Wednesday, March 22

Wayne's world? Rooney is not the answer

Spy Sports sources claim that West Ham are interested in signing Wayne Rooney in the summer — which is hopefully just TV rumour. Rooney was a great player, but buying someone whose career is on a downward curve smacks too much of a Harry Redknapp-era signing, when Harry was signing older players who might keep us up. Sometimes it worked in the case of Stuart Pearce, other times it failed, as with the lamentable Davor Suker. The other problem with Rooney is that he's played since he was 16 and his body is feeling the pressure now he's 31. Yes, there might be a few goals left in him but if West Ham are serious about getting to the mystical 'next level' then we really need to sign a top class young striker not an ageing star.

Tuesday, March 21

Obiang injury a blow for Hammers

Bad news on the injury front. Antonio has had to withdraw from the England squad with a hamstring injury while Perdro Obiang is out for the rest of the season having been stretchered off against Leicester with a knee injury. Pedro has been quietly efficient in his midfield role this season and the stats show that he's one of the most effective tacklers in the league. Top scorer Antonio might be out for four weeks too. 

But this is where the squad has to kick in. Kouyate can move back to midfield and we have a £20 million striker in Ayew to replace Antonio. Ayew might have missed a great chance against Leicester, but he's improving and has scored three in four games (only one of which he started in). Bilic needs to emphasise that we still need two wins to stay up and there can be no place for complacency or using injuries as an excuse. The squad should be strong enough to get results at places like Hull and Sunderland, but we have to keep fighting until the end of the season.

Monday, March 20

How can Bilic tighten West Ham's defence?

For an ex-defender it’s odd how weak Slaven Bilic's team has been at the back. West Ham have conceded 16 goals in the last seven games and Bilic urgently needs to sort out the defence. There doesn't seem to be a leader at the back so one option would be to give the struggling Jose Fonte a rest and recall James Collins. Ginge might be ageing but he gives orders and makes last-ditch tackles that tend to inspire the men around him. Fonte is a good player, but just hasn't bedded in yet.

There's also the option of playing three centre backs from Reid (if fit), Fonte, Collins and Kouyate, which worked earlier in the season. It would mean sacrificing a midfielder, but we simply can't concede three goals and expect to get anything in the Premier League.

The Hammers are missing the injured Ogbonna and still have problems at right-back, but I think Sam Byram is worth persevering with. He looks like he lacks confidence and needs assistance from the coaching staff. Sam needs help with the defensive side of his game and to be advised when not to bomb down the wing and respect he point (as he should have done at Bournemouth). But he did some good work coming forward against Leicester in the second half and is still a young player. Masuaku also looked decent going forward as a sub and is an option as a sub if Cresswell is out of sorts.

In goal Daren Randolph was caught out by Mahrez's cross and it could also be worth giving Adrian a recall, particularly if the Spaniard is better at organising his defence. Adrian, Reid, Collins and Cresswell all looked solid defenders under Allardyce, so much of the problem must be down to poor organisation. Slaven has to shuffle the team until he gets a clean sheet.

The defence also needs help from the midfield and West Ham need to get back to keeping it tight for the first thirty minutes rather than capitulating as they did against Leicester.

Sunday, March 19

Super Schmeichel defies Hammers

West Ham 2 Leicester City 3

I’m taking Her Indoors to her first game for 20 years, and at Hackney Wick Nicola’s pleasantly surprised to find a German deli and an art gallery cafĂ© selling chocolate Brownies. Just like Green Street really. We meet the O’Brien clan by the giant bell and then join Nigel, Fraser and Michael in the stadium, along with Matt’s sister’s mate Bob, a West Ham fan over from San Francisco. The PA plays Vera Lynn’s version of Bubbles before the kick-off as the club salutes her 100th birthday.

It’s a terrible start. After five minutes Mahrez crosses and, distracted by Vardy and Okazaki’s leaps, Randolph allows the cross to drift past him. Two minutes later a short free kick confuses the defence and Albrighton chips forward for the unmarked Huth to head home. Our new American Iron Bob is a litigation specialist in San Francisco and contemplates an action against the West Ham defence. Nigel suggests that Vera Lynn could do a better job at the back.

“How shit must you be, we’re winning away?” chant the Leicester fans,

Winston Reid and Obiang both go off with serious-looking injuries. Nicola, more used to equine sports, asks if players get put out to grass or shot if they don’t recover after ten days. That could spell trouble for Andy Carroll.

West Ham gain a free kick after Antonio is brought down. “It might all look different if this goes in,” I suggest, prompting Nigel to remark that I‘m an eternal optimist. Thankfully Lanzini puts a great effort into the top corner and Nigel’s temporarily converted to a Panglossian worldview.

Two-one would give us a chance at half-time, but the Hammers crumble again as Carroll fails to get his head on a corner and a confused defence allows Vardy to scramble home. Lanzini shoots just wide, but at half-time it’s looking bleak. Losing to a team that hasn't won away all season.

Vardy chips wide at the start of the second half but from then on it’s solid West Ham pressure. Lanzini has another great game and Antonio and Ayew start to trouble the Leicester defence. Byram is effective going forward on the right, though sometimes his final ball betrays a lack of confidence.

Lanzini’s free kick is parried by Schmeichel and from the resulting corner Andy Carroll gets a header in at the back post and sets up Ayew who nods home. Game on. The noise level rises and the crowd sense an equaliser.

The forgotten Arthur Masuaku has come on for Cresswell and has a good attacking game on the left. He plays the ball back for Antonio to cross to Carroll, whose header is goalbound until Schmeichel somehow scrambles it off the line and around the post.

The equaliser should come after a great dribble by Antonio splits the defence and sets up Ayew in front of goal. Somehow he blazes over when any shot on target would have gone in. 

West Ham still surge forward. There’s an almighty scramble from a corner as Kouyate has a shot off the line and Carroll gets in a low shot. In added time Ayew is brought down and from the free kick Snodgrass fires into the wall. The ball deflects to Andy Carroll who gets in a shot only for Schmeichel to make an astonishing save with his hand. It’s the old ‘star save’ that his dad Peter used to specialise in.

So it’s no glorious 3-3 comeback and we trek to the King Edward to meet Gavin, reflecting that we scored the best goal of the game but will never win until we start to defend properly. Though Leicester do look to be back to their best and Huth stopped everything. 

Fraser and Michael go to the bar and inform me that the bitter is from the bottom of the barrel. “Not the first time we’ve scraped he barrel today,” quips Michael. Though Nicola’s request for European wine means we’re given glasses rather than plastic skiffs. Michael leaves early for a Vera Lynn tribute concert, muttering, “We’ll score again, don’t know where, don’t know when…”

At home Nicola says she doesn’t know how I go to matches as all that willing the team to score gives you a headache. I explain that as a West Ham fan you get used to the idea that you lose some and you draw some. And apart from deep psychosis it has no long-lasting effects.

Serious improvement is needed to the defence if we’re to get the win or two we need to stay up. We’ve seen a good second half performance and an inspired opposition keeper, but Bilic has a lot of thinking to do during the international break.

PLAYER RATINGS: Randolph 5; Byram 6, Fonte 4, Reid 5 (Snodgrass 6), Cresswell 5 (Masuaku 6); Lanzini 8, Obiang 6 (Fernandes 5), Kouyate 6; Ayew 6, Antonio 6, Carroll 7.

Friday, March 17

Antonio for England

Congratulations to Michail Antonio on his deserved call-up by Gareth Southgate. The BBC website has a good stat. Since making his debut in September 2015 Antonio has scored 17 goals, more than any other West Ham player in the same period. Andy Carroll has scored 15 in the same period while Dimitri Payet only got eight. Or to put it another way he's scored 17 in 65 appearances. That's a pretty astonishing strike rate considering Antonio's spent some of that period playing as a makeshift right back. 

When I was recently on the Stop! Hammer Time podcast host Phil Whelans came up with an interesting theory. He thought that possibly Bilic was so used to playing and managing technically brilliant players like Modric that he thought a trier like Antonio, who could be a mixture of brilliance and clumsiness, didn't belong in a forward line with the likes of Lanzini and Payet, but was better suited to defending. Slaven was proved absolutely wrong on that count of course, and now Antonio is our most important forward player. In fact Antonio is all set to unleash a Tempest against Shakespeare's Leicester. 

Wednesday, March 15

Four Four Two on lack of planning at West Ham

Interesting piece on West Ham in Four Four Two looking at the lack of strategic planning at West Ham. Writer Seb Stafford-Bloor comments: "In the absence of a more considered culture, they appear to have become overly reactionary, with organisational energies sapped by the need to firefight this never-shortening list of issues. There is always either an unhappy player, a crippling squad shortage, or a logistical or PR battle which needs plotting. Progressive clubs tend to radiate calm, logical order, whereas West Ham seem to exist in mild chaos. There is always some kind of drama."

Stafford-Bloor makes some pertinent comments about the leaking of transfer targets, short-term loan deals and the bungled search for a striker last summer, though he's wrong in saying that only Antonio and Winston Reid would be sold at a profit. Cresswell, Kouyate, Obiang, Lanzini and even Carroll (if that Chinese bid was true) might be sold at a profit.

Another point to come out of the article is that the writer has only ever sat in the WHU press box and it's in the worst part of the ground, on the upper tier of the Betway Stand: "The stadium's press box sits high up, almost in the atmosphere, affording a view so detached it's almost voyeuristic. But it's a revealing perspective: it shows the gaps between the tiers and the incongruous details which were likely never considered during the planning phase." With hindsight, the new stadium would surely have received less bad press if the press box had been in a lower tier or in the unified East Stand.

To see the whole feature click on the link, it's worth a read. 

Monday, March 13

Jose Fonte still bedding in to West Ham defence

Jose Fonte is a good player but hasn't reached anything like the form he's capable of since arriving at West Ham. In his six games so far West Ham have conceded 11 goals, four against Man City, one against Southampton, two against West Brom, one at Watford, two against Chelsea and three at Bournemouth. He didn't have a great game at Dean Court; he could have been a bit quicker for King's opener, though it was a great flick from the striker, and clipped Pugh's shin to concede a penalty. We also thought he might be more of an organiser at the back.

It would be unfair to be too critical of Fonte though. It will take time to establish a partnership with Winston Reid and bed into a new defence. Some of his problems have been caused by the lack of an established right back, with Kouyate being played out of position and Byram looking good going forward but vulnerable at the back.

Southampton fans rate their former captain very highly and he's been up through the top three divisions with them. Fonte played in a team that finished sixth last season and was a European Championship winner, so has to be a very good player. But while he's settling in might he benefit from playing in a back five alongside Reid and Kouyate or Collins with Byram and Cresswell as attacking wing backs? Hopefuly the best of Fonte is yet to come.