Last season we were very closely matched with Southampton. As we have been for the past few years. You will recall that they were promoted from the Championship automatically in 2011-12, when we came up via the play-offs. They won the game at St Mary’s that season and we drew the return at Upton Park on Valentines Day. Their three point margin over us in the two games effectively was the difference, as they finished the season on 88 points, two ahead of our 86. It meant that we had to go through the play-offs, which with hindsight was brilliant, and meant a great day out at Wembley.
In the first season back in the top flight we were the best performing of the three promoted sides, finishing tenth, five clear of the Saints in 14th. This included a comfortable 4-1 victory over them at home and an Andy Carroll goal in a 1-1 draw in the return. The following year we beat them 3-1 at home and drew 0-0 away. Move on a year and they got the upper hand with a win at Upton Park, and there was another goalless draw at St Mary’s.
Last season it was one win apiece. Antonio scored a remarkable goal as he was prostrate on the floor after a mazy run equalising the Southampton opener. Then Andy Carroll netted the winner with his head after Antonio’s header had rebounded from the woodwork. It was Antonio’s first ever Premier League goal and it came less than nine months ago. He has come on so much since then, being one of the first names on the team sheet, and recently called into the England squad. Apart from being leading scorer in the league he has scored the most headed goals of 2016, and his five headers this season are more headers than any team in the Premier League has scored. In fact he has scored five of our seven league goals.
We lost the return 1-0, despite playing against ten men throughout most of the second half. They ended the season one point ahead of us in sixth place. Some footballers seem to specialise against us. Rooney and Lukaku are two that come to mind, and Yoshida of Southampton is another. When he scored the only goal of the game it was only his third ever Premier League goal, but it was his second against us. I noticed that he was left on the bench for their last game when they recorded their first victory of the season, beating Swansea 1-0. We need to watch out if he gets on today. We also need to watch Charlie Austin. I’m sure he will relish putting two fingers up to our directors box if he scores after one of our joint chairmen publicly questioned his fitness last season. Mr Sullivan askedwhether it was sensible to fork out £15 million for an injury prone player. What about Andy Carroll?
We wouldn’t normally expect many goals in any Southampton game. There have only been ten in their five games this season and they have only scored four of them. On their travels they are not prolific scorers; last season they only managed to score twice in five of their away games, despite winning seven times. As a comparison we scored at least two goals on eleven occasions away from home in our seven victories.
The referee Jonathan Moss has sent off at least one player in each of the last six West Ham games he has officiated in. In the last two seasons he has also on two occasions that I can recall given a penalty against us in the 95th minute, denying us a victory each time (Tottenham and Leicester). Both penalties awarded were dubious to say the least.
So what will happen this afternoon? We desperately need a victory to kick-start our season. Let’s hope we can be tighter at the back and win the game by perhaps two or three goals to one.
Slaven Bilic described our situation in his press conference as “the Perfect Storm”. It is the title of a film about a fishing expedition from the 1990’s. It is also an expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically. The move to a new stadium? The injuries? The new players? Bad luck? Poor defending? After every storm comes a calm. Let us hope that the storm has passed and we can now look forward to a brighter future.