Thursday, 7 April 2016

West Ham supporters wondering how high the bubbles with rise before the Boleyn ground closes its doors for the final time

These are exciting days for West Ham United, as the club prepares to bid farewell to its home for the past 100 years, the Boleyn ground.

A place in the top four of the Premiership and the FA Cup final beckon - and if it were not for the meteoric rise of Leicester City, surely West Ham would have got even more plaudits for their performances this season.

It has certainly been a season to remember. New manager Slaven Bilic has brought in great players and a brand of football much more in keeping with the traditions of the club than his predecessor Sam Allardyce.

The pick of the bunch has no doubt been the diminutive French international midfielder Dimitri Payet, who has already been granted iconic status by the fans.  

Payet has certainly grabbed the headlines, not least with his amazing free kicks. West Ham may have been denied penalties all season (just one, last August) by a series of below average referees but the presence of Payet in the team, means that every time a free kick is given around the penalty area, there is an excellent chance of the team scoring.

Payet though has not been the sole star, with Argentinian Manuel Lanzini just as inventive on his day as the Frenchman. Then on the home front there has been the amazing progress of Michel Antonio. Signed in the summer from Nottingham Forest for £7 million, Antonio took some time to break into the team. However, when his chance came in November he seized it with both hands. Antonio has since scored seven goals in all competitions (six in the Premiership) in 20 games. The feat is all the more amazing, given that for a good number of recent games Antonio has been playing at right back, still managing to cover huge areas of the pitch and get those vital goals. Much of his play is reminiscent of former Spurs and England player Andros Townsend at his best and it is difficult not to think that if Antonio was at one of the big clubs - favoured by England manager Roy Hodgson - he would have been in the international squad by now.

There have been many heroes for West Ham this season, not least Aaron Creswell at left back and the driving force that is the midfielder and captain Mark Noble (both incidentally also ignored by Hodgson.)

The players have performed brilliantly this season but lets not forget the amazing contribution of manager Slaven Bilic, whose infectious enthusiasm and attention to detail has contributed so much to this successful season.

The selections have been spot on, the use of substitutes exemplary and the manager’s passion for the club unyielding. Few will forget Bilic’s euphoria on the night that West Ham defeated Liverpool 2-1 in extra time to progress into the fifth round of the FA Cup. The manager’s declared desire to win the FA Cup above all else has done much to restore the status of that competition.

Bilic has managed to get more than 100 per cent out of his players for the entire season. He has also looked to bring  on young players like Reece Oxford.

So all is looking good for the Hammers as the season enters its final straight with the Olympic stadium beckoning beyond. West Ham are still in the hunt for a top four Premiership place that would bring Champions League football in the first season at the Olympic stadium. A goal that many fans believe would be a lot closer but for some recent dubious refereeing decisions. The club are also still in the FA Cup, hoping to overcome Manchester United in the FA Cup quarter final replay next Wednesday to advance to the semi-final at Wembley.

Many veterans of the Boleyn ground believe this is the best West Ham side since the boys of 86, who so nearly carried off the First Division title in those days. If Bilic’s boys keep going, his side could certainly match if not surpass the glories of that season. It all remains in their hands.

So all is looking good as the old Boleyn ground prepares to close its doors for the final time, the only question for fans is how high those bubbles will go come the end of the season.

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