Tony Hanna's Musings

Even the Bookies are impressed

Normally a new football manager gets an immediate “bounce” but we don’t do normal and our one got three defeats and a draw to start his West Ham career. On his debut, Watford took the mickey in the final 30 minutes playing keep football to the opposition crowds ole’s as we wilted to a 2-0 defeat. There was a glimmer of hope in the second game at home to Leicester as for once we got to see some sort of organisation and effort but still only a point. In Moyes third game, against Everton, any sense of optimism gained from the Leicester match was crushed as we wilted to a 4-0 defeat against a side that was as devoid of confidence and self belief as we were. To rub salt in the wounds there was Big Sam looking down from the stands watching his new safety project – chewing gum, thumbs up with a wide grin on his face. If I can analogise it was like watching the bird that dumped you showing off her new boyfriend to all and sundry. Not that Sam dumped us but when Frank Lampard used to score against us and then kiss the Chelsea badge it gave me the same sort of feeling.

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The prospect of the next set of fixtures got most of us older Hammers fans reaching for the abacus. City, Chelsea and Arsenal – oh the joy! I went for 6-0 in the predictor against City– how about you? The signs that things are changing at West Ham were there for all to see though as we led 1-0 at half time until the inevitable happened. Why can’t we play a Manchester City side without De Bruyne and David Silva? And so on to Chelsea. Why can’t we play a Chelsea side without Eden Hazard? But this time it didn’t matter and in fact beating a Chelsea side with Hazard and Kante in it makes it feel even better. It is often said that in the past we raise ourselves for the big games and we do the unexpected, but the last two performances have been light years ahead of much of what we have seen in recent months. So, are we turning the corner or are our we getting ahead of ourselves? That great barometer, you know the bookie guys with their professional, cold and unemotional outlook on the game of football seem to think the former. Before the City game we were even money to get relegated, that’s a 50% chance. Now we are 11/4 – just a 26% chance despite still being in the bottom three. You might say that they have also been duly impressed.

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But before we get carried away we need to learn many more lessons. Sitting back in an organised way on the back of a 1-0 lead against quality opposition is a different proposition to the games we face more often over the course of a season. Those games where the class difference is much closer and where many of these teams will try to do the same to us as we did to Chelsea. Antonio and Arny’s pace and strength have looked good in tandem against City and Chelsea but how will they fare when we play the likes of West Brom and Stoke at the OS? After what has transpired over the past fortnight will Moyes revert back to his Duncan Ferguson style tactics now that Carroll has recovered from his knock? Where does Chico fit in – if at all? Moyes looks as though he has got us fit and organised enough to be hard to break down and beat but there will be different obstacles to overcome when we play teams where they are the ones sitting back looking to hit us on the break.

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I have long been an admirer of Arthur Masuaku. Convinced he was a player of great talent it was always my belief he would improve defensively given time. Perhaps that will happen, perhaps it won’t, but I have no doubt he has cemented his place in the team for now. What an exciting player he could become for us? On the other side of the coin I have also been banging the drum that Cresswell’s form had dropped so much he shouldn’t be seen anywhere near a West Ham shirt. Well, judging from the last few games the “old” Cresswell is back and I am so happy for Dan Coker who never lost the faith in him! Whilst I never gave up hope that fan favourite Adrian would get back into the West Ham team, I doubt it would have happened under Slaven Bilic? I base this on his all too long reluctance to give the Spaniard a recall despite Randolph’s poor form last season. I have little doubt Adrian would have been angling for a January move but for Moyes giving him this new chance? I must say I have warmed to David Moyes. Whilst some say his pressers lack positivity I prefer the realism and honesty. The manager, the players and the supporters have been given a shot in the arm over the past week or so. Let’s hope we can kick on from here.

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Tony Hanna's Musings

Football; the best and worst changes in the top flight over 50 years

Football is very different nowadays. Compared to fifty years ago the game has altered considerably on and off the pitch. I was speaking to a friend the other day who was interested in my views of football today compared to yesteryear. I said to him that some things have changed for the better and in my opinion some for the worst. Here are some of the best and worst changes to the game that I have experienced watching football over the past half a century.

The Best

Without doubt the coverage of games on TV. Whilst the UK does not offer every Premier League game live the coverage is exceptional compared to fifty years ago when there were no League games shown at all – just weekend highlights on Match of the Day and the Big Match. Supporters up and down the country who for whatever reason can’t get to games, can now watch the majority of them plus the best of the other matches throughout the season. Many of those who live outside of Europe can watch any game in the PL at any time which beats listening to a crackly old World Service radio for score updates only, which was our only option until a couple of decades ago.

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The pitches. Today’s are like pristine bowling greens. Compare that to many of the games played on mud baths fifty years ago and the difference is staggering. Whilst we look back and say how good was Bobby Moore, Trevor Brooking and Alan Devonshire – showing the skill they did despite the mud, I am sure they would all have preferred to play on today’s manicured surfaces. It does produce better play and that can only be good for everyone? These improvements have helped produce a much quicker game with fitter players albeit probably leading to a larger range of injuries.

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Season and match day tickets and segregation. The ease of getting into and out of grounds is so much better and safer. Whilst the Stratford experience is not as streamlined as many would want, it beats having to get to a ground many hours before kick-off and without the guarantee you will even get to see the game. Lockouts an hour or more before big games in the 60’s and 70’s could mean you miss out altogether, sometimes after a long journey. Then of course there was the threat of violence as well. Many were “into it” back in those days but the game has moved on and safety has superseded aggro. Being able to have a comfortable beer and chat a half hour before the game starts and then a short walk to take your reserved seat is a light year away from standing in urine on the North Bank for hours before the game started! Whilst I would still prefer designated standing areas for supporters I have no doubt they would be much safer and better patrolled than in days of old should they ever be approved.

Substitutes. In 1965 Charltons Keith Peacock became the first substitute to be used in the football league. Up until then many matches including Cup finals had seen teams seriously disadvantaged when one or more of their players had succumbed to injury without any option of being able to replace them. Even with this one sub rule in place it still had its problems. Take the time when Bobby Ferguson got kicked in the head during the LC semi-final against Stoke City in 1972. Having to replace him with Bobby Moore in goal and play with ten men until a very dizzy Ferguson came back on later in the match probably cost us a Wembley final. Over time the gradual increase of the allowed replacements to three, together with a larger range of players to choose from has not only allowed any injured players to be replaced, including the goalkeeper, but it has become an integral tactical part of the game. One thing I would like to see though is some sort of disadvantage applied to teams that use the substitute in the final ten minutes of the game, mainly to discourage time wasting or attempts to slow down the match.

The Worst

The money in the game has in my opinion hurt the game more than anything else. Greedy agents, greedy players and greedy governing bodies are rife in today’s game. Loyal players are a rare breed now, almost extinct from any club not winning trophies every season. The money has turned players heads and club loyalty is close to a thing of the past. They might kiss the badge but most of them will be gone in two years if their agent can extract a few more pieces of silver elsewhere. As if they don’t earn enough already? I could write until the end of the week about how it has screwed up the game. You all know what is happening. The TV money is great in that it does what it was intended to do – bring football into everyone’s living room. The downside is that it too much of the money is siphoned into the players and agents pockets. This has forced the transfer market to spiral out of control and as clubs go into more and more debt the agents and players are the only ones that prosper. I don’t begrudge players earning a great wage but I do an obscene one. If the Bosman ruling was supposed to be fair, how about making rules that would bring the current market under control and bring stability and some sort of fairness back into the game? In the 60’s West Ham broke a British transfer fee for a goalkeeper and in the 70’s a World record fee for another one. I doubt that could ever happen again and therein lies the problem.

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The cheating. Players back in the 60’s and 70’s were no angels. The tackle from behind was fair game and anyone who remembers Willie Young hacking down Paul Allen when clean through on goal in the 1980 Cup final will know what I mean. There were a small handful of players who would go down a bit easily in the box but by and large players preferred to stay on their feet if they could and most would not want to show weakness in going down easily in any challenge. What we are seeing nowadays is a disgrace. For every rule change to try and make the game better, coaches and players will come up with a way to cheat the rule. For instance – refs are supposed to stop the game instantly when a head knock occurs. Great idea but on the flip side there will be players that will feign a head knock to force a break in play. This can be seen at corners when a team is under pressure – feigning injury can alleviate the pressure and break up any momentum the opposition has. The defending team will then restart the game by kicking the ball back 50 yards to the opposition as a sign of sportsmanship! What a joke. Feigning injury and diving is a real blight on the game.

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The inequality. Just look around the major leagues in the World and what do you see? The same old teams winning everything. This really relates back to the money in the game but still deserves its own place in my article. Between 1960 and 1970 seven different teams won the old English first division. Back then at the start of each season even West Ham fans held credible hope that we might actually win the league. Imagine that! The Champions League, you know that money spinning competition where you can finish second, third or fourth in your domestic league and still compete in a competition for Champions, apparently, is one of the major driving forces of inequality. Just to enforce the fact that the rich must grow richer and the others must stay in their place they devised the ironically named Financial Fair Play rules which stunt the opportunity of any new hopefuls joining the elites.

Finally, the main things that got me personally hooked into going to football matches in the first place have to a larger extent disappeared. Atmosphere – noise – singing. There are a number of factors that have contributed to the sterilisation of crowds over the years. The main culprit though is arguably the merge to all seater stadiums. Noise and singing is what has always put football apart from other sporting crowds. Anyone who used to stand on the old North Bank at West Ham will tell you how the singing and chanting was an integral part of the match day experience. Whether you were singing or just listening in another part of the ground it was what football was all about. But now it is largely missing and with it has gone much of what was one of the most enjoyable parts of going to football. Perhaps one day we will get designated safe standing areas in top flight football grounds again. I am sure it would help rediscover the atmosphere that is lacking at so many grounds nowadays. More and more the appeal for hard core fans is to attend away matches – surpassing the home match experience. The away supporters at games invariably out sings the home supporters as the huddled tribal nature kicks in whilst the vaster expanses of home supporters struggle to find any cohesion to get the party going.

What are your best and worst changes in the time you have been watching the game?
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Tony Hanna's Musings

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly and the Bookies

With just about a third of the season gone a change of manager, a place in the bottom three and the travelling fans singing “sack the Board” (amongst some other more colourful stuff aimed at Brady and G&S) illustrates that all is not well with West Ham at present. However the team plays we seem to shoot ourselves in the foot nearly every game. Giving the ball away in dangerous places, players being sent off, unnecessary fouls in our own box leading to penalties, conceding late goals and a plethora of missed opportunities are typical traits of a struggling team. You see it season in, season out. Teams down the bottom don’t get the rub of the green but arguably they don’t deserve it either? Good work ethics together with first class effort and commitment, whilst working for a good company will nine times out of ten lead to a good outcome. Take out of that what you like!

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The Good

  • We still have 26 games to rectify our position
  • We have played two more games away than at home. We have won two of our five at home and two of our losses have been to top 6 teams.
  • We have not had any significant long term injuries so far this season.

The Bad

  • We have conceded more goals than any other team in the Premier League
  • We haven’t won away from home in seven attempts this season
  • Our disciplinary record has cost us dearly. Red cards have almost certainly deprived us of valuable points this season.

The Ugly

  • The Table. It speaks for itself
  • Take a look at our December fixture list!
  • Once you have the fan base offside, it is an uphill battle.

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Regular readers of the site know by now I like to get a guide from the bookies. I wrote a column a few years ago when relegation loomed under Sam, which delivered a different view to most who thought the Championship beckoned. It was all doom and gloom amongst most West Ham fans at the time but the bookies had us at very reasonable odds for relegation – suggesting they didn’t share our pessimism. Our loyalties, rose tinted glasses or indeed that pessimism us older fans are renown for do not come into the calculations of the unbiased calculating statisticians that work for the bookmakers that have no heart strings being tugged. So what do they think now? It is not that promising but they certainly haven’t written us off either! However, we are much shorter odds for relegation than during our troubled time under Big Sam. Currently we are 4th favourites to go down at 7/4 which represents a 36% chance. That is probably less of a chance than most people on here think judging by the majority of comments on the blog. Swansea are favourites to go down but there are still nine teams under double figure odds which suggests another clogged bottom half of the ladder come May. What this basically means is that it is still just too early to start to panic. There will be many twists and turns, especially when injuries and suspensions start to take their toll amongst the clubs with thinner squads. In many ways I think we the fans have developed the symptoms of the Board – the two game syndrome that rightly or wrongly saw the demise of Bilic.

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Personally, I haven’t watched as much Premier League this season as I normally would but I still think I have a good feel for what is going on around us. I do think Swansea and West Brom are currently inferior to us and I also think that teams like Huddersfield and even Newcastle will get drawn into the relegation battle as the season progresses. One factor that will continue to work against us though is our physical approach to the games. I certainly don’t think we are a dirty team, in fact we probably don’t commit enough of the professional or “take one for the team” fouls, especially with teams on the counter against us – when I say “enough” I mean compared to others. But the long ball approach is naturally a more physical approach to the game and it is noticeable that teams playing against us are making the most of nearly every challenge. Whilst it may be argued that the game is trying to rid itself of any type of aggression in the tackle and challenges it is amazing how well some players recover with the sight of a yellow or red card waved at an opponent. In no way am I admonishing Andy Carroll’s sequences of arm flailing, but when you set yourself up for a physical battle you can end up playing right into the hands of the divers all over the pitch. The crowd at Watford certainly magnified any disputed challenge and together with Carroll’s own recent brain snaps these factors would have gone a long way into Moye’s judgement of replacing him early in the second half. Anyone watching the Brighton v Stoke game would have noticed that the home crowd were vocally counting down the six second rule for the away keeper (Grant) to clear the ball. It is a rule that referees have ignored for some time now but the crowd did influence Grant to stop wasting time and obey the rule – in fear that the ref would be similarly influenced. These are the sorts of things that make playing at home an advantage, if anyone can remember those times?

Post-match comments from David Moyes suggest that the underlying problems within the team squad will take some fixing. Moyes stated he was disappointed at a few of the regular starters suggesting that they have been playing on the back of their reputations but certainly didn’t show him why they deserved their places on the weekend. We have a quick back up with our next match on Friday night against Leicester. It will be interesting to see if we can match their work ethic and what changes Mr Moyes will make, if any? A first goal in that game could be crucial.

An addition since writing my original article

Our fans who attend matches, and especially our fans who travel to away games on a regular basis are the salt of the earth of our club. I have followed West Ham for over 50 years but from afar for too many of those years. When fans who have followed our great club home and away for 40 plus years speak from the heart I listen. The feedback I am getting from these fans that travelled to Watford is that the away fans have turned on the Board and on a smaller scale the players. When toxicity has even crept into the normally very forgiving away fans, things are bad. Here is an edited message to me from one such guy who follows the club home and away. I thank him for giving me the permission to post it here. There is also a Guest Post from another away fan in the next day or two that will go further into the toxic nature developing.

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“back to yesterday Tone, not a good feel at all. Football wise we’ve played a lot worse this season but I’m afraid the toxicity has set in amongst the away mob, they were baying for the boards blood and even turned on the players singing " you’re not fit to wear the shirt “. Personally I think that was wrong and I’d stop going before I’d sing that as it would mean I’d believed they ain’t trying and I don’t think that’s the case ,
Andy Carroll got dogs abuse Tone, nothing to do with his performance but solely down to his Liverpool post-match comments about fans leaving. I’ve no sympathy mate as he should’ve kept his gob shut, better and more admired players than him have found out it’s not a good idea to criticise the fan base. It needs to be made clear though Tone, the songs aimed at him only started once he was off the pitch and not before !!!! We could well go down, I genuinely believe it. As for the bigger picture, I believe the board now feel the full force of feeling over the move. The first football crisis was always going to unleash the deep rooted resentments many fans feel and the disconnect between them and the fan base wont easily be mended, if ever. (Name withheld) has also been going home and away for years, he said he’s never felt so low about the club, says it all really”.

It certainly does.

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Tony Hanna's Musings

Moyes first game and will he be a success?

Well, this week we begin another era of West Ham United football club’s history. David Moyes first game in charge away to Watford will be an interesting and very much anticipated affair. The two week period following the loss to Liverpool has given the new manager some extra time to settle in and start working with what is a somewhat depleted squad due to the International break. News coming out of Rush Green suggests the training has been a lot tougher and more intense than under Bilic’s reign and that the players are enjoying the extra work. If this is the case it will be interesting to see how many of the players currently away on International duty will make the first team this weekend given the limited time spent with the new regime? If as reported, Moyes has been working hard with the small group left at home, and they have taken to the new intensity and responded well to all that has been asked of them, it may be a hard call for any of them to be excluded from Moyes first team selection on Sunday? Guess that is why he is paid the big bucks though? Tough decisions already. Since Moyes appointment he has brought in Alan Irvine and Stuart Pearce to join Chris Woods as his assistants and in the last 24 hours has secured the services of Billy McKinlay who has quit his caretaker manager role at Sunderland. It is often muted that when a team sack their manager they more often than not win their next game under the new manager. Here’s fingers crossed that we can keep the tradition going.

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The reaction to David Moyes appointment on social media and fan site blogs was shall we say mixed at best. “Only option” and “cheap option” were some of the more regularly used phrases from fans expecting an appointment of perceived much greater current status. We will take the Moyes of Preston and Everton but you can keep the Moyes of his last three jobs pretty much summed up a lot of fans feelings. And it is that uncertainty of “which Moyes will we get” that disappoints some fans whilst a Silva, a Dyche or a Wagner would have them dancing in the streets. In the real World though, success is not guaranteed by any of those four names. If it was that easy you would not be seeing the constant hiring and firing of football managers where the average longevity in England in the same job is a little over a year. The Moyes of Everton was a great success and I think most would agree that the job at Manchester United was a dead set poison chalice. His results in Spain at Real Sociedad were mixed and make of what you will on his time at Sunderland.

Some fans welcomed the appointment, some just wanted Bilic gone, some didn’t want Bilic out and some just didn’t want Moyes. A week later and there has been a mellowing from most of those aligned to the latter scenarios. He has said all the right things in his press interviews and he has been open and honest about how he perceives this job. This is his last chance saloon because if he fails here you would have to think that he will never get another top flight job? He desperately wants another crack at the highest level and West Ham have given it to him. I read somewhere recently that he would have probably done the job for free. I wouldn’t go that far, but there again? Moyes is doing this job for himself as much as anything else, even more so than most other managers, and this is why we won’t get that attachment to the club that provided the great love affair with Slaven Bilic. He has no prior attachment or love of West Ham and whilst that may seem cold it could also be a good thing. Moyes desperately wants to succeed and he will want everything from his players with no excuses. “There will be no favours. If they don’t do the running, they’re not playing”.

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It seems even more apparent now that some players have not been putting in a decent shift. No Einstein stuff there but it will be interesting to see how much the yards run, the sprints and the pressing improves? One player who has shone in recent times is Andre Ayew, scoring goals and visibly putting in the effort. For me I would like to see him start against Watford whilst the likes of Antonio and Arnautovic should have to work their socks off to regain their places. I may be being hard on Antonio who may have been playing injured recently (indeed it looks like he will miss this weekend’s game due to injury), but his body language and facial expressions on the touchline when he was coming on as a substitute against Crystal Palace recently, lead me to think that he wasn’t that interested at all? Perhaps it was this lackadaisical mentality that led to his brain snap in the final seconds of that match? If the Ogbonna tweet “liking” a fans Bilic out comment is “fair dinkum” as we say in Australia, then you have to question his motives too and it will also be interesting to see if Sakho all of a sudden becomes like a new signing for Moyes? The likes of Carroll, Kouyate, Cresswell, Obiang, Hernandes and Fonte (who is now a long term injury) have all had very mixed performances this season. That may just be down to playing in a side where their team mates have been letting them down as much as a lack of their own motivation or a problem with Bilic? Whatever, it is now down to David Moyes to get this side up and running and playing like a unit again. It will be a huge task for him and I wish him all the best of luck. We are due some.

Anyway, on to the fun bit. How do YOU think a Moyes West Ham will perform this season? The best indicator will be our finishing position in the Premier League table come the end of the season? For me, I am going to be as optimistic as I can possibly be by predicting 14th. Post your final placing prediction on the comments section and I will take a look back at the end of the season and in my Tuesday article on the 15th May 2018 I will report back on how we all went. Sorry, no prizes but perhaps an accolade or two for the most accurate.


Tony Hanna's Musings

Bilic Sacked - What Next?

Well the board took their time in making official their decision to sack Slaven Bilic in the wake of the Liverpool embarrassment. Why they made Slaven wait another 48 hours when the inevitable was going to happen lacks class and is devoid of any respect that, love him or loathe him, Bilic deserved. When they sacked Sam after the final game of the 2015 season it was a rush to beat the manager to the cameras, before he could say his tenure at West Ham was untenable. I just think not putting Slav out of his misery immediately after the Liverpool game sums us up as a club at the moment. However, there are some rumours that Bilic knew his fate and so did the players a few weeks ago and Slav stayed on until the new man was all sorted. Whether this is true or not I don’t know. If it is, it is another example of what a fine man Slaven Bilic is, if it is not I stand by my original comments. Fans will have differing opinions on the job Bilic did for West Ham, I am sure only the misguided would not agree that he conducted himself at all times with integrity and grace while manager of our club?

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I have sat on the fence for a long time regarding the decision to keep on supporting Bilic. Torn between what I was seeing now and my West Ham DNA. In private I told a close WHTID’er 12 months ago that I thought he was tactically making too many poor decisions and we should be looking for a replacement then, but there was still a lot of love for the man amongst the majority of supporters and I thought perhaps I was being too smart for my own good. I think we all like to think we are tactical geniuses and know best? Often we don’t, however clever we like to think we are. My personal thoughts at the time flew in the face of all what I had been brought up with following West Ham and that was why I still wanted him to succeed. We show loyalty, especially to people who genuinely care about the Hammers – I have no doubt Slaven Bilic does love this club. When I first stepped into Upton Park as an eleven year old the club was only on its fourth manager some 72 years after formation. For fans who started to follow the club in this era it is often more difficult to understand and agree with the constant merry go round of managers. In those days there was more of a “we are in it together” vision. Perhaps I live with rose tinted glasses because I can’t remember watching football in the 60’s and 70’s and any fans complaining about players “not trying”. It seems to be an epidemic nowadays. On one of my visits back to the UK in 1996 I ran into an old mate who was a Spurs fan. He used to go to all the home games. I asked him about the Spuds and he said he didn’t go anymore. “I got the hump spending most of my Saturdays, spending my hard earned to watch my team where it was evident some players were not even trying. I would have given anything to be good enough to play for my club and I am not paying money to watch over paid prime donnas waltz around with not a care for the club whilst earning as much in a week as I do in a year”.

Iron Liddy posted a link to an article for me the other day. It stated that in 2015 the average tenure of a manager across the 92 League clubs in England was 1.23 years. Interestingly, Arsene Wenger is single-handedly keeping this figure over the one year threshold. I wrote an article a few weeks ago which said that Bilic would go “eventually” – and so will the next manager and the next. Almost certainly in similar circumstances. It is a sad indictment on today’s game that so many players think they are bigger than the club it plays for? Yet they kiss the badge when they score whilst their agent works on a move for another multi-million quid move.

The Bilic/Payet season is one that no West Ham fan will ever forget. Amazing wins at Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City. The comeback at Everton and the final match at Upton Park where tears flowed. But those days have long since gone. I am not going to post stats on here – we all know it has not been pretty for a while. But I would like to thank Slav for the good times and wish him all the best for the future.

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So, where to now? We languish in the bottom three with as tough a run of fixtures you could ask for looming in December. David Moyes has been backed into the “certainty” range with the bookies to take over the manager’s job. However, nothing is simple or straight forward when it comes to our club at the moment. Apparently the Board may be getting nervous twitches about the appointment now because of the reaction on social media to their current number one choice. It is obvious that Moyes is not flavour of the month with many of the fans. And then there are reports that the job is only “short term”. Really? So if the players aren’t currently playing for a manager who’s job initially wasn’t going to last beyond the end of the season, why would they play for another manager who’s tenure is exactly the same? I am sure it is not as simple as that but it does beg many questions of where the club is heading and why we are in such disarray at the moment? It will be interesting to see if the pressure of twitter, Facebook and fan site polls will have any effect on the Boards decision regarding any new manager?

We are currently the 18th biggest football club in the World and should be able to attract a top class manager under any circumstances, or so you would think? Taking over a team that is in the relegation zone should be a challenge for the brightest of managers in the knowledge there would be a handsome bonus for avoiding relegation. A World class stadium, OK but most would fall for that, and a club with fantastic support and traditions along with (on paper at least) a good squad of players, please don’t tell me no one wants the job? Or can I take those rose tinted glasses off again because whilst our manager has under achieved in the past year, our problems I fear, lie much deeper?


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