Dan Coker's Match Preview

Match Preview: West Ham v Leicester

Blast from the past

23rd February 1980 – Kenny Rogers was number one with ‘Coward Of The County’, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was in UK cinemas and, in the week which saw the broadcast of the first ever episode of Yes Minister, the Hammers defeated the Foxes at Upton Park in front of 27,762 spectators.

Geoff Pike (pictured above) and Pat Holland both notched their fifth goals of the season, while 29-year-old David Cross bagged his 16th of the campaign as West Ham United beat Leicester 3-1 – ‘Psycho’ Cross would be the Irons’ top goalscorer with 18 goals in 53 matches in 1979/80. Scottish forward Alan Young scored the visitors’ consolation goal.

The win was the Hammers’ sixth consecutive triumph in all competitions but they would not win in the league again for another seven games, until 5th April. West Ham would go on to finish 7th in a 1979/80 campaign that saw them win the FA Cup with a 1-0 triumph over Arsenal at Wembley. 21-year-old centre-back Alvin Martin was voted the Hammer of the Year with 20-year-old right-back Ray Stewart runner-up. The Foxes finished eight points clear of the Hammers and won the Second Division title to ensure promotion to the top flight, alongside Sunderland and Birmingham.

West Ham United: Phil Parkes, Ray Stewart, Paul Brush, Alvin Martin, Frank Lampard, Pat Holland, Geoff Pike, Trevor Brooking, Paul Allen, Alan Devonshire, David Cross.

Leicester City: Mark Wallington, Tommy Williams, Geoff Scott, John O’Neill, Larry May, Bobby Smith, Andy Peake, Eddie Kelly, Mark Goodwin, Martin Henderson, Alan Young.

Club Connections

Players who have represented both the Hammers and the Foxes include:

Goalkeepers: George Hebden, Colin Mackleworth.

Defenders: Gary Charles, Chris Powell, Rufus Brevett, Paul Konchesky, Dai Jones, Matthew Upson, Clive Clarke, Billy Oakes.

Midfielders: Andy Impey, Shaun Newton, Nolberto Solano, Franz Carr, Sid Bishop.

Strikers: David Connolly, Mike Newell, Brian Deane, Paul Kitson, Norman Proctor, Les Ferdinand, David Kelly, Tony Cottee, Jimmy Quinn.

Frank O’Farrell, Martin Allen and Jimmy Bloomfield have played for the Hammers and managed the Foxes.

Today’s focus though is on a player who was brought to English football by West Ham United and ended his time on these shores with Leicester City. John Paintsil was born in Berekum in the Brong Ahafo region of south Ghana on the 15th June 1981 and started his career in his native Ghana at Berekum Arsenal and Liberty Professionals between 2000 and 2002 before moving to Israeli club Maccabi Tel Aviv where he won the title. He signed for Hapoel Tel Aviv in December 2004, helping them to win the Israeli State Cup and to runners-up spot in the league.

Israeli international and then-Hammer Yossi Benayoun recommended Paintsil to Alan Pardew after loan right-back Lionel Scaloni’s departure from the club. Pardew gave the 25-year-old Paintsil a trial during a pre-season tour of Sweden before completing the £1m signing in August 2006. He was given the number 14 shirt with ‘Pantsil’ on the back – the new signing insisted that the club had spelt his name wrong despite all the official documentation in his transfer referring to him as such. John’s family name is Paintsil but, at birth, it was registered as ‘Pantsil’. This then appeared on his passport and his subsequent registration with the Premier League. Pardew had brought in two other right-backs that summer in Tyrone Mears and Jonathan Spector and it was Mears who got the nod to start the opening game of the 2006/07 season against Charlton. However, Paintsil came off the bench at half-time to replace Mears with the Irons 1-0 down to the ten-man Addicks and the Hammers went on to win the match 3-1. Paintsil would start the next two games, at Watford and Liverpool, but appearances would be few and far between, the right-back only registering four starts and three substitute appearances in total in his first season in east London.

Having started two matches in two days at Tottenham and Chesterfield in October 2006 under Pardew, Paintsil would not make another start for the Hammers until a trip to Arsenal on New Year’s Day 2008. Alan Curbishley had been in charge for just over a year, with Lucas Neill establishing himself as Curbs’ first-choice right-back. Another start followed four days later in a goalless FA Cup third round draw at home to Manchester City but Paintsil’s stop-start Hammers career was put on hold again and he did not feature at all for another two months. A string of appearances from the bench in the early spring was followed by three consecutive starts at the tail-end of 2007/08, in a 2-1 home win over Derby, a 2-2 home draw with Newcastle and a 4-1 defeat at Manchester United. Paintsil’s final appearance for the Hammers was as a half-time substitute for George McCartney in a 2-2 home draw with Aston Villa on the 11th May 2008, the final day of the season.

After 24 appearances and no goals in his two seasons at West Ham United, Paintsil moved to Fulham along with Bobby Zamora for a combined fee of £6.3m on 15th July 2008. After three years at Craven Cottage, Paintsil was released and joined Championship side Leicester on a free transfer on 21st July 2011. The 30 year-old made seven appearances for the Foxes under Sven-Goran Eriksson but did not play a single match following the appointment of new boss Nigel Pearson just three months into the 2011/12 campaign. He was subsequently released in May 2012 and returned to Hapoel Tel Aviv.

After a year back in Israel, Paintsil moved to Cape Town side Santos in South Africa in October 2013 before joining Maritzburg United in the summer of 2014. He was released on disciplinary grounds in January last year following a bust-up with manager Ernst Middendorp and retired from playing in June 2016.

In 2013, it was claimed Paintsil hit his wife, Richlove, and allegedly stabbed her in the eye, although complaints were later withdrawn. In May 2016, after Richlove accused Paintsil of stealing her car, Paintsil reportedly assaulted the investigating officer and the District Commander inside the police station. Paintsil, now 35, is the assistant manager of Johannesburg-based Kaizer Chiefs.


Saturday’s referee will be Roger East; the Wiltshire-based official has been taking charge of Premier League fixtures since 2012 but has only taken charge of one previous West Ham match in the top flight, that being the 1-1 home draw with Stoke in April 2015.

Most of East’s matches this season have been in the Championship. The 51-year-old most recently refereed the Hammers in the FA Cup, for the fourth round replay win over Liverpool in February 2016 and for the 2-1 quarter-final defeat to Manchester United last April.

Possible line-ups

West Ham United have lost only two of their last 29 home matches against Leicester stretching back to 1967, with 21 victories and 6 draws against the Foxes in that time. Slaven Bilic must decide whether to hand a starting berth to Andre Ayew, who has two goals and one assist in his last three substitute appearances. Mark Noble has been carrying a knock for the last two matches against Chelsea and Bournemouth – this was aggravated further during the match on the south coast and the skipper will subsequently sit out this weekend’s match. Diafra Sakho will step up his rehabilitation by training with the Development Squad next week. Angelo Ogbonna, Domingos Quina and Gokhan Tore are out.

Leicester City manager Craig Shakespeare will be without loanee defender Molla Wague, who dislocated his shoulder at Millwall last week. Midfielder Papy Mendy is back in training and is rated as 50-50 to make a return to the Foxes’ squad. West Ham have only recorded home victories against reigning Premier League champions on three previous occasions – all three were 2-1 wins, over Manchester United in December 2007, Manchester City in October 2014 and Chelsea in October 2015.

Possible West Ham United XI: Randolph; Byram, Fonte, Reid, Cresswell; Kouyate, Obiang; Antonio, Lanzini, Ayew; Carroll.

Possible Leicester City XI: Schmeichel; Simpson, Huth, Morgan, Fuchs; Mahrez, Drinkwater, Ndidi, Albrighton; Okazaki, Vardy.

Enjoy the game – Come On You Irons!

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Talking Point

Curse and Magic of a "Parallel Campaign"

The plot of one of the best known Austrian novels, Robert Musil’s “The Man Without Qualities” (Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften) is about a so-called “Parallel Campaign” (Parallelaktion) meant to celebrate the Austrian Emperor’s 70 years of reign in the same year 1918 in which the German Emperor would be ruler of his country for 30 years. In my case almost 100 years later another “parallel campaign” is taking place in Vienna and London, concerning football clubs Rapid Vienna and West Ham United – a “Parallelaktion” that most recently started with two goals, conceded by both clubs in the 94th minute of their respective games five weeks ago.

I live in Vienna and, of course wanting to watch football live more regularly than my travels to London allow, I also follow a team of my home town, SK Rapid Vienna, as most of you will know. Therefore any given weekend there is always a chance to overcome the disappointment of a West Ham defeat with a win of Rapid, and vice versa of course. But in recent weeks it’s like bewitched: there seem to be more parallelisms between the two clubs than ever, and unfortunately they have not been positive ones.

Well, from the very beginning until today there have been surprising similarites between these two clubs which I have followed for many, many years: at the end of the 19th century both of them were founded as “workers‘ clubs” (Thames Ironworks FC and First Vienna Workers FC). And at the beginning of the 2016-17 season both clubs started to play in a new home! But with the coincidences having increased within the last weeks, it looks as if this season is really going to be some kind of a “parallel campaign” for the two clubs I support.

The cruelty of the 94th minute

The latest parallel action started almost five weeks ago when West Ham played West Brom in the London Stadium and Rapid Vienna played Austria Vienna in the Vienna Stadium (aka Ernst Happel Stadium). Both clubs lead with a small margin of one goal until the beginning of injury time. Their fans were nervously awaiting the final whistle in a nail biting finish, but exactly in the 94th minute of the respective games of this very weekend late equalisers were scored: Gareth McAuley made it 2-2 in London, and an other defensive mistake in Vienna allowed Lukas Rotpuller to score the 1-1 for Austria Vienna, cruelly destroying Rapid’s hope of a win against their local rivals and a successful start into the spring campaign after the Austrian winter break.

The next weekend none of our clubs scored. West Ham was not able to kick a ball because they had already departed from the FA Cup with a heavy defeat in a match back in January we all want to forget. And Rapid Vienna was not able to hit the back of the net in their league game against Admira (0-0). A sad weekend with West Ham not able to play in the FA Cup anymore and Rapid again unable to win.

Well, one week later West Ham had to play Watford away achieving another draw (1-1). This time that would have been a result which I would have been happy with in Rapid’s away game in Carinthia against Wolfsberger AC. West Ham and Rapid had to trail a 0-1 in their respective games and really, both of them were able to equalise (through Andre Ayew and Mario Sonnleitner). But in the 80th minute the similarities unfortunately came to an end when Wolfsberg scored a late winner and the „Greens“ had to travel back to Vienna without any points, still rooted to a disappointing 5th place in the 10-clubs-Austrian Bundesliga.

Versus the leaders of the league

Next weekend saw West Ham and Rapid play the leader of the English Premier League as well as the leader of the Austrian Bundesliga at home. Rapid have a new manager in Damir Canadi since November who has made a lot of changes in the team’s system of playing, still waiting for his first win of 2017. But again on a cold Sunday afternoon in the Allianz Stadium we had to taste defeat, losing out 0-1 to Red Bull Salzburg.

And West Ham, as I had feared, didn’t do any better one day later, also being defeated on Monday evening in the London Stadium with a one-goal-margin by Chelsea with Manuel Lanzini scoring a late consolation in injury time (1-2).

Winless weeks to continue?

And the winless weeks still have not come to an end, neither in London nor in Vienna: last weekend saw West Ham lose to Bournemouth away on Saturday, and therefore I was almost sure that on the Sunday Rapid would be defeated in Graz by Sturm Graz. Again it was the same goal margin by which the clubs were seperated from their opponents, West Ham losing 2-3 and Rapid 1-2.

Now since this cruel 94th minute equalisers by mid February, West Ham and Rapid have been waiting for a win for five weeks now. The clubs have dropped back in the table to 6th and 11th respectively. Especially Rapid, still the record champions of Austria but their last title dating back to 2008, are very disappointed with this first season in their new Allianz Stadion aka Weststadion. And also West Ham should do better in their new home, aiming for eighth (as we were told by David Gold lately). Rapid are still hoping to qualify for Europe, though now this seems almost impossible via the league. Nevertheless Rapid is still playing in the Austrian cup, but their last win of this competition is ages away.

Will the “parallel campaign” continue next weekend, and to what end? West Ham will host Leicester in the London Stadium on Saturday 3 p.m. and Rapid are also playing at home at the same time against Mattersburg. Both opponents were already close to or in a relegation spot this season, but both of them have had a revival within the last weeks with new managers. And Mattersburg also has a new key player, veteran striker Stefan Maierhofer aka „The Major“ who played for Bayern, Rapid, Wolves, Bristol FC and Millwall in former years. He suffered a break of his cheek bone two weeks ago but has promised to come back against Rapid and play against his former club with a protective mask on his face. (Back in 2008 he also played with such a device and helped Rapid win their last Austrian Championship!)

Well, West Ham and Rapid cannot hide behind a mask next weekend. They have to come out and start some kind of revival themselves to make us happy again after five weeks without a win. „The natural state of the football fan is disappointment“, Nick Hornby says in his novel Fever Pitch, adding: „No matter what the score“. But if the score was in our favour on Saturday afternoon it would really help to improve our mood, that’s for sure!

Still a lot to play for

Robert Musil’s novel “Mann ohne Eigenschaften” has remained unfinished though it contains of more than 1000 pages, and also this season is far from being finished. There is still a lot to play for in the coming weeks. Relegation or winning the title are not up for dicussion, therefore playing well, scoring goals, making the supporters happy, climbing up the table, and ending the season on a positive note are what we are expecting from our clubs. This would really be a “parallel campaign” I’d like to see!

Then, later in the year, the transfer window in the summer must be used much better this time than it was last year. Another thing that went wrong with both our clubs last time! Well, and like every year there will be hope for the next campaign in London and in Vienna – to have a team with the quality and capability of playing the way we’d like to watch in our new grounds! Then the positive magic of a “parallel campaign” with two “teams of quality”, and not of “Männer ohne Eigenschaften”, will unfold again in autumn 2017 …

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Talking Point

Squad Goals – Hammers in the Frame for International Acclaim

BREAKING NEWS: West Ham duo Andy Carroll and Michail Antonio named in England squad

It is widely reported that ticker tapes on frontline news and social media platforms will be displaying this headline later today.

With 15 Premier League goals between them, the front pairing have provided bright moments in an otherwise underwhelming season for the Irons. Carroll’s emphatic finish against Palace is a contender for goal of the season, whilst Antonio layed on 3 assists in the same fixture – a feat last achieved by the indomitable Paolo di Canio some 17 years ago. The Hammers’ talismanic twosome are revered for their industry, application and athleticism – the staple diet of the West Ham way – but they also possess genuine quality to impact, affect and, ultimately, decide games.

The challenges for Southgate’s England are well documented: established strikers are either injured (Kane), lacking match sharpness (Welbeck) out of form (Rooney) or all of the above (Sturridge); the team lacks width and is overly reliant on the fullbacks; and there is no ‘Plan B’ when proceedings veer off course. Carroll and Antonio, individually and collectively, provide a logical, credible and merited proposition to counteract these problems.

The 2018 World Cup is still 65 weeks away. Could additional claret and blue candidates yet stake a claim to board the plane? The Premier League is a volatile and ever-changing market, with public perception of individuals inextricably linked with parent club performance. West Ham’s displays during the 2017/18 season will have a considerable impact upon our English contingent’s prospects. For some, their stock will soar whilst, for others, their value will plummet. Form is temporary, class is permanent, but timing is everything. Channelling Mystic Meg, it’s worth considering which, if any, of our current playing staff will make it to Russia.

Aaron Cresswell
Hammer of the Year in his maiden season with the Hammers, the Liverpool trainee has already paid dividends on our modest £3.75m investment. Cresswell joined with a good injury record, attacking instincts and a peach of a left peg. However, his consistency has deserted him this season; influential performances are readily interchanged with displays littered with schoolboy errors and positional indiscipline.

Danny Rose is undoubtedly first choice for the left-back berth. With Baines and Luke Shaw out of favour, that realistically leaves a three-way tussle with Ryan Bertrand and Kieron Gibbs for the other slot. The Southampton man, who started for Chelsea in their Champions League victory at the Allianz in 2012, edges it for me due to his consistent contributions in both penalty areas.

Sam Byram
A technically gifted young footballer, who predominantly operated as a right wing-back or defensive midfielder for his former club Leeds United, Sam Byram has yet to come of age in a West Ham shirt. When he’s not on the treatment table, he’s readily targeted by opposition defences and duly obliges with alarming regularity.

Ronald Koeman recently said Ross Barkley can no longer be considered ‘one for the future’, but must start justifying the media hype by delivering influential performances on a regular basis. Like Byram, the Everton man is 23. Good point, well made by the Toffees boss.

Reece Oxford
The most exciting Hammers prospect since the likes of Rio, Lampard and Joe Cole. When Oxford burst onto the scene with that performance at the Emirates, he displayed a sense of assuredness and physicality which belied his adolescence. If developed correctly, the potential is boundless. A recent contract stand-off did neither the player nor Club any favours. Currently on loan in the Championship – best thing for him. One for the future.

Mark Noble
The perpetual debate surrounding the inclusion of ‘Mr West Ham’ has lost momentum in recent months. Whilst the 2015/16 season was undeniably one of the Canning Town midfielder’s best to date – fuelled by our gut-wrenching departure from the Boleyn – this season his form has nosedived. The legs have gone; costly errors are commonplace and tangible output during games is negligible. His inclusion in the Hammers XI is becoming increasingly difficult to admonish.

Having captained England U21s, Nobes has failed to cut the mustard at senior level. Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse now faces a similar challenge, albeit that he doesn’t have the likes of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard to contend with. Having been continuously overlooked for more fashionable and technically gifted holding midfielders, any debate surrounding our number 16’s inclusion is not so much the elephant in the room as the horse that has long since bolted.

Michail Antonio
Another shrewd acquisition from the Championship; in today’s market, Antonio represents an absolute snip at £7m. He has all the attributes – pace, power, passion and productivity – and, at 26, the wing-forward’s best years are ahead of him. Consistently in our top 3 performers, the former Nottingham Forest man wears his heart on his sleeve, a quality which fits the Hammers’ faithful hand in glove.

Antonio offers a sustained physicality on the right-hand side which is absent amongst alternative options such as Walcott, Sterling or Townsend. His remarkable ability in the air would greatly add to the Three Lions’ weaponry. The case for Antonio’s inclusion is compelling.

Andy Carroll
England need a Plan B. Against Iceland, our ‘tippy tappy, round the backy’ idealisms were insufficient. The minnows blunted our attack leading to the knives being sharpened on Hodgson. Form and fitness aside, Kane, Vardy and Sturridge will pick themselves. But, with 85 minutes gone, even the most cultured teams ‘go long’ to force the issue. The Gateshead-born striker, unplayable on his day, will compete with the likes of Troy Deeney and Peter Crouch for the target man role. Carroll is head and shoulders above the competition. When fit, his inclusion is a no brainer.

Ashley Fletcher
Fletcher enjoyed an enterprising loan spell at Barnsley last season, scoring in the both the Football League Trophy final and the League 1 Play-Off Final. Having proved himself a man for the big occasion, the young striker appeared a good addition for the Hammers, providing pace, movement in the channels and strength-in-depth up top.

Opportunities have been limited thus far. A decent stint with a footballing side in the Championship – the likes of Fulham or Bristol City – would best serve his short-term development. There’s more to come from this lad.

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Talking Point

Do We Have The Right To Criticize?

“Blind Hammer Looks at some of the debates over criticism of Slaven Bilic.

After the disappointment of the Bournemouth defeat there were some heated debates on West Ham till I Die and other West Ham sites. We were all disappointed but there was some real discontent as to Bilic’s team selection and tactics. There was also some discontent from those who were unhappy with those criticising Bilic. Subsequent to the main draft of this post being written after the Bournemouth defeat Mark Noble added weight to this view by claiming that football supporters do not really know about football.

The criticism of Bilic has mainly focussed on his unbalancing of the team by taking some of our most effective players and consistently playing them out of position. Bilic seems to have a stubborn streak and seemed, for example, for an extraordinary extended time determined to persevere with Antonio at right back. This stubborn belief persisted all summer to such a degree that we did not recruit a class right back. The appalling Antonio defensive performances at the start of the season forced a panic last minute recruitment of Álvaro Arbeloa, a player already ,reported on Real Madrid blog posts as having “lost his legs” before he came to us.

Despite this Bilic continued to play Antonio at the back until, if we ,are to believe reports, Sullivan met with and read the riot act. Unfortunately Byram faced early injury, as did Arbeloa, though the latter has never seemed capable of playing at Premiership level on the few occasions we have observed him anyway.

Regrettably despite another transfer window passing the experiment of playing players out of position to try and fudge the issues at the right side of our defence continued. Now Cheikhou Kouyaté is the latest important performer who has been transformed into an ordinary if not mediocre right back. Håvard Nordtveit is another stand in make shift right back who also does not meet Premiership standards. All this is understandable in an injury crisis but for this situation to be allowed to persist over two transfer windows is little short of baffling.

I wrote last year how we could not seriously compete in the long term with a defence that concedes on average 2 goals a game. This season we have continued the malaise, conceding 58 goals in 30 league, league cup and FA Cup games. Such consistent defensive

weakness gives the rest of the team a mountain to climb most games. The priority for recruitment this summer is defence rather than attack.

I was amongst those who wrote an article last week fearing for the defensive fragility of our team because of this and other issues. The reluctance to make selection decisions based on merit also seems very strange. Nearly everybody who has seen Antonio agrees his most powerful performances have occurred been on the right side of an attack. He has rarely played there, being deployed either as a right back/wing back, on the left or as a first or second forward as in the game against Bournemouth. Lanzini seems most effective and able to dominate a game when he is played through the middle but is only sporadically played there, being shifted out wide to accommodate other midfield presences.

I received criticism for suggesting in my post last week that Bilic needed to grasp some selection nettles and in particular that Noble needs now to be dropped to the bench. According to the radio commentary of the Bournemouth game Noble, a fantastic servant at the club, was nevertheless lucky to stay on the pitch.

After the Bournemouth defeat those who have criticised team strategy have been ridiculed by some. The argument is that Bilic has more football knowledge, insight and skill in his little finger than in the whole bodies of any of the blogging “experts” who dare to criticise him. On one level this is incontestably true but in another way is completely wrong. The point is that none of us are claiming to be experts, certainly not me. The idea that a blind man has greater insight than Bilic into tactics is clearly laughable.

However this is very different from saying Bilic is therefore infallible and should be immune from the questioning and if necessary criticism of his decisions. Is there anybody who could seriously maintain that Bilic was correct all along with his Antonio experiments? Was Bilic correct all along about his assessment of Zazar? Can setting up a team which concedes 2 gtoals a game acceptable?

There are thousands of eyes and ears watching and listening to West Ham every week. Collectively we have a validity to query recruitment, selection and tactical decisions. The late Graham Taylor, who received his share of criticism in managerial roles, nevertheless never necessarily dismissed the validity of supporter analysis just because they were supporters and not football professionals. He would actively congratulate some supporters for their insights, memorably applauding a Noel Gallagher analysis of a Manchester City performance. Taylor would disagree with the ignorant view but recognise genuine insight.

Managers have to struggle against some limitations on their analysis. They can be too close to the action, sometimes literally so on the side-lines and struggle to see a broader picture. Emotion plays a part in all sport and dropping players who have served you loyally may be a real tricky issue to manage in the dressing room.

Collectively as supporters it is actually, in my opinion, our duty to provide the more distant judgemental assessment, more free from the emotional consequences of personal player relationships and loyalties. This can actually help Bilic in some of his more difficult decisions.

So yes I will continue to criticise and question Bilic’s decisions. Do I believe I know more than Bilic?-Absolutely not. Do I believe he should stay West Ham manager? Absolutely. Do I admire him for his conduct and apparent character? – Without doubt,

Yet it is a hard sport and I want him to account for his decisions. Why does he fail to play his 2 strongest midfield players in the centre? Why does he not play our best and strongest right sided forward on the right? Why is our most imaginative central midfield player able to create and influence games often stranded wide? Why does our left back not come under pressure for his place despite poor performances? Why do we not play our only fit right back at right back? Why do we have insufficient pace in the team, especially defensively? Why do we consistently get caught on the break? Why did a simple straight ball over the top of our central defenders by Bournemouth cause repeated and frantic defensive chaos?

Of course Bilic knows more than any one of us individually but it is essential for loyal supporters to highlight and pressurise on areas of weaknesses obvious even to a blind supporter rather than hide our heads under a pillow and pretend these issues do not exist.

David Griffith

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Tony Hanna's Musings

The Full Back Problem

The past few games have had their share of frustrations. Late goals conceded, being caught on the break, penalties conceded etc etc. The teams resurgence after the Payet saga that saw wins against Palace, Southampton and Boro has now diminished and we have now acquired just two points from the last four games. The winter break in Dubai might just have put the boys in holiday mood for the rest of the season? I made mention many moons ago in an article I wrote on the site about club managers and staff not seeing, or certainly not reacting to things that fans see quite plainly on the pitch that are going wrong. Perhaps I am deluded? Perhaps these highly paid professionals do know much better than us what is going on and we are just mere mortals that do not understand? But I am not going to insult anyone’s intelligence here; many of us have been watching football nearly all our lives. Some of us watched West Ham play before some of today’s players and managers were born. Fans, in general know football. Slaven might tell me otherwise? (ps; This article was written prior to Mark Noble’s comments, so perhaps he might tell me otherwise as well)?

So, when we have been saying for two seasons now that we need a right back, why has the club done next to nothing? Sam Byram was always going to be a gamble. Youngsters stepping up from the lower divisions always are. In fairness, Bilic had no intention of playing him as early as he did, against Man City last January, but needs must at the time. He was meant to be one of those “works in progress” and wasn’t even in the squad the day he made his debut. A late injury to James Tomkins got him onto the bench and then an injury to right back Carl Jenkinson in the 13th minute ensured he got an earlier than anticipated debut. Since then Bilic has used him sparingly when he has been fit. The Antonio project failed miserably and so far so has the ploy of playing one of our best midfielders there as well. What other club would play their leading goal scorer at right back? Perhaps in an injury crisis as an emergency, but for months on end when it clearly wasn’t working? So, the summer transfer window comes around and a club of our stature would move heaven and earth to get a right back in, right? Nope! Well, we sort of did in the signing of Arbeloa but he was last seen flying over the Bermuda Triangle! The same thing happened on the other side at the beginning of the season. We went into a full season with one recognised, experienced left back. The only reason we bought Masuaku at the last moment was because Cresswell got a bad injury, otherwise we would have started the season with one left back and no right back, if you discount experiments, an ageing loan and the kids. This is simply not good enough. To make matters worse the winter window arrives and goes and still no developments?

Shifting Kouyate back into the right back role has clearly taken the pressure off Bilic when it comes to determining the midfield set up. If we had a first class right back in place he would have some very difficult decisions to make should Kouyate be vying for one of those places? Whatever the lad might be saying to the media, I can’t imagine he is overjoyed at playing right back and I would not be surprised if he is not at the club come next season. Bilic has been playing a lot of square pegs in round holes for a while now and as I said earlier, us fans are no mugs. We can see things that aren’t working. We can see players when they are out of form, especially badly out of form. Which brings me to my next subject. A few weeks ago I wrote an article on what was our best midfield? Whilst the object was to gain readers opinions on the range of players available to choose from, it was thinly veiled to gauge what fans thought regarding Mark Noble’s place in the team? I will not be as subtle with my next subject – Aaron Cresswell. My personal view is that the player has had a very poor season to date. The inability to stop crosses coming in, the rearing away from any physical challenges and the strange positional play that continually drags Winston Reid out from a central position to cover for Cresswell who in turn runs back to move into the central void left by Reid? This is in no way meant to come across as a personal attack on Cresswell. It is just my view that he is badly out of form. That can happen to any player and when it does occur we should be in a position to act and replace him with a competent alternative for as long as needed.

The marauding runs and clever interplay with Payet are a distant memory. For what it’s worth I have never rated Cresswell as a good defender, but what he brought in an attacking sense was at times superb and very entertaining. However, the master of the whipped in outswinging cross has rarely been seen in recent months and the defensive side of his duties are now being laid to bare. With his cover Masuaku being injured himself for many months now, Creswell has had no competition for his place. Earlier in the season Masuaku did get his chance, but at West Brom he put in an awful performance, coming up with an extraordinary handball in our own area conceding a penalty. Whilst that does nothing for the confidence of the fans or the player himself, the majority of other games he has played he has looked quite an assured player who is very comfortable on the ball. However, his sending off this week in the PL2 match puts another question mark on his suitability. A lot of fans have questioned the form of both Ogbonna, before his season ending injury, and Fonte since his arrival from Southampton. In my view if these central defenders are being let down on the flanks they are not going to be seen anywhere near their best and blaming them may be premature?

Back in my days of playing, at one time we had a superb back four. Booth was a combative right back and decent on the ball, Johnson was a Collins type defender, Myers was our Bobby Moore – tactically excellent and a great reader of the game, and Brophy was a young but very good left back. They all worked well together in front of the best keeper in the district. Then one year Booth decided to quit the club for personal reasons and Brophy joined the Navy. We brought in two full backs that were not really up to the same standard but what was telling was the drop off in play of both our centre backs, Johnson and Myers. From nowhere they were making mistakes and getting pulled ragged at times. The moral of the story is that two very decent centre backs who had always been solid were now a mess playing with two fullbacks that were not quite up to scratch. Ironically, one of the fullbacks really improved when we played him in midfield! I think you can draw your own conclusions from my little story when you relate it to West Ham?

So, no need to hit the panic button just yet, but Bilic must stop playing players that are out of form providing he has decent cover for them, and he must put a squad together next season where every position has a round peg in a round hole and has sufficient cover. At this point in time that means acquiring a proper right back and cover for him should Bilic have no intention of playing Byram if injuries demand. It also means getting a decent left back if Bilic is convinced Masuaku is not good enough. If that is the case get rid. If he does think he is good enough he should be playing him now, if only to refresh Cresswell and send the appropriate message that he needs to get his act together. It also means spending the large part of the kitty on a striker and letting either Carroll or Sakho go. I would love to keep both but history shows that their combined injury records makes that too huge a risk and I doubt both would stay if we got a new first class striker in anyway?

The upcoming Leicester game is another one where I feel the team need to respond and get out of the blocks right from the start to get the crowd behind them. We appear to be starting games very slowly and especially at home we seem determined to play it very tight from the start. This is statistically backed up as we are the worst team in the PL for leading at home half time stats – only once in 14 matches! To counter that, Leicester have been losing a staggering four more matches away from home at half time than any other PL club, trailing in 10 of their 13 away matches at the break. Thoughts?

A few weeks ago I wrote that I would be doing a Q&A with former Hammer Eddie Bovington. Unfortunately Ed has been unwell recently and that is why he hasn’t been able to participate. I am pleased to say that Eddie is now well on the mend and the Q&A has been conducted. It will be published during the two week break after the Leicester game.

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