The Blind Hammer Column

Resilient Hammers

Blind Hammer defends Squad’s character

After the disappointment of the Cardiff result West Ham’s character, commitment and attitude was questioned.

Whilst West Ham’s inconsistency is undeniable, attributing this to lack of character is unfair.
This is a resilient West Ham .

This has gone strangely under the Radar.

In previous seasons, under other regimes, I feared going behind. Then a squad, bereft of confidence, rarely recovered. This is not the current West Ham.

This failure to acknowledge our new battling qualities probably contributed to the early departure of thousands when we conceded a 1-3 lead to Huddersfield. There was little faith. There was an unwarranted pessimism that we could not recover.

In contrast to this strange pessimism , this team has repeatedly shown all season that they can bounce back from adversity, they regularly rescue points, and even win from losing positions.

For example, in the reverse fixture at Huddersfield Pritchard scored after only 6 minutes but we still scramble a point when Anderson equalised.

At home against Burnley we were twice pegged back, but despite Wood’s late equaliser, West Ham had enough commitment to power on to score 2 even later goals to win.

In our home game against Crystal Palace we again reached the break 0-1 down. Yet we overcame this with a powerful second half performance.

In our away game against Southampton we again fell behind, facing embarrassing defeat. This was averted by Anderson’s brilliant second half double.

At home against Brighton we seemed to faced certain defeat when first Dale Stephens, and then Shane Duffy scored from set pieces. Despite this the Hammers could not be written off and after astute substitutions by Pellegrini, an Arnautovic brace rescued a point.

At home against Liverpool we conceded a blatantly off side goal. In previous season this would have presaged a collapse in confidence and probable heavy defeat. Not this season, Antonio’s strike recovered yet another point.

We faced an unexpected challenge at home against Fulham. Here, Ryan Babel produced a shock early lead, but surely, by now, West Ham ability to not only equalise, but win all 3 points should not have surprised.

I cannot remember a season in when West Ham have recovered so many points from losing positions. Even in the League Cup we progress after surrendering an early goal against Wimbledon, a feat we were sadly unable to replicate in the FA Cup rematch.

The team has also shown Fabianski inspired tenacity in defending leads. Early in Pellegrini’s tenure we surrendered leads both to Arsenal and Bournemouth. Yet after these early August reverses we have never lost from a winning position. For example the team defended a lead for 53 minutes against Leicester with 10 men, succumbing to a equaliser only in injury time. WE were also under the cosh at Palace, but dug deep in the second half to protect a point.

There is a separate question as to why we concede early, but that is entirely different from questions of the team’s character. Character is surely best measured by the squad’s ability to recover from the more pressured, tougher challenge of adversity.

There may be issues with concentration. Player tiredness may be an issue. Personally I believe that our inconsistency simply reflects inadequacies in our current squad. We face different ttypes of challenges from each of our 19 Premier League competitors. This season has proved that we are better at meeting some challenges more than others.

Players such as Rice, Diop, Diangana, and Fredericks are still on a learning curve. In addition we have again suffered injuries. The squad needs strengthening.

We cannot regularly dominate patterns of play across the league. We instead have to, on occasion, scrap and battle. Teams have learnt to their cost that they cannot relax against this West Ham. Repeatedly this team has delivered late goals to cement or recover points.

In that context the recovery against Huddersfield was entirely expected and predictable. We should celebrate our fighting qualities.

David Griffith

The Blind Hammer Column

Time For Youth?

Blind Hammer argues for prioritising youth.

One, for me less welcome, historic change in English football was the increased jeopardy following top flight restructuring.

The old first Division hosted 22 teams but only 2 were relegated. In contrast, now 3 out of 20 face the trapdoor.

The fear consequent upon Losing 3 from 20 feels greater than that in the old structure. Nowadays the jeopardy of relegation clutches at more teams higher up the table.

Even if 2 teams are cut adrift, 1 team typically remains scrapping, drawing in other lower mid-table strugglers late into the relegation dogfight.

The situation is worsened by financial anxiety. In the past relegation was a competitive disappointment. It was not a financial disaster of the scale that now looms. Today relegation, without a prompt return, threatens the very existence of clubs. Some have to recover after falling into administration.

In previous times, with less jeopardy, with less financial consequences for each league placing, Wes Ham could use end of season matches to “blood” young players.

Modern financial pressures makes this strategy difficult . It is a rare Manager who will gamble their job to give youth a chance.

In recent seasons the opportunity for safe “blooding” has rarely arisen. Yet this is precisely our current situation. not only are we secure from relegation, we also have relatively little to play for.

The disappointment of the Cardiff result makes us clear second favourites for 7th spot. It may be controversial, but I believe our current squad is not yet robust enough to support a European Challenge anyway. We are not ready to compete on 3 let alone 4 fronts. Early summer European tournament qualification, only a few short months away will deprive our battered squad of necessary recovery time. Ambition needs to be framed realistically. The first step is a squad which can compete successfully on 2 fronts.

I am still mentally scarred by the Wimbledon debacle and the opportunity missed in one of the most open FA Cups in years. Next season’s priority should be to sustain our league improvement but for once also compete seriously in the cups. To realise even this, more limited, ambition will require squad development. We do not have mega resources but Rice’s elevation to the england Squad has sown what is possible. Some of the current crop of Academy contenders may, if given opportunity, also strengthen our prospects.

Pellegrini has shown more courage than most in giving youth a chance. Diangana, Silva and Johnson have joined rice in providing a youthful feed into the squad.

Yet the bench against Cardiff was strikingly shorn of any Academy products. This is prioritising the present rather than the future. This strategy should now reverse.

The return of Balbuena and Arnautovic was understandable. Other options were less straight forward.

As the season peters out, the case for retaining a probably departing Adrián is not clear. Surely the emergence of Trott, provided he is fit, should find reward? Masuaku should certainly find his place on the bench under pressure from Johnson,
Similarly Obiang should not be a fixture with the potential talents of Coventry and others available to compete. Nasri and Antonio should also find their bench places threatened by Holland and Diangana.

In normal circumstances Obiang would be ahead in selection. However we are not in normal circumstances. Pellegrini could reassure Obiang, and certainly both Nasri and Antonio of their importance in his short and medium term plans.

Pellegrini should grasp this opportunity, and announce his intention to blood selected young aspiring hopefuls.
David Griffith

The Blind Hammer Column

Handling the Rules

Blind Hammer looks at next season’s rule changes

Given the continued global popularity of football it is strange that governing bodies seem constantly obsessed with rule tinkering.

Despite football not being broke they are determined to fix it. The rules have continually changed, from the abolition of the back pass to the introduction of vanishing spray.

There is, however, an unusual mixed bag of welcome and unwelcome rule changes coming next season.

The most trailed change is to the handball rule. This will come in two parts.

The first change affects attackers whilst the second relates to defenders.

Attackers will now concede free kicks after unintentionally handling the ball. Yet, confusingly this will only happen in certain situation. The new rules will only apply if goals are scored or created with the use of an accidental handball. The goal will be ruled out and instead a free kick awarded. This will happen even if the handball was an unavoidable deflection or ricochet. Accidental handball will not, though, attract a Yellow Card.

Given this change relates solely to unintentional handball, it is difficult to see how this will amend any attacker’s behaviour. Intentional handball will still be punished.

This seems rather pointless to me. The whole point of a rule is, surely, to amend behaviour and prevent cheating. The only result of this change will be the ruling out of some possibly spectacular goals if there is the slightest inadvertent touch by an arm or hand. The game should encourage and not discourage goals.

In contract the second, more welcome, change will require Defenders to amend behaviour.

The International FA Board (IFAB) has introduced the concept of “silhouette”. This is intended to deter the practice of defenders spreading or raising their arms into unnatural positions to block the ball from close quarters”.

In future, Defenders will be expected to keep their arms in a natural silhouette by their sides. If the player’s arms extend beyond a “natural silhouette”, handball will be adjudged,, even if it is perceived as accidental.

In theory the rule change is also intended to reassure players that they do not need to hide their hands at free kicks. Despite this, I expect that many coaches will still demand this.

This second change, as opposed to punishing unwitting attackers, should be welcomed as it will make defenders much more cautious in deploying unfair blocking tactics.

Further rule changes are similarly a mixed bag.

Attacking players will, rightly, find it harder to pull and disrupt defensive walls as they will be required to stand a yard away from their opponents.

Bafflingly though the IFAB have decided to allow goalkeepers an extra advantage at penalty kicks by permitting them to advance, as long as they retain one foot on their goal line.

Presumably the IFAB have decided they want to see fewer goals and more penalty saves. Yet the whole drama of a current penalty save is that it is achieved with all the odds stacked against the keeper. This rule change smacks of bureaucrats with too much time on their hands.

Disappointingly the IFAB have not taken the opportunity to address the real outstanding issue, that of cynical fouling. Cynical fouling is what I describe as the deliberate use of a foul to prevent a team breaking away. This foul is committed, even if not in your own half, to protect a high press. . Teams have consistently used this tactic to prevent exposure from loss of possession. A yellow card is readily conceded and is described as “taking one for the team”. The IFAB should consider extending Red cards to these cynical fouls. Alternatively a Yellow Card could be retained as present but an extra sanction of advancing the resultant free kick to anywhere on the D of the penalty box could provide an additional deterrence.

In any case, VAR is likely to magnify the impact of these changes. West ham will have to prepare, during pre-season, drilling changes in tactics to take account of silhouette rules with their defensive units in particular.

David Griffith

The Blind Hammer Column

Pragmatic Pellegrini

Blind Hammer welcomes a pragmatic approach from Pellegrini.

Whilst a defeat is always a disappointment I welcomed Pellegrini’s strategic approach to our clash with City.

Watford’s performance at Anfield demonstrated the perils of not just competing but also managing resources against the Super Rich clubs.

In that context, losing only to a contentious penalty must be counted as a measure of progress. City had won all six of his previous matches against us, with an aggregate score of 22-3.

Pellegrini has repeatedly asserted that West Ham are a “big club”. Yet here he adopted a welcome pragmatic approach. His team competed, toe to toe. Yet they were not gung ho. were they were able to progress and repeatedly catch City players offside. This was not a performance simply built around playing deep.

Despite returning players, Pellegrini has had to manage with relatively wafer thin resources. When looking at the challenges of the current 8 day window the home games against Fulham and Newcastle always represented our most realistic opportunity for collecting points.

The win against Fulham came only after a difficult start. It reinforced the reality that all games in the PL remain challenging and competitive for West Ham. Newcastle on Saturday will represent a test stepped up from last week.

I welcomed Pellegrini’s squad rotation last night. In that context the virus that reportedly excluded Arnautovic, May, providing he recovers in time for Saturday, may represent a blessing in disguise.

It was a positive that not just the emerging talents of Johnson but Diangana and even Rice expanded their experience of premier League football at the highest level. Not just Nasri and Lanzini but also Fredericks gained valuable minutes in their road to fuller recovery. We should remember Fredericks, despite his reputation, has little recent PL experience to fall back on. His breakthrough came in the championship.

Even fringe players like Carroll and Obiang reportedly performed to a higher level. The squad looks stronger after this game than before it.

The recovery of Nasri and Lanzini may well prove critical in the weeks ahead. Anderson has played virtually every game, even having to come on in Cup games, and is probably feeling the strain.

So whilst defeat is disappointing, it is definitely a glass half full moment for me with several positives for both Pellegrini and the squad.

David Griffith

The Blind Hammer Column

Reflections On Fulham

Blind Hammer reflects on a night when things went our way

There is a Cliché that decisions even out over a season. The unfairness of refereeing decisions in our previous Home game against Liverpool cost us a chance to transform 1 point into 3. Tonight our luck changed, to a degree, and transformed a game that up until then we were struggling to dominate.

The surprise before kick-off was Pellegrini’s decision to persist with Hernandez instead of Marko Arnautovic. Initially when the latter replaced Hernandez you could see why. Arnautovic contributed little beyond conceding fouls and falling offside. Arnautovic did grow into the game though, hitting the woodwork and providing the cross for Antonio to cap a powerful performance with a deserved headed clincher.

This was a performance where West Ham had several players who, at first, struggled to get up to speed. It appeared that the curse of the mid-winter warm weather break had struck again.

West Ham were simply not at the races for the first 20 minutes. Ryan Babel should have scored for Fulham after 30 seconds but hesitated when clean through. Fabianski was much the busier goalkeeper, reinforcing his claims for Hammer of the year. Even Fabianski though, could not stop Babel striking, after Ryan Sessegnon’s perfect low cross. At 3 minutes we were rocking and Fulham, given rare confidence from an early goal out worked and out footballed West Ham all over the pitch.

It was time to dig in and gradually, after a poor starts, Noble and Snodgrass’s work rate allowed West Ham a way back into the game.

The result was a series of corners, which initially presented the predictable lack of threat that these had given all season.

Yet it was finally, indirectly, from a Snodgrass corner, that our equaliser came. After Snodgrass’s corner was cleared yet again, this time the ball was instantly returned and Hernandez earned his moment of controversy when he used his left hand to divert the ball into the net.

If we have had VAR then the goal would not have stood.

However if we had had VAR then we should, according to my stadium commentator, a clear penalty when a Fulham defender handled the ball. So even within a game things even out.

The most pleasing thing for me was that West Ham finally scored a goal directly from a corner having presented little threat, not just in this game, but for many games. By the time Diop’s header converted Snodgrass’s, on this occasion, perfect delivery we were dominating the game.

As soon as Hernandez scored Fulham became diminished and West ham improved all over the pitch. Rice became increasing influential, as did Antonio. I am particularly pleased that Antonio is proving those who claimed he was not technical enough to play in a Pellegrini team wrong. He has proved his potent blend of athleticism and power still has something crucial to add to this team.

The biggest cheer of the night was for the introduction of Lanzini and his substitution brought most of us to the edge of our seats as he instantly became involved. He was actually involved in Antonio’s late goal which gave the score line a more realistic look.

Whilst Fulham never gave up they never again dominated to the extent they had in the early stages and it was West Ham who were dominating at the end, not clinging on for the points. Their late goal was just reward for this. Other teams would have played out time by the corner flag. The Hammers in this game were rightly hungry for the third goal.

With Lanzini’s return and possible rehabilitation of Arnautovic, though he still has some loyalty to regain, the season might just give us exciting impetus to propel us into a memorable 2019 2020 season. At the very least Lanzini will make us more potent from set pieces.
David Griffith

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