Match Report

Reasons to Be Cheerful

The Blind Hammer Swansea Match Report

West Ham 1 Swansea 0.

West Ham won, to our massive relief, a difficult game with a solid performance under the most pressure they have endured this season. The game was variously described as the most important since our Blackpool Playoff final, the last chance for Bilic, a 6 pointer, and the most massive game of the season. Coming into the game neither Carroll nor Sacko was considered fit enough to start. Our defence had suffered injuries depriving us not only of Cresswell but more importantly Read and Obonna, in the latter cases, out for the rest of the season. The team was also weakened because one of our most recent effective midfielders, Obiang is also out for the rest of the season.

Despite the lack of these important resources, against the heat of the most intense pressure they have endured all season the team ground out a crucial win. It certainly was a 6 pointer. If we had lost Swansea would have been only 2 points behind us with a much easier run in. Instead tonight we sit 8 points clear of Swansea. Swansea now has to win three games to catch up with us, with games running out. It was a massively significant result.

Not only had we lost 5 games in a row but five of the previous 7 games at the London Stadium have also ended in defeats. In these reverses we demonstrated vulnerability to punishment on the break. Error strewn loss of possession cost us dear. This was compounded by general fragility in defence to an extent that we were also conceding from set pieces, especially corners in virtually every game.

Anybody who therefore turned up expecting West Ham to play an attractive expansive style which swamped Swansea needed a serious reality check. In mainstream media the game was described as “poor”. This may have been the view of the outsider but we new what were needed were guts and application, perspiration and dedication, character and determination. I am proud that our team proved to me that when the chips were down our team had those qualities in abundance.

I have heard descriptions that the match was a “poor game”. This seems completely unfair. The match was always likely to involved nervousness. The importance not just of the clean sheet but not conceding first cannot be over stated. Those bemoaning the lack of a flowing thrilling side to our game in the first half need to consider further. Consider what the impact of conceding first in a game like this would have been. When a team is riding high on confidence, conceding first may not be a disaster. Tottenham conceded first against Swansea but could still run out easy winners. Our confidence is in stark contrast to that of Tottenham. Comparatively our confidence is in shreds. Leading up to this game West Ham have conceded an average 2 goals a game, most often recently 3. We simply cannot continue like that, we need to win ugly for a while, draw boringly.

So the risk of conceding first against Swansea was enormous. If we had conceded first all the negativity of the memories from games such as the Leicester defeat would have come rushing back.

Instead whilst we were not thrilling, we crucially nullified any threat which Swansea could pose. Byram according to what I could hear from a combination of stadium commentary and Radio London had his best game in a West Ham shirt. Collins whilst never comfortable in possession was responsible for leadership and crucial marking and blocking throughout the game. Masuaku had a confident performance at the left side of the defence and looks like he should be a first choice for the rest of the season.

Whilst this may be described as an “ugly win” Kouyaté’s winner in the first half was apparently a thing of beauty. Kouyaté is a class player who apparently experiences stress and sleepless nights when worrying about relegation. His delight at scoring was demonstrated by his goal celebration for which he was sadly booked. Kouyaté will probably, along with other members of this side only return to his rampaging best when he is hopefully able to play in a team without fear. A dream for next season.

In the meantime it was Kouyaté who was able to illuminate our afternoon with the injection of class which was enough to see us grab three crucial points.

So we must celebrate this win. It was ground out of overwhelming negativity coming into the game. I have queried Bilic’s judgements in recent weeks but for me he got things absolutely spot on. He put Carroll and Sacko on the bench as insurance for a desperate last 20 minutes but he did not have to call on them. Most importantly he showed that he could set up a team which did not routinely concede. It is a lot easier to win a game when you do not need to score 3. A chunk of my confidence in Bilic has been restored so this is a reason to be cheerful.

Further reasons to be cheerful are there in the application and grit shown by Collins, Byram, and Masuaku. Despite our depleted resources we held onto a clean sheet. With that background the brilliance of a Kouyaté strike could then prove the difference. In future weeks a solid rather than expansive performance may possibly allow our other class performers like Lanzini and Carroll to make similar telling interventions with their undoubted ability. If they can do this in a game where the team is not shipping goals then they could be much more effective.

The final reason to be cheerful was the crowd. I have read a lot of nonsense about the London Stadium, including allegations that the ground is riddled with people who are not really West Ham supporters. Whilst there may be individuals like that I am convinced that this afternoon I sat in a stadium of over 50,000 supporters who overwhelmingly really cared. The relief at the final whistle was palpable. For those of you who turned up and supported our team in this massive game, I am proud to call myself a fellow Hammer alongside you.

COYI

David Griffith

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The HamburgHammer Column

Hamburg, you're nicked mate!

I meant to write yet another deeply critical piece, delving into the future of our club, the next level, the owners, the upcoming transfer window, the changes we need in the squad, the case for keeping Bilic or letting him go and so forth. Yet I’ve decided against that in the end because my column can get quite gloomy at times and I can imagine that most of you enjoy a gloomy West Ham article at the start of the week on a Monday as much as root canal work at your local dentist. Plus it’s been a very successful weekend football wise for my two clubs and I’ve also had a nice encounter with some random British football fans at the Concordia game (!!!) which is also where the headline of this post originated from, but more of that a bit later.

We won! I had almost forgotten what it felt like to enjoy a three pointer for the Hammers and we simply did on the day what we needed to do. I love watching beautiful tippy tappy passing football as much as the next bloke and to be fair, the Swansea game wasn’t much to write home about really in terms of skill and panache. But relegation six pointers rarely are beautiful affairs, it was two teams that were shockingly low on confidence playing each other and at times it was hard to tell which of the two teams was more afraid of the opposition, both looked scared stiff at times.

Kouyate’s goal was worthy of winning any game of football though and he certainly hasn’t scored a more significant one in his West Ham career so far. It was a proper team effort and all the substitutes put in a good shift too, especially Calleri. We have now put some much needed daylight between ourselves and the relegation pack, in all likelihood this should be more than enough to see us through as I cannot see Boro, Sunderland or Swansea going on mesmerising winning streaks all of a sudden.

Sunderland away should be a game for us to attack, despite missing the likes of Antonio and Noble we need to go for the jugular in this one. Sunderland are struggling mightily at this point scoring any goals whatsoever (they scored their most recent competitive goal three months ago in mid-January) and while I am aware our defense may gift them a few opportunities to change just that I am convinced we will ask them a few serious questions at the other end too. The Mackems will be nervous as long-tailed (Black) Cats in a room full of rocking chairs. We are bound to unleash Carroll and/or Sakho against them at some point and maybe even someone like Calleri would enjoy getting a start against a struggling side like Sunderland.
We’ll see.

So, why am I not moaning about the club’s owners here as usual ? Because I feel far too much relief that we have put ourselves in a good position to see Premier League football at West Ham again next season. That alone will make things a lot easier for us and I guess you will agree with me we have more than enough issues at hand to deal with here. Doing it as a lower midtable Premier League club will be challenging enough, trying to sort out the various building sites around our club on and off the pitch as a freshly relegated side would be a nightmare of epic proportions in comparison. I suppose our board are well aware anyway that the eyes of the West Ham fans and pundits alike will be on them all throughout the summer.

So, while West Ham certainly have done their bit on Saturday, Concordia followed suit the day after, but it was nerve wrecking stuff: Going 1:0 up early on, then conceding (and saving) a penalty shortly before half time, only to lose two sloppy goals in quick succession with fifteen minutes to go in the second half, Cordi managed to turn the game around with two late goals to nick a crazy 3:2 win in front of 154 delirious fans. As promotion rivals Altona drew their away game 2:2 in very lucky fashion (two penalties scored in the final nine minutes or so) the gap has now narrowed to six points again, Cordi have the better goal difference with seven games left to play. Doable, but difficult. It’ll be emotional.

Talking of which the Cordi game on a purely personal level was a bit different than usual for a simple reason. As promised, I had brought the club executive Florian Peters a West Ham pennant as a gift for him to display in Concordia’s club house. He was well chuffed with that (remember he’s also the one who will one day join me to watch a West Ham game at the London Stadium), but he also told me "Look, we seem to have some English geezers here again today, pointing towards a group of six or seven guys of varying age, with one of them sporting a Crystal Palace shirt, another an Accrington Stanley one.

I obviously started chatting to them and found out they were a group of friends sharing not only a passion for football but also the fact they were all Old Bill, some still on active duty, one or two of them already retired. They all live around London but support different clubs, Palace, Fulham, Arsenal, Middlesbrough, Man United and Accrington Stanley.

Every April these guys meet up and go on a football groundhopping tour, so far they’ve been among other destinations to Istanbul, Copenhagen, Holland, Bavaria, Berlin and now Hamburg.

They took in the Hamburg SV home win against Hoffenheim on Saturday and then went on to watch a Sunday doubleheader of lower league football in Hamburg’s East End, following the Condor-Turkiye fixture at noon and the Concordia-Wedel game straight after. Make no mistake, those guys are very serious about their football.
I was even given the task of teaching them some German football chants and I duly obliged, stopping short though at translating the nasty ones about the referee’s mother.

I had a smashing time with the lads, we had a few beers in glorious sunshine and were chatting about football, the London Stadium, Gold&Sullivan, beautiful places to visit in Germany, the appeal of Middlesbrough as a tourist destination, the good old Brexit issue and the ineptitude of the referee trying his best to ruin the game for everyone (yes, in between the banter we were watching some of the football too). The ref even failed to send off an opposition player for headbutting the Cordi midfielder who had just scored the equaliser.

The ref booked both players in fact. I’ve never heard of a headbutt warranting a yellow card only, but maybe that’s a local rule being employed at this level which has escaped me so far. One of the Brits was claiming he had just been watching the German equivalent of Mark Clattenburg. (It’s all about you, it’s all about you…)

All in all it was a nice precursor to my upcoming trip for the Spurs game. I’ve exchanged mobile numbers with one of the lads, so hopefully I will meet them again, either when I’m in London or should they decide to visit Hamburg again one day. You never know, it might come in handy in the future to know some members of the fuzz.

Should I end up in Plaistow nick somewhere down the road I know I’d be allowed one phone call, so why not call a Crystal Palace supporting copper living in Kent, if need be…;-)

Right, Sunderland up next. A game where we can hopefully maintain our most recent marvellous winning streak of, ahem, one game so far. Follow up the Swansea result with another win and we’re pretty much safe. It promises to be another feisty affair at the Stadium of Light though. Let’s hope we can put the lights out on their hopes of Premier League survival. We simply cannot afford to be courteous to other clubs at this stage of the season. COYI!

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Player Analysis

Pedro Obiang praises teammates as he vows to become a better player in latest issue of Blowing Bubbles monthly

Pedro Obiang has heaped praise on his teammates as he reflects on his second season at West Ham in the latest issue of Blowing Bubbles Monthly.

The midfielder’s absence for the rest of the season was one of the most depressing issues in a horrific few weeks last month that saw us lose three games in a row.

But he has vowed to return a better player and reiterated his desire to be at the heart of West Ham’s progression in our new home.

Asked about why his form improved so much this season, he told Blowing Bubbles: "I think it’s because now I know the league, I know my teammates better. Last season I arrived after playing for eight years with the same club, the same people and I was with my family, so it was easy then.

“I came here for new dreams, a new team, a new stadium and everything was different. So the first impact wasn’t very big. But this season I know everything better, the people know me, my teammates give me space, and it’s because of that I think I’ve become a better player.”

Blowing Bubbles Monthly

Get your copy of Blowing Bubbles’ April issue

Blowing Bubbles also contains hard-hitting columns from Phil Parkes, George Parris and David James.

Parkes says captain Mark Noble’s days should be over at West Ham. "He’s never been the quickest across the ground but this season he’s got slower and the amount of sideways and backwards passing he’s involved in slows everything down.

“He has had a fabulous career and is a wonderful club man. We all have enormous respect for him but we all come to an end of our career and I believe Mark’s time has come.”

Meanwhile Parris believes injuries to both Obiang and Winston Reid will have a huge impact on West Ham’s results and form.

“I think they will be both be hugely missed in their own way and it’s a massive blow.They both bring something important to the team but we won’t truly know how much either will be missed until we get through a few games without them.”

David James has written a piece calling for men, women and children across the UK to dig out their football shirts and wear them loudly and proudly on Friday, April 28 to help fund life-saving research into bowel cancer.

Get your copy of Blowing Bubbles’ April issue


Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

Cheik-mate

With both teams under the cosh, a draw certainly wasn’t going to prove fruitful in this match. Anything besides three points would have been worthless in the business end of the season. Fighting to keep their status as the only Welsh team in the Premier League, Swansea need to start winning games. At the end of the day, that is all that counts. Truth be told, this match was hardly the game of the century. We definitely deserved to win, but should have performed considerably better. With so much at stake, it was unsurprising that both sides made a cagey start.

Comparisons can be drawn between this game and a game of chess. Now, in order to play chess effectively, you need to consider strategy and tactics. A strategy is, simply put, a game plan. Slav decided to rest both Sakho and Carroll and opted for Ayew up front. Why did he even put them on the bench if he wasn’t going to use them? Perhaps it was a bluff, so as to convince Paul Clement that Bilic was going to change the formation around later? In any case, Andy Carroll has scored five times and assisted another three goals in his last six Premier League games against the Swans. No doubt Clement must have spat out the orange he was eating upon noticing that the man, who has terrorised their defence in the past, isn’t even playing!

Like with any game of football, there will be a game plan to start performing well immediately – especially against similar opposition. However, performance anxiety, as well as other factors, will make it harder to achieve that. Likewise in chess, you may have a certain strategy in mind that you can’t implement because your opponent has started out differently to how you initially expected. As ever, it is vital that both players follow the basics. This partly involves being able to think about the long-term plans for future play (“What will my opponent do next?”,“What should I do next?”). For instance, since we know that Fonte is slow, perhaps he should have adjusted his positioning? This was the game plan, of course, but he couldn’t follow it.

Finally, the best comparison I can give is with Kouyaté’s goal. I’ve saved the best for last. The Senegalese midfielder tends to play fairly deep, so when he went on his run from the back and scored, it was as if he was promoted from pawn to knight in shining armour. Nobody expects the pawn (or holding midfielder) to reach the other end of the board and capture a piece, yet that is what he did. The transformation was huge. In fact, it was what won us the game! Or as Kouyaté would prefer, Cheik-mate, before rolling onto the floor laughing.

Going into our match against Burnley back in December, we were 17th. Our next two matches were against Hull and Swansea, two teams that were in the relegation zone at the time. We thought that we simply had to win to avoid relegation. The truth of the matter is that we were never going to be relegated; we just wanted to get higher up the table, which is understandable. Losing this match to Swansea was never going to make us contenders for relegation, but it was simply about picking up form. We were unhappy with two 1-0 wins against Burnley and Hull last year, but it’s worth keeping in mind that a win’s a win. We’ve had our bad luck, so expect the good now. No doubt the post will be MOTM next week!

With wins usually come unchanged starting line-ups. However, I would advocate that we start Adrián. There was a moment in the match, in which I thought that we might concede from the corner. There were a lot of players in the box and Randolph was not at ease. The ball came in with a large chunk of the goal open and with Leroy Fer in adequate space. Fortunately, he couldn’t get onto it, otherwise we would have conceded. Prior to this game, the last time we kept a clean sheet was 11 matches ago. Randolph was partly to blame for the late equaliser from the corner against West Brom and would have been again. Neither of our keepers are ideal so we need to keep continually rotating them.

This was one of our best defensive performances. James Collins and Sam Byram, in particular, were terrific. In total, 24 headed clearances were made. Ginge should be very proud of his performance. He made sure that he got onto every ball and headed or cleared it away. Carroll must have been watching on in delight. Furthermore, Byram was voted MOTM on the Club’s Twitter account. In my opinion, he deserved it, as he played extremely well making sure that tackles were made and that the wing-play was intricate and unpredictable. At the end, he blocked Sigurdsson’s cross out for a goal kick preventing a late corner. What I immediately noticed was the no. 23 on Sigurdsson’s shirt: Byram is 23 and is already integrating with the squad. The message here is never write players off.

I personally believe that Slaven did the right thing in not subbing Sakho or Carroll on. I know that it is strange to say, given that we won, but the risk of subbing any of these two injury-prone players is just too much. Antonio is someone who is very good at recovering from injuries, so there isn’t much concern there, but given that we don’t have many options up front, we can’t afford to lose what we already have.


If we win against Sunderland, we can pretty much confirm Premier League football next season. I’m sure the Mackems will be delighted the Geordie Horse will be back in town. The Black Cats have failed to score in their last six matches, so I’m sure Big Andy will bring his goalscoring boots along. Joking aside, this is a fixture we really ought to win: the last Sunderland home win was back in December of last year! That said, I expect a scrappy win, despite the fact that they have lost five of their last six games. Simply put, we aren’t playing our best football at the moment, but are still better than our meagre opposition.

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Match Report

Match Report: West Ham 1 Swansea City 0 - A Win Mustn't Mask the Problems

There are two ways of looking at this match. You can either heave a sigh of relief at the fact that we won, kept a clean sheet and are now on 36 points. Or you can look at our first half performance and wonder how on earth we got anything out of this game with a side which wouldn’t look out of place in the lower reaches of the Championship.

This was our first clean sheet in eleven games, and in some ways this was hardly a surprise since Swansea had only one shot on target in the whole game. Indeed, they only had 4 off target, compared to our 6 on target and 14 off. But that doesn’t tell the story of the game.

In the first half we were never at the races. We had very little in attack and our midfield was contantly overrun. The saving grace was the performance of our defence, where James Collins had his best game for ages and Arthur Masuaku impressed again on the left. Swansea played some pretty tippy-tappy football and always looked a threat until they got anywhere near the penalty area. You look at the quality of some of their players and the way they can pass to each other and you wonder how on earth they can be in the bottom three, but when you sell your best strikers, don’t be surprised if you find it difficult to score.

Mark Noble had a dreadful game. His tackles were mostly ill-timed, he constantly gave the ball away and apart from one long range shot did little to impress. It may have been his 400th game for the club, but it’s one he will want to forget, especially since he picked up a tenth booking, meaning he will be suspended for the next two games. Edimilson Ferndandes should be given a long overdue chance to get a couple of starts under his belt.

Two other players who ought to look themselves in the mirror are Snodgrass and Ayew. Their lack of application in the first half were appalling. Snodgrass may point to the fact that he laid on the pass for Kouyate to rampage forward and score, but apart from that he contributed little. He improved in the second half, but to me he looks painfully slow and takes far too long to pass the ball. Ayew showed one or two flashes but again, he was too easily knocked off the ball and played lazy passes to his colleagues.

I was surprised to see Darren Randolph start the game given his poor recent form. He may point at last to a clean sheet but let’s face it, he wasn’t tested. Even then he flapped at a couple of crosses and instilled nervousness in the crowd. I’d still like to see Adrian given another chance for the last six games of the season.

Losing Antonio, probably for the rest of the season, is a big blow. No one can do what he does and he will be gutted to miss out. If it hadn’t been such a terrible goal kick from Randolph he would never have had to chase to keep the ball back in and maybe he wouldn’t have pulled his hamstring. We’ll never know. I suspect everyone was as amazed as I was that Calleri was brought on to replace Antonio. And he certainly lived down to expectations, missing chance after chance. Quite why Bilic has any faith in him I really don’t know. Ashley Fletcher didn’t even make the bench but he’s twice the player Calleri will ever be. But you have to ask what the point of having Carroll and Sakho on the bench was when neither was fit to play even a small part in this game. Explain that one to me…

My man of the match was between James Collins and Manuel Lanzini who looked a constant threat. He had three long range free kicks, each of which went really close. I’d like to see him run at defences more, but in my opinion he is going to be a major star over the next couple of seasons.

For me, the difference between the first and second half was that we injected some pace into the second 45 minutes and played the ball forward. We were looking to attack, whereas in the first half we seemed frightened of our own shadows. I’m afraid Mark Noble needs to lead by example and instead of taking the easy option and playing the ball back or sideways, always look for the attacking option. We’re good when we’re pacy, we’re awful when we play safe.

The chatter around me was that we’re a Premier League side with a Championship team. On the first half performance you have to say there is some justification for that argument. The only genuinely classy players out there today were Lanzini, Antonio and Kouyate, although you have to say that Kouyate’s goal masked a very disappointing first half from him. Snodgrass, Feghouli, Ayew, and Fonte could all be imagined playing for Norwich City. Indeed, Snodgrass used to play for them!

One plus from the game was that Sam Byram looked the real deal today and wasn’t caught out of positio as often as he normally is. The fact that we kept a clean sheet was in part due to the fact that both our full backs put in a shift. It’s not often we can say that this season.

So yes, three points very satisfying, but a lot of food for thought for Slaven Bilic given that neither Noble nor Antonio will feature against Sunderland. As I say, I hope Fernandes comes in for Noble and that we see both Sakho and Carroll play up front with Ayew dropping to the bench.

A final word about the atmosphere. Even though we weren’t playing well, I thought the crowd were great. Bilic will certainly have appreciated an outbreak of the ‘Super Slav’ song, and I felt we really got behind the team. Perhaps we’re all getting used to the stadium now? One can but hope…

Scores
Randolph 5, Byram 6, Masuaku 6, Collins 8, Fonte 6, Snodgrass 5, Lanzini 8, Antonio 7, Noble 5, Kouyate 6, Calleri 4, Ayew 5, Feghouli 6

David Hautzig is away

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