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West Ham fight shows Bilic is still the right man to take them forward

West Ham United manager Slaven Bilic

In May 2016, Slaven Bilic was the toast of West Ham United, having just led the club to a seventh-placed finish in the Premier League in his first full season as manager.

But 18 months on the Croatian boss is under pressure as his men sit just a point outside the relegation zone with two wins from their opening 10 matches of the current campaign.

They have lost most of the attacking edge that saw them place as one of the league’s highest-scoring sides in 2015-16 and onlookers have struggled to decipher just how Bilic wants the team to play.

However, performances of late have looked slightly more promising, so is he still the right man to take them forward?

Mitigating circumstances

It is important to note that a lot has changed at West Ham since Bilic’s first term in charge, the most obvious of which is the switching of stadiums from the traditional home at Upton Park to the repurposed London Olympic Stadium.

Whilst the new residence is certainly a firm step into the 21st century, it is a far cry from the imposing atmosphere of the Boleyn Ground, where the fans almost seemed on top of the players and helped to create a difficult environment for the opposition to play in.

It is fair to say that the Irons are still adapting to their current home and as Arsenal have proved across the city, it can take a while to settle in.

Another decisive factor was the loss last season of Dimitri Payet, the star of Bilic’s first campaign, who decided to leave the club less than a year after putting pen to paper on a lucrative new long-term contract.

The former Besiktas boss was largely praised for his handling of the situation after the playmaker essentially held his employers to ransom, but there is no doubt that Payet’s departure left a hole in the team that is still yet to be filled.

Reasons for cheer

The last two performances have offered some hope to supporters of a turnaround under the current regime.

Firstly, there was the superb fightback which saw rivals Tottenham Hotspur defeated 3-2 in the League Cup at Wembley.

Then, there was Saturday at Crystal Palace, the result a frustrating 2-2 draw having led 2-0 at the break, but a display that showed resilience and fight undone by naivety at the death.

If Michail Antonio had kept the ball in the corner with less than a minute of injury time remaining, Hammers fans would be discussing a hard-earned win that utilised the opportunism of Javier Hernandez and Andre Ayew up front.

As it transpired, the Englishman whipped an aimless cross into the box, the Eagles broke and Wilfried Zaha stole a point with the last kick of the game.

It was a cruel blow but not something that Bilic could in all seriousness have accounted for.

Who could replace Bilic?

The list of potential replacement bosses is not a long one.

Ronald Koeman is out of work having been dismissed by Everton two weeks ago, but his stock is lower than ever after the Toffees’ disastrous start to the campaign.

Carlo Ancelotti has been making noises about a possible return to the Premier League of late, but would the three-time Champions League winner seriously consider taking over a side in the lower reaches of the table?

As for British managers, Chris Coleman may soon be leaving the Wales job but his record as a club coach is patchy at best, whilst former Hammers boss Alan Pardew would likely be an unpopular appointment.

Reaching into the Championship, Chris Wilder is working wonders with Sheffield United, Gary Rowett is well renowned for his time with Birmingham City and looks to be bringing Derby County into play-off contention, with Lee Johnson also impressing with Bristol City.

However, there are question marks as to whether they would abandon their current projects just as they are beginning to bear fruit.

All in all there is not an obvious candidate who you could say with any certainty would do a better job than Bilic, or who would take the position.

Would it be worth getting rid of the 49-year-old only to end up with a second, third or even fourth-choice replacement?

The fight shown in recent weeks, the loss to Brighton & Hove Albion aside, suggests that he retains the players’ support despite the somewhat disappointing results.

Bilic has overseen a tremendous change at the club that could have ended in disaster last term and deserves the chance to turn the ship around.

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