Monday, 27 January 2014

Change needed at West Ham

The hope of Orient supporters and dread of West Ham fans must be that the two clubs meet in the Championship next season.

This dream of Orient chairman Barry Hearn seems to become an ever more probable prophecy with each passing week, as the O’s continue to extend their lead at the top of Division One, whilst the Hammers stack up defeat after defeat in the Premiership.

The West Ham board apparently remain confident that when all the club’s injured players return that should be enough to ensure Premiership survival but will it? And what if the unthinkable does happen, West Ham get relegated just two seasons before taking up residency in the Olympic stadium. The thought must keep West Ham’s owners David Gold and David Sullivan awake at night.

There can be few who would doubt that West Ham have underachieved this season. It has been a struggle from the kick off back in August, with the brief respite offered by a League cup run ending with the humiliating 9-0 aggregate defeat to Manchester City over two legs.

Many expected West Ham to kick on after their impressive return to the top flight last season, that culminated in a 10th placed finish. But that was not to be the case.

The problem all season has been a failure to score goals. This has been put at the door in the main of the long-term injury to Andy Carroll, the club’s £15 million signing in the summer.
It is here that the questions have to start being asked about the judgement of West Ham manager Sam Allardyce. Carroll has been injury prone all of his career, so to go into a season without cover for such an individual was a gamble that clearly hasn’t paid off.
The club were reported to have been in the running last summer to sign Newcastle loanee Loic Remy and Swansea’s Wilfred Bony but the deals did not happen. Had either of these players been signed then West Ham maybe at the other end of the Premiership table by now.
The question fans will want answered is whether the decision to not sign such an individual was down to the manager or did the board fail to come up with the money required.

One action that does seem to be down to the manager and really does question his judgement is the failure to keep on veteran striker Carlton Cole. A proven, if sometimes unreliable goal scorer, Cole was let go last summer. He was then re-signed in November, scoring four goals since coming back.

So there have clearly been miscalculations made by Allardyce’s management team.

The manager has insisted that the defence was solid, the problem remained at the other end. He mentions the ten clean sheets kept. This is true but West Ham languish at the bottom of the table all the same.

Allardyce seemed to be counting the days to the transfer window opening, promising new faces yet just one deal (the loan of defender Roger Johnson from Wolves) has materialised. The failure of West Ham to attract signings tends to suggest that maybe players do not want to come to the club anymore.

This may have something to do with the style of play. The route 1 football for which Allardyce is renowned has never been popular with the West Ham faithful. The chant "We’re West Ham and we play on the ground" seemingly always rings out when things start going wrong. But these fans do have a point. In a recent game against Newcastle, the Geordies outstanding player was the skillful Yohan Cabaye. He scored twice and tormented West Ham all afternoon. But had Cabaye been playing for West Ham, would he have ever seen the ball, as it was relentlessly launched straight down the middle from the back bypassing the midfield.
West Ham are so predictable, knocking the ball square until someone at the back launches it forward. Alternatively it is worked down the wings, for crosses to the centre. Repeatedly this season teams have come to Upton Park and simply outplayed West Ham with fast, ground based football. These clubs from Everton to Newcastle via Arsenal have skilled fast players, who break quickly and move the ball across the ground. Allardyce’s attritional football is no match for such teams.

So there has to be a question, even with everybody fit as to whether this attritional football that Allardyce has made his trademark over the year’s works anymore. It is certainly not popular with the West Ham fans and when things start going wrong they are not slow to voice their opinions.

Allardyce has made other mistakes, such as fielding so many youngsters in the FA Cup drubbing at Nottingham Forest. This almost seemed like a rebuke not just to the competition but to those who have criticised the manager for his failure to bring through good youngsters from the West Ham academy. Indeed one of these, Jordan Spence, who has put in some promising right back performances, was left out on loan while the club struggled through without any recognised right backs to play in the first team.

So yes, Allardyce has not had much luck this season but there have been some huge errors made at the club contributing to their present plight.
No doubt Gold and Sullivan have surveyed the situation, pondering whether the time is right to ditch the manager but they have stuck by their man thus far.
Whether that proves the right decision only time will tell. What is for sure is that there needs to be radical change at West Ham. They are moving into a top stadium, comparable to the likes of Manchester City’s Etihad, Arsenal’s Emirates and Old Trafford, yet the team continues to struggle at the bottom of the table. If West Ham are to make a success of the move to the new stadium, they need a football team to match. A team that can compete with the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, not one that looks set to be fighting it out with Orient in the Championship next year.

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