Matchday: West Ham @ The Liberty Stadium

Will there be a welcome in the hillsides for Slav’s men to demonstrate their alleged new found confidence.

Swansea West HamIf the boot were on the other foot and we were facing a team whose record signing was our former player who had struggled since his big money transfer you would be straight down to the bookies with the nailed on certainty that he would break his goal-scoring duck today. When Andre Ayew chose to sign for Swansea despite the apparent advances of West Ham in the summer of 2015 the noisy naysayers saw this as evidence of a lack of ambition by the Hammer’s board. Following his successful season at the Liberty Stadium and subsequent £20 million transfer to West Ham the same critics dismiss him as a flop and claim that we massively overpaid. With the Hammers looking for an unlikely three wins on the trot (and the sixth 1-0 success of the season) what scriptwriter could refuse the Ghanaian a winning goal return as a late Christmas present this afternoon?

Head to Head

West Ham against Swansea is a fixture that has largely gone with home advantage over the years. We have yet to win at the Liberty Stadium and you have to go back to 1985 for a last win on the Gower peninsular.

 

P

W

D

L

F

A

Sequence

Home

26

18

7

1

66

26

LWWWDW

Away

26

4

7

15

32

47

DDDLLW

 

52

22

14

16

98

73

 

Team News

Player of the season-to-date Pedro Obiang misses today’s game through suspension. Apparently James Collins and Sam Byram are both available. We are likely to see the same team that struggled against Hull apart from the enforced change caused by Obiang’s absence. Worryingly it could well be the less than impressive Havard Nordtveit who fills the defensive midfield void.

“We got seven points, we climbed the table, now I expect from us to play with more confidence than before.  We are approaching the next couple of games till the end of the year with much more confidence and I expect us to play well and get something out of those games.”

– Slaven Bilic

Andy Carroll will continue up front and with Sakho now ruled out until March (I am undecided whether this is a convenient ACON injury or not) the need for striker reinforcements is as acute as ever.

“We have started games well, but we still concede first. I have looked back over the year and one of the things that sticks out is that in 17 games we have only scored first four times.”

– Bob Bradley

Swansea have no injury worries and it could be an uncomfortable afternoon if they really give it a go against our unconvincing formation. Let’s hope we can hold on long enough for Ayew to come on and nick the winner.

The Man in the Middle

A third encounter of the season (Man City [A]; Stoke [H]) with Andre Marriner from the West Midlands. Mr. Marriner has taken charge of 16 games in all competitions this term amassing 68 Yellow and 5 Red cards.

West Ham v Swansea preview

A Boxing Day visit to South Wales.

Embed from Getty Images

The last time we played Swansea was when they visited us in the final Saturday home game last season at Upton Park in May. After the game Mark Noble described it as “a bad day at the office”. And it certainly was. For those of you in your rose-tinted glasses who remember Upton Park as a “fortress” I will remind you that they inflicted on us our heaviest home defeat of the season, beating us 4-1. It was the second time in what was generally considered to be a very good season that we conceded four goals at home; Bournemouth had also put that number of goals in our net early in the campaign. I guess the Swansea game was quickly forgotten when Manchester United were the visitors just three days later in that memorable last game at the Boleyn Ground.

Our last trip to play them in South Wales was almost exactly a year ago when in a “Super Sunday” game we picked up an away point in a tedious 0-0 draw. It was our third 0-0 draw in a row just before last Christmas, and at the time we hadn’t won a game since our victory over Chelsea in October. Swansea finished the season in a respectable twelfth position.

They are another club who have moved home in recent years. Just over ten years ago they left their home at the Vetch Field and began a new chapter at the Liberty Stadium. They were in League One at the time in the third tier of the English pyramid. A couple of years later they won promotion to the Championship under Roberto Martinez, and in 2011-12 they were back in the top tier again, where they have remained since.

The following season, in our first Premier League game away from home after our return, they thumped us 3-0, but the following February we exacted our revenge with an Andy Carroll goal. Like ourselves they finished in mid-table, both of us on 46 points, though they pipped us on goal difference to finish ninth.

In 2013-14 they once again finished in the position just above us (twelfth). At their place we played out a goalless draw, and the return in February saw Kevin Nolan bag a brace in a 2-0 victory, a game remembered mainly for the clash of the pony tails, when the play-acting antics of Chico Flores got Andy Carroll sent off (unjustly) by Howard Webb.

A season later two Andy Carroll goals and one from Sakho gave us a 3-1 victory at Upton Park, and Carroll was again on the scoresheet when we drew 1-1 in the return match. Swansea finished eighth that season (to our twelfth).

This season their fortunes have declined and they currently prop up the Premier League alongside Hull on 12 points, with just three victories and three draws in their seventeen games. They won 1-0 at Burnley in their opening game, and recently notched up home victories over Palace (5-4), and Sunderland (3-0). They have the worst defensive record in the division, having conceded 37 goals.

Of course we bought Andrew Ayew from them in the summer, and I hope that he can get on the scoresheet in this game. They have one player who always stands out for me when I see them play, Gylfi Sigurdsson, and he is someone who is never mentioned as a potential transfer target, but is a creative midfielder who scores goals. I’d like to see him playing in our team.

Of course we go into the game on the back of picking up seven points from our last three games, despite not playing convincingly, and we could do with another positive result to extend the gap between ourselves and the relegation zone. Carroll has a good goalscoring record against Swansea, and Ayew should be looking to open his account for us against his former employers. Obiang will unfortunately be missing due to suspension, which is a pity as in my opinion he has been our best player this season, playing a vital midfield role. I’d like to see Kouyate pushed forward to play in midfield, but I don’t think it will happen. I fear that Nordtveit will play in Obiang’s position, but he hasn’t yet convinced me of his ability to play in the Premier League, despite the good reviews he received for his Bundesliga performances and for the Norwegian national team.

The transfer window opens shortly and it will be interesting to see if any of the 4,256 players linked to us in the media actually arrive. I know who I’d like to see heading out; there are some very obvious candidates. It would be great if those involved with procuring players kept their silence until players actually do arrive.

Personally I’d like us to splash out on a proven goalscorer like Defoe (which of course wouldn’t be popular with some of our supporters), a creative midfielder who can score goals (like Sigurdsson for example), and a proper right back. I’d like to see Burke recalled from his loan, Oxford given a chance when he has recovered from injury, and perhaps one or two of the development squad drafted in to see what they can do. Martinez seems to score goals for fun at that level; perhaps he can step up?

Three points would of course be great, but I predict a 1-1 draw.

This Week in Hammer’s History

A Boxing Day only edition takes a look at the post Xmas fare and the record breaking events of 1963.

This Week Hammers HistoryWe all know that during  the Christmas period that the games ‘come thick and fast’ which means that the week 26 December to 1 January in Hammer’s History has seen more than its fair share of games.  As a consequence I have split the week into two parts with today’s article looking just at Boxing Day; with the rest of the week covered in a separate post.

Of the 45 Boxing Day games played since 1958 we have won 13, drawn 12 and lost 20.  Although the overall record is not so good in the higher scoring games we have had the edge.  Starting in 1958 we completed a Christmas double over Tottenham with a 4-1 victory at White Hart Lane (having beaten them 2-1 at Upton Park the previous day).  There have also been high scoring victories on the road at Blackpool (4-1 in 1996), Chelsea (4-2 in 1973 to climb off the bottom of the table), and Portsmouth (4-1 in 2008).  On the flip side too much pudding and sherry was the harbinger of defeats at Villa (4-1 in 1975) and Tottenham (4-0 in 1986).  We had also played Tottenham on Boxing Day a year earlier and the 1-0 defeat to an 85th minute Steve Perryman goal will forever be one of those ‘if-only’ matches from the memorable 1985/6 season.

A Boxing Day home fixture at Upton Park was often something special over the years including victories over Leicester (4-1 in 1967), Charlton (5-0 in 2000) and Derby (4-0 in 2001).  Possibly the most unusual Boxing Day, however, was in 1963 when 10 Division 1 games returned a record 66 goals.  Included in this was total was an 8-2 thrashing of West Ham by league leaders Blackburn Rovers.  A contemporary report summed up the game as follows:

“West Ham’s tactics were all wrong and their covering terrible. Blackburn on a rain-lashed, pudding of a pitch, banged the ball about with poise and precision.  It was attrition warfare, as Fred Pickering opened the scoring after seven minutes and Bryan Douglas made it two after half an hour. Before the break, it was 4-0 with goals from Andy McEvoy and Mike Ferguson. In the second half, Pickering and McEvoy strolled through the Hammers’ ‘woefully weak defence’ to claim their hat tricks and, despite Johnny Byrne’s double, there was no way back.”

The full list of results for that day:

Boxing Day 63

Interestingly, in the return set of fixtures which took place just two days later: West Ham (with juts one change; Bovington in for Peters) beat Blackburn 3-1 at Ewood Park to begin a run in which Rovers eventually slid down to seventh in the table; Ipswich took their revenge on Fulham winning 4-2 at Portman Road (although they were relegated at the end of the season); Manchester United recovered from their mauling against Burnley to hammer them 5-1 at Old Trafford; and Bolton overcame Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 in their return game.

v Blackburn (H): Standen, Bond, Burkett, Peters, Brown, Moore, Brabrook, Boyce, Byrne, Hurst, Sissons
v Blackburn (A): Standen, Bond, Burkett, Bovington, Brown, Moore, Brabrook, Boyce, Byrne, Hurst, Sissons

I Wouldn’t Bet On It 23

Looking for a use for any left over Christmas chocolate money?

Fancy A Bet

Success yet again (very lucky some might say!) with the following bet last weekend:

 13 points on West Ham to win the game v Hull @8/13 (21)

 Our new balance is 146 points.

This time I reckon we’ll draw at Swansea so will stake the following:

10 points on Swansea v West Ham to be a draw @12/5 (34)
8 points on West Ham to win @7/4 (22)
1 point on a 1-1 draw @6/1 (7)
1 point on Sigurdsson 1st goal and 1-1 score @33/1 (34)
1 point on Noble 1st goal and 1-1 score @66/1 (67)

Our balance reduces to 125 points after staking 21 points above. We win very slightly if we win the game, and win more if the game end in a draw.

Potential returns if correct in brackets.

What are the chances?

The Lawro Challenge – Week 18

A festive head-to-head with the celebrated BBC pundit predictor in the Boxing Day edition of the Lawro challenge.

Xmas LawroSeventeen rounds of games in the Premier League have now been completed. That means we have now attempted to predict the results of 170 matches so far.

In Week 17, Rich scored 6 points, Geoff 10 points, and Lawro 7 points. With a win for Geoff for the second week running is there an unlikely comeback on the cards .

In this challenge we award one point for a correct result, and a further two points (making three in total) if the score prediction is spot on.

Full of festive spirit we now march on to week 18.

 

Rich

Geoff

Lawro

Total after 16 weeks

138

94

124

Score in week 17

6

10

7

Total after 17 weeks

144

104

131

 

 

 

 

Predictions – Week 18

 

 

 

 

Rich

Geoff

Lawro

Monday

 

 

 

Watford v Palace

2-1

1-2

1-1

Arsenal v WBA

1-0

3-1

2-0

Burnley v Middlesbrough

2-1

1-0

1-1

Chelsea v Bournemouth

2-0

3-0

2-0

Leicester v Everton

1-1

2-0

2-1

Man U v Sunderland

4-1

2-0

3-0

Swansea v West Ham

1-1

1-2

0-2

Hull v Man City

0-2

1-4

0-3

Tuesday

 

 

 

Liverpool v Stoke

2-0

3-1

3-0

Wednesday

 

 

 

Southampton v Tottenham

1-1

0-1

0-2

Half Year Report Card Part 2

Revealing part two of the report card on player performance.

Report CardYesterday we published Part 1 of our Half Year Report Card exposing who were the workers and who were the shirkers in a somewhat disappointing season to date.  Now we put aside the Eat Me Dates and Chocolate Brazil Nuts for just a few minutes to bring you Part 2.  We can now finish the wrapping to settle down and enjoy the festivities.

As shown in our recent article the assertion that West Ham come down with the Christmas decorations is something of a myth and we can hope for a much improved second half to the campaign.

Subject

Remarks

Grade

Manuel Lanzini

Manuel always tries to bring energy and incisiveness into the midfield areas.  He shows good movement, makes great runs and is often involved for what has passed for quick interplay in our team this year.  As an end product he has often flattered to deceive and has a tendency to fade (and be substituted) in the majority of games.

 

 

B-

Arthur Masuaku

An emergency signing as cover for the injured Cresswell, Arthur has demonstrated extremes of confident attacking play and comedy defending.  The dual handball sequence which led to the floodgates opening away to West Brom was unfathomable.  Also a victim of the injury curse he looks to have useful attributes and may still be able to build a future at the club.

 

 

C-

Mark Noble

Affectionately known as ‘Mr West Ham’, Mark has had a tough first half to the term.  Still cannot be faulted for effort and his grass blade covering exertions but his technical limitations have become very apparent.  His lack of pace cause him to by bypassed in midfield when the opposition have the ball (most of the time) and he also slows the game down too much when in possession.  On the evidence so far he looks to be well past his best before date.

 

 

C

Havard Nordtveit

Havrad has endured a difficult start to his time at the club.  Seen as the potential answer to our long time defensive midfielder problem he has failed to impress either in that role or when he has been asked to cover elsewhere.  For someone who came with a strong reputation from his time in the Bundesliga he has been a huge disappointment so far culminating in his disastrous cameo in the late capitulation to Spurs.

 

 

D

Pedro Obiang

Overlooked and apparently out of favour for most of last year Pedro has been the undoubted success of the season to date.  An excellent work rate has added to his ball-winning ability and he has demonstrated an economy and a good eye for direct and telling passes.  Showed a lot of patience and has made the most of his chance once it came along; it is just a little worrying why it took so long to arrive now that we have seen how well he has filled on of the side’s problem positions.

 

 

 

A+

Angelo Ogbonna

A strong left sided centre back Angelo earned a place in West Ham folklore with his last minute headed winner against Liverpool in last season’s FA Cup.  For the most part a competent defender he is prone to occasional losses of concentration and causal play with costly consequences.  His love of a grapple at set pieces is also a concern.

 

 

C+

Dimitri Payet

Last season’s magician of the free kick and maestro of the assist, Dimi has been a shadow of his former self (at least in impact if not in stature) this time around.  He remains our greatest attacking threat but the enthusiasm and gusto is missing from his game.  Is he lacking fitness, would he rather be elsewhere, have other teams learned how to nullify him, has the non-performance of the team as a unit stifled him? Who knows the enigma of this season’s Payet. 

 

 

B-

Darren Randolph

A long time understudy Darren was called to centre stage following a string of eccentric displays by El Adrian.  His presence hasn’t prevented the goals against continuing to click over but that was not all down to him apart from high profile gaffes away at Spurs and Liverpool.  An excellent shot stopper but never convincing in the air.

 

 

C+

Winston Reid

Winston continues to be a stalwart of the Hammer’s defence even if this is far from impregnable this year.  Demonstrates excellent commitment to cause, has solid defensive qualities and never afraid to put himself on the line for the team.  Not the greatest in using the ball but not as bad as some suggest and would be perfectly competent if more options were available.  Rarely makes critical gaffes a la Collins and Ogbonna.

 

 

A-

Diafra Sakho

The most complete striker at the club, Diafra is also a regular in the treatment room having made just 2 appearances this term.  An early return from his latest injury will probably see him off on international duty to the African Cup of Nations.  Almost sold in the summer after a fallout with the management it would be foolish to let him go in the current predicament.   

 

 

C

Simone Zaza

Dear oh dear…….

 

E

 

Slaven Bilic

In a complete reversal of fortune (as they used to say on TV) Slaven has gone from being the strongest link last season to being the weakest link this time around.  Maybe the new stadium and confidence play a part but poor player recruitment, an unbalanced squad, unimaginative tactics, unmotivated and unfit players, a lack of organisation and no clear style of play all rest firmly at the manager’s door.  Two lucky wins have fortunately given him a stay of execution.

 

 

D+

Half Year Report Part 1

The dreaded half year report is issued before heading off for the Christmas break.

Report CardAlthough it may not be strictly half way through the season yet we are keeping with tradition by issuing the half year report cards before breaking up for the festivities.  This will allow the players to go home and think long and hard about their performances while we sit back and crack open a bottle of Emva Cream or Warninks Advocaat.

The first half is published today and part two tomorrow.

Subject

Remarks

Grade

Michail Antonio

Michail has done well to become leading goal-scorer despite being asked to play in almost every outfield position – sometimes in the same match.  A playing style based on energy, pace and power, often mistakenly described as raw, he has shown tremendous commitment and adaptability.  It is not his fault he is not a specialist right back and that, worryingly, the manager thought that was his best position.

 

 

A

Andre Ayew

The club’s injury curse caused Andre to miss a large part of term.  Having taken the record transfer mantle from fellow invalid Andy Carroll he has yet to complete a full game for the team.  In his brief appearances he has largely been lethargic and laboured with just occasional bright flashes of what he might possess.  Looks far from value for money for the time being and will be off to the Africa Cup of Nations next month.

 

 

D+

Andy Carroll

Andy’s attendance has again been poor this term only just showing up in time for the Christmas party which has now been postponed.  Alleged to be unplayable due to his strength in the air this has yet to be demonstrated over a sustained period of time.  Aerial strength is not matched by ability on the ground and his deployment as a lone striker, with poor service, invariable leads to one-dimensional attacking play.

 

 

C

Sam Byram

Another with a bad attendance record we have yet to be convinced that Sam is the answer to our long held right back problem.  Early promise has been interrupted by a series of injuries including the strange self-inflicted one that he picked up early in the game against Middlesbrough.  There are differences of opinion as to whether he is a full-back or a wing-back which can hopefully be confirmed in the new year.

 

 

C-

James Collins

James tries his best and is a popular squad member.  Always shows lots of effort and determination but lacks some of the basic technical skills and prone to occasional ‘ricket’.  Known for his brave last ditch blocks and tackles which, ironically, are often of his own making.  There is nothing as final and definitive as a James Collins clearance.  Has been a useful emergency squad player but we should now have better, younger alternatives.  

 

 

C+

Aaron Cresswell

Aaron missed the early part of term due to injury and his welcome return coincided with a brief uptick in form and resulted in an international call-up.  Recently his conversion to wing back in the favoured 3-at-the-back formation has seemed to confuse him and his link up play with Payet, which was once a major threat, has now been nullified.  Contributed his most error strewn performance for some time in the recent match against Hull/

 

 

B-

Adrian

Starting the season as the clear Number 1 and on the fringes of his national side, Adrian has had a fraught first half of the year.  A competent keeper both in the air and at shot stopping he has been side-tracked by trying to develop himself as a flamboyant goal-keeping character.  Not as good at ball control and dribbling as he thinks some poor goals conceded through lack of concentration and his mad dash out of goal to gift an equaliser to Stoke have led to him losing his place.

 

 

 

C

Sofiane Feghouli

The capture of Sofiane against stiff competition was billed as something of a coup and there was early promise despite the disappointment of the Europa League campaign.  Although injuries haven’t helped the over-riding impression is of a winger who is unable to cross the ball or avoid the first defender.  Perhaps there is better to come but there are few encouraging signs.

 

 

D+

 

Edmilson Fernandes

The diamond in the rough of the summer transfer dealings Edmilson always gives the impression of a very assured, controlled and intelligent footballer. Has performed well wherever he has been asked to play although an attacking role plays more to his strengths.  May need to work on the physical side of his game to continue to develop in the Premier League frenzy.

 

 

B

Ashley Fletcher

Ashley has shown some good touches in his handful of start and various substitute appearances.  Possibly not yet equipped physically to play a lone striker role his effectiveness has been hampered by the lack of organisation or cohesiveness within the team.  Has looked a little scared and bemused at times but looks to have potential if used properly.

 

 

C

Cheikhou Kouyate

Cheikhou brings a powerful and athletic presence to the team and will be missed when to sets off for the African Cup of Nations.  Started the season in midfield but has recently played as one of 3 centre backs.  He offers strength and pace to the back line but his strong runs have been missed in midfield.  Overall is more effective in midfield but should bring his defensive discipline with him and look to improve his final ball.

 

 

B+