James Maw assesses a mixed season for the men from Upton Park, as Sam Allardyce feels the pressure despite a memorable 'treble'...
The season started with great promise – Andy Carroll arrived on a permanent, club-record deal, four points were taken from the first two matches, and early progress was made in the League Cup – but things quickly fell apart at the seams. The good days were few and far between; in fact, the Hammers didn’t win successive matches until February, which speaks volumes.
Having spent over £20 million in the summer, West Ham were soon struggling towards the foot of the table, with manager Sam Allardyce’s ‘agricultural’ brand of football as galling to fans as the negative results: the Hammers gained fewer points, won fewer games and scored fewer goals than last season, with home form particularly suffering - they lost nine of their 19 games at Upton Park, where the goals-for total plummeted from 34 to 25. The locals were not content.
That’s not to say the old ‘defend deep and look to sucker punch’ routine didn’t bear fruit. The shock 3-0 win at neighbours Tottenham earned Big Sam plenty of good will from both the boardroom and the terraces, as did the east Londoners’ run to the semi-finals of the League Cup – not least as that included a second win at White Hart Lane.
Four straight wins in February saw Allardyce win the Manager of the Month award, and dragged the Irons away from the relegation scrap. It appeared a corner had been turned, but a run of seven defeats in nine matches soon followed. A third win over Spurs did little to appease the those fans who were by now sick to the back teeth of Allardyce and his staunch refusal to adapt to ‘the West Ham way’, and now the smart money appears to be on a summer of change at Upton Park.
Would they have taken this in August?
No: 13th may not appear an entirely disastrous finish, but the style of play and a few prolonged spells of dismal form have left Irons fans crying for change.
Would they have taken this in January?
Yes, grudgingly. The Hammers started 2014 with a 2-1 defeat at Fulham that left them languishing in 19th place on just 15 points from 20 matches.
Those four successive wins in February are what ultimately kept West Ham out of danger, but it will be the 3-0 rout at White Hart Lane that lives longest in the memory for Hammers fans. It was West Ham’s biggest win over their fierce rivals since a 4-1 romp in North London April 1994, and the most notable of a historic treble over their Lilywhite foes in 2013/14.
West Ham fans reacted incredulously when Sam Allardyce rested the bulk of his first team for the FA Cup Third Round tie at Nottingham Forest, with an inexperienced Hammers side suffering a 5-0 humbling on the banks of the River Trent. Allardyce’s masterplan was to keep his stars fresh for the League Cup semi-final first leg at Manchester City three days later. Sadly, they lost that one by six...
Hero of the season
Mark Noble may have been crowned Hammer of the Year, but it’s Spanish goalkeeper Adrian who has become the new darling of the Boleyn Ground. Having arrived last summer following an impressive season in La Liga with Real Betis, Adrian was forced to bide his time, before displacing Allardyce mainstay Jussi Jaaskelainen as the Hammers' first-choice keeper in January.
Since then he impressed with a string of fine performances between the sticks, keeping six Premier League clean sheets since the turn of the year - most notably in the 0-0 draw at Chelsea. He has also delighted fans with his in-game hi-jinks, including the exuberant fashion with which he celebrates his team's goals, and his habit of instructing the Upton Park ball-boys to take their sweet time when the Hammers are ahead.
Speaking to the Daily Mail last week, Adrian said of his debut Premier League campaign "Of course I am very pleased with my season. I came here after I had a very good season with Betis in Spain but have improved and helped the team and that is what I am here for."
He'll hope to be a little less busy in 2014/15, though.
Villain of the season
Playing 'percentage football' in order to pocket unlikely points away to Spurs or Chelsea is one thing, but doing so pretty much every week is something else altogether, and most West Ham fans are understandably sick of it. Sam Allardyce always seemed an odd choice to manage a club famed for their expansive, attacking football, and now it seems things may be coming to their inevitable conclusion. If Allardyce does leave east London, he should at least be credited with both taking West Ham back into the Premier League, and twice keeping them there. This could be the best time for both parties to go their separate ways.
The season in microcosm
Despite falling 1-0 behind in the 11th minute of April's match at West Brom, the Hammers only managed three shots on target in the 79 minutes they spent supposedly chasing the game. The match was to end in a fourth straight defeat for the east Londoners, and the fans were none too happy with their team's sluggish showing. Indeed, this was the game that saw the unfurling of the by now infamous 'Fat Sam out' banner pictured above, which was something of a symbolic moment.
E. Certainly no added marks for style.