The Lawro Challenge – Week 23

Back to league action and resumption of our prediction challenge with BBC pundit, Lawro.

Lawro Crystal BallTwenty-two rounds of games in the Premier League have now been completed. That means we have now predicted the outcomes of 220 matches in total.

In Week 22, Rich scored 7 points, Geoff 6 points, and Lawro 11 points. Lawro has worryingly narrowed the lead at the top to just two points.

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.

We now proceed to week 23.





Total after 21 weeks




Score in week 22




Total after 22 weeks








Predictions – Week 23












Arsenal v Watford




Bournemouth v Palace




Burnley v Leicester




Middlesbrough v West Brom




Sunderland v Tottenham




Swansea v Southampton




Liverpool v Chelsea








West Ham v Man City




Man Utd v Hull




Stoke v Everton




Manchester City Preview

Can we continue our fine recent league form against an inconsistent City team?

Embed from Getty Images

Manchester City began the season as the bookmakers’ favourites to land the Premier League title. The arrival of Pep Guardiola, who many saw as the best manager in world football, was considered to be a master stroke, and many felt it would ensure that the title returned to the Etihad Stadium. But, despite six wins on the trot in their first six games of the season, which shortened their odds of finishing at the top, they have since been inconsistent for a team destined to win the league. On paper, those first six games did not appear to be the toughest, apart from perhaps a visit to their Manchester neighbours. But they won them all relatively comfortably, scoring eighteen goals in the process and conceding just five.

But in their next sixteen games they have suffered five defeats at the hands of Tottenham, Chelsea, Leicester, Liverpool and Everton. More worryingly perhaps, for a team who had high hopes, they have had four draws at home against Everton, Southampton, Middlesbrough and Tottenham. Had they won those four they would be sitting comfortably in second place, just four points behind the leaders, Chelsea.

But as it is, with just sixteen games of the season to go, they find themselves two points outside of the top four places, and with a fight on their hands to qualify for a Champions League place next season. Their cup performances have been more consistent, and despite being eliminated from the League Cup by their neighbours, they have progressed to the fifth round of the FA Cup where they have an away tie at Huddersfield, and to the last sixteen of the Champions League where they will face Monaco.

Of course they have already beaten us twice this season, 3-1 in the league at the end of August, and then the 5-0 thrashing in the FA Cup third round on our ground. In the league game, despite City scoring twice in the opening twenty minutes, we fought back with a goal from Antonio in the second half, and it took a goal in added-on time to finally seal the three points.

Guardiola has been criticised for his choice of goalkeeper to replace Joe Hart, and has been very touchy when interviewed on this subject by the media. Some statistics (on shot stopping) put Bravo, their keeper, near the bottom of the league of Premier League custodians, but of course the figures cannot take into account the quality of the shots that he has faced. Nevertheless the general consensus is that his performances have not been of the quality needed for a team hoping to win the title, although some blame must also be attached to their ageing defence, who have missed their captain, Kompany, for almost the whole of the season. This is one area that I hope we can exploit in the game. They have conceded 28 goals in their 22 league games, a figure that exceeds the four teams above them in the league, as well as four teams below them, including Middlesbrough who sit in sixteenth place!

Their attacking play, when it is on song, as it unfortunately was in the cup game here, is entertaining to watch, and their 43 goals scored (more away from the Etihad than at home!) is only bettered by the current top four. But their seven wins, four draws, and five defeats in their last sixteen league matches emphasises their inconsistency, and we shouldn’t go into the game fearing a repeat of the cup drubbing a few weeks ago. In fact our current league form, with five wins in our last seven league games, is far superior to their four wins in their last nine league games. On that basis, the bookmaker odds on offer, where we are quoted as around 5/1 to win the game, and City at around 2/1 on, would appear to be wide of the mark, but of course the two games where we have faced each other this season tell another story.

Nonetheless it is to be hoped that the apparent improved spirit following the removal of a certain Frenchman from the team (and now his subsequent departure), will mean that we can at least get something out of the game. With my trusty optimistic hat on I am hoping for a narrow win, perhaps 2-1, although a 2-2 draw may be a more realistic bet.

It will be interesting to see the team that our manager selects. Randolph will be in goal, and I expect a back four of Byram, Reid, Fonte and Cresswell. Kouyate has returned from the African Nations Cup, but whether he returns directly into the team is open to debate. For me, Obiang, Lanzini, Carroll and Antonio are certain starters, and he will almost certainly pick Noble. Of course new signing Snodgrass will be pushing for a place in the starting line-up as will Feghouli. Unfortunately Diafra Sakho is unlikely to be available until March, and it remains to be seen if we sign a striker on deadline day (I am writing this the day before). Bilic appears to have cooled on the prospect of signing Hogan from Brentford (I wonder if he really fancied him in the first place, perhaps hoping that Sunderland would part with Defoe?).

Now that Payet has gone for a reputed £25 million, we have money to spend, but I am uncertain as to the wisdom of doing so; perhaps we should wait until the summer now that we are virtually safe from getting involved in the scrap at the bottom end of the table? However many of our fans on social media are still desperate for a striker and a right-back. Calleri’s deflected goal will probably keep him in the squad, but he hasn’t convinced many yet (apart from the manager perhaps?), and Fletcher is perpetually on the fringe (surprisingly seemingly behind Calleri in the pecking order?).

And I’m not sure our manager could pick a right back based on his history (Antonio and Nordtveit don’t do it for me in this position). It was good to see that Martinez scored within minutes of coming on for his debut at Oxford. It was a well-taken goal, and he certainly looks a fine prospect. But then so does Reece Oxford, but he hasn’t been given a chance yet either! And I haven’t mentioned Fernandes who is another that I like.

I wonder if we will bring anyone in on deadline day tomorrow? Perhaps the long-awaited marquee signing? I won’t hold my breath.

This Week in Hammer’s History

Remembering the week 30 January to 5 February in Hammer’s History including that last ever win at Highbury.

This Week Hammers HistoryA first read through of the results from the week 30 January to 5 February in Hammer’s history was similar to watching a late night horror movie, best viewed through the gaps between your fingers.  There was an embarrassing 3-1 cup exit at the hands of 3rd division Swindon Town (1967), FA cup capitulation at Loftus Road with a 6-1 hammering by QPR (1978) and League cup humiliation of the worst kind in a 5-0 defeat at White Hart Lane (1987).  In the league, 5 goals were shipped without reply to dirty Leeds (1966) and more recently top of the (Championship) table West Ham were brushed aside in a 5-1 demolition by lowly Ipswich Town at Portman Road (2012).

Such misfortunes are wildly out of step with the current sense of togetherness and optimism surrounding the club that has been fostered by a couple of encouraging wins and the atmosphere of unity against the common enemy; the now departed two-faced Frenchman.    So it is in that spirit that I have singled out some of the rarer triumphs as a way to develop that mood. In the middle years of the 1960’s West Ham were on a run of winning trophies and at the end of January 1966 were still competing in that season’s ECWC, FA and League Cups.    A 5-1 second leg League Cup victory away to Cardiff City, courtesy of goals from Hurst (2), Sissons (2) and Burnett, secured an impressive 10-3 aggregate win and set up the Hammers for a final tie against West Bromwich Albion.  We had recently seen off Albion by four goals to nil in a league encounter so surely more silverware was on its way to Upton Park!

In the calendar year of 1968 West Ham scored 7 or more goals on three occasions.  The first of these was in January 1968 when the visitors to Upton Park were west London rivals Fulham.  The Cottagers raced into the lead with a goal from Steve Earle (not the American country rock singer I believe) but that early set-back only served to galvanise the Hammers into action and a goal blitz involving Hurst (2), Brooking (2), Peters, Moore and Dear saw the game finish in a 7-2 romp.

Ferguson, Bonds, Lampard, Peters, Cushley, Moore, Dear, Boyce, Brooking, Hurst, Sissons

The stand-out game of the week, however, has to be the 2006 clash with Arsenal in their final season at Highbury.  It was the Gunners 2,000 match at their old stadium and they started out in dominant form pinning the Hammers back with typical high-tempo football.  However, after 25 minutes Nigel Reo-Coker beat Sol Campbell to a Hayden Mullins pass and ran on to give West Ham the lead very much against the run of play.  It got better still 7 minutes later when Bobby Zamora out-muscled Campbell, checked and placed a delightful shot into the far corner of the net to double the lead.  There was a wobble just before the break when Terry Henry scored to become Arsenal’s all-time leading league scorer and set up a nail biting second period.

Arsenal started the second half without Campbell (who had gone home) but once again dominated the play.  Midway through the half West Ham introduced new signing Dean Ashton for his club debut (probably our best ever January signing and the last great striker we never got the opportunity to properly enjoy).  After 80 minutes the unexpected happened and Matthew Etherington scored another to make it 3-1 to West Ham.  There was still time for Pires to score for Arsenal but despite a frantic finale it turned out to be merely a consolation.  As it turned out West Ham were the last away team to win at Highbury and the game was the Hammers fifth consecutive win in all competitions (a run that ultimately extended to seven).

Hislop, Clarke (Fletcher), A Ferdinand, Gabbidon, Konchesky, Mullins, Benayoun (Newton), Etherington, Reo-Coker, Harewood, Zamora (Ashton)

Notable Birthdays

2 February          Ravel Morrison                 24
5 February          Carlos Tevez                       33
5 February          Richard Bennett               63

Who Ate All The Pi’s

What do the stats reveal about West Ham player performance? Or are they digitally challenged?

Football StatsWith a temporary hiatus in West Ham’s fixture commitment due to an early cup exit, and while other Premier League teams field second rate sides in the 4th round in deference to the imminent Match-week 23,  I have taken the opportunity to dust down my football statistics soapbox and take another look at how our heroes have performed this campaign as far as the soccer statisticians are concerned.

My position on statistics is that they are an interesting diversion and a perfect destination for the procrastinator but are ultimately meaningless as a means of analysing games, providing no further insight over and above what the eyes can tell the average supporter.  The ever expanding mass of football statistics are most frequently used by the desperate in  attempting to prove a point about their favourite player (why Noble is better than Kouyate or vice versa) or to pad out column inches in printed and online media (just like this one!)  In the last week or so my attention has been grabbed by a number of posts that inform readers exactly what the statistics reveal.  For example, they apparently ‘reveal’ that Liverpool are not very good defensively (no shit, Sherlock!) and, closer to home, that Pedro Obiang is the ‘best’ tackler in the Premier League.  Recently the Daily Star had a feature on the worst player at every club according to the statistics; the recipient of this accolade for West Ham being Ashley Fletcher who came out as the 5th worst player overall.

For the purposes of analysis I have once again referenced the excellent whoscored website.  Even though I pay little heed to the how football statistics are used the site provides a comprehensive and well presented resource that includes an intriguing real-time stat update during the course of the game if you are so inclined.  According to Whoscored over 200 raw statistics are fed into complex algorithms in order to derive both the team and player ratings.

Ratings are based on a unique, comprehensive statistical algorithm, calculated live during the game. There are over 200 raw statistics included in the calculation of a player’’s/team’’s rating, weighted according to their influence within the game. Every event of importance is taken into account, with a positive or negative effect on ratings weighted in relation to its area on the pitch and its outcome.

– Whoscored website

Looking at the team ratings the order of clubs is uncannily consistent with the current Premier League placings.  The top 7 clubs are all the same with the minor discrepancy that the order of the two Manchester clubs are reversed.  In Whoscored terms West Ham show up in 8th place overall rather than the actual 10th place of our league position. The lower reaches of the League also demonstrates a strong correlation between actual and statistical placings except that Palace appear several places higher (14th against 18th) from the perspective of statistical performance.  So what does all this prove?  Does it validate the statistics and the algorithms applied or is it simply the case that scoring goals and winning games carries the same weighted influence on position as do in the collection of league points?  My takeaway from West Ham’s higher position in the statistical table is that it must prove that we played well and lost on several occasions this season.  Convincing myself of such a conclusion might be stretch.

The top performing players in the league if the stats are to be believed are Alexis Sanchez, Eden Hazard and Paul Pogba.  The only Hammer to make the top 10 is Dimitri Payet (at number nine).  All of that top 10 are attacking players with the exception of Manchester City defensive stalwart Nicolas Otamendi, proving that City fans wanting him dropped are mistaken.

A point to note about the top 10 is that ratings are adjusted to account for appearances and should you look at the unadjusted ratings for West Ham you would find Andy Carroll performing better than Payet.  It is surprising to learn of the quality of Payet’s performances when the consensus of many observers is that he had been going through the motions and loafing about on the left wing.  Although I am not privy to the Whoscored algorithms I would guess that the factors driving his strong statistical performances (based on displayed data) are the number of assists (6) and man-of-the-match awards (5).

I do find the ‘assist’ a curious statistic in that a large part of earning one is dependent on someone else doing their job competently.  A player can embark on a wonderful run, go past three defenders and play a delightful pass through to a colleague who has an open goal, but if that player fluffs his lines then no assist ensues.  On the other hand make a simple routine pass to someone who rockets the ball into the net from 30 yards and you win yourself an assist.  With up to 30% of goals for some teams coming from set pieces the designated takers (Payet and Snodgrass) are always going to have an advantage with this although I fully appreciate that good delivery should not be an underestimated skill.

Ex-Arsenal boss Don Howe is credited with devising the definition of the assist when it was first created as a way of adding interest to newspaper fantasy league competitions.  From its humble beginnings it is now a mainstay of the commentator’s statistical armoury.

Looking at the individual player statistics, the top 6 high rating Hammers for the season are Carroll, Payet, Michail Antonio, Winston Reid, Arthur Masuako (yes!) and Darren Randolph.  New signing Robert Snodgrass (second in the ratings at Hull) would slot in at number 7 for West Ham just ahead of fellow midfielders Cheikhou Kouyate, Pedro Obiang and Manuel Lanzini (with skipper Mark Noble floundering in a disappointing 16th place).  Defender Jose Fonte (11th in the Southampton ratings) has a performance rating very slightly higher than James Collins and Angelo Ogbonna, some way behind Reid.  Fonte’s former central defensive partner, Dick Van Djik, is comfortably on the topper most rung of Southampton performers.

For the record. my personal statistic free selections for top performing West Ham players for the season to date are Obiang, Reid and Antonio.  The top 3 could well be under threat if there is more of the recent same from Carroll over the remainder of the season.

My Favourite Games: Number 3 – West Ham 3 Manchester United 2; 10 May 2016.

A series of occasional articles recalling my favourite West Ham games, and songs that topped the charts when these games were played . Today the last game at the Boleyn.

There have been so many great games in the last 58 years and I’ve covered many of them throughout my book, Goodbye Upton Park, Hello Stratford. So many of them are remembered because of the importance of the game, the goals scored, and the spine-tingling atmosphere generated by our fans. Hopefully my memories of these great games will evoke fond memories of fans, (especially older ones like me!), and the music in the charts at the time.

Favourite Game 3

No series on favourite matches could exclude this one. The final game at the Boleyn Ground, Upton Park was a memorable one for so many reasons. I’ll gloss over the shenanigans that delayed the kick off, and instead write about the marvellous entertainment served up by the players on this emotional night. We dominated the first half and came out of the blocks faster than in many games in the final season. Sakho’s well taken goal took a slight deflection in the tenth minute and another was disallowed for the ball going out of play. Both Carroll and Payet should have added first half goals when clean through but fluffed the chances. At the break we should have been three or four up and then the second half could have been a party. Would we come to rue those missed chances? This is West Ham. Of course we would.

Manchester United looked rattled throughout the first half and I couldn’t remember Randolph facing a shot. But half time seemed to have calmed them and two goals from Martial meant that we were behind with around 20 minutes left. How could this be? We had murdered them and yet here we were facing defeat in this final game. Surely they weren’t going to ruin the party? Hadn’t they read the script?

Within ten minutes we were back in front. A header from Antonio levelled the scores and Winston Reid, of all people headed the winner. Both goals were created by crosses from Payet, who else? Every one of us lucky to be there on that special night will remember the game for ever. We were so dominant that we had 20 shots on goal to the visitors 3. It would have been a travesty if we had not won the game. Fifty years before in 1966 we won our last home game at the end of the season, which happened to be against Manchester United, by three goals to two. An amazing co-incidence.

In the aftermath of the game, and much later than expected because of the delayed start, we were treated to additional entertainment in the form of a kind of closing ceremony, hosted by Ben Shephard and Bianca Westwood of Sky Sports who are both also supporters. Apart from the game itself the two additional highlights of the evening for me were the roll call of our players and managers who are no longer with us displayed on the screens as a backdrop to the band playing Abide With Me amid rapturous applause from the fans, and the ending with the lights being turned off on the big screen by the player in the number 6 West Ham shirt.

I have to admit that my musical tastes, despite being quite varied, are buried mainly in the 1960s and 1970s, and as time moves towards the present day, I know less and less about the charts, and my research for 10 May 2016 revealed that I knew none of the songs in the top ten that week. Number one was One Dance, by Drake featuring Wizkid & Kyla, which apparently held the top spot for 15 weeks, making it the second longest to hold the number one spot in chart history (which goes back to the 1950s). Other notable entries in that week’s chart, which younger readers will no doubt recall, include This Is What You Came For by Calvin Harris featuring Rihanna, Cheap Thrills by SIA, I Took A Pill In Ibiza by Mike Posner, and Work From Home by Fifth Harmony featuring Ty Dolla Sign. I’m none the wiser.

Scraping the Ice off the Transfer Window

With only a few days to go excitement and speculation mounts on new arrivals to E15.

Transfer WindowIt is Day 26 of the transfer window and we are still very much in the phoney posturing and positioning phase where bids are prepared, resolve is tested and war chests are opened as players come onto the radar, clubs are put on alert while others enter a tug of war to secure the services of that star player.  Now with less than a week remaining before the window slams shut it is time to finally swoop, meet that valuation, sort out the paperwork and ink the deal.

Of course we already have one signing safely on board in the form of Number 23 Jose Fonte.  In the absence of Angelo Ogbonna for the rest of the season, Fonte is likely to feature regularly in the first team for what is left of the season, particular with the talk of Reece Oxford going out on loan to Glasgow Rangers.   Let’s hope that Fonte fares better than the last big money centre back signing from Southampton, Richard Hall,  who picked up the West Ham injury curse and made only 8 appearances over 3 years before being forced to hang up his boots forever.

Expectations continue that West Ham should be looking to sign a right back and some sort of striker before the end of the window.  There has been little tittle-tattle on the right back situation but a steady flow fo names have come and gone as far as forward players are concerned.   Among these are the usual exotic assortment of fanciful foreign players such as M’Baye Niang, Gregoire Defrel, Jonatahn Cafu and Ivan Perisic.  The more everyday home grown alternatives, and those that have been more sticky on the rumour conveyor belt, are Robert Snodgrass from Hull and Scott Hogan of Brentford.

Allegedly Hull have accepted offers for Snodgrass from a number of teams including West Ham.  It is not a signing that gets the juices flowing and for the type of player that he is and at 29 years old he can only have a couple of seasons left in him.  Having said that, I can see him stepping straight into the first team but only while Antonio is played further forward and because Ayew and Feghouli have yet to deliver the goods.

I have never seen Scott Hogan play (even on Youtube) but he is meant to have good pace and movement, both of which are rapidly becoming a must-have for the modern Premier League player (and are attributes missing from Feghouli, Ayew and Snodgrass).  He is also young but with that comes inexperience; his scoring record at Brentford has been impressive but he has a worrying injury record.  Like any player stepping up a division or arriving from an overseas league it is extremely difficult to be confident of success.  Hogan would be a gamble but it might be the type of opportunity that we need to seize.

As for the exit door I believe that there is a high probability that terms will be agreed for Payet and that Calleri will leave with his one Premier League deflected goal.  I have seen speculation that incoming deals are dependent on Payet leaving but I can’t believe that finances at this level really work like that, and that Sullivan needs to cash Marseille’s Postal Order before he can pop the cash in a suitcase and drive it up to Hull.

It could yet be an interesting few days……..or not!

My Favourite Games: Number 2 – West Ham 3:3 Glasgow Celtic; 16 November 1970.

A series of occasional articles recalling my favourite West Ham games, and songs that topped the charts when these games were played. Today the Bobby Moore testimonial.

There have been so many great games in the last 58 years and I’ve covered many of them throughout my book, Goodbye Upton Park, Hello Stratford. So many of them are remembered because of the importance of the game, the goals scored, and the spine-tingling atmosphere generated by our fans. Hopefully my memories of these great games will evoke fond memories of fans, (especially older ones like me!), and the music in the charts at the time.

Bobby Moore Testimonial

West Ham 3 Glasgow Celtic 3, played on 16 November 1970 is an unusual choice perhaps as it was just a testimonial game, the one for Bobby Moore. Celtic were arguably the most attractive team in Europe at the time and they brought their first team to play in an exciting game. The football was full on attacking from both sides, and the noise was enhanced by the thousands of Scots who had travelled down to London for the game. It was a fitting tribute to a legend.

So on a freezing cold Monday night, I stood on the North Bank with school friends to watch an exhilarating game of football. Ticket prices were raised for the game from 6 shillings to 10 shillings – that’s 30p to 50p. I paid 3 shillings for my programme (15p). Celtic won the European Cup in 1967 with a superb display of attacking football beating a typically defensive and uncompromising Italian team, Inter Milan. I remember watching that game in black and white (very grainy pictures) in the early evening after coming home from school that day. They were a goal down and took the game to the Italians who were just content to hold onto their one goal lead. Eventually they managed to break through twice near the end of the game to deservedly become European Champions.

They remained a major force in Europe for a while, and in the season preceding the visit to play against us in Bobby Moore’s testimonial, they again reached the European Cup Final, losing 2-1 after extra time to Feyenoord of Holland. All credit to Jock Stein, their manager, who fielded the same team that had taken part in the European Cup final the previous May.

I remember the game going from end to end and it was a joy to watch. In truth Celtic were probably the better team, but in many ways we matched them which made for an exciting spectacle. It was one of those Upton Park nights where the atmosphere was electric, and the volume was increased by the multitude of Glaswegians who took their place on the South Bank. Their support was phenomenal.

Three times Celtic took the lead and three times we pegged them back. Celtic missed a number of good chances including one that I particularly remember from Jimmy Johnstone, who gave one of the greatest displays I have ever seen from an opposing player at Upton Park. His skill was phenomenal and many times he tore our defence to shreds. But with the game poised at 3-3 in the final minutes he contrived to put the ball over the crossbar when he was almost on the goal line. Perhaps it was a magnanimous gesture to ensure the game ended in a draw? Whatever. It was just a great game.

Our goals were scored by Geoff Hurst (from a cross by Moore), Johnny Ayris, a young tricky winger we had at the time who looked a great prospect as a youngster but only probably played a couple of dozen times for us in six or seven years, and the final equalizing header from Clyde Best.

The game was actually sponsored by Esso, and according to newspaper reports I read at the time and kept in a scrapbook, the 24,000 crowd meant that after deduction of all the expenses, Bobby Moore collected around £12,000. Gate and programme receipts came to around £21,000 but I suppose Esso took a cut and Celtic had to be paid expenses to appear. It doesn’t seem a lot now when you consider that he was a legend of the game, but I guess to put it into perspective the average wage at the time must have been (and I’m guessing here) somewhere around £30+ a week. The England players who won the World Cup in 1966 each picked up a bonus of £1000! It doesn’t really stand comparison with the vast sums of money earned by footballers today.

The number one song in the charts at the time was Woodstock, by Matthews Southern Comfort. Woodstock was a famous music festival held in the US in the summer of 1969. The festival, which attracted over 400,000 people, was widely regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history. The event was captured in an award winning documentary in 1970, the movie Woodstock, a soundtrack album, and Joni Mitchell’s song which commemorated the event, and became a major hit for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, as well as the chart-topper for Matthews Southern Comfort. Other songs in the charts that week included Black Night, by Deep Purple; Band of Gold by Freda Payne, which had previously been a number one; War, by Edwin Starr (what is it good for, absolutely nothing); Paranoid, by Black Sabbath (with Ozzy Osbourne on vocals); Voodoo Chile, by Jimi Hendrix, about to become the number one in the following week; Whole Lotta Love, by CCS (the theme tune to a TV institution for so many years, Top of the Pops), Ride A White Swan, by T Rex; and Cracklin’ Rosie by Neil Diamond.