West Ham’s defence should stand up and take the applause due to them.
During Wednesday’s game against a title chasing Spurs side, the defenders on show played and supported each other flawlessly. Slaven Bilic changed formation on, playing five across the back, including two unorthodox centre-backs. Yet they played as though they had always fulfilled those roles.
In times gone by, West Ham’s defence was often referred to as soft. With the imperious Bobby Moore commanding the back line, West Ham were still able to let in more goals than they should have done and when you look at the likes of Frank Lampard Senior, Billy Bonds, Alvin Martin in the ’70s and ’80s and then players of Lucas Neill and Matthew Upson’s supposed ability later on, plus many in between, you have to wonder why they shipped so many goals.
No matter the decade, defending has been a problem for the Hammers, but this season their defence is ranked sixth – which curiously is their current league standing as well. In the summer Bilic brought in Angelo Ogbonna to strengthen the central paring and then in January, Sam Byram stepped up from Championship football.
Byram has appeared to be a wise investment and looks to be a future England player – as long as the England management remember there is a team in the east part of London. He’s slotted in seamlessly and looks a promising player for years to come.
James Collins signed a new contract and is a bit of a fans’ favourite. A possible departure to Sunderland was widely reported in January, but Collins has upped his game with competent defending and passion and quite rightly earned himself a new deal. Last night the Welshman was all over the Spurs forwards, as he won every ariel ball with ease.
Why Aaron Cresswell is not in the England set-up is beyond most people. He’s quick, scores goals – West Ham fans need to thank Sam Allardyce for an astute signing from Ipswich Town. Equally, ‘Big Sam’ signed Adrian and he has certainly turned out to be a very safe pair of hands between the sticks. Once again, a lack of international recognition and you have to ask why?
The men from the East End have, like many other clubs, had their fair share of injuries. Currently, there are six players out for the weekend game against Everton and it looks as though Michail Antonio will be filling in at right back again, while Cheikhou Kouyate may play a similar central defensive role to the one he had against Tottenham with maybe Reece Oxford filling the hole vacated by the injured Collins.
When you stop to consider the formation changes that Bilic has had to make, the team have not had a settled defence for some time, bar in the left back role. In the middle, James Tomkins, Winston Reid, Ogbonna, Collins and Oxford have mixed and matched, while at right back, Tomkins had to fill in for Jenkinson. Sadly for the Arsenal loanee, his season is over and the poor performances, which Hammers fans were not used to seeing last year, are being put down to a lack of confidence. Shame really.
Tomkins has covered well at right back, as has the attacking force that is Antonio. No one thought that he would cover himself in further glory from that position, but he has when Byram and Joey O’Brien have been out.
Tomkins, Reid and in his first year in the Premiership, Ogbonna, have all acquitted themselves well. There have been times when they have been caught out, but players are only human and will have the occasional bad day at the office. Largely though, the Hammers’ back line has held firm. In games against the big four, West Ham have conceded just four goals in five games. In previous seasons, that would have been doubled if not more.
If the Upton Park club do qualify for either European competition in their next campaign, further strengthening will become necessary.
With West Ham’s form this season and with the plaudits going quite rightly to Dimitri Payet, Manuel Lanzini and the up and coming Antonio, the claret and blue back line have become the unsung heroes of the team.
Long may it continue.