (home} and then went on to grind out creditable draws against Arsenal (home), Spurs (away) and Chelsea (away). Those results hopefully bode well for the forthcoming challenges against Arsenal (away), Man City (home) and Man Utd (home). The objective must surely be to maximise the points return in those three matches, so there is less riding on the final two matches vs Leicester City (away) and Everton (home). That final home match against Everton might be our ultimate assurance policy, but lets hope (as events turn out) that we do not actually need it!

As for the match itself on Monday, I thought that we dominated for the majority of the game and should have won easily. The fact that we had three goals disallowed (rightfully as it turns out) speaks volumes. I know that Moyes has a tough job, but I must say that I anticipated that he would have started with Arnautovic-Hernandez up front in this fixture. Hernandez caused Stoke all sorts of problems when he came on and one can only speculate on the impact he could have had if he had started the match. In the end a vital point was rescued by a very unlikely hero, the hitherto incapacitated, Andy Carroll. And what a class strike it was! You know something, on occasions like that, Carroll shows flashes of inspiration/technique that we often think beyond him. Yet, he is obviously capable of it and one wonders exactly what he could really do if could only stay fit for a prolonged period of time. Hopefully, Carroll will now stay fit and play a key role coming on, to positively impact on matches in the latter stages.

Thanks to Carroll’s late equaliser, we stay in a reasonably strong position in our hunt for survival. You would certainly not trade positions with either Stoke City or Southampton, would you? It would be wonderful to secure a great win at the Emirates, but it is more probable that we will set up to clinch another key draw on the road to our PL safety. Indeed, it is all likely to be a bit nerve wracking, but lets hope the issue is settled (to our ultimate satisfaction) come that final home fixture vs Everton. Because Mr Allardyce, and his Toffee Men, are unlikely to do us any favours if they can help it!

SJ. Chandos.

Dawud Marsh's Photo Diary

Carroll Comes Off Bench To Rescue A Point For Battling West Ham Against Relegation Threatened Stoke City

Tony Hanna's Musings

Death by a Thousand Cuts

The drip feed of points continues. Five points from our last three matches in an unbeaten run isn’t too bad for a team fighting relegation but that masks the problems we had in trying to break down the worst defence in the league last night. An excellent win against Southampton and a gritty display at Chelsea was followed by a dominant but laboured performance against Stoke. Had we taken three points last night I think we would all be feeling a sense of relief that we were just about safe from the drop. We don’t do easy though, never have, and now this relegation fight is more like death by a thousand cuts. However, there are still a lot of scenarios to play out in this relegation battle. Have a look at Brighton’s run home and you will see just how things could change over the next few weeks. Burnley away and all the top four still to play makes our run in look a little more palatable.

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So, what of the performance last night? I thought we played fairly well, controlled most of the game but of course we so nearly could have lost it. Joe Hart’s blunder with eleven minutes to play was his fourth of the season that has led to a goal being conceded. He is also fourth in the “goalkeeping error leading to a goal league” – two behind Petr Cech, but Hart has played nearly half the games that the keepers above him have in this unfortunate statistical table. It has again given Moyes a problem as to whether to keep Hart in goal for the remainder of the season. It seems like Groundhog day again as this seasons revolving door of Adrian or Hart mirrors last season’s similar scenario with Adrian and Randolph. Personally, I think Hart will play this weekend but the game after is against Manchester City and he won’t be eligible to play in that one anyway.

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On a brighter note Declan Rice again put in a fine performance. Despite Reid and Collins being injured at present, I doubt either would be selected ahead of the youngster if all three were available. Noble had a good game but the rest of the team, whilst doing just enough to control most of the possession (around 60%), rarely stamped themselves on the game. I had a little moan last week about how we wasted our last minute corner kick at Chelsea. Judging from our first corner kick last night it is still an area that needs work. Playing another short corner the return pass caught us offside and I don’t know how many times I have used the analogy of Groundhog Day in my articles recently! In some ways I can’t wait for this season to end. If Moyes is to remain he will at least be able to put his stamp on the team during the transfer window. West Ham over the past two seasons have at times been a difficult watch and with the players we have that should not be the case. Injuries have taken their toll and have not made the job an easy one for either Bilic or Moyes, but this side is screaming out for a Carvalho type player.

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Referee Michael Oliver had a couple of tough decisions to make in the Champions League match between Real Madrid and Juventus last week but got them both right. Last night we had three goals disallowed and the officials were again correct in my opinion. There wasn’t much in the offside call for the first but Arnie was a fraction off. For the second he is definitely interfering, again in an offside position, and Andy Carroll’s handball was plain to see before Hernandez rifled home from inside the box. It would be nice to get a little rub of the green but we can’t complain too much when the refs get it right. Where I do think the officials erred last night though was with the amount of added time at the end of the game. Stoke committed a plethora of niggling fouls in the second half and the amount of time taken up in restarting play from these indiscretions alone would have amounted to the four minutes that were added. As for Ramadan’s substitution I am actually wondering if he is still making his way off right now? That alone seemed to take four minutes!

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David Moyes started with the team that grafted a point at Chelsea and I am sure some critics would be questioning whether that was too negative an approach? Arnautovic looked quite isolated at times and many promising movements between him and Mario more often failed to produce anything that might resemble cohesion. For the final minutes a front line of Carroll, Arnie and Chico played ahead of Lanzini but I doubt we will ever see those four start in a West Ham team. If Moyes had taken a more attacking approach from the start and we lost the game, how would have Hammers fans reacted? At the end of the day we snatched a point with a 90th minute equaliser from Andy Carroll. We probably deserved more based on both teams overall performance but as I stated early, we never do easy, and this relegation fight looks like going all the way to the wire.

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