Tony Hanna's Musings
So far this season we have huffed and we have puffed in our two wins against Swansea and Huddersfield, although the latter was a pleasingly more dominant display. Arguably though, the best football we have played this season has been when we are down to ten men? Away to Southampton and again against Burnley on the weekend, elbows have reduced us to ten men for two thirds of both games. Yet, on each occasion not only did we show resilience and fight, we also knocked the ball about like a proper football team. All indications show that the players are right behind the manager but why it takes a reduction in playing personnel to bring the best out in us beats me!
Back on the 15th August I wrote in my Tuesday column that there was no need to panic after our poor start to the season. For many years it has been my view that the eight game mark is the earliest time where a real and proper assessment can be made. In my opinion anything earlier can be simply driven by panic or often misguided on the back of emotions – good or bad. So, here we are then, the eight game mark. This season has thrown up more variables than usual though – we have only played three games at home instead of the usual four and in a quarter of our games we have played with ten men for over an hour. Personal judgements on whether we have been lucky or unlucky will differ but for me we have dropped three points due to our sending offs and gained two points with a fortunate win against Swansea. I could argue that we should have got two more points at West Brom but I will let that one slide through to the keeper. So in essence I agree with David Gold’s comments the other day that a fairer assessment of “where we are” should be considered after the Brighton game? Eight points from eight games is where we are now though and taking into account the five away fixtures it looks like we are in for a season sliding up and down between a very congested 10th and 15th?
Two things that Slav has done recently have impressed me. I think his preseason plan was to play a back four and for some matches that is the right thing to do. However, there are also matches that demand a back three with wing backs and he is now showing that adaptability in his team selections. Slav is showing some versatility at last and we do have the players to play both systems. The other thing which has happened, and whilst we have all been aware of it, it has had little air time probably due to Andy grabbing most of the spotlight. He has been prepared to drop his captain Mark Noble. I am sure Mark will be back for the Spurs Cup game but it took courage to make this decision. In no way am I writing Mark off, but if the likes of Lanzini, Obiang and Kouyate remain fit and healthy then Noble will have a job getting back into the side. Personally, I think he will be up for the challenge and it may bring the best out of him? Whilst Kouyate has been slow to gain anywhere near his best form this season his work rate to cover against Burnley was excellent. Obiang’s second half performance gave all the indicators that he may be in for another fine season and Lanzini just brings the X factor that the team needs to play at a higher level.
With Noble being dropped back to the bench Winston Reid has taken over as skipper. My perception by reading this blog over the years has been that most think Reid is too quiet for the job. Perhaps Zabaleta should be the man? However, quite a few on here are getting fed up with the over reactions displayed by Reid towards the referee’s on any big calls made against us? It is interesting to compare the make ups of several of our players because they are quite a mixed bunch. If Andy Carroll gets the free kick for the elbow into his face a minute before his first booking would things have turned out differently? Andy rarely goes down easily and for this he does cop a fair amount of “ extra treatment” from opposition defenders. The same thing happened with Arnautovic’s dismissal at Southampton? At the other end of the scale though Arnie will go down as though shot by a sniper and will get the sulks or seek retribution as a response. In both instances the players showed frustration and ill-discipline and the team paid the price. At the other end of the spectrum we have Chico who can make the most out of any situation with floor exercises that any Olympic gymnast would be proud of. I know he is a fan favourite and he is our top scorer so I will just grab my tin hat, but I just can’t warm to some of his antics. I will take all the goals he will score for us and accept he is a terrific player but his theatrics just frustrate me. The constant arm waving and gesturing together with the poor body language when being subbed does not warm my cockles. I get the “it’s good – he just wants to play” argument, but it is also a team sport. In contrast we have Michael Antonio. Wholehearted and almost innocent, a product of non-league football he plays with a smile on his face. Despite the difference in physique he does remind me of Alan Devonshire. Perhaps because both of them can be attributed to living the dream of all non-league footballers and playing without the shackles that often come with an over coached academy footballer.
Finally, another player who joins the mixed bunch of emotions group at West Ham is Diafra Sakho. He scores when he wants but he also gets booked every time he takes his shirt off when doing so. Two points to be made here. Why is it a bookable offence when so many other goal celebration rituals aren’t? Why can you roll around the ground after performing a conga dance and a baby rocking routine and not get booked but you will if you remove your shirt? Inciting the crowd? The change to Law 12 quoted “A player who removes his jersey after scoring a goal will be cautioned for unsporting behaviour”. The reasons quoted for the change also said “Removing one’s shirt after scoring is unnecessary and players should avoid such excessive displays of joy.” You would think that the sanitisation of our game has already gone far enough but it makes no sense when a player can run to a corner flag and punch it several times, followed by 38 cart wheels and that not be deemed an excessive display of joy? Jumping into the crowd after scoring is arguably correctly seen as excessive and we saw Frederic Piquionne get sent off at Everton back in 2011 after racking up a second yellow for that celebration. The second point is if the rule is in place why do players still do it? Running up extra cards is detrimental to the team and the player himself. Surely our players can choreograph a proper goal celebration with an Irons salute followed by a Knees Up Mother Brown and reduce the card tally this season at the same time?