‘It was twenty-twenty-poor until the Bees stung us into action’

This calendar year started off with a bad run, but there have been many things to go wrong for us

James Ward-Prowse (WHU) at the Brentford v West Ham United EPL match, at The G-Tech Stadium, Brentford, London, UK on 4th November, 2023.

The calendar year of 2024 has started off pretty fruitless in terms of results and we amassed just two points in January and four in February. Along the way there have been a couple of humiliations, namely a six goal drumming by Arsenal and a cup dumping by Bristol City. 

In stark contrast, 2023 was a super year in terms of silverware with one massive win to get our hands on the Europa Conference League trophy. But even as late in the year as December we managed wins over Man United, Arsenal and Spurs – something that ‘January West Ham’ could only have dreamed of.

What’s more, we were ninth overall in terms of points in the calendar year of 2023. This year however, we’re sitting in 14th with only Bournemouth, Burnley and Everton winning less games than us at the time of writing. With fingers pointing at Moyes, the players, the transfer window and a couple of key injuries, how do we claw it back to make sure this season doesn’t become a total disaster?

The wins against Brentford and Everton were a good start, to say the least. The players looked so much more up for both games. They were sharper, looked fitter and understood the task at hand. Bowen netted with half of the team’s six shots on target against Brentford, the most we’d managed since beating Forest 3-2 in November, giving him his first professional hattrick.

What was the noticeable difference in the team sheet for those games? Lucas Paqueta, who had not featured in the league since the Brighton game on January 2. He simply makes a world of difference to the finesse of the team, the confidence levels of the players and David Moyes’ tactics.

Moysey should be counting his blessings that betting allegations against our Brazilian wonder seemed to stall potential moves away in the summer. But he’s really putting himself in the shop window again now. Which brings us to one of my more recent bugbears about Premier League football – the January transfer window. 

I think in general this has a lot to do with unsettling the balance at the start of the year and I feel like there’s politics involved that fans just don’t care about. We lost Pablo Fornals and Conor Coventry permanently, and Said Benrahma and Thilo Kehrer on loan in January this year. Meanwhile we brought in Kalvin Phillips who has had, shall we say, a wobbly start to his loan spell from Man City.

In the same vein, I saw the lineup before February’s defeat to Arsenal and muttered: ‘I’m not confident in that lineup’, to anyone who’d listen. I don’t know why exactly, because there were only three changes to the team that beat the Gunners just six weeks previous; Paqueta had since been injured, Mavropanos and Ogbonna were dropped to the bench.

It just didn’t inspire me and the bench struck me as a statement, with players at the opposite ends of their career book-ending Danny Ings. It was the same team that faced Man United the week before, losing by three goals. There were no changes to be seen. 

The timing seemed to me like Moyes making a statement to the board, exclaiming ‘I don’t have enough players to beat Manchester United or Arsenal’. Players are overpriced in January, we know that. Chairmen don’t want to sign players but managers want to strengthen their squads after the gruelling Christmas period.

It becomes a battle of minds and it reflects on the field more often than not. It doesn’t seem helpful for anyone. We were woeful against Arsenal, we can’t just blame transfer politics and losing one player though. The players need to take serious responsibility.

That said, we were unlucky to only get a point against Sheffield United. The standard of refereeing was poor that day and it’s been highlighted by several sources. That’s not an excuse though, we should have had the game in our hands. It’s just another ingredient in the early 2024 recipe for disaster.

It just seems like so many factors added to a desperate start to the calendar year. But the convincing victory over Brentford, the impressive performance at Everton and the return of Paqueta hopefully signifies a line under that. I know everyone’s question here is: ‘where’s your Moyes out banner?’. I don’t have one, I never have.

Whatever he said against Spurs at half time and wherever he did to get the players up for Brentford, he needs to do more of. The positivity needs to be more apparent in his team selections and belief in their ability to win well over ‘not lose’

A change is sometimes as good as a rest. But I don’t attribute everything that has been bad about this year so far to the manager. He didn’t just decide on New Year’s Eve that he’d done enough good and fancied being the bad guy again.

We need the stars to be aligned for the next couple of months – we’ve still got a good team of players. Maybe a few wins in the Europa will give them a bit of life again. 

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