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.
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!