The GoatyGav Column

To Break Or Not To Break?

Whether the extra break benefits West Ham players or not remains to be seen. The overwhelming weight of opinion tends towards the ‘rest is always best’ for Premier League footballers, with many campaigning for a Winter break for some time, but I hold the opposite view. Full match practice gets players fit and firing and, while it takes a lot out of them physically, they keep an ‘edge’ which, I believe, is needed to compete. Don’t believe that? Well the evidence suggests otherwise.

When you consider how English teams have performed against their mainland European counterparts over the years there is definitely a clear pattern that’s to be observed. For some teams, before a ball has been kicked in the Premier League, Europa and Champion’s League qualifiers have been played. Some would consider those teams unfortunate however the undoubted trend is that those teams tend to get off to flyers in the league. Full, competitive, match practice provides the advantage over those having had a pre-season of ‘friendlies’. Further to this there are European (I guess I can now say this without the ‘mainland’ stipulation) sides who are well in to their season when playing in the European qualifying rounds who have proven stern tests for our, supposedly superior, Premier league teams because they are more up to competitive match speed.

The other evidence to back up my point above is what generally happens in European competition after other countries have taken their Winter break. British teams who haven’t taken any time out perform far better than those who’ve been rested. Again I put this down to the ‘Match Speed’ element with French, Italian, German and Spanish teams often struggling to overcome the Brits during February and March.

It’s not all to British teams’ advantage however. The benefits of the Winter break become more apparent towards the end of seasons. These advantages can, I believe, also be evidenced by the performance of the English national team at major tournaments. I strongly believe that both injuries and stamina affect the Three Lions far more than other nations when it comes to World Cups, Euros and, in the case of the most recent example, the UEFA Nation’s League.

Back to West Ham I fear that, apart from the ridiculous level of inconvenience that our fans were handed by the Manchester officials who called off the game on Sunday, our first team will also suffer. Next up is an incredibly tough match which won’t be played until the 24th Feb. Considering our last match beforehand will have been played on the 1st Feb, and our opponents will have played the week before, it looks like the trip to Liverpool will prove an even bigger mountain to climb than it may have otherwise done. Five days afterwards we are at home to a, hugely improved, Southampton team who will have faced Aston Villa and Burnley at home the previous two weeks, and who may well find themselves going in to the game with us, not only far more match sharp but also full of confidence.

My normally optimistic tone has certainly been affected this season by the tough breaks that don’t seem to be showing any sign of letting up. I sincerely hope that David Moyes, and his newly assembled coaching team, can utilise the break to the best of their advantage but I fear for the forthcoming games bearing in mind the lack of match sharpness compared to our opponents.

Not only did our men’s first team have their game postponed but the Women’s game against Manchester City was also a casualty of the bad weather. A tough trip away to Reading awaits tomorrow night so I’m sure you’ll all join me in wishing the Ironesses all the best for that.

The U23s have slightly less time to wait to play than the men’s first team with a home fixture against fourth placed Stoke City next Monday. With Mesaque Dju and Xande Silva returning to the squad after injury the team has a much needed boost following the recent loan departures. It will be a very exciting run in to see if Dan Halajko’s boys can keep their top spot. Fingers crossed they do the business against the Stokies on the 17th.

Have a good week all.

COYI!


The GoatyGav Column

Tidy In The Middle With Issues Up Top And At The Back

No! Don’t worry! You haven’t wandered on to a Katie Price blog site. I’ll be sticking with West Ham for the duration this morning.

Ahead of the game against Brighton I felt quite chipper. The club had signed Jarrod Bowen at the eleventh hour the evening before. Pre match he made an appearance in front of the crowd to a warm reception. I couldn’t make out the chants directed towards him, from below us in 114, but I’m sure we’ll find a good one for him before too long. Someone whose name sounds like Jeroboam really is duty bound to have us cracking open the Champagne after all. Perhaps a theme there? More of that later on.

It was the other signing, however, that delivered on the day. Tomas Soucek is the final piece in our midfield jigsaw – the one who will bring balance to the force that sits between our defence and attack (bet you weren’t expecting Jordan AND Star Wars references in the same article were you?). For me a combative central midfielder was the biggest element missing from the squad. With Rice, Noble and Soucek in the middle, all of a sudden, it’s looking competitive, harmonised and energetic. The opposition were finding less time and became ineffective as they were closed down and challenged quicker. Many may attribute our first half dominance to Michail Antonio on Saturday but that was just part of the reason we went in well ahead at the break. Frankly it could, and should, have been more at half time and the game made out of sight. How on earth the ball didn’t end up in the back of the net, from a Mark Noble free kick with four West Ham attackers, and no defenders, in front of Matt Ryan? It was nearly as frustrating as the referee’s hand ball decision that VAR overturned for Brighton’s equaliser. I was indignant at the injustice of that decision. From our angle we clearly saw the arm away from Murray’s body and the ball strike it. Plain as day. Interestingly VAR had nothing to say about Glenn Murray blatantly holding Fabianski when the corner was taken for Brighton’s first.

I was a big supporter of VAR at the start of this season. I’m now of the opinion that it’s lost all credibility due to the poor judgment of those sitting at Stockley Park and the method of the technology usage. Insofar as Saturday was concerned, however, the third Brighton goal was the ideal opportunity for the pitch-side monitor to be used by the referee and, once again, it was ignored. Rather than make things fairer and helping the officials on the pitch to make the right decisions it’s failing miserably.

The fact that Brighton were still in it coming out for the second half owed a lot to the lack of clinical finishing by West Ham. The fact that the game ended up three all, apart from VAR, owed a lot more to our defensive frailties. From where we were sat Snodders’ second, and our third, looked an absolute worldie. The replay showed a deflection that we did not originally see however the number eleven’s body shape, and strike, were sublime.

Between the two the more worrying aspect lies in attack, than defence, for me. The reason for my view is that, with Super Fabianski between the sticks again, I believe confidence will return at the back whereas serious questions have arisen about whether we are going to be able to get the best out of Seb Haller or not. I genuinely hope that we can but, right now, he’s a shadow of the player who joined us from Frankfurt. Will he get a strike partner in Bowen without upsetting the balance of the side too much? Moyes has hinted that Bowen won’t be thrown in rather that he’ll have a managed introduction to the Premier League in the same way that many of his players, like Lescott and Baines, did at Everton. How’s it all going to work? No doubt we’ll find out in the coming weeks.

Another result to put behind us this weekend was the Ironesses eight-nil loss to Chelsea. The top three in the division are in a league of their own so the only thing for our ladies to do is to take learning from the match, watched by an attendance of just over three thousand three hundred, and prepare as well as possible for the visit of Manchester City next Sunday. Good luck to the ladies for that one

Loan watch is fast becoming a full time occupation at West Ham. At 5.00 last night the club announced Anthony Scully has been loaned to Lincoln City to add to Conor Coventry, Nathan Holland, Nathan Trott, Aji Alese and Dan Kemp. Friday night may see Scully make his debut for the Imps in a baptism of fire against league leaders Rotherham. Good luck to him. Hope he takes his amazing scoring run to League One.

Despite losing several key players it’s not all bad news for Dan Halajko’s available squad. Xande Silva and Mesaque Dju both returned, to great effect, from long term spells out. Their introduction helped the under twenty threes turn around a two one losing score line to a four two win. The three second half goals came on the eightieth, eighty second and eighty fourth minutes to secure the win against bottom of the table Sunderland. The run in to the end of the season looks a tough one. Five out of the six remaining league games are against top seven clubs with Manchester United snapping at their heels just two points below the Hammers’ youth.

So to sign off with some lyrics this week. “Jarrod Bowen banging goals in, Jeraboam corks a’ flyin’, in a Champagne Supernova, A Champagne Supernova in the Bowl!”

COYI!


The GoatyGav Column

Getting It Forward Quickly

Side to side movement, sometimes interspersed with passes back towards our own goal, in an attempt to dominate possession of the ball, became the team’s MO under Manuel Pellegrini. Last season saw some semblance of ‘Samba’ football when the players would work their way in to the final third before upping the tempo and finding gaps but, with confidence at a low ebb, the system of play became, at best, ineffective.

Patient build up often works. Most of my formative years, watching football, were spent admiring the Liverpool teams of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. People forget that it wasn’t all fast paced excitement by those sides that won numerous domestic and European titles. The amount of times that they’d play out wide then come back and recycle the other way often became monotonous. Pro Liverpool commentators referred to it as ‘probing’. A phrase that you don’t hear very often now. Probably for the best n’all but the key thing was that Liverpool had the players to do it. Watching West Ham over the last eighteen months it became clear that, whilst the squad was good, we didn’t have the depth to dominate the ball and were ‘sussed’.

It all became a little repetitive. Despite the fact that I genuinely wanted Manuel Pellegrini to turn things around the frustration of watching him stick rigidly to his methods became too much for me and I, eventually, joined the voices calling for him to move on. Now that’s in the past and I’m optimistic for the rest of the season.

We are already seeing more threat for the team. More opportunities are being created as the ball is moving quicker and more space is being found by the players as the boys hit opposition earlier and before they’re properly back in defensive shape. And that was at the nub of it. Opposing teams were more comfortable defending against us because we allowed them to become very difficult to break down while we held the ball instead of breaking in numbers and zipping it forward. When I think back to the Crystal Palace home game I admired the speed at which they got their two banks of four, with less than five yards between them, set back up once they’d lost possession. They were extremely difficult to break down. In hindsight, however, there’s more than just a smidgeon of a notion that I shouldn’t have been so full of regard for them considering our tardy build up. Within five minutes of the start against Bournemouth you could see the shift in approach.

I’m genuinely hopeful that we see this, more dynamic play, continue under David Moyes. It’s going to take a little while to get the boys playing the way that he wants but the signs of the commitment to swifter attacking methods are in some evidence. It’s definitely not there yet. The evidence of that were on show against Everton when, on more than one occasion, the fans were urging the players forward in greater numbers while Everton were out of shape. The old tendencies were still there as some strolled forward when they should have been sprinting but I do feel that things are moving in the right direction now. Hopefully we’ll see the team commit to getting numbers forward together against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday. We, as fans, are in desperate need of some cheer and a good cup run would be just the tonic.

Trailing one-nil going in to the last ten on Sunday the Ironesses turned things around with an Alisha Lehmann brace. Brighton Women went ahead in scrappy fashion in the first half. With the ball bobbling around in the box from a corner it was, just about, bundled over the line before being cleared. The referee took a few seconds to indicate the goal but, despite it’s ugly nature, it counted all the same. Lehmann’s equalizer followed some great work out wide on eighty minutes when she, standing unmarked, took her turn to bundle the ball over the line before grabbing the winner from a long, route one, kick from Courtney Brosnan. The Brighton defence allowed the ball to bounce before Alisha outpaced them to latch on to the opportunity with a smart finish for the winner. A goal of real quality. You can view the highlights on the following Youtube video: -

Congrats to the team who ease any relegation worries that may have started to loom. Next are an Arsenal team, just coming off a heavy four-one defeat to Chelsea, at home in the F.A. Cup on Sunday. Good luck ladies.

No game for the Under twenty-threes since the three-all draw away at Reading. No game this weekend with bottom of the table Sunderland next up on the 2nd Feb . With only a single point out of fifteen games the Mackems shouldn’t prove too big an obstacle to gaining three points however the youngsters from Northumberland will be aware that captain Coventry (wouldn’t be the best name for a Superhero would it?) Holland and Alese all now loaned out and the squad is not as strong as it has been. Best of luck to the boys for that.

Have a good week all & COYI!


The GoatyGav Column

Has the current squad got enough?

I don’t do transfer speculation often – generally preferring to reserve my opinions about players until their official signing has been announced on the WHUFC site. As a club West Ham are linked with hundreds of potential new players in each window. The rumour mill, fuelled by pure speculation in most cases, goes in to overdrive. But despite my reticence in commenting on prospective club targets I do think it worthwhile discussing what’s missing from the current squad and areas that are in need of further strengthening.

Since Cheikhou Kouyate and, to a lesser degree Pedro Obiang, moved on the biggest miss, for me, has been a dynamic and combative box to box midfielder. I know that many saw Check as having suffered bad form for a good season and a half before he was sold to Crystal Palace but I thought the wrong player was allowed to leave with Obiang having less impact on games than his Senegalese midfield contemporary. I know that many will disagree however I’m always of the belief that good players don’t suddenly become bad players and the phrase “form is temporary, class is permanent,” is one that I strongly believe in. I see Check’s sale as a mistake, borne of impatience, which Crystal Palace are now benefitting from.

So here we are today needing a ‘beast’ to dominate the middle of the park the way that Check used to. This area is where I believe that the board and team management should be looking to invest as the number one priority. I’ve heard, and seen, a few players identified to fulfil this role and it’s here that I’d like to see your next signing made. Personally I think that attacking midfield is already more than well catered for. If we could just get some of our more gifted manipulators of a football, in those areas, linking up and working better together then much of the excitement that I felt at the start of the season would return for sure.

With the recent, repeated, injury to Ben Johnson we’re also looking slightly light at full back. Now that Fredericks is out the requirement has become more of an imperative. Elsewhere in defence, namely at centre back, I believe that we are well catered for. With the return to fitness of Winston Reid we now have four central defenders of quality who should be trusted to do the job for us. Whether that should be as a back three or as a pairing is another discussion but, with some excellent young prospects like Alese, currently out on loan at Accrington Stanley, and Akinola, having just made a huge impact in his first game back after a year out with injury, this is a very healthy state of affairs at the base of the outfield spine. Which links rather nicely to our third area needing an addition to the squad.

I could feel the collective hearts of our fanbase sink when ‘Super Fab’ broke down again in the game on Friday. David Martin has done well, with the exception of the one mistake made after he replaced Lucasz, however another experienced keeper is needed. Whether Darren Randolph will eventually sign or not isn’t really known. No disrespect but the amount being discussed for a transfer fee I do find quite surprising. Despite all this the good news is that, according to the official site, a scan has shown that Fab may only be out for a couple of weeks. Let’s hope so.

Lastly I think that further striker backup should be sought. Should Seb Haller pick up an injury, and considering he gets kicked up in the air every time he plays this is a likely scenario, we will be looking extremely light. Yes, Antonio can play there and is nearing a return, however he’s really not at all effective up front on his own and I can’t see a starting line-up with him and Ajeti any time soon.

So that’s it IMO. Seventeen more days to make four key signings. I doubt we’ll end up seeing all four positions strengthened but those are the ones I believe are most important. Overall I think we’ll have enough to stay up however that wasn’t what I had envisaged at the beginning of the season. I hope the boys push on and start putting points on the board towards a top half finish.

Away from the first team the ladies thought they’d secured a draw but lost two-one to Tottenham Women. The same score as the reverse fixture but this time the local rivals clinched victory deep in to injury time to take all three points.

Without squad captain Connor Coventry and dynamic winger Nathan Holland the U23’s winning run came to an end with a three-three draw away at Reading. Holland linked up with former Hammer Marcus Browne who’s on loan to Oxford from Middlesboro. With Oxford three-nil down at half time, to fellow promotion chasers Rochdale, Holland was introduced and had a positive impact with Oxford winning the second half one-nil. Coventry was a starter for Lincoln City who drew one all away to Shrewbury. It will be interesting to see how the loanees get on for the rest of the season.

Have a good week all

COYI!


The GoatyGav Column

Things To Be Thankful To Manuel Pellegrini For

I mentioned it at the time but I felt it was a shame that Pellegrini failed to get West Ham in to the top six to eight in the Premier League. I realise that he wasn’t everyone’s cuppa but I liked the way he handled himself. When he first joined I thought that the ‘project’ undertaken was one that would take us to the next level of securing European football by finishing sixth or seventh, which often delivers a Europa League place with a view to top four finishes thereafter. I also said that people should look at what MP did at Malaga and Villareal, with relatively limited budgets, to get both sides to semi-finals of Champion’s Leagues outside of his title win with Man City and the record points total delivered at Real Madrid.

Everywhere Pellegrini has been he’s bought wisely. With big, and more modest, budgets he’s had an eye for a good player and has been extremely successful in the transfer markets. West Ham has been no exception to this. Good money has been spent but the quality of those brought in has been extremely high. I believe with all my heart that the squad that Manuel has left behind is one of the strongest we’ve seen at the club.

Before anyone accuses me of wearing the rose tinteds I would also like to put on record my huge disappointment in the football that was being delivered of late. The squad looked dispirited, lacked confidence and performances have been lacklustre to say the least. I’ll never really know if the ‘dressing room was lost’ or if something else was going on but I do have eyes and could clearly see the lack of commitment and effort on the pitch from many of the players.

At the start of this season I was more optimistic than I can remember being about the campaign compared to previous years. In the first half a dozen matches it appeared that the team were going to push on from the strong finish of the previous term. Then Fabianski got injured, confidence and belief visually ebbed away and never seemed to return. Perhaps MP has learned that he requires bigger budgets to play the kind of football that he, patently, believes in, and sticks rigidly to, to be successful in the Premier League.

All things boiled down, however, we did manage to attract a top manager, with winning credentials, to our club and that has to be viewed as a positive. So it’s a big thank you, from me, to Manuel Pellegrini for what he’s done for West Ham United and the condition he’s left us in. Thanks for showing faith, and playing a huge part in the development of, Declan Rice. We’ve got a holding midfielder of true Premiership quality who, if he continues to develop, will become one of the best in the game. Thanks for bringing Lucasz Fabianski, Felipe Anderson, Sebastien Haller, Pablo Fornals, Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena to our club. Ok, maybe not Roberto, who I do feel extremely sorry for, but a manager will never get every single one of his signings right. Whatever Manuel moves on to do I wish him all the best. He’s a top manager and, I’m sure, will go on to further successes in the future.

No game for the Ladies last weekend as sickness ravaged the squad to the point where the scheduled match with Everton Women was postponed. Hopefully the Ironesses will be fully recovered for their visit to Tottenham Women scheduled for Sunday. The prospect of three points against Tottenham are always highly motivational however a win in that one, by a two goal margin, and the ladies will go above their opponents in the table. I’m sure they’ll be more than up for it when next Sunday arrives.

Happy tidings to report for the mighty Under twenty-threes. Yesterday saw the lads play their home match against title rivals, Manchester United, at Dagenham. A brilliant team performance saw the young Hammers run out two-nil winners against a Manyoo team who were on an amazing seven game winning run. Unsure of whether Nathan Holland would be risked ahead of his loan to Oxford United the former Everton youngster put the game to bed by scoring the second goal, after his assist for the first, before moving to the Kassam Stadium for the remainder of the season. I wish him every success in his time at title challenging Oxford where I’m sure he’ll do really well. Holland is the type of player that I really enjoy watching when running at opposition defenders. He creates opportunities for others as well as bagging his fair share of goals himself and, like Grady Diangana, I’d love to see him eventually make the grade at West Ham. The Under twenty-threes have now opened up a four point lead over the Red Devils having played fourteen of the twenty two game season. The only negative from yesterday was Jo Anang collecting a second yellow card in the game and being, subsequently, dismissed. However it was great to see centre back Akinola return to the fold after a year long lay off. The next couple of games are going to be very important without the keeper and Holland and I wish Dan Halajko’s charges all the best for those challenging matches. Next up a visit to eighth placed Reading.

Have a good week all.

COYI!


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