Pub Talk: ‘All things considered, to balance a Europa League campaign with finishing 7th exceeds expectations’

The Blowing Bubbles team settles down to put the world to rights

Looking back to August, what were your expectations for this season? 

Meirion Williams: In my heart, I was hoping for a repeat of the previous season with maybe a cup final win attached too. But my head said that playing in Europe with such a small squad would be an issue and we would slip down the league, not into a relegation battle but well away from the European places. January was a reality check, with no added support coming in, I really thought our season would collapse and so a semi final appearance and Europe next year is a real achievement.

Marcus Johns: I think all things considered, to balance a Europa League campaign with finishing 7th exceeds all expectations. I’d hoped for a half decent run in Europe, with maybe a mid-table finish as we’ve seen before teams falter when fighting on two fronts. With hindsight, maybe we could have gone one better in each, but overall, it’s been one of the more enjoyable seasons I’ve experienced.

Greg Richardson: I genuinely worried that the thinness of the squad would mean that any attempt to take Europa seriously would result in a bottom half finish or worse, a relegation fight. To maintain the level of performance we have over the season – in both competitions – was well beyond my hopes.

Lucy Farrell: I suppose each season you look for improvement, so my hope was to go one step better than last season – my expectation was probably a little more muted. I thought we might drop out of the Europa at the last 16 and finish top half of the table, and we achieved so much more than that.

What were your highlights of the season?

MW: The Sevilla home game was pretty special, probably the best atmosphere I have seen at the London Stadium. The standout for me in the league has to be that win over Liverpool which ultimately contributed to them losing the title. It was also great to see the continued development of Rice and Bowen and the way Dawson just got better and better.

MJ: As a personal highlight, it has to be Genk away – my first ever time watching a competitive West Ham game on foreign soil, and a great atmosphere amongst like-minded fans. Overall though, it has to be the emergence of West Ham as a genuine force in English football. Yes, it’s early days, but Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City went away from the London Stadium with just a solitary point between them, and we beat City and Sevilla in cup games. No mean feat.

GR: Lyon away and the home game against Sevilla were both brilliant performances and real high points. Beating Liverpool and Chelsea were also great results but I think, for me, it’s just been seeing this group of players continue to fight and give everything for the club, this is probably the most likeable group of players we’ve had in years – they seem to really get what being West Ham means. 

LF: My personal highlights were the two games I attended in person – away at Seville and at home to Man City to cheer off Nobes, both great days. But back in my living room, beating Liverpool was joyous. And like Greg, just having this set of players together as a team is a highlight. 

What were your biggest disappointments?

MW: It has to be off-the-field where the biggest disappointment has been seen. There seemed to be a clear lack of commitment and I truly feel that with investment we could have seen a better return. Playing all season with no real natural out-and-out striker cost us dearly. There were also some uncomfortable moments at the ground particularly in certain sections which resulted in unsavoury moments.

MJ: Think Meirion, I think probably our failure to reinforce the squad in January. On one hand, I totally understand where Moyes was coming from in wanting to keep a tight, close knit squad – however, winning just one of our last eight games tells us we ran out of steam when it really mattered. Whilst there may not have been a player available to improve us, a bolstered squad would have allowed key players to have the odd rest.

GR: Frankfurt aside, I think the biggest disappointment was not seizing the opportunity to add to the squad in January and give us a real chance of top four. The boys have done an admirable job and a few reinforcements feel like they could have made a difference in some crucial moments.

LF: Despite an overall incredible season, I can’t quite shake off the Frankfurt defeat. It’s the ‘what could have been’ scenarios that play through my head every now and then that still feel a bit raw. And also not putting up more of a fight against Brighton when sixth was at our disposal. 

What would you consider a successful transfer window this summer?

MW: We have to keep the core of this squad. The worry though is it needs strengthening throughout. That elusive striker or two is a must and with Noble now retiring, we do need a holding midfielder. Defensively we need reinforcements and I question our goalkeeping crew. It’s going to be a big few months. The worry is, with 2023 looming, will our current board be prepared to invest?

MJ: Before the season started, I had accepted that Rice was off this summer. Now, I think he’ll give us one more year. If we can show true ambition, then maybe even longer. Ultimately, we’ve been exposed for having a thin squad, and we need to bolster numbers, and try and add some quality up front. A marquee striker, Areola on a permanent deal, Tarkowski on a free, and a left back to challenge Cresswell. Then, we’ll be there or thereabouts.

GR: Keeping Rice and Bowen would be part of a successful window but the squad needs some serious additions as well, especially given that we’re losing a fair few already. Another striker is the main criteria to ease Antonio’s burden but we need cover pretty much everywhere.

LF: The success of a transfer window will only really be known at the end of next season I guess. But if we can sign a proper striker who will bang in 12 plus goals in the league that will be brilliant. And signing players who slot in well to the team on and off the field is a must – similar to the way Soucek and Coufal made themselves at home. 

What are your hopes for next season – and also longer term for West Ham?

MW: Long term hopes are that we move from our current ownership. I have never been a fan but I accepted that they have done well in the last season or two. I feel though that they have taken us as far as they can. For next season. It’s pretty much more of the same. Yes it would have been nice to be back in the Europa League but there’s fun to be had in the Conference. A top six placing would be great but tough as we all know Newcastle will strengthen. Please no repeat though of Kidderminster.

MJ: I think the long term hope has to be to continue on our trajectory. Things are moving in the right direction, but this summer will be key. Newcastle will improve, Man Utd surely won’t be as bad, and Leicester might benefit without Europe – so it won’t be easy. As for next season, I’d take a top eight finish again and hopefully we can go one step further in the Europa Conference League – as who knows when we’ll next be involved in continental football?

GR: Just to continue in the direction we are going, pushing for top four or six and a decent tilt at the cups. I would love us to win the Conference League. Long term – evidence of direction and joined up thinking off the pitch –  recruitment that suits our playing philosophy, investment in facilities etc. And maybe Noble as director of football!

LF: I’m with Greg here, the hope is just to not go backwards. If we could put together a third positive season we’d all be pretty happy. A run to the final of the Conference League would be great, but that won’t be easy. I just hope fan’s expectations haven’t gotten too high and the London Stadium continues to grow in atmosphere and positivity. 

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