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West Ham United: End of Season Report
Billy Blagg 19 May 2014

Introduction

The hearts of generations of adults from the east end will sink when they recall that old school report that proclaimed the simple message: ‘Could do better’. But that epithet surely applies to West Ham United this season. Managers, players and owners all talk about ‘pushing on’ and that was the expectation of Hammers fans in 2013/14. Most will say there has been a good deal of marching on the spot though, while others may even claim the team has staggered back. The truth is – though it is still unpalatable to some - is that mid-table is an acceptable position when you consider the club’s bank balance and the way the Premier league is financially structured and, though this is an oft-repeated mantra, that won’t really change until the Hammers move to Stratford. However, for most fans it’s not the table position but how it’s obtained that’s the issue and that is where most of the arguments lie. It still seems bizarre to think of the season’s one bright spot - Ravel Morrison - being loaned to QPR at a peak time of the season; while injuries – particularly to Andy Carroll at the start and generally in the crucial period around New Year – were a major factor in how the season panned out. A lot of issues could be resolved if, against all historical precedent, the team were able to get by on minimal visits to the physio’s room, while some semblance of a return to the long-held Academy ideals might encourage less negativity at home.


Star Pupil

Mark Noble was voted ‘Hammer of the Year’ at the annual awards ceremony and it is testament to the type of season that West Ham have had that the accolade has gone to a favourite son of the club; someone who has shone at times and been not found wanting at others. For though he’s had a solid season with some highlights, even Noble hasn’t always been outstanding; rather this is a reward for years of selfless service to the claret and blue cause. Injuries to last year’s winner Winston Reid has only highlighted the Hammers’ problems this campaign with high-profile signings like Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Matt Jarvis either not playing enough or simply not performing to the standards expected. Goalkeeper Adrian shone in his debut season while James Tomkins was really the only other outstanding individual performer, and it was good to see another local favourite show that often the best players are those right underneath your nose – something Sam Allardyce would do well to heed.


Detention

In much the same way that Mark Noble’s efforts were viewed this season, so If West Ham were a school there would a large number of surly looking players all standing outside the Headmaster’s study, kicking the walls, looking at each other and muttering under their breath “It’s his fault we've got detention”. Nobody has been truly awful, it’s just no-one seems to have performed at their peak either. There have been some oddities about the season too. Every time Matthew Taylor or George McCartney drop out of the side, terrace experts – and I count myself among them – confidently predict that their span at the club is at an end and it’s time for them to move on. The team then start to struggle, the players are re-introduced and suddenly things start to tighten up again. The win percentage with Matt Taylor as holding midfielder is quite surprising and likely to earn the player a contract extension if Sam stays; this though is a player constantly undermined by supporters and one who I suggested should be sold during the last transfer window. Similarly, although a little closer to the fans’ hearts – George McCartney just plods away doing what he does well and without fuss. Arguments within the Irons faithful still mainly revolve around Kevin Nolan’s role though. While it often seems that opposing supporters still view the Liverpudlian as the Hammers danger man, home support still feel the captain is neither one thing or the other. West Ham are that kind of confused club currently.


Teachers’ notes

Ah, Sam Allardyce! Where do you begin eh? Never afraid to lapse into hyperbole, I suggested earlier this season that there was some sort of battle going on for the soul of West Ham United and the man at the centre of that fight is surely Big Sam. Love him or hate him – and the recent cross-site opinion poll seemed to suggest the latter – the ex-Bolton boss just keeps doing what he always does. Obdurate at best, plain ornery at worst, if you look up in the dictionary for ‘bluff Northerner’ then Sam surely has his picture there. Football has always enjoyed a fierce north / south divide and the fan / manager relationship at Upton Park is that conundrum writ large. Sam plays the percentages and will never chase a cause if he feels it’s lost but putting out a youth team to get slaughtered at Nottingham Forest in the F.A. cup – a season low - was a major error and one no West Ham fan ever wants to see again. Nevertheless, the Blagg blog has broadly supported Allardyce and – although my enthusiasm isn’t shared by others – I enjoy seeing a miserly defensive performance underlined by this season’s 14 clean sheets. Allardyce needs to meet the supporters some way though even if only to provide some type of attacking Plan B option if the bus parking fails, and a bit of flair and pace for next season, allied to the manager’s undoubted prowess at the art of defending, may help Sam although I’m not sure there will ever be an Allardyce love-in though. Unlike others, I believe the manager knows he needs to win more, can only do that by attacking and being more creative, and will attempt to do it where possible with the right players. The problem is that Sam hasn’t really proved he is able to either unearth or purchase those right players and he certainly isn't trusting anyone in the Academy. An outlay in the region of £32m for Carroll, Jarvis and Downing simply hasn't created enough and I believe it is the latter reasons that have brought Allardyce's tenure as boss to the crossroads rather than the style of play or the mid-table finishes.


Expectations for next term

West Ham’s final league placing leaves the club in almost exactly the same situation as last year and fans will expect some large investment to the squad to improve performance – particularly in the entertainment department – to push the Hammers into a comfortable top ten place as they go into their penultimate season at the Boleyn. Even those outside of the club could tell what is needed at Upton Park next season and that is some flair and pace to make the team less one-dimensional. It has to be remembered though that if Uncle Sam’s one dimension isn't popular or as successful as he sometimes seems to suggest it should be, it still produces results of a sort and West Brom keeper Ben Foster’s highly-noted comments that ‘you know you will get from West Ham’ doesn't disguise the fact that knowing isn't enough for some sides to be able to do anything about it. Moving forward, much could depend on if the boss - any boss! - can keep and utilise Ravel Morrison. If Sam stays – expect more of the same next season with a bit more pace and an attempt to play some more expansive football when applicable. If Allardyce goes, expect utter confusion and, if some of the names mentioned get the job, relegation.


Final grade

Grading a injury-hit, frustrating, inconsistent but ultimately mid-table season isn't easy but, if the grades are the same as when I went to school – usually from A to F(ail) – then what can be given other than a mid-table C+ (Spurs results, Semi-final cup run, February, clean sheets) or C- (Crystal Palace results, FA Cup 3rd round, January, poor entertainment)



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Billy Blagg
Posted 19 May 2014
West Ham United: End of Season Report
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