Tony Hanna's Musings
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.