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West Ham 1-1 Leicester City (And Other Ramblings)


Filed: Tuesday, 28th November 2017
By: HeadHammerShark


"Maybe there's a God above
But all I've ever learned from love
Is how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya"

- Leonard Cohen, "Hallelujah"

It's a start. A stuttering, hesitant, uncertain start. Three months late, of course, but still a start. Akin to watching new born foals emerge blinking into a copse through the morning dew, and taking their first tentative steps into a brave new world. While 50,000 people scream "Could someone just fucking mark Jamie Vardy!" at them.

But still, a start. A punch thrown back. We at last got off a shot at the duel. It's a building block.



If they don't run, they don't play


I watched this one from the comfort of my front room, as I couldn't make it in person, meaning I had to turn down an invitation from Sky Sports to take part in a pitchside discussion before the game. That conversation focused on the current unrest and while I wasn't able to launch a 45 minute rant about the lack of a competent Director of Football, Dan Silver did a much better job by simply laying out the facts of the stadium move and the unfulfilled promise that underpinned the whole thing.

"I don't see West Ham as a Champions League team" said Jamie Carragher, reasonably. "Well, neither do we, but they brought us here and told us we would be, so everything has to be viewed through that prism" countered Dan, equally reasonably. Amen. A job well done. And fair play to Sky for asking the questions too. And while I'm here I should add that their football coverage would be about 800% better if every match was covered by Kelly Cates, Gary Neville and Carragher.

***

"Don't wanna let you down,
I've been lucky, I was lost, but now I'm found"

- Embrace, "My Weakness Is None Of Your Business"


But pre match discussions do not Premier League points win. That was still to come, in a game that ranged from tepid to thunderous and took a swift detour via frenetic as well. The atmosphere before the match was so thick with poison and rancour that Sky featured it heavily in their build up, with Neville wandering around outside taking the temperature of fans in an attempt to gauge exactly how toxic it was all likely to become.

Much of the pre match analysis focused on the importance of not allowing Leicester to score early, meaning that they naturally took the lead after 8 minutes. This was so predictable that it didn't really engender the kind of rage that people were concerned about, but instead rolled over the crowd like a gentle wave on to a shoreline. C'est la vie, seemingly, and given it's the fourth time already this year that we've gone behind inside eleven minutes, I guess it is.

It was yet another goal fashioned from our leaky right hand side, as Pablo Zabaleta was drawn infield in an attempt to win the ball and start a counter attack as though he were playing for a much better side. I don't know how much longer the Argentine is going to keep confusing Andy Carroll with Sergio Aguero but I think we'd all benefit from him wising up a little. As it was, Vardy drifted into the vacant space and a speculative cross was adroitly slotted home by Marc Albrighton. Angelo Ogbonna should have blocked the cross but whoever was holding his voodoo likeness at that particular moment had twisted his legs around so they didn't work and we were behind again.

This pattern would continue for much of the half, as Leicester took advantage of our defensive fragility without really fashioning any chances. They should, however, have had a penalty when Arthur Masuaku went full Ogbonna and brought down Albrighton. I'm pretty sure that the only reason referee Martin Atkinson didn't award that one was out of pity.

At that point, West Ham had been largely poor, playing as they were with the weight of a fear so obvious it was almost visible to the naked eye. Our passing was tentative and our movement was obvious, leading to a feeling of frustration inside the Thunderdome. It's easy to think that players don't care, but relegation means upheaval for them too. Some go on to better paying deals elsewhere, but plenty don't. Some have to give up football altogether and move to places like West Brom or Sunderland to get a new contract. Kids have to leave their schools, houses have to be sold, maybe whole families have to leave the country. On nights like this one, it was easy to see the nervousness and tension and that was only heightened by our early setback.

If ever the fans were going to turn, it was now.

***

"Maybe then I'll fade away and not have to face the facts
It's not easy facing up when your whole world is black"

- The Rolling Stones, "Paint It Black"


And then they didn't. On the face of it, applauding football fans for not turning on their own team seems like the faintest of faint praise, but there was something worth acknowledging here. This entire week was coloured for fans by the discussion of protest. At this point, there are a number of groups and viewpoints, all seemingly united in their distrust of our Board and all determined to be heard. The media had picked up on this, and so had the Leicester players with Danny Simpson openly stating that a tactic would be to try and turn the fans on the team.

It is a sad truth that opposition teams have been doing this to West Ham for years with some success, and you could hardly blame Simpson for saying it, galling as it was. Maybe some Hammers were galvanised to prove those people wrong, maybe some were harnessing the spirit of anger into something positive and maybe some had just been drinking since midday and were determined to enjoy their Friday night. Either way, there was an undeniably uplifting effect as the crowd united squarely behind the team and finally generated some atmosphere in the great vacuum of the London Stadium. For what it's worth, it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up to hear and see our fans doing what I always believed as a kid we were preternaturally brilliant at doing - connecting with, and lifting up our team, from nothing. Thank you to those who were there. We'll always have Leicester.

And so it was that Cheikhou Kouyate scrambled home a goal from a Manuel Lanzini corner right on the stroke of halftime and soothed the fraying nerves of the masses, even if the visitors had effectively ceased to be an attacking threat at this point.





Once again, xG suggests that this was a poor game with few real chances, and I'd agree, but there is something to be said for keeping Leicester this quiet. They are a decent team who are probably better than their league position suggests, and we were marginally better than them here as we went on to dominate the second half, without creating the killer chance that would have won us the game. On another night, with better luck in front of goal we might have fashioned a winner to have illuminated the gloom and cut through the icy East London night. If nothing else, we might have been awarded a dodgy penalty ourselves when Andre Ayew fell under the lightest of touches from Harry Maguire. It wouldn't have been fair, but I think we're past caring about that now.

And so we take the point, and move on to Everton for a game where we should have a great chance given their inherent shittiness, lack of a manager, lower recovery time and the fact that we have their returning manager. We also desperately need to win given our upcoming fixtures. But you've all been around long enough to know how this particular episode will end. So while a point isn't bad, it's also not good. We really could have used this win.

***

"Get high up on the mountain, feel your lungs start burning as you rise
Sometimes when you get to this height, you will see another hill to climb
But sometimes all you can see, is the road you didn't take"

- Stornoway, "The Road You Didn't Take"


So what are we to make of a draw like this? It's an inbetweener of an outcome that neither disheartens nor satisfies. It's a Big Mac of a result is what it is.

On the face of it, we have to be happy with a point in the face of a decent opposition and such terrible form coming into the game. I think this was probably our best performance of the season, which is kind of like saying Gary Barlow was the best one in Take That. It might be true, but that doesn't mean there's any quality involved.

But it's also true that we needed a win. With this draw and their own late win, Palace have pulled to within two points of us despite making the worst start to an English top flight league season by losing their first six games without scoring. They could be above us by the time you read this.

But taking the performance in isolation there were some things to be pleased about. The team worked hard, with a clearer defensive structure and a definite plan to get wide and bombard the visitors with crosses. I don't much rate that as an offensive tactic, but I'll accept that it's better then smashing it in the general direction of Chicharito and then whipping out the rosary beads.

Elsewhere, Marko Arnautovic seemed to work pretty hard and was a willing outlet on the right, while the likes of Obiang and Cresswell recovered from poor starts to gradually grow into the contest. These were baby steps but we at least looked like a professional team rather than the playground rabble we've been resembling for the last few months. Ironically, the best bit of defending all night came when Arnautovic chased down Vardy after another of Zabaleta's magical mystery tours. If Moyes can extract that kind of attitude on a permanent basis from the squad then it will speak well of what he and his staff are getting across on the training ground. Caveat emptor, however - the view from Shark Towers might not have allowed me the full range of vision to truly assess whether our artists were truly turning into artisans, but it looked acceptable on the telly.

There was some guile among the sweat too, as Arthur Masuaku played in midfield and oscillated wildly between dazzling breaks and strolling around like he was in an art gallery. He has a lovely ability to retain possession under pressure, and as a result has the priceless ability to carry the ball from midfield areas to the final third. Too often that merely ended up with Lanzini or Creswell swinging an aimless cross towards the distant Carroll, but it was, yes, a start.



West Ham break down the right


Watching all those crosses go begging did rather put me in mind of the famous failure Moyes suffered at Manchester United, when his team swung in over 80 crosses during a game with Fulham and managed only a draw. I've written and shared links previously about the inefficiency of crossing as a way of scoring goals and I know not all of you agree, but this seemed like a pretty good example of the point. We put in 31 crosses, with just 5 being successful, one of which led to Kouyate's goal. I suppose the fact that we scored from one might make it odd that I am decrying the tactic, but over 90 minutes of huffing and puffing I found it disheartening to see this being used as our main attacking weapon. As a short term fix I can see the attraction due to the simplicity, but I struggle to see this kind of approach worrying better teams who will have so much more possession than us.

As a tactic it was a bit like watching a Roman Testudo formation being used to storm a Normandy beach. It is organised, with clear planning and you can see the thinking, but nobody does this anymore. It's a relic of a distant past when it made sense to get the ball wide because football was played on terrible pitches and the only parts of the ground not under water were the wings.

In examining this I did a quick check on SofaScore to see what the best teams around were doing in this regard. Close to home, Leicester put in 18 crosses and scored with the only successful one. Further up the league the numbers were as follows:

Crosses

Man City -17
Arsenal - 19
Liverpool - 18
Chelsea - 26
Spurs - 35

Now as a study that's pretty useless but I found it interesting that the only good team who outcrossed us were Spurs who were desperately chasing the points against a West Brom side set up to force you to do this by playing 8 centre halves and pushing you out wide. I should also note that they only drew. As did Chelsea, another team chasing the game.

None of this is definitive, and it's just an opinion, but I have a feeling that a season of this might give us an illusory sense of dominance in certain games, but it's a hard way to score goals.

***

"Watch it all go down, like a stone in a stream
If you fall for your reflection, you will drown in a dream"

- First Aid Kit, "King of the World"


And I think there's a specific reason for that at West Ham.

We need to talk about Andy. Big Andy. The pissed Geordie Samurai who hasn't really looked like Andy for quite a while now. Perhaps the cumulative effect of all those injuries was always going to result in him losing a step, or maybe he's just stumbled off another barstool, but he looks lost as a player. When I think of Carroll at the moment the most useful part of his game seems to be his defensive presence at set pieces. Not quite what we were expecting for 100,000 a week.



Steamin'


His essence was magnificently captured by Barney Ronay in The Guardian after the game. He wrote:

"Carroll does not play football. He inflicts it. He wreaks football...appearing dramatically in the centre of things like the fuselage of a burning Messerschmitt tumbling from the skies"

And now I want to give up writing because I'll never produce anything that good.

But at some point Moyes will surely need to cut the cord with Carroll. There has long been this feeling that there was a way of playing that suited him, that simply eluded us, or which Bilic refused to play due to our status as footballing puritans. At what point do we accept the alternative truth, which is that he is a man out of his time, whereby no modern, progressive manager can play to his strengths because battering goalkeepers into the net while they hold the ball ceased to be legal about the same time as slavery? Carroll is a footballing Siren, calling managers to him with the wild eyed promise of a rampaging centre forward, and then wrecking them upon the rocks of his slow link play and faltering aerial power.

The thing that I notice most about him nowadays is how rarely he seems to do the things that we all think he is good at. Where have the towering headers gone? Whither his physical dominance? Morgan and Maguire handled him so well on Friday that as cross after cross rained down like fireballs over the castle walls, by the end he wasn't even trying to head them, instead lining up speculative volleys. Whatever the faults of Diafra Sakho, I struggle to see how he would be a worse option than this, and he certainly should be getting more than two minutes at the end of games to show his worth.

Perhaps Carroll will run riot at Everton and force me to eat my words, and I happen to think his hold up play remains pretty decent but a team with our problems needs more than that. On occasion we need a central striker who can run in behind, or run into channels to win or retain the ball high up the pitch. I'm not tactical genius, but I can see that Carroll is incapable of this, meaning his entire output at the moment seems to be taking the ball just inside the opposition half with his back to goal and a five man midfield staring at him dolefully. It's perhaps little wonder that he hasn't scored since April.

In an ideal world I guess you would want our wide players to run past him and feed off him, but we have no pace out there so they struggle to get beyond him and as a result he gets caught trying to bring the ball down while outnumbered, and then just ends up getting frustrated. I'd also say that his aerial threat has been effectively neutered by the red card at Burnley and the elbow that slipped the net at Watford.

I feel sorry for him, in so much as I don't think this is all his fault. He's just an electric guitar in a symphony orchestra. It could work, I suppose, but I don't see how. But if the Moyes predilection for playing Carroll and Kouyate as our most advanced attackers and smashing endless streams of crosses at them continues, then I could easily see the Geordie talisman falling out with the crowd again.

***

"Yeah, said it's alright, I won't forget
All the times I've waited patiently for you
And you'll do just what you choose to do"

- Love, "Alone Again Or"


Which brings me back to the crowd and the off the field adventures almost as though I had planned it. I wrote before the last game that I was greatly concerned about the prospect of open revolution in the ground, not because of any great love for the Board, but simply because fans can't just switch effortlessly between spewing vitriol at the Director's Box and then encouraging the team. As it transpired, the support was excellent and if that continues for a while then I think the chances of the team hauling us away from this current mess greatly improves.



Let me guess...he wants a Director of Football


But that hasn't stopped thing progressing apace off the pitch. I implored you all to join WHUISA last time out as I think that proper engagement with the club is important and doing it through a democratically elected group is the way forward. At present their membership stands at 800, which is impressive in a short space of time but needs to continue climbing up into the tens of thousands to truly give the committee the heft they need to press the issues they need to press. They are meeting with the club on 30 November and you can contribute to the discussion around agenda items here.

However, other groups are also in dialogue with the club, including the Real West Ham Fans Action Group who are due to meet with members of the Board next week. This was a group created by Andy Swallow and attracted over 7,000 members in just a couple of days. I have no affiliation with them, but a couple of people I know have suggested it's the real deal and that the group will be an effective rallying point for dialogue with the Board, and will coordinate their efforts with WHUISA.

Their current request is for people to suggest five topics for them to take into the meeting, and as such I thought I'd have a go at sketching out some ideas for discussion. My self imposed rules were that it had to be a realistic area for dialogue (selling up is not a realistic request, nor apparently is demanding Westfield treat us like humans) and should be reasonably broad in nature so as to both facilitate discussion and also try and reflect what I think are concerns from the wider fanbase.

To the extent I get anything factually wrong here, please tell me and I'll update.


1. The Stadium

We need to a have a frank discussion about the stadium that can't simply be based on the premise that the move was a rip-roaring success and that some arbitrary percentage of fans plucked from nowhere are happy with it. I think there are some very specific things about attending matches that others can comment upon, but I think there is a simple truth that a lot of fans who have to sit behind the gangways feel like they are a hell of a lot further from the action than they were at Upton Park. Offering to relocate people is fine, but the general trend seems to have been to move down closer to the pitch and I'm guessing that eventually these seats will become like gold dust.

So can the club please explain their plan to install the retractable seating originally promised, with a particular focus on their plan to install seating that can be retracted rather than dismantled, ensuring that we never again have to start the season with three away games in order to accommodate a minority sport that doesn't contribute to the upkeep of the stadium.


2. The Finances

My understanding of the terms of our lease are that we could not have any external debt at the time of our move, meaning that the owners were forced to make loans to the club. Unlike, say, Stoke where the Coates family have done this at a zero percent rate of interest, the club is paying between six and seven percent at present to our owners.

Whilst I am not necessarily suggesting that the loans should be at nil rates, it does not sit comfortably with the owners desire to project themselves as owner-fans when they are charging the club a rate of interest similar to that paid by other clubs to external lenders. Why do the owners feel this rate of interest is appropriate and would they consider lowering the rate in order to free up more cash for the club? As they seemingly value the club at over 600m, this would be a relatively small sum for them to give up each year prior to a sale, but impactful to the club given our small net spend this season.


3. The Fans

How can the Club justify not taking up a full allocation of away tickets to away games, including a League Cup quarter final at Arsenal? It's outrageous...but (*).

(*) The Club have ceded on this one today, so I've deleted my main diatribe on the topic. This gives me the pleasing sense of having achieved something.


4. The Academy

West Ham's academy is not functioning at a level commensurate with our status or needs. Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs are producing Premier League players at a rate far beyond us, and in doing so have an income stream that is not open to us.

Put simply, what are the club proposing to do about it?


5. The Team

Ah yes. The area where I'm most likely to fall foul of my own rules.

Well, the team is mediocre and has been for a number of years. Since taking over the club and appointing himself Director of Football, David Sullivan has presided over a relegation, a promotion and a succession of bottom half finishes. The exception to this was 2015/16 when we finished 7th. Leicester won the league that year. We have had one semi final appearance in the League Cup where Man City scraped past us 9-0 on aggregate.

During that same time our transfer activity has been dubious at best, with barely anything recovered from external sales relative to our outgoings. Our largest sale was when Dimitri Payet left the club six months after his triumphant Euro 2016 campaign. We received less for him that Newcastle received for Moussa Sissoko the year before. The last four transfer windows have been unsuccessful.

We have employed four managers in that seven year span, with the Board's first choices rejecting the job on each occasion. We are currently employing a manager on a short term deal to try and keep us up, and as I write this we sit in the relegation zone.

The club currently have a higher wage bill than Dortmund, Valencia, Inter and Roma. The chairman was so delighted about this that he tweeted it out to all of us. I am assuming that someone on the Board actually realises that paying lots of money to be average is a bad thing but, at this stage, who knows.

So, my question is straightforward. We have changed the manager, the players, the scouts and the coaches. At this point the only person to have retained their position in this structure for the last seven years is our Director of Football. So, can we have a new one please?

Please feel free to add your own comments below, or perhaps better yet, tell the organisations directly. I'm not entirely sure I fully understand all that is happening with the Board, and truthfully think their desire for approval is really a weakness, but it is what it is and I'm happy to stick my two penneth worth in. Don't be shy of doing the same.


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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