Two missed penalties. AFC Bournemouth failed to convert not one, but TWO first half penalties. Josh King missed the entire frame of the goal and Benik Afobe shot the ball right at Darren Randolph. And yet, somehow, West Ham United still managed to lose the game.
To say it was an embarrassing performance is a massive understatement. Bournemouth were a team that was absolutely reeling. They hadn’t won a single game in calendar 2017 and had lost their last EIGHT home games. Eight. Home. Games. In a row. This was the kind of team that West Ham had been putting away all season, a team that was struggling to keep their head above the relegation zone, all but condemned to have a scrap at the end of the season. Crystal Palace, Hull City, and Swansea City are all finding decent form and creeping up on the likes of Bournemouth and Middlesbrough.
Andy Carroll's First Goal vs Middlesbrough #COYI #WHUFC #MIDWHU #PL pic.twitter.com/5o8AcUVyG2— West Ham Rage (@WestHamRage) January 21, 2017
The team had even seen a similar game already this season, speaking of Middlesbrough, when West Ham traveled to the Northeast of England and easily dispatched a Boro side that looked like they had already looked into discount travel arrangements for trips next season to Nottingham, Barnsley, Preston, and Birmingham. Bournemouth looked like it would be a repeat of the Boro match. The script was already written.
Unfortunately, the team that stomped Southampton 3-1 did not show up. Not at all. The team that lost at home to Watford 2-4 or 4-2 at West Bromwich Albion showed up. They looked lost, Andy Carroll looked as if he had run a marathon before the match, and Aaron Cresswell looked like he’d never played a game of professional football before in his life.
The blog The H List made a really great observation a few weeks ago that “at present it’s unlikely that our best eleven contains our eleven best players.” It is painfully obvious to even the most casual fan that Cheikhou Kouyaté is not a right back. Oh, he’s a good footballer and decent defender, and can even run up and down the pitch pretty well, but he doesn’t provide service into the box or to the forwards.
West Ham are level with the Ayew goal! #PLonNBC pic.twitter.com/JXZhweL6CT— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) March 11, 2017
Sam Byram was introduced at right-back in the 78th minute. He provided a brilliant assist for André Ayew’s goal in the 83rd minute. It showed what kind of service that Bryam can provide going forward, putting the ball into dangerous positions that Kouyaté will never do. Byram had played well in the few games he had played in before he got injured, with the exception of the Manchester City game. Of course, a number of players played like the winner of a “be a Hammer for a day” contest that game, so he’s not alone in playing awful against City.
@ExWHUemployee— Dan (@WesthamDan16) February 14, 2017
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Cresswell has been poor,
@ExWHUemployee— Timmy (@tiimpag) February 14, 2017
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Cresswell's been shit,
so it's time for my boy Masuaku.
As for poor performances, why is Byram stapled to the bench while Cresswell keeps starting? Lately, Cresswell has been a shell of the player from last year. Against Bournemouth, he completed zero of his six crosses, three of six long balls, and had a passing success rate of 71.4%. While stats aren’t the be all, end all of football, in this case stats back up the eye test. Cresswell was quite poor on Saturday. Does he have blackmail on Bilić? Arthur Masuaku has barely played this season. Give the boy a chance, there is almost nothing to lose.
Andre Ayew's Goal vs Watford. #COYI #WHUFC #WATWHU #WatfordFC #PL #PremierLeague pic.twitter.com/KysbCh68YV— #BoardOut (@WestHamRage) February 25, 2017
This brings us to the puzzling case of André Ayew. He has scored twice in the last three games, including the only goal against Watford FC, and set up Lanzini for the goal against Chelsea. What more does he have to do to start? Kouyaté came back and started after a week after getting back from the Africa Cup of Nations, and Ayew came back about a week later, but he hasn’t started. What is the point of spending a club-record £20 million to have him warm the bench? Feghouli has looked good in flashes, and Lanzini has been good, but neither of them has been knocking the ball in the back of the net.
Slaven Bilić appears to be stubborn when selecting his team. While he has dropped Byram a number of times despite him being the only fit right-back on the roster, Aaron Cresswell continues to line-up on the left, despite a worse record than Byram at this point. Ayew sits on the bench and doesn’t get a run in the starting eleven, although Feghouli hasn’t done enough to warrant an automatic spot. Against Bournemouth, both Ashley Fletcher and Jonathan Calleri were not among the substitutes. Axing Fletcher has always been questionable, but to not have a single striker on the bench, even the loan player Calleri, defies explanation.
What about Mark Noble? Bilić seems loyal to his captain, no matter what. While loyalty is an admirable trait, something that almost all of us look for in friends, blind loyalty in a manager is bad trait. Think about any past jobs you might have had. Has a manager you have had in the past or currently have been blindly loyal to a person to a fault? Probably. Most managers have a blind spot for someone, but that blind loyalty usually ends poorly, as the person who is the subject of the blind faith never improves and the other people around the person get bitter and resentful. Don't misunderstand this, Noble is the beating heart of this team on the pitch, his blood runs claret and blue and it would be impossible to imagine him trotting out in anything other than a West Ham kit. But at this point in his career, when his physical abilities have started to falter, he should not be starting every match. It would behoove Bilić to see what kind of partnership that Kouyaté and Pedro Obiang can bring to the centre of midfield. It is just doubtful that Bilić ever makes that decision.
Ashley Fletcher scores his 1st goal for West Ham, & his 1st ... #Sport7 https://t.co/Xyoowt5m09 pic.twitter.com/iAihLeM1oq— B.K. (@tovidebne) November 30, 2016
In short, unless Bilić makes some changes, it is hard to see the team moving up in the table. West Ham should be comfortably mid-table this season. At the beginning of the year, with Europa League glory and a new Stadium in the eyes of the fans, mid-table might have seemed a tad disappointing, but after the awful opening months, mid-table safety is a welcome relief. But rather than focus on finishing in the top eight or top ten or whatever, at this point, the focus of the team should be to figure out what the team has in some of the fringe or younger players. Bring on Masuaku for Cresswell. Play Byram to see if he can stay fit the rest of the season. Play Ashley Fletcher to see if he can be a Premier League striker. This team needs a shake-up, a wake up call, and the team will not respond if the same poor performances are tolerated week-in, week-out. At least if the “kids” were playing, the fans would understand why the team struggles at times. Playing this lot week-in, week-out makes it look like Bilić is either daft or blinded by loyalty.