The heat is off West Ham boss Bilic - but for how long?

By Chris BevanBBC Sport
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Monday's home win over Huddersfield took some of the heat off West Ham boss Slaven Bilic - but for how long?

The Hammers are off the mark this season, and off the bottom of the table too, but Bilic remains the bookmakers' favourite to be the next Premier League manager to lose his job and there are several reasons why.

Bilic's future is supposedly in doubt because of questionable tactics and team selections, not just the fact his side had started the season by losing three successive away games while London Stadium was unavailable.external-link

London Stadium is our proper home - Bilic

An apparent disagreement between the Croat and West Ham's owners David Sullivan and David Gold, about why some signings did not happenexternal-link in the transfer window, has hardly helped his situation.

Put together, it does not offer a scene of stability and security that might allay speculation his days are numbered.

Bilic's contract is up in the summerexternal-link in any case, but what problems must he solve to see out the season, let alone get a new deal?

The right results, with the right style of play

Allardyce is happy with 'mutual' decision

One positive for Bilic is that Sullivan and Gold, who took control of the Hammers in 2010, are not known for having itchy trigger fingers.

They waited until West Ham were relegated from the Premier League before sacking Avram Grant in 2011, and his successor Sam Allardyce lasted four full seasons in the job.

It was not results that led to Allardyce leaving by mutual consent - he got them promoted then finished 10th, 13th and 12th in the top-flight - more the way his teams got them in a pragmatic fashion that was unpopular with supporters.

Sam Allardyce
Some West Ham fans made it clear they were always anti-Allardyce, even when his team were safely established in mid-table in the Premier League

Therein lies a warning for Bilic, whose side went back to basics against Huddersfield by often launching the ball up towards Andy Carroll, and have played more long passes than any other Premier League team this season.

Jermaine Jenas, who was at London Stadium co-commentating for BBC Radio 5 live, said: "It was a low-risk strategy - going long and keeping the ball away from danger. It worked, eventually.

"But I am pretty sure that if this is how it is going to be moving forward, then Bilic's job is still at risk because it was not pretty and it is not something that West Ham fans are going to want to watch for the rest of the season."

Bilic has to get the balance right

West Ham's formation against Huddersfield

Trevor Sinclair, who played more than 200 games for West Ham between 1998 and 2003, is confident the team's playing style will improve soon.

"Monday was about the result more than the performance," he told BBC Sport. "And sometimes style has to go out of the window, even at West Ham.

"When you look at who Bilic had available for that match, you can see why he played to their strengths - and his game plan worked.

"Bilic was missing creative players like Marko Arnautovic and Manuel Lanzini against Huddersfield, and when he gets them back he can return to playing the way the fans want to see.

West Ham have tried 304 long passes this season
West Ham have tried 304 long passes in four Premier League matches this season - the most in the top-flight. Crystal Palace are the next highest with 303, followed by Burnley with 296

"He kind of has to, really. I know from my time there that, when people talk about the 'West Ham way', it is because some supporters did not mind if we didn't win, as long as we entertained them.

"Some of the fans would always take playing a good style of football ahead of being successful by playing the wrong way.

"It is a tough one for Bilic because he needs to play good football and get results, so he needs to find a balance between the two."

Play Carroll and Hernandez up front together?

Hernandez touches against Huddersfield
Hernandez only touched the ball 22 times against Huddersfield (l), the fewest of any player to start the game. He managed two touches inside the Terriers' area and two shots - one from inside the area that hit the bar in the first half, the other with a free-kick that he curled wide just after the break. He was replaced by Andre Ayew after 64 minutes

West Ham fans have already started to make their feelings clear - by booing when Bilic took off £16m signing Javier Hernandez with the score at 0-0 against the Terriers.

The former Manchester United striker hit the bar in the first half but had been playing out on the left wing and had only one other touch inside the Huddersfield area. His replacement, Andre Ayew, seemed far better suited to the role.

"The bottom line was Bilic knew he could not leave Hernandez on the bench, even if it meant playing him out of position," added Jenas.

"He was their marquee signing this summer and he was dragged off at 0-0 when he was not playing badly, so I can understand the fans' annoyance."

West Ham striker Andy Carroll
Carroll made his first appearance of the season against Huddersfield after missing the first month of the new campaign with a thigh injury

Could playing two up front be the answer, and let Bilic get the best out of Hernandez and Carroll?

"Unless you have other runners to take some of the focus away from him, Carroll is easy to mark," Jenas explained. "All you do is pick up the second ball, you don't even go and attack the first one.

"West Ham cannot play two strikers like Manchester City do with Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero and try to pass the ball and control the game like City do, without causing themselves some problems defensively.

"But there is definitely an argument to say that, if they are going to go long like they did against Huddersfield, then they need to get somebody next to him to make runs off all the flick-ons he will win - and Hernandez would be ideal for that job."

Noble - finished, or not?

West Ham captain Mark Noble
Slaven Bilic appointed Noble - a boyhood West Ham fan - as Hammers skipper in 2015

One issue that has split fans and pundits alike is the part that long-serving Hammers captain Mark Noble has to play in midfield.

"Bilic has a big decision to make there," said BBC pundit Mark Lawrenson. "Noble is looking a bit long in the tooth.

"He is obviously such a top professional and seems a brilliant bloke to have around the club too - the type who would run things in the dressing room, all those kind of things - but it boils down to whether he still warrants a place in the side.

"Probably on performances, you would have to say no. The midfield area is an issue for them, which is why they were trying to sign Sporting Lisbon's William Carvalho, even though Sporting denied it.

"But even without Carvalho on board, there might no longer be any room for Noble in the team."

William Carvalho
West Ham tried unsuccessfully to sign William Carvalho and ended up in dispute with his club Sporting Lisbon

Noble, 30, has spent his entire career at the club save for two loan spells at Ipswich and Hull City. He started the first three games of the season but did not make the squad that faced Huddersfield because of a minor knee injury.

Sinclair, who has known Noble since he was a teenager breaking into the Hammers set-up, does not think we have seen the last of him, however.

"I've heard people say he is finished, but they have got short memories," Sinclair explained.

"I know Mark personally - I know him well - and there is still plenty of football left in him.

"I think a lot of what he does goes unnoticed by the average fan because he is never going to be a midfielder who breaks beyond the forward players or scores in the top corner from 30 yards.

"Instead, he is a little bit of glue in front of the back four to stop the ball reaching the opposition strikers.

"He has got so much love and loyalty for the club and he will be making sure he can get his fitness levels right so he can give a good account of himself on the pitch.

"As soon as Slaven sees that, I am sure he will be back in the team."

Premier League bottom six

Fans and players love Bilic - but how do the owners feel?

Bilic bettered Allardyce's league placings in his first season in charge, finishing seventh in 2015-16, and followed that up with 11th place last time out, despite the disruption of the club's move to a new home.

He remains popular with the fans despite the difficulties of the past 12 months, and Sinclair thinks his team are definitely still trying for him too.

"I always look at the players' performances when a manager is under pressure," he explained.

"West Ham lacked desire against Newcastle at the end of August but the way they applied themselves against Huddersfield did not suggest they had thrown in the towel. I know that kind of spirited display did not save Frank de Boer at Crystal Palace, but it is a good sign.

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic
Bilic salutes the West Ham fans at the end of last season

"I think Slaven came across really well in his post-match news conference too, not just about what the club meant to him, but also that he was delighted with the application the team had shown."

With the fans on his side, and his players behind him, could Bilic's biggest problem be the people who will ultimately decide his fate - Sullivan and Gold?

Their policy of saying so much on social media about what is happening at the club has led to some distinctly uncomfortable answers from Bilic when he has been asked about it later.

"Slaven probably just wishes they would shut up," says Lawrenson. "Why not just leave him to get on with managing the team? That is difficult enough anyway.

"If West Ham keep picking up points and finish in mid-table again, that should keep Bilic in the job and mean he is offered a new deal.

"I am sure he would want to stay if that happens - but you could not blame him if has had enough of the owners anyway, and decided to go elsewhere."


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