Whatever happened to the days of carefree abandon and playing with creativity and passion? Not since Upton Park have the West Ham faithful been entertained in such a manner, however is there a hope that it might ever return?
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.” – John Lennon
Let us ignore the fragility within the squad and the devil worshipping behind the scenes for one moment and merely focus on the team performances over the last two seasons. Has it been all that bad or were there moments when the future looked bright? Well, the answer would be a resounding…bit of both!
Of course there have been too many players under-performing for too long, an Argos catalogue of injuries and feeble transfer deals that have not propelled the team upwards and onward…however there have been many matches where results have been positive and some were even graced with terrific performances too, such as Crystal Palace last season or even against Spurs in the League Cup, then at the London Stadium in the league this season.
Let’s not get carried away with isolated victories however, for there have been woeful displays along the way too. Too many games have either been drawn when really the match should have been put to bed sooner, or the team were alarmingly outplayed even by lesser opponents too.
One of the biggest failings of this season and the last has been the inability to build any form of momentum with a group of players that have not been functioning as a team either. Both managers had mostly failed to find the solution over most of the games, with Moyes sacrificing cup competitions in favour of league battles which turned out to be emphatic victories for the enemies in the other half.
When Bilic was sacked in November and replaced by Moyes, the team were at rock bottom and totally disconnected with each other. They were difficult to watch and more so to cheer on as the fans became frustrated with repeated lacklustre performances from both individual players and the management. However there was hope when Moyes declared war on sloth like demeanour, apathy and laziness and it took a few games for him to reshape the team. One assumes everyone still remembers the embarrassing defeat away to Everton?
At that stage, many including myself were committed to a belief structure that would have Moyes still in the employment line and West Ham being managed by a young and ambitious coach as opposed to one of the old guard with leanings toward defence as opposed to attack…however the next few games would reverse fortunes for the team and challenge my strongly held beliefs too.
Moyes almost overnight managed to find the right ingredient to get key players to perform and play with passion. Notably Arnautovic started to bubble, Noble regained his place as general, Masuaku began to muse along the left hand flank, whilst Adrian took centre stage in goal. Instead of eleven players under-performing, now it was reduced to a mere 3 or 4, whilst the others were improving with each game…they looked fitter, stronger and notably more resolute in defence.
It worked for a brief period with impressive performances against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal with the following games a mixture of win, draws and losses. However there were more than singular opportunities to win matches and gain maximum points, but defensive formations and lethargic substitutions as well as compounding injuries and individual disappointments led to poor performances and lost points with some humiliating defeats along the way too.
Some key performances over the season may have fooled supporters to think that all was not lost and that Moyes had finally got the ragtag bunch to play in harmony. The wins against Stoke City, Huddersfield Town and Watford earned the team valuable points to keep relegation places at bay, however they were largely isolated wins…sandwiched between poor losses and lucky draws.
Moyes had come under increasing criticism for his tactics, however the fans were also questioning the player’s attitudes too as some of their performances and perceived application soon dipped to unacceptable levels…all of this going on in the forefront of fan’s growing unrest with the club owners’ activities and transfer failings.
Whilst many fans still had sympathy for the manager’s position at West Ham, they were less charitable for some of the errors that Moyes had made over the period too, coupled with three league defeats in a row and more opportunities to dig in and build any kind of momentum…there were calls for Moyes to end his affair with the Hammers in the summer as was originally planned, which I tended to agree with too.
However, the results and overall poor performances in this period would tend to distract much of the good play that was being produced by some of the players. Masuaku was still on suspension and was clearly missed on the left wing, Adrian had started to leak goals as the defence started to falter with inconsistent performances and injuries to key players too. However Arnautovic was still on song and Noble, Zabaleta and Ogbonna were still performing well but Moyes’s starting line ups confused and frustrated fans, especially when Hernandez was repeatedly left out.
Since the Watford win, West Ham went on a three loss streak that put them dangerously close to the relegation zone, but in each match there were clear cut opportunities to score, which if had been converted may have put a totally different complexion on the games and indeed the results too. The margins for success and failure are fine indeed, with many focusing on the failures as opposed to the near successes that might give hope to troubled souls.
After the win against Southampton, many would begin to think, yet again that there might be hope for the rest of the season, however the opportunities to score in the first half, were also present in the previous matches…the difference being these were converted and the team pressed higher up the field. So a change in tactics, eleven players that had upped their performances with greater desire would appear to have made all the difference.
Possibly the result against Chelsea was to be expected but it is the performance in defence and the opportunities to drive forward and create goal scoring chances that should be noted most…as it is this momentum that should be taken into the next game against Stoke City.
The club is nowhere near healed, not is the football consistent enough for any long term decisions to be made at this stage, however Moyes and the squad of players should look to their inconsistency all season and build upon the positives of each game as opposed to the results themselves…win, lose or draw.
This has been a season where dirty laundry has been hung out to dry in the open, deficiencies, confidence and inconsistencies have plagued the squad all season long, however there might be a lifeline, there might be opportunity to earn enough points in the next couple of games to remove anxiety from the Hammers’ game…to play with confidence and be carefree, to express the creativity that resides within…to swing from the branches with a smile and a sway.