West Ham Review of Season: Survival is the only plus point as Hammers go backwards
PUBLISHED: 10:30 25 May 2018
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Dave Evans watched a campaign of frustration, of horrendous mistakes, and of protests that were bitter and at times ugly
Perhaps we should have known that the season was going to be a write off before it had even started.
West Ham brought in Joe Hart on loan without a view to a permanent deal, undermining Adrian at the same time.
They then had to play their opening three Premier League games on the road – they lost the lot – while club record signing Marko Arnautovic was sent off in his second match for an elbow.
It was a disastrous start and one that a visibly flagging Slaven Bilic never recovered from.
Injuries played a big part in the campaign too. Michail Antonio and Winston Reid, the two most effective players last term, both had seasons ruined by injury.
Pedro Obiang, Jose Fonte, Manuel Lanzini, Sam Byram, James Collins and, of course, Andy Carroll, all had to spend plenty of time on the sidelines.
Javier Hernandez started well, but then he was moved to the wing or to the bench and he was never the same player.
That was a self-inflicted wound. So was failing to start Diafra Sakho in the league, so was mishandling Andre Ayew – both fled the club in January and who could blame them?
By the time Bilic was sacked in November, West Ham were in the bottom three and the Croatian seemed to have run out of ideas.
New boss David Moyes certainly had some ideas and he quickly put them into practice. They were simple. Train hard, run about, don’t bring your dog to work! It is old school maybe, but unlike Bilic, Moyes was not the players’ friend, he was there to sort them out.
And on the whole, that is what he did. There are things that Moyes needs to be criticised for, but for a moment let us consider what he should be praised for.
He organised the defence and got them playing as a team; he had faith in Declan Rice as a young defender; he turned Angelo Ogbonna into a decent player; he gave fringe player Arthur Masuaku a new lease of life as an attacking left wing-back, until he blotted his copybook with that spitting red card at Wigan.
And most of all, he turned Arnautovic from a petulant, brooding excuse of a player into a battling, dangerous striker who swept the board at the end of season awards.
But having sorted out many problems, Moyes had his own hang-ups and faults, inherited from his time at Sunderland.
He was too defensive in formation and in tactics; he didn’t give chances to the likes of Josh Cullen, Reece Burke or even Reece Oxford to be part of the squad on a day-to-day basis.
In January, Jose Fonte, Andre Ayew (joint top-scorer at the time) and Diafra Sakho were all allowed to leave, while Moyes brought in Joao Mario on loan, Jordan Hugill (destined not to start a game) and the ageing defender Patrice Evra.
It was hardly a boost to a squad still in a relegation battle and it was to stay that way almost until the end.
It didn’t have to be that way. There were signs in the excellent wins at Stoke City and Huddersfield that this was a team of talent. But too many times the Hammers would concede silly goals or get hammered for no particular reason.
Everton (4-0) may have been unlucky, but Swansea (4-1) was inexcusable and there were others too, both home and away.
And then came the culmination of all that fan anger – March 10, 2018.
Burnley at home is never that memorable, but this was different. After Burnley had taken the lead all hell broke loose in some of the ugliest scenes witnessed at West Ham.
Pitch protesters, one of whom was wrestled to the ground by skipper Mark Noble; an angry, vitriolic mob gathered in front of the board and threw insults and coins at them.
It was a disgrace, but from that shameful day, it seemed to galvanise the real fans and there was nothing like it again.
West Ham saved themselves with two games to spare and eventually finished 13th, but it should have been much easier than that and Moyes paid the price for that with his job.
If the Hammers are to move to the next level that was vital. They needed a manager to match the club’s ambitions, but they also need to spend the cash which should allow them to do so.
Whether they will see both parts through remains to be seen.