The Sean Whetstone Column

Is Slaven Bilic's time up?

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At the end of August, media speculation suggested that Slaven Bilic had four games to save his job after we embarrassingly lost 3-0 to Newcastle.

His reputation was probably at an all-time low at that time with many social media polls of over 6,000 fans suggesting 75% wanted him gone.

We are now four games on and I ask the question again, has Slav done enough to save his job for this season?

OK we had one Premier League win over Huddersfield, it was a gritty game and we won but we required a lot of luck and it remained goalless for the first 72 minutes.

We had the less than convincing goalless draw against West Brom at the Hawthorns with players playing out of position again then the 3-0 win over hapless Bolton in the League Cup who possibly have more important things on their mind considering their league position.

Slav continuously insists he is not playing Chicharito out of position on the wide on the wing and that in fact he is just off the main striker. He also defends Andy Carroll saying it will take him a few games to get to his best but equally admits it is difficult to play Chicharito with Arautovic, Antonio and Carroll in the same team.

Yesterday he was at it again, I had been tipped off before the team was announced that Michail Antonio had received a knock in training and was a doubt for Saturday. He passed a late fitness test but I was told that he was only a 70% chance that he could get through the 90 minutes. Antonio didn’t look his normal self from the start and you could tell he was in pain. It was no surprise to me when he pulled up after 28 minutes.

Later Slav would deny to reporters that he took a chance with Antonio insisting his injury was something new.

Next came his decision to bring on Andy Carroll as a replacement for Antonio, again I had been told that Caroll had a knock in training and that was one of the reasons to drop him to the bench. I was told they didn’t want to risk him for 90 minutes and wanted to rest him. In my view, Bilic could have bought in Andre Ayew as a replacement for Antonio and kept the same formation but instead, he showed his favouritism for Carroll and changed the team around him pushing Chicharito out to the wing.

Then was the bizarre decision of starting Aaron Cresswell instead Arthur Masuaku. Most fans know who has the form at the moment but Bilic appears to have his favourites and he is stubbornly loyal to them.

Last week I spoke Peterborough director of football Barry Fry who was a manager at Birmingham City under Sullivan, Gold and Brady.

He told me what I already knew that the board are backers and not sackers and had always been loyal and good to him even after they bought in Trevor Francis to replace him.

They have stayed friends for life and he was a guest of Sullivan and Gold in the director’s box at the London Stadium against Huddersfield.

You can hear the full 10 minute with Barry Fry at www.moorethanjustapodcast.co.uk

If I have one major criticism about the West Ham board it is that they hang on for too long before making their decision and they are too loyal. I understand that Slav will not be offered a new contract and his contract will run down to the summer like Sam Allardyce’s contract was allowed to expire.

Bilic knows it, the players know it and we know it. The decision has been made and he is a dead man walking in my opinion.

Personally, I think we need fresh ideas and a new manager at the helm for the remainder for this season but I doubt much will happen despite speculation in the Sun today that replacements are being lined up. My source tells me no-one is lined up and no discussions have been had to replace him.

It appears this story will have no closure until the summer.

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Dawud Marsh's Photo Diary

West Ham Suffer Painful Defeat to Spurs Despite Last Gasp Fight back


David Hautzig's Match Report

West Ham 2, Spurs 3. Mixed Emotions.

In the days leading up to today’s “Cup Final” with those guys, the topic most debated on here and podcasts like Moore Than Just A Podcast and The West Ham Way was formation and team selection. And the entire debate concentrated on Hernandez and Carroll. In the case of our Fox In The Box per se, Bilic was rightfully questioned about the real estate our most important signing had been asked to cover recently. As for the big guy, it wasn’t as much an issue with him playing but an issue with the world seemingly revolving around him when he’s healthy. It wasn’t too long ago that supporters wondered if Carroll’s days were numbered without the four hundred thousand pound man in charge. Add to that equation the types of players signed both last year and this, and the phrase Target Man might have been more relevant to some guy collecting the carts outside my absolute favorite store for everyday “stuff” than it was for our numero nueve. When today’s lineup was posted on Twitter, there was a moment of excited curiosity followed by the very familiar feeling of seeing he had possibly taken a knock. Slaven decided to go with pace, both in the middle and on the flanks. The results were mixed.

At least from a strategic perspective, we got an idea of what might be possible in the fifth minute when Arnautovic decided to run at the Spurs back line down the left instead of sending in a hopeful cross. There was nobody there to hook up with his low pass in the box, but the endeavor seemed to be there.

Arnautovic showed that endeavor again in the 16th minute when he ran down a low pass from Noble, but a well timed tackle from Aurier in the box stopped what likely would have been an excellent chance. Minutes later yet another run down the left by the Austrian ended with him trying to find Antonio at the far post but the pass was just long. While no shots were fired on goal, they were fired across the bow of The Battleship Spurs.

Spurs had their first chance of the match in the 24th minute when Aurier sent a low cross into the box that Kane couldn’t handle and thankfully for The Hammers it bounced off the inside of his foot and out for a goal kick.

The match changed completely in the 27th minute when Antonio pulled up injured and was replaced by the man whose absence created the original plan, Andy Carroll. Antonio faced a late fitness test to even be included, and if he faces any serious time out of action that decision will come under scrutiny. West Ham looked somewhat effective under the starting eleven, so at the very least one could hope Bilic took note of that.

If you wanted to make an argument for Noble starting today’s match, it was that nobody understood the depth of this fixture more than him. There are more than a few who would prefer to beat Spurs and finish 17th than be smashed by them and finish 8th. That passion was on full display when Noble and Sissoko tangled in midfield, which included a jaw to jaw discussion of the previous events. It ended with a chat with Michael Oliver and a handshake. Game on.

Moments later, the always important first goal belonged to the visitors. Eriksen played Alli on the left, and Alli found Kane with a cross that the England talisman headed past Hart. Replays showed Kane might have been offside, but the officials didn’t see it that way.

West Ham 0
Spurs 1

I didn’t have time to finish the description above before Eriksen again started an attack, this time down the right, with another pass to Alli. The young England superstar went for goal, and forced a good save from Hart. But Hart couldn’t handle the rebound and the ball bounced to Kane as if it had a guidance system on board and Kane rolled it in to the empty net.

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Halftime
West Ham 0
Spurs 2

West Ham began the second half as they began the first half, at least on the left with Arnautovic. He tried to make things happen, but in the end all he made happen was a few throw ins and goal kicks. A little possession can go a long way with quality and options. With neither of those available, well…..you know.

Spurs seemed to put the game out of reach in the 60th minute when Kane took a free kick from 30 yards out and went for goal. His laser beam delivery bounced off the post, but seconds later the ball landed on the right foot of Eriksen and ended up behind Hart.

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West Ham 0
Spurs 3

The Hammers tried to begin a long journey back in the 64th minute when a Noble corner was headed goal bound where Hernandez was there to head it past Lloris for his third goal of the season. While it eventually meant nothing to the outcome of the match, we can hope it helped keep our most natural goal scorer hungry for more.

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West Ham 1
Spurs 3

Aurier began his day on the edge with some potentially bookable moments. If he did that stupid thing with his hair today as well, then his bad judgement began hours earlier. In the span of six minutes his decisions could have cost the visitors dearly when he was shown two yellows and was sent off.

Hernandez worked himself into a good position in the 79th minute and fired a hard shot right at Lloris. A few inches left or right and we might have had a fun final ten minutes.

The fun, as it was, instead began in the 86th minute when Masuaku made an overlapping run with Cresswell on the left side of the Spurs penalty area and sent a hard cross into the box that Kouyate attacked ferociously and slammed a header past Lloris.

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West Ham 2
Spurs 3

The most important moment after that second goal came when the fourth official lifted his board and showed four minutes of added time. Seconds after that announcement, Masuaku won a corner but West Ham couldn’t capitalize.

West Ham won another corner from a low shot by Carroll, but the delivery was too high for anyone to get to. The Hammers did their level best to find the equalizer in the final moments but to no avail. Reid in fact was lucky not to be shown a straight red when he put his hands on Llorente’s face during a large, shall we say, group discussion deep into injury time.

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Final Score
West Ham 2
Spurs 3

Look, I didn’t expect anything from today. And the spirit showed after Hernandez and Kouyate scored was good to see. But it’s by no means a stretch to say everything changed when Antonio went off injured. And it changed for the worse. Look at Spurs first two goals. Carroll lost possession at midfield for the first, which allowed Eriksen to launch the counter that led Kane’s header. The second goal came as a result of a long goal kick from Hart, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out who the target was. Bilic’s decision to choose Carroll over Ayew or Sakho was also a decision to change the tactics entirely. Whatever we might think of Ayew or Sakho, West Ham might have been able to stick to the game plan that looked reasonably OK for the first twenty minutes or so.

The next four matches are all winnable. While I hate playing the game that puts a minimum number of points over a group of fixtures, seven points from the next four games is a must. Otherwise we will be looking at other teams in and around the drop zone, hoping results go our way.

Which they don’t always do.

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Match Thread

Match Thread: West Ham v Spurs

West Ham v Spurs
FA Premier League
KO 12.30pm
TV: Sky Sports
Radio: BBC 5 Live

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


Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A With Spurs

This weekend West Ham entertain Spurs at home in the early Saturday game. The atmosphere will be rocking at the London Stadium as we try for our 4th clean sheet on the trot, and hopefully another home win against the old enemy. Ahead of the game I spoke to the Political Sketch writer on The Guardian – John Crace to discuss the game.

I suppose you will be quite happy to be playing West Ham away this weekend given your record playing at Wembley so far?
Absolutely. Much as Mauricio Pochettino might try to suggest otherwise, the team is struggling — as it did last season — to get used to Wembley. Apart from the Dortmund game in the Champions’ League, we have looked nervous and laboured at Wembley. Away, though, we have been looking like the real deal and have beaten both Newcastle and Everton at a canter.

After successively improving position over the past couple of seasons do you think you will finally reach the top spot, or do you think that will remain tantalisingly out of reach again?
Not a chance. Both Manchester clubs have hit the ground running and look a class apart from every other team in the League. And with our Wembley form showing no sign of improving, even a top four finish might be a big ask.

Where do you think West Ham can realistically finish the season?
In the top 10. It’s hard to imagine West Ham breaking in to the Champions League places, and the team would need to have an exceptional season even to make the Europa League.

Which three teams do you think will suffer relegation and who will lift the title this season?
Too early to say. Crystal Palace have had a dreadful start, so must be in the frame, though Roy Hodgson has plenty of time to change that round. Huddersfield may also struggle for consistency over the full season, though people said that about Bournemouth when they first got promoted. That said, this year could be Bournemouth’s last!

Are you happy with your transfer dealings during the window? We know a little about Fernando Llorente, but what about your other purchases?
I’m happy enough with the players we bought. Llorente hasn’t had a great start, but he has the pedigree to make an impression up front if Harry Kane is injured or rested. Edinson Sanchez has fitted in comfortably at the centre of the back three, though probably needs to become a little more savvy; too often he makes rash challenges and gives away unnecessary free kicks. Serge Aurier also looked promising against Dortmund at right back: pacy down the flanks and good in defence. Juan Foyth also had a solid debut against Barnsley in the Carabao cup. Not quite so happy about selling Kyle Walker; I know £45m is a lot of money, but Spurs have missed him so far this season. Also not thrilled that, as usual, Spurs left so many signings to the last day. This invariably unsettles the side. Far better to get dealings done early in the window so the squad gets a chance to get to know each other

Pochettino seems to be a perfect fit for Spurs, what has he brought to your team since his arrival?
The main thing he has brought is stability. He knows how he wants his team to play and he knows his favoured starting XI. Over the three seasons he has been in charge the nucleus of the squad has remained pretty much the same. His real test is to come, though. There’s far less pressure on a manager and a team when expectations are low. Now Pochettino has raised the bar to where not qualifying for the Champions League would be considered a failure, he faces a different sort of challenge.

How do you rate West Ham’s Slaven Bilic as our manager?
Highly. I like his passion and his combative in-your-face approach.

Any particular memories of West Ham/Spurs games of the past?
I would have to go back to the game at Upton Park a few years ago when Gareth Bale scored THAT goal. To get a late winner when you are playing away is always somehow more satisfying than when you are at home; to get one of that quality is just the icing on the cake. I was right behind the goal and saw the ball from the time it left Bale’s foot to the time it hit the back of the net.

If you could have any current West Ham player in your first team who would you choose and why?
Manuel Lanzini. He has pace and vision and the all important knack of making things happen. He has the skill and imagination to play the killer pass that breaks down stubborn defences.

Which Tottenham player(s) will be key to your hopes this season?
I’ll go for the obvious. Harry Kane. If he gets injured or loses form for any length of time then it’s hard to see Spurs’ making a serious challenge for a top four finish.

How do you expect Tottenham to setup against West Ham on Saturday/ Team/formation prediction?
Five at the back, with Serge Aurier and Ben Davies playing as attacking wing backs. Eric Dier as central defensive midfielder just ahead of the back five. Three in midfield — Christian Eriksen, Mousa Dembele and Dele Alli. Kane up front.

Prediction for score?
2-0 to Spurs. We’re due a decent performance against West Ham having lost the last two away league fixtures 1-0 playing well below our best. And the team have looked much more comfortable on their travels than they have at home.

My thanks to @JohnJCrace for his comments, however I don’t think I can share his North London optimism, I’m going for a repeat of the last two years’ scoreline 1 – 0 to the Hammers – Come on you Irons!

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