Lucky West Ham boss? Maybe, but brave substitutions are the key to first win
PUBLISHED: 16:00 12 September 2017
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Hammers manager Slaven Bilic stuck his neck out against Huddersfield and was rewarded with the win
It may not have looked like it this season, but some managers are just lucky and Slaven Bilic seems to be one of them.
Last season when he was under pressure, he pulled out vital, but fortunate home victories against Hull City and Burnley to alleviate a disastrous run of results.
He also managed it against Swansea City last term after an alarming run of five consecutive defeats.
It seems that the Croatian has an uncanny knack of picking up wins just when he needs them and this game was no exception.
There was certainly no luck needed with regard to the performance. West Ham dominated and thoroughly deserved their win, but they did have a huge slice of fortune in the opening goal.
“To be fair, when we played really good and were dominant in the first half, we didn’t score,” said the boss.
“Then, when we did score it was at a time when we had lost the momentum a little bit.”
That was true. There were a few worrying murmurs going round the ground, before Pedro Obiang, a most unlikely hero, let fly with a shot that was going wide, before deflecting viciously off a defender and flying into the corner.
It was the piece of luck that West Ham needed and one they deserved and it was a huge relief to the boss, who was celebrating his 49th birthday.
“It is the perfect birthday present,” he smiled. “I am very pleased with the way we dealt with the difficult situation that was created.
“After three defeats your confidence is a bit down, but the lads did everything we asked from them.”
They did, and they were aided by returning to a three-man central defensive formation and wing-backs.
Bilic took a gamble in playing Andy Carroll from the start and it paid off. He showed menace and purpose and after going off on 82 minutes, you knew he had given everything. Jose Fonte had perhaps his best game in claret and blue, aided by the help of two, rather than one partner, but perhaps the biggest revelation was Pablo Zabaleta.
There had been huge question marks about the Argentinian at right back and whether he could play at wing-back. But with a superb display of running and pressing, he managed it with aplomb.
“We had a game plan and from the first moment we were on the front foot and really closing them down,” said Bilic.
“There were a lot of things happening in the box, so it gave us a boost for the second half to continue like this and we got the reward.”
Perhaps Bilic is not as bad a manager as he is sometimes painted in the press. It was his decision to replace Javier Hernandez with Andre Ayew.
The West Ham fans booed, the Huddersfield fans sang ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ and even this reporter had huge doubts.
“Sometimes you have to take a chance as a manager,” said Bilic. “‘Chicharito’ had a good game, but also on the bench we had a few players like Ayew and Sakho, who are really capable.
“I noticed he was getting a little bit tired after he had been away in Mexico, so it was a perfect time for Andre to come on.
“It was a good time to get fresh legs on the pitch and we are talking about Ayew, who can always score goals and he scored again here.”
He did, and perhaps it will be a pivotal moment in Bilic’s managerial career. Not many managers would have taken off their star striker at that point in the match.
Perhaps he is a genius, perhaps he is just lucky, who cares? All that was important in this game was the result and West Ham came up trumps once again, just when it was needed.
Under pressure after three games? Ridiculous. Hopefully normal service will now be resumed and he can get on with the rest of the season.