One of the key factors in last seasons successful Championship promotion bid was undoubtedly the teams outstanding form away from home.
After a shaky start to the campaign at The Boleyn where conceding late goals unsettled both the team and the crowd, it was victories in our first three away days at Doncaster, Watford and Nottingham Forest that set the tone for the rest of the season. You’d have to say the reverse has been true so far in the Premier League. Just five goals scored away from home and fourteen conceded tells a story and as I write this, the team are heading up to Old Trafford for the third round FA Cup replay
As much as I want us to humble them 4 – 0 again, or happily take another 1 – 0 Tevez or Di Canio moment, I can’t help but think we missed our chance in the first game. I hope by the time you are reading this I have been proved wrong and we are looking forward to possibly “welcoming” Blackpool back to East London in the fourth round.
The key to our continued journey in the cup is keeping Manchester United’s creative attacking players quiet but that has been one of the problems facing West Ham all season. You go back to Swansea away where Michu ran the show for the Welshmen, QPR and Taarabt, Tottenham and Bale, I’m sure the list will be added to in the coming weeks. But you also have to look at how many we have conceded to long range strikes from opposition defenders coupled with our own defensive mistakes.
I’ve noticed a few of the sports pages harking back to the tired old comments along the lines of “Allardyce needs to find players with the guts to travel north of Watford”.
He doesn’t need to, he’s already got them. It’s just that to me they seem to be hampered by two things. Firstly the run of injuries has not been conducive to a settled, confident team, with both the defence and the forwards suffering as a result. But secondly I think the tactics of “shut the opposition down early and stop their passing game” has led to the team being set up in such a way that instead of stifling the opposition, they stifle themselves.
A cavalier approach is never normally high on most managers agendas when playing away from home, but possession, passing, movement and a clinical cutting edge in front of goal are. It’s easy to see just how much the team are missing the influence of Momo Diame. His addition to the squad in the summer was a shrewd one and had paid dividends. Creatively most of our attacks come from Diame and his ability to snuff out opposition passing lets Nolan and Noble get forward and play their natural game.
I’m certainly hoping to see the impact Diame has on Joe Cole’s game as his very presence in the midfield stops our attack minded players worrying too much about what is happening behind them. If Diarra can manage to replicate even a modicum of Diames calming influence then the squads depth of quality in midfield is assured.
Defensively the team is short at the moment and both the manager and the board are certainly making the right noises about finding cover as the end of the transfer window approaches. But in Tomkins and Reid we already have two of the brightest young talents in the league at centre back. Where as Reid has been outstanding all season, Tomkins form has been hit and miss and the player has spent much of the season watching James Collins attempting to form a partnership with Reid.
Our full back situation is one that concerns many and while Demel looks to have settled down nicely on the right, the constant, injury enforced changes at left back are not helping to form a cohesive defensive unit. Dan Potts has handled the pressure of being thrown in against the big boys better than most would have expected, but still his inexperience is being punished.
But it’s goals scored away from home that is hindering our battle to stay in the division. Andy Carroll has been injured for what feels like a lifetime now but Carlton has found his shooting boots in recent weeks. Cole’s form has been vital in trying to stop the Christmas slump and while has been unplayable in some games, he has been ineffective in many others.
Where as Big Sam’s preferred formation of the lone striker suits Carroll down to the ground, Cole was at his happiest under Zola, when the ball was played into his feet. And I’m uncertain as to how the newly arrived Chamakh and Paulista will fit into Sam’s system either. Maiga and Vaz Te seem to have been told they are now wingers and along with Jarvis and Taylor are doing their best to supply the ammunition for the centre forwards, but certainly our attacking game only seems to make an appearance at home
With nine away fixtures remaining, including trips to Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City it’s vital for the team to target as many points as possible from the games at Fulham, Stoke, Southampton, Everton and Aston Villa. On paper I’d be confident of around twelve to fourteen points from that schedule. But given the current form on our travels we’d be lucky to get four. We are due a big win on someone else’s manor and I hope we could come away with a point from The Emirates. This would finally give the side some much needed confidence and they could really target Fulham, Stoke and Villa, especially given the vital players that are starting to drift back from injury. I think one of those teams is due a drubbing, I just hope it’s us that gives it to them.