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.
COYI
David Griffith


The Blind Hammer Column

The Set Piece Deficit.

Blind Hammer argues that more work on the training field is needed.

For a while I have suspected, despite Antonio’s goal against Liverpool, that West Ham are not potent from set pieces.

I decided to investigate.

I found indeed that West Ham are amongst the worst performers. The bald stat is that West Ham had only scored 5 league goals from set pieces this season.

There is a myth that it is the less skilful teams who rely on set pieces.

The clear winner in the Premier League table is Liverpool who have succeeded 15 times from set pieces, 3 times as many as West Ham. Tottenham have scored 12 whilst Manchester United and Arsenal have amassed 11 and 10 respectively.

You may in any case, expect teams at the top of the table to score more goals generally including set pieces

The problem though is that West Ham also lag compared to competitors around them.

Brighton outperforms West Ham to a startling degree, scoring 12 goals as opposed to West Ham’s 5. Bournemouth have doubled West Ham’s effort with 10 goals, whilst Watford and Everton are not far behind with 9.

Even some strugglers have outperformed West Ham, Burnley having scored 8 with Cardiff and Huddersfield registering 7.

West Ham are in the basement of the Premier League Set piece table alongside sides such as Fulham and Southampton on 4. The other notable poor performer inconsistent with their League position is Chelsea who have only managed 6.

As with all these analyses there is room for further questions. How many set piece situations do West Ham win compared to other teams? What proportion are corners compared to free kicks. What is their conversion rate?

Despite this there is a case for Pellegrini and his coaching team to answer. It is clear that set piece conversion is not amongst West Ham’s strengths. It is difficult to explain why Brighton with 12 goals outperform West Ham so much, why are most of our direct competitors nearly twice as productive?

This is even more important as we currently have no performing out and out goalscorer. Anderson, a midfielder, leads our scoring table with 9 goals.

The failure to produce from set pieces has probably cost us points in tight games against teams like Brighton .

We need to improve our routines, deliveries, and efforts on goal in order to achieve some parity with the teams around us. The desired increase in quality will have to emerge from rush green.

COYI
David Griffith
N.B.
Stats taken from
Who Scores.com Premier League Statistics.


The Blind Hammer Column

Gordon Banks – the Missing Piece in the Jigsaw

Blind Hammer remembers what could have been for West Ham and Gordon Banks.

The death of Gordon Banks means that we have lost another of the Golden 1966 World Cup winning generation. Younger readers might not realise this, but for nearly 20 years England produced the best Goalkeepers in the world. Shilton and Clemence were both world class goal keepers but it was Gordon Banks who started this dynasty and was the undisputed original master.

Banks is always remembered for his wonder save against Pele. Yet I remember him not so much for the spectacular saves but for the calm assurance he provided. He was the epitome of the “Safe Hands”.” He dominated his penalty area and provided countless unruffled and calm collection of what would have been, for other keepers, difficult crosses.

What is less known is that Gordon Banks could have been a West Ham legend?

Despite his 1966 triumph with England, by 1967 Banks was available for transfer. Leicester had the young Peter Shilton coming through and was ready to cash in.

Banks had made it known to his England teammates Bobby Moore that he was not at all averse to joining him at West Ham. Banks would have then joined not just Moore but also Geoff Hurst and martin Peters as familiar faces from the England setup.

West Ham was on the cusp of their greatest ever national and international profile. They had won the 1964 FA Cup, and then conquered Europe in 1965 to win the Cup Winners Cup. Moore, alongside the midfield guile of Peters and goal scoring heroics of Geoff Hurst then formed the creative heart of England’s 1966 World Cup Winning team.

The mystery was why a team with 3 acknowledged world class performers were not dominating their league?

The answer was that despite the mastery of Moore, West Ham had a fatal weakness in defence.

Sir Trevor Brooking reflected in his biography that the 1960s team had a soft centre, we were vulnerable from crosses, and what is worst everybody knew it. Brooking, alongside other Hammers, knew that Banks was the person who could repair this and propel West Ham into true league greatness . He was the missing piece in the jig saw.

Fatefully Banks became available after Ron Greenwood had already made a “gentleman’s agreement” to sign Bobby Ferguson for a world record fee, for a goalkeeper, of £65,000 from Kilmarnock. Greenwood, ever the gentleman, refused to renege on this agreement.

Ferguson, a respectable but average performer could never hope to match the class of Banks.

I am convinced that Banks would have been a revolutionary signing. He would have transformed our soft defence. With the world class talents of both Moore and banks solidifying our defence the history of West Ham could have been transformed. The period of the late 60s and early 70s would have been re-written from under achievement to achievement.

The failure to sign Banks came back to haunt West Ham in 1972. West Ham had won the first leg of a league cup semi-final at Stoke 2-1 and was clear favourites to proceed. . However Ritchie had drawn Stoke level at the return tie at Upton Park. With 3 minutes to go West Ham won a penalty to give the opportunity of reaching Wembley. Half the West Ham players turned away, unable to watch as Hurst confronted Banks in goal. In all the years I watched West Ham Geoff Hurst never again failed with his bullet penalties but it was inevitable if there was ever going to be a miss it would be against his friend Gordon Banks. Banks later described his penalty save against Hurst as his greatest ever save, an extraordinary save from a gallery of remarkable saves.

Banks was to triumph as a League Cup winner with Stoke, eventually overcoming West Ham after two further replays, which included the drama of Bobby Ferguson having to be replaced in goal by Bobby Moore. Moore, to cap the drama, himself saved a penalty.

Banks was a great goalkeeper and the biggest missed opportunity in our history. He could have transformed our fortunes and created a much bigger club. We would be enjoying this legacy now. I sometimes still dream about what could have been.
COYI

David Griffith


The Blind Hammer Column

Home Truths

Blind Hammer gives credit where credit is due.

What a difference 90 minutes make. As my Guide Dog Nyle pulled me up to the London Stadium I was pensive. West Ham had conceded 16 goals in our last 4 outings against Liverpool. Our form and injuries made it less than the ideal time to meet the Reds.

To add to my uncertaintly my Guide Dog Instructor was observing Nyle at work, as well as the excellent access services at West Ham. I was ultimately relieved that on the night Nyle was flawless.

Incidentally you can see me and Nyle on the West Ham website. Some of the members of the Disabled Supporters Advisory Board feature here: I believe I am the first voice you will here “here”:https://www.whufc.com/news/articles/2019/january/29-january/meet-your-disabled-supporters-board

My Guide Dog Instructor, a Liverpool fan, keenly anticipated the match. In the event he was impressed not just by the Stadium, the headset commentary service, but also the performance of West Ham. He conceded West Ham were the more dangerous team.

The one comic moment came when Nyle attempted to celebrate West Ham’s goal in his normal tail wagging fashion. He raced across me to encourage my instructor to share the joy . Nyle was slightly mystified by his lack of enthusiasm. He did receive a polite pat.

Last week I was angry at Pellegrini’s failure to prioritise the FA Cup. He should have reversed team selections. Players should have been rested against Wolves and not Wimbledon . The team selected against Wolves had more chance of achieving at least a replay .

It is only fair now to acknowledge Pellegrini’s response. There is absolutely no doubt that the improved performance against Liverpool was born out of his tactical preparation. A stream of players have paid tribute.

For example, Fredericks explained.
“We’d been watching clips of them all week and we knew what they would do, did our best to try and nullify them and I think it worked.”

Ogbonna also praise preparation
“We prepared well and were organised for the game. … we closed the lines. We worked so cleverly and with Felipe Anderson one side and Michail Antonio the other…”

Antonio provided further insight
““We worked on the free-kick in training. We saw the space they leave behind them because they keep a high line. So we worked on that this week and it managed to work out for us.
“We know that they like to play through the middle and that when they cross they want to cross it along the ground.
“What we wanted to do was showing them wide and counters attack on them.”

Most importantly Rice explained how Pellegrini’s coaching helped his dominant
performance.
“At the start of the season, when I was playing holding midfield, I was vacating my space, I wasn’t defending properly,
I was running out of the middle and letting them play.
“I think you could see that Firmino and Salah were frustrated because they couldn’t go through the middle. They kept going wide and they obviously haven’t got a target man to play up to, so we frustrated their game plan .”

All these quotes are testament to Pellegrini’s development of the squad. .

In recent months top six sides have faltered at the London Stadium. An easy 3 points is no longer guaranteed.

Against not just Liverpool, but also against Chelsea, West Ham were unlucky to emerge only with a point. In these games Pellegrini frustrated the ambitions of Maurizio Sarri’s and most obviously Jürgen Klopp. Klopp’s frustration and excuses were ridiculous, and showed a complete lack of dignity.

Pellegrini also plotted successfully against Arsenal’s Unai Emery, and completely flummoxed the admittedly fading force of Manchester United’s José Mourinho. Pellegrini shows evidence that he is still a world class tactician.

Reverses against Manchester City and Tottenham revealed our relative lack of squad depth. This has also undermined our consistency.

Despite this, with each successive positive result, a visit to the London Stadium becomes psychologically tougher for our opponents.

Someday we may be lucky enough not to have a squad decimated by injuries. We may just then see something special .

COYI
David Griffith


The Blind Hammer Column

Have The Wheels Come Off?

Blind Hammer looks at West Ham’s prospects under Pellegrini.

One of the most concerning aspects of the recent run of grim results is that Pellegrini has been somewhat nonplussed to account for the performances.

Pellegrini has repeatedly asserted that West Ham players should have the mind-set of a “big club”.

However this positive assertion leaves him little wriggle room when his squad respond with recent performances. An upcoming fixture against a rampant Liverpool is unlikely to provide an immediate relief. Pellegrini is under the most pressure since his rocky start.

I wrote last week that it was a massive strategic error to treat the game against Wimbledon as anything less than the absolute priority. This is why my blog was titled “Time to Reverse Priorities”. I wrote then that if we entered the game against AFC Wimbledon with anything less than our first and full strength 11 we were courting disaster. In that event we would deserve everything we got. Any resting of players should have been reserved for the game against Wolves.

I received some criticism for this at the time but I was pacing around with annoyance as soon as I saw Pellegrini’s team. Banal platitudes that the team “should have been good enough” to beat Wimbledon completely misses the point. Wimbledon was the absolute priority. All our available big guns, including Anderson and Arnautovic should have played.

Even if we were facing a replay our season would look completely different now. We would be facing the possibility of taking on Millwall at home, which, whilst a potential security nightmare, would have been a kind draw in an increasingly open competition. We would have been favourites to progress.

The defeat against Wolves was always on the cards, as is a likely reverse against Liverpool next Monday. The compensating progress in the FA Cup would have ameliorated all these problems.

So for me the team selection against Wimbledon was Pellegrini’s biggest strategic error so far. I remain a Pellegrini supporter but his confusion at the way his squad has responded in recent days demonstrates that his project is still in its infancy. He has much to learn still about managing a club of West Ham’s size.

The reality is that West Ham does not have the squad of a “big club”. Putting out second string players for our most critical matches does not represent good decision making. We must manage our meagre squad resources better. This is why, against Liverpool, Arnautovic should not play unless 100% fit. We should hold his powder dry for later, more productive opportunities.

The compensation is that after the Liverpool game every home fixture until the end of the season is theoretically winnable. We have the opportunity to create momentum for a positive surge which could carry over into the next season. If the latter stages of this this surge allows room for the reintroduction of a returning Lanzini and possibly Yarmolenko then excitement could re-emerge. Wilshere could even prove us all wrong and emerge as an important player.

So the answer to the question “have the wheels come off” is obviously no. West Ham could still amass one of their highest point’s tallies for many years.

Financially we are the 20th biggest club, according to Deloittes, in the world. More pertinently we have the 9th largest turnover in the Premier League. It is about time that we consistently punch our weight. We have under achieved for years.

Pellegrini remains our best hope for West Ham finally realising “big club” status. However this transition requires improvement from top to bottom at all levels of the club. He will not be immune from scrutiny.
COYI
David Griffith


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