Tony Hanna's Musings
The next two games may very well determine West Ham’s future for at least a few years. Anything less than at least one victory over Swansea or Sunderland will push us deep into relegation trouble. If relegation should come our way, it may very well alert “want to be” investors trying to buy a well credentialed football club at a bargain price? Two relegations in seven seasons might just be enough for our current owners to consider a decent offer? However, the bookies odds for us to drop suggest we will escape, although the prices are shortening with every defeat. Not many managers survive a five successive loss record nowadays and Slaven’s credit from last season plus the fact that the crowd still sings his name at games must be having a great influence on the trap door lever.
Our appalling injury record for many seasons now, acts like a ball and chain to our efforts. There are many theories to the cause and if anyone does come up with the answer they will be worth their weight in gold. This season, albeit for a couple of cameos, we have been without arguably our best striker in Diafra Sakho and we lost our only World class player (Payet) in extraordinary circumstances at the half way point. At present we are playing without our first choice centre backs, we have a left back who has lost all form and we don’t know who to play right back. Kouyate is a shadow of his former self, Noble has got slower and Adrian finally had too many brain snaps. The one player (Obiang) who looked most likely to win HOTY has been lost for the season and the two players we signed in January have mysteriously lost all the form they had been showing at their former clubs?
The fact is that even with all these excuses, we have been poor for just about the whole season. A few tantalising sprinklings of what may or could have been with wins over Palace, Boro and Saints have been overshadowed by a team that cannot defend, crumbles once it concedes and lacks any real consistency on any level. Throw in a move to the Olympic Stadium and all that is difficult has just been magnified. For me, the worst thing we could have ever done was qualify for the Europa League entering our first season at the new stadium, when the whole emphasis should have been on consolidation. Whilst the ritual of Thursday / Sunday games never really eventuated the whole process meant that our season was already on the wrong trajectory by buying in quantity when quality in just a few positions was all we needed. Last season should have been a platform for the club but the transfer policy actually just threw us back into Premiership mediocrity.
So, Swansea this weekend followed by Sunderland. If we can break the mould this weekend and bag three points everything will seem a lot rosier. This game, in my opinion, is the clubs biggest game since the play off final against Blackpool. Anything other than three points will make Sunderland and other future games this season even bigger. If we are put into a position where we need to beat Spurs and Liverpool at home to stay up I fear we are doomed. Swansea have only ten points away from home this season and have lost at Hull and Bournemouth in their last two – sound familiar? They have conceded even more goals than us and that includes us putting four past them in the reverse fixture. In fact Swansea are below us in the League table, the offense and defence table, the home and away table – in fact the only table they are ahead of us in is the form table which calculates points gained in the past 8 games only. The first half could be an edgy affair and that I am sure will put a dampener on the crowd. Swansea have only conceded six goals in the first 30 minutes of all away games whilst we have only scored four first half goals all season at home. And two of them were in the same match way back when we played Watford. In fact, out of our fifteen PL home games this season we have only been leading at half time once and that was thanks to a penalty 3 minutes into injury time against Burnley.
Good luck to all those going this weekend, especially StepneyPhil who has been a long term member of the site who is making his first visit to the new stadium. I will be in the same boat as him in a few weeks time with the visit of Spurs. The last thing I want is to be relying on points for safety in that game. Not sure my ticker could take it.
Finally, just to put a smile on the dial and remind everyone we are a very decent football club, I have attached a clip of Mabel’s 101st birthday surprise.
Blind Hammer looks at contingencies for relegation.
At the time of writing we have slumped to our 5th successive defeat against Arsenal. Our ineffectual defence is conceding regularly 2-3 goals a game against even struggling sides and we have some ominous fixtures approaching the end of the season. Currently we will not be expected to take any points in our home games against Tottenham and Liverpool and even Everton will be favourites to take all 3 points at the London Stadium. Our last fixture will be against Burnley who over the season having provided tough opposition for everybody in the league at home. Swansea this weekend and Sunderland away provide our best hope for salvation.
Relegation is not by any means a certainty but it is now most definitely a possibility and we will have to cope with that if this is what transpires out of this calamitous season.
The stark fact of relegation is an emotional horror which we have had to cope with before. We can turn away from it and use terms like unthinkable, disastrous and catastrophic but some planning and assessments will have to be made. It may feel like the end of the world, but it will not actually be the end of the world and positively planning to bounce back will be the order of the day.
Certainly the squad would need drastic surgery. The problem is that some of our high wage earners, specifically Carroll, Ayew, and Fonte will struggle to attract transfer interest from other clubs given the massive wages that they currently draw. Newcastle appeared to have successfully gambled by retaining most of their Premiership Squad and it may be that certainly in relation to Carroll there may be mileage in West Ham adopting a similar strategy. In relation to Ayew and Fonte the best approach may be seeking loans elsewhere to reduce the wage bill.
All efforts should be made to retain Lanzini; it is unlikely though that he will agree to perform in the Championship, especially as he has already indicated an interest in returning to Argentina. He is another who may reluctantly have to be let out on loan.
Above all the jewel in the Crown is Antonio, who is not only our most potent force but also has recent Championship experience which may be vital. A Payet like agreement to ask for one more season, with a release in January if there is no prospect of promotion may have to be agreed.
Players like Cresswell, Noble and Read, all of whom have Championship experience will need to continue leadership roles at the club. Possibly a rethink on extending Collins presence would also be justified.
If there is to be any silver lining in the spectre of relegation it is in remembering how the experience of playing at Championship level actually helped develop players like Reid, Noble and of course Tomkins. Oh how we could do with Tomkins now! We should remember that prior to relegation last time Read was not the stalwart of our defence that he was to become and was very shaky in our relegation season.
There will be similar opportunities for player development in the Championship. Players like Byram, Fletcher, Oxford Burke, and possibly others like Samuelson may all have the opportunity to develop games which can see West Ham return to the Premiership as a younger and stronger squad.
The other silver lining may actually be the London Stadium. When all is said and done the Stadium is only costing West Ham £2.5 million a year, possibly reducing in the event of relegation. This will cushion West Ham from some of the massive financial hit which will arise from relegation.
The final question is whether we could trust Bilic to bring us back. Gold and Sullivan famously backed Steve Bruce after Birmingham were relegated. He rewarded their faith by leading an immediate return to the Premiership. Should they have similar faith with Bilic?
Sadly my instincts are that Bilic has got too many crucial judgements wrong. He has made several wrong judgement calls in crucial matches. We desperately needed to stop conceding goals but he bafflingly picked a team packed with attacking players against Hull. His transfer judgements have been pretty poor. There is little doubt that the recruitment of both Ayew and Fonte, for example, were not just sanctioned but urged by Bilic. They do not look like players worth a combined £28 million. Above all for over a year now West Ham has conceded over 2 goals a game. It is not sustainable to develop a successful team based on scoring at least 3 goals to win a game, even in the Championship. I think Bilic knows his future at West Ham will be decided in the next 4 or 5 weeks and this is probably how it should be.
Dan Coker's Match Preview
Blast from the past
Monday 30th August 1937 – King George VI was on the throne, Neville Chamberlain had just entered his third month as Prime Minister, Paul Muni was in UK cinemas in The Life of Emile Zola and Benjamin Britten’s string orchestral work ‘Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Op. 10’ received its concert premiere at the Salzburg Festival, bringing the English composer to international attention. West Ham United, meanwhile, were recording a 2-1 victory over Swansea Town (as they were then known) in front of 15,473 at the Boleyn Ground’s first home game of the 1937/38 campaign.
Wing-half Ted Fenton (pictured above during his 11 years as West Ham manager) and outside-right Stan Foxall bagged the Hammers’ goals in this encounter – Fenton would score three goals from 33 appearances in 1937/38, with Foxall notching ten goals in 36 matches to finish level with Scottish forward Archie Macaulay as the club’s top goalscorer that season.
Charlie Paynter’s Hammers would finish ninth in the Second Division in 1937/38, while Swansea would end the campaign in 18th, two points and three places clear of relegation. Aston Villa won the Second Division, Arsenal won the league title and Preston won the FA Cup. Bizarrely, Manchester City (the reigning league champions that season) were the First Division’s highest goalscorers with 80 goals from 42 matches and finished with a +3 goal difference but were still relegated in 21st place!
West Ham United: Jack Weare, Charlie Bicknell, Charlie Walker, Joe Cockroft, Dick Walker, Ted Fenton, Stan Foxall, Tommy Green, Archie Macaulay, Sam Small, John Morton.
West Ham United’s record signing Andre Ayew could face the club he departed last summer. A small number of players join him in having worn the shirts of both West Ham United and Swansea City. These include:
Goalkeeper: Noel Dwyer.
Defenders: Andy Melville and Shaun Byrne.
Midfielders: Frank Lampard Junior.
Strikers: Frank Nouble and Lee Chapman.
John Bond also represented both clubs, playing for the Hammers and managing the Swans.
Today’s focus though is on a homegrown Hammers product who returned from a short stint at Swansea to kickstart his Upton Park career. Matthew Rush was born in Dalston on 6th August 1971 and was a right-winger who came through the Academy at West Ham United. He made his debut as a 19-year-old under Billy Bonds in a 7-1 victory over Hull on 6th October 1990, a game famous for Steve Potts’ solitary Hammers’ strike. Bonzo’s boys achieved promotion at the end of that season, a campaign which also saw Rush pick up Under-21 international honours for the Republic of Ireland, for whom he qualified through his Irish mother. He scored his first goals for the Hammers on 11th April 1992, a double in a 4-0 win over Norwich, but the Hammers would ultimately yo-yo back to the second tier. Rush endured a testing two-year period when it appeared his Hammers career was fading and dying. His only appearances in the promotion campaign of 1992/93 came in the now-defunct Anglo-Italian Cup, in which he was sent off in a 0-0 home draw with Pisa, and he had a spell on loan at Cambridge United towards the end of that season.
Rush remained out in the cold as the Hammers set about establishing themselves in their first season in the Premier League. He joined Swansea City for a two-month loan spell in January 1994, playing 13 league matches and starting both legs of the Football League Trophy Area Final against Wycombe Wanderers that would see the Swans progress to Wembley. The Swans only lost two league matches while Rush was at the club and, although he was back at West Ham by the time of the Trophy National Final, Swansea invited him to attend the game at Wembley.
Rush was handed a surprise start by Bonds on Easter Saturday 1994 against Ipswich at Upton Park and scored a stunning, dipping volley from distance to put the Irons on their way to a 2-1 victory, their first win since New Year’s Day.
Rush signed a three-year contract that summer, rejecting overtures from Kevin Keegan’s upwardly-mobile Newcastle United. He found opportunities increasingly sparse under Harry Redknapp in 1994/95 but did score in successive league matches in late October 1994, a 2-0 win over Southampton and a 3-1 defeat at Tottenham. His searing pace also played a major part in a barnstorming 2-0 victory over champions-in-waiting Blackburn Rovers, Rush streaking away from Colin Hendry late on to lay on a cross which led to Don Hutchison sealing the points in the Hammers’ ultimately successful quest for survival. This was to prove to be Rush’s final appearance in a claret and blue shirt. Three of Rush’s five goals for the Hammers can be viewed in my video below.
Having scored five goals in 55 appearances for West Ham, the 24-year-old Rush was sold to Norwich in the summer of 1995 for £350,000. Three days after signing, on his debut for the Canaries against Sunderland, he badly ruptured his knee. He sought to gain fitness in a loan spell at Northampton and eventually joined Oldham in March 1997 having made just three appearances for the Canaries in his 18 months at Carrow Road. Rush sustained cruciate ligament damage in a match against Carlisle in April 1998 and was forced to retire from the game at the age of just 27.
Upon retiring, Rush went to university for four years to study for a degree in Applied Sports Science and then went on to do a post-graduate course. He studied for a further year to gain teacher qualifications and taught in a sports academy in Manchester for a year before teaching PE at a school in Cheshire for five years. His daughter Lana won a national tennis tournament at the age of ten and Rush moved to Barcelona with his daughter so she could attend a tennis academy while his wife Caroline continued working in the UK. The Rush family later moved together to London with Matthew accompanying his daughter to tennis events around the world. Lana is now 19 and has a tennis scholarship at Florida State University. She competed in Junior Wimbledon in 2012 and 2013.
Rush’s wife Caroline is Chief Executive of the British Fashion Council and was awarded a CBE in 2015 for services to the British fashion industry. Matthew, now 45, has recently completed a UEFA ‘B’ coaching licence with a view to getting involved in academy coaching in the future.
Saturday’s referee is Kevin Friend. The Leicester-based official has been involved in top-flight matches since 2009 and took charge of the Hammers in our historic 3-0 victory at Liverpool in August 2015. He sent off Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho and West Ham’s Mark Noble in that match at Anfield, with the latter’s dismissal rescinded on appeal.
Friend last took charge of the Hammers in February for our 4-0 home defeat to Manchester City. He is also remembered for the soft penalty he gifted Hull in our 1-0 defeat at the KC Stadium in September 2013 when Joey O’Brien was adjudged to have shoved Robbie Brady. Friend compounded the error by later denying the Irons a clear penalty when Jake Livermore handled in the area. Don’t expect much from Friend in the way of handball decisions – he also denied the Hammers a penalty in a match at Everton when Aaron Cresswell’s cross was handled by Seamus Coleman.
Slaven Bilic is without Winston Reid, Angelo Ogbonna, Aaron Cresswell, Pedro Obiang and Gokhan Tore. Andy Carroll is unlikely to play the 90 minutes after feeling a groin injury at the Emirates so Diafra Sakho, another who is unlikely to be able to last the full game, could start. Andre Ayew could line up against his former club, with Robert Snodgrass still struggling for form. Mark Noble is one yellow card away from receiving a two-match ban – he has to get through Saturday’s game to reach the cut-off point and thereby avoid a suspension.
Swansea City right-back Angel Rangel, midfielder Leon Britton and winger Nathan Dyer are all out while striker Fernando Llorente is a doubt. Jordan Ayew, signed from Aston Villa in January, could face his brother Andre.
Possible West Ham United XI: Randolph; Byram, Fonte, Collins, Masuaku; Kouyate, Noble; Ayew, Lanzini, Antonio; Sakho.
Possible Swansea City XI: Fabianski; Naughton, Mawson, Fernandez, Olsson; Carroll, Cork, Fer; Routledge, Ayew, Sigurdsson.
Enjoy the game – Come On You Irons!
The past few weeks have not been enjoyable. Scrap that. The whole season has been forgettable. Bereft of a full 90 minutes of good, confident football, West Ham are a shadow of last year. Some blame the board, some blame the new stadium, some blame the players. Only now, it seems, are some blaming the manager. True, I have never been a huge Slaven Bilic supporter, but neither do I want to see him go.
That has been the conundrum in my mind recently. The modern West Ham that I particularly don’t like is our tendency to sack managers. Since Harry Redknapp left, it’s been a revolving door. Bilic’s last season gives him a bit of credit in his bank. It should provide him enough space to last until next year. But if next season starts like this one, it will be over.
But let’s not get bogged down in managerial speculation. As with Arsenal this year, as with Spurs when Redknapp was flirting with the England job; it never, ever helps a team to have such a distraction and with us on a losing run (without a win since February), speculation is not the answer.
None of this is a surprise however. For too long, and still to this day, many of us seem content to say: “Oh, it’ll get better, we’ll beat team X and everything will be fine”. We have ignored the problem for too long. When we beat Hull and Burnley at the end of last year, we were content to ignore the awful performances and focus on the 1-0 wins. Well, now those shocking victories are what’s keeping us out of the relegation zone. We comfort ourselves by saying: “Oh well, the other teams around us are awful”. True, but are we that much better? We can barely beat Burnley and Hull at home, and then lost against the latter away. We beat Sunderland at home with a last-minute winner.
We will look towards Saturday with optimism. We always do. Heading to the Emirates, I thought we might get something. At half time, it looked okay. But then I realised as we went 1-0 down, that the floodgates were about to open. Not only can we not win at the moment, we cannot help but lose badly.
3-0 and 5-1 against Arsenal. 4-0, 5-0, and 3-1 against Manchester City. Bilic loves losing big. 3-0 at home against Southampton. Shipping 3 against Leicester and Bournemouth. Letting in 4 against Watford and West Brom. Bilic should be given time but let’s admit this, based on last season and this: he cannot sort out a defense. Regardless of signings and injuries, a manager should be able to make players work in a team and be greater than the sum of their parts. Bilic needs help. Most managers would lose 5-1 or 5-0 and say: “Enough”. Bilic seems to say, “Oh well, maybe next time”.
Slow starts, bad defending, a lack of shots on goal. These were all there to see last season and they are bloody obvious this year. We will comfort ourselves if we beat Sunderland and Swansea. We will ignore this debate and say we’re still a Premier League club.
But remember where we were last year? I argued on here that Champions League was far too optimistic for us and that we’d get battered. Europa League was more achievable. Many said I was a pessimist, that we’d do better than Leicester City in Europe.
A year on, Leicester are doing far better in Europe, while we went out early in the Europa. We are now fighting against relegation. Leicester, who were 12 points behind us not long ago, are now above us. All other clubs around us, bar Sunderland and Boro, have realised their failings and moved on, improved. We have not. To those confident of wins against Swansea and Sunderland: look at this season as a whole, and think whether we actually could win those games and whether we even deserve to. Maybe we will, I hope, but we won’t win them pretty.
Two years ago, we hired Bilic to take us to the next level. Now, we’re in a relegation fight. I want him to stay, but this is not what we were promised. This is not the bright future we had envisioned. I knew the next chapter of West Ham would take a long time to become one of success, I just didn’t know it would be this bad to start.