The S J Chandos Column

Will the real Ayew please stand up!

Last night’s victory over Spurs was a real shot in the arms for the club and our supporters. As Iain has stated, it certainly was very much a game of two halves and in the first half we got caught out defensively twice to fall 2-0 behind. Many must have thought ‘here we go again.’ But if you have followed West Ham long enough, you know that they are often just as likely to fight back as capitulate. Indeed, the second half proved to be a very different story and Ayew’s goal poaching instincts brought us back in to the game. By the time Ogbonna scored the winner, with his skilful glancing header, we were well in the ascendency. And in the last 15 minutes we dug in to deliver a great come back victory. Revenge is always that bit sweeter against Spurs and every Hammers fan will have enjoyed their humbling at Wembley.

There is no doubt that the come back was very much based on Ayew’s ability to arrive in the final third and score vital goals. Ayew has that crucial ability, but as with much of West Ham’s play, it is always about making the best of our players talents. Ayew has taken some vicious criticism for recent performances, but one must ask whether that is because he has been played out of position. For me, Ayew has always been a goal scoring midfielder and this evening he demonstrated just how well he can play that role. Goal scoring midfielders are worth their weight in gold and we arguably have one. So lets play to his strengths in future.

Similarly, many fans on social media owe Mark Noble a big apology. He was immense yesterday evening, holding the side together in that shaky first half and bossing the play through midfield in the crucial, winning, second half. Noble gets a lot of unfair criticism, but he gave the perfect answer to his critics yesterday evening. Will they learn from it? Probably, at least until they need an handy scapegoat after the next poor result.

However, hopefully that next poor result will not happen for a while, this inspirational victory should re-energise the spirit of the squad and give them renewed confidence. After yesterday evening, the players should be ‘champing at the bit’ to take on crystal Palace and deliver a much needed away PL victory. The truth is no one really wants a change of management in mid-season, that is always risky in the extreme. As such, I am more than happy to see Bilic lead the team back up the PL table. I do not believe in change for the sake of it, especially when the replacement is not particularly guaranteed to be a better or more knowledgeable a manager than his predecessor. There are undoubtedly better managers than Bilic out there, but I am not sure that we are currently able to attract them to the club. So, if he can keep winning lets stick with what we have. You know it makes sense.

Regardless, the players should feel proud of that second half performance. It shows that they can do it, they just need to be set up right. We have a talented squad, one good enough to finish in the top 10 of the PL. We are now also in the final 16 of the League Cup (or whatever it is currently called). Suddenly, things do not seem so bad for Bilic and his squad. If he could just manage to win a cup and finish in a decent position in the PL, this season, then perhaps Bilic could actually continue managing the club? However, we all know it is now about consistency and putting a winning run together. If we can manage that then Bilic’s job prospects might be positively transformed.

We all know stranger things have happened!

SJ. Chandos.

Talking Point

Bilic likely to get a stay of execution due to a lack of alternatives!

The warning signs are flashing at West Ham after the disgraceful 0-3 defeat on Friday evening to Brighton & Have Albion. Various media outlets are reporting that the club’s co-owners are actively discussing whether it is now time to make a change. However, this evening, it appears that Bilic may get a stay of execution due to a lack of alternative options being available. The board are concerned that there is no obvious caretaker available in-house; while their identified permanent targets appear out of reach for various reasons. Alleged principle target, David Wagner, wants to remain with Huddersfield Town for the remainder of the season; while both Manuel Pellegrini and Rafa Benitez are unavailable; and, the most ambitious target, Carlos Ancelotti, while currently out of work, wants to sit out the rest of this season.

As a result, it is possible that the board might be forced to consider short-term, caretaker, external options. One possibility mooted is employing managerial veteran, Gus Hiddink, for the remainder of the season to give the board some breathing space. It has even been suggested that former manager, Sam Allardyce, could be approached as a temporary option, although it is thought highly unlikely he would consider an approach.

Consequently, it is likely that Bilic will be granted a stay of execution by default. The current betting is that the Croatian will be given the next two fixtures, Spurs in the cup and Palace away, to try and save his job. Two defeats will be the catalyst for managerial change.The most immediate problem for Bilic is how he motivates and regenerises a playing staff that look more like a collection of individuals than a coherent unit. On the plus side, Carroll’s suspension ends and Sakho could return from injury. James Collins could also be available to augment our defensive options. However, question marks remain over the serious lack of form demonstrated by many key players. It is alleged that the board are particularly concerned by the uncommitted performances of record signing Marko Arnautovic and the fact that so many others are under-performing.. There has allegedly even been attention drawn to coaching methods and a perceived lack of fitness amongst the first team squad.

The current difference between success and failure in the PL is very fine indeed. If we had beaten Brighton we would have risen to tenth and the talk would have been far more positive. As it is, this evening, the club remains out of the bottom three only on goal difference. However, there are still only four points separating us from Southampton presently in tenth position. And that is the possible imperative for the board, to take action early, while the situation remains more easily retrievable.

Which leads us back to the key question, where is a suitable available alternative to be found? In its absence it is likely the Bilic managerial regime will be given a stay of execution as we prepare to take on Spurs at Wembley on Wednesday evening.

SJ. Chandos.

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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