Sunday, 29 April 2012

Has finishing third put us at a disadvantage in the playoffs?

First of all the facts. There's lots of talk about how the third placed team misses out on promotion more often than not, but in recent years the playoffs have tended to go with form. Birmingham apart, and Birmingham are the worry, we  are in good shape based on league results. We would have progressed over two legs based on results against Cardiff, despite losing at home, and we hammered Blackpool 8-1, playing with 10 men for thirty minutes of the away game. Great. Job done then.

The worry is, however, that by finishing third, we have secured the "advantage" of playing the second leg at Upton Park and that could actually trip us up. With our fantastic away form, a draw in the first leg at home would see us go into the second leg brimming with confidence and with all the pressure on Cardiff to win at home. However, with our stumbling home form the opposite could apply. A 1-1 draw or even a single goal defeat in the away leg would normally be seen as a good or fair result, but in our case, returning to Upton Park on level terms or in arrears would be a huge worry. The pressure would be immense and although the crowd would be 100% behind the team for 60 minutes, if we were still chasing the game at that point, sadly the Upton Park "faithful" would almost certainly turn because the fans have experienced too much disappointment in the Boleyn and have no love for Allardyce and his tactics.

All season I have resisted the demands of my critics to show blind support to Allardyce and the team, but now is the time to call a truce. I warned all season that we would pay the price for Allardyce's negativity and we could now argue about whether or not I was right because we missed automatic promotion: yes the primary goal was missed but, as I wrote yesterday, 86 points would have secured us promotion in 4 of the last 5 years so we have been unlucky. There was a place for criticism earlier and maybe, just maybe, the dissident voices were a factor in Allardyce employing more progressive team formations in the last two home games. Had he done so earlier, I suspect we would have been up as Champions personally. But that is gone, over, done with. We are where we are and we know now exactly what we have to do, except in that nagging away leg. Do we play for the draw or do we see victory as crucial?

The trouble is, there exists no reliable form line for the match. Yes Cardiff won at Upton Park but that was the first game of the season and we have a very different team now, with Parker departing and a host of new arrivals including, most significantly Vaz Te. Look at our team that day and compare it with the side that played Hull yesterday.

Back in August we set up like this: Green, O'Brien, Tomkins, Reid, Ilunga; Parker (in a strangely advanced role!), Noble, Nolan; Sears, Piquionne, Taylor.  Dear God, is it any wonder we lost? Sears is struggling in the old Third Division and Ilunga and Piquionne have been offloaded to the team that finished bottom of the division. Lansbury, Cole, Demmel and Vaz Te are all stronger players than those they have replaced, given Parker was being used incorrectly and wasn't fully committed to the cause if we believe David Sullivan (do you remember that miss when he was clean through on goal?).

However, the away fixture is just as unreliable as a guide. Cardiff were shattered after the penalty shoot out defeat against Liverpool and looked mentally exhausted and leg weary for most of the game. And McCartney isn't likely to come over all Messi like again is he?

Anybody treating a place at Wembley as a foregone conclusion is a fool, but Cardiff should be more worried about us than we are of them. We finished 11 points ahead of them with a goal difference of plus 33 compared to their meagre plus thirteen. The most important player over both legs will, in my opinion, be the crowd. Cardiff's fans will back their boyos one hundred percent for every minute of the 90 at home, without any bleating until they get home to celebrate or take out their frustrations, and we have to match them. It is time to get behind the players and to get behind Allardyce too. Pragmatism is all in the playoffs so principles can go to Hell for as long as we are still in the competition. Upton Park has to be a couldron for every single minute of the 90 and Cardiff's players have to feel the Boleyn hair drier treatment of old!

Come On You Allardyce Irons!


Anonymous said...

Brilliant post, every word. The best I've every seen you post.

Bluebird said...

Cardiff's goal difference was +13, not +1

Bluebird said...

Cardiff's goal difference was +13, not +1, Still a lot less than the Hammers. I suspect W Ham are the firm favourites to go up, but that could weigh heavily on them Blackpool are again the dark horses

Deane said...

Well said we can always burn Allardyce after Wembley

Hammersfan said...

Thanks for the corrections; for some reason I looked at Boro's. Should have gone to SheepShaggers. Sorry, SpecSavers.

Anonymous said...

Great post hf.....agree 100% with everything u say. NOW LETS BACK OUR BOYS!! COYI

Anonymous said...

For once I agree with every word. Good post HF

Anonymous said...

I wanted the home leg first but thinking about it a little longer I have changed my mind.

IF we can get a lead in the first leg, Cardiff will come to UP chasing the game. They can't sit back and play for a draw and hope to get a last minute break - that will open them up a little and Im now more confident about our home form and of course if we are leading after the first leg a draw at UP will be enough.

Tom E Hammer said...

Being an American Hammer's fan the reality of the play offs presents a new season of heigthened intensity and aggression on the sports playing field. We see it evey year and it's exciting.

I am for big Sam boosting the mindset of the team and the critical nature of the next three games. We have the players to produce the goods at Wembley and advance to the Premiership.

The big difference will be us, the "twelfth man". There are no better supporters in the world. Now is our time to show up with the right attitude and energetic voice to get us to the promised land.


Anonymous said...

Anony-mouse says,

Top, top post Hf- your happy tablets are finally working :)

I don't know which team I'd have preferred in the play-offs. They are all decent. I think over two legs we have at least as good a chance of beating any of them as they have of defeating us. However in a one off match at Wembley- who knows the outcome, as we found out to our cost against Palace 8 years ago.

I kind of wish that we had played Blackpool in the semi's. I know we played very well against them twice but they have goals in them and an unpredicatble cavalier approach that could be dangerous should they get to Wembley.

I'm certainly not counting chickens or cocky about it but am reasonably confident going into it. I think the team is in it's best shape of the season. O'Neill has come through, and Vaz Te has given us that extra something that we definitely lacked earlier this season.

Anonymous said...

The pressure is on West Ham and Sam - lose and Sam will be sacked!
Sure, West Ham are odds on favs to win, however, there's a calm feeling around Cardiff over reaching the play-offs and playing the Hammers.
Cardiff are certainly up for it and are quietly confident.
My prediction is a shock result: Cardiff 2 WHU 1 and the return leg WHU 1 Cardiff 1 + Big Sam sacked!

Anonymous said...

Gary O'Neill a big favourite at NP when on loan.Glad to see him back on form, but he will be up against a solid Cardiff side who give little away.WHam have the better players and should win over 2 legs.Result of first leg are not a precise indicator of how tie will pan out, but with Cardiff on good form away anything less than a clear cut Hammers win in the first leg will mean a very tense afternoon in Esat london.

Anonymous said...

Whatever the score I hope that the games are as good as previous seasons. You hammers should be worried we have found our form and we will definately be up for it. We will give West Ham respect it's going to be tough game but the pressure is all yours. We didn't expect to be in the playoffs at the start of the season but now we are. No one expects us to win. We will see. Whatever the result good luck to you.

Lord Canning said...

Previous posts going back several months will show that the play-offs was always what I expected with the squad we had. We didn't beat either of the promoted clubs so we are where we are on merit. Predicting the play-off semi is impossible because this is West Ham we're talking about. We could demolish Cardiff is we storm out of the blocks like we did against Brighton - then again any performance like any of the home draws in March and we can look forward to trips to Molineaux and The Valley. Prayer mats out!

Anonymous said...

Finishing 7th would have put us at a disadvantage in the playoffs...only 3 games away from what we want - time to get behind the team! COYI

Anonymous said...

Great post HF.

I disagree about playing the away leg first, though. I think it will give us an advantage. If we can get a positive result away, then Cardiff will have to come and attack us at UP, and not park the bus like we've seen many teams do this season. We can then play the tactics that have worked so well away this season at home; soaking up the pressure and finding the holes that Cardiff leave in their defence. Hopefully!