Wednesday, March 29

Should Bilic be under pressure?

Several papers are claiming that Slaven Bilic's position could be under threat if he doesn't get results in his next three games. The Evening Standard had a double page feature pointing out that West Ham haven't won in five games, haven't kept a clean sheet for eight gams and have the fourth worst defensive record in thePremier League. 

The Daily Mirror claims that West Ham are considering another approach for Rafael Benitez, who might be unhappy with a lack of signings at Newcastle. Two days previously the Mirror claimed Reading's Jaap Stam was being considered. While the Sun claims Slaven will be sacked if he doesn't achieve a top ten finish.

Though from what the Daily Telegraph says, the board are not going to offer Bilic a new contract this summer, but wait and see how he does next season in the final year of his contract, which seems sensible. 

David Sullivan issuing an apology to supporters after the home defeat to Leicester seems to have got the papers speculating. Though we should remember that Sullivan is a fan and reacts emotionally after defeats, as we all do. The history of Sullivan and Gold suggests that they normally stick with managers until the end of their contracts. 

It's hard to see what benefit there would be in changing the manager with nine games left. A new manager will still be without Ogbonna and Obiang for the rest of the season and Reid and Antonio will still be out short-term. A new man might be able to organise the defence a bit better, but that's a big gamble.

The owners will certainly be mindful of filling the new stadium. Bilic has made mistakes this season in the transfer market and in not buying a right back, but he's also had to cope with a traumatic stadium move and Payet going on strike. After the successes of last season he certainly deserves to see this one out. 

Results have been poor, but the side has at least competed in the home games against West Brom, Chelsea and Leicester and Snodgrass and Fonte may well improve after poor starts. As we saw against Palace, the crowd are still behind Slaven and he now needs to concentrate all his energies on finding a team that can get another two wins. 

Tuesday, March 28

Round-up the usual suspects…

Click on the link here for my fans' run-in review in the Observer — in which I suggest that Dimitri Payet was the biggest romantic let-down since Humphrey Bogart was left standing alone at Paris station in Casablanca. Though if Payet is Ilsa Lund then I guess that means Slaven Bilic is Rick Blaine and Robert Snodgrass is Victor Lazlo, with Sam Byram playing the piano in Rick's Bar. I'm no good at being Noble… but we'll always have George Parris.

Friday, March 24

Could Everton loanee Enner Valencia still have a future at West Ham?

Most fans seem to have forgotten about Enner Valencia, but he's starting to have an impact at Everton. He came on as a late sub against Hull City and scored after a one-two with Lukaku and then made goal for Lukaku. It was his third goal since joining the Toffees, having also scored away at Spurs and at home to Southampton. A recent feature in the Liverpool Daily Post points out that he's only played 100 minutes of football for Everton in 2017 but in that time the side has scored eight goals — so he's doing something right. 

It's clear that Enner has had some personal problems, as we saw in Ecuador's World Cup qualifier against Chile in October 2016 when he was stretchered off injured and then pursued by police over alleged unpaid child maintenance. The arrest warrant was later revoked and Valencia said he was up to date with all payments.

Valencia has never scored enough goals (though he always seems to score for Ecuador) and is not really a central striker, but he did look a useful wide player capable of making goals two seasons ago. Even last season he had his moments, scoring a great free kick at Bournemouth and netting twice against Man City at Upton Park.

Ronald Koeman doesn't usually go for dud players, so if he continues to find the net for the Toffees might it be worth giving Valencia another chance when his loan spell at Everton ends? He cost £12 million and if he's finally adapting to English football then perhaps West Ham should try to recoup some more of that investment.

Wednesday, March 22

Wayne's world? Rooney is not the answer

Spy Sports sources claim that West Ham are interested in signing Wayne Rooney in the summer — which is hopefully just TV rumour. Rooney was a great player, but buying someone whose career is on a downward curve smacks too much of a Harry Redknapp-era signing, when Harry was signing older players who might keep us up. Sometimes it worked in the case of Stuart Pearce, other times it failed, as with the lamentable Davor Suker. The other problem with Rooney is that he's played since he was 16 and his body is feeling the pressure now he's 31. Yes, there might be a few goals left in him but if West Ham are serious about getting to the mystical 'next level' then we really need to sign a top class young striker not an ageing star.

Tuesday, March 21

Obiang injury a blow for Hammers

Bad news on the injury front. Antonio has had to withdraw from the England squad with a hamstring injury while Perdro Obiang is out for the rest of the season having been stretchered off against Leicester with a knee injury. Pedro has been quietly efficient in his midfield role this season and the stats show that he's one of the most effective tacklers in the league. Top scorer Antonio might be out for four weeks too. 

But this is where the squad has to kick in. Kouyate can move back to midfield and we have a £20 million striker in Ayew to replace Antonio. Ayew might have missed a great chance against Leicester, but he's improving and has scored three in four games (only one of which he started in). Bilic needs to emphasise that we still need two wins to stay up and there can be no place for complacency or using injuries as an excuse. The squad should be strong enough to get results at places like Hull and Sunderland, but we have to keep fighting until the end of the season.

Monday, March 20

How can Bilic tighten West Ham's defence?

For an ex-defender it’s odd how weak Slaven Bilic's team has been at the back. West Ham have conceded 16 goals in the last seven games and Bilic urgently needs to sort out the defence. There doesn't seem to be a leader at the back so one option would be to give the struggling Jose Fonte a rest and recall James Collins. Ginge might be ageing but he gives orders and makes last-ditch tackles that tend to inspire the men around him. Fonte is a good player, but just hasn't bedded in yet.

There's also the option of playing three centre backs from Reid (if fit), Fonte, Collins and Kouyate, which worked earlier in the season. It would mean sacrificing a midfielder, but we simply can't concede three goals and expect to get anything in the Premier League.

The Hammers are missing the injured Ogbonna and still have problems at right-back, but I think Sam Byram is worth persevering with. He looks like he lacks confidence and needs assistance from the coaching staff. Sam needs help with the defensive side of his game and to be advised when not to bomb down the wing and respect he point (as he should have done at Bournemouth). But he did some good work coming forward against Leicester in the second half and is still a young player. Masuaku also looked decent going forward as a sub and is an option as a sub if Cresswell is out of sorts.

In goal Daren Randolph was caught out by Mahrez's cross and it could also be worth giving Adrian a recall, particularly if the Spaniard is better at organising his defence. Adrian, Reid, Collins and Cresswell all looked solid defenders under Allardyce, so much of the problem must be down to poor organisation. Slaven has to shuffle the team until he gets a clean sheet.

The defence also needs help from the midfield and West Ham need to get back to keeping it tight for the first thirty minutes rather than capitulating as they did against Leicester.

Sunday, March 19

Super Schmeichel defies Hammers

West Ham 2 Leicester City 3

I’m taking Her Indoors to her first game for 20 years, and at Hackney Wick Nicola’s pleasantly surprised to find a German deli and an art gallery cafĂ© selling chocolate Brownies. Just like Green Street really. We meet the O’Brien clan by the giant bell and then join Nigel, Fraser and Michael in the stadium, along with Matt’s sister’s mate Bob, a West Ham fan over from San Francisco. The PA plays Vera Lynn’s version of Bubbles before the kick-off as the club salutes her 100th birthday.

It’s a terrible start. After five minutes Mahrez crosses and, distracted by Vardy and Okazaki’s leaps, Randolph allows the cross to drift past him. Two minutes later a short free kick confuses the defence and Albrighton chips forward for the unmarked Huth to head home. Our new American Iron Bob is a litigation specialist in San Francisco and contemplates an action against the West Ham defence. Nigel suggests that Vera Lynn could do a better job at the back.

“How shit must you be, we’re winning away?” chant the Leicester fans,

Winston Reid and Obiang both go off with serious-looking injuries. Nicola, more used to equine sports, asks if players get put out to grass or shot if they don’t recover after ten days. That could spell trouble for Andy Carroll.

West Ham gain a free kick after Antonio is brought down. “It might all look different if this goes in,” I suggest, prompting Nigel to remark that I‘m an eternal optimist. Thankfully Lanzini puts a great effort into the top corner and Nigel’s temporarily converted to a Panglossian worldview.

Two-one would give us a chance at half-time, but the Hammers crumble again as Carroll fails to get his head on a corner and a confused defence allows Vardy to scramble home. Lanzini shoots just wide, but at half-time it’s looking bleak. Losing to a team that hasn't won away all season.

Vardy chips wide at the start of the second half but from then on it’s solid West Ham pressure. Lanzini has another great game and Antonio and Ayew start to trouble the Leicester defence. Byram is effective going forward on the right, though sometimes his final ball betrays a lack of confidence.

Lanzini’s free kick is parried by Schmeichel and from the resulting corner Andy Carroll gets a header in at the back post and sets up Ayew who nods home. Game on. The noise level rises and the crowd sense an equaliser.

The forgotten Arthur Masuaku has come on for Cresswell and has a good attacking game on the left. He plays the ball back for Antonio to cross to Carroll, whose header is goalbound until Schmeichel somehow scrambles it off the line and around the post.

The equaliser should come after a great dribble by Antonio splits the defence and sets up Ayew in front of goal. Somehow he blazes over when any shot on target would have gone in. 

West Ham still surge forward. There’s an almighty scramble from a corner as Kouyate has a shot off the line and Carroll gets in a low shot. In added time Ayew is brought down and from the free kick Snodgrass fires into the wall. The ball deflects to Andy Carroll who gets in a shot only for Schmeichel to make an astonishing save with his hand. It’s the old ‘star save’ that his dad Peter used to specialise in.

So it’s no glorious 3-3 comeback and we trek to the King Edward to meet Gavin, reflecting that we scored the best goal of the game but will never win until we start to defend properly. Though Leicester do look to be back to their best and Huth stopped everything. 

Fraser and Michael go to the bar and inform me that the bitter is from the bottom of the barrel. “Not the first time we’ve scraped he barrel today,” quips Michael. Though Nicola’s request for European wine means we’re given glasses rather than plastic skiffs. Michael leaves early for a Vera Lynn tribute concert, muttering, “We’ll score again, don’t know where, don’t know when…”

At home Nicola says she doesn’t know how I go to matches as all that willing the team to score gives you a headache. I explain that as a West Ham fan you get used to the idea that you lose some and you draw some. And apart from deep psychosis it has no long-lasting effects.

Serious improvement is needed to the defence if we’re to get the win or two we need to stay up. We’ve seen a good second half performance and an inspired opposition keeper, but Bilic has a lot of thinking to do during the international break.

PLAYER RATINGS: Randolph 5; Byram 6, Fonte 4, Reid 5 (Snodgrass 6), Cresswell 5 (Masuaku 6); Lanzini 8, Obiang 6 (Fernandes 5), Kouyate 6; Ayew 6, Antonio 6, Carroll 7.