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.

Predictions

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.

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