Filed: Monday, 13th March 2017
By: Paul Walker
Deep down you sense that David Sullivan is not totally convinced about Slaven Bilic’s longevity as West Ham manager.
The tone and words our owner used in his tirade on the club’s website on Sunday morning after the depressing defeat at Bournemouth can only be described as an urgent wake-up call to his manager, despite all the talk of extended contracts.
Bilic, seemingly, has been told there will be a roll-over extension at the London Stadium and there will be significant funds to spend in the summer.
But Sullivan, as we all can, sees a very worrying downward trend. One moment Bilic is being praised for his handling of the Dimitri Payet situation as well as hauling the side into the top nine of the table after some truly dreadful results early-season.
That should have been the end of the debate really. But one win in six, now only nine points off the relegation zone and with five clubs below us with a game in hand, has Sullivan‘s alarm bells ringing again. Yet another crisis.
Lose on Saturday at home to rejuvenated Leicester, now their players have got rid of that nice uncle Claudio Ranieri and have their dressing room pal Craig Shakespeare installed as manager, and the brown stuff may well hit the fan.
Maybe a chant of “You got Ranieri sacked” would be appropriate when the failed champions emerge on Saturday. Either way, they are much tougher proposition now with their pace against our defence.
If that’s what you can call it. Sullivan may well be aware of some very distressing statistics. In our last 50 games in all competitions, we have conceded an alarming 85 goals, with just nine clean sheets. On 12 occasions in that run we have conceded three or more in a match.
Our last 50 Premier League games has seen us ship 79 goals, with 12 clean sheets. In 36 matches in all competitions this term, we have let in 63 goals, with just eight clean sheets. This is a disaster just waiting to happen.
It does not seem to matter who we play in the centre of defence, the goals still keep flying in. And since £70,000-a-week Jose Fonte was installed alongside Winston Reid, we have managed one win in six and let in 13. We clearly miss the injured Angelo Ogbonna while James Collins’ bravery wouldn’t go amiss at the moment.
How ever you look at it, these statistics are a disgrace, and would have got a manager elsewhere the sack already. The fact that we have won only six of our last 21 matches just underlines that. Something has to change, and quickly.
Bilic still insists we are not safe from the drop, and he’s right. And the fact that we have Spurs, Liverpool, Everton and Arsenal still to play in our final ten games, plus Leicester, and worrying trips to Burnley, Stoke and Hull, you wonder where the seven or so points we still need to be safe will come from.
The way we are playing, without organisation and discipline, you would not bet on us getting much against an improving Swansea or desperate Sunderland either at the moment.
We are better than this, and Sullivan knows it. You cannot one moment be on the verge of a top eight or nine finish, and a few weeks later looking as ragged as this, without there being a serious problem somewhere.
Sometimes I have to feel sorry for our beloved ‘little general’ Sullivan. Don’t worry folks, it soon passes.
There he was, after a difficult, bumpy season watching from the posh seats, with his club in the top half of the table, 12 points clear of relegation. And he had co-owner David Gold somehow managing to be talking about Europe even if we were a dozen points behind seventh placed Everton..come on, there’s optimism and then there’s blind optimism.
Then we go to Bournemouth, who hadn’t won this year, and get played off the park by a team who had all that intensity and passion Bilic moans that West Ham have lost.
Sullivan would have been looking for a nice, quiet weekend with plenty of good spirits around the place. He would have known that the announcement to freeze season ticket prices, and that nice little advert on line, would have been set up for release on Monday.
He could do with some decent headlines for a change. Then his team go and play as badly as that and the internet is awash with all the wrong messages.
So I was not surprised to see Sullivan, at 9.16am on the club website, laying into his manager, coaches and players. It’s not the first time he’s done it this season, and not the first time he has mentioned "the manner" of the defeat.
Sometimes I wince at Sully’s pronouncements that would be better kept behind closed doors and out of the media spotlight, because that only heaps more pressure on everyone. But I am sure many Irons fans felt the same way as they woke up on Sunday morning, and the owner is allowed to dig out anyone he feels like at that time of the day!
Sullivan’s words were pointed. "Slaven, the players and staff all know we have to do better. We have conceded two many goals early in halves. I am disappointed we let Bournemouth score a third so late in the game after equalising like we did.
"I’m sure Slaven, the backroom staff and team are not happy with what happened and they will think about it a lot over the next few days. I was disappointed with the manner of our defeat." Somehow I doubt the next line would be, "...and here’s a new contract".
All the twitter ‘experts’ have their views. Most want Mark Noble dropped, and Cheikhou Kouyate restored to midfield. I accept our skipper has not had the best of seasons, but in his defence he is the only true leader we have out there and he’s always the one who is desperately trying to plug holes all around him.
That’s the problem with twitter and social media. One muppet suggests Noble should be at right-back, three lads agree with him and suddenly the whole world is seeing stories that Noble should be a right-back. Nonsense. You need pace and height to play there and the ability to handle one on one situations without diving in and giving away penalties.
Incidentally, we have the second-worst record in the PL this term for conceding spot-kicks, eight, and that has to stop as well.
Three in the last two away games, and all from attacks down our right. Yes, I know, here I go again, we need a proper right-back, not a stop-gap. And this criticism has too be shared by Sullivan too, being one of the three-man team who do our transfers, as I keep being told.
Frankly, we sold the best ‘stop gap’ in James Tomkins, at least he was a better defender than Michail Antonio, Edimilson Fernandes, Havard Nordtveit and Kouyate, who have all been tried in that role.
And that brings me to Sam Byram,who has his critics, and Slav does not seem to trust him. But in that run of 50 games in all competitions, dating back Newcastle away in January 2016, we have started with a recognised right back on just 13 occasions. Byram( 10), Alvaro Arbeloa, Carl Jenkinson and Joey O’Brien once each.
And in those 13 games, we have lost just three. Somehow that says something. Byram deserves a chance, although I can see the problem sometimes with his rashness.
His powerful run forward created Andre Ayew’s equaliser at Bournemouth. That really should have been the point to shut up shop, as Sullivan seemed to be suggesting. But minutes later Byram was racing down the flank again, but Ayew criminally lost possession in midfield and the ball was spun into space on Bournemouth’s left with Byram 60 yards the wrong side of the play. And that produced their winner.
Nobody, I see, has chosen to slag-off Ayew for that error in the way Noble was pilloried for the mistake when Chelsea got away to score their opener earlier this month, I felt Noble was trying not to conceded possession rather than opting for a high punt back into the box in that instance. A 50-50 fight for possession at best.
And there were two other West Ham players in that incident just as culpable. But Noble is the whipping boy at the moment, isn’t he?
So where has it all gone wrong recently? Maybe too many players are waiting or agitating for offers of new contracts. Reid seems to want a pay hike because Fonte is getting big money. The New Zealand media seem to think he wants £123,000 a week!
Antonio is up for a big deal and it seems his agent has got the hump because Fonte is paid twice as much as his man. Pedro Obiang wants a new contract because Liverpool are interested. Adrian also seems likely to get a rise now Bilic doesn’t want him to leave.
Agents are always at the back of all this clamour and discontent. They are a breed apart. Not always Slav’s cup of tea either, with him revealing last week that one agent threatened to get him the sack if he did not put his client in the team! Nice people.
Lets concentrate for a few weeks with the job in hand. Get the points, get us safe and then a few players may have earned their new deals . Clean sheets anybody?
Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.
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