Pub Talk: ‘We need a younger, more energetic side, playing more attractive football…’

Michail Antonio (WHU) at the West Ham United v Liverpool EPL match, at the London Stadium, London, UK on 27th April, 2024.

Looking back to August, what were your expectations for this season in the league and domestic cups? 

Lucy Farrell: I suppose as with most seasons, you just want improvement on the last. So I expected us to finish higher than 14th, although that was a particularly poor result so I hoped to maybe match the 7th from the season before. And again, I would have expected to match getting to at least the fifth round of the FA Cup from last season. 

Meirion Williams: I always hope for a top 10 finish and a domestic cup final. I thought that the league placing was pretty nailed on with the level of competition but I must admit I was getting a little concerned towards the end. As for my hope for a domestic cup win, well that was my heart saying that but of course my head said not a chance.

Geoff Hillyer: I hoped for top seven but secretly thought that given the trials and tribulations of the prior season, a top-half finish would be acceptable. I had hoped for progress in the cups, but given the sheer number of games that we played, I do think it was right to prioritise Europe, so I didn’t truly expect to win one. Next season though…

David Meagher: Losing our captain and best player was always going to be tough. I guess we knew he was key to our robust defence, so I worried that we might really struggle but we started well and with Alvarez and Kudus adjusting so quickly, I hoped for top seven and a decent run in Europe. We almost realised that, but a thin squad and disastrous January transfer window hit hard.

West Ham Rambles: I was hopeful for a decent cup run in one of the competitions, and a European spot again. I also hoped we would evolve slightly as a team, and move on from 20% possession no matter who we played. 

Was there any part of you that thought we’d win the Europa League at the start of the campaign?

LF: There was a little part of me that did believe, yes. I knew it wouldn’t be plain sailing and it depended on the draw, but I felt like we might prioritise Europe and Moyes would have added incentive to get the bigger trophy. Plus with the final being in Dublin, I got carried away with hope that I’d get to a game down the road.

MW: Like Lucy, I thought we had a good chance of making an all-English final meeting with Liverpool in Dublin. I also agree that the European campaign would be second only to Premier League survival in our list of priorities. It soon became apparent though that there was some pretty big teams in the Europa League this season and so my belief disappeared especially when we drew Leverkusen.

GH: No, I didn’t. I mean, it’s nice to dream, but it’s a harder competition than the Europa Conference League and reaching the final is an achievement in itself. A quarter-final was pretty much what I expected, given how tired the players obviously get towards the back end of the season.

DM: We have shown that we are a decent team in Europe and on our day can put it up to anyone. Dublin for the final always seemed too good to be true, and so it turned out.

West Ham Rambles: No. A step too far with such a skinny, unbalanced squad. 

What were your highlights of the season?

LF: Perhaps weirdly, I really enjoyed the two legs against Leverkusen. I thought we gave a really good account of ourselves against all odds. We didn’t deserve to be two down after the first leg, and we made it interesting by scoring early in the second leg. Maybe because it was a game of little expectation, it took the pressure off of watching.

MW: I have to be honest I didn’t really enjoy this past season. Some will say our win against Arsenal but for me, it’s probably that second half performance against Luton. We played so poorly in that first half that I fully expected a defeat was on the cards. But then to see us turn it around and especially to see George Earthy getting his first goal was a joy to behold.

GH: Beating Arsenal in the League Cup so comprehensively was a nice surprise. I agree with Lucy, I enjoyed the two legs against Leverkusen – there was a little bit of me that was appreciating it because who knows how long it’ll be until that comes around again? And yes, glimpses of the future against Luton gives us something to look forward to.

DM: Thumping Arsenal twice, beating Man Utd on the eve of Christmas and that amazing Kudus goal were high points but the home game against Leverkusen was truly amazing. The passion on and off the field was almost overwhelming, if only Bowen’s strike had gone in…

West Ham Rambles: Some of our attacking play, the trio of Paqueta/Kudus/Bowen was sublime. Beating Freiburg 5-0 was a thoroughly enjoyable romp!

What would you consider a successful transfer window this summer?

LF: I think we say every year that we just need a bigger, reliable squad. We’re starting to look sharper going forward but need a more consistent goal scorer who will work well with Bowen. We’re weak at the back, so we definitely need to strengthen there. With a new manager in though, it’s hard to know if he’s going to be allowed to choose who the board signs. 

MW: This is a tough one as the lack of squad depth is a worry. I guess keeping Bowen and Kudus would be a good start. I’m not worried if Paqueta leaves as I think he was on the beach a while ago. The problem is the squad needs strengthening throughout. Centre back is a must. I also agree with Lucy that we need more attacking options. The problem is it seems the West Ham way to make a good striker bad. Let’s hope our new manager has a few tricks up his sleeve and brings in some fresh blood as we certainly need it.

GH: More squad depth is desperately required. Someone to take the pressure off Bowen. Defensively we’re not good – more than 70 goals conceded last season? Shambles. I do think that the squad is in transition, and more than just ‘tinkering’ is required.

DM: We need a new approach to squad management that thinks much bigger. In the end we were using only 15 players which simply isn’t enough. A new manager will surely want two strikers, a total reshuffle at the back and a creative midfielder.

West Ham Rambles: Two centre backs, a proven centre forward, a left-winger, a right back, and that’s for starters.  Sullivan needs to leave this window to Steiden and get his short arms in his long pockets.

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

LF: Improvement into next season is what I normally hope for. Another finish in the European spots would be nice and with no Europe to play in, I think we should really put effort into the domestic cups. Silverware would just be nice. Longer term would be to get that all elusive Europa League trophy in our hands.

MW: A top half finish and if I’m honest, I would be happy to finish 10th as long as we win a domestic cup. Europe was nice but I’m old enough to remember when the FA Cup mattered. I would love us to lift that trophy, it’s been too long since Brooking scored the winner with a header. It’s time to put those years of hurt behind us. Longer term, it has to be Europe but I think we need new ownership to do that. You have to be a rich man’s plaything these days to be a consistent every season European team. 

GH: I would like a top half finish, but I agree, I would like to see us really go far in at least one of the cup competitions. With no European football to worry about next season, that should be easier. Longer-term, consistently challenging for Europe I think has to be the aim.

DM: Next season is a rebuilding period and we need to be patient. Top half would be excellent. In the longer term, we are now a much bigger club than in the Boleyn days. Whatever you think about Gold and Sullivan, they delivered on Premier League security, a world class stadium, which we will continue to mould it into a football stadium with time, European action as a regular event and affordable live football – three season tickets with decent views for myself and my boys cost £800 per season which is tremendous value and with Stansted a short spin up the road it’s all very doable from a distance. Hats off to the Davids – the future is bright!

West Ham Rambles: A new style of play under Lopetegui. A younger, more energetic side, playing more attractive football.  A run in one of the cup competitions, with a larger squad able to manage the Premier League and the cup competitions. Longer term – a new ownership. 

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