The east London outfit to failed to secure automatic promotion despite a 2-1 win over Hull on the final day of the season and will now face Cardiff in the playoff semi-finalsCOMMENT
By Jacob Steinberg at Upton Park
Sam Allardyce is fond of statistics. Using them, he could tell you that West Ham have lost the least amount of games - eight - in the Championship this season. That they have scored the third most goals. That 13 wins away from home represents West Ham’s best record on their travels in their entire history. That 86 points would normally have been enough to go up automatically.
Not this season. Southampton got 88. If West Ham are to make it back to the Premier League at the first time of asking, they must do it via the playoffs.
It is the route they took under Alan Pardew in 2005, when Bobby Zamora’s winner against Preston North End in the final erased the disappointment of defeat to Crystal Palace a year earlier. Then there was a palpable sense of relief and elation.
Under Pardew, West Ham had never seriously challenged for the title and, indeed, only scraped into the top six thanks to a remorseless late charge to haul themselves into the top six. This time, with the no-nonsense Allardyce in charge, they were meant to do it the easy way. Straight back up as champions, no questions asked.
|7/4||West Ham are 7/4 with Paddy Power to be promoted this season.|
The Championship season is a notorious slog however and West Ham have not coped well with the weight of expectation. That they would finish in a play-off position at least has never been in any doubt, but it ought to have been so much more. Four defeats and eight draws - a statistic Allardyce does not care for so much - at home put paid to that.
Away from East London, teams are forced to come out and play. To attack. West Ham are a scalp. That suits the Allardycian style. Soak up the pressure and then take a grip on proceedings. But visitors to Upton Park take a more cautious approach.
Ask West Ham to take the initiative and they have frequently come up short. Bristol City, Crystal Palace, Doncaster and Watford, among others, all came for a point and got one, West Ham unable to pick the lock. Blackpool and Brighton both came to play; both were torn to shreds, beaten 4-0 and 6-0 respectively. A lesson learned.
|FINAL CHAMPIONSHIP TOP SIX
3. West Ham
Otherwise entertainment has not been high on the agenda and accusations of long-ball football abound. Allardyce bristles at that, calling the fans “deluded” and criticism of him “bollocks”. Out come the statistics. Look how many passes we completed. Look at the chances we created. Look at the number of shots on goal.
To a certain degree, he is right. The long-ball tag is one that follows him around unfairly at times. The problem is more a creativity dearth and a lack of width in the face of stubborn defending. Apart from Vaz Te, West Ham can be one-paced and predictable in midfield, with no one else comfortable at running with the ball and taking on defenders.
If West Ham do not necessarily set out to hoof it, they are too hasty to resort to rudimentary tactics when Plan A has failed. Lost leads and lax moments in defence have been a hindrance, and Allardyce was supposed to solve the unprofessional habits that have come to define West Ham.
Allardyce cannot complain about a lack of funds. West Ham managed to hold on to Robert Green, an England goalkeeper. Mark Noble and James Tomkins, academy products, were included in the Championship team of the season. They signed Kevin Nolan, who scored 14 goals for Newcastle United in the Premier League last season. Carlton Cole, while hardly a crowd favourite, is a striker most other sides in the division covet.
Yet Cole, who scored twice in the 2-1 victory over Hull City, is West Ham’s top scorer with 14 goals. Allardyce has bought striker after striker, but only Ricardo Vaz Te, who has scored 10 goals since his arrival from Barnsley in January, has truly flourished.
The half-hearted John Carew has two goals. Nicky Maynard, a sharp, pacy striker in the Jermain Defoe mould, has the same total. Signed from Bristol City in January, he has either been isolated on his own up front or out wide in Allardyce’s preferred 4-3-3 - although some might call it 4-5-1 - formation.
Sam Baldock has fared little better. Like Michael Owen, he requires a partner to feed off, but looks out of his depth at this level. It is not immediately apparent why Allardyce bought him. The midfielders have not contributed enough either. Only Nolan, with 12 goals, has got into double figures.
The win over Hull summed up West Ham‘s home form. Chances were squandered, the lead was taken but then, with the game seemingly over at 2-0, the concession of a desperately sloppy goal led to a fraught finish. Robert Green and Guy Demel contrived to gift Corry Evans a goal, and West Ham then survived a scare when what would have been an equaliser from Richard Garcia was correctly ruled out for offside.
A repeat in the play-off semi-final against Cardiff and there will be no day out at Wembley.
Afterwards, Allardyce insisted that the league season has little relevance to what is now to follow. He will surely be grateful that West Ham play the first leg away at Cardiff, where they were impressive 2-0 winners in March. Cardiff snatched a last-minute victory at Upton Park on the first day of the season. It was undeserved. As if they cared.
For West Ham, the immediate task must be to put the disappointment of missing out on automatic promotion behind them. The first leg is on Thursday, so they do not have long to rid it from their system. Still, they will be firm favourites to reach the final, coming into the play-offs in fine fettle, having lost just once since January. The home hoodoo has apparently been lifted too. With consecutive wins against Brighton and Hull, Upton Park is practically a fortress again.
Ultimately it is too early to definitively cast Allardyce as a failure - lasting judgement must be reserved until their fate is finally known. Win the play-offs and the complexion is inexorably altered. There has been much to admire in this West Ham side, not least their resilience - most notably when they went unbeaten for three games in February despite having a man sent off in each of them - and their defensive solidity.
Allardyce said before the season that he “turns dreams into reality”. He still has time. But not much of it.
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