The GoatyGav Column

Target Men - Are They Becoming A Thing Of The Past?

So, by the looks of it, Andy Carroll has played his last game for West Ham. At times he’s been something of a cult hero but, in the main, the frustrations of having to suffer his injuries has made it hard to fully support him. At times he’s also been controversial – never so much as when he criticised the West Ham faithful for not staying until the end of matches when his own record of ‘early exits’ left a lot to be desired. Whether it was due to injury or a stray elbow you could never really tell how long he was going to be around for. Which was a shame as, at his peak, he was genuinely unplayable. All that said the role that AC fulfils appears to be less and less commonly seen in top-tier football nowadays.

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In my view football in England has been undergoing a renaissance for some time now. Modern ideas about tactics, styles of play, movement on and off the ball as well as team shape are on view every weekend in the Premier League. Whether it’s Mezzalas, Registas or Trequartistas the game is evolving so quickly it’s starting to become a struggle to keep up. All said and done, however, the general theme seems to be that teams are putting more passing moves together in their build up play whilst the development of player’s technical ability moves on apace. The premier exponents of this style are Manchester City. Pep Guardiola has a very distinctive style that some have attempted to emulate in recent times. Whatever you think about his methods there’s no getting away from the basic facts that they make more passes and create more clear-cut scoring chances than any other team. When you back all this up with their goals scored record it becomes easy to understand why many others are focused on clever, quick and short movement and passing. So where does that leave the ‘Target Man’?

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Modern strikers seem to have so much more to their game, and operate in more areas of the pitch, than the traditional English number nines. Notwithstanding this fact there’s no denying that they still have their place. Take Everton’s win against Arsenal this weekend. Dominic Calvert-Lewin had an absolute blinder playing the, back to goal, hold up man. Arsenal’s attacks were often broken up and the key to Everton’s transition was a quick, long ball up to their imposing young forward. Now you wouldn’t say that Marco Silva is well know for this style of play but he’s shown tactical astuteness by employing an old tactic, that’s often associated with traditional English football, to great effect against a team who like to play out from the back.

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Going back to our own, current, number nine for a minute one way that he’s been utilised in an extremely effective way is from the bench. Some of the Geordie’s best games have been when he’s completely changed the momentum of a match by being introduced in second halves. Frankly I’d have sooner seen him be a ‘super-sub’ at our club as, along with the huge impact he’s asserted, I, genuinely, believe he’d have suffered far less injuries. Players like to start games, as being named in the first eleven comes with credibility and kudos, but, especially in the striker department, many seem to play so much better as substitutes.

They may not be as prevalent as they used to but there can be no denying that the ‘Target Man’ will, almost certainly, never disappear from the game altogether. Whether it’s in a traditional role, as a tactical option or an impact sub they can influence the course of a fixture hugely.

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Finally on to last night’s game. What a masterclass from Eden Hazard. The goal was something special. Strangely I enjoyed watching the match despite the loss. Unlike many I felt that Chelsea were extremely good, rather than us being particularly bad, in the first half, with it being one of those ‘didn’t allow us to play’ performances, however we did give the ball away too softly with a number of individual errors occurring. The change at half time worked with the ineffective Hernandez replaced. Good to see Arnie get some joy in the latter 45. I hope to see his improvement continue in the remainder of the season as he’s an important player for us.

There were quite a few positives. I felt that Ryan Fredericks was amongst our better players. He was the only one to get any change out of the imperious Hazard and he contributed in the opposition half as well – giving us width and carrying a threat. I love it when he uses his pace to get to the goal line before cutting the ball back or whipping it in. I hope to see him continue his development with us and makes the right back spot his own in seasons to come.

Manchester united up next. If we can pick up where we left off in the second half of that Chelsea match then we’re in for some more good viewing.

COYI!


The GoatyGav Column

A Disjointed Capitulation

I generally don’t do match reports – leaving that to others. Following this weekend’s game (I won’t say ‘match’ as that might suggest West Ham competed) I still find myself more than a little annoyed and so am going to change tack and have a good old gripe.

Saturday was a challenge in more ways than one. Before the game I got to take my youngest out in Westfield to spend some of his birthday money he’s been hanging on to. With ankle and knee issues arising from that morning’s training session I’d just put on for his team the trip to Stratford held a sense of foreboding. So we ended up doing almost two entire laps of the ‘big as a village’ shopping centre before the boy finally parted with some cash in JD Sports and we moved on to the stadium.

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We must have been going through security when the team-sheet went public as it seemed like the atmosphere had suddenly become edgy and nervous – in some areas even glum. It wasn’t until after I got a beer for me and a chicken burger for the lad, when we took up our usual pre-seat taking spot by the shelves behind the pic’n’mix area of entrance ‘C’, that we saw the team selection. All of a sudden the ‘glum’ and ‘edgy’ atmosphere that we felt made sense. Comments around us included “perhaps he’s showing Pellegrini something in training,” when the subject of Lucas Pérez’s inclusion was being discussed. I thought to myself that, apart from his home brace against Cardiff, I’ve not seen anything that would warrant a start ahead of Chicha so it must have been something pretty special. I suggested that an on form Pedro Obiang might be a good option. My youngest didn’t look too impressed. Then I noticed that there was no sign of Anderson in the starting 11, or on the bench, which I subsequently learned from the WHTID match thread was down to a minor ankle knock. Ahead of moving on to our seats I attempted a joke about a pick-axe in response to the minor knock comment – moving on was definitely the best course thereafter.

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From the first whistle it became obvious that Everton’s push for a fast start was succeeding. Not so sure it was down to them getting off to a flyer as much as West Ham starting badly again. Notwithstanding the sluggish beginning none of us expected to be witnessing Everton taking the lead as early as the fifth minute. The goal was greeted with murmurs of “Here we go again,” as we all braced ourselves for the next eighty-five plus minutes.
We should have known we were in for a tough afternoon when one of the regulars in our section, who we’ve affectionately come to know as “HIT HIM!”, was absent for the match. Over the course of this season a few of us have taken to playing ‘guess the minute’ that he’s going to yell his favourite phrase. He’s become something of a good luck charm, whilst being a great character, so the feeling of foreboding increased through his non-attendance.

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My son and I held on to the vain hope that something was going to change until the eighty-ninth minute when we finally edged (well – limped in my case) our way towards the exit.

Through the debacle of a ‘contest’ there were only two players who can hold their heads up. Unsurprisingly it’s the two players who, by now, must be astronomical units ahead of the rest of the pack in the ‘Hammer Of The Year’ stakes. Super Fabianski kept us in it while Declan competed as he always does. During the second half our twenty year old international cleverly beat three on our left touchline, before playing an effective five yarder infield to set up a promising attack, which isn’t something I’ve seen him do too often. His development appears to be continuing apace which is further cementing his fast growing reputation. For once an international break for England hasn’t destroyed one of our players in some way. The only other player to get any recognition for his efforts was Aaron Cresswell.

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West Ham now face a very tough run of games. The season poses a serious threat of petering out altogether which is a shame. Before Saturday I’d have qualified our home form this campaign as a good one and was beginning to feel ‘at home’. I suppose a return to the ‘West Ham Way’ should have enhanced those feelings but when a performance is that poor, and completely disjointed, it simply leaves you feeling numb. The tragedy, for me, is that I’ve come to expect more from the team at home – despite playing poorly for some weeks now.

There are clear issues with Arnie. Those who suggested that it was the decision to take him off against Huddersfield that was being booed, at the time, have been shown to be woefully wide of the mark. With just six fixtures left this season I wonder how many more minutes of play we’ll see the Austrian ply his trade in the famous Claret & Blue.

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All boiled down I’m disappointed in the supporter’s booing of the team – even Arnie. I get the levels of frustration being experienced by us, long suffering, Hammers but the counter-productive nature of booing means you won’t find me joining in. Simply don’t agree with it at all. We’re all WHTID so we should get behind the boys. If you’re feeling betrayed by Arnie then, I suggest, the best way to show it is to be silent when he enters or leaves the field. Applaud the player on when their name is announced but booing – not for this Hammer. You pay your money so I guess you’re entitled but I can’t see the sense in it as, frankly, I’m sure that it doesn’t even make you feel any better. I hope to see, and hear, us all get behind the lads for what’s left of 2018-19.

COYI!


The GoatyGav Column

Panto Villains - Your Least Favourite Opposition Players

So I fancied a break and am posting a, mainly, negative article today. Good to be a bad guy occasionally, after all, and this piece is all about the bad guys.

My least favourite player to have played against is, undoubtedly, Bernie Slaven. Every time I hear from him he seems to be having a pop at West Ham United. The bloke really needs to let it go and chill out but his head looks like it’s about to explode every time he’s drawn on the subject of the hammers. For me it started in an evening match at Upton Park in the late ‘80’s while he was at Middlesboro. He scored both the goals in a 2-1 Boro win but it was his actions that really wound me up. After both goals he came up to us in the corner between the North Bank and West Stand to celebrate and fist pump towards us at length. The referee of that game had to, practically, drag him back to his own half for the ensuing kick off. Several fans were extremely angry and on the brink of invading the pitch. He can count himself lucky he didn’t incite a pitch invasion.

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I don’t know what his dislike of our club comes from, and perhaps he was like that towards all opposing teams, but there was no mistaking it. On a couple of occasions since that game, thirty years ago, I’ve witnessed Slaven’s loathing for our club. At a televised ‘football masters’ veteran tournament where Slaven, who was a pundit, was clearly backing every team that West Ham played and took clear delight in anything that went against us. When we ended up winning the final it looked like his head was about to explode.

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He’s certainly not the only one to show an aversion to our club but, for me, he stands above all others in my ‘wouldn’t give him the time of day’ stakes.

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Not anti-West Ham in particular Jamie Carragher is another who gets Goaty’s goat. Apart from some of his antics it was his retirement from England before his change of heart just before the 2010, South Africa, World Cup when he ‘temporarily’ came out of retirement. As a man who couldn’t be bothered to help England qualify it really got on my nerves that he, suddenly, decided that a World Cup appearance was something he was ‘prepared’ to do. More like he fancied the profile it brought him and the jaunt to the southern hemisphere IMO. The fact he was given the opportunity at all only irritated me further. When he ended up warming the bench for so much of that competition it was of some consolation.

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A player that I have no issues with at all, but is viewed by a few in a dim light, is Eric Cantona. The admirer of trawler following seagulls was, perhaps, most famous for his Kung-Fu kick on Crystal Palace supporting Matthew Simmons rather than any kick of a ball. I was listening to the, once enthralling, commentary of Jonathan Pearce (his commentary is now just top quality – not as enthralling as it used to be) live on Capital Gold when I first learned of Cantona’s attack on Simmons. There were those who wanted ‘King Eric’ banned from the game for life. I’m pleased that never happened as, I believe, we’d have missed out on so many special moments he subsequently brought to the English game.

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Phil Neville can be quite intense. Running the length of the pitch to celebrate a goal in front of the Liverpool fans will certainly not have improved the Merseysiders’ view of the player. His actions may, or may not, have been the inspiration for Emmanuel Adebayor to do the same against his former club, Arsenal, for Manchester City but, either way, it didn’t endear him to the Gooners.

These Pantomime Villains add a certain spice to footballing rivalries. Without them the game would be missing something. So which player, or ex-player, gets under your skin most and why?

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Saturday’s game was frustrating. There were patches of decent play but I struggle to remember the last time the team made so many stray passes. Disjointed would be the word I’d use to describe it. Fabianski and Chicha are the only players who can truly hold their heads up after that one. That said all’s well that ends well and it turned out to be a memorable and entertaining game in the end. Big improvement needed against Everton however I fully expect one. Goodness knows we need the three points before the boys visit Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford thereafter.

A week of no West Ham to endure now but let’s hope for an enjoyable England appearance for Declan. A well deserved call up if ever there was one.

COYI!


The GoatyGav Column

XG Still Doesn't Quite Cut It

Prompted by the stats in recent games I decided to look at, what exactly, constitutes an XG (expected goals) stat in a match. In particular the Newcastle game surprised me in that the XG for Newcastle was 1.08 and for West Ham 2.01. When subsequently factoring in Newcastle’s 17 attempts at goal and 2 on target against West Ham’s 10 & 4, respectively, the stats, for me, were skewed.

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Originally developed as a predictive tool for betting the way the XG figure is put together has to do with the number, and position, of shots at goal. Headed attempts, strikes from further distance and from wider areas score lower XG than shots, attempts from closer to the goal and more central efforts respectively. The pitch is split in to various zones. A shot from the zone directly in front of, and closest to, the goal will provide a high XG whereas an attempt from the zone covering the corner of the pitch yields a low XG.

Although expected goals are meant to be an indicator over a period of between five to ten games, and undoubtedly a relevant indicator of goals that can be expected by a team, many factors are not taken in to consideration. Some of the problem with the system is that it is now being used out of context by television and media organisations. XG is quoted for a single game as an analysis of what’s occurred over the ninety plus minutes of that match where, as detailed above, the system was designed to indicate goal expectation over much higher numbers of fixtures. Not the end of the world however that’s just part of the picture.

It would be understating it to say that association football is a dynamic sport. This is true to a greater degree, in general, in the moments before a shot at goal. With play building to such a crescendo before the ‘trigger is pulled’, and so many variables contributing to the final shot how can two goal attempts from the same zone be compared? For starters the striker’s body position will vary. Then you have the difference in the pace of the ball when it’s struck adding, or taking away, from the difficulty of the chance. Then there’s the consideration of whether the ball is hit off the ground or on the volley/half volley. The severity of a bounce and when the ball is hit during it’s arc in the air. Looking back at Romelu Lukaku’s second goal against Crystal Palace a couple of weeks ago was from a high XG scoring area however the finish was far from easy as the Belgian striker had to take the ball up high and close, with an acrobatic technique, to steer it home. The stats would suggest that was, what OPTA describe as, a ‘big chance’ however it was far from it. It should be noted that OPTA are not the only game in town and not all XG systems are the same with some more sophisticated than others but all, in my op

One of Pep Guardiola’s tenets is the creation of better scoring chances. Overall Manchester City’s XG reflects this despite, not always, living up to the expectation with finishing falling below the suggested level. Perhaps a more easy to follow stat, resulting from the former Barca and Bayern gaffer’s philosophy, is, now regular, season scoring tallies over 100 goals. Football from another planet? Maybe not but it’s pretty special and you wouldn’t complain if it was West Ham.

I’m not suggesting, for a moment, that expected goals is a useless statistic. Far from it however it’s a system that is open to vast improvement. I do feel that it’s being, slightly, misused when applied to isolated matches, as it is every Saturday night on Match Of The Day, but it certainly has it’s place. Frankly, with my history of regular weekend punts on the footie, perhaps I should pay more attention to it.

Back to the example that I gave in the opening paragraph of the recent home win over the team from Tyneside. Reflecting on the quality of the chances created, and the dominance which West Ham showed that day, perhaps the numbers were not so skewed. If anything I’d suggest that our boys were even better than the 1.08XG vs 2.01. More recently, in Saturday’s fixture in Cardiff, there was an XG of 4.10 vs 0.34. No prizes for guessing which one was which but, bearing in mind our dominance over Newcastle the previous weekend, was that an accurate description of the chances? Cardiff over twelve times more likely to score than our boys? I’ll leave that one with you.

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Moving along, as I believe that we should now, this coming Saturday’s game offers a great chance to put another three on the board and place some pressure on Wolves and Watford, who play in the F.A. Cup, above us. We need to see a statement of intent from the team. A decent run in could still see us finish seventh and qualify for next season’s Europa League. Some European nights under the floodlights anyone?

COYI!


The GoatyGav Column

There's No Place Like Home

If I could click my heels together three times and repeat Dorothea’s wish until I was returned to the Boleyn Ground I would. Sadly this isn’t ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ so home will remain in Stratford.

I’d say that Saturday went some way towards making the OS/LS feel, just a tiny, bit more like home. Many fans have been, or remain, critical of the owners but, of late, they seem to have got a lot more right than wrong. The decision to name the ‘Kop’ style East Stand the ‘Billy Bonds Stand’ was one of the best that they have made. To top that off the ceremony that they laid on was terrific. There was a great sense of occasion with many of his former team-mates and players he managed forming the guard of honour for him, and his family, to be greeted on to the pitch by. Like so many of you I was hugely made up for Bonzo. The day felt special to me. Only Billy can know how it felt for him but it was a highly charged emotional event which visibly affected him to the point of him becoming misty. Those tears of joy that welled up encapsulated our feelings too and I’m so pleased that Sir Trev’s ‘enforcer’ is once more alongside him at West Ham.

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Back to the Stadium itself there’s still a huge gamut of feeling amongst the supporters. At one end of the scale you have those who have gone to the extreme of giving up their Season Tickets – so disenfranchised have they felt. At the other end there are those who have welcomed the move and the benefits that it has brought including affordable tickets, especially for kids, and the increased capacity with it’s accompanying revenue increase for the club. Personally I’ve come to accept the move like I’ve come to accept Brexit as someone who voted to remain. If I could change anything about the situation I would but, like the fact that I’ll always be British, my club allegiance is set in stone and so it’s a question of just having to get on with it. Making the best of a situation is not necessarily the same as having to put up with one though. So my attitude is very much to enjoy life at Stratford as much as possible and Saturday will help form fond memories of our new ‘home’ to help that enjoyment.

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There are, however, still things that require some work. Chatting to the, now familiar, Hammers fans around me I learned that there were forty supporters ejected from their seats by security at the Fulham game. I shudder to think how many it was for Liverpool despite many of those being fans of the Merseyside team sitting in home seats. The word ‘snowflake’ seems to have gained momentum in recent months and, it would seem, that many coming to matches at the London Stadium are easily offended. Don’t get me wrong, if some fans are acting overly aggressive around small children then it’s wholly appropriate for the parents of the toddlers to request to move seats. When lifelong fans, however, are being ejected from their seats for small infractions then some common sense needs to be applied. Sadly sometimes ‘savvy’ stewarding, and common sense, are not being applied. I won’t tar all stewards with the same brush but, you have to say that, there’s a way to go until the overall standards come up to the same level as we were used to at Upton Park.

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Whether we eventually get to see the planned lower tier seats in the Sir Trev Stand bring fans closer to the action, or not, remains to be seen. There were many who quickly observed the potential exposure to the elements leaving supporters soaked to the skin. It’s great to be near to the pitch but would you really want to be in those seats if it were hammering it down cats and dogs on you for two hours? Not sure I would and definitely sure I wouldn’t subject my lad to being drenched whenever the heavens opened up. I suspect there’s some work to do to make sure those seats are protected.

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Overall I feel that the nightmare many predicted, including myself being very sceptical, hasn’t fully come to pass. I’ve mentioned a few times before, in the comments, that my Father, who was born and raised in Compton Avenue, Upton Park, was of the opinion that West Ham should have moved to a larger capacity stadium decades before they did. If someone with ties to the ground as strong as his understood the reasons for moving on then it’s my hope that many of those who are considering giving up their tickets, or have already done so, either stay or return. Yes, affordable football has brought many new fans in but the soul of the club IS the supporters and if too many leave then those chants of “You sold your soul for this $ – hole,” will have it completely right. In my mind’s eye I can see something pretty special with a great atmosphere as well as increased financial muscle to bring success to us, long suffering, fans.

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COYI! BILLY BONDS’ CLARET & BLUE ARMY!

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