Crawl to safety not sat­is­fy­ing West Ham

Man­ager Bilic says ‘there is frus­tra­tion’ after score­less draw against Stoke City, writes Richard Jolly

The National - News - Sport - - PREMIER LEAGUE -

In such trans­for­ma­tive times, it is an un­der­state­ment that a year can make a dra­matic dif­fer­ence. Twelve months ago, as Don­ald Trump and Brexit were cu­riosi­ties and pos­si­bil­i­ties rather than elec­toral phe­nom­ena, as Le­ices­ter City were pre­par­ing to win the Premier League ti­tle, West Ham United sat fifth, ahead of Manch­ester United and Liver­pool, eye­ing Uefa Cham­pi­ons League foot­ball.

Fast for­ward a year and Cham­pi­onship foot­ball can­not be dis­counted. West Ham are crawl­ing to­wards sur­vival with suc­ces­sive stalemates of­fer­ing a sem­blance of so­lid­ity. They have 39 points. “It may be enough,” man­ager Slaven Bilic said. “We are not pan­ick­ing but we are not safe.

“We don’t want to go into the last day of the sea­son with the ra­dio on, ask­ing what the score is [at other games].”

It is a plau­si­ble sce­nario for a club rel­e­gated with 42 points in 2003 and who face Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur and Liver­pool next. Yet stay­ing up should not prompt cel­e­bra­tion. Theirs has been an un­der­whelm­ing cam­paign.

Of­ten a by­word for en­ter­tain­ment, West Ham have em­braced dull­ness. Send­ing on mid­fielder Mark Noble for for­ward An­dre Ayew brought signs Bilic was set­tling for a point.

His last change, when Robert Sn­od­grass was in­tro­duced ahead of Ash­ley Fletcher, drew boos from the West Ham fans who had spent the open­ing min­utes ser­e­nad­ing “Su­per Slav”.

But the Croa­t­ian’s star has waned with the club’s.

Last sea­son proved a false dawn.

West Ham’s dif­fi­cult start to life at Lon­don Sta­dium is only one fac­tor in a sub­se­quent de­cline as the gulf be­tween am­bi­tion and re­al­ity has been ex­posed.

Four­teen sign­ings have been made, none an un­qual­i­fied suc­cess, and the dis­grun­tled Dim­itri Payet’s Jan­uary de­par­ture stripped them of star­dust.

With­out him, Manuel Lanzini was a lone source of cre­ativ­ity, though Cheikhou Kouy­ate at least in­jected dy­namism with force­ful surges.

Jonathan Cal­leri tried to of­fer in­ven­tion, at­tempt­ing to shoot with a rabona but a man with a soli­tary West Ham goal to his name might have scored with more con­ven­tional meth­ods.

It was a self-de­feat­ing brand of show­boat­ing.

Ayew at least had the abil­ity to at­tempt the spec­tac­u­lar.

His im­pro­vised over­head kick drew an ath­letic save from Jack But­land. “Great re­ac­tions,” Bilic said. Fur­ther stops from the Ghana­ian and Manuel Lanzini sug­gested But­land, mak­ing his sec­ond start after 13 months out, im­pressed the watch­ing Eng­land man­ager Gareth South­gate as well as Stoke’s Mark Hughes.

“You need a top-class keeper to make match-defin­ing saves and that is what Jack did,” Hughes said.

Un­til Bilic shut up shop, it was an open game.

The score­line was in­stead tes­ta­ment to the lack of qual­ity at two clubs who have re­gressed. Stoke pro­cured just a fourth point from seven games.

They failed to score for the fourth time in six.

Wish­ful think­ing may ex­plain why a sec­tion of fans thought Joe Allen scored when he volleyed into the side-net­ting.

Win­ston Reid also made a bril­liant block to deny Saido Ber­ahino. The £15 mil­lion (Dh71.3m) for­ward’s wait for his first Stoke goal or, in­deed, his first for any­one for 427 days, was then pro­longed by Adrian, with a div­ing save.

On a day of fine goal­keep­ing, Adrian also made a fine dou­ble stop to keep out the enig­matic Marko Ar­nau­tovic.

“I am pleased with the clean sheet,” Bilic said. “But in the belly there is frus­tra­tion we didn’t win.”

It has been a stom­ach ache of a sea­son for West Ham.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.