The Blind Hammer Column

West Ham 0- Arsenal 0- –The Moyes Revival Continues

Blind Hammer reports on a demonstration of Organisation, Determination, and Grit.

Only 6 weeks ago commentators described West Ham as naïve, unfit and disorganised. We had the worst defence in the league, allowing average, poor sides to find the net against us. Against the mega rich team, including Arsenal we would routinely concede 3, 4 and even 5. Phil Neville described Masuaku as an “accident waiting to happen”. Some of Obonna’s early season performances were calamitous. Cresswell always had a mistake in his locker. Few in defence gave us any confidence.

The transformation is little short of remarkable. Whilst Masuaku did not reach the exciting heights of his display against Chelsea, he was dogged, determined and disciplined. This may have much to do with the fact that Moyes was in his ear all through the second half, telling him to keep tabs on Bellerín, and in particular protect Cresswell from his pace on the wing. In the middle Obonna was transformed from a weakness to a colossus which nullified everything Arsenal could throw at him. He was my personal man of the match. Cresswell has recovered the solidity which made him a contender for the England defence.
Yet Moyes is not resting on his laurels.
He said after the game.
“I want them to be more robust and we’re still a bit easy to play against. We’re trying to improve that and we want to make our football better.
“There’s a lot to improve but the first thing was to stop conceding goals. I’m really enjoying it here.”

If Moyes thinks that West ham are still easy to play against they are definitely harder to play than they were a few weeks ago. In the 270 minutes of the last 3 games, at the London Stadium, West Ham has only conceded 1 goal.
It is 3 months since Arsenal were shut out and failed to score. So, in 2 successive games, West Ham has nullified 2 of the most potent attacks in the league. They also run the most potent team close in a tight game in Manchester.

Whilst Arsenal massively dominated possession they managed only 3 shots on target. Crucially West ham’s defence and midfield had the mental strength to maintain shaped and discipline even when starved of possession. Arsenal may have made a thousand passes in a game but this does not mean that they will create chances or win a game. This is the historic weakness in Wenger’s team strategy. Moyes interpreted what he needed to do for this game in much the same way as he organised against Chelsea.
Actually West Ham, whilst not reaching the heights of the performance against Chelsea could quite feasibly have won the game. Arnautovic superb disallowed header after 15 minutes must have been only fractionally offside at best. We were right in line and my sighted guide was convinced, live, that he was onside. Obviously we did not have the benefit of replays. At the other end Hernandez was denied by the woodwork, only inches away from what would have been a stunning winner. This was an important demonstration of the talents we are likely to need in the next few weeks against Stoke Bournemouth Newcastle and West Brom.

Arsenal was always going to be a tougher challenge than Chelsea. Moyes had all week to prepare against Chelsea, and it showed. He had far less time to prepare the team for Arsenal.
In his Everton days Moyes was famous for his team specific preparation. He drilled his teams in detailed tactics devised for each team.

Different challenges will come in the weeks ahead. However Moyes has the experience to adjust. He will still be learning about his squad and he has already indicated it needs strengthening in January. The road to safety from relegation may still be rocky in a league which is already compressing with all the team who have made managerial changes finding form and recovering. Yet we are in a position few would have predicted a couple of weeks ago. Without the 4 points won against Arsenal and Chelsea we would not only be in the relegation zone, but adrift. We would currently have a sense of doom. Instead we go into some, in theory, winnable fixtures with some unlikely optimism.
David Griffith

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The Blind Hammer Column

Moyes Is Learning

Blind Hammer reflects on Moyes’ new coaching setup

It was weird this morning. On the day after a West Ham game I woke up feeling quite serene. For the first time for ages I felt there was a steadying hand at the tiller of the West Ham defensive coaching setup.

After the Everton defeat I wrote that Moyes was not only a man in a hurry but one who needed to learn fast in what direction he wanted to go.
Before and after his appointment there were despairing references to Moyes as a “dinosaur that was going to rely solely on the long ball and parking the bus. In particular his instant recourse to and reliance on the strengths of Andy Carroll seemed ominous for the sort of football we could expect.

Yet after only a month in charge we find the guardian describing West Ham in the following terms.
“Chelsea was deservedly beaten by opponents who were simply more organised, more determined, and more athletic and who found a sting when on top.”

Even a couple of weeks ago the notion that West Ham could be more organised and athletic than a top four side seemed a pipe dream.

In complete contradiction to some of the early negative perspective Moyes is showing early signs of intellectual flexibility and insight. He swiftly identified our present vulnerability with a flat back 4, so easily exposed in the Everton game. He responded by having the insight to move Creswell into the left of a defensive 3. Cresswell responded by providing his best performance of the season. This solidity provided the platform for Masuaku to provide a rampaging man of the match performance at left wing back. He stressed the Chelsea defence all afternoon. Conte tried to counter Masuaku by introducing Moses to occupy and reduce his threat. In the event Moses spent more time chasing Masuaku than the other way around. On the right, Zabeleta had arguably his best performance in a West Ham shirt.
Moyes also seems able to unlock the mercurial talents of Arnautovic in a new look forward line up. Moyes stressed post match that Carroll still had an important role at the club but these were talents that would be needed for some but not all games. Yesterday he wanted the pace and mobility of both Arnautovic and Antonio. Even when Arnautovic was withdrawn he wanted the greater mobility that Sakho offered. Moyes provided blunt straightforwardness by criticising Antonio’s physical collapse after the game. He made it clear that he needed forwards who could play for 90 and not 65 minutes. MOYES IS SHOWING ABILITY TO GRAPS SOME uncomfortable NETTLES. THIS WAS HUGELY DEMONSTRATED BY HIS RETENTION OF Adrian in goal. Adrian must feel vindicated now after Sullivan’s description of Hart as the best goalkeeper he has ever worked with.

Above all what was encouraging for me was the evidence of intelligent coaching. My in-stadium commentator told us that behind him were Alan Irvine who was in constant communication on a mobile link to Moyes’ earpiece. From his high viewpoint he provided feedback on patterns of play and development that Moyes would have found difficult to see from the touchline. On the touchline the presence of Pearce which is vast amount of international and club management and coaching experience was so much more reassuring to see than Julian Dicks, legendary as a player but sadly not as a coach.
Last night when I got home I re-listened to the game on iPlayer. Pat Nevins thought that all over the park Moyes had out thought Conte tactically. Specifically he thought West Ham had trained to disrupt the previously successful hazard Morata combination and link up play. Morata was also nullified in the box through defenders ganging up on him. He praised how generally West Ham’s midfield quashed Chelsea’s threat by not just effort but also intelligence.
For me personally, I was gratified that we did not, every time we won a corner, then concede an effort on our goal on the break. Special praise is due to Obiang, who provided this covering security.
Finally yet again the Stadium provided an atmosphere to be proud of. The nonsense that the arena is a soulless bowl was yet again disproven. The atmosphere is dreadful when we are playing badly and do not appear to have a clue. The same was true for Upton Park actually.
One Swallow does not make a summer but at last there is some reason for optimism.
David Griffith

The Blind Hammer Column

West Ham and Moore-Stephens- The £3 Billion Cost of Athletics

In the first of a series on Moore-Stephens Blind Hammer explains why Athletics have no future at the LS.

Last week saw the long awaited Moore-Stephens Report into the financial chaos of the London Stadium. The Mayoral Press release focussed on the “deal of the century” struck by West Ham. Predictably the press followed this with lazy headlines implying that the root of the problem lay with “West Ham fleecing the Tax Payers. Whilst the report does criticise the LLDC negotiation, this analysis does not accurately reflect the substance of the findings. The support of the Mayoral slant is probably perpetuated by Journalists who have relied on the Press Release and not bothered to read the full report. The Mayoral description of the conclusions seems designed to exact public pressure for a renegotiation with West Ham. In reality any renegotiation will only scratch the surface of the financial meltdown. I will however, address the whole issue of renegotiation in a future article.

So what does the report really tell us?
It is clear that West Ham is not the problem for the Stadium but an integral part of the solution. The Stadium has a viable financial future only with West Ham as anchor tenants.

Consequently the problems associated with the viability of the Stadium are not related to the aspirations of West Ham. The current financial Problems and Tax Payer burden actually have their roots in the legal challenge mounted by Daniel levy, supported by Barry Hearn. The pressure of this challenge caused a flawed reaction by the then Mayor Johnston. In a fatal error of judgement he withdrew support from the plan to transfer the Stadium to West Ham. Under this arrangement liability for the Tax Payer would have been capped at £35 million. Instead he cobbled together a plan to rent out a “multi-use Stadium under public ownership. This is the structure which underlies all the current problems. Moore-Stephens is crystal clear on this point.
In particular, fatefully, this decision transferred all the risks of Stadium development from West ham to the tax Payer.

Ever since There have been a legacy of problems. The outstanding issue going forward is the cost of annual Stadium conversion. Until now we have not known the financial costs associated with facilitating summer athletics. What the Moore Stephens report lays bare is a situation far worse than any could have imagined.

A key passage Copied from the report appears below.

““The income and expenditure items that have differed most from amounts expected in E20 business plans are:
The operating costs of the relocatable seating which now represents the largest annual expense to E20.
These costs are in excess of £10m per annum, which is over 300 times greater than the figure budgeted (of £300k). This cost is not just limited to one year, but is an ongoing issue as the movement of seats is required every year, and this level of operating cost is not expected to be reduced without a new solution for seating being implemented, at considerable additional capital expense.””

I suspect Moore-Stephens calculator may have been on the blink as I make £10 million a factor of 30 and not 300 times the original estimate of £300,000. Whilst this may be embarrassing for the financial credibility of the analysis, nevertheless the general point still holds. It is important to note this annual capital outlay is wasted investment with no long term return. Apart from the benefit of staging a 2 week Athletics meeting. It is the investment plan equivalent to spending £10 million a year digging a hole and then filling it in again. It is the infrastructural plan of the mad house. The Tax Payer spends over £10 million a year in capital investment but at the end of the process UK Athletics are in exactly the same position as it was before the start of the investment.

So there is no returns apart from allowing the stadium to host a 2 week Athletic event. What this means is that even ignoring inflation the tax Payer will, over 10 years, subsidise Athletics to the tune of £100 million for staging Athletics for just 20 weeks.

When you consider the vast sums involved in building projects it is sometimes hard to contextualise. However this is serious money which could do a great deal elsewhere. For comparison sake the cost of building The Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in 2015 was £75 million. So in just 8 years moving seats for athletics will start to dwarf the cost of building a small hospital. The value of a Hospital building will support thousands with critical care all year around, 24 hours a day, and last for at least a generation. The seat relocation investment provides value only for an annual 2 weeks Athletics window. By any reasonable scrutiny this is a colossal waste of public money.

£10million for seat relocation is astonishing. Even rejecting Moore Stephens incorrect estimate it is still 30 times larger than the sum budgeted for in the original Business Plan. There is no doubt that if the actual cost of seat relocation had been properly scoped, the whole Multi-use Plan would have been jettisoned at birth.

A further problem is that these conversion costs will increase rather than decrease over time. The original vision of a hi-tech 21st Century technological solution with sliding smooth retractable stands has long disappeared. This has been replaced by 19th Century labour intensive scaffolding technology. By massive deployment of brawn brain and muscle, an internal stadium is effectively demolished and constructed every year. The largest part of the relocation budget will be wages sensitive to inflation.

Ignoring inflation, the current Stadium Project is already schedule to accrue cost of £1,000 million over the life of the lease. In other words a billion pounds. This is a budget more suited to running Government Departments than putting on an Athletics event.

When we consider inflation the situation is even worse. In 10 years the annual cost of seat relocation will be, assuming 2% inflation, over £12 million a year. By the end of the planned lease based again on an average 2% inflation the annual cost will be nearly £70 million and the state would have invested £3 billion in order to stage Athletics for 2 weeks a year.
I have compiled a financial analysis of the costs over the terms of the lease, including inflation which can be downloaded from “here”:

So the unavoidable conclusion is that seat relocation has no practical future. The real question then is whether the Stadium has a future with Athletics as the anchor tenants with West Ham relocating elsewhere. The answer is no. The unavoidable consequence then is that it is Athletics which will have to relocate. It is only with Premiership Football that the Stadium has a future.

This will undoubtedly disrupt the vision for legacy. It is not in dispute that Athletics needs a national home but this must be invested in another place. The State must commit to providing a world class legacy for Athletics. This was the vision of 2012 and should be honoured. It just cannot be honoured at the London Stadium.

David Griffith

The Blind Hammer Column

Moyes Needs to Learn Fast.

Blind Hammer reflects on another dismal performance.

One of the more memorable remarks Moyes made on entering the London Stadium was to claim he was a “man in a hurry”. The point however is to not just hurry but know where you are going. Most people finally now accept that the most important, distressing tactical weakness that West Ham has displayed over the last 18 months has been their abject defending. It is only a sadness that this obvious weakness was never addressed in the summer recruitment priorities and we stumbled into the season with a limited set of largely aged and/or injury prone defenders. The club were so obsessed with remedying Carroll’s and Sakho’s injury issues they completely ignored this more critical weakness. My readers will know this inept glamour recruitment policy worried me sick over the summer and I feel even worse now.

The consequences of this strategic folly are now coming home to roost. Clubs struggling before they play us all manage to score freely. Brighton Southampton Newcastle and now Everton have all recovered their form against us. Crystal Palace was unfortunate to only score 2.

Over the last 18 months the only consistent defensive solidity that Bilic has ever achieved has been with a defensive three, most effective when marshalled by James Collins. It is a mark of our current defensive weakness that the return of the injury prone Collins, a passionate and committed but limited player at the end of his career is now look upon as a possible saving grace for our team in the weeks ahead.

Yet Bilic never embraced the 3 at the back in his squad strategy and stubbornly insisted on developing a glamour team built on lose sand, erecting a failed flimsy and rickety defensive setup.
Now Moyes has come to the helm he appears to share Bilic’s analysis of the squad and he also has tried to set up a team with a flat back four. The results so far are sadly completely predictable and West Ham continues to ship goals at a rate of 2-3 goals a game. The Moyes’ magic wand could not reasonably be expected to work on a unit which had failed for the previous 18 months.

Moyes is also obviously limited by the squad options he has inherited. It seems unlikely that with any defensive cover of quality that Obonna would have retained his place. Certainly Tomkins would walk into this side. Before and during the game many called for Declan rice’s inclusion. However the Premiership is a tough baptism for an 18 year old and when Rice eventually entered the frayed he was instantly beaten by Williams for Everton’s third goal. The squad will need a major defensive overhaul in January and the reported “war chest” of £20 million for Moyes will not be anything like enough. In fact it is laughably inadequate. I can only hope that this figure is an attempt to depress market transfer expectations with a higher figure held up a sleeve. If we, for example, managed to attract a buyer for Obonna it is likely that we would have to let him go on the cheap or alternatively pay him off to leave as, his wages far exceed that which could be afforded by Italian clubs. Similarly for Jose Fonte, which club in Europe could afford a defender on £65,000 a week? We are unlikely to achieve any value out of these transfers.

It seems that we need to recruit at least 2 centre backs, at least 1, arguably 2 full back and bolster up midfield with pace and aggression. I hope that this recruitment is on track now for the beginning of January rather than waiting for the slam door at the end. We are in a hurry to recruit and we cannot play the longer game looking for value at the last minute.

Still there are several weeks during which we will need to work with our current squad. It may be that Moyes will prove me wrong but by persisting with a back 4 we will simply invite heavy defeats not just against the big clubs but the likes of Bournemouth and Stoke. Planning for 3 at the back now will not necessarily prevent further defeat, but may limit the confidence shattering heavy reverses we experience against poor or average sides.

It is not fair to criticise Moya so early but in his own words there are difficulties that he will have to learn fast about if we are to recover any semblance of form Orr confidence. I can accept for example, that he may want to build a team around the strengths of Andy Carroll. However Carroll’s propensity to injury should not be a shock. A plan B of replacing Carroll with Ayew as a like for like is surely not viable in a team set up to play a long ball? I imagine Chico will similarly struggle with this kind of service. In that context I can only conclude that Sakho’s failure to start reveals that his attitude in training must stink. If it is really that bad he needs to be shipped out on January 1st and his replacement arrive simultaneously. If it is to be long ball from now until the end of season so be it, but recruit players for this plan rather than try to squeeze round pegs into square holes.

David Griffith

The Blind Hammer Column

Supporting West Ham-Supporting Moyes

Blind Hammer looks at avoiding relegation and argues against protest.

Tomorrow night’s game against Leicester will be a test not just for David Moyes and the team but also the fans. By now Moyes will realised the huge size of the task confronting him. Our display demonstrated a disjointed and ineffectual effort against a depleted Watford shorn of many first team regulars. Despite this Silva’s men produced a confident display of verve and attacking football which West Ham can only dream of. Those who argued for the hiring of Silva over the summer will feel vindicated.

Yet there is no point in now dwelling on what might have been, in actual fact, we need managerial speculation now like we need a hole in the head.

What we do need to manage is expectation. I wrote last week that Moyes’ capacity to transform our squad’s fitness was fancifully overblown. Large numbers of our squad, absent during the international break, would have barely met Moyes, in Winston Read’s case, returning only hours before travelling to Watford. , Upcoming fixture congestion will [[[provide no opportunity for any boot camp style fitness program. Expecting Moyes to wave an immediate fitness magic wand was unrealistic. The club videos advertising new training intensity looks like unfortunate spin now.

We need to face some unpalatable facts. For some weeks it has been clear that we are in for a relegation fight. Too many points have been conceded against average or poor teams. Games will get no easier in the weeks ahead. We have consistently demonstrated that we have the worst defence in the premiership. An average team with the worst defence will always struggle. We are in for a rocky ride.

Things are already turning ugly with some of our fans. The stupidity of some of Carroll’s play against Watford was immediately exceeded by the stupidity of fans who abuse him outside the ground. This is entirely counterproductive. In this period of adversity with a team struggling for confidence players will need not abuse but support like they has rarely needed it before.

There will be no easy games. An expectation to roll over teams like Watford, Brighton, Stoke, and Bournemouth West Bromwich should not currently exist. Lashing out at the team, manager and even the Board because we have a team bereft of confidence is a luxury we cannot afford.

Moyes was not a popular appointment and the chances are that he has inherited a squad which will give him negative results. It is likely that any honeymoon period will be brief and dissent will emerge. But for people to react with an “I told you so” will not help, Moyes is the Manager until the end of the season and no fan protest will or indeed even should change this. Multiple managerial sacking rarely helps any club.

Equally futile is lashing out at our Board. We cannot afford the luxury of petulant Stadium protests. We all tend to look for blame but this is currently an indulgence.

We have been here before. The protest against the huge own goal of the Bond scheme in 1991 was objectively entirely justified. Nevertheless however justified the protest was it still resulted in a toxic atmosphere which Billy Bonds, our manager at the time, was convinced was the cause of our relegation.

I do not want to see history repeat itself. It seems some would almost welcome relegation if it gave them a stick to beat the Board with and punish them for moving to what they repeatedly call the “Athletics Bowl in a desperate attempt to create a “feel bad” atmosphere. There should be no satisfaction in seeing West Ham fail. Constant whining about how the Board allegedly “promised the next level” is pointless now. We have to become more positive if West Ham is ever to thrive again. Opposition fans love watching our current disunity. Upton Park is no more, we can either engage in perennial but futile whingeing about the past or we can try to move on a support the club.

Having said that, I will now make my own constructive Board criticism. The fact is that they also have to considerably up their game. The announcement following Moyes’ appointment was clumsy at best. They are far too fond of getting excuses in early. They seem to have been taking lessons from the Boris Johnston School of Diplomacy. Sullivan’s “shooting from the hip” description of Moyes as a “gamble” was crass in the extreme. His subsequent description of Moyes as not the best but only “the “best available” also damns him with faint praise. Sullivan is the boss at West Ham so he has the right to speak his mind. However despite Boris’s example a political leader is normally media coached to avoid making these sorts of gaffs. , Sullivan desperately needs similar support. The problem is who, at West Ham, will be able to tell him he needs this? Will the brave PR person please stand up?

So we must positively support Moyes and the club as a whole in the difficult weeks ahead. From top to bottom, from Board to fans, we must embrace Moyes as a legitimate Manager and try to build confidence in our team.

Once upon a time West Ham used to be famous for supporting our team in adversity. Players remember fans support much more when things are going badly rather than when they are going well. From tomorrow night’s game against Leicester I have committed myself to supporting the team through our current adversity. I will not leave early no matter what the score. I will not boo, no matter what. I will try to encourage and do my tiny bit to improve the love and support the team can feel. In return I expect the team to try their best. This use to be the West Ham Mojo. If we are to prove that there are three teams worse than us we need to rediscover it fast.

David Griffith

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