Reflections on the Season: A Job Well Done

Andy Carroll BubblesWith another Premier League season now over, I thought it a good time to reflect on an uneven but ultimately successful season for West Ham United.

The season finished on a high note with a win at home against relegated Reading. Although 4-2 sounds comfortable enough, at one stage a 2-0 half-time lead had evaporated and Reading were right back in it at 2-2. A couple of late goals did the trick, but the win became harder work than it should have been. The score could have easily been double what it was, such were the number of chances created.

In players like Mo Diame and Matt Jarvis, West Ham have brought in genuine playmakers with the vision to create scoring opportunities from just about anywhere on the field. Both took a while to settle (Jarvis was also out injured for some time) but they showed their value over a long season. Opportunities are one thing, goals another. Of those there were too few. It is an indication of the club’s lack of forward stocks that the leading scorer for the club was Kevin Nolan with 10 goals. Nolan is an attacking player, but you would expect to see a striker at the top of the goals scored ledger. Andy Carroll was the best of the rest with 7, most of those goals coming in the latter part of the season. To be fair to Andy, injuries curtailed what looked like a promising season for the loanee from Liverpool. When match fit, he did look the goods and was always a handful for opposition defences.

As a loan player, Carroll was certainly worth the investment, despite limited opportunities. Sam Allardyce has made it clear that the club wants Andy on a permanent basis. Terms have been agreed with Liverpool, so now it is up to Andy whether he wants to stay. Messrs Gold and Sullivan have indicated how important Andy is to their plans, but if he does agree to stay, will the club get its money’s worth? The season has only just ended and Carroll is already injured, out of action for at least 6 weeks and quite possibly longer. Injury is part and parcel of modern sport, but Carroll does seem to be less than robust.

All this remains to be seen but in the meantime the club has dispensed with the services of Carlton Cole, a striker who performed creditably and with great loyalty over 7 years. Carlton isn’t the player he was but can still produce quality performances and could still have offered enough experience to justify a one year contract extension.

Despite a lack of goals, there was plenty to be positive about this season. Establishing yourself in the Premier League is no easy feat for a newly promoted club, and West Ham can be happy with their 10th position. They never once slipped into the relegation zone and produced some outstanding team and individual performances.  Highlights for me were the win over Chelsea (of course!) and the closely fought draw with Manchester United in the FA Cup. There were hard-earned away wins over Newcastle and Stoke, as well as a memorable 3-0 thrashing of Fulham in September. This was the fans first look at Andy Carroll, and despite not scoring he had a huge influence on the outcome of the match.

Winston ReidThe player of the season was Winston Reid, no question. A solid player last season, Reid rose to a new level in 2012-13. Defensively he was consistently strong and decisive, and from this came a confidence which spread to the rest of the defence despite key injuries to George McCartney and James Tomkins. Such was Reid’s growth as a senior member of the side, he was given the captain’s armband on more than one occasion. He deservedly won West Ham’s player of the season award. Other standout performers were newly signed Mo Diame and (particularly in the first half of the season) Kevin Nolan. There were a number of cracking goals scored, but the best for me was the little seen Modibo Maiga’s goal against Southampton.

I don’t want to dwell too much on the worst performances, but the loss to a poor Aston Villa was disappointing, as was the hammering at Sunderland. Arsenal inflicted a 5-1 defeat, but they can do that to the best of sides. The most memorable losses were those to Liverpool and Spurs, if only because they could so easily have been victories. The Spurs loss in particular was gut-wrenching, not least because they have made a habit of snatching improbable wins at West Ham’s expense. Bale’s goal was terrific (as was he) but that doesn’t make it an easier pill to swallow.

Overall, it is hard to be too critical of season 2012-13, particularly when compared to West Ham’s previous outing in the Premier League. If Premier League history has taught us anything however, it is that the second season is often the toughest. West Ham discovered that in 2007, and it took a miracle by the name of Carlos Tevez to save them. There are promising signs for the future though – Allardyce is an astute if unspectacular manager, and he knows how to get the best out of his players. He will need to bring a few more good ones in for next season, particularly up front.

The biggest cause for optimism this season happened without a ball being kicked. After a drawn out legal battle involving 3 football clubs (Leyton Orient? Really?) and several false dawns, West Ham finally won the right to call the Olympic Stadium their home ground from 2016. As sad as it is to say goodbye to The Boleyn Ground with its rich history and wonderful memories, the Olympic Stadium move is critical for the club’s future. Without it comes footballing and financial uncertainty. With it comes a bigger stadium (and increased revenue), world class facilities and an opportunity for the club to attract bigger investment. With investment comes security, and while money isn’t the cure-all some would make it out to be, without it any club’s ambitions will always be limited. While West Ham fans have their feet firmly on the ground (we’ve learned we have to after so many falls!) it would be foolish not to have an ambitious eye on the future. Few West Ham fans would want to see the club become the ugly juggernaut that is Manchester City, but consistent top 10 finishes, good cup runs and the odd European campaign are not too much to ask for.

We still have a few seasons of football before that however, starting with a fresh Premier League campaign in August. Here’s hoping it continues the positive mood at the club. What better way to start than by confirming the permanent signing of Andy Carroll. Fingers crossed….come on Andy!