A top-half finish for West Ham was a remarkable feat for a team on their return to top-flight football last season.
While Andy Carroll’s permanent move makes for an exciting and dangerous addition to the frontline, Carroll’s absence through injury could deeply affect the Hammers’ goal scoring prospects unless another decent option is quickly recruited in the remaining transfer window.
Pre-season plays a vital role in every club’s preparation for the forthcoming campaign, essentially building match fitness, sharpness and shaping tactical as well as selection policies.
Pre-season has shown that West Ham fans will need to get behind the team for goals as manager Sam Allardyce is lacking adequate cover for Carroll as his forward line looks desperately thin after Carlton Cole left the club during the summer.
At first, concerns over the lack of goal-scoring power looked unfounded as the Irons enjoyed a successful start to their pre-season friendlies on the road with a rich vein of scoring form.
The Hammers netted 13 goals in four matches, conceding only three, all without the injured Carroll, who is recuperating following a heel injury sustained in June.
Six different scorers netted for the Hammers in their first friendly against Cork City in a 6-2 thriller, followed by comfortable victories over Boreham Wood, AFC Bournemouth and Colchester.
On an eleven-day tour of Germany, however, the Hammers received a wake-up call as they faced off against high-quality Bundesliga opposition.
After a heavy 4-1 loss to Mainz, the team’s pre-season would appear to have bounced back with wins against Hamburg and Eintracht Braunschweig.
Yet on closer inspection, these victories were not secured through any genuine attacking dynamism up front. Hamburg succumbed to set-pieces and a spot-kick and then some comical defending by Eintracht Braunschweig allowed Diame to score a cheeky back-heel and gifted Modibo Miaga – one goal came from a ricocheted clearance – two places on the scoreboard.
However, pre-season friendlies can reveal some top future first-team prospects and one player that genuinely breeds hope and excitement is Ravel Morrison, as long as the bad-boy starlet can maintain his apparently ‘reformed’ professional temperament.
Morrison has shown glimpses of his raw natural talent, scoring two superb goals as the Irons battled from behind to secure an impressive 3-2 win over Sporting Lisbon in their opening Guadiana Tournament match in Portugal.
However, the Irons’ lack of firepower looked desperate again in their next game on a night where few positives could be taken as they sunk without a trace to Braga.
Come the inaugural game of the new season, West Ham will retain the same essential components in midfield and defence from last season, with the exception of a few additions with Razvan Rat at left-back, Spanish goalkeeper Adrian and hopefully returnee Morrison on the right wing as the Hammers desperately need an injection of high speed and tempo.
Carroll will definitely miss the start of the season and a lack of quality and depth up front could expose Big Sam’s inflexible style of play as teams have now sussed us out and will approach us differently this season.
Any injury crisis could further expose our inadequate cover and we would be hard pushed to compete on a Premier League level, let alone an extended cup run, with the league competition strengthening heavily with players like Wilfried Bony moving to Swansea, Victor Wangyama going to Southampton and Ricky van Wolfswinkel joining Norwich. Not to mention big investment from Aston Villa, Cardiff, Everton and Sunderland too.
A very pleasing pre-season so far, however, whilst Carlton Cole never set the stage alight, releasing a powerful, loyal servant like Cole without securing a clear replacement is utter madness and could prove a costly mistake by Allardyce and Sullivan.
Let’s hope Maiga can solve West Ham’s striking problems even though the striker has struggled to fit in Sam’s 4-2-3-1 system and hold down a first-team place since his move from Sochaux last summer.
West Ham begin their Premier League campaign at home against newly promoted Cardiff City on August 17.
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