The S J Chandos Column

Should Toni Martinez be promoted to the substitutes bench on Friday?

The youth set up at West Ham is looking remarkably healthy with the merging talent in the pipeline. Not only has Declan Rice made the break through this season, but youngsters such as Holland, Quina and Martinez are also pushing hard for inclusion at first team level. Indeed, of these latter youngsters, perhaps Spanish youngster Martintez is making the strongest case for inclusion in the match day squad. Those claims must surely be upgraded with his brilliant hat trick for the U-23s against the Manchester United U-23s and the impending non-availability of Carroll due to suspension.

No one can accuse Martinez of not ‘doing the business’ at U-23 level. He has the outstanding record of scoring 23 goals in 26 appearances since he joined the club. Yes, it could be legitimately argued that there is a clear difference between ‘hitting the back of the net’ at U-23 level and in the PL, but surely his goal scoring record positively merits a break through to the first team. Especially as Carroll’s absence means that there could very well be a vacancy for a striker on the bench against Brighton. I would argue that in these circumstances it is only right that Martinez is included on the bench, with Sakho and Hernandez starting on Friday evening. After all, if Bilic is being genuinely meritocratic in his selection policy then there is little to deter such a move. What is the alternative, to rely on Ayew as an auxiliary striker?

The opportunity is there to elevate Martinez to the bench and Bilic should not only take it, but be seen to take it. He should do so because Martinez strongly merits it and he must be seen to reward outstanding performance. If you perform like Martinez and make no impact at first team level what does that say about the longer-term prospects of West Ham’s Academy products? The failure to progress when excelling means that youngsters will get discouraged and look to move on and new prospects will be reluctant to join a club where their chances are perceived as limited. That is a situation to be avoided at all costs for the future of the club.

So, the question is: is Bilic brave enough to take this decision or will he back slide on it? We need to re-establish the club’s reputation for not only producing its own talent but also successfully managing the transition to the first team. We have the talent and it needs improved access to first team opportunities at the club, as well as appropriate, and developmental, loan deals. At this juncture in the season it is probably Martinez who is pushing hardest for an opportunity.

The opportunity is there on Friday evening, so lets see it happen!

SJ. Chandos.


The S J Chandos Column

One afternoon in June 1989 - The sacking of John Lyall

It was very interesting to read Lou Macari’s recent comments, on ‘Moore than a Podcast,.’ concerning his brief but eventful time in the club’s managerial hot seat. I well remember the sense of absolute shock that June afternoon in 1989 when it was reported on London regional news that the club had dispensed with John Lyall’s services. It was an major change of course for the club and took most of us by surprise. Yes, the prior season had seen a pretty abject relegation, but Lyall had seen it all before in 1978 and had led the club (via the 1980 FA Cup win) back to the top tier in 1981 with great style. Most fans just assumed that he would still be in charge of the 1989-90 campaign to lead us back to the First Division. So, it took a lot to reconcile with the board’s decision.

In trying to come to terms with the sacking, most comforted themselves with the thought that another ‘West Ham man’ would be appointed as Lyall’s replacement, perhaps partnering a ‘older head’ with a younger coach like Billy Bonds. But no, that comforting thought was later shattered by news of the surprise appointment of ex-Man Utd and Celtic player, and ex- Swindon Town manager, Lou Macari. We can only speculate on the board’s rationale for making these decisions, but at the time it was suggested in the press that the board wanted to establish a tougher managerial regime at Upton Park and take advantage of Macari’s experience of managing in the 2nd tier.

However, for me and many other Hammers supporters, this appointment was never the correct one for the club. It was obvious that West Ham was still John Lyall’s club, in terms of the back room staff, the players and the fans. Macari obviously sought to be a new broom and brought a completely different managerial style to the job. A style and approach that was resented by, what we might call, the ‘Lyall infrastructure’ still left in place. Macari later admitted that he made a mistake in retaining Lyall’s back room staff. And that is probably true from his perspective. He did make some decent signings in the likes of Bishop, Morley and Martin Allen, new acquisitions that went on to serve the club long after he departed. However, on the pitch, the quality of football was poor and results patchy. The side under Macari definitely had more steel, as perfectly illustrated by the way that they physically matched Wimbledon’s ‘Crazy gang’ in that bruising League Cup 1-0 victory. However, the entertainment level often left a lot to be desired.

Indeed, this was a period in which attending matches become more of a chore than a pleasure. Most fans rightly condemn much of the football served up by Sam Allardyce, but for me the fayre under Macari was worse. And as I have stated, results were not good. At the time of Maccari’s exit we were way off the pace of the promotion race and in danger of slipping in to the bottom half of the table. The first indication that we fans had that another change was afoot was in February 1990 when Macari was reported absent from a league fixture at Swindon Town and Billy Bonds took charge of the team in a 2-2 draw. By the end of that match, rumours were circulating that Macari had resigned and so it proved to be the case. Obviously the board were ‘once bitten, twice shy’ of making another external appointment and they responded by appointing Billy Bonds to the post on a permanent basis.

Thus, it seemed that order had been restored and the Hammers holy grail was back in the hands of not only a ‘West Ham man,’ but a club legend. Yet, we must ask whether the board ultimately did Bonds a disservice by sacking Lyall. As events turned out Bonds was given the sole burden of club management much quicker than need have been the case. If they had repeated the process followed in 1974, that saw Lyall take over team affairs and Greenwood become General Manager, Bonds could have been afforded an apprenticeship under Lyall’s general guidance. My view was, and remains, that a Lyall-Bonds management team would not only have been more effective in the short-term, but would have immeasurably assisted Billy Bonds’ managerial/coaching development. And this Hammers titan on-the-field of play might have gone on to become a legendary manager as well, who knows?

We will never know if John Lyall would have accepted such an arrangement? But I have a feeling that he would have done. After all he later accepted a similar arrangement at Ipswich Town, working with Mick McGivens and Paul Goddard. You cannot change history, but I am not alone in feeling that the Lyall sacking was a dishonourable act, which contrived to undermine the club’s then all-important, and largely unique, sense of continuity and tradition. Moreover, it was a shabby way to treat a fine servant to the club, who just two or three years previously the board had denied a lucrative move to manage QPR.

As it was, on exit, Lyall was awarded an ex-gratia payment (shades of Syd King there!) of £100,000 and, after 34 years service, merited only a terse 73 word statement in the club programme acknowledging his achievements (shades of Bobby Moore when he was still with us!). What a way to treat one of the two greatest managers in the club’s history!

SJ. Chandos.


The S J Chandos Column

Nowhere near a 4-1 cake walk , but as the saying goes: 'three points is three points.'

I guess I always knew it was a overly optimistic prediction, but I was probably just yearning for those long ago days when we could earn a good, comfortable win and not have games on a knife edge until the 89th minute! Although it was a abject overall performance in every sense of the word, there is something particularly satisfying about a late winner. I was so pleased for Sakho, in scoring the winning goal, and I still maintain that he should be starting more regularly. Something that will now hopefully happen in the aftermath of Saturday’s dramatic turn of events.

For me, it was not that Bilic made the substitution, but that it took so long for it to happen. The match really was not going well, we were being out passed by Swansea and could not seem to string two passes together ourselves for most of the match, something that only noticeably improved with the introduction of Lanzini. Antonio looked out of sorts, Noble struggled in midfield and Ayew had an awful match. Plus the Carroll-Hernandez striking combination was misfiring, with most of the balls literally going way over the Mexican International’s head. No, for me, Bilic, should have gone with a Sakho-Hernandez combination on Saturday and should definitely start with it in the next match away at Burnley. Why? Because, I just feel that these two strikers compliment each other better, with Sakho leading the line and Hernandez tucking in just behind and playing off of him. Also, with Sakho in the team, there is more football played on the ground and less of a temptation to go for the long ball up field, which invariably cuts the Mexican out of the game.

Readers will recall that I tackled the issue of where best to play Hernandez last week and concluded that he would be better suited to playing a advanced role in the centre of a three in a 4-3-2-1. And I was pleased to see Bilic select a team which contrived to give Hernandez a more central striking role. However, it was the choice of Carroll as the main striker that probably ultimately undermined him in my opinion. Still, it is a system that is well worth testing again and with Sakho replacing Carroll and Arnautovic selected over Ayew, hopefully it will play out much better next time. At least we obtained a clean sheet whilst playing the dreaded flat back four. Indeed, our best performers were probably defenders, with Zabaletta, Fonte and Reid all having good games. I would certainly have picked any one of those three over supposed MoTM, Andy Carroll.

Anyway, ‘three points is three points,’ no matter how unconvincing the overall performance. We really did need that win going in to the international break and hopefully we will pick up some more victories over the next three or four matches. It is true that ‘winning becomes a habit’ in football and to emerge victorious after such a weak performance is a good sign of sorts. And in all honesty Bilic needs all the positive ‘habits’ and signs he can muster at the moment. I have said it before and I will say it again, I like Bilic as an individual. He is honest, has integrity and genuinely has a pride in managing the club. When he joined I really thought he was the real deal, as his side put together some great performances in his first season. Yet, last season was very ‘up and down’ and it raised some doubts about whether Bilic was the manager to lead us to the fabled ‘next level.’ This season, young as it still is, has only served to deepen those reservations. I would love to see Bilic turn it around, win the club a trophy this season and sign a new contract. However, failing a dramatic transformation of our situation, you do get the impression that he will be moving on at the end of the season when his contract expires. If it happens that way, it will be very disappointing, but that is football I am afraid!

I see that some social media football sites have taken to monitoring Zaza’s goal scoring achievements in La Liga and using it as a stick to beat West Ham and Bilic. They write articles to the effect of, ‘if only West Ham still had Zaza,’ the striker who has scored more goals than the whole Hammers forward line! It is all mischief, but this Hammer supporter does not have any such regrets. it was clear from the beginning that Zaza lacked the physicality to excel in the PL. And I believe that was the reason for his failure, not Bilic, nor the tactics/system that he employed. He is performing better in Spanish football because he is better suited to it. It was the best move for the club and player himself, full stop! The same websites will no doubt be arguing that we should have kept Calleri as well if he scores a few goals. Now that would be stretching that type of argument a bit too far.

It has been announced that the Hammers seat allocation for the 4th round of the Carabou Cup is 4,800. That is a smaller allocation than most thought and it seems the 50,000 limit capacity at Wembley could see the club lose out financially from the tie. Oh well, we will just have to beat them then and make up the money in the 5th round! Do not write us off completely, Spurs are not comfortable playing their matches at Wembley and we have been known to raise our game for a cup match or two over the years. It would certainly be sweet revenge after the recent 2-3 defeat at the LS.

Finally, the U-23s are hosting Villareal’s B side, at Dagenham & Redbridge tonight, Wednesday 4th October 2017, in the PL International Cup. Kick off is at 7:00 pm. There are likely to be a few first teamers around the fixture, especially those who lack match fitness due to injury absence. Season ticket holders get in free, so why not go along and check it out. I am sure the U-23s will appreciate the support, for what could be a challenging fixture after the 7-2 disaster in the last round.

SJ. Chandos.

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The S J Chandos Column

Lets go with Sakho, Hernandez and a 4-2-3-1 formation against Swansea

As has been widely observed on social media, the match against Spurs largely turned on the injury to Antonio and Bilic’s decision to press in to action Carroll rather than Sakho or Ayew from the bench. Up until that point, we were easily containing Spurs and looked the more likely side to score. Twice we got behind their defence and only failed to score due to poor final balls in to the box; while Spurs, during that opening period, could only muster a fluffed half chance by Kane. This shows both the importance of (1) Antonio’s pace and power to the team and (2) the need for Bilic to stick with ‘what works.’ His substitution led to Hernandez being pushed to the right and allowed Spurs to get in to the game. I have to say that I whole heartedly agree with those who have argued that either Sakho or Ayew would have allowed us to continue with a system that was both successfully neutralising Spurs’ attacking threat and putting them on the back foot.

Andy Carroll is a very good option to have on the bench, but arguably there were better options available on that occasion. This point was only compounded by the role that Carroll played in losing possession, in dangerous positions, in the lead up to two of the Spurs three goals. Still, the Spurs match is history and the focus now must inevitably shift to defeating Swansea this Saturday. Given his past success against this opponent, I am sure that many will call for Carroll’s inclusion in the starting line up. However, I think that we need to start with a different strike force and keep Carroll ready (if necessary) to come on from the substitutes bench. Personally, I would play both Sakho and Ayew against Swansea and set them a different challenge to the one that they are expecting.

In this game I would start with a flat back four and deploy a 4-2-3-1 formation; with Noble or Obiang and Kouyate shielding the defence and an attacking triumvirate of Ayew (right) Hernandez (centre) and Arnautovic (left) supporting Sakho as the spearhead/fulcrum of the forward line. I have choosen Sakho over Carroll because of his proven ability to run the channels and bring others in to play. This selection would also address the issue of where best to play Hernandez. At the centre of an attacking three, Hernandez would be able to support Sakho and get in to attacking central positions in the final third. While in Ayew and Arnautovic (out wide) we have players that are very proficient at getting on to the end of scoring opportunities and converting.

My suggested starting line up (4-2-3-1), assuming Obiang will be unavailable to play, would be:

Hart

Zabaletta
Cresswell
Ogbonna
Reid

Noble (Capt)
Kouyate

Ayew
Hernandez
Arnautovic

Sakho

I also feel that it is safe to dispense with the back three in this fixture and try to select an effective flat back four combination. We need to do this as an on-going fear of deploying a flat back four effectively limits the tactical options at our disposal going forward. Some times the three at the back is justified, but it needs to be one of a number of formations/tactical options available. In short, Bilic must curb his apparent tendency to deploy players out of position to (seemingly) accommodate them in the starting line up. He must, instead, get his formations sorted and select the best players available in their positions for each formation. It is only in this way that players and teams gain confidence and improve both individually and as a unit. If that means the likes of Carroll or even Hernandez being benched for certain fixtures then so be it.

In the injury absence of Lanzini and Antonio, the task is obviously to select a system that makes best use of the currently available talent in the squad and maximises our chance of taking the three points on Saturday. Swansea will be preparing in training to face the physical challenge of Carroll, so lets try something different to wrong foot them. My option is a 4-2-3-1, but there will undoubtedly be contrary opinions amongst the WHTID readership, so lets read their constructive thoughts on the matter.

Above all else, it will certainly be good to ‘put a lid’ on the Spurs defeat and turn our attentions to the side/formation most likely to guarantee a much needed and morale boosting victory. It is a match that we can win and hopefully the victory will be accompanied by a good performance, with all the ‘pegs in the correct shaped holes’ and everyone working well individually and as a unit. With this squad one gets the impression that all the essential elements/pre-requisites for greater success are there, but it is just a case of getting the combination/selection right and the team ‘clicking’. Hitherto Bilic has evidently (for various reasons) been struggling to get it right, as such he now needs to go back to basics and fundamentally rethink his tactics and selection policy. It would be nice to think that the Swansea match could be a watershed and major turning point in that respect.

As for the result, I am going to stick my neck out on this occasion and go for a healthy 3-1 or 4-1 home win to give everyone a timely morale boost. COYI!

SJ. Chandos.

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Talking Point

Should Andy Carroll's fitness/game time be more closely managed?

It was interesting to hear Alan Pardew’s views on the need to manage Andy Carroll’s fitness more carefully. Pardew went as far as to suggest that Carroll should be on a reduced schedule (not training Monday-Wednesday every week) to get the maximum game time out of him. Slaven Bilic has subsequently responded to this suggestion and confirmed that Carroll is already on a structured training programme, although he still trains daily with the rest of the squad. Bilic hoped that this new arrangement would continue to keep Carroll fit and available for selection for the whole season.

It is clear that Carroll is injury prone and that the club needed to devise some special arrangement to reduce the stresses and strains on his body. Only in this way, can he hope to stay fit and available for the course of an entire season, something he has not managed since he joined us from Liverpool. While the training is taken care of, would it not also be good policy to manage his playing time, alternating him between the starting line up and the bench? We have Hernandez and Sakho available and they should make this policy viable and practical. In this way, he will get regular physical respite and avoid the physical stresses that come with continuous playing. The end result should be that we get more valuable playing time out of Carroll and he avoids the regular, drawn out injury absences. Then everyone’s a winner!

I sincerely hope that Bilic continues to select the three at the back, with the wing backs pushing forward down the flanks. It suits our centre-backs, we achieve greater defensive solidarity and it also optimizes the attacking impact of Zabaletta and Cresswell. Fonte obvious likes the system and he put in his best performance in a claret and blue shirt. Reid was his usual solid, reliable self and Collins also did very well. However, I do wonder if there is enough pace in that particular three to counter the speedier attacks of some of the other PL team? In those situations it is likely that we will need Ogbonna’s pace at the expense of either Collins or Fonte. It should not be a problem against WBA on Saturday, where physicality is likely to be the order of the day, but it could be an issue in other forthcoming fixtures. In those circumstances expect Ogbonna to be drafted in to the centre of the three.

I was so please to see Andre Ayew make such a decisive impact from the bench on Monday evening. I know that some fans have been disappointed with Ayew’s form since joining the club. But make no mistake, when Ayew is on form he is a class act. He is that rare and valuable player, a goal scoring midfielder, who is capable of weighing-in with ten plus goals per season. I still remember his performance against us, at Upton Park in 2015-16. when his passing, vision and finishing destroyed us. If he can recapture that type of form and effectiveness, he will be a major asset for Bilic to deploy this season.

Finally, it was good to see Sir Trevor Brooking receive an award from the club on Monday evening to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his first team debut in a 1967 away match at Burnley. From the Hammers line-up it seems that it was a case of the glorious present (Moore, Hurst and Peters scored our goals in a 3-3 draw) meeting the future (Brooking and Bonds debuted and played alongside Frank Lampard Snr). I actually started attending matches in the 1967-68 season and it certainly made me conscious of my age! But what the hell, I am one of those fans who have had the privilege of watching the club’s greatest players in the post-war period (and very probably of all-time). In that sense, advancing age does have its compensations!

SJ. Chandos.

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