SUCH was the ludicrous manner in which the Hammers contrived to lose at the Emirates, teams of Wiccan specialists are waving crystals, reciting spells and wafting smoke to reverse the curse that has quite clearly been placed on West Ham United Football Club. They needn’t bother – the cause of our malaise is much more prosaic – the collective failure of David Sullivan, Mario Husillos and Manuel Pellegrini to buy attacking players that can function in the Premier League.
The decision to get rid of strikers Javier Hernandez, Andy Carroll, Marko Arnautovic, Jordan Hugill and Lucas Perez last season can’t really in isolation be faulted. To replace them with only the moody Sebastien Haller and woeful Albian Ajeti is close to criminal. Michail Antonio strove manfully as a stand-in forward but as soon as presented with a goal scoring opportunity for himself or a colleague made the sort of enthusiastic mess of things you might expect when inviting your young kids to “help in the kitchen” at half-term. A brilliant off the cuff player, his lack of a football brain was cruelly exposed.
Behind the forwards Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko, Jack Wilshere and Carlos Sanchez (all Pellegrini signings) have offered next to nothing. The first pair on the list are “almost good” players who like many “flair” players do little out of possession – but not nearly enough with the ball to justify their elevated status. Payet they are not. Best we don’t speak of the other two.
Returning to a favoured theme, under Sullivan there is no strategy for team building and players are bought haphazardly. Pellegrini’s monstrous wages paid in part for complicity in the arrangement as Husillos’ forays into the transfer market were most likely to line his own wallet (why else Roberto?) while Sullivan’s dabbles lack coherence and seem more about keeping fans quiet than future profit on or off the pitch.
This shambles of a policy includes managers -David Moyes’ ability to build a team is legendary and as a long-term appointment could be excellent – even if he would probably make a better Director of Football. So Sullivan twice appoints the former Everton and Manchester United boss to extinguish the fires lit by more favoured appointees. Moyes’ modest buys Jarrod Bowen and Tomas Soucek (in this game Moyes can be criticised for bringing the Czech international on too late for the tiring Noble) appear to offer the side so much more than the glamour signings even if Pelle buy Pablo Fornals has developed a refreshing work ethic under the Scot.
A low press with Bowen and Antonio attacking with pace on the counter seems a decent gameplan given the players available. It’s certainly an improvement on Pellegrini’s lazy “go out and work some magic” tactics and might just pull the club out of the mire for one more season. Surely, however, it’s only a matter of time before the club’s almost annual flirtation with relegation turns into full sex and we er… go down.
The deciding factor in the Arsenal game was VAR, because of course it was. West Ham haven’t had a positive meaningful ruling from the system all season – and once again the most marginal of decisions went against the Hammers. As said before, the system should borrow from cricket on tight offside decisions and go with umpire’s (or in this case referee’s) call. That would make far too much sense – as would a joined-up West Ham recruitment policy.
THE club narrative that protests harm the team has been thoroughly dismembered. Protests at Liverpool resulted in defeat but a sparkling performance against the Champions-elect. Thousands of protestors before the Southampton game preceded the most complete onfield performance of the season as the away side were brushed aside by the Hammers pace and power.
There is little doubt however, the David Sullivan-inspired PR offensive will continue with the latest instalment (more offensive than PR) involving rolling out a former ticket tout and alickadoo named Terry Creasey claiming “Bobby Moore would be turning in his grave” at the protests.
Aside from the fact his quotes in the Mail are so on-message they appear to have been written by Sullivan himself, they open the intriguing prospect of further revelations from “the other side”. As a manager himself Ron Greenwood would assert David Moyes must pick Pablo Fornals. And protest organisers Hammers United will have missed a trick if they don’t employ a medium to prove Vic Watson has always loved #GSBOUT.
There is a serious side to this – Sullivan has long sought to monetise the memory of Moore – to now use his legacy as a propaganda tool sits perfectly with a classless and cynical attitude towards death. This is the man who, let’s not forget, used the suicide of former lover and porn star Mary Millington as an excuse to release a posthumous exploitation film described by IMDB as a “tawdry tribute” that featured a lengthy interview by himself. For the record, Sullivan dumped Millington prior to her untimely death after drug abuse and depression (hers) affected their relationship.
As much as writing about Sullivan’s squalid and seedy past is a chore, Saturday’s game was a delight. Supporters were re-energised by both the pre-match protest and Monday night’s efforts against Liverpool that promised better results against less accomplished sides. Southampton, with the sort of lethargy often exhibited by mid-table sides at the fag-end of the season played their part.
Manager David Moyes played a side to have a go (he won’t play such a side for every game) and striker Sebastien Haller, relishing the space created as Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen regularly got themselves in front of the “Baguette Batistuta” played hell with the Saints defence. At the other end of the pitch it was obvious work had been done on set plays with six men defending the goal area at corners – also striking was a new attitude – perhaps a result of the appointment of motivator Kevin Nolan to the coaching staff. On that point it’s worth saying football whispers suggest Moyes’ struggles to appoint back room staff was due to a widespread feeling that stay up or go down staff would all be released at the end of the season.
Goals from Bowen, Haller and Antonio were more than enough to dispatch the South-coast visitors and leapfrogged the club above Bournemouth on goal difference and out of the relegation zone – a net return of only minus three against Manchester City and Liverpool away now looks a good return. The only negative from the day were the fading legs and lungs of poor Mark Noble. His lack of pace was directly responsible for Southampton’s goal and the days of him being an automatic choice appear numbered.
Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together
WEST HAM absolutely West Hammed the fuck out of their must-win game against Brighton at the London Stadium on Saturday. Normal rules just don’t apply at the London Stadium – three-one up with a little over 20 minutes to play a substitution from manager David Moyes precipitated a horrible capitulation and turned three points into one.
Michail Antonio is a notoriously injury-prone player who had just returned from a hamstring tweak. All the evidence suggests 60 minutes or so is the maximum a player should stay on the pitch in those circumstances before fatigue massively increases the likelihood of further injury.
Likewise the decision to change the formation to a more defensive system and move debutée Tomas Soucek to a more defensive role was textbook. Premier League clubs don’t give up two goal leads against sides as week in attack as Brighton.
Unless you are West Ham.
Antonio’s replacement Arthur Masuaku’s very first action was to put team-mate Aaron Cresswell under pressure with a stupid cushioned header when he would have done better just knocking the ball upfield. His second was to use all his £60,000 a week judgement to hit the ball not up the line to a waiting Declan Rice but straight at a Brighton’s Leandro Trossard lurking infield. The ball ricocheted over Angelo Ogbonna as Issa Diop inexplicably played “After You Claude”, dallied over a clearing header and allowed Pascal Gross to poke home.
Worse followed. Albion’s Glenn Murray is a 36-year old striker who only ever seems to score against the Hammers – and he was goalless this season coming into the game. Masuaku lost his man on the left wing, a cross came in, Ryan Fredericks hacked at fresh air and Murray slotted the ball home after having appeared to control the ball with his arm. Referee Michael Oliver certainly thought so and awarded a free-kick only for the decision to be overturned by VAR and a goal awarded.
There are very many things wrong with video replay as used at present and if you want the ultimate takedown there is no better than this Twitter postby Hammers supporter Daisy Christodoulou. This blog believes football should take a leaf from cricket when the evidence is dubious and stick with a referee’s decision – but that would be far too sensible.
At this point a story about a mate and a foreign experience. Please bear with, there is a point to all this: He and his wife landed in St Petersburg, Russia as part of a Baltic Sea cruise where they were ferried around the sights by minibus. Due to repeated warnings of pickpockets our protagonists had taken the very sensible precaution of placing all valuables in a zipped bag kept safe by the driver. A wise and cautious decision.
After nearly a day of seemingly interminable gold-leaf adorned corridors our man, tired of the bling and with permission from tour leader and missus, left a procession through yet another house to take some air in the park outside with a promise to meet up in half an hour. Only after appreciating the solitude did our guy realise he wasn’t wearing a watch and had no mobile to tell the time by. Not to worry. Until nobody turned up at the allotted meeting place and at first 45 minutes then, he guessed, an hour passed. Panicked, he retraced his steps to the car park to find the minibus gone. It was only then that without any means of communication, money, identification or passport it dawned on him that if he didn’t find the group, due to the local vagrancy laws, he as fresh meat would be spending at least one evening in a Russian prison*.
Just as a series of ostensibly good decisions led to calamity, so with Moyes. The lesson in both cases is to look at a wider picture – the traveller needed to be much more cautious in a foreign country – and West Ham are not anything like the competently-run football clubs Moyes has largely been associated with.
Critical non-essentials were the small things in the detail of everything the team did in its preparation and playing that could be improved to set the England team apart from its rivals, and create a winning mindset which would influence players’ behaviour.
England World Cup winning coach Sir Clive Woodward
Elite sports coaches look to imbue in their charges an atmosphere where every slightest variable is controlled down to the minutest percentage. It is those tiny intangibles that make a difference between victory and defeat. In contrast the Hammers chuck away entire blocks of advantage without a thought.
Good clubs trade in the summer to build a balanced squad for the type of football they want to play. West Ham buy a player on the last hour of the January transfer window and get whoever they can meaning the manager didn’t have recent signing Jarrod Bowen available to replace Antonio.
Efficient sides build top quality training facilities to instill an atmosphere of professionalism in players and give them no excuse for failure. West Ham’s look more akin to the former traveller encampment that Basildon residents so enjoyed before it was ripped down with police assistance.
Innovative teams use an analytics and video teams to study opponents and instigate strategies at both ends of the pitch to better confront opponents. They have a big injury prevention team to minimise soft-tissue issues. West Ham allowed both to atrophy as former boss Slaven Bilic “didn’t rate” them.
Top squads have a Director of Football overseeing a network of scouts across Europe to identify and buy young talent. David Sullivan gets on the phone to his agent friend.
Sporting success breeds on a “can do” attitude. West Ham “make do” with an “it’ll do” mindset. The inevitable result is the on-field shambles we saw against Brighton.
*In case you were wondering, in time the minibus returned to pick my friend up. It remains to be seen if West Ham can blunder their way out of the current mess.
Fuck off Gold and Sully Where’s the fucking money? It’s all lies, lies, lies
West Ham fans to the tune of Slade’s Cum on Feel the Noize
Where we are:
The chickens are coming home to roost for West Ham owners. And how. The deadly duo of David Sullivan and David Gold, plus henchman Karren Brady, have spent 10 years telling us how they “saved the club” and “all” the money they’ve pumped in despite neither claim having any basis in fact. They now have just a few days to finally make good on their promises as all their poor decision making has led to the very real threat of not “A world class stadium for a world class team” but relegation to the Championship.
Poor decision-making, a lack of a coherence in scouting and buying players and a dearth of team identity mean the side need Premier League quality buys at right-back, centre midfield and striker just to stay afloat. Worse, the signs are not encouraging anybody wants to come and the club’s single scout might feel themself a little overwhelmed.
Sullivan’s populist insistence the club aim for a cup run, has proved to be the folly some predicted. For a team with such a small and lopsided squad to put out a near first team at the busiest time of the season is all but suicidal. Ryan Fredericks and Lukasz Fabianski have already succumbed to injury as a result – and judging by the way he kept feeling his hamstring against West Brom, Michail Antonio might not be far behind. Five players started the game playing their fourth game in 15 days. As it was the side couldn’t even make it past the Championship’ West Brom reserves, never mind the better sides.
The counter argument that “winning breeds confidence” carries little weight. One of the prime drivers of our 2011 relegation, apart from the ineptitude of Sullivan appointed manager Avram Grant, were cup runs to the semi-final of the League Cup and sixth round of the FA Cup. Those extra 10 games left the squad completely drained physically and mentally and they managed just two draws and no wins from their final nine league games.
Perhaps the best comment came as the result of a father noisily remonstrating with a steward about the language his six-year-old son was having to endure. A more grizzled head quietly and laconically observed: “It was your choice to bring him to an X-rated show”.
Chief among the obscenities was midfielder Carlos “Dirty” Sanchez. Picked only to allow Mark Noble to rest his weary 32-year-old legs the Colombian put in surely one of the worst individual performances ever seen in claret and blue. The first goal in a game is crucial – and especially for away sides at the London Stadium who know how brittle the Hammers confidence is. Predictably Sanchez took centre stage.
Issa Diop contrived to loop a routine clearing header sidewise to Albion midfielder Filip Krovinovic, who set off with the ball more in hope than expectation. Pitifully overweight Sanchez, who would be nicking a living at 70 grand a year never mind a week, bore down on him with all the malicious intent of an extra from The Day of the Dead. Just not the pace.
The ball broke from Charlie Austin and the Colombian (it would be crass to suggest he may have been imbibing his country’s most famous export. especially as he appeared off his not inconsiderable tits on some super cray cray bud) contrived to take a shot. At his own goal. Fortunately his initial effort rebounded once again off Diop for Conor Townsend to complete the job.
Thereafter, the first half was a tale of Fabian Balbuena attempting lose possession each occasion he was rashly presented with the ball by team-mates. At half-time manager David Moyes gave a pretty strong message to his Chairman and took off three players. Most notably, despite being largely anonymous Manuel Lanzini was quite accurately perceived at least the fourth worst performer on the pitch. The woeful Sanchez and Balbuena were hooked along with an ineffective Pablo Fornals.
On came Michael Antonio, Mark Noble and Angelo Ogbonna as the game turned on its head with an attacking 4-3-1-2 formation. Instead of giving the ball away, the home side concentrated on blazing wide of goal from advanced positions and not putting the ball behind the Baggies defence for Antonio to run in on.
It is said patience is its own reward and so it proved with Sebastien Haller finally managing a first effort on target for the home side in the 84th minute. Off his shoulder. Noble managed to absolutely passion a sitter over the bar as Albian Ajeti stood watching – same as he had all game as West Ham’s “best squad ever” slumped to defeat.
Had it not been for the massive “once a season” presence in the crowd – the day was surely every half-and-half scarf seller’s Christmas – things could easily have become as nasty as the infamous Burnley game a couple of seasons ago. As it is there may be a substantial proportion of parents not bringing their children again.
Moyes has taken a lot of stick on social media over the past two games, all of it pointless and much unfair. Yes he’s the man in the hotseat and of course he’s earning decent money – although nowhere near the scale of his useless predecessor – so he cannot be completely immune to criticism. The first thing to say is to those who didn’t want him “Fair enough”. Followed rapidly by “tough shit” – as he was essentially the only person to put himself up for the job.
Furthermore, there is plenty of mitigation. He has picked up a terrible squad, been ordered to play strong teams in cup games and suffered injuries as a result. He has no back-room team, nor likelihood of signings as only he and Alan Irvine are brave/stupid enough to want to come to Sullivan and Gold’s “Shit show at the fuck factory” (Many thanks @dirtyepic7).
Having spent a season and a half criticising previous incumbent Manuel Pellegrini for lacking a Plan B it seems a little rich to then slate “Dithering Dave” when he takes the bull by the horns and changes things up – as he did at Leicester and again versus West Brom. Moyes has been mugged off by Sullivan’s promises in exactly the same manner as you and I. Empathy, not scorn should be the order of the day, we all know how he feels, yeah?
Another target is Moyes’s treatment of Pablo Fornals put against that of Lanzini. Frankly, we are half a season on and still yet to see anything beyond “promise” from the £24million Spaniard as he continues to underwhelm. In contrast Moyes has seen strong evidence of how well Lanzini can play. What we and he really require is a talisman to replace the efforts of Marko Arnautovic during the Scotsman’s last stint. Haller has shown little sign of being that man and Ajeti none. The irony would be if turns out Antonio can inspire the side – he and as manager didn’t get on particularly well last time out.
Plus, each and every time you get onto Moyes there is an exhalation of gratitude from the board as he is taking their heat. This blog feels there is a limit to how much he can continue to parrot the party line and it is testament to his professionalism he has yet to offer criticism of his employers. That may come from other quarters – as fan protests grow, unhappy former employees of the club may feel less pressure to remain schtum. Certainly the narrative is changing in the mainstream press. Let’s forget About Talk Sport for a minute even if Ian Abrahams certainly knows which side his bread is buttered… As well as the double sausage, three rashers, two eggs, beans, tomatoes, hash browns and double chips.
On Wednesday Hammers will peep through collective fingers as we take on the steaming juggernaut of champions-elect Liverpool at Stratford. Only the criminally insane expect us to get anything from the game. Of much more concern is Saturday’s must-win tie against Brighton – the side we never beat. If it means making sure players are fit for that one then surely Moyes should do it?
Of course, by then we will know if Sullivan and Co managed to get those three players. If not, they deserve everything they get.
THE furore over a late equaliser ruled out by the Video Assistant Referee should not be allowed to detract from the huge shortcomings in the West Ham squad. Robert Snodgrass’ injury time shot that cannoned into the Sheffield United goal off a post was disallowed after consultation with VAR for a “handball” in build-up play by Declan Rice. Even if Hammers fans will be smarting over a point denied, the reality is trouble is brewing that needs to be sorted out within this transfer window.
Manager David Moyes started the game with three youth team players on the bench, a 34-year-old Pablo Zabaleta at right wingback and the 32-year old legs of Mark Noble expected to provide the running in midfield. One win (against an injury-hit Bournemouth) appears to have persuaded Chairman David Sullivan his club weren’t “really” in a relegation scrap. Quite likely he’s already assured himself he isn’t one of the most parsimonious Chairmen in the game.
Furthermore, with all the tactical acumen of Lord Cardigan ordering the Light Brigade to fling themselves on the mercy of the massed guns of the Russian army, Sullivan decided immediately following the busy Christmas period would be a really good time to ignore football reality and convince his head coach to throw all his chips on a cup run. Injuries followed with all the predictability of David Gold appearing on Twitter following a rare win.
From an already unbalanced and paper-thin squad West Ham were already missing Michail Antonio, Ryan Fredericks and Andriy Yarmolenko (all hamstring), Albian Ajeti (note from his mother), Carlos Sanchez (the shits – not his stomach – but playing style) along with long-term absentees; Winston Reid (attempting to grow a leg back following amputation) and Jack Wilshere (green monkey fever).
Add to which Lukasz Fabianski (thigh) and Felipe Anderson (back – reports of a lack of spine are unconfirmed) hurt themselves during the game. The remaining players will no doubt be forced to play on with minor niggles ensuring that what started as a manageable injury list grows exponentially.
Moyes has come into the job without a backroom team. As well as a box-to-box midfielder, a full-back and a striker on the playing staff, he desperately needs to get himself an injury prevention team. In that regard it was interesting to witness before the second half Blades players were warming up with short sprints. It might also be worth looking at why two of his goalkeepers were injured in the same way on three occasions this season.
On the pitch old failings dominated. A Mark Noble-shaped hole in midfield was the only evidence the skipper was playing, while in support of striker Sebastien Haller, Anderson and Manuel Lanzini were frankly dreadful and provided little support. The Argentinean hasn’t looked a patch on his old pre-injury self and was largely anonymous in a creative role. Given a golden chance to equalise he failed to square the ball to unmarked Haller and messed the shot up himself.
Anderson is the most frustrating player. If Arsenal’s Mezut Ozil has been described as “A cat tiptoeing around the game”, so Anderson more closely resembles a fat Tom disturbed from his rest by the clanging of dustbins. Good players buy themselves time, make the game look easy and make good decisions. The Brazilian plays not to the “Samba beat” of repute but chases about with little purpose and less end product. A free-jazz footballer if you will, he is devoid of any on-pitch intelligence.
Finally, it needs to be said loud and clear, VAR is not in itself a problem – but the idiotic implementation is. The whole point of the thing was to clear up obvious errors by match officials – instead of which fans are seeing more.
Who in the name of holy fuck thought it a good idea accidental handball should suddenly transform into a deliberate act only when a goal is conceded? No referee in the country would have adjudged Rice to have handled live – but up step the halfwits at Stockley Park to decide otherwise and reinforce their growing reputation as the kind of jobsworths that don traffic warden apparel or work on security in the Co-op. Who would bet against them wearing hi-viz during game time?
When the powers that be decided a player’s armpit or toe could be offside had they never realised that when the margin of error becomes that tiny, it might be a good idea to follow the lead of cricket and have a football equivalent of umpire’s call? Instead of which the technology, implementation and interpretation are all effectively being trialled in the richest, most watched league in the world.
We believe he’ll attract new talent to the London Stadium as well as improving the current squad. Above all he is a winner … and we believe his experience, quality and proven record of taking teams forward quickly will ensure that he is successful here.
David Sullivan on Manuel Pellegrini
FOR one glorious moment we were witness to the dream as the largely disappointing Felipe Anderson broke free of his shackles both mental and positional and surged forward, running at the Leicester defence before playing a neat one-two with Ryan Fredericks and crossing low for Pablo Fornals to sweep home. A marvellous goal in construction and execution to give us a glimpse of what Pelle-ball was supposed to be.
Unfortunately, the allegory doesn’t finish there – for the rest of the game West Ham looked, as so often under coach Manuel Pellegrini, devoid of coherence, tactically naïve, lightweight in midfield and a shitshow in defence. Nothing exemplified the manager’s reign more starkly than the comedic defensive efforts of centre back Issa Diop in the build-up to the killer second goal – the Frenchman couldn’t even foul an opponent properly. On the odd occasion Pellegrini entered his technical area the Chilean cut a lonely figure as his oversized white trainers rather cruelly cast him as the head clown at the West Ham circus.
The boss’s much vaunted “big team mentality” presumably never included contingencies such as Arthur Masuaku whose defending is at best, “up and down” and whose wayward header led directly to Leicester’s first goal. Neither could it possibly involve the all-round play of Carlos Sanchez, surely one of the worst players to ever pull on the claret and blue (and yes, we’ve seen Bill Green in the flesh).
More generally, Pellegrini never appeared to work on set pieces at either end to make up for deficiencies and personnel and is reputed to have never studied opponents never mind watched them. He decried the contemporary need for analytics preferring instead his own eyes.
Most of all, his attacking players never produced enough chances to compensate for their lack of contribution in defence. The team needed an energetic box-to-box player to play alongside the sitting Declan Rice but more often than not had the 32-year-old legs of Mark Noble instead. Up top the manager paid big money for the excellent Sebastien Haller but starved him of chances and expected him to peel off defenders and find space like Sergio Aguero – a player with a completely different style.
There were notable improvements in performance against Leicester – for the first home game in four the Hammers managed to concede fewer than three goals – but that statistic needs to be set against the nine changes the opponents made with manager Brendan Rodgers confident even his reserve side would win.
Not even the return of Lukasz Fabianski and a penalty save following an uncharacteristic blunder off his line could stop the opposition. The feeling was always the opposition had a bit in the tank. Nothing emphasises the difference in relative squad strength more than Foxes defensive midfielder Nampalys Mendy. In only his second appearance of the season he looked at least as good any midfielder West Ham have played since the arrival of the current owners. .
Thus it was no surprise to anybody, not least we suspect, the manager himself, when the club website announced Pellegrini had been sacked with Vice Chair Karren Brady (she seems to be employed solely for such occasions) applying the coup de grâce. Pelle-ball had collided with reality in much the same way Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s awful election campaign. Perhaps Pellegrini also thinks he “won the argument”? It doesn’t matter, he can retire to his home in Santiago, Chile, safe from any financial worry. Who knows, he may even have an allotment?
Where does it go from here Is it down to the lake I fear?
Haircut 100 – Love Plus One
WEST HAM manager Manuel Pellegrini won the game he required to stay in a job. The rules are less than clear but presumably the Hammers’ next fixture, away to Crystal Palace on Boxing Day is also a “must win” game for the boss. If so, the club Board have merely pushed the day of reckoning forward a week or so and have most likely narrowed the pool of available replacements.
The problem with ultimatums of this type are that although the Hammers were victorious at St Mary’s all the win proved was how badly the Chilean has been managing the club the rest of the season. To get a result yesterday he pretty much tore up all the tenets of the “Pelle-ball” he has been arrogantly insisting upon – and demonstrated very clearly his method is not suitable for a club of our mid-table standing.
Even after the team were humiliated at home by the poorest Arsenal side many have seen, Pellegrini insisted the fault was with the players’ lack of “big team mentality”, code for attacking the opposition all game. Yet against the Saints that fiction was scrapped in favour of vigorously defending a lead by shutting down midfield and insisting on wingers having a role protecting the back four.
The Irons boss was helped in his endeavours by some real luck with injuries; Aaron Cresswell returned from a knock to replace the useless Arthur Masuaku at left-back. Perhaps of greater fortune was a tweak sustained by wide-man Felipe Anderson in training on Friday. This blog was highly critical of the Brazilian’s defensive commitment against the Gunners and a resurgent Pablo Fornals (now starting to look like the £24million player signed over the summer) showed far greater acumen without the ball.
It may well be the manager was going to drop Anderson anyway but credit must be given for altering the formation to face up to Southampton’s terrible home record (won two, scored just nine times in eight games and conceded 24). For all the romantics may wish to believe Pelle reverted to a favoured 4-2-2-2 formation, the reality is against the Saints he opted for a bog standard 4-4-2. A warning ahead of time: The set up will not be suitable for many other occasions and will never allow for the selection of either Anderson or Andriy Yarmolenko (a reported combined £54m worth of talent) due to their laissez-faire attitude towards defending.
The formation meant the Hammers were forced into moving the ball forward much more quickly than is customary as well as promoting crosses into the opposition penalty area. The fruitless tippy-tappy football 25 yards from goal was gone as Michail Antonio set about terrorising Saints’ backline with his pace and power. The England international also proved the perfect foil for striker Sebastien Haller, whose lack of a strike partner has been accommodated with all the joy of an unannounced visit from the Trump family.
The French international is said to want away from the claret and blue because of his disgust with the manager. Yet he saved the latter’s bacon with the same attached irony of Diafra Sakho scoring a late winner against Swansea to rescue Slaven Bilic’s career. Telling was Haller’s dash to celebrate with Issa Diop on the substitutes bench. There is said to be a group of players including, but not limited to, the non-English/Spanish-speaking players at West Ham who want the manager gone – something the big striker’s embrace of his compatriot further emphasised. Pellegrini stood watching much as Unite the Union leader Len McCluskey would have greeted Thursday night’s exit poll – there was a party going on – but he wasn’t part of it.
Two things remain to be said: The performance from referee Martin Atkinson and his back up VAR team under Jonathan Moss were well below par. Even if Antonio’s disallowed goal did look a clear handball, the man in, er, yellow consistently penalised the Hammers man merely for being stronger than his opponents. A first-half incident when both Antonio and Haller appeared to be impeded by Southampton defenders following Cresswell’s cross was first bottled by Atkinson, then the officials at Stockley Park. This seemed exactly the sort of decision VAR was brought in to adjudicate upon. Unless and until refs have pitch-side monitors this evasion of responsibility by all parties will continue.
Having finally taken a pragmatic approach to team selection Pellegrini’s substitutions were worse than puzzling. Yarmolenko for Robert Snodgrass and the woeful Carlos Sanchez for Haller were misjudged and gave an initiative to Southampton they very nearly grasped. Diop for the fading Mark Noble only emphasised how the skipper can barely manage 90 minutes these days.
So here we are, another game gone and nothing resolved. Pellegrini hangs on, the players mistrustful and fans underwhelmed. Quite what does it need for our wretched Board of Directors to take accountability for the mess the club is in?