Match Preview: Hammers To Squash Cherries?

Back to league action with another chance to put more daylight between West Ham and the floundering relegation pack; and maybe even take a curious glance at what is happening immediately below the top six.

When West Ham met Bournemouth just a few short weeks ago for a Boxing Day fixture the two teams were placed 17th and 18th respectively in the Premier League table and were among the favourites for the dreaded drop to the Championship.  Since then both have taken eight points from four games and sit a little more comfortably in what now passes for mid-table at the increasingly congested lower end of league.  According to the bookmakers, there are nine teams more likely to be relegated than the Hammers and seven that are seen to be teetering closer to the precipice than the Cherries.

Boxing Day’s 3-3 drawn game is best remembered for the terrible refereeing by Robert (Call Me Bobby) Madley who saw fit to overrule his linesman’s call and allow an offside goal scored with his hand by Callum Wilson during time added on for Simon Francis’ yellow-card only attempt to decapitate Cheikhou Kouyate.   Interestingly, the website I visit to check referee statistics appears to have mysteriously erased Madley’s involvement in the game from history (http://www.soccerbase.com/referees/referee.sd?referee_id=1189). It seems that there were no sanctions forthcoming as a consequence of Madley’s professional incompetence and he continues to be allocated to major games.  Away from the controversy West Ham were largely outplayed in the match where goals were given away like late Christmas presents in a spirit of seasonal generosity.

Both sides were involved in mid-week FA Cup replay action against League One sides and, while West Ham squeezed past second placed Shrewsbury, Bournemouth were comfortably beaten by leaders Wigan Athletic – who West Ham now face in the 4th round.  It is difficult to draw any conclusions from the outcome of those two games as the unfortunate tendency of Premier League clubs is to to view competing in the early rounds of the FA Cup as optional.  The Hammer’s obvious struggle to break down Shrewsbury’s packed defence was, however, typical of their plodding attempts to win home games against fellow lower table teams.  Thankfully this should be less of an issue in today’s game with Eddie Howe preferring his team to adopt a generally adventurous approach to games whether they are at home or away.

Head to Head

The contest between West Ham and Bournemouth is still in its embryonic stage with the Cherries a relative newcomer to the top table of English football.  The visitors famously mugged us off during the last season at the Boleyn while West Ham were fortunate winners the following season in the inaugural league fixture at the London Stadium.

Team News

One thing for sure is that neither team will line up as they did for their midweek cup games.  West Ham are likely to be still without Winston Reid, Michail Antonio, Andy Carroll, Edmilson Fernandes and Jose Fonte.  The starting eleven could well be a reprise of the one that kicked off against Huddersfield last weekend – not because it is wrong to change a winning team but because there are few alternatives available.  Although such a lineup might be considered defensive minded and not best suited to breaking down a massed defence it might well work against Bournemouth.  If Marko Arnautovic and Manuel Lanzini can repeat last week’s magic and put Bournemouth under pressure then Cherries keeper Begovic and captain Francis are often good for a ricket or two.

Bournemouth are reported to be missing Josh King and former Hammer’s ‘favourites’ Jermaine Defoe and Junior Stanislas.  I watched most of their game against Arsenal last week and once the Gunners went ahead I thought that would be it.  As a big admirer of what Eddie Howe has achieved on the south coast I have always been baffled to understand what on earth prompted him to shell out such big money for Jordan Ibe.  I was commenting on how his performance against Arsenal was as shocking as usual when lo and behold he pops up with the winner.  To avoid tempting fate I will cast no such aspersions this time around.  In the absence of the impressive King, Callum Wilson presents the greatest threat and the West Ham defence need to remain alive to his fine movement.

The Man in The Middle

Referee Martin Atkinson from West Yorkshire covers his fourth Hammers match of the season having previously whistled along to defeats at Old Trafford and at home to Brighton, plus the home draw with Leicester.  No Max Headroom VAR today and so we must rely on his eyes alone (and those of his assistants hopefully) to ensure all is fair.  Atkinson’s record this year is 19 games, 63 yellows and 4 reds.

Predictions

The BBC’s Lawro has shifted momentarily from his uncomfortable position on the fence by forecasting a 2-0 home win for the Hammers.  Sky’s Paul Merson (Football Expert and Columnist) also sees a West Ham win but this time by 2-1.  I am still in a positive frame of mind and will back the rip roaring, free scoring Hammers to canter to a 3-1 win, as our blindside assault on the European places gathers apace.  Time for the London Stadium to be graced by a touch of West Ham style.  Come On You Irons!

West Ham Go Cherry Picking Once Again

Can West Ham pick up three points without the assistance of the Video Assistant Referee?

It doesn’t seem like long ago that we last faced Bournemouth. I guess that is because it wasn’t that long ago. We faced every other team in the Premier League before we met them, but just a few weeks later here we go again. At least we are spared a third meeting in a month thanks to the fact that Wigan beat them comfortably in the FA Cup third round on Wednesday night, which means that we face a trip to the north-west in round four.

The video assistant refereeing system (VAR) has been much in the news recently after it is beginning to be trialled in some FA Cup matches. When I wrote my book, Goodbye Upton Park, Hello Stratford a couple of years ago I devoted some of the pages within it to championing the VAR as so many decisions seemed to be going against us in that final season at our old ground. If the system had been in operation we may have even finished high enough to qualify for the Champions League, but seeing our performances in the lesser European competition then perhaps it was a good thing!

But no, I am strongly in favour of a system that increases the chances of eliminating errors by officials. The system isn’t perfect and won’t rectify all their mistakes, but it will help. It seems to me in this initial trial period that those people like myself who are in favour reckon it is doing a good job so far, whereas those not in favour do not. Similarly those managers who are benefiting from the decisions are in favour, and those on the receiving end are not. Our own Karren Brady came out in her Sun column most definitely against. It would be interesting to know her reaction if we were relegated by one point this season and then think back to the end of our visit to Bournemouth.

You will remember that we had three points wrapped up in the fourth minute of added on time when Bournemouth scored an offside goal that was also handball. The VAR system would have ruled out the goal (as would any sensible referee who would have done the same after the assistant raised his flag) but inexplicably the goal stood and we are now two points worse off than we would have been.

That means we go into this game five points clear of the drop zone on 25 points, and just one ahead of today’s opponents. If there was any justice then we would be on 27 and they would be on 23. Of course those in opposition to the VAR cite as one of their reasons that poor decisions even themselves out over the course of a season. Of course they do not, but in today’s game I am looking forward to the offside goal scored with an arm by the team in claret and blue that is allowed to stand.

West Ham To Tame Shrews At Second Time Of Asking?

Can West Ham Finally See Off League 1 Shrewsbury In This Unwanted FA Cup 3rd Round Replay?

It is the game that no-one at the club wanted as West Ham are forced to fit a 3rd round FA Cup replay against Shrewsbury Town into their busy relegation avoidance schedule. Manager David Moyes was critical of his side’s performance in the original tie but having picked a team lacking any guile and making noises suggesting that the cup was a low priority he was equally as guilty as the players. The FA Cup has thrown up many a giant killing act in its illustrious history (several at our own expense) but too often nowadays they are the result of the giant’s lack of appetite than lower league heroics.

Shoud West Ham, as expected, progress through to the next round they will face either Bournemouth or Wigan, who replay tomorrow, and so at least West Ham will have a day extra to recover than their weekend opponents. With the 4th round tie scheduled a few days before a home game against Palace it would undoubtedly be another game where caution rules the day. In the circumstances it is easy to understand Moyes’ approach as it will be league results (rather than the cup) that not only determines his West Ham fate but also goes a long way to rebuilding his shattered reputation. Disappointing as it is for the fans (especially those giving up their time and money to attend) that league status is prioritised over a cup run, I do not understand anyone who says that they would trade a relegation for cup success – any gratitude would surely be short lived as rebuilding has to start all over again. Not that competing in cup and league need be mutually exclusive and if West Ham were a half dozen points better off then giving the cup a real go would be worth the risk. That we do not have those points is not the fault of the current manager.

Anyone looking for a precedent can take heart that in two of West Ham’s three previous cup winning seasons they were taken to a replay by a team that should have been beaten – Leyton Orient in 1964 and Swindon in 1975. Perhaps if league recovery is maintained and the 4th round negotiated safely the cup could be taken seriously after all.

Since the first game, West Ham romped to a runaway win at Huddersfield while Shrewsbury were well beaten at Blackburn. This may have little relevance to tonight’s clash with Moyes likely to field a weakened side yet again. If that means no Arnautovic and/ or Lanzini as well as the continued absence of Antonio, Carroll, Hernandez and Sakho then it is difficult to see where any goal threat will come from. I am more than happy to see the likes of Burke, Cullen, Oxford and Martinez given another outing but it is folly if not backed up with at least a shot of midfield creativity. Could Hakšabanović be the answer?

I believe we will do enough to go through but it won’t be pretty.

Arnie Is Different Gravy As Yorkshire Puddings Are Battered

Five Takeaways As West Ham Inflict a Heavy Home Defeat on Huddersfield Town

Current Form Resurgence

At the risk of cherry picking statistics in order to prove a particular point, West Ham’s form over the past nine games gives every reason for supporters to breathe a little easier right now.  Disregarding David Moyes’ first three games in charge, as an opportunity to get his feet under the table, the Hammers have since taken fifteen points from nine games; a return that if repeated for the remainder of the season would deliver a comfortable fifty-five points.  At the same time, the goal difference (although still in debit) is starting to look much more reasonable in comparison with the rest of the relegation threatened pack.  Three points are welcome at any time but on Saturday there was something of a recent rarity where victory was backed up with a fine dominant performance that demonstrated some of the most enterprising football witnessed for some time.

Team Selection Vindicated

It would be preposterous to question team selection following such an emphatic win but there was plenty of online negativity when the lineup was first announced; mainly centred on a defensive looking midfield and the absence of a recognised striker.  The central midfield continues to be a problem area for West Ham and putting three bodies in it was a belt and braces solution for the respective shortcomings of the three individuals involved.  In the context of the game it worked very well with Mark Noble getting more freedom and Cheikhou Kouyate being able to make himself a nuisance (Fellaini style without the elbows) in more forward positions.  The one player who was unlucky to miss out was Declan Rice but I suspect that the management are keen to manage the youngster’s game time.  I do not really see Rice as a midfield alternative and, for me, it would have been a toss-up between him and Aaron Cresswell for the final back three berth.  Cresswell is doing OK but his lack of stature is a vulnerability that more wily opponents than Huddersfield will seek to exploit.

False Strikers

There has been a lot of talk about West Ham’s strikers and their respective attributes with the probability that none of the existing crop is a good fit to the way that Moyes wants to play.  Despite stating at his press conference that he didn’t want to lose any of his four main strikers (and that he wasn’t looking for any new ones) it was interesting that he plumped for Marko Arnautovic in the striking role for Saturday’s game, just as he had previously shown a preference to use Michail Antonio for that task in earlier games.  Arnautovic revelled in his new found freedom and gave the Huddersfield defence a torrid time.  It was a match winning performance and his transformation over recent weeks has been a revelation.  He has a reputation for being moody and we must hope that he can continue to be motivated to show was a superb player he can be.  The link up play between himself and Manuel Lanzini was a joy and particularly effective when the team is looking to break quickly.  How this might translate against a team coming to the London Stadium to defend is another question altogether.

Team Effort

Understandably it was Arnautovic and Lanzini who received the plaudits following the weekend’s game but this was truly a tremendous all-round team effort.  I don’t think any player let the side down although one or two could have done better before Lolley popped up to net with his excellent equaliser. It has become fashionable in recent weeks to target the performances of Kouyate and Pedro Obiang for any deficiencies in West Ham’s play; and although neither of them has been at the top of their game they haven’t played as consistently poorly as some have claimed.  One of the many player ratings I saw over the weekend (I think it was from Claret & Hugh) singled out Kouyate as the worst performing Hammer, this despite his telling involvement in three of the Hammer’s four goals.  It is probably time to get off the bandwagon when you can no longer be objective.

The West Ham Enigma

As West Ham fans our long experience of false dawns make us suspicious and ensures that we do not get carried away too easily by a few good results.  However, we can be quietly encouraged by the improved performances that Moyes and the coaching team have managed to get from the players in a relatively short space of time.  Naysayers will still point to cup performances as a reason to criticise but as much as we all love a cup run the club will see preserving Premier League status as the much bigger (if not exclusive) priority.  Do you think that if West Ham won the FA Cup but were relegated the manager would still be in a job come the summer?   So despite the recent turnaround in form the official stance from all concerned or associated with the club is to emphasise that there is still much work to be done before we can think of ourselves as safe.  I am certain, however, that the more agreeable league position will put a different complexion on transfer window dealings, where signings can be made not just through panic but with longer term improvement in mind.

Huddersfield 1 West Ham 4

Another comfortable away win for the Hammers as we move up the table

Do you remember just a few short weeks ago when West Ham appointed David Moyes as the new manager to replace the much loved, but tactically inept Slaven Bilic? Social media sites went into overdrive even though the departing boss was not getting results, the team were performing poorly, there was no apparent plan, and the new man was the fourth most successful Premier League manager of all time. I guess it says more about social media than anything else. The win this weekend meant that Moyes became just the fourth manager to win 200 league matches (behind Ferguson, Wenger and Redknapp). And we were even the first game on Match of the Day! We are now unbeaten in five games and have moved five points away from the drop zone and sit in eleventh place.

The transformation has been astonishing in such a short space of time. I’m not getting carried away and, of course, there is still a long way to go, but with exactly the same players we are now in a much healthier position. How many people would have predicted that we would collect eight points from the last four away fixtures at Bournemouth, Stoke, Tottenham and Huddersfield? (We had only previously picked up eight points in our previous 15 fixtures on our travels!) We should have had ten but for the ridiculous refereeing of Bobby Madley that cost us two points. Even the point at Tottenham, although fortunate in some respects, could have been three if our defensive resilience had lasted just a few more minutes. How many fans would have thought that when he got sent off at Southampton, Marco Arnautavic would be such an influential player, so much so that a little over half way into the season he is already odds-on favourite to be the Hammer of the Year next May? And how pleased am I that I put him into my Fantasy Football team prior to the Huddersfield game?

The win against Huddersfield once again made nonsense of the importance of possession statistics. With little over one-third of the ball, and a poorer pass completion rate, we dominated the game in the areas where it mattered and comfortably won the match. It took a superb goal from the home side to wipe out Mark Noble’s opener, but then Arnie scored just eleven seconds into the second half, before setting up Lanzini for two further goals. The creative partnership between Arnie and our diminutive Argentinian was a delight. Huddersfield had only previously been beaten at home by Man City, Chelsea and Tottenham, which shows the difficulty that we faced and how impressive was our performance.

We now need to push on in the forthcoming games and consolidate our mid-table position, looking upwards and not downwards. Despite much speculation nothing has happened yet in the transfer window, but we still need a couple of quality players to give a better balance to the squad. It remains to be seen if the right players can be identified and persuaded to join us. And more to the point the owners need to make the finance available to ensure this happens. But I am more confident with our new managerial / coaching regime that we can move further up the table. However, there is still a long way to go to achieve the aspirations that the owners voiced when we moved into our new stadium.

Relegation Scrapping As West Ham Take On Huddersfield

Wheear ‘ast tha bin sin’ ah saw thee? West Ham’s first league visit to Huddersfield since 1971.

January has become the twilight zone of the football calendar with the league programme seeming to be an unnecessary interruption to the ongoing frenzy of transfer window speculation.  It is like an unofficial winter break but with clubs continuing to play competitive matches rather than going on a marketing tour of the Far East.  Meanwhile the window is taking its normal wide-eyed course having learned nothing from history that little of note really happens in January and that whatever panic purchases owners are compelled to make quickly transform into a case of buyer’s remorse.

Despite very few deals having been completed anywhere, it doesn’t prevent supporters being ‘appalled’ by West Ham’s apparent lack of activity in bolstering their bare bones (© H. Redknapp Esq) of a squad.  As ever, the majority stories in the media are concocted fantasy but that doesn’t stop social media resonating with reaction to any unfounded rumour that serves to reinforce an individual’s pre-conceived view of the world; whether that is the Board’s lack of ambition, the manager’s lack of imagination or both.  I still maintain that it is not a reluctance to spend money that is the club’s problem but in spending it wisely.  Transfer policy and oversight has left the club with an unbalanced squad and too many highly paid players on long contracts with little or no re-sale value. Players have been bought on reputation without any thought of how they might fit into a system or complement each other.  At least we can hope (until proven otherwise) that David Moyes will take a more targeted approach to player recruitment.

Anyway, back to the mundane matter of today’s game and the Hammers travel ‘oop north’ to take on Huddersfield Town at the Kirklees (or John Smith’s) Stadium.  Huddersfield, along with Brighton and Newcastle, were one of last season’s promoted sides.  All three made encouraging starts to their Premier League campaigns before slipping back into the swamp of the relegation melee that presently involves at least twelve teams.  Having started out with what looked a tight, well organised unit they subsequently started to ship goals badly, to the extent that they are one of only three teams in the division with an inferior goal difference to our own.  Possibly, as a disciple of Jurgen Klopp, manager David Wagner suffers the same defensive blind spot as his mentor.

Head to Head

The last away league meeting between the two clubs was in 1971 at Huddersfield’s old Leeds Road stadium; a game which ended in a 1-0 win for the hosts – The Terriers also won a 5th round FA Cup tie between the two clubs at the same stadium in the same season.  West Ham have played at the Kirklees Stadium on just one occasion when they lost a League Cup first leg tie in 1997.

You need to go back to 1952 to find West Ham’s last league win at Huddersfield when a Fred Kearns goal was enough to secure all two points, as it was at the time.  Goals from Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters did, however, earn the Hammers a fourth round FA Cup win in the relatively more recent history of the 1968/69 season.

Team News

There are fears that Michail Antonio’s injury is worse than originally expected and he joins Winston Reid and Andy Carroll on the injured and doubtful list along with long term absentees Jose Fonte, Edmilson Fernandes and Sam Byram.  More positive news is that all of Marko Arnautovic, Manuel Lanzini, Aaron Cresswell and James Collins are available for selection.

With no new recruits yet to bolster the fragile centre of midfield I expect Moyes to stick to his ‘hard to beat’ format of three/ five at the back where wing backs Pablo Zabaleta and Arthur Masuaku will be joined by three from Angelo Ogbonna, Declan Rice, Collins and Cresswell.  Defensive cover in midfield should come from Pedro Obiang and Mark Noble while Lanzini and Arnautovic will be expected to carry whatever threat can be mustered offensively.  The remaining lone striking option of Javier Hernandez or Andre Ayew doesn’t set the pulse racing but one of them will have to do; and most likely until the end of the season if Moyes’ recent comments are to be believed.

Huddersfield have two new recruits in the form of Alex Pritchard and Terence Kongolo at their disposal and either or both may get a first start today.  The Terriers also have a few other players that I have never heard of out with injury.

Man In The Middle

Today’s referee is Jonathan Moss from West Yorkshire who given the short travelling distance to the game can have a bit of a lie-in this morning.  Moss makes a quick return to West Ham duties having been in charge of the draw with Arsenal just a month earlier.  In 19 games this season Moss has shown sixty-eight yellows and three red cards.

Predictions

If there was a prediction competition to predict what Lawro would predict for West Ham games then the safest option would be to go for 1-1 and this week you would not be disappointed.  Sky’s Paul Merson is nowhere near as West Ham bullish and sees Huddersfield coming out as 2-1 victors based on having a respectable home record.  West Ham’s recent league form has been encouraging (no team outside the top five has picked up more points in the last seven games) but they go into the game off the back of a poor showing in the cup at Shrewsbury.  I imagine it will be another cautious display but if Marko and Manny can create something on the break then there is every chance of a Hammer’s win.  If we can get our noses in front then I am hoping that Huddersfield will capitulate and that a repeat of September’s 2-0 scoreline is on the cards.

West Ham Start Their FA Cup Campaign At Shrewsbury

The 2017-18 FA Cup Campaign gets underway with a first ever cup meeting with Shrewsbury Town

Are you old enough to remember Saturday May 10 1980? I remember it as if it was yesterday, not almost 38 years ago! Working as an assistant manager for a Building Society at the time, and with a less than understanding manager, I had to work on that Saturday morning in Wanstead. We closed the doors at 12.00 midday and then we had to cash up before we could leave. The tills were balanced in record time and by ten past twelve I had crossed the road to Wanstead station on the central line, and was heading off to meet fellow co-blogger Geoff at Baker Street for our visit to the twin towers of Wembley.

We were in Division Two at the time and not even close enough to be pushing for promotion. Arsenal were of course where they have always been in the top tier. We didn’t have a chance did we? But at the age of 26 I experienced West Ham’s third win of the FA Cup, a trophy that meant so much at the time, unlike in the modern era, where it is totally overshadowed for financial reasons with the need for teams to concentrate on the Premier League. It is a shame, but unfortunately a fact of life that things move on.

I was ten years old when we first won the FA Cup, beating second division Preston 3-2 in 1964. This of course led to winning a European trophy the following season when we triumphed in the European Cup Winners Cup Final again at Wembley, before the hat-trick of the World Cup at Wembley a year later.

I had to wait until I was 21 before our second FA Cup win, an unremarkable game in 1975 where we beat second division Fulham (with our very own Bobby Moore in their side). So by 1980, when we won for the third time, for West Ham to win the FA Cup it was something I could expect to experience every few years.

But of course life isn’t like that, and here I am in 2018 waiting for it to happen again. Of course we came mightily close in 2006 when we should have beaten Liverpool, and perhaps if the game had been played at Wembley rather than Cardiff then we might have done so. In my lifetime we are unbeaten at Wembley in what I would call important games like FA Cup finals, League Cup finals, Play-Off finals, league games, and league cup ties. I will conveniently ignore the Charity Shield games against Derby (1975) and Liverpool (1980) which act as a curtain raiser to each new season. That unbeaten record was continued on Thursday evening with the magnificent rearguard action in the 1-1 draw against a Tottenham team who everybody expected to beat us comfortably.

Before I finish I’ll go back to 1980. Just two weeks before the FA Cup Final, Geoff and I took our seats at Upton Park in B Block in the old West Stand with less than 20,000 others to watch a league game, which was against Shrewsbury. It was the first time I’d ever seen us play against these opponents as we had never before been in the same division. In the first meeting that season just before Christmas they had given us a 3-0 drubbing at the wonderfully named Gay Meadow Stadium, and they did the same at Upton Park, although this time we did at least have a Trevor Brooking goal as consolation to the three we conceded.

We did the double over them in our record breaking promotion season the next year and we have never played them since. Of course the FA Cup doesn’t have the romance or glamour that it had in my youth, but I would still like us to win it again one day. This season we are battling with a dozen other teams to avoid relegation, and our injuries are mounting up too, so our team today is likely to include a number of our promising youngsters who are rarely given a chance in league games. It wouldn’t be as big a shock as it was in yesteryear if we were to be eliminated from the competition by a third tier side, but as West Ham fans we have experienced it enough times in the cup competitions, and I hope it doesn’t happen today.

Perhaps we can beat Shrewsbury comfortably, then go on a winning run in the league to remove all fears of relegation, and then field a strong side in the latter rounds of the FA Cup before going on to win the trophy next May. We are entitled to dream aren’t we?