Matchday: West Ham ‘entertain’ Leicester

Lethargic Hammers attempt to prevent resurgent Foxes claiming their first away league win.

West Ham v LeicesterIt all seems rather shambolic at West Ham at the moment as the season continues on the course of a mostly uninteresting roller-coaster ride.  The anticipation of a shiny new stadium was swiftly overshadowed by poor performances on the pitch; a few lucky wins allowed a fortuitous ungainly clamber into mid-table; the saga of the sulking Frenchman dominated the back pages; a post Payet bounce hinted at a mini resurgence before a return to indifference has left the team with just one win from the last six matches.

Last week’s shoddy performance left the Chairman calling for improvements, the fans calling for changes, the manager burying his head in the sand and the captain accusing the fans of knowing nothing about football.  Now the captain has convinced the manager that he should have a holiday to recover his mojo even though he has just returned from energising warm weather training in Dubai and it is an international break next week.  It has become almost as unpredictable and depressing as the other Eastenders.

I said after they changed manager what I thought about it and still I don’t understand it.  But if you talk about results and performances they got what they wanted.  No one can say it was the wrong decision, the three results have been brilliant and the team looks different.

– Slaven Bilic

Today’s opponents are last season’s surprise champions who were having a shocking season (outside of their Champion’s League campaign) until a change of manager brought a change in fortune and two successive league wins.  They are now in the unusual situation of having a Champion’s League quarter final and a relegation battle to look forward to.   Maybe the same tactics that surprised the Premier League last term are doing the same in Europe this year.  If there is one English team that has not learnt how to combat those tactics who could it be?

Head to Head

Leicester have only won 11 of 61 away matches at West Ham.  It is a fixture where the Hammers have averaged over 2 goals per game.  History suggests a comfortable home win.

Leicester have not won an away league game all season and in none of those encounters have they scored the opening goal.  However, they have yet to drop a point from a winning position in any league match so far this season.  Form suggests a routine home win unless we concede first.

Team News

Mark Noble’s convenient dead leg injury means he is not available for selection.  Physio Room indicates slight doubts for Michail Antonio and Robert Snodgrass but no mention of Andy Carroll who looked so unfit at Bournemouth.  Otherwise it is a fully available squad with the exception of Diafra Sakho and that handful of forgotten players reported as missing in action.

It will be a brilliant occasion for our supporters and for everyone at the club but, before the players can begin to think about these games, we have Premier League matches to come that are of huge significance to our season. They will be our sole focus.

– Craig Shakespeare

It is a pointless task attempting to second guess what team selection the manager will come up with.  One would like to think that Noble’s absence will result in Cheikhou Kouyate moving to central midfield and Sam Byram starting at right back.  Jose Fonte against Vardy makes me nervous both from the perspective of pace and reckless penalty area challenges.  Andre Ayew (or anybody come to that) in for Sofiane Feghouli would appear to make sense but the final line-up may rest on the fitness of Carroll.  Expect Antonio to play in at least two different positions today including the problem wide left midfield role.

Leicester never have any injuries and so are likely to be at full strength.

The Man in the Middle

Today’s referee is occasional Premier League whistleblower Roger East from Wiltshire.  His most recent associations with West Ham were in the two cup replays against Liverpool and Manchester United last season.  In a total of 26 matches (all competitions) this season he has awarded 105 Yellow and 3 Red cards.

I Wouldn’t Bet On It 35

A return to winning ways? But will we concede a penalty?

Fancy A Bet

Our recent results have mirrored those of our team. The loss at Bournemouth took our balance down to 80 points. But we won’t give up until the money runs out! We’ll continue with our fun bets this weekend for the game against Leicester. Last week I wrote in this column that we had one of those situations where West Ham have famously assisted the opposition in the past to end a bad run. Bournemouth hadn’t actually won a league game in 2017 in eight attempts before they played us!

This time the statistic I will bring up is that in 13 away league games this season, Leicester have failed to win a single game. Food for thought, but I will dismiss the thought instantly and look forward to a home win on Saturday.

Another statistic involving Leicester is that last season they were awarded 13 penalties, way in excess of any other club. This season so far they’ve had five. That makes 18 in a little over a season and a half. We’ve been awarded 8 in the same period. And what is more we have conceded 16 in that time, which I believe is more than any other team in the top flight. So it points towards Leicester being awarded a penalty. I think I’ll go for a fun bet on that to happen and the penalty to be missed at 20/1.

This week’s bets:

10 points on West Ham to win @13/10 (23)
12 points on West Ham to win and both teams to score @7/2 (54)
1 point on Leicester to miss a penalty @20/1 (21)
1 point on Antonio to score the first goal and West Ham to win 2-1 @33-1 (34)
And for fun, 1 point on Antonio to score the first goal and West Ham to win 4-2 @350-1 (351)

After staking 25 points our balance is now down to 55 points. The potential returns on winning bets are shown in brackets. What are the chances?

West Ham v Leicester Preview

The chance for West Ham to beat a side who have reached the last eight in the European Champions League, but despite this have failed to win any of their 13 away from home Premier League games this season. Although we know what might happen when we face a team who haven’t won an away game for almost a year!

Leicester West Ham

We entertain last season’s Premier League winners, Leicester City, this weekend, although their league form this season has been, to say the least, unimpressive. To date they have played 27 league games, winning just 7, drawing 6, and losing 14. Ironically, before we played Bournemouth last weekend the Cherries’ league record was played 27, won 7, drawn 6, and lost 14. And we know what happened there, so let us hope we don’t get a repeat.

Until they sacked last season’s Manager of The Year, Claudio Ranieri, a couple of games ago, they had won just five and were really involved in the relegation battle at the foot of the table. However, two consecutive 3-1 home wins over Liverpool and Hull City have eased the pressure somewhat, and they seem to be looking upwards, although they are not safe yet. Some would say that we are not safe either, although it won’t take too many more points for this to be achieved.

The real worry though is their away form. In thirteen away league games they have picked up just three points from three draws at Tottenham, Stoke, and Middlesbrough, and lost the other ten. Anyone who has supported West Ham for any length of time will appreciate the danger I can see here. We do have a penchant for assisting sides to end poor runs of results, and it would be a shame if we enabled Leicester to double their away from home points tally in just one game.

Apart from losing to some of the bigger teams, they have also lost away at Hull, Watford, Sunderland, Bournemouth, Burnley and Swansea, so on their league form this season they are certainly not a team we should fear. But at the same time, our recent form has been nothing to write home about either.

Their salvation this season has been an incredible run in the European Champions League, where they have reached the last eight of the competition, and are the only remaining English side remaining, with Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City all eliminated. You couldn’t have got odds of 5000-1 on this, but I am sure that the odds were fairly lengthy on them reaching the quarter-finals and also outlasting the other English entrants.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the mini-league that was taking place between the clubs placed between 9th and 14th in the Premier League. At the time they were Stoke, Burnley, West Ham, Southampton, Watford and Bournemouth in that order. I am happy to report that a few games later the mini-league continues with the same six clubs involved, albeit in a slightly different order. Previously Stoke were 9th with 29 points, we were 11th with 28, and Bournemouth were 14th with 26. So just 3 points separated the six clubs at the time.

Now, Stoke, ourselves and Bournemouth occupy identical positions as before although the gap from first to last is now six points, and Southampton have taken Burnley’s place in tenth. I write this to illustrate the lack of change in Premier League positions as the season progresses. This season we have three distinct leagues within the league, the top 8 (although Everton and West Brom in 7th and 8th have no chance of getting into the top 6), our six team mini-league, and then the bottom six who are all fighting the drop. Although there are minor changes in the order within each of these three leagues, it seems that they are quite distinct, and teams are having difficulty in progressing from their own sub-division.

What I would like to see is for us to go on a long winning run and start to challenge for 7th or 8th, but it is not going to happen. Where will we finish? I reckon 9th (or top of our mini-league) is about the best we can hope for, and anywhere down to 14th is probably the least, although a really disastrous run could possibly see us even lower.

I have many fond memories of watching games against Leicester over the last (almost) sixty years. Probably the best goal I have ever seen was scored by Martin Peters in a 4-0 win over them in 1968. And another great memory is coming from two goals down on Boxing Day morning in 1967, to win the game 4-2 with a hat-trick from Brian Dear, and a goal from a teenage Trevor Brooking. Four days after Boxing Day we went to Leicester for the return fixture and again beat them 4-2 with two more from Dear and another from Brooking.

A little research reveals that Leicester are the team that we have beaten more often than any other team in my lifetime, a total of 37 times. However the last five times we have faced them in league and cup over the past couple of years we have lost four and drawn one. The draw (2-2) at Leicester last April was a travesty in my opinion, and yet another example of referee Moss awarding a penalty to our opponents in the 95th minute to give them a chance to draw the game. Yes, he has history in this respect. He also awarded a penalty to Tottenham at White Hart Lane in the 95th minute the season before which enabled them to draw 2-2 with us.

This time we have Roger East who I don’t believe we’ve had this season so far. I have a recollection of him officiating a Leicester game earlier this season and awarding them a penalty. But don’t be too surprised. They seem to get a lot of them.

What will happen this weekend? With no justification based upon recent form whatsoever, I confidently expect us to win, and score twice as many goals as them. So, 2-1 then, or perhaps 4-2 to repeat Boxing Day 1967.

The Lawro Challenge – Week 29

Our Lawro Challenge rumbles on as the BBC pundit extends his overall lead.

Lawro Crystal BallIn Week 28, Rich scored 6 points, Geoff 8 points, and Lawro 8 points.

Against all expectation Lawro has extended his lead at the top of the leaderboard yet again and now there is clear daylight between him and the nearest challenger. Can he be caught by the end of the season?

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 29.

 

Rich

Geoff

Lawro

Total after 27 weeks

212

168

222

Score in week 28

6

8

8

Total after 28 weeks

218

176

230

 

 

 

 

Predictions – Week 29

 

 

 

 

Rich

Geoff

Lawro

Saturday

 

 

 

WBA v Arsenal

1-2

0-2

1-1

Palace v Watford

1-0

1-1

2-0

Everton v Hull

2-1

0-0

2-0

Stoke v Chelsea

0-2

1-2

0-2

Sunderland v Burnley

1-1

1-0

1-2

West Ham v Leicester

2-1

2-2

0-2

Bournemouth v Swansea

2-2

2-1

2-1

Sunday

 

 

 

Middlesbrough v Man Utd

0-2

1-1

1-1

Tottenham v Southampton

2-1

1-2

2-0

Man City v Liverpool

2-2

2-1

1-1

My Favourite Games: Number 9 – West Ham 4:3 Queens Park Rangers, November 2nd 1968.

A series of occasional articles recalling my favourite West Ham games, and songs that topped the charts when these games were played. Number 9 is a seven goal thriller against QPR.

I have witnessed so many great games in the last 58 years. They are remembered for different reasons, the importance of the game, the goals scored, and the spine-tingling atmosphere generated by our fans. I remember this one especially for seeing an excellent West Ham win, seven goals in the game (a fortnight earlier I had witnessed eight goals put past Sunderland!), some special goals, including one from Bobby Moore and a stunning volley from Harry Redknapp. And growing up in the 1960s I remember fondly the music in the charts at the time.

Favourite Games 9

With a group of friends from school I watched this massively entertaining game from the North Bank.  The game stands out in my memory for another reason, too. The Chicken Run had been demolished at the end of the previous season and the new “East Stand” was being constructed in its place. This game was the first time I remember seeing people standing on the East Stand lower terracing, somewhere we often stood later in the 1970s. The seats in the upper tier were not in place when the lower tier standing was first opened, although they were brought into use shortly afterwards. It was the featured game on the Big Match on the following day, on Sunday afternoon, so we had the opportunity to see the highlights again, which was not often the case in those days, as few games were televised, unlike today when all games can be seen.

QPR opened the scoring with an innocuous looking through ball turned home from a fairly wide angle by Barry Bridges I think. We then witnessed a great goal from Bobby Moore who collected the ball around half-way, strode forward unchallenged, and then unleashed a shot from outside the area into the roof of the net. There were no celebrations like there are today when a goal is scored. He just turned around and walked back towards the half way line, with a handshake or two from teammates. This is the goal often shown in black and white on the screens at home games. We went 2-1 ahead with a Martin Peters header from a flick on, and then added a third when Bobby Moore took a free-kick which was headed in at the near post by Geoff Hurst, a trademark West Ham goal of the late 1960s.

Being 3-1 up at half-time we remembered we were West Ham and let QPR back into the match with two headers levelling the score at 3-3. But there was a moment of magic to come, when a move started by Harry Redknapp was fed out to Geoff Hurst on the left, who then crossed the ball into the area. It was met by Redknapp with a stunning, unstoppable volley which almost burst the net. It was a great move with great technique for the finish.

The influence of the Beatles was a prominent feature of the November 1968 charts. The number one in the first week of the month was Those Were The Days by Mary Hopkin. Originally a Russian song, Hopkin’s 1968 recording was produced by Paul McCartney. Ironically the song had toppled Hey Jude by the Beatles from the top of the chart a week previously. In America it reached number 2, and was denied the top spot by Hey Jude. Number 2 was another Beatles song, With A Little Help From My Friends, sung by Joe Cocker. The original Beatles version was on the famous Sgt. Pepper album, and was written by Lennon and McCartney specially for Ringo Starr, which was a feature of some of their LPs, where the Ringo song was deliberately given a limited range to suit his singing voice. The first line of the song had the (ironical?) lyrics “What would you do if I sang out of tune?” The Joe Cocker arrangement was vastly different to the original Beatles recording.

Number 3 was the Hugo Montenegro instrumental The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. It was the theme song of the epic Italian Spaghetti Western film of the same name, starring Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef. Little Arrows by Leapy Lee was at number 4, and just like the Mary Hopkin and Hugo Montenegro recordings, all three were among the top 10 selling single records of the whole of 1968. Other notable artists in this week’s chart were the Tremeloes, The Hollies, Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick and Tich, and the Dave Clark Five. In the lower reaches of the chart heading upwards were All Along The Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix, and the future Christmas number one, Lily The Pink by the Scaffold.

This Week in Hammer’s History

Frustration for the Boys of 86 but a string of cup memories in the week 13 to 19 March in Hammer’s history.

This Week Hammers HistoryBack in the memorable 1985/86 season West Ham did not play a league game between 2 February and 15 March due to a combination of inclement weather and FA Cup commitments.  When league action re-commenced with an away fixture at Highbury, the Hammers were lying in seventh place but had played five games less than leaders Everton and 6 less than second placed Liverpool.  It turned out to be a disappointing period for the Boys of 86, however, as in the period of 10 days they had defeated Manchester United in a replayed FA Cup 5th round tie, were eliminated in a 6th round match at Sheffield Wednesday just three days later and then lost two league matches on the bounce; away at Arsenal and Aston Villa.

In the Highbury game West Ham dominated much of the game but went behind to a goal scored by Tony Woodcock after an obvious handball.  In an attempt to rescue the match Alvin Martin was pushed up front, was booked for a bad foul and then sent off for a spot of fisticuffs with David O’Leary (who escaped punishment) as the game became bad tempered.  With no further scoring West Ham lost the game 1-0.

Four days later dreams of the title appeared to have completely evaporated as West Ham were beaten again this time by lowly Aston Villa in a game that ended 2-1 to the home side.  Steve Hodge scored both Villa’s goals while a Steve Hunt own goal was all that the Hammers could muster in front of the paltry 11,500 crowd rattling around inside Villa Park.

In European action West Ham travelled to face Lausanne Sports of Switzerland in the 3rd round 1st leg of the Cup Winner’s Cup in 1965 but made heavy alpine weather against their Swiss opponents.  West Ham took the lead when a goalkeeping error from a Boyce free kick allowed Brain Dear to force the ball home and doubled their lead through a fine Budgie Byrne solo effort.  Lausanne pulled one back late on to give them a lifeline for the second leg.

In 1976 West Ham were facing a 2-4 deficit when the second leg tie against Den Haag kicked off.  By half time the Hammers were 5-4 to the good on aggregate with goals from Alan Taylor, Frank Lampard and a Billy Bonds penalty.  Den Haag pulled one back after the break to set up a nervy last period but with no further goals the tie ended 5-5 with West Ham progressing through to the semi-finals on away goals.

 

March 1981 witnessed West Ham’s solitary Wembley League Cup final appearance.  The Hammers were romping away with the second division at the time but faced a difficult task against league champions Liverpool.  In a largely unmemorable game all the action took place in the last few minutes of extra time.  With just three minutes to play Alan Kennedy scored (and Clive Thomas allowed) the disputed Sammy Lee offside to put the cup in Liverpool’s hands.  With the minutes ticking away West Ham were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the area and a Ray Stewart rocket was brilliant pushed behind by Ray Clemence.  From the resulting corner Alvin Martin headed for goal but was denied by the hand of Terry McDermott (not a red card offence back then).  Up steps Stewart for a cool-as-you-like equaliser from the penalty spot to take the tie to a replay.

Parkes, Stewart, Lampard, Bonds, Martin, Devonshire, Neighbour, Goddard (Pearson), Cross, Brooking, Pike

In the 2006 path to the FA Cup final it was Sam Allardyce’s Bolton visiting Upton Park for a replayed 5th round tie.  The visitors had the better chances in the game but had gone behind early on when a poor clearance from a Marlon Harewood cross bounced into the net off keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen.  Bolton equalised just after the half hour when Kevin Nolan fed namesake Davies to outwit Hammer’s keeper Shaka Hislop from 20 yards.  Despite the usual aerial bombardment the Hammers held firm and won the tie in extra time when Harewood turned in Yossi Benayoun’s teasing cross.

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

Possibly one of the finest ever West Ham performances was in the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United on 14 March 1964.  The game was played in front of 65,000 on a soggy Hillsborough pitch saw the Hammers face a strong Manchester side that included the famous Best, Law and Charlton triumvirate.  A competitive and evenly contested first-half had ended goal-less despite near misses at both ends but two goals by Ronnie Boyce in the first 20 minutes of the second half put West Ham firmly in control.  The Red Devils fought back and following a scare where Jim Standen was injured in a collision, Denis Law reduced the arrears firing past the still groggy keeper.  With Manchester throwing everything forward for the equaliser West Ham sealed victory, and booked their first final appearance since 1923,  when Bobby Moore set up Geoff Hurst to score from an excellent counter attack.

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

 

Bournemouth 3 v 2 West Ham

Consistently inconsistent. Social media goes into overdrive as West Ham once again drop points from a winning position

Bournemouth West Ham ActionSo that’s it now. Defeat at Bournemouth means we cannot mathematically win the league this season! Seriously though, we can still go down! But we won’t. We are just one of those cluster of teams in mid-table that doesn’t have the capability to challenge the top six, but have just enough to keep clear of the relegation dogfight. I have noticed that this weekend social media has gone into overdrive with so many fans telling us what has gone wrong, why it has gone wrong, and who is to blame, whether it is the board, poor recruitment, the manager, the coaching, the fitness of our players, players playing in wrong positions, the stadium, the size of the pitch, the tactics, poor officials, or whatever. And everybody knows the answer, and so many of the answers are different! And if you disagree with the opinion of the author of a comment then you are an expletive. So many pick the team that they believe should play, and then so many disagree with some of the choices. Who’d be a manager?

With Bournemouth not having won a league game in 2017, and our penchant for helping teams to end bad runs of results, then I always had a suspicion that this might happen. With my optimistic hat on (as always) I didn’t really think that it would, but how many times have we done this? And how many times this season have we dropped points from a winning position? And how many times have we conceded goals in the last few minutes of games this season? And come to that, how often have we started a match, or the second half, slowly, and conceded an early goal? Questions, questions, questions. But what are the answers?

I have been following the team now since 1958, and the one thing that has been consistent in all that time is our inconsistency. You just never know what you are going to get from one season to another, from one game to another, or indeed from the first half to the second half of a game. In 1958-59 following promotion to the top tier (called Division One at the time) we finished sixth and actually led the league at one point. The following season we finished 14th. In 1961-62, Ron Greenwood’s first full season as manager we finished 8th. Did we push on from there? I’m afraid not. For the next decade, despite our wealth of talent, including three World Cup winners, we generally finished between midway and the lower reaches of the table, although on more than one occasion we led the league during the season.

By 1970-71 we finished 20th, just above the relegation places at the time, but two seasons later we ended up 6th. The following year we were 18th and several poor seasons followed (from a league perspective) until relegation in 1977-78. We came back up in the early eighties and had some top half finishes most seasons, culminating in the best ever third place in 1985-86. But in the following two seasons we were 15th and 16th before relegation the season after. I could go on. It happened under Fenton, Greenwood, Lyall, Bonds, Redknapp, Roeder, Pardew, Curbishley, and Zola. Consistently inconsistent. Our most consistent seasons were under Grant (just one awful year), and Allardyce, who many fans disliked, perhaps because of the consistency? As West Ham fans we are used to inconsistency.

Going back to the game itself, we conceded two penalties, neither of which were scored, so our defeat could potentially have been heavier. Randolph was man of the match according to one report that I read. Three goals conceded is his best performance against Bournemouth, and in five games against them has had to pick the ball out of the net 23 times. But I don’t think he could have done much about the goals that went in. For me, Kouyate is a very strange choice as a right back. He can be quite fast, but only when he gets into his stride. A bit like Usain Bolt really. He might win a race over 100 metres, but would not be ahead after 20. Surely he is a box to box midfield player? Why do we keep a specialised right back on the bench? I’m afraid our manager has a blind spot when it comes to right backs.

Reid and Fonte don’t seem to have gelled as a partnership if you look at the goals conceded, although Reid has put in some good individual performances, and for whatever reason, Cresswell is a shadow of his previous self. Obiang, Lanzini, and Antonio are playing well enough, but many doubts exist amongst fans in recent times regarding Noble, Feghouli, Snodgrass and Ayew, although to be fair to the latter he has shown he can put the ball in the goal in a couple of recent games. Carroll varies from unplayable to playing averagely.

We complained to the officials that one of Bournemouth’s goals followed a handball, although I didn’t see it personally. Conversely, I thought that there might have been a hint of offside (Byram) as he set up Ayew’s equaliser. Surely we could have no complaints about the penalties we gave away? Why do we concede so many? The standard of the two spot kicks was so woeful it is hard to believe that Bournemouth hadn’t missed a single penalty all season.

So I think that the officials and the stadium are off the hook for this defeat, but all other potential reasons are still in play! And by the way, so many TV pundits keep saying that our pitch size is the reason for our poor performances at home and that we should reduce it. Many fans have jumped on this particular bandwagon on social media too. They say it is larger than it needs to be. Some have said that is a ploy by the board to bring it closer to the fans.

It is my understanding (I haven’t measured it personally!) that our pitch is exactly the size of the majority of pitches in the Premier League, that is the exact size as recommended by the Premier League and UEFA, and that all clubs should have a pitch of 105 metres x 68 metres unless the confines of the stadium do not allow it. We are not allowed to reduce the size, unless it is structurally impossible to meet the standard requirements! Incidentally, Upton Park was the same width but 4.5 metres shorter.

5 Seaside Souvenirs: Defeat at Bournemouth

There is no bowl of cherries as West Ham get out of their depth at the seaside.

5 Things WHUWish You Were Here

So that is 1 point out of a possible 9 since the warm weather jaunt to Dubai where the boys apparently worked on their defending as well as getting involved in a spot of team bonding.  The value of these trips in the past has always seemed rather dubious but this time around there should be some serious questions asked judging by the results, performances and defensive displays since the return.  An all-expenses paid holiday as a reward for getting knocked out of the cup early is a really strange one.

The Insanity of Slaven?

It is said that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is a sign of insanity.  If that is the case then perhaps our manager is a raving lunatic!  He may well be cool, know West Ham (whatever that means), have a good sense of humour and be the sort of bloke you could imagine going down the pub with but a deep thinking manager he is not.  Last season he introduced some much needed flair to the team; a refreshing change to Fat Sam’s attritional style  of play but which exploited Allardyce’s organisation legacy to secure some excellent results particularly against top 6 sides.  This year not only the swagger has gone and also the organisation.  I can understand how a side can be a work in progress but right now it is difficult to see which direction we are meant to be heading in.  Tactics, selection, recruitment and organisation are all over the place with no discernible style or strategy .  This is not he astute full of ideas younger manager that I thought we were getting.  The last time he did something innovative was to play Reece Oxford against Arsenal in the first game of last season.  Maybe he is an upgrade on Allardyce but he is no Pochettino or Koeman.  Sorry to say but we need better.  Early cup exits and a bottom half finish would be a relatively disastrous season.  Yesterday we were very lucky to come away without a substantial hammering.

Captain Mediocre

Mark Noble has served West Ham well in his 10 plus years at the club.  On MOTD yesterday Motty posed the question “what price loyalty?” when observing that Noble had made close to 400 appearances  for the club but had recently been criticised by fans on social media.  There is, of course, no connection between the two facts.  Noble like any other player should not be in the team if he is not performing well enough.  What he may or may not have done in the past is purely sentiment and not a justification for selection.  All careers come to an end.  Unfortunately Noble slows everything down due to both a lack of pace and slowness of thought.  His first instinct is to play a first time short pass backwards or sideways as if it were an extended game of one-touch.  The game is played at speed these days and you need to be an exceptional talent to survive without pace all around the pitch.  That we have several other plodders in the team only makes matters worse.  I admire loyalty up to a point but he has make a good living at West Ham and I doubt that any bigger club has ever come courting; Palace or Stoke perhaps.  Bilic says his role as captain is vital to the team and that he gees things up when things are not going well.  Is that really enough?  Perhaps he can come good again but right now I don’t understand how he keeps making the starting team-sheet.

Right Back Where We Started

The right back situation is a farce.  Who next after Antonio and Kouyate?  Why not give Adrian a try?  Or how about giving Sam Byram a decent run; an actual right back who defends at least as well as Cresswell and can also offer something going forward.  For reasons best known to the manager he would rather play others out of position than employ a specialist.  Is it to give his favourites a game or simply stubbornness because Byram was not his transfer pick?  Some say that Bilic will have better knowledge because he sees the players in training every day but this is the same manager who didn’t really fancy Antonio and Obiang; arguably our best two players now.  In his post match Bilic was suggesting that Byram was at fault for the third goal but in reality it was Ayew who screwed up.  A case of getting his justification for next week’s selection in early?

The Deadwood Stage

There is a cycle at West Ham.  The squad is littered with dead-wood, jobbing footballers.  Every now and then there is a clear out with cut-price transfers and contracts paid up only to fill the space created with more of the same bench warmers.  It is just like the process of clearing out your attic.  Look at the January transfer for example.  What was the point on spending the best part of £20 million on Fonte and Snodgrass when we could have made do until the summer with Collins and Feghouli/ Ayew?  Neither are bad players but both have their best days behind them.  The absence of a long term transfer strategy worries me.  The names that we are being linked with (while many may be pure rumours) make me shudder.  Players such as Sagna or Zabaletta at the end of their useful careers and looking for a final payday.  Or even worse the woeful Benteke.  Scouting needs to go up several notches to focus on hungry young talent.  It is no point pretending to compete for established players who will in all probability end up at Champion’s League clubs and then being forced to do your shopping from the bargain basement.

Matchday: Hammers @ the Cherries

West Ham’s bashful attack comes up against Bournemouth’s shaky defence at the Vitality stadium.

Bournemouth West HamWhenever a team has a player sent off, even if this is in the second minute of added time,  it is the duty of the headline writer to include the phrase “Ten Man” in the description of the game.  So it was that I was in a bar last weekend watching Ten Man Bournemouth frustrate Manchester United.  This particular bar had two separate large screen TVs showing the game from two different feeds; one was in real-time while the other had a five minute delay, and unusually took the decision to run the commentary from the delayed feed.  Bournemouth should have been dead and buried before half-time but managed to get on level terms with an unlikely Old Trafford penalty and then showed great resilience to protect their point once they had skipper, Andrew Surman, sent off in the aftermath of the Ibrahimovic/ Mings fracas.

We are expecting a really difficult game on a difficult pitch with a good atmosphere but we are looking forward to it.  There is still a big job to do. We have to approach every game and try and win it and see where it will bring us. We want, and we have to finish strongly.

– Slaven Bilic

Bournemouth are on a long winless eight match run during which time they have conceded 21 goals, they are without a league victory in 2017 (since Nathan Ake was recalled by Chelsea) and have never beaten a London side in the Premier League on home turf.  West Ham are unbeaten on the road in 2017 and have not previously lost away to Bournemouth in any competition; 26 of the Hammer’s 33 league goals and 8 of their 9 wins have come against teams in the bottom half of the table.  What could possibly go wrong?

Head to Head

The all-time record between the two clubs spans just 8 games since the first encounter in the 5th round of the 1929 FA Cup competition.  Of these games West Ham have won 5 and lost just 1, last season’s 4-3 home defeat.  Bournemouth will have a permanent place in the West Ham record books as the very first league visitors to the London Stadium (or whatever future incarnation of naming rights that it takes).

Team News

West Ham welcome back a touch of pace today with the return from suspension of Michail Antonio.  The Physio Room shows late fitness tests for Carroll, Fonte and Reid so the manager will be compiling his list of favourite available players before deciding how he will have them line-up.  Apparently we have never scored in the first half of any Premier League game against Bournemouth and so expect more of the same today as the starting arrangement once again fails to impress and tactical adjustments have to be made at half-time.

My guess is that one of Reid or Fonte will not make it with Kouyate conveniently moving to the central defence and allowing Byram to return at right back.  Where to play Antonio will be the dilemma (assuming Carroll is fit); if he plays behind Carroll then Lanzini will be forced to a more ineffective wide role and if he plays out wide then the question is on which side and who of Feghouli, Snodgrass or Ayew takes the other berth?  I experienced a real laugh out loud moment during the week when reading a suggestion that Mark Noble could be the answer to the right back problem; I just hope and pray that Slaven Bilic did’nt read it as well.

They’re a different team with Andy Carroll – he’s got strengths and is a huge part of their game.

– Eddie Howe suggests a one-dimensional West Ham

The leaky Bournemouth defence is further weakened by the suspension of the merciless Mings and if there was ever a perfect opportunity for Carroll to notch his 50th Premier League goal then this should be it.  Bournemouth are also without the suspended Surman and a number of injured players including Callum Wilson and former Hammer, Junior Stanislas.  Despite their struggles this season I still have a lot of respect for Cherries manager Eddie Howe who has done remarkably well with limited resources.  The one question mark against him is the big money signing of Jordan Ibe, a player who has performed so poorly that he must be odds-on to score today.

The Man in the Middle

The man in figurative black today is Robert ‘Rob, Bob, Robbie, Bobby’ Madley from West Yorkshire.  Madley previously had the whistle in the two home victories this season against Sunderland and Burnley.  His all competition record so far this term comprises 25 games with 101 Yellow and 3 Red cards.

 

 

 

 

Bournemouth v West Ham Preview

The chance for West Ham to complete a double over Bournemouth, although we know what often happens when we face a team who haven’t won a game for some time!

Bournemouth West HamWe go into the game on the South Coast this weekend sitting in eleventh place in the Premier League table on 33 points after 27 games. This effectively means that we are at the top of the bottom half of the league. Based on revenue figures we would hope to finish seventh by the end of the season, but this is not going to happen. It is good to see that some of our fans have retained their sense of humour, as I read one tweet today that said unless we pick up three points against Bournemouth then we cannot win the league!

Bournemouth, or to give them their proper name which very few people use, AFC Bournemouth, are in their second consecutive season in the top flight, and currently are three places below us in 14th, and trail us by six points. Their 27 points attained so far is just five points above the drop zone, so they really need to collect some more wins in their remaining games to ensure another season in the Premier League. They have won seven of their 27 league games, four of which have come against teams in the top half of the table, West Brom, Everton, Liverpool, and Stoke. Their biggest win was a 6-1 victory over lowly Hull back in October. Conversely, they have lost home games against both Sunderland and Palace to demonstrate the inconsistency of their performances.

If neutral spectators exist, and enjoy seeing goals, then Bournemouth are one of the teams for them to follow. The 89 goals scored in league games involving the Cherries this season puts them in third place just behind Swansea on 94, and Liverpool on 92.

Their recent record is why they might still end up in the relegation dogfight, as they haven’t won a single league game in 2017. In their eight games, they have drawn three times and lost five, although last week they had a creditable performance drawing 1-1 at Old Trafford. Apart from that draw, their other five drawn games have all come against clubs ‘loosely’ from the London area, Watford (twice), Palace, Arsenal and Tottenham.

We have only ever played them 8 times in history (and two of those were in 1929), and normally we have come out on top. Our only defeat was the 4-3 reverse at Upton Park in our second home game last season. That game was catastrophic from a defensive point of view, but we did get our revenge in the return match when we came from behind to win 3-1 with all of our goals coming from players who are no longer with us, Payet and Valencia (2). Two of the goals, one from the Frenchman, and another from the Ecuadorian currently on loan at Everton, were scored directly from free kicks.

In the very first Premier League game at the London Stadium, Bournemouth were our visitors, and in a tight game we just shaded it at the end with a late (85th minute) headed goal from Michail Antonio. At the time we hoped it would be the start of a good run, but we didn’t win another league game at home for two months, when an even later goal (94th minute) from Winston Reid gave us another 1-0 win, this time over Sunderland. And then we had to wait almost two months again before two more 1-0 home wins in a week against Burnley and Hull. Our win at home against Palace puts us on a par with Bournemouth in that we have both won five of our home games. Our away form has been superior to theirs, and hopefully we can record our fifth away from home victory this weekend.

Antonio should be back in our starting line-up after his unfortunate hand ball cost him a place for the Chelsea game. Perhaps another far post header will be the winner as we fight back after conceding the first goal to win the game 2-1 this time? Bilic gave Noble a vote of confidence this week, so I guess he is not immune to the feelings of a number of fans who would like to see our captain given a rest, and have taken to social media to express their views. Personally I would like us to revert to four at the back with a recognised right back in Byram. I’d like to see Kouyate add more pace in midfield alongside Obiang, who has been the player of the season for me so far. A lot of fans on social media were raving about Ayew’s substitute appearance against Chelsea, and I guess he did provide the assist for our late goal. He hasn’t yet convinced me of his potential worth to the team, but I concede he hasn’t had many chances to prove himself.

We all have opinions about the team that we would like to see selected, but only one man has his job on the line, and he sees the players every day, so he has to go with what he thinks is the team for a particular game, and not bow to external pressure. In many ways, as we are virtually safe, albeit not mathematically yet of course, it would be good to see us giving some of the fringe players the chance to prove themselves, but with an additional £2 million for each additional place higher that you finish in the league, then that is not going to happen.