The HamburgHammer Column
I love games like this. Games that are influenced to some degree by the elements, blustery winds, rain, hail, snow, mud, you name it. Who could forget those fantastic NFL contests in freezing Green Bay, Wisconsin in December. Some of those Rugby Union clashes played out in the mud when you cannot tell at the end if a player is wearing a shirt for the home or the away team. I’ll never forget during “my” West Ham season in 1996/97 our home game against Spurs (although I couldn’t be there in person on the day), wild, wet and windy night when Hartson, KItson and Dicks brought us a thrilling win against our North London rivals.
I also (unfortunately) remember a similar evening in the Cup at Stockport where Iain Dowie scored the most incredible headed goal I’ve ever seen, unfortunately it was the goal guarded by his own custodian.
Those games are hard to predict and most anything can happen on the day. I’ll admit though, when Southampton found themselves down to ten men with about 35 minutes to go I fancied our chances to get a point out of this, maybe even the win. We had tons of possession, we passed the ball around nicely, albeit mainly in a sideways or backwards direction, but we also created some good scoring opportunities. Some of the stuff was comical though while also being utterly frustrating at the same time:
Carroll blocking a shot from his teammate which curled beautifully towards the zop corner, maybe preventing a great goal.
Valencia sending a freekick from a promising position into the rainswept evening sky.
Emenike sending a bullet of a header after a perfect cross past the wrong side of the post.
Let’s face it: Saturday it simply wasn’t meant to be. We might have played for another 45 minutes and still the ball would not have found its way past Saints goalkeeper Fraser Forster (Shouldn’t he be a boxer with that kind of name ?).
It has been discussed at length why we have not managed to get maximum points in recent games, most of the points are obvious: Missing key players through injuries, other key players being tired after returning from injury, lacking match fitness, a strange tendency to not quite perform in the first half of games, bringing on Carroll while taking off the wingers who could actually provide him with the crosses he’d crave in order to convert them into goals or assists.
I was disappointed after losing this game, which West Ham fan wouldn’t ? But I wasn’t down in the dumps for long. As my reminiscing about past West Ham seasons made it clear to me that it is very rare for West Ham to win plenty of games in succession. I was surprised when I had just arrived in Barking to find at a local WHSmith a collection of West Ham videotapes (no DVDs back in 1996) one of which particularly caught may eye: 5 in a row – a video showing highlights of West Ham winning five games of football in succession. I was puzzled about this: Why would a team celebrate something which in itself may be a rare occurrence but nevertheless not a reason to celebrate like a Cup win or a Championship. Later I learned of course that indeed it is fairly special for West Ham to win five games in succession.
Most of our fans seem resigned to the fact that they may never see West Ham win any silverware in their lifetime, so they celebrate special acievements instead:
West Ham winning against Spúrs three times in one season. West Ham winning at Liverpool for the first time in donkey’s years. West Ham winning a Cup game against lower league opposition. You get the picture.
My point is: We are not a team (yet) where we can expect to win five games in a row on a regular basis. At this point we will still lose games we may be expected to win, but then again wonderful West Ham will also do the opposite and return with three points from games we go into as underdogs. Or let me correct that: It is rare these days that we are actually underdogs anymore. Expectation levels have risen, both among us fans but also among the rest of the league.
Our league position alone tells us that we are unlikely to lose five games in a row (something which used to happen fairly regularly in our past).
We are still unpredictable old West Ham, but at a different level of unpredictability when comparing us with past teams.
Slaven Bilic will know better than anyone that we are nowhere near the finished article. He needs to find a way to rotate players in order to keep everybody fresh, healthy and happy, he needs to find a system that maximises the Payet effect for us, we need to learn how to break teams down when we cannot play our prefered counterattacking style.
The Southampton loss was a timely reminder that we are not Barcelona yet, far from it.
But let’s also not forget: Even teams like Barcelona, Real or Man City (Leicester City anyone ?) occasionally lose games they are not supposed to lose – still it happens.
I’m sure we’ll see a different team tomorrow in the Cup against Liverpool, with a different approach, a different body language with the Boleyn crowd behind them, cheering the lads on under the lights at home. It may be wet, it may be windy and Liverpool may be down to ten men at some point. What happens next nobody can tell.
But that’s why we love our football in general and our West Ham in particular. Winning for us at this point still tastes sweeter than what I’d expect it to taste for Arsenal or Barcelona fans who are used to winning week in week out.
I’m quite happy with our lot these days. Sod that! I’m ecstatic about our team this season. A defeat against Southampton away from home won’t change that. COYI!