So January has been and gone, and despite tabloid warnings of everyone being buried in apocalyptic snow storms or washed away by tides of Romanians, the world has kept turning and from West Ham’s point of view, the outlook at the end of the month is decidedly more upbeat than it was at the start.
There were certainly moments last month when West Ham may have looked like a sinking ship (which might explain Razvan Rat’s departure) but what does not kill you makes you stronger, and as a result, West Ham can look forward with considerably more confidence. One of the main reasons why is the return of Andy Carroll. After brief appearances in the meaningless Capital One Cup semi-final second leg against Manchester City, and in Operation Batten Down The Hatches at Stamford Bridge, the difference his attacking presence made to the whole team against Swansea was obvious: finally, a hub around which to play, and a spearhead to lead the attack
With Carroll the maypole, West Ham led Swansea a merry dance, with the way the Welsh side had to resort to Chico Flores’ shameful and embarrassing play-acting to nullify the 25 year old’s threat showing just how unplayable he can be. His huge physical presence and the waves he creates are the perfect embodiment of manager Sam Allardyce’s preferred pattern of play. 0/10 for sophistication, perhaps, but at the moment that is hardly the priority, and it is so straightforward that there is no danger of anything getting lost in translation, which should make it easy for newcomers Marco Borriello, Antonio Nocerino and Pablo Armero to pick it up and get used to it pretty fast.
After his tactical error in the summer, signing goal provider Stewart Downing rather than another goalscorer as back-up for Carroll, (thank God for free agent Carlton Cole digging the club out of a hole, rejoining in the January transfer window just months after being deemed surplus to requirements), Allardyce played his cards pretty well during the January transfer window.
Yes, some prominent targets eluded him, but in landing Borriello and Nocerino he may have pulled off something of a coup. Both have Champions League pedigree, have played this season for top teams (Roma and Milan) in one of Europe’s most competitive leagues, and have more than a few Italian caps. Definitely worth having at your disposal. Signing such quality players is a lifetime away from the dark days of conceding 11 goals in two games last month, but even that experience allowed Adrian to establish himself as the club’s first choice keeper, another plus
Throw in the return of the colossally important Winston Reid in defence, and all of a sudden the warmth and optimism of spring feel significantly closer. It’s been a season of fits and starts for West Ham but as we approach the decisive final third, they are not just back to full strength, but mentally and physically stronger than ever. It’ll be a scrap to the end but West Ham are fighting fit.