Talking Point

A Home Half Full

Guest Post by Paul Hickin

My wife and I moved into our new home in November. It’s a four bedroom house after having lived in a flat for the past eight years. It was inevitable, really. We wanted a bigger place so we could grow and start a family, but as a result compromises had to be made. The bigger place has its flaws and just isn’t how we like it yet. After all, the old flat was ‘home’. What it lacked in size it made up for in intimacy and character. I can remember that first night we got the keys to our new abode: the musty smoked-stained walls in the living room, an old fashioned ugly wall unit and the large empty space created its own eerie silence. My wife said we had made a mistake and was crestfallen. I wasn’t sure what to say or how to respond as I wasn’t sold either. But, ever the optimist, I said once we get our furniture in there, change the décor and start living in the place we would come to love it as our new home. After several months now I can smugly (or rather with relief) say “I told you so” as we both feel comfortable and happy even though there is part of both of us that still misses our previous gaff.

There are certainly some obvious parallels with our team’s recent relocation. And as an optimist I do feel it is slowly becoming our home. Yes it is lacking soul and there is a longer way to go in this process than my quasi-parable suggests. But the older you get the more you look backwards than forwards, distilling the good times in a glass half full, with the nostalgia slowly becoming the tie that binds. I am certainly guilty of it to some extent. My music taste has little evolved from my teens and twenties and now I listen to what are classics than embrace progress or modernity. Book snobbery stems from being stuck in the mindset of “the old ones are the best”. But we will make new memories here. We will have special times, hopefully and probably more special. And it will allow us to grow the West Ham Family. Maybe we should have cremated Upton Park so we could grieve properly and move on rather than still have that wonderful last game against Man Utd seared into our memories. Scratch that, I never want to forget that evening, but you get the gist. Yes I like seeing bands in small music venues like Camden Underworld rather than Wembley Stadium but I am happy if the band makes it a success even if it’s to the detriment of my own viewing pleasure, lost and detached in the bigger arena. Then again, I’m sure Barcelona fans weren’t moaning at the view and lack of character as they unfairly but dramatically came back from the dead the other night.

Like the West Ham fans next to me who shout “get rid of it” when our defence starts to dilly-dally (aka attempt to play it out) and were the same ones telling Big Sam “we play on the floor”, there is a tension between the desire for success and the importance to hold on to what West Ham means and stands for. The stadium represents that dilemma in microcosm, or indeed, macrocosm. It could be said that success is transient and not our raison d’etre but it could also be said that identity is not fixed and evolves over time. It’s only the narrative we tell ourselves that allows it to have any sort of meaning. Time for us to a create a new story at the London Stadium and it is in our hands.

Talking Point

Playing The West Ham Way

Guest Post by Dawud Marsh

This is my first post, I am not used to writing much about anything and certainly don’t feel confident to talk with any authority on football. I love my football, I love West Ham but I am just some regular reader who wanted to post an article in the hope it may encourage more of us to do the same. Many of us have opinions and often the short (or longer comments and posts) don’t do those opinions justice. My grammar is wonky, my spelling is awful and my argument a little confused, but I would want to know what others think. That’s why I posted.

A lot has been said about our recent performance the London Stadium and I don’t want to repeat much of that analysis, but instead I would like to highlight what for me, has been a key feature of our play at home for the last few seasons.

Last season was exhilarating, for a number of different reasons, but even despite some outstanding results and performances, not least the stunning victory against Man U in our final game at the Boleyn, I still found similarities with other seasons in terms of our on field play, a lot of which centre on the decision making of players and what I believe to be a break down in the team’s ability to follow through with match day tactics from the manager.

It seems that irrespective of who our manager is, there are some key features to our play that for me, have become the West Ham Way of playing football, particularly at home. Bilic, Sam and previous managers seem to have replicated these features despite any changes in personnel on and off the pitch during their tenures.

For sure, the scoreline at home to Chelsea flattered us, Chelsea rarely moved out of second gear and with a couple more key errors they could have punished us further. Our last gasp goal reflected Chelsea’s lack of concentration in a match where they were rarely troubled. Previously, draws against Watford, WBA have seen us suffer from not taking advantage of, nor creating, chances in front of goal. Then results against Man City – both at the London Stadium – showed us the gulf between the two teams and we were lucky not to have conceded more goals!

But, the Bournemouth match and that against Chelsea are purposeful reminders of the glaring issues I want to highlight here. Issues that baffle if not for the fact we can all seem them so clearly, but why it has become such a key feature to our play over the last few seasons and beyond.

On Monday and Saturday Bilic set the team up to play in a certain way, with Carroll up front we need Cresswell out on the wing, ready to receive the ball and drive forward to whip a ball into the box. With Carroll making a run few defenders will be able to stop him if his times the run right and heads a ball with pace into the net. The problem of course was that Cresswell played his part against Chelsea, kicking up the chalk on the wing, but as on Saturday with Lanzini out wide there is no wide pass. Instead he cuts inside and goes for short and possession is lost. Here we find Lanzini with the option for a wide pass – Cresswell, Antonio and Koyuate with the space to make a run and create play forward, keeps his head down and tries to take on one, two maybe more players and find another short pass inside. Antonio can be guilty of this too.

You’re not going to dribble through many defences and with players committed forward and some of those wide, once the ball is lost, the pace of players like Hazard will punish you. We don’t have the pace in the side to get back and make a telling interception or tackle to break up a counter attack. And how easy are we to be peeled open on the counter attack?

Players out wide, wasted, creative players tracking inside and looking for the short pass also is a waste with Carroll in the team. This happens time and again, week in week out. I was wondering if Cresswell has upset his team mates – why didn’t they look up, see him wide and either pass the ball out wide or even switch the play? With Koyate able to run wide or Feghouli able to make runs forward why not use the wide pass more? Lanzini plays better centrally but opts for the inside and tries to take on players rather than whip it out wide and make a run into the box.

And this brings me to my other feature of our game – players not looking up, keeping their head down or seeing only who is directly in front of them. Noble’s pass that lead to Hazard’s goal has been thoroughly analysed but I would argue this is part of our game. Surely, Bilic didn’t set up the team with wide options and then tell his team to pass short and inside? Short passes that lose possession such as Ayews pass that lead to King’s hat trick another telling example. The players themselves are making in game decisions that are costly, either by losing possession with the opposition counter attacking or wasting the chance to create a goal scoring opportunity.

The defenders and midfielders are not using their wide players and throughout the team there is a style of play where a short pass – often sideways or back, placing the receiving player under pressure, is used instead of a wide or forward pass. Time on the ball invites pressure and the short pass becomes the norm, rather than a quick touch a pass out wide.

But to create forward play you need players to use the space in front of them, or create space with a forward run. Here is the next issue that seems to be a key feature of our play. How many times do we see space in front of players wasted because they do not make the run, giving their team mate an option to pass forward? One of the things about Match of the Day that I like is how pundits analyse play and with a simple graphic, highlight what a player should have done. Arsenals woeful performance against Liverpool was highlighted in this way and we could easily do this with our performances. I am sure that Bilic does not tell his players to stand and wait for a pass, surely they are told to use the space in front of them? Looking over the video of the previous match will highlight this and I wonder why our players are so static. Even once the ball is crossed in for Carroll, who is anticipating he will win it and make space for a knock down or pass? It often seems as if our players are watching the game unfold rather than making it happen.

A classic example of this are throw ins, in an advanced position they can be an advantage, but if you have no one to throw the ball to because players are either too far away or not making a run into space then we get a defensive throw back towards our half. I saw this several times against Chelsea – with six black shirts to our two or three shirts in an advanced position in Chelsea’s half. Against Bournemouth there were often more red/ black shirts and we often appear to be a man light. Needless to say, the possession is lost and Bournemouth were able to make a counter attacking play.

My final point follows on from this where players are happy to be man marked when in possession but do not mark opposition players when they have the ball. We see this particularly in midfield but also when teams send a player out wide we remain narrow, then chase and instead of making a tackle, back track allowing the opposition to advance into the area or wide of the box and make a telling pass.

Defensively against Bournemouth we allowed their players time on the ball, tracking away from the play allowing a cross or telling pass into the box and an unmarked player able to make a shot on goal or a short pass to a free player – inside the box? Come on! Where were the defence? Why is no one going to the player, putting him under pressure along the by-line, forcing a quick pass or even making a tackle and breaking up the play? This happened repeatedly on Saturday and weekly at home.

Little use of wide players, no forward running into space, static players who wait for the ball, no movement for throw ins and no marking or pressing of players when out of possession. I have seen this week in and week out, regardless of the manager and I do not know about anyone else, but surely these are basics and I can’t understand why our professional players are unable to address these? I place responsibility on the players but I find it hard to believe that Bilic, or any manager, would set up a team with wide players and tell his midfield not to pass to them. Would a manager say, ‘Don’t make a run into space, wait for the ball to come to you.’

The issue is possibly that players make the wrong decisions in play, with the pressure and pace of the game, and they are unable to follow the tactics to the letter. Or the manager tells the team to play that way. But we need to change this way of playing or as we saw against Chelsea, Bournemouth and other teams this season, we will get punished time and again.

But finally, and I am sure this will be debated endlessly this season – the need for the manager to make changes, either who starts and plays where, but tactics in game. Once Lanzini was central, we had more width. With Ayew on we had more forward running and options for the midfield. As for the right back position – I’ll leave that for other threads.

I guess I am saying the issue is the real time, in play decisions that players make are costing us, but finally I do acknowledge the role that Bilic plays in how the team is set up and the tactics used. I do wonder whether these tactics are not getting through to players because surely they cannot be told to play this way, can they? But they are, week in week out, season after season.

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The HamburgHammer Column

Bad on the break, bold in the face of adversity and bathwater

This has been a tough weekend in terms of watching football for me personally. It was also tough to read some post match reactions some of which went well over the top in my view. Like most if not all West Ham fans I have been frustrated with that Bournemouth defeat. This game has instantly turned into a pub quiz question for all eternity as the hosts failed to convert two penalties in one half against West Ham, but still did enough to win the game. These days you merely need to hit West Ham on the counter a few times, chances are that two or three counters will be enough to get the job done.

That needs to be addressed urgently, same as the overall defensive performance as we are shipping goals at the back like there was a competition going gifting a free holiday on Bora Bora to the most casual back four in the league. That is the job of the manager, especially if he used to be a defender himself. Bilic needs to sort this out and I am confident he will do just that. But to call him incompetent now or not up to the job is ridiculous. I have mentioned before how he has his flaws and isn’t the finished article yet.

Sit down though for a minute and consider the quite unique and incredibly daunting circumstances this season, the move to the new stadium with all the surrounding headlines, violent clashes between fans and fans, fans and stewards, not to forget the shenanigans of the remountable seating, the standing up/sitting down debate plus the fact of course it’s unfamiliar surroundings and a new pitch for the players and the manager too. Then add the Payet saga, resulting in the technically most gifted star player being removed from the equation.
Mix in constant injuries to various players and you have a recipe for a disastrous season. Do we actually have a home advantage this season? In your dreams…

That we are still midtable at this stage of the season is a minor miracle in my view and to tell you the truth, I believe that we can and should thank Bilic for keeping things together behind the scenes and taking all that crap on the chin while carrying on with things. We can all discuss what WE might do differently, who WE would play, in what position, who WE would make skipper and so on.
Getting rid of Bilic though at the end of the season,especially this one, would be very much throwing the baby out with the bathwater in my view.

And who would we bring in as manager next who is better than Bilic, willing to work with a modest transfer kitty and willing to work under our current owners?

Take the RB spot. Yes, I want one too. One who can play there week in and week out. A proper RB, not a makeshift one who is actually a winger or holding midfielder.
We have Arbeloa, but he apparently fell out with Bilic over something and as for Byram maybe Bilic thought he was further along in his development as he actually is.
Let’s not forget that Byram is still pretty young at 23, so he has plenty to learn. As he is still the best we have right now, I would throw him in and start him at RB for the rest of the season.

In the summer we can bring in one or even two guys, ideally an experienced one like Zabaleta and a young prospect like Kevin Malcuit. With Byram (who might go out on loan) we’d have three RBs, but frankly after the nightmarish RB situation we’ve been enduring for so long I’d rather have another RB or two in the squad just to make sure we never fall short again at the position.

The secret of success at the back is consistency. The most successful teams play the same back four for the vast majority of games and this is what we need to try and achieve eventually, if not this season than surely after the summer.

I have to admit I was wincing in pain when I saw Snodgrass rolling over on his ankle. Thankfully he was able to carry on shortly after. When I was younger, playing baseball for a local team, I did just the same in winter training one day, twisting my ankle while stepping onto the edge of the gym mat. I clearly remember the pain, the feeling of wanting to be sick right there and then plus the fact I couldn’t put weight on the foot for two or three months. Knowing West Ham’s luck I feared the worst for Snodgrass, same as when Antonio fell awkwardly on his shoulder. Alas, in both cases we seem to have had a lucky escape there.

Coming back to Bilic I can understand that all eyes will be on him for the rest of the season now as people won’t be happy with him signing a contract extension if we see more performances like the Bournemouth one. I agree he has to deliver and get more out of these players now and if unpopular decisions have to be made, then so be it.

It’s not up to me to make those choices and I don’t envy Bilic, but I still think Slav deserves credit for the way he has handled this clusterBEEP of a season so far.

I’ve alluded to the various challenges Bilic had to deal with and I reckon most managers would have struggled mightily under the circumstances. A certain Mr.Allardyce managed to survive FIVE years at West Ham. And some fans are losing patience with Bilic after not even two ???
Do we want a new manager now everytime we hit a bit of a slump ? I seem to remember West Ham used to be a club that didn’t sack their managers, indeed we haven’t had very many over the course of our history.

I like that approach of longevity, giving a manager time to instill his philosophy, build a team around a spine of players and not having to look over his shoulder every time his team hit a bump in the road. To be fair, in this day and age managers of course need to be prepared for the sack much more readily than in the past whatwith the money now involved, the constant social media and press coverage and the expectancy of fans wanting more of everything quicker.

Things in football aren’t as easy as us fans sometimes seem to think. I for one will be patient and hope Bilic stays for a long time as I believe we will reap the benefits long term if we give the man our continued support.

At the same time Bilic needs to find several solutions for various issues on the pitch And later in the summer we need to strengthen the squad significantly and I hope and pray that the board and Bilic will work hand in hand to make the next transfer window a successful one.

As for Concordia there’s not much to cheer about anymore either. Yesterday yet another game was lost, 1:2 at home in the East Hamburg derby against Condor.
The lads scored an own goal after five minutes and missed three or four sitters at the other end.

The Cordi Boys have lost 4 out of 5 after the winter break, are six points behind the league leaders and can pretty much kiss goodbye to any realistic hopes of achieving promotion now, although chances were always slim anyway in terms of finding a sufficient number of sponsors, securing the kind of money needed to play in the Regionalliga and of course groundsharing a suitable stadium meeting the criteria of the 4th level of German football.

As with West Ham it is hard for me to put the finger on what went wrong exactly, in the first half of the season Concordia couldn’t stop scoring, now they can’t hit a barn door from five yards out. But what can a football fan do other than simply watch the next game and hope for a better result ? Which is exactly what I’m striving to do…COYI!

If you haven’t done so already please spare a minute to take the London Stadium survey HERE

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The London Stadium Survey

West Ham co chairman David Gold said last Wednesday…

“I think the majority of fans are happy with the Stadium given the alternatives and if all goes to plan it will be the biggest in London. dg”

On the back on Mr Gold’s statement, Claret and Hugh ran a poll to ask West Ham supporters the very simple question. Are you happy with the London Stadium? With 1,500 voting to make it statistically significant. 56% agreed with the chairman to confirm they were happy with the London Stadium leaving 44% to register their unhappiness.

This prompted Iain and myself to discuss a wide ranging questionnaire on the London Stadium from a supporter’s perspective after 221 days or 31 weeks after we officially played our first game at the former Olympic Stadium last summer.

This is not designed to an anti-board or even a pro-stadium survey, there is no hidden agenda. It is merely a survey to highlight West Ham fans perception of the new stadium and what areas might still need improvement. The full results will be shared with the West Ham board for their consideration.

Please only fill out the survey if you have visited the London Stadium in person to sample one or more of the 19 competitive games and/or the one friendly which have been played at our new home since the 4th August last year. Please base your answers on your most recent visit to the stadium to recognise areas which may have been a problem at the beginning but have since improved.

The aims of this questionnaire is also supported by the West Ham United Independent Supporters’ Association (WHUISA) and they have kindly agreed to send it out to their six hundred plus paid up members. You can find out more about WHUISA and how to join here"

We would like to encourage as many season ticket holders, claret members and general admission ticket supporters to answer this questionnaire as possible so please spread the word far and wide on forums and social media. This is designed to be an independent survey of supporters and not affiliated one particular West Ham site, blog or social media channel.

Take the survey HERE

Sean & Iain

Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

We got our just deserts... Cherries

What a frustrating end to the match. Of course, the defeat is the main thing that we are upset about, but it is the manner in which it came, with Lady Luck teasing us along the way. For instance, I (like many others, no doubt) kept questioning myself as to whether we were going to win or lose this match. The number of changing outcomes (missed penalties, unexpected goals etc) within the match had me frazzled throughout. There were just 48 seconds between Bournemouth’s first missed penalty and West Ham’s opening goal. As it so happens, I briefly spoke to a friend online about the match as it progressed saying we deserved to lose when 2-1 down. So when we equalised, I said I didn’t expect the scoreline to change and was quite happy with the point. Then came my cathartic moment when King wrapped up all three points for the Cherries. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: being a West Ham supporter can’t be good for your health. That is, even excluding Pie and Mash.

How Bournemouth won, in spite of missing two penalties, is beyond me. Bournemouth are the first side to miss two penalties in the first half of a PL game since Aston Villa vs. Wimbledon in September 1998. With our long and proud history dating back to 1895, I can’t imagine that we have lost too many matches in which the opposition have missed more than one penalty in regulation time – answers on a postcard. Fortunately, there is another 1895 creation that we can always depend on when we’re down in the dumps – brunch.

During that time period, post-church meals on Sundays were highly sought-after. But for those nursing a hangover from the previous night’s partying and debauchery, the food on offer wasn’t particularly appetising. This is when a guy by the name of… well, Guy, penned a proposal about a meal that combined both breakfast and lunch – brunch. In it, he advocated a dining option that was lighter than the typical heavy meats and savoury pies typically consumed in place of a variety of pastries and other assorted starch-based foodstuffs. Rather unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for brunch to catch on.

I don’t think I’ve been this riled up watching a match in months. No doubt there were many Hammers drinking away late into the night drowning their sorrows. I think that we can all agree that 1895 was a memorable year for the two aforementioned reasons. Brunch has allowed us to be able to forget about matches that didn’t have a positive outcome. It is manna from the Gods that keeps us going. At the end of the day, it is worth keeping in mind that both creations go hand in hand in providing us warmth and that we should always support the team, much like the away fans did so at Dean Court. Oh, and if you’re opting for pancakes as part of your brunch today, do away with the Cherries. Also, during brunch, the churchgoers spoke about their wild and wacky Saturdays for a great deal of time (in other words, commence the commenting – haha).

Something that I take issue with Bilic is the amount of cronyism in our squad. The most pertinent example I can find is the gaffer backing Noble commenting: “Mark is our captain, he is our skipper and he has done really well recently”. Well, Slav is right about the first two points; not so sure on the latter. Obviously, whether one thinks he is good or not to play is subjective. But for a manager to back his skipper is ridiculous. Bilic and Noble get on very well. There is no need for the manager to create a public debacle where none exists. We only have to read the team sheet and watch the match to know what Slaven really thinks of him. For instance, Noble started in our previous two matches, but was also subbed off in both as well. That informs us that he is quite a valued member.

Cresswell is another player who has not been at the races recently, yet has kept his position in the starting XI. How Masuaku hasn’t been given a chance is beyond me. Just because he is a new signing this season doesn’t mean that he is only there as an injury back-up. As a matter of fact, I’m not so sure how much influence other staff members have on squad selection, but I feel that it is a possible reason why more or less the same players appear. This again is yet another possible form of cronyism. It was blatantly obvious with Big Sam and Kevin Nolan. It is now becoming quite clear between Bilic and Noble. His insistence on playing Lanzini wide and Kouyaté aren’t helping his cause either. On top of that, Ayew scored and Byram assisted having come off the bench – players that really ought to be starting.

That leads me nicely onto my next point. Whilst I didn’t want to have to talk about the manager this much, I feel like I have no choice but to continue. Bilic’s tactical nous, of late, has been atrocious. There is a reason why we have failed to win recently and I feel it bogs down to this. We have dropped 17 points from winning positions this season. Our defence was all over the place. It astounds me just how poorly we are playing with penalties being conceded left, right, and centre. But that isn’t even the main concern. Players are being left unmarked from set-pieces (Obiang with the second goal) with half-hearted defending at times (Fonte against King). In defence, we aren’t playing with a lot of confidence. It is genuinely worrying, as it is reminiscent of the early part of this season. Additionally, Carroll could do with a striking partner (preferably Ayew).

We have failed to get a win from our last four matches. This is a real cause for concern, as three of our next five opponents are in the bottom half. This has huge significance as we have only managed to beat one top half team in the Premier League this season – that was Southampton. Our next few matches against Leicester, Hull and Swansea could have big repercussions, given that we aren’t too far off from the relegation zone ourselves. At the moment, we are on track to get 45 points. You don’t need to be Sam Allardyce to know that is quite close to the drop with many matches to go. It is very probable that at least one of the aforementioned teams will get relegated.

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