The GoatyGav Column
This week’s post is not a happy one. With the doom-mongers out in force it’s very hard to remain optimistic about our proud club.
Overall us Hammers are known for our devout loyalty and, generally, optimistic outlook. Never mind thirty years of not winning a league title – we’ve stuck by our lads for forty without a single trophy and have managed to get by without winning two Champion’s leagues (must have been awful for those Liverpool fans). The start of every season brings renewed hope and the start of the 2019-20 season was definitely no exception.
I remember being extremely optimistic after the squad was strengthened with our, long awaited, big money striker signing in the Summer. With the January signings of Bowen and Soucek added I’m of the firm belief that, not only will we escape relegation, we should be in the top half of the table. In each of the games that I saw Haller, Bowen and Antonio link up we’ve looked different gravy. The former of those three has been the missing link however he does need to ‘toughen up’. Bobby Z made a great point, post Spuds match, when he stated that Kevin Nolan should be doing some one on one training with Seb with a view to achieving that ‘Premier League’ street wisdom and toughness that’s currently missing.
That pre-season optimism, albeit slightly dampened by another drubbing from Manchester City in the opener, seemed to be justified in the early weeks of the Premiership. With an unbeaten run of five, including wins away at Watford and home to Norwich and Manchester United, there was a tangible feel good factor at the bowl. October, by contrast, brought us one point from a possible nine before a worrying slide in November and December that saw the end of Manuel Pellegrini’s tenure at the club.
I had a conversation with another season ticket holder in the row behind me about our opinions of David Moyes’ re-appointment. I think the other fan was as much pleased to see MP leave as anything else when he mentioned how happy he was with the return of the Scot to the management hotseat. I was less enthusiastic as I voiced my belief that “going back is going backwards.” Absolutely nothing to do with my opinion of David Moyes who I think is a decent manager. I know things didn’t work out well for him after leaving Everton but I have him down as a thoroughly decent person who, despite my reticence about re-appointments in general, I am fully behind and who has my complete support. I genuinely hope that he turns things around and has a long and successful career at our club.
In his first game you could see the improvement in play. The comparison between the West Ham that Pellegrini sent out to lose against Leicester and the team that took the field for the Liverpool loss and then the, emphatic, four-nil win against Bournemouth was night and day. The general consensus was one of there having been an immediate improvement. After easing past Gillingham in the cup third round the boys were unlucky not to come away with something at Bramhall Lane. From then on, however, the confidence seemed to ebb away with the only point being gained at, out of form, Everton. The lowest ebb since being the draw snatched from the jaws of victory against Brighton at home.
In the last three games before lockdown, and with Jarrod Bowen playing a bigger part, the team returned to their early season positivity. For a fair period of the game at Anfield the lads looked like they may have been the team to stop Liverpool’s unbeaten run in a three-two thriller. At home to Southampton Bowen opened his, and the team’s, account in a decent three-one win before a narrow loss at the Emirates where the lads created more shots, both off and on target, than the home side and should have grabbed at least a point on chances created.
I think that Lockdown has made a big contribution towards the negativity and pessimism that we’re seeing. The current expressions of dismay are a form of emotional catharsis that, I guess, are to be expected under the circumstances. We’re all getting things off our chests and that is not, necessarily, a bad thing. Personally, however, I’m optimistic that, when we see the return of a front three of Bowen, Antonio and Haller, our relegation worries will ease and we’ll climb away from the foot of the table. Haller won’t be back for the Chelsea game, and won’t likely be around for the trip to Newcastle either, so I genuinely hope that either Ajeti or Silva get a chance, Antonio can return to the flank where he enjoys himself most and we start to create chances again. I, genuinely, can’t recall a single game where we’ve looked at all effective with Antonio as the lone striker. Not once. I pray that we don’t see that again this season.
Lastly this week I’d like to say a very fond farewell to Zabba. If you’re reading this I’d like to go on record as saying you’re a top player and top man, Pablo, and you will be missed. I’m gutted that we won’t get to give you a send off in person as you’ve more than deserved it and it would have been an extremely warm one. I wish you all the very best in the future – a future in which I’d really love to see you have further involvement at our club in the form of a coaching role. Wherever it does take you may the road rise up to meet you.