West Ham fans’ wait for a trophy has been extended to 38 years after the team crashed out of the FA Cup at the hands of AFC Wimbledon. It was an embarrassing defeat against a team that sit rock bottom of the third tier of English football. The team that Manuel Pellegrini fielded should have easily vanquished such feeble opposition, but it was still baffling to see him leave Felipe Anderson and Declan Rice on the bench. Their quality could well have swung it in West Ham’s favour, but instead, they were rested for a mid-table Premiership clash against Wolves, which we lost 3-0.
It seems incomprehensible that the Hammers did not throw everything into the FA Cup this season. They are in no danger of relegation, nor are they anywhere close to catching the big six, so another season of mid-table mediocrity looks inevitable, and the oddsmarket betting odds confirm as much. Against that backdrop, why not go hammer and tongs at the cup in a bid to finally end the long silverware drought? It would have led to a home tie against Millwall in the last 16, and the Hammers should then have surged into the quarter-finals.
Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs are already out of the FA Cup, and Chelsea and Man Utd are up against one another in the fifth round, so that will see another one of the big six eliminated. West Ham could have been in the quarter-finals as third favourites to win the competition. They have already proved just how good they can be on their day this season, beating Arsenal 1-0 and Man Utd 3-1. Teams like Man City will be distracted by the Premiership title race and European commitments, so the Hammers could have capitalised. But instead, they have nothing left to focus on but the Premiership.
Is there any way in which this season can now be deemed a success? Losing to Bournemouth, Wimbledon and Wolves after beating Arsenal points to horrendous inconsistency. At least the Hammers have not battled against relegation this season, but when you consider the level of investment in the squad last summer then a top half finish should really be a minimum requirement. There is still a chance for West Ham to clinch seventh place, and that could be the way to salvage something from the season.
Defeat to Wolves left them four points behind Nuno Espirito Santo’s men, who now occupy seventh. The Hammers are down in 11th, but mid-table is congested and there is plenty of time for West Ham to rein in teams like Watford, Everton, Leicester and Wolves. Next up they face league leaders Liverpool and they are liable to be ripped apart, but then they are up against Crystal Palace and Fulham and if they were to take six points from those fixtures they would be back in business.
Pellegrini has a huge job on his hands if he is to motivate this group of players. They need a bit of tough love if they are to discover consistency, thrive in challenging conditions away from home and raise their game against middling opposition. Leaders like Mark Noble and Pablo Zabaleta should be grabbing games by the scuff of the neck rather than wilting. But ultimately it is down to the likes of Anderson, Rice and Arnautovic to provide the quality that carries the team into the top half and into the European places. It would be a big step in the right direction, but it will only come with improved consistency. And next season it would be nice to see the club taking cup competitions more seriously.