Hammers best equipped to survive Premier test
First of all, let me congratulate West Ham on their immediate return to the Premier League. They, more than any team in the Championship, had untold pressure on them from day one and, at one stage, when their fans started to get restless, it looked like it was all going to end in tears.
West Ham’s away record was second to none but it had to be because their home displays were stuttering to say the least. They were everybody’s cup final, especially at Upton Park, so teams would go there and park the bus, hoping to defend their way to a point. And a lot of teams achieved this.
When teams come to defend, it’s hard to break them down, especially when they let you have the ball until the half way line and then squeeze the life out of you in their own half. Away from Upton Park, it was a different story. The emphasis was on the home team to come out and attack and West Ham’s superior quality nearly always came through, with the way they were able to manipulate the spaces left by the attacking home team.
In my eyes, whether you go up automatically or through the play-offs, it really doesn’t matter because you all start even come the start of the Premier League. But for what it’s worth, I think West Ham are better equipped to stay up than Southampton or Reading because they have bags of Premier know-how and, most importantly, their manager, Sam Allardyce, has that nous, too, whereas Brian McDermott and Nigel Adkins, although up-and-coming managers, have no knowledge of top-flight management.
Now, on to adapting to the Premier League. Various teams have tried different measures over the years, from the likes of Stoke, Norwich, Swansea, Blackpool and Newcastle, to mention but a few, who mainly stuck to the nucleus of the team that got them promoted while adding a couple of experienced Premier League players. Then there are the teams, like QPR and Sunderland, who near enough created a new team full of Premier stock.
The question is: which one is right? I would go with the first, which is to keep the nucleus of the previous season’s successful squad while adding players of Premier pedigree who are not going to rock the boat. Stoke did this well in the way they kept their same style of play with players who had got them there but then added experience to their spine. The tried-and-trusted players were up for the challenge and helped the rest of the players adapt while the other players helped them to settle into Stoke’s style of play.
Then, you have the flip side in QPR, who made an array of signings who, at the time, you would have to say were all quality captures. The names of Joey Barton, Luke Young, Armand Traore, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Anton Ferdinand in the summer window had everybody sitting up and taking notice. Things started off well but the one thing about a lot of the players brought in – like Wright-Phillips and Traore – was that they had never before had to really deal with a relegation dog-fight.
In fact, to Wright-Phillips – his CV is hugely impressive and I still believe him to be one of the best wingers about – a dog-fight was very new and the experience of it in the QPR team was minimal. Add to this the fact that, no doubt, some of the players who had got QPR promoted were now sitting in the stand, while watching fellow players who had had no part in getting them up take their places, that will always cause friction in any environment.
As it was, of the three promoted teams, the biggest spenders were the biggest strugglers, while Norwich and Swansea took to the league like a duck to water. I will say now that, after last season’s finishes, I expect to see QPR finish above Swansea and Norwich because, maybe next term, they will be able to play with more freedom.
Only time will tell how West Ham will do but it’s great to see them back at the top table because it’s a great club and, more importantly, a great place to go and play.