As a club, we are lost and at no time has that been more embodied on the pitch as it was against Brighton.
The 3-0 defeat to Brighton was one of the worst games I have experienced. There was nothing on display to offer any sort of hope. There are very few games where the performance and the atmosphere has been as bad as it was against the Seagulls. I stayed until the end like always, but I understand why so many people chose not to. There was no saving grace and, in front of the Sky Sports cameras, no hiding from the embarrassment that unfolded over the course of one of the longest 90 minutes of my life. If anything, it actually demonstrated just how far off we are of competing in the Premier League. At the moment, we are just existing and that is arguably even more depressing than a relegation fight. The club is going nowhere and nobody seems to care.
Brighton at home is a game we need to be winning if we’re looking to compete near the top half. That’s not me preaching some kind of divine right, but more a case of necessity. No game in the Premier League is easy and Brighton were always going to view us as a potential three points. Yet, Friday was a reality check for everyone involved; from the stands to the boxes and from the dugout to the pitch. On reflection, maybe it should have been expected. Brighton have been on the verge of promotion for years. They have persevered and continuously improved to the point where many have tipped them to survive this season and beyond. In contrast, West Ham have stagnated. The momentum was only ever on one side. Unfortunately, that does not excuse the shower of sh*t that was served up.
The scene was set in the 10th minute. Through an inability to defend set-pieces, Glenn Murray was gifted his opener. Murray – like Romelu Lukaku – loves playing against us for the sole reason he knows he can bully the defence. The defence parting like the Red Sea became a theme for the entire game. Again, it was in stark contrast to the visitors who held their shape for the 90 minutes. Chris Hughton’s side played with a discipline and determination alien to the hosts. Rather simply, each player did his job. They held their own and waited for their opponents to self-destruct. Of course, West Ham duly obliged. Tactically, Hughton and Brighton got it spot on. How many times can that be said about the Hammers?
Slaven Bilic will take the fall, but the problems run much deeper. From top to bottom, the whole mentality of the club is disjointed. There is no identity to West Ham anymore. The working-class roots of the club have been uprooted, instead replaced by an ongoing process of gentrification. Everything about the club is generic and it’s heartbreaking. The London Stadium might not be the problem, but it exacerbates these issues. There is no connection between the players and the fans, or even amongst the fans themselves. Maybe it is romanticising Upton Park, but I could not imagine such a limp performance being allowed to take place under the lights of the Boleyn Ground. The biggest problem with the stadium is the weight of expectation it carries. Ranked alongside some of the best grounds in the country in terms of capacity, the move was intended to take the club to the next level. Such a step might take longer than a season-and-a-half, but the only progress made so far has been backwards. The fans are being forced to bend over backwards to accommodate everything from TV rights to athletics. The 1-0 win against Swansea will be the Hammers only three o’clock Saturday kick-off at home until they host Newcastle on 23rd December.
Bilic has lost the dressing room and only now are we beginning to realise that the Dimitri Payet saga was the tip of the iceberg.
These might be minor grievances, but they become major when the players on the pitch roll over as timidly as they did on Friday night. Aside from Pablo Zabaleta, there was not an ounce of passion in that team. I love Bilic, but it’s time for the likeable Croat to go. He has lost the dressing room and only now are we beginning to realise that the Dimitri Payet saga was the tip of the iceberg. A solution cannot be found with him at the helm, so it all has to start with the manager. Worryingly, it wouldn’t be surprising if the board holds off bringing the hammer down on Bilic’s West Ham career until his contract expires in the summer. Forever cutting corners and bargain-hunting, they have done more harm than good in recent years and many problems – including the lack of respect shown to the manager – can be traced back to them. There are certainly clubs that have suffered more – notably the likes of Blackburn Rovers, Leyton Orient, Blackpool and Coventry City – but the ownership of David Sullivan and David Gold is as disheartening as it is infuriating. Their senseless, out-of-touch re-branding of the club is worthy of an article in its own right. With Mike Ashley putting Newcastle United up for sale, they stand to inherit the recognition of being the worst owners in the Premier League and justifiably so.
Bilic is certainly not blameless, but the players have stitched him up. Time and time again they have managed to get away with disrespecting the him and the shirt. The public nature of some of these conflicts have only undermined Bilic’s position and paved the way for others to openly criticise him. Take Angelo Ogbonna liking a ‘#BilicOut’ Instagram post after the game for instance. Nothing will be done about it, so it is no wonder that player power will soon claim its latest victim in Bilic. I spoke earlier in the week about how it was Bilic who needed to go back to basics, but it is a message that rings true for the whole squad. The simplest things like defending, positioning and passing should be coming naturally to professional footballers. If you see the target man in the box at a set-piece, your instinct should be to mark him. For me, that is football at its purest. Brighton perfected the basics on Friday and were unlucky to only run out 3-0 winners.
It might be Bilic’s head on the block, but it has come at the cost of the players exposing themselves. The hype around Joe Hart is finally starting to fade. Cheikhou Kouyate is not disciplined enough to be relied upon and Pedro Obiang lacks the consistency to control the midfield. Mark Noble has struggled for over a year now, but the game was crying out for his introduction to rally the team. Winston Reid – whilst still our best centre-back – is still capable of being our worst defender and Arthur Masuaku is better off being used as an impact substitute. Michail Antonio can be temperamental and rarely puts in the work when he doesn’t have the ball, and where to even begin with £24 million signing, Marko Arnautovic? Undoubtedly the most tragic example of all is Javier Hernandez. Nobody would blame Chicharito for wanting out in January. He just hasn’t managed to settle into a team that so desperately needs a player of his calibre. He really hasn’t been helped by the tactics or players around him. After all, when hasn’t crossing the ball into a 5’7 striker nicknamed ‘Little Pea’ come off against two 6’2 centre-backs?
Nobody is expecting miracles from West Ham. We tend to lose more than we win and I’ve lost count of how many weekends I’ve had ruined because of a bad result. What isn’t acceptable is what we saw on Friday night. People ridicule the ‘West Ham Way’, but I will tell you what it is in its most basic form. It is entertaining the fans by giving them something to cheer about. Whether it be through slick, passing football or passionately throwing yourself in front of the ball, it is a source of pride for a club who have never been the most successful. The players did nothing to win the crowd over on Friday and at no point did it seem like it affected them. As a club, we are lost and at no time has that been more embodied on the pitch as it was against Brighton. Like a mug, however, I will be back again, so here’s to another painstakingly long season of disappointment and frustration.
Can it get any worse for West Ham after the 3-0 defeat to Brighton? Let us know what you think in the comments below!