This Week in Hammer’s History

FA Cup skirmishes and home debut goals for Hartson and Kitson in a windy Monday night match feature in this week’s Hammer’s History.

This Week Hammers HistoryIn last week’s Hammer’s History we remembered the 1972 FA Cup 4th round replay with Hereford United, memorable for its midweek afternoon kick-off as a consequence of the ongoing miner’s strike affecting electricity supply.  Just a few days later it was straight on to the 5th round with an away trip to Huddersfield Town.  The Terriers played Manchester City in the 2016/17 competition this weekend aiming to reach the 6th round for the first time since the elimination of the Hammers in 1972.  This was an all First Division at the time but the Hammers, who had recently lost out in the epic League Cup semi-final to Stoke, were favourites to go through against a team who had not scored in their last four outings and were languishing second from bottom in the league.  League standings counted for nothing, however, as Huddersfield tore into the Hammers to take the lead midway through the first half.  West Ham managed to level before half-time through Pop Robson but three second half goals (including one from Frank Worthington) put the hosts in control and despite a late Clyde Best consolation the tie ended 4-2.  Huddersfield were beaten by Birmingham in the semi-final and finished the season bottom of the First Division.

Ferguson, McDowell, Lampard, Bonds, Taylor, Moore, Redknapp, Best, Hurst (Heffer), Brooking, Robson

In 2011, indifferent league form was again thrown aside in the FA Cup but on this occasion it was Avram Grant’s West Ham who were putting Eddie Howe’s Burnley to the sword.  The game marked a West Ham debut for Thomas Hitzlsperger some six months after signing on at Upton Park.  Der Hammer had begun his West Ham career in typical fashion by being injured for six months but it took him just 23 minutes to open his goal scoring account and set West Ham on the path to victory against Burnley.    Further goals from Carlton Cole (2) plus Winston Reid’s first for the club put the Hammers 4-0 up; a touch of comedy defending involving Wayne Bridge and Robert Green allowed Burnley to pull one back before Freddie Sears neat finish sealed a 5-1 victory.

Green, Reid, Tomkins, Jacobsen, Bridge, Sears, Parker, Noble, Hitzlsperger (Barrera), Cole (Spector), Ba (Piquionne)

It was 5-1 again against north-western opposition in the 5th round this time last year as West Ham eased past Championship side Blackburn Rovers.  Blackburn had gone ahead after 20 minutes through Ben Marshall but the lead was only to last 6 minutes as Victor Moses was allowed a clear run and shot to equalise.  Before half time a former French player scored from a trademark free kick to give West Ham a 2-1 interval lead.  The game was effectively over when Blackburn had a player sent off for two yellow card offences early in the second half and West Ham sealed the win with two goals from Emmanuel Emenike and another from the former French favourite.

Randolph, Cresswell, Collins, Ogbonna (Oxford), Antonio, Kouyate, Obiang (Lanzini), Noble (Song), Moses, Payet, Emenike

In league action West Ham lost 4-2 at home in 1984 to next weekend’s opponents Watford at Upton Park.  After the previous round of matches the Hammers were an encouraging third in the league just behind Liverpool and Nottingham Forest but a cup defeat at Birmingham and then a run of poor league performances led to a gradual slip down the table in Trevor Brooking’s final season.

In 1997 West Ham were struggling at the wrong end of the table when they entertained Tottenham in the Monday night match.  On a very windy night in east London, West Ham gave home debuts to expensive new striker signings John Hartson and Paul Kitson.  It was Spurs, however, who took the lead though Teddy Sheringham’s header marking the first of five first half goals.  West Ham snatched the lead when Julian Dicks and then Kitson headed home from corners, Darren Anderton lobbed an equalizer past Ludek Miklosko, and a brave header from Hartson made it 3-2 at half-time.  In a nail biting second half David Howells equalized once again for Tottenham before Hartson was fouled in the area allowing Dicks to blast home the resultant penalty.

Miklosko, Breacker, Dicks, Potts, Ferdinand, Bowen, Moncur, Bishop, Kitson (Dowie), Hartson, Hughes   

This Week’s Hammer’s Birthdays

20 February        Jimmy Greaves                 77
20 February        Billy Jennings                     65
22 February        Paul Brush                           59
22 February        Shaka Hislop                       48
24 February        Clyde Best                           66
24 February        John Lyall                             (Died 2006)
25 February        Kevin Keen                         50

The No-Game Weekend Mishmash

As the team and manager head off to build sand castles in the air we track down the fake West Ham news from the internet.

MishmashEnforced international breaks and early cup exits serve to create a fragmented season and leave a massive thumb-twiddling void on a winter weekend.  Desperate times call for desperate measures and taking refuge in the shed on the pretext of rearranging your tools is perhaps the only chance of dodging an afternoon at the shops.

Without a match to preview the internet turns its attention away from fitness tests, possible formations, and pearls from the managerial press conference to concentrate on the ‘alternative facts’ that surround sport as well as politics.  Here are a few items picked up from the reported West Ham buzz.

Warm Weather Training

The first team squad have departed for a spot of warm weather training in Dubai in order to, according to the Official West Ham website, ‘hone their preparations’ – so we can be reassured that on their return the team will be much improved on how to prepare, which has to be good news.  It was pleasing to see from the training camp video clips that Andre Ayew was involved and had, therefore, recovered from the ‘emotional fatigue’ that kept him out of last weekend’s match-day squad.

I can recall Fat Sam doing similar warm weather training camps in the past as a reward for throwing FA Cup games but my memory is rather hazy as to whether the players returned champing at the bit and played with renewed vigour.  Interestingly, Sam wanted to take his current side to Dubai this week but the plan was vetoed by the Palace Board on the grounds that fans would not be best pleased given recent performances.  This seems to be rather twisted logic if it is believed that there is merit from such trips in terms of fitness team spirit; or maybe it is just a jolly.

Possibly the West Ham squad are also taking part in some of those excruciating, compulsory fun, team building games that I was forced to take part in during my own working career.  These could include such useful and pertinent activities as who can build the biggest free standing tower using only drinking straws (I reckon Winston Reid would win this) or having to guide a group of blindfolded teammates through a maze of static obstacles. On second thoughts that last one sounds like a variation of an attack versus defence exercise.

Transfer Mania

The recent closing of the January transfer window has not tempted the rumour industry to take a well-earned winter break to ensure better preparation for its grand re-opening in the summer.

As usual West Ham are linked with all and sundry and in the absence of any coherent transfer strategy it is difficult to judge whether all or any of these are credible or otherwise.  In the majority of cases the linked players are those at the end of their contracts at other Premier League clubs and looking for one last final payday.  I had hoped that we would be wise to such a short sighted strategy by now but who knows what is in the mind of the decision makers?  Apparently we now also have a preference for buying British born players while at the same time being reluctant to take a chance on players from the lower leagues.  For me, a transfer recruitment strategy based on a style of play that is independent of any single manager would seem the most sensible for the club in its present position.

On the other side of the transfer coin, comments made by Michail Antonio and Manuel Lanzini have triggered speculation that they may be on their way to pastures new.  I think we can take each of these with a pinch of salt at the moment.  How can Antonio know whether he will sign a new contract that might be offered in the summer until he has seen it?  To report this as talks having stalled or that he is uncertain is nonsense.   By the same token, is it unreasonable for Lanzini to suggest that he would like to return to River Plate one day?  If he continues to perform like he has over recent games there will be far more lucrative offers coming his way than anything River Plate can offer.  A return at the end of his career would seem most feasible.

The other trending (or heavily cut and pasted) story is that the manager has ‘lost patience’ with ‘misfit’ Arthur Masuaku and that he will be taking his handballs elsewhere next season.  On the face of it this again seems unlikely for a player who has shown promise but has been injured for most of the season.

The Manager’s Contract

A story that is unlikely to go away until the summer is whether manager Slaven Bilic gets a contract extension.  He is very popular with many fans and he comes across as a very warm, personable character who as an ex-player also knows and understands the club and its supporters.  All of this may well be true but ultimately the question is how far passion alone can take someone?  Has an ex-player ever made a rip-roaring managerial return to the club he played for?

I believe there is a strong correlation between money and league placing.  On average we should be finishing around 7th or 8th place as a matter of course; it should not be seen as over-achieving; I doubt that we have ever had an over-achieving manager and maybe that is part of the attraction of being West Ham.  In my mind Slaven has done a good job rather than a great one.  Sure the football has been better than his predecessor (although for large parts of this season it was not so different) but there remain concerns on tactics, selection, fitness and player recruitment; even if he is implicated in the latter rather completely responsible.

I am on the fence at the moment.  At least he has some further time to prove his worth and to demonstrate that he is capable of a longer term consistency and planning.  As a person he is certainly a top man but I am undecided as to whether he the managerial equivalent of the 5 blade razor; the best West Ham can get?

My Favourite Games: Number 5 – West Ham 4:2 Manchester City, March 23 1996

A series of occasional articles recalling my favourite West Ham games, and songs that topped the charts when these games were played. Today beating Manchester City in 1996.

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 Games 5

Sometimes lady luck runs your way and sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve had more than my fair share of good fortune so I can’t complain. But there have been times when the luck hasn’t quite gone my way. On 23rd March 1996, we were playing at home to Manchester City who were struggling near the foot of the table at the time (and in fact they were relegated on goal difference at the end of the season). We visited Ladbrokes in Green Street on the way to the game as I fancied a bet on the correct score that day. Looking down their list I was looking for a value bet and thought that their odds on us winning 4-1 (80-1) were very generous. In those days they often put out some tempting, and realistic, correct score odds knowing how difficult it is to predict the score of a game. These days they are not usually so generous.

I put my five pounds on and we went in to see the game. I was with my dad and my son. Whenever I took my dad along we always had to buy seats at a low level as he didn’t like climbing the stairs to sit high up. So we had seats in the old West Stand lower just about level with the penalty area in the half where the Bobby Moore stand is. Slaven Bilic was playing for us and Steve Lomas, who came to us at a later date, was a City player at that time. Keith Cooper was the referee. City’s star player was Kinkladze and he was fouled early on for a penalty. I remember Ludo diving to his right to save it. About half way through the first half Iain Dowie scored with a header in front of the Bobby Moore stand, and 1-0 was the half time score. My bet wasn’t looking too hopeful with only one goal in the first half. I’d virtually forgotten about it.

In the second half Dowie headed his, and West Ham’s second goal from a Michael Hughes corner. Redknapp brought on Dani for Dumitrescu and Steve Lomas was sent off for two yellow cards. Ludo then blundered by dropping the ball allowing Niall Quinn to score an easy goal for 2-1.

There were about ten minutes left when Julian Dicks hit a trademark screamer from about 30 yards. From where we sat we were right behind the shot as it burst the net. 3-1. I remembered my bet and retrieved my betting slip from my pocket to look at it to make sure I had put it on correctly. Come on West Ham, just one more goal and £400 was on its way to me.

There were about five minutes left when Ian Bishop threaded a superb pass to Dani who ran on and tucked the ball past the keeper with his left foot. 4-1! This was unbelievable. OK West Ham you can ease up now! But they didn’t. They continued to attack sensing City were out on their feet. Hughes hit the post and Marc Reiper had an easy chance to score from the rebound but missed. I heaved a sigh of relief. I was looking forward to collecting my money!

The ninety minutes were up when the ball fell to Niall Quinn in our area. He swivelled and hit a superb left foot shot. Goal. Then Keith Cooper immediately blew his whistle for the end of the game. We didn’t even have time to kick off. To say I was gutted would be the understatement. It was a terrific game of football but you’ll forgive me for being a little disappointed.

The West Ham scorers that day were Dowie, Dicks and Dani. Have we ever had three “D” goalscorers in one game? Also in the team were Bilic, Bishop and Potts. Ludo had returned to play in goal after the late Les Sealey had made his one and only start between the sticks for us the previous week when we lost 3-0 at Newcastle. He did make one further appearance when he came on as a substitute for Ludo in the final game of the following season at Old Trafford. He had of course previously played for Manchester United, famously being picked for their FA Cup Final replay win in 1990, after their regular keeper Jim Leighton had a poor game in the first match against Crystal Palace.

Number one in the charts on that day was the Take That version of the old Bee Gees song, How Deep Is Your Love. Also in the top ten that week were Oasis with Don’t Look Back In Anger, Mark Morrison with Return of the Mack, and the Beatles with their second hit using the voice of John Lennon, many years after his death, with Real Love. The new chart always came out every Sunday then (I’m afraid I’m not up to date as to when it is changes these days), and the new number one on the day after the City game was Firestarter by Prodigy, which had gone straight in at the top after its release that week.

This Week in Hammer’s History

St Valentine’s Day massacres and 5th round cup success in the week 13 – 19 February in Hammer’s History.

This Week Hammers HistoryLove is in the air but it has not always been a week of romance (even of the cup variety) with West Ham victims of a variety of harrowing Valentine’s Day massacres over the years.

The most painful of these occurred in a 1990 League Cup semi-final first leg against fellow Division 2 side Oldham Athletic.  The Latics were in fine cup form that season and West Ham were no match on their ‘plastic’ pitch providing little resistance and going down by six goals to nil.  West Ham did win the second leg 3-0 but it was all rather academic by then.  In 1996, it was banana skins rather than roses courtesy of an away defeat in an FA Cup 4th round replay to lowly Grimsby Town and just two years ago a particularly limp performance was on show when surrender 4-0 in a 4th round tie to West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns.

A game very close to my heart, and one with a more pleasing outcome, took place in 1972 when West Ham faced a 4th round replay with non League Hereford United.  The country was in the middle of severe power restrictions at the time due to a long running miner’s strike and the associated picketing of power stations.  With electricity rationed the midweek game was moved to an usual kick-off time of 2:15 pm.   Nevertheless a crowd of over 42,000 took the opportunity to leave work or school early and packed into Upton Park to watch the game against the Southern League part-timers.  In the end West Ham were comfortable 3-1 winners, with Geoff Hurst’s final hat-trick for the club, despite a spirited performance from Hereford who left the pitch to a standing ovation.

One final 14th of February game to mention was a match in 1981 when West Ham hosted Chelsea in what was at the time a Second Division fixture.  This was an all-conquering season for the Hammers who had gone top of the table in mid-November and remained there for the duration and collected a record points haul for the division (in the days of two points for a win).  Chelsea had been early season challengers but were easily brushed aside; the game ending with a decisive 4-0 West Ham victory (Devonshire, Brooking (2), Cross).

This week being 5th round cup week it also featured further games on the road to Wembley (& Cardiff) for each of our post-war FA cup finals.  In 1964, West Ham were visitors to the County Ground in Swindon, having taken an early lead through John Sissons the Hammers were well on top before easing up to let the host level the scores before half time.  The second period was evenly contested before Peter Brabrook provided crosses that were converted by Byrne and then Hurst to ease the Hammers into the 6th round.

Standen, Bond, Burkett, Bovington, Brown, Moore, Brabrook, Boyce, Byrne, Hurst, Sissons

The 5th round opponents in 1975 were west Londoner’s Queens Park Rangers.  It was one of those games played in the Upton Park mud where players ploughed rather than glided over the surface.  Dave Clement put Rangers into the lead before Trevor Brooking took control; first setting up Pat Holland for the equaliser and then with a cheeky back-heel to start a move that ended with Keith Robson’s winner.

Day, McDowell, Lampard, Bonds, Taylor, Lock, Jennings, Paddon, Robson, Brooking, Holland

In 1980, the 5th round saw the Hammers drawn at home, for the first time in that season’s competition, against fellow second division side Swansea City.  The Swans with player/ manager John Toshack and fellow ex-Liverpool star Ian Callaghan in their lineup came to frustrate and as the minutes ticked by it looked that a replay at the Vetch Field was the most probable outcome.  However, with just 5 minutes remaining a shot from David Cross ran loose in the area and Paul Allen, on as a substitute for Stuart Pearson, pounced to give West Ham the lead.  Within a minute it was game over as Cross, himself, doubled the lead with a fine strike.

Parkes, Lampard, Brush, Stewart, Martin, Devonshire, Neighbour, Pearson (Allen) , Cross, Brooking, Pike

For the under 40s, with no trophy winning memories to fall back on, the road to Cardiff in 2006 was the closest to glory that has been witnessed.  The 5th round draw in 2006 had West Ham visiting Sam Allardyce’s Bolton Wanderers who were also competing in the UEFA Cup at the time.  Both sides had chances to score but the tie ended goalless to set up a replay at Upton Park, which would not take place until almost a month later. An interesting feature of the matchday squad (by contemporary standards) is the presence of four strikers for manager Alan Pardew to call on.

Hislop, Scaloni, Ferdinand, Gabbidon, Konchesky, Benayoun (Dailly), Etherington, Mullins, Reo-Coker, Ashton (Sheringham), Harewood (Zamora)

Some Hammer’s Birthdays

13 February     Liam Brady  (61)
15 February     Manuel Lanzini (24)
16 February     Ken Brown (83)
18 February     Anton Ferdinand (32)

West Ham 2:2 West Brom

Can we blame the officials? Or did we contribute to our own inability to win the game?

Feghouli v WBAI have written on a number of occasions regarding games involving West Ham and any team managed by Tony Pulis. My articles go back years to when he was the manager of Stoke City, and how I detested their time wasting tactics, their blocking off the ball (American Football style), and their long throw game. Now that he is manager of West Brom he has produced a team of giants who have had a successful season, exceeding everyone’s expectations, and who currently sit in eighth place in the Premier League.

If tittle tattle in the media is to be believed, then Slaven Bilic needs to get us up into eighth place in the final table in order to be offered a new contract by the board. Personally I don’t happen to believe this, and reckon that if we have a decent enough final dozen or so games, and finish comfortably in mid-table, he will be given the opportunity to continue. Whatever fans think of the owners of our club, they have not sacked managers in the past without good reason, and I would not expect them to start doing so now. Anybody in the London Stadium who witnessed the superb atmosphere once we started to play on Saturday, and the continuous support for “Super Slav” by the vast majority of fans, would not believe that he was fighting to retain his job.

Nevertheless his reactions (some might say over-reactions) to some of the decisions in the game might leave you to believe otherwise. Beating West Brom would have gone some way to increasing our chances of getting into the top eight. We started the game five points adrift of them. Losing the game would have put us eight behind, and winning the game just two. So in many ways it was a real mid-table six-pointer.

Was Feghouli fouled for West Brom’s opener on five minutes? From my seat it looked like it, but general consensus seems to be perhaps it was a foul, and perhaps it wasn’t. Sometimes challenges like that are given and sometimes not. What is more pertinent I believe is Noble’s poor decision to play a ball like that to Feghouli, Feghouli’s inability to withstand the challenge, Kouyate’s poor defending in being nutmegged by Chadli, and Randolph’s inability to save a shot straight at him. It was a catalogue of errors and bad decisions. On some days the referee might have blown for a foul and it wouldn’t have happened as it did. But it wasn’t the worst refereeing decision ever. On so many occasions in the past couple of years a multitude of poor decisions have gone against us, and very few have been in our favour, costing us many points, but this one was not so clear cut.

I thought much the same about our “equaliser” that was ruled out for offside, and / or a foul on Foster. At first glance Feghouli appeared onside (as indeed he was) and I believe that the linesman raised his flag in error. But when you get the chance to see it again you notice that Antonio was offside and interfering with play by pushing Foster. The referee seemed to take a long while to walk across to the linesman and I wonder if he was in contact with the fourth official or somebody in the stand watching a video replay? The offside rule is complex and often controversial, and you could question that even if Antonio gently pushed their keeper, he couldn’t have saved it anyway, so perhaps the goal should have stood. Again, it was not clear cut and could have gone in our favour but didn’t.

Antonio was also offside when Feghouli scored the legitimate equaliser, and perhaps this is something that he needs to consider regarding his game. Whilst commending his enthusiasm to get into goalscoring positions, he is sometimes slow to retreat back into an onside position. Feghouli was close to being offside, and I believe some linesmen would have raised their flag as it is virtually impossible for the human eye to move their eyes fast enough to take in all the necessary action. We really need video replays, but that is a topic for another day. In any event this decision quite rightly went our way.

Lanzini’s excellent shot five minutes from time should have been the winner, but of course this is West Ham. How many times have we conceded a late goal to not win, or lose a match? Once again there was controversy. Did Antonio touch the ball or not? Should it have been our throw in? The referee thought that he had and this led to the corner and the 94th minute equaliser. Were we unlucky? Perhaps. But we should perhaps have defended better not to concede a corner in the first place, and also it is criminal to concede a goal headed home directly from a corner. Collins was on the pitch to help counter the Baggies height advantage in the final few minutes, but somehow our defenders and Randolph managed to block each other in a crowded six yard box.

The disappointment was enormous. We had outplayed West Brom for much of the match but ended up with a 2-2 draw. We might also have even had a couple of penalties, one of which looked like a blatant trip on Snodgrass, but it wasn’t our day for decisions. But having said that, in my opinion most weren’t blatantly bad decisions. On another day some might have gone our way but not on Saturday. Slav’s reaction was perhaps a bit over the top, although he endears himself to supporters with his passion. It’s a pity that managers are not allowed to say if they believe officials have got it wrong. It’s also a pity that referees are not made to come out after games to explain their reasoning with regard to “controversial” moments in games.

West Brom spent virtually the whole game time-wasting after they had gone ahead. I wasn’t surprised. I’ve seen Pulis teams do this in the past. Referees should take action, but they rarely do. The irony of the situation was that no extra time was added for time wasting in the first half as injuries accounted for the full three minutes that were added on. The Baggies continued their time-wasting tactics throughout the second half until Lanzini scored, when all of a sudden they began to do everything in a hurry. More time was added on in the second half (5 minutes) and this was just enough for West Brom to benefit.

In so many ways it just wasn’t our day. But we can’t just blame the officials. We contributed to our own downfall. The performance was encouraging, however, and more games like this should enable us to finish in the top half of the table. Eighth may be just beyond our reach though.

5 Observations from the West-side derby!

An early goal conceded, spirited second half entertainment but an ultimate sense of disappointment as West Ham are held by West Brom.

5 Things WHUThat’s Entertainment

Who would have thought that a game against a Tony Pulis side could be so entertaining?  For long periods in the second half West Ham played some of the most enterprising football I have seen from them for a long time.  Suddenly we were passing the ball quickly, intelligently  and there was good movement off the ball for once.  To a large degree the early lead for Albion and their willingness to sit back and protect it helped our players to grow in confidence which, in turn, spread to the supporters.  It is interesting how the mood at the end of the game is affected by the sequence of the goals.  Having given Albion the lead I would have quite happily taken a rescued point at half time but to take the lead and then surrender it left a severe case of disappointment at the final whistle.

The Referee & The Manager

Much of the post-match chatter focused on the manager and his frustrations at the decisions made by referee, Michael Oliver.  I do admire Slaven Bilic’s passion even though I believe questions persist about his decision making and tactics at times.  It was a big blow to lose Carroll and once again it exposed the lack of balance and striking weaknesses in our squad.  Too often we field a  team of square pegs in round holes and although some are enforced others seem to be by management design.  Credit to the manager in that he did eventually change things around for the better, notably by releasing Manuel Lanzini from his initial left-sided isolation, but better not to make the mistakes in the first place.  Having had the opportunity to watch replays of the controversial decisions I am not sure, in the cold light of day, that there is too much to feel aggrieved with.  Possibly there was a foul on Feghouli for the first goal after the ball had been played but it was borderline and Antonio clearly impeded the keeper in the prelude to the Feghouli offside goal.  None of the penalty appeals had much merit even for a ref inclined to award so many as Mr Oliver.  The one wrong decision that had the biggest impact was the throw-in just prior to the Albion equaliser.

Concede Nothing

So often the goals we concede seem to be built on a series of events that could have been prevented at various stages in their construction.  As mentioned above the equaliser stemmed from an incorrect (in my opinion) throw-in decision.  Already into injury time I thought we were rather lax in regrouping to defend the throw and not preventing the ensuing corner.  As for the goal itself it is puzzling what Randolph was trying to do by running in to his own defenders.  It looked like panic had set in and confirms what I have felt about his lack of conviction in the air.  Normally Randolph is a first class shot stopper but he also could have done better with the opener, but then so could Noble, Feghouli and Kouyate.  It was a dangerous pass by Noble, Feghouli was weak despite the challenge and Kouyate was too easily beaten before the ball slithered through Randolph’s legs.  As is the way with football the early reverse and the injustice felt by the disallowed goal served to inspire the greater things that came in our second half performance.

The Strange Case of the Assist

Of all the football statistics, it is the ‘Assist’ that I find the strangest.  For our first goal Lanzini did superbly well to create an opening before letting loose the thunderous goal bound shot which was touched onto the bar by the keeper before Feghouli rolls it home; no assist fro Lanzini!  For the second goal Feghouli plays a simple sideways pass to Lanzini in a position of no particular threat before the Argentine again does very well to create his own space and place an excellent drive into the corner of the net past a stranded keeper; an assist for Feghouli!  It doesn’t make any sense to me.  As it turned out Feghouli, who had a very fine second half, after a very poor first one, ends with a goal and an assist to repeat Obiang’s achievement from the previous week.  Lanzini’s performance deserved the same honour; he looks on great from and is the one player capable of creating something unexpected.

Wot – No Striker?

The lamentable striker situation was clear for all to see again.  I admire Antonio’s endeavour and adaptability but using him as a striker is not playing to his strengths.  It was yet another game that he finished a match having played in three different positions, which cannot be right except in an emergency situation.  Although the need to put a striker on at half time was obvious the choice of Calleri was baffling.  He doesn’t look to have any of the attributes required to be useful striker in English football; no pace, no strength, no movement and no eye for goal.  I can’t believe he has any future beyond his current loan period so why bother with him in preference to Fletcher.  He must be some different player in training to keep getting the nod.

Player Ratings: Randolph (4), Kouyate (6), Reid (7), Fonte (7), Cresswell (5), Obiang (8), Noble (7), Feghouli (7), Lanzini (9), Snodgrass (7), Antonio (6).  Subs: Calleri (4)   

Matchday: West Ham take on the Baggies

The battle for eighth as West Ham face an uninspiring yet competent Albion side at the London Stadium

West Ham West BromHaving stealthily clawed their way to 9th in the Premier League table, with a sequence of effective rather than spectacular performances, West Ham will seek to build on the resurgent air of optimism at the London Stadium by stamping their authority of today’s encounter with West Bromwich Albion.

Albion are now comfortably the biggest team with a Birmingham postcode, and sit one place and five points above the Hammers in the table at start of play.  Realistically nabbing 8th place is about the very best that West Ham can hope for this season and in the circumstances Albion (and their pragmatic manager) may well be inclined to settle for a point this afternoon.  The Baggies look to be this year’s over-achievers with a style of play that has seen them record less possession than their opponents in every single game they have played this season in the Premier League.  Hate him or merely dislike him, Tony Pulis has a knack of making do with a collection of spare parts that will get the job done even if it’s not particularly easy on the eye.

We are a different team now, we have players fit, that is the key. Now we have to at least maintain it, try to avoid injuries, work hard and try to improve.

– Slaven Bilic

It is not difficult to predict how the game may shape up today.  Albion will be happy to concede possession, will be respecting the point they started with, looking to frustrate the crowd and perhaps snatching a goal from a breakaway or set piece, if the opportunity arises.  Whether West Ham have the wit and tactical nous to overcome such an approach is the big question to be answered.  An early West Ham goal would put a very different complexion on both the game and the atmosphere inside the stadium.

Head to Head

The overall record against West Brom is running neck and neck with both sides having won 40 of the 104 meetings that have taken place over 104 years.  West Ham have won two and drawn five of the last seven home fixtures against Albion whose last win on our own turf was the 4-3 victory in November 2003; a game in which they recovered from 3-0 down and Jermaine Defoe was sent off.

Team News

West Ham have reclaimed their rightful position at the top of the Premier League injury table, reporting a total of 10 injured players.  Of these Angelo Ogbonna is out for the remainder of the season, Diafra Sakho is allegedly back on 1 April (note the date), Arthur Masuaku is two weeks away from full fitness and Gokhan Tore (who by now must resemble the Michelin Man) has no return date.  The remainder (Carroll, Kouyate, Cresswell, Byram, Nordtviet and Arbeloa) are either slight doubts or subject to a late fitness test – whatever the difference between those two statuses is!

The extent of the injuries to Carroll, Kouyate and Cresswell are the most likely to affect the starting lineup and, if all is well, I would expect the same team that started at Southampton with the exception of Lanzini in for Feghouli.

They are a good team, they’ve got some good players.  They’ve had a season of being very, very good and pretty bad at times and we just go there and hope we can compete.

– Tony Pulis

West Brom have no injury worries with both Jonny Evans and Claudio Yacob recovered from injury and/ or sickness.

The Albion lineup has a decidedly workmanlike look about it but it was enough to see us off in the fixture at the Hawthorns earlier in the season.  The Baggies have secured most of their points from bottom ten sides this season while we have performed poorly against those in the top ten.  A neutral might see this as a nailed on draw but I am optimistic for that early goal as a catalyst for a comfortable victory.  My fingers will be firmly crossed that our starting eleven, once announced, will endorse confirm my optimism.  The thinness of options in attack and full-back will continue to torment for the remainder of the campaign.

Man in the Middle

It is an early return to the London Stadium for Michael Oliver from Northumberland who was in charge of the unhappy FA Cup tie against Manchester City just two months ago.  In a total of 26 games this season Oliver has contributed 82 Yellow and 2 Red Cards.

I Wouldn’t Bet On It 31

Pedro to repeat his goal from last week?

Fancy A Bet

A profit from last Saturday’s game at Southampton on the following bet:

4 points on West Ham to win the game @15/4 (19)

We’ve had a few bets this season on West Ham to win and Obiang to score in the game, but of course Murphy’s (or Sod’s) Law, it happened this week but it wasn’t one of our bets. You win some and you lose some!

We also got our stake of 1 point back on the following bet as only one team let us down (Palace):

1 point – A six game accumulator for the following six teams to win this weekend: Chelsea, Palace, Everton, Watford, Tottenham and Man City @ 17/1 (18)

Our balance has now increased to 130 points.

This week I’m confident that we will win against a West Brom side, managed by Tony Pulis, who I believe have exceeded the expectations of most people this season and currently sit in eighth place. A win would cut the gap to two points in the league table. My bets are as follows:

10 points on West Ham to win the game @11/10 (21)
2 points on West Ham to win the game and both teams to score @7/2 (9)
1 point on the London bus saying that you wait a long time and then two come along together, so West Ham to win the game and Obiang to score at anytime @18/1 (19)
1 point on the score at half-time to be 0-0, at full time West Ham to be 2-1 winners @40/1 (41)

And finally the real longshot of the weekend:

1 point on the following 11 teams to all win their game – Arsenal, Manchester United, Stoke, Swansea, Villa, Brighton, Derby, Fulham, Leeds, Norwich, and Reading @331/1 (332).

Total stake 15 points – new balance after staking is 115 points. Potential returns if correct in brackets.

What are the chances?

West Brom Preview

Can we reverse the result at the Hawthorns in September?

West Ham West Brom

An excellent victory at St Mary’s last weekend saw us move up into ninth place in the table, which if we maintained that place would equate to prize money of £24 million at the end of the season. According to reports in the media, Slaven Bilic will be offered a new contract if we finish eighth or above this season. The question I ask is – how does information such as this find its way into the media? Does somebody guess, and then the rumour spreads like a lot of fake news these days? Or does it get deliberately leaked by somebody? He may have some tactical shortcomings, but Bilic is adored by the majority of fans according to various polls, and I find it hard to believe that our board will dispense with his services provided that we don’t collapse between now and the end of the season. A top half finish is well within our grasp, and we can go some way towards pushing upwards for an eighth place finish if we can beat West Brom this weekend.

In many ways, the Baggies are the surprise team this season. The top six were very predictable, and it is no real shock to see Everton in seventh, but West Brom eighth was not one that many could see coming. But in eighth position they are, and five points clear of ninth (us) at that, so they will be working extra hard to ensure that we don’t beat them and close the gap to two. One of the best games of football I ever saw was on Good Friday in 1965. We beat West Brom 6-1 but I’ll save the details for another article in my series on favourite games. They were a top tier team throughout the 1960s like ourselves, and we often gave them a thrashing at Upton Park.

In the last 25 years the Baggies have not had a great deal of success. When the Premier League began in 1992, we missed out on being one of the teams taking part in the first season as we were in the second tier. Albion were in a worse position than ourselves as they were even lower; they were a third tier team (the equivalent of League One today). Throughout the twenty-first century they have been the archetypal yo-yo club. Promotion to the Premier League in 2001-2 was followed by relegation the following season (2002-3). They came back up as a result of a successful campaign in 2003-4, and famously avoided relegation the following season with their version of “The Great Escape” when they became the first club to be bottom of the Premier League at Christmas, but stay up, which they achieved on the final day. It didn’t last though as they went down again in 2005-6, came back up in 2007-8, were relegated in 2008-9, and then won promotion yet again in 2009-10. Now that is the definition of a yo-yo club if ever I’ve seen one.

They have retained their position in the top league since then, and this is now their seventh successive season in the Premier League. They will be delighted with how it has gone so far, and early murmurs about the Pulis style of play have evaporated as they have climbed the table with a reasonably attractive style of football (well attractive by Pulis standards, anyway). Their ten wins, six draws and just eight defeats leave them on 36 points, just short of the magical 40 that all clubs aim for, although in truth 36 is often enough (but not in 2002-3, I hear you say!). A bit like ourselves, they could be described as flat-track bullies, in that they haven’t beaten any of the seven sides above them in the table. Away from home they have won three games at Palace, Leicester and Southampton. Of course their seven home wins include beating us comfortably 4-2 in September, after being three up at half-time, and four ahead shortly afterwards as a result of some comedy defending. It certainly wasn’t Masuaku’s finest hour in a claret and blue shirt.

The weather forecast is for another cold day so I’ll be wearing my hat (yes my optimistic West Ham one) and hoping for another victory, perhaps by the odd goal in three? If we can beat them, then there is every chance that we can push them for their position in the table. If we don’t win, then with games beginning to run out this season (just 13 to go after this one), it will be harder, though not impossible, to bridge the gap.

The Lawro Challenge – Week 25

The battle at the top of the Lawro Challenge table hots up as we reach week 25.

Lawro Crystal BallTwenty-four rounds of games in the Premier League have now been completed. That means we have now predicted the results of 240 matches.

In Week 24, Rich scored 7 points, Geoff 6 points, and Lawro 5 points. Rich has narrowly regained his place at the top of the leaderboard, but the competition is well and truly on.

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 25.

 

Rich

Geoff

Lawro

Total after 23 weeks

185

143

186

Score in week 24

7

6

5

Total after 24 weeks

192

149

191

 

 

 

 

Predictions – Week 25

 

 

 

 

Rich

Geoff

Lawro

Saturday

 

 

 

Arsenal v Hull

2-0

3-1

2-0

Man U v Watford

2-0

1-0

2-0

Middlesbrough v Everton

1-1

1-0

1-1

Stoke v Palace

2-0

0-0

2-1

Sunderland v Southampton

1-1

2-1

1-0

West Ham v West Brom

2-1

3-0

1-1

Liverpool v Tottenham

1-1

1-2

1-1

Sunday

 

 

 

Burnley v Chelsea

1-2

1-1

0-2

Swansea v Leicester

2-1

1-2

1-1

Monday

 

 

 

Bournemouth v Man City

1-2

0-3

0-2