Well, after watching both games at the weekend in the Schalke 04 tournament, desperate for a glimpse of something positive to take into the coming season, I scoured the Hammers bench for signs of Teddy Sheringham, our new attacking guru but he was nowhere to be seen – just Sam Allardyce chewing gum like a hyperactive camel and the others looking pensive and anxious.
Not a great start, but no matter; the owners had promised us a more attack-minded style, and Big Sam was under orders. I ignored the team selections, and ignored the TV line-up graphic. It showed a lone striker, but this was going to be different. This was an exciting new era for the Hammers and the old days of a lone big lump up front were gone; consigned to the football scrap heap alongside heavy leather balls with laces, leather studs, baggy shorts and goalkeepers caps! Happy days my friends!
No, the twin striker format had arrived, and the sleek, elegant and classy Teddy would by now have got into Sam’s ear and explained that football is split into two distinct phases…defence and…wait for it…ATTACK.
The attack part of our wonderful game usually involves pushing men (as in more than one player) into forward positions, getting some width to split the back line of the opposition leaving gaps and spaces for willing midfield runners to exploit and allowing chances to be created for a shot at goal. Teddy would have drawn Sam little diagrams covering support play, split-striker formations, third man runs, crossovers, through balls…I had to withdraw and take a cold shower, so exciting was the prospect ahead….
There was to be no gentle let down, no gradual realisation that this could have been a re-run from most of last season’s games. No, it was obvious from the very first kick off…there was one bloody player up front. No one was within earshot of poor Carlton Cole, then poor Mauro Zarate then poor little Elliot Lee. All of them ran and battled and huffed and puffed. All of them were isolated, alone, and having to battle two or three defenders, win the ball, hold it up, and play in anyone who fancied risking the wrath of Allardyce by tip-toeing over the half way line to help out our desperately ineffective and overworked strikers.
I can recall leaping from my chair when three West Ham players commenced an approach toward the Schalke 18 yard box…three players…bloody hell Teddy..good work old son. My delight was short lived as again possession was conceded through lack of numbers and pressure on the ball, and every Hammer scuttled back like a mob of nervous crabs, desperate to be back “in position” ready to defend Sam’s goal to the death.
And, depressingly so, this pattern continued in both games; defend in numbers, attack as individuals; the contrast with the opposition, especially Malaga, was stark and anger inducing. If they could do it why not us? At 2-0 down, why not have a go; throw the well thumbed copy of the Allardyce Defenders Bible onto the fire and get a copy of Attack With Gusto by Paolo Di Canio out of the proverbial drawer. Get numbers forward and see what happens. Lose 4-0, but at least salvage some pride in the process and send the astoundingly loyal fans home with some fire in their bellies…surely its worth a go…surely?
The unpalatable truth is that nothing has changed. Nothing. Despite bringing in new players and blooding some of the promising kids, there was no sign at all of anything approaching an attacking system. The fact that we have had really poor pre-season results wise is far less of a worry for me than the fact that the playing style appears to have been maintained totally, and any influence from Sheringham was nothing less than invisible. The appallingly ineffective and pedestrian Kevin Nolan was paraded again, and the thought of another season watching this car-crash performer aimlessly wandering around looking for something to do fills me with dread.
Teddy still has time to get things sorted and exert some influence on dinosaur Sam. If we see a lone striker take to The Boleyn in two weeks time you know that hasn’t been the case. Just keep your fingers crossed!