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.
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.
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.