The 2016/17 campaign proved to be one of minimal highs and despairing lows for West Ham United.
It was billed to be one of the most historic in the club’s history with the passage from the Boleyn Ground to the London Stadium but it ended one of failures, growing pressure and player fall outs.
Optimism replaced by concern
Optimism was high right from the off having such an excellent 2015-16 campaign in what was Slaven Bilić’s debut season in charge, and with their move to the London Stadium the Croatian stated his intent to improve on the previous season’s seventh-placed finish early on.
July 1 brought along a host of strong signings with Sofiane Feghouli and Ashley Fletcher signing from Valencia and Manchester United respectively, while one of the best players from the previous season -Manuel Lanzini - made his loan move permanent.
Things looked bright as they headed out on pre-season tour of both the United States of America and Europe, but the warning signs began to ring very early on as they managed just one victory from five ahead of the beginning of their potential Europa League campaign.
They faced a tough trip to NK Domžale but came back from Slovenia empty handed with their 2-1 defeat, but made up for that with their first competitive game at the new stadium with Cheikhou Kouyaté opening their account in a 3-0 victory.
They managed to break their club-record fee before the opening of their Premier League campaign away to Chelsea with the £20million signing of André Ayew from Swansea. He started at Stamford Bridge but didn’t last long as he picked up a significant injury, and the game set the beat for the season with their late 2-1 defeat to the eventual Premier League champions.
They looked to bounce back from that as they recorded victory over Bournemouth in their opening league game at the Olympic Stadium, but their first real dip followed that with four consecutive league losses and an exit from the Europa League; a narrow victory over Accrington Stanley in the EFL Cup their only solace.
False dawns here, there and everywhere
Just as cracks began to show heading into a very tough November period, the Hammers seemed to be on the upswing with three games without defeat. That included an historic 2-1 win over Chelsea in the EFL Cup, but again their celebrations were marred by crowd trouble.
Autumn into the winter months is where the club really began to slip at an alarming rate, not winning any of their seven matches in all competitions between Halloween and the beginning of the December. There was some solace in draws at both Anfield and Old Trafford, but they proved false dawns, with a late defeat to Spurs and a home trouncing by Arsenal really setting the tone.
Things weren’t much better off the pitch with the crowd troubles, coupled with an investigation into the true cost of the stadium from London mayor Sadiq Khan, which made for an toxic atmosphere around the club.
It did prove to be the season to be jolly for Bilić just when it seemed the pressure would be too much, with the club going on a three-game winning streak from the 14th to Boxing Day including a crucial away win at Swansea City. The start of 2017 didn’t prove as celebratory with three defeats to Leicester City, Manchester United and Manchester City in the space of six days.
The January transfer window would prove to be an eventful one for the Hammers both with incoming and outgoing transfers, but the demise of Dimitri Payet would eclipse any other business throughout January.
Payet came back to Rush Green with the world at his feet following an excellent Euro 2016 tournament with France, this saw him linked with a big money move to the biggest clubs on the continent but he remained with the club that gave him a platform to shine.
However, from the off it didn’t look like the same Payet who had lit up the league the previous year. There was glimpses of his brilliance with his rabona assist against Watford and solo goal against Middlesbrough, but these proved few and far between for the a disinterested Frenchman.
The FA Cup drubbing by Manchester City proved to be last contribution to the team as Bilić announced on January 12 of Payet’s desire to leave the club, and that the club’s talisman would take no part in first-team activity for his lack of respect to the club.
The Croatian stuck to his word with Payet excluded until former club Marseille came knocking. Negotiations were back and forth but Payet’s short and bittersweet time with the Hammers came to an end on January 30.
January did prove fruitful in terms of recruitment despite receiving ridicule for their publicised bids for the likes of Scott Hogan and Moussa Dembélé early in the month, They did their business in the space of seven days, with José Fonte, Robert Snodgrass and Nathan Holland all signing on the dotted line.
On the pitch they seemed to be coping with life after Payet, stringing together three wins in four from January into February including crucial wins away to both Middlesbrough and Southampton.
West Ham did remain unbeaten throughout the month with draws to West Brom and Watford, but it was from there where their season looked to a nose dive of extreme proportions.
A hole they nearly didn't climb out of
Those draws started a run where the Hammers couldn’t buy a win even if they tried, the winless run lasting seven games which included five consecutive defeats as they plunged right down to the bottom of the table.
They were five points off the relegation zone at one point - which saw Bilić’s position once again called into question - but they had one final push left in them which was kick started by the excellent 1-0 win against Swansea City.
They ended up losing only once in their final seven matches of the campaign, which included them having a major say in the title race with their 1-0 win over bitter rivals Tottenham handing the title to Chelsea.
They made sure their fans ended what had been a rollercoaster campaign with a collective smile, as they defeated Burnley 2-1 at Turf Moor which had proven a fortress throughout the campaign.
Player of the season
Not many players stood out for the Hammers in the last campaign with the likes of Lanzini getting a special mention but it was Michail Antonio who was the club’s player of the season.
From the off the Antonio seemed to be carrying on from where he had left off the previous campaign, and naturally fit into the gap left by the disillusioned Payet as he opened the Hammers' league account at the London Stadium.
His efforts didn’t go unnoticed as he was called-up for the England senior side for the first time but failed to make an appearance. The end to an excellent season for Antonio was ruined by groin injury that ruled him out of the final nine games.
Despite missing that large chunk his impact was known finishing the club’s top scorer with nine goal, there was rumours of a possible exit but the recent signing of a four-year contract will see him continue to be at the forefront of West Ham for seasons to come.
What does the 2017-18 season hold ?
After such a close call it does seem that Bilić is looking to rectify that very early on into the transfer window, already getting rid of deadweight from the previous summer in Jonathan Calleri, Gökhan Töre and Álvaro Arbeloa.
They also can claim to have the first major transfer of the window, pipping Manchester City to the gong by signing their full-back Pablo Zabaleta on a two-year deal. The Argentine has already spoken on instilling a winning mentality into the club, and that is the attitude that the Hammers will need going forward into the next campaign.
It is expected to be a busy summer if the rumours surrounding their potential signings are anything to go by, but in terms of next season's targets, Bilić will look to get his side back into the top-half of the table coupled with a decent cup run to give those 60,000 fans something to cheer about once again.