Sunday, March 04, 2007

Talking Tactics: Curbishley suffering through Pardew's poor work By Stewart Robson,
Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 12:08am GMT 04/03/2007

Under severe pressure all footballers' flaws will become prominent. Even when a player has matured and developed his game, his frailties will reappear at crucial moments if not fully focused. The best players overcome them. Lesser players allow them to escalate. Having watched West Ham this season it is obvious that several players cannot cope mentally with the pressure, which has highlighted their faults. .

The obvious example in last week's horrendous display against Charlton was Paul Konchesky. Ever since watching him as a youth team player, I have seen he has a tendency to lose his head, when defending and attacking. Last Saturday all his flaws resurfaced. He committed a reckless tackle early on to get booked, then proceeded to miss challenges which resulted in goals and he was continually caught out of position. In addition his passes were erratic and aimless.

Another example was Anton Ferdinand. When under pressure he loses all sense of positional responsibility and plays within his own world. Throughout his fledging career his lack of game understanding has been hidden by his supreme athleticism, but when he lacks confidence his thinking time is elongated and with it his awareness erodes. To cover his insularity, he starts shouting at team-mates in an attempt to convince the crowd he is a winner. According to reports, the West Ham manager Alan Curbishley has recognised these shortcomings.

When players are fearful they often retreat within themselves and allow the game to pass them by, and this has blighted the career of Matthew Etherington. He looked ashen-faced and frightened by the game, unable to alter it in any way.

To a lesser extent the same could be said of Hayden Mullins, because he did not get on the ball and dictate play as he would have been instructed to do, but played one-touch football due to his fear of making a mistake, allowing Alexandre Song to dominate him. It was no surprise that Etherington and Mullins were taken off.

Loss of confidence also hinders decision-making at crucial times. Callum Davenport's decision to play Darren Bent offside for the third goal proved costly. Christian Dailly's overlapping runs to give width when Yossi Benayoun went infield were mistimed and ill-judged, leaving Charlton and Jerome Thomas acres of space to counter attack, which culminated in the second goal.

Even worse was the shape of the back four when Darren Ambrose scored the first, because the anticipation and decision-making of the defenders was extraordinarily poor. I feel sorry for Curbishley because this has not just happened after his arrival. He has taken over a team who had been allowed to spiral out of control by his predecessor, Alan Pardew. He has tried to rectify it by instilling some discipline but found the players unresponsive.

I suggested in an article at the beginning of the season that Pardew had created a 'yob culture' at West Ham. As I saw first-hand at Wimbledon, the year they were relegated, this behaviour is dressed up as 'team spirit' when you are winning but on losing and under pressure, that so-called team spirit turns to anarchy.

Once ill-discipline has set in, it is hard to redress until you can get rid of the offending players. Unfortunately for Curbishley he was probably a little too honest when he made his initial assessment of the players and they have been resistant to his ideas.

Many will point to the arrival of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano as the starting point of West Ham's decline - but it was not. The route to the problem started with the open-top parade on losing the FA Cup final and Pardew's refusal to accept that the two Argentines could have been the necessary ingredients to take West Ham forward. Last Saturday, Pardew benefited from his own poor work months earlier.

No comments: