If you were to go to the theatre in the West End or to see your favourite rock band it would be particularly irksome to discover that, as it was the end of a long run or tour, the participants were only going to go through the motions today; maybe mumble the words or cut back on the more arduous action parts. Strange then that it has become regarded as almost expected and acceptable in top level football that, unless you are competing for a European football place, teams can start to take it easy once the survival target has been reached. With all the television money sloshing around not even the prospect of a few extra million quid place money seems worth getting out of the metaphorical bed for.
Overlay that with the fact that today’s two teams have been prepared and motivated by a pair of the Premier League’s pragmatic ‘respect the point’ managers then it would be absurd to anticipate a carnival of expansive football in the season’s final act at the Londn Stadium. Not that David Moyes and Fat Sam Allardyce are the league’s only pragmatists. Outside of the top six almost all fall into this category (with the possible exceptions of Rafael Benitez and Eddie Howe) where survival trumps any pretence at entertainment. Maybe it is acceptable at financial minnows such as Burnley, Bournemouth, Huddersfield and Brighton where top flight football is a novelty but at relatively more wealthy clubs like Everton and West Ham supporters expect to see more. There is nothing odd or deluded about it; these are rich and well supported clubs for whom year on year survival cannot be the extent of all ambition.
It is always laughable when the football pundit brotherhood leap to the defence of the old school managers extolling their expertise at getting the job done, achieving what they are paid for and guiding their teams over the forty point survival line. For them it is a top six league only where the remainder of clubs is a homogeneous group existing only to fill the gaps on the fixture list. Who knows what will happen in the boardrooms of West Ham and Everton during the summer but there are few supporters who would lose any sleep if a management change were to come about; although simply swapping one dinosaur for another is equally as pointless. The problems on the footballing side at West Ham run particularly deep and a massive overhaul of the entire set up is required if any improvement is to be seen. We appear in no better position than a recently promoted club and I wouldn’t advise holding your breath.
Head to Head
Everton are traditionally a West Ham bogey-team with the Hammers having one only once in the last twelve meetings (3-2 at Goodison in March 2016) and only once in the last twelve home encounters (Bobby Zamora in a 1-0 win in the April 2007 great escape run-in).
This year’s reverse fixture was a humbling 4-0 defeat for the Hammers in the last match of David Unsworth’s caretaker regime – although Allardyce likes to claim credit for this one when highlighting Everton’s improvement since he rode in to the rescue.
It would be a huge surprise if there were any unexpected changes in the West Ham lineup. The usual uninspiring mix of the journeymen, the washed up, Marko Arnautovic and Declan Rice.
The good news for the Hammers is that both Rooney and Walcott could be missing from the Everton team; both must surely put West Ham close to the top of their most rewarding opponents lists. Rooney is rumoured to have played his last game in English football as he prepares to terrorise the defences and glamorous grandmothers of Major League Soccer.
Man in the Middle
The man charged with bringing the curtain down on the 2017/18 season is Graham Scott from Oxfordshire. West Ham have a 100% record under his control this term with wins at Stoke and at home to Watford. His season record is 29 games, 79 yellows and 5 reds.
Both Lawro and Merson predict a West Ham home win going for 2-0 and 1-0 respectively. A tame draw is the most probable outcome but as a rallying call I am predicting our boys to overturn the Goodison result with a 4-0 rout of our own.