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

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

Crystal Palace vs West Ham

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.