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May 282015
 
Sam Allardyce

A season that had started to promise so much has in the end delivered only a cargo-full of disappointment for Hammers fans.

On Christmas morning we ripped open the presents and began a day of indulgence safe in the knowledge that West Ham were part of the Premier League’s top four.

A Boxing Day trip across London to Stamford Bridge pitted first against fourth in England’s top flight.

Sam Allardyce had started to work something of an oracle around Upton Park and there was, as the old saying goes, “a buzz around the place”.

Now look at us.

In the 20 league games that have come since that heady festive rush, West Ham have managed to add only 16 points to the season’s tally.

Any faint dreams of remaining in the top four were quickly shredded and in truth, we’ve been in freefall since the turn of the year.

All things considered, we ought to be pleased that enough points were gathered in those first 17 games to ensure there wasn’t a relegation battle to be fought.

Here’s couple of neat little stats that sum up the struggles of West Ham in the second half of this season.

Big Sam has managed to return 16 points in 20 games since the 20th December when we beat Leicester City 2-0 at home to earn that top four place over Christmas.

Meanwhile on 4th April, we suffered a 2-1 defeat in the return clash with Nigel Pearson’s Leicester team at the King Power Stadium.

At that stage, Leicester were rock bottom and seemed destined for the drop. Yet, over a period of just over 30 days during April and early May, they helped themselves to 18 points – more than West Ham can claim during the entire second half of the season.

Forever blowing bubbles the song goes, well for Big Sam this bubble has long since burst and he will be leaving the club in the summer.

As we start to review the season just ending, it is clear that the fairytale start has morphed into a nightmare finish.

A glance at the latest betfair odds at the time of writing suggests West Ham’s hopes of getting into the top half of the table next season are around the 3.25 mark. So it seems as though the experts aren’t marking the Hammers down for a renewed push anytime soon.

Let us move on then with a review of this season, which can be neatly split into two categories –before and after my bubble burst.

The Good Half

Things were rosy by Christmas but by no stretch of the imagination did this season get off to a flyer.

Spurs took three points from Upton Park on the opening day and Southampton followed suit before the end of August.

In between those games, Sheffield United ensured there would be no Capital One Cup run when they stormed East London to win on penalties.

The only bright spot in the first month of the season was a victory at Selhurst Park against Neil Warnock’s Crystal Palace – even that must be viewed in the context of the sound thrashing handed out by Alan Pardew’s incarnation of Palace in the return game in late February.

A draw away at Hull began September and so it was in the middle of that month that the season really came to life when Liverpool paid a visit.

On a momentous Saturday evening, Winston Reid and Diafra Sakho quickly lit the touch paper for a strong home performance and a 3-1 win over Brendan Rodgers' side was the end result.

Sakho was the poster boy early in the season and his goal against Liverpool was the start of a run of five straight games where the striker hit the net.

Four wins – the only set back coming at Old Trafford in a narrow loss – was the net result for West Ham, culminating in another standout performance as defending champions Manchester City had their wings clipped at a bouncing Upton Park in late October.

That meant Big Sam’s team had collected maximum points during the calendar month of October and there was a really positive feeling around the club.

The manager was full of the joys of the world and his player’s seemed to be buying into his regime much more than was the case last season.

There was a bit more steel to West Ham by now, never more so than when going to the always tough Britannia Stadium and fighting back 0-2 down to come back home with a point.

Around this time Renaissance man Stewart Downing was at full pelt, earning a return to the England squad after a really productive spell in a West Ham shirt.

A home win over Newcastle was the start of a run of four wins from five games that propelled West Ham up the table and into fourth spot.

Like Southampton, the Hammers were a surprise package and the predictors were busy musing over how long either club could sustain the effort for.

Allardyce got his team into the position as a result of the good form from Downing, Sakho and Enner Valencia along with the experience of the likes of Alex Song but it has proved unsustainable.

The last few months have gradually eroded any confidence and swagger that had been instilled in the team during the positive early winter months.

The Bad Half

The Chelsea game on Boxing Day was the beginning of a run of one win in 12 Premier League games for West Ham.

The African Cup of Nations injury fiasco that engulfed Sakho was perhaps symptomatic of the second of the season. In tight games, this current team do not have the quality to gain an upper hand.

They can be competitive – see draws with Swansea, Southampton and Man United as well as narrow defeats to Arsenal and Chelsea during this run, but overall that touch of class is missing.

In essence, they have become the atypical Allardyce outfit. Too predictable and only fleetingly capable of grinding out big-name scalp or taking care of the top flight’s weakest teams.

Three victories in 20 games have come at Upton Park against Hull City, Sunderland and Burnley. Two of them in one-goal games against teams that could easily form three of the bottom four in the final standings for this season.

Take a moment to consider that form – the three wins in 20 games were against poor, poor opposition. That is relegation form, let there be no masking this is a fact.

There have been no hidings during that time – a 3-0 defeat at the Emirates and a good going-over from Palace at Upton Park were the lowest points.

The goodwill of the early months has long since disappeared and if progress is going to be made next season then some fresh ideas are badly needed.

Just about any observer of Premier League football has been able to offer the opinion since around early March that West Ham had drifted into ‘summer holiday mode’.

Watching the performances, it is difficult to argue.

Maybe the dizzy heights of Christmas meant that hopes were a little too high for the second half of the season.

Maintaining a top four trajectory was of course asking a lot but if we are to get on a par with teams like Swansea and Southampton then there must be a summer sea-change at Upton Park. With the likes of Rafael Benitez linked to the West Ham job, the club are likely to act sooner rather than later.

Any more of the same and we will be dreading next Christmas like the turkeys.

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