David Moyes must throw off West Ham shackles and be bold as he edges once more to the brink
February 24 has been a date circled in the diaries of West Ham fans for quite some time. For David Moyes, too, although for much of the winter, the idea that the Scot would survive to see it without first resurrecting the Hammers’ season looked unlikely.
And yet, here we are, the Hammers this lunchtime finally learning of the next stop on their soon-to-resume European tour, while looking nervously ahead to Saturday’s meeting with Nottingham Forest, a must-win in their relegation battle on the home front.
Just as fingers will have been hovering over flight buttons as Uefa’s plastic balls were unscrewed, the Hammers remain precariously positioned and Moyes is, once again, creeping towards the brink.
The prospect of remaining in post for another Europa Conference League jolly in a fortnight’s time provides yet another incentive for a manager whose second spell in charge will, in time, be best remembered for its Euro nights — so long as things do not all end in disaster in the coming days, weeks or months.
West Ham’s board remain determined to stand by the 59-year-old, in public, at least. The club’s hierarchy are said to have been encouraged by the results and performances leading up to last weekend’s defeat at Tottenham, a win over Everton followed by draws against Newcastle and Chelsea.
In hindsight, the latter fixtures were perhaps well-suited to Moyes’s predicament. He would have preferred Bournemouth at home, yes, but these were two match-ups in which his side could lean into underdog status and rediscover some lost resilience. Against Spurs, he clearly set out for another point, but once broken down, there was no coming back.
There were 16 minutes between Emerson Royal’s opening goal and Moyes’s attempt to respond to it with his first substitutions, then only seconds between Said Benrahma and Danny Ings’s arrivals and Heung-min Son’s clincher. “I think we tried to get the boys on four minutes earlier,” Moyes said, which was all well and good without explaining what was wrong with the previous 12.
On Saturday, he has little choice but to throw the shackles off from the start. Presuming Gianluca Scamacca is only fit enough for a cameo, Ings must replace Michail Antonio, who is without a League goal since October 9. Emerson and Vladimir Coufal must be bold on the flanks, to ensure a back-three is not imprisoned as a five.
And, if necessary, Moyes must be swifter to act and make use of a depth of attacking options he has rarely, if ever, had. Otherwise, 12 days from now, that flight to the continent could be leaving without him.