A Fair Result From A Scrappy Do: Five Takeaways From The Hammers Trip To Yorkshire

West Ham pick up their first point of the season from a losing position in a hard fought but scrappy game at Huddersfield’s John Smith’s Stadium. What did we learn?

Scrappy Game, Fair Result

Over the course of ninety minutes it was the fairest of fair results.  West Ham deserved no more and probably no less out of what was mostly a very scrappy affair devoid of quality.  Judged against pre-match expectations it was another disappointing day on the road for the Hammers who have picked up just five out of a possible eighteen away points.  Fair play to Huddersfield though for playing with tremendous spirit, determination and energy.  Whether it will be enough for them to dodge relegation for a second successive season remains to be seen but good luck to them all the same.  There were more positives for the Terriers to takeaway from the game than there were for the Hammers.  Despite the donation of the first goal to be scored by a Huddersfield player at home this season, we managed (with honourable mention to the woodwork) to avoid breaking their twenty-two match sequence of failing to score more than once in any single game.

What Preparation?

As with the away trip at Brighton, it was another painfully slow start for Pellegrini’s team.  It should not have come as any surprise that Huddersfield would play at high intensity and yet we once again look unprepared for it.  There are plenty of other teams in the crowded bottom half of the division whose main tactic is to close down quickly and deny time and space for players to settle.  It shouldn’t be met with bewilderment every time it is experienced.  There has to be a plan to cope with it and that includes matching the opposition’s effort and demonstrating greater technique to overcome it.  Is there something missing in preparation or do we lack leadership on the pitch.  Pellegrini suggested in his post match press conference that the team hadn’t stuck to the plan.  Either way they are still some way short of being up to the task.

A Lack of Guile

I read a review earlier in the week which suggested that the West Ham midfield was full of guile.  In my opinion, the complete opposite is true – it is a sadly lacking attribute!  I am not saying the players are not putting in a shift – but that they lack the footballing intelligence, craft or cunning to dominate the central areas.  The battle is so often won and lost in midfield and our boys rarely operate well when put under pressure.  The number of back passes yesterday was reminiscent of the bad old BFS days.  Declan Rice has been doing a very decent job as defensive cover (and is economical in distribution) but the likes of Pedro Obiang, Robert Snodgrass (and Mark Noble) have not done enough offensively this season in the more attritional type of game.  They need to be creating space and opportunity that allow front players to threaten in dangerous areas – not forcing them to come deep to search for the ball.   For all their possession, West Ham created few true clear cut chances.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

The changes made by Pellegrini at half time and shortly after seemed to work in West Ham’s favour.  Ironically, neither Javier Hernandez nor Michail Antonio played particularly well and so maybe it was the case of the substitutions changing the mindset of the players and the shape of the game rather than down to new personnel.  The Hammers were certainly more positive in the second period and, thankfully, Huddersfield reacted with caution rather than trying to take advantage of their greater numbers in midfield.  Antonio looks to be trying too hard to score and the destination of his hopeful wayward shooting is obvious the moment the ball leaves his boot.  Apart from an early neat pass which set up Marko Arnautovic for a one-on-one opportunity, Grady Diangana was a peripheral figure.  He is a player who needs the ball to feet with space to exploit rather than asking him to chase hopeful passes or win aerial duels.  Felipe Anderson was the Hammer’s most influential player and took his goal very well.  He did, however, look to have run out of puff by the end of the game.  Maybe West Ham could have stolen it with Issa Diop’s header but the clearance off the line showed the value of the player on the post.

The Full Back Connundrum

The full-back situation remains a conundrum.  In the Pellegrini setup you would expect that the full-backs need to be mainly defensively focused.  Yet three of the four senior candidates are generally suspect in that regard.  Aaron Cresswell did adequately yesterday apart from that suicidal attempted back-pass in the closing minutes but, as with Masuaku, his strength is supporting the attack.  Having said that, the position of the full-backs (even Pablo Zabaleta) is often puzzling in that they can be regularly seen in more advanced positions than the midfield players even when the opposition have the ball.  I don’t fully understand what the manager expects from them and we continue to be most vulnerable along the flanks.  Ryan Fredericks opportunity to impress (as a late replacement for Zabaleta) was short-lived and the Hammers were effectively down to ten men for the final minutes following his injury.

No Cockiness Please, We’re West Ham: Hammers Travel To Yorkshire

On the verge of something great or just another false down? Will West Ham’s momentum be in a forward direction or flat on their faces as they face lowly Huddersfield at the John Smith’s Stadium?

Although we may not dare say it out loud, many of us will be looking at today’s fixture as the footballing equivalent of a ‘gimme’.  A mere formality; a case of going through the necessary motions to pick up the three points – just as when Manchester City visit the London Stadium the weekend after the international break.

Looking at the stats only serves to justify this confidence to ourselves.  Huddersfield have only scored five goals so far this season, of which just the one has been scored in a home game; and even that was an own goal despite it being enough to beat rock bottom Fulham – their first win in fourteen league matches.  Further, the Terriers have not scored more than once in any of their last twenty-one Premier League games.

West Ham, on the other hand, come into the match full of verve and confidence off the back of that barnstorming performance against Burnley.  That win may have been the first in five attempts but there’s no doubt we tell ourselves, that the team have finally turned the corner; the only way is up and all eyes can be firmly focused on seventh place.  That’s right, isn’t it?

There is another voice in our head, however. “Hold on” it is saying “this is West Ham.  Anything can happen.”  We are a team, for sure, with lots of previous in providing charitable handouts to struggling sides and allowing them to end their unwelcome sequences of defeats or goal droughts.  Complacency has always come easy in claret and blue and today’s game could easily be lost in the minds of the players before a ball is kicked.

Whatever Huddersfield may lack in technical ability, they will not be short of effort, passion and energy.  Despite having picked up only four points from six home games this season they have only conceded seven goals in the process.  It has the makings of a very tight game with goals at a premium – although statistically if we score then we shouldn’t lose!

It is going to long, tough season at the John Smith’s Stadium and the Terriers look like they will remain front runners for relegation. Having pulled off a miraculous escape last season, David Wagner will have his work cut out to repeat the trick.  Although Bournemouth are defying the odds with survival on a limited budget, Eddies Howe’s team and style was created over a longer period of time.  Wagner found instant success when he came into his job and it could well be taken away again just as quickly.

As both teams look for rare back to back wins, the West Ham optimism roller coaster has entered a steep climb.  Even suspended skipper, Mark Noble, was reported in the week to be dreaming of a best-of-the-rest seventh place finish.  I sense there are several more twists and turns, ups and downs before the season is over even though I believe the trajectory under Manuel Pellegrini is in a positive direction.  I don’t know what the various super-computers have to say about final league standings but my low tech equivalent (pin and piece of paper) suggests a finish somewhere between ninth and twelfth.

There seems little point discussing the afternoon’s starting line-up as it will be 100% guaranteed the same as last week – assuming no last minute flu epidemics or shower based accidents.  Allegedly, the post international break will witness unheard of selection option overload at the club with the recovery from injury of (big) Andy Carroll and (little) Jack Wilshere – plus the return of Noble, who serves the last of his three match suspension today.

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Chris Kavanagh from Lancashire makes the short journey over the Snake Pass as today’s match-day referee.  It is weird that so many of the elite referees are from the north of the country but, then again, if the other southern based refs are as bad as Wiltshire’s Roger East then perhaps that is a good thing.  Kavanagh was previously in charge of the Hammer’s defeat by Wolves.

Paul Merson has again tipped a West Ham win (this time by 2-1) while Lawro is back on his fence at 1-1.  I will be looking for early signs that the team are fired up and are not strolling into the match with an air of apparent superiority.  The fear is a repeat of the Brighton performance where they only start to play in the second half when the damage has already been done.  Intensity and energy levels need to be up from the first whistle.  If Pellegrini can ensure his team are raring to go from the off then I can see a second on-the-road win of the season.  It is Hammers to win 2-0 for me.

Huddersfield versus West Ham Preview

Last season we won the corresponding game comfortably by four goals to one. Can West Ham take the positive psychological momentum from the performance against Burnley into their trip to Huddersfield?

I hear a lot in the football media these days about momentum. A team goes on a winning run and commentators describe how they can benefit positively from the effects of positive momentum in their next match. Similarly a team that are 1-0 ahead and dominating a game can react negatively when the opposition scores an equaliser with the stadium clock showing 44 minutes: 46 seconds as Burnley did last Saturday. All the talk was how Burnley would benefit from the positive momentum they would gain from the late first half goal, and how West Ham’s heads would be down as the second half got underway. Did this actually happen, or was the manager able to reverse the effect of the psychological momentum gained by the opposition when he gave his half-time team talk?

On many occasions in the past I’ve seen West Ham fold after a negative event such as conceding a goal or having a player sent off, but that hasn’t seemed to happen as much in recent times. Of course we are not in on what the manager and his staff say to the team but I give him credit for developing a more positive attitude amongst the West Ham players, and their reaction when something goes wrong. For example, we conceded a late goal just before half time after coasting to a 2-0 lead at Everton, and on previous occasions I would have expected us to surrender the initiative to the opposition when the second half got underway. But we didn’t.

At Leicester, Mark Noble was sent off after we had taken the lead, but we didn’t let our heads drop, and put up a tremendous rearguard action before falling unluckily to a deflected shot just before the end. But even then, the spirit in the side was such that we went forward and could (probably should) have snatched a late winner if Ogbonna had kept his composure.

Perhaps a good example of positive momentum is the case of Michail Antonio two or three years ago. For a while his confidence was high, and it seemed he couldn’t stop scoring goals, especially headed ones. At one time he had scored with as many headers in a year as any footballer in the Premier League. He found the net with the headed equaliser in the last game at Upton Park v Manchester United, and then with the winner in our first league game at the London Stadium against Bournemouth. For a time he was almost unplayable, and a lot of people forget that he was Hammer of the Year in 2016-17, after finishing runner-up to Payet the year before. He got into national squads with both Allardyce and Southgate as England manager, although he never won a cap. The positive momentum seemed to disappear after he was continually played out of position at right back, and then had some injuries, and he has never been the same since.

So does psychological momentum in football actually exist? Can it be backed up by statistical analysis? Or if it does exist, can the opposition negate it by being prepared better? Both West Ham and Huddersfield go into this match with positive momentum. Our performance and victory over Burnley was widely acclaimed, whereas Huddersfield managed their first win of the season (and even their first goal at home) in the 1-0 win over Fulham on Monday night. They are one of the bookmakers’ favourites for relegation, whereas we are now pulling away from the bottom after collecting eleven points from our last seven games, following the “pointless” opening four matches.

In addition to their win over Fulham, Huddersfield have picked up three further points this season with a goalless draw at home to Cardiff, and 1-1 draws at Everton and Burnley. Five goals scored and twenty-one conceded is not good, but will the momentum gained from their win lead to better times? One thing that struck me when I watched the closing stages of Monday night’s game was how both the Huddersfield players and the supporters celebrated after the final whistle. You would expect them to be on a high, but the sight of a team all joining hands and running towards the crowd in jubilation is one normally reserved for winning a trophy, not a single game of football. It did seem rather over the top to me, but if they have such positive celebrations for that win, then how will they top it if they beat us?

All of our players had decent games last weekend, especially in an attacking sense. I really enjoyed the game and the atmosphere was great, even remaining positive when we were twice pulled back. The only slight disappointment was conceding the two goals and very nearly a third. In particular the second equaliser direct from a corner was one that should have been averted, especially with better preparation in terms of marking their players who are most dangerous in the air (including substitutes!). For me, Anderson had his best game in a claret and blue shirt, and what a prospect young Diangana is! Arnautavic dominated their defenders, but unusually for him was unselfish at times when he might have done better by shooting himself. Snodgrass and Obiang put in the yards in the middle of the pitch, and Rice gets better every time I see him, this time totally controlling so much of the play, both defensively and then setting up the next attack.

If everyone is fit I would expect the same starting eleven for this game, but with our recent injury record how likely is this? Apparently even Carroll (remember him) and Wilshere are likely to be available for our next home game against Manchester City in a fortnight. Yes, we have to wait two weeks for the next game because of the third international break of the season even though only twelve Premier League games will have been played by each team. The football authorities who plan the timing of fixtures certainly know how to destroy the momentum of the domestic season with these continual interruptions for international football. I can’t speak for football fans as a whole, but personally my only interest in games played by the national side is when we are taking part in the World Cup or European Championship Finals tournaments. The new format for European qualification with these mini-leagues hasn’t hit the mark for me and I look forward to the return of the domestic game in two weeks, with no further international breaks until much later in the season.

The quality of our opposition this week is reflected in the bookmakers’ odds where we are generally around 5/4 favourites to win the game. That is very rarely the case for a West Ham team at any time, especially away from home. The draw is second favourite at around 21/10, with a Huddersfield home victory on offer at around 5/2. These are often the types of game where West Ham sides have slipped up in the past, but I am confident that it won’t happen this time. I predict a relatively comfortable victory by one or two goals to nil. My forecast of a 4-3 win over Burnley ended up nearer to actually happening than I would have thought at half-time, but this time around I don’t expect as many goals. On average this season, Huddersfield score a goal every other game, and concede twice. I expect this average to be maintained in this game.

Excellent Hammers Need To Be More Emphatic: Five Takeaways From The Win Over Burnley

West Ham start the winnable phase of the season with a win that was commanding without the score ever being convincing. Nevertheless, there was plenty to be positive about.

Commanding But Not Convincing

What a pleasure it is to watch your team play with stylish attacking intentions; full of energy, movement, invention and just a touch of swagger.  West Ham were so dominant that the final score-line should really have been far more emphatic.  Seeing the scores level at half-time and the game tied at 2-2 with just over five minutes remaining was difficult to comprehend.  To their credit the Hammers kept pressing forward, boosted by adventurous substitutions, to secure a final result that, even if it will look more convincing in the record books that it seemed at the time, will be great for confidence.  Even at 3-2 Burnley had a gilt edge opportunity to draw level once again.

Anderson Puts The Win Into Winnable

Very pleased for Felipe Anderson that he finally had an afternoon to remember.  The goals were the icing on the cake but his all-round performance and level of involvement was impressive.  No West Ham player had more touches during the game.  The challenge now is for him to do the business on a regular and consistent basis.  Only then can he be considered as a player justifying his transfer fee.  There was a touch of fortune about both his two goals: the first squeezing between Hart’s flailing legs; and the second courtesy of a kind deflection.  In fact, his best effort was the first half chip headed miraculously from under the bar by Mee.  He might also have done better with the shot that hit the bar in the second period.  Probably, I am being picky because he did have an excellent game as did Grady Diangana and Marko Arnautovic.  There was another goal from Arnie, in his quest to be West Ham’s first ever Premier League 20 goals a season man, and Diang played with a quality of touch, vision and determination that you would expect from a seasoned campaigner.  However did the referee miss that penalty!

An Off Day At The Back

Fabian Balbuena and Issa Diop have set the bar of defensive competence very high over recent weeks but this was one of their less dominant performances.  Perhaps the more direct and physical style of the opposition was new to them and something to learn from.  Both goals conceded were disappointing.  With the first: Diop failed to deal with the high ball; Burnley were unchallenged as it ran loose; and Balbuena and Aaron Cresswell seemed more concerned with offside than preventing the goal. For the second: it was a routine corner; why was it Robert Snodgrass who had the duty of marking Wood – and no-one on the posts to clear.  Wood was also given a free header late in the game.  While on the subject of playing to the whistle why did Chicharito (nice goal by the way) ignore the loose ball to claim a handing offence in the box?  Credit where it is due and Declan Rice was, once again, very impressive in his defensive midfield role.

A West Ham Way Philosophy

It was pleasing to read Manuel Pellegrini’s post match comments as they confirmed his philosophy is much closer to what many regard to be the West Ham philosophy than any other manager in recent history.  With the currently available resources the ‘we’re gonna score one more than you’ approach may not always be successful but it makes for interesting spectating.  Instilling a calm, controlled, passing game into the team looks to be paying dividends at last.  Encouraging a positive and creative attitude in the players raises everyone’s spirits and generates a feedback loop from the crowd that maintains momentum.

Medium Term Outlook

Funny things can happen in football but it is difficult to imagine any scenario other than a steady rise up the table.  Outside of the top six there is not a massive difference in quality between any other teams but maybe West Ham have already lost too many games to threaten for a Europa League spot.  Despite the long injury list there are still weaknesses in the squad that need to be addressed if it is to improve.  Most immediately, more quality is needed in the heart of midfield and longer term full-backs who fit the system must be found.  Perhaps Jack Wilshere can still do a job (if he fully recovers from injury) in there and I wonder how will Manuel Lanzini fit in?  I guess like many of us, I would be surprised if the owners dig deep during the January transfer window – they are likely to believe they did all their spending in the summer.  In any case, we can all breathe a little easier after this weekend.

West Ham entertain Burnley. Can we come out on top in the Clarets derby?

With a run of theoretically easier games on paper can West Ham follow through on the pitch by beating Burnley?

A quarter of the season has whizzed by. Well, not exactly whizzed because of two international breaks, and yet another one will arrive after the games that are played next weekend. It used to be a tradition to say that you should ignore the league table until at least a dozen games have been played, and by that time you will have an idea as to how the season will pan out. We have two further games to play until then, and you would have to say that on paper at least they are eminently winnable ones. Having had the toughest ten games of all the teams in the Premier League until now when you take into account the average points per team, or positions in the league table, we now face a run of games which on paper at least are easier fixtures and should define our season.

As we sit in thirteenth place at the moment with seven teams below us, there are just nine games to play until we reach the half way point of 2018-19 following the game that takes place the day after Boxing Day. Watford in seventh, and Manchester City, inevitably at the top, are the only sides currently above us that we haven’t yet played, whereas we still have to play each of those teams presently below us in the run up to the midpoint of the season (Burnley, Huddersfield, Newcastle, Cardiff, Palace, Fulham and Southampton).

We have yet to put in many really convincing performances, (Everton away, and Manchester United at home, excepted), although our two draws against Chelsea and Leicester could easily have been winning games. Nevertheless, despite our inconsistent, and at times indifferent form, we do have a few teams below us who haven’t even matched our record so far. We really need to start to pull away from the bottom cluster sooner rather than later, but once again our injury list is beginning to match that of recent seasons. Is it really bad luck or is it something more that makes this keep happening to our club?

Our visitors today have a very similar record to our own so far, winning two, drawing two and losing six of the ten games played. But whilst our early goal difference was very poor it has since improved to -6, whereas the Burnley goal difference is -11, mainly as a result of their last two games, defeats of 5-0 and 4-0 to Manchester City and Chelsea respectively. Their only two wins were against an uncharacteristically poor (for this season) Bournemouth 4-0, and a 2-1 win at Cardiff. Their draws were against Southampton and Huddersfield.

When the Football League was formed in 1888 it consisted of 12 clubs. They were all from the Midlands and North-West. Burnley were one of the original teams, and are one of only three of them who are currently in the top flight of English football, the others being Everton and Wolves. The other nine teams were Aston Villa, Blackburn, Bolton, Notts County, Stoke, Derby, West Brom, Preston and Accrington. So Burnley have a history of 130 years in the Football League and in that time they have finished at one time or another as champions in all four divisions in England.

As I began taking an interest in football in the late 1950s, Burnley were a major force and were champions of Division One (that is equivalent to the modern day Premier League) in 1959-60, and reached the quarter-finals of the European Cup the following season. In 1961-62, they were runners-up in the league (to Ipswich), and lost in the FA Cup final to Tottenham. It just goes to show how the balance of power has shifted at the top in football when you consider that the top six clubs in order that season were Ipswich, Burnley, Tottenham, Everton, Sheffield United, and Sheffield Wednesday. Arsenal finished in mid-table, the two Manchester clubs were in the bottom half, and Chelsea finished bottom and were relegated. Liverpool won the Division 2 title that season.

Burnley couldn’t maintain their position near the summit of English football after those heady years of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Perhaps the abolition of the maximum wage for footballers in 1961 was one of the reasons for that. At that time no footballer could earn more than £20 a week, and once this was no longer the case, that was possibly one of the factors for the decline in the fortunes of teams from smaller towns, such as Burnley, who were less able to compete financially with teams from bigger towns and cities. Since that 1961-62 season, only nine towns or cities have provided the English football league (or Premier League) winners, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, London, Birmingham, Nottingham, Derby, Blackburn and Leicester. Only the last four on that list have populations of less than half a million. Nottingham (300,000) and Derby (250,000) were largely the result of an exceptional manager (Brian Clough), whilst Blackburn (110,000) and Leicester (325,000) benefitted from wealthy owners.

Burnley did maintain their status in the top tier throughout the 1960s, even finishing third in 1965-66, which was followed by another good campaign in Europe in the Fairs Cup, reaching the quarter final the following season before going out at the hands of Eintracht Frankfurt. Their league positions after then were closer to the bottom than the top, and in 1970-71 they were relegated.

After then Burnley went into a slow decline culminating in the final game of the 1986-87 season when they needed to win the last game of the season to remain in the Football League and not be relegated to the Conference. They duly beat Leyton Orient and were also saved by Lincoln City, who were then automatically relegated when losing their final game. Burnley began to ascend again from that time, and in the last few years have yo-yoed between the Championship and the Premier League.

After finishing on top of the Championship in 2015-16, they finished 16th in their first season back at the top, and then last season they rose to the dizzy heights of seventh place, their highest finish for almost half a century. Once again they qualified for Europe but this time they were eliminated before the kids went back to school after the summer holidays. This has enabled them to concentrate on the league, and they may need to do so after their indifferent start, similar to our own.

I’ll finish this week with a few random thoughts:

  • Spectators encroaching onto the playing area against Tottenham in midweek brought back memories of the last time Burnley visited the London Stadium in March.
  • Leicester’s late deflected equaliser maintained our lead at the top of the “points dropped from winning positions” league.
  • It would be good if we could score a headed goal. I can’t recall us getting one so far this season.
  • The two keepers this weekend, Fabianski and Hart, are at the top of the goalkeepers league for saves made this season (44 apiece).
  • West Ham are odds-on with bookmakers to win a league game for the first time this season.
  • You can almost guarantee that Burnley will be awarded a penalty against us. They weren’t given one in the whole of last season or in this season to date.
  • The magnificent goal that you see Bobby Moore score on the screens at our games was against QPR in our 4-3 win fifty years ago yesterday. It wasn’t even the best goal in the game. Harry Redknapp scored the winning goal with a thunderous volley.

Let’s hope we can get back to winning ways. I don’t think it will be as easy as some are expecting, but I take us to win by a narrow margin.

Up With The Christmas Decorations: Can West Ham Kick-Off A Winning Run?

A run of winnable games can see West Ham go up with the decorations in the run up to Christmas. Failure to create a level of consistency against lesser side could spell disaster.

Burnley were the surprise team of 2017/18, achieving a seventh placed finish and attracting plenty of praise for gravelly voiced manager Sean Dyche.  Having scaled such heights, however,  and only scoring thirty six in the process (only the three relegated clubs and Huddersfield scored fewer), it was always unlikely that a threat to the Premier League status quo was being built at Turf Moor.  The Dyche philosophy is not a style of play that is going to prosper in the long term; although it might be adequate for pragmatic survival in the footsteps of Allardyce, Pulis and co.

The Clarets still managed to record three goals in two of their thirty eight league matches last season: the first in the season opener away at Chelsea; the second in the infamous day of protests at the London Stadium – a game in which West Ham had controlled the first half but self-destructed in the final half hour.

This season with the added burden of a Europa Cup campaign, where they were eliminated at the Play Off stage, it has been a disappointing start for the visitors who are one of two teams sitting below the Hammers by virtue of goal difference.  Apart from a shock 4-0 win against high riding Bournemouth their performances have been underwhelming and they come into today’s game having conceded nine goals in their last two outings.

West Ham are now without a win in their last four games in all competitions – evidently still basking in the glory (and resting on the laurels) of victory against Manchester United.  With today’s game heralding the start of a winnable streak, Manuel Pellegrini will be desperate to see some added points on the board.  The dilemma is whether his team have enough guile and penetration to break down what will surely be a massed Burnley defence.  If past performance is in any way indicative of future results the omens are not good.

The West Ham lineup for today pretty much picks itself.  Not that the players have performed brilliantly just that there are so few options available due to either quality, injuries or suspensions.  The goalkeeper and the core of the defence are givens and the return of The General, missing in midweek, will be welcome – I am convinced he would have prevented at least two of the Tottenham goals.  The defensive problem area is left back where neither Arthur Masuaku nor Aaron Cresswell are comfortable as a traditional full-back – particular when midfield backup is so flaky.  As Cresswell remains a doubt I would expect Masuaku to get the nod again.  Declan Rice is a certainty to continue his impressive protection of the back four.

In Mark Noble’s absence, Pedro Obiang and Robert Snodgrass will be expected to put in the midfield yards but, while their energy is to be commended, it is a combination that doesn’t shout creativity.

In the advanced roles Marko Arnautovic will be back leading the charge with attacking support provided by Grady Diangana and Felipe Anderson.  Diangana continued to look promising in midweek, in complete contrast to Anderson who looks to be shrouded in a cloak of lethargy.  It is, perhaps, the best we have but has a worryingly one dimensional feel to it.

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Javier Hernandez and Michail Antonio will feature at some point but both have been mightily disappointing.  Hernandez is an impact player at best and Antonio has completely lost his mojo over the past couple of seasons – what happened to the player who one minute was tackling Liverpool’s Moreno just outside his own penalty box and then heading home at the other end a moment later?

Last season it was Barnes and Wood who did the damage but neither are expected to start this afternoon.  You would like to think that Pellegrini and the players are aware of the Burnley threat particularly from crosses and set pieces – cutting off supply will be key to keeping a rare clean sheet.

The match-day referee is Roger East from Wiltshire who is taking charge of only his second Premier League game of the season.  He was in the middle for the home win over Swansea last term as well as away defeat at Brighton.

Both Lawro and Paul Merson have predicted a 2-0 Hammer’s success which would be very welcome indeed.  It is a game that we should and need to win to give the season a lift and to prove that this is a team that are not only motivated for the bigger games.  Not picking up all three points would be extremely disappointing.  The worry is that West Ham will be too predictable allowing Burnley to frustrate and dampen the mood in the stadium- much like last season’s game, in fact.  Hopefully, an early goal will lighten that mood and set things up for a comfortable win.

West Ham Take On Tottenham Again In League Cup Shootout

The Hammers seek a third consecutive League Cup success against their homeless north London neighbours. It’s a competition that West Ham have never won but who will want to win this one more?

West Ham will be seeking their third consecutive League Cup victory against Tottenham when they take on the homeless North Londoners in a fourth round tie at the London Stadium this evening.

This round represents the pivotal moment in the competition after which the bigger clubs, who initially treat it as a second class contractual obligation, suddenly realise it could be a way to keep the trophy cabinet topped up after all.  Like it or not, the cup (n its many incarnations) is more often than not hoisted aloft by the skipper of a top six side (apart from Arsenal who haven’t bothered to win it since 1993).  The best hope for the rest of us is a combination of mutual elimination (assuming the draw really is random) or by catching the big boys when they are focused on something more important.

Tottenham currently find themselves in the type of turmoil that is normally associated with West Ham.  With all the cash tied up in Levy’s vanity stadium rebuild project, currently massively over budget and over schedule, they are having to play their second game in three days due to weekend fixture congestion at their threadbare Wembley squat.  Yet, even at this stage of the season (all but eliminated from the Champion’s League and well off the pace in the Premier League), Pochettino may see the EFL cup as his best chance to finally nab a piece of consolation silverware.

While the Tottenham manager must decide which of his weary troops to hold back for the tough trip to Wolverhampton at the weekend, his West Ham counterpart has an equally difficult choice.  How to put together a competent enough side to demonstrate the claim of taking the competition seriously while at the same time avoiding any further damaging injuries that might impact a stuttering league campaign as it enter a period of apparently winnable games?

Once again, West Ham are top of the Premier League injury standings and, of the nine reported invalids, only Pedro Obiang has a chance of making it onto the pitch tonight.  The remainder: Marko Arnautovic, Andriy Yarmolenko, Andy Carroll, Lucas Perez, Manuel Lanzini, Jack Willshere, Carlos Sanchez and Winston Reid are joined by newly suspended skipper Mark Noble in sitting this one out.

The replacement of Noble by Obiang could be the most significant change from those involved at Leicester on Saturday.  Probably there will be starts for Adrian, Angelo Ogbonna, Ryan Fredericks and Aaron Cresswell; maybe Michail Antonio will get the nod over Javier Hernandez; or could there even be a rare sighting of, the now, lukewarm prospect, Reece Oxford?.  Elsewhere during the game expect some degree involvement for Joe Payne and Connor Coventry – you know you are getting old when professional football players look like they should still in school uniform!  Good luck to them anyway as it is always pleasing to see academy players getting an opportunity.

One League Cup tie that really sticks in my memory was when the Hammers beat Tottenham 1-0 at Upton Park in December 1980.  It was one of those electric nights under the lights of the Boleyn cauldron (quite appropriate for Halloween).   It may not have needed much to raise the roof off from those rickety old stands but it almost happened when David Cross scored the night’s only goal with just ten minutes to spare.  Rather than speculate of today’s lineup, here is a nostalgic look back to the team from 1980 that would eventually secure West Ham’s last visit to a league cup final.

EFL1

The match referee will be Stuart Atwell from Warwickshire who was previously in Startford for the Hammers defeat to Bournemouth in August.  One way or another there has to be a result tonight and it would be no surprise to me if it all came down to the lottery of penalties.