Hard-to-beat flair team - the new West Ham way

Damned with faint praise, but we eventually got there, even if it took a little time. Finally there has been some serious, considered views on our season in the wake of the momentous victory over an admittedly spineless Liverpool.

It is always the same when one of the major clubs in the Premier League get beaten by one of their supposed inferiors. Annoying though it is, I fully understand why.

Back in my previous life, I too would have gone in hard on the downfall of a giant. It is always the biggest name, the biggest club, the biggest crisis that makes the headlines and sells newspapers.

Problem is, we have now turned over one of the big five this season on five occasions. It is no fluke, there is a pattern here and after Jurgen Klopp and the worst Liverpool side I have ever seen---I do love his new Klipperty nickname--had been outplayed by us and then shredded by the media, finally the spotlight has turned on Slaven Bilic and our heroes.

There was something different about Saturday's victory, I am sure thousands of you felt it too. We didn't just beat a club who were once great and one of the best in the world (but are now struggling to be the top side on Merseyside), we won it with something to spare.

Our previous impressive wins this season against the supposed top five have gained faint praise. It was all about them. When we beat Arsenal on the opening day, it was all about Arsene Wenger and his poor summer transfer policy.

Then we won at Anfield and it was Brendan Rodgers in the firing line. Literally. Word on Merseyside was that the only thing Rodgers improved there was his tan, his teeth and his totty. When we won at Manchester City, Manuel Pellegrini's future was the main topic of conversation in the inquest afterwards.

Next up we beat Chelsea, Jose Mourinho imploded and took all the headlines. His job was soon gone. The draw at Manchester United was all about a boring, boring Louis Van Gaal. Now it has been Klopp's new team and their considerable problems.

Now maybe it's our turn. It was a controlled, organised, victory. There was no doubt who was the best team. Usually when we are doing well against our betters, I spend the final minutes in a state of nervous, tense, nail-biting panic. And I am not the only one counting down the minutes on the clock.

Not this time. And it wasn't because the light bulb in the clock over Chav Corner at the Boleyn hasn't been replaced for weeks (come on Karren, pop down to Queens Road market and buy some on your lunch break). When that final whistle went I was surprised, I hadn't been clock-watching - just watching a thoroughly competent victory.

We had outplayed Liverpool, despite their greater possession. And there was even time to bring back Dimitri Payet to take the mickey with some breathtaking control and turns that befuddled at least four opponents at once.

I left the ground feeling as if I had witnessed something special, different. We are now beating top sides on a regular basis. The irritating bit was that this was a BT match and they only give Match of the Day and Sky's Goals on Sunday a minute of action and it is never on Match Choice. That hardly did our achievement justice.

Then the Sunday papers rattled on about us being bullies and direct, and how bad Liverpool were. The Monday papers were not much better, it was all about Klopp's rebuilding, oh and Andy Carroll for England. Yea, right!
So eventually there was thought about us. And the Guardian produce a decent piece by Martin Laurence on the impact Bilic has had. Prior to the match my old mate Joe Bernstein had written a very interesting piece in the Mail about Bilic's love of tactics and how he and his trusted coaches spend all day swapping ideas and theories as they prepare for the next match. It showed some genuine depth of thinking along with energy, enthusiasm and inspiration.

And the Guardian lad came up with the expression, "Hard to beat flair team" to describe us. I couldn't have put it better myself, and without probably meaning it, gave a very modern version of the West Ham way tag we are saddled with.

Having been around long enough to have seen the Ron Greenwood era, and the Malcolm Allison influence before that, I have always been a touch cynical about the constant debates about the WHW. It was never what people think it was, certainly not hard to beat, and although it achieved great success in the early '60s, was too idealistic for the decades that followed.

The vast majority of the people who nag on about the supposed West Ham way never saw its foundation, the whole idea has been overtaken by myth and legend. You cannot just throw men forward and expect to win 5-4 every week. Pass, move, entertain for sure. Win much? Now that's a different matter.

Alan Devonshire and Trevor Brooking's teams got closest. But they had Alvin Martin, Billy Bonds, Frank Lampard and Phil Parkes behind them.

Now Bilic has shown he has clever tactical nouse and has made us hard to beat in a period when a shocking injury list could have knocked us off course. But we were one of only two Premier League teams unbeaten in December, the busiest, most demanding month of the season.

And the flair is there, with Payet and Manuel Lanzini, if we can ever get the little Argentinian fit for more than a couple of matches. Enner Valencia has taken a long time to come good, but he is starting to look the part.

The hard to beat bit was James Collins, 23 clearances, while Adrian is better than Simon Mignolet, who dropped his usual couple of crosses.

Cheikhou Kouyate is an amazing work horse while Mark Noble is proving his endless critics wrong; his display against Liverpool was his best of the season, in attack and his usual destructive, industrious midfield role.

One point here. I am getting sick of seeing the stick he gets. He is constantly called a Championship player. Rubbish. Noble has played well over 300 games for us now, the vast majority in the Premier League. That makes him a Premier League player in my book. End of story. He deserves his testimonial and it is typical of the man that it's all going to charity.

What makes our form this season so different, and maybe the start of a new era for the club, is the fact that our points are coming against the best. We finished 12th last term and 25 of our points this time around have come against teams who finished above us last season.

I flicked through some Liverpool fans' comments this week, and got a touch annoyed by the "we should be beating teams like this" attitude. I assume they mean being beaten by us three times in our last four meetings. That not only shows our improvement, but Liverpool's demise.

They still think they are a big, big club. Not so any more, not with only one Champions League appearance in the last six years. They have kissed goodbye to around ?150m of UEFA prize money in that time and have a lot of catching up to do. Being arrogant and patronising doesn't help them.

Our form against the best is impressive. Last season we managed seven points from ten games against the big five. This season it is 16 from six matches so far against the same five.

Last season, incidentally, we had 32 points from our first 20 games and were seventh. This term it is also 32 from 20 and we are sixth. But how we have got to this point is the key, and Bilic's ability to galvanise a team, produce spirit and desire and to win against our betters.

Now I have a view on this (you'd be disappointed if I didn't surely!) And it comes from thinking how Bilic and his coaches work together. They were all together running the Croatia national team who punched hugely above their weight under Bilic.

But they showed how to beat top teams. In their time with Croatia, they beat England and Italy, both twice, also Argentina, Germany, Poland and Belgium. They also drew twice with Russia and also France.

They seem able to spot weaknesses, construct a solid defensive block and hit on the break. They have the knack of bringing big names down a peg or two. The key is that players do their jobs, stick to a plan and are adaptable. And they take their chances.

There is so much money flooding into the Premier League's new TV deal from next season, we just have to be in it to make the OS work. Bilic, with 32 points already, has all but achieved the task he was given when he arrived. Beating the best seems to come easy to Bilic and top six/eight is within us.

Four defeats in the league all season, two defeats in our last 17 and unbeaten in seven is no fluke. We deserve to be taken seriously now.

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