Was it ingratitude? Or were the complaints reasonable? Whatever your views, it was intriguing to see the divisions in the West Ham family widen at Craven Cottage last Saturday – to see David Moyes delve into his managerial experience after a 5-1 defeat at home to Newcastle and find another way to survive by picking a team capable of securing a poor win over Fulham, only to hear his own supporters respond by booing his replacements and doubling down on their calls for the Scot to go.
It was one of those moments that summed up how much expectations vary between pros and bettors. For Moyes, who likely would have been fired if he lost, a low-stakes formula was imperative. He made five changes, brought in players he could trust and made West Ham hard to beat. Handsome? No. Effective? Well, he controls the outcome – a clean sheet, a win secured by an early own goal from Harrison Reed and one more step to ensure West Ham indeed prove too solid to fall.
Related: Danny Ings’ historic goal earned the West Ham Conference League draw with Gent
Yet while Moyes chose to dwell on West Ham’s grit, another narrative was unfolding in the away finish. The mutiny diluted the celebrations when someone unveiled a “Moyes Out” banner after the final whistle.
Here’s a reminder that change is needed. Summer seems like the right time for an amicable parting. Moyes has done a great job at West Ham but the fans want entertainment. They may respect your team’s organization and honesty, but they may also ask for more audacity. It’s their biggest gripe with Moyes: that he errs too easily on the side of caution – an opinion that has been floated in the dressing room – and he doesn’t know how to make West Ham play in a more expansive and unpredictable style.
There was further testing as West Ham escaped Belgium with a 1-1 draw when they visited Gent for the first leg of their Europa Conference League quarter-final on Thursday. Moyes was guilty of a lack of ambition, choosing a five-man defense after resting some regulars, and he didn’t pretend the performance was up to par. All the quick and imaginative passing football came from Gent. West Ham were bulky by comparison. They created little from open play – their goal, scored by Danny Ings on the stroke of half-time, came from a quick throw-in – and held on once their opponents had equalized early in the second half.
It was another dumb performance. The season has been a slog and West Ham could still collapse. Hosting Arsenal on Sunday, they have yet to welcome Liverpool and Manchester United and have won just two away league games. Ultimately it appears West Ham’s calculation is that the division contains three worst teams. However, making enough to stand is unsatisfactory after spending £160m last summer.
During the Fulham match, Moyes was subjected to chants of ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ after signing Flynn Downes for Ings after an hour. It was probably the right choice. West Ham needed more bodies in midfield, Ings are not renowned for their stealing game and Downes did well. However, the problem goes deeper than a questionable replacement. Dissatisfaction is not limited to the stands. Doubts also crept upstairs and it was understood that West Ham’s farm performance at Fulham failed to impress the board.
There is a desire to try something new. The hierarchy gave Moyes time, partly as recognition for his past successes, but mostly because there have been few viable replacements. Thomas Tuchel and Mauricio Pochettino were not interested when West Ham approached them earlier this season. Furtive questions about Luis Enrique and Unai Emery led nowhere. It meant there was caution whenever Moyes was said to be one game away from being fired. The message from those close to the situation has been constant: there are simply no suitable alternatives.
However, the mood changed after the Newcastle match. There was no clarity on a potential replacement, but the suggestion was that the defeat at Fulham would give West Ham pause. They would have checked out Brendan Rodgers, who may have been tempted following his departure from Leicester. However, there was no definitive list. Graham Potter, for example, wants to wait until the summer after his sacking by Chelsea. Feyenoord’s Arne Slot is not yet available. He could have forced West Ham into an interim appointment. There was talk at the training ground that Slaven Bilic, who left West Ham in November 2017, was being considered short-term.
Moyes, of course, would make the debate irrelevant. He was the great survivor. There have been 12 dismissals in the Premier League this season but Moyes has held his own. He has responded whenever his job has been threatened. Before Fulham came vital victories against Everton in January and Nottingham Forest in February. Adversity brought out the fighter in Moyes. His substitutions are predictable, the opposition have worked out his counter-attacking tactics and the players have their doubts. Yet Moyes didn’t miss the dressing room and there was a union with West Ham in must-win games. Ultimately, the feeling is that they will simply have too much talent and resilience to re-enter the league.
Whether that alone will be enough to save Moyes remains to be seen. That seems unlikely, although there’s a chance the season could end on a high note. They have a chance to sort things out when Gent visit on Thursday and for Moyes, who has never won a trophy, taking West Ham to their first silverware since 1980 would be the crowning glory of his coaching career. No one will be holding any “Moyes Out” banners if that happens.