Tony Hanna's Musings
Sometimes you just have to take defeat on the chin and the weekends game at Liverpool is one of those times. Whether Mark Nobles comments about it being a free hit were taken in the wrong context or not, whether you agree with the formation or team selection, on the day Liverpool were just too good. Manchester City found out just a few weeks ago at Anfield that a Liverpool side with Salah, Firmino and Mane all on song are difficult to stop. They let in the same as us too – four. In fact this was the third consecutive match where Liverpool have put four past us. With games to play at Arsenal and Chelsea together with home matches against both Manchester clubs we must hope for more resolute defending if we have any ambition of gaining points from these games. In Sam’s days he would have targeted the forthcoming home matches against Burnley, Southampton, Stoke and Everton. Avoid defeat in these four matches and win two of them and we should be safe. The bookies have us at 10/1 for the drop but it is impossible to have the same confidence as this log jam of relegation candidates shows no signs of clearing any time soon.
What will be interesting is to see if or how David Moyes reacts to the weekends loss. There are a few players that could come under the microscope. Firstly there is the goalkeeping situation. When Hart was dropped for Adrian, Moyes insisted that Hart would get his opportunity and play Premier League games again this season. I thought at the time that perhaps Moyes thought there would be a time when Adrian’s position would again come under scrutiny. My preference would be for Adrian to stay between the sticks but after conceding three at Brighton and now four at Liverpool I would imagine if Hart was to get his chance again it may be now. Another who could be making way is Ginge. Winston Reid was warming the bench on the weekend and whilst he hasn’t had the best of seasons this is another change that Moyes might consider. It is also conceivable that Cresswell could be the one making way for Reid in a back three and with Evra certainly showing some steel in the tackling department on his debut the back five may well have a very different look about it against Swansea. Whilst showing some nice touches at times it would be surprise me if Mario retains his place. A fully fit Lanzini offers a deal more and I have my doubts that Moyes will play the two together too many more times this season.
I would like to dedicate the remainder of my weekly article to a former player who earlier last month turned 65 years of age.
Every once and a while a player comes along that gets your blood pumping. That happened to me, and I am sure many others, when Johnny Ayris broke through into the West Ham first team in 1970. The little right winger stood just 5’5” tall and weighed nine and a half stone but with his superb dribbling skills he was to prove as slippery as an eel. At first sight he had the swerve of Stanley Matthews and the trickery of George Best and he seemed destined for the top. The next seven seasons were to tell a different story.
Born in Wapping in 1953 Johnny Ayris would spend hours smacking a ball against the sheds outside his parents council flat. He would often kick the ball onto the roof and guess where it would come down before catching it on his right foot. The young kid was addicted to practice and when he made it at West Ham his great love was training. He admitted later that “training was a joy – it was touch, it was pace, it was skill and I was lucky enough to have those attributes. I loved the training perhaps more than the matches and maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a footballer, I should have pushed my case a bit more.”
He made his debut at just 17 years of age at home to Burnley on the 3rd October 1970 and played a blinder setting up all three Geoff Hurst goals in a 3-1 victory. Ron Greenwood gave him a professional contract just two days later and it was not long before the North Bank were singing “we’ve got Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny Ayris on the wing” to the tune of Ging Gang Goolie. He continued to mesmerise defences until we played Chelsea at home nearly a year later on the 11th September 1971. Johnny was running rings around the notorious Chelsea hard man Ron “Chopper” Harris and the riled defender picked his moment ‘to let him know he was still there.’ Johnny was to later say “I’d been giving him the run around and he was getting really wound up and the crowd were on his back.” One challenge later and Johnny Ayris had flipped over the back of Harris and he landed with a sickening thud. The young winger was all of a sudden having difficulty breathing and he was immediately subbed for Bobby Howe. Hospital tests showed that the injury had caused an air bubble to form in his lung, a condition he was to later to find out could be life threatening. Because of the injury Ron Greenwood would in the future only pick and choose the right games for him to play in, and even then a string of other injuries would curtail his ambitions. John is pictured right at the end of this very notable line up!
The whole incident had a lasting effect on his confidence but he said he felt no grudge towards Harris. Johnny was also to come off second best to the infamous Tommy Gemmill of Celtic in a match played for Bobby Moore’s testimonial. John was to play only 69 games for West Ham over seven seasons, scoring just two goals. Following the Harris incident most of his time at West Ham was spent on the bench or in the background. Nicknamed “Rat” to his team mates because of his ragged looks, the Hammers fans dubbed him “Cyril Lord” after the carpet king, for his propensity for hitting the turf after having the rug pulled out from under him! Johnny Ayris loved every minute of his West Ham career but an incredible talent was wasted in some ways as his love of just playing overshadowed the real issue of playing professional football in a time where his light weight frame was no match for the battle hardened men of that era. Between December 1973 and October 1976 Johnny Ayris became our super-sub, making twenty five appearances of which 15 were from the bench. In many of the early matches he played though, he was one of the most exciting talents you would ever wish to see.