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.
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.