Triskaidekaphobia for Bournemouth or West Ham?

Who will come out on top in the thirteenth meeting between West Ham and Bournemouth?

Today we meet Bournemouth for the thirteenth time in history. The record to date reads 5 wins for the Hammers, 4 draws, and 3 defeats. So who can look forward to lucky 13? If we look at Premier League meetings alone then our record is not so good. We have won 2, drawn 2 and lost 3, with all the games taking place in the last four seasons (including this one).

Our paths first crossed in 1929 in round 5 of the FA Cup. We were drawn away and drew the game 1-1, returning to Upton Park four days later to record a comfortable 3-1 win to progress to the Quarter Final, where we went out of the competition to Portsmouth.

Sixty years elapsed before we met again in the second tier of English Football in 1989. Once again we drew the away game 1-1, and comfortably won the return fixture at home by 4-1. We didn’t meet them the following season, not because we were promoted, but because the Cherries dropped into the third tier at the end of that campaign. A further ten years went by before we met them in a League Cup tie at Upton Park, where we won the round 3 fixture 2-0.

Bournemouth became one of the smallest (if not the smallest) clubs to reach the Premier League when they were promoted at the end of the 2014-15 season. They recorded their first ever victory in the top flight when they won 4-3 at Upton Park in August 2015, but we did win the reverse fixture on their ground the following January 3-1.

Another first came in the following season, our first at the London Stadium, where a late header enabled us to win our first league game at our new ground. But we were beaten in the return game away from home 3-2, despite taking an early lead after Bournemouth had missed a penalty.

There were even more goals the next time we met on Boxing Day in 2017. We were leading 3-2, after trailing 2-1 with ten minutes to go, when deep into injury time Bournemouth put the ball into our net. Not only did the linesman put his flag up for offside, but the ball was handled into the goal. Referee Bobby Madley chose to allow the goal to stand, which was one of the most astonishing decisions made by a referee, and a reason why VAR can’t come too soon for me. The return game less than a month later was a 1-1 draw, where once again we came from behind.

And finally, another first at the beginning of this season, the first home game under our new manager, which resulted in a 2-1 defeat after we had led in the first half.

Five interesting facts from West Ham v Bournemouth fixtures:

  1. West Ham have never failed to score in any of the 12 games against Bournemouth in history.
  1. Four West Ham players whose surnames begin with A have scored against Bournemouth (Arnautavic, Antonio, Ayew, and Allen (Martin)). We therefore hope that Arnie, Antonio and Anderson are on the pitch today! Arnie has scored 3 times for us against them, and Antonio twice.
  1. Conversely both Josh King and Callum Wilson have scored hat-tricks against us, and both could line up against us today, although Wilson faces a late fitness test.
  1. Seven different West Ham managers have been in charge in our 12 games against them: Syd King, Lou Macari, Billy Bonds, Harry Redknapp, Slaven Bilic, David Moyes and Manuel Pellegrini. King, Bonds, and Redknapp had a 100% record, Macari and Moyes never lost a game, Bilic won two and lost two, and only our current boss has a negative record in this fixture, which can be rectified with victory today.
  1. Our seven Premier League meeting average four goals a game, with 28 scored in total, 14 each.

Five other points to note:

  1. Since the beginning of last season, Bournemouth have conceded more goals in the Premier League than any other team. We come second!
  1. Bournemouth are the most out of form team in the Premier League, losing 11 of their last 14 games (league and cup), picking up only 7 points in the last 12 league games.
  1. We have collected 19 points since the beginning of December (the third most in the Premier League in that period).
  1. 17 of our last 20 goals have come in the second half of games.
  1. The majority of our Premier League goals against Bournemouth have come in the second half of games.

Taking into account past history of our meetings, and the recent record of both clubs, you can come to your own conclusion as to what will happen today. One thing is definite. It will not be a 0-0 draw! (or will it?).

My prediction is that the four goals per game average will be maintained, and we will end up winners by 3-1, with goals from the three A’s Arnautavic, Antonio, and Anderson.

West Ham Seek Payback From Seaside Rendezvous With Bournemouth

A feel-good factor on the field and turmoil behind the scenes is just one more episode in the everyday tale of footballing folk that is the West Ham soap opera.

By chance I happened to watch a Premier League chat show on Fox Sports Asia in the week.  Ordinarily, the participants rarely stray from discussing the merits or otherwise of the big six clubs, but on this particular occasion there was a brief interlude on West Ham – featuring the reincarnation of Samir Nasri and the possible transfer of Marko Arnautovic to Shanghai.  During their chat, the show’s host commented that the goings on at the London Stadium often resemble a soap opera.  The reason I mention this is that, as fans, we are so eager to consume club news that it is easy to take events out of proportion.  Many of us will have come to the conclusion years ago that the Hammers  attract more than their fair share of turmoil and absurdity– a cross between pantomime and a soap opera – Cinderella meets Eastenders!  It was just interesting that outsiders also see it in the same way.

This weekend sees West Ham off to the seaside to face AFC Bournemouth and for the second week running they have the opportunity to get payback against a team involved in the early season losing streak.   The Cherries have fallen away somewhat in recent weeks having won just twice from the last twelve league games and now sit four points behind West Ham in 12th place.  They may be disappointed with this but are still well clear of the relegation worries that many predict for them at the start of each season.

Eddie Howe continues to work wonders at Dean Court.  Although it is a small field, he continues to be the brightest English manager in the top level – and one who doesn’t rely solely on bus parking, aerial bombardment and attrition to get results.  His is the type of  energetic and enterprising side that so frequently unsettle our boys.  That there are so few decent home-grown managers and/ or coaches continues to be a surprising reflection of our game; years of exposure to more enlightened overseas coaching methods has done nothing to inspire a new generation of former players to follow this path – easier to become a pundit I suppose!

West Ham’s preparation has once again been overshadowed by the Arnautovic saga.  As I write this he is still around and on that basis I expect him to start tomorrow.  In fact, I expect an unchanged team from the one that kicked-off against Arsenal.

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If all of the media speculation is to be believed there will be a winter clearance sale at the London Stadium with rumours of Pedro Obiang, Javier Hernandez and Lucas Perez all following Arnautovic out of the exit door.  Equally frenetic is the list of names slated to replace them – all of whom sound very exotic and have splendid Youtube compilations to support their causes.  It would still be a surprise to me if there is more than one in and one out.  And maybe all the Arnie bluster will turn out to be a negotiating ruse for a better contract.

One name mentioned as a possible Arnie replacement is Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson, who has a fine scoring record against the Hammers.  Wilson has been absent through injury just recently but may be available to return for this game.  Definitely out for the Cherries are Francis, Cook and recent signing Solanke.  Having previously wasted big money on another Liverpool reject, Jordon Ibe, the signing of the injured, non-proven Solanke for £19 million looks like a major gamble to me.

Referee this week is Simon Hooper from Wiltshire.  Hooper is a rare visitor to the Premier League and, whereas, this is his first engagement with the Hammers he has already taken charge of two Bournemouth games this season.

Provided that the Hammers can keep the off-field shenanigans away from the pitch and aren’t caught napping by the host’s fast start, I will predict another three points this weekend courtesy of a fine 3-1 win.  This match always has goals in it so cannot see any clean sheets.  Our friend Lawro is going for a 2-1 Bournemouth win while Merson says 1-1.

Rice and Nasri Provide The West Ham Polish As Emery Papers Over The Arsenal Cracks: Five Weekend Takeaways!

A West Ham win against Arsenal, a clean sheet, record attendance and a first Declan Rice goal are just a few of the surprises served up at the London Stadium this weekend.

Professional And Efficient Performance

A first home win against Arsenal since 2006 was earned through an efficient, professional and controlled performance.  In front of a record home crowd West Ham triumphed in a match that never reached the levels of passion, excitement and entertainment often associated with this encounter.  It is fair to say that the threat from the visitors lacked any edge and it appears that their long unbeaten run earlier in the season has hidden some deep seated problems – at least as far as top four ambitions are concerned.  Until the introduction of Ramsey Arsenal offered little energy or urgency and neither Aubameyang nor Lacazette really bothered the Hammers defence.  West Ham were deserved winners and, at times, played some delightful football – only failing to remember that not all of their players are accomplished enough  to execute intricate, quick passing movements.  It was a little disappointed that Lucas Perez was considered more deserving of a place on the bench than Xande Silva; all clubs make mistakes with transfers and the sooner that Manuel Pellegrini files the recruitment of Perez as an unfortunate blooper the better.

Rice Opens His Goalscoring Account

In an early draft of my match preview I had included a comment to the effect that, if Declan Rice wanted to be considered as a top level midfield player, he needed to start scoring goals.  Fortunately, I removed it before publication.  I did have an inward smirk  when he missed a presentable headed chance in the first period but there was ample compensation when he swept home the only goal of the game early in the second half.  The delight on Declan’s face after the goal was a priceless momnet.  Like most Hammers I am a huge fan of Rice but admit to being in the camp that felt his future would be as a central defender rather than in midfield.  His ability to read the game, his stamina, agility, the deftness of his passing and the quickness of his feet have both surprised and amazed me.  Undoubtedly he is a top talent who will want to go on and play at the top level of the game – which begs the question: can the club’s ambition ever match his own?

The Reincarnation Of Nasri

It may only have been three-quarters of a match – and with the added incentive of it being against one of his former clubs – but Samir Nasri’s contribution to the West Ham cause on Saturday was outstanding.  He brought an intelligence, touch and degree of inspiration to the middle of the park that has been missing for much of the season in the absence of Manuel Lanzini.  He has that rare knack of creating space and time for himself and for picking out the right pass at the right time.  On Saturday, all this was backed with the effort of putting in the hard yards and it was fitting that he provided the assist for Rice’s goal.  If Nasri can repeat this level of commitment and performance it will have been a recruitment masterpiece by Pellegrini and co.  The prospect of Nasri linking up with Felipe Anderson for the remainder of the season is a mouth-watering one.  It was also great to see him playing with a broad smile on his face – clearly elated at being given another chance in a top league.

A Rare Clean Sheet

The other rarity of the weekend (other than a home win against the Gunners) was a West Ham clean sheet – and one that didn’t need to rely heavily on the heroics of Lucasz Fabianski.  Apart from a near miss by Iwobi, Arsenal rarely threatened and, although that was in part due to the visitor’s lack of guile, the West Ham defence did everything that was asked of them.  Each of the defenders had a sound game and deserve a firm pat on the back, including the much maligned Angelo Ogbonna.  The problem with Ogbonna is that he can be at the top of his game for long periods only to let himself down by inexplicably switching off at a vital moment.  The Hammers are short of defensive options and, even if backup is secured during the transfer window, it is probable that Ogbonna and Diop will now be the main partnership for much of the remainder of the season.

Will He Or Won’t He Be Back?

There has been plenty of speculation concerning the future of Marko Arnautovic and how to interpret his body language during the match.  Did he try, was he still injured, was he sulking, did he wave a long good-bye?  I think it is difficult to reach any firm conclusions given that he is prone to spending much of the game complaining to team-mates.  Based on the comments made by Michail Antonio on TV, it is apparent that Arnie is more than tempted by the Chinese millions and would be keen on the opportunity to finally have something to put into his empty trophy cabinet.  Ironically, the presence of Nasri and adoption of a more measured attacking approach may not suit the Arnautovic style, where he is at his most effective using pace and power to chase down longer balls and hassle defenders.  His departure would, nonetheless, be a huge loss even though keeping a player whose mind is elsewhere is a risk.  Surely a £35 million price tag is way below market value and we should have learned a lesson from the Payet episode.  That sort of money cannot buy an established replacement and in the current market the fee is not a good deal for West Ham.

“China In Your Hand”

Does Arnie fancy it? Or is his brother stirring it?

“Don’t push too far
Your Dreams are china in your hand
Don’t wish too hard
Because they may come true
And you can’t help them
You don’t know what you might
Have set upon yourself
China in your hand
Come from greed
Never born of the seed

 Took life from a barren hand
On eyes wide
Like a child in the form of a man
A story told
A mind of his own
An omen for our time
We take a flight on the wings of fantasy
Then you push too far
And make your dreams reality
Yeah! china in your hand
But they’re only dreams

And you shouldn’t push too far”

An excerpt from the lyrics of China in Your Hand, a number one from T’pau in 1987

arnieIf we had a full squad of players to choose from with no injuries (yes, that’s a mighty big if for West Ham), then I’d really fancy our chances against Arsenal today. Whilst still being one of the elite six teams in the Premier League, they are no longer the force of recent times, and they trail Liverpool and Manchester City by some distance.

It was only just over two years ago when they came here and handed out a 5-1 thrashing, one of two 5-1 victories over us in the last 23 meetings. In that time we’ve won just once, at the Emirates on the opening day of the 2015-16 season, a famous 2-0 win where Reece Oxford had Ozil in his back pocket. And where is Oxford today? A player we had high hopes for is still with us, but only just, and looks destined to leave in the near future, having barely played since that promising start.

Our last home win against the Gunners was on Guy Fawkes Day in 2006, and was in fact the only time we’ve beaten them on our own ground this century (until today I hope). On that day a late Marlon Harewood goal preceded a spat on the touchline between respective managers Pardew and Wenger. Wenger took exception to Pardew’s goal celebration and the handbags came out.

Today’s opponents are fifth in the Premier League at the moment, three points behind Chelsea, and three ahead of Manchester United. Whatever the outcome of this round of matches, then barring extreme scores they will remain fifth. A win for us today could lift us up as high as eighth if other results go our way, and will keep us in touch in the race for the unofficial Premier League Division Two title. The way I see the Premier League is that the elite top six form Division One, and the bottom six make up Division Three (i.e. those teams in the relegation dogfight). The middle eight form Division Two, and to finish at the top of this group would be a successful season for the team concerned.

This week it has been confirmed that Fabian Balbuena is likely to miss at least two months, and possibly most of the rest of the season. This will be a big loss, as despite Issa Diop getting most of the headlines in this season’s new central defensive partnership, I feel he has benefitted from the steady but unspectacular performances and positioning of his injured partner. Whilst being an OK replacement, Ogbonna seems to exhibit loss of concentration at times, and I believe Diop suffers as a result as he needs to cover for his new Italian partner, as well as looking after his own defensive responsibilities..

Of course the big headlines concerning our club in the last day or so involve our maverick Austrian striker whose brother (and agent) has been on the radio claiming that Arnie wants to join Shanghai SIPG in China. Apparently the initial offer of £35 million is contradictingly described as “fantastic” by the agent, and “derisory” by West Ham, who have issued a statement saying that they will not be won over by player power. Mmmmm. If selected to play, and it seems likely that he will be, then it will be interesting to see how Arnie performs today.

For me, much as I admire his ability, if he wants to go then I can’t see us stopping him, especially if a bigger offer comes on the table. No player is bigger than the club although I would hate to see him go at this point. If the offer was from a team playing in the Champions League, and he wanted to test himself at that level, then I could understand it more, but China? How much money does he need?

It would be difficult to replace a player of that calibre, especially in the short timeframe of this transfer window, but it was interesting to note that Bournemouth have signed Dominic Solanke from Liverpool for £19 million. Surely he hasn’t been bought to sit on the bench? But with King and Wilson occupying the front positions for the Cherries, I would expect that one of them is moving on, and I wonder if Bournemouth are looking to cash in on Callum Wilson. He has been linked with Chelsea, and is likely to cost approaching £50 million. I wonder if we are in a position to hijack that deal, or if he would want to come to the London Stadium?

Bookmakers are offering around even money on an Arsenal win, and about 5/2 on a home victory, the draw being in the region of 13/5. Perhaps the best bet of the day might be on the score remaining goalless at half time (21/10). West Ham haven’t scored a first half goal in a Premier League game at the London Stadium since the beginning of November, whereas Arsenal have scored 32 of their 46 league goals in the second half of games.

Although we have conceded 32 goals in the league so far this season, Arsenal do not have the defensive capabilities of their teams in years gone by, and, despite sitting fifth in the table, have only conceded one fewer than ourselves. Both teams have picked up seven points from their last five games, and a scoring draw with second half goals could be on the cards. However I reckon a determined Arnie will put on a show and score a late winning goal in a 3-2 victory. At 125/1 that will be my fun bet this week.

I Might Not Be Back Says Arnie While West Ham Prepare To Outshoot The Gunners

Uncertainty over the future of the clubs only decent striker may overshadow the meeting of two of the Premier League’s leakiest defences at the London Stadium.

With a comfortable league position and a favourable route offered through to the 5th round of the FA Cup, everything was starting to take on a rosy complexion in the wonderful world of West Ham.  But then just as we are making ourselves comfy in this state of abnormal well-being we are hit with a double whammy: first it is announced that Fabian Balbuena has become the latest in a long list of players to discover the West Ham treatment room has no exit – you can check-out but you can never leave; and then Marko Arnautovic comes down with an unprecedented case of yellow fever.

There is no doubt that the loss of Arnautovic in the wake of a huge bid from a Chinese Premier League club, would be a major blow to Manuel Pellegrini’s plans.  Although he may not be the most prolific of goalscorers, his power, pace and mobility provides an important, almost exclusive, focus to the Hammer’s attack.  There is no-one else in the squad comparable and options from elsewhere in the January transfer window will be both limited and expensive.  I can understand that players might love to win trophies but going to China to do so is a desperate move – the equivalent of Rodney winning the Under 15 art competition in Only Fools And Horses!  If his intention to leave is genuine (rather than merely a negotiating tactic) it is unlikely to end well for a club hoping to get the best out of him.  It is a sad fact of modern football that keeping a player against their will is rarely successful.

This weekend, West Ham face Arsenal in the Premier League Saturday lunchtime kick-off at the London Stadium.  When the two clubs met back in August both were pointless and the Gunners rather fortunate and flattering 3-1 win, after being a goal down, saw them embark on a long undefeated run of games.  Since that run was brought to ignominious end at Southampton they have looked somewhat indifferent as they slip further behind in the race for lucrative Champion’s League qualification.  Arsenal may well run around a lot more under new manager Unai Emery but the sacrifice has been a loss of flair and the introduction of comedy defending.  If you had asked me a few days ago about the outcome of the game I would have said West Ham were firm favourites to record their first home victory over the Gunners since November 2006.  Now I am not so sure.

With Balbuena possibly playing little part in the remainder of the season there is a bare bones look to the central defence.  Whereas the Balbuena-Diop axis was solid, the Ogbonna-Diop one is erratic and prone to a collective loss of concentration.  With few viable alternatives, the only defensive conundrum is the ongoing battle between Aaron Cresswell and Arthur Masuaku for the left back berth, where I believe Cresswell will get the nod.

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Following an encouraging debut in the FA Cup, I expect Samir Nasri to get thrown into to a first league start alongside Declan Rice and Mark Noble in midfield while further forward Felipe Anderson and Michail Antonio would hopefully support Arnautovic, if he is considered in the right frame of mind to play.  This would leave no room for Robert Snodgrass and Grady Diangana but both would likely feature from the bench.  Central midfield continues to be a worry and links to Jonjo Shelvey and Gary Medel do nothing to ease those concerns.  Experience prompts an adverse Pavlovian repsonse in me when any player who is currently playing in Turkey is linked to the club; and a 31 year old ex-Cardiff City player is hardly an exciting, forward looking prospect.

Arsenal have been running West Ham close in the most injuries achieved competition but may be able to welcome back Bellerin, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal and Ozil this weekend – although Mkhitaryan, Holding and West Ham nemesis Welbeck remain sidelined.  Although Arsenal no longer have the traditional Wenger swagger in midfield (and what is the point of Iwobi?) the combined threat of Aubameyang and Lacazette can be as good as any in the league on their day.

Making his first refereeing appearance at a West Ham match this season is Jonathan Moss from West Yorkshire.  Moss loves to flourish the cards and will be looking to add to his total of sixty seven yellows and four reds in what is often a fiercely contested London derby.

With two of the leakiest defences in the top half of the Premier League, this game is sure to have goals in it.  BBC pundit Lawro is predicting 1-2 while at time of writing former Gunner Merson is still wrestling with his conscious before declaring for an Arsenal success.  For me, a lot hinges on the Arnautovic situation – whether he is picked to play and, if he is, what his level of commitment will be.  Arnie in churlish mood will see him limping around the pitch in a sulk looking to be the first name in the referee’s notebook.  Nevertheless I am mysteriously in confident mood and can sense a Nasri inspired 3-2 Hammer’s bonanza.

Pellegrini Steers A Course Towards Cup Success

Jasper Carrott, Ozzy Osbourne, Simon Bates, Peaky Blinders, Bob Carolgees and Spit, Richard Hammond, Kiroy-Silk, Crossroads Motel, Mr Blue Sky, UB40. Your boys gonna take a hell of a beating!

It has become common over recent seasons to hear the term game management to describe the dull final twenty minutes or so of a match where the team in command ceases to press home the advantage while their opponents lack the ability to do anything about it.   When it comes to the third round of the FA Cup, which sits at the end of a packed holiday schedule, it has become a case of witnessing season management – managers looking to select a team with just enough quality to get through without the risk of further injury or fatigue.

In years gone by, the third round of the FA Cup was one of the most eagerly anticipated dates in the football calendar; but it is now firmly in the shadow of Premier League money-go-round and the quest for final standing merit payments.  The cup now only really comes into its own, as far as managers and the media are concerned, in the later rounds with the final managing to retain a good part of its allure.

At the old Wembley stadium, there were famously 39 steps from the pitch up to the royal box where both Bobby Moore and Billy Bonds climbed to receive the challenge cup trophy.  This season marks the 39th anniversary of the last of those memorable victories.  Is it be a step too far to imagine Mark Noble raising the cup aloft with a claret ribbon when May comes around?  Can Manuel Pellegrini manage his depleted resources and navigate a course all the way to the Wembley Arch?

The majority of supporters love a good cup run although the definition of what would constitute good is uncertain.  While going all the way is fantastic, elimination before the sixth round doesn’t really carry much of a distinction or merit even a footnote in history – personally, I even have mixed feelings about the 2006 final; a great day out at the time but I have never been able to relive the experience by watching the highlights ever again!

Even under Avram Grant (the second worst West Ham manager ever) there were two barnstorming cup runs – reaching the sixth round of the FA Cup before losing to Stoke City and going one step further in the League where the Hammers lost in a two leg semi final – to Birmingham City!  It is perhaps easy to look back with the knowledge of hindsight and say that the experience of the cup runs trumped eventual relegation but that could easily have turned out a lot worse for the club.  In financial terms winning the cup is only worth a league place or two but the memories for supporters last a lifetime.  It is a difficult balance for managers to handle.  At least the manager has the cushion of a comfortable league position as his backstop.

Pellegrini says that the cup is important to him and it certainly represents a more realistic route to winning a trophy than league success.  But winning the cup has still been dominated by the big six during the Premier League era and, more than ever, requires good fortune and a lucky draw – providing both an easy path forward for us and allowing the bigger teams to eliminate each other on the way.

Pellegrini will be wanting to give a break to key players this afternoon, particularly those that have played almost every minute; such as Felipe Anderson, Declan Rice and Issa Diop – although it may not be possible in every case.  Who, for instance, is available to cover for Diop?  New recruit Samir Nasri will play some part but probably no more than a half.  With such a long injury list there is not too much on the fringes of the squad to get very excited about and it may well mean another outing for the odd striking couple of Andy Carroll and Lucas Perez.  Apart from Gray Diangana and Xand Silva there has been little indication that the manager is seriously considering others from the  academy as first team players right now.  Conor Coventry and hopefully Nathan Holland will make it onto the bench alongside Anderson and Marko Arnautovic who are likely to be held in reserve.

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The Two Daves will be keen to welcome their former club to the London Stadium, like a man trying to impress on his ex-wife how well he has been doing since the divorce.  It is strange not to have a club from England’s second city in the Premier League and with Birmingham (as well as Villa) just off the pace in the Championship, perhaps their minds and priorities will also be somewhere other than the FA Cup.

Manager Gary Monk who had a bright start to his managerial career at Swansea City, but subsequently struggled at Leeds and Middlesbrough, appears to be finally getting some consistency at St Andrew’s.  From what I have seen and read about Che Adams, he is just the type of player to give the Hammers the runaround and will need to get kept on a tight rein.

I was never one to attend many away games outside of the capital but, courtesy of a friend giving me some Persil tickets, I did travel to Birmingham to see the fifth round tie in 1984.  It was quite possibly the most miserable footballing experience of my life where the fighting started in the bar at Euston and remained a real and constant threat throughout the day.  A tepid West Ham performance and a 3-0 defeat did nothing to improve matters for the long depressing ride home.

The referee today is Roger East from Wiltshire who was last at the London Stadium for the win against Burnley.

As much as I would love to see West Ham sweep aside their lower league opposition, game management and season management will not allow that to happen.  This will be no Macclesfield (or Tranmere!).  It is even too tight even to be viewed as an upset – a banana skin without much potential, in fact. Keeping the faith, however, I will rely on the Hammers putting in a spirited performance and securing a single goal victory.

Hammers v Blues Clashes in the FA Cup

We look back on previous meetings between the two sides in England’s premier domestic cup competition.

1932-33 was a turbulent season in the history of West Ham United FC. Ten years after appearing in our first FA Cup Final, and the very first Wembley (White Horse) final we found ourselves back down in Division Two after spending the previous decade in the top flight. The season began poorly and we did not win a game until beating bitter rivals Millwall in mid-September. Early attendances that season at Upton Park were around the 10,000 mark but 25,000 were there to see our South London opponents comprehensively beaten 3-0.

The season continued with good form at home but we were abysmal on our travels. We hovered around the bottom of the league despite some impressive home wins, 5-2 against both Oldham and Grimsby, 7-3 against Charlton, 3-1 over Manchester United, Swansea and Southampton, and 5-0 against Port Vale. With just five league games to go we sat at the foot of the table, and with a difficult run-in looked destined to fall into the third tier of English football. However four successive wins over Nottingham Forest, Chesterfield, Manchester United and Tottenham (three of whom were to finish in the top six) saved us.

Off the field, our manager Syd King, who had been at the club as both player and manager for over 30 years back to the Thames Ironwork days, was warned on a number of occasions regarding his drink-related conduct, and in November 1932, he was suspended for three months. In early January his contract was terminated, and just a few days later he drank a mixture of alcohol and disinfectant and died. He was succeeded as boss by the club trainer, Charlie Paynter.

Our FA Cup fortunes were an improvement on our league form. After disposing of Corinthians (2-0) in Round 3, and West Brom by the same score in Round 4, we met Brighton and Hove Albion in the fifth round. The game was a 2-2 draw before we won the replay 1-0 to set up a quarter final tie against today’s opponents Birmingham City (then a mid-table Division One team). A reported 44,000 were at Upton Park on that day, although the figure is disputed and some sources reckon it was around 40,000. Nevertheless the stadium was packed to see us easily win the game 4-0 to progress to the semi-final.

Despite the poor league form, our journey in the FA Cup was an exciting one, and we faced Everton of Division One in Wolverhampton for a place at Wembley. With just a few minutes remaining the match was tied at 1-1 but we conceded a late goal and went out of the competition. Everton won the final at Wembley easily beating Manchester City 3-0. A co-incidence that we drew 2-2 with Brighton shortly before facing Birmingam in the FA Cup? Let us hope that the co-incidence extends further and that we record a 4-0 victory in this game today.

We didn’t meet Birmingham again in the FA Cup until they visited Upton Park for a third round tie in January 1965. This was our first FA Cup match since lifting the cup the previous May (winning our first ever major trophy). We were both top flight sides, although our visitors were struggling at the foot of the table (and were eventually relegated finishing bottom). The Blues (not the most exciting of nicknames I reckon) unexpectedly raced into a two goal lead, but we fought back with two goals from Geoff Hurst, and one apiece from Johnny Byrne and John Sissons to win 4-2. However we were unable to extend our hold on the cup any longer when we were knocked out by Chelsea (1-0) at Upton Park in the next round. Of course we did have a magnificent cup run that season in the European Cup Winners Cup where we progressed all the way to the final where we beat TSV Munich 1860 to win our first (and only) European trophy.

Our only other FA Cup meeting with the Blues was in the fifth round of the 1983-84 competition. After disposing of Wigan in Round 3 and Crystal Palace in Round 4 we travelled to the Midlands to face a Birmingham side once again hovering near the foot of the table in the fifth round. We played poorly that day and they easily beat us 3-0. It was disappointing in that we were a side that were third in the Division One table when we met them in February whilst they were eventually relegated.

If you are looking for good omens then the last time we won the FA Cup (in 1980) the third round tie was played on January 5th. But conversely the Round 3 game five years ago (in 2014) was also on this date, and Hammers fans will recall an embarrassing 5-0 defeat at the hands of Nottingham Forest. We put out a weakened side that day with five youth team players, who never had the opportunity to play in the first team again.

Let us hope that we put out a team strong enough to progress to the next round. This is a competition that we have a chance of winning. We are safely ensconced in mid-table in the league with no prospect of being involved in a relegation battle. Wouldn’t it be great to be involved in another exciting cup run? Unfortunately, in modern times the cup competitions take second place to obtaining the highest possible league position, and that is a big shame in my opinion. I remember vividly our FA Cup wins of 1964, 1975, and 1980. They are great memories. It’s about time for another!