Bilic promises fitting send-off after dress rehearsal falls flat
At the end of an afternoon of burst bubbles and fading dreams, West Ham manager Slaven Bilic pledged that his side would still serve up a cracker in tomorrow night’s grand farewell to historic Upton Park.
Saturday’s dress rehearsal was a complete flop, with unheralded guests Swansea stealing the show to all but end West Ham’s ambition of claiming a top-four place, but Bilic maintains it will be a different story against fifth-placed Manchester United.
West Ham bring down the curtain on a 112-year stay at their memory-steeped Boleyn Ground tomorrow, when a repeat performance of
Saturday’s debacle seems unthinkable.
It seemed as if the intensity of all the emotion surrounding the club’s departure for the Olympic Stadium next season had drained the players of passion and energy but Bilic insisted they would bounce back.
“I don’t think our players are thinking a lot about it in a negative way. I think they are approaching the day like it is a privilege to be in the last game ever to be played here. It should be an inspiration and I think it will be the inspiration,” Bilic said.
“When you are losing 2-0 at home it is hard to play good and maintain the shape because you feel the crowd on your back. But I wouldn’t think that’s any excuse for today. We want to give a good farewell to the fans and the Boleyn Ground.”
For 20 minutes on Saturday all seemed well for West Ham. The party mood was in full swing with Dimitri Payet testing Swansea goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski in the first 90 seconds before going close with two free-kicks. Upton Park luxuriated in the sunshine and awaited the goals but lively Swansea had a shock in store, striking twice within six minutes to punish their hosts’ casual attitude to giving away possession and even more lax tendencies over penalty-area marking.
Crosses from full-backs Kyle Naughton and Stephen Kingsley from opposite flanks were turned in with the greatest of ease by the unmarked Wayne Routledge and André Ayew.
When the outstanding Ki Sungyueng volleyed home a spectacular third early in the second half there was no way back for West Ham.
Home substitute Diafra Sakho forced an own goal off the luckless Kingsley midway through the second half but Swansea’s counterattacking threat continued and Bafétimbi Gomis grabbed their fourth goal in added time. West Ham supporters could not quite believe their eyes as their side, impressive on a 10-match unbeaten stretch in the league before Saturday, surrendered so meekly.
Bilic, however, is certain that after such a perplexing performance, they will re-emerge a different proposition against United.
“It can’t be a repeat but of course we have to play much better than we did today. The reason why we lost the game was because we were not doing the simple, basic things,” he said.
Mark Noble, one of the few West Ham players to show up against Swansea, was defiant, saying: “They took their chances, we never – simple as. I’m not going to dwell on it because we’ve been fantastic this year We are itching to get back out there and put things right. It’s the last game ever at this place and it’s going to be special. There’s people out there who want to put the boys down but the way we’ve played this year from where we’ve come has been fantastic.”
Swansea had taken one point from four previous away matches and with previously ever-present captain Ashley Williams rested from their last two games to recuperate before his defensive duties for Wales at Euro 2016, their first league victory at Upton Park since 1956 was all the more remarkable.
Central defenders Jordi Amat and Federico Fernández snuffed out the aerial threat of Andy Carroll, standin captain Jack Cork was faultless in the holding role and Ki was full of good ideas going forward.
Cork said: “Everyone has been saying what a bad season we are having, but today’s win has taken us to mid-table. It has been a hard season but we have pulled together and turned it round.”
Bouncing back: Slaven Bilic says his team will be ready for tomorrow