Tony Hanna's Musings

The Ethos of Competition for Places

I wrote an article before the Swansea game where I said we needed at least one win in the upcoming two fixtures or we would be pushed right into the relegation mixer. Certainly not Einstein material but four points later and we do look to have secured our Premiership status. However, any Swansea revival will have us looking over our shoulder again as our run in of fixtures looks very difficult. Let’s face it, this season has been horrible. It might have the same feel and look of many seasons before but after last season we have been brought crashing back down to earth. The silky one touch play of 2015/16 was most enjoyable and even when we went one or two down it always seemed likely we would fight back. The long awaited win at Anfield was completed in style and wins at City and Arsenal were followed by an amazing reversal at the home of our bogey opponents, Everton. The final crescendo was saved for the last ever game at Upton Park where again we came back from a goal down amid amazing terrace scenes.

The move to the Olympic Stadium has not been greeted by all as a success and then our best player of last season, Payet, wanted away after a lack lustre first half of this season. Zaza, the Italian striker had been signed on a loan with an option to buy deal which was scrapped as his goal tally was zero after eleven appearances. It was not like he was unlucky. He was simply awful. The few games after Payet moved on in controversial circumstances saw the team bond together in unison and we saw some real character and fight, putting together some nice displays. However, it was about as convincing as when you bring a new manager in. In most cases, all you get is the bounce affect. It did not take long for normal service to be resumed.

One thing that has not helped is the long list of injuries which seems to plague us more than most other clubs. Andy Carroll has again missed a large part of the season and Sahko has been out all season apart from a few cameos. The two candidates for HOTY, Antonio and Obiang are gone for the rest of the season and Ogbonna is unlikely to play again this season either. Winston Reid has been out for months and Arbeloa and Tore have just been collecting wages. The much maligned Andre Ayew even got injured in the first game of the season and was out for many months. With the walkout of Payet, throw in the huge drop in form of Aaron Cresswell and both goalkeepers, and it is enough to make you wonder if there is a curse on the club?

Some weeks ago I wrote that Aaron Cresswell should be dropped and Masuaku be given a chance. I don’t necessarily think Masuaku is a better player than Cresswell, but my theory is that when you have a poorly performing player his understudy should be given a chance to prove himself. Sometimes this can be the making of the player getting his opportunity and often it gives the player rested the swift kick up the rear he needed. This translates into the ethos of competition for places which, in my opinion, is good for any sporting team. Our best two players this season, Antonio and Obiang, were both considered fringe players at best before showing what can happen when their opportunities were presented. However, despite continually poor performances from Cresswell, Bilic just kept playing him. It took an injury to the incumbent for Masuaku to be given his chance and he has grabbed it with both hands. Some of his play does make me feel uneasy, mostly the bodily contact he employs against opponents in our own penalty area, but so far so good. It will be really disappointing if he is dropped now Cresswell is fit again, unless his form drops too where I will be amongst the first to welcome Aaron back into the first team. The ethos of competition for places is all about the squad and being about the clubs end result. It is not about having a hierarchy first eleven and the rest only getting their opportunity when injuries or suspensions occur. What it is about is all the players pulling together and supporting each other through good times and bad. Fair enough if the team is winning the majority of it’s games and all the players are performing well, but from a West Ham perspective that has not been happening this season. Bilic did make the right call earlier in the season by dropping Adrian who was costing us points with a series of errors. He has paid a high price this season but Randolph’s displays warrant Adrian coming back as soon as possible. Again, if Bilic does not make this change, this week, his reasoning has to be seriously questioned. It is a change that needed to be made a long time ago.

Some may say that both our goal keepers are as bad as each other? That is not the point. No player should be kept in the side if he is under performing, unless there is no replacement available. Bilic made the same mistake with Payet this season. He may have been the star of last season but his efforts this season were poor. Instead of being dropped he was given a pay rise? I love Slav, he gave us a great season last season and he represents our club with great dignity, humility and grace. But for me he has to start getting his tactics right and he has to react smarter to players being either low in confidence or out of form. One thing that amazes me too is that he thinks bringing on Nordtveit at the end of games to close them out is a good tactic? Think again Slav! This is another strategy that is not working.

This will be my last article during this current season. I am looking forward to coming back to the UK for a month and I am not so sure now whether booking in games against Spurs and Liverpool was such a good idea after all, given our form and home record against the top sides this season ? You never know though. Perhaps a stunning win against Spurs will deprive them winning the league? It certainly would be the West Ham way! I am sure in my first article back I will be voicing my own opinion on our new stadium. Despite all the discontent I go there with a very open mind.

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Tony Hanna's Musings

Our biggest game since Blackpool?

The next two games may very well determine West Ham’s future for at least a few years. Anything less than at least one victory over Swansea or Sunderland will push us deep into relegation trouble. If relegation should come our way, it may very well alert “want to be” investors trying to buy a well credentialed football club at a bargain price? Two relegations in seven seasons might just be enough for our current owners to consider a decent offer? However, the bookies odds for us to drop suggest we will escape, although the prices are shortening with every defeat. Not many managers survive a five successive loss record nowadays and Slaven’s credit from last season plus the fact that the crowd still sings his name at games must be having a great influence on the trap door lever.

Our appalling injury record for many seasons now, acts like a ball and chain to our efforts. There are many theories to the cause and if anyone does come up with the answer they will be worth their weight in gold. This season, albeit for a couple of cameos, we have been without arguably our best striker in Diafra Sakho and we lost our only World class player (Payet) in extraordinary circumstances at the half way point. At present we are playing without our first choice centre backs, we have a left back who has lost all form and we don’t know who to play right back. Kouyate is a shadow of his former self, Noble has got slower and Adrian finally had too many brain snaps. The one player (Obiang) who looked most likely to win HOTY has been lost for the season and the two players we signed in January have mysteriously lost all the form they had been showing at their former clubs?

The fact is that even with all these excuses, we have been poor for just about the whole season. A few tantalising sprinklings of what may or could have been with wins over Palace, Boro and Saints have been overshadowed by a team that cannot defend, crumbles once it concedes and lacks any real consistency on any level. Throw in a move to the Olympic Stadium and all that is difficult has just been magnified. For me, the worst thing we could have ever done was qualify for the Europa League entering our first season at the new stadium, when the whole emphasis should have been on consolidation. Whilst the ritual of Thursday / Sunday games never really eventuated the whole process meant that our season was already on the wrong trajectory by buying in quantity when quality in just a few positions was all we needed. Last season should have been a platform for the club but the transfer policy actually just threw us back into Premiership mediocrity.

So, Swansea this weekend followed by Sunderland. If we can break the mould this weekend and bag three points everything will seem a lot rosier. This game, in my opinion, is the clubs biggest game since the play off final against Blackpool. Anything other than three points will make Sunderland and other future games this season even bigger. If we are put into a position where we need to beat Spurs and Liverpool at home to stay up I fear we are doomed. Swansea have only ten points away from home this season and have lost at Hull and Bournemouth in their last two – sound familiar? They have conceded even more goals than us and that includes us putting four past them in the reverse fixture. In fact Swansea are below us in the League table, the offense and defence table, the home and away table – in fact the only table they are ahead of us in is the form table which calculates points gained in the past 8 games only. The first half could be an edgy affair and that I am sure will put a dampener on the crowd. Swansea have only conceded six goals in the first 30 minutes of all away games whilst we have only scored four first half goals all season at home. And two of them were in the same match way back when we played Watford. In fact, out of our fifteen PL home games this season we have only been leading at half time once and that was thanks to a penalty 3 minutes into injury time against Burnley.

Good luck to all those going this weekend, especially StepneyPhil who has been a long term member of the site who is making his first visit to the new stadium. I will be in the same boat as him in a few weeks time with the visit of Spurs. The last thing I want is to be relying on points for safety in that game. Not sure my ticker could take it.

Finally, just to put a smile on the dial and remind everyone we are a very decent football club, I have attached a clip of Mabel’s 101st birthday surprise.

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Q&A with Eddie Bovington

Eddie Bovington appeared 184 times for West Ham between 1960 and 1968 after coming through the youth academy with so many other great players of that era. When Ron Greenwood replaced Ted Fenton as West Ham manager in 1961, he had an abundance of young locally born talent waiting for their chances. It was from these players that he built the side that went on to win the FA Cup in 1964. Jack Burkett, Johnny Sissons, Ron Boyce, Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Eddie Bovington were all players of this same ilk and Greenwood still had Martin Peters emerging from the ranks. On Boxing Day 1963 West Ham were thrashed 8-2 by top of the table Blackburn Rovers. The return fixture at Blackburn was just two days later and how would Ron Greenwood turn things around? Well, the only change he made was by dropping Martin Peters and replacing him with Eddie Bovington. History shows the Hammers won the rematch 3-1 and that result was to prove very significant for both Peters and Bovington. Greenwood announced an unchanged side for the following weeks Cup match at Charlton and he kept the exact same side for the rest of the cup matches that season – including the FA Cup final side that beat Preston 3-2. The Hammers were trailing 2-1 at half time in the final and Ron asked both Moore and Bovington to push further forward in the second half. The tactic worked and Eddie had won himself a Cup winners medal.

Eddie had made his debut in 1960 at Old Trafford against Manchester United. Three years ago he told me; “It was a marvelous experience, although a very daunting one, to make a debut at such an iconic ground as Old Trafford and to play against such players as Denis Violet, Bobby Charlton, Bill Foulkes, Harry Gregg, all survivors of the Munich Air Crash. The pace of the game seemed so fast for the opening 20 minutes and then settled down. Although we lost 5 – 3 I think it was a fairly good debut”. He had to wait another 20 months to make his second appearance for the Hammers and another season before establishing himself in the first team.

By 1966 Martin Peters had developed into a World class player and in the 1967/68 season Eddie was limited to just six appearances. He hung up his boots at just 28 years of age but reflected “I didn’t actually miss the playing side of the game when I packed up in 1969. What I missed a lot though was the camaraderie of the players.” Eddie has been kind enough to participate in a Q&A for the site and as you can see his answers pull no punches.

Q. Can you tell us about the time you were first scouted and approached to join West Ham?
A. I was playing for a youth team on Saturday afternoons in the Edmonton League and one of the team was spotted by a West Ham scout and went for a trial. West Ham asked our manager if he had anyone he could recommend and he said me. I played in a game against Fulham Youth at Green and Silley Weirs ground at Wanstead on a Friday night in April 1957. I was asked next season after a few more games if I would like to join the ground staff at West Ham which I did.

Q. What type of manager was Ron Greenwood? Did you have a good relationship with him?
A. Technically very good but lacked man management skills. I had a poor relationship with him.

Q. You made your debut at Old Trafford against Manchester United in a 5-3 defeat despite leading 3-1 at one stage. What can you remember from that day?
A. Being on the field with Manchester United players such as Bobby Charlton and Dennis Violet and not believing I was with these great players

Q. Playing with legends like Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters must have been something special. Outside of those three who was the best West Ham player you ever played with?
A. Johnny Byrne

Q. What about Bobby? Were you good friends with him and what sort of team spirit was there amongst the lads?
A. I was good friends with him. We roomed together for a while. The team spirit was pretty good.

Q. If the team played badly what was Ron Greenwood like? He seemed like a philosophical type of man but was he always like that in the dressing room?
A. He rarely showed any emotion.

Q. Who were the best players you ever played against?
A. Jimmy Greaves and Dennis Law

Q. I’d imagine Moore, Hurst, Byrne, Peters may be amongst the best you played with but of the others, when one was unavailable, who did the team miss the most?
A. When fully fit – Johnny Byrne

Q. You played in an era where there were plenty of noted hard men in the game. Who was the hardest you ever played against and was there any player you liked to give some back too?
A. One of the hardest was Andy Lockhead of Burnley. Would like to have given some back to most of the Leeds United Team of the 60’s.

Q. I guess the 1964 FA Cup final was the highlight of your career? What were the special moments of that day that you remember most fondly?
A. Seeing Ronnie Boyce’s winner go in so late in the game and also the lap of honour. The parade on the Sunday morning in the East End of London was also one of the best highlights.

Q. What’s your view on the possible future use of video technology?
A. I think video technology is inevitable but am concerned it may mean more interruptions in the game.

Q. What do you like the most about the modern game of football and what do you dislike the most?
A. The level of skill is so good today. Dislike the constant passing back and across the field. So many touches but no closure.

Q. Ed, why do you think there are so few players coming through our academy into the first team nowadays? Most of the promising ones seem to go out on loan and rarely make it back into the Premier League.
A. Probably because the clubs demand instant success and can’t wait for the youngsters to develop.

Q. Have you been to the Olympic Stadium to watch West Ham yet and if you have what are your first impressions? What are your thoughts on the move?
A. I have been to the stadium but not to watch a match. It is a wonderful venue for what it was intended to be which is athletics and not football. Unfortunately I am stuck in the past and yearn for Upton Park.

Q. Last time I spoke to you, nearly three years ago, you were cycling 125km a week and doing 5km of rowing in the gym. How is that all going and what do you enjoy most about your retirement?
A. I am still exercising but after not being well in January have cut back to 100kms per week.

Phew – I am quite exhausted just thinking about cycling 100kms a week. Obviously Eddie has kept himself very fit. I would like to thank Eddie for the giving of his time to give the readers on the site some insight on his playing days and his views on today’s football. His honest admission of a poor relationship with Ron Greenwood is interesting. Other players from that era have also said that despite Greenwood being a great tactician, he was quite aloof with his players which didn’t help with his cool relationship with Bobby Moore. Interestingly, Eddie like so many of the senior gentleman on this site, had great admiration for what a wonderful player Budgie Byrne was when fully fit. I saw Eddie play on many occasions when I was a nipper in the North Bank. It was an iconic time to watch West Ham play and Eddie certainly played his part.

Thanks again Eddie.

Tony Hanna's Musings

The Full Back Problem

The past few games have had their share of frustrations. Late goals conceded, being caught on the break, penalties conceded etc etc. The teams resurgence after the Payet saga that saw wins against Palace, Southampton and Boro has now diminished and we have now acquired just two points from the last four games. The winter break in Dubai might just have put the boys in holiday mood for the rest of the season? I made mention many moons ago in an article I wrote on the site about club managers and staff not seeing, or certainly not reacting to things that fans see quite plainly on the pitch that are going wrong. Perhaps I am deluded? Perhaps these highly paid professionals do know much better than us what is going on and we are just mere mortals that do not understand? But I am not going to insult anyone’s intelligence here; many of us have been watching football nearly all our lives. Some of us watched West Ham play before some of today’s players and managers were born. Fans, in general know football. Slaven might tell me otherwise? (ps; This article was written prior to Mark Noble’s comments, so perhaps he might tell me otherwise as well)?

So, when we have been saying for two seasons now that we need a right back, why has the club done next to nothing? Sam Byram was always going to be a gamble. Youngsters stepping up from the lower divisions always are. In fairness, Bilic had no intention of playing him as early as he did, against Man City last January, but needs must at the time. He was meant to be one of those “works in progress” and wasn’t even in the squad the day he made his debut. A late injury to James Tomkins got him onto the bench and then an injury to right back Carl Jenkinson in the 13th minute ensured he got an earlier than anticipated debut. Since then Bilic has used him sparingly when he has been fit. The Antonio project failed miserably and so far so has the ploy of playing one of our best midfielders there as well. What other club would play their leading goal scorer at right back? Perhaps in an injury crisis as an emergency, but for months on end when it clearly wasn’t working? So, the summer transfer window comes around and a club of our stature would move heaven and earth to get a right back in, right? Nope! Well, we sort of did in the signing of Arbeloa but he was last seen flying over the Bermuda Triangle! The same thing happened on the other side at the beginning of the season. We went into a full season with one recognised, experienced left back. The only reason we bought Masuaku at the last moment was because Cresswell got a bad injury, otherwise we would have started the season with one left back and no right back, if you discount experiments, an ageing loan and the kids. This is simply not good enough. To make matters worse the winter window arrives and goes and still no developments?

Shifting Kouyate back into the right back role has clearly taken the pressure off Bilic when it comes to determining the midfield set up. If we had a first class right back in place he would have some very difficult decisions to make should Kouyate be vying for one of those places? Whatever the lad might be saying to the media, I can’t imagine he is overjoyed at playing right back and I would not be surprised if he is not at the club come next season. Bilic has been playing a lot of square pegs in round holes for a while now and as I said earlier, us fans are no mugs. We can see things that aren’t working. We can see players when they are out of form, especially badly out of form. Which brings me to my next subject. A few weeks ago I wrote an article on what was our best midfield? Whilst the object was to gain readers opinions on the range of players available to choose from, it was thinly veiled to gauge what fans thought regarding Mark Noble’s place in the team? I will not be as subtle with my next subject – Aaron Cresswell. My personal view is that the player has had a very poor season to date. The inability to stop crosses coming in, the rearing away from any physical challenges and the strange positional play that continually drags Winston Reid out from a central position to cover for Cresswell who in turn runs back to move into the central void left by Reid? This is in no way meant to come across as a personal attack on Cresswell. It is just my view that he is badly out of form. That can happen to any player and when it does occur we should be in a position to act and replace him with a competent alternative for as long as needed.

The marauding runs and clever interplay with Payet are a distant memory. For what it’s worth I have never rated Cresswell as a good defender, but what he brought in an attacking sense was at times superb and very entertaining. However, the master of the whipped in outswinging cross has rarely been seen in recent months and the defensive side of his duties are now being laid to bare. With his cover Masuaku being injured himself for many months now, Creswell has had no competition for his place. Earlier in the season Masuaku did get his chance, but at West Brom he put in an awful performance, coming up with an extraordinary handball in our own area conceding a penalty. Whilst that does nothing for the confidence of the fans or the player himself, the majority of other games he has played he has looked quite an assured player who is very comfortable on the ball. However, his sending off this week in the PL2 match puts another question mark on his suitability. A lot of fans have questioned the form of both Ogbonna, before his season ending injury, and Fonte since his arrival from Southampton. In my view if these central defenders are being let down on the flanks they are not going to be seen anywhere near their best and blaming them may be premature?

Back in my days of playing, at one time we had a superb back four. Booth was a combative right back and decent on the ball, Johnson was a Collins type defender, Myers was our Bobby Moore – tactically excellent and a great reader of the game, and Brophy was a young but very good left back. They all worked well together in front of the best keeper in the district. Then one year Booth decided to quit the club for personal reasons and Brophy joined the Navy. We brought in two full backs that were not really up to the same standard but what was telling was the drop off in play of both our centre backs, Johnson and Myers. From nowhere they were making mistakes and getting pulled ragged at times. The moral of the story is that two very decent centre backs who had always been solid were now a mess playing with two fullbacks that were not quite up to scratch. Ironically, one of the fullbacks really improved when we played him in midfield! I think you can draw your own conclusions from my little story when you relate it to West Ham?

So, no need to hit the panic button just yet, but Bilic must stop playing players that are out of form providing he has decent cover for them, and he must put a squad together next season where every position has a round peg in a round hole and has sufficient cover. At this point in time that means acquiring a proper right back and cover for him should Bilic have no intention of playing Byram if injuries demand. It also means getting a decent left back if Bilic is convinced Masuaku is not good enough. If that is the case get rid. If he does think he is good enough he should be playing him now, if only to refresh Cresswell and send the appropriate message that he needs to get his act together. It also means spending the large part of the kitty on a striker and letting either Carroll or Sakho go. I would love to keep both but history shows that their combined injury records makes that too huge a risk and I doubt both would stay if we got a new first class striker in anyway?

The upcoming Leicester game is another one where I feel the team need to respond and get out of the blocks right from the start to get the crowd behind them. We appear to be starting games very slowly and especially at home we seem determined to play it very tight from the start. This is statistically backed up as we are the worst team in the PL for leading at home half time stats – only once in 14 matches! To counter that, Leicester have been losing a staggering four more matches away from home at half time than any other PL club, trailing in 10 of their 13 away matches at the break. Thoughts?

A few weeks ago I wrote that I would be doing a Q&A with former Hammer Eddie Bovington. Unfortunately Ed has been unwell recently and that is why he hasn’t been able to participate. I am pleased to say that Eddie is now well on the mend and the Q&A has been conducted. It will be published during the two week break after the Leicester game.

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Tony Hanna's Musings

The Break, Predictors and Question Time

Well after the game against West Brom we have two weeks to amuse ourselves until the next game at Watford. Normally it is the International breaks that test our patience but of course this time it is because next weekend is Cup week. It would be nice to be able sit back and watch Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea or the Moaning ones getting knocked out but when you look at their fixtures it is difficult to see any of them not making the quarter finals? Even Man City got a favourable draw and despite the unusualness of the top clubs all getting drawn away, somehow they all managed to avoid each other! Feel free to complain about our luck with Cup draws.

Looking forward to the game against Watford and it will be interesting to see if Andy Carroll is fit to play? Protecting a player from a groin niggle would be the natural course of action for any manager but Andy’s history has often told us things are always more complicated than that. It looks like Fonte and Snodgrass have settled well into the team and Kouyate is proving to be as versatile as Antonio. The latter appears to have dropped his form in the last few and I do wonder if he is struggling a bit with burn out? If that is the case then this trip to Dubai and the two week break should do him the World of good. Whilst we have all been harping on about the right back position for longer than we care, what is becoming as much as a problem is the form of Aaron Cresswell at left back. In my opinion he has never been a top class defender but his attacking threat down the left and his excellent crossing ability has always covered the cracks in his defensive game. I am not sure whether the injury he suffered earlier this season is behind it or whether it is a confidence thing? Either way it is fast becoming another problem for Slaven Bilic.

I had a few moments to spare the other day and I completed a Premier League predictor table. If you want to have a go yourself click here. It calculates the ongoing league table depending on the results you put into it. Just a bit of fun and only takes about ten minutes to complete and you will end up with all the finishing positions for the end of the season. For what is worth my predictions ended up with Chelsea winning the PL and just five points separating Man City, Spurs, Liverpool and Arsenal in that order. If I am right then Arsenal and the Moaners will miss out on the Champions League spots. Down the other end Sunderland, Leicester and Middlesbrough go down but anything could happen there as only four points separated 18th and 13th. I had West Ham to finish 11th and at this point in time I would be fairly happy with that considering all the turmoil at the club this season. If you have a go, post your predictions on here and I will look back at this thread at the end of the season to see who fared the best and report back.

Later this week Eddie Bovington has agreed to take part in a Q&A with me. I will post it as an article hopefully during this two week break. Eddie played in the Cup Final win against Preston in 1964 and made 184 appearances for the Hammers in the 1960’s. If any of our readers want to put forward any of their own questions to Eddie just let me know on this thread. If we get a few good ones I will pick the best three to go alongside the ones I have already prepared.

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