Yet Another West Ham Era Kicks Off at Vicarage Road

Can David Moyes celebrate his 500th Premier League game and his first at West Ham with a much needed victory?

The stop-start Premier League season returns with West Ham deservedly languishing in the relegation zone with just under a third of matches played.  The poor fitness and energy levels shown be the Hammers, which were so obvious for so long to many supporters, were eventually backed up by pundits and statistics and so they go into today’s fixture under the guidance of the club’s sixteenth full-time manager (ten of whom have managed in the Premier League era).

The new buzzword around Rush Green is intensity and initial impressions are that preparation has a more professional and serious look about it than the casual approach employed by the previous regime.  Not that fitness is the only area of improvement required to raise the bar of performances to a level more consistent with the talent available within the squad.   Only time will tell whether improved fitness will translate to greater movement and cohesion allowing the team to keep and make better use of the ball.  To be a decent passing side also needs to have players who are moving into space,  ready and willing to receive, in addition to the skilled execution of the pass itself.  I am hoping for improvement but not expecting overnight miracles to happen.

Today will be David Moyes’ first game as West Ham manager but his 500th in the Premier League and he should be given every opportunity to start with the same clean slate from the fans as the one he has offered to his squad.

The players have been really committed to what we’ve asked them to do, they’ve grasped it and got on with it, and I think they’ve embraced it too. We’ve tried to put an awful lot of work into them over the past five or six days.

– David Moyes

Our hosts today were fast out of the new season blocks, under much admired manager Marco Silva, but have fallen away recently with a run of three defeats; a run that included one of the most entertaining games I have seen for a while when Watford had several chances to bury Chelsea at Stamford Bridge but ended up losing 4-2.

Head to Head

Ignoring meetings in the Southern League and war-time cups, fixtures between West Ham and Watford are a relatively recent phenomenon starting with a Division 2 encounter in 1979.  Since then the Hammers have generally called the shots winning twenty-four and losing ten of the forty-two games played.  More recent history has the balance tilted slightly in favour of the Hornets who have won five and lost four of the last twelve.

On the road West Ham have won six (lost two) of the last twelve visits to Vicarage Road.

Team News

Probable absentees for the Hammers are Javier Hernandez, Michail Antonio, Jose Fonte, Sam Byram and James Collins.  It would be no surprise if Winston Reid also missed out following his epic air-miles earning trip to New Zealand and Peru during the international break.

I would expect a conservative team selection for Moyes’ first game in charge with the usual familiar faces although that may include Declan Rice if Reid is considered not to have recovered from his travels.  Otherwise there are unlikely to be any surprises with Andy Carroll most probably leading the line.  It will be interesting, if slates have truly been wiped clean, to see how players such as Marko Arnautovic, Diafra Sakho and Andre Ayew respond to the reported new intensity and discipline injected into training and behaviour.

He (Moyes) can change everything. It is the first game and he can change. We respect the team and they have a lot of individual quality in their players. We know what we need to do to win the game.

– Marco Silva

Watford are without the long-term injured Chalobah, Success and Cathcart, the suspended Deeney and have doubts about Kabasele, Pereyra, Prodl and Kaboul.  It would be a bonus not having to face Pereyra as he and Richarlison are the type of quick, clever players that typically cause West Ham major problems.  At the other end it would be a shame if the accident prone Kaboul doesn’t play.

Man in the Middle

A first West Ham outing this season for Andre Marriner from the West Midlands.  Marriner’s five Hammer’s games last term saw a win at Swansea, defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea and draws with Stoke and Sunderland. In eleven games this season he has shown one red and twenty-four yellow cards.

Predictions

Lawro and Merson are firmly on the fence with 1-1 draws; a conclusion which look reasonable in the circumstances.  Watford can be dangerous in attack but fragile at the back with a defence that has conceded almost as many goals as the Hammers.  We are likely to see a cautious approach from Moyes, seeking to frustrate rather than entertain in a situation where picking up points before December’s run of death has to be the overriding priority.  If West Ham can keep it tight in defence and in central midfield then they have the potential to hurt Watford on the break and from set pieces; thus I will stick my neck out and go for an encouraging 2-1 victory.

Watford versus West Ham Preview

We’ve already faced the Magpies, Swans, Seagulls, and Eagles this season; can our new manager turn around our form as we go into the Hornets’ Nest?

Now that the furore surrounding the appointment of our new manager has largely died down we can begin to think about the return of our players away on international duty, assess the injury list, and the coaching staff can prepare the team for the important trip around the M25 to Watford on Sunday afternoon. From some of the reactions that I read on social media you would have thought that the board had re-appointed Avram Grant, not a manager who in his career has managed teams to finish in the top eight almost as many times as we have finished in one of those lofty positions in the entire history of the club. Not that he was particularly my first choice, but it may just be that he is the type of manager needed at the present time. He certainly seems to have made some impression in his short time here with the appointment of his backroom team being particularly well received, and the stepping up of the training sessions being very evident on videos released, to replace the usual jokey crossbar challenge and other joviality that came before. The arrival of Stuart Pearce is one that is favoured by many, and it is hoped that he can exert the necessary influence behind the scenes that many thought would be provided by Julian Dicks, but didn’t appear to be in evidence.

Not being a fan of friendly international football I am afraid that I didn’t see a single minute of the two England games in the break. I did, however, see one of the most ridiculous penalty awards of all time which effectively eliminated Northern Ireland from the World Cup finals tournament. I watched a bit of the Republic of Ireland playing in Denmark and thought to myself, why can’t West Ham defend like that? But then I watched some of the return game in Dublin and recognised some classic West Ham style kamikaze defending. Sweden also turned the tables on Italy with a masterful display of defence in the old Italian style, including one of their defenders committing a foul so bad (a knee in the stomach) that would have resulted in an arrest on the street, yet the referee deemed that the Italian forward who controlled the ball on his thigh before being assaulted had handled the ball! Some of the refereeing decisions that I saw in those World Cup qualifiers made me fear for the potential standard of the officials in the World Cup next year.

But for me the Premier League makes a welcome return this weekend. No more interruptions for internationals until March. I watched David Moyes’ press conference and was impressed with his positivity and confidence. This will be his 500th game as a manager in the Premier League, a total only surpassed by Ferguson, Wenger and Redknapp. I liked the way he answered many of the questions put to him, but the real test will be in what happens on the pitch in the coming games. Watford will not be the easiest away trip, although their form at Vicarage Road has not been as impressive as their form on the road. Their five home games have yielded just five points, with a solitary victory (2-1 v Arsenal) after they had been outplayed by their visitors for much of the game. Home draws against Liverpool and Brighton were certainly better results than we achieved at home against the same teams. A 6-0 reverse at home to Manchester City was an even heavier defeat than most other teams have suffered at the hands of the odds-on favourites for the Premier League title, and they will have been disappointed going down 1-0 to Stoke in their last home fixture.

Victories in their first three away games of the season at Bournemouth, Southampton and Swansea were followed by a draw at West Brom and then two defeats at Chelsea and then Everton. Somehow at Goodison they contrived to turn a 2-0 lead well into the second half into a 3-2 loss and even missed a penalty in the eleventh minute of injury time which would have given them a share of the spoils. After eight games they sat in fourth place in the table, but losing three in a row has seen them drop to ninth. Nevertheless I reckon they would have settled for 15 points and a top half position at this stage of the season.

Our head to head record in games against Watford is a heavily positive won with more than twice as many victories as defeats. In the period from 1984-85 for the next 20 years or so we played them on 23 occasions, winning 19, drawing two, and losing just twice. But the last ten games since then has seen a reversal of fortunes, and we have won just two of the matches, drawn three, and we have been beaten five times.

In the final season at Upton Park we beat them comfortably 3-1 with two Mark Noble penalties following an opening goal from Andy Carroll. How often are we awarded a single penalty in a game, let alone two? Incidentally the referee who gave them to us was (the now not so popular with West Ham fans) Mike Dean.

And who can possibly forget just over a year ago in one of the early games at the London Stadium when we raced into a 2-0 lead (which should have been even more) with two headed goals from Antonio, one from an outrageous rabona cross by a Frenchman who was popular with our fans at the time? We then contrived to concede two goals in the last five minutes of the first half, and a further two in the opening 15 minutes of the second, in a woeful defensive display. Some Watford players even accused our team of showboating when we were two goals ahead. In the return fixture we drew 1-1 with Ayew equalising an early penalty scored by Deeney, and Antonio was sent off close to the end of the game.

What do the bookmakers offer on the game? Watford are close to even money to win, whereas we are around 3/1. The favourite score is 1-1 (as it so often is), which is Lawro’s prediction and is priced at around 11/2. I am hoping that we will benefit from the “new manager factor” and inflict on Watford their fourth league defeat in a row. As each of us have featured in five games this season where four or more goals have been scored, my fun bet will be on a half-time score of 1-1, with West Ham to run out 3-1 winners at the end of the game at 125/1. I’ll add this to West Ham to win and four or more goals to be scored in the game which is priced at 10/1.

Don’t Throw Your Moyes Out Of The Pram

It is hardly the most welcome appointment in history as West Ham look to bring in David Moyes as Slaven Bilic’s replacement.

In true West Ham style the eviction of Slaven Bilic from the manager’s office at the London Stadium turned out to be a long drawn out affair.  By the time the axe finally fell anyone who had been even remotely following the dramawould have been fully aware that Slaven was on his way and that his apparent successor would be David Moyes.

Having resisted the temptation to dismiss Bilic in the summer, when time and options were more plentiful, the owners had effectively painted themselves into a corner by tolerating increasingly desperate performances until even they must have known that the team were certain relegation candidates unless immediate changes were made.   Although by the end most were in tune with Bilic’s departure (no matter how much of a nice guy he was) it would be difficult (or should that be impossible) to find any supporters who would have had Moyes at the top of their wish list for replacements.

The options at this stage of the season are clearly limited and the attractiveness of the task to anyone already in a job was not worth breaking a contract for.  I don’t subscribe to the view that cheap was the key criteria although would dismiss talk of sounding out names such as Ancelloti, Mancini or even Mario Silva as the same fanciful pipe-dreaming that we hear about alleged top striker targets during each transfer window.

West Ham has always liked to represent itself as a family club but increasingly it has the look and feel of one of the many dysfunctional families that regularly turn up in Albert Square; at least if you take notice of the angry brigade that dominate social media.  If what we read is true there now exists the perfect storm of disgruntlement on the Twitterverse that encompasses owners, stadium, players and both outgoing and incoming managers.

During my time supporting West Ham I don’t recall there ever being owners that were loved or respected by the majority of supporters.  Maybe there have been brief periods of optimism such as the start of the Icelandic Age; but we all know how badly that ended, eventually creating the conditions that allowed Gold and Sullivan to ride in as our ‘saviours’.  The club is no doubt in better shape financially under the stewardship of the two Dave’s but it is no more professional on the footballing side that it has ever been; very much stuck in the last century.  Although it may not necessarily be for the better but the game has changed immensely over the years.  Stumbling along from season to season and crisis to crisis (with the occasional relegation) is not an option for a club hoping to sustain a 50,000 plus stadium no matter how loyal its fan base.

The greatest negligence at the club is in failing to create a structure that provides continuity between the frequent changes of managers/ coaches (which have become inevitable) and to deliver an infrastructure, in the form of competitive and professional training facilities, which will attract and get the best out of their players.  West Ham have been left badly behind in both areas.  David Sullivan playing at Director of Football is a nonsense and Rush Green is way behind what should be expected at one of the world’s top twenty football clubs.

Despite the shortcomings (!) of the owners, the terrible performances on the pitch were clearly down the manager.  Anyone who has regularly watched over the past year and a half must have observed the problems with fitness, tactics, team selection, formations, application and motivation.  I don’t profess to understand how our transfer business works but the assumption has to be that the manager has the final say before any player puts pen to paper (even if the board are not prepared to pay the asking price for some of those at the top of his wish list).  Working within a budget is a reality for almost all managers and I don’t go along with the view that Bilic was starved of cash, or that he was undermined during his time at the club.  It is unfortunate that money has been wasted in paying over the top on wages rather than making that money available for transfer fees.  A focus on recruiting experienced (e.g. old) players, an inability to discover young talent from lower leagues and a reluctance to develop youth have all played their part in assembling a squad that, although theoretically talented, is unbalanced  and poorly deployed.

What impact Moyes can have (assuming he is the chosen one) is anyone’s guess.  Many seem to want him to fail before he has started which is difficult to understand even if he does come across as a miserable bugger.  After successful stints at Preston and Everton his career has taken a decidedly downward turn over recent years.  The time spent at Manchester United, as Ferguson’s chosen successor, was always going to be a difficult gig and it was a relative failure rather than an absolute one.  He was dismissed from Real Sociedad for being average rather than terrible but it was his spell at Sunderland which is the greatest cause for concern.  He seemed to make little impression at the Stadium of Light where his apparent defeatist and morose attitude guided the Black Cats to a tame bottom placed finish.  The only possible mitigation is that Sunderland was and is a club in massive disarray and irreversible decline; a look at the current Championship table would appear to confirm this.

If West Ham get the Everton era Moyes then he will bring far better organisation and greater levels of fitness to the team.  It may not be brilliant to watch but it should be good enough.  There is an old joke about two hunters being attacked by a bear where one stops to put on his running shoes.  “You can’t outrun a bear” say his partner.  “I don’t have to” he replies “I only have to outrun you!”  Likewise our task is not necessarily to storm up the league but to do enough to finish above three other sides.  In fact, those not wanting a long term engagement with Moyes might prefer our escape to be as narrow as possible so that no contract extension is triggered.  For me, anyone who is hoping for failure and relegation (and I have seen some comments to that effect) has a rather twisted outlook; even if the motivation is to bring about a change of ownership.

At the time of writing the other rumour doing the rounds is the possibility of Stuart Pearce coming in as a coach to support Moyes.  I don’t have a strong impression for Pearce as manager material but he could have a strong impact in delivering the much needed rocket up the player’s collective backsides.  Pretty much anything has to be an upgrade on Bilic surrounding himself with his mates to a point where there was no viable caretaker to step in even on a temporary basis

It looks like Moyes is going to be appointed today and it is only right that he should start with a clean slate whatever the reservations.  Can he work wonders in the next three games before we embark on the December of death?  It will be a tall order but he deserves our backing and support until experience proves otherwise.

Five Takeaways: West Ham’s Shambolic Self Destruction Against Liverpool

Surely the latest is a series of spineless, self-inflicted surrenders will spell the end of Slaven Bilic’s tenure at West Ham.

The Shots Statistics In Full

Shots Off Target = 5; Shots On Target = 1; Shots Into Own Foot = 4
It was a bright enough opening.  West Ham got past the opening fifteen minutes where no-one seems to want to score in a Premier League game these days with some ease and had, in fact, come closest to scoring when Ayew’s shot, from Lanzini’s deflected pass, hit the outside of the post.  When the Hammers won a corner and our three centre backs all sauntered up-field I am sure that the gaps they left behind would have been visible from space.  A quick Liverpool break resulting with three against Cresswell and it was one-nil.  A few moments later it looked like game over as Noble supplied his first assist on the season to set Liverpool up for their second.  The briefest glimmer of hope, early in the second half, from a smartly taken Lanzini goal was quickly extinguished by another rush of gung-ho defending that left keeper Hart grounded with a resigned WTF look on his face.  The final goal was purely academic but was again the result of shambolic defensive organisation that involved lots of pointing but little positioning.  It was just lucky that Liverpool themselves had an off-day and barely needed to break sweat.

The Lost Art of Preparation and Coaching

For once it was not a lack of fitness or effort that caused the Hammer’s downfall but it was disturbing at just how quickly heads dropped after the opening goal.  Defensive suspensions and injuries hadn’t helped in selections but the defence has hardly been a strong point even with a fully fit and available squad to choose from.  Who could have imagined that Fernandes would do a job at wing back against the returning Mane?  It is plainly obvious that preparation and attention to detail is not a core competence in the current coaching set-up.  Rather than it being form that is poor it is discipline and organisation that is missing.  I can only describe Bilic’s style of play as anarchic (or anarchico as it really needs to have an Italian name) where players are allowed to do what they want, when they want.  The notion that players do not need to be tightly coached and expertly drilled, given the small margins at play in top level sport, is beyond belief.  Although it is always tempting to focus on individual errors those apparent errors are more often than not caused by collective disorganisation.

Were There Any Positives?

The only West Ham player who looked like he belonged in the Premier League on the strength of yesterday’s performance was Manuel Lanzini.  It is not difficult to imagine him in a Liverpool shirt by the start of next season (but hopefully not that aberration of a third kit sported yesterday as if it was a goalkeeper’s fancy dress party!)  Lanzini aside the best performance of the evening was from the Bugler who topped anything else I have witnessed from the Remembrance observations over the last two weekends.  There was one thing that I heard on a commentary that amused me laugh when it was suggested that Slaven Bilic was making use of all his offensive tools.  That I found the idea of Carroll and Sakho described as offensive tools to be one of the match highlights shows how starved we have become of entertainment.

Has Anyone Thrown The Towel In Yet?

I was fully expecting an announcement that the axe had fallen on Slaven Bilic’s reign at the London Stadium before this article was ready for publication.  Surely it is now simply a question of timing.  The image of our manager looking forlorn and lost on the touchline, like Bambi after his mother had been shot, and you sense that putting him out of his misery is the kindest thing all round.  The International Break at least provides breathing space for someone to try to re-arrange the current shambles into the semblance of a football team.  Sticking for a moment longer with Bilic suggests certain relegation to me.  It is not too late for someone to come in and knock what should be a mid-table squad into shape.  Assuming that we take no points off the top six clubs then our target is to pick a point and a half per game against the rest for safety (over the course of a season.)  Currently we are just three points behind that target and so all is not yet lost provided action is taken.

Jobs For The Moyes

The strong media speculation and bookmakers seem to point to David Moyes taking over, possibly with a contract to the end of the season.  He would not be my first choice as a next level manager but beggars can’t be choosers and the better opportunity for change was missed in the summer. It is difficult to know how to assess Moyes. He had a good record at Everton, picked up something of a poison chalice at Old Trafford (despite being recommended by Sir Alex) and was woeful at Sunderland.  My big fear is that there are too many parallels between ourselves and Sunderland where a big shiny stadium is expected by those in charge to guarantee success.  With Moyes it won’t be pretty but, in my opinion, it should be effective enough, at least for the remainder of the season.  As a longer term solution I am not excited either by his dour demeanour and how that is reflected on the pitch.  Equally, I wouldn’t be happy with the return of Allardyce or Pardew.  Perhaps some exciting young coaches working alongside the manager could help freshen things up and avoid a repeat of what we have now where the manager has surrounded himself with his mates leaving no caretaker option available.

Memories of West Ham games against Liverpool in the last 55 years

A collection of memories from an encounter that has never been the most productive for West Ham over the years.

Our head to head record against Liverpool is an appalling one. In 135 competitive games in the league, cups, and charity shield, we have won just 28, drawn 36, and lost 71. I guess that this is not too surprising given Liverpool’s record as one of the top teams in the country over a long period of time.

Our final season at the Boleyn (2015-16) was as good as it gets against them with three victories and a draw in the four games. We won comfortably (3-0) at Anfield at the end of August, after which the manager (Brendan Rodgers) lost his job to be replaced by Jurgen Klopp. We also won the return league fixture at Upton Park, as well as drawing at Anfield in the FA Cup, then beating them after extra-time in the replay.

In 2014-15 there was an amazing start to the game at Upton Park. First, Reid scored from close range after a couple of minutes, and then Sakho floated in the second with Valencia following it in to make sure. Just a few minutes gone and we were 2-0 up. On the half hour Sterling lashed in a fierce shot in front of the Bobby Moore end to reduce our lead. However we held the advantage throughout the second half, and just a couple of minutes from the end a pass from Downing enabled Amaltifano to make the game safe with a clinical finish.

In the ill-fated relegation season under Avram Grant (2010-11) an inspired performance from Scott Parker (not his only inspired performance in a claret and blue shirt) was the catalyst for another victory. Parker himself opened the scoring with a fine shot, and then Demba Ba headed home Gary O’Neill’s cross. Yet another old boy then scored against us when Glenn Johnson pulled one back in the last ten minutes. But Carlton Cole wrapped up the three points with a scorching left footed strike in front of the fans in the Bobby Moore stand to seal a 3-1 victory. This was our nineteenth meeting against Liverpool in the twenty-first century, but was only our second win!

We all know the statistic about how long we went without winning at Anfield (1963-2015). But in that cup winning season of 1963-64, not only did we win at Anfield in September 1963 (with the Beatles at the top of the charts with “She Loves You”), but we also won the home game, with a Johnny Byrne goal giving us a 1-0 win. At around the time of that Anfield victory, another Merseyside group, Gerry & the Pacemakers, recorded their single “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. It became number one in November and, of course, went on to become a Liverpool anthem.

When we met Liverpool in a League Cup fourth round tie in November 1988, few gave us much chance as we had failed to beat them at home or away for over six years. But a spectacular volley half way through the first half followed by a Devonshire corner headed home meant that we led 2-0 with both goals being scored by everyone’s favourite, Paul Ince. We don’t easily hold on to 2-0 leads against Liverpool and this game was no exception when they were awarded a controversial penalty which was converted by Aldridge. So 2-1 at half-time and the next goal would be important. But the story has a happy ending with a Staunton own goal followed by a stunning Tony Gale free kick giving us a famous 4-1 victory. That season ended on a low note with a 5-1 defeat at Anfield which relegated us to Division 2 and set Liverpool up for a title decider against Arsenal with a distinct advantage. But they lost out to virtually the last kick of the league season when a Michael Thomas goal gave the Gunners a decisive 2-0 victory and the title on the virtue of goals scored in the season with points and goal difference being equal.

The highest profile games against Liverpool were played on neutral grounds. In our record breaking season of 1980-81, the only season in almost sixty years of watching West Ham I have seen us finish at the top of a league, albeit it was Division Two, we reached the League Cup Final against them. At the time they were the top team in the country. It looked like we were about to lose the game when Alan Kennedy scored just before the end of extra time (it was 0-0 after 90 minutes), but in the final minute we were awarded a penalty, and Ray Stewart was the coolest person in Wembley Stadium when he stepped up and slotted home the well-deserved equaliser.

The galling thing about the Liverpool goal was that Sammy Lee was crouching on the ground immediately in front of Phil Parkes, our goalkeeper, in an offside position and the linesman raised his flag to signal offside. He was over-ruled by the infamous referee Clive Thomas (who was not averse to controversial decisions) who deemed that although Lee was in an offside position he was not interfering with play. Anybody who was there, or who has watched the TV replay of the goal would agree that this was nonsensical, he was most definitely interfering with play as he had to duck his head to avoid being hit by the ball!

The League Cup controversy sparked a major incident when John Lyall told Thomas at the end of the game that we felt cheated, and then Thomas blurted to the press that Lyall had called him a cheat. Lyall faced an FA charge of bringing the game into disrepute, although he was exonerated at the hearing. The replay was held at Villa Park. Despite taking the lead when Jimmy Neighbour’s cross was met at the near post by Paul Goddard, Dalglish equalised with a magnificent volley and then Alan Hansen scored a header via Billy Bonds’ thigh. This time we couldn’t come back and Liverpool lifted the trophy.

In 2006 we visited the Millenium Stadium for the third season in a row, although this time no play-offs were involved, we were contesting the FA Cup Final against Liverpool. This was the sixth and last FA Cup Final to be held in Cardiff during the rebuilding of Wembley Stadium. Liverpool had won the first in 2001 but we were determined that they wouldn’t win the last. The game was considered to be one of the great cup finals. We made an excellent start with a Lionel Scaloni cross being turned into his own goal by Carragher, and then an Etherington shot was fumbled by Reina for Ashton to squirm the ball into the goal. We were in dreamland. Our 2-0 lead was shortlived, however, when Scaloni misjudged a long ball from Gerrard which Cissé volleyed home to cut the deficit in half. Ten minutes into the second half Gerrard volleyed home a headed knockdown by Peter Crouch to level the game at 2-2.

Incredibly we went ahead again 25 minutes from the end when Paul Konchesky’s long floated cross-cum shot sailed over the head of Reina to put us 3-2 ahead. With the game in injury time Liverpool were out on their feet and it looked as though the cup was ours. Scaloni could have put the ball out high into the stands, or just kept possession, but chose to hand it to our opponents and seconds later it fell to Gerrard who hit a stinging low shot from around 30 yards into the bottom corner of the net to take the game into extra time. I thought back to this moment when Antonio did something similar in the last seconds of injury time against Palace last weekend! Liverpool had the momentum in extra time but extraordinary misses by Reo-Coker and Harewood meant that it would take a penalty shoot out to decide the victors. It was perhaps one of the most one sided penalty shoot outs of all time in a major final. Zamora, Konchesky and Ferdinand all contrived to miss with substitute Sheringham scoring our only penalty as we lost 3-1. The cup was ours and then we lost it. Twenty-six years after our previous FA cup victory we should have lifted the trophy again, but it was not to be.

Liverpool come to town to take on the best team in Europe

Can the Hammers claw their way to respectability ahead of yet another international break?

The last two Wednesdays have seen Tottenham playing at Wembley. Firstly they couldn’t overcome mighty West Ham and lost 3-2. Then this week they comfortably beat the current UEFA Champions League holders, Real Madrid 3-1. That makes us the best team in Europe doesn’t it? I jest of course. It doesn’t work like that. But sometimes in adversity you have to cling on to something to raise a smile and cheer yourself up.

We have now completed ten games of the 2017-18 season which means that we are more than a quarter of the way through. After this weekend’s round of fixtures we will go into the third international break, which does seem a little ridiculous with just eleven matches played. Although with our injury list seemingly expanding once again, then perhaps the break cannot come too soon. If ever there was a time to change a manager during the season outside of the winter transfer window, then the international break would seem to fit the bill if that is what our owners have in mind. I suspect, however, that the test of the “two games to save your job” ultimatum (if it existed) has been passed, and barring a capitulation of last season’s proportions against the Merseysiders, or a repeat of the Brighton debacle, the manager is perhaps safe until the winter window, or at least until someone who is considered to be a top candidate becomes available. Big rumours are beginning to surface about the current manager’s predecessor. Please, no!

Here we sit in sixteenth place in the table, precariously one point above the drop zone, although with better game management in the ninety-sixth minute of the last match it could easily have been three, even if we did not really deserve to win the game. We can thank our much maligned on-loan keeper for keeping us ahead for so long. He produced a magnificent display of goalkeeping which shows why he was signed, and I hope he can continue to prove his critics wrong. As for Michail Antonio, a player I like enormously, although he hasn’t really done anything much this season yet, I haven’t yet heard his explanation for what went through his head.

Much has been written about our forthcoming run of fixtures which some have said will be tough. But the reality of the situation is that despite our lowly position, we have only played four out of our ten matches at home. And in those ten games we have faced five teams from the top half of the table, which means that we have the other five to play to take us up to the midpoint. So on paper the next period should perhaps be equally as hard (but not necessarily harder) than the period that has elapsed. One thing that is noticeable is how the games will come thick and fast between now and the end of 2017. Having played just ten league games in almost three months we now face four in the month of November, and then an energy-sapping seven league games and a Carabao Cup quarter final in the last month of the year.

Yet again this weekend our game has been moved for the benefit of television. So, instead of kicking off at 3pm, (I’m really looking forward to 23 December when we have a 3pm on a Saturday kick-off!) the match starts at 5.30. I don’t like it but what can you do? Our visitors are Liverpool, and less than six months have elapsed since they last came to the London Stadium and thrashed us 4-0 in our final home game last season. Our manager was quoted after that game as saying we still need time to adjust to playing at the London Stadium. That seemed to be a feeble excuse for a poor performance, considering that just over a week beforehand we had beaten Tottenham 1-0 at home with possibly our best display of the entire season.

Liverpool of course are one of the elite six clubs in England. They will undoubtedly finish in the top six, but I reckon they will be hard pushed to be challenging for a place in the top four to qualify for the UEFA Champions League, a competition that they are competing in this season, and top their league with just two games to play before the knockout stages. I am just about old enough to remember their promotion to the top flight in the early sixties, since when they have remained at this level for 55 consecutive seasons. For a long period throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s they were the pre-eminent club in England, and still are our most successful in history of European success. However, they cling on to past glories like the cartoon character clinging to the edge of the cliff, and don’t seem to recognise that their dominance no longer exists. They are falling way behind the Manchester clubs at the present time.

They have had an OK start to the campaign and sit in sixth position after ten games, with four wins, four draws and two defeats. But their 16 points means that they are already 12 adrift of leaders Manchester City, so almost certainly will not be challenging at the very top. At home they are unbeaten with victories over Palace (1-0), Arsenal (4-0), and Huddersfield (3-0), together with draws against Burnley (1-1), and Manchester United (a boring 0-0). But on the road their form has been distinctly average, and although they have only conceded one goal at Anfield, they have let in a massive 15 in their five away games. If only we had an attacking force to take advantage of what would appear to be a very poor defence on their travels. In their away games a 3-3 draw at Watford was followed by a 5-0 defeat at Manchester City, a 3-2 victory over Leicester, a 1-1 draw at Newcastle, and then another heavy defeat at Tottenham (4-1).

Our visitors are favourites to win the game with the bookmakers and are quoted at around 4/6. We are about 7/2 with the draw at 3/1. Those odds are commensurate with our performances this season, but don’t perhaps reflect Liverpool’s defensive frailties in their games played away from Anfield. What are the odds on us repeating a 3-1 win, which is something we have managed twice in the past seven seasons? Disappointingly only 30/1. A 1-1 draw and Liverpool victories of 1-0, 2-0, or 2-1 are all on offer at between 7/1 and 8/1, which are relatively short prices for a game where both defences would appear to be vulnerable. Once again my optimistic hat has been dusted down, and for no logical reason whatsoever I think that we are going to win this game 3-1. There could even be more goals than that for both sides. It certainly won’t end up goalless.

West Ham against Liverpool: A Preview to a Kill

Can our beleaguered manager and depleted squad extinguish the disturbing memories from last season?

Once again a West Ham game is over-shadowed by the ongoing speculation over the future of manager Slaven Bilic.  Having survived the supposed two-games-to-save-his-job ultimatum he now faces a lose-this-one-badly-and-you’re-history challenge with the visit of Liverpool to the London Stadium for the Saturday late kick-off.  The situation really has become quite ludicrous and I doubt there can many left who don’t believe it is only a matter of time before the axe finally falls.  The only uncertainty is how far through the season Bilic will cling on for and how deep West Ham are in the brown stuff when that time eventually comes.

A string of names have been put forward as potential managerial replacements although the majority of these are currently in gainful employment and may not regard now as the appropriate time to accept the poison chalice form Messrs.’ Gold and Sullivan; or perhaps they believe a better is in the offing from Everton.  There are, of course, a number of managerial merry-go-round managers who are currently kicking their heels in pundit-land including former bosses Pardew and Allardyce; a return for either of those would madness in my eyes – and there is also the discarded Ronald Koeman.  It is unfortunate that our predicament will almost force the hand into the realms of another ‘survival’ manager when what is really needed at the club is one capable of building a team for the future.  I wonder what Terry Venables and George Graham are doing at the moment?

The manager of today’s visitors, Liverpool, seems to divide opinion.  Personally, I like him as he brings some much needed colour into the game.  If he were not managing the pantomime villains from Merseyside, I think he would be getting more credit for what he has tried to do at a club that lives as much in the past as our own. Given time (and a realisation that you have to defend as well as attack) and I am certain he will be able to guide his side to regular third and fourth place finishes; only a huge injection of cash will now be able to split the Manchester domination.

Head to Head

I doubt that there is a team in the league that we have a worse record against than Liverpool.  In 135 previous meetings we have won only twenty-eight (20%) and lost a whopping seventy (52%).  In recent history the Hammers have fared relatively better having won four and lost five of the last twelve encounters between the two clubs.

A victory today would give the Hammers equilibrium on home turf by making it twenty-five wins apiece from sixty-seven matches.  The last twelve home games have seen five West Ham wins and seven defeats and you would need to go further back to December 2001 for the most recent home stalemate.  Liverpool have a 100% record at the London Stadium.

Team News

Pablo Zabaleta misses the game due to a one match ban while the Hammers are also said to be also without defenders Sam Byram, James Collins (and potentially) Winston Reid, Jose Fonte and Aaron Cresswell.  Michail Antonio is also missing with a bout of acute embarrassment.  Unless some particularly efficacious white horse oil can be found to treat the walking wounded prior to the match the defence will have an even more makeshift look about it than usual.

The silver lining in the cloud of defensive woes is a probable further outing for the impressive Declan Rice; but with the majority of attacking players reporting for duty the calls for the inclusion of academy stars Toni Martinez and Nathan Holland will likely go unheeded.  A flurry of goals from Andre Ayew seem to have elevated his status to automatic starter for most supporters but he still needs to deliver more and on a consistent basis to justify his price tag in my view.   It is ironic that his best position seems to be exactly the same as the one Little Pea wants to play.

Today’s visitors also have a string of injuries to contend with as Mane, Lallana and Clyne are reported as definitely out while Coutinho, Wijnaldum and Lovren are major doubts.  Given the importance of Mane and Coutinho to the way that Liverpool play this news must be music to Slaven’s part-time rock star ears.

The Man in The Middle

Today’s referee is Preston supporter Neil Swarbrick from close to Merseyside.  As well as being in charge of West Ham’s defeat at Newcastle earlier this season he was also the ref of this corresponding fixture last year.  He also took charge of home games against Middlesbrough and Palace last term.    In eight games this season he has yet to issue a red card and has twenty-two yellows to his name.  In case you are interested his performance can be seem live on Refcam.

Predictions

No surprise that Lawro is true to form and predicting a Liverpool win (0-2).  Merson also agrees but is forecasting a 3-1 score-line in the visitor’s favour.  If Liverpool had Coutinho and Mane available my fear would have been something even worse than last season’s 0-4 capitulation, they are just the type of team who would have a filed day running at the West Ham defence and causing all sorts of problems.  As it is there is only Salah to worry about and he looks to be rather inconsistent.  Thus, there is just a glimmer of hope and I am going to buck the historic trend by predicting a repeat of last week’s 2-2 score.  In truth, I would take a heavy defeat if it guaranteed a conclusion to the Bilic debacle.