Tony Hanna's Musings
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.
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.
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.
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?
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