With the distraction of the World Cup finally over it was finally time to concentrate on some real football and the return of the Premier League. International football just doesn’t do it for me, and especially international football which interrupts the league season.
So with the return of football directly after Christmas Day, I was no doubt one of many looking forward to the return of seeing West Ham back in league action. Sure there had been a few friendlies before Christmas but that’s not real football, league action is where it’s at and with a busy festive period ahead, it looked like a real opportunity to get our season back on track.
We also had an advantage in that very few of our players had been involved in the World Cup and so should be fresh and ready for action especially in our first game back that against Arsenal. The Gunners were flying high when the season came to a temporary halt but if there was a time to play them, it had to be in that first game back.
The majority of our players had not appeared in the World Cup and should have no fatigue and should be prepared for the battle ahead. Looking at our first three fixtures after the break, Arsenal away, Brentford at home and then a midweek trip to Leeds, this game did look the toughest of the three.
But I have to admit, I traveled to North London almost expecting to take a point from the game, as we had not won away in the league since August. I thought taking all three points was a bit of a fantasy but I could live in hope. After struggling for the first 20 minutes we had our opportunity and a foul on Bowen resulted in our new penalty king Said Benrahma to score from the spot.
Despite the increased pressure, we reached the break finding ourselves in the lead. But I have to be honest if the game had ended then Arsenal would have been robbed as they were so dominant. After half-time it really was men against boys and a 3-1 defeat almost flattered us Hammers.
Walking away from the ground getting ready for that long drive home, I have to admit looking at the table and being worried but surely we could get three points out of the next one? After all, keep Ivan Toney quiet and Brentford would be there for the taking, especially in a sold out rented stadium.
Ah West Ham so much to answer for. Taking my seat I was overcome with worry. I had seen that the bookies were offering 3-1 on a Brentford win and the likely score seemed to be 2-0 to the Bees.
Now supporters’ opinions will differ and after the game, I spoke to two friends who thought despite the loss we had played well but for me though it was an awful display. It was a game where the sadly-departed Butch Wilkins would have been proud to be a part of.
Boy did we love a side-to-side pass with no forward penetration. For all our possession we were woeful up front. The lack of any killer instinct was evident where in the final 10 minutes we almost seemed accepting of the defeat.
Those of us who were still present, as many had left the ground early and when I mean early I mean with 30 minutes to go, saw a gutless performance where we knocked the ball around as if we were playing a friendly. At least Antonio gave us a comedic moment when bearing down on goal, he lined up to shoot and completely missed the ball falling over.
And talking of forwards, what is it with West Ham? Are strikers cursed when they put on the West Ham shirt? So many have started brightly but crashed and burned. I actually left on the final whistle wondering if Scamacca is the new Haller. I was therefore not looking forward to the trip to Leeds.
When the tie had been initially scheduled, it looked like the ideal fixture. It meant I could visit my daughter in Manchester on a Bank Holiday, leave my wife with her as I took my daughter’s boyfriend to Leeds then an overnight stay back in Manchester. Then came the change of fixture date which now meant a more than four hour trip to Leeds via Manchester and a similar one on the way back, all to see West Ham in a game I was not looking forward to watching.
But of course we do this out of love for the club. I just hoped we could turn our season around starting in Yorkshire. That’s the thing with West Ham, it’s trying to predict the unpredictable, we never know which West Ham will turn up.
Is it the one that didn’t really perform for the first 40 minutes of the Leeds game or is it the West Ham who performed for the following 20 minutes in which we took the game to Leeds and scored two goals As a supporter we are always kept in the dark on that conundrum. Standing watching the rain pour down on a very wet Yorkshire evening, I have to admit that this was a better performance than that against Arsenal and Brentford.
However Leeds were poor and probably the most enjoyable moments of the whole game was watching the Leeds manager’s performance where he clearly struggled at times with the rules and etiquette of the game. We deserved a point but no more but it was better and I didn’t feel deflated at the end of the game. So are we about to turn it all around?
I worry as I have yet to see real positivity in our performances. We are well in the thick of things at the bottom of the table. We all know that Everton never get relegated and after that Leeds game, looking at the table it seemed that there are seven teams still at risk of occupying those bottom three places.
Will we be one of the remaining four to escape the drop? Time will tell and it could just mean that our next two league games, away at Wolves and at home against Everton, will seal our fate. Leeds away gave me hope but the team still has a long way to go to make me feel that we will be plying our trade in the Premier League come August.