Battle Lines Drawn For The League’s Premier City Versus United Clash

It’s third against fourth at the Etihad Stadium. Can West Ham exceed expectation and return from Manchester with more than hard luck stories?

If at the start of the season I had been asked to rank all West Ham’s games from most to least winnable, I would without hesitation have placed away to Manchester City at the very end of the list.

Since City won the Abu Dhabi lottery, the only West Ham victory on their patch was in September 2015, when Slaven Bilic’s Payet-inspired team beat Pellegini’s City by two goals to one. Prior to that that you need to go back to April, 2003 for another league success. Freddie Kanoute’s solitary goal enough to keep Trevor Brooking’s heroic, but ultimately unsuccessful, great escape dream alive.

Despite trailing Chelsea in the current standings, City remain most people’s favourites to retain the Premier League title. If that comes to pass then it will be four in six years for Guardiola. No doubt, he is a gifted coach who is able to manage the egos of superstar players – but a bottomless pit of resources must also come in handy. He was certainly an upgrade on Pellegrini, yet I’m not convinced that the players he has brought in measure up in character to those that have left since his arrival – Toure, Kompany, Silva, Aguero, for example – even if he has an exceedingly useful squad to call upon.

A stark contrast to our own humble club who, prior to kick-off, are a single place and three points behind the champions. A remarkable achievement by David Moyes and his team given the imbalance in resources. Perhaps Moyes is not the right type of manager for the super rich clubs (as his time at the other United might suggest) but he is looking a perfect match for the patient team building and development model now underway in east London.

With new investment on the cards, the future of the club is looking much brighter than it has for some time. A complete turnaround from the storm clouds of Burnley in March 2018. Does anyone else think that in the publicity shot doing the rounds, Daniel Kretinsky looks menacing rather than friendly or enigmatic? The kind of sinister grin you might see from a movie villain about to reveal his collection of pliers, bolt croppers, and saws to a terrified captive.

Great to see West Ham seal top spot in their Europa League group with a largely second eleven coasting to a comfortable win in Vienna. The fringe players (including several exciting academy prospects) have done the club proud in qualifying, but may get fewer opportunities to impress once the round of sixteen arrives next March. Here’s hoping all the Spanish clubs are either still holding on in the Champion’s League or have been eliminated from the Europa League by then – particularly Sevilla, the serial winners of the trophy.

I’m not expecting any surprises in today’s line-up which should be pretty much the same team that lost at Wolverhampton. I do have a suspicion that Vladimir Coufal might return in place of Ben Johnson (for his greater attacking threat) and while I would welcome a look at a Kurt Zouma – Issa Diop paring in central defence, I believe Moyes will stick with Craig Dawson.

City may be without De Bruyne, Grealish and Foden and could start with a front three of Mahrez, Sterling and Jesus. Plenty of variety but no-one obviously leading the line. A different type of challenge for the Hammers defensively and one that will require complete concentration throughout. An afternoon of the opposition bossing possession, seeking to wear down our legs and creating openings with bursts of quick and intricate passing.

Surrendering the lion’s share is not an unreasonable tactic but the key to taking something from the game will be the ability to retain possession and make good use of the ball when we have it. It needs to be better than at Molineux. Giving the ball away cheaply only increases the pressure and leaving Michail Antonio isolated up front will not unsettle the hosts defence. Much will depend on how effectively the attacking midfield three can keep the ball, make the right decisions. and get forward quickly enough in support of Antonio. We can’t hold out for penalties this time.

These types of game can be an uncomfortable watch sometimes – and tough on the fingernails. Even if there is a tactical fascination unfolding it is difficult to appreciate it in real time. Expectations are not high of a result but there is always hope. We were unlucky to come away with nothing last season and maybe the football gods feel they owe us something in return. A 1-1 draw, perhaps. COYI!

Goodnight Vienna as Hammers Waltz into Europa League Last 16

On Thursday evening West Ham waltzed into the last 16 knockout stages of the Europa League with yet another professional performance without playing as well as we can. With a little more composure in front of goal it could have been four or five nil but with eight changes it was still a more than satisfactory performance. With the other game in the group between Dinamo Zagreb and Genk ending 1-1 it would have only needed a draw in Vienna to top the group with a game still to play, but the confidence that the fringe players will have gained from the comfortable victory bodes well for the remainder of the season. With so many games to play in such a short space of time (10 in 31 days), many of the squad players are likely to be called upon.

Four clean sheets and just two goals conceded in five games is the best defensive performance of all 32 teams in the Europa League. In this game some of our most important and influential players (such as Zouma, Rice and Antonio) were not needed and most of the other Premier League regulars did not play full games. There were many good performances but one that stood out for me was that of Coufal who I believe should regain his place in the league team this weekend. It was also good to see a 17 year old debutant given his chance and he so nearly scored too. I wonder how many fringe players will be given an opportunity in the final group game against Dinamo Zagreb?

This weekend’s Premier League game away to Manchester City is about as tough as it gets. Along with Chelsea and Liverpool, City are undoubtedly one of the three standout teams that will contest the title. It wasn’t that long ago that we spoke about the elite six, but now in my opinion there are only three teams that are well ahead of the rest. We are one of a few teams that will be fighting for that fourth spot in the table. City will be desperate for revenge after we dumped them out of the League Cup, a competition that they have dominated for the last five years. They were excellent when disposing of PSG to top their Champions League group on Wednesday and we will be doing very well to come out of the game with a point. But it’s not Impossible if we are at our best and they are not. Crystal Palace won there recently so I hope we can do the same, but I wouldn’t underestimate how difficult it will be.

Bookmakers recognise the gulf between the top three and the rest, but their odds set for this game are even more extreme than the league positions would suggest was appropriate. City are at home and one would expect them to be favourites of course. They are currently second in the league on 26 points, just three points ahead of ourselves in fourth. Recent form is similar although we were a little disappointing in Wolverhampton last week. Nevertheless, based on this, one wouldn’t expect us to be the biggest outsiders in all the games this weekend. But we are and I’ve seen odds of up to 10/1 on a West Ham victory and around 6/1 on a draw. City on the other hand are around 2/9. Astonishing really given the closeness of league form and positions.

I am a little less confident for a positive result in this game compared to our previous fixtures this season, but wearing my optimistic hat I will be hoping for a draw, and predict 1-1 with Dawson scoring our goal with a header from a corner. Dawson to score the first goal in the game attracts odds of around 50/1. The odds are the same for him to score the last goal in the game. I’ll go for the latter with my fun bet this week. What are the chances?

Having Sunk In The Choppy Waters Of Wolverhampton How Will West Ham Negotiate The Rapids In Vienna?

Banking on bouncebackability as the Hammers seek to seal top spot in Europa League Group H and claim a place in the round of 16.

Losing was going to happen sooner or later but a tame one at Wolverhampton just as games against Manchester City and Chelsea appear on the horizon was not the best of timings. A chance, hopefully, to use the Europa League clash in Vienna to get the show back on the road and prove that Saturday was nothing more than a bump along the way.

West Ham have earned a reputation as a reliable, well-oiled machine in recent months but too many of its parts had seized up at Molineux. Few, if any, of the outfield players were close to their own high standards of performance as the hosts thoroughly deserved to coast to victory.

Ironically, the Hammers had made a really lively start to the game, but once Wolves had settled, they dominated – their extra man in midfield and the enterprise of their wing-backs stifling West Ham’s attacking ambitions and creating scoring opportunities of their own.

Although the West Ham downfall was largely down to sub-par individual performances, I do wonder whether the 4-2-3-1 formation is too rigid and predictable under certain circumstances. Particularly in the absence of greater imagination and orchestration in the centre of attacking midfield. Manuel Lanzini was an improvement when he replaced the off-colour Said Benrahma, but neither of them or Nikola Vlasic are influential or involved enough to pull the strings. Indeed, I have yet to see anything in Vlasic to get excited about. Maybe he will come good but there are so many aspects of his game that require improvement. Arguably, Pablo Fornals is the best equipped from the current squad to play that role, but he too was ineffective at Wolves.

It was a similar story with Michail Antonio who barely put a foot right all afternoon after his exertions in the international break. Despite West Ham flying his home early on a private jet it appears his ball control was left in the baggage reclaim. A touch of jet lag is a possibility, although an equivalent trek had done Raul Jimenez no harm. No surprise that Antonio will not feature at all today.

I thought defensively we looked adequate at the weekend even if the Kurt Zouma/ Carig Dawson partnership was a little clumsy. Surprising how difficult Zouma found it playing on the left side in the absence of Angelo Ogbonna. I hope we see Zouma paired with Issa Diop tonight to see how that works out. Aaron Cresswell and Ben Johnson also did OK but didn’t get forward enough for my liking. Supporting the attack and getting in behind the opposition defence is where Vladimir Coufal shades it over Johnson.    

The final conundrum is how to get the best out of both Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek. The flourishing of Rice this season has been partially balanced out by the struggles of Soucek. His more withdrawn role does not play to his attacking strength of the late runs into the box. He doesn’t have the range of passing to truly boss the current role.

Had it not been for a late Soucek OG in Genk, tonight’s game in Vienna might have been something of a formality as far as Group H is concerned. As it is, West Ham need more points and Rapid will believe they can still be playing European football after Christmas. Perhaps it is to the Hammer’s advantage that the hosts really do need to win to make that happen – better suited than inviting us to break them down.

Rapid have won one and lost one since their last Europa League outing and now sit 5th of 12 in the Austrian league, a whopping twenty points behind runaway leaders RB Salzburg.

There will be a sense of déjà vu (all over again) with the return of the eerie behind closed doors atmosphere. Recent experiences shouldn’t affect the teams too drastically although the trend of empty stadia favouring away sides is comforting.

Predicted line up for tonight is: Areola, Coufal, Diop, Zouma, Cresswell, Rice, Kral, Yarmolenko, Vlasic, Benrahma, Bowen

Predicted score: West Ham to win 2 – 1.

A look ahead to West Ham at Molineux this afternoon and memories of games against Wolves (mainly November ones!)

Thank heavens that is the last of the early season pointless international breaks finished. I get it that we have to play for World Cup qualification but surely someone can devise a better way to do it. I don’t wish to deny San Marino, Andorra or any other minor nation of their opportunity to take part but surely there should be some kind of pre-qualification among lesser teams and then the top teams from pre-qualification leagues can then progress to face the bigger teams. Our very own FA Cup is an example of how this can happen. The top teams don’t enter the competition until the third round proper. There are a number of qualification rounds to win through before the non-league teams who are successful in those get to face the big boys.

Albania aren’t exactly a minor footballing nation, picking up quite a few points in the group, but San Marino? I watched some of this and quite frankly it was a farce. The commentators and pundits did their best to talk up the England team and Harry Kane, but it was nonsensical as a game of football, it was really just attack versus defence. I got no pleasure from the twenty minutes or so that I watched.

This was in contrast to the last Premier League game I saw where we denied Liverpool the opportunity to extend their long unbeaten record any further. I thought it was a magnificent performance that saw us leapfrog the Merseysiders to reach the dizzy heights of third place in the table. Unlike Mr Klopp I saw nothing wrong with our first goal. Goalkeepers have been a protected species for too long and I don’t see anything that says you can’t jump in front of them to put them off. And as for suggesting Cresswell should have been sent off I don’t agree with that either. His tackle clipped the top of the ball which lifted his leg to foul Henderson. To his credit the Liverpool captain made nothing of it and was soon back on his feet. A foul yes but anything more? Not for me. Perhaps I am a biased Hammer but others I have spoken to who support Arsenal, Fulham and Norwich didn’t agree with Mr Klopp either.

We have lost Angelo Ogbonna for a long period now, but personally I am happy with Craig Dawson alongside Zouma at the heart of our defence. There have been reports that we might renew our interest in Tarkowski in the forthcoming window. He is certainly a quality player, but do we need strengthening elsewhere first? Perhaps with our new Czech shareholder there will be an injection of finance to boost the transfer kitty? We’ve never been in a better position to challenge the top teams but the addition of two or three quality players would do us no harm in our endeavour to maintain that challenge in the league and the three cups that we can still aim for.

We visit Molineux today to take on a Wolves team that are in eighth place in the chasing pack where sixth to thirteenth positions in the table are separated by just three points. When I began to watch football as a young boy in the late 1950s Wolves were probably the best team in the country at the time, and were league champions in 1957-58 and 1958-59. One of my earliest football memories was our first home game following promotion to face the champions in our first home game of the 1958-59 season. I wasn’t there but I was excited to wake up on the Tuesday morning following the Monday night game to be told the result by my dad and to read of our 2-0 win in the morning paper.

The following season I was at our game against the champions – Saturday November 21st – so this weekend’s game is almost on the same date. My first favourite footballer Johnny Dick scored a hat trick in our 3-2 victory that retained our position at the top of the league. The following Thursday I went into St Mary’s hospital in Paddington to have my adenoids removed. And then in typical West Ham fashion we lost 7-0 at Sheffield Wednesday the following Saturday! How many times has a team at the top of the league lost their next game 7-0? Only West Ham could do that. That was a season when we went down with the Christmas decorations and finished in fourteenth place just four points above the relegation places.

Wolves went on to finish second in the table that season finishing a point below champions Burnley. They won the FA Cup too beating Blackburn 3-0 in the final and were so close to being the first team to achieve the league and cup double. If only they hadn’t lost to West Ham!

Other highlights from games against Wolves include an entertaining 3-3 draw in November 1970. Apart from surrendering a 3-1 lead my main reason for remembering this game was a Bobby Moore headed clearance that hit the referee square in the face that knocked him out cold. Moore picked up his whistle and blew it to stop the game. Bobby Gould, who five years later played for us tapped in the late Wolves equaliser in that game.

Two years later (yes in November once again!) we were 2-1 down at Upton Park in the last seconds of the game when a Bobby Moore cross was headed across the edge of the area by Clyde Best, and Trevor Brooking equalised with a stunning diving header from fully 15 yards. It’s always said that Trevor never scored with his head, but I can remember quite a few, including an important one in the European Cup Winners Cup in 1976 against Eintracht Frankfurt, and perhaps the most famous of all, the Wembley header in the 1980 FA Cup final.

Two years later once again in the month of November (are you picking up the pattern here?) we gave Wolves quite a thrashing (5-2) with five different goalscorers. The best goal of the lot, and one of the best free kicks I’ve ever seen was a result of Trevor Brooking flicking the ball in the air and Frank Lampard (senior of course) smashing a half volley into the bottom corner of the net.

I’ll deviate from the month of November with a final memory from the past to remember Liam Brady’s final game before retirement. After a fantastic career he spent his final three seasons at West Ham. Although he wasn’t quite the player he was at his peak, he was still great to watch with wonderful skill on the ball and magnificent passing ability. On as a substitute late in the game he picked the ball up midway in the Wolves half, moved forward, and unleashed a trademark left footed stunner that rocketed into the net, a fitting goal in his final ever game.

Last season we did the double over Wolves winning 4-0 at home and 3-2 at Molineux. What with our 3-2 win over Liverpool in our last game too, that seems to be the score of the moment and I’ll predict a win by that score today. We are around 7/5 favourites to win the game and around 22/1 to repeat last season’s score in the corresponding fixture. Jarrod Bowen scored in both games against Wolves last season, and is around 13/2 to score the first goal (same price for the last goal too) in the game, or 5/2 to score at anytime. One of those will be my fun bet. I might even combine Bowen scoring the first goal with a 3-2 win at odds approaching 200/1. With 12 points from our last 4 league games we are the form team in the Premier League. No other team matches that recent record. If Leicester can beat Chelsea in the lunchtime fixture, and if we can win at Wolves, then we would be level on points with Chelsea at the top of the table on Saturday evening. That would be good, wouldn’t it? What are the chances?

West Ham Love To Go A-Wandering; Can They Make It Five Wins In A Row?

The Hammers continue their adventures in the unchartered waters of the Premier League’s top four. Victory against recently becalmed Wolverhampton will see them on the crest of a wave.

The international break has given us all an extra week to admire West Ham’s lofty position in the Premier League table with a sense of smug satisfaction. Now comes the test as to whether they can stay the course – a furious run of ten games leading up to Christmas starting with a visit to Molineux on Saturday afternoon.

The Hammer’s form has been nothing less than remarkable in the opening months of the season. The only side in the division to win their last four games, unbeaten in seven games in all competitions – and unbeaten in eleven on the road. The last defeat coming in the last-minute to Brentford in early October. 

It was disappointing that post match reporting on the pulsating victory against Liverpool was overshadowed by contrived controversy over supposed game changing refereeing decisions. There was so much to appreciate about the game as an advertisement for the Premier League and yet the referee took central stage. Most of the blame for that lies with Jurgen Klopp who showed himself to be the most ungracious of poor losers.

It was an excellent West Ham win which once again demonstrated the tenacity and character present in David Moyes’ side. That the top sides finish games knowing they have faced a tough, resilient, and talented opponent is all we can ask.

We probably shouldn’t be doing this, but it is tempting to make comparisons with the 2015/16 season – the year Leicester City won the Premier League title. The image below shows the table after an equivalent 11 matches. Leicester were sitting third behind Manchester City and Arsenal (having earned a point less than West Ham have now) with the Hammers hanging on in sixth place. Had we not just gone done to a disappointing 2-0 away defeat at Watford, things would have looked even rosier for Slaven Bilic’s side.

The noticeable feature of 2015/16 was that as well as Leicester performed, each of the other title contenders managed to screw up their own challenge. None of the other teams performed consistently well during the remainder of the season. Adding to the mystery, both Liverpool and Chelsea were nowhere to be seen, finishing eighth and tenth respectively.  The chances of such a collective failure repeating itself is highly unlikely.

A look at this season’s current standings with a projection based on points per game being maintained to the end of the season has West Ham finishing on 79 points. That would be an incredible achievement – but unlikely to be enough to claim top spot. I doubt there are many supporters who truly believe a top four finish is achievable, but it is target worth aiming for. The recently announced investment in the club by Daniel Kretinsky certainly adds a new perspective on things, especially if it is backed up by player reinforcements in January. A long way to go, though!

Assuming all the players have returned from the international break in fine fettle, the only change for the Wolves game will be the one enforced by the probable long-term absence of Angelo Ogbonna – Craig Dawson being the obvious replacement. It is anticipated that Declan Rice will have recovered from illness and Pablo Fornals from the knock picked up playing for Spain. The Ben Johnson or Vladimir Coufal at right back is the other talking point. I believe it is Johnson’s shirt to lose.

It was great to see Michail Antonio make his mark on the international stage at long last, with two fine goals for Jamaica. Whenever he shapes up for a long shot my head is usually in my hands, but the strike against the USA was a cracker. Shots from outside the box are the least productive of goal attempts – it is seen as a defensive positive to limit your opponent to long shots – but when they come off, they can be spectacular. Will we now be treated to a flurry of long-range Antonio efforts? And what is the probable outcome? It’s a long shot, but it might just work!

Wolves are a side slowly emerging from the doldrums of Nuno’s time at the helm. New boss, Bruno Lage, is something of an unknown quantity as a manager with only an ultimately unsuccessful stint at Benfica behind him in the big time. Still, he met the exacting criteria required for the Wolves job by being Portuguese.

The Wanderers have had a mixed opening to the season. After a sluggish start they have climber to eighth in the table but have only faced Manchester United from the top six. Their five wins have been mid to lower table affairs against Watford, Southampton, Newcastle, Villa and Everton. Presented as being more adventurous than under Nuno, goals have been at a premium at both ends in their matches so far this season. Only games involving Southampton have witnessed fewer goals.  

There was sad news from Molineux in the week with the death of Wolves legend (and member of the 1966 World Cup winning squad), Ron Flowers. I can remember him well from the very first football game I watched live on our newly acquired black and white TV – the 1960 FA Cup Final. A well-deserved Ron Flowers tribute will take place prior to Saturday’s kick-off. This looks like another tight game to me. Wolves have some dangerous players including Jimenez, Hee-Chan and the perpetually erratic Traore. Not convinced about them at the back. The ideal scenario is that Wolves push forward and fall into the trap of the breakaway Hammers counter-punch. And there is always the set piece danger. It is a game where if West Ham keep their discipline, they can come away with a narrow one-goal victory to make it five league wins on the trot. COYI!

All You Need Is Rice: West Ham Focused For Fab Four Battle With Liverpool

An intriguing encounter at the London Stadium sees the Hammers continue their magical mystery tour up the Premier league table and looking for a first win over Liverpool for almost six years.

The last Premier league fixture before the inevitable international break sees West Ham and Liverpool jockeying for position among the top four. It’s a scenario that would have been unimaginable Hammer’s fan not so long ago and is testimony to how far the club has progressed under the David Moyes revolution.

There have been complaints by supporters on social media that West Ham do not get the credit they deserve on TV and in the press – the last game on MOTD syndrome. I’m not sure that is justified as I have found a good deal of both positive and complementary coverage. Having said that though, the framing of today’s game is very much one of title contenders visiting top six hopefuls. Come the end of the season that may well be the case, but lets just enjoy rattling a few cages. The results, yesterday, mean that the dizzy heights of second place is now out of the question. But we can still end the weekend, and go into the break, just three points behind the leaders.

They say that winning can become a habit. The same apparently applies to expecting your team to win, and it was disappointing to see the Hammers pegged back in Genk on Thursday evening. It was another of those inexplicable slow starts – can someone tell me why that happens – that set the tone for much of the first half, where Genk were a little unfortunate not to extend their lead. The home side were able to carve through the Hammer’s rear-guard at will and deservedly took an early lead when Issa Diop (who had previously been demonstrating something of a renaissance in the European games) played the role of nowhere man in defence. A similarly slow start today could prove disastrous.

The Hammers, though, are nothing if not resilient these days though and with the help of two fine Said Benrahma goals appeared to have paved the way for a fourth successive win. Sadly, a clumsy Tomas Soucek own goal brought the scores level and the spoils were to be shared. The point was enough to ensure progression to the knockout phase of the competition but leaves work to be done to secure the all-important top spot. Dreams of appearing in this season’s elite Europa Conference league now lay in tatters.

Benrahma’s goals may well have saved his place in today’s starting eleven. His tenure in the difficult to fill central attacking midfield position had come under intense pressure from a rejuvenated Manuel Lanzini. Unless there are late injury issues, I now see the only outstanding selection question is whether it will be Ben Johnson or Vladimir Coufal at right back. The idea of leaving out Coufal a few weeks ago would have been met with incredulity. But such has been Johnson’s form that it now feels highly probable. Competition for places is a wonderful thing.

In my life as a West Ham supporter, Liverpool have been, by far, our most unproductive opponent. Recent form shows a return of just two points, out of a possible thirty, in the last ten league meetings. You must go back to the 2015/ 16 season for the last Hammer’s success – when three of them came along at once. The 2-0 win at Upton Park in January 2016 was in the early days of Klopp’s reign at Anfield and it is now a much-changed Liverpool side. While Angelo Ogbonna, Aaron Cresswell, Michail Antonio, Mark Noble and Lanzini all played in that game for West Ham, only Firmino remains from the visiting team – and he is reported to be a non-starter today.

Unlike many West Ham fans, or at least the vocal ones you find on social media, I have a lot of admiration for what Klopp has achieved. Certainly, the media adoration for all things Liverpool can be tiresome – I can almost hear Peter Drury preparing to Salah-vate from the sublime to the sumptuous – but if I was forced to choose between Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool as league champions, I would opt for Liverpool. Of the three, Klopp has extracted more from fewer resources and he puts out a team that are generally entertaining to watch.

At one point I believed that Declan Rice might end up at Liverpool if/ when he eventually leaves West Ham. But now, I’m not so sure. First, I doubt whether he is any longer in their price range. And second, would he want to be constrained by what is largely a water carrying midfield trio? Rice at Liverpool could be a frightening prospect but for now he is 100% leading the West Ham charge and embodying the incredible spirit that has been created within the squad. Long may we see him here, there and everywhere on the London Stadium pitch.

The visitors are the only remaining unbeaten side in the Premier league although they have been held to a draw in four of their ten games to date. This includes last weekend’s surrender of a two-goal lead to Brighton. The interesting tactical change that Seagulls made after a torrid opening was to limit the threat of the Liverpool full-backs by keeping them busy defending. I’m hoping we will do something similar this weekend. Without doubt Jarrod Bowen and Pablo Fornals must get back to fulfil defensive duties, but they must also push forward quickly to pose their own questions as often as possible. So much of Liverpool’s threat comes down the flanks, and that is where the game will be won and lost.

My expectations are that West Ham have to make a better fist of this game than they did last season. A replay of that meek surrender cannot be acceptable. I’m confident both manager and players will have learned from that experience and know they must approach the game without any sense of inferiority. It’s not a game to just sit back in. It is dreamland to go into the international break in the top four. Perhaps a draw is realistically the best we can hope for but I will go one better and predict the Hammers to win a pulsating game 3-2. Don’t let me down. COYI!

Congratulations David Moyes – 1000 up! A brief history of West Ham managers.

How can we judge whether or not a manager is successful? There are a number of indicators that spring to mind; win percentage must be one factor, the number of trophies won, the number of finals and perhaps even semi-finals reached, league positions attained, qualification for Europe or success in gaining promotion. Is a manager successful if when he leaves a club it is in a stronger position financially, or attracting bigger crowds, if he has developed a playing style that entertains the fans, or if the team are holding a higher league position than when he came? Longevity in the role, the era they managed in, and the resources available to the manager, and influence of the owners / directors are important factors too. I’m sure there are others.

West Ham have only had 17 permanent managers in the whole of our 119 years existence since 1902, plus another three or so caretakers (Keen, Boyce and Brooking). As I have knowledge of all but two of them it either says something about my age or more likely about the longevity in post of the early managers in particular. I’ve listed them below to bring back memories of those who have managed our club with highlights of their stay. I’ve listed David Moyes twice of course. Win percentages are in brackets.

  1. Syd King (39%)
  2. Charlie Paynter (41%)
  3. Ted Fenton – promotion to Division 1 (41%)
  4. Ron Greenwood – see text (35%)
  5. John Lyall – see text (39%)
  6. Lou Macari – 7 months then resigned (37%)
  7. Billy Bonds – promotion / relegation / promotion (44%)
  8. Harry Redknapp – 7 seasons – top half 4 times, 5th in 1998-99 (37%)
  9. Glenn Roeder – 7th then relegation (31%)
  10. Alan Pardew – promotion / FA Cup final / the sack (41%)
  11. Alan Curbishley – 10th / resigned (39%)
  12. Gianfranco Zola – 9th / the sack (29%)
  13. Avram Grant – relegation (32%)
  14. Sam Allardyce – 4 seasons / promotion / then consolidation (38%)
  15. Slaven Bilić – initial success in final season at Upton Park (38%)
  16. David Moyes – short term – kept us up (29%)
  17. Manuel Pellegrini – big reputation (38%)
  18. David Moyes – kept us up twice from difficult positions / 6th in 2020-21. (48%) (overall 2 periods 43%)

The outstanding caretaker record belongs to Trevor Brooking who, in 14 games in charge, won 9 and only lost 1, managing a team that were relegated!

The only two I know nothing much about are the first two on the list who were in charge from 1902 until 1950 when Ted Fenton became our third manager. I have a soft spot for Ted Fenton as he was responsible for filling the very first page of my first autograph book, aged 5, but also getting the players at the time to fill page two. And not just that – he achieved promotion in the 1957-58 season so that when I first became interested in the game and began to support West Ham aged 4, we were a first division team.

Ted Fenton
Harry Obeney, John Dick, Noel Dwyer, Andy Malcolm, Malcolm Musgrove, Phil Woosnam, Ken Brown, Vic Keeble, Mike Grice, John Bond and Noel Cantwell

Ron Greenwood took over in 1961 and was a talented coach. He was one of the first to recognise that football was played beyond these shores. He was in charge for our first FA Cup trophy in 1964 and the successful European Cup Winners Cup campaign the following year. John Lyall took over from his mentor Greenwood in 1974 and had a topsy-turvy 15 years in charge with a lot of success (in West Ham terms) with FA Cup wins in 1975 and 1980, European Cup Winners Cup losing finalists in 1976, League Cup losing finalists in 1981, an outstanding and record breaking promotion season in 1980-81, and guiding us to third place in 1985-86 when we came so close to winning the league title. In addition there were two relegations. He managed us in 708 games, the most of any Hammers manager.

David Moyes has not yet been here for two years yet in his second spell in charge. In that short space of time he has turned around the fortunes of our club, and once again revised his reputation as a first class manager that he initially earned over 11 seasons at Everton with a string of top eight finishes before he left the club for Manchester United where many feel he wasn’t given sufficient time at the helm.

It was a surprise to me when our owners let him go after he saved us from relegation in his first spell in charge, but perhaps they just looked at bare statistics such as win percentages rather than taking all aspects of successful management into account.

To save us from relegation a second time, then to achieve sixth place in his first full season in charge, and then follow it up with the superb start to this season is a terrific achievement in itself. Fourth in the Premier League (victory against Liverpool on Sunday would take us even higher), in the Quarter Final of the League Cup (having defeated both Manchester clubs on the way) and top of the Europa League Group with 10 points from 4 games. I think we would have taken that (wouldn’t we?) at this stage of the season!

But even more than that he has recognised that the team needed some young, hungry, talented players, and instilled in the squad a way of playing that makes us proud to support the team. He has also recognised the best way to use the players at his disposal in a positional sense, and has got everyone playing near the peak of their ability consistently. The team spirit is something we can all see clearly, the work ethic is beyond anything I have ever seen in a West Ham team in 60 years, and we are finding ways to win games when we are not at our best. We play long, we play short, and we counter-attack at pace with skill.

Against Genk on Thursday evening he achieved the milestone of 1000 games as a manager (112 for West Ham, overtaking Slaven Bilic to move into the top 10 in terms of games). He fully deserves all the plaudits that are coming his way, and long may they continue. I loved his comments prior to the game. “If it had taken West Ham six years to get to this point (instead of two), West Ham supporters would probably have accepted it. Now we have to keep it going, keep chipping away at it. We’re on the fast train to the top and I don’t want to get off.”

Unfortunately we weren’t at our best on the night, partly because of the changes made to the team, and a lethargic first half performance. Diop was slow to react which led to the first Belgian goal, and we could even have been further behind at the break. The substitutions on the hour changed the game and thanks to Benrahma’s two goals we looked on course for another European victory before Soucek’s unfortunate own goal close to the end. Once again we found a way not to lose a game when we hadn’t played particularly well.

I’ll go back to my opening paragraph. How do we judge success? Billy Bonds stands out with the highest percentage of wins (although this is now coming under threat by David Moyes) and the lowest percentage of defeats, but a high proportion of his games were in the second tier. Trophy success and narrow misses have Lyall and Greenwood at the top of the tree. Our sole European success was under Greenwood, although Lyall came close as a runner up. Greenwood was also a losing European semi-finalist and led us to FA Cup success, as did Lyall twice. King and Pardew were runners-up. Greenwood and Lyall were also losing finalists in the League Cup, and Redknapp won the Inter-Toto Cup. King, Fenton, Lyall, Bonds (twice), Pardew and Allardyce all achieved promotion. Most goals per game were scored under Fenton, the least under Zola. Most goals conceded per game were also under Fenton, the least under Bonds.

You cannot really compare different eras but if I had to pick my top four based on statistics, trophies and overall impression, then (in no particular order) Greenwood, Lyall, Bonds and Moyes would have to be my favourites. I’ll let you choose the order, or indeed make your own choice of best managers. It’s just an opinion, and perhaps a good debate. My hope is that when David Moyes eventually leaves us he stands out as the best West Ham manager ever. I hope that day is a long way off.

An in-form Liverpool team are visiting the London Stadium on Sunday. Will it be a game too far for West Ham? I hope not but I am concerned when we play on Thursday evenings prior to a Sunday game. Our only two league defeats this season have followed Thursday Europa League fixtures. Can we find a way to win this one? For the first time in a while we are not favourites in a Premier League game – the odds on a West Ham victory are around 18/5. Can we defy the odds? What are the chances?

West Ham Plan A Night To Remember On Faraway Flanders Field

West Ham visit Genk hoping to secure top spot in Group H and to celebrate David Moyes’ 1000th managerial outing. Predicted line-up and score.

The West Ham bandwagon rolls onto Genk tonight to kick-off the second round of Europa League group matches. Victory tonight will all but guarantee the Hammers top spot in the group and a straight through passage to the Round of 16 – bypassing the qualifying round against teams dropping out of the Champions League.

The game will also be a landmark for David Moyes as he takes charge for the 1000th time in his managerial career. Of all the managers who have sat in the West Ham hot seat he is now behind only Sam Allardyce (1060) and Harry Redknapp (1395) in all-time gaffer longevity. Although Moyes will also surpass Slaven Bilic’s 111 games as Hammer’s boss tonight, he is only 10th in the club’s own manager stats – some way behind John Lyall’s 708.

It would make sense for Moyes to do everything he can to win tonight, even with a top of the table clash with Liverpool looming at the weekend. Victory would open up greater opportunities to rotate the squad in the final two group games during the busy run of games following the next international break. He will also want to win his 1000th game!

The trickiest selection dilemma will be whether Aaron Cresswell starts yet again at left back. The overworked Cresswell has barely had a rest this season but with no natural left sided replacement it is a dilemma – particularly up against tricky Japanese winger, Junya Ito. Ben Johnson can possibly cover at left back now that Vladimir Coufal is fit again to slot back in on the right. The impressive Johnson has been in terrific form of late and is more than capable of fulfilling defensive duties on the left. He has never looked comfortable, however, getting forward effectively on his weaker side.

Tomas Soucek could be due for a break tonight but I believe that both Declan Rice and Michail Antonio will be starters. My predicted lineup is: Areola, Coufal, Dawson, Diop, Johnson, Rice, Noble, Yarmolenko, Lanzini, Fornals, Antonio.

I doubt imagine many of us have ever visited Genk, unless you missed your turning on the way from Antwerp to Liege. It is an old coal mining centre whose claim to fame is being the third most significant town in Flanders (at least that’s what Wikipedia says). A Belgian equivalent of Barnsley perhaps, although it may well be very pleasant now that the mines have closed.

After their 3-0 defeat at the London Stadium, Genk went down by the same scoreline a few days later against Gent, before bouncing back with two thumping wins. The first, a 6-0 cup win away to third tier Winkel Sport, followed by a 6-2 Belgian league win at Zulte Waregem. They now sit 7th (of 18) in the standings.

We saw in the home fixture between the two sides that Genk can pose an attacking threat. But they are clearly vulnerable at the back. While the Hammers Europa clean sheet may be at some risk, they should have more than enough firepower to bother and outscore the Belgians. A 3-1 win for the happy Hammers. COYI!

The Thriller At The Villa. Hammers Looking To Extend Amazing Awayday Advantage

Unbeaten on the road for over six months, the West Ham tour bus rocks up in Birmingham to face a faltering Aston Villa

The two big domestic transfer stories during the summer were the prospective moves of Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish to the money-no-object ranks of Premier League champions, Manchester City. As we know, only one of these transfers came about when the Kane move was blocked when the selling club’s Chairman failed to honour an alleged gentleman’s agreement.

In a week where West Ham encountered each of the three clubs involved in those sagas it is interesting to reflect on how they worked out for all concerned.

Peak schadenfreude has almost been reached from the dramas currently playing out in N17. Getting one over on the old rivals, as we did last week, is always sweet, and to see it followed up with another pitiful performance yesterday has been spectacular. From self-styled European Super League heavyweights to crisis Premier League makeweights in the blink of an eye. Riddled with debt, saddled with an unsuitably dull manager and a group of players who look like they would rather be anywhere else, the situation is priceless. If Daniel Levy thought he had a gentleman’s agreement requiring Harry Kane to ‘give a toss’ during the remainder of his enforced stay, he now knows he was very much mistaken. Kane’s work-to-rule is a reminder that it is the players who now have the upper hand.

Few would be surprised to see Kane heading up north to the Etihad once the new year sales start. It is quite remarkable that despite the richness of their resources, Manchester City have even fewer strikers than West Ham. The Hammers gave an excellent defensive performance in midweek to finally put an end the visitor’s League Cup domination. But City do appear a lot less threatening at the moment, even if you know they will dominate the ball for long periods. For all Guardiola’s presumed tactical genius, his players recruitment has been very hit and miss. Hopefully, none of that is down to Rob Newman.

Ultimately, league cup success came down to a tense penalty shootout with Phil Foden wayward attempt being the sole failure. Does anyone look more like a ‘Manc’ than Foden? If he fails to get over his spot kick miss, there is a role in the remake of the Royle Family waiting. Huge congratulations to all the West Ham penalty takers for holding their nerve in the shootout. A quarter final tie at Tottenham now awaits.

The one who, of course, got away in the summer was the big money transfer of Grealish to Manchester City. Not sure he has yet provided value at City but as Villa’s talisman and overwhelming creative force, he has been a tough act to follow. The cash was quickly used to bring in three big money signings – Danny Ings, Leon Bailey, and Emiliano Buendia – but attempts to shoehorn them into an effective formation has so far proved to be a struggle. The Ings/ Watkins partnership looks formidable on paper but has yet to take off. Hopefully, it will remain grounded again today.

Things have rarely been better at West Ham. To the extent that I worry they may be going too well. Has David Moyes sold his soul to the devil in return for seven wishes. Will it all fall apart when the wishes run out?

It is an unfamiliar feeling approaching any game with a high degree of positivity – an expectation that West Ham might win rather than a forlorn hope that they won’t lose. I’m not sure that my anxiety levels have reduced come kick-off, however. Though they are anxieties about losing touch with the leading pack rather than getting sucked into a relegation battle. A win today and it will be halfway to the forty point minimum from just ten games.

Success breeds confidence but it can also lead to complacency. The manager’s balanced public persona provides some reassurance. Happy to praise the performance while looking for certain aspects of our game to improve. The return of the set piece threat is very welcome, but more goals are also needed from open play.

There will be no surprises in the starting eleven today with the team pretty much picking itself. Right back may be the only area of contention assuming both Valdimir Coufal and Ben Johnson are available to play. Johnson would be very unlucky if he has to settle for a place on the bench after recent performances. But competition for places is great!

Central attacking midfield is still the problem position for me. Both Pablo Fornals and Said Benrahma have done their best work when playing out wide and struggle to impose themselves enough in the central role behind Michail Antonio. Nikola Vlasic may be better suited to that position but needs to be fitter and faster (in both body and mind) before being considered a realistic starter.  

The other major development during the week has been the apparent interest in buying a stake in the club by Czech businessman and billionaire (and Sparta Prague President), Daniel Kretinsky. New investment rather than new ownership is more in line with David Sullivan’s immediate objectives and is more credible than an outright sale. How it might work in practice depends very much on the personalities of those involved and how they would get along. Do they have a shared love of Cossack hats? At face value, the deal is more appealing than being owned by a despotic overseas state. The Hammers go into today’s game in high spirits, having won four consecutive games in all competitions, as well as being unbeaten on the road this season. In contrasting fortunes, Villa have lost three on the trot since their win at Old Trafford at the end of September. Dean Smith is something of a gung-ho manager, hoping to outscore the opposition to compensate for weaknesses in defence. With Ings and Watkins they have the potential to do that but are currently lacking the creativity in midfield. Their open style of play should play to the Hammers counter-attacking strengths, as witnessed in last season’s 3-1 win. I’m hoping for a repeat score-line today. COYI!

What next West Ham? Carabao Cup reflections and a look ahead to Villa

I am old enough to remember when the League Cup was called the League Cup. Of course it’s now called the EFL Cup or is currently known as the Carabao Cup for sponsorship reasons. For the first 20 years or so there was no sponsor but since then there has been a succession of them, Rumbelows, Coca Cola etc. Back in the early days teams used to put out their strongest sides, but in recent times it has been considered the least important of the trophies on offer, and managers make wholesale changes, even in the latter stages of the competition.

On Wednesday night Guardiola made nine changes from the side that started their last game, but he was still able to field ten full internationals plus Cole Palmer, a top prospect who has already featured and scored in the Champions League and as an under 21 international, such is the quality of the strength in depth of the Manchester City squad.

Not to be outdone David Moyes made eight changes himself which is an indicator of how far West Ham have come in the last year or so. The game itself was described by some as one of the best 0-0 draws they had seen. It says something when perhaps our two most influential players, Declan Rice and Michail Antonio were rested completely and not even on the bench. I loved a tweet from Rodney Marsh before the game that would have come back to haunt him. It was along the lines of ‘No Rice, No Antonio, No Chance’.

It was no surprise that City had the greater possession and shots etc., but we gave them a good game and defended relatively comfortably to deny them a goal. We had our chances too, but when the game ended at 0-0 I feared the worst, knowing that City had not lost a penalty shootout for 13 years, which was seven successful ones in that time.

But our penalties were superb, Foden dragged his one wide, and as a result we progressed to the quarter-finals. One thing that came out of the penalties for me was that Aaron Cresswell, who I have long advocated should be high on our list of potential penalty takers, should definitely be on the shortlist, as should Craig Dawson if he is on the pitch.

23 different teams have won the League Cup but we are not one of them. We’ve been in the final twice, in 1966 (the last season that the final was a two-legged affair) and 1981, but runners-up is the best we’ve managed, although we were unlucky in 1981 in particular, when as a second-tier side we took Liverpool to a replay. Will this be our year?

It’s back to Premier League action this weekend when we visit Villa Park. Villa, who cashed in on Grealish in the summer, have made a disappointing start to this campaign and currently sit in 13th place, having lost their last three games. On the other hand we have remained undefeated in our last seven Premier League away games (3 at the end of last season and 4 to begin this one). When did that last happen? I doubt that it ever has in the Premier League. I looked back to our record breaking season of 1985-86 (my go-to when looking at records) and found a run of nine unbeaten away league games in succession which stretched from a defeat at Old Trafford on August 26 to a loss at White Hart Lane on December 26. Let’s hope that we can stretch our current unbeaten away run to eight this weekend.

Thinking back to the City game in midweek, the whole team defended as a unit to keep our opponents from scoring but particular credit must go to the keeper, Areola (arguably man of the match) and the back four of Johnson, Diop, Dawson and Cresswell, who all had excellent games. Ironically, after such good performances, perhaps only one of the five aforementioned players (Cresswell) may be in the starting line-up against Villa. I fully expect Fabianski, the fit-again Coufal, Zouma and Ogbonna to resume their places in the eleven chosen to start the game. That’s yet another testament to the strength of the squad being put together by the manager.

Last season (in February) we won 3-1 in the corresponding fixture with a couple of goals from Lingard. Surely he must be frustrated to get so little game time in the Manchester United team that has performed so poorly of late? I wonder if he will be one of the players that we target in the upcoming transfer window? It would be great to think that our owners wanted to splash out to strengthen our strong squad still further. But will the new Head of Recruitment be allowed to do so? Once again we are favourites with the bookmakers to win the game. A repeat of last season with West Ham winning the game 3-1 is priced at around 20/1. What are the chances?