Sunday, May 24

West Ham and Big Sam fail to survive Survival Sunday

Newcastle 2 West Ham 0

I catch most of the Survival Sunday game in the Famous Cock Tavern and it’s a predictable end to the season. West Ham are Newcastle’s ideal opponents. Downing has a shot against the keeper’s legs in the first half and Newcastle have a couple of chances scuffed wide. In the second half, Newcastle want to win it a lot more. 

Our performance is typified when Cresswell appears favourite to win the ball but is outpaced and outmuscled by Janmaat, who nearly creates a goal. Alex Song is often brushed off the ball, and also seems to sum up WHU’s season, brilliant before Christmas but either injured or not putting a shift in once he decided he’s not going to sign for us.

Once Sissoko shows the desire to get between two defenders to score it’s all over. Cole heads way over and Nolan has a snap shot wide and that’s it from the Irons. Newcastle manage to break with four players free, only for Adrian to somehow prevent a goal with a great one handed stop. Newcastle guarantee safety when Gutierrez cuts in from the left to score with a deflected shot.

It’s been an awful end of season and the players certainly deserve stick for being unprofessional and not motivating themselves once safety was assured. Ironically, the side has stopped doing what an Allardyce side was meant to do; be dangerous at set pieces, get crosses in, work hard and know how to close out a game.


BIG SAM OUT
Soon after the final whistle the club announce the worst kept secret in football, that Sam Allardyce’s contract will not be renewed. Have the players realised he’s been going since Christmas? Would they have been more motivated had Allardyce been given a new contract at Christmas when the club was fourth? Who knows? Big Sam himself looks relieved and at the age of 60 says he plans to take a break from football. Or is this just his spin on being sacked? Certainly his body language has looked tired in the last two months.

It was always an uneasy marriage and Big Sam was often disastrous at PR with the fans. Saying he didn’t know what the West Ham way was when he first joined was a huge mistake and dismissing criticisms as coming from “deluded” fans talking “bollocks” made things worse and added to a public image of arrogance, as did the infamous ear-cupping to the fans after the Hull victory. There were little things too, like referring to “the West Ham fans” rather than “our fans”. And bigger issues like the fact that he kept Kevin Nolan in the side long after his form had declined.

On the other hand, disliking a manager is not necessarily a reason for getting rid of him. Nigel Pearson can be weird and unpleasant to journalists but has done a fantastic job at Leicester, while Sir Alex Ferguson had, at times, a distinctly nasty side to his character.

ESTABLISHED IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE
For his results, Big Sam deserves some credit and respect. It’s often underestimated how difficult it is getting out of the Championship. Only two out the last 12 clubs relegated have managed to come straight back up. Allardyce was left only Noble, Tomkins, Reid (who looked poor under Avram Grant) and Cole from the relegated side to build a team around. Had the team not gone up we might have ended up in the lower regions of the Championship like Bolton or relegated again like Wigan. Yet we saw West Ham win a final at Wembley for the first time in 32 years, so I’d like to thank Big Sam for that great day.

The football was never purely long-ball, otherwise the likes of Noble wouldn’t have been in the side. The side often played with two wingers, which was in principle exciting, though the likes of Matt Jarvis rarely found his man. At times it was rudimentary though, with the main game plan being the hope that Andy Carroll can win the ball and Kevin Nolan pick up the pieces. Yet there was a big improvement in the first half of this season, with some good signings, two strikers up front, and Downing a revelation in the midfield diamond. And perhaps the point was, we had to establish the team in the Premier League by any means necessary and now we’ve been there for three seasons.

Had say, Slaven Bilic, managed to get West Ham promoted, then finish tenth, thirteenth and twelfth, most fans would be saying he was a very good manager. It’s been a terrible end to the season, for which Allardyce must share the blame, but he has certainly left the club in much better shape than he arrived; in the Premier League, with a decent first eleven and Noble, Tomkins and Reid signed up to new contracts.

Yet what Sullivan and Gold will have also noticed this season was that whatever Allardyce does, some fans will never accept him. Some of the same fans who blamed Allardyce entirely for the club being in a relegation struggle and losing 6-0 at Manchester City in early 2014, then argued that the club’s rise to fourth was down to the influence of Teddy Sheringham and Big Sam getting lucky with injuries to Carroll and Nolan. If the manager takes the blame he should surely get the credit when things go well.

WHO'S NEXT?

What the club now needs is a unity candidate. Someone who has looked up the West Ham Way on Google and will have all the fans behind them. Next season could be very difficult if West Ham are in the Europa League and it affects league form. We have to disprove the statistic that Allardyce teams go down after he leaves (like Bolton, Newcastle and Blackburn) and ensure we go into the Olympic Stadium as a Premier League team. 

Realistically, even if we play to our maximum potential, we will not finish above seventh without throwing massive sums of cash at the team. But with that stadium and the potential of the fanbase it’s also an enticing club for an ambitious manager. Sullivan and Gold once recruited Avram Grant; let’s hope they make a much better choice this time.

Fans' Verdict in the Observer

My Fans Verdict on West Ham is in the Observer today… click on the link to read my verdict on a pretty bizarre season. And now Hull City's whole season is depending on West Ham — which should give Steve Bruce a few more worry lines.

Thursday, May 21

Sam Allardyce's transfer record analysed

It's very easy to waste money in football. Liverpool's infamous transfer committee might have purchased Sturridge and Coutinho, but last summer wasted £100 million on Balotelli, Lovren, Lambert, Markovic, Manquillo, Lallana (who might come good) and co. Manchester City have also made lots of mediocre buys such as Mangala, Jovetic, Sinclair, Rodwell and Johnson while Man United are still trying to solve a problem like Di Maria. 

The manager of a club like West Ham has to be able to play the transfer market well to get an advantage over the top clubs. So it's interesting to see how Sam Allardyce's transfer record stacks up during his four seasons. Ignoring loan signings — and Jenkinson and Song certainly made a difference this season —  I've come up with the following, completely unscientific analysis: 

GOOD SIGNINGS: Nolan (first three seasons only), Taylor, McCartney, O’Brien, Demel, Vaz Te, Jaaskelainen, Diame, Collins, Adrian, Downing, Carlton Cole, Kouyate, Amalfitano (probably), Cresswell, Sakho. JURY OUT ON: Valencia, Poyet, Henry.

BAD SIGNINGS: Carew, Baldock, Maynard, Morrison, Maiga, Diarra, Jarvis, Carroll (on fitness record not form), Joe Cole, Rat, Zarate.

So it's 16 good signings, 11 bad and three inconclusive. You can't blame any manager for taking a chance on the talent of Ravel Morrison, even if it hasn't worked out. Enner Valencia  has undoubted skill, and will be a success if he can score more goals next season, while Andy Carroll, if he's ever fully fit, might yet become a good signing. The best value for money signings have been cheaper players like Cresswell, Adrian, Jaaskelainen, Vaz Te, Collins and Sakho. Sam's biggest clangers have been spending £9m on Matt Jarvis, £4 million on Maiga and £2 million on Diarra. Not a brilliant record, though considering most other managers drop a few rickets too and BFS had to rebuild the entire squad when he arrived he's not done that badly either. Any views on this?

Wednesday, May 20

Big Sam moving out

Big Sam's flat at Canary Wharf has been sold and he's moving out on Friday, tonight's Evening Standard reports. So either he's an astute player of the property market and he's decided that this is the top of the market, or he's anticipating the tin-tack after the game at Newcastle…

Sunday, May 17

Lukaku late show as Hammers blow it again

Hawaiian Hammers in the Bobby Moore Stand
West Ham 1 Everton 2

It’s our final lunch in Ken’s Café as Michael the Whovian sneaks to the front of the queue for another big breakfast as Matt, inspired by Everton’s selection of Zimabwean-born Galloway, wants to know the four other Zimbabweans to play in the Premier League. Meanwhile The Gav arrives and announces he is in an online dispute through controversially maintaining that John Radford is not the worst player West Ham have ever had.

There’s a photographer taking pictures in Ken’s (no press, please). And the bloke on our table says he used to mind the window of Bobby Moore Sports and that after the 4-0 defeat at Blackpool he told Ron Greenwood “You couldn’t sign a Christmas card!” causing chuckling from Harry Redknapp and co. He also has some interesting and unprintable revelations about certain former employees. Then Nigel arrives wondering why the bloke on the train was slagging off Cresswell, only to discover that it t was Ukip’s Carswell. Then sadly we have to leave the café and go into the ground.

NOT WAVING BUT DOWNING
There’s a couple of scares early on as Osman’s low shot is tipped past the post by Adrian and Lukaku fires over when he should hot the target. But West Ham come back into the game, with Song looking fitter than in recent games. Noble prods a shot wide and Downing has a rasping effort turned away by Howard. The ref also misses a clear handball in the box by an Everton defender. We suffer yet another injury as Collins goes off after 14 minutes to be replaced by Reece Burke.

It’s a fast game for an end of season affair with a few tackles flying in and Everton winning 4-1 on the bookings front. Looks like we might be winning that fair play Europa League spot.

The game gets going in the second half when Stones makes a great tackle to deny Valencia. After 62 minutes Downing does well on the right and picks up Song’s clever return to get behind the Everton defence and pass the ball into the corner. It’s well-taken and the end of a 14 game drought for Stewie. Surely we can’t blow this?

West Ham press for a second, but sadly it looks like Carlton Cole's legs have gone and Valencia still appears lightweight and hasn’t got enough goals this season to justify his fee. “Tim Howard’s beard grew another three inches while we were waiting to shoot,” suggests Nigel.

KINGS OF LEON
Following a West Ham corner Mark Noble fails to play a simple ball to Cresswell, gets dispossessed and Everton race down the field. Lukaku is allowed to cross from the right and Leon Osman, who always scores against us, gets ahead of Burke and Reid to control and acrobatically volley home.

The game looks to be ending in a draw but three minutes into added time we fail to respect the point yet again. McGeady beats Cresswell too easily on the right and Lukaku, who also always scores against us, gets beyond Burke, stooping to head home.

RESPECTING THE PINT
Hammers' fans turn to drink in the Black Lion
There’s a chorus of “You’re getting sacked in the morning!” at Big Sam from some home fans. Conceeding added time goals to Man United, Spurs, Stoke and Everton suggests a problem with fitness, concentration and workrate. And it’s the one thing Allardyce teams aren’t meant to do.

We are in no mood for the lap of honour, so head to the Black Lion, which is the best result of the day. My first point of Old Bob is slightly cloudy, but The Gav comes to the rescue with a round of Maldon Gold. It’s been a bizarre season; fantastic up till Christmas, but then, after injuries to Sakho, Carroll, Tomkins and Reid, we’ve produced relegation form (16 points from 20 games). And now it looks like we might be back in July for an undeserved European tour.


PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6; Jenkinson 6, Collins 5 (Burke 5), Reid 6, Cresswell 5; Downing 6, Noble 5, Song 6, Kouyate 6, Cole 4 (Nene 4), Valencia 5.

Thursday, May 14

Will West Ham end up with a B-list manager?

The Daily Telegraph and Evening Standard have printed stories saying that Big Sam will turn down a new contract even if one is offered to him. Hard to blame him as there's been a deafening silence over his future from the board and a constant stream of rumour about West Ham approaching big name managers. The worry is that, being West Ham, we have no manager for much of the summer and end up appointing a B-list gaffer in desperation (remember the wait before Glenn Roeder arrived?).

The list of targets has always seemed unrealistic: Jurgen Klopp and Rafa Benitez were never going to come and David Moyes and Steve McLaren have both publicly committed themselves to their current clubs (and would they have been an upgrade?). Promising young coaches like Gary Monk and Eddie Howe and likely to stay where they are. Tim Sherwood is prospering at Villa. Slaven Bilic would be popular but is unproven in the Premier League. Which leaves us with the likes of Gus Poyet and an ageing Harry Redknapp on the jobs market. Let's hope the board have a master plan in place.

Wednesday, May 13

How do you solve a problem like Mauro?

Mauro Zarate is clearly a skilful player, but also, shall we say, high maintenance. The Evening Standard reports that Zarate reacted so furiously to being left out of QPR's squad at Manchester City on Sunday that he was told to travel home to London alone. He has been suspended for two weeks and the club don't expect him to turn up for the final week.

Zarate has already fallen out with Sam Allardyce this season and was signed on loan for QPR by Harry Redknapp; who then tried to send him back to West Ham in a swap deal for Matt Jarvis. He's now clashed with Chris Ramsey - that's three managers in one season. So Zarate is now West Ham's problem again, and picking up reported wages of £40,000 a week, claims the Standard.

If Big Sam goes and West Ham have a new manager might the new boss be able to finally get the talent out of Zarate? Or is he our version of Adel Taarabt, a volatile individual doomed to waste his undoubted talent?