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Football Whispers

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Football Whispers
 By Peter Thorne

Hammers need big Boro performance to wake London Stadium slumber

Common sense and logic suggest it should happen rarely, but followers of the Premier League know it occurs with alarming regularity in football.

Every season a team generally considered to be "too good to struggle" ends up in the relegation mire, as the wheels come off in spectacular fashion.

West Ham UnitedWest Ham United
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The downfall is depressingly similar. It starts in a small way, with something seemingly insignificant; a loss of form, board level issues, rumours of dressing room spats; then escalates to a couple of alarming defeats, before transcending into a pitiful spiral that no-one seems able to stop.

All the while the players claim it's not the manager; that their job is to play football and what happens off the field doesn't affect them. As the drama unfolds into a crisis and someone blames someone else, everyone secretly wonders just how they got into the mess in the first place.

Sadly, no strangers to this, West Ham United have seen it all before. 

This season, the catalyst seems to be the new stadium. A ground that generally got a thumbs up when fans excitedly entered to see the Hammers defeat FC Domzale in the Europa League back in early August, has now turned into a soulless monster that is sucking the life out of the club.

Of course, it may always have been a vacuum -- it's difficult to find anyone who thinks the move was right just now -- but be assured that any current assessment is entirely down to a series of horrendous defeats. At least one of those defeats -- a 4-2 mauling against West Brom -- took place in the West Midlands, but once in a spin, details become unimportant.

Take Mark Noble after the awful 3-0 drubbing by Southampton. "When we play at Upton Park..." he started in an interview, seemingly unaware that he was using the wrong tense, suggesting the Stratford move was, perhaps, just a temporary measure. The anger, hurt and look of frustration was palpable sure, but there was more. The haunted look of someone who isn't sure what the problem is, nor why it's getting worse.

Slaven Bilic has strangely worn the same look since the first game and if body language is anything to go by, then Hammers fans need to hold on for a bumpy ride. Quite what started this nobody seems to know, but sensible talk about the failure to get a right-back or strengthen a creaking defence in the summer doesn't seem to enter into it. Perhaps the manager spent too much time as a pundit at Euro 2016; there's certainly a sense he wasn't prepared for the new campaign.

West Ham United supporters
West Ham supporters are growing frustrated with the team's poor performances this season.

What's needed to stop the spiral now is an antidote to all this; something positive, something to hang on to. At the moment that thing seems to be a clean sheet. Under normal circumstances -- whatever they are at West Ham -- a home game against a newly promoted club might be seen as a chance to grab a vital three points before the international break. This season however, Bilic needs to try and sort himself and his defence out and put in a performance that at least assures the crowd that waiting until the January transfer window isn't the only solution.

A point against Middlesbrough at home might seem a small expectation but if there's a solid defensive performance to go along with it, then it will definitely be taken as a positive.

During the break, Bilic can try and regroup and stop the rot, but that will best be done with an encouraging display. If there's to be one then it needs to begin against Aitor Karanka and his men.

Something to get the crowd enthused may not be the solution to all the problems at the London Stadium but it would surely be a start.

Peter Thorne, aka Billy Blagg (@BillyBlaggEsq), is ESPN FC's West Ham blogger.


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