Filed: Monday, 17th April 2017
By: Paul Walker
If this miserable, painful season finally does for Slaven Bilic as our manager, it won’t have anything to do with signings, the new stadium, the board or even the long-debated move from the Boleyn.
It will all be down to what has happened on the pitch, coaching, match preparation and what goes on between the ears of our players in the final minutes of match after match after match.
Saturday and the draw at Sunderland was all too predictable. The worst team in the division finally managed to score for the first time in 11 hours 41 minutes, and actually got two!
It was hard not to feel embarrassed . More so when you view the statistics that may well cost Bilic his job, however much I like the bloke, his persona and his background as something of a West Ham man, even if it was for just 54 matches.
We have won just seven of our last 26 matches. It’s now 59 goals conceded in 33 League games and 73 in 41 in all competitions, and it’s been getting worse, not better. In 2017 we have conceded 31 goals in 15 games, winning just twice.
Now I know this will sound like I am singing from the Sam Allardyce song book, but it is not meant to sound that way. More that the only sensible way to play the game at any serious level is to stop conceding, defending comes first otherwise you have no chance.
The warning lights surely have been flashing for Slav for some while. On 20 occasions this term we have conceded two or more in a match. We haven’t won any of those 20 games, in fact managing just three draws. Since Christmas we have achieved only two clean sheets and just nine all season.
This is all a horrendous recipe for disaster, although we are just about safe from relegation. With only five games left and none of which I can see us winning…I can’t see us getting another home point against Spurs, Everton or Liverpool, while the two away matches at Stoke or Burnley do not fill me with confidence.
Thankfully our goal difference against the likes of Hull and Swansea is worth another point, so both those clubs have to come up with at least three wins in their five remaining games each to get near to us. .Both have won only eight games each all season so it’s going to take a miraculous turn of fortune.
But that does not excuse what has been happening to our lot! We are not capable of the mental strength, concentration and technique to close out matches.
Those late goals are destroying us week after week, even if Darren Randolph seems to be doing his best to lose points all on his own, Saturday’s dreadful display at the Stadium of Light maybe being the thin end of the wedge.
The final 15 minutes of matches sees us crumble. We have conceded 21 goals in the final 15 minutes of matches this term…18 in the last ten minutes and seven in injury time. We are being told we have wasted 23 points from winnable positions, while Randolph (according to Opta) is supposed to have made more mistakes that costs goals than any other player in the top flight.
Adrian lost his place after the howler that gave Stoke a point at the OS in November, having been culpable a few weeks earlier for some general incompetence that saw us lose 4-2 to Watford having been 2-0 ahead. He has barely been seen since, which makes a lot of folk wonder just what he has done backstage to upset our manager, who has plenty of previous at falling out with players.
And now we are being told that Diafra Sakho got the hump on Friday when he found out he was only going to be on the bench, so another ’knock’ was invented. You can’t have players behaving like that. But I think that’s the last we will see of him, because if he doesn’t play he doesn’t get injured and will get through medical somewhere in the summer.
I do feel sorry for Slav, though. He has had bucket loads of rubbish to contend with all season…the move, the new training ground, constant and lengthy injuries to key men, plus the failure of last summer’s signings to make much impact.
And the defensive line and ‘keeper…Adrian, James Tomkins or Michail Antonio, Winston Reid, Angelo Ogbonna and Aaron Cresswell, has all but disappeared over the course of the season for one reason or another, and say what you like about Antonio at wing-back, that defensive base did pretty well last term compared to the constant changes of this dire campaign.
It’s easy to blame the ‘transfer committee’ for all this. But by now that’s not realistic. Whoever bought whom, suggested whom, it doesn’t matter. You have to expect that players , whoever they are, do their jobs properly. We are operating in a pool of potential transfers that are all going to be a punt.
The top, top boys are not interested. David Sullivan and co tried their best and didn’t persuade anyone of any real merit to join us, however much wages were thrown at them. So we have to sift through the slightly too old, the ones who can be lame at a moments notice or young players with potential. There are no sure-fit buys where we are having to look.
No, we are being destroyed week after week by the failure of players to do the basics right. Of coaching that makes every set-piece we face a lottery. Of players, mainly because of injuries to others, having to play out of position.
And the goals we concede are embarrassing. Sunderland’s first equaliser shows that. Randolph was fouled, in any country in Europe apart from here.
But do we not practice defending set plays at Rush Green? Why was there not a defender forcing his way between Randolph and Victor Anichebe to protect the ‘keeper from being pushed around? Everybody else defends that way, it’s why referees have to go through the pantomime rollicking before corners can be taken.
And why wasn’t there anyone on the far post? When Mark Noble plays, his job always seems to be to ’mark’ a post. I’ve watched him do it for years. So didn’t anyone in midweek think of assigning someone else to that roll? It keeps sounding like big Sam‘s book of football theory, these things wouldn’t be happening on his watch.
Now I am no coach, (you can tell) and I haven’t played the game to any level..and that was a (very) long while ago. But I can still watch set piece defending and know I am not seeing the job being done properly.
Do the players not listen to what they are detailed to do? How much broken furniture does it take before it sinks in? Or do too many of our players think Slav is off anyway in the summer, so why should they bother until the new man comes in...
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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