When Sean Dyche saw the opening games produced by the Fixtures Computer in June I wonder how many points that he thought Burnley would accrue in the first seven matches, four of them away from home? He would probably have bitten your hand off to achieve an average of one point a game at this stage. The fact that they lie sixth in the table with twelve points is one of the stories of the Premier League season so far.
Their four away games have all been against teams that finished in the top 7 last season. An opening day 3-2 win at Chelsea was followed by 1-1 draws at Tottenham and Liverpool, and then a 1-0 victory at Goodison Park. Incredibly, that is eight points from four of the toughest away games (on paper) that they would expect to face in a season. They have already exceeded their points tally on their travels for the whole of last season, when they only picked up seven points from their nineteen games with one win (at Palace), and draws at Hull, Manchester United, Middlesbrough, and Sunderland, three of the four relegated sides.
Their home form, for which they were renowned last season when winning more than half of their games, has not been as successful. They lost their first home fixture 1-0 to West Brom, before beating Palace (as everyone has done!) 1-0, and then they had a goalless draw against Huddersfield. So after three home games they have picked up four points, with just one goal scored and one conceded.
But an overall record of three wins and three draws from their seven matches played, placing them sixth in the table, is way beyond the expectations of even the most optimistic of Burnley fans. Our record matches them in just one respect. We, too, have scored seven league goals so far this season. The difference is that whereas Burnley have conceded just four goals, we managed that in the very first game, and in total we have let in thirteen!
All of Burnley’s seven goals have been scored by players who have been on international duty in the break, and either faced intense games or a lot of travelling. Sam Vokes (2) was on duty for Wales in their elimination from the World Cup by Ireland who had Jeff Hendrick (1) and Stephen Ward (1) in the side. Scott Arfield (1) turned out for Canada against El Salvador on Sunday, and Chris Wood (2) scored for New Zealand against Japan. Wood, a big money signing from Leeds as the summer transfer window was drawing to a close, is the second highest goalscorer in New Zealand history with 24 goals in 54 games, despite being only 25 years old. Let’s hope that Winston Reid can keep his fellow countryman quiet.
Our last visit to Turf Moor was on the final day of last season when, with a side depleted by injuries (as usual), we came from behind to clinch a 2-1 win. Vokes scored the Burnley goal midway through the first half, but we equalised shortly afterwards with a fine team goal where several players were involved in the move before Feghouli scored. This was a most unusual West Ham goal because it started from a quickly-taken free kick near the halfway line. On so many occasions free kicks in a similar position end up back with our keeper. Ayew headed the winner from close range after the ball came back off the bar from a Fernandes shot.
Our overall historical record against Burnley is a positive one, with 36 wins, 17 draws, and 31 defeats in all 84 competitive matches. This hasn’t always been the case, however, as our opponents were once a formidable club, winning the league twice, which is two times more than we have. Not many people will know that Burnley once reached the quarter-final of the European Cup, which was the forerunner of the Champions League.
But in recent years we have been by far the stronger in head to head games against them, winning 14 of the last 20 games. We have only lost once at Turf Moor in almost 40 years and that was in 2010, when we were on the receiving end of a 2-1 scoreline, with our goal being scored by Ilan (remember him?). To demonstrate how the make-up of a football team can change in less than eight years I will remind readers of the West Ham line-up that day.
Faubert, Upson, Tompkins, Spector,
Behrami, Noble, Parker, Collison,
Subs. who came on: Mido, Stanislas, and Ilan
Ilan and McCarthy each played eleven league games in their time with us. Ilan scored four goals whilst McCarthy failed to find the net. Mido played nine times and he, too, failed to score a goal.
Apparently it has been reported that we have an entirely fit squad for the manager to choose from, with the exceptions of Collins and Quina. I have given up trying to read the manager’s mind, and have absolutely no idea what the starting line-up will be, and will not even attempt to hazard a guess.
When you consider that an in-form team lying sixth in the league are playing at home to the side in fifteenth place, then the odds being offered on the game don’t really reflect that. Burnley are at around 13/8 to win, we are 15/8 to take all three points, and the draw is not much over 2/1. The most likely score according to the bookmakers is 1-1, offered at about 5/1. I can see their reasoning as both Burnley and ourselves are averaging scoring exactly one goal a game this season. Nothing to get really excited about. I would have hoped for more generous odds on a West Ham victory considering our poor start to the season.
I’m going to get out my trusty optimistic hat and bet on us to win the game. I’ll also have a fun bet on West Ham to win the game 3-1 at odds of 22/1. I might even try an additional one where the game is goalless at half-time, but we run out 3-1 winners at the end, with odds of 200/1 on that most unlikely outcome. A half-time scoreline of 1-1, with us winning the game 3-1 at the end is 90/1. You can bet on hundreds of different markets on every game of football these days, but in reality trying to predict the outcome of games, and correct scores / goalscorers is a minefield.
As for me, as usual I’ll be attending both days of the Dubai Future Champions horse racing meeting at Newmarket on Friday and Saturday, which includes my favourite race the Cesarewitch, which starts in Cambridgeshire and ends in Suffolk, with 34 runners tackling the two and a quarter miles course. The race itself is as difficult to predict as guessing the line-up that our manager will select. My ante-post selections are Withhold, Time To Study and Lagostovegas, although I’ll probably choose another for my bet on the day. But I’ll be keeping one eye on the football from Turf Moor, and hoping for a victory that will take us into a more comfortable mid-table position in the league.