West Ham United managed their first win in five league games when they beat Crystal Palace 1-0 at Selhurst Park on Saturday evening.
Manuel Lanzini scored the winner to lift the Hammers out of the relegation zone and ease some of the pressure on boss Slaven Bilic.
West Ham have been below par this season, sitting in 18th position before the weekend after winning only one game in their first seven.
It has been a far cry from last season where the East London side exceeded all expectations to finish in seventh place while beating a number of the league’s top sides.
People have speculated as to what the problem has been this year, but one that keeps rearing it’s head is the move away from the Boleyn Ground.
This season West Ham left their old haunt behind to move into the 60,000 capacity London Stadium. Fans and pundits alike have speculated the move away from their intimidating old ground is the reason the Hammers have struggled.
Last year, Bilic’s side were beaten only three times at home and picked up 34 of their 62 points at the Boleyn Ground while they have managed only a solitary win at home this season – against Bournemouth in their first home game of the season.
West Ham may well find themselves performing better away from home this season, though not just because they are missing the Boleyn Ground.
It can be argued that the Hammers are victims of their own success. Expectations were undoubtedly high at the start of Bilic’s second season after a number of players were brought in as the Croatian made the side his own.
The transfer record was broken to bring in Andre Ayew from Swansea and the highly-regarded Sofaine Feghouli was brought in from Valencia on a free transfer, while Bilic also brought in his former player from Besiktas Gokhan Tore, amongst others.
It signified a desire to move to a more attacking approach, in keeping with the West Ham tradition of beautiful football. The problem is, a lot of West Ham’s best performances last season weren’t particularly pretty.
Last season, the Hammers found the perfect blend of attacking intent and defensive solidity needed to beat Manchesters City and United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham. But as a result, this season expectations are higher and teams are happier to sit back. West Ham, in turn, are expected to attack other teams as the superior side. Unfortunately, this leads to gaps all over the pitch; gaps which have been exploited by the opposition.
Before this weekend the Hammers had the worst defensive record in the league after conceding 17 goals in seven games. A particular criticism was the pairing of Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate. Both have been more concerned with pushing forward than protecting their defence, leading to a lot of chances that an injury-hit backline has been unable to deal with.
Recently West Ham have gone back to a more defensive style. In the previous home game against Middlesbrough Bilic opted for a three-man midfield – bringing in Pedro Obiang as the anchor – and things looked a lot more solid.
In the last game, this time away from home, Bilic went even more defensive by shifting Kouyate into a three-man defence resulting in a win and only a second clean sheet.
It would seem, then, that West Ham have found a style that gets results. But it’s unlikely the Hammers faithful will stand for it, particularly at home.
It’s one thing to grind out results at Selhurst Park, but in front of 60,000 hungry fans, home games will likely demand a lot more.
Perhaps Bilic will find a balance similar to last season and keep the fans happy with attractive football while getting the results. If not, a choice may have to be made about which one Hammers fans would prefer. Until then, we may well see a West Ham side happier on their travels.