23/24 Season Review: ‘We started as Champions of Europe and ended with David Moyes gone’

We take an in-depth look back at a season which ended with Moyesiah saying goodbye

Mohammed Kudus (WHU) celebrates scoring the first West Ham goal (1-1) with Jarrod Bowen (WHU) at the Brentford v West Ham United EPL match, at The G-Tech Stadium, Brentford, London, UK on 4th November, 2023.

It’s the end of another season, and no trophy this time around – despite our hopes of a Europa League win in Dublin. There’s plenty to talk about though, in a campaign which had its high spots, but plenty of low ones too.

I remember a curious sense of optimism in August. Sure enough, Declan Rice (remember him?) had departed, but in came Ward-Prowse, Alverez and – perhaps most excitingly, in something of a coup – Mohammed Kudus. Fabianski had had a strop about no longer being first choice goalkeeper, but that seemed to be dealt with effectively enough by the management.

Areola was now number one between the sticks, with Fabianski in for the cup competitions. And fresh from the buzz of the Europa Conference League win, we breezed through August, remaining unbeaten throughout.

The opening-day draw against Bournemouth felt disappointing, but wins against Chelsea and Brighton, with six goals scored in the process, pointed to an upward trajectory following the trials and tribulations of the season just gone. A tricky Friday-night trip to newly-promoted Luton kick-started September – the kind of game that we’d completely fall over in.

However, we survived a late surge from the Hatters to complete a 2-1 win, and – mark this in your diary – meant that we were top of the league on 2nd September 2023. Of course, it was back to earth with a bump. Consecutive Premier League 3-1 defeats against Manchester City and Liverpool meant that the title was likely out of reach for another season.

It wasn’t all bad though: we started our third consecutive season in Europe by beating Backa Topola, and a narrow win against Lincoln (Carabao Cup) and an always-pleasurable victory over Sheffield United meant that we’d played eight, won six. October started well enough, with six points from six in the Europa League – a victory against Freiburg in Germany solidifying our top spot in the group.

A 2-2 draw against Newcastle followed, which felt more like a win, thanks to Mohammed Kudus’ very late leveller – and we should even have won it late on. But then, the wheels came off a bit. Firstly, a 4-1 shellacking at Aston Villa – which looks better now but felt horrendous at the time.

Much more disappointingly, our first defeat in Europe for absolutely ages was to follow – 2-1 against Olympiakos. And then, a 1-0 home defeat against Everton, notable because literally everyone I spoke to prior to the game said to me, ‘this has got an Everton win all over it’. We ended the month 9th, but the form was iffy.

It was Arsenal at home in November, being the next obstacle in our never-ending quest to actually win the League Cup for once. And no-one predicted the 3-1 thrashing that we handed out, one of our highlights of the season. Poor Declan.

League-wise, the results took an upturn, a narrow defeat against Brentford that absolutely everyone saw coming was offset by wins against Nottingham Forest in a 3-2 thriller, with Bowen and Soucek performing the rescue act after being 2-1 down, and Burnley, who were awful yet we managed to make them look quite good for spells. Two wins in the Europa League also meant virtual progression from the group, ahead of a busy December. This is where the madness begins.

Honestly, December was crazy. It started out calmly enough, with our now famous inability to beat Palace at home. Although this was a 1-1 draw, so small mercies, eh? But that’s nothing compared to what would happen over the coming matches.

Throughout the Tottenham away game, I was sitting in Pizza Express with my girlfriend, doing the usual thing of sneaking glances at my phone to see the score. I’d fully expected us to get absolutely tonked and indeed that seemed likely, as they went 1-0 up and I kept reading things like ‘cricket score’.

So, at half time I literally turned the phone off in a huff, because I couldn’t take it anymore. My girlfriend was unimpressed. So when I turned the phone back on and saw we’d won 2-1, I broke all the rules of physics with my jaw dropping about six feet to the floor. There are lottery winners who were probably less fortunate than us that night.

Then the Fulham game. I was unsuccessfully house-hunting across London in the rain, trying desperately to find a place before my existing contract ran out. And there’s nothing that epitomises that day better than the image of me sat on a cold bus, watching goal after goal thump into our net, pondering the meaning of life. Five nil. Against Fulham. That was not a good day. Two wins against

Freiburg in the Europa League, sealing qualification in top spot, and then Wolves, who were hopeless, followed – bizarrely with clean sheets. But don’t be fooled. Our defence decided to do a disappearing act when conceding five again in the League Cup away to Liverpool, in what I would charitably describe as ‘a poor performance’.

A 2-0 win against Manchester United followed (obviously, because why not?) and, one of my highlights of the season, amazingly a 2-0 win at Arsenal in a match that I firmly believe was the one that cost them the Premier League title. Poor Declan. Eight matches, 13 goals scored, 12 conceded, won five, lost two. Crazy.

January wasn’t a brilliant month for me, getting London’s ‘100-day cough’, getting pretty ill, and having to watch some pretty turgid fare from us with not a single win to show for it across the month. A 0-0 draw against Brighton, in a match that deserved to finish 0-0, was probably the highlight.

A failure to beat Bristol City at home in the FA Cup at home meant a replay that was about as welcome as my bill for my tax return, with the almost inevitable defeat being overshadowed by Benrahma being sent off for retaliating to a hefty tackle, kicking him where the sun doesn’t shine. He would never play for us again.

Neither would Pablo Fornals, who went off to Betis: a player I really miss. Conor Coventry left for Charlton. But it’s okay, because here to save the day was Kalvin Phillips, signed on loan from Manchester City. Da-da-daaa! Signing on 26 January, his debut to follow on the following month. What could go wrong?

The other event of note was the VAR farce at Sheffield United. The Blowing Bubbles writers’ WhatsApp group nearly exploded. In short: right at the end, they get a penalty to equalise, that just isn’t. We go up the other end, the same thing happens to Bowen, and nothing is given.

Have we decided to throw VAR in the bin yet? Why not? February arrives and I was thinking: ‘Here we go then, the Kalvin Phillips show’.

Two minutes played against Bournemouth, and Zouma’s under pressure. He plays it to Phillips, who has no choice but to pass back to Areola – except it never makes it and we’re one down. 120 seconds, and it’s all gone wrong already. We did draw though, something that we couldn’t achieve against one of the worst Manchester United teams of recent years (0-3), and things were about to get a whole lot worse.
Arsenal were good, yes. They probably also had the motivation of losing to us twice.

But one of the most insipid displays I’ve ever seen a West Ham team put in meant a 0-6 home defeat, and the calls for Moyes to go louder than they had been for some time. Well done, Declan. A calm head was called for. And we got the complete opposite with Phillips, who was sent off in an insipid 2-0 home defeat against Nottingham Forest.

When you’ve got fans on social media asking if the loan move could be cancelled mid-game, you know that there’s problems. Finally, though, along came the victory that the fans craved – the first of 2024 and a long time coming – against Brentford with a Bowen hat-trick.

It meant that somehow we ended the month in eighth, and to be honest, it felt like a bit of a miracle we were even there, with Wolves and Newcastle breathing down our necks. We’re in March now and bloomin’ Nora, is that an away win at Everton? Yes, it was and a 3-1 win to boot.

It was rather more flattering than it appeared though, with two goals scored in injury time at the end of the second half. A 2-2 draw followed v Burnley (rubbish), then a 1-1 draw against Aston Villa, which was respectable, and should have won but for another dodgy VAR call right at the end. And then along came the Newcastle away game.

Please explain to me how it’s possible to be winning a football match 3-1 at the 75-minute mark and lose.
We managed that trick where others failed; the concession of four goals in this one somewhat made a mockery of Moyes’ already questionable defensive solidity. It wouldn’t be the last time we would concede a hatful of goals in a single match, though.

The highlight of the month was Kudus’ run and goal against Freiburg at home in a 5-1 aggregate win in the Europa League. Seriously, watch it. It would have been my goal of the season, but he hadn’t scored against Manchester City on the last day yet. The home straight now, and April was another month where wins were very hard to come by.

A home draw against an ailing Tottenham and a win against Wolves were offset by defeats against Fulham at home (of course) and, most embarrassingly, the concession of another five goals to Crystal Palace. We’d drawn Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League – our last chance of remaining in European competition next season.

It proved to be a draw too far – we nearly got away with it, but conceded twice late on in Germany, leaving too much to do for the home leg. In truth, a season out of Europe probably isn’t the worst thing for us – it will allow more focus in the league and perhaps won’t crucify the players by the time next April rolls around.

The month ended with a decent 2-2 draw against Liverpool, but it has to be said that at this stage, both teams looked like they’d had enough: the title had gone for Liverpool, European qualification for us, and it had the feel of an end-of-season ding dong with not much riding on it. May arrives and Moyes is leaving. Half the West Ham fans were saying ‘about time’, the other half weren’t, but everyone just felt flat.

There’s no end of season fizz, nothing to play for, and this was reflected in the results, where the players increasingly looked like their shoe of choice was a flip-flop. So, another five goals conceded against Chelsea. That performance was bad, and meant that we’d managed to concede five goals against 25% of all the Premier League teams this season.

It was nice to give Moyes a final hurrah with a 3-1 win in the final home match against Luton, as rubbish as we were in the first half. There was never any chance that we would cause any kind of upset against Manchester City, although Kudus did score my goal of the season with a stunning overhead kick.

I said beforehand that we’d concede four and we only shipped three, which was a win in my book. And Phillips picked up a ‘mystery injury’, so we won’t see him again, which if I’m honest isn’t a bad thing for the player or club. And that was the season: started well, drifted badly, some humiliations on the way, and the general feeling as we enter the summer that we are in transition.

Seventy plus goals conceded is ridiculous and that needs sorting, and the future looks a bit uncertain. But – you never know, under new management, it could all come good. Maybe. And Declan didn’t win the league. Sorry, Declan.

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