Tony Hanna's Musings

Can we have our ball back please? - and Quicker!

Well I think that was actually a harder watch than the West Brom game? At least at the Baggies we took control of the game and our passing was pretty good. The direness of that game was manifested by the spoiling tactics of the opposition and our inability to break them down. The game against Swansea was a home match where again the away team looked in control of the ball but, like us at West Brom, never really looked like breaking the home team down? If you are on the side of the argument wanting Slav gone then the ammunition has been resupplied with another display of misplaced passes, a lack of cohesion and a team put out that hardly seemed to know each other. If you are in the camp wanting Slav to stay for at least the rest of the season then you can point to three points and another clean sheet with the hope that a now fit again Lanzini will make a big difference? I must say though, if Sakho had not scored that winner at the end, after that performance I would have been surprised if our owners had not called time on Slaven Bilic’s reign. That very thing was going through my mind for most of the second half until the goal. I doubt a draw alone would have tipped the scales for the owners to push the button on Slav’s time but the amount of booing probably would have, together with the very audible dissatisfaction from the crowd. There would have been plenty more boos had it finished 0-0 and for me, hypothetically, it could have been the last straw.

As for the booing I can put my hands up and say I have never booed a West Ham team in my life. Never have and never will. If others want to that is their business. However, for Slav to get booed for taking Chico off was an overstretch. Chico had a very poor game despite being played in a two up top with Carroll, a position many have been crying out for Slav to play. His contribution was average at best and if his running to press defenders matched his arm movement in gestures we all might be in a better place. Slav was right to sub him and Sakho duly proved him right.

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One of the current problems is that although I feel we do have a really decent squad of players the team has just not gelled. Whilst we should be happy that all our forwards are fit and healthy does Slav really know what ones to play and in what formation? Does he really know how he is going to play Lanzini now fit? Will he drop the captain? What does he do with Masuaku now he has shown he deserves another chance? I just get the feeling that once the glue is set and our manager finds the right combinations this side is capable of much greater than what we are seeing now. Will that manager be Slav though? For too long now there have been huge gaps between the players, width wise and between the front and the back. It is no wonder we are being forced to play the long ball so often. There is little compression on the pitch which makes it impossible to keep possession for too long and impossible for the players to press and hunt in packs when the opposition has the ball. It is no wonder there is little cohesion in our play.

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I have long been a fan of Masuaku. My very amicable run ins with Dan Coker on the subject, who is a man I rarely disagree with, are legendary in our own lunch boxes! Dan is a Cresswell fan but for me whilst I agree that he may be a better defender, especially in a back four, Masuaku offers a deal more on the ball and going forward as a wing back. Could it even be that Masuaku be given a chance in front of Cresswell in a 4-4-2 formation? That would mean dropping Arnautovic and would Slav do that? Or could it be that Slav has earmarked the left side of a 4-4-2 for Lanzini? After all, he played Payet there. In my opinion I think Lanzini should play centrally in a 3-5-2 for the majority of this season if he stays fit. That would then ask the question of how do you fit Zabaleta and Antonio into the same side? However, it is all very complicated and we will all have our own opinions on player combinations and formations. Perhaps another plethora of injuries will make the decisions a lot easier but I am sure none of us want that! Talking of injuries and this was the second game running where Antonio has played but was clearly not running freely? We have already seen James Collins kept on at West Brom for the start of the second half when clearly struggling before the break with an injury. From my observations I am sure Andy Carroll was not right in the Huddersfield game as well. My understanding is that he had to pass a fitness test prior to that game? I am not sure who is making the final call on these players taking the field but when we have the competition for places we have at present it makes little sense risking further injury to players whose impacts on the game are clearly being harnessed by carrying injuries?

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Finally, one thing that does pain me watching West Ham play at our new stadium is the lack of ball boys and their positioning. Watching the games from home I have time to go make a cuppa when the ball goes out of play for a throw. When the first ball went out of play against Swansea the nearest player went to fetch the ball himself for around a twenty yard round trip as it was going to be quicker than waiting for the ball boy. Why are there so few of them? Why are they sitting down? Why are they sitting down so far away from the pitch? Why do some of them look far from being athletic types that can actually speed the retrieval up? Answers on a post card please!

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The HamburgHammer Column

You know when you've been Sakho'd - Diafra throws Slav a lifeline

What a bloody relief! Saturday’s game was not a game that will be kept in your private collection and which you will watch with your grandchildren talking about the good old days. It was a cagey affair pretty much from start to finish and it was easy to see how Swansea up to that point had not conceded an away goal all season.
Spurs failed to score against them and that should stop any serious bouts of moaning on our part.

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Yes, it was painful to watch, especially the first half. Yes, I would like to see a bit more running, pressing the opposition more often and earlier and a bit more creativity as well.
I would obviously love to see us dispatch opponents like Swansea in more comfortable fashion, beating them to the tune of a 3:0 or 4:1, but that would only happen if a) we were playing with more confidence and generally more skill and panache all over the pitch and b) if Swansea made loads of mistakes. They didn’t. They were very very solid and extremly hard to break down.

Special kudos therefore has to go out once more to Slaven Bilic. Once again he didn’t care about the crowd booing his substitutions. But just like against Huddersfield the subs were spot on actually, Masuaku and Sakho working in perfect harmony, combining masterfully, creating the kind of goal which is worth winning any contest, even a frustratingly cagey/boring one such as this.
Thousands of “fans” who left the premises early missed the goal of course but probably beat the traffic into the bargain, but at the end of the day we beat a well drilled and disciplined side to get a much needed win and give Bilic some very welcome breathing space.

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It can’t be easy hearing a new likely replacement manager’s name every week, sometimes seeeing even several flavours of the week getting leaked on selected social media platforms and blogs – and still trying to do your best managing the team, with your contract running out at the end of the season.
I understand that Bilic gets criticised by the fans, he ain’t immune to that and he shouldn’t be. At this point he isn’t getting the best out of his players and performances together with results need to improve, granted.

However, let us please not forget that he more likely than not firmly expected Carvalho to arrive from Sporting. I have no doubt that the player would have turned out to be the missing piece of the jigsaw for us, a guy solidly linking defense and attack, making both better at the same time. If you believe that money has been stashed away in our transfer funds for January or next summer and that a new manager coming in would be able to spend even 50 or 60 million (net spend), think again!

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Our board are mediocre, spending mediocre amounts of money and we shouldn’t be surprised at all if another 11th or 10th placed league finish is pretty much our ceiling again this season. If you reckon there is a manager out there who can get our squad to finish in 7th place or higher, with the same players, and who would be willing to sign for us, working under Gold&Sullivan and a restrained budget, fair enough!
I’d like to hear his name and wish our board good luck with the interview, trying to sell the next level dream to another poor sod willing to fall for it.

It was interesting to read about American Albert “Tripp” Smith buying the remaining 10% of the West Ham shares from the Icelandics. Apparently the director of private equity giants Blackstone bought them shares purely as a private investment rather than as a getting the foot in the door tactic instigated by Blackstone, but it is still interesting insofar as apparently Sullivan would have liked to buy those shares from the Icelandics himself, yet the sellers thought otherwise.

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Apparently Tripp Smith just likes football/soccer/West Ham and maybe he is indeed merely after a personal financial roll of the dice with a bit of a kick to it, pardon the pun!
But let’s wait and see if Blackstone will remain on the outside looking in for long or if there is maybe a bit more to it all.
Blackstone, if they were to come in at some point in future, don’t sound like a long term plan either of course.
They tend to buy or invest in companies, streamline their operations, make them successful businesses in the marketplace and sell them on at a profit.
Maybe though they could bring the kind of financial muscle to help with the purchase of the Olympic Stadium a few years down the road, who knows ?
Surely West Ham owning the OS, knocking on the door of Champions League football would fetch a better selling price than West Ham renting the OS finishing in 11th place.

Initially I smirked when reading the nickname of the guy, “Tripp”. It’s a rather unfortunate moniker, innit ? It reminded me of the “Only Fools And Horses” pilot episode in which Rodney was nervously asking Del Boy in the pub if Trigger was named such because he was carrying a gun. Luckily enough it was just down to him looking like a horse after all…maybe it’s the same with Tripp…;-))

I’d feel slightly more at ease if that geezer (who is now also a new director at West Ham) was nicknamed “Smithy” or “Berty”, but “Tripp” it is and I hope his investment will turn out to be a decent trip(p) for everyone bleeding claret and blue.

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This season for me already feels like a done deal. Another midtable finish with a few highs and plenty more lows and hiccups along the way. Bilic will be allowed to run down his contract while every two weeks we will read on certain blogs that there are another two or three must win games coming up for Bilic to save his job (until the end of the season). I see no realistic chance really for Bilic to earn himself another deal unfortunately. We will then eventually stumble upon another guy, who will get lured to the club with the promise of playing home games in a 66K seater stadium, complete with stellar marquee signings and subsequent next level progression, more likely though ending up having to make ends meet with a transfer kitty that would make Watford blush with shame.

We will start a new circle, with the new guy leaving or running down his contract as well after two or three seasons. I’ve said it before: There is no long term strategy or discernible plan at West Ham. We are treading water and the board are happy with that as long as we stay on the Premier League gravy train and as long as there is a manager in office who can be thrown under the bus at will, thereby conveniently diverting any potential blame and anger away from the board to the poor sod in the dugout.
It is what it is of course. Listen to Bubbles and the words of our anthem don’t exactly scream “NEXT LEVEL! CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FOOTBALL!” at you, do they ?

On a local level, Sunday was not much to write home about either, with a much worse result though. A devastating, lackluster and gutless surrender from the Cordi boys away to Rugenbergen. 1:5 is a scoreline that simply should not happen, even on a bad day in this league. The game was being played on a turnip field disguised as a football pitch, including flattened molehills and small holes that were littered all over the patch, sorry, pitch. I know, the opposition had to play on the exact same surface, but as the home team surely they were very much used to the lay of the land in contrast to Concordia.

Our goalkeeper tried to clear a dangerous backpass into touch, one minute before halftime, but unfortunately a deflection from one of the turnips resulted in the ball going into his own net. It was symptomatic of the kind of game that was about to unfold in the second half. Well, you win some, you lose some, but my team looked lost and disinterested out there, not good.

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Luckily Concordia don’t have long to wait to redeem themselves as there is a cup game tomorrow afternoon, at home to Victoria Hamburg as it’s a bank holiday (Day of German Unity). For West Ham we need to endure another international break yet again before we head off to Turf Moor, hopefully putting in a better performance oop north to claim all three points. It only takes another one or two wins now to put us right back on track. I hope we see Hernandez and Sakho starting that game, with Carroll to come on, causing some havoc among the Burnley defense for the final 30 minutes. Bilic of course may see things differently.

But it’s still Super Slav for me and I wish the man nothing but the best. Hopefully the players give us a performance against Burnley to make the manager smile and the fans proud, wherever they may be. COYI!!!

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Dawud Marsh's Photo Diary

Sakho Saves Bilic's Blushes in Last Gasp Winner


David Hautzig's Match Report

West Ham 1, Swansea 0. Late Relief To Calm The Storm.

When Carlo Ancellotti was sacked by Bayern Munich the other day, my heart skipped a beat. I recalled the time when it was reported, or maybe manipulatively leaked, that Karen Brady was after the Italian a few years back. Every sense of logic and common sense told me that replacing Bilic with Ancellotti was an absurd pipe dream of the highest order. But I decided to ask a friend of mine who knows the former Milan, Madrid, Chelsea, and now Bayern manager if there was any reason for me to fantasize.

No was the pretty succinct answer.

I made my feelings about Slaven Bilic known after the Newcastle match. While many agreed with me, and with Sean Whetstone in his rather controversial piece the other day, there were those that expressed….displeasure, shall we say….with both of us. Sean took far heavier punches than I did, I must admit. Just imagine if Nigel Kahn had let either of us feel his wrath!

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There was a healthy dose of irony in the starting eleven to me. When we were chasing Andy Carroll after his loan spell, I remember the almost minute by minute updates on Twitter. I genuinely believed signing him would virtually guarantee we wouldn’t ever have to look over our shoulders. Once that bubble burst from his almost comical injury list, I always thought his return to the lineup would be the panacea to all that ailed us. That has all changed. So when the original projected lineup today did not include him, I was pleased. Then Arnautovic caught my son’s ear infection or what have you, and there he was. Number Nine. And my spirits dropped. Which may be unfair, but that’s how I felt. Then there was a clamor that Bilic was going to set us up 4-4-2, but I wasn’t so sure. When things seem obvious for us, it never happens. Today didn’t go according to plan, but at least it ended well.

West Ham asked the first question in the fourth minute when Cresswell sent a cross into the box. Antonio met the delivery near the far post and slammed a volley into the ground. It bounced high and towards the far post, forcing Fabianski into a diving save with his right hand.

The next ten minutes were a little worrying in that Swansea had more of the possession by some margin, and when the home side did get the ball they either ran wildly with it, eventually losing it, or sent a pass to nobody. It culminated in the 15th minute when Bony received the ball just on top of the West Ham 18 yard box. Fonte and Reid backed off, and Bony let it go. Hart made a diving save, and the contest thankfully stayed at nil-nil.

By the time we hit the halfway mark of the first half, the crowd at The London Stadium sounded restless. With good reason I might add. Swansea had enjoyed 70% of the possession, and West Ham looked rather dire. Bilic switched Antonio and Ayew on the flanks, but it had so little impact it took minutes for me to notice the change. Passes were terrible, touches were made of lead, and the side looked genuinely lost. Against a side with more quality, it could have been a much uglier scene. I looked for things to be optimistic and hopeful about. The Blueberry pie from a terrific local farm that the wife was bringing home later came to mind immediately.

From the perspective of clutching at straws, West Ham at least made everyone pay attention in the 37th minute when Antonio sent a long pass to Carroll on the right wing. Not exactly where you want Carroll to receive the ball, but whatever. Carroll crossed to Ayew in the box, not exactly where you want Ayew to receive a high cross, but whatever. Ayew sent a weak header that Fabianski cradled like a stuffed animal, but whatever.

West Ham looked a bit better in the final five minutes of the opening half, sending in a few crosses for Carroll and Company to chase. We even won a corner. Thank heavens for small favors.

Halftime
West Ham 0
Swansea 0

If you wanted a highlight that described West Ham this season so far, Mark Noble’s complete mis-kick in our penalty area at the start of the second half would be perfect. And in all fairness, Noble played well against Spurs and wasn’t as awful as the rest of the side in the first half today. So I wasn’t having a go at the captain.

In the 53rd minute, I thought West Ham were going to open the scoring when Antonio looped in a cross from the right to the far post. When Carroll began his run to meet the ball, I thought he would get there. In the end, he was half a yard short. Would that signal an upturn in fortunes on the day? Time would tell.

The crowd went from restless to openly annoyed in the 58th minute when Ayew lost the ball while attempting a run into the Swansea penalty area, which was followed quickly by an awful cross from Cresswell, which was then followed by Noble losing the ball when West Ham were on the offensive. It was all going quite badly at that time, and West Ham needed a spark. Something to give the crowd a reason to liven up.

Cue Manuel Lanzini for Noble. I would have taken Ayew off, but what do I know?

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By the 70th minute, something dawned on me. Despite playing the 4-4-2 so many were asking for, I couldn’t recall Hernandez seeing the ball. At all. Which only added to my concern about what I was watching and what we were in store for the rest of the season. This squad should look at least like a competent Premier League side, and we didn’t by a country mile.

In the 75th minute, West Ham were extremely fortunate to not go down one-nil when Olsson ran the ball from the left to the top of the West Ham penalty area and tried a curling shot on goal. If there had been more curl on that shot, it would have gone in because Hart was beaten. The fact I was ready to accept an abject nil-nil draw at that point wasn’t a good omen.

I scared the absolute life out of my poor cat in the 86th minute when Masuaku sent a low cross into the box that Carroll got a little touch on and curled a shot towards goal. Fabianski didn’t move, and the ball looked to move in slow motion as it floated and then banged against the post. I slammed my fists on the desk holding up my IPad, causing it to fall down. My electronics looked a lot like my team.

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If there has been one man on West Ham that has made a difference when he has come on this season it has been Masuaku. The past few matches have seen him deployed as a substitution on the left side of midfield. He has shown skill and endeavor, particularly with his crossing. In the 89th minute, he made a run down the left that looked almost exactly like the one he did last week to set up Kouyate’s goal. Today, he delivered a ball that beat two or three Swansea defenders and Sakho was there to tuck it in to the top corner of the net.

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Final Score
West Ham 1
Swansea 0

“What a good change from the manager. Well done the manager. Great change. The manager has made an inspirational decision for me” said Tony Gale. I’d add the Sakho inclusion to that commentary, because those two made the difference to me. And despite the concerns that remain for me about Bilic, he was the man that made those changes so he must be applauded for them.

There was a very famous basketball coach and executive for the Boston Celtics named Red Auerbach. Think of him as the Fergie of basketball. He won more NBA Championships than I can even count. One of his best players, and one of the best players in the history of the sport was John Havlicek. And he almost never started a game. In fact, the NBA has an award for the best “Sixth Man” that was created in his honor. Auerbach used to say he didn’t care who started a game for him, that it was more important who finished it. Maybe Bilic could borrow that ideal and twist it a bit because for me the eleven who finished the match deserve to wear the shirt in two weeks. Or maybe not.

I’m just happy we won.

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Match Thread

Match Thread: West Ham v Swansea City

West Ham v Swansea City
FA Premier League
London Stadium
KO 3pm
TV: None
Radio: WHUFC.com

Please use this thread to comment on the match as it progresses.


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