Neil Shaw-Smith > Have West Ham fans witnessed a small band of grafting partners, summoned together to encourage comradery and togetherness? Or a squad too small to cope with the toll of a whole season from physical interrogation match by match?
However you judge, it warrants addressing: the west ham squad was one of the smallest in the league. Approaching a bench so depleted that it occasionally contained two goalkeepers. But no one can object to what the management team achieved and you have to honour what we have witnessed given the confines of budget and pandemic measures.
The end of last season was a battery of fixtures, played in silence but in continuation of a high bar of form.
The numbers then whittled down over the subsequent season with squad members Diagana, Haller and Anderson moved on. The perennial injury prone players also dismissed, the crocked gamechanger in the Andy Carrol mold (superseded by Wilshire) was no more. Seeing the physio so often they collected loyalty card points.
In came those Moyes had courted, of diverse Premier League experience: someone old (Dawson), someone new (Coufal), someone borrowed (Lingard), someone grew (Benrahma). This didn’t increase squad size, more that it upgraded the personnel to a more hardy bunch who charged around the pitch.
Fans solicited for a striker, pleading for anyone as backup to Antonio, his time served on the pitch always a liability for injury. Despite hearing this counsel, the manager still chose to acquit himself in his regular manner of making his own decisions, regardless of hearsay or pressure.
David Moyes said in a conference that the odd player niggle and missed match were inevitable, but still ended up rotating central pairs more than a greengrocer. This didn’t come at too much of a cost where it freshened and rotated the back line, as one player recovered and was redirected to the team another sustained an injury and sent down to the treatment table.
This took its toll, towards the tail end of the season when even the perennial Mr. Rice guy missed matches meant we missed the meaner Soucek, now reigned in from assaulting the attacking box. And when the star deadball specialist left-back was carried off, fans were Cress-fallen.
After David Moyes said it wouldn’t be a problem and given the third degree, the proof of his exoneration is there. Critics would say he was very fortunate with the timing of injuries (and red cards), when one fell another had recovered in time to come back into the team.
It’s difficult to say whether the continuity of having the same tight-nit group fighting for each other is what led to the most successful season in the Premier League. Or if the small squad was left wondering what might have been had there been one or two extra players challenging for the first team – the jury’s out.
What is most important is that this is streaks ahead of where hammers fans found themselves a year ago. Equally nail-biting but for all the right reasons.
The real testimony on the strength of the squad will come when we hear the gavel at the end of the appealing prospect of next season, if we can see an emerging to legacy to build on our European rights.