West Ham and Crystal Palace: when to sack your manager
by George Keaney
West Ham’s win over Huddersfield Town on Monday night was hugely impactful, in so many ways. Firstly, and most importantly, the Hammers recorded their first win and first points of the season, ending a worrying three-game rot. Manager Slaven Bilic and supporters within the London Stadium seemed more relieved than ecstatic.
Overall, the Hammers played well. Although it took until the second half to register the opening goal, there was only one team pressing to open the scoring. Andy Carroll won header after header and also impressed with his hold up play on the floor. Throw in the fact that he didn’t get injured, and you have to consider that a good evening’s work for him. Javier Hernandez looked slightly out of sorts as part of a front three, but his relationship with Carroll will grow and evolve in time.
Pablo Zabaleta looked far more comfortable in a wing-back position than he has at right back, while Aaron Creswell on the left flank also looked back to near his best.
Cheikhou Kouyate and Pedro Obiang were strong centrally, James Collins appeared reliable, Joe Hart was untroubled. And yet, the biggest victory of all? Bilic should not have to fear for his job for a few weeks at least. It was a team performance that was needed and although there were stagnant periods, the team put in a winning performance. It was almost as if they were aware that the managerial vultures were circling around the Croatian at the helm.
Bilic has been at West Ham for more than two years, and while some may argue that his favourable standing within the fan base has saved him before, it’s difficult to identify him as the culpable party for the recent poor form. The players have underperformed, injuries have caused problems, and recruitment has been shambolic.
Of course, if Slaven is to earn kudos for landing Dimitri Payet, Manuel Lanzini and Chicharito, he must also face the blame for confusion surrounding the lack of any central midfield signings during the summer. A more likely scenario is that the ever-changing personalities of Davids Gold and Sullivan are the core issue in that department.
Bilic deserves more time. After only one home game played, a sacking would have been ludicrous, but it does appear that only one more loss would have been the difference. Given that in previous seasons we’ve seen Bilic, Sam Allardyce, Tony Pulis and countless others turn the fate of a club 180 degrees within a matter of weeks, itchy trigger-fingered chairmen are a very peculiar species at this stage of this season.
Step forward, Steve Parish.
The Crystal Palace head honcho decided earlier this week to get rid of Frank de Boer. Four poor losses and a complete lack of coherent tactics are obvious motivation for a change, but this decision reeks of a yellow-bellied approach to running a football club.
If Palace were keen to “change the culture of the club”, then clearly it was going to take more than a new manager and some new training ground drills, and certainly more than four games, for that to happen. A January transfer window (and probably another summer window) was a basic requirement, and a proper pre-season also a necessity. Did the chairman really believe that James Tomkins and Scott Dann were perfectly suited to playing out from the back? Dream on.
Roy Hodgson will come in at Selhurst Park and is likely to lead them to a 15th placed finish, and the decision will be hailed as a success. A style of play that caused them to struggle last year will be back, and in a couple more years when Palace continue to plateau, we may be here again…
One thing that the tales of Bilic and De Boer highlight is the cliche that ‘it’s always easier to sack the manager’. There will always be a few old names out of work, and you can hardly sack your first XI, so the gaffer is the one to pay the price, whether it’s right or not.
Crystal Palace and West Ham are probably going to end up in similar positions in the table this year, to the disappointment of both sets of fans. Bilic is the new favourite to lose his job, and Palace are still without a point. It’s no easy feat to stand still in the Premier League, but both clubs expect more. Hopefully sticking by a manager proves to be the reason that the Hammers push on in the coming weeks.