Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The Good, the Bad, and the Jammy: 10 games in 41 days...

Manchester United 1-1 West Ham United  Old Trafford, Sunday 27th November 2016
Manchester United 4-1 West Ham United  Old Trafford, Wednesday 30th November 2016 (EFL Cup)
West Ham United 1-5 Arsenal. QEOP London Stadium, Saturday 3rd December 2016
Liverpool 2-2 West Ham United. Anfield, Sunday 11th December 2016
West Ham United 1-0 BurnleyQEOP London Stadium, Wednesday 14th December 2016
West Ham United 1-0 Hulll. QEOP London Stadium, Saturday 17th December 2016
Swansea 1-4 West Ham United.  Liberty Stadium, Monday 26th December
Leicester City 1-0 West ham United.  King Power Stadium Saturday 31st December 2016
West Ham United 0-2 Manchester United.  QEOP London Stadium 2nd January 2017
West Ham United 0-5 Manchester City.  QEOP London Stadium 6th January 2017 (FA Cup)

...Which brought us 11 points (some of which were barely deserved) whimpering exits from both cup competitions, and, really, no fun at all.

The Walk to Old Trafford
It all started what seems like a long time ago, with a trip up to Manchester for back to back league and EFL cup games at Old Trafford.  My lack of activity writing for my un-loved blog is in direct correlation to the lack of inspiration this run of matches provided me.

I suppose, back when I wrote last, before this intense run of fixtures, I was still thinking, or hoping to be more precise, that, you know, a hot streak over Christmas and New Year could still get us in a position to achieve something this season. That it could be a blast. But witnessing all these games has been to realise that, at root, nothing much is changing for the better.  And it didn't.
Old Trafford under the lights

The promising 1-1 draw against Manchester United wasn't a step forward, exactly, but it was, at least, another steadfast, sensible away performance. The faintly positive glow left by that result was soundly extinguished a few days later at the same venue against the same team, who pulverised us 4-1 to send us out of the EFL cup (and from what's happened since to to put their own faltering season into gear).

Another spanking was delivered back in the league at the London Stadium. Our players (obviously not the Arsenal ones) wandered half stunned, dazed, blank-eyed and at a loss for what to do as they began to lose all grasp of basic concepts such as competing, or playing football. One modern fan tradition rapidly developing at the new stadium is to see how early can you can reasonably leave the stadium.  Some audacious fans decided 2-0 was enough.  3-0 was a popular choice with 72 minutes gone, and I don't think I've ever seen quite so many people exit quite that early. Ha! But West Ham went and scored a goal, didn't they? Still, 4-1 was also a popular choice. I went for 5-1 and stayed to the end. Mainly because I've never left a game before final whistle before, and wasn't emotionally ready to start doing so. Yet.

Reds under purple sky
A 2-2 draw at Anfield was the highlight of those 41 days. I always enjoy a trip to Liverpool, because it's a fun city to be in. The team, in a confounding but pleasing manner, put in another of those excellent away league performances that have been the only positive, and relatively regular, feature of this season.

Impressive new stand Anfield
Reid continued to look our most mature, competitive and commanding player. He's probably already hammer of the year. All the more impressive considering he is surrounded by accidents waiting to happen (you know who they are).

London Stadium kick-off soon!
What happened in the next two games, both of them at home, may turn out to be the difference between staying in the top division and going down. A non-event of a game with Burnley saw a late penalty get us three points. To top that Hull somehow lost to us despite their superior attitude and ability which saw them come close to scoring on half-a-dozen occasions, three of those hitting the woodwork. This time the winning goal was a tap in after Noble's penalty was saved. If we were fortunate to get the win against Burnley, how we got those three points off of Hull is beyond me.

Liberty Stadium Boxing Day 2016
To follow were another three points, this time meekly presented to us by a woeful, wasteful and lost Swansea team. They were 4-1 worse than us on that Boxing day, and that convincing win against such a weak team also reflected our, generally, superior away performances. But none of those three wins, nor the sudden surge up the table away from the relegation zone that they initiated, could paper over the cracks, faults and stains that afflict this current incarnation of West Ham.

As a calendar year in football goes, 2016 was a ride. The current malaise won't take away from those great memories of those final fanfares of comparative glory at the Boleyn. But that is, definitively, in the past, and is for a different kind of post.

From the away stand King Power
The final game of 2016 took us to Leicester. Time to see if the sudden glut of points, and luck, would have a positive impact on the team. Not really, no. A loss by one goal at Leicester's King Power Stadium brought matters into perspective. Those recent positive results (if not necessarily performances) didn't do us much good against a Leicester side who were noticeably, and despite their own poor form, tougher, quicker and cleverer than West Ham.

So onto 2017 as that 41 day period draws to a close. Feghouli became, briefly, the centre of attention, as I doubt he ever will be again, at least for the right reasons. Firstly there was his sending off after a promising start against Manchester United at The London Stadium. It wasn't a red card, as everyone apart from one man knew at the time. It personally took me several minutes to register it as part of reality, rather than something that had happened in another dimension. It strangled at birth what looked like it could have been an exciting game. The red card was rescinded within 3 days of being shown on that day, everyone already bored of the topic after so much media kerfuffle and indignation. The team put in a commendable and committed performance but, I guess inevitably United's superiority in numbers and quality eventually consigned the team to a two goal loss, despite their best efforts.

That red card wasn't Feghouli's fault, of course, but his glaring miss in the FA cup 3rd round tie against Manchester City certainly was. It came before the whole game went completely to pot as a competitive match.

Back several paragraphs I stated that I had never left a West Ham match before the final whistle sounded. This is no longer the case. We got kicked out of the FA cup almost as soon as we started it, as Manchester City put five past us without reply, of any kind. Evidently John Stones got the fifth, I wasn't there to see it. That was a spanking. Players, manager and club left shame faced. Fans left perplexed and nonplussed, rather than apoplectic, or even particularly upset.

The lack of consistency, game to game, and in-match, over the 41 days reflects the first half of season and suggests that what's left of it will be more of same. The low points are very low, the high points are scarce, there has been little memorable about what's happened so far for this season. The biggest disappointment is a lack of one genuine cracker of a game at home, the EFL cup win against Chelsea being the closest we've got to it. I hope this will be remedied soon and West Ham fans, old and new, get to witness some classics that will see them coming back and supporting the club for years to come.

And, in case you made it this far with what will probably be the longest post I ever write, here's the like for like premier league results comparison.

< 2016/17 2015/16 >
Home Team RESULT Away Team PTS GD PTS GD Home Team RESULT Away Team
Chelsea 2 : 1 West Ham 0 -1 1 0 Chelsea 2 : 2 West Ham
West Ham 1 : 0 Bournemouth 3 0 1 -1 West Ham 3 : 4 Bournemouth
Man. City 3 : 1 West Ham 3 -2 4 0 Man. City 1 : 2 West Ham
West Ham 2 : 4 Watford 3 -4 7 2 West Ham 3 : 1 Watford
West Brom 4 : 2 West Ham 3 -6 10 5 West Brom 0 : 3 West Ham
West Ham 0 : 3 Southampton 3 -9 13 6 West Ham 2 : 1 Southampton
West Ham 1 : 1 Middlesbrough* 4 -9 14 6 West Ham 2 : 2 Norwich*
Crystal Palace 0 : 1 West Ham 7 -8 17 8 Crystal Palace 1 : 3 West Ham
West Ham 1 : 0 Sunderland 10 -7 20 9 West Ham 1 : 0 Sunderland
Everton 2 : 0 West Ham 10 -9 23 10 Everton 2 : 3 West Ham
West Ham 1 : 1 Stoke 11 -9 24 10 West Ham 0 : 0 Stoke
Tottenham 3 : 2 West Ham 11 -10 24 7 Tottenham 4 : 1 West Ham
Man. United 1 : 1 West Ham 12 -10 25 7 Man. United 0 : 0 West Ham
West Ham 1 : 5 Arsenal 12 -14 26 7 West Ham 3 : 3 Arsenal
Liverpool 2 : 2 West Ham 13 -14 29 10 Liverpool 0 : 3 West Ham
West Ham 1 : 0 Burnley* 16 -13 32 12 West Ham 2 : 0 NEWCASTLE*
West Ham 1 : 0 Hull City* 19 -12 35 14 West Ham 2 : 0 ASTON VILLA*
Swansea 1 : 4 West Ham 22 -9 36 14 Swansea 0 : 0 West Ham
Leicester 1 : 0 West Ham 22 -10 37 14 Leicester 2 : 2 West Ham
West Ham 0 : 2 Man. United 22 -12 40 15 West Ham 3 : 2 Man. United

It shows that in the comparable games from last season we have very close to half the number of points we got last time out (22 this season, as against 40 last year). That's not a fall-off results-wise, it's a collapse. And goal difference emphatically reflects this, 15 to the good last season compared to 12 to the bad this season illustrates we can't even consider ourselves unlucky with our minimal haul of points, quite the opposite. There are no excuses. The bleeding obvious hurts a little bit sometimes.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Before the Deluge

West Ham United 1-1 Stoke City QEOP London Stadium, Saturday 5th November 2016
Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 West Ham United. White Hart Lane, Saturday 19th November 2016

The dull non-event of a tepid home draw with Stoke contrasted sharply with the excitement and emotion of a loss at White Hart Lane.

Against Stoke both the team, and the home fans, seemed disinterested, detached. I felt that after so much effort from supporters up until this game, trying against all odds to build noise and atmosphere in the London Stadium, that finally a wall was hit. What was on offer on the pitch? Nothing to shout or sing about, zero. If Stoke could have been bothered they would have had all three points, but seemed content enough to take a point back with them. This was the kind of game where some input from the crowd really might have changed the course of the game, but that connection is hard to make now. It was also the type of game that makes you wonder why you bother going, many more games like this and it will be interesting to see how many take up their season tickets again for next season.
Lights on the water

Now the ticket exchange is up and running it´s already pretty straightforward to get a match ticket for the games. That waiting list of, what was it?, 55,000? is pure bluff, many of these are members, many of whom are only able to go to a certain number of games each season, but who were put on the season ticket waiting list automatically. Many more will not renew now the novelty of the new stadium has diminished and reality hits. A large percentage of those who do retain their season tickets will be putting them up for exchange for any games they don´t fancy or can´t attend. Within a couple of seasons I think we might be seeing some very sparse attendances for certain fixtures.

The High Road walk
Onto White Hart Lane. This was, for anyone, even disappointed hammers fans, a fantastic game. For Spurs fans it turned out even better than that. Despite losing I enjoyed this game immensely, the atmosphere under the lights in the stadium was electrifying, the match was dramatic and utterly involving. Payet was very much the main man, fully involved in hold-up and creative play and shouldn´t, on reflection, have been subbed. Sakho, surprisingly, started, and was, although not match sharp, considerably more effective in doing the basics than any of our other current options for that position. West Ham competed well against one of the strongest, fittest, most consistent and competetive teams in the league. We were very close to getting an immense victory.
Waiting for kick off at The Lane

Ultimately the point against Stoke may be more important to the club, if this season is to be one fighting to stay out of the relegation zone. But I´ll take no points at all and watch a proper football match, any day.

Tomorrow morning I´ll be on the coach up to Manchester, where an intense, hectic few weeks of fixtures kicks off. I´m hoping for more games akin to our performance at White Hart Lane, but with the points falling our way. Come on you Irons.