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.

The S J Chandos Column

7 Points from a possible 9 - West Ham confound the 'critics' yet again!

We all know that it was not so long ago that West Ham stood stranded at the foot of the table on an abject zero points. That was the situation before the last international break and the transformation in our fortunes since has been quite amazing. Many were darkly predicting that we could be well in to October before we picked up our first PL point. I was not amongst them because I comforted myself with (a) the thought that it was only a matter of time before Pellegrini found that elusive winning formula/formation and (b) the knowledge that in prior seasons the team have faced a very difficult run of fixtures and responded by accruing a healthy return of points against all the odds. And that is exactly the scenario that emerged once again.

West Ham social media is now suddenly a radically different environment. Where previously fans did not know where the first point was coming from, confidence was shaken in Pellegrini’s managerial credentials and his transfer choices were widely questioned, now only positivity reigns. It is truly amazing what 7 out of 9 points, plus a bumper 8-0 cup victory, can do for the spirits of supporters previously in the deep grip of despair. And that is only positive, in the sense of building fan belief in the players and exciting project being developed by Pellegrini and his staff. I also happen to feel that the debuts of the three Academy youngsters has also buoyed the spirits of the Hammers fan base; the Academy is very important to our supporters and witnessing three debutants making the breakthrough against Macclesfield has only contributed to the growing optimism.

Indeed, the plus column of the West Ham balance sheet really stands out at present. I have identified many of these factors in previous articles. They include: the outstanding form of Fabianski; a defence which appears to be gelling as a unit and securing ever greater cohesion/solidarity; a effective midfield based upon the defensive cover/graft provided by the duo of Rice and Obiang and a revitalised Mark Noble, playing in a more advanced role; the realisation of the skill, pace and power of a front three of Anderson, Arnautovic and Yarmolenko; the steady improvement demonstrated by players such as Antonio and Snodgrass; and the recent advent of Diangana, Powell and Coventry and the rich potential of others such as Holland and Silva.

It is, indeed, a rosy picture in many respects, but there are also dangers and potential pitfalls as well and these need to be acknowledged. Perhaps the greatest single ‘threat’ is the recent injuries to Wilshere and Sanchez and our current ‘thinness’ of options in central midfield. In the aftermath of Wilshere’s injury, I had identified that we would most probably be ok in central midfield as long as Rice-Obiang-Sanchez-Noble remained fit and available. That is no longer the case, with Sanchez likely to be out for the remainder of the season. As a consequence, Pellegrini, and his staff, must be secretly very anxious about Rice-Obiang-Noble staying injury free over the coming weeks. If an injury was to occur to any of these three key players, just how would we cope/respond? Would Pellegrini be happy with throwing Powell or Coventry in to the PL fight or is that move perhaps a bit too premature?

We have good cover at goal keeper and across the defence, so that should not be too much of a problem. Looking at the front three – we have some very able squad options in the wide positions. I am thinking here principally of Snodgrass and Antonio; however, we remain very dependent upon Arnautovic to lead the forward line. Now that both Anderson and Yarmolenko have registered their initial PL goals (along with Antonio and Snodgrass in the cup) one sincerely hopes that the rest of the forwards will start weighing-in with their fair share of goals. However, the fact remains that Arnautovic is our best forward and we are still heavily reliant upon his inspirational presence to lead and give focus to our attack. The situation with regard to Perez and Hernandez remains unclear at present. Perez converted his first goal against Macclesfield and one can only hope that he progresses significantly from this point onwards. While Hernandez as been missing through illness and has been unable to stake any sort of claim to a first team place. The additional factor is Andy Carroll’s impending return from injury, but yet again, there is a distinct lack of clarity about Pellegrini’s intent with regard to his future use of Carroll in his proposed/developing system of play?

Nor do we know what the club’s plans are in doing business in the January window? Having spent c.£100m in the summer, is it likely that the board will sanction further business in January? Perhaps it will be a matter of moving out loanees (like Fernandes and Hugill) and sacrificing players deemed surplus to requirements to raise transfer funds for one or two more inward coming deals? We will have to wait and see what happens on that one.

I pointed to Declan Rice’s contract situation some time ago. I will only repeat my advice to the board that they agree a new long-term contract with the youngster as soon as practically possible. One has to take some of the speculation with a pinch of salt, but there are some fairly reliable rumours circulating that Rice wants a new six year contract, with the first three years on £30,000 per week and the next second three years on £35,000 per week. Considering his ability, and the progress achieved to date, is that unreasonable? I think not, get the contract agreed and that is one potential threat/danger that can be safely laid to rest.

Finally, we face Brighton & Hove Albion in this Friday evening’s Sky match. Last season we suffered two heavy defeats to Brighton and this match will be a good litmus test of how far we have progressed. With Arnautovic leading the line, I am hoping that we will have too much for the Seagulls this season. As such I am going for a 1-2 West Ham away win, securing 10 points from a possible 12 and extending the unbeaten run to five matches. COYI!

SJ. Chandos.

The S J Chandos Column

Intensity, efficiency and ruthlessness - A clear recipe for future success!

Wednesday evening’s Carabao Cup performance was marked by the consistent intensity of our play, the efficiency with which we approached the task and the ultimate ruthlessness with which we dispatched our opponents. This is a clear recipe (if it can be replicated) for the club’s future success. Too often in the past West Ham have struggled with this calibre of opponent, but not this time as the team achieved everything expected of it and much more besides. It was good to see players like Perez and Snodgrass utilise the opportunity presented by the match to shake off the ‘ring rust’ and ‘open up the throttle’ to start firing on all cylinders; and of course, other regular first teamers like Ogbonna, Fredericks and Cresswell also secured invaluable additional game time. However, perhaps the single most pleasing aspect of the entire evening was the first team debuts of Powell, Coventry and Diangana and, particularly, the latter’s two goal return.

This Macclesfield Town match also proves just how crucial luck is in football. Silva and Holland were the U-21 prospects widely seen as most likely to make an immediate impact at first team level. Yet injury strikes at the wrong time and that gives others the opportunity to impress in their stead. Make no mistake, both Silva and Holland remain top prospects, its probably just going to take that bit longer than originally anticipated. Looking at it from a slightly different perspective, it is probably a huge positive that three youngsters (Powell, Coventry and Diangana) have emerged so strongly and, yet, outstanding prospects likes of Holland and Silva remain on the production line. It would seem that the Academy of Football could very well be back and that is a development that will be welcomed by every true Hammers fan.

I must admit that I had initially feared that the Academy might suffer when Pellegrini was first appointed. However, in retrospect, Pellegrini probably knows that the transfer budget at the London Stadium (although substantial) is unlikely to ever rival the riches available at the likes of Man City and that, as a consequence, the Academy supply line remains an essential pre-requisite. Indeed, I have recently been encouraged by Pellegrini’s nurturing of the Academy and the encouragement he has given to our youngsters. The three debuts on Wednesday is a clear indication of that.

Following on from the victory at Everton, and the hard fought draw home against Chelsea, this result has given the whole club a massive shot in the arm. It has nicely set us up for the Manchester United home match and the very real possibility of another eye catching performance/result. Yes, our talismanic striker, Marco Arnautovic, could very well still be missing through injury and, if so, we need to show faith in Lucas Perez and select him to lead the line on Saturday. This is the essence of a squad system, strength in depth, competition for places and players ready and waiting to take their opportunities when they present themselves. If Perez gets the nod on Saturday then he needs to ‘step up to the plate’ and grab his chance with both hands. What is certain is that Perez will be in a far better place to achieve that after his goal scoring performance on Wednesday. Confidence is a huge factor in football and never more so than for strikers, who thrive on self-confidence. Hopefully, we will start to see exactly what Perez can achieve on the bigger, PL stage.

Manchester United will arrive at London Stadium, fresh from the humiliation of exiting the cup on Tuesday at the hands of Championship club, Derby County. Can we add to Jose’s mounting woes? One would certainly hope so. However, I am not going to tempt fate by changing my prior call. I am still going for an entertaining score draw, which will hopefully set us up for an away victory, the following Friday evening, at Brighton & Hove Albion. COYI!

With regard to the fourth round of the Carabao Cup, the draw takes place this Saturday evening (Broadcast live on Quest – Sky 144, Virgin 172 and Freeview 37), at 9pm and West Ham have been allocated ball number 15. Hopefully, we will get another ‘kind’ home draw. The numbers best avoided (if at all possible) are: 2. (Arsenal), 5. (Chelsea),
10. (Man City) and 14. (Tottenham).

The best available draws are probably: 3. (Blackpool), 4. (Burton), 11. (Middlesboro), 12. (Norwich City) and 13. (Nottingham F.).

SJ. Chandos.

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