The Premier League season has entered its final lap with today’s visitors, Stoke City, in pole position to claim one of the three unpopular relegation places. Should the Potters come away from the match without at least a point then their chances of survival will look extremely grim indeed. The Hammers themselves are not yet completely clear of the relegation scrap even though a long awaited second wind has lifted them to fourteenth place and six points above the drop zone. A win today and that could well be survival guaranteed; at least for one more season.
On the evidence of their last two matches (against Arsenal and Tottenham) Stoke will offer plenty of effort but with very little in the way of quality to match it. Against a weakened and very disinterested Arsenal they huffed and puffed but still managed to run out as 3-0 losers. An equal measure of commitment was on show the following week against Tottenham until the hairs on Harry Kane’s shoulder struck the killer blow and left them pointless once more.
West Ham should go into the game with their confidence high looking for rare back to back wins at the London Stadium. An atmosphere similar to that seen at that other Olympic Stadium (the one in Rome) on Tuesday night or in the home victory against Southampton should inspire the Hammers to a comfortable victory. As always with our boys, though, the enemy is complacency or tactics that react to Stoke’s desperation for points by sitting back and letting them attack – fine if it is backed up with clinical counter-attacking play but suicidal when paired with the, more often seen, giving the ball away cheaply ploy.
Monday night games were always great fun when it was one of the days on which midweek fixtures were played; but now that it is reserved for the weekend’s afterthought contest it has just become an irritating wait. Whether good things come to those who wait remains to be seen.
Head to Head
The all-time record against Stoke is neck and neck with the Hammers having recorded just two more wins than the Potters in the 108 games played. In more recent times the Midlanders have held the upper hand with a four to two win advantage (six draws) in the last twelve encounters. In home matches West Ham have won five of the last twelve although have not been victorious at home since March 2011 when a 3-0 victory was the last of a season that led to relegation.
The West Ham starting eleven is unlikely to show too many changes from that which took the field at Stamford Bridge just over a week ago other than the potential forced replacement of the injured Aaron Cresswell by Patrice Evra. The only other change I would expect is for Edmilson Fernandes to step down following his ineffective display against Chelsea, but whether that will mean a return for fit again Manuel Lanzini or a start for last week’s goal hero Javier Hernandez is the million dollar question. The dilemma that Moyes faces is whether the inclusion of Hernandez diminishes the threat created from Marko Arnautovic’s free role or whether Lanzini and Joao Mario can be realistically accommodated in the same team.
There have been mumblings of a Andy Carroll return to the bench and fans of nostalgia might be excited at the prospect of both Carroll and Peter Crouch on the field at the same time. I am not fan of the one dimensional target man but you cannot help but admire Crouch’s longevity and attitude.
Stoke have few injury worries with the major threat likely to come from Xherdan Shaqiri (who always has me imagining he is from a Harry Enfield sketch) and in midfield from Joe Allen (who I hope is well and truly crossed off of our summer shopping list). At the back Ryan Shawcross will continue to audition for a role as Bond villain henchman.
Also in the Stoke ranks is Glen Johnson, the most junior of the Hammer’s youth golden generation who between them amassed a raft of Premier League, Champion’s League, FA Cup and League Cup winner’s medals – sadly none with their academy club. The shame with Johnson is that he played so few games in claret and blue before a relegation fire sale prompted his departure. Fingers crossed that we won’t be repeating the same words about Declan Rice in a year or two’s time.
Man In The Middle
Sorting out the ‘went down too easily’ from the ‘was entitled to go down’ decisions will be Northumberland referee Michael Oliver, fresh from his midweek Bernabeu controversy. Oliver has previously ref’d two West Ham games this term, defeats at home to Tottenham and away to Everton. His 2017/18 record from 37 games is a whopping 134 yellow and 7 red cards.
Both Lawro and Merson see the Hammers running out victorious at 2-0 and 2-1 respectively. Anticipating that the coaching staff will not let complacency creep in and that we play the match at a good tempo I fully expect a West Ham by two or three goals.