In a weekend where the neutral will need to wait until Sunday to find what looks, on paper, to be an attractive Premier League fixture we can look forward to an enticing encounter by two of the more direct sides in the ‘West’ derby at The Hawthorns. Even the most ravenous supporter or TV commentary hype-ster would struggle to generate any level of mouthwatering anticipation for today’s unimaginative offering.
It was almost a year ago to the day that the equivalent fifth match of the season fixture, a 4-2 defeat, sounded the early alarm bells that the wheels might not be fixed as securely as first thoughton the Bilic bandwagon; that the stuttering start to his second season in charge was not solely down to the challenges of settling into a new home. The game, best remembered for Arthur Masuaku’s handball in the area, featured a catalogue of collective and repeated defensive inadequacies that have been passed off as unexplained individual errors ever since.
“Of course, it’s early days but teams like West Brom – Stoke, Watford, Huddersfield as well – they have done what we wanted to do. But with a good run of results you can catch them up quite easily.”
– Slaven Bilic aiming high
Despite a welcome three points on Monday night the manager’s job remains under the spotlight. The whole season may well unfold as a long running reality TV show where the suspense is whether it is this week where the manager will be finally voted off or whether he will make it through to the grand finale in May. Any scenario that has Slaven Bilic as the manager of West Ham for the start of the 2018/19 season should probably be tested for substance abuse.
Head to Head
This is a fixture that has ‘even-steven’ written all over it. In 105 previous meeting each team has won forty times while each has also won three of the last twelve encounters.
It is a slightly different situation for games at The Hawthorns with the Hammers having lost over half of all contests. Surprisingly, however, the more recent record is relatively buoyant with West Ham having won five (and lost four) of the last twelve away games. History suggests at least three goals in any game.
As a rule of thumb Slaven Bilic does not change a winning side unless it is to accommodate a return for one of his inner circle of favourites. With Manuel Lanzini and Mark Noble both unavailable through injury, any changes from the side that started on Monday seem unlikely. Marko Arnautovic has completed his three match suspension and is in contention for a recall but bringing him in for Little Pea, which has been speculated in some quarters, would be a brave (where brave is a euphemism for foolish) decision. The presence of Andy Carroll was enough to terrier-ise Huddersfield but the Baggies uncompromising approach to defending is unlikely to be as easily rattled.
West Brom are without Chadli (who has been as irritating as an inebriated autumn wasp in games against West Ham since his move from north London) but will, as usual, field a team of no-nonsense, take no prisoner giants. Their lineup is likely to include Grzegorz Krychowiak who, may or may not have been, available to West Ham during the closing hours of the transfer window; sufficient justification in normal circumstances for him to play a blinder this afternoon.
“West Ham have got a lot of match winners in their squad. They might be where they are but I don’t expect them to stay there.”
– Oily Punts not making much sense
A potentially decisive factor in the game could be the form of Joe Hart in the West Ham goal. If ever a match needed a keeper prepared to dominate his area then this is it. On the evidence to date, Adrian in goal would fill me with marginally greater confidence.
The Man in the Middle
Premier League refereeing makeweight Paul Tierney from Lancashire is today’s man in the middle. A member of the Select Group of Referees, Tierney is only occasionally called into Premier League action and never for a high profile game. This is his first EPL gig of the season. His one and only encounter with West Ham was in the home draw with Everton in 2015/16 where he was very generous in his interpretation of McCarty’s scissor tackle on Dimitri Payet.
The BBC’s Lawro is seeing a 1-1 draw while Sky’s Paull Merson is going for a 1-0 home win. It is always fascinating, although not necessarily in a good way, when two sides with equally direct ‘styles’ come up against each other. Like one of those old school dinosaur fights in movies such as One Million Year’s BC; but with less finesse. A passing hot air balloonist might see as much of the ball as someone in the ground.
Past performance indicates a draw and although neither side are particular threatening in attack I am plumping for a scattering of goals in a 2-2 stalemate.