Remember The Alamo: West Ham Plan Heroic Defence To Hold Off Second Chelsea Siege

The battle of the struggling stragglers in the Premier League survival stakes sees West Ham banking on a second lightning strike to secure an unlikely double against high flying Chelsea

Someone mentioned to me in the week that Liverpool had already won this season’s Premier League, although I couldn’t find any mention of it in the media. If true, then well done to them. They were the best team by some distance; and congratulations to Adrian, who becomes another in the long line of ex-Hammers to pick up a league winners medal after having left the club – Adrian, Johnson, Ferdinand, Gale, Cole, Carrick, Lampard, and Ince. That’s almost a full team now!

Tonight, the focus switches again to football’s equivalent of a slow bicycle race, as three of the frantic five relegation candidates take to the field in an attempt to belatedly put some extra points on the board. In the last thirty games combined, the five stragglers have managed just three wins and four draws between them – thirteen points out of a possible ninety.  There is often a mad scramble for the final relegation place, but in this unusual season it is distinguished by mass collective incompetence at the bottom. DLLWLLL may look like the name of a place in Wales but, sadly, it is the Hammers current form. We are indeed fortunate to others that escape is still feasible.

Tonight’s match with Chelsea is one of the toughest (along with the trip to Old Trafford) West Ham’s remaining fixtures. Both those clubs are at the top of the form table, have reacted positively in the early re-start games and will be looking confidently at a top four finish. A win tonight will move the visitors up into third place. I must admit to being surprised at how well Lampard Junior has done in his first term as Premier League manager. I think he can become a top manager but thought this job had come far too early for him. The glimmer of hope is that I said exactly the same thing back in November, when the teams last met. And we know how that turned out. A game notable for David Martin’s heroic debut, a fine Aaron Cresswell goal and zero fouls committed by Chelsea.

It will, no doubt, be another highly cautious approach from David Moyes tonight. A backs to the wall, deep defensive act of attrition. This is partly due to Moyes risk averse character but also partly due to the rag-tag of resources at his disposal, particularly in offensive areas. The task could be likened to defending the Alamo with broken guns and no ammunition.

Reading through Moyes virtual programme notes gives us a clue to how he is thinking. My takeaway from his goals from everywhere plea is that he expects attempts from free kicks or corners to be the extent of our ambition. I know the manager has to say positive things but to suggest that our downfall has been due to not taking the chances that came is a bit of a stretch. Moyes is not able to play the too tired card tonight as Chelsea have played twice since the Hammers last had a game. Perhaps he will claim we are rusty – or maybe we really will be geared up it, after a week off to re-charge the batteries. Tonight has all the hallmarks of a game that the manager wants to get out of the way quickly without too much damage. But I would like to think Moyes has a more cunning plan for the run of winnable fixtures to follow aside from hoping that our luck will change.

The good news on the team selection front is the probable return of Angelo Ogbonna. He is one of the names along with Lukasz Fabianski, Issa Diop, Declan Rice, Michail Antonio, Tomas Soucek and Jarrod Bowen that you would want pre-printed on the team-sheet. After that it is a case of pick and mix.

The bare bones full-back option will likely default to the uninspiring pairing of Cresswell and Ryan Fredericks, now that Ngakia has packed his bags. Ben Johnson looks to be one of the several fringe players (along with Ajeti and Silva) that Moyes doesn’t trust (for whatever reason!) while Arthur Masuaku remains absent injured. According to Moyes, Masuaku is back ‘on the grass’ which leads me think ‘so, that’s what they’re smoking in the West Ham treatment room.’

Also confined to the sidelines is the club’s only striker, Sebastien Haller. I expect either Michail Antonio or Andriy Yarmolenko will be asked to play that lonely role up front. It might be worth giving Yarmolenko a try. There is little to lose and he is remarkably predictable when played in a wider role, no matter how sweet his left foot is. And I much prefer Antonio in a position where he can run with the ball at his feet. He is not a hold it up up player.

I guess from the manager’s comments that we will once again see Mark Noble starting if only for his (apparent) leadership qualities. It is a nice idea but ‘love’ for the club on its own doesn’t get you any points and Nobles best playing days are some way behind him. From another ‘it can’t be any worse’ perspective, giving pitch time to Jack Wilshere has to be a gamble worth taking sooner or later.  Pablo Fornals has demonstrated enough endeavour to be given another chance, but ideally not stuck out on the wing – he works hard enough but doesn’t have the pace. Felipe Anderson and Manuel Lanzini only get on the bench because there are extra spaces available now.

Throw that all into the mix and my preferred starting eleven would be:

Fabianski
Johnson, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell
Rice, Soucek
Bowen, Fornals (or Wilshere), Antonio
Yarmolenko

The officials for tonight’s game are Martin Atkinson out on the pitch with Jonathan Moss struggling to fit behind the desk at VAR central. Time for those poor decisions that are meant to balance out over the course of a season to start doing so.

A mixed bag from the TV pundits. Lawro has woken up from his celebratory Anfield hangover to predict a 1-0 away win, whereas Charlie Nicholas again shows a soft spot for the Hammers by tipping them to earn a 1-1 draw.

If West Ham are to come away with anything from this game it will require massive performances from their key players – while the others must try not to do anything stupid. Chelsea have been on a good run of results without ever being convincing. They do not find it easy to penetrate packed defences but the threat will always be there if we keep gifting them the ball.

There is sure to be plenty of focus on Declan Rice in the light of the repeated transfer speculation and perhaps a thought at the back of his mind is that Champion’s League football is a possibility next season. The idea that Declan might soon be added to that list of ex-Hammer league winners is a depressing one – at least for us.

The Moyes sit back, soak up the pressure and hope for a breakaway philosophy is a long shot – might it just work? I doubt it, but you never can tell. We will need to be razor sharp, but I suspect that a draw is the best a fan get.

What West Ham would give for a repeat of the score at Stamford Bridge earlier this season!

When we kick off at 8.15 pm on July 1st we may or may not be in the bottom three. Even if we are I stand by my assertion from my last blog article that we will not be relegated this season. Nothing that we have done on the field since the return after lockdown backs up my confidence. It is the form (or lack of it) from our rivals in the relegation stakes that makes me believe we will be OK.

Brighton (on 33 points) will almost certainly be OK thanks to their win against Arsenal and draw at Leicester. They have had (by a long way) the best results of the bottom six since resumption and still have seven games left to add to their tally. Four of their next five games look tough on paper (Man. Utd., Liverpool, Man City, and away at Southampton who have surprised me considering how poor they looked at the London Stadium shortly before the season was held up), but in between they play at Norwich, and then finish with games against Newcastle and Burnley. They should be fine.

Watford (on 28 points) now only have six games to play, two (out of their next three) of which don’t look too bad on paper at home to Norwich and Newcastle. Their toughest games should be at Chelsea and Arsenal and at home to Man. City. Of course they face us on July 15 which will be an important six-pointer. They have not looked that great so far, but I think they’ll be OK.

West Ham (on 27 points and outside the bottom three on goal difference only) will, after this home game against Chelsea (more on this later), face five teams currently in the bottom half of the table in our final six games, the only exception being the away trip to Old Trafford for the penultimate game of the season. Newcastle and Norwich (both away) plus three games at home to Burnley, Watford, and Villa are crucial games for us to pick up the necessary points for survival.

Bournemouth (also on 27 points) have a home game against Newcastle that kicks off just two and a quarter hours before our game against Chelsea. This surely is their best chance to move out of the bottom three, because their final six games will see them face Man.Utd, Spurs, Leicester, Man.City, Southampton, and Everton. I don’t see them picking up many more points from those.

Villa (also on 27 points) now only have six games to play, the first five of which are against Liverpool, Man.Utd, Palace, Everton, and Arsenal, before coming to the London Stadium on the last day of the season. Surely they won’t be collecting much from those games without a massive reversal of form.

Norwich (on 21 points) look doomed, although they won’t be the poorest team to have ever been relegated from the top flight. If they can hang on to their better players they will have a good chance of bouncing back.

So that’s my summary of what I think will happen. We won’t pull up any trees in the run-in, but if we still manage to go down now by failing to pick up enough points from the remaining games, then we will well and truly deserve it. And if we did happen to go down I would fear for our chances of bouncing back as quickly as we have done after previous relegations.

Of course we won 1-0 at Chelsea shortly before the end of 2019 in a game remembered for David Martin’s debut clean sheet, and his emotional reunion with his dad Alvin in the stands. Despite our win, we also scored another goal that was chalked off as a result of it “accidentally” touching Antonio’s arm, one of two goals denied to us this season by accidental handball both picked up by VAR. It’s a silly rule anyway in the sense that accidental handball by a defender in his own penalty area does not result in a penalty kick being awarded against him, so why are attacking teams penalised in this way? And don’t get me going about the VAR failure to spot the handball which led to Tottenham’s first goal against us!

As for team selection in this game then of course our keeper picks himself, but it will be interesting to see whether Ogbonna (who is now apparently fit) is recalled in place of Balbuena, who only looks a shadow of the player he was in his first season with us. And talking of players not at the same level as in the past, Cresswell now looks too slow, and seems to dwell on the ball in possession. It wasn’t that long ago that he won an England cap, but now he worries me, and we look especially vulnerable against teams attacking us on that flank.

Rice has been our standout player once again, and I’d like to see him line up alongside Soucek in a defensive midfield position. Of course there has been so much to admire about Mark Noble over the years, and much as I like him, the pace of the game just seems a little too quick now, especially against the top teams. He still has a part to play in this run-in but I’d like him to sit out this one.

Our attacking has been generally poor and we haven’t scored since Leap Years Day when we comprehensively put three goals past Southampton. Bowen and Antonio both scored on that day, and seem to me to be the only two attacking players who have shown any semblance of form in our last two games. Bowen continues to look impressive whilst Antonio has looked OK but is not a centre forward and certainly shouldn’t play up front on his own.

Beyond those two I don’t really know! Anderson and Lanzini have both looked so poor to me, and whilst I can see some potential in Fornals, he hasn’t looked that great in the last two games and certainly not in front of goal, spurning two excellent chances to score. Who else is there? Wilshere has apparently been very impressive in training, and should surely be given a chance to do it in games? If he could recapture some semblance of past form then there is a chance he could unlock some defences, but there must be a reason he hasn’t been given a chance yet in a team playing poorly? Yarmolenko has the highest ratio of goals to minutes played this season, but he has been inconsistent and Moyes doesn’t appear to rate him, nor does the manager seem to trust the inexperienced Xande Silva, nor Ajeti, who despite being an international footballer has not been given many minutes to prove himself.

Of course Haller apparently has a hip injury that is keeping him out. There are some scandalous conspiracy theories going around that suggest he isn’t playing because we will be selling him in the summer, and apparently one more appearance would trigger a hefty payment to Eintracht Frankfurt, the club from whom we bought him. That would be ridiculous! So my team for this game (but definitely not the manager’s selection) would be: Fabianski; Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna, Johnson; Rice, Soucek, Wilshere; Yarmolenko, Antonio, Bowen.

In the remaining games I’d like to see our manager make better use of substitutes, both in terms of who, and the timing. We are allowed to use up to five, and surely it makes sense to do so, especially if you are behind in a game?

I watched some of the FA Cup game between Leicester and Chelsea at the weekend and I was surprised at how poor Chelsea were, especially in the first half. But Lampard has laid into them deeming so many of their players’ performances unacceptable, and I would be surprised if they didn’t improve markedly when they face us. And talking of the FA Cup, an interesting fact. Teams are supposedly weakened in this competition these days, but the four semi-finalists, are four of the so-called elite six in this country, and in fact each of them has won the trophy in the last four seasons.

What do I expect from this game? Based on what I’ve seen in the last couple of games, I expect to be beaten, think that we could possibly snatch a draw, but hope for an unlikely win, the same as we managed at Stamford Bridge in November. What are the chances?

Hammers’ Limitations Exposed At Tottenham but we are still outside bottom three! Just!

I have written frequently about West Ham’s limitations and there is no need to continue with them here. We were second best to a Tottenham side that had more attacking ideas than we did, but nevertheless we were unfortunate to go behind when VAR once again failed to do its job in spotting that the ball came off an attacking arm before the unfortunate Soucek deflected the ball into his own net. Apparently our manager is in trouble for remarks he made about the VAR referee, but I find it absolutely incredible that the handball was not seen. When you think back to our game at Sheffield United and the decision that went against us there when the ball brushed Declan Rice’s arm in the build-up to an equaliser, you have to say that we haven’t had the benefit of dodgy decisions this season, despite VAR being there to correct them. The second Tottenham goal came as a result of us pushing forward when Kane broke away to score, although in all honesty, we rarely looked like scoring.

Yes the lively Bowen was unlucky with his shot that came back off the post, but for the second game running Fornals missed by a mile when he should have scored with a little composure. Antonio also managed to balloon one over the bar when leaning back as he was clear on goal. But apart from Bowen and Rice, who was once again magnificent, few of our players finished this game with much credit. The manager was also culpable in my view for the way he set us up, and his poor choices and timing of substitutions.

Yet we are still outside the bottom three. But only just! Two tough games to go against Chelsea and Manchester United, who have both resumed after lockdown in good form, but five games remaining that we can certainly get something from against Newcastle, Burnley, Norwich, Watford and a potential last day decider against Aston Villa. Three of those are at home, although in the current circumstances home advantage is not really what it was beforehand. And if we don’t get the results then of course we deserve to go down anyway.

Unlike so many on social media I don’t believe that we will be relegated. Brighton may have done enough to pull away, and their odds on being relegated are now a fairly longshot at 14/1. Norwich are 1/50 to go down and it will take a miracle for them to survive, so it looks like it will be two from Villa, Bournemouth, Watford and ourselves to join them. Despite our shortcomings, I still believe that looking at the games remaining we will have enough to save ourselves. I agree with the bookmakers in that Villa (2/9) and Bournemouth (2/5) will go down because of the difficulty of their fixtures. Our relegation odds are 11/8 and Watford are 5/2.

Liverpool were deservedly confirmed as champions today when Chelsea defeated Manchester City although it was inevitable wasn’t it? They won it with seven games to spare, although by clinching it on June 25th it must be the latest date by a long way. The race for European places is still in force which will keep some of the top teams interested in the remaining games, and I’m confident that they will all be doing their utmost to gain the necessary points. Once again the tussle to stay up will produce the most interesting football for the remainder of the season.

We will need to improve in the remaining seven games, and I believe we will. But I am afraid that next season will be another of the same unless there are radical changes at the club. And I’m not confident of that.

It ain’t what you do, it’s the place that you do it. Can West Ham get results in N17?

After a worst possible start and performance on Saturday, West Ham need to up their game considerably if they are to get a result and chase off the creeping shadow of relegation

As 1980’s pop philosophers Bananarama succinctly put it “It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it, that’s what gets results.” Looking back to West Ham’s opening restart efforts on Saturday evening I can only conclude that ‘if that’s the way they intend to do it’ then we are irretrievably doomed to relegation. It has a look of inevitability about it unless something drastic happens. Or unless we are able to rely on Villa and Bournemouth being equally poor.

Sure, Wolves are a particularly good, efficient, if not spectacular, side that cause problems in every game they play, no matter who the opposition is. A stark contrast to the lack of endeavour that characterises David Moyes side on most occasions.  Notable is the success that Nuno has had in integrating his many Portuguese imports into the English game when compared to our own Fun Boy Three (Anderson, Fornals and Lanzini) who might as well have stayed locked down for all the difference they made – Specials they are not!

I feared that we would get a slow and stuttering restart, and that is exactly what happened. No plan, no purpose, no passion – and no points. Yet another performance where the players looked to have little idea what they were supposed to be doing. Moyes had set up for the point and once Wolves had scored it was game over, such was the complete absence of any creativity or goal threat.

Not that you can blame Moyes for the disastrous transfer spending during Manuel Pellegrini’s time at the club. It may be 2020 hindsight but if we had kept Moyes and given him the same transfer budget we wouldn’t be where we are now. That’s not to say we would have been enamoured with the style of football.

As I mentioned before the Wolves game, the dearth of central defensive and striker cover are negligent and damaging for a Premier League club. An extended absence of Angelo Ogbonna and Sebastien Haller will be a massive blow to our prospects, even if neither are exactly world beaters. Will there now be a temptation to rush them back before they are ready? How to keep players fit is another tip we might ask of Nuno.

The big selection conundrum concerns Declan Rice (looking a lot less Irish these days with longer hair and a beard) who is both our best defender and best midfield player. Unless he can be cloned this is a dilemma, although on balance I see his energy and discipline in midfield as the bigger loss. Ogbonna is an acceptable enough replacement in central defence but Fabian Balbuena isn’t – at least not on the evidence of the season to date – where The General has become a general liability. I never thought I would say it but, hurry back, Angelo.

Rice apart, there were few positives coming from the Wolves game although I thought Jeremy Ngakia was one of our better players, particularly when going forward. With no genuine wide players in the side, width has to be provided by the full-backs, even though that makes us (even more) susceptible to the counter attack. With the ongoing uncertainty regarding Ngakia’s future, Moyes may opt to start Ryan Fredericks against his former club. There is no such alternative at left back where Arthur Masuaku’s absence means Aaron Cresswell will continue despite his feeble attempts to handle game-changer Traore on Saturday. Unless, that is, Moyes thinks Ben Johnson is up to playing on his wrong side.

The striker dilemma, should Haller be once again unavailable, is whether Michail Antonio can handle another 90 minutes of football so soon. Antonio made little impact against Wolves, although he had little in the way of support. I read that Felipe Anderson was meant to be playing alongside him in a 4-4-2, but you could have fooled me. The alternative would be to use the-still-recovering-from-injury Andriy Yarmolenko in a striking role. There is, sadly, little news to inspire confidence.

Moyes will no doubt be looking for a midfield shuffle. If Rice has to play centre-back then Mark Noble will need to find the stamina to again partner Tomas Soucek. It is then a  case of picking any three from Anderson, Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals, Jack Wilshere and Yarmolenko (if he is not playing up front) to make up the numbers. No combination jumps out as ideal.

Whatever the line-up, Moyes will be setting his side out to preserve the point they started with. A fortunate set piece winner being the extent of our ambition. As we saw on Saturday, the drawback of that cunning plan is having no alternative strategy in the event of the opposition scoring.

To compound the negativity surrounding the club right now, both manager and captain have been playing the role of victims in bemoaning the fixture scheduling. Not a good stance to take when courage, diligence and unity are required more than whinging.

Our north London friends have not had the best of seasons, but they may still believe that a Champion’s League place is a possibility – let’s face it they are an eternally credulous bunch. Mourinho is likely to have a full squad to choose from with Kane and Son recovered from pre-lockdown injuries and Alli available after suspension.

Today’s Matchday officials are Craig Pawson (on the pitch) while David Coote is once again on the VAR controls back in Stockley Park.

My own confidence level that this West Ham squad have what it takes to escape relegation has been reset to approaching zero. The adjusted Under The Hammers ‘R’ (for relegation) values (the closer to 1 the more trouble you are in) following the latest round of matches are: Norwich (0.99), Villa (0.96), Bournemouth (0.95), West Ham (0.95), Watford (0.92) and Brighton (0.91).

As for the pundits, their predictions for tonight are Lawro with an expected 2-0 home win; while Charlie Nicholas believes that a sluggish Spurs might be surprised by West Ham’s tenacity, earning the visitors an unlikely 1-1 draw. Controversial stuff, Charlie.

As I recall, the Bananarama girls went on to advise that “it ain’t what you do, it’s the place that you do it” is also of equal importance if you want to get results. For a Hammer’s fan there surely cannot be a better place to do ‘it’ than in N17, as indeed happened last season. Can it happen again? Even with the claret and blue spectacles on it is a difficult scenario to imagine I will be hoping for a snatched draw, but fully expect a convincing defeat.

The Wolves Are At The Door: It’s All Kicking Off At West Ham

The post-apocalyptic Premier League era kicks off at the London Stadium with West Ham playing host to high flying Wolves in a whole new ball game.

I will be honest but I never believed this day – the resumption of West Ham’s 2019/20 league campaign – would ever actually happen. Now it is here, I confess to being nervously apprehensive. The immediate fate of our club is to be decided on the outcome of nine relegation threatened matches played over five short weeks. Survival is contingent on the level of readiness and the appetite for a fight – characteristics that have rarely been freely associated with the Hammers for much of their recent history.

Mark Noble says “we’ve worked hard and the boys look ready”. No doubt, other club captains have been saying the same thing. Is it likely that our preparations have been as good as or better than others? Arguably West Ham have technically better players than their relegation rivals, but will David Moyes be able to instil the right levels of motivation, effort and organisation to quickly recover the momentum that he says was building before the shutdown?

It is over three months since West Ham last played – about as long as a normal close season – but with only a few weeks to prepare for battle. Yet unlike a new season which will kick-off again in the same circumstances as the last season ended, this time, so much has changed – it really is a whole new ball game!

Empty echoing cavernous stadiums, atmospheric TV crowd noise, cardboard cutout supporters (aka Arsenal fans), free to air TV, more badges on the shirt than Bear Grylls, nine bottoms on the bench, five available subs and a designated goal celebration zone. I eagerly await the choreographed Tik Tok inspired celebration routines from Michail Antonio. A far cry from the congratulatory pat on the back and manly handshake that Bobby Moore would have expected back in the day.

This new normal will be far more of a squad game than it had been pre-virus – if fitness is to be preserved and niggling injuries avoided (what are the chances?) The squad still has a surplus of midfield players but an absence of suitable cover at the back and up front. Injuries to key players will have significant repercussions.

Today’s starting lineup is difficult to call and contingent upon the availability of Angelo Ogbonna and Noble. Speculation from in-the-know club insiders is that Declan Rice may need to slot in at centre back if Ogbonna is absent – rather than risk the wayward Fabian Balbuena – but can that be possible if Noble is not ready to partner Tomas Soucek in central midfield? Going into the game with just one anchor in midfield would be asking for trouble it needs two from Rice, Soucek and Noble to play that role.

Fingers crossed that we can avoid seeing Noble and Robert Snodgrass on the pitch at the same time, and that we have seen the very last of Carlos Sanchez. It would also be an opportune time for the likes of Felipe Anderson, Jack Wilshere and Pablo Fornals to earn their corn. I will be intrigued to see how Moyes approaches substitutions, something that he is often reluctant to make use of. Not one after the hour and the other four in the 87th minute I hope.

Back in March the collective endeavour of Antonio, Sebastien Haller and Jarrod Bowen was starting to look promising and I am looking forward to seeing them pick up where they left off today. There is plenty there to cause the visitors problems and, just as importantly, to keep their wing backs occupied when we are not in possession.

Although, I do not know all the background to the Jeremy Ngakia kerfuffle, it has all the hallmarks of a very West Ham cock-up. With justifiable concerns over the fitness of right back alternatives – Ryan Fredericks, Ben Johnson and Pablo Zabaleta – for such an intense run of games, the services of the want-away Ngakia may well be crucial between now and the end of the month.

Today’s opposition, Wolverhampton Wanderers had been experiencing a tremendous season prior to the March shutdown. Seventh in the league and still with an interest in the Europa League, it will be no surprise if Nuno Espirito Santo (the best name in football management) has his players fully fired up for the restart. You will remember that we were originally due to play them on a Sunday afternoon in the wake of an arduous midweek journey to play a Europa League tie in Greece. In my opinion, and in the interests of fairness, they should have been compelled to take an equivalent difficult trek in the days leading up to today’s fixture.

I’m not sure I am totally onboard with the notion that the greatest Wolves threat is posed by Adama Traore, at least not consistently. He alternates between being the master of running the ball out of play at dazzling speed, and spells of being mesmerisingly unplayable – an Antonio with ball control, but without the aerial threat. Of course, it is the West Ham way for players such as these to save their best for games against us.

For me, it is the Portuguese trio of Joao Moutinho, Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota that make Wolves tick and present the greatest danger. Add in Raul Jimenez (a Mexican striker more suited to English football) and our players must take heed of that sage old advice to stay alert. Far too frequently our defenders play like they are statues, and we must ensure that none are toppled today.

The welcome return of football brings with it the vagaries and inconsistency of refereeing decisons. It did not take long for the restart to become embroiled in officiating controversy, with the failure to award a clear goal to Sheffield United at Villa Park on Wednesday evening. I can just about accept the chance in a million occlusion experienced by Hawkeye, but what were the referee and VAR doing? Like someone who relies entirely on GPS to reach their destination, they had no clue what to do when the technology failed them. Technology is meant to ‘assist’ the referee, not take all the decisions for them. Today’s allocation from officialdom are Anthony Taylor (ref) and David Coote (VAR).

Each of today’s four games will have a significant impact on the bottom of the table. With West Ham on third, I wonder if the outcome of events at Watford and Brighton will affect the mood at the London Stadium? Hitting the ground running has never been more important. Lawro thinks West Ham will win (1-0), Charlie Nicholas sees it as one apiece. On this occasion I will be completely ruled by my heart and opt for a 2-0 home win.

It’s All Coming Back To Me: Football, Controversy And West Ham

West Ham entertain Wolves at an almost deserted London Stadium. Who can possibly predict the outcome?

More than 100 days have elapsed since we last played a Premier League game. When I write these articles I like to predict the outcome. But what evidence have we got to go on? I have to admit I haven’t got a clue what to expect.

I tuned in to watch the Aston Villa v Sheffield United game on Wednesday evening. It wasn’t a football match that I would normally have any interest in viewing, but I guess I had a token interest as Villa are one of our rivals in the relegation stakes. I don’t particularly like Sheffield United, but this was a game I wanted them to win.

I juggled between watching on Sky Sports Main Event with the artificial crowd noise, and the alternative where you could hear a few shouts in the echoing stadium to see which I preferred. I had a slight preference for the crowd noise which sounded like it was straight from the FIFA computer game. Perhaps it is. Whoever operates this got rather over excited however by turning up over enthusiastic crowd noise for pathetic attempts on goal which were nowhere close.

When I switched to the lack of crowd sound, the first thing I heard was a player (I think from Sheffield United) shouting at his teammates about “flipping second balls”. And then came the defining moment of the game. The young Villa keeper was pushed into his own net. We didn’t need Hawkeye, VAR or an assistant referee or linesman to tell us that the ball had crossed the line. But inexplicably a goal was not given. I thought that perhaps Michael Oliver had accidentally put on his Mickey Mouse watch instead of the Hawkeye one? His wrist didn’t “buzz” and the keeper cleared the ball as if nothing had happened.

Apparently the goal-line sensor failed to register and Hawkeye later apologised. The seven goal-line cameras surrounding the goal were supposedly occluded by the keeper, the defenders and the post. So where was VAR when it could have stepped up to the plate? The VAR referee was possibly asleep due to the lack of any excitement in the game when he clearly needed to tell Oliver to stop the game and look at it on the monitor. And surely linesmen should use their eyes and not rely purely on technology? Social distancing went out of the window as the Blades players demanded to know why the goal was not given.

In lockdown we’ve become familiar with new technology such as Zoom. It’s a pity the technology failed us by not zooming in on the goal! Apparently it was the first time in over 9000 games that it had failed. What a joke! I couldn’t really care less about Sheffield United possibly missing out on a European place, but one of the teams at the bottom (even ourselves) could possibly be relegated on goal difference and Villa could stay up. Of course there are many dodgy decisions in the course of a season and you don’t get relegated on the strength of one of them. But if we go down by the narrowest of margins I’ll remember this game.

But enough of that, what will happen when we face Wolves? We actually have a positive historical record against them, but we have lost the most recent fixtures. Looking at the bookmakers odds, Wolves are favourites to win the game, based I suppose on the season to date, but the favourite in the correct score market is the one that I’ll predict, and that is a 1-1 draw. I have to admit that I have nothing really to go on but a point wouldn’t be the worst outcome for us in this first game back, although naturally I’d prefer three.

One Wolves player I worry about is Adama Traore, who with his pace can cause us massive problems down the flanks. He has always had great pace but in the earlier part of his career he flattered to deceive, except when playing against us. However in more recent times he seems to have added an end product to his game and he is possibly the player we should fear. Ironically when the game was originally scheduled to be played I seem to recall he was injured.

Wolves are seventh in the league and the seventh highest scoring team. We are not far behind as far as scoring goals is concerned in tenth, but the fact that only Southampton, Norwich and Villa have conceded more goals than we have is the main reason we sit sixteenth in the table, out of the relegation zone on goal difference alone.

Current form doesn’t really apply because of the enforced break, but looking at the last five matches played by the bottom six teams, Brighton, Watford, Norwich, Bournemouth and ourselves all have four points from those games, and Villa have one. Southampton and Newcastle would appear at the moment to be out of the scrap, but I’m hoping that with some poor early results, they too can be dragged into it.

It seems that we are virtually injury-free and David Moyes has a full squad to choose from. Of course we have different rules and five substitutes can be utilised out of nine sitting suitably spaced out on the sidelines. I’ve no real idea what the starting line-up will be but it would be good to think back to the Southampton game and the attack made up of Haller, supported by Antonio and Bowen, who looked very threatening. I’m sure that Anderson will have a key role in the remaining matches, perhaps coming on later in games as teams could be tiring due to lack of match practice and the potential heat of games played in June and July. Fornals and Wilshere can also play important roles in unlocking opposing defences, and I hope that Yarmolenko can play his part too.

So here goes, I’ll predict an attacking starting line-up, although whether the manager will prefer to be more cautious I don’t know.

Fabianski; Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Rice, Noble; Soucek; Antonio, Haller, Bowen.

As I said earlier I’ll predict 1-1 but hope for better. In case something untoward happens and the season is curtailed early as a result it is important that we don’t lose and fall into the bottom three. This weekend, of our key rivals, Norwich have a very winnable game at home to Southampton, Watford beat Liverpool in their last home game so won’t be perturbed by facing Leicester, Brighton haven’t won for ages but are at home and face a very average looking Arsenal team, Bournemouth are at home to a possibly disinterested mid-table Palace, and Villa are also at home against Chelsea. I have written this article prior to any of those games being played so don’t know the outcome. Let’s hope that the results go our way, and we can hit the ground running.

Football Is Back. Controversy Is Back. West Ham are Back

West Ham entertain Wolves at an almost deserted London Stadium. Who can possibly predict the outcome?

More than 100 days have elapsed since we last played a Premier League game. When I write these articles I like to predict the outcome. But what evidence have we got to go on? I have to admit I haven’t got a clue what to expect.

I tuned in to watch the Aston Villa v Sheffield United game on Wednesday evening. It wasn’t a football match that I would normally have any interest in viewing, but I guess I had a token interest as Villa are one of our rivals in the relegation stakes. I don’t particularly like Sheffield United, but this was a game I wanted them to win.

I juggled between watching on Sky Sports Main Event with the artificial crowd noise, and the alternative where you could hear a few shouts in the echoing stadium to see which I preferred. I had a slight preference for the crowd noise which sounded like it was straight from the FIFA computer game. Perhaps it is. Whoever operates this got rather over excited however by turning up over enthusiastic crowd noise for pathetic attempts on goal which were nowhere close.

When I switched to the lack of crowd sound, the first thing I heard was a player (I think from Sheffield United) shouting at his teammates about “f***ing second balls”. And then came the defining moment of the game. The young Villa keeper was pushed into his own net. We didn’t need Hawkeye, VAR or an assistant referee or linesman to tell us that the ball had crossed the line. But inexplicably a goal was not given. I thought that perhaps Michael Oliver had accidentally put on his Mickey Mouse watch instead of the Hawkeye one? His wrist didn’t “buzz” and the keeper cleared the ball as if nothing had happened.

Apparently the goal-line sensor failed to register and Hawkeye later apologised. The seven goal-line cameras surrounding the goal were supposedly occluded by the keeper, the defenders and the post. So where was VAR when it could have stepped up to the plate? The VAR referee was possibly asleep due to the lack of any excitement in the game when he clearly needed to tell Oliver to stop the game and look at it on the monitor. And surely linesmen should use their eyes and not rely purely on technology? Social distancing went out of the window as the Blades players demanded to know why the goal was not given.

In lockdown we’ve become familiar with new technology such as Zoom. It’s a pity the technology failed us by not zooming in on the goal! Apparently it was the first time in over 9000 games that it had failed. What a joke! I couldn’t really care less about Sheffield United possibly missing out on a European place, but one of the teams at the bottom (even ourselves) could possibly be relegated on goal difference and Villa could stay up. Of course there are many dodgy decisions in the course of a season and you don’t get relegated on the strength of one of them. But if we go down by the narrowest of margins I’ll remember this game.

But enough of that, what will happen when we face Wolves? We actually have a positive historical record against them, but we have lost the most recent fixtures. Looking at the bookmakers odds, Wolves are favourites to win the game, based I suppose on the season to date, but the favourite in the correct score market is the one that I’ll predict, and that is a 1-1 draw. I have to admit that I have nothing really to go on but a point wouldn’t be the worst outcome for us in this first game back, although naturally I’d prefer three.

One Wolves player I worry about is Adama Traore, who with his pace can cause us massive problems down the flanks. He has always had great pace but in the earlier part of his career he flattered to deceive, except when playing against us. However in more recent times he seems to have added an end product to his game and he is possibly the player we should fear. Ironically when the game was originally scheduled to be played I seem to recall he was injured.

Wolves are seventh in the league and the seventh highest scoring team. We are not far behind as far as scoring goals is concerned in tenth, but the fact that only Southampton, Norwich and Villa have conceded more goals than we have is the main reason we sit sixteenth in the table, out of the relegation zone on goal difference alone.

Current form doesn’t really apply because of the enforced break, but looking at the last five matches played by the bottom six teams, Brighton, Watford, Norwich, Bournemouth and ourselves all have four points from those games, and Villa have one. Southampton and Newcastle would appear at the moment to be out of the scrap, but I’m hoping that with some poor early results, they too can be dragged into it.

It seems that we are virtually injury-free and David Moyes has a full squad to choose from. Of course we have different rules and five substitutes can be utilised out of nine sitting suitably spaced out on the sidelines. I’ve no real idea what the starting line-up will be but it would be good to think back to the Southampton game and the attack made up of Haller, supported by Antonio and Bowen, who looked very threatening. I’m sure that Anderson will have a key role in the remaining matches, perhaps coming on later in games as teams could be tiring due to lack of match practice and the potential heat of games played in June and July. Fornals and Wilshere can also play important roles in unlocking opposing defences, and I hope that Yarmolenko can play his part too.

So here goes, I’ll predict an attacking starting line-up, although whether the manager will prefer to be more cautious I don’t know.

Fabianski; Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Rice, Noble; Soucek; Antonio, Haller, Bowen.

As I said earlier I’ll predict 1-1 but hope for better. In case something untoward happens and the season is curtailed early as a result it is important that we don’t lose and fall into the bottom three. This weekend, of our key rivals, Norwich have a very winnable game at home to Southampton, Watford beat Liverpool in their last home game so won’t be perturbed by facing Leicester, Brighton haven’t won for ages but are at home and face a very average looking Arsenal team, Bournemouth are at home to a possibly disinterested mid-table Palace, and Villa are also at home against Chelsea. I have written this article prior to any of those games being played so don’t know the outcome. Let’s hope that the results go our way, and we can hit the ground running.

Jeux sans spectateurs: Premier League mini-marathon could be knockout blow for West Ham?

Games without spectators may a thing for many months to come. Being able to adapt quickly to new circumstances in the next 6 weeks will be crucial for the Hammer’s survival chances.

Very little has gone to plan during the coronavirus crisi but, if nothing unexpected happens in the coming days, the 2019/20 Premier League season will make its much anticipated restart. Next Wednesday, relegation candidates, Aston Villa, kick off proceedings by playing their game in hand, against Sheffield United, at a spectator-less Villa Park. The Saturday after that, West Ham resume their own campaign, in a punishing schedule that will take in 9 matches over a 36 day period.

The news coming from the club over recent days has been generally positive (not the coronavirus test results, thankfully) and the Hammers are said to be raring to go with an almost injury free squad – although how it will hold up to the demands of such a frenetic schedule is a huge concern. Keeping key players as fit as possible, in what remains an unbalanced squad despite the January recruitment, will be crucial to a successful outcome . The relegation battle will ultimately come to resemble a sudden death knockout affair and the last thing that we need is for David Moyes to have to play jokers.

It would appear that Jeremy Ngakia will be playing no part in the remainder of the season following his (or his agent’s) refusal to agree a contract extension. In mitigation, fellow academy right back graduate (and arguably a better defender) Ben Johnson has now recovered from injury and is available. Elsewhere the situation with outward loanees is that Jordan Hugill will stay at QPR; Nathan Holland has returned from Oxford United; and I cannot find any update on the latest position with Grady Diagana at West Brom.

One player who will be staying in claret and blue for the time being is Tomas Soucek; his loan spell extended until the conclusion of hostilities at the end of July. Although Soucek has only appeared 4 times in a West Ham shirt, he is widely regarded as a much needed and energetic addition to the problematic central midfield area. We must hope he can deliver on that promise.

It will be interesting to see in the next dew weeks how the new match-day experience pans out for both players and spectators alike. To what extent do players rely on a passionate crowd to provide that extra lift and carry them over the line? Or to what degree does spectator frustration seep into player’s minds and create panic? To maintain social distancing (at least outside of the penalty area) stadiums will be split into red, amber and green zones to reflect the limits to be imposed on the maximum numbers of players, coaches, officials and media who can be granted access – previously, stadium zones were known as denial, anger and delusion.

According to reports, the TV viewer will be presented with a range of additional camera angles, backstage access and sound effects designed to distract attention from the eerie echo-ey atmosphere on the pitch. To recreate the full authentic stadium experience, you will need to scatter peanut shells on the floor beneath your feet, and perhaps ask a friend to sit (2 metres) behind you to hurl abuse and shout drunken obscenities.

Taking a look back in history for reassurance, I could only find six competitive games that West Ham have played during the month of June, all during the first two seasons of world war two. This does, of course, include their finest hour (and a half) when the Hammers beat Blackburn Rovers to lift the 1940 Football League War Cup Final at Wembley Stadium. Despite the threat of Luftwaffe attacks, and a goalkeeper called Herman, West Ham triumphed with the only goal of the game scored by wing-man Sam Small. Apart from this, the record in June is not impressive, comprising 3 defeats, 2 wins and a draw – with 2 of those defeats coming in home fixtures against the dreaded Millwall.

For the nostalgic, here is a brief film report on the War Cup Final introduced by the legendary Brian Moore.

In accordance with modern algorithmic trends, we have been mining the data, following the science and making stuff up in order to derive the patented Under The Hammers ‘R’ (or relegation) value for the bottom six clubs. Our super computer has been evaluating key performance factors such as previous form, remaining fixtures, player’s birth charts and potential paranormal activity to come up with the chances of Premier League survival. Currently these values (the closer to 1 the more trouble you are in) indicate the following: Norwich (0.98), Villa (0.95), Bournemouth (0.94), West Ham (0.92), Brighton (0.92) and Watford (0.90). All very tight and lots to play for.

One of the greatest risks that West Ham face, given their relatively tricky initial run of games, is the season restarting but then stopping again due to a second wave of infections. Dropping into the bottom three at any time during the next five weeks, not just at the end of the season, presents formidable danger should relegation be decided on positions at the time of suspension.

A phenomenon that could not be controlled during the recent lockdown was an uncontrolled outbreak of highly contagious transfer stories. Those media outlets that rely heavily on transfer speculation recognised long ago that every story generates many, many posting opportunities: making up or repeating the original rumour; cut and pasting outraged and/or ecstatic reaction from Twitter; vehement denial by club insider; eventual report that the target has actually signed for Barcelona. West Ham player recruitment is generally haphazard at the best of times but, in a situation where we don’t know which division we will be playing in, and where the immediate future of football finances is a complete unknown, rumours of multi million pound deals are even more fantastical than usual.

Right now, it is impossible to predict when crowds will be allowed to return to football grounds. Even if it can happen sometime within the next 12 months, restrictions are unlikely to be lifted before the start of next season. Continuing to play games behind closed doors with games shown free-to-air on TV is certain to have significant medium to long term implications for the structure of the game as we know it, at all levels of the pyramid. No-one can know what the new normal will be for football, but it is not going to be the same as it was.

Football Is Back – can West Ham avoid the drop?

My last article in this blog was written on March 7, almost three months ago. We were about to face Arsenal, but I was eulogising about our performance against Southampton describing it as one of the most enjoyable visits to the London Stadium this season. The 3-1 victory was well deserved and in my opinion a fair reflection of the game despite the visitors having the lion’s share of possession which can be a very misleading statistic. As I wrote at the time, no points are awarded for having the ball; only the result counts.

I also wrote that it seems likely to me (not the boldest of predictions!) that the three relegation slots will be occupied by three of the six teams currently propping up the table. Nothing has changed there of course, although quite how the different clubs play their remaining games in empty stadiums after such a long lay-off is difficult to predict. Much may depend on the motivation of the teams that they are facing. Perhaps the ideal fixtures will be those against mid-table sides with little to play for.

One day in the future there will be a review (well there will be many reviews!) of the effect of Covid-19 on life in this country during this period (which is still a long way from being over of course), and sport will be one of the topics looked at closely. Many have criticised the decision to hold the Cheltenham Horse Racing Festival in March, Liverpool’s game against Atletico Madrid, and England v Wales in the Six Nations rugby, the last major events to take place prior to the lockdown. Many feel that lockdown came too late.

Football was closed down when Mikel Arteta was tested positive for coronavirus on March 13, just a few days after our last game at Arsenal, but before the “nationwide lockdown” came into force. Football announced its own lockdown before the Government did. The official death toll in the UK at that time stood at 11. Now the figure is approaching 40,000 it is felt that it is time to resume. Many people throughout the land will lament the return of the national game, and will question the decision to bring it back. Those people who have lost love ones may not share the delight of those who cannot wait for the festival of football due to begin in a couple of weeks’ time. It is a difficult balancing act, as in so many decisions in life at the moment, and one which has its supporters on both sides of the argument.

Of course football behind closed doors is not quite the same product as when the fans, who are the lifeblood of the game, fill the stadiums every week. I share my co-blogger Geoff’s dismay at watching the German product when it got underway, although I guess we will be a little more interested when watching the team we support, despite the lack of atmosphere. Of course every game that remains in the season can be viewed on TV, with many free-to-air, a demand made by the Culture Secretary. I did read that we could use the red button to switch on artificial crowd noise generated by the broadcasters. I remain wary of that, although apparently early attempts at doing this at some foreign venues (Australian Rugby League, for example) have been reported upon favourably.

As our games come up I will resume the regular blogging of games played and previews of forthcoming ones. This far ahead I haven’t really got a clue what will happen. I made some fun predictions using a variety of differing methods in my last article, but much of that has gone out of the window now. At least we have a fit squad (although Ogbonna, Cresswell, and Antonio were late in starting, it would appear that all are now in full training) and many will be needed if the predicted muscle strain-type injuries arise with many games being played in a short period of time. We had three players sidelined by injuries when the season came to a halt, and all three (Fredericks, Yarmolenko and Wilshere) are also now back in training.

Of course, if the Premier League hadn’t restarted we would have retained our top flight status by the skin of our teeth, that is, purely on goal difference. That is because the decision has been made that three teams will be relegated, and if necessary a points per game calculation will be used. So, if anything happens between now and the restart to abandon plans to resume the season, then we are guaranteed a place in the Premier League for the season that follows.

What is worrying is that something may happen at any time once the games have restarted that could abandon the season at that point. For that reason all the clubs involved in the relegation tussle will be anxious to pick up points in the early games to ensure that they are not in the bottom three (on a points per game basis) at any time should the curtain suddenly fall.

Of course West Ham are notoriously slow starters, and therefore it is hoped that the team are ready to fire from the outset. On paper, our opening three fixtures are particularly tough. Although two of them are at “home”, the advantage of home games may perhaps be diminished by the empty stadiums. And we don’t have the best home record anyway! David Moyes has staged sessions at the London Stadium to prepare the players for playing in front of the empty stands, including full matches involving the whole squad.

In the opening three games we face Wolves, Chelsea and Tottenham who are all involved in the race to qualify for European places, so no easy games there against sides with little to play for! In addition, we also have a visit to Old Trafford in the penultimate game of the season, and they too are likely to still be involved in trying to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

We play three of our rivals that are involved in the bottom six (Norwich, Watford and Aston Villa are three of the final four games, all fighting for their lives), and just two games against sides who would appear to be comfortably mid-table, Burnley and Newcastle. Many observers may believe that Norwich are already down, and although they are red hot favourites for the drop, they still have the opportunity to save themselves with games against Watford, Southampton, Brighton, Burnley and ourselves, all potentially winnable matches. It could be that our final match of the season against Villa at the London Stadium might be crucial.

Although Brighton currently have the most points of the bottom six teams, perhaps on paper they face the toughest run-in, so it’s anybody’s guess what will happen. I’ll stick my neck out at this point and predict relegation for Norwich, Bournemouth and Villa, with Brighton finishing just above them, and Watford and ourselves pulling clear. That prediction may well change more than once as the season draws to a close!

Stay alert everyone!

Project Jumpstart: Can West Ham Create The Spark And Energy For A Positive Surge Up The Table, Or Will It Be A Relegation Shocker?

Football’s Coming Home – but this time in an ambulance and driven by a man who is only out to test his eyesight

I had what I consider to be a Nostradamus moment in my preview of the Southampton game on 28 February when I suggested that West Ham’s best hope for avoiding relegation was for the season to declared null and void as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Less that two weeks later the Premier League had called a halt to all matches following revelations that several high profile managers and players had been tested positive for the virus, including Mikel Arteta, whose Arsenal team had faced the Hammers on the previous weekend (7 March). On 23 March, the UK government finally imposed the nationwide lockdown which is tentatively easing today.

I admit that I felt at the time that restarting the season would be impossible but, barring a significant change in circumstances, that is exactly what will happen commencing on 17 June. The restart may be driven by commercial imperatives (getting hold of TV revenues to splurge on inflated transfer fees and wages) and by political distraction (a rare good news story to fill the back pages and social media ) rather than for the integrity of the game, but the latest plan envisages all remaining 92 games being completed during a hectic six week festival of football window.

A key aspect, of course, of the re-start plan is that matches will be played behind closed doors, with the majority of games played at the usual home venue. The exception to the latter is a number of Liverpool games which the police have asked to be hosted at neutral venues. There seems to be twisted logic here for me. Liverpool will eventually and inevitably win the title and when they do their fans will not celebrate in groups of six at a time (nor would the fans of any club, in fact). So rather that they celebrate, and confine the risk, to Liverpool, the authorities want to follow a path that spreads it around the country.

In a second of my visionary moments, I once posted about a time in football’s future when the presence of bothersome fans in stadiums was outlawed and where their role in generating noise and atmosphere was replaced by CGI and sound effects.   Expect to see some experiments in this direction if the ban on spectators is extended beyond this season and when the TV companies find it difficult to generate the appropriate level of hype in the absence of an enthusiastic or frustrated crowd. (If it turns out that I didn’t predict any of this I will simply edit an old blog post to make it look like I did.)

I have already seen one experiment at an event in South Korea where inflatable sex dolls were dotted around the stands in lieu of spectators – something that would seem ideal for our own chairmen, if they need to clear out any old stock not snapped up during the lockdown.

There is another way of looking at it, however. From my brief 45 minutes of an eerily sterile, crowd-free Bundesliga match on TV, it was apparent that without crowd involvement in the ground football is a far less attractive proposition to broadcast on the small screen. Thus, if fans are an essential part of the product then they should be paid to attend matches rather than the other way around.

Those longer in the tooth Hammer’s fans amongst us will recall a European Cup Winners Cup second leg tie in October 1980 against Castilla which West Ham won 5-1 (after extra time) to advance through to the next round of the competition. This was a game that had to be played behind closed doors at Upton Park due to crowd trouble in the first leg in Madrid. Clearly it is a good omen that the club has previous in overcoming home disadvantage.

As a West Ham fan, I admit to being very apprehensive about the restart. Back in early March, I felt the team had started to look more together, despite defeat at Arsenal, and would be more that capable of finishing above three worse sides. Now that tiny slither of momentum has been lost and we are back to square one. The elapsed time since the shutdown is equivalent to a normal close season and yet the players have just three weeks to get match fit. It applies to all teams but with the Hammers being notoriously slow starters, and one of the least energetic teams in the league, it does not bode well. Are we trust that our often complacent players have had the discipline to keep themselves in the best possible shape during the recess? Reports from the Bundesliga indicate a greater incidence of strains and tweaks since their restart. With West Ham’s history of injuries, that is not encouraging sign – especially for a team that relies on the contribution of a few key individuals rather than on collective effort.

“Too slow to catch a cold” was one of my dad’s favourite put-downs when I perched on his shoulders as a boy in the West Enclosure. If the same applies to coronavirus then we can count that as a positive for certain members of our squad.  With no allowances being made for depleted squads due to sickness and injury, it will be a case of all hands on deck for the duration. Are we up to the task?

If, and when, games do re-start, the motivation of mid-table teams will be interesting to watch. Even during a normal season there is a falling away in effort once there is nothing left to play for. Expecting players with no hope of European qualification and no fear of relegation to get back to match fitness, after a three month lay-off, for a handful of games, is a big ask.

Another concern is the situation where the league restarts but is subsequently cancelled in the event of a second wave of the virus. If the intention is to regard the league as complete should this occur (on a pro rate points basis) then it would mean that slipping into the bottom three at any point creates inherent danger – you cannot rely on an easier run in the games to come. Very much like a game of musical chairs!

I have not checked what the current odds are for relegation, but my sense is that, apart from Norwich, each of the bottom six face an equal chance of the drop. There is nothing we can do as fans, no chance to make a difference as the twelfth man in the stands, other than to put our faith in David Moyes to prepare his players properly; to hope the players step up; and that together they dig out the performances needed. Interesting times. Stay Alert, Hammer’s fans.