Five Takeaways: West Ham Unable To Resist Rampant Reds

West Ham’s Dad’s Army put up plucky resistance but eventually succumb to Klopp’s superior firepower. What did we learn?

An Expected Result

In the scheme of things the outcome of this match doesn’t really change anything as far as West Ham’s battle for survival is concerned.  I doubt that anyone working out their predictions and permutations for the remainder of the system, from the team of analysts with a supercomputer to man with a pencil and the back of a fag packet, expected West Ham to take anything out of yesterday’s game.  If there was disappointment it was the size of the defeat and it’s resultant hit on goal difference, which at -15 is now worse that two of the teams below us.  Mark Noble claimed that the scoreline was harsh on West Ham but it could easily have been worse if Liverpool had been more clinical.  At what point a routine defeat turns into a thumping is debatable but the Hammers were well and truly beaten by a talented and in-form Liverpool side.  The Merseysiders were allowed to dictate the game and took full advantage and although the West Ham players put in a decent amount of effort the impression was that there little belief to go alongside it.

The Strangest Selection

The team selection surprised me.  I had doubted that we would see Joao Mario and Manuel Lanzini on the pitch at the same time and yet David Moyes was happy to give the combination a try.  The result was a narrow formation that lacked width without solving the usual inability to provide an outlet for besieged defenders or to keep the ball once in possession.  I thought Mario was poor throughout and although he was not alone in that it was his most ineffective game since coming to England.  Starting with one of Mario and Lanzini along with Michail Antonio would have made more sense and, for a brief period after his introduction, the presence of Antonio appeared to unsettle Liverpool’s defence.  This wasn’t a game where West Ham lacked effort but effort alone is not enough at this level.  Players giving 100% should be a given and what West Ham need are skillful players giving everything; not players who make up for lack of techniques with effort.  An honourable exception to the lack of quality on show in claret and blue yesterday was Marko Arnaoutovic who once again demonstrated what an exceptional player he can be.

Dad’s Army Defenders

When the referee called Mark Noble over following the yellow card shown to James Collins I imagined the conversation going: Referee – “what’s his name?”; Nobes – “don’t tell him Ginge”.   With the introduction of Patrice Evra into the Hammers rearguard we now have a defence worthy of the veterans league.  Looking at all of the outfield players with mainly defensive responsibilities (i.e. everyone except Mario, Lanzini and Arnie) they are characterised by an overall lack of pace throughout.  Once again the central midfield pairing of Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate failed to get even close to impressing and allowed Liverpool to attack the backline with impunity.  Evra and Pablo Zabaleta might have shown admirable commitment but with the best will in the world they are never going to be able to bomb forward to provide width in support of their forwards.  What a contrast to Alexander-Arnold and Robertson for the Reds.

Assists For The Opposition Goals

Despite Liverpool’s dominance the Hammers once again contributed to their own downfall in the goals conceded.  The opener by Can was just the type of goal I had not expected to concede; a simple header from a corner.  It did appear to me that Adrian was badly impeded but this seems one of those rules that is now considered optional by referees.  The second goal was the killer coming so soon after half-time and some blame must go first to Kouyate for a series of powder puff challenges and then to Aaron Cresswell for not getting close enough to Salah.  The third was a result of Mario giving possession away cheaply and compounded by Adrian’s poorly judged rush from the area (but please no recall for Joe Hart) and by the fourth the players were just hoping for the game to end as quickly as possible.  Giving a team like Liverpool so much of the ball was always going to be a huge risk.  The weakness in central midfield, a lack of belief in being able to keep the ball and players bunching rather than spreading play all served to surrender the initiative to the opposition.  Conceding was only a matter of time.

The Table Doesn’t Lie

West Ham slip to 13th position just three points (four if you count goal difference) out of the relegation places.  Assuming that Palace do not beat Tottenham today by two goals or more the standings will be unchanged before the crunch game next weekend away at Swansea.  At least Swansea also experienced their own thumping yesterday meaning that both teams will need to demonstrate ‘bouncebackability’.  With the bottom of the table so compressed and so many teams in relegation danger there are few yet in a position to start thinking about the summer holidays.  Leicester had the look of going through the motions about them yesterday and maybe Burnley and Everton do as well.  Some consolation in that these are three teams we have yet to play.

Where is the best place to park the West Ham bus at Anfield?

Can the Hammers bring back anything better from Merseyside than a respectable narrow defeat to maintain their relatively superior goal difference advantage over the relegation rivals?

Apparently a grand total of 29 players have played for both West Ham and Liverpool over the years but there is one other thing that connects these two clubs – that their best days were back in the distant past.  While most West Ham fans have their tongues firmly planted in the their cheek when claiming that the Hammers won the World Cup it is still many years since the scent of glory was detected anywhere near the east-end of London; in fact, the closest in living memory for the majority of supporters would be the infamous ‘drawn’ 2006 cup final against today’s opponents.

Liverpool, on the other hand, were the undoubted superstars of the English First Division for a good part of the 1970’s and 1980’s.  Yet they now only sit above West Ham in the list of Premier League titles won by virtue of alphabetical order – much to the frustration of their entitled supporters.  Perhaps a more fitting anthem for the Merseysiders than the maudlin ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is the refrain from the song Sit Down which desribes their predicament most succinctly: “Now I’ve swung back down again, and it’s worse than it was before.  If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor!”

In truth, Liverpool under Klopp are one of the most exciting sides to watch in the Premier League; alongside Tottenham (whose own delusional sense of glory is based solely on winning the double almost sixty years ago).  It would be no surprise if it were one of those two teams who ended up in second place to runaway leaders Manchester City, even if they will both have effectively been lapped, come the end of the season.   The big challenge for will then be to hold on to their top performers (and managers) when the truly big clubs come-a-knocking.

Head to Head

If the north-west in general is not a happy hunting ground for the Hammers then visits to Anfield are a desolate wasteland with a return of just four wins (forty four defeats) from sixty six attempts.  West Ham are, however, unbeaten in their last three visits including the memorable 3-0 victory for Slaven Bilic’s side in August 2015.  It was, however, defeat by Liverpool at the London Stadium in November that hammered the final nail into Bilic’s managerial career at West Ham.

There are some bad memories associated with Liverpool and relegation as it was the Reds who had beaten the Hammers in the final matches of both the 1977/78 (crushing my belief that West Ham were a perennial top tier club) and 1988/89 seasons to confirm the worst.  At least there will still be ten games to play after today.

Team News

West Ham resisted the urge to jet off somewhere exotic for a spot of warm weather training during their week off; a tactic that in previous years has precipitated a run of poor form.  It is reported that both Manuel Lanzini and Winston Reid are available for selection while Jose Fonte has popped out for a Chinese.  My sense is that while Reid may play, Lanzini will be start on the bench.  Whether we will see much of Lanzini and Joao Mario on the pitch at the same time will be interesting but I can’t see it happening at Anfield.

There are no prizes for guessing what the West Ham tactics will be for the game and a repeat of the backs to the wall and hope for a smash and grab approach that almost upset Manchester City and earned a point at Tottenham is to be expected.  The problem with parking the bus at Anfield is that there is a high probability that some scally will sooner or later turn up to nick a goal (as well as the hubcaps.)  While I would have confidence in our central defenders deftly heading away crosses until the cows come home, they typically struggle against the trickery and rapid interplay that is a feature of Klopp’s team.  If and when the first Liverpool goal goes in it is difficult to see where a West Ham response could come from; and there is goal difference to play for as well as points.

Liverpool, who took a break to Marbella as reward for their FA Cup exit, have no injury worries unless a late outbreak of Spanish tummy runs through the squad.

Man in the Middle

Today’s referee is Stuart Atwell from Warwickshire who should be fresh in the memories of supporters as the man who overruled his assistant to allow the offside/ handball Bournemouth equaliser having previously shown undue leniency to a Cherries defender for a reckless red card challenge.  He owes us one for that.  He also, with some justification, sent off Andy Carroll at Turf Moor earlier in the season.  In twenty games this season, Carroll is his only red card to go along with seventy yellow ones.


In a rare alignment of the planets, both Lawro and Merson are going for a 3-0 home win.  I admit to having drawn a huge sigh of relief at reaching thirty points after the win against Watford but subsequent results served to trim the breathing space back down to a measly four points.  This game might be seen as a free spin for West Ham but it is vital that it is not a crushing defeat.  Perhaps the away win unicorn could put in an unexpected appearance or inspired defending could secure a precious point but, in reality, confidence is not high of getting anything from the game other than a respectable scoreline and no further injuries.

Liverpool v West Ham Preview

West Ham’s record at Liverpool has been very poor in the last half a century, and on current form a trip to Anfield is as difficult as it gets. But can we get something from the game?

This weekend we resume our battle for top flight survival with a difficult away game at Liverpool, who remain unbeaten at Anfield this season, although six of their thirteen visitors have come away with a point. Five of them are not particularly surprising as they are all top half teams, namely Burnley, Manchester United, Chelsea, Everton, and Tottenham. But in December the team now rooted to the foot of the table, West Brom, managed a goalless draw there.

Although our form over the last dozen games is impressive we are still only four points above the relegation zone. 20 points in those 12 games is a magnificent haul with 5 wins, 5 draws and just 2 defeats, and is bettered only by the very top teams. The disappointing feature though is that it could, and perhaps should, have been so much better. The two losses in that run were at home to Newcastle and away at Brighton, whereas two of the draws were disappointing home games against Bournemouth and Palace. We could be well away from the drop zone by now, but instead we are still in the mix, and failure to pick up something in the next two away games starting today against in-form teams Liverpool, looking to score four goals for the third game in a row, and next week the resurgent Swansea, would keep us well in trouble.

Liverpool themselves have no real injury concerns and can field almost their strongest line-up. They have won six of their last eight games and their only defeat in the last four months came at the hands of Swansea just a month ago. I noticed a statistic on the BBC website that said that Jurgen Klopp has suffered 17 league defeats as a manager of Liverpool in the whole of his time there, and if you averaged out the position in the table of those teams who beat them – then it is 12th. We are currently 12th in the table, but that is really clutching at straws!

For some time now I have had Mo Salah in my fantasy team, and he is continuing to impress with his goalscoring and assists. We will do well to keep him quiet. And apparently David Moyes has managed 14 visiting sides at Anfield and never managed to win there. Well there’s always a first time!

The bookmakers don’t really give us a prayer in this game quoting odds of 12/1 on a Hammers win and 6/1 on the draw, with Liverpool 1/5 to collect the three points. If you believe that we can sneak a win then you can get 35/1 on a score of 2-1, 45/1 on 1-0, and 80/1 on 2-0, with some very big odds if you think we can do better than that.

One thing in our favour is that our lengthy injury list of a few weeks ago seems to be largely diminishing, but this game will be a real test of how far we have come since the arrival of the new manager, and conversely will show how much further we still have to go. I noticed that after the Watford game David Moyes was targeting a top ten finish. On paper might not seem too much of a target as we are only one point off tenth position. In fact we are only six points behind Burnley who are lying seventh, but that would almost certainly be too much to hope for, even for the most optimistic of us, given the difficulty of many of our fixtures in the last eleven games. In eight of them we play teams currently filling the top nine places in the table.

Apart from Carroll, all of our attacking players seem to be fit, and it will be interesting to see how many of Chicharito, Arnie, Lanzini, Mario and Antonio will be accommodated into the team, especially for a tricky away fixture. My prediction for the team he will pick, and I very rarely get this right, is:

Adrian, Zabaleta, Collins, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Kouyate, Noble, Mario, Antonio, Arnautavic, Chicharito. Lanzini may be left on the bench after a lengthy lay-off together with Hugill, Rice, Byram, Reid, Hart and Cullen.

It is hard to see us winning the game, and probably the best we can hope for is a draw. But what I’ll be looking for is a competitive performance that will stand us in good stead for the run-in, irrespective of the result. 0-0 would be a very unlikely score against our free-scoring opponents and is priced at 25-1! I wonder if we can keep the score to that after 90 minutes?

Bad Publicity for West Ham again!

As if there were not enough sticks to beat West Ham with the media have been creating their own!

As if West Ham need any more bad publicity it keeps on coming doesn’t it? Following the dismissal of our transfers director, the club have now been charged over a breach of anti-doping regulations. But the one that really gets me relates to the following. So here is a quiz question for you. Which 23 year-old footballer has played first team football for the following teams but has never made a first team appearance for West Ham? Bradford City, Colchester, Rotherham, Dagenham & Redbridge, Coventry, Leyton Orient, Bromley, Stevenage, Boreham Wood, Maidstone, England U17, U18, U19.

The answer as you all know is Blair Turgott. But all the headlines of his recent alleged misdemeanour were along the lines of Ex- West Ham player Blair Turgott “gambled £16K of stolen money”. The trial still continues so nothing decided yet, despite the headlines, but the use of the words “ex-West Ham player” is just so misleading. OK he was a youth player at the club but he never played at the top level for us as he did for all those other clubs. I suppose the headline Ex Bradford City, Colchester, Rotherham, Dagenham & Redbridge, Coventry, Leyton Orient, Bromley, Stevenage, Boreham Wood, Maidstone, England U17, U18, U19 player …. wouldn’t have had the same impact. But this is yet another example of the media laying into West Ham. We do enough ourselves to garner bad publicity; we don’t need it when we are not really involved.

The struggle for Premier League survival will resume this weekend when West Ham visit Anfield

How many more points will we need?

At the beginning of each Premier League season you will often hear managers quoted as saying that their aim is to reach 40 points which will ensure that they remain in the top flight for another year. It is a sad state of affairs that, although there are 20 clubs taking part in the competition, only 6 of them at the most have any realistic chance of coming out on top. The remaining 14, which include ourselves, have no chance whatsoever. It is the same (or even worse) in all the top leagues in Europe. That is why I advocated in my previous article that all the top European teams take part in a European league and do not take part in their domestic league. Would we miss playing the top teams? I for one would not.

Take this season for example. If you ignored the top six sides then all of the remaining 14 (plus another six from the Championship) would believe at the beginning of the season that they had a chance of winning the league. It would make for a much more interesting competition when most of the teams involved could win. But that is not the case (yet) although I remain hopeful that one day it will happen.

In the meantime the most interesting aspect of the Premier League for me is the competition to finish 7th, and at the same time the battle to avoid finishing in the bottom three. West Ham fans will remember that in 2002-3 we were relegated despite attaining 42 points in a 38 game season. But that was 15 years ago. In the 14 seasons since then 42 points would have comfortably been enough to retain top flight status. Only once (in 2010-11) would it have been necessary to reach 40 points to stay up, and in fact in the season before that just 31 would have done. If you look at the last 5 years (or 10 years) then 36 is the average figure needed to avoid the drop.

According to the BBC website, data analysts Gracenote Sports have apparently run over 1 million simulations to estimate the chances of all teams being relegated. They came to the conclusion that West Ham have a 6% chance of being relegated; in other words the odds are around 16-1. After all these 1 million simulations they concluded that 40 points will definitely be enough to avoid the drop, 38 points will more than likely be enough, and any team with 34 points or less will definitely be relegated.

Without running all these simulations I have produced my own forecast based upon how all of the teams in the bottom 11 of the table have performed for the season to date, and then projected their finishing points if they attain points at the same rate. Now not all of the teams will do that; some will do better and some worse. But I believe that it is reasonable to assume that, on average, the bottom 11 clubs will pick up the same number of points per game in the run-in that they have achieved for the season to date.

The table below sets out the results of my calculations (it took me approximately 5 minutes to do this). I think I could have saved Gracenote Sports from running one million simulations, as the results of my projection suggest that 40 points will definitely be enough to avoid the drop, 38 points will more than likely be enough (but only just), and any team with 34 points or less will definitely be relegated. Pretty similar to their conclusions!

So on this basis, 10 more points from our last 11 games will definitely be enough, 8 more points will probably be OK, but 7 points or less could mean that we are playing in the Championship next season. That assumes, of course, that we don’t get a repeat of the 2002-03 season, although the closeness of the teams in the bottom half of the table suggests that will not be the case.

The bottom 11 teams in the Premier League after 27 games Points after 27 games Projected Points from last 11 games Total
10. AFC Bournemouth 31 13 44
11. Watford 30 12 42
12. West Ham 30 12 42
13. Newcastle 28 11 39
14. Brighton 28 11 39
15. Crystal Palace 27 11 38
16. Swansea 27 11 38
17. Huddersfield 27 11 38
18. Southampton 26 11 37
19. Stoke City 25 10 35
20. West Brom 20 8 28

So where will we collect the necessary points from? Six of our final eleven games are at home, although the next two (At Liverpool and Swansea) are away. That means that our performances at the London Stadium will be vital in ensuring our safety. So far this season we average 1.46 points per game at home, and 0.79 on out travels, so continuing with this average would almost certainly be enough. But we have to bear in mind that 8 of our final 11 games are against teams in the top nine in the table, and of those 8 teams the only one that we defeated in our first game against them this season was Chelsea.

The three “crunch” games would therefore seem to be the home games against Southampton and Stoke, and the away game at Swansea. Failure to win these (or at the very least pick up 7 points) would mean that it is likely that it will be necessary to get results on one or more of our travels to Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Leicester, or at home to the two Manchester clubs, Burnley, and Everton. It will be nerve-racking if it goes down to the wire, and we need something from our final game at home to Everton. I hope it doesn’t come down to that! Based on our recent form we should be OK.

Five Takeaways: Pulling Together The West Ham Way

As David Sullivan calls for unity and the need to pull together, a Marko Arnautovic inspired West Ham bounce back from their recent doldrums to record a much needed win over Watford. What did we learn from the game?

We All Pull Together

The team performance against Watford was a perfect reaction to the disappointment of half-hearted effort on show at Brighton last week.  In David Sullivan’s attempt at a damage limitation video (that was posted on the official West Ham website) he repeated, in a style reminiscent of Theresa May’s much ridiculed strong and stable slogan, the mantra as to how we all needed to pull together to drag the club out of its current plight.  I am all for unity but for it to be achieved everyone has to see that striving for it is to their advantage.  Donating my time, effort and money simply to line someone else’s pocket is just not tempting enough to earn my unquestioning support unfortunately.  Still the players responded well and they ably demonstrated the spirit, determination and togetherness required to earn a valuable three points from what looked to be a troublesome fixture against a confident Watford side.

Arnie Is Back

In my match preview I predicted a point at best and that we would be lucky to see Marko Arnautovic on the bench.  The inaccuracy of that latter expectation had a direct impact on the imprecision and negativity of the former.  While I am in confession mode, I will admit to having been ambivalent about the signing of Arnautovic.  Not that I was a huge Stoke City watcher but the impression I had was of an inconsistent, fair-weather, sun-on-his-back type of player who would pick and choose which matches he would contribute to at the best of his ability.  His early outings in claret and blue did little to dispel that assessment.  He looked moody and disinterested and added an early blot to his copybook with a needless sending off at Southampton.  Then suddenly, after thirteen goalless outings, he was given a more attacking role by David Moyes, free from tracking back along the wing, and goes on to score seven times in the next eleven games.  And it is not only in goals that he is contributing to the cause as his overall effort, strength and impressive close control have made him into a defender’s nightmare.  It is difficult for me to remember ever being so completely wrong about a player in the past.   When the new golden age of player recruitment, as promised by the Board, becomes a reality let’s hope there are a few more Arnies up their sleeves.

The Legendary Game Of Two Halves

In many ways it was an unusual game.  The first half West Ham were very much on the front foot with great movement and invention on show.  Cheikhou Kouyate was a midfield driving force demonstrating a power and energy that has largely been missing from his game in recent times, and with the ball at their feet the combination of Arnautovic, Michail Antonio, Joao Mario and Javier Hernandez always looked threatening and capable of opening up the Watford defence.   A goal disallowed for the thinnest of offside margins, a denied penalty appeal and a spurned Arnautovic chance all preceded the opening goal.  When Hernandez headed home after a fine Antonio run and cross it felt like we were on a roll.  The second half was a very different animal and it was difficult to tell whether this was because Watford had upped their game or whether West Ham had decided the best tactic was to defend deep and deny the visitors any chance of a quick counter attack.  The inability of West Ham to keep the ball for more than a few touches and the tendency to go for the long ball was a concern but for all of Watford’s possession they created little.  Watching live it seemed a very long second half that was all Watford, but watching the highlights later it was apparent that, apart from a free kick well saved by Adrian, it was West Ham who enjoyed the clear cut chances.  Ultimately it was the Hammers who secured a further (rather scrappy) goal to seal the match and claim the points.

Heads Up

Initially the starting line-up puzzled me when it was first announced.  I was sure it was going to be a back four and when it was apparent that this was not the case I was concerned about how well the Angelo Ogbonna, James Collins, Aaron Cresswell threesome would deal with Watford’s creative players.  Cresswell has performed adequately in his new role but I am yet to be convinced that his lack of height will not be exploited by more astute opponents.  For all of Collins limitations against more mobile adversaries there are few better when the opposition decide to rely on the lofted cross as their main form of attack.  Similarly the aerial assault plays to one of Ogbonna’s main strengths; the other being wrestling with opponents at corners.  Much was made of Watford’s 64% possession but it should be obvious to most by now that possession does not equate to dominance.

Canny Jock Or Dour Scot?

It remains tight at the bottom end of the Premier League table but the thirty point milestone is a good one to have crossed with still more than ten games to go.  When Moyes took control of the team, West Ham had recorded nine points from eleven games and were sitting in eighteenth place.  In the sixteen matches since he took charge his team have amassed twenty one points and now sit in twelfth place.  It is a decent achievement and current trajectory should ensure a safe end to the season and even eyes on a top ten finish.  The likelihood that at least six out of the eight teams sitting below West Ham in the table outperform them by a sufficient margin in the remaining eleven games is a slim one.  What happens at the end of the season though is anyone’s guess.  Personally, I think Moyes should be given the opportunity to show what he can do (both in terms of success and style) after a sensibly planned transfer window.  Whether he wants to, or will be allowed to, depends very much on what the new strategy of pulling together actually means in reality.

Carry On Up The London Stadium

As the long running East End comedy gets even more farcical, can West Ham scrape together enough points to secure Premier League safety?

Apparently, the latest product to go on sale in the club shop is the claret and blue Oxo cube – and as you might expect it is being marketed as the laughing stock.  OK, so it’s an old joke but, for a club with a long history of faux-pas, self inflicted gaffes and off-field own goals, a new low of incredulity has been reached over the past few weeks.  Unfathomable transfer dealings, claims of racism in recruitment, plans for protest marches and culminating in woeful PR from the Board where the subtext of the message is ‘it’s our club we don’t care!’

While the West Ham owners have much to answer for, particularly with respect to unrealistic expectation setting and broken promises, there is now an unstoppable bandwagon upon which a large section of the media has now jumped.  It would be no surprise to read in the comin weeks that Messrs. Gold and Sullivan are also responsible for global warming and the fatberg in the London sewers.  I don’t recall West Ham ever having lovable owners (apart from that brief Icelandic big-spending honeymoon period maybe) but the current club custodians now have an approval rating that gives the Bond scheme a real run for its money.  The relationship between supporters and owners is invariably a fraught one, except during periods of success, as each group makes its own claim as to whose club is it anyway.  The apparent shambles that currently exists on and off the pitch and the lack of any empathy between Board and supporters does not bode well for creating a happy environment in which the team are meant to play football.

Today’s visitors are another of the sides embroiled in what has become the relegation play-offs; although a surprise 4-1 win over Chelsea last Monday sees them sitting three points better off than West Ham.  Rewind a few weeks to a time of greater optimism and a look at the fixture list might have led a glass-half-full Hammers fan to imagine sitting pretty at around 33 points by now.  But failure to win any of the games against Palace, Bournemouth and Brighton have necessitated a rapid re-calibration of those confidence levels.  With injuries, suspensions and injudicious transfer activity I am now looking at the expected line-ups this afternoon and concluding that Watford (yes, Watford) look far stronger on paper than a club which is allegedly in the top twenty of the world’s rich league.

Head to Head

West Ham’s overall home record against Watford is a good one although the Hornets were the first visiting team to win a league match at the London Stadium when they came from two goals down to win 4-2 in September 2016.  In the last twelve home games against Watford, West Ham have won eight and lost three.

Apart from that 4-2 reverse the last home defeat to the Hornets was on this very day in 2007 when, despite having Nigel Quashie in midfield, Alan Curbishley’s side went down 1-0 to bottom of the table Watford.  Carlos Tevez was on the bench that afternoon in the days before going on to single-handedly save the Hammers from relegation.

The reverse fixture this season was David Moyes first as manager where he witnessed an uninspired performance leading to a 2-0 defeat.  He will be expecting a better effort this afternoon.

Team News

The straw to clutch at for today is the will-he-won’t-he return from injury of the latest club saviour Marko Arnautovic – although I imagine he will be on the bench.  Other than it seems that we must look for inspiration to a 36 year old full-back who hasn’t played a competitive game since his sacking by Marseille in November 2017.  Only at West Ham could playing Patrck Evra in defence have little impact on the average age of that unit.

Best guess for the line-up would suggest a couple of changes from the team that performed so poorly at Brighton with the Pablo Zabaleta in midfield experiment being quickly abandoned in favour of a return to the Mark Noble/ Cheikou Kouyate combo that has failed to inspire confidence for much of the past two years.  Possibly Winston Reid will return in defence but there is talk that having recovered from his injury he is now laid low with a sore throat (so that talk would be in a hoarse kiwi accent.)  I don’t like the idea of Declan Rice in defensive midfield but things are so desperate that I would be tempted to give it another go.

The front three will most likely see Joao Mario and Michail Antonio supporting Javier Hernandez.

Watford are also without several injured players and there is not even any comfort for the Hammers in that given that one of the missing players is comedy defender Younes Kaboul.   The Hornets have some fine players and I have been impressed with the likes of Doucoure, Capoue, Richarlison and Pereyra in the past and there is also the question of Deulofeu, at one point linked with a loan move to the London Stadium.

The Man in the Middle

Please welcome Graham Scott from Oxfordshire a rare but lucky visitor to West Ham matches .  In the most recent Hammers encounters, Scott was in charge of this season’s away win at Stoke as well as victory last season at Southampton.  In twenty one games this term Scott has shown fifty-four yellow cards and four red ones.


Both Lawro and Merson smell a Hammer’s victory by 1-0 and 2-0 respectively.  I wish I had their confidence as I think we will struggle badly in midfield unless there is a massive reaction to last week’s disappointment.  Even then it is not going to inject the badly missing and much needed pace into the heart of the team.  A win is badly needed but I can only see a point at best.

Can West Ham close the Watford Gap?

Can the Hammers hammer the hornets? A preview of Watford’s visit to the London Stadium that doesn’t have a single reference to the transfer window or the apparent growing unrest with the board.

The Premier League is the most popular league in the world in terms of spectators and media appeal yet we all knew who would win the title after just a few short weeks of the season. And before the season started we all knew which teams would occupy the top six places, even if we weren’t exactly sure as to the exact order they would finish in. And as we all predicted, the top six places have gone to the “big six” in terms of the revenue that they generate, and I’ve no doubt the same will happen next season. OK, so there is still a mini competition taking place to see which clubs will finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League, but in reality the most “popular” league in world football is so predictable, and it all comes down to money.

We are not alone. The “generally recognised” big five European Leagues have all turned out as expected. Manchester City’s 13 point lead in England is well beaten by Bayern’s massive 18 point advantage in Germany. PSG are 11 ahead in France, Barcelona are 9 clear in Spain, and the only competition for the title outright is in Italy where Napoli and Juventus are just one point apart, although 13 clear of the pack. Season after season the same teams qualify for the latter stages of the Champions League. It is all so predictable. And as a result, it is becoming boring.

For me the most interesting aspect of the Premier League is not who is going to win it, or even qualify for Europe, but the real competition involves the 14 teams who have no chance of winning, and little likelihood of qualifying for a place in the Champions League. If the predictability continues then perhaps the top six teams can be ignored, and a trophy can be awarded to the team that finishes 7th? The competition among those 14 teams is fierce, and the battle to avoid finishing in the bottom three is (sadly) by far the most exciting part of the Premier League. For a long time now there has been talk of European Leagues whereby all the top clubs in Europe ignore their domestic competitions and take part in Europe alone. I’m surprised that it hasn’t yet happened. If we removed the top six teams from the Premier League the competition for the title among the remainder would be a far more open affair. Would we miss playing them? I for one would not. I suspect that the same would be true of all the other top European leagues.

So, getting back to this season, with just 12 games to go Burnley lead the chase for the “seventh place title” on 36 points, just one ahead of Leicester, who in turn are then four clear of Bournemouth and Everton. Today’s opponents Watford are just one point further back on 30, before the cluster of 9 clubs that make up the bottom portion of the table. Burnley and Leicester are as good as safe from relegation, whilst the three clubs below them are almost there, but not quite. Of the nine clubs that are seriously in the mix at the moment, we are at the top (12th) on 27 points, but only three points ahead of 19th placed Huddersfield. Only West Brom with 20 points are beginning to be cast adrift.

The closeness of the fight to avoid the drop makes for an interesting finale to the season, and every match from here to the end assumes massive importance. A win for us today will take us up level on points with Watford and edging closer to safety, whereas three points for the visitors would be a huge step towards ensuring Premier League football at Vicarage Road next season.

Recent form is often a good indicator of what is likely to happen, but this can be distorted by other factors such as the strength and form of opposition, and whether games have been played at home or away. Nonetheless it is worth taking a look at the bottom 12 with a dozen games to go and look at how many points they have picked up in recent matches. I’ve chosen the last 5 fixtures for each team, which in itself may or may not be a reliable indicator of the term “recent”.

The bottom 12 teams in the Premier League after 26 games Points after 26 games Current Goal Difference Points in last 5 games
  9. Bournemouth 31 -7 11
10. Everton 31 -16 4
11. Watford 30 -8 5
12. West Ham 27 -14 6
13. Brighton 27 -14 5
14. Crystal Palace 27 -15 8
15. Southampton 26 -10 6
16. Newcastle 25 -12 6
17. Swansea 24 -18 8
18. Stoke City 24 -26 4
19. Huddersfield 24 -27 0
20. West Brom 20 -16 4

Based on the recent form table alone then the current bottom three would be the ones playing in the Championship next season. As they include two teams that I dislike the most (West Brom and Stoke) then I wouldn’t be unhappy with that outcome. Our final twelve games comprise 7 at home and 5 away. Five of the 12 games are against sides in the bottom 12 (above), with four of them at home (Watford, Southampton, Stoke, Everton) and one away (Swansea). These games are crucial to our survival and are true six-pointers. It is important to win most of those games, and equally important to avoid defeat if we don’t pick up three points from each of them. Apart from the Swansea game, the other four away matches are against sides in the top eight (Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Leicester) so we are unlikely to collect many points from them. A home game against the champions elect (City) won’t be a walk in the park either, nor will two other home fixtures against top eight sides (Manchester United and Burnley).

The importance of today’s game cannot be over-estimated. The gap between ourselves and Watford could be wiped out if we win, or extend to six points if we lose. Here are a ten factors to bear in mind in respect of this match, some of which are very worrying given West Ham’s predilection to allow other teams to end sequences of poor results:

  1. If we avoid defeat that will extend our unbeaten run in league and cup at home to five matches – that would be a record for the London Stadium!
  2. As a manager, David Moyes has never lost a home game against Watford.
  3. This will be our 14th game this season against a team who are currently above us in the table. The only game that we have won so far was at home to Chelsea. Nine of our final twelve games will be against teams currently in the 11 places above us in the table!
  4. Watford have only won one of their last ten away games.
  5. Watford have never beaten us twice in the league in a single season ever.
  6. Watford won their last game convincingly beating Chelsea 4-1. They haven’t won two league games in a row for more than three months.
  7. Michail Antonio has scored 6 goals in his last 7 games against Watford.
  8. Michail Antonio scored both of our goals when we lost 4-2 at home to Watford last season (September 2016). He hasn’t scored a goal at the London Stadium since!
  9. We have played a home league game against Watford before on February 10th (11 years ago). We lost 1-0.
  10. West Ham are 11/8 favourites to win the game, Watford are 15/8, with the draw at 23/10.

Five Takeaways: West Ham All At Sea As Brighton Rock

We don’t like to be beside the seaside. A second defeat of the season to the Brighton hauls the Hammers right back into the relegation mix.

A Giant Leap Backwards

This was as terrible a West Ham performance as those we had to endure in the early part of the season.  Although some allowance can be made for the perennial long injury list it was worrying that the resolve, spirit and determination that had developed since the appointment of David Moyes was nowhere to be seen yesterday.  West Ham were disjointed, lacked cohesion and once again the defensive/ central midfield offered little or nothing; allowing Brighton through at will and providing no springboard to launch ou own attacks.  If the best we have in that area of the field for the remainder of the season is a mix of Noble, Zabaleta and Kouyate then I would be very worried.  The inability to fill this long standing and well known gap in the squad, particularly following the injury to Pedro Obiang, could be a disaster that is paid for with the ultimate Premier League price.

Uninspiring Selection

I was very surprised to hear an unchanged team announced for the start of the game.  It may have been a spirited performance and comeback against Palace but there now appeared more options available to supplement what had been regarded as a scratch side.  Perhaps there was an element of caution in not wanting to bring players back too quickly but it backfired badly.  Brighton played OK but as usual West Ham were the architects of their own downfall.  The first goal was a great example with the ball given away cheaply in attack, Aaron Cresswell more interested presumably on revenge, for an earlier hand in the face, committed an unnecessary and reckless challenge, the midfield had gone missing and the back three were all over the place in allowing Murray all the room in the world to score.  Cresswell did, at least, look a threat going forward and either side of a fine goal by Javier Herandez, set up presentable chances for Sam Byram (twice) and Joao Mario.  In fact, with the scores level at half time, and with Brighton’s early energy levels dropping,  I was still quietly confident that the Hammers would be able to take something from the game.

Second Half Surrender

Any half time confidence was quickly dissolved by an insipid second half performance in which the Hammers managed to go through the whole forty-five minutes without bothering the Brighton keeper once.  No changes were made at half time in an attempt to seize the initiative and as the game developed it was no surprise when Brighton regained the advantage.  Despite it being a stunning strike by Izquierdo, he was again given far too much time and space to work out his necessary angles and trajectories.  West Ham had managed to scrape back into the game in the first half with a goal out of the blue but this time there was no way back.  Gross, the best player on the field, capped an influential display with a third after a poor James Collins clearance.  By then the Hammers were in complete disarray and it could well have been a more emphatic defeat.  Michail Antonio was eventually thrown on (but did little of note) and Jordan Hugill was given no time at all to make an impact.

Collective Liability

No doubt that the goal by Hernandez was an excellent piece of opportunist finishing.  It was typical Little Pea but other than that he contributed little to the overall play.  The dilemma is how to incorporate such a player while attempting to build a modern team ethos in which everyone works for each other.  How many goals would he need to score before his limitations in a tight team formation became acceptable?  I don’t believe he is really suited to the style of football that most Premier League teams now play.  Not that Hernandez was stand-out poor in comparison with the rest of the team.  If I was giving ratings the only players worth more than a 4 would have been Mario and Adrian.  Having been pleasantly surprised by the improvement in Mark Noble’s performance and leadership in recent weeks he was back to his frustratingly slow sideways and backwards worst yesterday.

Gloomy Outlook

West Ham are now in the middle of the run of games that were meant to guarantee their safety before the fixtures became stickier against the bigger clubs from April onwards.  A return of two points from games against Bournemouth, Palace and Brighton is way below what I expected.  West Ham sit just three points above the relegation places and although maintaining an average of a point per game may be enough there are still some tough games to come.  There needs to be a huge improvement over the next few weeks coinciding, hopefully, with the return of Arnautovic and Lanzini.  Unfortunately, we will not see Obiang again this season and with that weakness in central midfield I can’t, at times, help but fear the worst.

West Ham To Continue Their Unbeaten Start To The Year At Brighton?

Beyond the injuries, transfer disappointments, suspensions, scandals and sackings there is a football season taking place. Can West Ham consolidate their mid table position with a result at Brighton?

Leaves on the line, icy roads and a disappointing January transfer window.  They happen every year and yet we are all still caught by surprise.

As we entered the window there was almost universal agreement that West Ham needed more bodies in the squad; and that was even before serious injuries to key players and a needless suspension added to the toll.  The previous window had closed with a desperate attempt to sign a decent defensive midfielder, the need for which remains glaringly obvious.  Apparently, it did not seem to occur to anyone to line up feasible replacements in advance of the shops re-opening as the club once again stumbled to heroic failure on the last day of the sales.  It is looking like a repeat of the three year search for a right back that only ended with the signing of Pablo Zabaleta – who ironically may now be asked to cover in a defensive midfield role.

Without a shadow of a doubt the current owners are the worst West Ham have had ……..since the last ones and the ones before that.  Rinse and repeat until the club is eventually purchased by a small middle-eastern Emirate or overseas oligarch.  Unfortunately, the club has a history of being accident prone: from Mannygate, Tevezgate, Icelandicsgate through to the hot off the press Henrygate (why would anyone with half a brain put those types of thoughts down in a permanent electronic record?).  With Tony Henry now dismissed I await the announcement of Big Ron Atkinson as the next director of Players We Won’t Eventually Recruit.

With all the off-field shenanigans taking place it is sometimes difficult to remember that there is also a football season going on.  Today West Ham travel to the south coast to face Brighton at the Amex Stadium.  It was only a few months ago that after promising starts to the season you would read many an article praising the exploits of the newly promoted clubs and predicting a season in which, for once, none of the three would be relegated.  Now they each find themselves just a point away from the drop zone and dropping fast.  It would be no surprise if at least one experiences a quick return to the Championship, although with such a congested table picking which one is anyone’s guess.  Of course, our own Hammers are still well within the mix and so there is all to play for in yet another crucial race to the bottom clash this afternoon.

Head to Head

The Hammers have a 100% record at the Amex Stadium having previously won on their only previous visit in October 2011.   The win that day was courtesy of a Kevin Nolan goal in a team where only Mark Noble and Winston Reid still survive in West Ham colours.  Apart from that success West Ham have won on just one more occasion (1978) while losing four times in their nine visits to sunny Sussex.

Brighton memorably romped to a comfortable 3-0 victory at the London Stadium in October in one of the Hammers most incompetent displays of the season.  In the preview to that match I mocked Brighton’s (alleged) tax-avoiding striker Glenn Murray and his double that day means that I won’t be making the same mistake this time around.

Team News

There is better news on the West Ham injury front with Reid, Michail Antonio and Jose Fonte all reported to be available for selection along with the newly recruited Jordan Hugill.

The selection questions for David Moyes will be: whether Zabaleta plays again in midfield with Sam Byram filling in at right wing back; which is the best threesome out of Reid, Fonte, Angelo Ogbonna, Declan Rice and James Collins to bring stability at the back; if Antonio is brought into an attacking midfield role will Kouyate make way (with the risk of ensuing mayhem!) or would that mean Zabaleta returning to wing back with a reliance on the previously suspect Noble/ Kouyate combination in the centre; does he start with Javier Hernandez, Hugill or Antonio as the lone striker?

I will be interested to see Hugill, a player who I admit to never having heard of before Wednesday.  He deserves to be given every chance to show what he can do before any premature conclusions are reached.  He is said to have an admirable never-say-die attitude and great strength although a supposed lack of pace could be a red flag at the top level. A debut goal would be welcome.

Brighton are without Locadia, Brown, Sidwell and Skalak but may give an outing to loan signing Ulloa, a player who often seems to have a productive afternoon against the Hammers.

Man In The Middle

Match-day referee is Roger East from Wiltshire.  East was previously in charge of the 1-0 home win against Swansea in September.  In nineteen games he has awarded sixty-four yellow cards and two reds.


Both Lawro and Merson are convinced that this game is a 2-1 home win which would put the Seagulls level pegging with West Ham on twenty-seven points from twenty six points.  With Brighton without a league win in 2018 and with only one win in fourteen, I am looking for the Hammers to prolong their misery for a little while longer.  It will be a tough game and I expect a lot of early pressure from the home team.  If the all-new resolute Hammers can weather that early seaside storm I will back them to win by the odd goal.  Three points from the Amex – that’ll do nicely!