The Cutter asks lifelong Hammer Tony Finnegan about a season of safety and poetry at the Boleyn Ground.
A top ten place looking likely and never threatened by the spectre of relegation…has this term matched pre-season hopes?
I think most fans would be lying if they said they expected a top 10 finish this season. Personally, I thought we had enough quality in the squad to stay up but expected us to be amongst the relegation candidates throughout the course of the season. So to be fighting to be top half at the end of the season is a massive achievement and sets up nicely for next season. I almost miss the drama of a relegation dogfight. Almost…
Happy with the gaffer?
“Big Sam” – as he likes to be known, still divides opinion. On one hand he’s secured promotion in his first season and comfortably kept the club safe the next. Whilst on the other hand, the football we’ve played at times has been God-awful and some of the performances away from home have been embarrassing.
Personally, I’m yet to be convinced. I’m not expecting us to play Barcelona-like football – few fans are – but I do expect us to try and attack teams and win the games we play. At times this season – away at an out-of-form Villa springs to mind – that simply hasn’t happened. He also has an annoying habit of defending poor, negative performances with an array of seemingly made-up statistics. When you’re travelling back from a depressing away defeat, the fact that you’ve won more throw-ins than the other team is of little comfort.
But I have to admit he has made us more difficult to play against, and there is a strong argument that being safe and stable is exactly what West Ham need after a turbulent five or six years.
What would you have done different if installed in the dug-out last August?
I’d have liked to have brought in a bit more pace in midfield, and perhaps a more mobile centre forward. We lack a plan B and if Carroll or Cole are getting no change from a defence, our attack’s pretty much been nullified. It was a similar situation last season, when Allardyce under-used the likes of Sam Baldock and Nicky Maynard. Teams know we’re going to pose an aerial threat, but having a few alternative options throughout the season might have helped us secure a few more points. That said, we’ve still had a great season so I can’t be too critical of Allardyce – however tempting it is.
Does it rankle being accused of being a direct side?
It does, but not because it’s untrue. We can and do play some decent football, and when Jarvis is on form we can be a really exciting team to watch. But when things aren’t going to plan, we too easily resort to looking for Carroll straight from the back and it’s rarely effective as a way of breaking teams down.
The idea that we’ve always played passing football is a bit of a myth, but we have generally always attacked teams with pace and created a bit of excitement – even if it was ultimately unsuccessful! A little more of that next season would be a big improvement.
What’s your personal highlight of the season?
Staying up was always the aim and to achieve it comfortably is a brilliant achievement. The stand-out moment for me was at home to Chelsea though. With Diame completely dominating their midfield, we played some great football and were just too strong for them. It wasn’t a case of them not playing well; they simply the couldn’t live with us. Any victory over Chelsea is a cause for celebration at West Ham, but the manner in which was the most impressive aspect.
Who has been the stand-out performer?
Although never quite recovering his pre-injury form, Mo Diame has been sensational at times. He’s got fantastic feet and when he’s on his game, few can live with him. It looked like he was leaving at one point during the transfer window, so Allardyce did well to keep him and hopefully we’ll hang on to him over the summer as well.
Winston Reid has also matured into a top quality defender and a future captain of the club.
Has Carroll done enough to justify a big-money bid?
If you’d have asked me this in February, I’d have had to have said no. He’d had a great start to the season but after a few injury niggles, he took time to recapture that form. Over the last few months though, he’s been excellent and has caused most teams a hell of a lot of trouble at some point during the season. It might sound primitive, but watching him power in a header from a perfectly weighted cross can be like poetry in motion. Well, something like that anyway. I’d like to see us make every effort we can to keep him, although I think we’ll end up paying less than the £17m Liverpool are asking.
How would you sum up the season as a song?
Moving by Supergrass – after the Olympic Stadium saga finally came to a close and the club is off to Stratford.