With only one win from the opening three fixtures, a quick exit from the Europa League and a bunch of underwhelming performances, the International break came at a much needed time for the West Ham faithful. With the late additions of Fernandes, Arbeloa and the highly anticipated Zaza, not to mention the likes of Lanzini, Feghouli and Payet returning from injury, it was very clear that the unified understanding going into the Watford game was this: Our season starts now.
Unfortunately, West Ham never make it that easy for themselves. A solid 40 minutes saw the much needed Dimitri Payet back to his best, controlling the midfield, and providing two wonderful assists for our in-form man of the moment Michail Antonio. In fairness, at that point the game looked done. Despite some sparks of attacking intent, West Ham looked as if they would go on to win the game comfortably. But then, of course, came the mistakes. A refusal from Byram to show Ighalo the outside allowed him to get a shot off, deflecting off Collins and bringing them back into the game. Going into half time at 2-1 wouldn’t have looked too bad, but an misunderstanding between Adrian and Collins, allowed Troy Deeney to capitalise on the loose ball, and cutely placed the ball passed a scrambling defensive line. Shocked and frustrated, West Ham went into the half time break having given away a two goal lead to simple individual errors. Surely the second half could only get better? Of course not. In an interview after the game, Troy Deeney had said that at half time; “There were some harsh words said to each other and everyone had that fire in their belly again.” This resurged Watford team was clear to see, and in the 52nd minute, a deep cross, poorly unchallenged by our defence, fell to the in-form Capoue who volleyed high into the net. Despite the good connection, I am sure Adrian will feel he could have dealt with the effort better. Same could definitely be said for Watford’s fourth goal. Another Ighalo run down the wing resulted in Byram, Noble and Kouyate all being sucked in, giving the unlikely Jose Holebas enough time and space to get a shot off. His strike was solid, but again, Adrian should feel incredibly aggrieved at not saving it. From then, the game was gone. Despite some half hearted efforts towards the end of the game, nothing seemed to cause Watford any real trouble. An incredibly infuriating afternoon.
For me, these were the key talking points after the game:
1. Our attacking options are back: I’ll start with a positive! With the return of Payet and Lanzini, I was extremely excited to see how our front four would perform and we weren’t disappointed. With Antonio’s ability to tear defences apart with his pace, added to the creative flair and comfort on the ball from Payet and Lanzini, it is clear to see that we will be a real threat this season going forwards. There was some lovely link up play in the final third, and Zaza seems to posses the ability to hold up the ball and create space for our wingers. Something we have been so desperately craving over the last few games. I will admit, there were times when easy balls were rolled into Zaza and he was unable to control them, but with it being his first game in English football, I feel it is only a matter of time before he grows in confidence and is able to get amongst the goals. Also a special mention has to go to Dimitri Payet for that ‘disgusting’ rabona assist for the second goal. It was a thing of beauty, and he already looks back to his best if we can ignore the average free kicks by his standard. I hope he can continue where he left off.
2. Back four look lost: Despite our front four looking sharp, our back four looked unorganised, disinterested and quite frankly lost. All four goals came from individual errors which is incredibly frustrating to take, especially when we looked so in control going into the break. Byram’s lack of defensive awareness can be worrying at times, especially for the first goal when he should have shown Ighalo the outside, pressing him wide and denying him the opportunity to shoot. The addition of Arbeloa is a welcomed one, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go straight into the team after Byram’s performance. If not, I hope Arbeloa passes on his defensive expertise as it is clear to see that Byram is far from the finished product. Despite my love for James Collins, it is also hard to see where his form from last season has gone. His age was never a factor last year, but this season he has looked sluggish and unfocused at times leading to mix up’s like Watford’s second goal. I also believe Winston Reid’s appearance alongside him hasn’t helped matters, who in all seriousness goes missing in games and can be very hit and miss at the best of times. I was confused to not see Ogbonna start yesterday and hope he returns for the next fixture,as I genuinely believe he is our best defender by a mile. There is a real sense of complacency in our defence this season, and I think a call up for Reece Oxford against West Brom next week may be the wake up call our defensive reinforcements need to really highlight that your position is never safe unless you are playing well.
3. Adrian starting spot under scrutiny?: For someone so consistent for us since signing, Adrian looked a mere shadow of his normal self. Usually so cool and calm under pressure, he looked careless and sloppy between the sticks. No doubt he was at fault for the second goal, giving no call to James Collins and then equally did not clatter into him and deal with the situation either. His reaction to the third and fourth goal said it all, and for a keeper of his ability, he should be looking to save those all day long. I don’t know whether the Spain call up has gone to his head a little bit or it was just an off day, but we cannot afford to let that happen again. Maybe similar treatment could be used in giving Randolph a call up just to ensure Adrian remains firmly on his toes.
4. No Plan B/fire power off the bench: Yes it was a disaster having conceded four goals to make it 4-2, but let’s remember the game was not dead. It was the 62nd minute and I was really hoping to see us give it a good fight back to try and get a draw. But no. Noble came off for Calleri, Zaza for Fletcher and Byram for Tore throughout the remainder of the match and nothing seemed to work. Calleri seemed to play off of Zaza and then Fletcher but again, there was no cutting edge. It infuriated me when Byram came off for Tore, which saw Antonio, who had scored 2 already be expected to drop back to defence. This is a joke, and it highlights our lack of ability to create when on the back foot and to utilise another plan of action when the original is not working. We need Zaza to get himself turning in on goal and getting shots away, and we need it fast. I have no doubt that when Carroll and Ayew return we will have various high quality options to use from the bench but until then it seems we need to have a back up plan when things are not going our way.
5. Noble/Kouyate leave the defence exposed: Although I have reservations about his overall ability, there is no doubt that playing Nordveit gives you that much needed cover in front of the back four. For some reason, this seems to completely deteriorate when playing with Noble and Kouyate. For all his strength and ability in controlling the game in the middle of the field, Kouyate has lost that defensive instinct which was so prominent in his game last season. Similarly, Noble who’s passing ability and work rate are unquestionable, but when both push forward as part of the attacking force, they are left too high up the field to assist in any defensive cover when possession switches or we are countered. This is definitely something that needs to be worked on if we are to get the most out of our players when on the back foot.
So where did it all go wrong? This was supposed to be the game that got us back on track, as with only Cresswell, Carroll and Ayew to come back, we are now closing in on a fully fit squad. Or is there a bigger issue here? Despite insisting in my last article that I hope we do not use the Stadium as scapegoat, it is very difficult to ignore the connections between the incidents that occurred throughout the ground yesterday and the events that unfolded on the pitch.
Although I am very much behind our owners and Karen Brady’s vision for our club, there is no question that we are currently in a very alarming period of our club’s history. Promises that were made regarding the ground (for example: the distance from the pitch e.t.c) have not been totally reliable and there seems to be an extreme lack of care taken into consideration surrounding ticketing, standing and stewarding. This was clearly highlighted yesterday, when stories of fans being ejected from their seats for standing took place, creating a huge divide between the fans and the staff of West Ham, and ended in unwanted aggression and animosity sparking unnecessary violence and disrepute within the stadium. There is no doubt in my mind that these incidents had an psychological effect on the players. Like any encouraging and supportive fanbase can lift teams to produce comebacks, this negativity and unrelenting pressure that echoed around the ground must have certainly have done the opposite to our players alike. From the moment the cameras were panning to report on the disruption taking place in the stands, the next we were level at 2-2 going into half time. Coincidence? I think not.
Another shocking element that has not been addressed, is the lack of divide between the home and away fans. With no police in sight, and young/inexperienced stewards trying to to assert some authority, the end results are frightening. With Watford fans mockingly standing after taking the lead, it was only a matter of time before fights broke out and upset children were being taken home by their parents more out of protection than disappointment. In an ideal world, there would be no fighting in football, but let’s not be naive. It happens and unless Brady and co wake up to the fact that it is dangerous at present then the London Stadium will never be family friendly and it certainly won’t be ‘home.’ I mean, yesterday fights broke out against Watford! Imagine what is going to happen when the likes of Chelsea or Spurs come to visit?! It needs sorting immediately to ensure that fans not only get behind the team, but also, and most importantly, feel safe. This period of transition is still extremely fragile, and Gold, Sullivan and Brady must all be seriously open and honest when addressing our fans, especially when discussing the opportunity of ‘safe standing’. At present, they want the stadium to contain the heart and soul of West Ham United, but what they are forgetting is that ignoring these issues is getting away from the one thing that matters to the fans most, and that is enjoying watching their team play.
Only when these issues are dealt with, can we get back to truly supporting our team with no excuses, distractions or safety fears. Once this is rectified we will be back to total unity and support of our club, and should get us back to winning ways.
A relief that our next game is away to West Brom and I hope we will be looking at a much more positive result heading into our next home game.
Thanks for reading. COYI