5 Lessons from the Stalemate @ Stoke

West Ham stagger towards the finishing line one point at a time.

5 Things WHUNot So Super Saturday

The self-styled best league in the world managed to serve up a complete boxed set of drab fixtures for a Saturday afternoon.  Despite Leicester’s unexpected success last season there has been a return to predictability where the sole objective of 70% of clubs is merely to survive to live another year in the money generating environment of the top flight.  Generally, it does not make for great entertainment and I get a sense that the overseas broadcasters are making a gradual move to the Bundesliga for their routine everyday football coverage.  The Premier League is becoming more and more like La Liga where interest beyond a limited number of glamour clubs is minimal, and when games are more about attrition than entertainment then it is not surprising that appeal does not extend to a wider audience.   As our game at Stoke progressed yesterday it was apparent that the priority of both sides was to preserve the point they started the day with rather than striving for more.

Four Unbeaten

I guess that after losing five games on the bounce then a sequence of four without defeat has to be seen as a positive.  The six points earned in those games against Swansea, Sunderland, Everton and Stoke are probably enough to keep West Ham safe.  I have not seen anything in the performances to convince me that  things have been turned around or that the ship has been steadied but it is an improvement of sorts.  Two cleans sheets in a row is not a regular West Ham phenomenon and it may well be that Bilic has accidentally and belatedly stumbled on a way to organise his defensive resources.  Listening to some debate after Sunderland’s demise on the position of David Moyes it was interested to hear a reasonable level of support for the Scot.  The argument being that Sunderland have lived for so long on the brink and focusing on short-term survival that time is required for someone to perform surgical rebuilding.  This is the great danger arising from our own lack of progress this season where there is no clear style of play and stuffing the squad with older or journeyman players.  Only a forward looking plan can elevate us above the relegation haunted pack on an ongoing basis.

Three to Go and Still Not Safe

With three games to play West Ham are yet to be mathematically safe.  The points cushion plus goal difference should be enough but when the number of clubs below you (who are still able to catch up) becomes fewer it is not the time to stop looking very carefully over your shoulder.  Past performance may suggest that both Hull and Swansea are unlikely to embark on sudden winning sprees but, as we are always reminded, past performance is not necessarily a predictor of future results.  Swansea getting something out of their visit to Old Trafford today would certainly bring the cats and pigeons in a proximity that is too close for comfort.  The overall table has a very lopsided shape to it with fourteen points separating 7th from 8th but only six points separating 8th from 16th.  Theoretically a top ten finish is still possible for the Hammers although 16th or 17th seems a more likely outcome.

Team Selection

In the circumstances of who was available, the starting lineup yesterday almost made sense.  It has been reported that Diafra Sakho’s absence was due to (another) back injury (and not a Di Canio style travel sickness) and with Andy Carroll also absent we were lumbered once again with Jonathan Calleri.  What Calleri has to offer remains a mystery to me and why he is preferred over Ashley Fletcher despite contributing little is puzzling.  Some claim that Calleri runs around a lot but that is no more a rational for selection than being born in Canning Town.  At least Calleri’s inappropriate rabona introduced some lighthearted comedy value into the game.  Nordtveit and Kouyate in central midfield did much to protect the defence and the three central defenders were all solid, including a man of the match performance from Winston Reid.  Personally, I thought Fernandes did well enough out of position at right wing-back but I still may have been tempted to have gone with Sam Byram.

Those Wacky Substitutions

Slaven Bilic has built up a reputation for his game changing substitutions.  Unfortunately these have a close correlation with the reputation for losing points from a winning position.  It seems that the Cresswell for Masuaku was due to injury so no real complaints with that one but the later changes were strange to say the least.  Ayew looked to be our greatest goal threat so the decision to replace him, rather than Calleri, was odd enough but bringing on Noble as the replacement only compounded it.  It effectively removed any notion that we would try to win the game and handed the initiative firmly to Stoke.  Ending the game with no strikers at all only added to the negativity even if the game was petering out by then and replacing Calleri with Snodgrass was hardly likely to make matters worse.

Matchday: Hammers to smash Potters?

The battle for mid-table supremacy is at stake in this mouthwatering end of season encounter.

Matchday StokeIf it wasn’t for the remote mathematical possibility that either of these two sides could still be relegated then this match would be about as pointless as they come.  In fact the fixture computer has come up with a set of Saturday matches so uninspiring that an afternoon spent in the shed sorting your tools into alphabetical order sounds a more attractive proposition.  Today’s five Premier League matches feature only two teams from the top half of the table.

It could be pointed out that merit based payments mean an extra £2 million per league placing but I doubt that this is much of a motivating factor for the average minted footballer.  If there is only pride to play for then it could be a very drab ninety minutes, even though Slav insists that we are treating every game like a cup final (if anyone can remember what one of those is like!).

People are talking about who is safe but it is irrelevant. We have four games left, a big game on Saturday and we are looking for points. There is a gap between us and mid-table, it is a small gap but with four games to go we are talking about 12 points and we have to concentrate on our next game.  We are approaching them as four cup finals.

– Slaven Bilic is looking for points

The supercomputer at Euro Club Index has crunched the numbers and by their reckoning we will finish the season in 15th place with 42 points, two points and four places below today’s opponents at the blandly dubbed bet365 stadium.  The computer further concludes a 29% chance of a West Ham victory this afternoon, without which the opportunity to accumulate the predicted end of season total of 42 points appears improbable.

Head to Head

With Stoke situated close to the unhappy hunting grounds of the north-west it is unsurprising that we have a second rate record from our visits over the years, having won just ten times from thirty eight attempts.  The last three away victories, all by the only goal of the game, came in 2005 (Bobby Zamora), 2009 (Diego Tristan) and 2013 (Jack Collison).  Despite West Ham’s striker woes, the Hammers have only failed to score in three away matches this season (Arsenal, Everton and Leicester) so perhaps another solid defensive display will allow us to sneak one more one-nil success.

Team News

Mark Noble and Sam Byram return to the squad after suspension and apparently Robert Snodgrass and Sofiane Feghouli are also available again (if anyone is interested).  On the other hand Cheikhou Kouyate, Winston Reid, Arthur Masuaku and Diafra Sakho are all reported as injury doubts for the Hammers.

If everyone was available my only change would be Sakho for the hapless Jonathan Calleri and, maybe, Byram in for Edmilson Fernandes.  I would stick with Havard Nordtveit and Kouyate in central midfield as the Kouyate/ Noble partnership has proved not to work on countless occasions and Nordtveit/ Noble would be criminally slow.  I fully expect, however, that Noble will be back in the starting eleven.

The mood’s fine. We’re looking forward to the game tomorrow. It’s an important one for us clearly.

– Mark Hughes in inspiring form

Stoke may be missing Jon Walters who has regularly been a thorn in the side of West Ham and for the determinists/ fatalists among us the disturbing fact that Saido Berahino has scored in three of his four previous starts against West Ham but hasn’t scored a Premier League goal since February 27th 2016 will have the alarm bells ringing.

The Man in the Middle

Appropriately for West Ham, it is injury prone Lee Probert from Wiltshire refereeing today’s game.  Probert missed all last season due to injury and takes charge of only his second Premier League game of 2016/17.  His last meeting with the Hammers was in the unforgettable 3-0 victory at White Hart Lane in 2013.  In a grand total of twenty eight games this season he has issued a conservative sixty four yellow and four red cards.

I Wouldn’t Bet On It 40

A change in approach.

Fancy A BetWhat a season to choose to bet on West Ham! The sheer unpredictability of our team, and our ability to throw away more points from a winning position than any other team in the Premier League has been our downfall, and is a lesson in not to bet on them. Our loss last week meant that our running total is now down to minus 99 points for the season. Fortunately I have got some more funds to invest, so this week I am going to try something different. I am going to bet on us to lose the game at Stoke. I really don’t mind losing the bet if it brings about a change of fortune in our results.

Stoke are 11/10 to win the game, and though they have not had the best run of results lately I am going to stake 40 points on them to beat us. They are also 11/4 to win the game to nil, and with our lack of firepower I believe (unfortunately) that this is a good bet too.

40 points at 11/10 on Stoke to beat West Ham (84)
20 points on Stoke to win the game to nil @11/4 (75)

By staking 60 points on the game then this brings our balance down to minus 159 points. I really hope that I lose the bet and we get something out of the game. But if we don’t there is a minor consolation of a winning bet or two. In fact if Stoke do win the game and we fail to score then our return would be 159 points, and would wipe out our deficit entirely.

Not sensible betting I know, but I can’t lose can I? If we lose the game then I win with the bet, and if we get a draw or win, then that will bring us closer to safety.

The potential returns are in brackets. What are the chances?

West Ham visit Stoke

A visit to the Potteries to face a Stoke side aiming for at least a ninth place finish for the fourth season in a row.

west ham stokeI have to own up. In the recent past when Tony Pulis was their manager, one team that I disliked intensely for their style of play was Stoke City. I couldn’t knock their effectiveness, but I just hated to watch games against them, especially in the days of the Delap long throw. Under Mark Hughes they are not favourites of mine either, but their style has improved somewhat, they have some skillful players mixed with their uncompromising ones, and they have become a fixture in finishing in the top half of the Premier League.

For the past three seasons they have finished in a very creditable ninth position, and with just four games to go of this campaign they sit eleventh, just one point away from ninth, which must be the aim of a cluster of clubs, including ourselves, who can all reach this place in the table with a good finishing run.

A bit like ourselves, they began the season disastrously, and at the end of September after six games, they had been beaten four times and drawn two games to leave them in the relegation zone at this early stage. But they did have some difficult fixtures at the beginning, and a kinder group of opponents, including Sunderland, Hull, Swansea and ourselves, enabled them to win three and draw two of their next five games, picking up 11 points in the process and found them climbing the table rapidly by Guy Fawkes night. Two wins in their next three games against Watford and Burnley meant even further progress upwards by the start of December, but then the remaining fixtures of 2016 yielded just two points from five games.

Eight points in the first four games of 2017 meant another upturn in league position, but their defeat on 4 February at home to West Brom, and our win at Southampton that weekend, meant that we sat in 9th place in the table, two points clear of them in 11th. Then they picked up 7 points in their next four games, including a creditable goalless draw at Manchester City (who had put 4 goals past them in their first home game of the season at the Bet 365 stadium). Since then they have had another poor run of results winning just one (at home to Hull), and losing five of their last six games.

So what can we conclude from this brief analysis of our opponents this weekend in trying to predict the outcome of the game? Not a lot really. Generally they have beaten weaker teams, and lost to the top teams, in a roller coaster of a season with inconsistency to match our own. Recent history of fixtures against them does not bode particularly well. This will be our tenth meeting with them since our return to the top flight. In the nine matches played, Stoke have won three, and five have ended as draws; our solitary victory was a 1-0 win on their ground in March 2013 thanks to a Jack Collison goal.

We should have beaten them in the final game of last season when a stirring first half performance should have seen us go in at the interval with more than a one goal advantage given to us by Michail Antonio. But the euphoria of the final game at Upton Park just a few days earlier wore off, and in typical West Ham fashion we allowed them back into the game with an equaliser early in the second half, before Diouf wrapped up the three points with a goal two minutes from the end. It was a game that mirrored the final fixture of the previous season (against Everton) where we took the lead and had control of the game before conceding an equaliser against the run of play, and then lost it in stoppage time.

At least we have halted our run of five consecutive defeats by picking up five points from our unbeaten last three games, edging us towards safety. We are not quite there yet, and could do with another point or three to ensure mathematical safety. Will we get them this weekend? I certainly hope so, but in all honesty I really don’t know.

The Lawro Challenge – Week 35

As the season and our prediction challenge gets close to a climax it is still all to play for.

Lawro Crystal BallIn Week 34, Rich scored 7 points, Geoff 6 points, and Lawro 3 points. This means that Lawro’s lead has been cut to 8 points. With just four weeks remaining and the finishing line coming into view can a jittery Lawro retain his position at the top?  The contest is becoming almost as exciting as the scoring in Eurovision.

It is amusing that some folks take Lawro’s predictions to heart (see this post on the Claret & Hugh web blog).  It is only a bit of fun and about as serious as your daily horoscope.  In an inconsistent season results have been notoriously difficult to predict.

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.

Now is the time to proceed to week 35.





Total after 33 weeks




Score in week 34




Total after 34 weeks








Predictions – Week 35












Southampton v Hull




Stoke v West Ham




Sunderland v Bournemouth




West Brom v Leicester




Palace v Burnley








Man U v Swansea




Everton v Chelsea




Middlesbrough v Man City




Tottenham v Arsenal








Watford v Liverpool




Midweek Miscellany

Criminal transfer dealings take the spotlight away from managerial speculation.

Tax ProbeNo Income Tax, No VAT

The big football story of the week so far are the dawn ‘raids’ on West Ham and Newcastle by the old ‘tax’ bill.  What we really know is limited to a number of short press releases that seem to suggest a joint operation with French authorities (take back control of our tax dodges) and relates to tax irregularities associated with transfer dealings, most probably involving Olympic Marseille with whom both Newcastle and West Ham have had dealings.  Reportedly, a number of people were arrested although the only name that I have seen mentioned is Newcastle managing director Lee Charnley, who was later released without charge.  There has been no indication as to whether the other arrests were in England or France.  It seems Chelsea were also spoken to (but not ‘raided’) which suggests that our cooperation may be more sinister than simply providing evidence.  A figure of £5 million has been mentioned which seems a rather small amount to warrant such a huge operation and raises the prospect that the story still has some way to go.  I know that many of us believe that our transfer dealings have been criminal but not for tax evasion reasons.  Cases like this are normally and historically very complex and will take years to conclude.  Any sanction forthcoming will likely only happen at the very point that we finally claim a Champion’s League spot.

A Week out of the Spotlight

The unexpected point last weekend and then the events of yesterday have momentarily taken the focus away from the future of West Ham manager Slaven Bilic.  It doesn’t take much to swing the pendulum of optimism back into positive territory but judging by the exuberant reaction to our clean sheet I was half expecting an open-top bus parade to celebrate stopping Lukaku from scoring (I wonder what route the bus will take in the future?).  No denying it was a good defensive performance and I guess the manager deserves some credit for finally learning from the mistakes of the previous 30 or so games (even if it was by accident).  All eyes on a repeat at the weekend.

Keepers and Dumpers

Adrian back in goal at the weekend instilled some much needed comfort and confidence but there remains a sense that an upgrade in the custodian department is a necessary priority.  Sorry to say, though, that the thought of a keeper who has been plying his trade in the Turkish league (Onur Kivrak) doesn’t thrill me.  Hopefully, it is not true and that also goes for most of the other players that I have seen linked with us so far; who are either past it or have failed miserably at their current club.  Like others my own persoanl bias tells me which rumours I want to believe and those that I don’t; to date I don’t (want to) believe any of them.

Nominative determinism

One of the names linked in a managerial capacity with the West Ham hot seat, should it become available, is Simone Inzaghi from Lazio.  If he did somehow end up at the London Stadium I would love him to bring Ciro Immobile with him.  An aptonym is when someone’s name fits their job perfectly; like Belgian defender Mark De Man, tennis player Margaret Court or Mr Bun the Baker.  Immobile the West Ham striker would just seem too good an opportunity to miss.

This Week in Hammer’s History

A first relegation, fixture backlog, Euro success and the end of an era feature in the week 24 – 30 April in Hammer’s history.

This Week Hammers HistoryThere was a life lesson to be learned in the week 24 to 30 April in Hammer’s History when in 1978 West Ham experienced what was, for me, a first relegation.  All of my West Ham memories had been as a top flight club and as far as I was concerned that was how it was always going to be.  There had been scares and scrapes in the past but we had always managed to slip clear in good time and this was a team that 2 years earlier had featured in a European final.

Before West Ham’s final game of the season in 1978 they sat 18th out of 22 clubs.  A midweek win at Middlesbrough had briefly seen the Hammers rise to a season high 17th and escape was still possible on the final day even though rival teams still had more games to play.  The opponents at Upton Park were Liverpool and the West Ham desperately needed to take something from the game.  The first half was an evenly contested affair until shortly before the break a misplaced Pop Robson pass heralded an incisive Liverpool move that ended in a Terry McDermott goal.  West Ham responded with spirit in the early stages of the second half but when David Fairclough outpaced Billy Bonds to make it 2-0 it was game over.  A Wolves victory over Manchester United and a point for QPR on the same day effectively sealed the Hammer’s fate.

Relegation back then did not mean a change of manager or a file sale of players and John Lyall was able to rebuild around the talents of Brooking, Devonshire, Bonds, Martin, Lampard and Cross; the core of the team that would go on to win our last major trophy in 1980 and evolve into one that earned our highest ever league finish in 1986.  It seems unthinkable now but during this week in 1986 West Ham played three home games in five days to record victories over Coventry (1-0; Cottee), Manchester City (1-0; Stewart) and Ipswich (2-1; Dickens, Stewart).  By the end of the week West Ham sat in second place, four points behind Liverpool with a game in hand but just two to play.

The same eleven players featured in all three matches: Parkes, Stewart, Parris, Gale, Martin, Devonshire, Ward, McAvennie, Dickens, Cottee, Orr.  Goddard came on as a substitute to replace Orr in the Ipswich game.

Heading back to 1965 and possibly one of West Ham’s finest ever performances away to Real Zaragoza in the semi final second leg of the European Cup Winner’s Cup.  Holding a slender 2-1 lead form the first leg, the Hammers were underdogs against the Spaniards who packed an array of attacking talent and would be fully expected to score.  To make matters worse West Ham had lost playmaker Johnny Byrne to an injury sustained while playing for England three days earlier.  Real Zaragoza dominated the early stages and took the lead after 23 minutes with the Hammers were in real danger of crashing out.  However, a disciplined defensive performance, led by a supreme Bobby Moore, and tactical half-time changes allowed West Ham to claw their way back into the game and after 55 minutes Sissons got on the end of a Dear pass to equalise.  The Hammers held on for a draw and booked their place in the Wembley final against TSV Munich 1860.

Standen, Kirkup, Burkett, Peters, Brown, Moore, Boyce, Sealey, Hurst, Dear, Sissons

One final match to mention is the game played on 30 April 1988 which was notable as the very last of the record breaking 799 appearances for West Ham by William Arthur Bonds.

West Ham 0 v 0 Everton

A collectors item; a rare goalless draw at home to Everton, Lukaku fails to muster an effort on target let alone score, and it continues to be impossible to predict West Ham’s finishing position at the end of the season.

If, like me, you are a West Ham fan, and have been a regular visitor to Upton Park (and now the London Stadium) for years, you will know that when you go along to a game, you never quite know what to expect. But one of the things that you do not expect to see very often, and history bears this out, is a goalless draw. If we look at the Premier League games that we have played in the twenty-first century (season 2000-2001 onwards), then out of 264 home games, just 17 have ended as 0-0 draws which is less than the top flight average. This means that you would expect to see a goalless draw approximately once in every 16 visits to see us at home.

This game was not only our first 0-0 draw at the London Stadium, but also our first scoreless draw (either home or away) all season. After 34 games that is an unusual statistic. Last season both teams failed to score only once at Upton Park (v Stoke), a percentage of 5.3%, as opposed to the Premier League average of 8.4%.

It is perhaps even more surprising that it happened against Everton. For, not only do we normally expect Lukaku to score against us, but we haven’t drawn 0-0 at home to Everton since 1988, almost 30 years ago, although a game at Goodison Park ended goalless in 2003. Going down memory lane, our team for that 1988 encounter was McAllister, Stewart, Strodder, Gale, Dicks, Parris, Robson (Stewart), Dickens, Ward, Rosenior, Cottee (sub. Ince).

A lot of reports post-game this weekend concluded that Everton just didn’t turn up on the day. And despite having the lion’s share of possession, they failed to muster a single shot on target. Certainly not the performance of a team trying to break into the top six, playing against a side still not yet mathematically certain of avoiding the drop. However, I believe that it was a case of us not letting them play, and we were certainly more organised defensively than has been the case for a while. Apart from one scary ball-juggling moment Adrian looked solid enough, and perhaps the defence had more confidence with him between the sticks, although in truth he was not really called upon to display his talents. The return of Reid, playing in the middle of Fonts and Collins certainly improved our cause.

We were the only team that looked like we might break the deadlock, although Everton looked at their strongest in the final few minutes. I do worry about our fitness sometimes, as some of the players began to look a little leg-weary towards the end, which is highlighted by the number of late goals that we have conceded. Nordtveit gave the defence some protection in a manner similar to Obiang, and once again I was impressed by our two wing backs, Fernandes and Masuaku. The latter gets a bad press on some social media outlets which I fail to understand. I’ve only seen him play one bad game when in the team (and everyone is entitled to that), and to me looks more sound defensively, and a better attacking option than Cresswell, who we must remember earned an England cap earlier this season, although since then he has been a shadow of his former self.

As far as Fernandes is concerned, he is only just 21, and I am convinced that he will be an important player for us in the future. He adds pace in the midfield areas, such an important component of the modern game. I’ve written before that I just don’t get Calleri, but he must have something that others can see. I’m afraid I just can’t see it myself.

We really just need to get this season over and have a real sort-out in the summer. But wins for Swansea and Hull, as well as Palace at Liverpool, means that we can’t put our feet up just yet, and nor should we take it easy until the final whistle has blown this season. Seven points clear of Swansea and five ahead of Hull, and a superior goal difference, with just four games of the season to go, should normally be routine enough, but with most of the relegation candidates hitting form, it is not over yet.

We never usually do well at Stoke, Tottenham and Liverpool are tough home games, and I really wouldn’t fancy our last-day trip to Burnley if we still weren’t mathematically safe. I’m pretty sure it won’t come to that, and looking in the other direction we are just two points shy of ninth place. In fact this middle of the table, which has been closely packed all season, continues to be so, with just four points separating ninth and sixteenth. We could end up anywhere between those two positions (hopefully no lower!), although I couldn’t predict with any certainty where we will finish. But that’s the beauty of following this team!

5 Lessons from Resisting Lukaku

A handful of Positives as West Ham play out a goal-less draw against Everton and Lukaku at the London Stadium

5 Things WHUA Little Organisation At Last

Let’s face it this was not the greatest game of football to grace the Premier League this season. However, it was a welcome point, when most (including me) felt that a convincing defeat was on the cards, and it was a much more disciplined and organised performance than most we have witnessed. There is a temptation to put the performance in the context that Everton were very poor on the day but a large part of football is preventing the opposition from playing to their strengths. For once, and possibly the first time this season, West Ham were effective at doing this and by neutralising the threats of Lukaku and Barkley they were able to protect the point quite comfortably.

Defending as a Unit

I am pleased that Slaven took my pre-match advice by playing with a back three, moving Fernandes to wing back and pairing Nordtveit and Kouyate in central midfield. The tendency is to always associate leaking goals with poor defenders, but that is only a part of the problem, and good sides both attack and defend as a team. The defence is not just three or four players but six or seven; plus the goalkeeper. Although all three of the central defenders acquitted themselves very well, the clean sheet also owed much to the efforts of the defensive midfield players. That it has taken so long to realise the importance of this nugget of football wisdom is baffling, but let’s hope that the penny has finally dropped for the games to come. Many observers singled out James Collins for particular praise and, as well as he performed, he was lucky to get away with the shirt pulling late in the game that could so easily have resulted in a penalty.

Wet Flannel Attack

For all the organisational positives, the creative and striking frailties within the team were still apparent. There were some signs of life, mostly in the second half, where delightful approach work was let down by a poor final ball or poor decision making. Lanzini showed some excellent touches but he needs better movement around him to provide more options. The persistence with Calleri is unfathomable. Surely there cannot be any intention of keeping him at the end of the loan so why bother? He has nothing more to offer than Fletcher and it would seem far more sensible to give our own player to show what he has. At least Sakho got half an hour without getting injured and hopefully he will be in the starting eleven next week.

Surprising Performances

I was pleased to see Adrian back between the posts. He is the best keeper we have by some distance even if he will always be prone to the occasional error. He presents a much more commanding figure in the area than Randolph. Apart from the early calamity when receiving the Fernandes throw-in he didn’t really have much work to do but I suspect the defence were more relaxed with Adrian behind them. Fine performances too from Arthur and Nordtveit. Arthur has amazingly quick feet for a defender and the wing back role suits him perfectly. You wonder if he might not be a little too laid back for sterner defensive duties but I do like watching him play. Nordtveit’s performance was a big surprise based on the evidence of previous performances, even if those were mainly out of position. He grew into the game and by the second half appeared to have picked up both speed and strength. Deserves to keep his place.

Sigh of Relief

Something of a reprieve for the manager to get the point with such a depleted squad. With both Hull and Swansea winning the point adds a little more reassurance in the absence of mathematical certainty. We didn’t have to endure Feghouli or Snodgrass at any time either which was a further bonus. I guess that we knew that Holland, Rice and Makasi were only on the bench to make up the numbers but bringing on Cresswell to play right wing back still seemed to be an odd choice. In the end it didn’t matter and we were able to go home and to our beds with calmness if not elation.

Matchday: Hammers to break hard Toffees?

With the West Ham squad resembling Steptoe’s yard how will the ragged, bare bones fare against high flying Everton (featuring Romelu Lukaku).

West Ham EvertonThe general consensus among both fans and pundits alike is that West Ham will survive this Premier League season even though the ‘job is not yet done’.  The four point haul from the last two outings, though hardly impressive, has West Ham within touching distance of salvation.  For the job to be officially completed, however, we may well have to rely on those below us to lose a few more games as it is by no means certain, looking at the remaining games, that we have the ability to add to the current 37 point total.  Survival will be due to the inadequacies of others rather than as a result of our own endeavours.  I do not see the Hammers gathering any points in May which leaves this week’s home encounter with Everton and next week’s visit to Stoke as opportunities to bolster the manager’s failing reputation.

Historically games against Everton invariably end in disappointment, both home and away.  Injuries, suspensions, tantrums and incompetence only exaggerate the challenge facing the Hammers today.  The straw to clutch at is that Everton are not so hot on the road but with a strong finish possibly earning them a top six place (as Arsenal falter and Manchester United possibly put all their eggs into the Europa League basket) they will most definitely fancy their chances today.  After a disappointing 2015/16 season, where they finished 11th with 47 points, Everton have improved significantly under new manager Ronald Koeman and look to have a much sounder view of building for the future than our own club, which continues to blindly stumble from crisis to crisis.  The challenge facing Everton, though, will be holding on to their most important players.

Head to Head

After Arsenal, the two Merseyside clubs have been the most successful visitors to West Ham over the years.  In 60 meetings in London, Everton have won 23 to West Ham’s 22 with 15 drawn games.   This century West Ham have won just two of fourteen home league fixtures against the Toffees.

West Ham and Everton are competitors for the dubious record of the most all-time Premier League defeats.  At present the lead is shared by Aston Villa and Everton at 333 defeats with the Hammers just behind with 331 (despite having played over 100 games less).  There is an excellent chance that we can snatch top spot here by end of the season.

Team News

West Ham are without Ogbonna, Obiang, Antonio, Carroll (all injured), Noble and Byram (both suspended).  Reid and Sakho are rumoured to be available but difficult to know whether they will be risked.  As with most of the season the lack of options at right back and striker continue to haunt us.

If Reid is fit, and assuming that Arbeloa will not be considered and we do not pull a surprise by playing a youngster (I am not sure what the current situation is with Reece Burke who recently played for the stiffs following a long injury layoff), then perhaps we need to go three at the back with Fernandes playing at right wing back.  My own inclination would be to play Nordtveit and Kouyate in central midfield in an attempt to add further protection to the back line.  If we concede too much space in midfield areas Everton will cut through at ease and Lukaku will have an afternoon’s target practice to look forward to.  Slav no doubt will have other ideas.  Our manager says that we have previous with playing either 3 or 4 at the back and he is right, we have demonstrated a lack of competence at both.

Up front the choice is likely between Sakho, with his lack of match fitness, or Calleri, with his lack of ability.  I read that Inter Milan had turned their attention to Calleri in their quest for additional fire power which I found highly amusing.  Even if Sakho is unlikely to last 90 minutes it would be better to deploy him from the start and take it from there.

There are two schools of thought on the goalkeeper situation: Bilic wants to stick with Randolph while everyone else believes that Adrian should be brought back.  Randolph must now be short of both form and confidence.

Everton have injuries to McCarthy and Besic and Enner Valencia is ineligible to play against his parent club.  Unfortunately for West Ham, Lukaku will be playing and aiming to score in his 10th successive game against the Hammers.

I can only see this game ending one way and as I never like to predict a West Ham defeat I will abstain on this occasion.

Man in the Middle

Welcome Roger East from Wiltshire this afternoon.  Rarely sighted in the Premier League, East makes his second visit in five weeks to the London Stadium having previously been in charge of the game against Leicester.  In his 30 whistle blowing appearances this term he has been responsible for 129 Yellow Cards and 5 Red Ones.