When looking back at West Ham United’s season it’s difficult to not feel the weight of disappointment. At the end of the 2015/16 campaign there was enough optimism to power a small country. However, a much more depressing reality quickly began to take grasp of our Iron aspirations. European play seemed to disappear before fans could ever cry out, “Come on you Ir...oh”. Our Premier League campaign started off as a nightmare in which there was no escape. The first six matches yielded five losses, with the only Hammer victory coming against an out of form Bournemouth side.
West Ham seemed to be confounded by teams they quickly dispatched with last year. With losses and draws mounting from teams like Middlesbrough, Stoke, and Southampton, the claret and blue seemingly lost all sense of self. With shoulders hunched and heads down, the squad from East London seemed resigned to fail.
The ultimate punch to the gut came at White Hart Lane. With West Ham United leading 2-1 with minutes to go, the Lillywhites from North London equalized, and then put in the eventual game winner. A flurry of fans and media called for Slaven’s job, demanded the exit of certain players, and the talk of relegation began to stir.
The organization huddled tight, quickly reaffirming everyone’s position with the club, and throwing their bets behind Slaven Bilic. Davids Sullivan & Gold never wavered publicly on Slaven and their support seemed to light a fire under the Croatian manager. Practices became more intense. Players were being called out for not giving their all in matches, or between them. Captain Mark Noble even stepped up and took responsibility and said the fans deserve more.
We all knew it wouldn’t be easy from that point. A rough stretch playing Manchester United (A), Arsenal (H), and Liverpool (A) was on the docket. Fans and pundits alike started to argue expectation vs reality. What could possibly be a realistic outcome to these matches given the poor form of West Ham and the elite opponents they’d have to face? The Ironside answered that question for us forcing draws away at Manchester United and Liverpool. They played better, were more cohesive, and defensively strong. After winning squeakers against Burnley and Hull City, West Ham United went from sitting on the relegation bubble to maneuvering themselves into mid-table status.
Finding an MVP on a team who has under-performed and underachieved is a difficult task. However, that is what have set out to do! A few writers from BTH have submitted their picks for their West Ham United mid-season MVP. Here’s what we came up with:
Pete Schlenker (HammerPete): Michail Antonio - Antonio has played a medley of positions under Slaven Bilic and has done it with class. From slotting into the wing, sitting up front as a center forward, and moving to right back - Antonio has done it all. He’s also lead the team in scoring, and one could argue, work rate. He’s the first guy on Slaven’s team sheet.
Andy Kostka: Pedro Obiang - Obiang has settled nicely into the midfield and has been the unsung hero for this Hammers side. When the defense has looked a bit leaky he’s been there to plug any holes.
Wallace Milner: Darren Randolph - Ever since the shaky Adrian has left the starting XI we’ve seen some spectacular saves. He marshals the defensive line better than Adrian and seems to save the day once a weekend.
Jonathan Liebling: Cheikhou Kouyaté - I’ve said it a hundred times but I’ll say it again. Moving Kouyate from defensive midfield into the back three has been a stroke of genius for Slaven Bilic. All year he has been a defensive juggernaut and has saved matches for the East London side. How good has he been? Let’s compare him to some of the most lauded defenders in the Premier League:
I think the choice is clear! Congratulations to Cheikhou Kouyaté for being Brace The Hammer’s mid-season MVP! I am absolutely terrified to see what happens to our defensive line when Cheikhou leaves for Senegal for the African Cup of Nations in January. He will be gone for at least a month, potentially six weeks. If he is as vital as we all believe him to be, Winston Reid will need to stay away from the cards and Angelo Ogbonna will need to learn to position himself better.
Who was your West Ham United midseason MVP?