The team that has gone six games at home without a goal plays the team that, on last week’s evidence, look like they wouldn’t be able to score in a month of Sundays. So a goal-fest at the St Mary’s Stadium would be improbable were it not for the Hammer’s obliging nature in ending the dismal sequences of the other clubs.
Most West Ham supporters would consider the Hammers a bigger club than the Saints although this has not been in evidence over recent years. Southampton pipped West Ham for automatic promotion in the 2011/12 Championship campaign and have finished higher in the Premier League in each of the last four seasons. Despite finishing in a creditable eighth spot last season, the south coast club elected to change managers and now have a new boss in Argentine Mauricio Pellegrino, who has been described as a ‘breath of fresh air’ by his playing staff.
“They know they are not only following West Ham but ‘living’ West Ham. Those fans, they know how well the chairmen are doing for the club – how much they have invested – and they have taken it a long way up already.”
– Slaven Bilic on the Owners
Southampton also have new Chinese owners and they have inherited a well run club that appears to have a long term plan, a philosophy of how the game should be played ( regardless of manager) and a belief in giving a chance to their young players. It is in stark contrast to the erratic, unfocused and unplanned direction witnessed at West Ham just now. One report suggested kindly, after last week’s debacle, that the Hammers were a team in transition but sadly this level of uncertainty has become business as usual in the east-end.
Head to Head
West Ham can still boast supremacy in the all-time record with Southampton having won forty and lost thirty of the 105 senior meetings. Honours are even at four apiece in the last twelve encounters, home and away, while in away games only West Ham have won two and lost six of the last twelve. In the eight meetings since Southampton moved to St Mary’s the Hammers have lost three times and won just the once, with a draw being the favoured outcome. The sole victory was, of course, last season’s ultimately comfortable 3-1 victory earned with goals from Andy Carroll, Pedro Obiang and Mark Noble despite a typically shaky start.
West Ham welcome back Michail Antonio from a reducing injury list that now only includes three players; Manuel Lanzini, Cheikhou Kouyate and Carroll. Without Lanzini the side continues to lack creativity but Antonio’s energy and power will be welcome, assuming that he is yet working at full throttle.
From the fall-out of last Sunday I would expect to see Aaron Cresswell re-installed at left back but whether that will be as part of a back four or in a slightly more advanced wing back role is anyone’s guess. One of Antonio or Andre ‘What Does He Actually Do’ Ayew will likely be given attacking central midfield duties to give the impression of support to Javier Hernandez. Obiang and Noble are probable starters with Declan Rice being introduced later on.
“We have to use our experience from Swansea and use everything we did in this game to keep learning and to use this experience for the next few games.”
– Mauricio Pellegrino
Southampton have no injury problems and can choose from a fully fit squad. In recognition of the new Chinese influence on the south coast my takeaway is that we need to look out for Number 10, Number 16 and Number 22.
The Man in the Middle
Today’s referee is Lee Mason from Lancashire. Mason’s only appointment last season with West Ham was in the 1-0 home win over Hull where he awarded a controversial penalty for a foul on Antonio, converted by Noble for the only goal of the game.
The BBC’s Lawro and Sky Sport’s Paul Merson are going for 2-1 and 1-0 respectively.
I worked in Southampton at one time in my life and was a relatively frequent visitor to Saints games, although mainly in The Dell days. Their fans have an innocent excitability about them, like schoolgirls at an international hockey game, and I predict that they will be very excited once more this afternoon with a 3-1 victory that will leave the Hammer’s firmly rooted in bottom spot.