Super Scallies Go Ballistic West Ham Are Atrocious: Takeaways and Ratings From The Latest Hammer Horror

Borrowing the classic football headline seems appropriate in summing up a diabolical West Ham performance at Goodison Park.

A Road To Nowhere

How to sum up that performance: abject, disgraceful, wretched, miserable, hopeless, pathetic, pitiful, sorry, woeful, atrocious, appalling, the west-ham-way? It was a carry over from the Palace game – only far worse. I would hate to think what might have happened had they not had the extra week to prepare and work things out. On the evidence of these last two games this is a bottom half of the table squad. A benign set of opening fixtures mixed with good fortune had provided a warped impression of the Hammer’s qualities – but gravity has returned them to a more realistic next level. The manager had a stinker and few players came away with any credit. Roberto made some smart saves, although he should have done better for the first goal. Declan Rice showed early energy but even he was waving the white flag by the end.  Issa Diop was the one player seemingly up for the physical challenge. Sebastien Haller worked manfully as a one-man attack.  The rest ranged from anonymous to useless and should feel mightily embarrassed at what transpired over the ninety minutes.

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New West Ham Shirt Design

It’s Now A Pellegrini Team

Several months into his second season in charge and this is now definitely Manuel Pellegrini’s team.  He has had three transfer windows to freshen up the squad, plenty of time to assess strengths and weaknesses and run the rule over the academy players.  I am ambivalent towards the owners but am aware that many die-hard board haters continue to pin the blame on the two Daves. Perhaps they could have dug deeper into their pockets but any manager knows he has work within the budget available – and optimising what is available is what good managers are paid for .  Effective teams are a combination of talent, physical attributes, organisation and motivation. On paper, the talent is there (even if not in depth) but you have to question the whereabouts of the other components.  Where is the motivation and desire to win?  At this level, a team should never be soundly beaten simply because the opposition has a greater desire to win.   Was it a surprise that Everton came out battling and on the front foot?  Had there not been any preparation?   Pellegrini may have been justified in lambasting the players but he needs to have a long hard look at his own part in the proceedings. Expecting players to express themselves may be a good thing – ignoring the detailed planning is not.

The Slowest Team In Town

West Ham have to be the slowest team in the Premier League.  Perhaps someone from the home camp had snuck into the Hummer’s dressing room before the match and spread extra sticky toffee on their boots. Not just that there are few players with genuine individual pace but there is a collective inability to move the ball quickly, create space, switch play and pressure opponents when possession is lost.  There is no intensity in our play.  When possession is won it generally takes three or four backwards and sideways passes before even considering engaging a forward gear.  We get sucked into playing in congested triangles and seem reluctant to use the full width of the pitch. There is no-one pulling the strings in midfield.  When balls are finally played forward it is far too easy (Haller apart) for opponents to physically dominate against the lightweight midfield operatives – none of whom are anywhere near close enough to Haller. A patient build up is fine in practice but without pace, movement and guile you end up, as on Saturday, with hardly a touch in the opposition box.

Off The Ball

Out of possession we are equally weak.  No pressing and no getting back in numbers.  There is a slow retreat and that is happy to concede acres of space in the midfield.  Walcott was given so much room he could have been mistaken for Messi.  I think I heard that Roberto had made more saves in the game than any other keeper in any Premier League match this season.  It is no surprise.  The score remained at 1-0 for so long, not because of the efforts of West Ham, but due to the lack of composure in front of goal by Everton.  There could have been no complaints if the match had finished four or five to nil.

Big Changes Needed

Saturday’s game was like watching a re-run of the game at Burnley last season. A team on a bad run who had been galvanised into action against an always accommodating West Ham side.  Early domination of possession, an apparently disinterested and unmotivated opponent and freedom of the park bred confidence – and from then on it was one-way traffic.  Despite the brightish start to the season the warning signs have been apparent for some time – although these had been buried beneath encouraging results.  The team did acquit themselves well for large parts of the games against Manchester United and Norwich – but otherwise performances had not been convincing.  The concerns that I had mentioned pre-match – lack of passion, leadership, cohesion and penetration were all worryingly apparent.  Significant improvement is now essential, or else it will be yet another season going through the motions towards a (lower) mid-table finish.  As things stand there are few obvious signs of sustained team building taking place. I don’t expect West Ham to win every game but I do expect to see a team that knows what it is supposed to be doing – and does it with 100% commitment.

Ratings: Roberto (5), Fredericks (4), Ogbonna (4), Diop (7), Masuaku (4), Rice (5), Noble (3), Anderson (3), Fornals (4), Lanzini (4), Haller (5). Subs: Yarmolenko (4), Wilshere (4), Ajeti (4)

The Toffeemens’ supporters are getting restless, but will West Ham be Silva’s saviour?

Once again our hopes were built up as we pushed towards a place in the top four of the Premier League, only to be dashed by an indifferent performance against Crystal Palace a fortnight ago. Perhaps it will be an effective wake-up call to remind the players that merely turning up does not guarantee a win in the top league, even if we are playing against a team who had not beaten us in eight previous attempts. Despite not playing particularly well, we did take the lead in the game, but Rice’s (inexplicable to me) handball, and then switching off as the game approached the ninetieth minute, resulted in our second home defeat of the season. Palace were nothing special either, and the game could have gone either way, although those of us sitting in the stands could somehow predict what was about to happen when Ayew managed to stay onside (just!) to score the winning goal. Nevertheless despite the disappointment, 12 points from 8 games represents a decent start to the season (it took us 14 games to reach that figure last season, and 16 games the season before), and, after all, eighth place is higher than we have managed for a while in a whole season. Let us hope we can retain or improve upon that place as 2019-20 progresses. As much as I dislike the disruptive influence of international breaks, this one has come after a defeat, and gives the manager some time to work with the players who didn’t go away, and it is an opportunity to re-group and take stock.

To many followers of the game, one of the surprises of the season to date is to see Everton occupying one of the three relegation places with just 7 points from their eight games played. It is still very early days of course, and more than three-quarters of the season remains, nevertheless I still wouldn’t have expected to see the Toffees down there at this point. For many years (until fairly recently) they have been a bogey team of ours, but I do dislike seeing us coming up against a team in such poor form. How many teams break a losing sequence when facing us? It happens so often I’m afraid. Of course, early days in the league table mean that stringing together a few positive results can mean a rapid rise, as consecutive defeats can conversely mean a significant fall.

After their opening four games (wins at home to Watford and Wolves, a draw at Palace, and a defeat at Villa), Everton sat in a comfortable sixth place in the table, in the sort of position many expect them to occupy at the season’s end. But four consecutive defeats (in trips to Bournemouth and Burnley and in home games against Manchester City – no surprise, and Sheffield United – a big surprise) mean that with no points in their last four games they are the most out-of-form team in the league at this moment. It also means that Marco Silva heads the betting (at 5/4) for the next Premier League manager to leave his post (ahead of Solkskjaer at 2/1 and Pochettino at 5/1). What better for Everton than a home game against West Ham who specialise in helping teams and managers in this kind of predicament? Incidentally, at 50/1 our manager has only two managers below him in the betting to be next to leave (Klopp and Lampard are both 66/1).

Everton have only found the net six times in their eight games, and half of those came in the 3-2 win over Wolves. However five of those six goals have come in the four games on their own ground so it might be difficult for us to keep a clean sheet, especially in the absence of our first choice keeper who has successfully come through a hip operation, but is not expected to play again until 2020. The only time Everton failed to score at home this season so far was surprisingly against Sheffield United. I say surprisingly, but a look at the league table and fixtures played so far actually shows that Sheffield United are unbeaten in their four away games to date. Only Liverpool and ourselves can match that record after just four away games played by each team in the division this season! Also, no team in the Premier League has kept more clean sheets than ourselves this season (3). Even Liverpool have only managed two despite their 100% start.

Head to head fixtures against Everton stretch back for more than a century and, at the moment have a symmetrical feel to them. In 140 meetings, Everton have won 70, and the other 70 have been either draws (30) or West Ham victories (40). Positive results at Goodison Park are even rarer. Two goals from Yarmolenko helped us to achieve a 3-1 victory there last season, and in 2015-16, three late goals in the last 15 minutes meant an unlikely comeback win after trailing by two goals. Apart from those two wins, our only other success on their ground in the last quarter of a century came courtesy of a Bobby Zamora winner in another comeback win (2-1) in 2005.

But at least the bogey team thing seems to have disappeared for the moment as we have won two of the last three games we’ve played against Everton; previously we had won twice in the 22 meetings that preceded those! Everton have traditionally enjoyed playing against us, and in Premier League fixtures they have beaten us and scored more goals against us than against any other team.

For the benefit of TV we kick off at 12-30, so we have the opportunity (with a win) to temporarily leapfrog over other teams into a Champions League position! On the other hand a defeat would mean that Everton would (in the short term) rise six places in the table and they’d be just two points below us on ten points, a point ahead of the once mighty, and now not so mighty Manchester United, who will fall still further this weekend if they are unable to get a point against 100% Liverpool.

Everton are odds on to beat us, as are all the home teams on Saturday with the exception of Villa (at home to Brighton), and Palace (at home to Manchester City). Of the five games that Everton have lost (out of their eight games this season), four have been by a margin of two goals. Perhaps we can inflict a fifth two-goal margin defeat on them, perhaps repeating last season’s 3-1 win, to heap further pressure on their manager? All of our three wins have been by two goals, and another will do nicely. However, to do so we will have to improve significantly on our showing against Palace in the last game, but an early goal would silence the crowd, or perhaps even make them turn on their own team, who must be very short of confidence after these four successive defeats. I just hope that we don’t allow them to turn around their run of losses, as we are often inclined to do for any team having a poor time. It is 14 years since Everton last lost five league games in a row! I shouldn’t have highlighted that fact!

Hi Ho Silva Lining: The West Ham Charity Bus Heads For Goodison Park?

What better pick-me-up for an under pressure, besieged manager than to realise that this week’s visitors are registered charity, West Ham United?

An international break can be a long time in football. Go into it on the back of a good run of results and the feelgood factor carries you through the doldrums in no time at all.  Go into it on the back of a massively disappointing home defeat and performance against Crystal Palace, then it leaves too much time to dwell on your team’s shortcomings.

As a reasonably typical and longstanding West Ham supporter I know full well that disappointment is always lurking just around the corner, but that doesn’t make it any easier to handle.  The emotional roller coaster has entered a a steep dive and we need to know whether there is enough energy to get back up again.

The official media stance regarding the Hammers season to date is that they have had a bright start.  If you are comparing it to last season then that is a reasonable assessment.  However, there have now been a number of occasions this season (against not too difficult opposition) where it has looked like we were not trying to win the game.  Arguably that could be seen as a prudent approach for many Premier League awaydays, but to cautiously sit back at home to Palace is not excusable.  Even if the current style of football is nowhere near Big Sam tedious, it still lacks the verve and adventure that we crave.

Tomorrow’s early kick-off at Goodison Park is an opportunity to put things right and prove to doubters like me that the season can deliver more than mid-table stability.  Trips to the north-west are traditionally difficult for the Hammers although, who can forget, a run of four successive defeats at the start of last season was ended at Everton with a surprising 3-1 win just over twelve months ago.  This time the tables have turned, and it is Everton who are the crisis team embroiled in an equally unprofitable run.  Everton’s form has been so bad that they have opened up a four game gap over the Hammers at the top of the Premier League all-time losses table – 370 plays 366.

It may be stuff of legends but if you are lacking goals, points, confidence and are without a number of key players then what better could a manager or supporter hope for than a a visit from docile opponents with a history of bearing gifts.

It will be interesting to see what changes, if any, Manuel Pellegrini makes for the game. Will he put the Palace failure down as a bad day at the office or to his own poor tactical decisions? Change looks necessary in terms of different personnel the options are quite limited.

It is difficult to put your finger on the Pellegrini style of football at West Ham right now.  It tends towards the patient build-up but without the explosive element required to turn that suddenly into goal-scoring opportunities. Quick counter-attacks are rare, although ironically it was a rare one that was the catalyst for Sebastien Haller’s goal two weeks ago.

In fact, overall there are too few players able or willing to play progressively at pace – either through passing or running with the ball.  I have mentioned previously that two of the team’s most creative players (Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko) send too long hugging the touchline, on their wrong foot – this leads to predictability (they will invariably cut inside) while at the same time they deny space for the full backs to run into.

It was a feature of old-style (Greenwood and Lyall) West Ham sides that they played football on their toes – something that the better teams today also demonstrate – in chess terms, it is thinking a few moves ahead. Too often our players are stationery/ flat footed when they receive the ball – get it first before deciding what to do next. This is perfectly illustrated by Ryan Fredericks – a player who has had a good season and possesses blistering pace – yet his is an asset that is rarely used constructively. Openings are simply not being created for him to exploit. It results in crosses put in from very safe areas, twenty-five yards or so from goal, rather than being whipped back from the touchline.

Up front, Haller seems increasingly isolated. He is a useful target man but nobody is close enough to pick up the lay-offs and knock-downs.  I guess that is meant to be Manuel Lanzini’s role but he is usually too far away.  Someone needs to be playing close to and just behind Haller – a better role for Anderson or one for Wilshere?

Collectively, the side lack cohesion and have a tendency to bunch.  That absence of cohesion is also true when possession is lost.  The intent to win the ball back quickly or close down space has improved a little this season but needs to be much better.

Perhaps that two week break has left my glass even more than half empty than usual.  Perhaps a thrilling performance and victory will have it overflowing once again.  I just don’t see it somehow. But they are more than welcome to prove me wrong.

Everton have spent a lot of money over recent years to assemble a very expensive squad.  Unfortunately (for them), they have followed the Manchester United play book by splashing the cash on a string of individuals without any clear idea how they might fit together into a unit. There is much speculation that defeat today will lead to Marco Silva’s dismissal from the Goodison hotseat – he is the clear favourite in the Premier League sack-race stakes.  Lucky for him to have the silver lining of today’s usually amenable visitors.

Paul Tierney (whistle) and Michael Oliver (technology) are the dynamic matchday duo for tomorrow’s game.  Lucky for Tierney that, with it being an early kick-off, he doesn’t have far to travel from his Lancashire home. No doubt VAR will highlight once more the stupidity of the offside rule.  It really is time that assistant referee’s were instructed not to flag for any offside decisions.  When Yarmolenko was incorrectly flagged offside in open play during the Palace game (a clear and obvious error) where was the get out of jail card?

BBC and Sky pundits (Lawro and Charlie Nicholas) both have this down as a 2-1 but with different winners. Lawro says home win, Nicholas says away.  Deep down I think we will lose (as I did last season) but can’t bring myself to predict defeat.  Therefore, I will go get up there on the fence and go for a 1-1 draw. COYI!

 

 

It’s A Fools Game: Takeaways And Player Ratings From West Ham’s Latest Failure To Deliver

Manuel Pellegrini’s cunning plan to lull Palace into a false sense of security by refusing to attack them falls flat at the London Stadium. What did we learn?

Plus ça Change

Owners, managers and players may come and go but there is one thing remains the same at West Ham – the ability to disappoint. To build up expectations, then dash them just us quickly. The tantalising prospect of finishing the day sitting third in the Premier League was still intact at kick-off, courtesy of a last minute penalty winner at Anfield.  The omens felt good.  All that was needed was the right attitude and West Ham would put their workmanlike visitors to the sword.  High energy, high intensity, quick passing and good movement – that is all we needed.  We had seen it in the previous two home matches, so what could possibly go wrong?  We had heard earlier in the afternoon about what it means to be ‘Spursy’ – well, this was classic ‘Hammersy’.  Just when we needed the team to turn up, they collectively went missing.  As fans, we really should know better by now, but blind optimism tricks us into believing it can be different this time.  What fools we are.

A Poor Advert For The Premier League

In truth this was a very poor game and one where most of the uncommitted watching on TV across the world would have sensibly switched off sometime during the opening twenty minutes.  It had the pace of a training match that was being played in excessive heat.  It could easily have been mistaken for a game from a couple of divisions lower in the pyramid.  The onus was on West Ham to dictate the pace of the game but they seemed prepared to coast, confident that victory would emerge through osmosis.  Playing a patient style of football is one thing – this was verging on comatose.

Tactics, What Tactics?

It was impossible to make out what the Hammer’s tactics were meant to be.  Or what instructions the players had been given.  In the first half the entire team were lethargic, sloppy and passive.  Crystal Palace are a dull and predictable team but they did what they had to do.  In the second half there was a marginal improvement but apart from a delightful goal (totally out of character with the rest of the game) there was little joy as players bunched and failed to create space.  It was a team performance lacking motivation and leadership, both on and off the pitch.  There was far too much pointless passing in the middle third that achieved nothing other than allowing the opposition to regroup behind the ball.  The focus of attack was down the flanks but we rarely got behind the Palace defence or delivered anything special into the box.  There was the rare searching pass but no dangerous through balls to a runner or rapid counter attacks (other than for the goal). Only four corners in the entire game says a lot about how lacking in action it was.  If it wasn’t for the VAR controversies, there would be little to remember the game for.

Not A Case Of Missed Chances And Bad Luck

I don’t believe that we lost the game because of bad luck. The VAR decisions, that some might argue went against us, were correct according to the current interpretation of the laws of the game.  That the laws of the game might not be particularly sensible is a different matter altogether.  If anything, VAR has highlighted how ridiculous the offside rule is since the more recent changes.  Just imagine how many wrong decisions are being called in the lower leagues.  Neither do I believe that we lost because we didn’t take our chances.  Other than the Sebastien Haller chance in the first half (was that a bad miss or a great save?) nothing else was clear cut.  More half chances – and few of those are routinely converted.  We lost because we played poorly, lacked conviction and did not have the wit to unlock a disciplined Palace defence.  The enigma is that we have creative players in the squad but the slow and patient system (which I think is what we saw yesterday) stifles that creativity.  We have long struggled to breech stubborn defences and on this showing we are in line for another mid-table season (8th to 10th) – not a top six one.

Credit Rating Downgrade

I have read a few player ratings from yesterday’s match that gave several West Ham players a smattering of 7’s and 8’s for their performances.  Now we all have our own rating definitions but I do wonder what game they were watching.  I saw a team of under performers with Ryan Fredericks probably the pick of the bunch.  Roberto came through without any howlers.  Felipe Anderson had a lot of the ball but equally gave it away cheaply and delivered little.  Manuel Lanzini was anonymous.  Declan Rice was tidy but his afternoon was spoiled by the penalty award.  Mark Noble ran around a lot but apart from one pass he contributed little that was positive.  The rest were much of a muchness, ranking from mediocre to barely competent,

Player Ratings: Roberto (5), Fredericks (6), Diop (5), Ogbonna (6), Cresswell (4), Rice (5), Noble (5), Yarmolenko (5), Lanzini (4), Anderson (5), Haller (5) Subs: Fornals (4), Wilshere (5), Zabaleta (5)

Old Kid In Town: Understudy Roberto Holds The Key To Seeing Off The Eagles And Furthering West Ham’s Ambitions

A buoyant West Ham can finish the day in the top three of the Premier League. But can stand-in keeper Roberto prove his doubters wrong and prevent panic in the Hammer’s defence?

The two elder statesmen of football management will ride their mobility scooters into the London Stadium later today as West Ham contest their first capital derby of the season.  Boasting a combined experience close to 75 years, Manuel Pellegrini and Roy Hodgson might have thought that, by this stage in their lives, they would be more likely sitting on a park bench (like bookends) reminiscing about dubbin, lace up footballs, nailed-on studs and £100 per week footballers.  Instead they will be taking charge once again of another game in the cauldron (© Sky Sports) that is Premier League football.

Crystal Palace have been rather profligate with their managers over the years with Hodgson being the 60th to fill the position (Pellegrini is West Ham’s 17th manager, by comparison).  A scan through the Selhurst Park managerial hall of shame shows many of the usual merry-go-round suspects (Bruce, Francis, Dowie, Warnock (twice), Pulis, Pardew, Allardyce) that suggests an unimaginative approach to recruitment which might represent the limits of their ambition.  The one missing name that prevents a Dinosaur Bingo full-house is that of Mark Hughes – but give it time.

It is fair to say that Hodgson has brought a degree of stability to Palace that makes them unlikely relegation candidates – even if that stability is rather dull and dependable in nature.  The cunning team strategy is to field ten plodders plus Zaha – just like when Le Tissier played for Southampton.  The stats may show that Zaha has little end product but he really doesn’t have much to work with – apart from getting into the box and going quickly to ground.  No wonder he wanted away.  If Palace were a car it would be a VW Beetle or Citroen 2CV – functional and able to chug along forever but lacking style or glamour.

West Ham by comparison are a wheeler-dealer’s custom car project. Although the old policy of collecting old parts from the breaker’s yard has been mostly abandoned, it is still some way from peak performance.  The flared wheel arches, racing seats and rear spoilers may all have been installed; but the important work of upgrading the engine and transmission has been largely overlooked.

Not that it hasn’t been an encouraging start to the season but there are nagging doubts that (given the games that we have played so far) there should be a few more points on the board if a realistic assault on the top six is to be mounted.  I guess clean sheets and unbeaten runs build confidence, but they don’t always result in the bring optimum points haul.  One win and two defeats from the drawn games against Brighton, Villa and Bournemouth would have earned exactly the same number of points.  Would a more adventurous approach have gathered a few extra?  It is no surprise that, as things stand, we are regarded in the media as a team that has enjoyed a better than expected start to the season, rather than being the team most likely to break into the top six (that being Leicester.)

Perhaps I am expecting too much. If you had asked me a few years back, then I would have been more than happy with our current situation.  We are playing a more attractive style of football and have recruited some fine talent; but I can’t help wondering whether there shouldn’t be another enterprising gear in there somewhere.

By far, the biggest talking point of the week for Hammers fans has been in digesting the news of the long term injury sustained by Lukasz Fabianski.  I knew that all those unnecessary pass-backs to the keeper would come to no good – a case of repetitive strain injury arising from all those punts upfield have taken their toll on the keeper’s hip.  Outside of the management team, there has been little confidence shown in the abilities of his replacement, Roberto.  Having confidence in the keeper is a key element of any defensive unit and if jitters are apparent they can quickly become contagious.  If too much attention is being paid to protect the keeper it will be detrimental to the entire team performance.

Roberto’s career has been as a “have gloves, will travel” itinerant. He has played 272 league games in four countries over 15 years.  He can be no Fabianski but he still needs our support.  Maybe a R-O-B-Erto chant to the old Ottowan D-I-S-C-O tune that was once use for Di Canio during his stay at Sheffield Wednesday would do the trick?

Apart from the keeper, the only other likely change should be a recall to the starting eleven for Manuel Lanzini, at the expense of Pablo Fornals.  It would be a good time for Lanzini, Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko to start creating some decent chances for the hard working Sebastien Haller.  The Palace defence will be well organised and well drilled and our creative players need to be at their sharpest to find a way through.

Yarmolenko is riding the crest of a wave at the moment and long may it continue.  He is a hard player to pin down in any particular category.  Not really a winger but playing wide on his weaker side should make him predictable but he has the sweetest left foot and rarely wastes a ball.  Perhaps he is a conundrum that also baffles opponents.

Palace will be without set-piece specialist Milivojevic through suspension while defender Sakho is out injured.  Veteran defender Cahill has relegated former West Ham pinup favourite James Tomkins to bench duty but there could be a start for wily ex-Hammer, Cheikhou Kouyate.

Making the long trip south from Northumberland with his whistle is one-time refereeing wonderkid, Michael Oliver.  Agreeing with all his decisions at VAR Central will be Paul Tierney.  I read that since Palace’s return to the Premier League they have been awarded more penalties than any side in the division (I couldn’t see how many of those had been ‘earned’ through Zaha’s tumbling act.)  During that same period, West Ham have conceded more penalties than any other team in the same league.  Make what you will of that particular omen.

Media pundits Lawro and Charlie Nicholas both forecast a home win, by 2-0 and 3-1 respectively.  Barring defensive howlers or calamities, it is difficult to see where the visitors will find goals from, if Jordan Ayew is the best they have to offer.  The game will hinge on the Hammer’s ability to break down Palace’s stubborn resistance.  It is one of those situations where if one goes in there could be several more.  A good day to discover a killer instinct.  A 3-0 win would do for me and depending on what happens at Anfield, it could see West Ham sitting pretty in third place by the end of the day.

The Eagles visit the London Stadium. Will West Ham or Palace be Glad All Over on Saturday evening?

Oh joy of joys, once again we kick-off at what a traditional football supporter would call a non-traditional time. 5.30pm on a Saturday evening. I didn’t want to do anything on Saturday night anyway! This will be our eighth league game of the season and our fourth at home at the London Stadium. All four of our home games have started at different times. We’ve had 12.30 on a Saturday, followed by 3.00 on a Saturday, 2.00 pm on a Sunday, and now 5.30 on Saturday! That’s the price we have to pay for vast injections of money into the Premier League from Sky and BT. But as a West Ham fan of long standing I guess we don’t have too much to complain about this season; well not as far as the league games are concerned. If, after our 5-0 beating by Manchester City on the opening day of the season, we had been offered the opportunity to be facing Palace in Matchday 8, having not lost any further league games, with three wins and three draws in the next six games, and fifth place in the Premier League table, most of us would have comfortably settled for that.

And we are only denied fourth place in the table by virtue of Arsenal having scored more goals than us, as we both have an identical goal difference of +1. For us, that’s quite a turnaround after being -5 after the first game. Personally I find it refreshing to see two of the “reserved” places in the “elite six” being occupied by ourselves and Leicester, taking the places of Chelsea and Manchester United. And I’m not unhappy to see us one place above those North London neighbours with the new stadium. I do think West Ham fans need to be a touch cautious though when crowing about Tottenham on social media sites. There was the mickey taking re their exit from the Carabao Cup at the hands of Colchester which came before our poor performance and defeat at Oxford. And then after their loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League I’ve seen plenty of pictures of “Seven Up” bottles. Perhaps when we qualify to participate in the Champions League we can afford to crow more, but I guess we need to make hay while the sun shines in respect of taunting Spurs. I’m all for it really but hope it doesn’t come back to bite us again! Arsenal supporters must be enjoying it too, especially as one of their former players bagged four of the goals that sank their neighbours.

Seven games down, and only three of them at home, and our league position after each matchday has read 20, 16, 14, 7, 8, 5, 5, showing excellent progression. The performances have not always been as good as we would like, and we can definitely improve further so the outlook is good. On paper at least the next few matches are eminently winnable. Three of the next four are at home, with an away game at out of form (but still dangerous I suspect) Everton. Crystal Palace, Sheffield United and Newcastle are all teams we would expect to beat (especially at home) if we want to be considered a big team, and teams we would need to defeat if we want to continue to pursue a place in the top six.

As far as many of our fans are concerned, one big blot on our ambition is in the injury to Fabianski which is likely to keep him out for quite a while. Fans have taken to social media questioning why we let Adrian go, but it seems he wanted to go, and there’s no point in continuing with those moans. Many are also questioning whether the two back-up keepers we signed in the summer are of sufficient quality to play in the Premier League. Roberto seems to be the preferred choice to take over from Fabianski rather than David Martin, but his performances so far have not exactly earned rave reviews and many are concerned that this may be a significant stumbling block in our quest to continue our fine start to the season. He certainly moved around a lot in Spain, with visits to Portugal and Greece too, and there is some historical controversy in respect of the ownership of the economic rights of the player himself. Where have I come across that before? He has often been a second choice keeper for the teams he has played for, but having said that he has amassed over 300 senior appearances, and played for the Spanish national side at all age levels except for the full side. The West Ham crowd seem to have taken against him, but I just hope he makes some good saves early on to get the fans behind him. I’ve seen West Ham fans have issues with our goalkeeper before (Allen McKnight is the main example, but there have been others at times e.g. Ferguson, Day) and watched as the keeper visibly lost confidence and his performance suffered as a result. I just hope it doesn’t happen this time. If it all goes pear-shaped in the next few games as far as the goalkeeping position is concerned then Mario Husillos’ judgement will be called into question and perhaps the chairman will want to regain control over transfers and the Director of Football position at the club.

Palace themselves have made a decent start to the campaign with three wins, two draws and two defeats in their seven games, meaning that they are just a point below us among four clubs on 11 points. Like us they have beaten Norwich and Manchester United. In the main their games have been low scoring affairs, the exception being a 4-0 defeat away from home at the hands of Tottenham. They also lost 1-0 at Sheffield United, so the highlight of their travels was the 2-1 victory at Old Trafford. Of their six league goals scored, Van Aarholt, Townsend, Milivojevic (penalty as usual), and ‘Own Goal’ have scored one apiece and an Ayew of the Jordan variety has scored twice. AT least Milivojevic won’t be able to score a penalty this week – he is suspended.

I can recall a game early in 2016 when West Ham beat Aston Villa 2-0 (in the season they were relegated) and Jordan Ayew was sent off for inexplicably elbowing Aaron Cresswell for no apparent reason as they were waiting for a free kick to be taken. He ended up as Villa’s leading scorer that season albeit with only seven goals. I expect Cresswell (our in-form goalscorer!) is looking forward to renewing his acquaintance with him. Incredible really, two goals in two games, when he took more than 100 games for his last two.

Historically we have a positive record in head to head games against today’s visitors, and in the last four seasons we have a record against them of the kind that I don’t like, in that it is there to be broken. In the eight fixtures since the beginning of the 2015-16 season we have won four and drawn four. In last season’s game at the London Stadium just ten months ago, Palace led at half time, but we came back strongly in the second half and won the game 3-2. It was the very first time in a West Ham v Palace Premier League fixture that the team scoring the first goal went on to lose the match. We began that game less than a year ago with Hernandez and Perez up front; fortunately neither are still here. Incredibly West Ham and Palace are two of the three teams (Manchester City are the other team) that have kept three clean sheets this season.

With the bookmakers we are evens favourites to win. I expect us to be too strong for our opponents in attack. Zaha is a dangerous player but (and I hope I don’t regret writing this) I think he lacks an end product; he ought to score far more goals than he does. I’m not sure if we can retain our clean sheet record but I reckon we’ll win by two clear goals, either 2-0 or 3-1. Enjoy the game.

Seaside Shuffle: West Ham Can Coast To Victory At Bournemouth And Extend Top Six Stay

Following a disgraceful lack of interest in winning at Oxford, West Ham owe their supporters big time. A committed performance from the strongest eleven can see them return from the South Coast with three points.

You may have heard the story about the scorpion who asks a frog to carry it across a river. The frog is afraid of being stung by the scorpion but is reassured by the scorpion that if it did that, they would both drown. The scorpion climbs onto the frog’s back, but midway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog, dooming them both. The dying frog asks the scorpion why it had stung him, to which the scorpion replies “I couldn’t help it. It’s in my nature.”

This would seem to sum up West Ham and their efforts in cup games against lower league opposition.  Never mind the occasional success or the reassurances that they will treat the cups with the utmost seriousness. They just can’t help but resort to complacency and disrespect – it’s in their nature. It is difficult to take the post-match words of apology or embarrassment, from manager or players, seriously. It was not a bad day at the office, it was a case of not really caring whether we won or lost.  The shame was not in losing to Oxford United, it was in the disrespect shown to the fans, especially those that travelled.

It is back to league action today against one of the other teams who meekly surrendered their EFL Cup lace to league opponents.  The lazy reaction is to present today’s clash as one of two clubs looking to bounce back from midweek defeats.  But in the context of today’s game those games were meaningless, having been forfeited with indifference.  Both teams have enjoyed promising starts to the season – good enough, in fact, to earn the billing of an unlikely top six clash. A clear reflection that, to the money men who run the game, each additional league position offers greater value than the glory of a cup run.

There has been much debate in the media about the chances of other clubs breaking up the ‘rich six’ monopoly this year; with much of that debate focusing on the prospects of Leicester and West Ham. I saw a number of West Ham fans on social media peeved that Leicester were generally receiving a better press than the Hammers.  While you could argue that there is little to choose between their respective strongest starting elevens, the Foxes do look to have greater strength in depth. There may be a few household names among the West Ham backups but collectively they tend towards the old and the slow.  Injuries haven’t helped, but it is rare to see any exciting options sitting on the Hammers bench – where Manuel Pellegrini is reluctant to take risks with younger players.

Even today’s opponents look to have better options in reserve. Assuming the Cherries stick with the same eleven that started in last week’s win at Southampton they can attack with some variety.  The power of Solanke and the pace and movement of Wilson and King are sure to unsettle our defence, even with its new found enthusiasm for clean sheets.  The Cherries have a solid, hard working midfield but will be able to call upon the services of Fraser and Lewis Cook from the bench if something different is required.  I really like the look of Cook (who has just returned from a long layoff) and both he, and the injured Brooks, will have big futures ahead of them.

According to Sky Sports, Manuel Lanzini is back in the West Ham squad for today’s game.  If that is true then it would be excellent news, even if he is not a starter – relying on Robert Snodgrass or Carlos Sanchez as game changers from the bench does not inspire any confidence.  It would be no surprise if Pellegrini selected the same side that started in the defeat of Manchester United, except for any enforced change due to the fitness of Ryan Fredericks.  Although Pablo Zabaleta is one of the more able deputies in the squad, I do worry about how well he will handle the pace that Bournemouth have down the flanks.

The whistle and headset referee today is Stuart Attwell from Nuneaton. The VAR-meister waiting to use the offside micrometer and furiously checking back phases of play for technical infringements is Andrew Madley (the older brother of refugee referee Robert ‘Bobby’ Madley).

Pundit wise, we have Lawro predicting a 2-1 home and Charlie Nicholas anticipating a rip-roaring 2-2 draw.  This is a match that typically provides plenty of goals and there are good reasons to believe that the trend could continue today.  Bournemouth’s weakness is their defence which has a tendency to be accident prone – something the Hammers must be ready to take advantage of.  Just eight goals from six games is not an impressive statistic and turning possession into meaningful chances is one of the key areas requiring improvement.  Sebastien Haller is potentially the most competent striker we have had for some years but he needs to be given decent service.

West Ham need everyone on the top of their game and to be in the right frame of mind from the off.  This will be no stroll along the prom but with a determined performance, especially in the middle of the park, they have the quality to extend their unbeaten away record (in the league, at least) and even go on to win the game. Although I have some reservations about how well we can cope with the hosts attacking pace and power, I will back West Ham to exploit the uncertainties in the home defence and come away with a thrilling 3-2 win. COYI.