Tony Cottee: West Ham United have enjoyed a memorable season
Hammers legend Tony Cottee hails West Ham United's much-improved 2020/21 campaign and hands out his personal Hammer of the Year award....
Well, here we are, the final game of what has been a truly memorable 2020/21 Premier League campaign for West Ham United – and how fitting that it will be played in front of 10,000 of our loyal and deserving supporters.
I’d like to start by welcoming all of you lucky enough to be at London Stadium this afternoon for what will hopefully be a wonderful celebration and a chance for David Moyes and his players to finish on a real high.
Of course, we all wish it was 60,000, and the real party will hopefully take place at the start of next season when we are all together inside a packed stadium, but I know the fans here today will do their very best to create an electric atmosphere and remind the players exactly what has been missing over the course of the past 14 or so months.
Our victory at West Brom on Wednesday evening has set up a mouth-watering scenario – the chance to secure a top-six finish in the top flight of English football for only the fifth time in our 126-year history, guaranteeing European football next season, with the added bonus that we can also keep arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur below us in the table.
For people outside the Club, that may seem a trivial factor in the grand scheme of things, but for us Hammers fans it is a big deal that I believe actually adds to the motivation of trying to confirm the result today that would signal such a sweet conclusion to the season.
Wednesday’s win at The Hawthorns was, for me, further evidence of exactly why we have enjoyed such a positive and successful campaign. It seemed that everything was conspiring against us, with the loss of Łukasz Fabiański in the warm-up, Declan Rice’s missed penalty, and going 1-0 down to such an unfortunate goal.
But once again, we saw all of the attributes and factors that we have been talking about throughout the year – resilience, character, mental strength – and that this is a different West Ham team from perhaps what we have been used to in previous years. They don’t panic, they don’t get flustered and they don’t capitulate.
It was a stunning comeback, all things considered. Once again, Tomáš Souček was the right man in the right place at the right time to bring us level and become the first West Ham midfielder since Kevin Nolan to score 10 goals in a league campaign, and it was fitting that two other key men this season, Angelo Ogbonna and Michail Antonio, won the game for us.
Now we face Southampton this afternoon with our destiny in our own hands. Perhaps the biggest danger in front of us is the fact that we actually only need a point to secure sixth spot and Europa League qualification. That presents a different scenario to needing to win the game and it can sometimes create a seed of doubt in players’ minds.
For that reason, it’s quite simple for me - I would expect David Moyes to instruct his team to approach the match in exactly the same way they have the previous 37. Go out, get on the front foot, work harder than our opponents and set the tempo that will allow our attacking players to shine. Why would we do anything different?
The manager and his staff will have done their homework in the same way – they know Southampton can be a dangerous team and will be aware of their threats, particularly with Danny Ings in attack. A team with seemingly nothing to play for can be a tricky opponent, but the bottom line is that we have the greater ability and, if we match that with the right attitude and concentration, then everything is in our hands.
OUR EUROPEAN DREAM IS ALIVE
Whatever happens at London Stadium this afternoon, I think every West Ham United fan will agree that we have enjoyed a memorable season and, perhaps more notably, a magnificent recovery from where we were a year ago.
Let’s not forget, last July we were fighting for our Premier League lives, and to have turned that around to the extent that we are now on the verge of a top six finish is nothing short of miraculous.
Of course, all credit must go to the manager, and his staff, along with the players, for the way they have performed and inspired each other. But I would also like to mention every single person inside the Club, all the staff working behind the scenes – because you can see that it has been such a collective effort.
For me, the very fact that the words ‘West Ham United’ and ‘Champions League contention’ have been mentioned in the same breath – with seriousness and at an advanced stage of the season – is an achievement in itself. That, along with the fact that this could be only our fifth top-six finish in 126 years, tells you what a year it has been.
That can not be under-estimated, and it provides us with a fantastic platform to build upon next season and beyond. I have said it many times over the past few years, stability and consistency is needed more than anything else at West Ham United, and David Moyes has shown every sign that he is delivering that.
I have heard a few comments recently from fellow fans, along the lines of ‘We don’t need the Europa League congestion’ or ‘This was our only chance of ever reaching the Champions League’ and, personally, for me, that is the mentality that needs to change.
West Ham United is a Club that should be challenging in the top half of the Premier League every year, pushing for those European places, and only that way can we build to where we ultimately want to be.
MY HAMMER OF THE YEAR IS...
Just finally, as is tradition in my final column of the season, I have the task of choosing my Hammer of the Year and it certainly isn’t as straight-forward as it has perhaps been in recent seasons!
I can think of at least six or seven players who are worthy of a mention when it comes to selecting contenders for the award. Łukasz Fabiański has had a very consistent season in goal, Vladimir Coufal and Aaron Cresswell have both been superb in the full-back areas – Coufal without doubt one of the signings of the season – while Angelo Ogbonna has been a rock again and Craig Dawson has been immense since coming into the team midway through.
In attack, Michail Antonio has hit double figures again despite picking up a couple of injuries, and Jesse Lingard has got to be mentioned for his impact since arriving on loan from Manchester United.
Personally, I think it probably comes down to a duel between the two central midfield stars – our engine room – Declan Rice and Tomáš Souček and, if I have to choose, I think I would probably go for Declan for the second season running.
Tomáš has of course had a phenomenal first full season in English football, and I am sure will get the vote of many fans, but I think we almost take for granted now just how consistently brilliant Dec is each week, and his short spell out of the team recently showed just how important he really is.