Our brilliant victory over Sevilla in the Europa League last month reminded me of when we played Coventry City in the League Cup semi final back in 1981. We’d gone away in the first leg and came back to London knowing we had to win the second leg by two clear goals. We knew exactly what we needed to do and we enjoyed a similar evening to the one the current squad enjoyed in the second leg.
My daughter Marie went to the game and said the atmosphere at the London Stadium was great. It’s got to be up there in the top 10 memorable games of importance to West Ham.
Sometimes the worry heading into games like this is you go into the game knowing what’s required of you, there’s an expectation and for whatever reason you just aren’t able to perform. But the lads played so well. They were up for it from the start and let’s not forget, Sevilla are a good side. They have won this competition six times so they know how to deal with different situations when it comes to the latter stages, and how to progress.
Being drawn against Lyon was a good draw for us. I think we will give them a good game, the draw could’ve been a lot worse. My hope before the first leg was for us just to keep a clean sheet. I know this is from a goalkeeper’s perspective but keep a clean sheet in the first leg and you give yourselves a chance in the second leg. Then I was thinking maybe if we could nick a goal and go to their place ahead, we could probably do it.
We can play against sides away from home and frustrate them. If we head there with an advantage, they will have to attack us and we are great at hitting teams on the counter. But if we go there with the score 0-0 or losing 1-0 the onus will be on us to do something over there and that could be tough.
Our performances over the two legs against Sevilla showed that our lads can compete and that they can get up for these games. There are still plenty of good sides in this competition but this is a great chance for us to win something for the first time in a number of years. It would be brilliant to reach the semi final and then against either Frankfurt of Barcelona, it’s all about who turns up on the night of the games.
Turning to our league games this month and there are points to be had, but the big two talking points will be the two European games. Whenever we got to a cup final, we almost forgot about the league and I suspect the same might happen with our team should we see off Lyon.
You want to make sure you aren’t injured for the big game. I can remember we lost to Fulham and Galey – of all people – scored against us. We should never have lost that game, but after winning the semi final, our minds were on the cup final.
So what I’m trying to say is not to put too much importance on the league at the moment. Having said that, if we can see off Lyon, that could give us a much needed boost with our league games for the rest of the season – regardless of our result in the semi final.
One thing that has been frustrating though is losing games by the odd goal. Teams that always do well often nick points when they are not playing well but we seem to either play well and win, or play poorly and lose. If we’d turned some of these 1-0 defeats into draws then we’d be sitting much more comfortably in the league, and that’s a frustration when we are doing as well as we are in Europe.
But no-one has really hammered us for a while now – like four or five nil. We went up to Liverpool and once again should have come away with a better result.
We have certainly come a long way under Moyes but they are not quite as good a side as some people say because of our squad depth. Just take Jarrod Bowen who was on fire before his injury. He was on that kind of scoring form that strikers love. Bowen is a top player for us, and has been a big miss. He may have probably made the most recent England squad too. But now he has to start all over again.
Compare this situation to Man City or Liverpool. If they suffer an injury to a player like Bowen, they replace them with someone who is just as good. They have got so much talent on the bench and the players coming in are just as good.
We’re not there yet with our squad and that’s why I feel finishing fourth might be a poisoned chalice because it might put too much pressure on our squad with those early qualifiers.
To qualify for Europe again would be brilliant though. Having said that, if we can win the Europa League, we qualify for the Champions League directly anyway which would be a nice problem to have.