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)    

West Ham down @ the Riverside

Can the long trip north to face the ‘smoggies’ end with another breath of fresh air for the Irons?

Boro West HamOwners, managers and players may come and go but there are certain characteristics of following West Ham that appear eternal; excursions ‘oop’ north being rarely fruitful, complacency rather confidence flowing from an encouraging performance and any team or player on a long run of misfortune seeing it come to an end it against the Hammers. So a long trek to the frozen and inhospitable north-east, off the back of a solid win against Palace to play a team that has only scored once in their last four league games ticks all the boxes marked disappointment.

 [Andy Carroll]’s got a whiplash injury. He then trained Tuesday very hard, he was brilliant in training, but then reported some neck pain. But as I say, hopefully he will be okay. We have a few with knocks – Winston Reid has a painful one and Sam Byram has a knock on his knee, it was swollen and he missed training on Wednesday. Also Sofiane Feghouli missed training on Wednesday because of a minor problem with his Achilles. But I’m very optimistic that all of them are going to be fit for the game on Saturday.

– Slaven Bilic on injuries

Middlesbrough have been a member of the football league since 1899 and their haul of one League Cup and one Anglo-Scottish Cup makes our own trophy cabinet look cluttered by comparison. The most notable things that I can recall about Boro are: that they paid the first £1,000 transfer fee, to buy Alf Common, in 1905 (£110,000 in today’s money); that Brian Clough scored an incredible 197 goals in 213 appearances for them; that they were once relegated after having a points deduction for failing to fulfil a fixture against Blackburn Rovers; and that the most interesting game on their home soil was when North Korea beat Italy at Ayresome Park in a 1966 world cup group match. Despite their lack of success I believe most football supporters will acknowledge the excellent job done by Steve Gibson during his time as board member and chairman of the club; an associated that commenced in 1986.

The challenge for West Ham today is to show that the togetherness shown last weekend was not just a one-off reaction to the Payet palaver and can be harnessed once more against the parsimonious Teesiders.

Head to Head

West Ham’s record against Middlesbrough is one of those that reflects a mirror home versus away image. Overall we have had a few more wins while they have scored more goals; but on the whole it is very even. Our last visit to the Riverside Stadium in November 2011 ended in a 2-0 victory with a goal apiece from lethal strikers Piquionne and Cole. Mark Noble is the sole survivor from the 13 players that featured for West Ham that day.

In the last 12 league encounters there have been 5 West Ham wins, 4 draws and 3 defeats.

































Team News

No new long term injuries are reported for the Hammers and the three players with knocks (Reid, Byram and Feghouli) should all be available as should Andy Carroll who had suffered an unusual whiplash injury either in scoring his memorable bicycle kick goal or celebrating it afterwards. We can but hope that common sense prevails today and that we start with Byram at right back and with Antonio just behind Carroll in a sort of 4-4-1-1 formation.  It is possible to get too hung up about formations and a good team needs to be adaptable and retain a degree of fluidity; we were close to showing that in the second half performance against Palace.

“He [Andy Carroll] is a player you always have to be careful of – but if we are just looking at him, [Michail] Antonio can score or [Sofiane] Feghouli can score or [Manuel] Lanzini can score… or anyone,”

– Aitor Karanka talking up our chances

Typically our first transfer signing of the latest window came too late to feature this afternoon. Jose Fonte had not played for Saints since the game against Everton on 2 January (in his last two games they conceded 7 goals).  In West Ham terms this means a minimum of four weeks to get match fit before picking up a serious injury in training. The Fonte signing is rather underwhelming to me for although Fonte is a decent player he is the wrong age profile for a club that is, at the same time, ambitious and prone to counting the pennies.  A possible mitigation to the transfer is the rumour that one of our centre-backs is carrying an injury that requires immediate surgery.  If that is the case then we should hope it is Ogbonna rather than Reid.

For Middlesbrough, Gaston Ramirez and Antonio Barragan are injured and Daniel Ayala is suspended but new signing Patrick Bamford is available to play.

As often happens I will allow hope to triumph over expectation and will go for a narrow West Ham win.

Man in the Middle

Martin Atkinson from West Yorkshire is the referee today. Previously this season he was in charge when we lost at home to Watford and when we won away at Palace, famously sending off Aaron Cresswell for two harsh/ incorrect yellow card offences in one minute. In 20 games this season (all competitions) he has administered 83 Yellow cards plus that single, solitary, spurious Red.

I Wouldn’t Bet On It 28

Expecting to win, but with the security of a draw .

Fancy A Bet

We were successful with the following bet last weekend:

20 points on a West Ham victory v Palace @6/5 (44)

We had four losing fun bets, although we were very close with a couple of them.
Our balance was 75 points, so winning 44 points takes our total to 119 points.

Despite being away from home, I am confident of a follow up victory at Middlesbrough on Saturday, although I will build in the safety net of a draw. Let us hope that last week’s second half performance wasn’t a false dawn.

With 8 draws already, Middlesbrough are the draw specialists of the Premier League this season. The game earlier in the season ended in a 1-1 draw, courtesy of a rather good goal by an un-named Frenchman who most fans hope will soon become a “Payexit”.

This weeks bets:

9 points on West Ham to beat Middlesbrough @2/1 (27)
5 points on a draw @11/5 (16)
1 point on Andy Carroll to score the first goal and West Ham to win 2-1 @50/1 (51)
1 point on West Ham to win 2-1 @19/1 (20)

Total stake 16 points. New balance 103 points. Potential returns if correct in brackets.

What are the chances?

Middlesbrough Preview

Can we continue where we left off in the second half against Palace?

Embed from Getty Images

After the euphoria of our magnificent second half performance against Palace last week, we head to the North-East to face what I believe to be one of the most uninteresting teams in the Premier League, Middlesbrough. They certainly do not seem to play in games where there are many goals, and they are the only team in the League where the average goals per game (for both sides playing) is less than 2. With just 39 goals scored by them and their opponents combined in 21 games, I guess (although I haven’t checked), that they usually feature later on Match of the Day than we do.

They have scored a paltry 17 goals in 21 games, the least in the league, with only one goal in their last four games. Southampton are the next lowest on 19. Defensively, though, they are one of the top teams in the division, having conceded only 22 goals, a figure bettered by only Tottenham, Chelsea, and Manchester United. So on past performance this season we shouldn’t expect a lot of goals in the game.

They currently sit in 16th place in the table, just four points above the relegation zone, and will no doubt be hoping that their excellent defensive record will keep them out of the bottom three. They will certainly hope that they are clear of the drop zone as the season nears the end, as in four of their final six matches they face Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool.

In the season to date they are the draw specialists of the Premier League, having drawn eight of the 21 games (they have won four and lost nine). Their draws included a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture at the London Stadium at the beginning of October, when a wonderful individual effort from a French international player who doesn’t want to play for us anymore rescued a point. The four teams they have beaten are their North-East neighbours, Sunderland, plus Bournemouth, Hull and Swansea. Of course we have beaten the same four teams plus Burnley and Palace (twice).

One player we need to watch out for is Middlesbrough’s leading scorer, Negredo, who is on a season-long loan from Valencia, having previously been at Manchester City in recent times. Negredo has only scored (I believe) 14 goals in all the time he has spent in England, but five of them have come against West Ham! Another one of the opposition who we know well is Stewart Downing, although he appears to have fallen out of favour in recent times. They paid a lot of money to buy Jordan Rhodes from Blackburn on transfer deadline day a year ago (the fee was undisclosed, although Blackburn had previously rejected an offer of £10 million for him), but he barely gets a look in and hasn’t scored in his rare appearances this season. On 18 January they completed the transfer of Patrick Bamford from Chelsea for £6million. When he was on loan there previously in 2014-15 he scored 19 goals in 44 appearances, so he has been bought to improve their poor scoring record. I wonder if he will be in the team?

Changing the subject, I have another statistic for those people who are interested in the effect on our results of our move to the London Stadium. So far this season we have played 11 games at home in the league and have accrued 17 points. Last season we had one of our best ever seasons in recent years, and our highest points total ever achieved in the Premier League era. So how many points do you think that we picked up at “fortress” Upton Park in the first 11 games there in that last record breaking season? Yes, you are right – 17!

Our failing this season has really come away from home. Last season we collected 16 points in our first 10 away games of the season, whereas this time around we have only picked up 8 from the same number of games. The difference in points accrued for the season to date can be accounted for solely by our away form; our home form (in terms of points picked up, if not level of performance) is identical.

The transfer window continues to let in a draught, if not any players, at the time of writing. Are we waiting on Payet’s potential exit to free up money to buy players and pay salaries within the Financial Fair Play limits? I’m afraid that the Profitability and Sustainability rules within Financial Fair Play leave me cold, and I fail to understand how they work. At first glance they appear to be totally in favour of helping big clubs get bigger, and making it virtually impossible for other clubs to close the gap. But what do I know?

I keep reading about Hogan, Snodgrass, Defoe and others but I guess we’ll have to keep on waiting until the window is about to slam shut to see if anything happens. Our position in the table is looking more comfortable now, and I hope we don’t just throw good money after short-term fixes to appease the fans who are desperate to see new players. Of course we need a right back and a goalscorer, but let’s hope that any incoming players are ones that can actually improve the team as opposed to the squad. Geoff summed up the situation well in his article Sliding Through The Transfer Window on January 18, so I’ll add no more here.

Back to the game, I would guess that there won’t be too many goals, but I am hoping for us to continue where we left off against Palace and record our third away win of the season. I’ll go for 2-1.

As I write this at 9pm on the eve of the game I note that Fonte has finally put pen to paper. No news yet re Hogan, or any other signings, and conflicting reports regarding the exit of Payet. Fonte is a surprise signing in some respects, although having seen some Southampton games, I am convinced that he is a signing that will add to the quality of the actual team, as opposed to just the squad. He is obviously not a long term acquisition, but I guess fewer and fewer players are these days. Is it me, or are our transfer dealings more protracted than those of other clubs?

The Lawro Challenge – Week 22

What predictions are in store for the last weekend of the Year of the Monkey and before the Lawro challenge enters the Year of the Rooster?

Lawro Crystal BallTwenty-one rounds of games in the Premier League have now been completed. That means we have now predicted the results of 210 matches. In Week 21, Rich scored 6 points, Geoff 9 points, and Lawro 6 points.

It is still relatively close at the top with Rich maintaining his six point advantage over Lawro, with Geoff 39 points off the lead. But if you break it down into small chunks, then if Geoff can win by three points each week (as he did with last week’s predictions), then with 17 weeks to go, and over 500 points that can be won, he can still finish on top. What are the chances?

It is interesting to note that Lawro makes his predictions on the BBC Sport website, and goes up against a guest personality each week. The guest personalities can be anyone from sportsmen / sportswomen, actors, comedians, musicians, politicians etc., but never anyone from the football world, either past or present. In the 21 weeks that have elapsed to date, he has been beaten seven times by his guests, some of whom profess to know little about football, or the Premier League. So one in three guests beat him, although he is no doubt paid to be an “expert pundit”. Obviously there is an element of luck in predicting the correct scores, but less so in predicting the correct results.

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 22.





Total after 20 weeks




Score in week 21




Total after 21 weeks








Predictions – Week 22












Liverpool v Swansea




Bournemouth v Watford




Palace v Everton




Middlesbrough v West Ham




Stoke v Man Utd




West Brom v Sunderland




Man City v Tottenham








Southampton v Leicester




Arsenal v Burnley




Chelsea v Hull