Filed: Thursday, 23rd February 2012
By: Paul Walker
Never have I been a pint half full sort, it comes from following West Ham all my life. So I’m always the one urging folk not to get carried away.
But over the last three games I‘ve witnessed something frankly I never thought possible. Three times down to ten men, no defeats and seven points. Oh, and back on top of the Championship.
I can never recall seeing a West Ham side win with ten men, and maybe West Ham historians will be able discover whether any side has won after being down to ten men for 82 minutes, like we did against Millwall.
I have seen sides hang on for draws with ten men, but to win twice from such a position - added to the draw with Southampton with a man short - well that all sounds like three miracles all at once.
Being at Blackpool this week with my son and 2,000 or so delirious West Ham fans was a privilege. And we may just have reached a pivotal point of this relentless season.
There comes a point when if you want to win promotion you have to frighten the chasing pack, to make teams believe that they should be bothered about staying in the play-off zone rather than weaken their resources by chasing you.
Just how many clubs have finished third after a long, demanding race for a top two spot, and then failed to win the play-offs? Too many.
We are not at that stage yet, but a ten point gap between us and third spot would likely be the point when such thoughts can be considered.
So many times this season we have thrown away opportunities to take command of the situation after getting ourselves into a really promising position. Let’s not see it happen again.
We have 60 points and 15 games to go. Big Sam claimed at the beginning of the season that around 90 points would secure automatic promotion, so we need 30 more points, or ten wins from our last 15 games. And that is a reasonable target now.
The performance at Blackpool was a joy to behold. James Tomkins was again outstanding, as was Mark Noble, with Nicky Maynard a nightmare opponent for Blackpool’s dreadful central defenders. They were not good enough for the Premier League, and they are letting in far too many goals for the Championship.
And Henri Lansbury was as cool as you like in goal after Rob Green was sent-off, the lad has written his name into the club’s folklore now.
And it is now clear these last three results have not been flukes. This team is organised to such a point that it understands how to play with ten men, yes, they are getting far too much practice! They maintain their shape, hound the opponent in possession and concentrate on marking, keeping the game tight, and covering.
And they know how to hit teams on the break. Virtually every clearance was hit down the left channel for Ricardo Vaz Te, who is quick and strong and can hold the ball to ease pressure on the defence.
It was a memorable night. Last season, when it was obvious players were going through the motions, we would have crumbled. Just remember how many two goals leads we squandered. David Sullivan, in this week’s excellent Iain Dale interviews, made it pretty clear what he thought of last season’s shambles. But more of that later.
We at last are seeing a team prepared to battle for the club, themselves and us! Maybe the thought of vastly increased wages in the Premier League is having an effect. No matter, this team cares just as much as we all do about this club.
But, back to the half-empty concerns. We must beat Crystal Palace, avoid defeat at Cardiff and then win two games in a week against Watford and Doncaster in our next four matches. Then we can really start thinking about the top flight.
Because the games that follow against Leeds, Middlesbrough, Burnley, Peterborough and Reading - in 15 days in March - will be killers. Only after that little lot will I start to really believe.
It’s been an interesting week to be a Hammer, considering the Blackpool success and the enthralling serialised interview with Sullivan on the West Ham Till I Die website. Credit where credit is due, Dale has produced a quality interview.
He’s an adaptable, top journalist who knows a good story when he sees one, and no, I was not surprised one bit that his stuff was lifted by nationals newspapers without him being credited. It happens all the time.
A journalist will tell his sports editor that he has spoken to, say, Sullivan, and has a good story and take the credit. He is not likely to tell his boss he’s picked up material from a fans’ website. There’s no glory there.
And the fact that the material is in the public domain makes it’s use by other media outlets largely expected.
But Dale deserves credit for some really excellent lines. The best one was revealing that Demba Ba’s agent got £2m from Newcastle to engineer the player’s departure from Upton Park.
He then all but confirmed that Martin O’Neill - although not formally named - strung us along for several weeks and had appointed two agents to do his negotiations .
And then there was the suggestion that last season there were rival English and foreign player groups in the squad, with the English plotting to get Avram Grant out.
And who was surprised to hear that Matthew Upson felt he was “too good to go to Sunderland” but ended up at Stoke with half the wages the Wearside club had offered. And that he had begged Sullivan to release him from Birmingham to join West Ham on big, big money when our co-owner was running the Midlands club.
And many fans watching Scott Parker at the beginning of this season would agree that he was trying his hardest not to get injured, which would have scuppered his move to Spurs.
All in all, Dale has enlivened a great week even further with a succession of very readable pieces. He unfortunately seems to have had some abuse from fans on other sites, but he has been brave enough to take on a fans’ website in the first place and handle the flak. And I thought we were all in this together.
I may not agree with his political views - I’m sure he can live with that - but when it comes to the Hammers, we are all singing from the same song sheet.
And yes, I have been made aware of the away fans at Blackpool singing, "Let’s go f***ing mental" boomed out over BBC Five Live to an unprepared nation on Tuesday. Eh, sorry about that, but it was that sort of mental night!
Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.
12:19PM 24th Feb 2012
''Excellent article ... what a change in attitude by the players from last year. If this had happened last season we would have lost all three games by a huge margin, the approach is all so different from just nine months ago.
We now have a side that cares for the "Claret and Blue". All credit to Sam, long may he reign. He's created a side that now competes for every ball and isn't there for just the money at the end of the week, which was so so obvious with some of last season's dross. PL next season without a doubt.''
07:56PM 23rd Feb 2012
''Great article again Paul and spot on assessment of the team. I think 85 points will be enough though as I can't see the Saints keeping pace especially given the lack of depth in their squad. A few injuries in key positions and they will struggle.
A massive congratulations to the West Ham away fans. All you could hear on 5 Live SX for the entire game was the West Ham away support and our usual 'colourful' songs. Absolutely priceless!''
05:40PM 23rd Feb 2012
''I really don't think Iain Dale is anywhere near an excellent journalist - transcribing a Q&A and setting it down 'as is' will not win the Pulitzer Prize. What he is, though, is an almost peerless networker and self-publicist and this has got him through Sullivan's door. Fair play. But let's not get carried away - he's a blogger, not a journalist.''
01:49PM 23rd Feb 2012
''Both the articles, above and Iain Dale's have highlighted our previous plight. That is the complete lack of committment that was all so evident last year, in fact from the very first match, losing at home in such dire fashion, the writing was on the wall then. Many of them were there to make up the numbers or to do a little as possible but getting paid high salary for going through the motions.
They were released and we were then left with the guys that care and to build around them. But now we have players with fight that will give 110 per cent that are proud to wear the claret and blue. Here I must give praise to the board who put their "money where there mouth is" having the honesty to say they were wrong and the courage to get someone who is committed ie Sam. Brought in to do a job, and what a great job he's doing, he'll get us promotion and with style.''
11:54AM 23rd Feb 2012
''Three tough games, each finishing with just 10 Hammers on the pitch, have yielded seven points from nine. We've still got a long way to go and, as has been noted above, our fixtures in March are no easier, but I think those last three results have thrown down the gauntlet to the chasing pack: we WILL win this division by hook or by crook.''
11:34AM 23rd Feb 2012
''Ian Dale's interview With David Sullivan was legendary for us fans, no matter what abuse he picks up from other sites. By far the worst was the 3 Days To Go piece of trash that flashed up on NewsNow yesterday. The plonker even managed to quote from the interview and put a pic of David Gold up with a big slur about him! Bless him, I think having two owners with the same first name confused him. That was a Spuds site.''
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