Tony Hanna's Musings

The Payet Saga

You could never say being a West Ham fan is easy could you? However we came to be Hammers fans, and there are lots of differing reasons, the long road through life can be hard enough without the heart strings being continually tugged by that lot in Claret and Blue. For every precious moment there are a hundred blows. For every silver lining there are a thousand black clouds. If it was not hard enough watching an underperforming side this season in a new stadium of such discontent, after all the gloss and glamour of last season, now we have Dimitri Payet refusing to play for the team. I remember when Martin Peters wanted out and went to Spurs. Gutted. I remember when it became too hard to hang on to Joe Cole and Michael Carrick and they went off to further their careers quite substantially at other clubs. Gutted. There are so many examples of this trend in our history and the likes of Frank Lampard and Jermaine Defoe have been forgiven by many as the years have passed, for their Judas like actions when they were young players at our club. For the record I don’t buy the excuse that Frank had no option to leave because his dad was sacked. Life is tough enough –suck it up.

But Payet has done this before at St Etienne and does not have the excuse that he is young and does not understand what he is doing. See what I did there? He knows exactly what he is doing. Bilic has said as much – that Payet told him of his intentions on Tuesday and Slav gave him the opportunity to change his mind on Thursday, prior to the press conference. Payet held his ground. Now this has come to a head all the ITK’s and “experts” have come out with their stories. I am no expert and I am not an ITK (though I did have a very real insider many years ago and to be honest he never told me too much). But, if you read all their stories they differ quite a bit. Some claim Payet has been disgruntled all season. Others say that this is a recent thing and the tapping up of the player only occurred just prior to the January window. Going by what Slaven Bilic said in his interview it would appear to be the latter that is closer to the mark. However, many media reports also suggest that a deal was done at the start of the season that Payet could leave at the end of the season as he wanted away then. It is all very confusing and hopefully, one day soon, the true light will be shed. Social media is in a frenzy at the moment and some of the vitriol spat at the player is understandable as fans emotions go into over drive. The situation will calm eventually as time will always heal to some degree, but if the owners are hoping that we can rebuff all offers for the player by the end of the window and he will come back and play his part for us for the remainder of the season, tis wishful thinking I think?

Talking of our owners. You know, the ones we have been banging on about for years to keep quiet – yep, you guessed it. The silence is deafening. Even young Jack must be in a straight jacket, the only way to stop those twiddling thumbs. Lovely though isn’t it? Some have said that they should at least come out and voice a support for the manager. You know, the one they might sack in a fortnight? For once they have done the right thing. Sort this out behind closed doors. An announcement has been made. No bullshit – the truth has come out. Well, as much as they need to tell us anyway at this point in time..

I was one of the ones giving Payet the benefit of the doubt for a poorer season. For me his lack of tracking back, tackling and general intensity was no different from last season. Difference was – we were winning last season. His free kicks, yep, the ones he says he never practices in training, have gone pear shaped and his corners have been even poorer. But then the whole team has been poor on so many occasions as well. I have said on the blog many times recently that Cresswell has not been offering himself anywhere near as much as last season, as an overlapping option. This surely would affect Payet’s performances, the loss of such an important foil in his game? Now I am starting to wonder whether Cresswell just could not be bothered? Why bust a gut for Payet? He isn’t trying anyway and wants away and he gets all the fans accolades to boot! Stuff him. Perhaps this is the attitude of a lot of the players? We will only know the answer to this over the next few weeks. Results won’t necessarily tell us the answer but the players intensity will.

At the beginning of the transfer window I was wondering why we were after Snodgrass? There are three much more important areas of the team that need to be strengthened. Snodgrass is a very poor mans Payet (at anywhere near his best), but he will offer similar attributes to the team with a lot more graft albeit a lot less guile. Obviously someone knew something a few weeks ago? I would not even rule out Ayew yet. I have always thought that wide left in Payets position is where he would be best suited. Time will tell.

I also wonder whether Bilic’s position has actually been strengthened by all the events of this week? He has handled himself with great dignity once again in what has been a difficult season for him. The owners might see that this could be a fresh start for the manager, especially if we can break through and make a few key signings this window. It will be interesting to see firstly how the team react this weekend and secondly how the fans react to this week’s events in the stadium? The expression “you couldn’t make it up” comes to mind with the knowledge that Big Sam is coming to play on Saturday! Those football Gods certainly know how to tug the emotions to breaking point.

Finally, the big decision that has to be made is whether the club let Payet go this window? I guess if the right offer was made we would be foolish not to accept and move on. However, from what has been said so far, Payet wants to go back to France which would rule out a big offer from say Chelsea, Arsenal or the Moaning ones being an option. Personally I doubt Marseille will stump up enough money and that will leave Mr Payet right up the creek without a paddle. Bilic has already said that Payet won’t be sold this January and that may well be the case. But as we all know too well, money talks louder than words.

If you are going to the game this weekend try and make sure that the Super Slav song gets going right at the start. Sing long and sing loud. Make sure Sam doesn’t have to cup his ear. Our current manager needs all the support he can get at the moment.

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Tony Hanna's Musings

A Look Back at 2016

The 2016 year started really well with a 2-0 victory over Liverpool. Despite Payet being on the bench, Antonio and Carroll both scored with headers as we did the double over the Scousers for the first time since I got caned at Primary school. Two months later and we played Tottenham for what was to be the last time against them at Upton Park. Just to make it a bit more special it was under the famous lights too. Another Antonio header proved pivotal and our dreams of a top four finish were becoming distinctly possible. This season, our first under Slaven Bilic, was turning out to be quite a revelation. We were doing all sorts of things never before imagined. Winning at Arsenal, City and Liverpool may have been in the 2015 calendar year, but those results were setting us up nicely for what was to be one of our best seasons in history.

After beating Spurs 1-0 we travelled to Everton, a team that has consistently won games against us against the run of play. The term bogie team has hung around their necks ever since I first started to go to West Ham. On the 13th December 1969 they won 1-0 at Upton Park in what, still to me this day, is the most one sided game of football I have seen us dominate, only to lose. Anyway, 2016 went some way to putting matters right as we went 2-0 down at Goodison and it should have been three as they squandered a penalty with 20 minutes to play. The fact that we played against ten men for 56 minutes should not hide the fact that I have often felt that with their luck (against us), they could turn up with their five a side team and still beat us. The last 12 minutes were heaven as we scored three times to nick the points in what was almost like a dream. Slav was ticking a lot of boxes here.

Four successive score draws followed and strong arguments could be made we should have won all of them. A 2-2 draw at Chelsea where a last minute wrongly awarded penalty to the home side denied us a deserved win. We were cruising at home to Palace until Kouyate got sent off and the game changed on its head. We again drew 2-2. The fact that the card was to be rescinded did nothing to change the fact another two points had dribbled down the proverbial gurgler. Despite trailing 2-0 at home to Arsenal in the next game, an eight minute Andy Carroll hat trick gave us a 3-2 lead only to see the Gunners grab an equaliser and force another stalemate. Next up was the eventual Champions, Leicester City at the King Power Stadium. The home side led 1-0 with ten minutes to go in a game where Vardy rightly got his marching orders trying to dive his way to another penalty. Two goals in the last ten minutes with a Carroll penalty and a Cresswell shot saw us look likely to break the run of draws. However, referee Johnathon Moss decided that due to the stick he was getting from the home crowd for rightly sending Vardy off and giving the away side a penalty, it was only right to even things up a bit by rewarding the home side with what was probably the softest penalty awarded against us all season. So, another 2-2 draw.

Three weeks later and we were playing our last ever game at our famous old ground. Moan United at home. You couldn’t write the script. Well, you could actually as our owners had asked the powers that write the football fixtures to ensure our farewell was to be against Swansea. Low profile was needed for such an event – huh? Anyway, the true football Gods devised a cunning plan that ensured a congested fixture list for the Moaners and the game we had in hand with them had to be rescheduled for after the Swansea match. If ever there was a game I wished I could attend, but couldn’t, this was it. What a night. The noise, the atmosphere, the beating up of their bus – it had everything! A blistering start by the Hammers, which should have trebled Sakho’s lone strike, was to be thwarted as the Moaning ones struck back twice. Was the party over? Again the football Gods were just toying with our emotions. Two goals from Antonio and Reid ensured the roof was raised for one last time. And how. The football Gods then decided that we have had enough fun thanks, and we lost 2-1 away to Stoke in a game where even the commentators said we should have won by seven! A finishing spot of 7th and despite what could of been, should have been, it had been a season to be proud of.

The second half of the year saw what was to probably be the biggest change for the club in its history. The move to the Olympic Stadium. Sorry, I still can’t call it the London Stadium and I am sure that name will change in due course anyway. By the time we played our 3rd game of the Premier League season our Euro dreams had again be snuffed out by Astra Giurgiu. Our summer transfer window had concentrated on bringing in quantity rather than quality as we prepared for a long season of Thursday and Sunday fixtures. So much for that then! Our first Premier League home game was against Bournemouth and another Antonio header secured a 1-0 win in a match devoid of any quality. This was followed by four successive defeats where we conceded 14 goals and the alarm bells were ringing. A win apiece against Sunderland and Palace, and a draw at home to Boro settled the ship somewhat before we reverted to type by losing at Everton. A few weeks later and a heartbreaking loss at Spurs where we conceded a 2-1 lead with minutes to play was to put in me in the sulks for nearly a week. My poor wife. Talking of whom. Over the Xmas period some grubby sod stole my credit cards. I have decided not to report the incident however. The thief spends less money than she does.

Since then draws at the Theatre of Moans and Liverpool and a 4-1 win at Swansea can’t hide the fact how rubbish we were at home to Arsenal, Burnley and Hull. However, points have come our way and at least any thoughts of relegation have been tempered. It has to be said that the second half of 2016 has been a far cry from the first half. The football has not flowed and the move to our new ground is not to everyone’s taste. However, at the end of 2015 if you offered me a final position in the PL of 7th, followed by 13th six months later, I would have snapped your hand off.

Perhaps we used a lot of our luck up in that 1-0 win against Hull, but we were due some after the way we lost at Spurs. I thought the way we played against Leicester on the weekend, our last game of the year, was quite encouraging. We deserved at least a point and probably more from the game. Hopefully the football Gods noticed?

Happy New Year to you all. Since writing this article the 2017 home game has been played against the Moaning ones. Obviously the football Gods are not in contact with Mike Dean!

Tony Hanna's Musings

Papering Over the Cracks?

We played three games in the Premier League last week and secured seven points which has dramatically improved our league position prior to the Festive season. Before the game at Liverpool, anyone associated with West Ham would have bitten your hand off for that points tally. Whilst we showed grit and determination at Liverpool the two home games against relegation favourites Burnley and Hull hardly inspired, despite the victories. The result is more important than the performance right? I think we all realise that all is not well on the pitch and we are papering over the cracks. I am not saying that Bilic has lost the dressing room so to speak, far from it, but I find myself more and more questioning his tactics. In my half a century of watching the team it is surprising how many times I can look back and say that the fans could see the problems on the pitch when the management couldn’t or wouldn’t.

I am not normally the stats man on this blog, but I used to divulge in them in a previous life when I was writing stuff on the Sporting Life site on all things West Ham. Here are a few that might get a few discussions started. All stats used are for PL games only.

We have won five Premier League games this season, four at home and one away. All have been by our previous managers favourite score line, 1-0. The victory at Palace was quite a decent performance, especially playing the last 15 minutes with ten men after Cresswell’s send off, but the four at home have all been very dire performances. We have played better this season without winning.

We have played nine home games this season and have only been winning one of them at half time, thanks to a penalty follow up by Mark Noble against Burnley in added time. In fact we have only scored two other first half goals at home all season. Both came against Watford in a match we contrived to lose.

In contrast, in eight games away from home we have been leading three times at half time and only trailing twice. Yet we have only one win to our name and five defeats.

For many that are saying that we are only up for it in one half each game, those two stats ring true. Want further confirmation? This is alarming. Home or away we have only scored in both halves ONCE all season. And yep, we lost that one too thanks to a capitulation at Tottenham.

The good news is that of the recognised big six in the League, we have played five of them already away from home. The only one we have not visited is Arsenal. They of course, are the only one we have played at home. Obviously for the remainder of the season we need to lift for some very big home games, whilst we also need to start to hang on to any potential leads we are securing when we visit the likes of Swansea, Leicester et all.

Management will be happy to see that we are 3rd in attendance figures this season and first in percentage fill which is at 99.9%. Looking at all those empty white seats I would suggest that this is another stat that is papering over the cracks?

This season has been a disappointing one compared to last season, but realistically are we just reverting to type from what we have been used to in many other previous seasons? For me, we have played very well in two games this season and we lost one of them – Spurs. The most complete performance came at Crystal Palace. We ground out two points in Manchester and Liverpool which was admirable, but they were a far cry from our performances at both places last season. In my opinion our best performance of the season was against Chelsea in the League Cup, but there was much less pressure on the players in that game. It was a throw back to last season with even a great vocal performance from the crowd.

So, back to the tactics and it looks ever increasingly that Bilic will either thrive or fall on his sword mainly on the back of two decisions. The first is his insistence that Antonio is not a defensive liability and secondly, his three at the back with two wing backs set up. It took a player consortium to approach Bilic about the fact that Antonio was not a right back in a 4-4-2 formation, such was his blinkered view that he thought he was. The player has scored more than a third of all our goals this season and received an International call up earlier this season, but a right back he is not. Secondly, using the three at the back system is clearly not allowing us to dominate teams at the Olympic Stadium where we have mainly, so far, only encountered teams from the second division of the Premier League. The system does look to have merit when we play teams that we know are going to dominate possession, especially away from home. In my view Bilic has to determine prior to the end of the January transfer window what system we will be using for the second half of the season. If we are going to continue with the current system we have to invest in a right sided central defender who is comfortable on the ball and can defend! Not only will this release our only box to box midfielder in Kouyate but we need back up in this position to cover for any injuries and suspensions to our other central defenders. If we are going to revert to 4-4-2 we need a quality right back. Hopefully Bilic will not be transparent in his tactics and he will use both systems whenever needed, in which case we need BOTH.

Obviously, we would also like another striker but that is an article for another day. Your thoughts?

I would also like to take this opportunity to wish Iain, the readers and all the authors on the site a very enjoyable Christmas and all the very best for 2017

Tony Hanna's Musings

The Turning Point

On the 11th November 2013 I published an article on this site titled “Is relegation looming or are the bookies right?” We were eleven games into the season and were sitting in 17th spot. The mood on the WHTID site was not dissimilar to now, regarding our performances on the pitch. Many believed we were doomed. Except the bookies! As I stated then, we were 6/1 for the drop and the bookmakers had seven teams at shorter prices than us. I also wrote that the bookies get things right much more often than they get it wrong. They have an unbiased view, one that is not swayed by emotion. The fact that seven teams finished below us that season is testament to their judgement.

So, fast forward three years and one month and we are in that same position again, 17th, and the bookies have us at 6/1 for the drop! Sound familiar? That’s a big price again for a team in this predicament. They got it right last time, so will they get it right this time too? Back in 2013 Andy Carroll was out injured and Sam’s plan of Stewart Downing and Matt Jarvis bombing down the wings and pelting in crosses for him was going pear shaped. However, we had the prodigal talent of Ravel Morrison to fall back on?

This time we have had Andy Carroll out injured again and we have the superstar Dimitri Payet to haul us out of trouble? I think we need to learn that we need to stop relying on the fitness of Andy Carroll and any other one single players brilliance to pull us out of this mess. Back in the 2013/14 season we slid even further down the table in the following two months after my article and seriously, that could be the case this season too. In January 2014 I wrote another article about Big Sams “big four”. These were the four fundamental stats that were the catalyst of his game plan. I won’t delve back into the first three but the fourth one sticks out like a sore thumb.

They also knew that if they outworked their opposition by covering more distance at speeds above 5.5m/s they would increase their chances of winning by 80%.

Anyone watching our games at the moment can see that this is one of our great failings at the moment. The urgency to press, hassle and hound is not there, well not for ninety minutes anyway. How often have we played well for one half, only to be diabolical in the other? Fitness, courage, speed and determination has been lacking and I think Slav has known all along – this side is resting on its laurels from last season. A look back at the 2011/12 season and Newcastle surprised everyone by finishing 5th in the league playing some lovely attractive football. Amongst the most common explanations for the success was the club’s courage in giving young, hungry players the opportunity to play and its ability to find diamonds like Payet and Lanzini in the form of Cisse. When Newcastle dropped to 16th the following season the story reversed completely. Now Newcastle had too many young players, the transfer policy had failed and the team lacked enough experienced English players who knew what the league was about. Suddenly the attractive style of play was naive and lacked defensive awareness.

Leicester are just another example from many of the teams that have struggled after one season of unexpected success. However, instead of young, hungry players, they had older players, often discarded by clubs, with a point to prove. They found bargains like Jamie Vardy and Mahrez, and played Ranieri’s disciplined defensive game using the pace of both on the counter-attack. Now, like Newcastle back then, Leicester are criticised. Too many older players who have lost their hunger, a poor transfer window and a style of play that is outdated. Since last season Leicester have handed out huge pay increases to hold onto their star players and spent 70m pounds in transfer fees that so far has produced little. The players can lift when they want to though – they have won more Champions League games than Premier League games this season! These two examples merely show that hunger for success is much more important than increasing a pay packet.

I still think that with a fit Carroll and Sakho this season will, or would have been so different though. You only have to look at how much better we were when Sakho played his first hour of football this season against Spurs a few weeks ago? But, because of their injury records, relying on these two has become an absolute joke. A joke that management must find a solution to. Back in that 2013/14 season it was January 29th when we ground out an amazing 0-0 draw at Chelsea. A match where we were totally outclassed but guts, determination and a lot of luck got us a point no one expected. We went on to win the next four games in February that managed to culminate in a finishing position of 13th that season. Sometimes it is that unexpected result or a match where the luck, and there is certainly plenty of that in football, turns decidedly your way and players start to believe again.

I am sure that there will be a turning point in our season. It could well have been the Spurs game until those last few minutes created the opposite effect, deflating the players, club and supporters even more. Perhaps it will be this weekend, at Liverpool, where no one expects us to win, except Toddy of course? Or will we have to wait until February again, because if the turnaround doesn’t come soon the bookies will be proved wrong for a change!

Like Newcastle and Leicester, we have become the victims of our own success from last season. Players playing without the same intensity of last season, bad luck with injuries and poor transfer dealings have all played a part in why we are where we are. All these factors combine to provide a team that eventually loses its confidence and mojo. Whenever we went one down last season we all felt we could still win, and we often did. The current team goes one down and we wonder – how many this week? Once that lost confidence has completely filtrated any sporting team of any code there is no magic wand to rediscover it. The catalyst that provides the turning point, if there is to be one, often comes when least expected.

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Tony Hanna's Musings

Build from the Front?

I still remember, albeit many moons ago, playing my first game of football at senior level. Aged just 16 it was quite different from playing with my own age group and the step up was far too high for me at the time to play any significant role in the team. Straight into the first division of what was then the London and Essex Border league, it was really men against boys. The young team I played for were on a hiding to nothing and it was a dismal season results wise. Despite it being a very steep learning curve, it was one which I enjoyed immensely. Along with a few of the other youngsters in my team we improved significantly over the next two seasons. When Sam Allardyce threw the youngsters out to dry against Forest a few seasons ago they had my sympathy, although my experience did me no harm and realistically shouldn’t have done them either.

After our initiation, we went through an excellent period as a team and over the following six seasons had three or four very decent strikers. Unfortunately, due to injury and other reasons we then went through a period where we lost our strike force and ended up with some poor players up front. All of a sudden the goals dried up and results turned sour. Not only were we now not scoring but we were letting in a lot more goals. Our goalkeeper and defence were still the same and if anything the midfield had been strengthened slightly. The defeats were becoming worse and worse and even more goals were shipped as we got relegated.The next season was even worse again.

The reason I may bore you with my past footballing life is that it is my belief, based on my own experiences, that this is what is happening to West Ham (though hopefully not the relegation). It is not just the lack of goals it is the lack of hold up play and running the channels, it is also the way opposing teams can play against you when you lack potency. The least amount you offer in attack the more the oppositions confidence rises and the more they can take control of the game. Man Utd on both occasions they played us, played such a high pressing game against us we reverted to Randolph or Adrian booting the ball up the field, a tactic that offered little to no threat to their defence. We were then unable to build up any meaningful play at all. When we have made breaks from defence and had three on threes or three on twos, the front men without the ball are making the wrong runs for the man with the ball. Zaza is completely lost with or without the ball as shown by his late and eventually poor pass to Payet against Spurs which should have resulted in us going 3-1 ahead. Fletcher was no better in the Cup game, after Feghouli had been sent clear by Payet in the 12th minute, Fletcher originally made the correct run to the left of Feghouli which gave him an option, only then to slow up and run behind Feghouli which not only slowed him up but completely took away any second option and the defence cleaned up. There are so many examples but these two sprang to mind the most in a season where our main strikers have offered very little in the way of good movement or enterprise.

If your strikers are completely impotent it can have a dramatic effect on the way the whole team shapes up. The last three games have seen us have awful possession stats. Teams can win games with low possession rates I hear you say, but not if your strikers can’t score goals. Sakho has played two games this season after a long break, for a total of about two hours football for one goal. With him on the field we were drawing in both games at Spurs and Man Utd, despite the possession stats. He offered something that no other striker has offered us before this season. I know the defence has looked at sixes and sevens at times this season but I really do believe that the problem lies further up field and it is there that it has had a compound effect on the rest of the team. Our best two defensive performances this season have been whilst Sakho was on the field?

Brian Clough was a terrific football manager and he said that to build a great team you must get your defence right first and build from the back. I think football has changed nowadays and teams and players are so much more fitter and technically well drilled that this is not the case anymore. Back in “Old Big Heads” day England (or a team of comparable standing) would beat Australia, Norway or Finland by six or more goals. Today you would take a one goal victory as everyone is so much harder to beat, even the well organised minnows. But the one thing there is a real shortage of, and that is why they are worth so much money, is a very good striker. So Mr Sullivan, if you think changing Mr Zaza’s loan term will save you buying a decent goal scorer in January, think again. The money saved may be all in vain. It really is sad that in real terms we have two excellent strikers already at the club that just can’t get over their injury issues. But in my opinion, if we get Sakho or Carroll back for any length of time, or indeed break the bank for a proven goal scorer who stays fit, our season will turn around in no time. Anything different and we are in real trouble.

My article is based on past experiences and what I see as a football fan without any statistical data. Do you agree or disagree?

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