Match Report

Getting the Blues

Blind Hammer’s Manchester City Match Report.

One of the features of last season was how we over performed against top 4 sides. Now, we have not just returned to more normal performances but have seriously under-performed against the very sides we were shocking last season. David Sullivan in his TalkSport interview earlier this week pointed to one of the more objective reasons for this gap re-emerging. These sides have recruited incredible managers and have spent eye watering sums to assemble an array of staggeringly talented players in their teams.

Certainly we seemed seriously out-classed against City. The team which had responded so well to Payet’s truculent strike had their confidence badly shaken again.

Slaven Bilic analysed the defeat in terms of mistake and organisation.
He said after the game, “We gave the ball away for their first and third goals and we made mistakes.
“It’s hard to go so quickly 2-0 down and then we make another mistake and then after that we weren’t aggressive enough and we didn’t close them down.”

Certainly Manchester City did not need the advantage provided by mistakes by Aaron Cresswell, Pedro Obiang and a decidedly shaky looking Jose Fonte, making his debut on a traumatic night.

Hopefully Obiang will come back despite being hooked by Bilic; he has a lot of credit from recent performances. Jose Fonte had a baptism of fire and all being well have sufficient experienced and mental toughness to recover to perform against his old team at the weekend. Cresswell is more of a long term worry. He has not seemed the same player since returning, I don’t know if this is simply form, or whether he is carrying an Obonna style injury or whether he has a Jenkinson style confidence problem emergent. Most games I attend he seems to have a bad mistake in him, even if we are not always punished for it. I am starting to think the unthinkable, and wonder whether Masuaku should be given a run when fully recovered.

Generally the team appeared terrified of the talent arrayed against them; especially referencing the 0-5 drubbing handed out only 26 days ago. -
Slaven again:
“We can say that it’s playing Man City and not every team is like Man City and that’s true but we have to get over this game and we have to prepare for the game against Southampton.
“They beat us 5-0 in the cup and then 4-0 tonight and make no mistake, we have to give them credit but it was also about us.”

Specifically Bilic complained;

“We gave those kinds of players too much space and time on the ball and space between the lines. When you give them space like that they just slaughter you.
“It was very frustrating and it’s like what happened in the cup. We again started well but when you make mistakes like we did for some of their goals and if you give the ball away in those areas then they punish you. After that, it’s very difficult to play against them.”

Bilic is an extremely honest manager but perhaps he has unusually pointed the finger of blame at the players whilst more honestly he also needs to look at himself. One of the central themes which have defined Bilic’s season so far has been his use of Antonio. I kept switching from In Stadium to Five Live Commentary during the game. Whilst some of the comments made by Pat Nevin were facile and stupid, for example, calling for West Ham to reduce the size of the pitch in complete ignorance that pitch sizes are now set by Premiership rules, other points had more validity. He was surprised at Bilic deploying a line up which had admittedly succeeded against the level of challenge provided by Middlesbrough and Palace, seemed ill prepared to meet the test of Manchester City. Bilic had not shown tactical flexibility to meet different challenges. We were fighting fire with fire with an aggressive 4-4-2.

Critically Nevin believed that by playing Antonio in an advance role West Ham denuded them of essential manpower in the middle of the park and allowed them to be overrun. Certainly Bilic seems oddly reluctant to play Antonio in his favoured right wing position experimenting with him as sole striker, second striker wind back and full back. I imagine Byran would have been much happier having the support of a harder working Antonio supporting him on his flank.

It is easy to be wise after the event and in all honesty if Bilic had changed the side formation we may still had lost. However I for one hanker to see Byran and Antonio prosper in a hardworking powerful partnership on the right. My instincts is that there is less chance that we will be terrorised on the break down this flank at least with this partnership and Bilic needs to install it for the Southampton trip.

There was some hope with the arrival of Robert Snodgrass who would seem to have played his way into the team against Southampton by default. As Bilic says we do not play Manchester City every week but after this difficult season is over he needs to have a sober reflection on how he sets sides up to counter the threats of teams like Arsenal and City. Losing to them is acceptable, even at home, losing regularly by conceding over 4 goals a game is not.

Yet again we need to repair confidence at a critical juncture of the season. Howe we perform against teams like Southampton, West Brom will determine how we feel at the end of the season and likely to influence even next season. We came off the rails against City. It is now time to get back on Track.

COYI

David Griffith

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Talking Point

The Stadium Ownership - The Way Forward

Blind Hammer looks at a strategy for resolving the Stadium issues.

At the time of writing the BBC are to about to broadcast yet another hostile program which will apparently demonstrate how West Ham is fleecing the tax payer.

It is increasingly obvious that there are issues around the financing of the Stadium deal, but it is also obvious that little if any of the responsibility for the difficulties can be laid at West Ham’s door. This piece may actually appear after the program but is written without sight of the issues they raise so you should read with this caveat in mind.

However it is likely that the program will focus on the Achilles heel of the stadium project, the cost of the construction and deconstruction of the retractable seating.

The issues about the retractable seating are likely to be complex in detail but can be summarised I believe as follows.
1. The original tender lodged by the successful company for delivering the retractable seating was incompetent and should never have survived the scrutiny of the LLDC bidding process. The company claiming to be able to deliver the movable seating collapsed under the ineptitude of their plan and went into liquidation.

2. The actual cost of delivering genuine retractable seating is apparently eye watering, involving, according to reports I have seen, major sums dealing with what is apparently still contaminated land underneath the Stadium.

3. The consequent situation is that instead of a retractable seating arrangement we have a Jerry rigged construction and de-construction project of building and taking down stands every year which according to Claret and Hugh now costs £8 million a year.

This is I believe, the heart of the claim that West Ham are benefiting from a “rent free” stadium, the cost of the moving of the retractable seating alone dwarfs the £2.5 million sum paid by West Ham for the Stadium.

This is also why the LLDC and Stadium Operators have apparently “invited” West Ham to contribute more.

There is however a major flaw both in this invitation to West Ham to pay more and the argument that the retractable seating are for West Ham’s benefit. The cold truth is that West Ham have absolutely no material or financial interest in the seating being retractable. As far as we and the club is concerned it would be far easier to build and maintain permanent structures rather than the current flexible Arrangements.
The sad but immutable truth is that it is the commitment to athletics which is at the heart of the need to provide retractable seating. I perfectly understand the national interest of the country as a whole to want to maintain a world class stadium for the purposes of international athletic events. In effect the Nation and the Tax payer have to provide an £8 million subsidy to the sport of Athletics and possibly in the future cricket for the purposes of running these events.

The only way that the Stadium is viable as a project is through the influx of the nearly 60,000 supporters who come to watch not Athletics but West Ham every fortnight during the football season.

What is completely absurd is to claim that West Ham is responsible for funding the National Commitment to Athletics.

There is, I believe, a way forward which should clarify matters. We know that originally West Ham bid to purchase the Stadium, but this bid, on course to successful completion was scuppered by the multitude of interests opposed to a successful West Ham in the new Stadium. Tottenham in particular were vigorous in their opposition to West Ham succeeding.

A restructured deal emerged which saw the present third party ownership model of the stadium with West Ham becoming not the owners of the Stadium but the “Anchor Tenants”.

This cumbersome tripartite arrangement of stakeholders is at the heart of many of the other problems which have affected settling into the Stadium. The arrangements where we have a multitude of strategic partners dilutes responsibility and will dog the Stadium for year whilst it persists.

The way forward is for West Ham to offer to take ownership of the Stadium again with a continuing commitment to honour the availability of the Stadium for Athletics and other events. Gold and Sullivan have been successful businessmen in the past and I am sure that the club have sufficient commercial experience to draw upon.

The funding of the Stadium conversion for Athletics becomes then an issue for National debate. For myself I believe the best approach would be to plan for a purpose built 30,000 seater Athletics / Cricket Stadium along the lines originally proposed. The current £8 million going into seating conversion could instead be directed into the construction of a smaller facility built elsewhere in the voluminous spaces available in the Olympic Park.

So the way forward is clear. West Ham has no interest in renegotiating the current deal to subsidise Athletics. However what we may have is a strategic opportunity to convert the current rental arrangements into stadium ownership along the lines of the original bid.

This would end for once and all the current confusion of responsibilities and replace the current bureaucratic nightmare of a Hodge podge of partners including LLDC, Newham Council French stadium operators and even Westfield to an extent. A single commercial drive to maximise the potential of the Stadium with West Ham at its heart could then be realised.

COYI

David Griffith

Da David Griffith

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Talking Point

Confidence Trick

Blind Hammer looks at the fragile state of West Ham’s Confidence and argues recruitment is the key.

A recurrent theme in analysing our performances this season is the lack of confidence running through the team. Bilic has spoken openly about the problem, describing us as playing with the “cramps”. David Gold has on several occasions addressed the issue in his Twitter account.

The confidence of the owners in Bilic is draining fast if we are to believe the leaks coming out of the club. Apparently Bilic has the Palace and Middlesbrough games to save his job. Quite how these leaks are supposed to help Bilic or the team mystifies me. I suspect Bilic, a highly intelligent and analytical man, does not need to be told his job is under threat, and leaks of this kind will only increase the level of fear in the squad and reduce any personal confidence Bilic retains. What I do hope is that these leaks about shipping Bilic out are backed by a realistic managerial backup strategy. Suggestions that Benitez will dump Newcastle now to move to us are as much fantasy now as the suggestion we would realistically recruit Klopp. As far as I can see the only realistic emergency Bilic replacement would be Pardew which would be ironic from all sorts of standpoints. I certainly do not think they should be taking a punt on an unproven foreign or Championship manager without Premiership experience. Whether Pardew would organise the squad any more than Bilic is a moot point. If they are genuinely looking at Pardew at an option then he needs to be consulted now about recruitment.

However the owners need to also take a look at themselves in their approval of transfer policy. Recruitment has to be the key now for boosting confidence in the squad. There are all sorts of other strategies for boosting confidence but by far the quickest and most immediate fix is to ship out players with confidence shorn, and bring in more resilient players. In this context releasing players is as important as recruiting appropriate replacements.

There is a complex nest of tangle reasons which may underlie our under-performance this season but it is through the transfer window that we can start to address confidence. Although Bilic is under tactical pressure that he is not responding to, it is fundamentally the deficiencies of the current squad which underlies our current difficulties.

At root our recruitment has failed to keep up with the increased competitiveness of the rest of the Premiership. Many, myself included, tended to assumed that the standard of the Premiership would remain at a similar level. Over the summer we approvingly compared our squad with previous West Ham squads, what we should have done was compare ourselves to other squads developing around the rest of the league. We underestimated the impact of the explosion of TV money.

Having said that, I was very unhappy about the Summer Transfer strategy. I am an ignoramus in terms of scouting football talent but in the Summer, simply based on blind observations of players performing against us I wanted to club to recruit 5 players. For Better or worse these are the players I nominated at the time. Christian Benteke, Loïc Remy, Robbie Brady, and Andros Townsend. I obviously knew we needed a right back, as we still do, but did not have sufficient knowledge of the players available and suitable.

I am convinced that within the West Ham Squad all these players would have been able to thrive, and have been mystified as to how Palace have managed to hoover up most of this talent whilst we have been left struggling with expensive unproven gambles with no Premiership credentials. At the time of writing it appears that Allardyce is moving in for Brady also.

Palace in fact, despite struggling have done much better transfer business, especially as they have realistically bid for and got Remy on loan from Chelsea, whilst we have been making speculative bids for Defoe which is highly unlikely to materialise.

I am now convinced that last summer we should have paid the money for Benteke rather than saving £5 million to take a punt on Zaza, who would have cost £25 million anyway if he had worked out. My backup choice if we really could not afford was Boni.

Now I am not saying any of these players would have set the Premiership alight, but I am reasonably confident that they would have been better than the gambles we invested in and I am sure we would have been in a better position because what all these players would have brought with them was premiership experience and confidence rather than attempting to find their way in an unfamiliar country /league.
So in this Window we, the Board as well as Bilic, need to redress these shortcomings. Unfortunately our stinker of a record over the summer appears to be repeating already. We have already missed out on Remy who has gone to Palace. We are in direct competition with Palace for Premiership survival but appear to be floundering in their wake in achieving the necessary recruitment. The club have apparently identified Snodgrass as recruitment to boost the squad, which is fair enough. He ticks the boxes of a confident experienced player with premiership experience which may enhance the resilience of our squad. However whilst we have place a joke bid for Snodgrass at £3 million, which Hull will obviously ignore, Palace, according to a report I have read have already placed an initial bid of £9million.

Palace appear to be identifying key targets early and bidding realistically whilst we are messing around trying to grad a player on the cheap.

Talking about identifying players early, I am astonished that we are nearly half way through the transfer window and we have failed to bring in a proper right back. The fact that we have conceded numerous points this season because we have not had proper cover at right back is not a recent revelation. We have known this for months. More importantly we are squandering he talents of our most potent attacking player in Antonio. However I am alarmed that we are apparently, according to some reports, looking to re-recruit Jenkinson. We need another player low on confidence like we need a hole in the head.

I am also worried about us allegedly chasing Hogan from Brenford. Again I hope that they know what they are doing but I am reminded that Carlton Cole and even Sam Baldock could effectively score goals in the Championship, but the Premiership is a completely different proposition. If Hogan was being bought for the future to develop and bring into the team then fair enough but they need a proven forward now rather than one for the future. Hogan smacks of half-hearted desperation; he is a gamble at a time when we should not be gambling.

If you are going to panic buy in January it should be a proper panic. I would be banging on Watford’s door for Troy Deaney and putting a serious bid of £30 million in which would tempt them rather than compete with Watford for Hogan’s signature. Deaney may be a poor man’s Andy Carroll but at
Least he would have proven talents to bring to the table.

This is potentially the most important transfer window in the Club’s history. Relegation in the context of the new Stadium would be a crippling blow, and we must not be under any illusions, relegation is likely to be a threat well into the later stages of the season.

So solid, experienced, if unspectacular recruitment needs to be the key in the next 2 weeks. The players we bring in must be evaluated for the content of their character and personality as much as their ability. The emotional and psychological resilience of the squad has to be increased. We cannot keep collapsing like a disappointed toddler every time we go behind in a game.

Reid clearly has to take over the Captain’s responsibilities from Noble, given his apparent inability to hack it now as a premiership midfielder, but more leaders need to be recruited. Arbeloa in a recent interview in the Guardian complained that the atmosphere in the West Ham dressing room was “too nice”. The struggles ahead need experienced, hardnosed hard guys who have been there and done it before.

This window is too important for gambles like Hogan, go for proven premiership experience. We may have to return to keeping it tight and winning ugly. Needs must for this season, it will not be before next season that the full fruits of a confidence recovery and free flowing football will return.

So the pressure is as much, as far as I am concerned, on the Board, for this transfer window. We have to perform the trick of buying in the confidence we need.
COYI

David Griffith


Talking Point

Why I am Staying

Blind Hammer responds to Voice of Reason’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go”.

The great thing about West Ham till I Die is that it offers a platform for a variety of views. Normally I am sanguine about reading articles and am normally just happy to just let others have their point of view. However I do feel the need to respond to the article from Voice of Reason musing on whether he and by extension others should continue to support West Ham in the new stadium.

I respect the views put forward in the post but I fundamentally disagree with the points made and feel in particular, that it is unrealistic in the expectations he places on the Board.

There is no doubt that there is a massive constituency of commentators, fuelled by numbers of jealous fans who have done their utmost to sabotage and seek out bad news stories about the stadium. This is very reminiscent of the Press Campaign against the Millenium Dome before it transferred to the O2.

Make no mistake about it, this negative Stadium narrative has nothing to do with unbiased reporting but is driven by an agenda of resentment against the deal West Ham were able to strike with the LLDC for the hire of the stadium. These include the same people who lined up to petition against the deal West Ham struck. The same people who tried to hamper any future deals the LLDC and stadium operators were able to strike by forcing Freedom of Information demands for contract details.

These include the BBC Journalists who vindictively reported on the so called “West Ham Steal of the Century” in the BBC Media, a standard of biased journalism so crass that even the BBC Board were compelled to censure the producers of this program for its unjustifiable level of biased and unfair reporting.

These are the same people who salivate on Five Live at the slightest suggestion of any spectator trouble at the stadium, even though the Police reported at the London Assembly hearing that they had no particular problem policing the stadium compared to other stadiums in London. We have had 19 arrests at the stadium this year at the time this was looked at. One Rangers match at Ibrox in Scotland produced 14 arrests this season but this passed almost without comment.

After the victory against Chelsea Mark Chapman tried to strap line the victory as “Well West Ham won but the real Story, David Pleat, was the trouble in the ground”. Pleat , not my favourite pundit, did on this occasion refuse to be drawn into the Stadium bashing, and argued that the confrontation inside the stadium at least, were no different to those confrontations which had occurred in other high profile London derbies.

Over the summer TalkSport tried to run a virtual campaign including inaccurate reporting of the Stadium tenancy deal to such an extent that Sulivan had to phone the Station and try and redress the biased balance that the station was promulgating.

During our game Against Arsenal Sam Matterface tried to invite Stuart Pearce to agree that the stadium was “soulless “compared to Upton Park. Stuart Pearce resisted the steer, insisting that the stadium provided excellent sight lines and was a step up from Upton Park. In the UEAFA Cup game Jim Proudfoot tried to denigrate the stadium, with Terry Butcher on this occasion having the defend the view which he accepted was different to Upton Park but which he nevertheless described as “panoramic”.

There was never any chance that this constituency of hostile commentators in the media in general and TalkSport in particular would be persuaded that West Ham and their supporters were anything more than dirty thieving b****rds for so called fleecing of the Tax payer in their Stadium deal.

The fact is that all season long it has been a lazy easy story to talk about the “difficulties” of the stadium and run a negative narrative to “punish” West Ham for the alleged arrogance of their move. Those supporting other London clubs in particular were extremely hostile to a notion of a suddenly uppity West Ham moving from their normal lowly status to compete more regularly at the top level with a World Class Stadium.

In the face of this blizzard of negative narrative and attempts to denigrate our club it would have been a media own goal of astronomic proportions for the Board to formally declare in an official announcement , as Voice of Reason suggests, “that we made a bit of a ricket” with the move into the new stadium. All the anti-West Ham propagandists who have campaigned against our club inheriting the stadium would have whooped for joy and then had a field day of pumping further bad news and criticism towards our club. You can imagine the headlines “Board admits to disastrous move”. Follow up grilling over subsequent weeks of Stadium questions directed at all the players, manager, and anybody else to do with the club would have been the inevitable result. To an extent this has happened anyway, a Board declaration of this kind would have given these negative stadium narrative enormous extra legs. To suggest that the Board should adopt this as a club PR strategy is, I feel, naïve in the extreme.

The reality is that we are not operating in a neutral unbiased media environment; many people have agendas, even if they do not openly declare them.

Now of course even though I am a Blind Hammer, I am not blind to the fact that there have been difficulties associated with our move. You know what? People at the club are not blind to that either. Off the record people at the club have told me that they think it may take 2 seasons to finally iron out all the awkwardness and crinkles of the move. Privately I have been personally infuriated by many things that the club have failed to doo, especially initially from an accessibility stand point, and especially as I and others were warning the club of issues before the season even started.
Behind the scenes I, and I am sure others, are trying to work with and influence the club positively to try and make things improve.

I have never used this website to make a major wash of our dirty linen in public, precisely because I know that there is a whole cohort of anti-West |Ham commentators, resentful of our move, which is desperate to trawl for any bad news story that they can dredge up against West Ham and their stadium tenancy. There is gradual progress being made with much more to do but I am convinced that West Ham can have a successful future in the stadium.

As I and other posters have noted in the past, moving into new stadiums is seldom completely trouble free. We have managed to also change training Grounds in the same season which has created even more upheaval

The key in the end is about the football. . We need to create a tradition of positive memories at the new Stadium. All accounts of the match against Chelsea were that the stadium was rocking. It put to bed once and for all that with the right football the stadium could not create a fantastic atmosphere. There have been flat atmospheres at certain games because the football on occasion has been dire. You know what; I remember just as many flat atmospheres, even toxic atmospheres at Upton Park when we suffered similar dire performances. It is a complete myth that Upton Park was a constant cauldron of positive support no matter what the team was playing like. Remember the 2014 game against Hull where the team was famously booed despite an undeserved win. Remember the dreadful 0-0 against Bristol City on a Tuesday night in the Championship; Upton Park was like a morgue that night. Against that we can pitch the thrilling game against Manchester United in our last game, at Upton Park; I am convinced that if we put in a similar performance against Manchester United in our next game we will again create a cauldron of atmosphere.

Above all I write for a site called West Ham till I Die quite simply because that describes me. Even if we end up in the Championship I will be getting my Season Ticket and turning up to urge our team to do well, no matter how much media resentment there is of our success in winning the stadium. Others may decide to whinge, sulk and slink off, I for one am staying with my club until the end.

COYI

David Griffith

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Talking Point

Pitch Battle - Is the New Pitch Affecting The Way We Play?

Blind Hammer asks if the below par performance against Hull can be attributed to the new pitch.

By common consent West Ham did not look fit and energetic enough against Hull. Whilst the energy level against Burnley was not great, they dipped alarmingly against bottom of the table Hull and for large sections of the game West Ham were second best. Hull, like West Ham, had played 3 days earlier against Tottenham, but their Wednesday night exertions did not appear to sap anywhere near as much energy out of their game as it did us.

This has led to speculation, not least in the In Stadium commentary service that the pitch must be at least partly to blame for the struggles West Ham are facing in trying to physically compete.

It is not hard to see the logic of this argument. If there is a characteristic of the pitch which is making life difficult for West Ham then having to play on a difficult pitch twice in 4 days is likely to place West Ham at a physical disadvantage in the second game at least. The argument goes that the second team, in this case Hull, will be more refreshed from not having to play on a difficult surface.

So what could this problem be with the new pitch? The most cited difference between our new pitch and the pitch at Upton Park is the increased size.

At Upton Park we had a pitch that was 100 meters long and 64 meters wide. According to West Ham information on the new stadium the new pitch is five metres longer and four metres wider than at Upton Park, giving a new size of 105 by 68metres.

The West Ham website proudly informed us that we therefore have a pitch which is equivalent to that at Arsenal and Manchester United. This is slightly misleading, implying we have infrastructure placing us amongst the elite. Whilst it is completely true we have a pitch size equivalent to that at Arsenal and both Manchester United and City, it is also equivalent to the pitches at Southampton, Sunderland, Swansea, West Bromwich Albion and actually Hull themselves. This does seem to partly explain Hull’s comfort in playing on a pitch size at the London Stadium; they do it every other week.

In fact West Ham must be more used to playing on pitches equivalent to their new stadium than not. In 2012 the Premier League attempted to standardise pitch size to 105 metres by 68 meters. .” (Rule K21). Exceptions were however allowed if physical limitations made it impossible to comply. Tottenham are one of the clubs who are exempted.

However what the existence of this rule means is that any attempt to now amend the size of the pitch at the London Stadium would be illegal. However the fact that this is not, as has been suggested, a “big pitch” but actually a standard size pitch makes it makes it more likely than not that attributing pitch size to West Ham recent difficulties is a red herring.

So if the size is not the issue then perhaps we can look at the surface. There may be slightly more mileage here. The club website has also informed us that the new pitch is the same as that which is used at Wembley. There is no doubt that the pitch at the London Stadium will be subjected to more pressures than that which occurs over a normal premiership season. There are plans for the surface to be used all year around, the Stadium will host athletics events, has already hosted major concerts, and is apparently likely to be a venue for both county and international limited over cricket matches. On top of this the stadium is likely to continue to be the London home of Rugby League International matches.

All this suggests that we need a surface which is unusually hard wearing. Mark Hughes commented after Stoke City had achieved a draw at the London Stadium that his players had found the surface difficult to play on. Wembley has also had the reputation over years of being an energy sapping pitch so there may be some truth that the surface is not conducive to an energetic game in the same way as was possible at Upton Park. It I do not know enough about the technology of the pitch in detail to comment authoritatively but again this seems a little bit of a red herring to me.

If we assume that Mark Hughes comment is correct then a surface which opposing sides find difficult should, over time, become an advantage to West Ham as their players become familiar with its challenges. It is conceivable that if the pitch is generally energy sapping then there might be a consequence such as that we saw against Hull, with certain players liking exhausted and well off the pace, Cresswell in particular appeared to be physically struggling.

As a result we may need to learn to rotate our meagre squad resources more when we are faced with playing twice on this surface in a matter of days.

Finally Bilic himself raised a potential difficulty with the pitch in his interview with Gary Linekar. Bilic’s assessed the difficulty as not a concern with the size of the pitch itself but more on the space surrounding the pitch and the consequent sightlines for players. Bilic suggested that this gave almost an illusory, negative, Psychological impact on the players. He suggested that at Upton Park, a player in his own half could “Visualise” motoring from his own half to get into the opposition penalty area to create damage. He suggested that the difficulty of visualising this in the expanded surroundings of the London Stadium may be sapping the confidence of players who need to go on the lung busting runs from deep.

If Bilic is correct then presumably the only solution for this is to move as much training from Rush Green to the London Stadium as possible. The “psychological” barriers must be broken so that any psychological problems encountered will be suffered by unfamiliar visiting teams more than the home side.

If there are genuine difficulties with the pitch and sightlines then it is likely that this will be kept largely in-house and this is probably correct that this should be so. Visiting sides has quite enough of a boost from capitalising on negative stories about the Stadium already. Any remedial work needs needs to be planned and some difficult negotiations with the Stadium Operators should appear as a result.

My own feeling though is that pitch issues are largely red herrings to understanding this team under-achievement against Hull. As I have argued elsewhere we are facing a tactical challenge which has given us classic second season syndrome, allied to injuries to key players and inept summer recruitment. If we start to get recruitment right in this winter transfer Window then excuses about the pitch should fade and die.

COYI

David Griffith

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