Away day (claret and) blues

You would hope that the Cardiff debacle would be some sort of watershed, wouldn't you? That our pitiful away performances would be addressed. Enough is enough, surely.

Even if the shameful rubbish away fans have had to witness for some while seems to have gone unnoticed. Let's face it, we have won just 15 of our 64 away games in all competitions since we moved to Stratford. So it's nothing new. And that's under Slaven Bilic, David Moyes and now Manuel Pellegrini.

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Those of us who travel the country following our team are used to this. The recent run is terrible, and the worst statistic is that we have won just one of our last nine Premier League away games against sides that started the game in the relegation zone.

But it is worth also recording that since the Marko nonsense in the transfer window, we have won only two of nine games since. In the previous nine, with Marko looking the part, we won six. That says a lot, surely.

And the away run has worsened. Somewhere along the way we have failed to produce enough fight against desperate teams, to earn the right to play our football, I believe, is the correct clich? amongst professional footballers.

Of course, we are now being told this is all about our culture, our heritage, it's the West Ham way, typical West Ham. What utter tosh.

Having witnessed, painfully, the dreadful, spineless display in south Wales, it's all to do with players lacking application, concentration and not doing their job properly. Let's not dress it up as something else, something to explain away.

What was Angelo Ogbonna doing for that first goal - and why did four defenders fail to track Junior Hoilett? As for the second, Oggy lost his man again.

Pellegrini is telling the players they need a big club mentality, he insists we are trying to play away from home as we do at home. Trouble is, we don't have the quality in our side to do that.

It's all very well sending out Real Madrid and Manchester City with six attacking players and telling them to get on with it, but life is a bit different further down the food chain.

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You can talk to them all you want, but there is a failure here to prepare them in the right way, to accept deficiencies and work around them.

And it must be accepted that we are currently the most improved team in the Premier League, a 30 per cent improvement on last season. We are still ninth with 11 wins, more than last season already. Last season at this stage we had just 30 points to our name. So our new manager is getting a lot of stuff right.

Now before I go any further, it is not my style to be critical of managers, I believe they know more about it than me, they see the players every day, they see how they perform in training, they know about niggling injuries and the state of mind of their players.

So managers make choices to consider all these things, stuff that the regular punter does not necessarily know. Pellegrini is no different.

I believe he is a top line manager, with great experience and he knows how to man-manage players. But I do sense a feeling around the place that he is above criticism.

There are still people who believe the myth that the fans' actions last season forced David Sullivan down this road. He is, in effect, their man. But he is not infallible.

The fact that we have learned from the board, Pelle himself and plenty of other ITN sources, that in fact much of the negotiations and planning for Pellegrini's appointment went on before David Moyes was even installed and before various agitating fans groups were even formed.

Our board was going to appoint Pellegrini and spend the money - he would never have come otherwise - long before things turned nasty last term.

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So as soon as someone is even mildly critical of the man, there is a rush to support him, to blame the fact that he hasn't signed his own players yet and that this is an ongoing project.

Well - and this will bring the hordes down on me no doubt - I am going to attempt some criticism. Firstly, it is a very long time ago that he last managed ordinary players. You can tell them to have a big team approach, but talking and doing are two different things.

And we don't seem to take into account how lesser teams play. We seem wholly unable to cope with fierce pressing, the running and hounding that Cardiff produced on Saturday. They man marked our better players...Felipe Anderson, Manu Lanzini and Declan Rice, and gave nobody a second of peace.

There's nothing wrong with that, it's how they will survive. But Harry Arter said that Cardiff "outworked" us. What a terrible indictment.

Neil Warnock's side play only one way, and this was it. But all over the pitch they were stronger, more competitive, more physical and they wanted it so much more. They deserved their win and we got what we deserved.

We have failed to cope with the 'high press' all season. We don't seem to have the players who can handle it. Cardiff, Wimbledon in the Cup, Bournemouth, Brighton, Burnley, they all play a similar style - and we lost the lot.

Wolves play that way, and they have better players, and have spanked us twice. Their display at Chelsea on Sunday made the point. They pressed, defended in an organised shape and hit on the break. They are a better team than us and deserve seventh spot.

Pellegrini must have known what Cardiff would produce. So I fail to see why he did not start with the strength of Michail Antonio, and put Marko Arnautovic on from the start.

Now I know there is a feeling that Marko is not pulling his weight, and he's an easy target. I am not so sure about that. It is hard to judge whether he is giving 100 per cent or not, such is his lazy looking, languid style. But I felt when he came on at Cardiff we improved; it was a difficult time because the home side were camped in their half and very hard to break down.

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I know he doesn't deserve it, but I am still prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. I don't know whether Pelle is teaching him a lesson, whether he even approved of the new, enhanced contract the Austrian has got, but surely he is a better bet than Chicharito now, who after a few half-decent games was dire at Cardiff.

Felipe Anderson could also have been rested for such a physical game. We have all now seen his deficiencies in this department. Cardiff gave him a couple of serious digs early on and, as usual, he was left sitting on the pitch appealing for protection from the referee.

We know he does not like a tackle and can drift out of games. Pelle could well have left Anderson and Chicharito out and started with Antonio and Arnautovic.

But greater application and thought would have improved things. Lukasz Fabianski reckons it's a mental thing, that players are not on their game now we are -virtually - safe. Rice correctly pointed out how hard it is to play against man marking.

Now that is easy to dismiss. But better teams than us have struggled against Cardiff's style. They haven't capitulated like we did, but it's never easy against Warnock's sides, particularly with their almost industrial cheating and time wasting.

I counted 20 times that their players went down supposedly injured, if you add it up that's more than 20 minutes taken out of the game by Warnock's system.

And our lot were so enraged they were running around trying to get the ball back from half-asleep ball boys and let the whole thing get on top of them. Again, no sympathy, we should be better than that. But Cardiff have beaten Wolves, Leicester and Southampton playing like this. Now us.

It took Arsenal until the final minutes to beat them (twice), while Spurs have struggled and Liverpool needed two late goals to win against them. It shows that man marking can disrupt the best, and we are not the best.

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All in all a tough day for the team, and the fans. For once I felt some sympathy for them. Normally my long trek from the north is tiresome, but this time a very pleasant journey down to Bristol and then a short link from there.

Plenty of my colleagues from deepest Essex had awful stories. Just getting to a London rail terminal is difficult enough, I am informed, with all those replacement buses.

Then the return journey saw a train breakdown at Bath, and a dangerously overcrowded replacement one some time later. After watching West Ham play as they did, I believe tempers were a touch frayed.

I used to work in Cardiff and met up with a few mates afterwards in a Chinese casino (yes, my wife does know) and a pleasant evening was had by all. Until next time then folks, when it's Chelsea, Manchester United and Spurs away in succession. We do need to get our act together by then!

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