Burnley 1 West Ham 1

Is it a point gained for West Ham or two points lost?

So the bookies were spot on. The most fancied scoreline for this game was 1-1, and that is how it ended up. But was it a point gained or two points lost? Certainly, when you are in fifteenth place in the table and playing away from home to an in-form team occupying a position in the top six, and you have to play for more than an hour with only ten men, then surely it is a point gained? But on the other hand, when you hold the lead for most of the game, and then concede an equaliser in the 85th minute, then it seems like two points lost?

In some respects we were perhaps lucky as we could have conceded a penalty when Hart dived at the feet of Wood. Sometimes in situations such as these they are given and sometimes not, but they often are when it is a player from the home side who goes down. Also Gudmundsson’s shot came back off the post and might have gone in off Hart’s back, but luckily it stayed out. Conversely the best move of the whole game was a slick passing movement involving several of our players, and Antonio’s shot was well saved by Pope in the Burnley goal.

I’m often surprised by the reaction of fans who like to see the big teams lose. Personally I look at the bigger picture, and think of the Premier League as two leagues. The “top division” of the six elite teams who will surely finish the season in the top six places, and then the remaining teams who make up “Division Two” of the Premier League. Whatever we like to think, that is the reality. The fourteen teams outside of the “big six” are really only fighting for a seventh placed finish, and to keep out of the relegation dogfight.

So when we see the other results, then I am personally disappointed to see Crystal Palace defeat Chelsea, much as I dislike the West Londoners, and to see Watford score a last minute winner to beat Arsenal. Palace and Watford are in our “league” so I don’t like to see them picking up points against teams that will be in the top six at the end of the season. I particularly enjoyed seeing Manchester City put seven past Stoke, firstly because I don’t like the way Stoke play football, and secondly because that result ultimately helps our cause in finishing as high as possible in the table. It also puts a dent in one of our competitor’s goal difference statistics. And much as I don’t like Tottenham, their 1-0 win over Bournemouth will benefit us in the long run.

When other teams in “our 14 team league” are playing against each other, then my favoured result is a draw so they only get one point each. So it was good to see Brighton drawing with Everton, and Southampton sharing the spoils against Newcastle. All four of those teams will be joining us in an attempt to finish seventh in the Premier League this season. I’ll be hoping for a similar result when Leicester take on West Brom on Monday, even though the Baggies are the team I dislike the most. In the short term it might seem better to see Leicester defeated at home opening up a three point gap between the bottom three and the rest, but in the longer term I feel a draw would be the best result.

Prior to Monday night’s game, the league outside of the top teams is taking on a similar feel to last season and  is looking very close, even at this early stage, with Newcastle in ninth on 11 points just three points ahead of Stoke who now occupy 17th. It won’t be long before Watford and Burnley drop down to join the rest of us leaving the elite six to fight out the top places.

There is some debate on social media as to whether or not Andy Carroll’s red card was justified, but unfortunately I think the referee was right. And much as I don’t like to see our players unavailable for games, I don’t personally believe that playing without Carroll will harm us, and hopefully will lead to a better approach as to how we play the game. By our standards we have a fit squad of players to choose from, and I don’t think he will be missed. At best I see him as an impact substitute these days rather than someone who should be in the starting line-up, but I guess it is all a matter of opinion.

So, rather like the manager I am in two minds as to whether it was a point gained or two points lost. We won’t really know until we see what happens in matches to come.

Personally I had two excellent days at Newmarket races, including picking the winner of the Cesarewitch amongst other notable selections that made the racing profitable as well as enjoyable. I hope you noted my tip in the Burnley preview on Friday.

Five Takeaways: More Red Card Madness for West Ham at Burnley

Pleased with a point or unhappy at dropping two as an early red card defines West Ham’s latest Premier League awayday.

The Starting Eleven

At first glance, the starting eleven was once again a little bewildering. It was perhaps as adventurous but looked fragile in the centre of midfield where the pairing of Cheikou Kouyate and Manuel Lanzini lacked the necessary defensive discipline to combat Burnley’s five man midfield. With Andy Carroll and Javier Hernandez playing as a front two, the attack minded Michail Antonio and Marko Arnautovic providing midfield width, and a flat back four it looked like trying to shoehorn in the preferred players rather than setting up in a conscious style of play. As it turned out, Burnley did not attempt to exploit the apparent frailties in the system and the game, although it offered incident, lacked any real quality. Even so, it was more interesting than the massively over-hyped, ‘greatest game of all time’, Liverpool versus Manchester United anti-entertainment that went earlier. The limitations of the formation meant that Pablo Zabaleta and Aaron Cresswell rarely ventured forward into the opponents half and Lanzini was bypassed (later to be isolated on the wing) as once again the main tactic was to aim for Carroll’s head. The bench comprised the usual suspects with not a young player in sight. I am fairly confident that West Ham having a reasonable enough squad if only it could be assembled into a cohesive unit properly.

Route 1 Please, David

If ever there is ever any doubt as to what a Route 1 goal looks like then in future you can just search out Antonio’s goal on Youtube. The longest and most hopeful of punted clearances from Joe Hart, a shocking misjudgement of the flight of the ball by the defender, and Antonio nipping in to nudge it past the keeper and then roll it into the net. In striking contrast West Ham were unlucky not to double their lead just after half time when a delightful move involving Hernandez, Pedro Obiang and Lanzini ended with Antonio unable to find a way to guide a relatively easy chance past the keeper. The briefest of glimpses at some uncharacteristic excellent movement by the team and a reminder of a style of football that West Ham used to play it.

Red Cards and Referees

It is not difficult to see why referee, Stuart Attwell, is not trusted to take charge of more high profile Premier League games, such was his inconsistency and lack of authority. To be fair he made a common refereeing mistake by allowing a period of lenience in the opening stages of the game before (apparently) deciding that the next wholehearted challenge would end with the perpetrators name going in the book. The unsuspecting victim of this ill-conceived, totting up, the next-fouls-a-booking interpretation was Andy Carroll whose challenge, in my mind, was innocuous and without intent; if it was even a foul. You would like to think that an offence is an offence regardless of the circumstance but that doesn’t seem to be part of the referee’s code; they prefer to apply a random filter that is largely based on outcome rather than the actual level of recklessness – as witnessed by the reaction to a number of recent raised foot incidents. If the first booking was harsh then the second was sheer stupidity on Carroll’s part and reflects a wider issue with ill-discipline in a squad that leads the field in red cards. To restore balance after the sending off Atwell turned a blind eye to what looked like a certain penalty (when Joe Hart felled the Burnley attacker) and later allowed several challenges as bad or worse than Carrolls to go unpunished.

Scheduled or Tactical Substitutions

In the circumstances of playing over an hour with ten men then it would be churlish to complain about the result. Overall the players put in a great shift to limit Burnley to few goal-scoring opportunities. The introduction of Pedro Obiang was no surprise other than it did not take place until half time. It is difficult to conclude whether the other substitutions had any material impact. I have a sense that Bilic has a substitution timetable and that Diafra Sakho was always going to replace Hernandez at or around 70 minutes regardless of what was taking place on the pitch. I saw this as an unnecessary change as Hernandez was still full of running and was doing a job of holding the ball up very well. In hindsight, bringing on Masuaku earlier to double up after the introduction of Gudmundsson might have made sense. Both Cresswell and a tiring Antonio should have done better to prevent the cross that led to the equaliser.

Reflection on The Summer Signings

The stand-out success from the summer transfer business has to Zabaleta who continues to show determination and passion in his claret and blue shirt. Arnautovic was again disappointing and was the right player to sacrifice after the sending off. Apart from some impressive moments in the Bolton EFL Cup game he has done nothing to justify his huge fee. Perhaps it is still early days but the jinx of the record signing shows no sign of going away. My worry that he is a player who only shines when things are going well. I have yet to see what improvement Hart offers over Adrian – a strange set of circumstances when you consider he is only on loan. Hernandez was rightly disappointed at being substituted once again. Let’s hope that he does not easily become despondent.

Matchday: Can West Ham Triumph In Turf Moor Claret and Blue Derby?

Chim chiminey, chim chiminey, chim chim cheroo. Who are the b*st*rds in claret and blue?

The staccato Premier League season resumes today with a short burst of winnable fixtures for West Ham that commences with today’s visit to face Burnley at Turf Moor. The rub of the green in these games could see the Hammers scramble into the top half of the league (or first page of Teletext as it used to be known). That we tend to divide games into winnable and write-offs is a sad indictment on the predictability of the league but nonetheless they are the games where points are required if a messy relegation scrap is to be avoided.

Burnley are the surprise team of the season so far occupying sixth place in the table under the leadership of flavour of the month manager, Sean Dyche. In recent weeks, it has been claimed that Dyche’s name has been added to the list waiting for Slaven Bilic to be relieved of his London Stadium duties as well as being touted as an unlikely successor to Arsene Wenger at The Emirates; albeit only by Ian Wright. The suspicion though is that, as well as Dyche has done at Burnley, he is a graduate of the Allardyce/ Pulis school of difficult to beat and ugly wins rather an exponent of the expansive football yearned for by bigger clubs. Perhaps one day he will get the chance to prove his mettle at the top table.

The claret and blue derby is probably not the most eagerly anticipated in most people’s football calendar and a game between two of the division’s most direct sides is unlikely to dominate today’s Match of The Day coverage or engage the average neutral.

Turf Moor is one of the few remaining old school stadiums having been Burnley’s home since way back in 1883. It has previously also served as both a cricket ground and a horse race track which hopefully does not give our own owners any fresh ideas.

Head to Head

West Ham have won thirty-six and lost thirty-one of their previous eighty-four encounters with Burnley. In history the game has largely gone in favour of home advantage whereas, in more recent times, the Hammers have generally been in control – winning nine of the last twelve (home and away) and, more impressively, having secured seven wins out of the last twelve encounters in the north-west.

West Ham’s first win at Turf Moor was at the seventeenth attempt in the opening weeks of the 1959/ 60 season, a season in which Burnley went on to win the second of their two First Division titles. An amusing ‘typical West Ham‘ event occurred in November that season when, having just beaten current champions Wolves to retain top spot in the table, they then travelled away to face Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough only to lose 7-0. “They gave us a jolly good whacking” was the honest opinion of West Ham manager Ted Fenton.

Team News

Most unusually West Ham are reporting an almost fully fit squad with only James Collins unavailable for selection. Perhaps it is a coincidence or simply good fortune but sick bay occupancy has reduced remarkably since the appointment of Gary Lewin as chief medic during the summer.

It is rare for Bilic to bring a player returning from injury straight back into starting eleven contention; a state of affairs that prepares us for the (bad) news that Mark Noble will be preferred to the more effective alternative of Pedro Obiang in the centre of midfield.

In fact, we shouldn’t expect too many changes from the game against Swansea given that we ended up victorious, no matter how unconvincingly. I would imagine that Manuel Lanzini will start in a five man midfield and that we will play just one up front, where Diafra Sakho or Javier Hernandez would be the best option – so expect Andy Carroll to get the nod.  I don’t see Slav pulling any other selection surprises opening the door for Declan Rice to reprise last season’s 93rd minute substitute role.

So confident is the manager as to the squad’s level fitness and preparation for today’s game that he gave the players extra time off during the international break.  I wish this was a confidence shared!

Burnley are without several long term injuries including keeper Heaton, summer signing Walters and Marney.  It will be between Wood and Vokes as to who takes their own lone striker role.

Man In The Middle

Today’s referee is Stuart Atwell from the West Midlands. I read elsewhere that Atwell had not previously taken charge of a West Ham game but that is not the case; having officiated in Hammer Premier League away wins against Wigan (2009) and Blackpool (2011). He was subsequently demoted from the Elite referees list only to return several seasons later. He now spends time between the Championship and Premier League but is not yet trusted to handle top six games.

The 1-0 win at Wigan in 2010 was notable for Carlton Cole’s finest ever goal when he rounded off a fine Parker, Noble, Di Michele move with a ‘sumptuous’ curling finish from the edge of the area; Cole was later sent off for a second bookable offence. The game will also be remembered as when Jack Collison picked up the knee injury that would ultimately cause an early end to his career.

Predictions

Merson is going for a 1-0 Burnley while Lawro is firmly on the fence at 1-1. It is difficult to see this game as a classic. Both sides are way down the rankings for successful passes in the final third which is consistent with their direct approaches. Burnley have allowed their opponents to take way more shots than any other team in the league this season which could be encouraging if the kit-man has packed our shooting boots. West Ham have scored a meagre thirty six goals so far during 2017 – which is exactly the same number as Harry Kane!

While West Ham have the better squad on paper the evidence suggests that Burnley have superior organisation and team spirit. I can only see this as a low scoring game settled by a mistake, set piece goal, wonder strike or deflection. Finger crossed that it goes our way.

Can West Ham repeat last season’s successful trip to Turf Moor?

The Hammers go looking for a repeat of last season’s success away to high flying Burnley

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.

Green
Faubert, Upson, Tompkins, Spector,
Behrami, Noble, Parker, Collison,
C.Cole, McCarthy.
Subs. who came on: Mido, Stanislas, and Ilan
Manager: Zola

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.

Curbing Our Enthusiasm at The London Stadium

Hope generally trumps expectation but is it time to forget the promises of next levels and accept our role as Premier League also-rans?

The story behind the naming of the hit TV show Curb Your Enthusiasm is that it was a reaction by creator, Larry David, against the many people who lived their lives projecting false enthusiasm and also to urge viewers not to raise their expectations too high.  Regrettably there is no connection to former Hammer’s manager Alan Curbishley!  False enthusiasm and the managing expectations do, however, play a large part in the current undercurrent of discontent that continues to surround West Ham and the London Stadium.

My personal view about the current board is reasonably ambivalent.  It makes no difference to me how our owners originally made their money; suffice to say that they have been successful business people which allowed them to take control of the club at a very uncertain time of it’s history.  Nevertheless, they cannot dine out on their reputation as the club’s saviours forever.  I do not subscribe to the view that their tenure has been synonymous with penny pinching yet do not feel that they have spent their money wisely; the value of their asset has undoubtedly increased but on the back of the money pouring into the game rather than as a result of their own efforts in develop the footballing side of the club.

Expectation management is the biggest concern in particular the misleading naming of high profile transfer targets where we have little hope of persuading the player or deep enough pockets to meet the demands of his current employers.  Supporters often focus only on net transfer spend but in reality there is no such thing as a separate transfer budget.  Clubs will focus on total expenditure (against revenues) which includes transfers, wages and agents fees.  That West Ham were ranked sixth in agent fees paid last season and have several players (with limited re-sale value) earning more than anyone at Tottenham just doesn’t seem to make any long term sense.

Many of us were no doubt carried away a little by the prospect of a new golden era of prosperity following the move to the new stadium even if there were differences of opinion as to how many years this would take.  Fine talk of regular European football and an assault on eventual Champion’s League qualification is a commendable dream (and there is nothing wrong with having a dream) but a dream without a plan is nothing more than a wish.   The structure of the club in terms of footballing direction, scouting, coaching, fitness, youth development and training facilities are way behind other Premier League clubs and leaves the impression of muddling for the sake of survival rather than with any loftier ambitions.  To borrow from The Waterboys, the Owners had promised us ‘the whole of the moon’ but have, so far, we have only seen ‘the crescent’.

It will be no surprise when the end of season Premier League table is almost identical to the amount of money that each club rakes in.  The outlier my well be ourselves in finishing well below the 7th or 8th position that our revenues would suggest.  Despite the Leicester blip, money has increasingly become the determining factor to league position.  As I see it, there is even a split in terms of financial muscle in the so-called big six with the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea now well ahead of the remainder.  Large external investment is the only way to get onto the top table on a regular basis.  Arguably the Premier League is more competitive than other European leagues where one or two horse races have become the norm.  The dilemma for top Premier League clubs is does this relative greater competition diminish their chance of Champion’s League success.

As TV and commercial revenues become far more dominant to the wealth of clubs it is impossible to see how a next level can be achieved simply by year on year incremental and organic growth.  If Gold and Sullivan intend to pass on ownership of the club to their families there can be and never will be a new promised land in east London football.  Perhaps we should just accept our place in the scheme of things to make up the numbers.  An occasional tilt at a Europa league place or a domestic cup every few decades is, maybe, the best a West Ham man can get.

The status quo leaves West Ham in a difficult position leaving the club as it does as the fourth largest in London.  I have long wondered whether it is this factor of geography that makes a large contribution to our recurrent under achievement.  Proximity creates far greater competition for the signature of the brightest and best youth players; and from clubs with better facilities, as evidenced by the poor productivity from the academy over the last ten years or so.  On the other hand established players signing for a London team, with the attraction and distraction of the bright city lights, may well become complacent big-time Charlies now that they have made the big time; without the need for the hard work that a more competitive squad would require.

An interesting blog from When Saturday Comes published in the Guardian by a Swansea supporter questioned whether, for teams with limited resources, perennial struggle in the Premier League was better or worse than being reasonably successful in the Championship.  Certainly the allure of the Premier League is great but does it wear thin after a while It is an intriguing dilemma for supporters as to whether the chance to see world famous footballers in live action makes up for the disappointment of regular defeat.  (For me, the article was spoilt by the cheap, needless and irrelevant swipe at the London Stadium – it is fine for own support to slag off the club but others should keep their unsolicited views to themselves; particularly where it is not pertinent to the point in hand.)  As the Premier League becomes more polarised around money there should be no circumstances where mid ranking clubs such as West Ham or Newcastle ever get relegated and even to flirt with it is a sure sign of mismanagement.

We have the worst of all worlds at West Ham at the moment.  A manager who, with no chance of a new contract, few tactical ideas, regularly prepares teams with questionable fitness and deployed with no overall system or plan, is limping along from week to week in an attempt to scrape together enough points to avoid the sack.  It is a sorry state of affairs. At least the team will not this time have a hangover from a warm weather break in Dubai to disadvantage them when Premier League action resumes at the weekend.

The highlight of the international break was seeing Iceland qualify for the World Cup finals for the first time.  With a population of around 330,000 (just a few thousand less than the borough of Newham), this is some achievement and a great example of producing a team that is greater than the sum of its parts.  Perhaps part-time manager (and dentist) Heimir Hallgrímsson could do a job at West Ham even if it is only filling in until the end of the season!

What has been going on in the Second International break?

I’d prefer to watch a re-run of the West Ham v Swansea game (or even paint drying) rather than watch England play

I’ll begin my international break review with my usual rant. Why do we have to put up with these breaks so early in the season that totally disrupt the Premier League campaign? OK, so England have qualified for the finals tournament of the World Cup to be held in Russia next summer. Is that really much of a surprise when we were in a group of world football powers such as Scotland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta? The combined population of those five countries when added together totals around 16 million.

The biggest surprise is the fact that we haven’t actually won all of the games in the qualifying group. With one game to go we haven’t even averaged scoring two goals a game! When you compare our 17 goals against the other leading European nations it is clear that we are nowhere near their level, and if we continue to struggle to score goals against such weak teams in qualifying, then what chance will we have in the finals themselves? To be fair though, our goals conceded record is not bettered by any other team in any of the qualifying groups, so look forward to some low scoring games when England are playing in the tournament.

Fortunately I was playing football myself on Thursday evening when we clinched qualification, so I missed what must have been a performance equivalent to watching paint dry. I saw that Joe Hart was named as man of the match, so that says it all really. One wag wrote that Southgate comes from the same school of football tactics as our manager, in that a free kick in our opponents half ended up with Joe Hart after a succession of sideways and backwards passes, and then possession was given away by a long aimless kick upfield. Southgate was quoted as saying that we are “a work in progress”. A bit of an understatement?

So what else has been happening on the club front? I see that Reece Oxford is back after what appears to be an unsuccessful loan spell in Germany. I wonder if he can recapture the early promise that he was showing a couple of years ago? Or is he going to be one of those players that appears to have it all at a very young age, and then fades from the scene?

The manager seems to have survived the rumours that suggested he could be on his way out during the break, although constant speculation as to his successor continues in the media. The latest names that I’ve seen linked are Sean Dyche, who has done an excellent job at Burnley, our next opponents, and Carlo Ancelotti who is said to be taking a break from football for the remainder of the season, making him available for recruitment at the end of the season. Who knows? I reckon that provided we have an OK run from here and don’t dabble with relegation, then perhaps our owners are prepared to let our manager continue until the end of his contract. It would probably take a final league position of around seventh or eighth for him to be given an extension, and based upon what I’ve seen so far this season I would say that is extremely unlikely, though I would love to be proved wrong.

There hasn’t been much in the way of original transfer speculation, although I read that Everton are prepared to bid £20 million for Carroll in January! Walcott and Wilshere from Arsenal are names that we are constantly linked with, but we shall see what happens when the next window opens.

Many West Ham fans have been complaining on social media regarding our ticket allocation for the next round of the Carabao Cup against Tottenham at Wembley. I believe that they have failed to realise that Tottenham and the police have put a maximum crowd for the game, and as such the allocation is exactly what should be given to us.

Apparently there is much speculation that Sky Sports want to televise our game against Newcastle just before Christmas, and want to put the game back to a 1.30 kick-off on Christmas Eve. I can imagine that going down well with the Westfield authorities, not to mention the travelling support who would have rather a long journey at a time when all the transport systems will be closing down for the Christmas break. If true, it reinforces the belief that the TV companies who sponsor Premier League football to the tune of around £11 million a game, have no regard whatsoever for football supporters.

Our former captain, Kevin Nolan, has made an excellent start to his career as manager of Notts County and has won the League Two Manager of the Month award. The award itself is usually the kiss of death to a manager and it remains to be seen if he can follow this up throughout the season.

There have been many calls for both Sakho, and particularly Masuaku to be in the starting line-up in the Burnley game. I’m assuming that the majority of our injured players will be back available for selection in the near future, so soon we will have a fully-fit squad, which is most unusual. It will be interesting to see our line-up and formation for the forthcoming run of fixtures, which (on paper) is as easy a run of games that you can get in the top flight. If we don’t manage to start climbing the table in the next month then the speculation concerning the manager will once again reach a crescendo.

Premier League clubs will be voting soon on the distribution of overseas broadcasting TV rights. At the moment this money, which is expected to rise considerably at the next renewal in 2019, is shared equally among all clubs in the top division, but the elite teams want to see a change (unsurprisingly) such that it is based upon finishing positions. Reports initially suggested that we would be voting for this change, but latterly I have read that we intend to vote against, and quite right too in my opinion. The revenue received by the top teams is already way ahead of the rest, and this would exacerbate the divide still further if passed. Fortunately, it requires a majority of around two-thirds to go through so I can’t see it happening.

Some commentators are speculating that failure to make the change will result in the acceleration of the set-up of a European League for all the top clubs in Europe. Let it happen I say. Perhaps then our domestic football will be more of an equal contest among the remaining clubs. We are already seeing the boring predictability of the same six clubs dominating the Premier League season after season, and more games are finishing with these teams easily beating the rest by three or four goals in unequal contests. It is becoming rarer for the “also-rans” to beat the top sides, and I, for one, would much rather see closer games of football. I’m not sure that it would be beneficial for the national team, but as I grew up in an era of Moore, Hurst, Charlton, Greaves, Peters, Banks, Ball etc., then current international football leaves me cold anyway.

Five Takeaways: West Ham Get Out of Jail Against Swansea

A last gasp goal in West Ham’s lucky victory over Swansea throws yet another lifeline to Slaven Bilic.

Another Very Poor Game

Based on the last published information available, West Ham and Swansea have a combined annual wage bill in excess of £160 million paid to players considered worthy of featuring in the world’s elite football league.  It would be difficult to imagine a more uninspiring, dull and turgid ninety minutes of football than what these highly paid superstars served up.  In fact, you would need to go as far back as two weeks ago to find a game that was anywhere near as poor; when West Ham visited West Bromwich Albion.  The money that has attracted managers and players from all around the world to the Premier League has also ensured that the game, in its lower reaches, is characterised by the fear of failure and relegation; any pretence at entertainment has seemingly disappeared .  Barring one or two touches of quality there was nothing to justify the lofty admission prices.  The first half was poor and the second even worse, with only the relief of a last gasp winner providing a moment to remember.  If this were any other business very few would bother to turn up next time around.

The Circle of Strife

It is quite clear that this season is unfolding as a replay of the last one: a run of poor, disjointed, dispirited performances; the manager under increasing pressure; a must win game against a fellow struggler; a lucky sneaked victory; brave talk of taking confidence from the win; rinse then repeat.  For most of the game yesterday West Ham were the inferior of two bad sides.  Thankfully, Swansea, for all their neat midfield possession, carried even less of a goal threat than West Ham.  The win will temporarily ease the pressure and give the board an excuse to take no action as we muddle through to the next game, at Burnley, after the international break.  Slaven Bilic had the look of a haunted man as he stood forlornly on the touch line watching his misshapen team attempt to make sense of what they were supposed to be doing.  Even he must know that his days are numbered.  It can’t be in anyone’s interest to extend the agony any longer.

What’s In A Formation?

Just a few weeks after claiming that a Carroll – Hernandez partnership was impossible, Bilic decided to give it a try anyway.  Swansea manager, Paul Clement, sensing perhaps that this was a game his team could win also opted for two up front.  If anyone thought that such adventurism would open the floodgates to a pulsating attacking master-class then they were sadly mistaken.  I had previously suggested that Bilic would stick with a back three until we lost a game and then immediately revert to a back four.  Even so, I was surprised by his decision to do so for this game but assume it was the only way to shoehorn in the two strikers.  Defensively West Ham were sound enough and apart from one Bony drive, that Hart parried, and an Olsson shot just past the post, our goal was rarely threatened.  In attack, however, there were few ideas on show.  A central midfield duo of Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate has rarely clicked and offers nothing creatively; Michail Antonio either had a very bad day or, more likely, wasn’t really fit; and Andre Ayew was as astonishingly ineffective as ever.  Whatever it was that had been hoped for from a front two failed to materialise as once again, regardless of formation, the assembled eleven gave the impression of a group of strangers.

That Genius Substitution

The late goal probably saved Bilic his job (for now) and he also received heaps of praise for his inspired, genius and game changing substitutions, when Arthur Masuaku set up Diafra Sakho for the only goal of the game in the final minute.  Yet that one moment barely made up for what had gone on in the previous ninety minutes with his selected eleven.  I am no fan of the Carroll style of player but, if that is what you are starting with, then you have to give him the service he needs.  Even when there were opportunities from set pieces to aim for Carroll’s head we chose to go short and backwards instead. There were a few crosses by Aaron Cresswell in the first half but all from positions that favoured the defenders.  I don’t remember any West Ham player getting behind the Swansea defence in a wide position prior to the goal.  There was no width in midfield and no support for the full-backs when they endeavoured to get forward.  For those few minutes when Cresswell and Masuaku were able to double up on the left hand side it led, not only to the goal, but also to Carroll striking the woodwork.  Starting with Masuaku rather than Ayew would have made far more sense and Sakho must surely be, despite his recent problems, the most complete striker on our books.  The substitution did reap benefits but maybe they both should have been in the field from the start.  I cannot recall any dangerous crosses coming in from the right even though Pablo Zabaleta put in another spirited display; I wonder what he makes of it all after his time at Manchester City?

Is There a Bright Side?

It was great to see Manuel Lanzini back on the pitch.  We should make the most of him as I can’t believe he will stick around too much longer; gone in the summer if not before.  In the meantime it is difficult to know how he fits into Slaven’s master plan (if there were one!)  The squad has clearly been assembled with no system or design in mind.  As long as we stick with Bilic (or any unimaginative replacement that may happen along) then I don’t see anything other than plenty more of the same.  We probably have enough talent to finish lower mid-table but no better than that; certainly under-performing for the seventh largest revenue generator in the league.  Of the recent much lauded arrivals: Zabaleta has been the stand-out performer; Hernandez will score goals in the right system; Arnautovic has yet to impress; and loanee Hart has done no better or worse than Adrian would have done.  I really wish I could feel more positive.