Overly long writings about West Ham United FC. This is the kind of thing you might like, if you like this kind of thing.

Monday, October 03, 2016

West Ham 1 -1 Middlesbrough (And Other Ramblings)

1. Night Fever

Look at the state of those jeans

So, before we get to the game we probably need to talk about the big night out the lads undertook on Monday so that they could watch the US Presidential Debate in peace. This caused lots of hand wringing amongst fans, particularly when pictures emerged of Aaron Cresswell and Andy Carroll looking wrecked in a McDonalds, and then later Carroll and Darren Randolph apparently showed up drunk outside a Shoreditch bar at 7am the following morning. (This latter allegation may or may not have been made up by an attention seeking dickhead on Twitter, in case you're wondering about just how awful social media actually is).

By far the most egregious part of this for me was the outrageous pair of white jeans worn by Andy Carroll, which should never be seen on a human being with functioning eyes. 

However, lots of fans don't share my famously laid back approach to life and seem to feel that professional footballers should never imbibe alcohol or go to McDonalds. I have some sympathy with this view and, let's face it, the timing of this particular night out wasn't exactly ideal given that the last time we saw any of them in public they were being decimated by Southampton.

But let's be honest - if we were going to say that workers could only go for drinks when their employers were doing well, then everybody in the City of London would be teetotal, nobody working on Britain's railways would ever leave their houses, and estate agents could just fuck off altogether.

Their manager advocated a team bonding night out, and by all accounts most players didn't leave that late. They "racked up" a bill of £5,000 apparently, which split between 20 very wealthy young men equates to £250 each which I just can't get worked up about. There is no time that fans will be happy with their players being drunk, so a Monday night is probably the lesser of all available evils.

And if you've ever been to work drinks then you'll know that it probably consisted of all the Spanish speaking lads up one end of the table, listening to Adrian and Arbeloa discuss Trump's macro-economic policy, the English lads at the other end chatting about Celebrity Love Island and Dimitri Payet in the middle thinking that life's probably not like this in Madrid.

That said, Carroll and Cresswell are professional athletes and should surely know better than going on an all night binge during the middle of their season. Not only does it look bad, but it can't be great for their rehab and worst of all it opens up the possibility of being photographed in very bad jeans

2. On The Other Hand

Christ on a bike

All is forgiven Andy - this hat deserves a custodial sentence.

3. Genius 

For all the myriad stuff that went on at this game, it is impossible to start anywhere other than with Dimitri Payet's goal. Picking the ball up on the left hand touchline, he decided to abandon his usual ploy of passing to better placed but drunk teammates and instead tricked and weaved his way past five Middlesbrough defenders before slotting home a beautiful finish past a perplexed Victor Valdes.

It was a delirious moment, which briefly lifted the lid off six weeks of pent up frustration and anger. The way Payet ghosted past defenders was like a grainy George Best goal from 1967, which was apt given that was the era of tackling that Boro chose to emulate in trying to stop Payet.

Barragan clattered him within two minutes, but referee Neil Swarbrick didn't act and before the half was over Stuani and De Roon did the same thing and went equally unpunished. All three Boro players would later pick up yellow cards in the second half for fouls on Payet, but it was a bit too late to make a difference. I don't blame them - Everton just kicked him completely out of it last year -but it would be nice to see a bit more protection for the Frenchman from referees. Our season seemingly depends upon it.

If you haven't seen this goal, stop reading and go and do it now. If you want yet more persuasion, imagine Beethoven being at a Robbie Williams concert and thinking "thank fuck I'm deaf", before walking on stage, pushing the fat prick off the side and sitting down and playing Symphony No.5 in full. That's what it was like.

4. Not Genius

I've tried hard to understand this team selection. It's easy as a fan to rail against slightly left field selections but I've always thought that it's not the worst thing for a manager to spring a surprise from time to time. He sees the players every day, he has access to data that we don't and frankly knows the game better than all of us. I want to feel like he's capable of turning things around by doing things I don't understand.

However, I also want to feel like he's not picking the team using a Magic 8 Ball either.

This was our seventh game of the season and our seventh different back line. We did actually look a little more solid this time out, but the lack of advancement from our full backs means we can't properly exploit the width of our enormous pitch, putting huge pressure on our front four to deliver. Aaron Cresswell may be back for the Palace game which would be a huge boost, but with Sam Byram injuring himself after just 5 minutes, we are once again looking at sparse defensive options. Those summer buys, oh well oh well oh well...

Elsewhere, Gokhan Tore played wide on the right without offering us any width at all. Instead he was tucked in next to Antonio. If I squint, I can kind of see the logic in this. Our central strikers have been ludicrously isolated at home this season, and so Bilic may have wanted someone mobile to tuck in and get closer to the play. The reasoning must have been that Feghouli is a natural wide player, and Payet is clearly best left to do whatever he wants coming in off the left, so Tore was the only name remaining in the bag.

Sadly, the plan foundered once it became clear that Gokhan Tore is still, at his core, undeniably Gokhan Tore. If he wasn't blasting decent chances into the stratosphere, he was losing the ball, falling over and generally looking like his boots were on the wrong feet. I feel for him - there is an audible groan every time he picks up the ball and then inevitably does something Boa Mortian with it - but I also feel he should be rediscovering his confidence away from the first team.

But this brings us back to Bilic. Picking Tore, and dropping the entirely undeserving Lanzini was hubris and a nonsense. We don't have the games to throw away on these kind of hunches.

5. Vote For Pedro 

Pedro Obiang! He lives! He tackles! He can actually pass, which is kind of a pleasant surprise!

The presence of a mobile defensive midfielder made a huge difference today. After an early scare when Viktor Fischer narrowly shot wide, we edged our way into the game, and largely kept Boro at arms length. Obiang's efficiency allowed Noble and Kouyate to push further forward which resulted in Noble crashing a shot against the bar and Kouyate looking like a puppy who'd been locked up all day as he just went uncontrollably apeshit for 90 minutes.

Both of them look like they don't really know their roles in the team anymore and the huge pitch isn't helping with that. We don't look solid enough through the middle, still can't fill the nominal "number 10" role and don't have any idea who to play up front. We have, however, discovered a central midfielder who can do what central midfielders are supposed to do. Small mercies, I suppose.

6. A New Hope

Rather than focus entirely on the negative, I want to point out a couple of relevant aspects to our start to the season.

Per the sterling work done by Hilltop Analytics it possible to see that we are the only team in the bottom half of the league who are taking more shots per game than we are allowing. This is positive, because history has shown a strong correlation between shooting statistics and winning. This isn't the be all and end all, of course, as our defeat at West Brom showed but it does suggets our luck may turn shortly.

We are also currently allowing 18.8% of all shots taken against us to go in. This is the highest rate in the league, and double the 9.9% that it was last year.

Of course what this tells us is that our defence has been terrible and we all knew that anyway, but it also tells us that we are due some regression and when it comes it should help us immensely.

For all that though, we are still off to a worse start than either Avram Grant or Glenn Roeder ever managed which is absolutely catastrophic.

I never thought I'd say it, but thank Christ for Sunderland.

7. Summertime Blues

The next time that David Sullivan tells you what a wonderful job he's done in the transfer market, please remember this game. He bought three strikers into the club this summer. Two were on the bench, one wasn't in the squad, and the player who started at centre forward finished last weeks game at right back.

Simone Zaza did arrive at half time, still looking like a Guess Who character and still apparently unable to control the ball. In fairness, he did better than the Southampton game but that's a fairly low bar. Assuming he didn't run on and immediately set fire to anything he was going to improve on that clusterfuck, but he still doesn't offer anything in terms of ball retention or goal scoring threat and he still looks like Richard, and Richard has never scored a Premier League goal either.

8. Stadium Blues

I tried to obtain a ticket for this game via the antediluvian ballot system but didn't get one, relying instead on the kindness of @LeBigHouse for my seat (I suggest following him on Twitter for pithy witticisms and unparalleled barbecuing tips). Imagine my surprise then to see swathes of empty seats in the ground, with the Met Police estimating the attendance at "over 40,000" compared to the Club's official number of 56, 945.

I can only assume, therefore, that the empty seats belonged to season ticket holders who have already decided to stop going to games. Leaving aside the pure frustration of losing out on a season ticket myself to those who would cast theirs aside so easily, it does rather beg the question of what next season might look like. Whether we are in the Championship or bubbling along near the bottom of the Premiership again, what exactly is going to entice these people to come to games if not a brand new stadium, Dimitri Payet and guaranteed top flight football?

What's odd is that I thought this match had the best atmosphere there that I've heard so far. Even at 1-0, the crowd stayed with the team and there was a spine tingling, hair raising roar when Payet worked his magic. Maybe those absent fans are just dragging the rest of us down. Man.

I also read reports and saw video footage of some fairly grim scenes after the game involving both sets of fans. I'm not sure I can blame the Club entirely for what goes on outside the ground, but it does kind of boggle the mind that the question "You are definitely going to get the Police over there, yeah?" never once seems to have come up during Karren's world class negotiations.

9. Transport Blues

So with their usual perfect timing and Pravda-esque grasp of customer relations, the Club released two statements this week seemingly designed purely to wind up their own fans.

Firstly, an interview with former captain Kevin Nolan was Tweeted out with the headline "Time for West Ham fans to stand up and be counted" which just HAS to have been a pisstake given that this is literally why some fans are being chucked out of the ground.

Then, this morning, after no fewer than three train lines went down after the game and Stratford station was closed, we all received a link to a Club statement which somehow chose to praise the "superior public transport connections" of the Olympic Stadium the morning after it took most of us two hours to travel 5 miles home.

I understand the Club's desire to put a positive spin on things and I also get that they aren't responsible for the failings of TfL, but they seem to have decided to take a "Russia Today" approach to all public commentary. This is making me wonder whether they really know what it's like to attend games at the stadium with young children, or older family members or indeed in any capacity when there seem to still be so many problems that keep cropping up.

Teething problems are to be expected, but dismissing footage of fans fighting outside the ground as "routine football problems" is just stupid and insulting to people. We actually have to walk with children back through these unpoliced roads and alleys to get home, instead of being chaffeur driven a la David Sullivan.

Get a fucking grip West Ham - it's not the Naked Gun.

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