Tony Hanna's Musings

Are we learning from our mistakes?

Moyes in or Moyes out? Moysiah or Dinosaur? Well, if we go down he will be gone for sure and in my opinion if we stay up he will be with us for at least another season. Personally, I thought he pulled all the right strings on Sunday with the possible exception of playing Mario instead of Lanzini. But there again I am not privy to just how fit the latter is following his injury lay off. Moyes made all the right substitutions at the right time – again in my opinion. Hart deserved another game as Adrian’s chance will come next weekend anyway, against City. We were never going to take the game to Arsenal. They have a 100% home record against teams outside the top six and even with weakened team selections they put three past Stoke and Southampton in recent weeks. At the 80 minute mark we looked like we were getting a point which in our current predicament would have been gold. Until that mistake from Rice. Hart last week – Rice this week, but players are human and the only thing we can hold onto is that they learn from their mistakes. But do they? Do they really go back on the training ground and work on their own weaknesses, or is it just back to the same stuff they were doing last week. I would really like to know. I am sure the best of the best do, but do our players?

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When I was eighteen I had joined a new football team. The manager soon had me taking all the free kicks and corners. But a few games into the season we were playing a Cup match and we were 3-0 down at half time against Leyton, a team we were expected to beat. We pulled the deficit back to 3-2 and with the last kick of the game we were awarded a penalty. The manager was pointing at me to take the penalty. I had never taken a penalty in senior football before and as I placed the ball on the spot I had no plan other than to blast it as hard as I could. I managed to do that but the ball sailed over the bar. Walking off after that game I felt distraught having let my team mates down. “Don’t worry Tone, it’s Ok” was something I heard several times from my team mates, but I knew deep down it was me that had let the team down. The manager came up to me and said “you better put some practice in lad because you will be taking the next penalty we get”. Good job my best mate was one of the best keepers in the district because I spent hours with him on a routine that included my run up, body shape for deception on delivery and hitting the exact same spot inside the post to the keepers right. I only missed one more penalty in my playing days. So when I see the National team getting beaten in penalty shoots outs and they turn up for the next World Cup and the manager says “no, we don’t practice penalties” I just cringe. These players are far more talented and dedicated than I ever was, but now they are at the top are they practising the right things, ironing out their weaknesses and really working on improving rather than just stagnating or staying comfortable. With some of the things I keep seeing with West Ham I have my doubts.

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My self- indulgent journey back in time to my own playing days was a prelude to Declan Rice’s error against Arsenal and even to Joe Hart’s the week before. When I see a young player making a game changing mistake it often takes me back to how I felt after that penalty miss. Moyes defended Hart for his error against Stoke but put blame on Rice a week later. He knows the players better than us and hopefully his remarks are well judged psychologically. I would like to think that there was a rational reasoning for his different responses. But at training this week will we be practicing crosses coming in at Joe Hart with Rice in front of him? Will their communication be worked upon? Should the keeper be calling “away” or only calling when the ball needs to be left. I could go on but you get the drift. Because for some time our free kick and corner kick routines have been pathetic. There has been almost no creativity in working on new set piece variations to catch out opponents. Bang it into the box but fail to beat the first defender is a common theme. Another area where we are really poor is keeping possession from our own throw ins. I was listening to an ex player the other day, forgive me as I can’t remember who it was, but he was a player who moved from the Championship to the Premier League. He said the first thing that struck him in training was that his PL club didn’t practice throw in routines. “In the Championship we would spend several hours every week just on those” he stated. I bet you we don’t practice ours at West Ham! Monreal scored the first goal for Arsenal from a corner – a set piece. He was Cresswell’s “man” but found three or more yards of space from the moment the corner was taken to the time he shot home. Before the ball went in Masuaku was protecting the near post but seemed to move away from his station to allow Hart more room to make a save – for the first two goals it was all about our defenders not taking responsibility. It really was a comedy of errors but they seem to be occurring every week.

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The other area that leaves a lot to be desired is keeping the ball in the corner from corner kicks or playing the short one. The one in the last minute at Chelsea that went pear shaped was followed by the very next corner West Ham had at home to Stoke where the pass back to the corner taker put him offside. Both were abysmal and totally inept. Surely, if we are going to waste time then put Arnie and Kouyate in the corner, rather than Cullen and Noble. Makes sense doesn’t it – getting around those two big lumps would be rather more difficult! So, back to my first paragraph about Dinosaur or Moysiah? He told us he would get the players fitter, which he probably did but we don’t know for certain. But has he made the players better? Has he got them working on their mistakes and deficiencies or are we just going through the same motions at training every week. Because the manager we need is the one that is doing the former.


Tony Hanna's Musings

Death by a Thousand Cuts

The drip feed of points continues. Five points from our last three matches in an unbeaten run isn’t too bad for a team fighting relegation but that masks the problems we had in trying to break down the worst defence in the league last night. An excellent win against Southampton and a gritty display at Chelsea was followed by a dominant but laboured performance against Stoke. Had we taken three points last night I think we would all be feeling a sense of relief that we were just about safe from the drop. We don’t do easy though, never have, and now this relegation fight is more like death by a thousand cuts. However, there are still a lot of scenarios to play out in this relegation battle. Have a look at Brighton’s run home and you will see just how things could change over the next few weeks. Burnley away and all the top four still to play makes our run in look a little more palatable.

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So, what of the performance last night? I thought we played fairly well, controlled most of the game but of course we so nearly could have lost it. Joe Hart’s blunder with eleven minutes to play was his fourth of the season that has led to a goal being conceded. He is also fourth in the “goalkeeping error leading to a goal league” – two behind Petr Cech, but Hart has played nearly half the games that the keepers above him have in this unfortunate statistical table. It has again given Moyes a problem as to whether to keep Hart in goal for the remainder of the season. It seems like Groundhog day again as this seasons revolving door of Adrian or Hart mirrors last season’s similar scenario with Adrian and Randolph. Personally, I think Hart will play this weekend but the game after is against Manchester City and he won’t be eligible to play in that one anyway.

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On a brighter note Declan Rice again put in a fine performance. Despite Reid and Collins being injured at present, I doubt either would be selected ahead of the youngster if all three were available. Noble had a good game but the rest of the team, whilst doing just enough to control most of the possession (around 60%), rarely stamped themselves on the game. I had a little moan last week about how we wasted our last minute corner kick at Chelsea. Judging from our first corner kick last night it is still an area that needs work. Playing another short corner the return pass caught us offside and I don’t know how many times I have used the analogy of Groundhog Day in my articles recently! In some ways I can’t wait for this season to end. If Moyes is to remain he will at least be able to put his stamp on the team during the transfer window. West Ham over the past two seasons have at times been a difficult watch and with the players we have that should not be the case. Injuries have taken their toll and have not made the job an easy one for either Bilic or Moyes, but this side is screaming out for a Carvalho type player.

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Referee Michael Oliver had a couple of tough decisions to make in the Champions League match between Real Madrid and Juventus last week but got them both right. Last night we had three goals disallowed and the officials were again correct in my opinion. There wasn’t much in the offside call for the first but Arnie was a fraction off. For the second he is definitely interfering, again in an offside position, and Andy Carroll’s handball was plain to see before Hernandez rifled home from inside the box. It would be nice to get a little rub of the green but we can’t complain too much when the refs get it right. Where I do think the officials erred last night though was with the amount of added time at the end of the game. Stoke committed a plethora of niggling fouls in the second half and the amount of time taken up in restarting play from these indiscretions alone would have amounted to the four minutes that were added. As for Ramadan’s substitution I am actually wondering if he is still making his way off right now? That alone seemed to take four minutes!

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David Moyes started with the team that grafted a point at Chelsea and I am sure some critics would be questioning whether that was too negative an approach? Arnautovic looked quite isolated at times and many promising movements between him and Mario more often failed to produce anything that might resemble cohesion. For the final minutes a front line of Carroll, Arnie and Chico played ahead of Lanzini but I doubt we will ever see those four start in a West Ham team. If Moyes had taken a more attacking approach from the start and we lost the game, how would have Hammers fans reacted? At the end of the day we snatched a point with a 90th minute equaliser from Andy Carroll. We probably deserved more based on both teams overall performance but as I stated early, we never do easy, and this relegation fight looks like going all the way to the wire.

Tony Hanna's Musings

A huge weekend looming

Another point and another step closer to Premier League survival. I won’t dwell too much on the game at Chelsea as David Hautzig and Hamburg Hammer have already written excellent pieces on the match. We rode our luck at times but that will always be the case against any of the top six teams in the division, especially away from home. However, it was a gritty display and after last week’s performance against Southampton it augurs well for the challenges ahead as the season draws to a close. For about twelve minutes near the end of the match it was as thrilling as it gets, like two boxers giving it all at the end of a bout. Both swinging with all their might looking for the knockout punch. Indeed, we might have stolen the points when Arnie came crashing down in the box, but alas no penalty was given. For me Kante’s tackle was a good one but I am sure not all will agree. This is why when VAR does come in they must stick by the on field referees calls in these types of moments. When there is still doubt after watching a video replay their initial on field verdict must be final, or the whole process will not work. I must admit, the only time during Sunday’s game where I vented was on the back of that short corner kick we took in the last two minutes. We had one last chance to win the game and we threw it away. If we are going to decline that opportunity and opt to waste time with a view to respecting the point, at least do it well. We would have wasted more time by kicking the ball into the crowd for a goal kick straight from the corner, rather than the debacle attempted between Cullen and Noble.

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This coming weekend is huge in relation to the relegation fight. If we can beat Stoke we will be safe in my opinion and if Chelsea can also beat Southampton it will further cement our position. Should we fail to beat Stoke and teams around us win it will still makes things very tricky. A few weeks ago in my column I gave a run down on what lies ahead for the teams in the relegation dog fight. Here is an update.

West Brom are down now and whilst it is still mathematically possible they could survive, they won’t.

Stoke are giving it their all, as are their fans, but they have let in 63 goals in 33 games (highest in the PL) and in recent times have also been fairly blunt in attack as well. They have put in decent enough performances in their last two matches – Arsenal away and Spurs at home, but have come away with nothing. Since the turn of the year they have only scored in six of their PL games and only once have they scored more than one. The bookies rate them at 2/7 (78%) for the drop. They have played one more game than us and their remaining fixtures are; West Ham (a), Burnley (h), Liverpool (a), Crystal Palace (h) and Swansea (a). They have enough winnable games left to give them hope but a loss to the Hammers would make things really tough.

Southampton put in a much improved effort on the weekend at Arsenal. Whilst the home side fielded a weakened side due to Cup commitments later this week, the Saints gave the Gunners plenty of problems especially at the back end of the game. However, they have only won once in their past nineteen PL games and that was against bottom club West Brom. The bookies price them at around even money for relegation (50%) and their run in comprises; Chelsea (H), Leicester (a), Bournemouth (h), Everton (a), Swansea (a) and Man City (h). This weekend’s game for them is huge as it will leave them with only two more home games to play this season. One will be against their local rivals who would love to put one over them and the other is against the Champions in waiting.

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Crystal Palace have the easiest run in of all the relegation candidates but they must start to win some of these or they could be drawn under. The bookies make them a 10/1 (9%) chance for relegation and they are three points behind us having played one more game. Their run is; Brighton (h), Watford (a), Leicester (h), Stoke (a) and West Brom (h). If they can’t conjure up half a dozen points from that lot they probably deserve to go down.

Huddersfield are really struggling. They scored a fortunate goal in their away game at Brighton on the weekend to earn a point but showed a distinct lack of ambition when Brighton were reduced to ten men with fifteen minutes to play. Since they beat Watford back on the 16th December they have only won twice, against West Brom and Bournemouth. Their lucky goal at Brighton on the weekend was their first in five matches. They are two points behind us and have played one more game. The bookies rate them a 6/4 (40%) chance to drop and they finish the season with; Watford (h), Everton (h), Man City (a), Chelsea (a) and Arsenal (h). Again, probably their most winnable game remaining is this weekend which highlights the importance of this coming round of fixtures.

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Swansea were a team on a roll just a few weeks ago, after looking certainties to go down before their change of manager in late December. They have failed to win in their past three PL games since they beat us 4-1 and are not out of the woods just yet. Like us, they have six games left but now trail the Hammers by two points. They are 11/2 (15%) to be relegated and their remaining fixtures are; Everton (h), Man City (a), Chelsea (h), Bournemouth (a), Southampton (h) and Stoke (h). Like us, four of their remaining six fixtures will be played on their home ground. Again, their most winnable game in the next four fixtures is this weekend. Whether Swansea stay up or go down one thing is almost certain. Their last two fixtures of the season will probably decide who does.

Brighton are 20/1 (4.76%) to go down. They are one point ahead of us and finish this season with; Crystal Palace (a), Spurs (h), Burnley (a), Man Utd (h), Man City (a) and Liverpool (a). Again, looking at their final five fixtures of the season the importance of this weekend’s clash with Palace is huge for them.

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So what of us? West Ham are now rated a 25/1 (3.85%) chance for relegation. However, a loss this weekend would severely affect the relegation markets. Our remaining games are; Stoke (h), Arsenal (a), Man City (h), Leicester (a), Man Utd (h) and Everton (H). Last week I wrote that a Man City win in the CL ties against Liverpool could see them play a weakened side against us should they reach the semi-finals. Our PL match with them would be sandwiched between the two semis. That is looking more unlikely now but a similar thing will probably happen for our match at Arsenal. They carry a 4-1 lead into their second leg tie with CSKA Moscow this week and should they prevail our match with them will be played just days before the first semi-final leg of the Europa League. The Gunners have fielded weakened teams in the past fortnight against our relegation rivals Stoke and Southampton due to them prioritising the Cup, but neither of those two have been able to take advantage of some pretty awful displays from Wenger’s team. Whilst Arsenal have stuck three goals past both of them it has hardly told the real story. Hopefully, Wenger will do the honours and field a team of similar strength for our visit.

So to conclude. This weekend is a huge game for us and Stoke, but a quick look at how the fixture list is panning out and there a few other matches this weekend that will go a long way to deciding who will be relegated this season. Let’s hope the boys can bring this one home. COYI.


Tony Hanna's Musings

Lucky superstitions and feeling a whole lot better

Everyone feeling a lot better? Isn’t it amazing how the mood can change on the back of an effort like what we saw on Saturday. Yes, Southampton were poor, and whether that was down to us or them is debatable, but to be honest I don’t care. Three points doesn’t make us safe by any means, but this was a game we desperately needed to win and we did. The players played their part as did our fans in the ground, but make no mistake, I played my role in this result too. It is not often I delve deep into my underwear draw for my lucky red underpants but three hours before the game that was what I was doing. They were way past their best quite a few years ago and I haven’t worn them in ages, so when my wife caught me changing she just shook her head and I could tell she thought I was losing the plot. Not so! I am convinced they played a huge part in the Hammers win as they have got us over the line so many times before when we have desperately needed a win. Seriously though, there were some other factors that probably influenced our result to a greater degree than my superstitions on the weekend.

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You could tell the crowd were behind the team right from the start and I do believe if we had gone a goal down the noise might have even increased in defiance of the odds. I think everyone involved with the club knew this was to be a day where it was critical we were resolute. We saw pressing, we saw first to the ball and we saw a togetherness. Those three ingredients will always lead to crowd support at West Ham. This was a real team effort but as always there were a few players that deserve special mention. If Marko Arnautovic does not win HOTY I will eat those lucky red pants but should the Austrian fall foul in the last seven games of the season it would surely go to Angelo Ogbonna. For me, this was one of his his best games in a West Ham shirt. It was not as if we had to wear any barrage of attacks from Southampton, far from it, but the Italian never put a foot wrong all day and he totally commanded the defence. Young Declan Rice arguably had his best game in his young career and in the first half Charlie Austin and Gabbiadini hardly had a touch.

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The return of Arthur Masuaku was also another factor that just gave the crowd and the team an extra lift. He is a handful for any opposing wing-back and his cross for Arnie’s third goal was simply World class. You could see his eyes look to exactly where he needed to play the ball and he expertly pinpointed the pass after a thirty yard run that started in our own half. It was pure class. And while I could mention every player, they were all so good, I will just finish with Fernandes who really stepped up after coming on early for the very unlucky Antonio. It looks like we might have another player out for the rest of the season and you could see the raw emotion pour out when he had to leave the field. But Fernandes was to be another young player, along with Rice, who look like they may have played themselves into the first eleven for the immediate future. There is no doubt we need to see more of this type of effort – more of this pressing and desire, and we need to see it more consistently. Someone on the blog before the game wrote “our season starts today”. I am sure it was meant to be a humorous post as it had a smiley face at the end and the quote has been used so many times this season you have to laugh – but there is many a true word spoken in jest. Our season has just seven games to go and we need Saturdays result to be a new platform to work from.

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The next three fixtures are away at Chelsea, the ever important home clash with Stoke which is followed by another London derby at Arsenal. By my reckoning four points from those three games should see us safe. Later in the month we play Manchester City at the OS. Their first half display at Everton was one of the finest forty five minutes I have ever seen from an English Premier League club. Simply awesome. I will be cheering them on against Liverpool in the Champions League if only for one reason. Should City make the semi-finals our match with them is sandwiched between the scheduled two legs and with the title all bagged up by then there is every possibility they may rest some of their best players against us. At the very least it may take their main focus away from our game. After the weekends win there seems to be a lot of confidence that we will now be safe, but for me we still have a bit to do. I just hope I don’t need to be putting any more wear and tear on those lucky red underpants this season!

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At the end of the season we will be looking forward to the World Cup in Russia. When I first started watching football in the ‘60’s England were one of the best teams in the World. But there were two areas where we were head and shoulders above everyone else in the game. Firstly it was our goalkeepers. Not only did we have the World’s best in Gordon Banks, we followed that up with Clemence and Shilton a decade later. Poor Phil Parkes could only manage one cap in this era – if he were playing in today’s game he would be an automatic choice between the sticks for England. The depth of English and British talent was immense back in the 60’s and 70’s and many first division clubs had British keepers that were top drawer. Fast forward to now and the landscape is very different and for me this is one area where England are quite a way behind the competition. Trying to choose between Pickford, Butland, Hart and Pope is a long way from where we used to be.

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The other area where we have fallen behind is referees. Again this was an area where we excelled in the past and many very good British referees never made a World Cup due to the Nations quota for the tournament. However, for this World Cup the country that invented the game will not have a single official involved in the competition. There have been 36 referees and 63 assistant referees appointed and not one is British which is very disappointing considering they are working every week in the most watched domestic league in the World. Europe were allocated ten referees, together with compatriot assistants, which is roughly a third of those selected, but not a Brit in sight and that is a damning stat on the standard of officiating in the Premier League at present.

On a side note – happy birthday to fellow writer Hamburg Hammer today


Tony Hanna's Musings

I Got You Babe

Fifty weeks ago I wrote an article with the header “Our biggest game since Blackpool?” The game I was alluding to was the home fixture with Swansea in early April 2017. At that time we were heading towards the relegation places at an alarming rate on the back of five successive losses and just two points from the past seven matches. When I say “biggest game” my intention was to portray the importance of points to the team, not to compare it to any of the memorable wins against Manchester United, Chelsea or Spurs where the atmosphere has been rocking. We went on to win that game against Swansea and only suffered one more defeat in a season where we eventually finished 11th. This weekend we take on Southampton and in many ways we are in a very similar position to where we were before last seasons victory over Swansea. Here are some of the key points I made in that article nearly a year ago.

“We have a left back (Cresswell) who has lost all form”……… “Kouyate is a shadow of his former self”……… “Noble has got slower”……….” (Obiang) who looked most likely to win HOTY has been lost for the season”……… “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”……….” Last season should have been a platform for the club but the transfer policy actually just threw us back into Premiership mediocrity”.

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It sounds like Groundhog Day doesn’t it? Albert Einstein said that you can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. Now I’m not Einstein and fifty weeks ago I was only stating the bleedin’ obvious – yet I still keep waking up to Sonny and Chers “I got you Babe”. At least weatherman Phil Connors made the necessary changes to his life and eventually escaped the time loop. West Ham fans are not so fortunate. There may be bigger and more important games to come this season but for now this game against Southampton is huge. It really could be a catalyst for what transpires for the rest of the season. Indeed, our future as a club. Whilst we hope for a game where our supporters create an uplifting atmosphere for the team, the reality is it is going to be very tense. I haven’t seen a lot of Southampton’s games in recent months but I did watch their cup tie at Wigan. They were fortunate not to be two or three down by half time. They barely created anything and they had players bottling challenges and visibly not wanting the ball. But a few touches of top flight class and a few slices of luck saw them through. It was new manager Mark Hughes first game in charge and with a two week break in front of him the Saints fans will be hoping for a “bounce”. They will also have their much missed Charlie Austin back for the visit to the OS.

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As I wrote last week, Southampton have only won five Premier League games this season. That includes two against bottom side West Brom and one against a ten man West Ham – the other two were both last year against Everton and Crystal Palace. They are the draw specialists of the division though with thirteen in thirty games. The stats suggest this one has a draw written all over it too. West Ham have scored just five first half goals at home all season whilst Southampton have scored six away from home in the same period. Both teams have conceded ten. The Hammers fare marginally better with second half home goals; scoring eleven and conceding ten – the Saints are seven for and thirteen against in their second half away fixtures. Whilst the draw seems the bet, historically one of the sides normally finds a way to win with just eleven draws in the past 59 encounters – although five of those draws have come in the past fourteen matches played. In the past eleven meetings between the two clubs both sides have tasted victory on four occasions. Southampton are the bookies favourites to win this game. It is a rarity that an away team placed below the home team on the table, at this stage of the season, should be shorter odds or more fancied than the home team. I would suggest this is based purely on the toxic atmosphere at our last home game. I just hope if we do go a goal down again this weekend it is not yet another Groundhog Day.

Personally, I would like to see Masuaku come straight back into the side following his six match suspension. He does have the odd mistake in him (don’t they all) but we have really missed his drive forward down the left. I would also like to see Adrian re-instated. Other than that, I would love to see “post” and “rub of the green” make long awaited appearances. They have been sorely missed.


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