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.

Middlesbrough 1 West Ham 3

Our eighth win of the season sees us move into the top half of the table. Can we push on to match last season’s seventh placed finish?

Embed from Getty Images

Andy Carroll celebrated his 28th birthday earlier this month.  A lad from Gateshead on the outskirts of Newcastle, he made his senior debut for the Geordies shortly before his eighteenth birthday, and his Premier League debut for them in February 2007, almost ten years ago. He made a total of seven senior appearances for them in his first season, four of which were in the Premier League, but didn’t score any goals. The following season he made six senior appearances for them, again without scoring, and went on loan to Preston in the Championship where he scored one goal in twelve appearances.

In 2008-09 he returned to the North-East and made a total of 16 senior appearances, scoring three goals, in a season where Newcastle were relegated to the Championship. They won promotion back to the top flight straight away, and in that season he became a regular in the team, appearing 42 times and scoring 19 goals. When they returned to the Premier League he scored 11 goals in 19 games, and on the last day of the transfer window in January 2011, halfway through the season, he was bought by Liverpool for around £35 million to replace the departing Fernando Torres. He had an injury and was unable to make his debut until near the end of that term, appearing just seven times and scoring twice.

He then spent a full season with Liverpool, making more appearances than ever before (or since), turning out for them 47 times in League and Cup, scoring 9 goals. Brendan Rogers didn’t fancy him, so after just two games in 2012-13 he came on loan to us, probably largely due to his close connection with Kevin Nolan, his friend and former captain of the Geordies, who was of course closely connected himself to our manager at the time, Big Sam.

At the time of coming here he had played around 85 games in the Premier League and had scored around 20 goals. It’s a bit of a myth that he has been injury-prone throughout his career, as before he joined us he had certainly played fairly regularly. He has been described as an old-fashioned centre-forward, and many call for him to be in the England squad because he provides “something different”. At times he is reckoned to be unplayable, though those times have been restricted over the years. He does have nine England caps (he was first capped in 2010) and has scored twice for his country.

So we are now mid-way through his fifth season with us. At the end of the loan period he became our record signing at the time at around £15 million. He became an instant favourite with many fans when he joined us, mainly because of his all-action commitment. But some felt that, in view of his ability in the air, and the way Big Sam liked to play, he restricted the way in which the team played, often lumping long high balls to him and hoping for knock-downs.

So before he came here he was never a prolific goalscorer, and in his time with us he has never reached double figures in goals in any one season. Of course one of the reasons for this is that in his West Ham career he has been injury-prone, and has just gone past 100 senior appearances, with the Middlesbrough game being his 90th Premier league appearance for us in four and a half seasons. In that time he has scored 28 Premier League goals at a rate of just under one in every three games. He has appeared in just over half of the Premier League games that have been played during his time here.

So, along came the “Payexit” controversy just over one week ago, and the fans needed a new “hero”. Up stepped Andy Carroll. A magnificent bicycle kick against Palace has been followed by two goals away at Middlesbrough. I think this is the first time he has scored two goals in an away game for us. A trademark bullet header was followed by a poachers goal, following up Antonio’s shot. He was then withdrawn midway through the second half as a precaution with a “tight groin”. We missed him for his defensive qualities, especially at corners, as much as his efforts in leading the line.

But two wins in a week, five wins in the last seven, and a place in the top half of the table, and suddenly all is well with the West Ham world again. Dimitri Who they say, and perhaps he will be on his way sooner rather than later, and soon forgotten. He was magnificent for a season, but will never be a legend because of the way it has all turned sour now. Let us hope that Andy Carroll can stay injury-free for a long period, and be one of the new heroes going forward. At his best he is a valuable asset.

I write “one” of the new heroes as I’d like to see an end to the “he’s our best player” constantly levelled in Payet’s direction. Let’s have a group of heroes / superstars. Reid, Lanzini, Antonio and Carroll perhaps, and even others. The best teams have always been like this; Moore, Hurst, Peters and Byrne; Bonds, Brooking and Devonshire; Best, Charlton and Law. Even the world’s best like Messi and Ronaldo have to share their superman status with others. Messi, Neymar, Suarez and Iniesta; Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema.

It has been a good week on the playing side. It will be interesting to see what happens in the last few days of the transfer window. With the news re Ogbonna, at least all those who took to social media expressing incredulity at the signing of Fonte, can now perhaps see why it happened.

Our eighth win of the season sees us move into tenth place. I wonder if we can build on this and push towards emulating last season’s seventh placed finish. With the start we had that may be a bit too much to ask, but let’s hope that we can continue upwards.

This Week in Hammer’s History

Cup success and disappointment (and who’s the Bastard in the black) during the week 23-29 January in Hammer’s History.

This Week Hammers HistoryThe final week in January is another that is largely dominated by cup action being generally reserved for FA Cup 4th round matches; at least for those occasions where we progress that far. In each of three successful FA Cup campaigns, plus the ultimately unsuccessful 2006 one, West Ham advanced on their journey towards Wembley during the week 23-29 January.

In 1964 we were drawn away against second division Leyton Orient.  A record attendance of over 34,000 packed into Brisbane Road for the game where Orient, with three former Hammers in their team, raced into a 2nd minute lead.  Following the goal the game was one-way traffic in the Hammer’s favour but a Peter Brabrook goal just before the interval was the only reward and the tie went to a replay.  The second game at Upton Park four days later was more of a formality and three goals in the first 15 minutes (Hurst 2, Byrne) wrapped up the tie for West Ham.

The 1975 4th round opponents were 3rd division Swindon Town in the mud at Upton Park.  West Ham got away with a cynical flying rugby tackle by Tommy Taylor (no automatic red card in those days) to prevent Swindon taking the lead before a Billy Jennings strike made it one-nil.  However, the visitors were not to be denied and Peter Eastoe grabbed a deserved equaliser with just over 5 minutes left.  A midweek replay at the County Ground was a tight affair with goals from Trevor Brooking and Pat Holland enough to steer West Ham to a 2-1 victory.

In 1980 West Ham again faced near neighbours Orient in the 4th round, this time at Brisbane Road.  Both teams were competing in the second division at the time but West Ham had recently seen off their opponents 4-0 in a league match at Upton Park.  Orient went a goal up when Billy Bonds gave away a penalty which was then converted by ex-Hammer Tommy Taylor.  However, an own goal and a Ray Stewart penalty put West Ham ahead only for Chiedozie to even things up again.  A second Ray Stewart goal as the match entered the last 10 minutes was enough to put the Hammer’s through.

In the 2006 4th round tie, at home to Blackburn, West Ham were a goal down after 28 seconds.  A Teddy Sheringham penalty, a Matthew Etherington strike and an own goal (from someone called Zurab Khizanishvili) put the Hammers in command before a Lucas Neil curler reduced the deficit.  Any hopes of a Blackburn come-back were ended when Bobby Zamora poked home to secure a 4-2 victory.

A game that we shouldn’t let pass without a mention is the tie against Manchester United at Old Trafford in 2001.  This was the match of the famous Paolo Di Canio/ Fabio Barthez offside appeal incident, of which, one can never get tired of watching.

In League Cup action the epic 1972 semi-final series against Stoke City finally ended with defeat in an Old Trafford mud-bath.  An incident packed match saw Bobby Ferguson get concussion, Bobby Moore save a penalty, West Ham go a goal down and then take a 2-1 lead before conceding another two and losing 3-2 on the night.

Semi-final disappointment also in 2011 where, a goal up from the first leg against Birmingham, West Ham took a first half lead only then to throw away the advantage by conceding three times without further reply.  There was also defeat in the 1981 semi-final first leg away to Coventry City where an early 2 goal lead was surrendered to end the game with a 3-2 defeat.

Notable Birthdays

There is a hypothesis called nominative determinism which suggests a causal relationship based on the idea that people tend to be attracted to areas of work that fit their name.  Born this week in 1854 was former Upton Park FC player and referee Segar Richard Bastard.  Bastard refereed the 1878 FA Cup Final between Wanderers and Royal Engineers although there is no record as to whether he wore black.

5 Observations from victory at the Riverside

West Ham nudge back into the top half of the Premier League table for the first time since August.

5 Things WHUA Fine Well Deserved Victory

West Ham deserved their victory.  Take no notice of ‘Boro dominated possession’, or that ‘West Ham rode their luck’ or even ‘Boro will feel aggrieved not to have taken something from the match’.  I thought everyone understood by now that possession statistics do not define a match; it is what you do with that possession that matters.  The Hammers created more and crafted the better chances; in addition to the three goals scored there were at least three more (Antonio twice and Lanzini) that could easily have been converted on another day.  It was a job well done for Bilic’s team and for the second week running there was far greater cohesion to the team.  Most supporters have already consigned Payet to the historic hall of infamy even if pundits, commentators and journalists are desperate to keep the story alive.  Sure he had some exceptional attributes but no one player should be the focus of every attacking move and there is now (at least on the evidence of the last two games) far more of a collective teamwork ethic on show.  How to integrate that fractious Gallic talent into a team should now be someone else’s problem.  His refusal to play is an insult to the supporters and there can be no way back from that.  The criticism of Middlesbrough’s fans by manager Aitor Karanka after yesterday’s game may well come back to haunt him for similar reasons.

Four Get Tight at the Back

It was a well disciplined defensive effort from the team yesterday that makes it just 5 goals conceded in the last 7 league games (we will conveniently overlook the cup mauling by Manchester City); a vast improvement on the average of two goals per game we were shipping previously.  As with other aspects of football, defending is a team responsibility and not just something that the back 3 or 4 have to be concerned with.  The Boro goal was well-worked but began with carelessness in the midfield where we had committed too many forward and we were hit by a quick counter attack; something that should not have happened at that stage of the game.  A better balanced back four with real full-backs and the continued fine form of Pedro Obiang as the primary defensive midfielder otherwise contributed to keeping Boro chances to a minimum.  The confidence at the back was highlighted in the brief ‘showboating’ moment were Cresswell played a one-two off the bar onto Reid’s chest and back into Randolph’s gloves.  Winston Reid was again outstanding; is there a finer centre back in the league at the moment and his cross-field pass that led to the early Antonio chance wasn’t bad for a player said to have poor distribution.  Fair play also to Angelo Ogbonna for playing on through his injury and I wish him the best of luck with the surgery and subsequent recovery.

Wingers or Wide Midfielders?

Generally, the mention of any player described as a winger generates a negative Pavlovian reaction in me.  In my mind, I visualise a player with lots of speed but with little skill or application. Imagine Aaron Lennon or Andros Townsend and their head down, knock the ball forward, hare after it and cross it into the crowd technique.  One in every ten games they will play a blinder before resuming normal service.  On Wikipedia, Gareth Bale is described as a winger and I would make an exception for him as I would also, on the evidence of one match, for Adama Traore who was electric all afternoon for Boro.  Traore was a real threat who caused West Ham problems all afternoon even when we doubled up on him.  If anything Byram dealt with him better in the second half than Cresswell had in the first.  In our own camp the likes of Feghouli, Ayew and Tore (is he still around?) are usually categorised in the winger basket and over the last few weeks we have now had a better chance to look at Feghouli.  Instinctively, I do not have high hopes for him as he has no real pace, does too little work off the ball and is not brave enough for the English game.  An attacking right sided midfielder needs to be asking more questions and the answer is not Andre Ayew.

Carroll: A Man of Many Parts

I can’t help but be impressed by the new improved Andy Carroll Mk 2.  He is scoring goals but more important is the work that he is putting in elsewhere on the pitch; getting involved in link up play, holding and passing well and heading away almost every opposition corner.  When he left the field yesterday the biggest danger to the team (in the circumstances or protecting the lead) was the loss of his defensive contribution.  I admit that I didn’t think he had these types of performances in him and I don’t recall it being on show for the majority of his time at the club.  Two well taken goals, the trademark bullet header followed by a typical poacher’s goal, have resulted in the annual call for an England re-call; which worryingly usually heralds a new injury set-back.  I haven’t seen any update on the reason why he left the field yesterday but let’s hope he can stay in one piece.  His departure gave us the opportunity to have another look at Jonathan Calleri who, before being spotted on the bench last weekend,  I had assumed had returned to South America.  Coming on for the last 20 minutes one might expect to see someone full of running and energy to prove a point but he seemed quite content to jog around for the most part.  In his time on the pitch he managed to miss one very good chance before scoring an added time goal which I was convinced would be chalked up as an own goal.   Despite the goal I still find it surprising that he was preferred over Ashley Fletcher.

Bilic Back on Song

It was pleasing to see a more upbeat Bilic in the post-match press interviews.  Perversely, the Payet situation has worked to his advantage by creating a spirit in the squad that appeared to be missing previously.  Sitting in a top half position in the table he now has time and a further opportunity to show what he can do without any undue pressure; a target of 8th place should not be an unreasonable or unattainable one looking at the other clubs around us.  I do have my reservations about Slaven and some of his tactical, selection and recruitment decisions take some understanding – but now is the chance for him to prove the doubters wrong.  The final week or so of the transfer window could make interesting viewing (or at least the last day or two of it) as the danger of relegation recedes and with just the two more league fixtures before the ACON is completed.  A couple of inspired signings in addition to Jose Fonte could put a reasonable complexion on the season after all.

Ratings: Randolph (7), Byram (7), Reid (9), Ogbonna (7), Cresswell (6), Obiang (8), Noble (6), Feghouli (5), Lanzini(7), Antonio (7), Carroll (9)  Subs: Fernandes (6), Calleri (5), Collins (6)