Slaven Bilic's biggest challenge at West Ham is to change age-old habit

Slaven Bilic

Slaven Bilic has enjoyed a record-breaking start to life as West Ham manager but his biggest challenge still lies ahead.

The Hammers have impressed fans and pundits alike by mounting a serious challenge for the Champions League places this season.

As well as taking a number of notable scalps home and away, including a historic treble over Liverpool, Bilic has reinvigorated the East Londoners and with stars such as Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini, the Hammers are playing the 'West Ham way' once more.

The Irons have officially enjoyed their best ever season in the Premier League era and have a positive goal difference for the first time since 1986.

Bilic also masterminded a fitting and thrilling 3-2 comeback win over Manchester United in the last ever game at Upton Park.

But they could yet qualify for the Europa League next season should the Red Devils be triumphant over Crystal Palace in the FA Cup final on Saturday.

Bilic must change age-old West Ham habit

For all Bilic's achievements in his first season in charge, though, he still did not manage to break the perennial Hammers habit of failing when it matters most.

The Irons were involved in Europa League qualifiers in pre-season against relative minnows Astra Giurgiu. Cruising at 2-0 up, they saw James Collins sent off and were pegged back to 2-2 at Upton Park.

They then lost the away leg 2-1 to crash out in the third qualifying round.

In the league the Hammers were flying for most of the season but on several occasions just as they looked set to consolidate their place in the Champions League places they slipped up.

In fairness some of those slips can be attributed to some appalling refereeing decisions that went against them, with Chelsea and Crystal Palace just two that come to mind.

Drawing the same old conclusions

But a look at the final Premier League table tells you that even if just three of West Ham's equal league highest 14 draws were wins they would have qualified for the Champions League.

Many felt this could be West Ham's season to win the FA Cup, particularly when it came down to a replay against an inconsistent Manchester United side at the Boleyn Ground under the lights for the chance to go to Wembley.

But once again when it mattered most the Hammers choked losing 2-1 and putting in one of their worst performances in many months, a fact Bilic has admitted himself in an end of season interview with the club's official website.

Out of the FA Cup, the Hammers were able to focus on at the very least a push for the Europa League.

Sense of achievement rests on FA Cup final outcome

Fifth place was in their grasp going into the final game after that fantastic victory over the Red Devils in the last ever match at the Boleyn.

They even led 1-0 at Stoke City and had a host of chances to seal their best league position since under Harry Redknapp's tenure, and Europa League football along with it.

But again West Ham choked and slipped to a 2-1 defeat - albeit desperately unfortunate - to drop down to seventh.

Now they are left relying on Louis van Gaal's side to do them a favour on Saturday to give what was a fine season a sense of achievement.

If Bilic can cure the choking, West Ham could truly start to challenge the established elite.

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