Five Takeaways: West Ham’s Lack of Intent and Professionalism at Crystal Palace

No turn-around as West Ham deliver another dreadful display in letting slip a two goal half time advantage

Where Was The Big Performance?

In the build up to the game our manager was promising a big performance.  What we go was a big disappointment.  When the manager said he wanted the midweek heroics at Wembley to be the benchmark for the rest of the season on-one believed that it was throwing away a two goal lead that he was talking about.  The sad truth, however, is that, although losing two points with the last kick of the match to the team bottom of the table, was disappointing it does not really come as a surprise to many West Ham supporters.  Conceding at least two goals has become the norm in our Premier League games and all too frequently these happen as the result of naivety, stupidity or a lack of concentration.  The performance, in fact, had far more in common with the defeat against Brighton than it did with the unexpected Wembley win.

Turning Things Around – Nothing Has Changed

Whether the ‘two games to save his job’ was truly an ultimatum from the owners or a mere media invention we will never know.  West Ham avoided defeat in those two games but where does it now leave us?  In the quarter final of a competition which we are most unlikely to win given the nature of the subsequent cup draw and on the brink of a relegation dogfight; having in the last two games lost at home to a hot relegation favourite and scraped a lucky point against the bottom placed side – and with a tough run of games now to face through to Christmas.  Nothing has changed and there is no sign of any turnaround.  The underlying issues with lack of fitness, movement, organisation, tactics, structure, understanding, intelligence and leadership remain, with no evidence to suggest that the manager and coaching staff have any clue as to how to improve matters. On the current trajectory relegation is a distinct possibility.

A Tale of Two Goals – And Little Else

There were few moments of West Ham quality and, once again, few players came out of the game with any real credit.  Joe Hart possibly had his best game in a West Ham shirt and without his intervention it could easily have been a comfortable Palace victory – although could he have done better for the equaliser? Standing out in an otherwise dreadful performance were the two West Ham goals whose execution were totally out of character from the rest of the afternoon.  The first, the result of a delightful quick passing move involving Lanzini, Ayew and Cresswell and finished with predatory panache by Hernandez.  The second, a splendid individual run and strike by Ayew after Fernandes forced an error in the Palace midfield.  It was an all too brief glimpse of the type of football that we all yearn for.

Where Were The Tactics –  And The Senators?

The two goals aside, the first half was a disjointed and disappointing affair.  Palace were very poor and only looked to carry any threat from set pieces.  Bilic had spoken pre-match about his senior players being ‘senators’ who would inspire the team to achieve great things; but if that group included the likes of Noble, Fonte, Zabaleta and Ogbonna then they failed to deliver big time.  Bilic claimed that his second half tactics were to get his team to exploit the space behind Palace as they pushed forward and adopted a more direct approach.  Palace improved immeasurably after the break but mainly because West Ham’s negativity allowed them to do so.  Giving away the early pointless penalty didn’t help but as a response there was no intent by our side to pose any further threat to the Palace goal.  As usual our passing and ball retention were woeful with the only tactic being to give the ball away cheaply whenever in possession.  Against the team bottom of the table we offered nothing but an open invitation for them to come at us.

What Has Happened to All-Action Antonio?

As needless as the penalty was, the last minute equaliser was the epitome of a lack of professionalism.  Deep into the last minute of added time, Antonio in possession, unchallenged and alone by the corner flag, with three colleagues in the middle marked by only one defender.  Keep the ball where it is and the clock runs safely down.  There is a chance of a killer goal if he can be sure to pick out the right pass (although we hadn’t tried to score for the rest of the half) but by chipping the ball aimlessly into the centre merely conceded the possession that led to the goal – and having committed players forward we are now outnumbered in Palace’s last push.  Whatever was he thinking -or didn’t he care?  In truth, a change in attitude by Antonio has been evident for a while now.  Gone is the all action, full of running, happy to be in the Premier League player to be replaced by a more moody and sullen one.  Is this personal to him or a reflection of a deeper discontent within the squad?  Whatever the reason it is deeply disturbing with a player who has been one of the few successes over the past eighteen months or so.

Memories of West Ham games against Crystal Palace in the last fifty years

A look back at some of the memorable encounters between West Ham and Palace.

The yo-yo is a toy invented by the Ancient Greeks. It became popular with children in this country around a century ago and you still see them in toy shops today. However the sophistication of modern toys means that children are never usually interested in them for very long. “To yo-yo” became a verb in the English language meaning to go up and down, and it is also used as an adjective too in footballing terms to describe clubs that change divisions regularly. Crystal Palace have yo-yoed from the fourth tier to the top, back down to the third, and then frequently from the second to the top and back again several times, and can definitely be considered a yo-yo club. As a result we’ve missed playing against them as often as we’ve met many other clubs.

Although I had been going to watch West Ham for more than ten years it was a new experience for me to see us play against Crystal Palace at Upton Park in November 1969. I was in the fifth form (now called Year 11) at Barking Abbey School at this time, Sugar Sugar by the Archies topped the “pop charts”(wouldn’t be allowed by the health police today!), and a young guy called David Bowie was in the top ten for the first time with Space Oddity. We beat them 2-1 in that game with goals from Geoff Hurst and Clyde Best.

As a small boy I used to avidly study the league tables of all the English leagues and I remember them being a Division Four team in the early 1960’s. We made a fantastic signing when we bought the great Johnny Byrne from them just as they were promoted to Division Three in 1962. They made good progress as a club and reached the dizzy heights of Division One by the end of the decade.

In October 1970 I went to Selhurst Park with school friends for the first time. By this time we were in the sixth form. We listened to Deep Purple (Black Night) and Black Sabbath (Paranoid) on our ipods on the way to the game. Or at least we might have done if ipods had existed then, but we had to wait another 30 years before we were able to buy them. CD’s were still 15 years or so away from being available to us. My memory of this game is sketchy however, although I remember being surprised by the size of the crowd. Palace often had crowds in excess of 40,000 at the time. I know we took the lead early on with a goal from Bobby Howe who didn’t score many. He scored from close range, and apart from a superb goal when he volleyed home a corner against Chelsea in front of the South Bank a couple of months before I can’t recall any other goals that he scored for us. We had a very attacking line-up that day with Dear, Hurst and Greaves all playing up front. We didn’t score again and Palace equalised. The game ended 1-1. Another memory is the noise made by the Palace crowd. The return fixture that season ended goalless. I can remember nothing about that game whatsoever.

The next season we travelled down to South London to see the away fixture at Palace once again. It never seemed to be an easy place to get to on the trains. We were in the Upper Sixth and Rod Stewart topped the charts with Maggie May. In those days of course there was no internet and we had no idea of the team that would be playing until the players emerged onto the pitch. We were surprised when we saw a young 17 year old Ade Coker making his debut for us, and even more surprised when he volleyed home a superb goal in the first few minutes of the game. We were behind the goal where he scored and crushed in the celebrations. There was a similar attendance for this game as in the previous year and we could barely move in the packed terrace. Shortly afterwards Billy Bonds scored a header and we led 2-0 at half time. We were playing great stuff and totally in control of the game. Clyde Best added a tap-in the second period and we ran out 3-0 winners. Once again we had showed great attacking intent with three forwards (different players from the previous year), Coker, Best and Pop Robson which wasn’t unusual in those days. With Redknapp on the wing and Brooking and Bonds controlling the midfield it was one of the best away performances I can remember. But once again we couldn’t beat them in the return fixture drawing 1-1 at home with a Clyde Best goal.

I’m not really sure why Ade Coker never really progressed with us. He looked terrific in his first game but only played a handful of games in three seasons scoring a couple of goals at Upton Park, one was against Tottenham and the other (his last) in a 5-2 rout of Leicester. He was a real prospect who never made it and he moved to America to play in the North American Soccer league. Although he was born in Nigeria he qualified to play international football for the USA and played five games for them, scoring three times.

The following season we beat Palace twice, and in the home game (once again in October) we thrashed them 4-0. I was working in the City by now and there was a very unusual “record” at number one, one of those novelty records that sometimes topped the charts in those days, Mouldy Old Dough by Lieutenant Pigeon. Palace were relegated that season so we didn’t see them again until we were relegated ourselves in 1978 and met them in Division Two, both games ending in 1-1 draws. Grease was the big film at the time, and in between meeting them in August and November, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John dominated the charts with a string of songs from the film.

We finished fifth that season but they finished as Second Division champions. By the time we got back to the top flight in the early eighties they had been relegated again so we didn’t meet them in the league again until the 1990’s. We kept missing each other and our next meeting was in the famous “Bond relegation season” in 1991-92 when we finished bottom of the table. We beat them at Selhurst Park, one of our only three away wins that season, but lost to them in a Monday night game in front of a small Upton Park crowd late in the season when we were already virtually down.

Palace continued to yo-yo and I only remember them visiting once more in the 1990’s in the days of Berkovich and Hartson when they combined superbly to enable us to win easily 4-0. Of course those two players weren’t always that friendly with each other! The next time I remember them was when we had been relegated again in the Glen Roeder era. We beat them easily on a Wednesday night game in the early part of the season when Neil Mellor scored a couple, but lost the return fixture at Selhurst Park late in the season. Their victory that day, together with Brian Deane’s late goal for us against Wigan in the very last minute on the very last day of the season enabled them to sneak into the play-offs at the expense of Wigan. We all know what happened at Cardiff when we met in the play-off final, one of the most disappointing football days of my life, and a day I’d like to forget, although it is difficult to erase the memory completely. I do remember the long car journey home though.

In recent times there have been contrasting fortunes. Palace did a 1-0 double over us in 2013-14, and then in the following season we won 3-1 away and lost by the same score at home. In 2015-16 we won 3-1 away again, before drawing 2-2 in April in one of the final few games at Upton Park. That game is memorable for an astonishing free-kick by a Frenchman who is no longer with us. He scored a few in his time here, but that one is probably my favourite.

Last season we completed the double with a 1-0 win at Selhurst Park, followed by an emphatic 3-0 home victory which included one of the goals of the season, when Andy Carroll demonstrated perfect timing and technique to exercise that superb scissor kick.

West Ham v Palace Preview

After the nightmare visit of the Seagulls, and the sensational turnaround at Wembley, West Ham visit South London to take on the Eagles

What an astonishing turnaround in the Carabao Cup clash at Wembley! I didn’t see that coming, and I’ll suggest that few others did either. I had spent an excellent day at Newmarket Races, so betting was at the forefront of my thoughts on Wednesday evening. At half-time, with Tottenham holding a 2-0 lead, and by common consent, yet another woeful first half performance from a much-changed West Ham line-up, you could have got odds of 1000-1 on us winning the game in 90 minutes. Even the most optimistic fan wouldn’t have wasted any stake money on that outcome. If anybody did, then they could have visited their travel agent on Thursday morning to book a holiday in the sun. Unfortunately I didn’t because there was no way that I believed we could possibly win the game at that stage. The fact that we did came about partly as a result of increased confidence after we had pulled a goal back, and partly because of over-confidence from the North London outfit who believed that they could go through the motions in the second half, and save themselves for their weekend fixture against Manchester United.

Our reward for the victory is a quarter-final clash against our other North London neighbours, who once again have been given a home draw in a cup competition. This happens on a consistent basis, and I’m sure they will be confident of progressing into the semi-finals when the tie is played just before Christmas. The Carabao Cup draws for each round have been surrounded in controversy, and each one has had problems of one kind or another. This time it was meant to be live on Twitter, but “technical” problems delayed proceedings for two hours, and it was eventually shown as a recording. Conspiracy theorists had a field day when it was revealed that the four “big” clubs left in the competition had avoided each other. Few would bet against Chelsea, Arsenal and the two Manchester clubs lining up in the semi-finals. Let us hope that we can spoil that party.

But before then we have to use the confidence gained from our second half performance, and build on that momentum in the forthcoming Premier League games. They begin with this weekend’s trip to Palace. If we thought that our start to the season was poor, then it is nothing compared to the nightmare at Selhurst Park, where our hosts sit at the foot of the league after the first nine games. Just one win and eight defeats is their sorry record. In all of the eight games they have lost they have failed to even score a goal. Their five defeats on their travels have been at Liverpool (1-0), Burnley (1-0), Manchester City (5-0), Manchester United (4-0), and Newcastle (1-0). At home they have at least improved their record progressively, with three defeats to Huddersfield (3-0), Swansea (2-0), and Southampton (1-0), before unexpectedly beating last season’s champions Chelsea (2-1) in their last game at Selhurst Park. Those two goals, their only ones in the league this season were scored by Zaha, and an own-goal. This is their fifth consecutive season in the Premier League, their longest spell in the top flight, and they will need to improve dramatically if they want to extend the run further.

Their form was no better in the Carabao Cup this week, when with a much-changed line-up, they were unceremoniously dumped out of the competition by Bristol City (4-1). Like most sides they haven’t played their strongest team as the EFL Cup is not considered a priority until the very late stages. No doubt, again like us, they will field a changed line-up on Saturday. Despite their poor start to the season, the bookmakers still make them relatively short-priced favourites to beat us at 11/8. We are offered at 11/5, and the draw is around 23/10. The odds on a repeat of Wednesday night, where we overturn a 2-0 half-time deficit to win the game 3-2, are currently 500-1. There is a saying about lightning not striking twice though.

As usual there is about as much chance in predicting our starting line-up as having a winning line on the lottery. Will we go with 3-5-2, or 4-4-2, or 4-2-3-1, or 4-1-4-1 or any other formation you could have? Who knows? How many of Wednesday night’s team will retain their place after that excellent second half performance?

Will Hart or Adrian get the nod in goal? Will Cresswell or Masuaku start at left back? How many of Reid, Fonte, Ogbonna or Rice will start? Perhaps the only defensive certainty is that Zabaleta will return at right back, although that is not to say that Byram didn’t have a decent enough game against Tottenham.

As for the midfield and attacking players it is anybody’s guess. All the fit players will be pushing to play and that will be almost the whole first team squad. I noted some statistics produced this week that showed since August 2016, Ayew has been involved in more West Ham goals than any other player. By involved it meant actual goals scored and assists. Considering the fact that he has not a regular place in the team because of injuries (and form) then we must ask, do the figures lie? And should he therefore be one of the first names on the teamsheet? Personally I remain unconvinced, but I have to admit to warming to him a little recently. Well just a little. I’d love him to become a world beater and prove me wrong. Whatever, with his brace in midweek he will be pushing for a place in the starting line-up.

I also read another interesting article about what Andy Carroll brings to the team. Apart from the obvious “outlet ball”, winning of aerial battles, and defensively a boost when we are facing corners and set pieces, the inclusion of him in the side obviously affects the style of play we adopt. The piece went on to describe how he had a big influence on our three goals without the statistics proving that. The author suggested that his mere presence was enough to occupy more than one Tottenham defender at a time and opened up the way for Ayew and Ogbonna to score the goals. Such a big emphasis is placed on goalscoring and assist statistics these days, whereas in fact others who get no credit for a goal whatsoever may have had a bigger influence in the ball ending up in the net.

The manager himself has described this week as giving him a positive selection headache. He has been emphasising that it is all about the squad, not just the team, so trying to soften the blow for those who don’t make the first eleven I guess. Whoever is involved, I look forward to another win to consolidate a mid-table position. A defeat would probably see us occupying one of the three relegation spots, a place we only just hover above at the moment because of a better goal difference than both Stoke and Everton.

Matchday: Slaven Bilic’s Last Game Series 2 Episode 3

The first leg of the London Wooden Spoon contest takes place at Selhurst Park.

If you are only as good as your last game then West Ham will win today’s relegation battle between London’s Cinderella clubs at a canter. The Hammers executed a remarkable comeback to earn Wembley cup triumph over Tottenham while the day before Crystal Palace experienced humiliating defeat at the hands of lowly Bristol City.  Except that football doesn’t tend to work like that; cup form, in games where there has to be a winner, does not necessarily translate into league matches, where collection of precious points for big money survival are the imperative.

Both of today’s sides made wholesale changes for their midweek games so it is difficult to know to what extent West Ham will be boosted by their surprise victory or how much Palace will be deflated by their shock defeat.  In many ways Slaven Bilic faces the greater dilemma as he has to decide which of the fringe players from Wednesday’s battling second half display deserve another chance.

Wednesday night’s game should set the standard for us, in terms of closing teams down, in terms of compactness, in terms of team play, in terms of sacrificing everything for the team. We will win some games and we will lose some games, but I am quite confident we are on a good way.

– Slaven Bilic Eureka Moment

It has been widely reported that this is the second of the two games that manager Bilic has to save his job (at least until the next time that a similar ultimatum is issued.) He couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome in the week but defeat today would still leave him in a very precarious position.  While a win is likely to earn a stay of execution, it is a toss-up as to whether a draw will be enough to satisfy the chairmen as they contemplate the tougher run of fixtures on the board over the coming weeks.

Head to Head

West Ham have played Palace thirty five times (ignoring Southern League and war-time games) winning sixteen and losing only seven.  The away game tally shows eight West Ham wins in seventeen matches with just the three defeats – all to a one-nil scoreline!

If West Ham win today it will be the fourth in a row at Selhurst Park.

Team News

James Collins would appear to be the only senior player not available for selection (although there will a late fitness assessment for Michail Antonio) adding to Bilic’s selection dilemma as to how many from Wednesday’s second string make it into today’s starting eleven.  Personally, I would see no reason not to stick with Adrian between the posts but am certain that the manager will decide otherwise.

Bilic is sure to persevere with a back three/ five and it will be fascinating to see which three central defenders get the nod: will Winston Reid return (probably); will Angelo Ogbonna keep his place (probably); will he show bravery and give another run out to Declan Rice (unlikely) or will Jose Fonte or Cheikhou Kouyate make up the numbers?

Mark Noble is sure to start after being credited with responsibility for the Wembley second half performance (but not the poor first half one). There is no doubt about Noble’s commitment or passion but is that enough in top flight football?

Elsewhere will it be another run out for the unplayable head of Andy Carroll? Will Javier Hernandez return or were Andre Ayew’s goals enough to earn him a rare start. Ayew certainly has a knack of being in the right place and has, apparently, been involved in more West Ham goals than any other player during his time at the club.  Quite possibly he is another player who has not been used to the best of his potential, given that he has spent the majority of games being largely ineffective in midfield.

I think there is a belief which is growing, there is a faith in what they are trying to do as a team. Training sessions are one thing, though, matches on a Saturday are a different thing. We’re not judged on how well we do in training, we’re judged on winning on Saturday or not.

– Wise Owl Roy Hodgson knows the difference between training and a match

Palace are still without Christian Benteke and have doubts over James McArthur and Lee Chung-yong.  They will likely rely on Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend in attack which many not be a massive goal threat but they have more than enough pace to unsettle the West Ham defence.  Former Hammer James Tomkins is likely to occupy his preferred position on the bench.

Man in the Middle

The referee today is Robert ‘Bobby’ Madley from West Yorkshire. The no nonsense Yorkshireman has been highly productive with the cards this season awarding thirty six yellows and four reds in just eight outings.  Our poor disciplinary record and propensity to concede penalties will certainly come under the referee’s scrutiny where both Zaha and Cabaye are quick to go to ground.

West Ham encountered Madley four times last season in the home win to Sunderland, wins home and away to Burnley and defeat at Bournemouth.

Predictions

Both Lawro and Merson are playing safe with 1-1 draw predictions. Palace got off the mark with a deserved win against Chelsea last time out at Selhurst Park and were  unfortunate losers at Newcastle prior to their EFL cup fiasco.  The Hammers hit an all-time low when losing at home to Brighton only to bounce back in midweek shock at Wembley.  I am sure the game will have goals; West Ham are weak in protecting their defence (particularly against pace) and are also prone to individual errors; Palace have yet to keep a clean sheet and are faced with the Manuel Lanzini scoring hoodoo.  Someone will win by the odd goal in three; my heart says the Hammers but my head says Palace.

Matchday: Put On The Claret Ribbons as West Ham Travel to Wembley

She wore a claret ribbon ….. for the West Ham boys who are going to Wembley.

Depending on your point of view, today marks the start of the great West Ham turnaround or is the first of Slaven Bilic’s final two games as manager.  From my way of thinking, I would give a greater chance of survival to a lame duck who covered himself in orange sauce and decided to attend a hungry foxes convention.  Still, stranger things have happened in football although the dilemma tonight hinges on what does turning it around look like as far as Bilic’s employers are concerned?  Does it require two victories or would a plucky defeat tonight followed by victory at the weekend be sufficient?  Or is the bar set even lower with the only criteria being as to whether a ready replacement can be found in time?

All the evidence would suggest that coming away from tonight’s trip to Wembley with anything other than pride in tact is likely to be a tall order.  Perhaps the chance to witness the Hammers play in a cup tie at Wembley is reward enough in these desperate times; remember it is a spectacle that an increasing number of supporters (those born in the last forty years) have only seen on Youtube.

Tottenham appeared to exorcise the apparent Wembley voodoo on Sunday with an emphatic victory over Liverpool leaving us with the only straw to clutch at being that, with games against Manchester United and Real Madrid on the horizon, an EFL cup tie may not be the highest priority.  Maybe they will play a weakened side but even though Tottenham probably have the least depth of all the ‘top six’ clubs they possess more than enough ability to brush past West Ham should recent Hammers performances be repeated.  There is, maybe, encouragement (but also frustration) to be taken from the fact that West Ham have often discovered an added extra gear in games against our north London rivals.  On the other hand, tt is difficult to see Pochettino taking the game lightly even if he may see the game as a distraction.

The only ‘shock’ from last night’s set of results was the defeat for Saturday’s opponents Crystal Palace who had decided to field a second string team with the weekend’s clash in mind.  Could a Hammer’s victory be tonight’s shock or will Bilic also decide to write this one off as Hodgson did with Palace?

Head to Head: League Cup Special

This is the seventh time that West Ham have been drawn against Tottenham in the League Cup.  Two of the original ties were drawn and went to replays (not an option tonight) both of which Tottenham won including a 5-0 romp in February 1987.  My own most memorable encounter was at a buzzing Upton Park when the fantastic West Ham side of the early 1980’s ran out 1-0 victors courtesy of a delightful chipped goal by David Cross in the last ten minutes of the game.  That was, of course, en route to West Ham’s most recent appearance in a Wembley cup final in March 1981.  The Hammers also won the last League Cup meeting between the two sides in December 2013 as goals from Jarvis and Maiga helped secure a 2-1 victory.

Team News

West Ham are missing Michail Antonio, Diafra Sakho and James Collins through injury but Andy Carroll is available after completing a one match suspension.  It has been confirmed that Adrian will be in goal but other than that it is anyone’s guess as to the lineup.  It is normal Bilic practice to flip-flop between three central defenders and a back four following each bad defeat and so I foresee a back three returning tonight.  Maybe there will be a chance for a few youngsters (such as Declan Rice and Nathan Holland) to be given a run-out, and not just in the last five minutes.  Rice as part of a back three would be interesting to see rather than continuing to use him in a more unnatural defensive midfield role.

The goalkeeper situation is a perfect example of West Ham’s lack of foresight.  It has been widely reported that Adrian is looking to leave the club; and who could blame him.  That would leave just an on-loan player in Joe Hart with any experience in the keeper department; and nothing I have seen suggests that Hart is any better than Adrian.

Tottenham may well rest several star players for the game (including H Kane) but may find room for Dembele and Rose who are both returning from injury.  Wanyama and Lamela remain on the sidelines.

Man in the The Middle

A first encounter this season with Mike Dean from The Wirral.  Last season, Dean took charge of the Tottenham v West Ham league game at White Hart Lane, where he sent off Winston Reid, and West Ham’s home league fixture against Manchester United, where he sent off Sofiane Feghouli.  A high probability of a red card tonight then I would think, probably while awarding a penalty for one of Dele Alli’s dives in the penalty area.

Predictions

Sky’s Charlie Nicholas has gone for a 3-0 home win.  Painful as it is to say, I am a huge admirer of Pochettino’s style of football which has allowed Tottenham to over-achieve at Tottenham during the past few seasons.  We can only dream of a team with extreme levels of fitness and players who completely understand, and are so well drilled in, what is expected of them.  I would like to be more optimistic but feel that the best we can hope for tonight is a performance rather than a result.

A Look Back at West Ham 0 Brighton 3

The ultimate shame when Brighton fans ask “Can we play you every week?”

I began my preview of this game with the comment “Friday night, 8pm kick off. Don’t get me started”. It is a pity that the majority of our players didn’t get started themselves. Any day that begins with software downloads totally messing up both your i-pad and i-phone, and then the journey from Bury St Edmunds to Epping taking twice as long as usual due to the Friday evening rush hour traffic at the beginning of a school half-term holiday, going to the assistance of damsels in distress in the Epping car park, footpaths cut off, toilets closed due to a water leak, and then two females doing Nicola Adams impersonations at Debden, and you know that it is not the best day of your life. I wasn’t to know at that time that it was going to get worse watching the performance of West Ham, but believe me it did.

I had left home at 4pm, but because of the issues mentioned previously, and then the security checks to get into the stadium, I only just managed to get to my seat in time for “Bubbles.” From that point it was downhill. Brighton began the brighter, and it was no real surprise when Glen Murray rose, almost unchallenged to head the ball into our goal in the tenth minute. How many more times are we going to concede simple goals from set pieces? I cannot believe that this issue is not addressed more rigorously on the training ground.

As half time was approaching we had perhaps our best period of the game but that is not saying much. I was interested to read the following morning that we had 65% of the possession of the football. The problem with that is that most of that figure was achieved by West Ham taking the phrase “slow ponderous build-up” to yet another level. Yes, we retained possession of the ball, but most of it was in our own half and in the middle of the field going backwards and sideways from one side of the pitch to the other, getting nowhere fast.

Brighton didn’t surprise me in the least. They were organised, they harried our players, and when they had the ball they broke quickly with incisive passing, always having players moving into spaces in a forward direction. When the board went up to show two added minutes at the end of the first half, our players were just thinking of their half-time oranges, or cup of tea and switched off totally. Brighton, realising this, attacked us with vigour and looked like they were going to add a second, but for an excellent save by Hart. But they weren’t to be denied and just before the half was about to end they did score a second with an excellent shot from outside the area, although I’m sure that Hart (along with the rest of us) will have been disappointed that by getting a strong left hand to the ball, he couldn’t keep it out. The half then ended with a cacophony of booing.

Having purchased our expensive bottles of Fanta (top removed of course, in case we were inclined to throw them!) we settled down to watch the second half. Ayew replaced Kouyate but this made not a jot of difference, and we continued as we had before the break, totally bereft of ideas as to how to break down the committed and organised Seagulls. Arnautavic was virtually anonymous, Antonio and Chicarito had lost their touch in frustration, and we didn’t remotely look like we were going to score. I’m sure that the players are on some kind of bonus if they take free-kicks quickly. Now a speedily taken free kick can be a potent weapon, but only if some kind of thought is given into what we do with it, but we totally wasted them. We were awarded two kicks in dangerous positions in the second half and these were not taken quickly. But Lanzini blasted the first over the wall high into the stands, and then from a similar position shot well wide with the second.

It was no real surprise when Brighton were awarded a penalty as the game was drawing to a close, and Murray coolly slooted it into the centre of the goal as Hart dived to his right. The travelling supporters were magnificent all night, and by now they were in full swing with the usual repertoire of damning songs when a team are getting soundly beaten. “This is a library”, was followed by the lyrical “you’re f***ing sh*t, you’re f***ing sh*t, you’re f***ing sh*t, you’re f***ing sh*t, you’re f***ing sh*t”, “you’re getting sacked in the morning” aimed at our manager (some of our own fans joined in this one), “you’re sh*t and you know you are”, “can we play you every week?” and other equally embarrassing songs. It seems natural for these to come from the likes of fans of Tottenham, Chelsea, and the Manchester clubs, we get used to it. But Brighton? Come on.

Quite frankly it was an appalling performance and a night I’d like to forget. A few statistics that I read the morning after the game:

  • We have conceded three penalties in the Premier League so far this season – this is more than anybody else.
  • Eight points is the lowest number we have attained after the first nine matches of the season since 2010-11 – we went down that season you will remember
  • This was our heaviest home defeat to a newly-promoted side in 86 years – since West Brom beat us 5-1 in 1931!
  • We have conceded six goals in the last 15 minutes of the first half in Premier League games this season – no other team has conceded more than four.
  • This was the 76th time that we have been 2-0 down in a Premier League game, and we have never fought back to win the game, losing 74 and drawing just 2.
  • We touched the ball 602 times in the game (to Brighton’s 340) – but this is totally meaningless if you can’t do anything constructive with it!

I don’t usually give ratings to our players in a game, but I’ve made an exception for this one. My scores on the doors (for what it’s worth) sum up my feelings of the performances of the players:

Hart 5, Zabaleta 6.5, Fonte 5, Reid 5, Masuaku 6, Obiang 6, Kouyate 4, Antonio 5, Lanzini 5, Arnautavic 4, Hernandes 5 (subs. Ayew 4.5, Fernandes 5.5).

Empty SeatsI stayed (as I always do) to the final whistle, and by this time I felt quite lonely with all the empty seats around me. The only bright spot of the day was the trouble-free journey home, mainly because so many of our fans were long gone. Plenty of seats to choose from on the Central Line, and the car park at Epping was almost deserted. I reached home on the stroke of midnight, just two hours after the end of the game. That is eight hours of my life that I won’t get back. I’ve been doing this for nearly sixty years now. I asked myself why as I drove home up the M11, A11, and A14. I have got Sky Sports and BT Sports. I could sit at home in the comfort of my armchair and watch the game. The whole exercise would take just two hours.

But I am a committed fan. Some would say a masochist. I once knew a masochist who liked taking a cold shower every morning, so he took a hot one (think about it). Someone suggested I should consider being more introspective. I wasn’t sure what introspection was, so I decided to take a long hard look at myself. But I don’t have to consider my thoughts and feelings for too long. In two weeks we are at home to Liverpool. Another unsociable kick-off time of 5.30 pm on a Saturday for the benefit of TV. I could watch from home. It will be over at 7.30 leaving me to enjoy my Saturday evening. But I won’t. I’ll take my seat in Block 241 of the East Stand and cheer the team on as ever, before taking to the tube and then the roads of East Anglia for my Saturday evening entertainment.

Match Report: West Ham 0 Brighton 3

“Can we play you every week?”

I began my preview of this game with the comment “Friday night, 8pm kick off. Don’t get me started”. It is a pity that the majority of our players didn’t get started themselves. Any day that begins with software downloads totally messing up both your i-pad and i-phone, and then the journey from Bury St Edmunds to Epping taking twice as long as usual due to the Friday evening rush hour traffic at the beginning of a school half-term holiday, going to the assistance of damsels in distress in the Epping car park, footpaths cut off, toilets closed due to a water leak, and then two females doing Nicola Adams impersonations at Debden, and you know that it is not the best day of your life. I wasn’t to know at that time that it was going to get worse watching the performance of West Ham, but believe me it did.

I had left home at 4pm, but because of the issues mentioned previously, and then the security checks to get into the stadium, I only just managed to get to my seat in time for “Bubbles.” From that point it was downhill. Brighton began the brighter, and it was no real surprise when Glen Murray rose, almost unchallenged to head the ball into our goal in the tenth minute. How many more times are we going to concede simple goals from set pieces? I cannot believe that this issue is not addressed more rigorously on the training ground.

As half time was approaching we had perhaps our best period of the game but that is not saying much. I was interested to read the following morning that we had 65% of the possession of the football. The problem with that is that most of that figure was achieved by West Ham taking the phrase “slow ponderous build-up” to yet another level. Yes, we retained possession of the ball, but most of it was in our own half and in the middle of the field going backwards and sideways from one side of the pitch to the other, getting nowhere fast.

Brighton didn’t surprise me in the least. They were organised, they harried our players, and when they had the ball they broke quickly with incisive passing, always having players moving into spaces in a forward direction. When the board went up to show two added minutes at the end of the first half, our players were just thinking of their half-time oranges, or cup of tea and switched off totally. Brighton, realising this, attacked us with vigour and looked like they were going to add a second, but for an excellent save by Hart. But they weren’t to be denied and just before the half was about to end they did score a second with an excellent shot from outside the area, although I’m sure that Hart (along with the rest of us) will have been disappointed that by getting a strong left hand to the ball, he couldn’t keep it out. The half then ended with a cacophony of booing.

Having purchased our expensive bottles of Fanta (top removed of course, in case we were inclined to throw them!) we settled down to watch the second half. Ayew replaced Kouyate but this made not a jot of difference, and we continued as we had before the break, totally bereft of ideas as to how to break down the committed and organised Seagulls. Arnautavic was virtually anonymous, Antonio and Chicarito had lost their touch in frustration, and we didn’t remotely look like we were going to score. I’m sure that the players are on some kind of bonus if they take free-kicks quickly. Now a speedily taken free kick can be a potent weapon, but only if some kind of thought is given into what we do with it, but we totally wasted them. We were awarded two kicks in dangerous positions in the second half and these were not taken quickly. But Lanzini blasted the first over the wall high into the stands, and then from a similar position shot well wide with the second.

It was no real surprise when Brighton were awarded a penalty as the game was drawing to a close, and Murray coolly slooted it into the centre of the goal as Hart dived to his right. The travelling supporters were magnificent all night, and by now they were in full swing with the usual repertoire of damning songs when a team are getting soundly beaten. “This is a library”, was followed by the lyrical “you’re f***ing shit, you’re f***ing shit, you’re f***ing shit, you’re f***ing shit, you’re f***ing shit”, “you’re getting sacked in the morning” aimed at our manager (some of our own fans joined in this one), “you’re shit and you know you are”, “can we play you every week?” and other equally embarrassing songs. It seems natural for these to come from the likes of fans of Tottenham, Chelsea, and the Manchester clubs, we get used to it. But Brighton? Come on.

Quite frankly it was an appalling performance and a night I’d like to forget. A few statistics that I read the morning after the game:

  • We have conceded three penalties in the Premier League so far this season – this is more than anybody else.
  • Eight points is the lowest number we have attained after the first nine matches of the season since 2010-11 – we went down that season you will remember
  • This was our heaviest home defeat to a newly-promoted side in 86 years – since West Brom beat us 5-1 in 1931!
  • We have conceded six goals in the last 15 minutes of the first half in Premier League games this season – no other team has conceded more than four.
  • This was the 76th time that we have been 2-0 down in a Premier League game, and we have never fought back to win the game, losing 74 and drawing just 2.
  • We touched the ball 602 times in the game (to Brighton’s 340) – but this is totally meaningless if you can’t do anything constructive with it!

I don’t usually give ratings to our players in a game, but I’ve made an exception for this one. My scores on the doors (for what it’s worth) sum up my feelings of the performances of the players:

Hart 5, Zabaleta 6.5, Fonte 5, Reid 5, Masuaku 6, Obiang 6, Kouyate 4, Antonio 5, Lanzini 5, Arnautavic 4, Hernandes 5 (subs. Ayew 4.5, Fernandes 5.5).

Empty SeatsI stayed (as I always do) to the final whistle, and by this time I felt quite lonely with all the empty seats around me. The only bright spot of the day was the trouble-free journey home, mainly because so many of our fans were long gone. Plenty of seats to choose from on the Central Line, and the car park at Epping was almost deserted. I reached home on the stroke of midnight, just two hours after the end of the game. That is eight hours of my life that I won’t get back. I’ve been doing this for nearly sixty years now. I asked myself why as I drove home up the M11, A11, and A14. I have got Sky Sports and BT Sports. I could sit at home in the comfort of my armchair and watch the game. The whole exercise would take just two hours.

But I am a committed fan. Some would say a masochist. I once knew a masochist who liked taking a cold shower every morning, so he took a hot one (think about it). Someone suggested I should consider being more introspective. I wasn’t sure what introspection was, so I decided to take a long hard look at myself. But I don’t have to consider my thoughts and feelings for too long. In two weeks we are at home to Liverpool. Another unsociable kick-off time of 5.30 pm on a Saturday for the benefit of TV. I could watch from home. It will be over at 7.30 leaving me to enjoy my Saturday evening. But I won’t. I’ll take my seat in Block 241 of the East Stand and cheer the team on as ever, before taking to the tube and then the roads of East Anglia for my Saturday evening entertainment.