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?

All Around The Wrekin: Can West Ham Avoid The Shrewsbury Banana Skin

Can West Ham dodge the banana skin and avoid another early exit from the FA Cup in this 3rd round tie at Shrewsbury.

One of the reasons (apart from the absence of skill, pace, determination and stamina) that I ascribe to never making it as a professional footballer was  the sudden departure of my secondary school PE teacher to run a pub near The Wrekin, a notable landmark on the road to Shrewsbury.  If I had been asked “Which country is Shrewsbury in?” on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and the computer had cleverly left in ‘England’ and ‘Wales’ from my 50:50 lifeline then it would still have been enough to make me sweat even if it was only £2,000 question.  Shrewsbury is, of course, in the English county of Shropshire (a region that most people spend their lives bypassing on the M6 never getting to experience one of England’s finest medieval market towns); it is, however, just a short afternoon’s stroll from the Welsh border.

Shrewsbury Town were elected to Division Three (North) in 1950 when the football league was expanded to ninety-two clubs and have spent most of the intervening period bouncing around in the lower tiers including a brief return to the Conference at the start of the millennium. This year they are riding high in League One and seeking a rare promotion to the second tier which they have visited just the once for a ten year stay between 1979 and 1989.  During that time the paths of West Ham United and Shrewsbury Town met on four occasions in the old Division One, with The Shrews completing a double over the Hammers in 1979/80 and West Ham returning the favour in their record breaking promotion season of 1980/81.  Today will be the very first cup meeting between the two sides.

The previous encounters against Shrewsbury took place at the amusingly named Gay Meadow (away supporter access via the rear entrance) while they now play at New Meadow (or the Montgomery Waters Meadow to give it its full naming right’s title!)  A legend from the Gay Meadow years that I remember watching on Jimmy Hill’s Chinny Reckon Football Yarns (or some similar TV programme) concerned a local boat-builder who spent match-days in a coracle afloat on the adjacent River Severn ready to retrieve any wayward clearances that sailed out of the stadium.

With West Ham playing their third game in a week, and still sitting precariously in relegation danger, manager David Moyes will almost certainly make several changes to today’s starting eleven.  The dilemma of modern football is that while fans continue to dream of the romance of the cup the practical realities of survival in the money league creates a completely different set of priorities for managers.  Moyes, like many other managers at the top level, will be judged on preserving Premier League status first and foremost rather on than heroic cup performances.  It is a shame particularly for those who have good paid money to watch but it will remain a fact of footballing life while the cost of Premier League failure is so high.  If West Ham were six or seven points better off then it would be a different story.

It would be a surprise if more than five or six of the team that started at Tottenham are in the starting eleven for today’s game – despite the limited options that might be available with up to nine senior players out with injury.  One player who will definitely be starting is Joe Hart making a return to the home town club where he started his career in 2003.  Other than that the West Ham lineup is impossible to predict.  It is unlikely any of those returning from injury will be risked while others (such as Mark Noble and Pablo Zabaleta) could well be rested if there are viable replacements at the ready.  An opportunity perhaps for Declan Rice, Sead Haksabanovic, Domingos Quina, Toni Martinez and Reece Oxford (if fit) to get a little game time.

Shrewsbury manager Paul Hurst may be inclined to give this one a real go, seeing an inspiring cup run as enhancing the club’s promotion push rather than hampering it.  He has an impressive managerial record and has done a remarkable job during his time at Shrewsbury.  It will be an athletic, pacey and direct side that is full of confidence facing the Hammers this afternoon.  The Shrews have lost just three league games this season although they have also been beaten in an EFL Cup against Nottingham Forest.  They are not a high scoring side but equally do not concede many goals.  Top scorers are Stefan Payne (once of AFC Hornchurch) and Shaun Whalley.  Other notable players include team captain Abu Ogogo, a long time servant of Dagenham and Redbridge, and Aristote Nsiala who was released as a youngster at Everton by Moyes who himself had a stint in a Shrewsbury shirt between 1987 and 1990.

Difficult to see which way this game will go as much depends on the desire of the two managers to win the tie.  West Ham have gone out of the FA Cup four times in the last six seasons at the 3rd round stage and it would be no big shock if it happened again today.  I still love a cup run but equally understand the unfortunate realities of the modern football business that makes this famous old competition a lower priority, especially during the early rounds.  In many respects the worst outcome of the afternoon would be a draw and a replay.  Third round day in the FA Cup was once one of the highlights of the season and let’s hope that today’s game can re-kindle some of that old magic.

West Ham To Once Again Poop Tottenham’s Party?

West Ham have another opportunity to derail the ambitions and delusions of the north London glory boys.

If ever further proof were required that English football well and truly dances to the broadcaster’s tune then the clusterfuck that is the holiday match schedule is surely the smoking gun.  The intention to bring a daily dose of soap opera style Premier League football straight into our living rooms might be the marketing man’s dream but its major flaw is that we all know how the story ends (i.e. Manchester City win the title) – while the peripheral cliffhangers of who qualifies for Europe and who gets relegated are simply B-movie supporting features.

Nevertheless, just forty-eight hours after their last games two of the supporting cast lock horns at Wembley to further their own particular battles.  West Ham desperate to build on their last gasp success over West Bromwich Albion and climb away from the relegation zone; Tottenham desperate to finish above Arsenal.

Over the past two seasons I will begrudgingly admit that the hosts have played some of the most attractive and enterprising football in the league but their real chance of glory has now been missed and it is only a matter of time before manager and star players go looking for medals and money in more fertile waters.  This season Tottenham are back in their rightful place scrambling to pinch fourth spot in their role as wannabe top four gatecrashers; a task that should their usual late season bottle job be repeated could prove well beyond them.

Head to Head

Bragging rights in this fixture favour the north Londoners who have sixty three wins to the Hammers fifty with another thirty six games being drawn.  On recent form, however, West Ham have the edge winning six and losing five of the last twelve games.

The Hammers have not traditionally travelled well to the north London suburbs having won only seventeen times on the road out of seventy five attempts; although we have a 100% record against them at Wembley.  The last twelve away fixtures against Tottenham have seen West Ham win three and lose seven but with all three of those victories happening in the most recent six games.

Team News

Aaron Creswell is added to the West Ham injury list and if he is confirmed as missing then his place in a back three will likely be taken by Declan Rice or Cheikhou Kouyate.  I expect West Ham will adopt similar tactics to those used at Manchester City with Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang sitting in front of five defenders to form an impregnable shield.  At least the blossoming understanding between Marko and Manuel does offer enough quality to break quickly and cause problems on those rare occasions that we get and hold on to the ball and it will be interesting to see how they can link up with the unplayable (but largely unmovable) Andy Carroll – who will surely keep his place after his two second half goals on Tuesday.

Tottenham will be without Rose but Kane returns to the starting eleven possibly along with Wanyama (which is a bit of a shame for West Ham).  Although an admirer of Pochettino’s management his recent signings have not matched up to what he already had and it will be disappointing should a few of those not be on the pitch today.

Man In The Middle

Twelfth man for Tottenham today is Mike Dean from the Wirral.  If the old adage that bad refereeing decisions balance themselves out over time then hard done by West Ham might be awarded a dozen penalties today against the routinely leniently treated hosts.  Dean was in charge of the EFL cup game between the two teams in October as well as the defeat against the Champions Elect in early December.

Predictions

Merson sees an emphatic 3-1 victory for Tottenham while our old mate Lawro appears to have passed on predicting this one; maybe the result of too many sherries and snowballs over the holiday period.  This is going to have to be one of those spirited backs to the wall affairs, where not conceding an early goal and the ability to pull off a smash and grab are crucial to coming away from the game with any return.  It will a tough ask but I am hopeful (with 70% confidence) that West Ham will earn a scoring draw and continue to be a thorn in the side of the angst ridden Tottenham support.

West Ham To Start The New Year In Style Against West Bromwich Albion?

A new year and a new opportunity for West Ham to reset expectations against struggling West Bromwich Albion.

Whether or not the New Year turns out to be a happy one or not is largely dependent  for many of us on how well our football team performs.  In a comparative sense, we start 2018 with a very low bar to raise as one of the worst performing teams in the Premier League for the 2017 calendar year – in fact only today’s visitors, West Bromwich Albion, experienced a worse record in 2017 with just seven wins in twelve months to West Ham’s ten.

January is always an odd month in the football year where ongoing on-field struggle competes for attention in the media and for fans with the unrelenting transfer window frenzy.  This is particularly the case for those clubs making their push as gallant runners-up to Manchester City and those teetering close to the Championship precipice (or is it an abyss), as is the case for today’s two participants.  Two days into the window and with still no new signings to get excited about, the Hammers will need to see off Albion using only their existing resources plus the newly recalled, but reportedly want-away, Reece Oxford.

The Premier League manager merry-go-round sees the return today of former West Ham boss Alan Pardew.  Pardew’s time at the Hammer’s helm is most fondly remembered for his slogans and the 2006 FA Cup Final rather than the hard slog he made of scrambling back into the Premier League and his inability to integrate two world class Argentinians into his team.  He has experienced a largely lacklustre career since his departure where a pattern of early promise followed by disappointment has been the order of the day.  Given their current predicament we are unlikely to witness a side demonstrating much of a change from the muscular and uncompromising Pulis incarnation tonight, but then I have always seen Pardew as the slightly more presentable graduate of the Allardyce/ Pulis coaching academy anyway.

Head to Head

A 4-0 West Ham win today would even matters up nicely in the head to head record books giving each team forty wins out of 105 matches played, and an equal number of goals scored to boot.  Both teams have won three of the last twelve encounters (home and away) and the same record applies to the last twelve games played in London.  The last four West Ham home games with Albion have been draws and you have to go back to November 2003 for the last Albion victory – by four goals to three in a game that saw a sulking Jermaine Defoe red carded.

Team News

Sam Byram, Jose Fonte and Edmilson Fernandes are all missing for West Ham while Mark Noble and Michail Antonio are doubtful.  From what remains, David Moyes must fashion a team that is defensively sound while carrying enough guile and threat to break down what will be a resolute and obdurate opponent.  It is a management challenge that is currently without an obvious answer in a squad that lacks a strong, mobile front-man and is fragile in the centre of midfield.  Our best chance comes in the form of Manuel Lanzini but whether Moyes will trust one of the nominal strikers Javier Hernandez, Diafra Sakho or Andy Carrol to lead the attack or use either Marko Arnautovic or Andre Ayew for that role remains to be seen.  My guess is that Hernandez will get the nod with Arnie joining Lanzini as attacking midfielders and Pedro Obiang and Cheikhou Kouyate just behind.  Maybe there will be a change or two at the back where Aaron Cresswell as part of a back three will be increasingly vulnerable as teams target him in the air. Once again Moyes might put out a side that looks adequate enough OK on paper it is likely to be quite unbalanced all the same.

Albion play their second game in three days and should (hopefully) be the less fresh of the two teams.  They may be without Rondon, Chadli and Morrison.

Man in the Middle

The referee today, making his first West Ham appearance of the season, is Mike Jones from Chester.  Jones took charge of two Hammer’s away defeats in 2016/17 – at Manchester United in the EFL Cup and Hull in the Premier League.

In 15 outings this season he has shown 1 red and 53 yellow cards.  With refereeing decisions continuing to have an undue impact on the outcome of games we wish Mr Jones a peaceful and drama free start to the year.

Predictions

No surprise that Lawro is firmly entrenched on his fence seeing this as yet another 1-1 game.  Merson on the other hand believes it is back to winning ways for the Hammers with a 2-1 win.  This really is a game we should and need to win if we are going to secure a more comfortable position in the congested lower half of the Premier League table.  In theory there should be few easier games than at home to an out-of-form Albion side.  Sheer blind optimism prompts me to believe that we will shade the game by a couple of goals but I remain unconvinced that we can effectively take the initiative without get suckered on the counter-attack. Fingers and toes are crossed.

West Ham v West Brom Preview

West Ham begin a run of three games in under six days with a visit of Pardew’s Baggies. Can we start 2018 with a victory to move out of the relegation zone?

Can you imagine a less enthralling fixture to begin a new year of football at the London Stadium than a visit from West Bromwich Albion? It could be worse of course. It could have been a visit from a Baggies team managed by Tony Pulis. But unfortunately for him, although fortunately for lovers of the “beautiful game”, he became one of a number of Premier League managerial casualties in the first half of this season.

Tonight’s game is the first of a ridiculous fixture pile-up which will see us playing two Premier League games and a third round FA Cup tie in less than six days. Although those of us old enough to remember the “good old days” will remember that at this time of the year, footballers were asked to play anything up to four games in a week over the Christmas period, and even play a match on Christmas Day itself back in the 1950’s.

We go into this game as two teams occupying 18th and 19th positions in the Premier League with just over half the season gone. Remaining in these positions at the end of May would mean that next season we would be facing each other again in the Championship. But when you look at the league table the bottom half is very close with Huddersfield in 11th on 24 points right down to ourselves on 18 points. The good news is that we have at least a game in hand over every other team in the league (with the exception of Tottenham), and two games in hand over the majority of the sides in the bottom half. The bad news is that the additional game in hand is at Wembley against our North London neighbours, and despite our surprising win there in the Carabao Cup, that will be a very difficult game to get something from.

For this reason a victory tonight is imperative if we want to lift ourselves out of the relegation zone and begin to climb the table. Our visitors have been in a terrible run of form since winning both of their opening games 1-0 (when they sat in third place in the table) and haven’t won a league game since with nine draws and nine defeats. But as I have written before on many occasions when we have faced a team in such despairing form, we all know what happens when they come up against West Ham! For once we need this to not be one of those times.

After our two games this week we face a run of fixtures which will almost certainly define our season. On paper at least, the next five games, away at Huddersfield, at home to Bournemouth and Palace, away at Brighton, and then at home to Watford, are all winnable fixtures. Of course there are no easy games when you are in our predicament, but if we want to avoid a real struggle in the latter stages of the season then these are games where we must hope to pick up maximum points, and at least avoid defeat.

These are then followed by visits to Liverpool and Swansea, before three home games in a row against Burnley, Manchester United and Southampton taking us to the end of March. At this stage we will have equalised our home and away games (16 of each), before facing a trickier run-in where our six games include visits to Chelsea, Arsenal and Leicester, and home games against Stoke, Manchester City and Everton. We must hope that we are not still in danger of the drop when we enter April.

There was a period in the 1960’s when there were goals galore in home matches against West Brom, and I can remember looking forward to the games then because we always seemed to beat them. The first time I remember playing them was in our cup winning season (1963-64). It was in November 1963, shortly before Kennedy was assassinated. We beat them 4-2. Geoff Hurst scored a couple. It was the first time I can remember seeing Geoff Hurst take a penalty (Johnny Byrne was our regular penalty taker at the time) and he smashed it as hard as he could to the keeper’s right. He always took penalties that way and even though the keepers knew that, they couldn’t often get near them (although Gordon Banks famously did in the League Cup semi-final a few years later!).

“Good Friday” (Easter 1965) was a famous game in our history. This was the day when Brian Dear scored five goals in a twenty minute spell either side of half time in our 6-1 trouncing of the Baggies. The following January we beat them 4-0 with Geoff Hurst again scoring twice, and then there was another win in December 1966 when we “only” beat them 3-0. In 1968 we put another four past them with a Martin Peters hat trick. This game was sandwiched between putting five past Burnley the previous week and seven past Bolton four days afterwards. In six consecutive seasons of home games against West Brom we won five and lost one, scoring 23 goals and conceding 6. Martin Peters scored six times, as did Brian Dear, with five from Geoff Hurst. No wonder I always looked forward to games against them when I was young.

In the 1969-70 season we suffered a 3-1 reverse to them. A letter in the Tottenham programme a few games later caught my eye. A Miss Shirley Tiller wrote: “I wish to express my disgust at the behaviour of a section of the crowd at the match against WBA on 23rd August. Have these so-called “supporters”, who booed and slow handclapped, ever stopped to realise that, whilst to them, watching football is a pleasant relaxation, to the players it is their means of livelihood? Some of them do not get paid any more than people in other walks of life; we all make mistakes in our day-to-day work (no one is infallible) and yet for some reason footballers are not expected to make any! In nine games out of ten we get first class entertainment for the 5 shillings we spend (25p) Surely as supporters we should encourage them not chastise them so bitterly.”

Her letter got me thinking how times have changed. Firstly, today’s players are in a different earnings league compared to most people in other walks of life as was suggested. Secondly it didn’t cost us a lot to get in then even allowing for inflation (the programme cost one shilling that season as well), and finally, players still get booed and verbally abused but whatever happened to the slow handclap? That has totally disappeared from the game! There were other “interesting” letters in the programme, one concerning the litter dropped in the East Stand, and another complaining about the pigeons at the ground! Apparently season ticket holders were coming “under fire!” You wouldn’t see letters along those lines these days.

Our game against West Brom in February 1973 was a shocking game to watch, one of the worst I can ever remember. This was summed up neatly by David Miller of the Sunday Telegraph who wrote “This wretched display by West Bromwich – hacking, arguing and niggling throughout – will leave few of those present shedding tears at their imminent disappearance into the Second Division.” Effectively the referee added on an additional eight minutes to the second half purely to allow for time wasting, although it felt like he just wanted West Ham to get the winner that we deserved. And we did too with Pop Robson’s late goal clinching a 2-1 victory. West Brom were relegated finishing bottom that season. Personally I’d like to see both West Brom and Stoke get relegated this season purely because of their approach to football in the past few years. Of course there is a common denominator there in terms of a manager who was in charge of both of them.

I guess that tonight’s game is likely to be a tight one with both teams not wanting to lose. We are slightly odds-on to win the match, but I’d like a repeat of Good Friday 1965. You can get odds of 500-1 on a 6-1 West Ham victory. Perhaps the in-form Arnie could replicate Brian Dear’s tally of five goals? You can get 90-1 on him scoring a hat-trick. Wouldn’t that be a great way to start 2018?