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Crushed hope

Filed: Thursday, 19th April 2012
By: Paul Walker

They say it’s always the hope that gets you in the end, and that was exactly what happened at Ashton Gate this week when we blew yet another chance to hang onto a faint opportunity of automatic promotion.

It‘s been like it for weeks now, despite the exciting wins over Barnsley, Cardiff and Brighton. Despite all the statistics flying about, we have actually won just four of our last 13 matches, and there have been eight draws in that lot.

Reading have suffered just three defeats in their last 18, and pointedly, drawn just one of those games. They have shown they know how to win matches, close out games they are leading and have made the most of their opportunities. And they seem expert at scoring late, critical goals in the Manchester United way, you just know they will score.

They have not been pretty, they have an annoying tactic of surrounding referees at every given opportunity trying to get people into trouble, but they have been better than us. More consistent and with a greater ability to hold their nerve.

Sadly, we have consistently failed to maintain composure, and with the play-offs on the horizon I pray this will not be our downfall when the chips are down.

I travelled to Bristol in hope that Southampton would make a mistake. They were 2-0 up in 12 minutes at Peterborough to put pay to that idea. We started in fine style, scored a good set-piece goal but couldn’t get the second to deflate Bristol. Then Robert |Green, brilliant all season, lets one bounce over his dive.

It was one of only two on-target shots the home side had all night, but enough to give them a result to cling onto. Mark Noble was terrific again, James Tomkins not far behind.

We battered them from start to finish, but it became a frantic, uncoordinated performance. Desperate at times. Big Sam talks of the mass of chances we had, but what he really means is the amount of ball into the last third, and the box. It was a stream of crosses, low and high, and a failure to connect.

That, to my mind, is not real chances. We did not create clear-cut openings with astute passing as we did at Barnsley. I didn’t actually feel that "we would score in a minute", even if you could not doubt for a second the effort of the players.

Bristol’s away end is a dump, poor viewing, dirty, backless seats, and riot police separating us from the City nutters. We had old folk, loads of kids and women crammed into our section, too, not a pleasant experience.

But I drove home up the M6 with a heavy heart, listening to Reading’s celebrations. It should have been us.

The fact that we have drawn nine of our last 19 games--just three defeats--says it all. That’s 18 points lost. The three disasters that still kill me are Crystal Palace, Doncaster and Watford at home.

If we had won those three rather than drawn, we would be above Southampton still. And victory in those three was well within us, games we dominated but couldn’t kill off.

We have also suffered from the level of transfer dealings done last summer when Sam arrived. For what ever reason, we could not attract top names, be it our image, Sam’s image, the recent memory of a shambolic season or not enough money.

We signed players with injury history. At the time it was probably all that was available in our price range., there was little choice as Sam rightly moved on dozens of players from the previous regime.

Joey O’Brien, Guy Demel, Papa Bouba Diop, Abdoulaye Faye and John Carew all arrived with difficult injury histories, Demel barely played in Germany last season.

O’Brien has been outstanding to get his career back on track and Diop a major midfield influence, while Faye a big player in defence.. But the fears that these five may not last the season has come back to haunt us, they have all been injured for long spells at crucial times.

Demel does not seem capable of lasting a match, how ever good he may be. The constant changes to the side in recent months tells it’s own story. And that is really not the fault of anyone, least of all the players. We were where we were with money and image.

These are some of the reasons that we have fallen short in the race for automatic promotion, as much as any perceived problems over Sam’s tactics.

Sam keeps complaining about the strikers, and that may well have effected Nicky Maynard and Sam Baldock.

Neither were first choice signings. Would we have signed Maynard if we’d managed to land Nikica Jelavic, who had a major part to play in taking Everton the cup semi-finals. And would Baldock have been signed if other, more experienced, strikers been brought in?

They are both good prospects with pace, talent and skill. But they have not found the jump in class easy to handle.

And Stoke made it pretty clear that they did not consider Carlton Cole would get through a medical when they tried to sign him pre-season. He, too, has to be nursed through matches.

In the painful aftermath of relegation, if someone had offered me a play-off place then, I’d have taken it. Maybe there are thousands who would disagree with that. But this is a better performance than the last two seasons we spent in the Championship.

And I know it sounds like another defence of Big Sam. But we have suffered badly through injuries all season. Matt Taylor, Jack Collison, George McCartney, Winston Reid, Tomkins, Baldock, Faye, Diop, Carew, O’Brien, Demel, Julien Faubert and Gary O‘Neil have missed significant spells.

I don’t accept that we should have breezed through this division like Newcastle did. We have never had the required level of creative quality in midfield.

But people are already asking "where did it all go wrong?" while we still have a good chance of promotion. And the attitude seems to be that we will struggle in the play-offs because we can be so brittle under high pressure.

It’s not the right attitude to be approaching the play-offs with. I must admit I fear for the reception and send-off the team will get heading into the play-offs after the Hull home game.

We’ve beaten Blackpool twice, registered a win over Cardiff and drawn twice with Birmingham, plus winning at Middlesbrough and Hull. Let’s stick to the positives for now and believe we can do it, because if we don’t believe how can the players be expected to?

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.

Your Comments

by g portugal
08:22PM 20th Apr 2012
''Good piece - agree with all of it.''

by Iron Age
04:24PM 20th Apr 2012
''I agree entirely with the comments made by Doug Fowler. For me BS has consistently chosen to blame either his players, the oppositiion, the fans or Lady Luck for his failure to keep a clean sheet and break down defences at home. This has all been playing the 'Big Sam Way'.

I have nothing against Sam and I believe he has so far done a really good job under very challenging circumstances, however I think it is unlikely he will succeed in the long term unless he changes his method a bit and recognises that the 'West Ham Way' can secure results too. Despite all my concerns I hope he proves me wrong and takes the club back to the Premier League where we belong and keeps us there. We all want success for the Hammers at the end of the day - so let's hope we can do it this season via whichever route! COYI.''

by Ironsmith
06:58PM 19th Apr 2012
''I too would have settled for a play-off place at the start of the season and we should not feel that we have failed in any way just yet, The simple fact is that Reading and Southampton are both superior to us at this stage and we have to accept it for now. We beat neither team and lost three.

I like the new signings and particularly Vaz Te. Sam has done a decent job to date to get us this far particularly when you consider the previous failures. This could all be very exciting again and one thing is for sure - there is never a dull moment supporting the Hammers.''

by Ron Parker
12:33PM 19th Apr 2012
''At last someone with sense. Supporters are supposed to support eh!''

by mike
12:28PM 19th Apr 2012
''Paul: Well written article, you are spot on!''

by Doug Fowler
12:06PM 19th Apr 2012
''Paul, your article has given me some insight into this season's events. I can't get to Upton Park these days but follow their fortunes closely; next March will be the 50th anniversary of my first trip there with my Dad in 1963.

I have to follow them on the radio and the web and through that process my conclusion is the team lacks the creativity to break down determined defences allied to a deep-rooted fear. The latter has developed in the last three or four years as a result of continued failure to meet realistic expectations, i.e. mid-Premier League safety. They have not been able to replace the Israeli Benayoun to provide a creative source in the team and together with those silly, vain Nordic owners and a series of mediocre managers I would say these last few years have been the darkest I can recall - there have been few highlights and even the odd success has been tinged with fear.

Allardyce has instilled some steel into fragile characters, including the current owners, this season and deserves support but I'm left with the feeling that until they can acquire or nurture some creative talent the fans' expectations will continue to be frustrated for years to come, whichever division West Ham find themselves in.''

by Tell it how it is Charlie!
11:52AM 19th Apr 2012
''Your write-ups suggest that you are writing about the players in the '70s and '80s, Mr. Walker, there are very few players that play the entire league campaigns any more even though there are less games. You´ll have to ask "Mr. West Ham", John Northcut about average player times on the pitch with players such as Bonds, Moore, Brooking and Lampard (Snr) compared to today's players. I think I read somewhere that weight is an important factor with injuries these days, players are a lot lighter thus a lot faster but at the same time the lighter weight makes players more sceptical to injuries.

Obviously you see far more games than me, I only have BBC London Radio (on a good day) and WHU.com commentary but do you think Mr. Walker, that West Ham should perhaps think about widening the pitch? It´s one way some foreign clubs use as a way around opposing teams coming to the ground with a 451 set up. Perhaps KUMB can put this question to Gold when they interview him?

The sad fact is they just haven´t scored enough goals this season at home, I know the stats will not tell the real story. I think Baldock needs a run of games not just as coming on a sub at the end of some games. Allardyce has chopped and changed too much, he wants instant success, he hasn´t allowed the likes of Baldock to settle which I think has been to his detriment after his injury.''

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