West Ham entertain Burnley. Can we come out on top in the Clarets derby?

With a run of theoretically easier games on paper can West Ham follow through on the pitch by beating Burnley?

A quarter of the season has whizzed by. Well, not exactly whizzed because of two international breaks, and yet another one will arrive after the games that are played next weekend. It used to be a tradition to say that you should ignore the league table until at least a dozen games have been played, and by that time you will have an idea as to how the season will pan out. We have two further games to play until then, and you would have to say that on paper at least they are eminently winnable ones. Having had the toughest ten games of all the teams in the Premier League until now when you take into account the average points per team, or positions in the league table, we now face a run of games which on paper at least are easier fixtures and should define our season.

As we sit in thirteenth place at the moment with seven teams below us, there are just nine games to play until we reach the half way point of 2018-19 following the game that takes place the day after Boxing Day. Watford in seventh, and Manchester City, inevitably at the top, are the only sides currently above us that we haven’t yet played, whereas we still have to play each of those teams presently below us in the run up to the midpoint of the season (Burnley, Huddersfield, Newcastle, Cardiff, Palace, Fulham and Southampton).

We have yet to put in many really convincing performances, (Everton away, and Manchester United at home, excepted), although our two draws against Chelsea and Leicester could easily have been winning games. Nevertheless, despite our inconsistent, and at times indifferent form, we do have a few teams below us who haven’t even matched our record so far. We really need to start to pull away from the bottom cluster sooner rather than later, but once again our injury list is beginning to match that of recent seasons. Is it really bad luck or is it something more that makes this keep happening to our club?

Our visitors today have a very similar record to our own so far, winning two, drawing two and losing six of the ten games played. But whilst our early goal difference was very poor it has since improved to -6, whereas the Burnley goal difference is -11, mainly as a result of their last two games, defeats of 5-0 and 4-0 to Manchester City and Chelsea respectively. Their only two wins were against an uncharacteristically poor (for this season) Bournemouth 4-0, and a 2-1 win at Cardiff. Their draws were against Southampton and Huddersfield.

When the Football League was formed in 1888 it consisted of 12 clubs. They were all from the Midlands and North-West. Burnley were one of the original teams, and are one of only three of them who are currently in the top flight of English football, the others being Everton and Wolves. The other nine teams were Aston Villa, Blackburn, Bolton, Notts County, Stoke, Derby, West Brom, Preston and Accrington. So Burnley have a history of 130 years in the Football League and in that time they have finished at one time or another as champions in all four divisions in England.

As I began taking an interest in football in the late 1950s, Burnley were a major force and were champions of Division One (that is equivalent to the modern day Premier League) in 1959-60, and reached the quarter-finals of the European Cup the following season. In 1961-62, they were runners-up in the league (to Ipswich), and lost in the FA Cup final to Tottenham. It just goes to show how the balance of power has shifted at the top in football when you consider that the top six clubs in order that season were Ipswich, Burnley, Tottenham, Everton, Sheffield United, and Sheffield Wednesday. Arsenal finished in mid-table, the two Manchester clubs were in the bottom half, and Chelsea finished bottom and were relegated. Liverpool won the Division 2 title that season.

Burnley couldn’t maintain their position near the summit of English football after those heady years of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Perhaps the abolition of the maximum wage for footballers in 1961 was one of the reasons for that. At that time no footballer could earn more than £20 a week, and once this was no longer the case, that was possibly one of the factors for the decline in the fortunes of teams from smaller towns, such as Burnley, who were less able to compete financially with teams from bigger towns and cities. Since that 1961-62 season, only nine towns or cities have provided the English football league (or Premier League) winners, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, London, Birmingham, Nottingham, Derby, Blackburn and Leicester. Only the last four on that list have populations of less than half a million. Nottingham (300,000) and Derby (250,000) were largely the result of an exceptional manager (Brian Clough), whilst Blackburn (110,000) and Leicester (325,000) benefitted from wealthy owners.

Burnley did maintain their status in the top tier throughout the 1960s, even finishing third in 1965-66, which was followed by another good campaign in Europe in the Fairs Cup, reaching the quarter final the following season before going out at the hands of Eintracht Frankfurt. Their league positions after then were closer to the bottom than the top, and in 1970-71 they were relegated.

After then Burnley went into a slow decline culminating in the final game of the 1986-87 season when they needed to win the last game of the season to remain in the Football League and not be relegated to the Conference. They duly beat Leyton Orient and were also saved by Lincoln City, who were then automatically relegated when losing their final game. Burnley began to ascend again from that time, and in the last few years have yo-yoed between the Championship and the Premier League.

After finishing on top of the Championship in 2015-16, they finished 16th in their first season back at the top, and then last season they rose to the dizzy heights of seventh place, their highest finish for almost half a century. Once again they qualified for Europe but this time they were eliminated before the kids went back to school after the summer holidays. This has enabled them to concentrate on the league, and they may need to do so after their indifferent start, similar to our own.

I’ll finish this week with a few random thoughts:

  • Spectators encroaching onto the playing area against Tottenham in midweek brought back memories of the last time Burnley visited the London Stadium in March.
  • Leicester’s late deflected equaliser maintained our lead at the top of the “points dropped from winning positions” league.
  • It would be good if we could score a headed goal. I can’t recall us getting one so far this season.
  • The two keepers this weekend, Fabianski and Hart, are at the top of the goalkeepers league for saves made this season (44 apiece).
  • West Ham are odds-on with bookmakers to win a league game for the first time this season.
  • You can almost guarantee that Burnley will be awarded a penalty against us. They weren’t given one in the whole of last season or in this season to date.
  • The magnificent goal that you see Bobby Moore score on the screens at our games was against QPR in our 4-3 win fifty years ago yesterday. It wasn’t even the best goal in the game. Harry Redknapp scored the winning goal with a thunderous volley.

Let’s hope we can get back to winning ways. I don’t think it will be as easy as some are expecting, but I take us to win by a narrow margin.