The HamburgHammer Column
A 0:0 draw in general should not be the kind of game lingering in the memory of the common football fan for a long time. This one will be if you are a West Ham fan.
Why ? Because after plenty of disappointing performances this season this draw against Everton was a very good and disciplined showing from our lads.
Bilic got the gameplan spot on and got grit, fight and effort from every player out there which basically were the ones not injured or suspended.
We were scraping at the bottom of the barrel, line up wise, but everyone knew what he had to do on the pitch and we nullified a very good side on the day.
So, we can play a bit after all, as long as we don’t play players out of position and also give those a fighting chance who have featured very little so far this season, not in their prefered position anyway. Havard Nordtveit was the standout performer for me on the day, not in absolute terms as probably Masuaku, Collins or Lanzini were ahead of Nordtveit in terms of overall contribution.
However, considering the criticism hurled at him throughout the course of the season, it was a massive relief to see him perform like this. I knew when we signed him from Moenchengladbach that he was a very decent player, not one of the obvious stars selling shirts by the thousands, but one of the much needed workhorses that every team needs but who rarely get noticed until they are out and you only then realise what you are missing out on.
Nordtveit is not there to provide assists and goals, he is there to help us keep the ball (or win it back) and it is also in his job description to stop the opposition team doing their thing, playing and running circles around our midfielders. Given a run of consecutive games in his prefered position I can see him adding a lot of composure and solidity to our side. Plus we may also see another one of his traits that made him a cornerstone of the Moenchengladbach team: A fierce shot from distance, not unsimilar to the strikes delivered by The Hammer, former West Ham and Aston Villa legend Thomas Hitzlsperger. Which also applies to freekicks.
So if you want something a bit different to Lanzini’s swerving efforts, why not give Nordtveit a go? Mind you, he may take the opposition goalkeeper’s Loaf off, should that geezer be stupid enough trying to stop those shots!
The Everton game has also given me food for thought about our goalkeeping situation and I am in a bit of a dilemma there. Both of our custodians are prone to some mindblowing blunders. None of them is the finished article. Everton didn’t manage a shot on goal all game. So even I would have finished that game with a clean sheet if I had been playing on the day. There was an early incident where Adrian nearly lost the ball in his own box before ruthlessly claiming the ball, charging in fiercely.
While I still hate his tendency to play keepy uppy with a back pass (which I see as unnecessary and risky showboating really) I like his presence in the box.
Adrian wouldn’t have allowed the opposition to boss him around prior to a cornerkick like Randolph did against Sunderland. I am not saying that overall Adrian is the better goalkeeper, it’s really a case of six of one, half a dozen of the other here. But a clean sheet is a clean sheet and Adrian should stay in goal now for the next few games.
Another tricky one for me, especially thinking forward to our summer transfer window, is Sakho. We all know what he can bring to our side, if healthy and in the right frame of mind minus any attitude. I still think he will get back to his best, for me all his frustrations stem from the hunger and desire to play and perform for the fans and his teammates.
That long back injury didn’t exactly help his confidence I’m sure, especially considering it might have been dealt with a lot sooner if Sakho had only agreed to go through with that surgical repair straight away when it apparently was recommended to him by doctors.
The good thing about Sakho is that we know what he is capable of. He already is at the club and doesn’t cost a transfer fee, probably just a moderate wage rise is necessary to keep him happy. Sakho strikes me as a very proud player who tends to be too much on edge at times. I still see him as a very good striker which is the main thing for me.
Striker will be one of those positions we need to address in the summer and I suppose it’s fair to say we can no longer seriously rely on Carroll being our Number One striker to build our gameplan around for next season – his injury record simply doesn’t allow us to do that anymore.
I know Carroll and his family are happy in London and it’d take a ludicrous financial offer for him to even contemplate moving to China for a season or two. But if I had to decide about a striker leaving it would be Carroll. Depending on how many strikers we let go (Calleri, Carroll, Sakho, maybe even Fletcher) we will surely see two or three strikers coming in over the summer. Let’s hope we get it right this time.
Which brings me to the headline of this week’s column. This summer will be very much a make or break moment for our club. Everyone needs to and should learn from this disastrous season. Numerous mistakes have been made by various people within the club hierarchy, in the boardroom and on the training pitches.
Pointing fingers is one thing. I’d rather like to see a constructive approach here.
None of us wants a repeat of this season which is unlikely anyway as we will not move stadium again anytime soon. Which is one distracting factor out of the way.
Of course you could gamble a bit (or a lot), let the manager go, bring in a new manager with a new team of backroom staff, replace half the team with new arrivals, shake it all up and hope it’ll all miraculously improve.
Or you could trust that things will improve if you continue to put your trust in Bilic, support him with transfers in the summer and let him make a fresh start, maybe with a few tweaks to his staff of assistant managers and coaches. It’s been a tough old season on various fronts and I have said before, how in God’s name Bilic took everything thrown at him (while suffering more personal pain through his hip problems which should be sorted out over the summer as well), took it on the chin, rarely moaned or complained at the circumstances but carried on trying to do his best for West Ham, well, it’s quite amazing to see.
I cannot help but admire the way Bilic has been handling it all in such a dignified professional manner. Yes, I sometimes was frustrated with his choice of lineup or substitutions made like most of us fans were, but to hear a pundit mention during the game that Bilic had to make do without eleven different first team players this season who were each missing at least two months through injury, not to mention the Payet issue, the new surroundings of the OS (basically taking home advantage away from us all season), it is a minor miracle we are still in touching distance to finishing in tenth place at this point.
Other managers in the situation might well have had a nervous breakdown or possibly walked away months ago. Not Slaven Bilic. I am convinced he has done more than enough to deserve the chance to see out his contract at least. If things don’t improve next season, find a new manager to replace him. I know modern football is harsh and fickle and there rarely is room for sentiment, loyalty or decency in this day and age. But as for Bilic I hope he will get the opportunity to turn things around and deliver better times for our club and its loyal fanbase. Slaven in my book is one of the very few decent people still associated with our club at this point.
But of course the board will make this decision without paying too much attention to blogs or social media. And neither should they be. They should ask themselves though:
Can we really bring in the kind of manager who is likely to do better than Bilic while having to work under the financial constraints of a club like ours ?
If I haven’t mentioned Concordia yet, well, there is a good reason for that. They lost at home to Dassendorf (not to be confused with Duesseldorf) by a 0:4 scoreline which was also the halftime result. That’s all you really need to know about that particular game. COYI!