West Ham v Everton

This weekend West Ham entertain Everton, who haven’t won a Premier League game away from home in more than three months. We can guess what that might mean!

Lukaku

After Leicester’s extremely unlikely interruption last season to how we expect the Premier League to look each year, then this time around normality has been resumed. The top six clubs in the league are the big 6, the ones way ahead of the others in terms of revenue, turnover, income, or whatever monetary measure you may care to use when assessing size. Our visitors this week, Everton, are doing their best to break into this club, a bit like we tried to last season. To give them their due they are hovering on the brink of sixth place, although they have played more games, and the matches are running out. However, if recent history is anything to go by they will be licking their lips at the prospect of visiting the London Stadium for the first time, to face a depleted, injury-stricken, and lacking confidence West Ham team, who have won just once in the last seven games.

The Toffeemen (how strange that name seems in the modern age) are so far ahead of the eighth-placed team that they are already assured of at least a seventh place finish, and could still finish higher. They hit the ground running at the beginning of the season with a draw and four wins in their first 5 games which put them in second place in the table, before stuttering in their next ten games, winning just once, when we visited them at the end of October. In a fairly scrappy game Lukaku (who else?) opened the scoring, before Barkley wrapped up the points in what turned out to be a relatively comfortable victory for them in the end. The defeat left us perilously close to the relegation zone at the time. Since then of course we have pulled away from it, before almost being dragged back into it in recent times. Everton were seventh on Boxing Day and have retained that position in the league since.

Everton’s home record is superb, having only lost one game, a 0-1 reverse to their Merseyside neighbours in December. Since that game, eight consecutive home matches have produced eight wins with 29 goals scored and just 6 conceded. Fortunately we are not playing them at Goodison Park, and although our home record is nothing to write home about, then much the same can be said about Everton on their travels in recent times. After two away wins in their opening four games (at West Brom and Sunderland) they have only won two further league games away from home, at Leicester in December, and Palace in January. But the fact that they haven’t won an away league game for more than three months is just the type of statistic that West Ham revel in, as we are masters at helping clubs to end poor runs of one sort or another.

This is Everton’s 63rd consecutive season in the top flight of English football, a figure that coincides with my age, so nobody under the age of about 70 will remember them being anywhere other than at the top table. Only Arsenal have had a longer uninterrupted run in the Premier League, and before that Division One. The other teams currently recognised as the top six, namely the two Manchester clubs, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham have all had a spell outside of the top division in that time. So Everton can be applauded for their consistency and longevity to remain at the top.

During that uninterrupted run they have had some success, being league champions on four occasions and FA Cup winners three times. Like ourselves they have also won a European trophy, the Cup Winners Cup, in 1985. But their last major trophy win was the FA Cup in 1995, and their last league title was 30 years ago, demonstrating the difficulty of breaking the stranglehold of the top clubs. But then again, for all their dominance in the 1980’s, their neighbours Liverpool haven’t won the title since 1990 themselves, the top honours since the formation of the Premier League being shared by the two Manchester clubs, Arsenal and Chelsea, with just two interlopers, Leicester last year, and Blackburn in 1994-5 (and where are they now?).

So what can we expect this weekend? Well one thing looks a certainty. Lukaku has scored for Everton in each of his last nine appearances against us, so that is one run we would love to put an end to. We’ve only beaten Everton once in our last 17 Premier League meetings (the 3-2 win at Goodison, coming from two down after Lukaku missed a penalty). We haven’t beaten Everton at home in the Premier League since 2007 when a Bobby Zamora goal was the only goal of the game. Lukaku is the top scorer in the Premier League this season.

Everything points to an Everton victory, and the bookmakers recognise this making them the favourites to win the game despite their poor away form. We are a club in some disarray and need to get through to the end of this season and re-group. There needs to be major changes for us to get back to the type of season we had last year. So what do I expect? This time with no real logic or evidence to suggest it will happen, I fancy the boot to be on the other foot, and hope for a 2-1 win completely against the odds. What are the chances?

The Lawro Challenge – Week 34

All to play for in the Predictor Challenge as everyone sees at least at point for the Hammers this weekend.

Lawro Crystal BallIn Week 33, Rich scored 6 points, Geoff 8 points, and Lawro 7 points. Lawro’s lead has been extended to 12 points. Can he afford to relax? This week we have a reduced league programme but include the two FA Cup semi-finals where we forecast the scores after 90 minutes.

Also, this week I had a look at the league table that was formed by Lawro’s predictions this season. The team at the top of the league were Liverpool. What a surprise! It just goes to show that even when you are being paid to make predictions the bias shows. I am the same, although I am not being paid. I am just an optimist!

The same is true of the pundits on TV. Their lack of neutrality shows through. I even recently heard an ex-Liverpool player when giving his thoughts on a Liverpool game constantly saying “we”. Personally I would prefer to hear the views of neutrals, but I guess I am in the minority as broadcasters always seem to want to involve ex-players of the clubs involved in a particular game. And, anyway, there are probably more ex-Liverpool players doing the pundit job than those from other clubs.

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 34.

 

Rich

Geoff

Lawro

Total after 32 weeks

250

196

261

Score in week 33

6

8

7

Total after 33 weeks

256

204

268

 

 

 

 

Predictions – Week 34

 

 

 

 

Rich

Geoff

Lawro

Saturday

 

 

 

Bournemouth v Middlesbrough

2-1

1-1

2-0

Hull v Watford

2-0

2-0

2-1

Swansea v Stoke

1-0

2-1

1-1

West Ham v Everton

2-1

2-2

1-1

Chelsea v Tottenham S/F 90 minutes

0-1

1-4

1-1

Sunday

 

 

 

Burnley v Manchester United

1-2

0-1

1-1

Liverpool v Palace

3-1

4-2

2-0

Arsenal v Man City S/F 90 minutes

2-2

3-4

0-2

I Wouldn’t Bet On It 39

Here we go again

Fancy A Bet

If bookmakers paid out after 85 minutes of a game of football we would have been well in profit by now. But of course they don’t, and as we all know, betting on West Ham can be a precarious business. Once again we threw away a game from a winning position very close to the end. It wasn’t the first time, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Our balance is now down to 20 points, meaning that we are 80 points down in the season. Unless our fortunes change soon, or at least stop hiding, then we will be out of funds soon.

This weekend it is Everton. The obvious bet is, of course, for Lukaku to score the first goal (7/2), or Lukaku to score anytime (11/10), but I’m not going to do that. But he always does, doesn’t he?

With Carroll apparently out, Antonio definitely out, and Sakho, well I don’t know what to believe any more, then we are a bit thin on the ground when it comes to scoring goals. But there is always Calleri!

It would be so easy to write us off for this game, but I will continue to believe that we may spring a surprise. So adding a touch of caution this week, I will spend 19 of the 20 points we have left as follows:

10 points on West Ham to beat Everton @11/5 (32)
4 points on West Ham to win and both teams to score @9/2 (22)
5 points as a saver on a score draw @16/5 (21)

If we win or the game ends in a score draw then we make a profit on the week. If we lose then this could be the penultimate week of this weekly column as we will be down to a solitary point. That is, of course, unless I can find some more points from somewhere.

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

Midweek Miscellany

A sense of ambition, astute management and wise recruitment are the recipe for success.

Ambition, the Path to Success

For as long as I can remember there has been the charge of lack of ambition levelled at West Ham owners. Ambition, of course, may mean something very different to owners than it does to supporters. In fact, there may even be great diversity in what supporters want to see at the club; for every one who would welcome West Ham emulate Manchester City with foreign investment you may well find one who would see it as yet another nail in the coffin of tradition.

Although many will have reached their own conclusions, it is difficult to know with any certainty what the ambitions of the current owners are or how they would measure success. A run of success would bring them both personal glory and an increase the value of their investment but what (or how much) are they willing to risk in its pursuit? They must surely be aware that bottom half finishes is not going to keep a 60,000 seater stadium full for too many seasons.

Season on season survival, in the style of Stoke or West Bromwich Albion, does not look a viable or sustainable option any longer now that the goalposts have moved and the bar has been raised.  Vapid vision statements and talk of next levels is merely delusion unless the club actively plans for the future and addresses in a serious and timely manner ongoing issues such as player recruitment, youth development and below par training facilities.

Will He Stay or Will He Go?

I saw an online poll in the week which suggested that ‘Bilic In’ held a narrow lead over ‘Bilic Out’.  I have to say it surprises me that the manager continues to have such a high level of support.  Possibly there is an element of ‘the Board might appoint someone worse’ and, of course, that would be a great unknown and past performance is not selling point.

For me, it is not the poor results but the poor performances that are the problem. Focus on the results and there are always excuses to be found – we were never going to repeat the shocks of last year, we have been unlucky with injuries, the referee was against us, the new stadium is no longer intimidating etc. etc. Leaving this aside and looking at performances I see nothing to suggest a work in progress for the future that is just taking time to settle down. Almost everything on the playing side exudes an impression of chaos.

Bilic supporters suggest that the problems can be resolved by spending more to bring in better players. If only it were as simple as spending your way to success then the manager’s job could well be redundant. The measure of a good or great manager is in making the best use of the resources available, and that only usually occurs where there is a set plan with players recruited and coached to execute it. Such a set up is sadly absent at West Ham at the moment.

Situations Vacant: Players Wanted

Another week and several more past their best players have been linked with a summer move to West Ham. The latest over 30 to be added to the list, that includes Defoe, Zabaleta and Kompany, is the lovable John Terry. It may well be pure speculation but this is the type of signing that the press expect us to make.  At the opposite end of the spectrum completely the owners continue to make noises about unrealistic fantasy transfers that may as well include Messi and Ronaldo for all the likelihood there is of them being completed.

A club like ours has to be spot-on with its scouting and recruitment. If a target is likely to attract the attention of a top 6 club then he is not going to sign for us (especially if he asks to take a look at our training facilities first); if we are competing for an established player with the likes of Stoke and Burnley then he is unlikely to be good enough. The challenge is to find those hungry, young players not yet appearing on the radar. Even if we only get a few years out of them before they go on to bigger things (or stay if we are bigger ourselves by then) at least it generates more funds to invest.

Possibly an occasional older player can work out well (is Zlatan interested?) but it is a route we have followed many times in the past and I struggle to remember too many rip-roaring last payday successes – Stuart Pearson maybe!

Sunderland 2 West Ham 2

Same Old Same Old

Sunderland ReportAfter the weekend results I have to conclude that the 37 points that we have on the board will be enough to ensure Premier League football at the London Stadium next season. Looking at the remaining fixtures Sunderland would need to win their six remaining games to reach that figure, and that is an impossibility. Middlesbrough have a tough run-in and would need to win at least four and draw a couple, and that is not on either. The only teams with a chance of overhauling us are Burnley (possible), Bournemouth (yes, possible), Palace (again, possible), Hull would need two wins and two draws from their last five (very unlikely), and Swansea would need three wins and a draw from their last five (almost impossible). All of the teams who might possibly overtake us would have to do so, and that will not happen.

We sit in thirteenth place, nine points clear of a relegation place (ten, if you include the likely goal difference factor), yet it could, and should, have been eleven points, except that we find it amazingly difficult to retain a winning position in a game of football. Twice we led, and twice we were pegged back, including the almost obligatory concession of a goal in the ninetieth minute. OK, I realise that the referee had to add on ten minutes to that time, but surely we must learn to see out a game when we are ahead.

That is now 22 points that we have lost from a winning position in a Premier League game this season. If we had retained the lead in all of those games (yes, I know that would be unlikely, but some teams can do it) then we would now be sitting on 59 points, and in fifth place in the table. Considering how we have failed to perform in so many fixtures, I think we would have settled for fifth, or even a place in top seven or so, as last season. But no, we contrive to throw away lead after lead.

In this game we scored two goals taking our total for the season to date 26 goals away from home. Only Man City with 36, Arsenal with 30, and Liverpool with 28 can better our tally in this respect. Even the top two teams in the table, who are likely to finish the season in those places, cannot better our goals scored away from home. So, although some will believe we don’t have a strategy to break down opposition defences, or the pace to hit them on the counter, as we frequently did last season, nobody can argue with the figures that show our ability to score away goals.

The real problem is with our defence, where the 32 goals conceded is only exceeded by Hull (41), Bournemouth (37), Leicester (35), Swansea (35), and Burnley (33). Defending at home is perhaps, even worse, and 27 goals against is only beaten by Swansea (33) and Sunderland (31). You cannot solely blame a goalkeeper for this, but it is generally recognised that Randolph has had a poor run lately. Both goals were down to him, although the first was arguably a foul against him. However, he allows himself to be dominated by the opposition and does not command his six-yard box like a top goalkeeper in English football needs to. Adrian was left out of the team after a few errors, and perhaps it is time for Randolph to suffer the same fate. Both are not bad goalkeepers, but if the talk is about “moving up to the next level” then I’m not sure that either of one of them is the right custodian to enable us to do this.

We have height and experience in central defence, but lack pace, which is such an important ingredient in the modern game. We have two left backs who are OK, but right back has been a problem area for some time. And we will be without Byram now, after his two yellows led to him being sent off. The partnership of Kouyate and Fernandes gave our defensive midfield pace, but neither has tackling as their forte, and we badly miss Obiang, who is, of course, out for the rest of the season.

We are now three points away from the top half of the table, with an inferior goal difference in comparison to the other teams in contention for a ninth-placed finish, so it will take a good run of results to achieve that (looking increasingly unlikely) position. But three home games against top-six opposition and potentially tricky away fixtures at Stoke and Burnley give the players quite a challenge in the run-in, and many will need to do so to prove their value for a position in the squad next season.

I believe we will need a much better recruitment campaign this close season to enable us to move upwards from our current “fighting for a mid-table place”. But whoever is in the team there are some basics that need to be mastered, especially defending set pieces, and retaining a winning position. Even with our current squad, we would have been in a much healthier position in the league table if we had performed better in these two areas.

This Week in Hammer’s History

End of season highs and lows plus an FA Cup semi final appearance in the week 17 – 23 April in Hammer’s History.

This Week Hammers HistoryAlthough the season can now extend well into the month of May, in days past the league was often all over by the end of April leaving the season finale FA Cup Final scheduled for the first Saturday in May.  And with Easter out of the way by the week of 17 to 23 April in Hammer’s History we are very much into the tail end of the season.

In the Glen Roeder relegation season of 2003, West Ham were famously demoted with a record haul of 42 points, 16 ahead of next bottom West Bromwich Albion and two behind Sam Allardyce’s surviving Bolton Wanderers.  After the dust had settled the one game we could look back on as having sealed our fate was the game against Bolton at the Reebok Stadium on 19 April.  A tense match was won on the verge of half-time when Jay-Jay Okocha was allowed to run 40 yards with the ball before thundering a shot past David James in the Hammer’s goal.  To add insult to injury Ian Pearce received a red card in the final minute.

An relegation escape attempt that had a happier ending took place in 2007 when Alan Curbishley’s side, featuring Carlos Tevez, recovered from successive defeats, against Sheffield United and Chelsea, to bag three points at Upton Park from next weekend’s visitors and perennial party-poopers Everton.  The only goal of the game being a spectacular 20 yard strike from Bobby Zamora.

In the fixture backlog of the 1985/86 season West Ham were playing two games every week and this particular week was no exception.  On Saturday goals from Tony Cottee and Frank McAvennie secured a 2-0 win away to Watford and on the following Monday the Hammer’s entertained Newcastle United.

The Newcastle game is best remembered for an Alvin Martin hat-trick with each goal scored against a different goalkeeper.  It was surprisingly also the only West Ham hat-trick during the entire epic league campaign.  The game ended 8-1 in West Ham’s favour with further scores from Ray Stewart, Neil Orr, Frank McAvennie, Paul Goddard and a Glenn Roeder own goal.  Alvin’s first goal was a close range volley in the 3rd minute past regular keeper Martin Thomas; his second a header past centre half Chris Hedworth who had taken over from the injured Thomas at half-time and; his third a penalty (donated by regular spot-kicker, Ray Stewart) fired past Peter Beardsley who had by then taken over the gloves after Hedworth too was injured.  Watching a replay of the game it always amuses me how at 7-1 down with 3 minutes to play Newcastle protest so vehemently about the penalty award; extinguishing, I guess, any hopes of a comeback.

Parkes, Stewart, Parris, Gale, Martin, Devonshire, Ward, McAvennie, Dickens (Goddard), Cottee, Orr

Finally this week, it is FA Cup semi-final time in 2006 as West Ham take on Middlesbrough at Villa Park.  The game was played during the week following the death of John Lyall which created an additional emotional atmosphere the travelling Hammer’s supporters.  Boro had the best of a goal-less first half but their strike duo of Hasselbaink and Yakubu, often the scourge of West Ham,  were unable to find a way past the well-drilled defence.  The Hammer’s came more into the game during the second period and as time went on increasingly looked the likelier to score, which they ultimately did in a pleasing yet largely direct manner.  Anton Ferdinand played a long ball from inside his own half, the ball was headed on and down by Dean Ashton, to where Marlon Harewood held off defender Gareth Southgate and fired a rocket into the top of the net.  West Ham had sealed a final appearance against Liverpool and at the same time booked a Uefa Cup place for the following season.

Hislop, Ferdinand, Gabbidon, Collins, Konchesky, Benayoun, Mullins, Reo-Coker, Etherington (Newton), Harewood, Ashton (Zamora)

Notable Birthdays

22 April    Alan Sealey             d. 1996
23 April    Eddie Bovington    76

5 Lacklustre Lessons from the Stadium of Blight

More points thrown away as West Ham stumble towards the Premier League finishing like a marathon runner who has hit the wall.

5 Things WHUThe Worst Manager Still in a Job Award

And the nominations are: David Moyes at Sunderland  and Slaven Bilic at West Ham.  Actually, I think Moyes wins this one quite comfortably despite Slaven giving him a decent run for his money.  There are some things about football management that have always puzzled me.  Why are there no English managers?  How can a manager appear astute and organised at one club but completely lost at another?  How can a season of fresh air be followed so swiftly by one that smells so badly?

The football style or philosophy of Slaven Bilic remains a enigmatic mystery and his organisation, selections and tactics have frequently been found wanting.  It is odd that he still has a lot of backing among supporters.  If the attributes for the job are passion, being a nice guy and ‘getting’ us then you could easily pull a few out of the crowd to do the job each week; just as Harry did with a fan  during that pre-season friendly.  It is upsetting how things have worked out but we have been going backwards all season…….and fast.

Going Through a Darren Spell

Just what you have to do to lose your place if you are one of the manager’s mates is bizarre.  It was apparent some weeks ago that Randolph has too many weaknesses to be a Number 1 at Premier League level.  In these days where every match is recorded and analysed it is no surprise that opposition coaches identify these weaknesses and attempt to exploit them.  Perhaps we don’t yet have video technology in our own training HQ cabin.  Randolph has been clearly at fault for a string of goals over the past couple of months (more than any other player according to Opta) and a better keeper would have prevented both yesterday, even though the first might well have been disallowed for a foul.  Only a stupid or stubborn manager would not realise that it was time to make a change between the sticks, unless Adrian has been pencilled in at right back next week.

Perm Any 11 from 24

I am convinced that Slaven picks his preferred eleven players and then decides on the formation he is going to play to accommodate them.  This can be the only reason behind the square peg, round hole strategy.  There is no doubt that injuries have again been a curse but whether it is a case of bad luck or bad judgement is uncertain.  Losing Obiang, Reid and Antonio is most unfortunate but the injury prone nature of our strikers has been obvious for all to see for a long time.  I was pleased to see Fernandes get a start and do believe he can become a good player (with a decent re-sale value).  However, he is not a defensive midfielder and with Kouyate also lacking the discipline we were never going to control the central areas in order to dominate the game even against a team as poor as Sunderland.  Still the manager believes that midfielders are mutually interchangeable which invariable results in them turning out in their least effective positions.

Injuries, Suspensions and Fallings Out

With Sam Byram’s yellow card return averaging at one card every other appearance there was always a good chance that suspension for our only right back was never going to be very far away.  He was arguably unfortunate to pick up the first card yesterday but the second was much more clear cut.  With Byram joining Noble on the suspended list, a host of players in the sick bay,  Sakho apparently back on the naughty step (presumably with Arbeloa) and Tore missing presumed dead, selection for next week’s game against Romelu Lukaku  is going to be a fascinating one.  The squad is full of dead wood now.  In fact, of the team that featured yesterday I would only be disappointed if Lanzini, Fernandes, Kouyate and Masuaku  were not around next season.

Distressed Football Club Seeks Benefactor

The positive from yesterday was that both Hull and Swansea lost (and that Defoe did not score).  There is an extraordinary slim chance that both teams will get enough points to overtake our own tally particularly given the respective goal differences, and even though there is ample opportunity for us to ship a shed load of goals against Everton, Tottenham and Liverpool.  Thanks to there being at least three worse teams we should now be safe.  My expectation now is for a massively under-achieving 16th place finish.  Looking on the bright side it is roughly where Manchester City finished in their first season away from Maine Road.  Any sign of a pot of gold (not David) on the horizon?

I Wouldn't Bet On It 38

A win at last keeps out betting pot alive.

Fancy A Bet

At last we had a win. Just like West Ham who beat Swansea 1-0 to give us a much needed boost. We had one winning bet:

20 points on West Ham to beat Swansea at 21/20 (41)

This brings our balance back up to 46 points.

This week we take on Sunderland who already look like they are down. We’ll keep it simple with two bets:

20 points on West Ham to beat Sunderland @13/10 (46)
6 points on West Ham to win to nil @3/1 (24)

Total stake 26 points bringing our balance down to 20 points.

The potential returns are in brackets. Can we make it two wins and two clean sheets on the bounce?

What are the chances?

What are the chances?

Matchday: Hammers take on the Black Cats

In what has the feel of a contractual obligation encounter can West Ham finally put an end to the Black Cats multiple lives?

Sunderland West HamWe are all familiar with the cartoon character who has  run off the edge of a cliff, legs continuing to race furiously, but who is suspended in midair defying the laws of gravity until finally noticing their own predicament.   That is how I see Sunderland’s plight right now.  We all know what is going to happen but they have just not quite accepted the reality.  Very soon they will be hurtling at spend towards the Championship and, no doubt, once at the bottom a huge anvil will land on David Moyes head creating an enormous bump to appear on the top.  They have, of course, teetered on the brink for many seasons but this time there can be no cartoon braces snagged on a tree trunk to catapult them  back to safety as they did under the guidance of old friends Di Canio and Allardyce previously.

Sunderland have now lost six and drawn one in a goal-less run of seven league matches.  In fact, they have scored just once in the eleven games since their 4-0 win at Crystal Palace in early February.   If only there was a fixture coming up against a perennially obliging visiting team, with an even worse defensive record than the bottom placed hosts, who were also missing their three best players through injury and their captain through suspension!

It’s a big game for us, Sunderland are desperate for a win and we are looking to win to secure or get closer to securing safety.  Every win gives you a boost, especially after five defeats in a row. The confidence is back but the belief was permanent and we never lost it.

– Slaven Bilic

Having put an end to their own losing run last week, West Ham still need a few extra points to extinguish any lingering concerns about joining Sunderland in the abyss.  As I don’t believe we will win any points in May this should be one of the games where we can add to our meagre points total.  Only once in 38 match Premier League history has a team with 36 points or more at this stage of the season been relegated (Birmingham in 2010/11) but nevertheless it is better to err on the side of caution here.  Expect a somewhat sterile game today, low on creativity that is won by whoever delivers the better set pieces.

Head to Head

For somewhere so far north our record at Sunderland is far from our worst.  We have won eleven, drawn nine and lost twenty of 40 encounters meetings in the far north-east.  The last away win was in March 2014 when goals from Andy Carroll and Mo Diame steered the Hammers to a 2-1 victory.  The most recent double over the Black Cats was in 2008/09 when Gainfranco Zola’s West Ham won at the Stadium of Light courtesy of a Valon Behrami strike.  The Hammers will be looking for their third league double of the season.

Team News

Michail Antonio joins Pedro Obiang and Angelo Ogbonna on the beach as he too is ruled out for the remainder of the season.  Winston Reid is still unavailable through injury and Mark Noble begins his suspension.  Sam Byram and Aaron Cresswell are reported to have recovered from knocks and should be available for selection.

As ever, the mystifying selections of Slaven Bilic are difficult to predict.  Does he bring in Havard Nordtveit as Noble’s replacement and play two defensively minded central midfielders to protect the leaky defence?  Does he bend to popular demand and bring in birthday boy Edmilson Fernandes (21 today) but play him in an unfamiliar defensive role?  Will he consider bringing back Cresswell but playing Arthur further forward as a proper left sided midfield player?  What role will potential match-winning benchwarmers Carroll and Diafra Sakho play?  Does Jonathan Calleri deserve another chance after apparently running around a lot last weekend (are we seriously considering giving this guy a contract)?

I’m definitely hurting and I’m certainly not enjoying the feeling of being down here. But part of football management is that you don’t always get it good. I’ve had some really good times and at the moment, it’s sore. I don’t enjoy losing every Saturday and going home to the family.

– David Moyes

No doubt there will also be more game time for the under-performing and uninspiring likes of Andre Ayew,  Sofiane Feghouli and Robert Snodgrass in there as well.   You really want to get excited about the build up to a game but sometimes it is very difficult.

Sunderland are missing Bryan Oviedo through injury and Sebastian Larsson through suspension but most Hammer eyes will be on pantomime villain Jermaine Defoe.   Defoe has scored six goals in fifteen Premier League games against West Ham but none of these have been in three attempts for Sunderland.  The footballing gods can be very devious individuals and who would bet against Defoe ending both his teams and his own personal drought today.

The Man in the Middle

For the fifth time this season we encounter Andre Marriner from the West Midlands.  Marriner was in charge of defeats away to Manchester City and Chelsea, an away win at Swansea and a drawn home game with Stoke.  In a grand total of 32 games this season he has presented 128 yellow cards and six red ones (although only one in the Premier League).

West Ham visit Sunderland

A visit to the bottom team in the Premier League. Sunderland are without a win in seven matches now, and haven’t even scored a goal in that time!

Winston Reid ScoresBarring a miraculous turnaround in form, and a comeback of Lazarus proportions, Sunderland’s ten consecutive seasons in the Premier League, including some narrow escapes in recent years, is about to come to an end. After 31 games, and with just seven to go, they have only won five games, drawn five, and lost on 21 occasions. They are currently ten points adrift of safety, with problems at both ends of the pitch. They have conceded 56 goals, which is one fewer than ourselves, and we have had considerable problems in this respect, too.

But they have only scored 24 times, which is two more than Middlesbrough, and certainly not enough to win many games. Our old friend Jermaine Defoe has scored 14 of them, van Aanholt who is now a Palace player managed three from left back, and only Anichebe with 3 has scored more than a solitary goal, which has been achieved by just three other players. Where would they be without Defoe’s contribution?

Incredibly, they scored four goals in one match away from home at Palace at the beginning of February, but that was their last win, with the previous four victories against Bournemouth, Hull, Leicester and Watford all coming within the space of about six weeks in November and December. Added to the controversy of Moyes’ post-match interview with a female journalist, they are in club in deep trouble for which there seems no way out.

But, as we all know, we are famous for ending a long losing streak of a team we are about to play! They haven’t even scored a single Premier League goal in the seven games (four of them at home) played since the win over Palace, conceding 14 in that time, and picking up just a single point in a goalless draw at home to Burnley. Surely, everything points to a West Ham victory and clean sheet for the second game running, doesn’t it?

Michail Antonio is now out for the season, but we would hope that the return of Carroll and Sakho, both on the bench for the win over Swansea last week, and incredibly it seems, not fit enough to play any part in that game, will improve our fire power, although I wouldn’t bet against Calleri retaining his place in the starting line-up, although he has done nothing yet to convince me of his ability to score goals. The manager seems to like him though. Our £20 million pound striker Ayew hasn’t yet looked much more convincing either, and neither Snodgrass, who hasn’t shown his ability to score like he managed at Hull, or Feghouli, look capable of goals either.

Our team lacks pace all round, and despite the vocal support for our manager shown at the London Stadium last week, I haven’t yet worked out our strategy in breaking down opposition defences. Do we have one? My only real concern about playing Sunderland is the speed and awareness in front of goal of Defoe against our less than quick central defenders.

Only Kouyate with his special goal at the end of an excellent move last week, and Lanzini, who is showing good form at the moment, look capable of providing the spark to create chances. Surely a victory is assured; one that would take us up to 39 points and almost certain safety (although not yet mathematical). Mark Noble has been quoted as saying that 39 should be enough. I hope that they don’t think that it is job done when (if) we reach that figure. But, you never know, we could even find ourselves in the top half of the table by Saturday evening.

I reckon that, despite being less than convincing in front of goal, we will win comfortably, and I forecast a 2-0 win. If ever there was a game that we should win away from home, then this surely is it?