Tony Hanna's Musings

Caviar rations and chicken and chips

In my Tuesday article last week I wondered whether Slav would still be in charge at West Ham by the time I wrote this one? Two games supposedly to save his job and a win and a draw have put in place a stay of (his inevitable) execution. Make no mistake, he will be gone by seasons end and this fact, paralleled with the continued recycling of two, three or four match ultimatums is a cancer that can only be hindering our progress. All this noise can only be a distraction that is totally unhelpful and heaps more pressure on Bilic and his team when the best thing the owners could do is offer full support or get rid. Last week, if you had offered me a win and a draw from the two away games at Spurs and Palace I would have chewed your arm off, especially after the debacle against Brighton. However, it was the manner of how both games panned out that put emotions at the forefront rather than the outcomes. In other words, if fans hadn’t watched either game and just looked at the results the following day they would probably be quite happy. A win and a draw and five goals scored sounds pretty good. We conceded four goals but hey, that is the type of stuff I can remember from the 60’s. But watch both games and dissect them and fans can come up with a whole different array of opinions on where the team is heading.

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All this comes at a time when we should still be on a high. As far as Premier League standards go we have not exactly been an over achiever since its conception. For most of my half a century of supporting the club we have been average at best. Sometimes we have played beautiful football and still got poor results. Just once in a while a season comes along where we win a Cup, finish third in the League or have a Payet season. For the most the rest has often been mediocre. But every now and again something happens that brings everything together, something that elevates us way beyond our normal expectations. Something we can revel in and remember for years. The comeback against Spurs at Wembley was such an event. Yep, we were awful for a half but you tell that to the thousands of West Ham fans that attended that game at Wembley. You tell that to Adrian who ran seventy yards to celebrate our third goal. Most fans would remember the 3-2 comeback win against Everton in 2016 as special? Fact is we played awful against ten men and it was only the last 20 minutes that it all came together. But we put one over on our bogey team that had for so long done the same to us. The manner of that comeback against Spurs will probably be the best moment of our season and if that disappoints you then perhaps you are not appreciating the real joy of being a West Ham fan because things won’t and normally don’t get a lot better.

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I was the youngest of a large family in the post war baby boomer era and living on hand me downs was normal. Mum and dad both worked two jobs and there still wasn’t a lot of money for the grocery bill. We had a weekly menu that never changed, fish fingers on Monday, rissoles on Tuesday, liver and bacon on Wednesday and so on. Mum only ever had two bets a year, the Derby and the Grand National, just a few shillings on each. One year when I was about ten she backed the Derby winner at a good price. She bought the whole family chicken and chips. Back in those days that was a real treat, believe it or not. I still remember that day even now, over 50 years later because it was special, something that elevated us all above our normal status. So, enjoy the odd occasion of eating the caviar the supporters of the top clubs take for granted all the time, because for us it is so much more special when we get to eat it once or twice a year. Now I know we should be hoping and wanting better and hopefully those days will come, but trust me, just for now don’t hold your breath. Even the Bubbles song we sing tells our own story. I was fortunate enough to attend what was the highlight of last season, again our win against Spurs. The win with an under strength team was not pretty, but it secured our Premier League status. Had Spurs beaten us that night it would have meant they won all of their final thirteen games that season – that was how good they were at the time. What was as special as the result though was how the OS rocked that night – the atmosphere was intense. A week later I walked away from the same ground after a 4-0 drubbing from Liverpool and walked past a pub that was full of Hammers – literally bouncing with beer flying everywhere. Why? They were still jumping with joy and singing about how Tottenham had “stuffed” it up! They were still eating caviar.

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Our first and third goals on Wednesday can be attributed to corners won. I haven’t seen it reported anywhere, but I counted sixteen consecutive passes in the movement leading to the first corner and fourteen consecutive passes in the move leading to the other. This team CAN play on the floor when Carroll is in the team. And so to the Palace fixture, again a game of two halves which is so often the case. Two excellent goals put the game in our pocket but this is West Ham. We don’t do things easily and by the book. We talk about West Ham DNA and one thing that always happens is we sit far too deep and invite pressure when we have a lead. It is not something exclusive under Bilic, it has been happening for years.

I read a lot of criticism regarding Antonio’s final minute decision to not take the ball to the corner flag. No argument there but there were many other bad ones in the closing stages of the game. We had two break away opportunities, both of which should have been converted to three on two situations in the final fifteen minutes of the game. However, the player with the ball on each occasion decided not to play the decisive pass and instead slow the play down and waste time. We were negative beyond belief such was the fear of the inevitable Palace equaliser instead of taking an opportunity to put the game to bed . Ogbonna and Masuaku gave away a string of unnecessary free kicks that just heaped more pressure on a very shaky defence. I am sure Bilic would have brought on Andy Carroll to help out with the aerial bombardment but the injury to Fonte pretty much forced his hand to look to Rice. There is a fragility in this side and that often comes when confidence is low. Not wanting the ball, fear of a mistake and hoping someone else will pull you through, it all comes when you are down. We see it every year with the bottom teams, they never get the breaks. Perhaps the saying you make your own luck rings true? One player who has risen above this in the last two games has been Andre Ayew. His work rate and enthusiasm will hopefully rub off on some of his team mates?

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This week Liverpool come to the OS. We were eating caviar when we won 3-0 at Anfield two seasons ago. I was beginning to think I would never see the Hammers win up there again in my lifetime. What a way to break the duck? Is this week a defining moment of our season? I don’t think so personally. There is a long way to go and I am sure there will be plenty of twists and turns. I am just wondering when the next serving of caviar is being served – it is often when least expected.

My reference to caviar is for analogy purposes only – can’t stand the stuff personally

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The HamburgHammer Column

Shaky Hammers punished for own negativity - shame the season can't be over already

I am still fuming. And shocked. I feel angry and embarrassed. Sick and tired. As a football fan sometimes you can see your team throwing a game away, frightening early signs indicating where things are heading to with alarming predetermination, you can clearly make out the jaws of victory, beckoning in the distance, but you’re also painfully aware of defeat creeping ever closer to those jaws, ready to get snatched at the final moment in place of the aforementioned victory, yet there is nothing you can do, especially if you can only watch the events unfolding on a dodgy internet stream from an armchair 500 miles away from London.

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The Saturday for me personally was pretty much a footballing disaster, with two disappointing draws in totally winnable games. First Cordi only drew 1:1 at FC Turkiye (wrong side of the river, shocking atmosphere plus a terrible referee), conceding the softest of penalties (sound familiar ?) in a wet and windy contest on a cabbage field disguised as a football pitch before luckily scoring the equaliser five minutes from time. Turkiye are a shocking football team matching the quality of their home pitch, still Concordia failed to have a proper gameplan and also gave away the ball far too often – the only good thing from that encounter was that I got home fairly quickly after that shocker of a game, just in time to catch Ayew’s screamer late in the first half to give us a comfortable 2:0 lead. Or so I thought…

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Surely this is it I said to myself, settling into my comfy armchair, screwdriver in hand. This won’t be yet another false dawn. We will score another goal or two and that’ll be it. Then my internet stream started to play up. It crashed every two minutes or so, replayed the same passage of play three times over and came alive again suddenly with a few minutes of play lost in the abyss. Still I was able to witness Ogbonna conceding the penalty early in the second half Just what the doctor ordered…NOT.
As a professional defender you simply can’t challenge your opponent in your penalty box like this – yes, it was a soft penalty, but there was definite contact and if you give the other guy the opportunity to go down nine times out of ten he will gladly oblige and the referee will blow the whistle, given a chance, and I blame neither the Palace player nor the referee in this instance.

That goal was the big game changer. It threw Palace a lifeline, it breathed new life into a shellshocked home crowd and it made our team nervous for the remainder of the second half. Still, this is what I just don’t get: Why do you allow the opposition to put yourself under the kosh like this ? It’s Palace after all, not Manchester City or Barcelona for crying out loud!

Let’s then jump to roundabout the 80th minute – from then on we were negative and unprofessional beyond belief. How can you begin passing freekicks to the corner flag, trying to waste time rather than creating another goalscoring opportunity to kill off the game for good ?

There were several instances where one of our guys was in a good position to run at the defenders in the Palace box, take them on, make something happen. Yet we tried to win the game by killing time. Again and again.
(Except once right at the end when Antonio didn’t actually keep the ball in the corner which gave Palace the chance to equalise.)

We actually killed our chances of winning by choosing that negative approach coupled with bad decision making by the players. I felt embarrassed watching us in the second half. Even if we were a better team at keeping the ball and wasting some time (which we are not) I don’t like to see that kind of approach from my team…ever. It just feels wrong.

Same as diving, playacting or recklessly tackling an opposition player, embracing the possibility of causing a fellow professional a bad injury in the process.
It’s plain wrong.

Best way to win in my book has always been playing positive football, trying to score, thereby making it harder for the opposition to get back into the game.

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I really don’t blame Palace here, they got a much deserved and hard fought point. But who in Bobby Moore’s name was responsible for that negativity shown by us in the second half ? Virtually the ENTIRE second half.

Was it our manager who told the players to timewaste our way to victory ? Was it the players who simply didn’t trust their own ability to score another goal or two against basement boys Palace who, let’s be frank, aren’t exactly world beaters ?

Shooting ourselves in the foot like this again and again won’t help our team to gain some much needed confidence, it’s always one step forward and two steps back for us.

We never play a complete game, giving a professional performance from start to finish, two halves of full effort, desire or swagger. Why is that ?
Just like at Burnley we threw away what would have been a very valuable away win right at the end of the game. It’s doing my nut in.

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If we can’t beat a team like Palace after carving out a 2:0 halftime lead against them, what does that say about the character of our team ? It’s nice of course to beat Spurs in the fashion we did last Wednesday in the League Cup. But it’s not much good if you then follow it up with an utterly unprofessional display in the second half like we delivered at Palace.Maybe we should change our name from West Ham United to What If United.

There always is a catch or caveat when it comes to our club. Of course we have seen all of this before and with all our practise we should be used by now to the sheer stupidity and sloppiness of it all, but as a fan you never get used to it, do you ? It still hurts like hell. It stings. And yes, it also stinks.

Once again my screwdriver ended up getting chucked to the floor violently in a fit of anger and disappointment. The season already feels lost to me.
Not in a sense that we will get relegated. We won’t get relegated. But we will keep hovering between 10th and 15th place in the table all season. Throw in the football we’re playing and it’s not a combination you want to fill a 60k stadium next season.

Unfortunately we still have plenty of games to play, but it’s hard to see us even winning two in a row this season. World class players in a world class stadium, you’re havin’ a bubble mate! As mentioned in my column last week, both club and team look rotten right now, things just don’t appear to sit right from top to bottom.

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There were merely two things that gave me a genuine reason to smile at the weekend, West Ham wise. One was our development squad beating their Manchester City counterparts with a 2:1 scoreline (and Martinez scoring again). The other was seeing Declan Rice come on as a substitute. I am very impressed with the lad and hope he will get many more opportunities in this nightmare of a season to gain more PL experience and subsequently grow in stature. With Bilic unlikely to be a permanent feature for West Ham now, players like Rice (or Martinez, Quina, Kemp, Burke, Cullen and Holland) continue to give me a valid reason to cheer on the Hammers and hope for better times for the boys in claret and blue.

Take note Messrs. Gold and Sullivan – just because you’re decking out our players in a Man City coloured shirt it doesn’t mean that the players will suddenly have the same skills and quality. It takes more than that. A lot more…maybe more than you are capable or prepared to deliver. COYI!!!

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Talking Point

Hernandez and Ayew score with two top class strikes - BBC MoTD fails to notice!

It was unusual to see a West Ham match second in the MoTD schedule on Saturday evening. Usually we are last or second from last, with some rushed and clipped comments from the match analysts. It was obviously the Palace fight-back from 0-2 down, to grab a draw, that brought about our rare promotion. The post-highlight analysis was a joke as per usual, plenty of stuff about Palace ‘deserving’ the win and West Ham’s naivety, which I expected. What I did not expect was the absence of even a single reference to the quality of West Ham’s two goals. The Hernandez opener was a superb strike with the outside of the Mexican international’s boot and the build up play was also very sharp, carving open the Palace rear guard with a cool and beautiful efficiency. While, Ayew scored with a great long range strike, that hit the top left of the net like a rocket. So much for Ayew only scoring penalty box tap-ins!

In all honesty, and with due respect, how can any decent TV match analysis fail to praise such outstanding finishing? Would they have been ignored if they had been scored by Man City, Spurs, Man Utd or Liverpool strikers? I think we all know the answer to that. Anyway, do not expect either goal to feature on the short-list for BBC MoTD goal of the month for October!

Today’s result was undoubtedly disappointing. Having gone two goals ahead, we should have scored a third and killed the game off. Instead, Palace come out in the second half all fire and determination. And we allowed them to boss the rest of the game. The role of Zaha and Townsend was crucial in that and their wing play (plus some fairly obvious dives) resulted in a penalty and a glut of Palace corners and free-kicks. This does, of course, beg the question why we did not better adapt our tactics to counter their threat and grab back the initiative? As for bad luck (if one is tempted to use that excuse), losing two points in the 7th minute of extra time is beyond being unlucky in my book. Especially as we were in the last minute and Antonio had possession out on the flank, deep in Palace territory. Criticism of Antonio’s play in that situation is justified, but lets keep it real and in proportion. The Palace keeper gathered the ball from Antonio’s poor cross, it was poor decision-making not to keep the ball, but there was still a awful lot to do between the punt up field and Zaha’s shot finding the corner of the net. We must equally scrutinise not just Antonio’s decision-making, but also our poor defending in the lead up to the equaliser.

The match report in the Daily Mail was excessively negative in my opinion, arguing that the positivity/momentum arising from the Spurs win has been dissipated and the pressure was back on Bilic. They would argue that because the would much rather run with ‘doom and gloom’ headlines and stories about Bilic’s imminent sacking. It is part of their ‘modus operandi.’ Mistakes and losing points unnecessarily hurts, but this experience can be productive in the long-run if we only learn from it. The bottom line is the team must learn from it and use it to make us stronger for the remainder of the campaign.

And there were actually positives arising from the match. Firstly, Joe Hart had his best match in a West Ham keeper’s shirt. He pulled off some first class saves and, hopefully, his form will continue to improve with his confidence. Cresswell looked much more like his old self in this match and his contribution to the build up to Hernandez’s opening goal was excellent. Hernandez demonstrated what a class striker he is. His strike with the outside of his boot was a technically difficult skill, beautifully executed. While Ayew seems to be a player re-born. His long-distance strike was superb and just shows what increased self-confidence can do. Indeed, having a goal scoring midfielder back within our ranks (weighing with 10-15 goals) can be an important factor in revitalising our season. Mark Noble is still not at his very best, but he has improved and is applying himself manfully. He is our leader on the pitch and it is quality leadership and experience that we need at the moment. Moreover, he cares about the club and his reaction at the end of the Palace game (regardless of the rights and wrongs of it from a disciplinary perspective) at least demonstrates his passion. Finally, we still have Reid and Carroll to come back in to the team. Reid is our best defender and leads the defensive unit; while Carroll brings a different set of attributes to our forward line.

So, the bottom line for me is that things were not all wonderful after the Spurs win and ruinous after dropping points to Palace. The team need to learn from the Palace result and use the experience constructively. There were positives from yesterday, if we care to look for them, and these needs to also be considered by the fans (if not MoTD) along with the obvious negatives.

Yes, to climb the table we need a run of wins and it would have been preferable to have began that yesterday, but it will happen. And why not start by beating Liverpool, at home, on 4th November? Stranger things have happened! This is West Ham United after all. COYI!

SJ. Chandos.

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David Hautzig's Match Report

Crystal Palace 2, West Ham 2. From Worst To Bad.

Slaven has two games to save his job.

Save Our Season.

Watershed moment.

Blah blah blah. We’ve heard it all before. I was almost surprised that I was so annoyed before today’s match as opposed to my regular feelings of despair. I said after the Newcastle match that the sample size was big enough to make a strong argument for a change at the top. The cat was already out of the proverbial bag, yet the board were supposedly still contemplating. Reviewing. And after reading a superb piece on Claret & Hugh by Bobby Galbraith, http://www.claretandhugh.info/west-hams-thinking-must-change-from-bottom-to-top/, I don’t feel much confidence that the club as a whole can climb out of the ditch we always find ourselves in. And yes, I do know what we did Wednesday night. It was enthralling and brilliant. But a nice meal and a film with your partner doesn’t mean a relationship that has been awful for a year should continue. Three points today would ease the pain. Control the rot. Maybe I’m being dramatic, which those who know me won’t be surprised by. But I stand by my opinion, and today only reinforced it.

One statistic that has driven me nuts lately is that West Ham have played the most long balls in the Premier League, precisely what supporters hated during the days of He Who Shall Not Be Named. So what did we do twenty seconds into the match? Ogbonna sent a long ball to nobody that ended in a Palace goal kick. Another area of concern has been our defensive mistakes. So what did Lanzini do two minutes later? Commit a silly foul just outside the West Ham penalty area, giving Palace a dangerous free kick. The more things change, etc.

The opening fifteen minutes were a combination of dire and boring. With a few injuries for good measure. Hideous giveaways, passes to phantom players, and virtually zero skill. Even Hernandez gave the ball away time and time again. Like a tennis match with unforced errors all over the place. Neither team looked even remotely Premier League quality….yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but I ain’t gonna write that. In fact, I didn’t know what to say at that point. My trip to the garbage dump this morning to unload an old set of stairs was significantly more exciting. So I decided silence in the written form, along with some coffee, was my best bet.

Like an alarm clock when you are fast asleep, West Ham woke us up in the 31st minute. After Zaha and his fellow Palace players wanted Madley to call a penalty on Fonte, West Ham broke on the counter. Lanzini fed Ayew on the top of the box. The man with the brace on Wednesday rolled a pass to Cresswell on the left, who then whipped a low cross that Hernandez guided in with the outside of his right foot.

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Crystal Palace 0
West Ham 1

West Ham almost doubled their lead a few minutes later when Lanzini sent a corner into the box that Ogbonna should have done better with but the ball rolled out for a goal kick. Moments later, Palace earned two quick corners, and on the second Hart showed the qualities that made him one of the better keepers in England for a few years. Palace had a number of unmarked headers in the box, a potentially bad sign for sure, and the third one came off the noggin of James Tomkins. It was headed for goal but Hart somehow got his right hand on it. The rebound fell to Schlupp two yards out, but his shot hit Hart’s left armed and went over the bar. If that series of events happens 100 times, 99 result in a goal. So West Ham got one of a few mulligans for the day.

When Andre Ayew signed for Swansea, reportedly over West Ham, I knew a few supporters who were royally disappointed. When he jumped the Welsh ship for us last year, many were pleased in spite of the price tag. He has scored a few goals, but overall he has been a disappointment. But Wednesday gave us a glimpse of what he can do if he fires on all cylinders. In the 43rd minute, Milivojevic took a turn playing the Horrible Giveaway game, and Ayew went to the races. He turned Dann inside out before rifling a shot past a dining Speroni.

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Crystal Palace 0
West Ham 2

Zaha earned Crystal Palace a corner in the dying seconds of first half added time. The set piece flew into the West Ham penalty area, and again it looked like no West Ham defender had any interest in, well, defending. Dann had a free header that he sent to Loftus Cheek at the near post. Hart may have had it covered, but he didn’t need to because the ball went wide.

Halftime
Crystal Palace 0
West Ham 2

The second half brought an unexpected substitution from Slaven Bilic, with Cresswell coming off for Masuaku. As an attacking move I could see it. But at two-nil up, it had to be an injury to Cresswell. There were reports on Twitter that Cresswell was seen limping at the end of the opening forty five minutes. Masuaku was beaten by Townsend on the right, but Palace couldn’t capitalize. But moments later, a pass into the West Ham penalty area was run down by Townsend. Ogbonna stupidly bumped him in the area, and Madley pointed at the spot. Milivojevic, the man responsible for sending Ayew off on the run for West Ham’s second goal, stepped up and put it past Hart.

Crystal Palace 1
West Ham 2

Palace went right back on the front foot after their goal, and couldn’t have come any closer to an equalizer if they tried. After good work by Zaha on the left, the ball went to Cabaye near the top of the penalty area. His shot hit the inside of the far post and rebounded out to safety. For years I have always feared two-nil leads. One of those crazy West Ham neuroses we all have in some form or another. My fear felt appropriate.

Antonio came on for Zabaleta in the 60th minute in what could only be thought of as injury related again. At least I hope so, because if that was a tactical move you would be hard pressed to find anyone to defend it.

With 17 minutes to go, Fonte went down and signaled his day was done. To those who wanted to see youth given a chance to show what they can do, Declan Rice entered the game while Fonte hobbled off. Despite the desire for The Academy Of Football to return, it was the kind of moment West Ham fans know can be a turning point for the worst.

Moments after the switch, Hart again came to the rescue with a lovely save off of Zaha. A minute later, Ogbonna was again at fault for a bad challenge, giving Palace a free kick at the top of the penalty area. I couldn’t watch. I walked out of the room but heard the groans. Thankfully the replay was the same as the live action as Hart dove to his left to make the stop.

Crystal Palace kept up the pressure and won their ninth corner of the match in the 81st minute. The ball bounced around before Milivojevic fired a shot well over the bar. A few minutes later Masuaku saw yellow for continued infringement, and Cabaye whipped in a set piece that West Ham handled well. Then Townsend again beat Masuaku on the right but nobody was in the box to get on the end of his cutback.

I fired another antacid tablet down my throat.

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In the 88th minute, my stream died. I got a little bit of audio, most of which sounded like Tony Gale saying West Ham were sloppy and daring Crystal Palace to level the match. Hart made a great save on Tomkins again, and Rice made a good play to intercept a cross. But West Ham had chances to kill off the game, and in the end couldn’t. I’m told Antonio was downright negligent when he flipped the ball to Speroni with two Hammers in the box. Zaha beat Kouyate and Rice to score in the final seconds of added time, and we dropped a 2-0 halftime lead to a team that had conspired to lose 29 games this year while not scoring in 17 of them.

Final Score
Crystal Palace 2
West Ham 2

We are on a path that is eerily similar to the season under Grant. If we don’t act soon, and in my opinion it’s already later than it should have been, we could suffer the same fate. And if the board don’t realize relegation at the London Stadium would be far different than it was at Upton Park, they are sadly mistaken. Which doesn’t mean I have any faith in them fixing what appears to be broken. They would rather put tar on a hole in their roof than replace the roof itself. So I still expect Bilic to be in charge in May.

I only hope it’s more like Zola than Grant and we stay up.

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Match Thread

Match Thread: Crystal Palace v West Ham

Crystal Palace v West Ham
FA Premier League
Selhurst Park
KO 3pm
TV: None
Radio: BBC London

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


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