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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.

Jan 192015
 
Sam Allardyce

Having come so far, does Sam Allardyce find himself under a different kind of pressure at West Ham United?

‘Big Sam’ should be accustomed to finding himself in the spotlight by now, with pretty much his entire tenure at Upton Park having seen him face some kind of questioning.

At the start, he had to win over those who doubted that he was the right fit for the job.

His experience was without question, after spending the best part of his career at a Premier League level, but was he right for West Ham?

Convincing those doubters has taken longer than he would have liked, with there a feeling among the natives that gritty, dogged football was ruining the East End ideology.

Allardyce asked for time, though, and his board – co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold – have been prepared to give it to him.

Admittedly, there are likely to have been occasions in which they found themselves asking uncomfortable questions, but who was the better alternative?

Better the devil you know and all that, with their patience finally being rewarded.

Transfer business last summer was far removed from a ‘lump it long to the big man’ approach, even with Andy Carroll on the books.

Guile was brought in to complement the graft and to help reignite the flame under those that had lost their way.

Stewart Downing would fall into that category, as would the injury-ravaged Carroll.

Both are now fully fit and performing to the peak of their powers, with England recognition coming the way of the former and expected to be on the cards for the latter.

Their fire has, however, been lit by those around them, as the likes of Diafra Sakho, Enner Valencia, Alex Song, Aaron Cresswell and Carl Jenkinson have turned the Hammers into an outfit they have not been for some considerable time.

They are now serious European contenders, possibly even outsiders for a top-four finish.

A cup run would not go amiss either.

Capital One Cup success has eluded them, with League Cup betting placing Chelsea (5/6) at the head of that particular market, but the FA Cup remains a pursuable target after edging out Premier League rivals Everton in a third round replay.

This, though, is part of the problem for Allardyce – success is now expected rather than desired.

Expectation levels have risen alongside those of performances and West Ham fans are enjoying their rollercoaster existence once more.

The point where something tangible to cling to is demanded has not yet been reached, with this still a work in progress, but the bar has been raised from where it was as recently as last pre-season.

Allardyce will be aware of that fact and that his margin for error has started to narrow.

Before, he could get away with a wobble. That may no longer be the case.

If results start to dip now, thoughts will turn towards those who can offer a welcome pick-me-up and get the bandwagon back on track.

Allardyce will be hoping that the wheels do not come off any time soon, but he has ensured – through sheer determination and thick skin – that some bigger bolts will be required to keep him at the helm if the road starts to get bumpy.

Aug 062013
 

Sam AllardyceSam Allardyce admits it has been a frustrating summer as he struggles to add depth to a West Ham squad that managed a satisfactory mid-table spot in the Premier League last season.

The only arrivals have been striker Andy Carroll, who spent last season on loan with the Hammers and a man who is a cheeky outside football bet for top scorer at 50/1 – scoring seven times in 24 Premier League appearances for Allardyce’s side – goalkeeper Adrian and defender Razvan Rat. Meanwhile, Gary O’Neil and Carlton Cole were released at the end of June.

It had been thought that the 30-year-old former Portsmouth and Middlesbrough star O’Neil would sign a new deal with West Ham, currently 7/1 to be relegated come the end of the season with Paddy Power, but he now appears to be on the verge of being reunited with Harry Redknapp at Championship side QPR.

O'Neil, who worked with Redknapp during their time at Pompey, has been training with QPR’s first-team squad recently. He found the net three times in 48 league appearances for the Hammers.

Allardyce says he is continuing to work hard on bringing more players to the club, although Gent’s Belgium international striker Ilombe Mboyo will not be one of them.

Hammers chairman David Sullivan has said the club decided not to pursue their interest in the 26-year-old after becoming aware that fans had reacted badly to the news of the proposed transfer.

"We've been hugely frustrated in our quest over the last three weeks or so," said former Bolton Wanderers, Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers boss Allardyce.

"Whether it's been the player, the club or interference from another club 75 or 80 per cent through the deal attracting him to them rather than us, it has unfortunately left us with a blank space.

"All we can keep doing is trying to find another player who wants to come to West Ham United who is better than what we have already got."