Filed: Monday, 1st December 2014
By: Paul Walker
It could not have been clearer, could it? When Gary Lineker confronted Big Sam with that question about style and money on Match of the Day.
Flush from the dressing room celebrations of another three points and the rise back to fifth spot in the Premier League, Sam saw the question coming a mile away, with that smug little smile our manager has when confronted with the slightest suggestion that he had been told to do anything he didnít want to.
So master-interviewer Gary said: "So where you told to change West Hamís style in the summer?" Big Sam was waiting for itÖ"I change things every week to get the best out of my players and what they are capable of doing." Then the killer line: "You buy better players and you play better football."
Now Sam has been drizzling out similar themes for a few weeks now, trying to emphasise that the summer of boardroom and fansí discontent was nothing of the sort, really. But this time he said it in front of TV millions knowing his position is the strongest it has been all campaign.
Give me the money, spend £6m on agentsí fees and sign nine new players, simples. Itís the same old tune from his mastersí voice. And each time it happens, and Sam seems to contradict his board, there is not a word from the Davids, so are we to be left believing that the managerís assessment of last summer is right?
Who knows? So on we go, up the Premier League and with more corners being turned every minute.
Now those of us who have been around a bit have seen more than a few ícorners turnedí at West Ham that ended up in blind alleys. But maybe things are changing. I felt we turned a very small, but significant, one on Saturday with that 1-0 win over an inform Newcastle.
We were arguably without four of our most influential players on current form; Winston Reid, Enner Valencia, Alex Song and Diafra Sakho yet still produced a controlled, organised display complete with a clean sheet and another win. Thatís not something I can recall too often happening in the recent past under such circumstances.
Take Yaya Toure, David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany out of Manchester City and they are not the same team. Take Luis Suarez (sorry, cannot think of three more good Liverpool players) out of the Anfield lot and they struggle, as we are seeing.
But when we are missing top players, we now seem to be able to cope. Clearly when we spend more money on better players, we give ourselves a chance of competing at the top of the table, not our usual spot down at the bottom. Simples.
Against Newcastle we changed the system from the Everton defeat. Kevin Nolan and Carlton Cole were left out of the starting line-up and Sam was still able to rotate the midfield with Stewart Downing, Matt Jarvis and Cheikhou Kouyate returning.
Andy Carroll completed his first full 90 minutes at the Boleyn since the defeat by Crystal Palace on April 19, something of a novelty really and he was on his own a lot up front. But he occupies defenders, wins virtually everything in the air and his use as a target man should not be mocked.
There was an argument for starting with Mauro Zarate, but who would Sam have left out to do that? Jarvis, I suppose, but can Zarate be trusted to work hard defending when we do not have the ball? We could discuss that all day, and I certainly would not leave out Morgan Amalfitano on current form, he has tremendous positional sense and work ethic as well as attacking flair. The stronger and fitter he gets, the better he is.
But it is at the back currently that we are excelling. Newcastle have been excellent of late, showing great pace and attacking skills on the break. A credit to Alan Pardew, who refused to buckle under the severe recent pressure he has been under.
So, with the team selection problems we had, our defence has to be spot on. And they were. James Tomkins, after the nonsense at Goodison Park that got him plenty of stick, was top quality. He is learning to stay on his feet more and is getting better and better in possession.
Alongside him James Collins is a rock, an inspiration to all around him. He is never going to be Rio Ferdinand, but his sheer bravery and desire to block everything is a great asset when we are under the cosh.
Carl Jenkinson is an outstanding youngster, and it will be a real shame if we cannot manage to make his loan a transfer. Then we have Aaron Cresswell, who has taken to the Premier League astonishingly well. He deserved his goal, shows great vision and belief going forward and can tackle too.
He reminds me a bit of when Manchester United bought Dennis Irwin for buttons from Oldham, while all around him United had great players with world-class skills. But Irwin, pound for pound, turned out to be one of Alex Fergusonís most reliable buys. Cresswell can be that for us.
The fact that Newcastle had only one shot on target, and rarely threatened Adrianís goal says it all. One report I read--in the Mail--suggested the Geordies were the better side throughout. Not sure what game that reporter was watching.
The possession figures were 53-47 per cent in their favour, not a big difference, but we had twice as many chances and doggedly stuck to the task until the break came. And after Moussa Sissoko was stupidly sent off, there were many chances for us to have wrapped things up.
Newcastle are no mugs at present. They have beaten Liverpool, Manchester City and Spurs--plus drawn at Swansea--in recent weeks, so to beat them showed we are not just an early season flash in the pan.
I tried not to go overboard about our start and the way our new players hit the ground running. There was a lot of adrenalin and passion about much of those weeks, particularly from Sakho. You suspected that once the Premier League got to know a bit about them, life would not have been so easy, a wall would have been hit.
But we have shuffled the squad, and managed to lose just two of our last ten, and we are now a third of the way into the season, with 21 points from 13 games. Last season at this point we had 13 points from 13 games and were 15th and worried out of our minds, as usual. How times have changed.
The next games at WBA, home to Swansea , away at Sunderland and then home to Leicester are all matches we can get something from, and we will need to because we have Chelsea and Arsenal over Christmas and New Year and Liverpool and Swansea away in January.
The manner of the win was crucial. I left the ground on Saturday actually believing we were capable of a top eight, even six, finish. That the squad had a steel about it, a structure and belief that something important is attainable. Donít start proving me wrong now, lads.
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.
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