After more than two years of pain and suffering, it would appear that the grey clouds are finally parting and the sun is certainly shining down on our West Ham world. In the second of the pre season friendlies for the Hammers, Wycombe would be the second stage litmus test to gauge whether acid was still in the stomach…or whether all had been neutralised.
Arriving a couple of hours before kick off, there were more than a few of the faithful that had already arrived at Adams Park in High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire to be greeted by warm and friendly staff and by a scorching hot sun. This summer was unrelenting…just as our new transfer policy was appearing to be too. There were smiles all around, even as David Gold rolled into the car park in his ‘roller’, the good time feeling persisted…and when the team bus pulled up to the players entrance, the fans lined in wait to cheer on the lads.
With fresh news of another signing in the bag…that brings the total players in thus far to seven. Fredericks, Diop, Fabianski, Wilshere, Yarmolenko, Anderson and Balbuena…the fans were right to be excited and the buzz around the fans is tangible and it’s getting louder too. If only the board had done this when we first moved…oh well, best not to dwell in the past now because with Pellegrini in charge and Husillos doing the deals behind the scenes, there is now order to the backroom chaos and the fans are beginning to see the fruits of their labours.
Although official figures were scarce, it would appear that the West Ham contingent were plentiful and possibly outnumbering the entire Wycombe crowd. The fans looked on and approved virtually every Hammer’s play and each Iron’s kick of the ball. I looked left and right…and fans were smiling…yes smiling! They were content and they were beginning to see good deeds being done on the field…just as I was too!
Pellegrini put out a strong starting line up; Adrian, Zabaleta, Diop, Ogbonna, Masuaku, Obiang, Noble, Cullen, Yarmolenko, Arnautovic and Snodgrass…and each to a man started well in the searing heat of Adams Park. Adrian was largely quiet for the first 25 mins and the lads controlled the game with some slick passing and retained possession well, even when under pressure from their opponents.
There was a marked improvement on what the fans had been force fed for the last two seasons and there appeared to be a new drive to storm forward utilising Yarmolenko’s skills on the right wing. A mixture of short and long range passes, good play at the back and good engines in the centre of the park was making this a very enjoyable watch. Yes, I said…ENJOYABLE!
Snodgrass was working well and understandably impressing the new boss, whilst Noble and Cullen worked well as the generals in midfield. Obiang had good fortune on the left and ably supported by Masuaku who still demonstrated some sublime skills and an unwillingness to give up the ball.
Diop really impressed in the back line and linked well with Zabaleta and Yarmolenko who also impressed too. However, Arnautovic was largely isolated in the first period and just as I was saying to my sidekick that we need to feed Arnie more balls, than he pulled into the right hand side of the penalty area, had the strength to hold off defensive resistance and fired past the Wycombe goalie to put the Hammers in the lead and in the driving seat.
Of course, Wycombe also grew into the game too and were beginning to make progress along their left flanks with some decent crosses which made Ogbonna fluff his lines a couple of times. However in the end…it was a powerful header wide or a scuff shot past the post but nothing truly to set the nerves jangling anymore.
As the half time whistle blew, there was an air of confidence about the place and the fans were being treated to some decent football, entertainment and also getting an insight in how Pellegrini would be setting up his teams and how attack minded he might become, whilst still retaining a defensive balance.
The second half started, but of course their were numerous changes on both sides, so any comparison would be futile. Both teams had chances to score and both missed but the same qualities from the West Ham players continued…and the Wycombe players did themselves proud too as they grew into the encounter with every passing ball that was kicked.
All in all, it was a fine day at the office and the future looks bright with all of the new signings. Possibly even an embarrassment of riches with all of the new talent that is coming through or joining the ranks. The board have chosen well in Pellegrini and he has inspired the board to splash the cash and make a determined effort to bring the fans some quality football over the next few seasons.
There are of course no guarantees with any of the players, but there is a growing ambition and optimism around the club and within the fanbase too. However, let us not forget that this is merely a friendly, whilst the true test will begin against Liverpool at the start of the season proper. The players looked on fine form today, however it would be remiss not to mention some defensive frailties that still need to be ironed out and whether the squad as a whole can function as a unit to approach every game with purpose, desire and skill…remains to be seen.
Whilst Carroll and Reid are out for another three months, Lanzini out for an epoch and Arnautovic may have possibly troubled a hamstring today…despair is rarely hiding in the shadows for the West Ham faithful…however Pellegrini appears to be curing the major squad ailment of the last two seasons. He is strengthening the depth of the squad with quality players and this can only be a good omen during the season.
There is more work to do, greater fitness required and improved relationships and understanding on the field of play. But, this is true of every team in pre season, however in comparison to last season…this has already been a quantum leap forward for the Claret and Blue.