Tommy is gunning for you

Tomas Soucek seems to spend his life being savaged for what he can’t manage - but West Ham continually show they cannot do without the stuff he can do.

The new breed of laptop analysts produce the statistics that show he can’t trap a bag of cement - neither can Michail Antonio - that he can’t pass the ball and has little influence on the midfield battleground.

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All very convincing and just a few hours after Sunday’s 3-2 win over Nottingham Forest - thanks to Soucek’s winner - one ‘expert’ had published on social media a long, painful list of the Czech’s deficiencies, with the absolute classic remark: "One day he won’t have his goals to cover his inadequacies". I’ll leave you with that nonsense for a second.

Now I am old enough to have seen Jimmy Greaves play for Chelsea, Spurs, West Ham and England. He didn’t chase down defenders, didn’t throw himself into tackles, never ran the channels and there was no chance of him defending the near post at corners. But then there were quite a few goals.

You see there were things Greaves couldn’t do, or be bothered to do, but he was still the best finisher I’ve ever seen. They used to say Bobby Moore couldn’t head the ball and had no pace. Shame about him being the best defender England has ever produced.

You, by now, are getting my point, I hope. When statistics and analytics can quantify blood loss, the number of bruises, the black eyes, teeth and bone fragments in the penalty area, the sheer bloody minded bravery, courage and desire that comes with being Tomas Soucek, then I will start to listen to the mind numbing assaults on the man that we see week after week.

What he does allows the new-look midfield with two erratic but brilliant newcomers in it, to function. Without Soucek you don’t get Paqueta and Kudus doing what they do. Is it that difficult to understand?

But it’s never good enough for some. He’s been with us for almost four years now, at £19m, he’s been one of our best pound for pound buys. Never shirked a tackle, never not fronted up, never abandoned a colleague in a bit of ‘bother.’ And he loves us.

But there’s always the know-it-all critics. Why can’t we be grateful for what he can do rather than the constant stream of complaints about what he can’t? Back in my day, the likes of Eddie Bovington and Nobby Stiles were hardly stylish footballers, but West Ham in 1964 and England in 1966 knew what they contributed.

Nobody seemed to mention that Kurt Zouma failed to track Taiwo Awoniyi into the box when the big striker was unattended to tap home Forest’s first goal, nobody counts the amount of times Mohammed Kudus and Lucas Paqueta squander possession in dangerous areas - but there is an army of folk who rant about Soucek misplacing a straightforward pass to Emerson, or that he touched the ball only a handful of times.

But in a stunning final phase of the game, it was Soucek risking life and limb to throw himself at the ball and hit the bar, or produce a diving header that was somehow saved, or then that second lunging header that secure the victory and left us in ninth place as we went into the international break.

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What Soucek brings to this team is absolutely crucial. I took a look through a YouTube collection of his 27 goals in 172 games for West Ham. Nearly all were headers, brave ones. Most were from crosses and set pieces, some ever quick anticipation in the six-yard box, an awful lot needing that bravery and determination that we saw on Sunday.

When he’s not there, we miss him. When David Moyes took him off at Villa Park recently to bring Kudus, correctly, into the action, it cost us possession and caused the giant hole in our midfield that Villa surged through to allow Ollie Watkins to score their crucial third.

Soucek does all the dirty work that allows ball players and attacking players like Kudus and Paqueta to florourish. It’s such a shame the Czech gets so much stick for never, ever throwing in the towel. Although that spinning goal celebration deserves some work.

On Sunday, his five aerial battle wins was the best on the pitch, his six clearances likewise. Let’s just be happy he’s there when it matters and stop looking for the deficiencies.

I had every intention of avoiding another soul-searching piece about David Moyes, until some nutjob tweeted that “this was a nice time to say goodbye with no chance of relegation and a January window coming up.” As well as the claim from the back bar of the Cock & Bullshit that we don’t need a good manager now, just a coach with Tim running the show.

All I’ll add there is, Lady Brady said no player comes into the club without Moyes’ approval. And name me a Premier League club where the manager/coach has no say in the transfer market? I’ll wait.

OK, this time of the year someone suggests a Hammer of the Year. I know, only a third of the season gone, but there’s no game for a fortnight. If it wasn’t for Jarrod Bowen, I’d go for Tomas.On spilt blood there’s no comparison.

But seriously, Bowen has been outstanding. Nine goals in 16 games, ten in 17 if you count Prague, 49 in 174 matches since his arrival from Hull, his slow transformation into the striker Moyes believes is in him, has been great to watch.

I get that his hold-up play, aka Antonio, is not there and won’t be. But he’s learning and our side is learning not to just pump the ball forward and let Antonio fight a war with opponents’ defenders.

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Interestingly, Bowen’s three headed goals this term - Sunday’s was a peach - is equal to Erling Haaland’s headed tally this season. Bowen is also equal third in the Premier League scorer's list.

I find it amusing when fans deride Moyes for "not being able to coach top players" when it was the manager who has championed Bowen as a striker and who is clearly working on his project.

Next up for praise is James Ward-Prowse, with stats that make him one of the signings of the season. Last weekend he created more chances, five, than any other player in Europe, two assists also that ensured the win over Forest.

He is now accepted as one of the top set piece deliverers in the league as well as Europe. As well as ten assists in 17 games this season.

He’s been asked to play a little deeper this season, not surprising with the attacking prowess that Paqueta and Kudus provide. I have no real issue with the amount of possession they concede, that’s what you get with that level of risk taking.

But Ward-Prowse has adapted. He’s deeper, providing the links and possession needed, he’s been clearing from inside his six yard box and making the whole midfield tick over. There has been plenty of stats that suggest - so say the Athletic - that we are not utilising him properly.

But he’s still one of the best in Europe with what he does. He’s an intelligent player and my Man of the Match against Forest. Sometimes a part of a player’s game has to be modified to allow the likes of Paqueta and Kudus to operate.

So we move on. Burnley away next and from that date we have a demanding schedule of 10 games in 34 days before the turn of the year.

Two Europa League games that have to be won to avoid a play-off with a Champions League dropout, league games with Manchester United, Arsenal and Spurs plus the League Cup quarter final at Liverpool. Daunting yes, impossible no - as long as we have Tomas fighting the cause.

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