West Ham are flying. It’s good to see. I have no affection for the club. I don’t have any reason to dislike them either. However they know. They’re aware of what we suffer in the media. They’ve been through Allardyce. They’ve been told to get away from the top table. That to want to see their team play reasonable football shouldn’t be reason for vilification. That to go on endless losing streaks, numerous games without scoring and the dread of watching your team play, isn’t good enough and shouldn’t be good enough. Fair play to the fans. They forced the hand of Gold and Sullivan. Fair play to Gold and Sullivan. Much derided but they did the right thing. Mike Ashley hasn’t done much right at NUFC since he arrived in 2007. Sacking Sam Allardyce was the right thing to do. ‘Professionals’ in the media did everything to save Allardyce’s job and reputation. They laughed at a whole fan base. Called them thick. And now they’re 5th in the league and have had some great days this season.
This season will be the last chance we have to go to one of my favourite away grounds. Despite the gentrification of the area around The Boleyn Grounds in recent seasons (including some of my favourite away day pubs gone), it’s still a proper football ground. Built for football. Enjoyed by football fans. Where they’re moving too, however ‘nice’ it is, it’s not a football stadium. It’s been built with other sports in mind. Concerts etc. If a football ground can host money raising events and invite a whole new person into the ground, then great. But that shouldn’t come into the thinking of the design of a football stadium. It’s why no one likes the Stadium of Light, and most away fans like the Boleyn Ground. The even better thing about West Ham is what they did managerially in the summer. They did the unthinkable, the unwise, the unprofessional (apparently). They ditched Sam Allardyce. “Be careful what you wish for”.
West Ham finished twelfth last season with 44 points. They kept us up on the last day of the season (thanks, lads). A disastrous run of form in 2015 under Allrdyce after a great start, saw the end of the now Sunderland manager. The noise Allardyce’s friends made in the media was awful. Allardyce was safe. He’d keep West Ham up. West Ham fans were ‘deluded’ and didn’t ‘remember’ where they’d come from, or more precisely where Allardyce had brought them from. What a load of bollocks that has turned out to be.
So that’s West Ham, who did the right thing and weren’t bullied into accepting mediocre, terrible football from a mediocre, terrible manager.
And it’s essential they leave St James’ Park with nothing on Saturday. The game against Manchester United was weird. The reaction has been weird. It was certainly a point I’d have taken before kick-off, and at 2 0 and then 3 2 down. There are people saying Man Utd ‘showed glimpses of their former self’. I thought they got the massive rub of the green decision wise, played a dull containing game and then played some OK stuff when we got back to 2 2. I thought they were negative, ponderous and relied on the long ball to Felaini way too much. Yet we conceded three against them. We also scored three. We were dire for the first half an hour. Worse than dire, pathetic. The referee knocked the stuffing out of us, but even before then, we were so poor. I feared for us at 2 0, though I knew this Manchester United team didn’t have the talent or the desire to dish out some of the hidings Ferguson’s sides delivered at SJP down the years. The second half was good, much better. We looked dangerous every time we came forward. Man Utd shit themselves every time Winjaldum and Sissoko ran at them. We need more of that.
In the first half Tiote and Colback were so deep I thought they were going to order a pint from the bar in the Gallowgate end. Before Man Utd’s second goal Tiote and Colback both actually sunk behind the centre backs. A flat back 6. It’s been McClaren’s problem all season. There’s no point signing Shelvey to watch Mbemba play in front of him for much of the game. I’m all for being compact as a team and defending, but it goes too far and totally negates the attacking players. West Ham play with Song/Noble, Obayiang, and Payet as a midfield three. All capable, especially Payet, but we need to test all of the these players ropey defensive skills. In the first half on Tuesday we spent way too much time defending the space in front of our back four. The second half I felt the defenders were left to get on with it and defend, and both centre backs put on much better performances as a result.
The bad news is West Ham are unbeaten in 9 games since getting a mauling from Spurs on November 22nd. After 5 consecutive draws they’ve won their last four. Their win at Bournemouth on Tuesday (thanks again, lads) was their first away win since mid-October. Their away results have been generally good, but inconsistent. Mental wins at Arsenal, Liverpool and Man City have come as well as defeats at Watford, a draw with 10 man Sunderland, a draw with Villa and defeat at Leicester. Their ropey home form at the beginning of the season has subsided and they now have a great chance of being in the mix for the top 4 this season. Good luck to them.
Still, all runs have to end sometime and I hope West Ham turn in a similar type of performance we witnessed in May. We need to be on it from the first whistle. No more terrible first halves or first half hours. Shelvey surely starts. If Tiote is still playing for the club, I’d pick him alongside the new signing. Shelvey excites me. He’s dead good. He takes a great set piece, has a fantastic range of passing and can run with the ball. I don’t know what went wrong at Swansea. I don’t care, I’m delighted he’s a United player. I have no idea about the other lad signed from France. I’m hoping for good things, time will tell. Mitrovic looked like a different player after his goal and Winjaldum put in the type of performance second half we need to see him put in more often. Obviously he’s class. His goals have been crucial, but I feel the best is still yet to come from the Dutchman.
The back four picks itself (well done Paul) and Sissoko is a starter on the right. I’m losing patience with Ayoze Perez getting selected all the time. He looks knackered at the moment and bereft of confidence. He makes the bench so much stronger and is a better player coming in from the bench. I would play De Jong – who hasn’t pulled up any trees – but we seemed to play well with him in the side. It would give Perez a break and allow McClaren to try and change the game from the bench like he did vs Spurs. The subs against Man Utd were embarrassing for all concerned. I think he’ll keep the same team bar the Shelvey change though. Andy Carroll is out, so that’s good as well.
The time for allegedly good performances without goals is over. McClaren said over the four defeats that we had to ‘keep doing what we’re doing’. All that matters now is points and wins. A draw would be disappointing, a defeat a disaster. There are two games (Swansea v SAFC & Bournemouth v Norwich) this week which will see relegation rivals drop points. Let’s make sure they’re sweating about a revitalised NUFC come Saturday night.
Prediction : 3-1 United
ALEX HURST – Follow Alex on @tfalex1892