The GoatyGav Column

We’re So Fickle

I remember signing the above words, to the tune of ‘let’s all do the conga’ but with an unrepeatable between ‘So’ & ‘Fickle’, on the terraces of the North Bank back in the ‘80’s. One minute we’re hailing players as the new Messiah, the next they’re “Not the Messiah – they’re a very naughty boy!”

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Don’t get me wrong – some players deserve the stick. I know he’s probably going to be the HOTY but I was just a little bit vexed at Arnie for his lax stroll towards the ball, in an off-side position, for Fernandes’ excellent strike. Sometimes his attitude is all wrong for me but his overall contribution to the team, this season, has been superb.
When it comes to players some are class and some show form. There’s no doubt that Arnie is class but, frankly, he’s not the only one. There are others, who’ve already won the coveted HOTY title, who deserve better support.

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Matchdays are a hotbed of emotion at the best of times – entirely bellicose at others. The WHTID forum is no different. All those powerful feelings pulling your insides around like the churning of your matchday shirt and lucky undies in the washing machine. Words, and no doubt, gestures just seem to emerge without invitation. Just pop up with the irrepressibility of weeds in spring (like most of my garden at the moment). It’s a release which does show that we have passion and care but I do wonder, sometimes, whether the same words would appear on threads at other times.

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We’re all guilty of it. Whilst we have our favourite players we also have those that we don’t fancy so much. It’s human nature. Earlier this season I, regretfully, suggested that Mark Noble looked past it. How wrong I was and extremely happy about it I am. Egg on my face bigtime. Although not everyone agreed I thought the skipper was superb on Monday night. Another who has come in for a lot of stick this season has been Kouyate. Ok, so box to box midfielders are becoming old hat in the modern game, but he’s definitely one with class and a temporary dip in form. The injuries haven’t helped. Like Antonio I really don’t think he has deserved the stick he’s received. I’d like nothing more than for Nobes, Chek and Michail to have the seasons of their lives in ’18-’19. Perhaps less work on endorsements might help…….


Only joshin’. We know where the hamstring problems have come from and the look on Michail’s face when it went after 9 mins of the Southampton game said it all for me. Gutted for him. Personally I’d like to see some science, or at least stats, behind the amount of injuries that occur at teams who play on larger pitches compared to smaller ones.
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When I found myself venting my spleen at a particular player I’ve often come to regret it later on. At matches I now prefer to stay tight lipped if I think any of the lads on the pitch are below par or, in the worst case, a liability. In our minds we’re all there, on the pitch, kicking each ball and making each run which is why so many of us vociferously express our exasperation.

In the current squad there isn’t a single player who the fans attending games have ‘turned on’. In the odd game, here and there, and, possibly, over the course of 3-4 matches there are first teamers who’ve been getting a bit of grief but, thankfully, nothing too nasty or sustained.

After my praise for the club last week I, unfortunately, have to report that the flag for the coffin at today’s (tomorrow as I write) funeral of Alan Thurston didn’t arrive on time. A real shame. I’ve no idea why this was as Debs, Alan’s sister, has been trying to find out what’s happened to it since Tuesday. Debs has told me that she thinks she’s managed to get hold of one but I’ll be taking one of mine as backup just in case.

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As for our hopes of staying up now I’m optimistic. Not counting chickens but I expect us to put some points on the board which will make it very difficult for Stoke and Southampton to catch us. Of the two Stoke look more up for the fight. Yes, they could win 3 games, but I really don’t think they’ll manage it. Palace will, at least, get a draw and Burnley are simply too good for them. That leaves Liverpool and Swansea making it a big ask. Then you’ve got the others between us and the bottom 3 as well. This is West Ham, however, so it would be unwise to think we’re ‘safe’ just yet.

I’ll be at the Arsenal game on Sunday where I hope we get something. Definitely not beyond the realms of possibility with the Gunners having one eye on their big Semi Final against Athletico Madrid. A point there and things will look even better. Dare I dream we take all 3?

COYI!

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The GoatyGav Column

A Dedication & An Article 'A Strong Finish Tees You Up Nicely'

Before I go in to the main article I wanted to make a dedication to a fellow Hammer. I also thought that a little credit was deserved by West Ham United. In this time of heavy criticism of the club it was good to hear, yesterday (today as I amend this post), that a sense of community and decency remains. Sadly I lost a cousin at the age of 35 just over a fortnight ago. He was West Ham through and through. His sister called the club to order a large flag for the coffin. To the club’s credit they promised that the flag would arrive on time for the funeral on Thursday and wouldn’t take payment for it. It meant a lot to my cousin – a lovely gesture that was greatly appreciated by her. We’ll all be wearing club colours at the ceremony – even my cousin’s Man Utd supporting husband has agreed to wear a claret top with a bit of blue in the outfit. I’m hoping the boys can send him off with a good win on Monday night. You can see Alan, pictured right, his brother John and sister Debbie, at her wedding, in the photo below: -

Alan at his Sister's Wedding

He was a gentleman and a gentle man – one of the nicest and best people you could ever wish to meet. He went to his first West Ham game vs Exeter City at the age of 9 with his borther, John, where he got his photo taken with Harry Redknapp. RIP Alan Thurston – peaceful journey fella.


Recent form is good. The players look hungry. We’ve won and drawn the last two and pulled 6 points clear of the relegation zone.
There’s a way to go until we’re safe but there’s a dangerous historical pattern that should serve as a warning to West Ham or any of those who take their foot off the gas too early.

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Relief is an extremely commonplace experience for successful teams and sports professionals. Upon getting over the line, whether that’s to win or to simply survive, the feeling can kick in simultaneously whilst acting as a release of highly charged emotions. Occasionally players, if sufficiently wound up, can physically collapse when the final whistle, bell, kick, throw or step happens.

The start of a football season is often influenced by the end of the previous one. The stimulus for a good start to a campaign has been the run in to a preceding one countless times.

Should West Ham make their Premier League status, for 2018-19, safe with games to spare, which I’m sure many will hope comes to pass, there’s a real danger that the relief and release could contribute to a poor end to this, eminently forgettable, term. Without any real momentum going in to September we could quickly find ourselves in a similar position to that of 2017-18.

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Ok, It’s far too early to start looking beyond the huge game we have at home to Stoke next Monday night, but should the job get done, and the 3 points be secured, would the temptation to let go of all those pent up feelings be too much to avoid? Amidst the relief of being well clear of relegation, with so few games remaining, is there a danger that momentum will be lost and a bad run in ensue. Arsenal, Man City and Leicester away before Man United looks an incredibly tough run. For my money it wouldn’t bode well for next season going in to those games with the feeling that the job had been done. Under those circumstances it would not be an easy test for David Moyes and his coaching staff to get the players completely mentally prepared.

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Stoke City at home is a huge game but the fixtures afterwards are also important. Pre-season is nowhere near as important to early season form as the run in to a previous campaign. I’ll be over the moon if we come away with maximum points next Monday night but there will still be a job to do after that.

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Lastly a word on Chelsea. The weekend was great. Joe Hart was class. An imperious, man of the match winning, performance in my book. We could easily have come away with a good tonking but, instead, came away feeling like we’d won. Recent form over Chelsea is extremely good – long may it continue. Our fans were brilliant. Every player in a West Ham shirt was terrific – a great team performance. Chicha, once again, proved he is the most deadly striker we’ve had at the club in quite some time. If the team can put in the same, determined and hungry, performances in the last six matches I’ll be a very happy Hammer.

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Have a great weekend all.

COYI!

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The GoatyGav Column

Management Contracts – What’s The Ideal Strategy?

The answer to the above would vary according to the situation and structure as well as resources available at any given club. What works for one club would not, necessarily, work for another. I’ve always been a fan of stability. I’ve often used the near sacking of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United as a cautionary tale for club owners taking a ‘hire and fire’ approach.

So the story goes Mark Robins came off the bench to score the goal on the 7th January, 1990, in the 3rd round of the cup at Nottingham Forest, that saved Sir Alex’s job before he went on to dominate the Premier League’s first decade and a half that followed. Manchester United fans can often be heard referring to ‘Robins Day’ in response to fans calling for various manager’s heads. That’s not to say that those wanting to sack the incumbent have always been in the wrong but Manchester United’s Board’s patience and loyalty to Ferguson certainly paid off. If any Manchester United team were labouring in 15th position in January in recent seasons I’m not too sure that same patience and faith would have been shown. In the years since he’s moved on the club are on their third gaffer in what’s become more of a standard ‘you’ve got three years to mould your team and win things’ approach. Perhaps the so called ‘Knee Jerkers’ of the time should have reconsidered their ‘3 years of excuses’ flag hung from the Stretford end despite AF being in to his 4th year managing the club, having finished outside the top 10 the previous season, on a winless run of 8 games which included a League Cup game where they were knocked by Tottenham.

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Of course one of those managers, to have succeeded Alex Ferguson, at Old Trafford is the man currently in charge at West Ham. If recent MO is anything to go by then, providing Mr Moyes gets the job this Summer, a three year contract will be offered to DM and his team. Question is – will recent Modus Operandi be used?

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Much discussion is now around whether a Director of Football, or a Technical Director, is going to be appointed at West Ham. The clubs who’ve done this most effectively seem to be those clubs who have a team with an ‘identity’. So what’s going to happen at West Ham? Who will set the agenda? Will an ‘identity’ be established by the board – or will that be left to the DOF, or TD, to put in place? If someone does come in to sit between the board and the first team Manager/Head Coach how much will they adapt the ‘identity’ to suit the Manager/Head Coach – if at all?

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I’m sure these discussions will be taking place at board level. At least I hope they are. Empire builders are famous for surrounding themselves with several layers of management before the flack starts flying downstream as well as up – meeting at the middle management level. With the amount of flack directed at the board lately I’m sure the owners would welcome that buffer. Although a slightly different situation the bond villain lookalike Daniel Levy is often the one who comes in for most criticism when transfers go wrong at our neighbours in North London despite the fact that Joe Lewis is the major shareholder there. Would a new DOF or TD be put in the firing line at West Ham I wonder?
Getting the structure right is going to be as important as getting the right people for the job. An over-arching strategy is the first port of call to be locked down otherwise it’s simply going to be a case of jumping around from one tactic to another with no real direction. Before the Gao family takeover of Southampton FC the Liebherr family had a clear roadmap, identity and strategy. When you consider what they achieved at the club, balancing their commitments to the fans whilst keeping the club on a sound financial footing, you can but admire them. Katharina especially, in the 8 years following the passing of her father, Markus Liebherr, and her inheritance of the club, she’s run an extremely tight ship (pun not intended). It’s a model to be envied whilst being one that can be improved upon. Imagine if Southampton had have kept hold of many of the top players they’ve replaced over the years. I don’t think there would, currently, be anyone to touch them in challenging the top 6 sides in the Premier League. Since the Chinese took control of 80% of the club’s shares the first team’s fortunes seem to have taken a nosedive. Not that I’m complaining following Saturday’s result against them but which looks the better senior management structure, in terms of a footballing ‘identity’ to you: -

Southampton Board West Ham Board/Managment

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I’ve purposefully not broached the topic of who our manager should be at the start of next season as I don’t believe that to be the right thing to do with David Moyes still in situ. I’m sure everyone will have ideas in their heads, as do I, but I’ll keep my opinions to myself until such a time as a decision has been made, by the board, on his future at the club. The main thing right now is to get behind him and the team and ensure we’re in the top tier come September.

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To finish on a high note I’d like to pay tribute to the excellent performance of the team last weekend. In the first half especially the players showed a hunger and desire that has been lacking for much of the season. Great stuff. Although we’re not out of the woods quite yet those 3 points were absolutely huge. Now 5 points clear of Southampton if the team can show more of that same energy and determination we’ve got a very good chance of surviving. The job’s not done yet but things are certainly looking much better than they were a week ago.

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The GoatyGav Column

A Tale Of Two Keepers

Keepers don’t just command areas, stop shots and distribute the ball. Their effect on a team is far reaching way beyond the direct physical contribution. They can pull a defence together. Give confidence to their centre backs which filters out to the full backs and midfield. Their communication is a huge contributor to shape, organisation, awareness and interplay.

Swapping keepers is generally not a good thing. In this season of ups and, mostly, downs there’s been an element of uncertainty about who should, and has been, between the sticks.

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In the pre-season friendlies Joe Hart played most of the games. Cast your mind back before the ’17-’18 campaign kicked off the dandruff-less one could be easily heard barking commands and information to the back line. Once the season started this character vanished and a far quieter, less confident, version of Joe seemed to take the place of the former Manchester City loanee.

More recently Joe’s promotion from the bench has been, in my opinion, a knee-jerk reaction to the 4 goals conceded in both of the previous two matches against, the free scoring, Liverpool and resurgent Swansea. If you’re being extremely critical then you might find fault in a couple of those 8 goals but I believe that it was little fault of Adrian and far more the overall performance of the team.

Without question Joe was not fully match sharp against Burnley. The third goal was a clear indication of this fact.

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Please don’t get me wrong. It really isn’t that I don’t like Joe Hart. I do. He has been a hugely positive influence in and around the squad. His human qualities are up there with the best of them and I was impressed by the way he quickly jumped in to separate Mark Noble from the pitch invading protestor a week ago last Saturday. When Joe arrived at the club I was hopeful that he could put all of his trials and tribulations behind him and have a great season with us. Not just for West Ham’s sakes but for his too – such was my sentiment towards the player. It’s just that since David Moyes took over and gave Adrian his chance he’s grasped it with both hands. For some time after DM’s arrival he was consistently good with his focus and concentration well ‘in the zone’. Apart from all of that it’s been quite tough for Joe Hart knowing that Adrian is something of a talisman of the club to boot.

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I don’t propose to know more than the coaching staff. I definitely don’t see everything that they see away from games in training and coaching but I can’t get away from the overriding fact that switching and swapping has done significant damage to confidence at the back.

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For me David Moyes needs to make a decision and stick by it. Perhaps dropping Adrian has given him a reminder that his concentration levels can’t be allowed to wane and we’ll see the same keeper as the one that the Scot gave a chance to back in December in that memorable performance against Manchester City which was followed up by the clean sheet against Chelski. If he goes with Hart then I don’t want to see another change in 2 to 3 games time further disrupting the balance and understanding within the team. My preference is for Adrian to play in all the remaining fixtures but I’m sure that those who don’t agree will go in to detail about their reasons to differ and I’m really interested to hear what you have to say.

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Worth considering, in the cold light of day, are the stats which bear out Adrian’s claim. The comparison is fair with both players having played 15 Premier League games each this season. Adrian has 4 clean sheets to Joe’s 3. The Spaniard has conceded 24 compared to Hart’s 33 with 0 errors leading to goals vs 3 errors leading to goals respectively. San Miguel has made 50 saves, none from the penalty spot, with 6 punches, 6 high claims, 13 sweeper clearances and 2 catches. Joe compares with 39 saves, 1 from the penalty spot, 3 high claims, 6 sweeper clearances and 4 catches. Adrian is definitely coming and claiming more than Hart as well as making more saves, letting in less goals and making less mistakes leading to goals. Those numbers make a contribution to my opinion that Adrian is the better choice but I genuinely believe that his relationship with the defence is more fully developed and that back line look more comfortable, and confident, with San Miguel behind them. Either way I believe it’s decision time for David Moyes.

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The GoatyGav Column

Weather With You - Not A Board Related Article

I’ve been an active commenter on the various articles over the last few days – I’m going to leave my opinions there and discuss something completely different. Sometimes you need a break from the depressing drudgery that’s been the life of a Hammer lately so, hopefully, most of the comments on this piece will not stray back to the events surrounding last Saturday’s game.

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Warm weather breaks are good for all of us. Recharge the batteries and come back with a clear head and refreshed vigour. That’s the idea. In contrast to the last International break David Moyes has taken the squad away this time. But is this a good thing?

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I’d suggest that it’s much needed. There are drawbacks, IMO, some of which are discussed in these paragraphs, but I believe the timing of the trip is bang on provided the work goes in at the Florida training camp. Some have opined that they don’t believe the players deserve their break and should be training harder at Rush Green but I’m not convinced that would have the desired effect.

One drawback to the preparation for Southampton, despite the respite, is the lack of competitive game-time in the three weeks leading up to the fixture. Southampton will have played a cup match beforehand and this will enable their players to retain more ‘match sharpness’.

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Another factor affecting competitive edge and sharpness is the friendly to be played at Dagenham & Redbridge. Now whilst I agree completely about the support being showed for the Daggers with this I do think it will further blunt the player’s physical acuity ahead of, what will probably prove, the most important game of the Premier League season so far. All of that without mentioning the risk of further injuries to the squad.

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Then we have the ‘New Manager’ effect to consider. Southampton, despite their league position, still have some very good players who, on their day, would give most Premier League teams a run for their money. Yes they’re underperforming, just like our players are, but the boost that Mark Hughes, or whoever else takes over at St Mary’s (at time of writing there’s still nobody confirmed in the position) could play a big factor in the outcome on the 31st of the month. By that time it’s entirely feasible that Crystal Palace could already be above us, considering they have Zaha back and play at a shaky looking Huddersfield this weekend, so a loss to the ‘Saints’ would put us in the bottom three. Then things will start looking even bleaker than they do today.

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So this one was more for discussion than a soliloquy from me. Looking back, and Dan C may well correct me if I’m wrong here, I don’t remember West Ham coming back from warm weather breaks particularly well. Maybe that’s why it’s only a week this time. Overall I believe it to be a good thing to do but there are some pitfalls that should be avoided. Some time together as a squad, completely away from the situation, may also help the team develop the siege mentality to help them pull together and get us out of trouble.

Between the two r’s (not of the Karren variety this time) of being either rusty or refreshed let’s hope the boys are the latter not the former and that Southampton’s tough FA Cup tie against Wigan means they’re that little bit more jaded than we are come the game at the end of the month. Bringing back some of that Florida Sunshine to warm the cockles of our hearts at the LS would be most welcome.

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