Our season in pictures: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

We review the 2023-24 season through Dawud's camera lens as reflects on a frustrating time as a Hammers fan

‘It’s the taking part that matters’ we are told as children when we first start out playing football. Being on the losing side is a rough gig, even for the toughest of people, and the adults around us try to ease the pain by saying ‘The result doesn’t matter, you did the best you could’ 

‘Don’t worry about the result just play your game’ we tell our own and other people’s children as we send them out onto the pitch, perhaps knowing it will be a tough match.

‘There is always the next game’ we say, trying to take away the pain of another defeat as we untie our wet laces and remove our muddied boots and peel off our soaked socks revealing scars of tackles and falls from the sport we love.

There is no getting away from it, taking part and playing football is a joy when you’re winning, and despite our best efforts to remove the pain of defeat, ease the disappointment of another poor performance, results matter. The league doesn’t lie and there are no second chances in a knockout competition once the final whistle has blown.

The team’s efforts over the course of 10 months are laid bare as the results recorded and the points are tallied up and final positions in the league are confirmed. It’s pure maths that decides who is top and who is bottom and those teams in-between.

Maths brings down all that effort, hard work, emotion and commitment to simplified raw data. If teams could score more points for effort and commitment, the league table would look very different, and we would probably be hovering just above the drop zone! But it is purely based on the individual results with goals for and against recorded and points for a win or draw totalled. 

Moyes has been hailed as our most successful modern day manager yet why does it feel like we have done so badly this season? Why does it feel like we were almost relegated from the Premier League instead of sitting comfortably mid table?

Individual results caused those bubbles that were flying so high at the start of the season, to burst and our dreams fade and die as the team time and again failed to live up to our expectations. Moyes, finally departing after a whole season of will he, won’t he and the circus of our incompetent owners failing to take control of the situation that was allowed to fester and infect the club and divide the fans and surely impact the team, has now come to an end and we are left wondering which players will be pulling on the claret and blue when the curtain raises on the new season.

Well, there are plenty of talking points from what has seemed like a nightmare on a loop, whether is was a home thrashing to Arsenal, another shocking VAR decision or more missed opportunities to grab 3 points instead of dropping points as our form struggled to keep on a steady course throughout much of the season.

The Good

Jarrod Bowen

We have to start with Jarrod Bowen, an absolute stand out player for us this season, who has ended an almost 20 year wait for a player to score 20 or more goals in a season, and he could have scored at least that in the Premier league alone if he could have avoided injury. He is able to change games with his driving runs, pulling and drawing defenders, breaking away from his marker to whip in a cross or be on a telling run to receive the ball in a goal scoring opportunity. Bowen is West Ham through and through with a 110% commitment to his game and with Kudus and Paqueta in the team, we have the potential to score against any team on their day. It is exciting to watch the team break on the counter with pace, panicking the opposition defence as they try to handle another breathless attack by our talented trio.

Bowen’s rise this season has been incredible, but not particularly unexpected, although after a season of not scoring a single headed goal, Jarrod claimed his 5th against Liverpool in our battling draw against the Reds at home in April. Since coming from Championship side Hull City to West Ham in 2020 he has developed into a key player for us, not just scoring goals with his left and right feet but also headers, as well as creating opportunities for others and now with first team starts for England he is surely in with a good shout for being in the national squad to play in Germany this summer at the Euros. Bowen deserved his HOTY award this season and he will be crucial to any future development of the squad by incoming head coach Julen Lopetegui.

European Football

Talking of European football, the Europa League has offered some amazing games under the lights and there is nothing like European football on a Thursday evening with the light and firework show setting the scene before the game to the all standing and rocking atmosphere generated by us fans getting behind the team. Those games were electric and the atmosphere alone gave you goose bumps as the expectation of an excellent performance mingled with the chorus of songs and chants as the team walked out onto the pitch to the backdrop of smoke rising from the last bursts of flames from that pre match pyrotechnics.

The stand out matches being the 5-0 thrashing of SC Freiburg, after losing 0-1 in the first leg, to progress into the Quarter Finals and then our battling performance against Bayer 04 Leverkusen to draw 1-1 against the German Bundesliga Champions after our 0-2 defeat in the first leg.

I can’t see us back in Europe for another few years and that final match on 18th April had the emotional feel of an end of an amazing journey, filled with such incredible highs that had suddenly come to an abrupt end. What really grates is we could have won the Europa League, Roma would have been a game we could have won and certainly would have fancied our chances against Atalanta in the final. But we were unable to break Leverkusen’s incredible unbeaten run in all competitions this season.

Personally, I felt we should have targeted the Premier League after losing to Leverkusen in the first leg and the match to focus on was the home game against Fulham the weekend before and away at Palace the following weekend. Two winnable games that we didn’t perform for. Poor management, lack of squad depth, targeting a match that required too much to win? Roma in the semi final was certainly winnable when we play at our best and we know what we can do in a European final. It hurts and like many fans who made the journey to the London Stadium on those cold and often wet Thursday nights, its going to hurt more not knowing when we will experiencing the like again anytime soon.

George Earthy

What an amazing story we witnessed before the season finally closed its doors as the incredibly talented player from the Academy was being taken off on his home debut after a bad clash in midfield with team mate Edson Alvarez during the Fulham game as we saw him flop down onto the grass and stretchered off to applause. Then to returning for our last home game and scoring within a minute of coming on the pitch! 

The Young Hammer of the Year for the 2023-24 season has his admirers and who better than ex-Hammer Mark Noble to praise the young George:

“George has been with the academy since the age of six,” said Noble. “At the age of seven, he walked out with me as a mascot, I still have the photograph, and it has been a pleasure to watch him grow and develop ever since then, both as a player and as a person.”

One thing that Moyes has been criticised for, not playing academy players in his time as manager, is now surely shown what an error that has been, as George came on to seal a win that provided the perfect end to the Moyes era at The London Stadium.

Win Against Man Utd

Do you remember when we used to play football? Seems such a long time ago now in what has been a difficult season, but we had an early Christmas present with a fantastic home win against Manchester Utd. With both Bowen and Kudus on the scoresheet after a drab encounter that came to life in 72nd minute when Paqueta lifted a perfect ball into Bowen’s path to bundle it into the net. Kudus, having scored in his last three home games, sealed the victory 6 mins later. The result lifted us to 6th in the table and at the halfway point in the season, with our top of the group table form in the Europa League, life as a West Ham fan was pure heaven.

Win Against Arsenal EFL Cup

There have been some other good results to be fair, battling draws against Spurs and Liverpool and a hard fought draw against Bayern Leverkusen in the Europa League, despite dropping out on aggregate 3-1 score, and the win against Arsenal in the EFL Cup trumps those for me. A nightmare start for Arsenal when White heads into his own net from a Bowen cross, but the win was sealed with an excellent Kudus goal followed up by Bowen a couple of minutes after Rice came on for the visitors, to a mixture of applause and taunts from the home crowd.

Bowen said after the match: “We had to fight, we knew we were playing a top side but it was a really good performance compared to the last few [games]. We have not been at the level, but we were always going to bounce back and tonight was the perfect way to do it.”

The Bad

Missed Opportunities

If someone asks me now what is meant by ‘The West Ham Way’ I’d have to say missing goal scoring opportunities, even when clear on goal or one on one with the opposing keeper. It seems to be part of our DNA to throw a simple goal scoring chance off course with an extra touch, and extra step away from the box or just a lack of composure in front of goal. We have suffered this season, like so many before, from not having a decent striker playing up front. Someone to get on the end of those crosses, be composed on the ball in the area and firing a shot beyond a diving goal keeper. We have  scored some great goals, but despite Antonio’s effort and whenever we are near goal we lose that little bit of focus and quality required to score.

Substitutions

60 minutes into the match, regardless of how we are playing or whether we are winning or losing, there is a strong chance Moyes would be ready to make a substitution. And there is often no real rhyme or reason to who is coming off or coming on to the pitch, with players asked to perform out of position showing the lack of squad depth. How many substitutions have lead to a win or a change in how we play to give us a more competitive edge or to see out a game for a win? 

And then there is Moyes refusal to use players outside of his preferred core and most often leaving academy players either warming the bench or just not included in the team at all. It has become a running negative side to Moyes management style, for which he has quite rightly received heavy criticism for.

Defensive errors

Ogbonna made an horrendous error that allowed Petar Stanic to cheaply rob him of the ball and then run on to finish past Lukasz Fabianski on 47th minute of our home Europa League 1st round group match on 21st September against Backa Topola to put them 0-1 up.

But we picked ourselves up and after substituting Fornals for Antonio and Ings for Soucek we finished the match 3-1 winners and panic was over. But such defensive errors have cost us this season with the highest number of goals conceded in a Premier League season since 1917/18 season when we conceded 68 goals.

A leaky defence

Our defence has been shocking this season with heavy losses home and away. 3-1, 4-1, 5-0, 6-0 defeats! We have been increasingly easy to score against and this has to be the first part of the team that our new manager will need to address. 

The Ugly

Kalvin Phillips Loan

Phillips joined the Hammers in January in an attempt to fight his way into the England squad for the Euro’s this coming summer. But the loan ended early through a calf injury and can only be described as a qualified disaster! Having made only 3 starts in the Premier League, Kalvin gifted Bournemouth a goal on his debut with virtually his first touch of the match; made a shocking error that led to a Manchester United goal in his second appearance; then he was sent off at Nottingham Forest just two weeks later! Incredibly at the away game to Newcastle at the end of March, he came off the bench with the Hammers 3-1 and gave away a penalty that inspired a late comeback for the hosts who eventually won 4-3!

0-6 Defeat Against Arsenal

It doesn’t get much worse than being thumped at home by London rivals Arsenal. We had been disciplined in defence until Saliba rose highest from Declan Rice’s corner to give the visitors a 0-1 lead on 32mins. Then we totally lost our shape and collapsed to 0-4 before half time! The miserable defeat was sealed by Rice’s thunderous shot from distance to add more misery on what was surely one of the worst displays by a West Ham Utd team in a generation. Fans streamed out of the stadium at half time as we looked worlds apart from the side that beat Arsenal 3-1 in the EFL Cup in November. 

VAR

Our troubled relationship with VAR reached a peak with 3 goals ruled out in our frustrating 1-1 draw at home to Aston Villa. The worst was having to wait just over 5 mins whilst VAR officials reviewed Konstantinos Mavropanos goal as it was judged to have hit Soucek’s arm before hitting the back of the net. Despite replays being unclear, the release of the audio of VAR officials showed the shocking decision process that swung between offside and hand ball! The goal would have given us daylight between ourselves and Brighton in 8th place, and brought us to within a point of Man Utd.

Antonio’s disallowed goal for handball in the same game just added to a couple of weeks of VAR misery for us, especially as the ball hit Antonio’s shoulder and not his arm! VAR is now becoming the topic of conversations more often than not after football matches and the delays are building up in games giving us typically 10mins at least in additional time. 

Some other Premier League clubs have been highly critical of VAR despite the Premier League stating an increase in the number of correct decisions being made this season. Wolves have submitted a resolution to remove VAR siting the lack of communication between officials and the fans, the time taken to make marginal decisions and the overreach of the system beyond its original brief to correct clear and obvious decisions into over analysing subjective decisions and how it is impacting on the games fluidity and match day experience of fans.

No doubt, VAR will be the star next season along with the new semi automated off side as we increasingly take key decisions in the game away from the match day referee. More controversy? It would be interesting to know over a season the exact impact VAR has on us as a club and whether we miss out on points throughout the season.

We started the season so well, our bubbles floating so high before Christmas with half the season gone, competitive in Europa League and EFL Cup and looking to secure another season in Europe through our league position. But, as the saying goes, the Hammers seem to come down with the Christmas decorations. Actually, it’s pretty even when you look at the stats for our time in the Premier League, but it feels like Groundhog Day as the post Christmas period kicks in, and we seem to drop down the table struggling for points.

Well, we have a new era to look forward to, a squad that needs some serious investment and careful rebuilding through the summer transfer window and remember, it’s not the winning that counts, it’s the taking part!

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.