Sunday, April 23

Hammers hold Everton in game of few chances

West Ham 0 Everton 0

The most entertaining part of the day is a pre-match trip to Upton Park for the Bike To Boleyn send-off from the World Cup statue. They’re cycling from Upton Park to Stratford as part of the campaign to keep the World Cup Statue in Barking Road. Bubbles sounds rather good sung by a choir, there’s a local drum group, a couple of blokes who have cycled round India and homemade carrot cake on sale. Then it’s on to the Newham Bookshop to sign a copy of GoodbyeTo Boleyn for a pair of Everton fans.

On reaching the (Clyde) Best CafĂ© political anoraks Matt and Nigel are bemoaning May’s timing and discussing the Gorton by-election, now postponed until the day of the general election. Meanwhile Michael the Whovian has returned from his audience with Maggie Smith, who has predicted West Ham need 39 points. The falafel wrap is rather good (though obviously not as good as Carol’s), while Matt goes for haloumi with chips and in a desperate attempt to make my own blog I’ve visited the Chinese supermarket in the Stratford Centre and smuggle some spicy tofu into the stadium.

It’s another summery afternoon in the London Stadium as we join Fraser, who appears to be in Everton’s away kit with his yellow trousers and jumper and has had his cigar case frisked while entering the ground. Behind us are Steve the Cornish postie and Maldon Irons Alison and Scott.

Nothing much happens for 90 minutes and the blonde Barnets of Masuaku and Fernandes are often the most exciting things on display. The problem might be that Nigel has forgotten his lucky banana.

Adrian has been restored as number one and almost make a ricket when he mis-controls a tricky throw-in from Fernandes but manages to leap on the loose ball. Lone strikers Calleri and Lukaku look isolated for both sides and the teams cancel each other out. “It’s not a ladies match!” intones the unreconstructed gentleman behind us.

West Ham get the first shot in after half an hour when Nordtveit, restored to midfield, gets in a long range effort that Stekelenburg saves pretty comfortably. Collins gets in a header from Lanzini’s excellent cross and beats the turf in frustration as he misses the target.

West Ham show the more attacking intent in the second half. Fernandes dithers when he should shoot and Lanzini has a shot blocked by Jagielka’s head. Lanzini turns inside to deliver another shot on target and after Sakho earns a late corner at the end Fonte fails to get in a solid header at he back post.

Yet the mood among the crowd has been surprisingly positive and they’ve done well to get behind the team. Playing three centre backs has kept WHU solid at the back with Ginge outstanding and dominating Lukaku. While Masuaku has had a great game on the left and played almost as an auxiliary midfielder. Fonte makes several forays into midfield from the back three and the maligned Nordtveit even earns a “well done Havard!” from Matt (words we never thought we’d hear). Havard has a storming second half, winning the ball well and setting up numerous attacks.

Bilic says we’ve had “11 lions” on the pitch and considering the players missing (Ogbonna, Obiang, Carroll, Antonio, Noble, Snodgrass, Feghouli and Byram) it’s not a bad result to take a point off a team that’s currently fifth. The Hammers are now unbeaten in three and although not completely safe yet, with Swansea and Hull winning it was vital to get something from this game. It’s the first scoreless draw at the London Stadium and a clean sheet is a welcome change. Now let’s get a result at Stoke.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6; Fonte 6, Collins 7, Reid 6; Fernandes 6, Kouyate 5 (Cresswell 5), Nordtveit 6, Lanzini 6, Ayew 5, Masuaku 8; Calleri 5 (Sakho 5).

Friday, April 21

Oh Carroll

As Rupert Brooke once wrote in his poem, The Old Vicarage, Grantchester: 

"Stands the church clock at ten to three? 
And is Andy Carroll still suffering from injury?" 

Northing defines the start of an English summer better than another Andy Carroll injury blip. His abductor muscle is playing up again and Andy's out of the Everton game. Carroll's groin injury is proving costly — in recent weeks he's missed games against West Brom, Watford, Chelsea, Swansea and now Everton. Apparently he felt his groin go again while mishitting the ball for Ayew's opener at Sunderland, but again he's played on too long. Part of the problem is that Carroll is a bit like Monty Python's Black Knight and will always play on regardless of loss of limbs.

If it's not a big injury it's these small niggling ones and it's all so frustrating because when he gets a few games under his belt AC's looked in great form. The club really has to sign a striker who can stay fit for next season, much as I like the big Geordie.

There's no Antonio and Ayew doesn't look like a solo striker. So it seems Calleri or Fletcher will come in against the Toffees, with Sakho only fit enough to play 30 minutes from the bench. Calleri must be brilliant in training for Bilic to rate him so highly, but he just hasn't looked like a finisher at all this season even if he did put in a shift against Swansea. Could be time to give another chance to Fletcher.

Meanwhile we'll have to cope with the inevitable Lukaku goal against us. Now there's a striker who can stay fit…

Thursday, April 20

Why do West Ham keep losing the lead?

Fabio Borini's goal for Sunderland was scored in the 90th monute ;ast Saturday. It's been a much banded statistic that West Ham have lost 20 points from winning or drawing positions this season. 

Slaven Bilic must be reluctant to take his dog out in case he loses the lead. There also a worrying stat in Sunday's Observer that has West Ham top of the league of errors leading to goals, with 12. Though as virtually every goal results from some sort of error, it's a hard stat to quantify. The team has come from behind a few times, most notably at Southampton, but by my reckoning we've only won seven points from losing positions.

Does the fact West Ham lose the lead so often betray a lack of character or fitness? Certainly the number of soft-tissue injuries might indicate there's something wrong with the medical team. Payet's indifference to tracking back might not have helped morale in the first half of the season, but generally it seems to be more about individual errors and substandard players in the wrong positions rather than a collective problem. 

There was a tendency to lose leads last season too, but this season it's been far worse. The goalkeeping position hasn't helped generate any confidence in the rest of the defence. First Adrian was dropped for rickets against Watford and Stoke and now Randolph has started to make regular errors. Right-back has been a problem all season with either Antonio or Nordtveit played out of position or the inexperienced Byram thrown into the Premier League when he doesn't look quite ready. 

While the loss of Ogbonna has been a blow too and Fonte has taken an awfully long time to get any kind of understanding with the rest of his defence. If you add in the fact that Cresswell hasn't looked as good since returning from a pre-season knee injury then you have problems right across the back line. Consequently whenever the side takes the lead the players look terrified of losing it.

Certainly another goalkeeper and right-back would add to the squad for next season. Meanwhile for the final five games the side has to show the collective determination that resulted in a clean sheet against Swansea.

Tuesday, April 18

Zola out, Redknapp in

Some clubs seem to specialise in hiring former West Ham managers. First it was Crystal Palace replacing Alan Pardew with Sam Allardyce. Now Birmingham City have sacked Gianfranco Zola and replaced him with 70-year-old Harry Redknapp. 

Looking at Zola's managerial record, it seems that, with hindsight, Sullivan and Gold were correct to sack him — though not to replace him with Avram Grant. He was a lovely fella and a great player and at times he had West Ham playing a pleasing brand of football. But he didn't participate in transfers — that was left to director of football Nani who gave us the likes of Savio — and his West Ham side had struggled in his final season and rrely had a Plan B. His subsequent managerial career has seen him fired at Watford (though they did reach the Championship play-off final in his first season), Cagliari, Al-Arabi and now Birmingham, where disastrously he took them from seventh when Gary Rowett was fired to just above the relegation zone.

I'm quite pleased to see Harry and his car window back in the game, even if he did do too well at Spurs for our liking. He's statistically West Ham's most successful manager since John Lyall with his fifth-place finish and is the man who gave us Di Canio. And of course he likes a deal. There's been some great speculation online about his likely SOS X1, including Terry, Berbatov, Robbie Keane, Crouch, Defoe and just about everyone else. Wonder if it's too late to rule out a swoop for Carlton Cole, last spotted having visa problems in Indonesia? Or even a bid for Razor Ruddock?

Sunday, April 16

All square at the Stadium of Light

Sunderland 2 West Ham 2

Another game where West Ham have twice lost the lead. It's a decent away point on paper, but I've lost count of the number of points West Ham have thrown away from winning positions. The Hammers had the ideal start. Byram got in a good cross, Carroll mishit across goal and Ayew kept his head to poke home. Five goals in eight ages is now looking like a decent return from Ayew, although he also volleyed over when well-placed later in the game.

Just when it looked like the Irons might control the game Khazri equalised direct from a corner — Sunderland's first goal in 701 minutes of football. Anichebe was possibly fouling Randolph on the line, but the West Ham keeper also wasn't strong enough and there was no defender on the far post to clear.

Hammers had another great chance to win after James Collins headed in Snodgrass's corner two minutes after the break. But Sunderland showed good spirit to come back into the game. When Byram was sent off for a second yellow (his first booking was a silly off the ball foul) after 82 minutes you knew it was likely to all go wrong. In the 90th minute Randolph dropped the ball under pressure from Anichebe and Borini stroked home. To give the ten-man Hammers some credit they did survive ten minutes of added time due to Billy Jones' head injury.

So Byram and Noble will be suspended for the Everton game, with Ogbonna, Obiang and Antonio out for the season. Bilic also needs to look at the goalkeeping position after another uncertain display by Randolph. Though as results panned out we gained a point on Swansea and Hull, and at 14th the Irons are now nine points clear of the Swans with five games left and a better goal difference. Let's hope we can get a result against Everton to finally dispel any lingering fears. 

Friday, April 14

Bike for Boleyn before the Everton game

You can bike from the Boleyn Ground to the London Stadium before the Everton game on April 22. It's all part of the Bike From Boleyn campaign to keep the World Cup statue of Moore, Hurst and Peters at Upton Park. Meet at 11am at the World Cup statue on Barking Road for music, celebration and a 12.45pm send-off. Stephen Timms MP will be attending to support the campaign. Bikes can be provided for those who don't have them. Check out the Facebook page at bikefromboleyn or twitter @bikefromboleyn.

Thursday, April 13

Antonio out for rest of the season

More bad news is that Michail Antono is out for the rest of the season, It looked a serious injury when he pulled up against Swansea and you wonder if he was rushed back too soon. Antonio has managed to perform consistently well in a poor side and will be a big loss. 

So what do West Ham do without him? Calleri is surely not the answer. He worked hard, but again looked a striker short of all confidence against Swansea, failing to shoot when he had a view of goal and putting another volley wide when found by Lanzini's cross. 

It's a good time for Sakho to be fit again, as he might possibly provide some Antonio-style energy running into the channels. Andy Carroll needs someone with fizz alongside him and it's also a chance for Andre Ayew to prove he's worth £20 million and continue from his improved performance against Swansea. 

The key thing though will be mental attitude. West Ham have to keep the determination they displayed against Swansea and not allow another injury to stop a decent end to the season.

Monday, April 10

Five positives for West Ham from Saturday's win

Darren's confidence has looked low after letting in saveable long-range shots/crosses against Leicester and Arsenal. So the first clean sheet in nine games will help him, as will the fine tip-over he made from Narsingh's shot.

Sam looked a lot steadier at right back and had a sound game defensively. He seems to benefit from having an older player like Collins alongside him and it was a great moment at the end when he blocked Sigurdsson's late run and was congratulated by Randolph, Collins, Noble and Kouyate. 

Ginge might be a bit slower these days but he was tremendously solid at the back, making a great clearance off the line, getting his head on crosses or booting the ball into Row Z when necessary.

Robert Snodgrass got his first assist in a West Ham shirt after ten games, laying the ball off for Kouyate to fire home from distance. He's been underwhelming so far, but worked hard defensively and looks better on the right. In his last ten games for Hull he scored three and had two assists, so there should be more to come from him.

Without Andy Carroll in the side Andre Ayew finally looked a threat. He was unlucky with a first-half effort that produced a great save from Fabianski and another effort stopped by the keeper in the second half, though he should perhaps have kept his shot lower. But he showed us more of his pace and was often incisive in breaking with Lanzini. 

Sunday, April 9

Battling Hammers see off Swans

West Ham 1 Swansea City 0

Inside the (Clyde) Best Cafe, Nigel and Matt are discussing the anniversary of the 1992 general election and Slaven saying that Andy Carroll is "feeling his groin", are arf. While Lisa has opted for a falafel wrap (surely not as good as Ken’s cheesy chips wrap?) and CQ, on a romantic lunch date with Nigel, announces herself well pleased with her eggs on toast. Steve the Cornish postman arrives from the night train to collect his ticket, before leaving to meet Joe’s fiancĂ© from Memphis, Tennessee, in a moment of rare Chuck Berry credibility.

The walk to the stadium seems less dystopian in the bright sunlight. Alison and Scott join us, but Michael The Whovian is away at a Q & A session with Maggie Smith. He says she reckons 39 points will do it. Among a shirt-sleeved crowd it doesn’t exactly feel like a relegation six-pointer as Alison wonders who was the idiot who booked seats facing into the sun.

It’s a tense, scrappy game, but West Ham at least snap into tackles. Early on Antonio stands up a decent cross and Snodgrass’s header is saved on the line by Fabianski The Hammers go close again when Noble finds Ayew, who swivels to shoot and is unlucky to see the Swansea keeper parry his effort wide. Then Antonio’s hamstring goes chasing a poor Randolph kick and Bilic replaces him with Calleri, which is strange with Sakho and Carroll on the bench.

“Slow it down!” cries an ironical Mystic Matt, only to inspire the Irons’ breakthrough. Noble finds Snodgrass who lays the ball off to Kouyate. He’s a long way out but Cheikhou fires an unstoppable effort into the bottom corner, before racing into the fans. He’s booked for his celebration, though as our seats are so far from the pitch he should surely be commended for his Usain Bolt-like dash.

West Ham have several chances to settle it in the second half. Ayew crosses for Byram to ripple the side netting and Lanzini dives in the box to earn a booking. Calleri’s cross falls to Ayew and Fabianski has to make another fine save, though Andre could have kept it lower. Snodgrass looks irate at being subbed, but his replacement Feghouli’s first touch ends with a cross that almost creates a goal

It takes until 61 minutes for the gentleman behind us to shout “Get up you tart!” as Jack Cork goes down. Turns out he can’t get up and subs Montero and Llorente inspire a mini-Swansea revival. James Collins has to make one great clearance off the line. Matt suggests that the super-bearded Collins is looking more and more like a fiery Victorian preacher threatening damnation on the souls of all those fornicators who support Millwall.

Narsingh has a decent shot tipped over by Randolph and you sense Swansea might snatch something. But the Hammers threaten on the break as Lanzini bamboozles Hernandez and crosses for Calleri to volley wide when he should score.

"Super Slaven Bilic!" goes ground the stadium. The tension is summed up right at the death as Sigurdsson gets free only for Sam Byram to come across and make a fine tackle. Sam’s had a steadier game today and is hugged by Randolph, Noble, Collins and Kouyate as if they’re celebrating a goal. Smells like team spirit.

Finally the whistle goes and Slaven crouches with his fists clenched in the manner of Bruce Forsyth on The Generation Game. It’s off to the giant bell to meet Swansea fan Huw, who is remaining philosophical as he announces that the London Stadium is the 105th ground he’s seen Swansea lose at. Now that’s a stat. It’s on to Tank at Hackney Wick, where despite a pitcher of pale ale Fraser remains unimpressed by hipsterville.

A big result for the Hammers. We’ll take an ugly win and a clean sheet. Another three points and we should finally be completely safe.

PLAYER RATINGS: Randolph 6; Byram 6, Collins 7, Fonte 6, Masuaku 6; Snodgrass 6 (Feghouli 6), Noble 6, Kouyate 7, Lanzini 6, Ayew 6 (Fernandes 5); Antonio 5 (Calleri 4).

Friday, April 7

Will Bilic be sacked if West Ham lose to Swansea?

So much for the vote of confidence. The Daily Telegraph claims that West Ham board are looking at plans to sack Slaven Bilic and employ a 'continuity manager' should West Ham lose at home to Swansea. 

Like most fans I like Slaven "and all that kind of thing," but if West Ham went down he would have go, though now is not the time to change. There's no Craig Shakespeare figure at the club to take over who might make a difference and if Bilic was sacked the continuity manager would have a mere six games left with the same squad and injury list. West Ham were ultimately well beaten at Arsenal but the spirit still looked to be there, if not the class.

It's been a difficult season for Bilic with the stadium move and the Payet saga, but in another sense he's also been lucky. Had Sam Allardyce sold James Tomkins, played Antonio at right-back, made a number of dodgy signings and lost five in a row there would have been open revolt from the fans and he'd have been gone by now. Luckily the West Ham fans still have an emotional attachment to Bilic, which they never had with Big Sam, though it's being tested at the moment. Ideally we'll stay up with Slaven in charge, regroup next season and then see if the real Bilic is the manager who finished seventh or the manager who struggled to stay up. 

So the Swansea game is vital for Slaven's future. The Evening Standard had five suggestions to turn round the Hammers' season, among them changing goalkeepers. After Randolph's error for the opener at Arsenal and Leicester's first goal, I'd restore Adrian. Plus stick Ayew on the bench and play with Snodgrass or Feghouli on the right to get some service in to Andy Carroll and have Sakho ready to come on as Plan B alongside AC. Big Andy does seem to enjoy playing against the Swans and represents Bilic's best hope of getting the result he and West Ham need. COYI!

Thursday, April 6

Kicked up the Arsenal

Pre-match with David, Lisa, Matt and Nigel
Arsenal 3 West Ham 0

It’s round to May Towers for pre-match festivities. David the Gooner has arrived with tickets, Matthew the Gooner has come with cans of John Smith, Hammers Matt and Lisa arrive with a bag of Doom Bar, while Nigel the Kew Gardens Iron brings his own lager. We’re up against an Arsenal side without Koscielny and with a third-choice goalkeeper. What could possibly go wrong?

We arrive at their soulless corporate dome. Is this the Emirates? It’s a good view from my padded seat above the half-way line, while Nigel’s at the end and Matt and Lisa in the corner. West Ham have an early sight of goal when Antonio wins a free kick on the edge of the box. Lanzini’s effort dips over the bar and Arsenal’s rookie keeper Martinez remains untested.

Welbeck fails to connect with Sanchez’s clever through ball in front of goal but generally the Hammers defend well in the first half, without showing much going forward. Kouyate looks effective in front of the back four and Masuaku copes fairly well with Walcott. Late on Fonte and Collins get in a couple of great blocks to deny goal bound shots late on before Randolph has to pluck a Welbeck header from under the bar. The West Ham fans break into a chorus of “My name is Ludek Miklosko!” The Gooners around me remain unhappy with ref Martin Atkinson, though for me he’s having a pretty good game.  What’s been poor is that we haven’t got any balls in to Carroll to test their defence.

Snodgrass replaces Antonio (rushed back too soon?) but the second half appears to be going to plan as Collins make a great block tackle to deny Ozil. But it all goes wrong as the West Ham defence correctly claims handball against Walcott. The ref ignores the claims, Fonte fluffs his clearance and Ozil strokes in a cross come shot. Distracted by Sanchez, Randolph gets a hand to it but can’t stop a saveable shot. The Emirates erupts with relief.

Randolph redeems himself a little with a fine save from Welbeck, but Ozil then comes to life, playing a one-two with a Sanchez back-heel and pulling a great ball back for Walcott to get ahead of Byram and prod into the corner. Game over, man. "Red Army!" chant the one fans, so happy they forget to fight over Wenger's future.

Bellerin goes close after a great ball from Sanchez while Lanzini finally forces Martinez to make a good save. Arsenal’s strength is shown by bringing on Giroud, Ramsey and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Giroud scores with a great curling shot, as he always does against us. There’s time for Sakho to get a run-out, Fernandes to test Martinez again and Byram to concede a penalty that the ref doesn’t give.

Post-match inquest
We trek back to my gaff, dispirited but slightly relieved it hasn’t been an absolute tonking. A small consolation is that of our remaining eight fixture this was the most difficult.

Pete’s Bar is busy until 11.30pm, as Nigel tries to name his first-choice West Ham X1 and discovers there’s only six players in it, and one of those is Trevor Brooking. Gavin gets agitated about the geographical inexactitude of the Ludo Miklosko song and our group resort to groundhopping anecdotes about the Lewes Dripping Pan, Dulwich Hamlet and Virtus Entella (ask Matt, it’s the Burton Albion of Serie B).

Thank goodness Swansea and Palace lost, though we’re just three points ahead of Hull. Swansea now becomes an absolutely must-win game.

PLAYER RATINGS: Randolph 5; Byram 5, Collins 7, Fonte 6, Masuaku 6; Ayew 4, Kouyate 6, Noble 5 (Fernandes 5), Lanzini 6, Antonio 5 (Snodgrass 4); Carroll 5 (Sakho 5).

Tuesday, April 4

Noble still has something to offer West Ham

Mark Noble says in tonight's Evening Standard that this has been the hardest season of his 13-year career. His form has certainly suffered with the stadium move and he's looked nonplussed by the larger pitch at times, though he's not to blame for the Payet problems or West Ham's injuries. But it's a little surprising to see Phil Parkes say in the latest issue of Blowing Bubbles that, "Mark's day is done." 

Nobes is still only 29 and was having some cracking games this time last year — remember his goals at Norwich and West Brom? Yes, he first came into the team when he was 17, but wasn't a regular until he was 20. He's still got a lot left as his game has never relied on pace. I would have liked to see his experience used against Hull and think he should come into the side tomorrow, as he offers more defensively than Feghouli and Snodgrass. Even when things have gone badly this season Mark's still shown character to score the winning penalties against Hull and Burnley and a free kick that drifted into the net at Southampton. 

Nobes makes a good point to the Standard that, "I've been here 19 years so West Ham fans are bored with seeing me… You can have a player who looks fantastic on the eye, does four step-overs, but doesn't track back and help his left back or central midfielder." Hmm, wonder who he means?

Above all he's, as they say, West Ham through and through, a one-club man who when we're in a scrap is going to fight for the club, which is going to be very important in the next few weeks. Having missed two games he just might come back refreshed and play a big role between now and the end of the season.

Monday, April 3

Time to get behind Slaven

The West Ham board has issued the 'dreaded' vote of confidence in Slaven Bilic. A club statement says the board is "100 per cent" behind the manager and that "despite speculation to the contrary the manager's position is not under threat." 

Interestingly the Times writes that Bilic declined the board's offer to change his fitness and first team coaches earlier this season, but the board will try to persuade him to do so again in he close season. The club previously drafted in Teddy Sheringham to work with Sam Allardyce so something similar might happen next season.

Alan Shearer had a point on Match of the Day when he said there's too much chatter around West Ham, with David Sullivan sparking the recent rumours after stating on the club website that, "all we can do is say sorry to the supporters" after the home defeat against Leicester. That was interpreted as a warning to Bilic, even though it might have been a simple statement of disappointment best taken at face value. There's also the junior Sullivans commenting on club affairs on twitter, David Gold's more moderate input and Karren Brady's column in the Sun. So there's a lot of material for journalists to sift through and everyone at the club should think carefully before saying anything right now.

Let's be clear if West Ham got relegated Bilic would have failed, but there's no point in changing a manager at this late stage and West Ham need just one or two wins out of eight to be sure of safety. Swansea and Sunderland look the most winnable games. We all need to get behind Bilic and the players for the rest of the season, make sure we finish as high as possible and then start afresh next season. 

Saturday, April 1

Highway to Hull

Hull City 2 West Ham 1

This is getting serious. Bloody Hull. Another poor defeat and the fourth in a row. Having taken the lead through Carroll's chest control and smart finish there's not much excuse for the second half capitulation. This team just don't seem able to hold a lead and the rest of the side couldn't match the contribution of Carroll, captain for the day. 

Kouyate mainly and possibly Byram seem to be getting the blame for the abysmal marking for Hull's late winner. Hammers had their chances. Lanzini was unlucky with a shot palmed away and Snodgrass and Carroll both had headed chances go straight to the keeper. Though Hull also hit the post and the West Ham defence was slow to react to a fine move allowed Robertson to run through the middle to equalise. 

We need Antonio back and the team to take some responsibility, starting on Wednesday at the Emirates. Just six points ahead of Hull in the bottom three now with eight games left. It's getting scary again…

Friday, March 31

Time for West Ham to make defensive changes and bring in Collins, Masuaku and Adrian?

This week's Evening Standard has suggested that Bilic might drop  Aaron Cresswell in favour of Arthur Masuaku. Cresswell hasn't found anything like last season's form and perhaps the serious knee injury he suffered in pre-season has affected him more than we know. 

Masuaku might have had a 'mare at West Brom earlier in the season, but he looked half-decent before that and was very effective going forward when he came on as a sub against Leicester. On that form he deserves another chance. 

There's a case for shaking up the whole defence. With Reid out I'd prefer to see James Collins play alongside Fonte (who's lucky to keep his place on recent form) and Kouyate restored to the midfield to replace the injured Obiang. Ginger Pele might be slowing, but he has the leadership qualities we currently lack and might be able to nurse the raw but promising Byram through games and tell him when to stay back while closing games out. 

Darren Randolph was at fault for Leicester's first so he might justifiably be replaced with Adrian, who was dropped after his own clanger against Stoke. There's not much between them as 'keepers, but it's possible Adrian might organise his defence more effectively.

Conceding 17 goals in eight games just isn't good enough, so West Ham have to try every possible remedy. While we also need a captain's performance from Mark Noble in front of the back four at Hull. Against a bottom three side we have to get a result.

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.