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Tuesday, 20 December 2011

West Ham United: What a difference a year makes


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SqfWaddon

It's been a little while since I've attended a West Ham match. The last two times I'd been to Upton Park the Hammers had lost 3-1, so I felt a hiatus from visiting the Boleyn Ground was in order. Futhermore, living in Falmouth, the travel can be killer, in terms of both time and cost. Yet when I was given a ticket to the fixture at home to Barnsley, I felt I could not refuse.

The experience of going to a Championship game had a different feel to that of a Premier League encounter. Indeed, when I found myself at the home fixture against Chelsea last September, the general consensus around the stadium was that of uncertainty. The Blues delivered West Ham a 3-1 defeat, but there wasn't much bad feeling regarding the result, but a general concern about the league position. This season however, there is an air of determination around Upton Park. A feeling that all home games WILL be won, and anything less than an adequate performance would be greeted with jeers and discontent.

Thanks to early transport, we arrived at the stadium at 1pm, two hours before kick-off. Speaking to other fans whenever I could, whether that was at the burger stand, in the bookies, or in the club shop, the popular choice was a convincing victory for the Irons. I myself placed a cheeky £10 bet on a 3-0 win for West Ham (learn from my mistakes, readers of Squarefootball, gambling is not good!).

It is no secret that West Ham's current squad is at its bare bones. With the number of first team players unavailable for selection bordering on double figures, I amused myself by attempting to predict the starting XI. For those interested, I got nine out of eleven. I thought Freddie Sears would start over Carlton Cole, and Abdoulaye Faye was injured in the warm up.

I found my seat, in the upper tier of the Bobby Moore stand, and was treated to the introduction of West Ham's new mascot, Hammerhead. I must admit, I was a little bemused by the whole occurance, especially the way Hammerhead proceeded to dance around the entire pitch whilst being followed by a marching band with flags and drums. Definitely weird and amusing, but not the reason I was here.

When the game kicked off West Ham started in the manner that the packed out Upton Park expected of them. The starting XI looked lively and scored in the opening six minutes. The powerful header from Papa Bouba Diop (who in my opinion has the greatest name in world football) gave the Irons a deserved early lead. The stadium in uproar, the fans on their feet, the home side one goal up. It was certainly an impressive start, and based on the play the Irons looked like a certainty for both the win and promotion.

However, the game went stale from there. Barnsley, it's fair to say, bossed the remainder of the first half, and the second half was poor for both teams. It seemed to be a competition of who could be the least worst. Freddie Piquionne looked exceptionally poor and one would wonder, based on this game, who told the Frenchman he could be a professional footballer. The elderly gentleman in front of me certainly had no problems expressing his opinion of the striker. His taboo-language filled tirade lasted a good four or five minutes, much to the amusement of myself and the other fans around us.

When the final whistle went, the general judgment on the game was simple. Poor performance, but job done. Three points in the bag. One outstanding positive for the Hammers was the stunning debut of young left-back Danny Potts, who didn't know he was playing until 10 minutes before the game. Potts seemed to highlight the traditional values of football that West Ham fans expect of their players: a hard, dedicated tackler who moves the ball well and attempts passing and fluent football. The 17-year-old even nearly scored, when his 30-yard header back into the penalty area almost snuck in the net. Simply, you know the lad's done well when Kevin Nolan is given the man of the match and the entire stadium boos the decision. I feel bad for Captain Nolan, who is definitely the new talisman of Upton Park, but fairness states that Potts was simply the best player on the pitch on the day.

So, after a day at the Boyeln, what's different from last season? With the club now in England's second division, there is more of a demand from the squad and the management. Fans expect to win every week and expect to finish top of the league. Any lapses will be, and were, pounced upon with sheer unacceptance. Yet with every positive came the opposite; the sound of 35,000 fans clapping, cheering and singing is something to behold. The West Ham players know when they're doing well, and when they aren't.

There also seems to be a sense of arrogance from the majority of fans. Most of the supporters still see West Ham as a Premier League club, and expects that level of quality week in, week out. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, but the pressure of that expectation can be felt across the stadium. The fact of the matter is that West Ham are in the Championship. They are level favourites to return to the Premier League, but they are not there yet. There is still work to do.

Do you agree with Mitch? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.

Related Articles:

West Ham: Will Allardyce ever entertain the fans? After two poor displays at Coventry and Reading, Colin Illingworth asks do you want to play good football or be back at the top table of English football?

West Ham United: Where did it all go wrong? Mitch Waddon looks back at the decisions that turned West Ham from a Premier League side to a Championship one

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Mitch Waddon

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