West Ham's campaign of hope should have ended in higher placing
PUBLISHED: 11:30 23 May 2019
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Our West Ham correspondent looks back over an upand down season
AAfter the dour, negative, but nevertheless successful campaign under previous boss David Moyes, there was real hope and excitement at the beginning of the new season.
Manuel Pellegrini, a Premier League champion, came in as manager and West Ham splashed out over £100 million on players, including a club record £42m for Brazilian winger Felipe Anderson.
Many suggested this was the breakthrough that the club had promised when moving to their new stadium.
By the first day of September, that hope was in tatters. Defeats at Liverpool and Arsenal and, more significantly, home losses to Bournemouth and Wolves had left them pointless and bottom of the table.
And so the final position of 10th in the Premier League with 52 points can be seen as a success, a huge plus on last season and a positive marker for the future.
The thing is, it could and probably should have been so much better.
I'm not saying that West Ham should have forced their way into the hierarchy of the top six, but they really should have been the best of the rest.
There were mitigating circumstances. That terrible start for one and, more significantly, the crippling long-term injury list Pellegrini's squad suffered.
Winston Reid, Manuel Lanzini and Andy Carroll were already on the sidelines when the Hammers kicked off at Anfield in August.
Add to those Carlos Sanchez, Andriy Yarmolenko, Aaron Cresswell, Ryan Fredericks, Michail Antonio, Fabian Balbuena and Jack Wilshere and you can see the extent of the problem.
Consistency was another stumbling block. So many times, excellent results were followed by hugely disappointing ones.
A 3-1 win over Manchester United was followed by a 1-0 defeat at Brighton; Burnley (4-2) followed by a 1-1 draw at Huddersfield; Fulham (2-0) followed by a 2-0 home defeat to Watford.
And there is more: Southampton (2-1) followed by a 2-0 defeat at Burnley; Arsenal (1-0) followed by a 2-0 defeat at Bournemouth; Newcastle (2-0) followed by that horrendous 2-0 loss at Cardiff City.
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Four separate times West Ham had a chance to go seventh in the table and they blew every one of them.
The luck certainly didn't go their way too often during the season. It didn't even out and hopefully the arrival of VAR next season will give the Hammers many more points.
The last big problem was that of Marko Arnautovic.
There can be no doubt that his actions severely affected the West Ham dressing room.
He was a talismanic figure who swept the board at the previous Hammer awards and so his sudden demand for a move hurt the club in much the same way as Dimitri Payet did two years before.
He stopped scoring, stopped playing and was a poisonous figure among the fans who had idolised him not long before.
His rebuilding of trust is a vital thing for next season.
The season was certainly a rollercoaster ride.
December was the highlight with five wins out of six, January the lowest with consecutive defeats against Bournemouth, Wolves - where they didn't muster a single shot - and that hideous, embarrassing defeat at AFC Wimbledon in the FA Cup.
Amid all that, there were some superb plusses to be gleaned from the season - the centre-back partnership of Issa Diop and Balbuena was hugely impressive, as was the emergence of Anderson as a high-quality player as well as the re-emergence of Antonio and Mark Noble as the season came to an end.
Then there was the excellence of Lukasz Fabianski in goal and the brilliance of Declan Rice, a match for any defensive midfielder in the Premier League and now a deserved England international.
There were also some excellent displays which suggest that on their day, they are a match for just about anyone in the division.
The home win over Manchester United; the draw with Liverpool which cost Jurgen Klopp's men the title; the win over Arsenal and, of course, that victory over Spurs in their brand new stadium will live long in the memory.
There is so much to be hopeful about for next season. If they get rid of those surplus to requirements, recruit well and have some luck with injuries, then they will be the best of the rest and maybe achieve even more.
Whether they do that or not, one thing that happened in October following the game at Leicester puts everything into perspective.
People who go to football should expect to go home again and the helicopter tragedy meant five people didn't and that's something we should all reflect on.