Pub talk

Blowing Bubbles’s top writers settle down to put the world to rights

Sam Allardyce didn’t have his contract renewed at the end of the season, did you agree with the board’s decision?

Liam Newman: No. Whilst I understand the grievances held by supporters regarding style, the owners should be concerned solely with preserving Premier League status ahead of the big move to Stratford. Big Sam was the man to do that. From Allardyce’s perspective he did everything asked of him. He led us to promotion, Premier League consolidation, and even a place in Europe – albeit unconventionally. In my opinion, we should’ve kept him for two more years.

Geoff Hillyer: Difficult question to answer. I think that Sam had a pretty rough ride to be honest, but the form had massively dipped over the second part of the season. Perhaps the board had one eye on uniting the fans: if nothing else, it gives the opportunity for everyone to get behind the new man, which has got to be a good thing.

Danny Rust: Absolutely. Sam Allardyce did a good job in getting the club back into the top flight at the first attempt and keeping us there. But the season ended poorly and I think it is the right time for change. Many pundits have said that we should be careful what we wish for and he would keep us up every year. But West Ham should not be looking over their shoulder. They should be challenging for European football every season.

Are you happy with Slaven Bilic as the new manager?

LN: It’s certainly a gamble considering his modest record in club management but the board seem to have a vision and Bilic will hopefully be the man to bring that to life. The one thing we do know is that he’ll be a far more popular coach than Allardyce. I don’t think anyone took some of the other names floating around seriously. His familiarity of the club probably makes him the best man for the job at this time.

GH: To be honest, I always felt that we were likely to end up with him – he was probably the best candidate from those who had a realistic chance of joining us. I think it is a bit of a balance between comfort and risk – time will tell as to whether it’s the right appointment, but whilst he’s not a world-beating name, he could be a really good fit for us.

DR: It is a very exciting appointment. The fantastic thing is that he is a former West Ham player and so he will bring passion and already knows how big a club this is. He has a lot of experience, with his spell in charge of the Croatia international side standing out. He is a very good choice and although some will see it as a risky appointment, I think it will turn out to be a good decision.

Looking back at the last campaign as a whole, what was your highlight of the 2014-15 season?

LN: Can I say that lad running on to take a free-kick v Spurs? On a serious note, Diafra Sakho’s record-breaking start to life at Upton Park got us all a little carried away but those heightened emotions are what football is all about. Hopefully he’ll hit the ground running again next season.

GH: I really enjoyed the win over Liverpool at home. Not only because it was Liverpool, not only because it was so unexpected (we forget that we’d only won one game prior to that match, and it was already mid-September), but the manner of the performance started me believing that we had the makings of a decent side. And we were… until Christmas anyway.

DR: The highlight has to be the 2-1 win over Manchester City at the Boleyn Ground. West Ham were obviously in good form at the time but many still expected us to come unstuck. That performance showed how good we could be, and it was great to overcome the then Premier League champions. It also saw Diafra Sakho break a goalscoring record, so it was a memorable day as a whole.

And the worst moment?

LN: Harry Kane. White Hart Lane. He got lucky. Being awarded the penalty for that minimal touch was one thing but the good fortune of getting the rebound after a decent initial save was too much to take, especially after the opening day home match ended.

GH: For me, the West Brom defeat in the Cup. As much as the Liverpool win made me sit up and properly take notice, that defeat just had so many shades of Nottingham Forest about it from the season before. We were hopelessly second best on that day, and I really had started to think we had a decent chance in that competition. More fool me!

DR: The worst moment was that last minute penalty at Tottenham, which meant we only came away with a point. We deserved the win and I think, although our form had gone downhill a bit beforehand, it was a turning point in our season. In the weeks that followed, we kept on conceding last minute goals – against Manchester United, for example. This was very frustrating and led to us dropping numerous points towards the end of the season.

Most people seem to agree that Aaron Cresswell was a deserved winner of the Hammer of the Year award. Excluding the young left-back, who else deserves to be praised?

LN: Stewart Downing obviously deserves a mention for his performances during our best spell. After all, you don’t get an England call-up if you’re playing bad – unless you’re on the books of Man United. The loan signings of Alex Song and Carl Jenkinson were great bits of business. I also think Cheikhou Kouyate deserves a mention for filling in at unfavourable positions. Other than that, you’re looking at the old names like Mark Noble and James Tomkins.

GH: Stewart Downing was a player born again, especially in the first part of the season; but I think overall, my favourite player has been Adrian. He’s a proper character and I genuinely believe he loves the club, plus he had an excellent season between the sticks. Him throwing down his gloves prior to taking the winning penalty v Everton in the FA Cup is something that will live long in the memory.

DR: He certainly did deserve to win the Hammer of the Year award, but I think Adrian deserves praise for the numerous saves he made throughout the season. Carl Jenkinson also played well but one man that did not get as much praise as he deserved was Cheikhou Kouyate. He showed his versatility in being able to drop back into defence and his athleticism is fantastic. He scored some good goals too, against Manchester United and Leicester City in particular.

Is Kevin Nolan as bad as people make out?

LN: Over the course of his time at West Ham, definitely not. Judging solely on last season, though, it’s hard to argue against his critics. Nolan’s character and style of play was exactly what we needed at the time but if we are looking to kick on, as the change of manager suggests, then it’s probably time for him to move on. At 32, his powers are fading fast. In brutal honesty, the Championship is probably his level for 2015/16.

GH: No – but he didn’t have a great season (to say the least). I read he’s scored one goal in 33 appearances, which is shoddy, but I think he’s been a great servant to the club and scored some vital goals. His peak years are obviously behind him and it’s hard to see too much of a future for him here, but if he does go elsewhere I’m absolutely certain that he’d still be an instrumental player for them.

DR: He is not as good as some of the pundits make out. We are told constantly that he is a good goalscoring midfielder but he only scored one goal all season. Many fans argue that he only got in the team because Sam Allardyce was in charge and I have to agree. It is also frustrating to see his midfield partner Mark Noble sprinting back to defend, while the captain of the team is only jogging back.

What do West Ham need to do in the transfer market this summer?

LN: The small squad has been stretched beyond the limit in each of the last two campaigns, if we don’t bolster it this summer then Europa League football could overwhelm us. A right-back is obviously a priority, while it would be great to see more pace in the attacking third as that’s when we’ve looked dangerous. I wouldn’t be surprised if we sign Daniel Bentley shortly after July’s friendly at Southend, although we’d probably loan him straight back. It might be time to cut our losses on Andy Carroll too.

GH: Two things: retain our key players and beef up the squad. The first eleven is decent, but there’s little backup; if there was a close season where we need to spend money on decent reinforcements, this would be it. Our squad was exposed in the second part of last season with injury – with the additional demands of the Europa League, failure to build the squad, or losing any of Cresswell, Sakho, Song or Jenkinson would be a huge and potentially very costly mistake.

DR: We need a striker that will go on and score 20 goals a season. It would not surprise me if Bilic bought Demba Ba with him from Besiktas. I think that would be a good signing. We also need another central midfielder and a right back if Carl Jenkinson does not return. A few more additions would be helpful due to the added fixtures in the Europa League.

Are you glad the club are in Europe or would you rather we were free to concentrate on the Premier League?

LN: As a fan, you’ve got to accept this gift with open arms. What’s the point in following a team if you don’t want success? The early return isn’t ideal but those matches are good preparation for the new manager and the financial rewards of going far in the competition have got to be a bonus. From a totally selfish point of view, it means more Sunday matches too. No more visiting the in-laws!

GH: My gut feeling is that I am worried. Let’s face it, our squad isn’t big enough to compete on all fronts, and we absolutely cannot afford to be relegated this season. But we’re there now, and potentially there could be a classic European night under the lights… for one last time. That would be something – provided we get through the qualifiers, of course!

DR: I think the Europa League is a good competition and it should not be underestimated. Of course it is not as good as the Champions League but it is good for West Ham to compete in the competition. Hopefully it will attract more high profile players to the club. It is also fitting for the Boleyn Ground to host European football in our final season.

And finally, finish the sentence: Carlton Cole was a…

LN: Great servant to the club. You can’t wish him anything but the best for the future.

GH: West Ham United legend. And always will be. #overchuffed

DR: A good imposing striker that deserves a lot of credit for West Ham’s success in getting out of the Championship.

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