Talk Of The Toon: West Ham Out To Scupper Newcastle Revival

A recent reversal in fortunes has seen West Ham slip below Newcastle in the Premier League standings. Who will be the weakest link at St James’ Park this weekend?

Thumbing through the fixture list a few weeks ago and it seemed reasonable to chalk up this weekend’s fixture at Newcastle as one of those eminently winnable games that would see the Hammers rise up towards the top half of Premier League table.  With the Geordies floundering at the bottom of the table surely we would be going into the game with Rafa Beneath-us!  As it turns out West Ham have now slipped below Newcastle on goal difference.

Such optimism, however, would also have needed to disregard the woeful record that West Ham have on their travels to St James’ Park.  The only win this century came when Kevin Nolan scored the only goal of a tight encounter in November 2012.  Prior to that, it is necessary to travel as far back in time as October 1998, when two Ian Wright goals helped the Hammers secure a convincing 3-0 success.  Even though Newcastle have frequently struggled in the intervening years they have routinely found West Ham to be one of the more generous visitors to the north-east.  

My impression is that, in recent seasons, Newcastle have collected their points from sudden spurts of inspired form – lengthy droughts followed by unexpected winning runs.  They come into today’s game off the back of three straight league wins against Bournemouth, Watford and Burnley that has lifted them out of the relegation places .  It is West Ham’s challenge to determine whether this is now the middle or the end of the current spurt.  History does not offer much encouragement.

Anxious supporters are yet again faced with the cliff-hanging, soap opera story-line of whether Marko Arnautovic will be fit enough to start the game.  Has there ever been a game where he hasn’t started to hobble around at some point in proceedings?  The team rely heavily on Arnie and there are few options consistent or suitable to the way West Ham play in his absence.  There is, of course, the possibility of Big Andy facing his boyhood club and it would be an opportune moment for him to open his West Ham account against them, at the seventh time of asking.  If Arnie is ruled out then it could well be a Chicharito – Michail Antonio combo to provide the semblance of an attacking threat.  I hope there is no room on the bench for Lucas Perez with his space more usefully warmed by Xande Silva – at least there would be potential there!

The only change at the back will be the cyclical rotation of Aaron Creswell for Arthur Masuaku, while the defence will continue to be exposed by our weakness in defending as a team down the flanks.  It could be an early Christmas present for Matt Ritchie who terrorised West Ham in the equivalent game last season.

In midfield the certain starters are Declan Rice and Felipe Anderson.  Then it would be a case of pick your favourite three out of Mark Noble, Pedro Obiang, Robert Snodgrass, Grady Diangana and Michail Antonio – ten possible combinations (or is it permutations) but with minimal difference in effectiveness.  The other name to throw into the mix is Jack Wilshere, back after injury, but it is likely too soon for a start.  I believe that Wilshere will become a good signing for the Hammers in providing creative options from central midfield once there is a better balance around him (and provided he steers clear of injury).  As I have mentioned before, I would also like to see Nathan Holland involved in the first team set-up – apart from Rice he has looked the most accomplished of our academy players; admittedly only from what I have seen online.

My anticipated Pellegrini line-up is predicated on a sense that he will plump for experience in what will be a difficult encounter. 

Newcastle’s recent successful run has come in the absence of Shelvey and Lascelles.  With both players now recovered from injury it would be nice to think that Rafa will disrupt a winning side but this seems unlikely.

The matchday referee is Paul Tierney from Lancashire.  This is his first Hammers outing of the season but he has some previous with the Toon having awarded a controversial penalty against them in their home defeat by Chelsea – will he think that he owes them something?  Tierney is free and easy with the yellow cards but has yet to show red so far this season.

On the pundit front, Lawro is predicting a 2-0 home win which in Lawro land constitutes a pasting, given his usual conservative approach to punditry.  Paul Merson also fancies the home side to extend their winning run with a 2-1 success.  My own glass is half empty on this one because I fear another traditionally slow start would be severely punished by a confident and rampant home side.  Newcastle may not have the most fearsome attacking force but they have the ability to exploit the Hammer’s weaknesses.  Ki Sung-yueng likes to get on the score-sheet against us and Mo Diame may have a point to prove.  It will be a tough afternoon and we will do well to come away with a share of the spoils – 2-2!

Mind The Gap: Five Takeaways As Manchester City Ease Past West Ham

A massive gulf in class is on show as an adventurous West Ham are given the run around by the cruise control champions.

Reality Bites

Saturday’s game confirmed the things we already knew rather than teaching us anything new.  That even if, by some miracle, West Ham were able to step up to the next level then it would still leave them a long way below the space occupied by Manchester City (and several of the other big six clubs, most probably).  Bridging that gap and becoming a club realistically chasing Champion’s League football on a regular basis is a nice fantasy; but an impossible dream (no matter what the stadium capacity) without the assistance of deep pocketed benefactors.

Selection Surprises

Once again, Manuel Pellegrini raised eyebrows with his team selection.  The expectation was for repeat of the backs-to-the-wall tactics used to earn a draw against Chelsea back in September.  Digging in deep with massed defence and hoping to nick a goal from an occasional counter attack – something which could have become reality but for that misdirected Yarmolenko header.  What we got, however, was a lineup that promised a far more adventurous approach.  The major surprises were no automatic return for Mark Noble following suspension and the preference for Arthur Masuaku over Aaron Cresswell at left back.  As a defender Masuaku leaves a lot to be desired and even though he has plenty to offer offensively his forays forward have become quite rare in Pellegrini’s system.  Although Cresswell can also be inconsistent, Pellegrini’s preference for Masuaku is puzzling.

Going For It

There was a general consensus that West Ham ‘went for it’ on Saturday.  Whether this was a brave or naive tactic is a matter of opinion.  It reminded me of the way Fulham were playing under Jokanovic before his dismissal.  On the other hand the result was inevitable anyway so why not go out all guns blazing.  Several decent goal-scoring opportunities were created and on another day the score could have been more respectable.  Yet City were always in charge; well in control.  They breezed into a three goal half-time lead and were able to ease up during the second period.  There were several more gears in reserve should they have been needed.  For all West Ham’s adventure there was never any doubt about the outcome and I sensed that everyone involved knew this.

The Press

Part of the West Ham plan was to employ the much discussed Press – not something generally seen in the Hammer’s play.  Given that it is a tactic requiring all players to play their part at all times it has to be well drilled and second nature.  Picking and choosing when to deploy it is problematical.  Manchester City found it far too easy to bypass and the first goal was a great example of that.  The ball was given away cheaply, City were quick to transition; switching play to exploit the acres of space on the opposite flank.  The damage was pretty much done once that first goal went in and as usual the Hammers were vulnerable down the wings all afternoon.  Masuaku was implicated in goals two and three but even Zabaleta (who admittedly shows tremendous commitment) was regularly embarrassed defensively.

Outlook Changeable

Although West Ham are only four points off the bottom and averaging less than a point a game I do not believe it will turn into a relegation threatened season.  There remains plenty of room for improvement, however.  Upgrades to both full-backs and better options to support the impressive Declan Rice in the centre of midfield would be high on my shopping list.  Up front, much will depend on the future of Marko Arnautovic but, even if he stays, goals are also needed from elsewhere.  Javier Hernandez looked a little livelier this weekend but still has the look of an individual contributor rather than an integral part of a well-oiled machine.  I really don’t get Lucas Perez – this wasn’t a player looking to make an impression when given his chance as substitute.  Grady Diangana’s emergence has been a bonus but his development needs to be carefully managed but the player I would like to see given a first-team opportunity sooner rather than later is Nathan Holland.  He could prove a useful understudy for Felipe Anderson.  To paraphrase the Prime Minister “I believe that West Ham’s best days lie ahead of us” – maybe!

Can West Ham beat the unbeatables?

Champions Manchester City (unbeaten this season) visit the London Stadium to face a West Ham side who have been known to upset them before. But is the gap now too wide?

On a cold Saturday afternoon almost half a century ago (30 November 1968), I travelled to Upton Park to see the (then) in-form Hammers team take on the champions from the previous season (1967-68), Manchester City. It was our 21st league game (no international breaks in those days!) which marked the half-way point of the season when there were 22 teams in the top division of English football (then called Division 1).

After a terrific start to the campaign, which saw us top the league towards the end of August, typical West Ham inconsistency crept in, and we failed to win a game throughout September and half of October, until Sunderland were our visitors on 19 October. That day Geoff Hurst bagged six goals and we beat them 8-0. This was the start of some entertaining home games and we followed this up beating Queens Park Rangers 4-3, with a magnificent volley from Harry (Jungle) Redknapp to win the game. In the next home match we thrashed Leicester 4-0 with Martin Peters scoring the best goal I have ever seen to this day.

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So bring on the champions! Manchester City had captured the title just six months previously, narrowly beating Manchester United and Liverpool to the top spot, but losing ten games in the process that season. This was only their second title (the first was in the 1930s) and their third would not arrive until well into the 21st century. With friends from school I stood on the South Bank. I can’t remember why we swapped ends that day because the North Bank terracing was our normal viewing position of choice. Perhaps we had a premonition that West Ham’s two goals would be scored in front of us.

And the two goals were virtually identical, with moves dreamt up by Ron Greenwood and practiced on the training pitch at Chadwell Heath. By this time West Ham had perfected the art of the near-post cross, and they executed it on two occasions in the first half, Geoff Hurst crossing for Martin Peters to head home the first, and the reverse, Peters to Hurst to nod home the second. Both crosses came from the right wing, mirror images of the Peters to Hurst headed goal that beat Argentina in the 1966 World Cup Quarter Final that came from the left. The 2-1 victory was our ninth win of the season (just four defeats at that point) and kept us fifth in the table.

Roll on almost exactly 50 years (now where did that go?), and Manchester City arrive as champions once again, but this time they are unbeaten so far (winning ten and drawing two of the first dozen league matches). They only had two defeats in the whole of the last campaign, on their way to setting a record points total. So in their last 50 league games just Liverpool (4-3) and Manchester United (3-2) have beaten them, so what chance does an injury ravaged West Ham team have? Bookmakers rate us at around 11/1 to win the game, which given the current form of the two sides is not particularly generous.

This week I looked through my programme collection to unearth the one shilling (5p) offering from 50 years ago. The back page told us that Christmas was coming and advertised items from the Hammers shop, which included a fleece lined anorak for 70/- (£3.50), and Hammers Waterproof Caps for 3/6 (17p) (I cannot remember them!). The back page also gave us the codes for the half-time scoreboard, where the scores after 45 minutes were posted on a board at each end of the ground.

The two teams were numbered 1 to 11, and many famous faces from yesteryear were playing. The programme featured articles introducing “The Champions” and the usual pen pictures of the visitors. There was also a match review and an appeal to the “North Bank Boys” who had “disgraced” the club by “train-wrecking activities” returning from Ipswich. “We know who you are” was one of the phrases used in the article. There were some (black and white) match photographs, and also a Sunday Telegraph description of the Martin Peters goal against Leicester that I referred to earlier – “A gem of a goal, fashioned in equal parts of beauty and power”.

Communications from fans included one from a 15 year old lad from Hockley (only just older than me at the time) who pleaded “We have waited a long time for this challenging position: please, please, please West Ham, don’t disappoint us now”. Well Colin, 50 years on and they continue to disappoint us regularly; we are still waiting to be league champions!

Lacey’s coaches advertised coach trips to Liverpool for the game the following week at 26/- (£1.30) for adults and 17/6 (87p) for children, and a day return from Euston to Liverpool on British Rail was 70/- (£3.50) for adults and half price for children. The season’s scores, scorers, attendances and league tables featured along with an article called Remfry’s Records. For this match programme, Bobby Moore had the “player’s choice” and he quoted Chopin as his favourite music, but suggested that Bill played Revolution by the Beatles. A lucky programme draw offered two prizes of £5 each, and two prizes of grandstand tickets for two for the next home league match. Good value for 5p I reckon. I don’t bother to shell out the £3.50 for today’s “matchday magazine”, so much information is available via various media.

Until recent times when the fortunes of our visitors have improved dramatically following the injection of money into the club, our record against them was fairly even. But in the last ten years we have faced them in 16 league games, losing 11, drawing 3, and winning just twice. Those two victories in October 2014 at Upton Park and a rare away win in September 2015, were both by the same score (2-1) as that win 50 years ago. And to add to that we have the 9-0 reverse in the two-legged League Cup semi-final, and a 5-0 defeat in an FA Cup tie.

What are the chances of another surprise win, by 2-1 perhaps, with both goals coming from near-post headers? Have we scored a headed goal this season? I can’t remember one. We can dream can’t we?

Previewing The Real United Versus City Clash At The London Stadium

West Ham United face nailed on champions Manchester City as Premier League football makes yet another re-entry to the weekend entertainment scene. Can the Hammers make a better fist of things than previous attempts to stop the visitors?

Although England’s relative success has put an unexpected positive slant on the UEFA Nations Carabao Cup, it is a welcome return to Premier League action this weekend when Manchester City are the visitors to the London Stadium.  However, the almost certain defeat to the almost inevitable 2018/19 Champions is a slightly less appealing prospect.

I find myself ambivalent towards Manchester City.  On one hand, they play an outstanding style of football under the leadership of probably the finest manager in the game today.  On the other hand, their success epitomises everything that is wrong in modern football – as the game moves ever further away from the ordinary spectator, under the spell of the TV mega-money-masters and their global armchair audience.  In a week where there have been announcements on increased capacity at the London Stadium it is ironic that it would only make an incremental difference to the club’s finances.  It is only the lucrative media and commercial deals that come with regular worldwide TV exposure that can make any meaningful difference.

Not that I selectively begrudge City their good fortune.  The football authorities are unconcerned about the source of the money flooding into the game and, had it not been City, then someone else would be reaping the benefit of the tainted Arab millions.  Had it been West Ham, I doubt I would be complaining too loudly, although I like to think I would be grounded enough to know that success had been bought.

Although, there are still two other unbeaten clubs in the Premier League it would be a huge surprise to me if the title was not wrapped up and Etihad bound before the daffodils are out.  City could probably field two sides and have both finish in the top four.  To be honest, it really wouldn’t bother me if the ‘big clubs’ did eventually break away to form their European Super League – provided that they had to resign from the Premier League to do so.  Any league without the jeopardy of relegation would be a bonkers, like a Harlem Globetrotter themed circus.  If it had the benefit of returning domestic competition to a degree of competitiveness, rather than the money-driven procession that it has become, then I would be happy to trade that for missing out on seeing the best players.

This is City’s fourth visit to the London Stadium and the aggregate of their four wins currently stands at scored thirteen, conceded one.  Any chance of Manuel Pellegrini stemming that run against his old club would seem slim.  Perhaps a more respectable score-line should be his main focus.  After all, City had a bit of wobble last time out, only scoring a half of their normal six goal tally and doing no better against Manchester United than the Hammers had done.  Any expectation that West Ham will get anything out of the game, though, requires the most super strength claret and blue prescription spectacles available.

There were some interesting stats published in the week that showed that only Cardiff had run less distance than the Hammers during the course of the season to date.  Each of the leading teams had covered far more ground.  Not only that but West Ham had two players in the top six of those covering the least distant – Marko Arnautovic (2nd) and Arthur Masuaku (4th).  It is difficult to draw any precise conclusions as to whether this demonstrates a lack of fitness among the players or merely reflects the manager’s preferred tactics.  Either way there does appear to be a relationship between ground covered and league position which does not augur well.

With Mark Noble returning from suspension at least Pellegrini will have one of his key runners back in the side.  Noble’s influence on the side is something of an enigma.  He looks off the pace, rarely offers much creatively and yet the side is generally worse in his absence.  He will replace the suspended Robert Snodgrass this weekend and the only other potential change that I see Pellegrini making is a start for Michail Antonio in place of Grady Diangana.

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In other news there are rumours of a return to action for both Jack Wilshere and Andy Carroll.  The best that either can hope for is a place on the bench but it is good to have options and competition.

As for the match itself, it is going to need to be a monumental backs-to-the-wall performance, denying space to prevent Silva and De Bruyne slicing through the middle and stopping Sterling and Sane exploiting the full-back vulnerability.  City don’t have the greatest defence but then they don’t need to.  If anyone can rely on a ‘we’re gonna score (at least) one more than you’ philosophy then Guardiola can.  Whether West Ham have the wit, pace and cunning to snatch a goal remains to be seen.  Perhaps Arnie will have an inspired afternoon to further what he sees as the next step in his career.

Another stat that I picked up on during the International break is that City have yet to concede in the final 30 minutes of any league game.  I haven’t bothered to fact check this but it seems plausible enough.  So, if we are behind after an hour you can think about calling it a day.

The referee will be Andre Marriner from the West Midlands, making it his first gig with the Hammers this season.  Marriner has only showed two red cards in twelve matches but I have a horrible sinking feeling that we will not finish the game with the full complement of players.

Unsurprisingly, the pundits are predicting a routine away win for the Manchester side: Merson at 1–3 and Lawro at 0-2.  It would be nice to think that the Hammers can make a game of it but experience suggest that this isn’t very probable.  While it may be possible to record a best ever effort against City at the London Stadium (by keeping the goals against below four) coming away with any points would be a very long shot indeed. If only my own shocking lack of belief could lull them into a false sense of security.

A Fair Result From A Scrappy Do: Five Takeaways From The Hammers Trip To Yorkshire

West Ham pick up their first point of the season from a losing position in a hard fought but scrappy game at Huddersfield’s John Smith’s Stadium. What did we learn?

Scrappy Game, Fair Result

Over the course of ninety minutes it was the fairest of fair results.  West Ham deserved no more and probably no less out of what was mostly a very scrappy affair devoid of quality.  Judged against pre-match expectations it was another disappointing day on the road for the Hammers who have picked up just five out of a possible eighteen away points.  Fair play to Huddersfield though for playing with tremendous spirit, determination and energy.  Whether it will be enough for them to dodge relegation for a second successive season remains to be seen but good luck to them all the same.  There were more positives for the Terriers to takeaway from the game than there were for the Hammers.  Despite the donation of the first goal to be scored by a Huddersfield player at home this season, we managed (with honourable mention to the woodwork) to avoid breaking their twenty-two match sequence of failing to score more than once in any single game.

What Preparation?

As with the away trip at Brighton, it was another painfully slow start for Pellegrini’s team.  It should not have come as any surprise that Huddersfield would play at high intensity and yet we once again look unprepared for it.  There are plenty of other teams in the crowded bottom half of the division whose main tactic is to close down quickly and deny time and space for players to settle.  It shouldn’t be met with bewilderment every time it is experienced.  There has to be a plan to cope with it and that includes matching the opposition’s effort and demonstrating greater technique to overcome it.  Is there something missing in preparation or do we lack leadership on the pitch.  Pellegrini suggested in his post match press conference that the team hadn’t stuck to the plan.  Either way they are still some way short of being up to the task.

A Lack of Guile

I read a review earlier in the week which suggested that the West Ham midfield was full of guile.  In my opinion, the complete opposite is true – it is a sadly lacking attribute!  I am not saying the players are not putting in a shift – but that they lack the footballing intelligence, craft or cunning to dominate the central areas.  The battle is so often won and lost in midfield and our boys rarely operate well when put under pressure.  The number of back passes yesterday was reminiscent of the bad old BFS days.  Declan Rice has been doing a very decent job as defensive cover (and is economical in distribution) but the likes of Pedro Obiang, Robert Snodgrass (and Mark Noble) have not done enough offensively this season in the more attritional type of game.  They need to be creating space and opportunity that allow front players to threaten in dangerous areas – not forcing them to come deep to search for the ball.   For all their possession, West Ham created few true clear cut chances.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

The changes made by Pellegrini at half time and shortly after seemed to work in West Ham’s favour.  Ironically, neither Javier Hernandez nor Michail Antonio played particularly well and so maybe it was the case of the substitutions changing the mindset of the players and the shape of the game rather than down to new personnel.  The Hammers were certainly more positive in the second period and, thankfully, Huddersfield reacted with caution rather than trying to take advantage of their greater numbers in midfield.  Antonio looks to be trying too hard to score and the destination of his hopeful wayward shooting is obvious the moment the ball leaves his boot.  Apart from an early neat pass which set up Marko Arnautovic for a one-on-one opportunity, Grady Diangana was a peripheral figure.  He is a player who needs the ball to feet with space to exploit rather than asking him to chase hopeful passes or win aerial duels.  Felipe Anderson was the Hammer’s most influential player and took his goal very well.  He did, however, look to have run out of puff by the end of the game.  Maybe West Ham could have stolen it with Issa Diop’s header but the clearance off the line showed the value of the player on the post.

The Full Back Connundrum

The full-back situation remains a conundrum.  In the Pellegrini setup you would expect that the full-backs need to be mainly defensively focused.  Yet three of the four senior candidates are generally suspect in that regard.  Aaron Cresswell did adequately yesterday apart from that suicidal attempted back-pass in the closing minutes but, as with Masuaku, his strength is supporting the attack.  Having said that, the position of the full-backs (even Pablo Zabaleta) is often puzzling in that they can be regularly seen in more advanced positions than the midfield players even when the opposition have the ball.  I don’t fully understand what the manager expects from them and we continue to be most vulnerable along the flanks.  Ryan Fredericks opportunity to impress (as a late replacement for Zabaleta) was short-lived and the Hammers were effectively down to ten men for the final minutes following his injury.

No Cockiness Please, We’re West Ham: Hammers Travel To Yorkshire

On the verge of something great or just another false down? Will West Ham’s momentum be in a forward direction or flat on their faces as they face lowly Huddersfield at the John Smith’s Stadium?

Although we may not dare say it out loud, many of us will be looking at today’s fixture as the footballing equivalent of a ‘gimme’.  A mere formality; a case of going through the necessary motions to pick up the three points – just as when Manchester City visit the London Stadium the weekend after the international break.

Looking at the stats only serves to justify this confidence to ourselves.  Huddersfield have only scored five goals so far this season, of which just the one has been scored in a home game; and even that was an own goal despite it being enough to beat rock bottom Fulham – their first win in fourteen league matches.  Further, the Terriers have not scored more than once in any of their last twenty-one Premier League games.

West Ham, on the other hand, come into the match full of verve and confidence off the back of that barnstorming performance against Burnley.  That win may have been the first in five attempts but there’s no doubt we tell ourselves, that the team have finally turned the corner; the only way is up and all eyes can be firmly focused on seventh place.  That’s right, isn’t it?

There is another voice in our head, however. “Hold on” it is saying “this is West Ham.  Anything can happen.”  We are a team, for sure, with lots of previous in providing charitable handouts to struggling sides and allowing them to end their unwelcome sequences of defeats or goal droughts.  Complacency has always come easy in claret and blue and today’s game could easily be lost in the minds of the players before a ball is kicked.

Whatever Huddersfield may lack in technical ability, they will not be short of effort, passion and energy.  Despite having picked up only four points from six home games this season they have only conceded seven goals in the process.  It has the makings of a very tight game with goals at a premium – although statistically if we score then we shouldn’t lose!

It is going to long, tough season at the John Smith’s Stadium and the Terriers look like they will remain front runners for relegation. Having pulled off a miraculous escape last season, David Wagner will have his work cut out to repeat the trick.  Although Bournemouth are defying the odds with survival on a limited budget, Eddies Howe’s team and style was created over a longer period of time.  Wagner found instant success when he came into his job and it could well be taken away again just as quickly.

As both teams look for rare back to back wins, the West Ham optimism roller coaster has entered a steep climb.  Even suspended skipper, Mark Noble, was reported in the week to be dreaming of a best-of-the-rest seventh place finish.  I sense there are several more twists and turns, ups and downs before the season is over even though I believe the trajectory under Manuel Pellegrini is in a positive direction.  I don’t know what the various super-computers have to say about final league standings but my low tech equivalent (pin and piece of paper) suggests a finish somewhere between ninth and twelfth.

There seems little point discussing the afternoon’s starting line-up as it will be 100% guaranteed the same as last week – assuming no last minute flu epidemics or shower based accidents.  Allegedly, the post international break will witness unheard of selection option overload at the club with the recovery from injury of (big) Andy Carroll and (little) Jack Wilshere – plus the return of Noble, who serves the last of his three match suspension today.

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Chris Kavanagh from Lancashire makes the short journey over the Snake Pass as today’s match-day referee.  It is weird that so many of the elite referees are from the north of the country but, then again, if the other southern based refs are as bad as Wiltshire’s Roger East then perhaps that is a good thing.  Kavanagh was previously in charge of the Hammer’s defeat by Wolves.

Paul Merson has again tipped a West Ham win (this time by 2-1) while Lawro is back on his fence at 1-1.  I will be looking for early signs that the team are fired up and are not strolling into the match with an air of apparent superiority.  The fear is a repeat of the Brighton performance where they only start to play in the second half when the damage has already been done.  Intensity and energy levels need to be up from the first whistle.  If Pellegrini can ensure his team are raring to go from the off then I can see a second on-the-road win of the season.  It is Hammers to win 2-0 for me.

Huddersfield versus West Ham Preview

Last season we won the corresponding game comfortably by four goals to one. Can West Ham take the positive psychological momentum from the performance against Burnley into their trip to Huddersfield?

I hear a lot in the football media these days about momentum. A team goes on a winning run and commentators describe how they can benefit positively from the effects of positive momentum in their next match. Similarly a team that are 1-0 ahead and dominating a game can react negatively when the opposition scores an equaliser with the stadium clock showing 44 minutes: 46 seconds as Burnley did last Saturday. All the talk was how Burnley would benefit from the positive momentum they would gain from the late first half goal, and how West Ham’s heads would be down as the second half got underway. Did this actually happen, or was the manager able to reverse the effect of the psychological momentum gained by the opposition when he gave his half-time team talk?

On many occasions in the past I’ve seen West Ham fold after a negative event such as conceding a goal or having a player sent off, but that hasn’t seemed to happen as much in recent times. Of course we are not in on what the manager and his staff say to the team but I give him credit for developing a more positive attitude amongst the West Ham players, and their reaction when something goes wrong. For example, we conceded a late goal just before half time after coasting to a 2-0 lead at Everton, and on previous occasions I would have expected us to surrender the initiative to the opposition when the second half got underway. But we didn’t.

At Leicester, Mark Noble was sent off after we had taken the lead, but we didn’t let our heads drop, and put up a tremendous rearguard action before falling unluckily to a deflected shot just before the end. But even then, the spirit in the side was such that we went forward and could (probably should) have snatched a late winner if Ogbonna had kept his composure.

Perhaps a good example of positive momentum is the case of Michail Antonio two or three years ago. For a while his confidence was high, and it seemed he couldn’t stop scoring goals, especially headed ones. At one time he had scored with as many headers in a year as any footballer in the Premier League. He found the net with the headed equaliser in the last game at Upton Park v Manchester United, and then with the winner in our first league game at the London Stadium against Bournemouth. For a time he was almost unplayable, and a lot of people forget that he was Hammer of the Year in 2016-17, after finishing runner-up to Payet the year before. He got into national squads with both Allardyce and Southgate as England manager, although he never won a cap. The positive momentum seemed to disappear after he was continually played out of position at right back, and then had some injuries, and he has never been the same since.

So does psychological momentum in football actually exist? Can it be backed up by statistical analysis? Or if it does exist, can the opposition negate it by being prepared better? Both West Ham and Huddersfield go into this match with positive momentum. Our performance and victory over Burnley was widely acclaimed, whereas Huddersfield managed their first win of the season (and even their first goal at home) in the 1-0 win over Fulham on Monday night. They are one of the bookmakers’ favourites for relegation, whereas we are now pulling away from the bottom after collecting eleven points from our last seven games, following the “pointless” opening four matches.

In addition to their win over Fulham, Huddersfield have picked up three further points this season with a goalless draw at home to Cardiff, and 1-1 draws at Everton and Burnley. Five goals scored and twenty-one conceded is not good, but will the momentum gained from their win lead to better times? One thing that struck me when I watched the closing stages of Monday night’s game was how both the Huddersfield players and the supporters celebrated after the final whistle. You would expect them to be on a high, but the sight of a team all joining hands and running towards the crowd in jubilation is one normally reserved for winning a trophy, not a single game of football. It did seem rather over the top to me, but if they have such positive celebrations for that win, then how will they top it if they beat us?

All of our players had decent games last weekend, especially in an attacking sense. I really enjoyed the game and the atmosphere was great, even remaining positive when we were twice pulled back. The only slight disappointment was conceding the two goals and very nearly a third. In particular the second equaliser direct from a corner was one that should have been averted, especially with better preparation in terms of marking their players who are most dangerous in the air (including substitutes!). For me, Anderson had his best game in a claret and blue shirt, and what a prospect young Diangana is! Arnautavic dominated their defenders, but unusually for him was unselfish at times when he might have done better by shooting himself. Snodgrass and Obiang put in the yards in the middle of the pitch, and Rice gets better every time I see him, this time totally controlling so much of the play, both defensively and then setting up the next attack.

If everyone is fit I would expect the same starting eleven for this game, but with our recent injury record how likely is this? Apparently even Carroll (remember him) and Wilshere are likely to be available for our next home game against Manchester City in a fortnight. Yes, we have to wait two weeks for the next game because of the third international break of the season even though only twelve Premier League games will have been played by each team. The football authorities who plan the timing of fixtures certainly know how to destroy the momentum of the domestic season with these continual interruptions for international football. I can’t speak for football fans as a whole, but personally my only interest in games played by the national side is when we are taking part in the World Cup or European Championship Finals tournaments. The new format for European qualification with these mini-leagues hasn’t hit the mark for me and I look forward to the return of the domestic game in two weeks, with no further international breaks until much later in the season.

The quality of our opposition this week is reflected in the bookmakers’ odds where we are generally around 5/4 favourites to win the game. That is very rarely the case for a West Ham team at any time, especially away from home. The draw is second favourite at around 21/10, with a Huddersfield home victory on offer at around 5/2. These are often the types of game where West Ham sides have slipped up in the past, but I am confident that it won’t happen this time. I predict a relatively comfortable victory by one or two goals to nil. My forecast of a 4-3 win over Burnley ended up nearer to actually happening than I would have thought at half-time, but this time around I don’t expect as many goals. On average this season, Huddersfield score a goal every other game, and concede twice. I expect this average to be maintained in this game.