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.

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!