Champions League? Chance there for the taking

Brian Neil Gay is a member of the ClaretandHugh Facebook Group and a long time Iron. Here – in his first blog for the site – he talks of his excitement at last night’s performance against Saints and his hopes for the season in our new series of Fans’ blogs. Send your blogs to claretandhugh@gmail.com
I have been an Iron since the late 60s so I’ve see many of our greats, enjoyed our highs and endured the numerous disappointments too but I can’t remember the last time I have enjoyed a season as much as the one we are experiencing now.
I get to games when I can but always make a point of watching live streams because I don’t think one can really judge a result unless you see the match  and that  game yesterday under the Boleyn lights was a massive result for us and will I believe seriously effect where we end up.
Had the Saints held on to win it would have been hard to accept that we still had a realistic chance of the Champions’ League places but some match results are more significant than others and I think that the final 49 minutes at the Boleyn on Monday will have a much bigger influence on our season outcome than being just a home win against Southampton.
The comeback to win was thrilling, but as a result it’s importance should not be underestimated. Lose it and we start the second half of  season in the bottom half of the table as the result of a continuing slide down the table (despite not losing in six). Win it and we put ourselves right back in contention for the top half a dozen and I believe those Champions league places.
I suspect that like many I was apprehensive about just how our makeshift first eleven could overcome a buoyant Saints fresh from thumping the Arsenal.
I hoped the Saints would have expended too much energy in that game but the first 45 at the Boleyn dispelled that completely. It was us who looked the more fatigued, the slower, the unsure. Players starting out of position only added to our uncomfortable play.
Whatever Slaven Billic had seen to suggest that playing Alex Song in an advanced role of Cheikou Kouyate clearly was not working and we were lucky not to go in 3-0 down rather than the somewhat unfortunate Jenkinson own goal. I am not so sure Tadic’s touch would have netted without Jenk’s contact.
The groans were there for all to hear as the Boleyn faithful wanted endeavour and attack but were largely served up slow and lethargic, unimaginative football with no credible creativity on show.
I knew something had to change after half-time and I was pleased to see the manager had made the call to switch it round with a double substitution that was about to change the game. The confidence lift in the rest of the team was evident as we went after the equaliser inspired by Manuel Lanzini’s calm and confident ball work and Andy Carroll’s running and endeavour.
Andy Carroll attracts a lot of column inches but yesterday’s second half performance for me saw him back to very near his best. He has scored the winner against Chelsea and now against Saints. In fact AC is now only three goals away from being our joint top scorer!
On the evidence of yesterday’s second half I think he could work well with Enner Valencia and Michail Antonio. There were the first real signs of an understanding of between these three. Given the service we know that AC will win headers and score.
He won two or three headers in the box that I recall, was fouled in the penalty area on one occasion which should have been a penaltyand missed one chance he perhaps should have buried but he looked a lot sharper to me. If he stays fit and keeps his confidence up who knows 2016 could be a good year for him and us.
The swashbuckling attack minded second half display had the Boleyn rocking in the way that we all want to see in this her final season.
I know we have all perhaps been a tad frustrated during this period of missing first teamers but let’s be honest Slaven Billic and the fit players have weathered a storm without losing and there is every reason to think with the Payet / Lanzini act about to resume we could well push on for that top six and maybe even the top four.
I mean the league is there for the taking for someone this year and so too are the Champions League places. All the established top teams have slipped up more than once this season, it is no longer a foregone conclusion that City, Arsenal, Man U, Liverpool and that other North London team will have it all their own way.
It is time for real belief, belief in our manager, our players and their abilities. So I am convinced that we could given an injury free 2016 be in with a shout of come May.



About Hugh5outhon1895

Hugh Southon is a lifelong Iron and the founding editor of ClaretandHugh. He is a national newspaper journalist of many years experience and was Bobby Moore's 'ghost' writer during the great man's lifetime. He describes ClaretandHugh as "the Hammers daily newspaper!" Follow on Twitter @hughsouthon

8 comments on “Champions League? Chance there for the taking

  1. Song and Zarate were both poor, I’m concerned over whether going for Song on a permanent basis is really a good idea.

    Both Song and Zarate do flashy stuff but neither works hard enough – I’ve grave doubts about the pair of them – it’s only when they both went off that things got back on track!

  2. Within the realms of possibility Brian. We are only six points off a spot & with nineteen games to go & the inconsistency of results this season, never say never. Just keep winning & see what happens, simple as that. My only concern would be, will we still have four places? We are not performing so well in Europe these days & Italy may steal a place off us. Perhaps not this year, but next? http://www.espnfc.com.au/uefa-champions-league/story/2617221/could-the-premier-league-lose-a-champions-league-place

  3. You are right Brian, there is an opportunity out there for a CL or more likely Europa League, we missed a trick when we didn’t sign Ngolo Kante it was clear from looking at what he does that he is possibly the best midfielder in Europe at breaking up play and providing a platform to counter attack from, he would have fitted in well instead of either Noble or Song, he is young and would have required less wages our loss was Leicester’s gain. Of the teams currently competing I wouldn’t put us in the top 4 even with all our players fit but would think that we should finish in the top 7, if we can get a loan signing or two that are better than what we currently have specifically up front or at right back then maybe we could gatecrash those positions but if we sign no one then I doubt we will have any chance to push into the upper levels as the team can always do with that extra push at this time of year that comes from the arrival of quality new faces.

  4. The players coming back will feel like new signings ! Bilic already highlighted that fact !
    Anything is possible , let’s get everyone back and enjoy the rest of the season and hope the assassins don’t come looking to do damage ?
    Pre- season I quoted the kante boy was a must for us , he was class and would have been a great addition to the team, it didn’t happen so we have to get on with it and address the noble saga next term.
    We are going places with the team and the heart cannot rule the head , the lad needs to step it up , I hope he does but I just can’t see it happening !

  5. “One small step” now we’ve done our self congratulately bit (not that we weren’t entitled) it’s time to remember this was just one small step. For it to be meaningful we need to consolidate with a win again Sat.
    According to all reports, we will have our most influential players back, so the claimed problem of the last couple of months has disappeared and the excuses will have to also.

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