Tony Hanna's Musings
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.