Talking Point

Hernandez and Ayew score with two top class strikes - BBC MoTD fails to notice!

It was unusual to see a West Ham match second in the MoTD schedule on Saturday evening. Usually we are last or second from last, with some rushed and clipped comments from the match analysts. It was obviously the Palace fight-back from 0-2 down, to grab a draw, that brought about our rare promotion. The post-highlight analysis was a joke as per usual, plenty of stuff about Palace ‘deserving’ the win and West Ham’s naivety, which I expected. What I did not expect was the absence of even a single reference to the quality of West Ham’s two goals. The Hernandez opener was a superb strike with the outside of the Mexican international’s boot and the build up play was also very sharp, carving open the Palace rear guard with a cool and beautiful efficiency. While, Ayew scored with a great long range strike, that hit the top left of the net like a rocket. So much for Ayew only scoring penalty box tap-ins!

In all honesty, and with due respect, how can any decent TV match analysis fail to praise such outstanding finishing? Would they have been ignored if they had been scored by Man City, Spurs, Man Utd or Liverpool strikers? I think we all know the answer to that. Anyway, do not expect either goal to feature on the short-list for BBC MoTD goal of the month for October!

Today’s result was undoubtedly disappointing. Having gone two goals ahead, we should have scored a third and killed the game off. Instead, Palace come out in the second half all fire and determination. And we allowed them to boss the rest of the game. The role of Zaha and Townsend was crucial in that and their wing play (plus some fairly obvious dives) resulted in a penalty and a glut of Palace corners and free-kicks. This does, of course, beg the question why we did not better adapt our tactics to counter their threat and grab back the initiative? As for bad luck (if one is tempted to use that excuse), losing two points in the 7th minute of extra time is beyond being unlucky in my book. Especially as we were in the last minute and Antonio had possession out on the flank, deep in Palace territory. Criticism of Antonio’s play in that situation is justified, but lets keep it real and in proportion. The Palace keeper gathered the ball from Antonio’s poor cross, it was poor decision-making not to keep the ball, but there was still a awful lot to do between the punt up field and Zaha’s shot finding the corner of the net. We must equally scrutinise not just Antonio’s decision-making, but also our poor defending in the lead up to the equaliser.

The match report in the Daily Mail was excessively negative in my opinion, arguing that the positivity/momentum arising from the Spurs win has been dissipated and the pressure was back on Bilic. They would argue that because the would much rather run with ‘doom and gloom’ headlines and stories about Bilic’s imminent sacking. It is part of their ‘modus operandi.’ Mistakes and losing points unnecessarily hurts, but this experience can be productive in the long-run if we only learn from it. The bottom line is the team must learn from it and use it to make us stronger for the remainder of the campaign.

And there were actually positives arising from the match. Firstly, Joe Hart had his best match in a West Ham keeper’s shirt. He pulled off some first class saves and, hopefully, his form will continue to improve with his confidence. Cresswell looked much more like his old self in this match and his contribution to the build up to Hernandez’s opening goal was excellent. Hernandez demonstrated what a class striker he is. His strike with the outside of his boot was a technically difficult skill, beautifully executed. While Ayew seems to be a player re-born. His long-distance strike was superb and just shows what increased self-confidence can do. Indeed, having a goal scoring midfielder back within our ranks (weighing with 10-15 goals) can be an important factor in revitalising our season. Mark Noble is still not at his very best, but he has improved and is applying himself manfully. He is our leader on the pitch and it is quality leadership and experience that we need at the moment. Moreover, he cares about the club and his reaction at the end of the Palace game (regardless of the rights and wrongs of it from a disciplinary perspective) at least demonstrates his passion. Finally, we still have Reid and Carroll to come back in to the team. Reid is our best defender and leads the defensive unit; while Carroll brings a different set of attributes to our forward line.

So, the bottom line for me is that things were not all wonderful after the Spurs win and ruinous after dropping points to Palace. The team need to learn from the Palace result and use the experience constructively. There were positives from yesterday, if we care to look for them, and these needs to also be considered by the fans (if not MoTD) along with the obvious negatives.

Yes, to climb the table we need a run of wins and it would have been preferable to have began that yesterday, but it will happen. And why not start by beating Liverpool, at home, on 4th November? Stranger things have happened! This is West Ham United after all. COYI!

SJ. Chandos.

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.

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