I’m sure, like me, you’ve become increasingly irritated by most of the media’s portrayal of us as now resolutely and undeniably ‘a long ball team’
You’ve frowned reading website previews of our matches which highlight a (insert word here from the following – definite/ fascinating/intriguing) contrast of styles. You’ll have uttered expletives at the commentator who exudes genuine surprise when we manage to pass the ball along the ground from one player to the next – ‘See! West Ham can play the passing game too, you know’, ‘it’s not ALL about the hoof ball under Sam’, ‘West Ham showing they can also play a bit of football’
Which is why Neil Ashton’s excellent recent Daily Mail article was so refreshing. It’s not often I’d champion a Daily Mail column but I commend Mr Ashton for actually taking the time to bother to peel beneath the surface rather than scribe a lazy preconceived account of West Ham’s performances. There are two conclusions that can be drawn from Ashton’s work. The first is that if we are a long ball team then we are definitely by no means the only ones. I think we’d all agree with that one.
And secondly, the fact that West Ham are singled out particularly as a ‘long ball team’ is based purely on perception. It is the perception that this is how Sam Allardyce plays the game. It is the perception that Sam cannot operate any other way. It is rightly or wrongly how we are now defined. What would be interesting is to compare the 65pc long ball figure for West Ham this season to a previous Premier League season when we were lauded for playing the ‘beautiful game’. It is something I’d like to investigate and if I wasn’t broadcasting to an (un) grateful nation day in day out I’d use the extra time on my hands to do just that. Would the figures be that much different do you think?
Maybe a little lower, maybe even higher but, checking on the teams Neil Ashton highlights, even the one with the lowest percentage, Arsenal, notch up nearly 50pc long ball action while we are neck and neck with Chelsea and behind a team that’s being consistently praised from all angles not only for their results but for ‘their adventurous style of play (which) has been a joy to watch and made them one of the hottest Premier League tickets in town’ according to the BBC. That’ll be Everton then.
What is interesting is that our former manager Alan Pardew rocks up with a 78pc long ball strategy for Newcastle. Looking back to our successful 2006 season how would his figures pan out for then? Were we that season’s long ball specialists , was our style of football criticised week in week out and was one of the most exciting FA Cup Finals ever seen purely a product of the ultimate clash of styles? I think not.
Whatever you think about our style of play, what Sam has done is bring in a sense that everything is possible. We can win if we put our minds to it, we can hold on to a slender lead, we have the ability to battle with whoever wants a scrap and we can also play free flowing fluent skillful football as and when. Taking out our suicidal performance against Swansea, Sam seems to have played it pretty much perfectly. The battling ‘we have to win our home game on the opening day of the season’ performance against Villa, utilising the Andy Carroll feelgood factor to play ‘a blitz ‘em off the park’ style against Fulham, keeping it tight against Norwich to ensure there’s no typical West Ham meltdown after the previous week’s high, the knuckling down and battling back performance against Sunderland, and playing on the home team’s nerves against QPR. OK, it could be said the result against Arsenal shows that indeed the fixture list has been kind to us and we’ve now been given a better impression of exactly where we are but it was an entertaining game and generally I thought, despite the scoreline, we competed well.
Overall then, it has not always been pretty but it has been effective and with Sam knowing November and December may not reap too much in the way of a points harvest, getting this amount on the board at this stage, while not necessarily being essential, takes the pressure off and may even allow us to sneak a couple more points than we may have been expecting in the run up to Christmas. Whatever happens, though, you can be sure that because it’s West Ham it’s going to be a rollercoaster ride.