After an abysmal performance at the weekend, resulting in a 2-1 home defeat to Newcastle, it is clear West Ham’s recent unbeaten run of games has merely papered over the cracks of a side evidently still lacking in confidence and cohesion. In recent history, it was a performance matched only by last season’s 3-1 home defeat by Wolves in terms of utter ineptitude and lack of invention, and although over the past couple of seasons there have been many below-par displays by the men from Upton Park, the Wolves game stood out as a particularly good comparison to this weekend’s atrocities. However, although this may be difficult to believe after my opening gambit, I consider myself an eternal optimist, especially with regards to everything West Ham, and I have seen enough to convince me that the Hammers can drag themselves out of the current mess they’re in. In light of this, here are five things I believe Avram Grant needs in order to reinvigorate West Ham and turn their season around.
An inevitable consequence of languishing in the bottom three of any division is that the security of the manager’s job is always under constant speculation, and this is no different when it comes to Avram Grant. Being bottom of the pile after nearly 10 games is never a good sign of things to come, and when the last team you managed were also relegated, it can be difficult to inspire confidence in those around you. However, West Ham have had a relatively difficult start to the season in terms of fixtures, and it is my belief that Grant inherited a relegation in the form of the sinking ship that was Portsmouth, in the same way he very nearly inherited a league title and a Champions League winners medal in the form of Chelsea, so West Ham is perhaps the first team which he can truly apply his own touches to, and this will take time. With a solemn-looking David Sullivan, doing his best impression of a Soviet-era Russian general, watching from on high against Newcastle, one couldn’t help but feel an untimely outburst was on its way, but Sullivan would do well not to send Grant to the Gulag just yet. As co-chairman David Gold recently pointed out, having attained a mere 35 points last term, the Hammers should technically be a Championship side, and as both chairmen did a good job of unsettling Gianfranco Zola and his side to the brink of relegation last season with their ill-advised vitriol, Grant should be given time to fashion his team and instil his tactics without interference.
This is applicable to everyone at and around the club. Being booed off on Saturday was not as a consequence of our league position (I don’t think anyone thought, after last season’s debacle that this one was going to be a walk in the park), the booing was principally due to the manner of the defeat. West Ham played like a lower league club, and were beaten at a canter by a side, who come the business end of the season, the Hammers will be jostling for places with. I don’t in any way condone the booing of your own team, but after Saturday’s performance the 34,000 who turned up were wholly justified with their reaction at the end of the match. That said, West Ham look nervous playing in front of the Upton Park faithful, perhaps fearing the rebuttal if they fail to perform, and this showed, especially when they were 1-0 up. With captain Matthew Upson telling the club’s website that he “absolutely understands the fans”, adding “On Saturday we let ourselves down and did not get the result we needed at home to move forward” perhaps the players should be given another chance to prove their worth on the pitch. So with this in mind, it is imperative everyone at the club gets 100% behind the team, starting with the Carling Cup match at the Boleyn Ground against Stoke on Wednesday evening.
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Simply put, West Ham were caught wanting in several areas by Newcastle on Saturday, and with the greatest of respect to the St James’ Park outfit, if the Hammers were up against a better side they would have been put to the sword. With injuries abound at the club, the January transfer window needs to be used wisely and to great effect by Grant. In Obinna, Cole and Piquionne we have a front-line that can cause any side problems, but is found wanting when it comes to putting the ball in the back of the net, as is exemplified by the east London side scoring only 10 goals in all competitions this season, in other words, averaging less than one goal a game. This was not aided on Saturday by the fact the midfield spent most of the game 30 yards away from the isolated figures of Cole and Piquionne, a recipe which is hardly conducive to free-scoring football. I don’t think West Ham’s defensive personnel are particularly bad, but as a defensive unit, the Irons are woeful, and if you aren’t scoring at one end and conceding like a poorly made sieve at the other, there’s only going to be one end of the table you’re likely to be at.
In West Ham, Grant has inherited a side completely drained and devoid of confidence and mental strength. After a reasonably impressive run of five games unbeaten in all competitions, the defeat against Newcastle showed that, unfortunately, it may well be a case of one step forward, two steps back for the Hammers. The lack of the players’ faith in their own collective ability was shown from the second West Ham took the lead on Saturday. After an impressive initial 10 minutes of total domination from the Irons led to a group huddle from the forward-line in Newcastle’s net after Carlton Cole’s first goal of the season, all the good work began to unravel as West Ham retreated deeper and deeper into their own half, and with the home fans getting more and more frustrated the deeper West Ham got, there was only going to be one result. But, with a midweek showdown with Stoke in the last 16 of the Carling Cup coming up, we shall see how badly the team was affected by the performance on Saturday.
Although trite in its usage and applicable to all football teams, luck is nonetheless a huge factor, and affects all aspects of a football club, especially when you are sitting at the bottom of the table. With both injuries and decisions having blighted West Ham’s season so far, I use ‘luck’ in the broadest sense of the word. Had Frédéric Piquionne’s last minute goal against Wolves not been wrongly disallowed, West Ham may well have been playing to a very different tune against Newcastle on Saturday, and would most certainly not have been bottom of the Premier League. With the margin between the wrong end of the Premier League and the top of the Championship being as slim as it is, decisions of that magnitude do have a profound effect on team’s seasons. West Ham will have to hope that key players such as Thomas Hitzlsperger, Jack Collison and Zavon Hines make quicker than expected returns combined with some luck on the pitch. This will give Grant more time, give the fans faith and allow the more talented individuals at the club to play with the confidence and desire to pick West Ham out of the relegation zone and turn their season around.