Being from Southern Ireland, the boys at VeryWestHam were given the present of the dream start to the preseason as the Hammers arrived to take on Cork City FC.
Even better, after linking in with some contacts at Cork City, we met with Sam for dinner the night before the match and then joined the team during their warm up session on the morning of the game. At that point, everybody looked happy and confident and we had every right to be optimistic about the coming season after a decent first season back, with a definite shape and proven game plan, ‘unmarkable’ Andy Carroll’s return from a ‘minor’ injury ‘imminent’ and promises of additional striking back up.
Moreover, Alou Diarra was back and looking like the international standard midfielder we had bought the previous year. Likewise Joe Cole was looking fit and injuryfree and unbeknownst to us, Downing on the way. Top half, surely? Maybe even a run at the last European spot. And at least two or three decent scalps along the way, with our old friends at Man United looking particularly vulnerable.
A good start with a win against newly promoted Cardiff, and then it all went flat as we stuttered without a cutting edge up front. Excellent and recordbreaking defensive showings merely distracted from the fact that with Kevin Nolan strangely misfiring, we couldn’t hit a cow’s backside with a banjo.
Apart from a memorable victory at White Hart lane, when the Allardichi method reached its pinnacle, we were tepid. Then the defence fell apart due to a string of unfortunate injuries culminating in the embarrassing thrashings from Nottingham Forest and Man City as we were bundled out of the two cup competitions and we were left playing for our self-respect and Premiership survival.
As the New Year arrived we suddenly looked in real trouble, anchored to the foot of the table and starting to fall adrift of the main pack and still no sign of Andy Carroll. January brought some token signings and clearly we were still banking on Big Andy’s return to save our skin. And then Ravel Morrison abandoned ship to add to our woes with rumours about unhappy agents and similar vague nonsense.
And then Carroll did return and simultaneously we started scoring and getting results, even if the return was further complicated by a three match ban. The atmosphere had changed and we went on a winning spree that has all but guaranteed Premiership football next year. All in all 2013-14 has been a year to forget. Drab football, seemingly endless waiting for Carroll’s recovery, no real emergence of new talent from the youths, and finally, very little to keep our interest up over the final half dozen games.
You’d almost miss the annual relegation neurosis we traditionally suffer — it may be a sweaty affair but at least it’s not boring! But there were some positives. Adrian has been an excellent signing and ironically, the player who looked a bit ‘wobbly’ back in the July preseason in Cork! Ravel may yet be the creative midfielder we are so lacking, but one suspects that with the obvious lack of depth in his commitment to the Hammers cause, if he performs to his potential then he will likely be snapped up by Man United et al.
Either way, he is most likely to appear at the Olympic Stadium with a visiting club. Winston Reid and James Tomkins are the Premiership’s most underrated centre back pairing while Mark Noble remains our best performer. Let’s hope we hold on to these three as we increasingly look towards the Olympic Stadium era when standards (and expectations) will surely rise.