- by Paul Walker
- Filed: Monday, 22nd November 2021
It was going to happen, wasn’t it? Sooner or later, losing our third game of the season, and it’s almost December. Blimey, is this what a crisis looks like in David Moyes’ brave new world.Only our tenth defeat in 11 months and the keyboard warriors were launching into manager and players. I suppose that’s what disappointment looks like when you seem not quite as massive as you thought you were.
Seriously, though, the defeat at Wolves was a surprise, to say the least. Particularly because this was the ground where Jesse Lingard scored a massively impressive goal in our victory there last season. How we could have done with him at Molineux this time around.
That may, or may not it seems, be a possible transfer for January depending on who gets lumbered with the near impossible task of managing Manchester United right now. Lingard may just stick rather that twist on his faltering Old Trafford career. We’ll have to see on that one now.
Lingard’s pace and running power may just have unhinged Wolves. You see, I rate him a better player that the admittedly hugely improved Said Benrahma when it comes to unpicking defences. But maybe that’s a touch unfair because Benrahma was no more to blame for Saturday’s defeat than anyone else, where only Lukasz Fabianski, thankfully, showed any form at all.
As it was, this time around at Molineux we were awful, weak in the tackle, weak in body and mind and a very good, but not brilliant Wolves, took full advantage and deservedly ended our seven match unbeaten run.
And just an aside, we have still got more points after 12 games than Leicester did at this stage when they won the title back in 2015.
What Moyes will be aiming for now is to get the show back on the road in an empty Vienna stadium on Thursday in the crucial Europa League clash with Rapid, and make sure this was a one-off before we have to practice our ten man defence at Manchester City on Sunday, if their painful destruction of Everton is anything to go by.
Moyes knows what is missing and why. The key to his tactics is running, pressing, all round work rate. And we saw none of that at Wolves, which made the whole thing that more disappointing.
That and being stuck at Wolverhampton station with the drunks and the vomit afterwards as they tried to sort the trains out. An unpleasant mix of booze, police, and local black country hen parties heading into Brum for a night out in totally unsuitable attire. OK, sorry, sidetracked a little there.
Football, right (sorry ed). Our intensity and tempo was missing and that revealed the fault lines we all know this squad has. It’s not a small squad, it’s the same size as everyone else’s. But it lacks depth and alternatives, above and beyond throwing Manuel Lanzini, Nikola Vlasic or the ponderous Andriy Yarmalenko into the fray.
Should we have gone to a back five and utilised Arthur Masuaku on the left? Without Angelo Ogbonna we look far more vulnerable at the back. I can see Moyes reverting to this system sooner or later.
But the real problem was that we looked knackered everywhere. And that’s because of the international break.
Players are being expected to play far too many matches now, a situation compounded by fallout from the pandemic this year. Some of our lads have been playing for months on all fronts, it’s relentless and it is surprising that it is only beginning to show at this stage.
Our squad saw players stretched across the world from El Salvador to Cairo, to Athens, to Finland, where Kurt Zouma played for France. Nikola Vlasic helped Croatia qualify for the World Cup with a trip to Malta thrown in for a friendly.
The Czech trio were off to Prague while Yamolenko was in Bosnia and back home to Odensa. Pablo Fornals had a trip to Greece, Benrahma was in Egypt, while Michail Antonio was in El Salvador and Jamaica.
We even spent money flying him back from Jamaica in a private jet - yet it hardly produced a performance needed in the Premier League.
Nobody can tell me all those air miles is conducive to being at your best for a vital Premier League match. Is it any wonder we were, in Moyes’ own words, "not quite on it"?
Next now is Rapid Vienna, without fans... ”Fornals drinks Estella, we‘re banned from Vienna” was the reworked version of the Spaniard’s song at Wolves. Our fans can be pretty clever with the songs these days, so it’s disappointing that - once again - some of our number let the side down somewhat.
I thought long and hard about the next bit, fearing the sort of social media abuse that could follow, but I do not feel that our fans should be above criticism. I have travelled the country with our lot for close on 50 years and 99 per cent are a great lot.
But this season there has been one too many 'incidents'. I recall the flares, pitch invasion and fights with stewards at Leeds. Friends who were in Genk reckon the drunkenness was off the scale and then there was the turnstile storming at the same game.
A couple of hundred spoilt things for everyone else. Frankly I cannot see what else UEFA could have done, confronted with the same sort of mob behaviour that we saw at Wembley from England fans that ended with a match ban, another one suspended and a fine.
It’s dangerous, illegal and UEFA cannot tolerate it. It cost us a ban from Vienna and another fine; that’s close on £100,000 that UEFA have taken from the club already this season. Unfortunately plenty on social media, and some fans groups, declined to criticise their own and looked to blame UEFA. Sorry, they won’t tolerate this sort of behaviour.
The ban now is meaningless because of the Austrian lockdown, so that should help some of our number who had shelled out for flights and hotels get their money back. But there are still questions about the whole sorry situation. Just how much did the club know about what happened, and were they really so surprised by the punishment?
I ask this because KRC Genk and UEFA both knew what had happened on the night. There were also Met Police officers there, as were some West Ham stewards, the club rightly send some of our own to help the locals generally.
I travelled with international teams and clubs in European competition for around 25 years back in the day and there were always British cops attached to the party. They had shared intelligence with local plod and toured the pubs the night before matches for a beer and to make sure they knew were the ‘faces’ were. Standard procedure still, I assume.
And our club didn’t know what had happened? Every police force these days has football fan intelligence units and again, friends at the match who witnessed the turnstile storming also saw who they believed were undercover officers at the scene of some skirmishes, helping stewards keep order.
One acquaintance tells of sensible fans who kept out of the way of the trouble remarking that the incidents could come back to haunt the club. As it proved, even if it did take UEFA 11 days to act. But did they not warn West Ham.
It’s all academic now, but you can be sure if there is any more trouble at our European matches we could be in serious trouble. The possibility of being forced to play a sold out London Stadium game behind closed doors doesn’t bear thinking about.
And then there was another very disappointing incident at Wolves where one of our fans was subjected to racial abuse by our own fans. He was so upset by it, the fan in question took to Facebook and contacted our own supporters’ services department.
Thankfully the fan has received overwhelming support from fellow fans. That’s when we truly are massive. You would hope the club will be able to track down the culprits and ban them - because they are not wanted in the West Ham family.
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