Which of West Ham’s players will step up?

Posted by on Dec 10, 2011 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
Which of West Ham’s players will step up?
Following our assessment of the Premier League potential of the current Southampton squadback in October, the Saints have opened a three point gap at the top of the Championship table. Just behind them sit the club many tipped to enact a rapid response to relegation in May. West Ham have yo-yoed somewhat over the past decade and it would certainly be no surprise to see them occupy one of the top two slots come the end of the season, especially with a manager as experienced as Sam Allardyce at the helm, as well as a defensive coach of no mean reputation in Wally Downes.So, I had been looking forward to forming an eye witness judgement on this current welter of Irons before today’s visit to Reading. Unfortunately, an inability to cope with the pace and occasional showboating of Jimmy Kébé, dismissals for Joey O’Brien and Jack Collison, and the absence from the fray of Sam Baldock and Matty Taylor among others make this an imperfect test run. So, my opinions on each player below should be seen as much in the light of what has been a solid, satisfying season so far for the Hammers as much as one barmy afternoon in Berkshire.It should also be stated that all but one of the 14 who took to the pitch is familiar with top flight football so one could say that the questioning of these lads’ top division suitability is moot – many have chalked up a plethora of matches amid the top twenty clubs in England even if a relegation specialist or two loiter among them (yes you – Freddie Piquionne), so a case can be made for all of them to be good enough. To what degree they will be so in the future, however, especially given the age of some of the squad, is another point for debate. Here goes:Goalkeeper: Robert Green

If Queen Mary I of England was fabled to have the word ‘Calais’ etched on to her heart after the loss of said port to the French, ‘Rustenberg’ is surely emblazoned across Green’s own vital organ. That disastrous moment after Steven Gerrard’s early goal had put America on the ropes was a defining moment of that most miserable of World Cups for England and the subsequent autumn that saw the press jackals descend upon the Chertsey born man every time he even hinted at an error (despite their being united in calling for him to replace David James before that South African nightmare) was a torrid one.

But Hammers had conceded only 5 goals away from home in the league before today’s meltdown and his performance in the recent 2-0 win at promotion rivals Middlesbrough was one of many exemplary ones this season. Here, he was blameless and appears to be rebuilding his reputation with authority.
Verdict: Ready

Right Back: Guy Demel

On a day where easy judgements are non-existent, an assessment of Demel would be the toughest of all for as early as the first minute he entered into a challenge that saw him go down with a nasty injury – one of those agonising moments, as with Nemanja Vidić’s experience in Basel, where the player waves frantically for the trainer almost from point of contact. Demel has a good career in the Bundesliga behind him and only made his debut in the aforementioned 2-0 win at the Riverside – it’s very sad to see him contemplating another spell on the treatment table – but that injury record for a 30 year old does lend him the air of a temporary asset.
Verdict: To be replaced

Left Back: George McCartney

McCartney returned to the club on loan at the start of the season and if it’s unlikely that Steve Bruce’s departure from his parent club will provoke a recall, I enjoyed his performance here – especially early on, where he did well enough against Kébé to force the Malian to seek space on the opposite wing. Later in the game, however, as the ranks were reduced to 10 and then 9, Reading attacked vigorously down his flank. The same age as Demel, he has the air of a player brought in to do the dirty work of promotion and a man who fits well with Big Sam’s system – that his signature is not part of the West Ham United pay roll does make his future uncertain of course.
Verdict: to be replaced

Centre Back: James Tomkins

Such is the rarity of home grown players breaking into Premier League line ups, that we automatically assume that anyone who does so must be a star in the making. Hence Tomkins, along with Collison and Freddie Sears (on the bench here) emerged back in 2008 to rave notices – he’s also represented England at every level between under 16 and under 21. Now 22, he’s no longer a kid and I’ll admit to some concern based on today’s events – not least because some Irons’ fans in the queue afterwards were worried about the side’s sudden inability to defend aerially.

This drawback is all the more alarming given the restricted height of Reading’s diddy man strike force of Adam Le Fondre and Noel Hunt – it should have been a more comfortable afternoon for the Basildon born man.
Verdict: to be replaced

Centre Back: Abdoulaye Faye

An unsung hero of Sam Allardyce’s managerial success story, the Senegalese can perhaps be seen as a boilerplate player in the Big Sam system. For the reputation the gaffer engendered for extreme physicality – based partly on his own towering physique but also that of the men he employs – is embodied to the umpteenth degree by Faye. At 33, he has performed for the boss at Bolton and Newcastle and has been an absolute rock – a spell at Stoke confirming his talents. Here, he largely looked OK until the keystone cops moments of the last quarter of an hour but should take equal blame for the free-est of headers Simon Church plundered to make it 3-0. He may last a year back upstairs but his best days are behind him.
Verdict: to be replaced

Defensive Midfield: Papa Bouba Diop

Faye’s countryman starred in a particularly memorable game at the Madejski Stadium for Fulham back in 2007 – I was stunned by the strength of the man, performing the water carrier role to perfection that day and bullying the Reading midfield as he went along. Then he won an FA Cup with Pompey and it is not unreasonable to regard him as one of the very best midfielders English football has seen over the past few years.

If muscling one’s way up out of the Championship has become a cliché (I give you Swansea City as counter evidence), nobody told Allardyce and that explains his swift recruitment of this beast of a player. Still, on the day, and given that he is also the same age as Jesus, he struggled at times to cope with the industry of Jem Karacan and Mikele Leigertwood. A little creaky.
Verdict: to be replaced

Central Midfield: Mark Noble

I’ve always been an admirer of Noble and he has rightly been treasured – he’s now donned the claret and blue over 160 times and helped the Hammers back up in the Alan Pardew days. He scampers purposefully and was busy here – the solidity of Diop allowing him to roam forward menacingly. Indeed, a hallmark of the Allardyce method seems to involve the deployment of late runs into the box and quick breaks. If one criticism could be levelled at the Canning Towner, it’s that his goals record of just 17 is surprisingly low for a player who joins attacking moves so well – but he still has much to offer at 24.
Verdict: Ready

Left Midfield: Jack Collison

The Welshman reminds one of former ‘ammers favourite Michael Carrick in his upright elegance and he has the look of a class performer for sure, even if the unholy shove that led to his marching orders being issued was a blot on his display here.

Few can think of Collison without being mindful of that dreadful night when his father was killed in a motorcycle accident and one can only imagine the disquiet wrought on him by the recent death of his international manager. A recurring knee injury has also played havoc with his fortunes and one can only hope 2012 and after will be happier – I think all football fans will root for him as a player who could go far in the game.
Verdict: Ready

Right Midfield: Julien Faubert

Another man in today’s XI who has suffered injury woes out of proportion to the norm, Faubert cost a pretty penny when he joined from Bordeaux in 2007, only to be felled in a pre-season game against Sigma Olomouc. Ever since he has been able to show sporadic examples of his ability and in many ways, this game was a microcosm – he jinked between defenders early on and looked capable of creating something but the eventual end result of his efforts were meagre. After falling out with the previous regime on leaving the stadium early after a game against Birmingham, it’s something of a surprise to see him continuing to stamp the halls of the Boleyn Ground.
Verdict: To be replaced

Deep-lying Centre Forward: Kevin Nolan

The inspiration behind Newcastle United’s title winning season in 2009-10, Nolan has been employed at West Ham to do exactly what he did at St. James’s. As David Gold said at the time a 5 year contract was handed to the ex-Bolton man this summer, he’s ‘not here to play Championship football’.

Well actually he has been – and he’s done it pretty darn well to date – in many ways repeating his Toon exploits and covering a lot of ground in a wide zone bisected by the 18 yard line – a searing volley against Derby a particular highlight. Nolan epitomises the modern game in his physical presence – he’s a tall man in a team of them, his lung bursting runs and his unerring finishes. His reluctance to be pigeon holed into an old fashioned notion of a set-position also underlines his clever adaptation to soccer’s current fluidity. It’s perhaps a little sad to see him accepting a big wage to play at a lower level and the ‘flat track bully’ accusations remain, but he did very well on being promoted back upwards with Newcastle and I would expect him to do the same if West Ham ascend.
Verdict: Ready

Centre Forward: Frédéric Piquionne

He clearly has ability and can pick the ball up on the half way line before launching a quick raid, but it’s my impression that it’s all too fleeting – symptomatic of a player who flits in and out of games and excusable only if he were earning a fifth of what he no doubt does. Then there are the relegations and the mercenary nature that has seen him opt to play for Martinique and then France despite being born in New Caledonia in the South Pacific. Perhaps I’m being unfair; perhaps he can do a job – but he’s netted just twice here and it’s heartening to see a hungrier up and coming player like Baldock outperform him.
Verdict: To be replaced

Substitutes

From a star soaked bench, it was actually Joey O’Brien who played the largest part, replacing the unfortunate Demel almost immediately from the kick off. Until his sending off for a rash, second bookable challenge, he did well enough although the full back position was unfamiliar to him – he seems happiest raiding offensively. Those twin pillars John Carew and Carlton Cole came on late – it’s a grotesque example of football’s skewed finances that these two can be found plying their trade outside the top flight. While the former is edging slowly towards the glue factory, the latter is at a key stage in his career now and it would be no surprise to see him roll up at the threshold of a struggling Premier League club in January.

In all, it was obviously the wrong afternoon on which to judge West Ham. Allardici has them organised in familiar style – it’s a gargantuan team that reminds one of his own Bolton Wanderers and Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth. That few of the player seem individually good enough to operate successfully in the Premier league is not to denigrate a wily manager who will likely build something successful, with players fitting into positions like pieces in a jigsaw. Perm any 5 of these and add a bunch more – Big Sam has always enjoyed loose purse strings – and the Hammers will rise again.

Rob Langham
Rob Langham (pen name: Lanterne Rouge) is co-founder of the defiantly non-partisan football league blog, The Two Unfortunates, a website that occasionally strays into covering issues of wider importance. He's 47 and lives in Oxford while retaining his boyhood support of Reading FC. He tweets as @twounfortunates and has written for a number of websites and publications including The Football Attic, The Inside Left, When Saturday Comes, In Bed with Maradona, Futbolgrad and The Blizzard as well as being nominated for the Football Supporters' Federation Blogger of the Year Award in 2013.

2 Comments

  1. Matt R
    December 12, 2011

    re Joey O'Brien at full back – he's played a lot of games there, both for Bolton and, since his arrival, for West Ham. Can't believe that's not where he was signed to play.

    Reply
  2. Lanterne Rouge
    December 12, 2011

    You are probably right Matt – seme to remember him raiding freely in the season opener against Cardiff and such is his injury record, I'll admit to not having seen him that many times.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

MENU