West Ham entertain Tottenham

A rare Friday night visit from our North London neighbours


I’ll begin my preview of the Tottenham game with a quiz question. I’ll give the answer towards the end. What do the following footballers have in common: Jermaine Defoe, Mido, Bobby Zamora, Teddy Sheringham, Les Ferdinand, Paul Allen, Clive Allen, Martin Peters, Jimmy Greaves, Frank Lampard (senior), and John Lyall?

Whatever you think of our North London neighbours, and most West Ham supporters dislike them, (or an even stronger verb than that), they have been a formidable side for the past two seasons, and have come close to winning the title both times. It looks like ultimately they will fall just short again, and we can assist in that happening tonight.

If they beat us they will cut the deficit at the top to just one point, but when you consider Chelsea’s run-in, an away game at West Brom, and three home games against Middlesbrough, Watford and Sunderland, then Tottenham are unlikely to get the opportunity to take over at the top. After their game tonight, Tottenham have a home game against Manchester United, and finish with two away games at Leicester and Hull. In theory they could still be called upon to do us a favour on the last day of the season, but it is unlikely that it will come to that. At least I hope not!

Considering the season we’ve had, then logically there is no way we can compete with them tonight. They have only lost three times in the league all season, in away trips to Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool, and face us having won their last nine games in a row, scoring 25 goals in the process and conceding just 4. At least we are unbeaten in our last four games, but a record of one win in the last eleven games does not look so good. One thing that we are extremely good at is ending other teams’ bad runs; perhaps we can do the opposite for a change and end a good run?

Spurs away form is not as strong as their home form, and trips to West Brom, Bournemouth, and even Sunderland only yielded one point in each game. And last November, when we visited their ground, we led 2-1 with just a couple of minutes to go, only to do what we have done consistently all season, and throw away points from a winning position. All straws to clutch at when looking for any chance of a good result tonight.

Will Carroll be back from Holby City? Will Masuaku be fit? Will Noble return to the starting line-up? Will Calleri be selected again up front (I hope not)? Before Slav’s press conference on Thursday I wondered whether Sakho would be fit? We now know he won’t play again this season, and I wonder if we will ever see him in a claret and blue shirt again? Will we play three (five?) at the back? Will we try to win the game or play for a point? Can we repeat our best performance of the season (Chelsea in the EFL Cup)? A lot of these questions will be answered on the night.

Tottenham have kept a fairly settled side for most of the season, and with their system it seems that any injuries that they do have can be easily covered by players of a similar quality who know exactly the jobs that they have to do. On the other hand, we have had a catalogue of injuries once again this season, and I hope that the board and management are looking into the reasons for this. Are we just unlucky, or is there (as I suspect) more to it than that?

The answer to the quiz question: All eleven have scored goals for Tottenham against West Ham. The first nine on the list have all played for both teams, but the final two have not; but both Lyall and Lampard have scored own goals in a West Ham v Tottenham game.

And finally, a quote from the legendary Brazilian footballer, Pele. “The more difficult the victory, the greater the happiness in winning.” At the current time, this will be a very difficult game for us to win. If we can manage it, then we will all be extremely happy to say the least. What words or phrases can you think of?

Ecstatic, euphoric, thrilled, over the moon, elated, delighted, on cloud nine, walking on air, in seventh heaven jubilant, rapturous, as pleased as Punch, cock-a-hoop, as happy as a sandboy, as happy as Larry (who was Larry?), like a child with a new toy.

Yes, all of those. And by the way, for those lovers of statistics, we have now managed to reach 998 points in Premier League football from 803 games, in this our 21st season. This puts us at tenth place in the all-time list. The nine teams above us include the top seven teams in the Premier League at the moment (but not in the same order), plus Aston Villa and Newcastle. Wouldn’t it be good to reach 1000 in the game against Tottenham? We’ll be overjoyed if we can.

Midweek Miscellany

Not so much miscellany more a rant about the absence of a coherent management structure at West Ham.

Now I know that we are supposed to hate everything and anything about Tottenham Hotspur but one thing that I can’t shake out of my head is that they probably have the best manager currently working in the Premier League. The sooner that he gets poached by a team more deserving of his talents the better as far as I am concerned.

The wild delusions of Spurs fans were always easy to ridicule in the past as a succession of managers came along, spent loads of cash on disappointing players, flattered to deceive only to be summarily dismissed by James Bond villain lookalike Daniel Levy. Then it all went wrong with the appointment of Mauricio Pochettino. Suddenly they had a man with a plan who was prepared to stick with it and expected his players to fit in or ship out. To make matters worse they also play a style of football that is entertaining to watch.

A year or two ago we might have believed that we were not far behind these junior north London neighbours and that with a new stadium and a step up investment we could be hot on their heels. After all, they are the team in the money league immediately above us and if there is to be a next level then that is where it needs to start. Sadly, as things stand, we are barely in the same league.

If you have watched Pochettino’s side play it is evident that they are extremely well drilled, exceptionally fit, full of pace and play a consistent style that allows players to come in and out without disruption. Within this they have flexibility to switch formations effectively; full backs that become wing backs without changing stride; and central midfield players that appear to drop effortlessly into central defence. Defensive duties is a collective effort by a unit of six players. So fit are their players that the attacking/ creative four players are not required to ‘track back’ as a matter of course although all will defend from the front.

Contrast all this with our own sorry performances this season and consider these questions. Do we have a consistent style of play to adhere to that all the players understand? Do you see any evidence that we are building something for the future? Why have we recruited so many players without pace? Why do our players appear to be so unfit and injury prone? Why have we failed to blood any young players and in certain cases preferred to rely on pointless loanees?

It is always going to take a team that has been relegated some years to become re-established in the top flight. Before this season I believed that we had made reasonable strides in the right direction even if the football, at times, lacked excitement. Most of the Championship level dead wood had been shipped out and we seemed to be heading in the right direction. Now it feels very much like back to square one with a group of players that need to be seriously upgraded if we are to avoid more seasons of struggle.

If there really is any ambition then a far more enlightened and visionary approach to managing the club is required; one that naturally recognises the need to survive but also has an eye on a future that doesn’t get reset with every change of manager. As things stand I don’t see any structure in place that oversees the clubs on-field development nor a manager that is able to build or energise a team. With a 60,000 seater stadium it is no longer feasible just to tread water year after year or we will end up just like Sunderland.

This Week in Hammer’s History

A trophy at last, the final straight in 86 and dodgy lasagna feature in the week 1 – 7 May in Hammer’s History.

This Week Hammers HistoryThe first week of May in Hammer’s History includes the first two of West Ham’s FA Cup successes.  Having waited almost 70 years for any sign of a major trophy, the duck was broken on 2 May 1964 when first division Hammers overcame the stubborn resistance of second division Preston North End to lift the famous trophy for the first time.  West Ham were strong favourites going into the game but twice found themselves trailing to their lower league opposition.  With the game looking destined for extra time Ronnie Boyce popped up to nod in the winner.  A more comprehensive account of this memorable day has previously been featured in our Favourite Games series.

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

While in 1964 I had to make do with watching the game on a small black and white TV set, followed by attending the open-top bus parade the following morning, in 1975 I was thrilled to attend a first ever FA Cup Final in person.  Once again it was first versus second division as West Ham took on Fulham in an all-London affair.  There was an added fascination to the match in that all-time claret and blue hero, Bobby Moore, was now appearing in the white of Fulham.    The final was not the greatest of spectacles and, personally, I have stronger memories of the sixth round win at Arsenal and the semi-final replay against Ipswich than I do of the final itself.  Maybe the occasion got to me!  Nevertheless, Alan Taylor put the seal on his fairy-tale season by scoring the two goals that once again saw the West Ham ribbons tied to the trophy.

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

A year later and West Ham had unexpectedly made it to the final of the European Cup Winner’s Cup; a game against Anderlecht played at the notorious Heysel Stadium.  Pat Holland put West Ham a goal up just before the half hour when he got on the end of a Billy Bonds knock down from a Graham Paddon cross.  It looked like the Hammers would go into the break with the advantage until a misjudged backpass by Frank Lampard found its way to Rensenbrink to equalise.  In the second period, the wonderful Frankie Van Der Elst (later to be a Hammer) gave Anderlecht the lead but a Keith Robson header, from a Trevor Brooking cross, restored parity.  The game then turned on a very harsh penalty awarded for a foul by Holland.  Rensenbrink converted from the spot and with West Ham committed forward Van Der Elst scored again to end the game at 4-2 in the Belgian side’s favour.

Day, Coleman, Lampard (Taylor), Bonds, Taylor, McDowell, Holland, Paddon, Jennings, Brooking, Robson

It was also the final weekend of the season in 1986 and probably the only time that West Ham have gone into it with a chance of winning the title.  The Hammer’s did what they had to in a 3-2 win at The Hawthorns (against relegated West Bromwich Albion) but were let down by a Chelsea home defeat against ultimate Champion’s Liverpool.

The end of the 2011/12 season required third placed West Ham to participate in two Championship Play Off semi-final matches against Cardiff.  West Ham came away as comfortable victors winning 2-0 away (Collison 2) and 3-0 at Upton Park (Nolan, Vaz Te, Maynard) to set up a final encounter with Blackpool.

Finally, and appropriately given Friday’s opponents, this week in 2006 was the setting for the famous Lasagna-gate game.  Martin Jol’s Tottenham side visited Upton Park needing to match Arsenal’s result on the final Sunday afternoon of the season to claim their inaugural Champion’s League place.  Following a Saturday night buffet of dodgy lasagna the Spurs players started going down quicker than Dele Alli in the penalty area.  Despite desperate efforts to delay the game by several hours it was decided it had to go ahead as scheduled rather than asking supporters to spend several more hours in the pub.  Carl Fletcher gave West Ham the lead only for Defoe to equalise but with the poorly Spurs players flagging, Yossi Benayoun struck with 10 minutes remaining to win the game for West Ham.  Arsenal had won 4-2 against Wigan and so the Spurs dream lay in pieces at the bottom of the toilet bowl.

Notable Birthdays

1 May         Marc Vivien Foe           d. 2003
5 May         Yossi Benayoun            37
7 May         Ian Perace                     43
7 May         Steve Potts                    50

Stoke 0 West Ham 0

Groundhog Day

We met Stoke at Upton Park in 2015. I looked back on my report of the game at that time. Some of the things I wrote included, “in goal, Jack Butland (at 22) already looks the complete goalkeeping package, and I reckon he is the best England keeper at the moment.” I also added, “despite their attacking prowess it is not difficult to see why they are the lowest scoring team in the Premier League at the moment.” And “their finishing was poor, and when they were on target Adrian was able to keep them out. Our defence held up well, and Adrian was determined not to be beaten”.

Although Butland has been injured for over thirteen months, and this was only his second game back, then on the evidence of this game, my judgement on his goalkeeping prowess remains sound. And, although they are not the lowest scoring team in the Premier League this season, they are one of the lowest, and their “goals for” column does not match their league position. And again, our defence held up well, and Adrian was similarly determined not to be beaten, including some fine saves. It was Groundhog Day in many respects.

It certainly wasn’t the worst 0-0 draw you could see (just like our home game against them last season), but it was a game that both sides could have won. In the end, both were probably happy with the point. Once again, the manager’s decisions baffled me a little. The continuing selection of Calleri is one that I just cannot fathom, and despite the fact that he “moves well”, he is in the team to score goals. It would be useful, and he would stand more chance of doing so, if he could hit the target! And the rabona was quite ridiculous I thought. Save that for Rush Green. The fact that we took off Ayew, who looked the most likely to score, and brought on Noble, handed the late initiative to Stoke. Strange managerial decisions that, to me, were difficult to comprehend.

For the past three seasons Stoke have finished in a very creditable ninth position, and if you read some of the comments on social media criticising our team for not beating a “poor Stoke side” then I think they are misleading. Stoke, like ourselves, are just members of the mid-table cluster of clubs that are nowhere near good enough to be challenging the top six in the table, but at the same time are just a little too good to go down. This group stretches from Southampton in ninth place on 41 points, down to Palace in sixteenth on 38. Of course some of these sides are not yet mathematically safe from the drop, but it would be a surprise if any of them didn’t already have enough points.

The Swansea draw at Manchester United takes them up to 32 points with three games left, and if they win all three then they could reach 41. As top flight games go, all are winnable (home v Everton, away v Sunderland, and home v West Brom), but with their goal difference as it is then all would need to be won to overtake us. Hull are two points better off on 34, so they could conceivably get to 43, and their three remaining fixtures are at home to Sunderland, away to Palace (this could be a really significant game, especially if Swansea are still in touch), and finally at home to Tottenham. Palace have 38, and apart from the Hull game, they have two potentially very difficult games in Manchester, although they have a healthy goal difference compared to others in the bottom half.

Taking all of this into account then 39 points is likely to be enough, but it is still disappointing to be facing three potentially difficult games to finish our season, and still have an outside chance of relegation. It was therefore important for us to pick up six points from our last four unbeaten games, and the draw at Stoke could turn out to be the one that took us to safety. It is amusing to look at the contrasting ways our recent form has been described. Unbeaten in four games sounds quite good, but one win in the last eleven games does not.

I thought that Swansea were very unlucky to only get a draw at Old Trafford, where yet another dubious penalty decision (I say dubious, but I really think diabolical) was awarded to the home side. The referee took his time before giving the decision and then got it wrong. They really shouldn’t guess in these circumstances, and if they are not sure then they shouldn’t give it. Sigurdsson’s free kick to equalise was sublime. Now that is one player I’d like to see in our team next season, as opposed to so many that we are allegedly linked with, but I guess he will have a number of suitors if Swansea go down, and I’m not sure that we are an attractive enough proposition for such a talented player.

So we move on to face an in-form Tottenham side on Friday night. Whoever decided that this was a suitable game to be moved to a Friday night for television purposes just doesn’t have any real idea about the animosity of the fans towards each other. I’m amazed that the police were in agreement to the switch, and I anticipate a large contingent there to try to ensure it goes off without any real issues. However, I am looking forward to my penultimate visit to the London Stadium this season as I had another engagement on Saturday afternoon; so for purely personal reasons I am pleased with the change of day. This is our twenty-first season in the Premier League, and after the point we picked up at Stoke we have now collected 998 points in the 803 games we have played to date. It would be nice to reach 1000 in the game against our North London neighbours. What are the chances?