The S J Chandos Column

Can we make it five wins back-to-back ? (As SJ finds a new Stratford watering hole!)

West Ham have been in excellent form of late and, as we are all no doubt aware, victory over Watford will give us our fifth consecutive win. It has been a real roller coaster of a season so far, but credit where it is due, Pellegrini finally seems to be getting his playing style/system across to the squad. What makes recent results all the more remarkable is the fact that they have been achieved with some of our best players sidelined.

Can you imagine how good we would be if Yarmolenko and Lanzini were fit and starring in this team? I have said right from the summer that Lanzini is the key missing component and his addition to this side would take us to a totally different level. Am I putting too much confidence in Lanzini? I think not. He is the creative and goal scoring central, attacking, midfielder that we have been missing and I am hopeful that his addition could boost our chances of league/cup success next season.

Nevertheless, we must still acknowledge the sterling job that the fit players are doing at present. Balbuena and Diop look very solid, Zabaletta is defying his years week in/week out, Rice is going from strength to strength, Anderson is realising his huge potential and Snodgrass is looking absolute class. In addition, Antonio has also started playing like his former self, Hernandez has been far sharper and Noble just keeps on delivering in the middle of the park (as much as his detractors claim otherwise).

The fact is that a depleted squad has very much come in to its own and Pellegrini deserves every credit for bringing that about. Yet, this four match winning run has come as West Ham have faced a number of team currently positioned in the middle/bottom half of the table. We have beaten, Newcastle Utd, Cardiff City, Palace, and Fulham in recent weeks. And after Saturday’s match vs Watford, we then face Southampton (A), Burnley (A) and Brighton (H); before playing Arsenal (H) on 12/01/19. There is every prospect that we could end up going eight matches unbeaten, in this period, and take a massive step towards ensuring a top half finish.

However, that probably does reflects where we are this season, too good for the bottom 10 teams and competitive against the sides up to about sixth place; but probably falling short when facing the top six teams. Yes, we have had excellent results against Man Utd (H) and Chelsea (H); but this has been balanced up by heavy defeats against the likes of Man City (H), Arsenal (A) and Liverpool (A); plus that painful double header (H) reverse to Spurs in the Cup and PL.

Yet, we are where we are and there is definitely now a foundation upon which to build. I am not one of those complacently predicting that West Ham will not add to the squad this January. In view of the injury situation in the squad, it is probably necessary to bring in at least two or three additions. While I admit that these will more than likely be loan signings, I think that they are necessary to keep the club moving forward. Personally, I would like to see Pellegrini bring in another full-back, a midfielder and a striker, possibly on a loan, with a view to a permanent deal basis. The fact is that we are doing ok right now, but if we sustain another two or three major injuries that would severely stretch our squad. We need to plan in anticipation of that eventuality.

Anyway, I am just enjoying this winning run and a I sincerely hope that it continues up to and beyond the Arsenal match. We have all been Hammers fans long enough to know that these type of winning runs are few and far between and we should just enjoy them when they come along. And that is exactly what I am doing.

Recent results have been made all the more enjoyable because I have found a really nice new bolt hole for a pre and post-match drink. It is one of the few places in the Stratford area, on a match day, that is not absolutely rammed out. I do not know about others, but I am getting too old for packed pubs, standing room only and fighting for a drink. In recent weeks I have been going with friends to the Meza Bar: East, which is attached to the Theatre Royal East (Gerry Raffles Square, E15). It has a great atmosphere, the staff are really friendly and it has a good menu and selection of draught/keg beers on tap. Apparently quite a few Hammers fans used to use it, but they lost the custom when they closed for a major refurbishment over the summer and autumn. I understand that they would like to try and attract that custom back.

A friend of mine spoke to the manager recently and he has since asked me to encourage WHTID readers/contributors to try the re-vamped bar. To encourage Hammers fans back on Saturday (22 December 2018) they are offering a Burger/Chips/all the trimmings and any pint of draught beer deal for a special price of £10 incl. That is good value when you consider the outrageous price of food and drink in the London Stadium. To get the deal you need to ask for the ‘Win Burger’ deal and show your season ticket/match ticket to the bar staff.

If you like rowdy football pubs and launching in to loud renditions of bubbles, whilst standing on your chair, then the Meza East Bar is not for you. After all it is attached to a theatre and you do need to respect the theatre going client base who also frequent the place. However, if you want a nice friendly drink with friends and family, in a pleasant environment, it could be just what you are looking for.

Give it a try!

SJ. Chandos.


The S J Chandos Column

Can West Ham's fit strikers capitalise on the 'opportunity' presented by Arnautovic's injury absence?

As a Hammers fan you always fear the worst when Marko Arnautovic sustains an injury. And quite rightly so, the Austrian forward has become our talisman and hitherto the striker most likely to score on a regular basis. Arnautovic proved that last season, recovering from a shaky start to his Hammers career, and so far this season once again leading the way with a five goal haul. But it is not only his goals that we could miss, it is also his link up play and ‘never say die’ attitude that inspires the team and attracts the admiration of the fans. There is little doubt that we will miss him on a number of levels, but it does raise the question whether it will it be an opportunity for the other fit strikers in the squad to shine?

Indeed, Pellegrini has addressed this very issue, challenging the other West Ham strikers to ‘step up to the plate’ during Arnautovic’s anticipated month long absence. He has been quoted as stating:

‘We know how important Marko is for our team. We have too many players injured in a month that we have to play seven games and then in January six more games. But I always have the same answer – we have a squad and it is a chance for another player to demonstrate why they are here. So we must continue working with the players that are able to in this moment and hope that the others can recover as soon as they can.’

‘I was very happy with Lucas Perez, the other day, that he took his chance and scored two goals. I am pleased for him because he is a player that I brought to this team. I have known for years before that he is a good striker, but for different reasons he could not start in other games. The important thing is when they have the chance, they take the chance. With the long injury to Marko, Andy Carroll is back now as well and Perez, Javier Hernandez Xande Silva. I hope that all of them cover the absence of Marko.’

There is not doubt that Perez took his chances well against Cardiff City. While Hernandez looked much more like his old self in bagging a brace at St James in the previous match. The question for me is whether either Perez or Hernandez can play up front on their own in the way Arnautovic does so well? Hernandez (unsurprisingly) seems to struggle in a lone strike role and it is probably no coincidence that his improved performance against Newcastle Utd came in playing in a front two. The same may apply to Perez, so could it be that Pellegrini will adjust his formation to accommodate starting two strikers, with Silva promoted to the bench? We shall see on Saturday? The due consideration tactically for Pellegrini, in pursuing that course of action, is the potential consequences of losing a player out wide or, more likely, in midfield to in order to accommodate it.

It was interesting that Pellegrini mentioned Silva and put him firmly in the frame. As readers will recall, Silva started the season like a steam train in the U-21s and his progress was only halted by injury. He is now back from injury and looks the promising young player that we anticipated him to be. Pellegrini’s reference is a very likely indicator that he has him in mind for a possible elevation to the bench. Again, we shall see? One player that does definitely need to make a positive impact now is Andy Carroll. He has been out since the summer and needs to start earning his not inconsiderate ‘corn’ at the football club. If he is finally injury free and, achieves some sort of form, he could be a very useful alternative option. I know he is usually heralded for his obvious strengths, such as his physicality and dominance in the air, but he is also a far better footballer (on the deck) than he is ever given credit for by most commentators. It is a shame that Carroll never got to work with a coach like Pellegrini earlier in his career, he may well have better developed the more technical aspects of his game. Regardless, I imagine that practicalities mean that Carroll will start off on the bench and build up his playing time gradually.

However, Pellegrini has also been the bearer of some bad news about Jack Wilshere’s availability on Saturday. It appears that Wilshere is feeling some discomfort in his ankle and Pellegrini is going to rest him for the Palace game as a precautionary measure. He was quoted as saying that:

‘With Wilshere, it is his ankle, he is not 100% comfortable, so he will not be involved in this game. I think it is just this game, I hope that next week he will be ok.’

Amen to that! Pellegrini may be right in his recent assertion that we got a potential £100m player in Jack Wilshere, but ultimately he has to be fit and playing to prove it and make the commensurate level of impact for the club.

SJ. Chandos.


The S J Chandos Column

Is there a greater modern tendency to rush to condemn and write-off players!

West Ham played some really wonderful stuff on Saturday, in their 4-2 defeat of Burnley at the London Stadium. Arnautovic starred as per usual and Diangana had arguably his best first team performance to date. Other players that also stood out were Anderson, with his vital brace of goals, and Snodgrass for his industry and invention in midfield. Indeed, both players were crucial in winning a match that could very well have resulted in a frustrating score draw, contrary to the home team’s clear dominance.

Anderson and Snodgrass have something in common, they have both previously been subject to more than their fair share of fan criticism over prior performances. In he case of Snodgrass, he was recruited in the aftermath of Payet’s exit and his Hammers career had a less than brilliant start, resulting in a season long loan to Aston Villa in 2017-18. At that juncture, the ex-Hull City star was widely written off by quite a few supporters and it was strongly suggested that there was only one realistic course of action, to sell him to Villa as soon as possible. Anderson has recently been the target of fan criticism for some less than consistent performances (against the likes of Spurs), conveniently forgetting the outstanding ability that he demonstrated against Arsenal and Man Utd.

Subsequently, Snodgrass has came back to West Ham (under the management of Pellegrini), shed some excess weight and really buckled down to the task of saving his Hammers career. And so far this season Snodgrass has become a fixture in the first team, impressing supporters with his committed and resourceful performances. While Anderson once again underlined his true ability, with a match winning performance against Burnley. And with it the fan jibes about ’ West Ham being the only club to buy a Brazilian who cannot play’ have suddenly melted away. It may be legitimate to question Anderson’s consistency this season, but one cannot help but feel that some of the criticism was not only premature, but way over the top.

Another player that has attracted a lot of unfair fan criticism is Mark Noble, a outstanding contemporary servant to West Ham Utd Football Club. This has tended to write him off as a spent force, ‘too slow, lacking pace and generally past it.’ He silenced much of that criticism recently with his highly influential midfield performances against Everton, Chelsea and Man Utd. Only to become the ‘villain of the piece’ once again with last week’s sending off against Leicester City. I honestly cannot believe some of the things written about Noble and feel that much of it his highly disrespectful to a player that has given (and continues to give) outstanding service to the club. One suspects that Noble will only get full and fair credit for his contribution once his West Ham playing career is concluded!

So, is there an increasing tendency amongst supporters to rush to condemn and write off players? Are we less patient and more likely to criticise than in previous eras? I personally am split on the issue. I find a lot of the criticism certain players receive premature and unfair. There are definitely some fans that love to have a scapegoat(s) to take out their angst/spite on. If results go badly then it seems to be a comfort to them to lay the blame at the door of a specific target or targets. Yet, on the other hand, I also tend to think that players are highly paid and should be accountable for their performance or lack of it! I have always said that fans pay their money and have the right to express their views, no matter how mistaken they may be.

Perhaps for me it is ultimately a matter of degree. Not that fans criticise, but that quite often, these days, much of it is excessive and a minority of it quite frankly irrational. And it is notable that if and when a heavily criticised player redeems himself, that criticism tends to just melt away and all suddenly becomes ‘sweetness and light.’ Maybe this is all just a consequence of the age of social media and the price we pay for everyone having a voice online?

SJ. Chandos.


The S J Chandos Column

This forthcoming 'double header' could prove season defining!

Another international break has come and gone and we can now look forward to the exciting prospect of the (PL and cup) ‘double header’ with our old friends (formerly) from White Hart Lane. Very few fixtures galvanize Hammers hearts like matches with Spurs and they really do tend to be fixtures to saviour. It is a rivalry that is equally shared, although Spurs fans tend to pretend that (to them) it is just another fixture and the hype is all emanating from East London. While it is true that their local north London derbies, with Arsenal, are undoubtedly the most important matches in their season; methinks the Spurs fans do protest too much when they attempt to ‘big themselves up’ at our expense. You have only to witness the vitriol emanating from the Spurs fan websites to know, that despite their loud protestations to the contrary, these are matches that they desperately want to win.

To be honest, I see Spurs as fierce London rivals, but I am not particularly fanatical in my dislike for them. We have enjoyed some memorable matches down the decades and I have been privileged to be at most of them since 1967. So, I am hoping that the next couple will significantly add to that existing bank of cherished memories, with lots of thrills, spills and goals along the way (with the majority ending up in the Spurs net!).

It is not an exaggeration to suggest that the results of these two matches could define our season. We can only hope that the squad emerge from this international break as strongly as they did from the last one. And surely there is no fixture that is more likely to fire up the passions of players and fans, alike, then this one.

As you will be aware, we play Spurs in the PL, this Saturday, on 20 October 2018 and then face them again on Wednesday, 31 October 2018. A double victory would really boost the self-confidence of the squad and breed belief that we can we can proceed to do well this current season. Personally, I think that a score draw (in the PL fixture) and a win in the cup tie are the likeliest options. Spurs will be firing on all cylinders for the PL match, but I am convinced that we can match them. While I believe that we will have the momentum, and the advantage, going in to the cup tie, and that should result in a memorable Hammers victory. And if it actually happened, would it be that much of a shock? We have done very well against Spurs in the League Cup in recent seasons. After all, who can forget the famous 1-2 victory in the Allardyce era and that classic 2-3 turnaround (after being 2-0 down at half time) last season.

The added bonus is that both matches are at the LS. It will be two further opportunities to reproduce the great atmosphere generated at Man Utd match. We need fiercely competitive fixtures like these to fire up the Hammers fans and get them fully appreciating that their new home can produce a partisan and memorable atmosphere. Something that is entirely in the supporters own hands! The critics tend to portray the LS a ‘cold and soulless bowl,’ but to my mind that is an unfair and jaundiced description. The stadium atmosphere has been excellent on occasions and I it can very well be again. Hammers fans have shown that they can animate the venue, given the correct circumstances, and I would suggest that all the pre-requisite elements are present for these Spurs fixtures.

We obviously need the three points to push us up the table; and win the cup tie and we will find ourselves in the quarter-finals, with a very good shot at progressing (if the draws are kind?). People often talk of clubs having ‘bogey’ opponents, but you could almost argue that the League Cup has been a ‘bogey’ competition for us over the years. We have made the final and semi-final on a number of occasions and always failed at the last (or second to last) hurdle. It would be a really good to lay that ‘hoodoo’ to rest this season and finally win the competition. Such a victory would secure our place in European competition next season (by February 2019) and allow us to then concentrate upon securing a top ten PL finish.

So, I am going for a 2-2 draw in the PL fixture and a classic 3-1 victory in the cup. COYI!

SJ. Chandos.


The S J Chandos Column

Under Pellegrini the club's ethos needs to be adjusted!

The Brighton result was disappointing, but we should not get too despondent; yes we started slowly, over-elaborated in our passing (particularly in the first half) and lacked a cutting edge in the final third, but some times defeats like this can prove instructive in the long run. West Ham were riding high after the Manchester United victory and perhaps this was a timely reminder that we need to ‘turn up’ to beat our PL opponents, regardless who they may be. If you do not play with the same momentum and intensity against the likes of Brighton, as you do against Man Utd, then there is a very real possibility that you will come well and truly unstuck. The truth is that we started too slowly and the Brighton goal was very largely self-inflicted, but we really should have scored at least one goal in a second half that we dominated.

I genuinely thought that we would win at Brighton, but perhaps this defeat may prove to be beneficial watershed in the overall direction of our season. Many Hammers fans have said to me that the recent sequence of results is classic West Ham. They get positive results against the bigger teams, but blow it against those sides that they should rightly defeat. One fan stated that it is always the same pattern, regardless of who owns, manages or plays for the club – we are always consistently, inconsistent! It is part of our DNA as a football club. I recognise that observation has a lot of historical evidence to support it, but I am not that fatalistic. Personally, I think that we are on a journey with Pellegrini and it is one that will take us forward to a situation where we can eventually challenge the top six. It probably will not be this season, but we need to be patient and buy-in to his long-term project.

There has been a major over-haul of the squad this past summer and Pellegrini has acquired a lot of the players that are instrumental to playing his preferred system. However, I doubt that (privately) Pellegrini would consider the squad complete and ready to sustain a challenge for the PL title (and for a winner like him that has to be the ultimate objective and destination). I believe that will require a dedicated recruitment/youth development drive over the next 2-3 seasons, sustaining this summer’s level of player investment on a year-on-year basis. Some Hammers fans have an ingrained ‘defeatist’ mentality and would scoff at such a proposition. How many times on social media do you see alleged West Ham supporters stating that such and such a player, Lanzini, Anderson, Arnautovic, is ‘too good for the club.’ Could you imagine a Man U, Chelsea. or Tottenham fan coming out with a statement like that! To those so-called fans I say you really should go and follow Dagenham & Redbridge or Leyton Orient if you want to be a perpetual loser, not worthy of attracting or holding on to top class talent. I do not, I hope to see West Ham win a PL title before I ‘shuffle off this mortal coil’ and that should be the serious ambition of every single Hammers fan. We are not a ‘small club,’ whatever way you define that, we are one of the great clubs of English football. And, quite frankly it is an embarrassment that we have never won the title. And, to be equally honest, I am also increasingly embarrassed at way that we continually over-hype the valiant failure of 1985-86. We were very good that season and we should have won the title, but the ultimate truth is we failed. We were piped to the post by genuine, perpetual winners, Liverpool, who went on an incredible end of season unbeaten run to snatch the title from our grasp. Much like they snatched the FA Cup away from us in 2005-06, by digging in and being winners.

I am tired of being the classic romantic club, who regularly defeats the top clubs of the day and then capitulates to lesser opponents. In the 1960s, 1970s and even the 1980s West Ham were widely respected for our philosophy/traditions (regardless of our inconsistency). Now, in the ‘cut throat’ and cynical PL era we are commonly viewed dismissively and disrespectfully. So, much so that there really is no need whatsoever for our own fans to be defeatist/dismissive about our prospects. Its got to stop. We now have the manager and basic squad to start changing perceptions about our club and its future potential. It would be very positive if we could start that process this season by winning a domestic cup and pushing in to the top 10 of the PL (Thereby qualifying for next season’s Europa League). And do it playing the West Ham Way, which is more than possible under Pellegrini.

In short, the ethos of the club needs to be adjusted. This famous club of ours will always aspire to play the right way, but we need to add a winning mentality and a consistency to the mix. When we do that we can finally become the club that generations of Hammers fans have dreamt of following – one that plays attractive football, but is also consistent and seriously challenges for the major prizes of English and European football.

SJ. Chandos.


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