The consensus in the media, social and otherwise, on the current West Ham predicament and the evidence of 4 Premier League games (and an ignominious Europa League exit) is that we are teetering on the brink of the precipice at the edge of the abyss. The vultures are circling and the fat lady is already practising her closing number. The capitulation against Watford was indeed shameful where we not only took our foot off the gas but parked up on the hard shoulder (is that what they call the area around the outside of our pitch?) for a picnic and a refreshing glass of blackcurrant Rabona (I mean Ribena!). The tendency of West Ham to become all passionate against the big boys but fake arousal against the smaller fry is not a new one (remember the final two home games from Upton Park) but it really should not be tolerated from a very highly paid professional team. Nonetheless, a few good performances and wins can easily put the season back on track and there is no better opportunity to start than away to the beleaguered, low-scoring Baggies.
“Okay, we have done it for some of the time this season but you have to do it all the time. That is what serious football at this level is all about; to do it minute after minute, day after day, week after week. That is the key. I’m expecting a big-time response at West Brom. We have to dig in and, if we do that, I fear no-one.”
– Slaven Bilic
All of the noise coming out of the Hawthorns this week has been about the take-over of West Brom by the Chinese businessman, Guochuan Lai, and speculation over the future of manager Tony Pulis (or Nok So Long as he is referred to in the boardroom). I am not a fan of the Pulis brand of football but he seems a decent enough chap and I am sure realistically he knows that his days are numbered whatever happens on the pitch. The new owners will want to introduce their own style and culture into the club and can foresee the scenario where the Assistant Referee holds up Number 5 to denote added time and someone runs on with a portion of Chicken Chow Mein. All in all I think it is a good time to be playing them.
Head to Head
The all-time head to head record between the two clubs is a very even one. West Ham have won the last two Premier League meetings at the Hawthorns including a commanding 3-0 victory last time out. If West Ham were to win today it would be only the second time in the Premier League where they have recorded three successive away victories against the same team (Fulham was the first). These last two victories over Albion, however, were separated by the 4-0 drubbing received in the FA Cup 5th round tie in February 2015; whatever happened to (Tuesday and so slow) Brown Ideye? The more regular outcome in recent fixtures between the two clubs has been the draw and that must be the minimum requirement from this afternoon. An emphatic win would be the ideal way to celebrate Billy Bonds 70th birthday though.
A former Hammer who has fond memories of West Brom is Brian Dear who scored 5 goals in 20 minutes against them in 1965. Brian celebrates his birthday tomorrow when he will be 73 years old.
“I think the players are more affected by not getting a new iPhone than they are about whether there is a change of ownership!”
– Tony Pulis
The long term injuries remain the same and so Ayew, Carroll, Sakho and Cresswell are all continued absentees. Mark Noble has recovered from a hand injury and is available for selection. I would be very surprised if James Collins kept his place (Ogbonna to start) and imagine Sam Byram’s place would be under threat if Alvaro Arbeloa was considered ready for first team action. I think Bilic will stick with Adrian in goal and that Zaza will start again up front.
That leaves the midfield and the enigma of how to combine the available assortment into an effective unit. Personally, I would start with a proper defensive midfielder (which means one from Oxford, Obiang or Nordtveit) to provide extra protection to the back four. Antonio and Payet should be certain starters and that leaves another two from Kouyate, Lanzini, Noble, Tore and Feghouli; none of whom qualify on current form as automatic picks.
My preferred eleven for a welcome 2-0 victory would be:
Byram Reid Ogbonna Masuaku
Antonio Kouyate Payet Lanzini
West Brom are likely to have Solomon Rondon back for this game which is unfortunate as he seems to be their only credible threat; although on our day we can make even a Spurs reject like Chadli look like a world beater.
The Man in the Middle
Today’s referee is the self-important Mark Clattenburg. Don’t expect at the end of the game to say to your mates “tell you what I didn’t notice the referee today.”