In the eighth and final edition of our weekly 2016/2017 Season Review, we look at the season-ending months of April and May as our torrid run ended allowing a strong finish to an otherwise poor Premier League campaign.
Although our dreadful five-game losing streak would continue into April, it would turn out to be a fantastic month for any Hammer as the pressure was finally lifted on Slaven Bilic.
Hammers fans didn’t have to wait long for the first Premier League encounter of the month, that fell on April 1st, after the International break in late-March. Bilic’s boys headed to The KCOM Stadium for the tie, off the back of three-consecutive defeats and without key-midfielder Pedro Obiang who was out for the rest of the season following an ankle injury against The Foxes.
Another talisman who would miss the game was Michail Antonio who injured his hamstring in the same match, a costly injury that also saw him miss-out on England duty. However, despite having so many key men side-lined, we made a superb start against Marco Silva’s relegation strugglers and led after just 18-minutes through a neat Andy Carroll finish.
The hosts gradually grew back into the game and were level just after the break after some sloppy defending from Sam Byram and Jose Fonte. A superb bursting run from Andy Robertson was not picked up by the duo, with the Scottish international firing home from a tough-angle.
The Tigers now had their tales up and went in search of a vital late winner, which they found in the 85th minute when Andrea Ranocchia rose to head past Darren Randolph. The defeat, our fourth on the spin, left us 14th and nervously looking over our shoulders, as Hull boosted their chances of safety.
Rumours of Bilic’s sacking were becoming a regular occurrence, as we prepared to face the daunting task of a mid-week trip to The Emirates. The Gunners had thrashed us 5-1 at The London Stadium back in December, but there would be no revenge in North-London. However, we did hold stern in the first period in keeping a rampant Arsenal attack at bay, but they finally found the breakthrough just after half-time through a Mesut Ozil drive.
The lead was doubled by the hosts through Theo Walcott on 68 minutes with a cool finish from an Ozil cross, to relax Arsene Wenger who was under the cosh himself. The victory was capped off by French striker Olivier Giroud, when he curled the ball round Randolph for The Gunners’ third.
Questions were asked of the Irish international after the game after a string of poor performances. However, Bilic surely had the most pressure on his shoulders than anyone else at the club after our fifth-consecutive defeat, as he was told that his job would rest on our weekend fixture against Swansea City at The London Stadium.
The Swans had enjoyed an up-turn in form since the appointment of Paul Clement, and would prove tough opposition to beat in the must-win clash. However, when the stakes were high, The Claret & Blue faithful got behind Bilic and the boys, roaring us onto a pivotal victory on a sunny afternoon in Stratford.
It would be a Cheikhou Kouyate solo-stunner that proved to be the difference between the two-sides, but the margin of victory would not tell the tale of the game. We had many chances in an action-packed first period against the boys in white, but on 41 minutes, we finally found the breakthrough.
A stellar passing move saw Kouyate exchange passes with Mark Noble and Robert Snodgrass, before firing a delicious effort past Lukasz Fabianski and into the back of the net. The goal would prove to be the most decisive effort of the season, and ease our relegation fears by raising us to 14th place. Skipper Mark Noble made his 400th Hammers appearance in the tie and praised the determination of his manager and the support of the 56,000 strong London Stadium throughout the poor run.
The week after that relieving triumph, we faced our third relegation candidate in four games in the form of Sunderland at The Stadium of Light. The clash would turn out to be a thriller, that was in no short supply of action and controversy.
Ghanaian forward Andre Ayew gave us the lead after just five-minutes, finishing from close-range after latching onto a miscued Andy Carroll effort. However, The Black Cats soon drew level through one of the most outrageous goals of the season from Wahbi Khazri, as he curled in directly from a corner. Veteran James Collins would head us back into the lead just after the break, but there was to be a thrilling finish in the North-East.
David Moyes’s men were fighting for their position in the league and were not going to go down easily, as Randolph was thrown into the spotlight yet again. The former Birmingham City man came needlessly charging off his line to claim a Darron Gibson delivery, spilling the ball into the path of Fabio Borini. The former Liverpool man did not hesitate in unleashing an accurate low-volley into the empty net to give Sunderland hope.
To add insult to injury for the travelling Claret and Blue Army, Sam Byram was dismissed late into injury time for a second bookable offence. However, there would only be one man who made the negative headlines after the tie and that was Darren Randolph for his embarrassing and costly error. The mistake would also cost the keeper his starting place, as Adrian San-Miguel returned for the visit of Everton, seven-days later.
They say Premier League 0-0 draws are like Buses, one doesn’t come along in over 500 days and then two come along at once. That would be the theme of our home-tie with Ronald Koeman’s men and our trip to The Bet 365 Stadium.
The former would be a dull encounter on a dreary day in East London, as we held The Toffees to damage their slim Champions League chances. However, the game could have been a totally different story when Romelu Lukaku, who had scored in his previous nine-matches against us, almost profited from an early mix up between Arthur Masuaku and Adrian.
The best chances in the visitors’ area came in the form of a string of Manuel Lanzini deliveries and shots on a day where we created very little. The defensive performance was heavily praised after the encounter, as we kept one of the world’s best strikers at bay.
The story would be very much the same in the following clash away at Stoke City, 7 days later, but this time it would be a tale of missed chances and frustration. Argentine striker Jonathan Calleri was enjoying his longest run in the first-team heading into the tie, but the flop endured a damaging afternoon in The Midlands.
We would dominate the first period and almost lead through Andre Ayew early, but his acrobatic effort was well saved by Jack Butland. However, the chance of the match was squandered by Calleri, who opted to execute his open goal chance with a failed rabona that was blocked by Bruno Martins-Indie. Many Hammers could scarcely believe that we didn’t lead at the break, but The Potters would come fighting back after the break.
Chances fell to the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, Saido Berahino, and Marko Arnautovic, but Adrian would deny each of them to keep his second consecutive clean sheet.
The tie would end level, as neither side could break the deadlock with a considerable amount of chances. However, our form was gradually improving and would peek in the huge London Derby against bitter rivals Spurs just six days later. We would also end the up-and-down month of April in 15th place, but safe and with little else to play for.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men would go into the clash as clear-favourites having won their last nine Premier League games, Spurs were also breathing heavily down the necks of soon-to-be Champions Chelsea in second place and could not afford a slip-up. However, on an electric night at The London Stadium, they would throw away their title chances in one of the classic London Derby’s.
It was no surprise that the visitors threatened early, as England forward Harry Kane was denied twice in the same move by an in-form Adrian. Late in the half, Manuel Lanzini’s effort was kept out by Hugo Lloris when he latched onto a Mark Noble ball, but the Argentine would not have to wait long for his eighth League goal of the campaign. No longer than 25 minutes to be exact, a goal mouth scramble involving Sam Byram, Andre Ayew and Jonathan Calleri saw the ball land in the path of Lanzini, who dragged the ball past Lloris and Toby Alderweireld on the line to raise the roof on The London Stadium.
The party atmosphere continued throughout the second half, in what otherwise should have been a nervy finish. Instead, it was us who were doing the late pressing as Calleri and Ashley Fletcher sent chances begging, but they didn’t affect the outcome and we had effectively ended Spurs’ chances of claiming their first Premier League Title for the second-consecutive season.
The victory meant so much more to fans than just three-points as cheers of “Tottenham Hotspur it’s happened again” rang around Stratford, but many Hammers left The London Stadium that night believing that we could make the arena a fortress after a frustrating season. However, there would be one more London Stadium embarrassment to end our first-season in the arena, when we faced Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, nine-days after.
In the gap between our victory over Spurs and The Reds game, Michail Antonio was crowned Hammer of the Year and Manuel Lanzini Player’s Player of the Season. However, not even “The Jewell” could save us against a rampant Liverpool side on a sunny Sunday at The London Stadium. The returning Daniel Sturridge, who had been heavily linked with us in previous months, gave the visitors the lead on 35 minutes with a neat finish to end Adrian’s clean sheet run.
The lead was doubled by a Philippe Coutinho drive before the hour-mark, after Andre Ayew missed arguably the chance of the season just before half time. However, just four-minutes after Liverpool’s second, Coutinho tripled his side’s lead and Divok Origi would add to our misery late-on. The defeat ended our first season at our new-home in true London Stadium style, but many Hammers fans know that all things take time. However, the season would end in some-style when we made the trip to Turf Moor for our final game of the 2016/2017 Premier League campaign.
An army of over 3,000 Hammers made the trip up North to face The Clarets and sung their hearts out for 90 minutes in a carnival atmosphere. However, it was the hosts who struck first through in-form forward Sam Vokes, but Sofiane Feghouli soon equalised with a smart finish after a superb move.
We would finally take the lead on 72 minutes, as Edimilson Fernandes’ effort rebounded off Tom Heaton and then the bar to allow Ayew to nod home from close-range. We held hold-off late pressure from the home-side, to record our fifth Premier League away-win of the season to finish in 11th place.
So, with a strange and transition season that included highs, lows, controversies and just the odd injury coming to an end with a win at Turf Moor. Despite only finishing one-point off 8th place, many Hammers will be hoping for a far better second season at The London Stadium in the 2017/2018 Premier League campaign.