The GoatyGav Column
It’s been a topsy-turvy season. The only constant has been inconsistency. If you were to generalise then you’d say that home form has been better than what we’ve witnessed on the road but the over-arching trend has been one of uncertainty as to which West Ham were, or are, going to turn up. Notwithstanding this statement of the bleedin’ obvious certain indicators have had a little influence on how we’ve played in season 2018-19.
Go compare the general mood of the West Ham faithful between the Everton and Spuds games. When the teamsheet hit against the Blue Scouse you could literally feel the combined groan of those in and around the London stadium. We weren’t happy. Perez starting up top with Arnie and Obiang behind them didn’t inspire confidence and the looks on the faces of fellow Hammers reflected that nervousness (or did I misread despairing looks for nervousness?). The full line-up was Super Fabianski, Zabba, Diop, Ogbonna, Cressers, Snodders, Obiang, Declan, Manu, Perez, Arnie. A team with no kind of anything. No real bite (Declan excepted). No incisive finisher. No width to speak of. No pace. Not much balance to speak of. Hit the fast forward from 30th March to last Saturday and my reaction, in contrast to Everton, was “that eleven are gonna have a proper go at this today.” It looked menacing. Fab, Fredericks, Diop, Balbuena, Artur, Declan, Michail, Nobes, Snodders, Anderson, Arnie. Pace to burn, plenty of bite, great shape, solid pairing at the back (I’m not sure we need three there – just the right two, but that’s a discussion for another time), attacking intent and energy. Granted that some of the same players were in both sides, and put in very different shifts between the two games, but the shape of the team was far better and well composed.
Ok – so benefit of hindsight is a great thing. I’ve used among the two most extreme examples that this season could probably throw up. I have to admit that sometimes it looks really good on paper and delivers a load of rubbish but as things progress at the club, with Manuel Pellegrini’s influence constantly growing, it’s becoming easier to predict the kind of performance we’re going to get when seeing the starting eleven.
So how do you generally view it? How much do you read in to the team announcements? How much importance do you place on the players on the bench? I’ve not really mentioned that yet but do you take in to consideration how much impact the substitutes may have? This can be a tactic to affect games all on it’s own.
Going back to the Spuds game it’s generally the case that we’re going to have a go at them anyway but looking at that line-up I felt positive from the off. Perhaps that’s it. It’s just a feeling of positivity that the intent there is to take the game to the opposition. As it transpired we pressed them surprisingly high up the pitch which stifled their ability to control the game. All credit to Pellegrini and the boys for that. Job well done.
When you consider individual performances last weekend it was also like chalk and cheese compared to recent matches. Diop’s man of the match awards were well merited. Already the pundits are talking about ‘big’ clubs coming in for him along with Rice and Anderson this Summer. That’s not such a bad thing in my humble opinion. It’s now down to Pellegrini and his team to convince those players that West Ham is going to be the place to be next season. Elsewhere Balbuena looked solid, with a great goal-line clearance as the clock was running out. Fabianski was awesome as always. Rice looked back ‘on it’ after a couple of below par games for his high standards. Fredericks was tremendous and just needs a few games to build his confidence under the guidance of the hugely experienced Zabba. Artur combined well with Felippe. Nobes was Nobes against the Spuds. It looks like Antonio’s hamstring issues have been consigned to the past and he has his pace and power back. Great to see him enjoying his football again. Overall great cheer for those Hammers inside, and out, of the, impressive, new stadium of our neighbours from Harringey. Let’s hope for a good end to the season with a couple more energetic performances and, hopefully, the points.
Last, but definitely not least, I want to wish the West Ham Women all the very best for their big final this Saturday. In their last game against Bristol City, who sit a couple of places above our Ladies in the league, they showed great character again to come back from a goal down to win 2-1. Absolutely gutted that I won’t be able to see the game and very annoyed at the F.A. for their poor scheduling of the match. And they’re trying to raise the profile of the Women’s game? Try harder I say! There’s a great spirit in and around Matt Beard’s squad and I hope that the Ladies all play a blinder this weekend. Win or Lose they can be rightly proud of themselves and know that they’ve had a great season and things are looking very positive for their future.