Five Takeaways From West Ham’s Humbling At Turf Moor

Injuries, fixture congestion, travel difficulties and invisible grey shirts? West Ham surrender the points to Burnley because they just didn’t want them enough.

I Can Take The Despair, It’s The Hope I Can’t Stand

We wanted a return to the West Ham Way and that is what we’ve got.  Periods of exciting, free-flowing football, purple patches of form and heightened expectations – only for it all to come tumbling down just as a tantalising glimpse of glory is beckoning.  In reality, the return from the December fixture list is more than acceptable and the club appears to be in much better shape than it has been for some time.  That hardly softens the blow, though, of what was a massive disappointment in Sunday’s performance.  That the final score wasn’t by a margin of five or six goals in the host’s favour was due to the Clarets wayward finishing rather than the efforts of the Hammer’s defence.  At the other end the threat was so lame that even Joe Hart could have kept a clean sheet.

They Don’t Like It Up ‘Em

Various mitigating circumstances have been put forward to explain the inadequacies of West Ham’s performance: the lengthy injury list; a day less to recover than Burnley since their previous matches; and travel difficulties associated with the timing of the return flight (!) from Southampton.   Had the Hammers began proceedings with a fighting display, but faded in the last half hour, then a claim of tiredness could be more acceptable.  The fact of the matter was that West Ham were never at the races and gave the impression that in the aftermath of the hosts capitulation to Everton, they only had to turn up in order to snaffle the points.  As with the Watford game, Burnley bullied the Hammers out of it.  The Clarets were superior all over the pitch as our boys were out-thought, out-fought and out-played.  It must be a worry that many other teams will come to realise that the way to beat West Ham is to rough them up a bit.  Something I haven’t seen mentioned is that perhaps it was the light grey 3rd kit that was to blame – making our players invisible to each other as it had done for Ferguson’s Manchester United back in 1995.

Unnatural Selection

Manuel Pellegrini made two changes from the team that started against Southampton.  Mark Noble replaced Pedro Obiang in the centre of midfield and Marko Arnautovic returned in attack in place of Grady Diangana.  The return of Arnie was eagerly anticipated although, with his most effective work done as a lone striker, would he struggled to adapt to a role alongside Lucas Perez?   The Noble for Obiang switch came as a surprise.  With Pablo Zabaleta still absent through illness, Obiang would have been a more solid option and better suited to supporting stand-in right back, Michail Antonio – as he had at St Mary’s.  At least, we managed to fill all the seats on the bench this time.

Past Performance and Future Success

With the exception of Declan Rice and Lucasz Fabianski few came out of the game with any credit.  Perez, Noble and Angelo Ogbonna were particularly poor with Noble even trying a repeat of the tackle that got him a red card at Leicester.  Robert Snodgrass looked totally spent while Felipe Anderson rarely got a kick under the close supervision of the Burnley defence.  Antonio had some decent moments going forward in the second half but Cresswell was mostly anonymous.  Ogbonna had one of those games where his attention is mysteriously elsewhere and that lack of focus also crept into Issa Diop’s display.  Arnie was off-the-pace and possibly a start came too early for him.  The net effect was that, despite plenty of the ball, there were few cohesive passing movements, no penetration and minimal goal threat.  At the other end Burnley opened up the Hammer’s defence at will.  Of the substitutes: Diangana showed enterprise during the brief period of the game where West Ham applied late pressure; Andy Carroll did at least test the Burnley keeper with one header; and debutant Xande Silva also had a decent attempt on goal.

Looking Through The Transfer Window

The majority of the long term injured will not make any contribution to the remainder of this season and so, with the January transfer window about to open, it will be telling whether any new recruits make their way to the London Stadium.  With the manager wanting to play a passing game, attack with pace and defend narrow and high, there are several pieces of the jigsaw that are missing.  The team is badly deficient in central midfield where no-one has the necessary pace, vision and passing range to orchestrate play.  Better alternatives at full-back and other mobile striker options are also needed.  The recruitment of Samir Nasri seems to be a done deal but will there be any more than that?  Will it be a case of muddle through to the summer with what you’ve got, or will there be further recruitment to push-on during the second half of the season?  The conundrum is that if the season fizzles out then some of the better players will start to look elsewhere.  Contracts really are no guarantee once a players head is turned.

West Ham travel to the North-West to face Burnley in the Claret & Blue Derby

With the midpoint of the season reached, West Ham are favourites to overcome Burnley this afternoon in the battle to claim the best of the rest title.

When the referee Craig (I didn’t see it) Pawson blew the final whistle shortly before 10 pm on Thursday evening, the curtain was brought down on the first half of the Premier League season. 190 matches played and 190 to go. The midpoint is almost always reached at some time between when we sit down for our turkey and pudding on Christmas Day, and when the decorations come down on Twelfth Night at the beginning of the next calendar year.

And didn’t we bring the first half of our season to an end in some style. Hands up if you thought after four games had elapsed and we were pointless, that we would be sitting in ninth place in the table at this stage, with a points tally that was closer to a Champions League qualification place than the bottom three. Add to that a (typical West Ham?) squad ravaged by injuries, then our position is all the more remarkable.

Even when we lost at home to Watford last week, I didn’t hear anyone blaming the board or the manager or the stadium. Most shrugged their shoulders. Never mind, we’ll just have to win at Southampton on Thursday evening. And so we did with two splendid goals from the “ever coming to terms with the Premier League” record signing Felipe Anderson. The first was a splendid shot from outside the area, despite the distraction of poor positioning by the referee. The second was a goal that we scored after breaking from a corner at Boult-like breakneck speed to score within about ten seconds of Southampton’s corner being taken, expertly finished off by our new Brazilian. It was reminiscent of goals that I’ve seen us concede in recent seasons from the likes of Arsenal and Manchester City, which made it even more pleasing to note that we now have players with pace ourselves.

I thought that the team played well in all positions and heads didn’t go down when the Saints put up a contender for the season’s scrappiest goal. As it went in it didn’t look right and I felt sure that it should be disallowed but I didn’t really know why. Fabianski had performed miracles to keep it out (as he does consistently in every game), and we were unlucky that the referee was unable to see the ball punched into our net. Never mind now, all’s well that ends well, and we justifiably won the game against an in-form Southampton team.

After the six games played yesterday we have fallen to eleventh but a win today would lift us up to the dizzy heights of seventh. That’s right, top of Premier League 2 if you discount the elite top six who occupy those places regularly. And that is exactly where our initial aim should be. To finish the best of the rest. Our competitors for that spot are likely to be Wolves, Everton, Watford and Leicester, and it was good that only the first named of that quartet won yesterday, surprisingly beating our unpopular North London neighbours. Many of our fans relished that result on social media, but I took another view, and looking at the bigger picture I would have preferred a draw in that game to help our own position in the league table.

Burnley are in big trouble, unlike last season, and even in the unlikely event of them beating us today, they would still be in the bottom three. Bookmakers make us even money favourites to win today, which is almost unheard of when we are the away team. Burnley are approaching 3/1 with 23/10 for the draw.

Correct score odds for the most popular scores are:

1-1: 11/2; 0-1: 13/2; 1-2: 15/2; 0-2: 17/2; 0-0: 9/1; 1-0: 10/1; 2-1: 10/1; 2-2: 11/1.

First goalscorer odds show Chicarito and Arnautavic as favourites but are they fit enough to play? At the time of writing this piece I don’t know. Based upon recent form which shows that Burnley have lost six of their last seven games, and we have won five of our last six, then this should be easy. But having watched our team for sixty years now I know that no game is easy, as I’ve seen us slip up so many times in this position. But providing the legs aren’t too weary, with this game coming not much more than sixty hours after the last one ended, then I’m looking for us to make it six wins from seven. We’ve already smashed our record for points gained in a calendar month with 15, so let us hope that figure has risen to 18 by shortly after 4 o’clock this afternoon.

On The Sixth Day Of Christmas: Six West Ham Wins In December Please

Never mind geese-a-laying, it’s a sixth win in December, three more points and seventh place in the table that are the numbers on offer from today’s visit to Burnley. Can West Ham also manage to get seven bottoms on the bench?

The only time I have ever read anything negative about Sir Trevor Brooking was the account of a fan who encountered the entire West Ham team on the London bound platform of Southampton Central station after a game at The Dell back in December 1971.  Perhaps disillusioned after scoring but then being substituted by Dave Llewellyn in a 3-3 draw, Brooking was the only player who refused to autograph the then 12-year-old’s match programme.  I don’t suppose, for a minute, that the team still travel by train to Southampton but was speculating as to whether the reason for only six substitutes on Thursday night was because Karen Brady had not bought enough Supersaver tickets (or collected enough Persil tokens) to get seats for the whole squad.    Surely, even with the club’s lengthy injury list, there were other young players available who would have benefited from a first team match-day experience!

The decision to bounce the West Ham match at St Mary’s to the day after Boxing Day means that the Hammers continue to bat second during the holiday round of games.  With the dust having settled on all of the Saturday matches there is now an opportunity for our boys to leap into seventh spot of the Premier League going into the New Year; a state of affairs that would have seemed fanciful in the first few weeks of the season.  The ‘best of the rest’ tussle is usually an ever changing competition but ourselves, Wolves, Everton and, maybe, Leicester look to be the most likely contenders.  Hopefully, any ambition that exists will have more staying power than a Tottenham title challenge.

Ironically, today’s opponents, Burnley, were the best of the rest from last season but in a complete reversal of fortunes now find themselves as the weakest but one link in the Premier League table.  It was always destined to be difficult for a club of Burnley’s limited resources to sustain any momentum but the speed of their decline has been surprising.  With Sean Dyche a graduate of the Fat Sam School Of Dour Percentage Football it is odd to see Burnley so porous in defence.  After a run of poor results, Dyche will be looking to get his players fired up for today’s game while ensuring that defensive discipline is maintained.  Today’s tasks for the Hammers will be to match Burnley physically, effectively repel their set piece aerial threat and find a way through or around a crowded defence.

Of the ten first team players who were absent in midweek, Pablo Zabaleta and Marko Arnautovic are reportedly to be assessed in late fitness tests, while Javier Hernandez is regarded as a major doubt.  All the other invalids are said to be definitely unavailable.

If Zabaleta has recovered from illness he will most probably be the one defensive change from the Southampton game in place of Michail Antonio.  Elsewhere, Felipe Anderson, Declan Rice and Robert Snodgrass are certain starters but after that selection becomes more problematic – either due to uncertainty over availability or failure to impress.  Antonio deserves to keep a starting berth but where is it best to slot him in?  Will Manuel Pellegrini want to start with both or only one out of Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang – each have their particular strengths but neither are able to fully orchestrate play, pull the midfield strings or switch play intelligently on a consistent basis.  None of Lucas Perez, Grady Diangana or Andy Carroll did anything on Thursday that would stake a claim for a starting place: Perez doesn’t work hard enough; Carroll looked out of control; and Diangana needs to develop far greater strength before he can be considered for anything other than cameo roles.

In an ideal world, I would love to see the return of Arnautovic but fear it is too soon for him to be risked.  There has been a lot of talk about Anderson being the new Payet but we do not need to become a one-man team once again; Arnie is well placed to divert some of that pressure.  Perhaps a front three of Anderson, Arnautovic and Antonio would be a fearsome combination – at least the triple A’s shouldn’t run out of energy!


Burnley are likely to be without Brady, Lennon, Defour (all injured) and Lowton, who is serving a one match suspension.  They will select two from their range of identikit strikers in an attempt to intimidate the West Ham defence.

By the time the next Hammer’s game comes around, West Ham may well have added Samir Nasri to their squad.  If that happens it will be interesting to see how he is deployed – more likely as a deep lying playmaker rather than in an attacking wide midfield role which was more typical at Arsenal and Manchester City.  Nasri is not a long term solution but he could be a short-term fix to an obvious gap in the make-up of the team.

Today’s referee is David Coote from Nottingham.  He is a new one on me although he was, apparently, the fourth official at St Mary’s in the week.  This will be only his fifth Premier League appointment of the season.

Lawro appears to have got stuck in a loop predicting 2-0 defeats for West Ham whereas Merson continues to be generally supportive, going for 3-1 away win.  In a table based on Lawro’s predictions to date, West Ham would be in 15th place with 18 points, below both Fulham and Burnley.  The Hammers have already broken their own record for most Premier League points in December and a sixth win of the month would extend that tally even further.  I don’t see this be a free-flowing open game but if/ when West Ham get their noses in front anything could happen.  A 2-0 win, first double of the season and sitting proudly in seventh place would make for a very happy new year in my world.

On The Third Day Of Christmas: Will My True-Loves Send Me Three Away Points

West Ham seek to improve on their unimpressive record of just three wins from the last sixteen visits to the home of the Saints.

A week is a long time in football.  It has been a week in which West Ham’s unlikely European ambitions suffered a reality check; and where it was all change at the top with Liverpool suddenly six points clear and Manchester City dropping down to third.  It will now take all of Guardiola’s legendary man-management skills to go out and buy a brand new £200 million defence in the January sales.

Having been denied a traditional Boxing Day fixture, the Hammers travel to the south coast to face Southampton in the televised Cinderella match.  The challenge of keeping sufficient beer, nuts and mince pies in reserve has been a difficult one.  The useless OPTA stat of the night is that if Charlie Austin manages to find the net (highly likely) then he will have scored a Premier League goal on every day of the week – apparently becoming the 26th player to do so!

A little while back this game could be viewed as one component of an eminently winnable run for the Hammers that would see them surge into the top half of the table.  The Saints were a struggling, dispirited side, .  However, since the appointment of Ralph Hasenhuttl (a name that will quickly become a commentators favourite alongside Nuno Espirito Santo) there has been a rapid resurgence in Southampton fortunes.  Their win against Arsenal was largely down to weak defending by the Gunners but having followed that up with a win against Huddersfield, they will be full of confidence.  The home side’s lowly position, in any case, was entirely down to the ludicrous decision to appoint serial failure Mark Hughes as manager (who makes these decisions?) and it is difficult to look beyond Huddersfield, Burnley and Fulham for the relegation places.

Injury problems continue to plague West Ham and, although there is some talk of a Marko Arnautovic return, it would be a huge surprise if he turned out tonight.  Assuming that Fabian Balbuena is unavailable then his replacement by Angelo Ogbonna may well be the only change from the side that started against Watford.  In an ideal world, Manuel Pellegrini would probably like to rest some of the older legs (and even the younger ones) but he has limited scope to do so.


The most recent West Ham match refereed by tonight’s man-in-the-middle, Craig Pawson (South Yorkshire), ended in an 8-0 over Macclesfield in the EFL Cup.  What chance of a re-run tonight?  After an early season red mist where he made three dismissals in his first four games, Pawson has settled down to become an enthusiastic yellow card issuer only.

Sky Sport’s pundit Paul Merson is expecting a Christmas cracker of a 2-2 draw while Lawro (the BBC Football Expert as he likes to think of himself), fresh from correctly forecasting the West Ham – Watford score, has another 2-0 defeat in mind for the Hammers.

Volatility is the preserve of every football fan.  In this world, our team can swing from unbeatable to clueless in the blink of an eye, and with it expectations from tonight’s match have been significantly downgraded.  I am sure that things remain on a much more even keel in the dressing room and that, as we speak, Pellegrini is devising a cunning plan on his chalkboard and Powerpoint flip charts to take the wind out of Southampton’s sails.  The worry is that an effective balance in midfield is still elusive for the Hammers and it struggles in both providing support to the defence and acting as a springboard for attacks.  The hosts are likely to take advantage of these shortcomings with both Redmond and Ings coming into a run of form.

Despite the manager’s more enterprising approach to the game there are still too many unnecessary, unforced back passes to the keeper for my liking.  I have never seen the stats for this and would be interested to see how we compare with others.  With Lucasz Fabianski having a pass success rate below 50%, the player in possession might just as well hoof it up-field.  With few exceptions, I consider every back pass to the keeper to represent a failure in the team’s ability to create space and opportunity.

I would love to see a win but sense that three points could well be beyond us given the lengthy injury list; a draw would be a creditable return.  I am also hoping that the strange free-kick routine – the short pass and stop before putting in a cross – finally pays off tonight.

What are the odds on a West Ham win on the South Coast today?

A win big enough to move up to eighth in the table is priced at 200/1 upwards.

At the conclusion of the Southampton v West Ham game this evening we will have reached the halfway point in the 2018-19 Premier League season. A season that began so disastrously with four defeats in the first four games has turned around significantly, and we find ourselves in twelfth place in the table prior to this game. A defeat or a draw will see us remain in that position, but a win by any score will lift us into the top half of the table. We will be joint ninth with a 1-0 win, and ninth on our own by any other score. I think that even the most optimistic amongst us cannot see us winning by five goals to overtake Everton in eighth position.

We face a Southampton side lifted by the appointment of their new Austrian manager, and the Saints are favourites to win the game with the bookmakers at around 6/5. West Ham are second favourites at 23/10 slightly ahead of the draw at 12/5.

Correct score odds for the most popular scores are:

1-1: 11/2; 2-1: 7/1; 1-0: 15/2; 1-2: 9/1; 2-0: 10/1; 0-0: 10/1; 0-1: 10/1; 2-2: 10/1; 0-2: 14/1

First goalscorer odds:

Ings 4/1; Austin 11/2: Gabbiadini/Chicarito 13/2; Long/Carroll 7/1; Obafemi/Antonio/Perez 15/2.

If you fancy a West Ham defender to score the first goal then Diop or Ogbonna are priced at 45/1; Masuaku at 50/1 and Zabaleta 70/1.

You can get identical prices on scoring the last goal too.

A couple of scorecasts that I like the look at for fun bets are West Ham to win the game 2-1 with the first goal scored by Diop at 265/1 or Masuaku at 310/1. Once again you can get roughly the same odds (or even longer) by substituting the last goal for the first goal and looking around at the various prices being offered by the wide range of bookmakers all offering hundreds of prices.

A win big enough to move up to eighth in the table is priced at 200/1 upwards. It would be good (although extremely unlikely) to achieve that! I’ll just settle for the three points and a position in the top half of the table.

Five Festive Takeaways As West Ham’s Winning Run Shudders To A Halt In Stratford

Then like my top six and fifth win on the trot dreams, they fade and die. An exciting but pointless game precedes the Christmas holidays.

Fairytale Of New Ham

It was nice while it lasted and we all knew that the winning streak had to come to an end at some point.  Even so, it was a disappointment that what had started as a dream of a fifth win in a row and spending Christmas in the top six ended with the Hammers slipping back into the bottom half of the table – “you took my dreams from me!”  The result aside there was no denying that it was an entertaining and unusually open game in which, without playing particularly well, West Ham might easily have scored four of five goals.  Defeat would have been harsh on Watford, however, who by taking the chances presented to them just about edged it on the day.

Last Christmas You Gave Me Joe Hart

Of the sixty-one Hammer Of The Year awards, five had been presented to goalkeepers* and, although we have yet to reach the halfway stage, Lucasz Fabianski must, at least, be in with a shout of this season’s award.  During the summer it was obvious that we needed better than the on-loan former England keeper and the flamboyant but erratic Adrian, but I was less than thrilled when the signing of Fabianski was announced.  I am delighted that he has proved my jaundice opinion 100% wrong with a series of fine performances and even finer saves – we gave the keeper’s jersey to someone special.  Curiously, Fabianski just trails Joe Hart (69 versus 75) at the top of the most saves made this season Premier League rankings.  The save on Saturday from Doucouré was particularly impressive.

The First No-ble

When Andy Carroll was being warmed up early in the second half it came as a big surprise that Mark Noble was the player to be replaced.  Not that Noble was playing especially well but because it necessitated several other players shuffling in their positions – Robert Snodgrass dropping deeper and more central while Michail  Antonio went out wide right.  The subsequent introduction of Grady Diangana (for Javier Hernandez) then required Antonio to return to his more central attacking role.  Having needed to make the Angelo Ogbonna for Fabian Balbuena switch in the first half, the sequence of substitutions seemed unnecessarily disruptive to me.  A special mention to Ogbonna who put in a solid performance alongside Issa Diop (who played like he had taken one glass of sherry too many at the Christmas party) and also to Arthur Masuaku who was not implicated in either goal and was the top rated West Ham player as far as the whoscored stats website were concerned.

A Christmas Carroll

The return of Marko Arnautovic cannot come too quickly for me – although I appreciate the danger of bringing a player back too quickly.  In his absence you can perm any two from Hernandez, Antonio, Andy Carroll and Lucas Perez and end up with a disappointing outcome.  Antonio had a good game on Saturday, though, and was twice thwarted by the woodwork – I couldn’t believe that the second didn’t go in – and also caused a lot of problems to the Watford defence, much more like the Antonio of old.  Hernandez is anonymous when he isn’t scoring and he let three presentable chances go begging at the weekend.  Perez just seems to lack any desire to me which leaves us with the Carroll dilemma.  The not-so-secret weapon from the bench creates a wholly one-dimensional approach to our play even if that is not a conscious tactic.  Despite his unplayable tag and the encouragement of pundits to hang up the crosses for him to attack, it rarely pays dividends.  Granted he is still rusty but how he fits into Manuel Pellegrini’s match plans is a puzzle.

Jingle Bell Crocks

Already runaway leaders at the top of the Physio Room EPL injury table, the Hammers ended the day with Balbuena and Hernandez piling on to the treatment table – making it nine senior players in total out of action.  While Hernandez may be back available this week, the injury to Balbuena is looking more worrying.  I’m sure it is not imagination that West Ham suffer more than their fair share of injuries although there seems no rhyme nor reason why this should be the case.  Although there are a few players in the squad who could be classed as injury prone, injuries have been spread around, having occurred during matches, in training and away on international duty.  I have often suspected that the club’s below par training facilities are part of the problem but that is not going to change anytime soon.  In the meantime, I hope that a Value Pack of Magic Sponges is high on the club doctors Christmas wish list for an injury free New Year.

I would like to end by wishing everyone the happiest of Christmases and a very prosperous 2019.

* Lawrie Leslie (1962), Phil Parkes (1981), Ludek Miklosko (1991), Shaka Hislop (1999), Robert Green (2008)

Saturday Night Will Be Alright When West Ham Step Into Christmas With A Fifth Straight Win

I’ve made a list and have checked it twice. West Ham really are on course for a fifth straight Premier League win and a shot at Europe.

I know that it is tempting fate to count your turkeys before they hatch and by making bold predictions , but if there is any time of the season to be jolly then this is surely it.  “Oh what fun it’s been to see West Ham win away” over the past few weeks and just as enjoyable to put together a run at the London Stadium!.  The bells have been well and truly jingling as the Hammers glided smoothly into the top half of the table. And what fun it is to finally have a manager whose first priority is to win the game rather than not to lose it.

It is not just the four straight wins that is cause for optimism, but the overall record since that difficult opening to the season: twenty-four points from thirteen games is a commendable return for any team outside the top two.  And even though experience foretells of disappointments between now and the end of the season, it is a refreshing change to go into games with a touch of swagger, a stocking full of confidence and wild dreams of success (and I don’t mean Isaac!)

Of course, there are no easy games in the Premier League (well, not now that Mourinho has left Manchester United) and Watford will be no pushovers.  The Hornets had a flying start to the season, experienced something of a stutter but got back to winning ways last weekend.  They have very fine players in Pereyra, Doucouré and Holebas while Deulofeu, on his day, is the type of player that typically causes problems for a West Ham defence that remains vulnerable down both flanks.

Under head coach, Javi Gracia (a former Malaga manager like Manuel Pellegrini and surely due a Vicarage Road long service award anytime soon) the Hornets play a pacey, incisive passing game and there will be no room for complacency or that trademark slow start to the game.  Watford do not have a strong away record, however, having won only three on the road in their last twenty attempts.  A third successive win at the London Stadium for the Hammers can hopefully make it a bleak mid-winter for the visitors.

The afternoon also sees an appropriate seasonal return of two ex-West Ham pantomime villains in Scott Duxbury and Domingos Quina (oh, no it doesn’t –editor!)  Duxbury was a leading light in the infamous mismanaged Tevez affair while Quina was a troublesome former academy player who has been tipped for great things in the game – a modern day Ravel Morrison, perhaps.

With little change in the West Ham injury situation, Pellegrini has limited room for manouevre in his team selection, even though he may be considering the need to rest the ageing legs of Pablo Zabaleta and Mark Noble during the busy holiday schedule.  Apart from that it is the usual conundrum of who partners Javier Hernandez up front and who plays at left back.  With Andy Carroll still lacking match fitness (and Lucas Perez not being very good) it is probable that Michail Antonio will deservedly keep his place in attack rather than being asked to cover at right back.


The Aaron Cresswell or Arthur Masuaku left back debate continues to rumble on.  While our hugely experienced manager prefers to opt for Arthur, the majority of vociferous supporters mostly come down on the side of Cresswell.  One theory, from a club insider, is that Pellegrini had been informed that Crossrail was very late and expensive and the Chilean had become confused.

Today’s referee is Lee Mason from Lancashire making his West Ham seasonal debut.  From sixteen games, Mason has brandished forty-three yellow cards and a single red one – sending off Watford’s Kabasele in an EFL cup encounter against Tottenham.

The final game before Christmas never fails to remind me of that bitterly cold Friday night in 1979 when just over 11,000 of us turned out to see West Ham play Cambridge in the old second division.  With parts of the game obscured by a blizzard, the enduring memory is supporters keeping warm at half-time by dancing on the terraces to Mike Oldfield’s In Dulci Jubilo.

The wise men of punditry have a difference of opinion on today’s game.  Merson goes for gold with a predicted 3-1 Hammers win while Lawro makes do with myrrh (or should that be mirth) with a 2-0 Watford victory.  Lawro is convinced that the Hammers run must come to end having also predicted a Fulham win last weekend.  Myself, I have already written down West Ham 4 Watford 1 in a letter and sent it to the North Pole.  So, Santa, provided that your sleigh is not grounded due to low flying drones please deliver three more points to the London Stadium.  We haven’t been naughty much this year – promise!

After eliminating the Watford Gap much quicker than might have been expected, West Ham entertain the Hornets.

We’ve done well in our games against flying creatures in December, can we continue the run and fly to even greater heights, or will we be stung just before Christmas?

I’ll begin my preview of this weekend’s game by repeating parts of my preview to the Newcastle game that I wrote just three weeks ago as we began the last month of 2018 and the run up to Christmas.

“As we reach December 1, the beginning of meteorological winter, we begin a run of eight matches in 33 days, that will possibly define the eventual outcome of our season. A look at the current league table reveals that, on paper at least, the forthcoming 720 minutes (plus time added on of course), will see us facing as easy a group of fixtures that we could hope for. Now this is unpredictable West Ham we are talking about, so although they may look like very winnable fixtures, those of us who have followed the team throughout the years know that this may very well not be the case.

Starting today we face (A) Newcastle (13th), (H) Cardiff (15th), (H) Palace (17th), (A) Fulham (20th), (H) Watford (9th), (A) Southampton (19th), (A) Burnley (18th), (H) Brighton (12th). At the moment we sit in 14th position on 12 points, so 24 points from these games will put us on 36 points, which will be above Manchester City if they lose their next 8 games. OK, so I know that anything like that is not remotely going to happen, (City could well be on 59 points at that time), but wouldn’t it be good to put together some back to back wins to propel us up the league table. When was the last time we won even two games in a row? Will this be the first game of an eight match winning run? I suspect you could get very long odds on that happening!”

Incredibly we are half way there! With four games of this season gone, we trailed today’s opponents by 12 points. As is often repeated, we lost our opening four games, whereas Watford were victorious in all four (admittedly three at home) against Brighton, Burnley, Palace and Tottenham. The gap was 12 points. What odds were on offer at that time, on us going into today’s game with both of us sitting in the top half of the table, with Watford below us? It would have been similar to the long odds mentioned before I suspect. And we’ve done it with a lengthy injury list too!

In fact, both Watford and ourselves have virtually identical records in the 17 games that we have each played to date. We’ve both won 7, drawn 3, lost 7, and have conceded 25 goals. The only difference is that Watford have scored 23, whereas we have 2 more, and as a result do not have a negative goal difference. This game, and the one on 27 December at St Mary’s, will take us up to the half way point of the season, and barring a calamitous run of results, I think we can safely say that we will not have to look over our shoulders any more. The positivity from all quarters is such that European qualification is now a distinct possibility, and that was not the case a few weeks ago.

I don’t think that we were at our best against Fulham last weekend but the win was comfortable without us needing to find the higher gears. Even without the talismanic Arnie, the team as a whole has been playing well, and they have reminded me to some extent of the West Ham I witnessed in the 1960s and 1970s. We look good going forward, the chances are being created and taken, but we can still be vulnerable and concede silly goals. And yet generally the defence has been playing well. Balbuena and Diop have formed the best central defensive partnership in many years, Zabaleta continues to defy his age and has played some excellent matches recently, and behind them the safest keeper I can remember since the days of Phil Parkes. Teams that attack the left hand side of our defence know what they are doing and that for me is the weakest part of the team.

I read someone on social media asking who our fans thought would end up as Hammer of the Year at the end of the season. There is still a long way to go, but the most pleasing aspect was the variety of responses from so many people which suggests that many players are doing well. There were numerous shouts for Fabianski, Zabaleta, Diop, Balbuena, Rice, Snodgrass, Noble, and Anderson, with not a single mention of Arnie. That would have been hard to believe a few weeks ago. But if Arnie comes back and adds his name to that list then we will almost certainly have had quite a season. Additionally, Antonio is beginning to look more like the player of a couple of seasons ago, and Hernandez is playing with the confidence that scoring goals brings to a natural goalscorer.

Side-tracking for a moment, I’m a bit of a traditionalist. I like my football on a Saturday, roast beef on Sunday, all right (could be the lyrics of a song!). In case you haven’t noticed some fixtures in February have been moved for the benefit of TV. So, if like me your favourite kick off time is 3pm on a Saturday, make the most of this weekend’s fixture, because there won’t be another home league game kicking off at 3pm on a Saturday until at least March next year!

Back to the game, with two teams equally balanced on the basis of the league table, then the odds reflect this. West Ham are around 13/10 to win the game, with Watford at 2/1, and 23/10 for the draw. Our historical record against Watford is one of overwhelming superiority, and in approaching 70 league games in more than a century, we have beaten them more than twice as many times as they have beaten us. I believe that in that time they have only won 3 league matches on our ground.

Of course there was the infamous 4-2 defeat in 2016 when we threw away a two goal lead and were accused of showboating by Mr. Deeney. Although that game was only just over two years ago, only Noble, Masuaku and Antonio of the 14 players on duty that day are likely to be in our starting eleven for this game! Our last league defeat at home to them before then was in 2007, but that game ended a sequence of 19 league games from April 1985, when we were unbeaten against Watford, winning 16 and drawing 3.


Historically, football matches played on the last Saturday before Christmas were played in front of lower crowds than usual; the theory was that a number of people did their last minute Christmas shopping on that day. The world has changed since those days with extended shopping hours. I can often remember us losing many of those pre-Christmas matches but there were some notable wins, for example a couple over Tottenham in the 1960s. In the mid-1970s I can recall Billy Jennings scoring a hat-trick in a pre-Christmas game, and both Tony Cottee and Paulo Di Canio scoring in those games too in later years.

In our last Saturday game before Christmas in 2011 (the season we were promoted back to the Premier League under Big Sam) we beat Barnsley 1-0 in a Championship game at Upton Park in front of almost 35,000 spectators. Our goalscorer that day had the last name of Diop. Not Issa of course, but Papa Bouba (remember him?). I’ll be continuing with my fun bets on Issa Diop to score the last goal of the game where very long odds are on offer. One of these weeks it will happen!

History counts for nothing and this could be a close, perhaps high scoring encounter. I’ll take us to win 3-2 with Diop heading home a corner for the winning goal. A merry Christmas and a happy New Year to West Ham fans everywhere! A fifth straight win would be a nice Christmas present for us all!


Stuck In The Middle With MU: Five Takeaways From West Ham’s Rapid Rise Up The Table

As winning becomes a habit with victory at Fulham, West Ham have their sights set on sixth place and Europe. How far and how long can this unusual situation go on for?

The High Fives And Middle Eight

At completion of the latest round of Premier League matches, the two horse race continues to pull clear in the top five while compression in the middle eight becomes more congested.  Just five points separate sixth from thirteenth with barely any daylight between the goal differences – West Ham are one of four clubs with a zero goal difference as they effortlessly moved to within two points of sixth place.  The Hammers are currently one of the league’s form teams and their record, following the opening four match wipeout, is approaching an impressive two points per game.  A comparison with the 2015/16 season shows that West Ham are one point worse off at the same stage this time around – although back then the team were right in the middle of a seven game Payet-less win-less streak.  The weekend also saw the Hammers surrender their position at the top of the Premier League most defeats ever table as Everton once again regained the lead.

Funny Old Game

It was an unusual game on Saturday and one from which it is difficult to draw too many conclusions.  A better team than Fulham may well have punished the Hammers during the opening exchanges where the hosts were gifted a handful of acceptable chances which were fortunately squandered.  West Ham then scored two breakaway goals against the run of play, both set up by Felipe Anderson, which effectively ended the game as a contest.  Having earned the two goal cushion West Ham were in complete command and the second half was a monumental non-event.  Anderson’s late effort being, I believe, the only shot on target during that period.  Manual Pellegrini said that the team had played well, but they had taken the lead without playing particularly well and then managing the game without needing to play well – keeping a clean sheet through efficiency rather than enterprise.   As they say, though, “you can only beat what is front of you”, and a fourth successive win is more than welcome as a pre-Christmas gift.

Where Do We Go From Here?

In 2015/15, the team had reached 29 points by the halfway stage and 62 by the end of the season.  It is going to be interesting to see how Pellegrini’s boys perform against this benchmark.  A relatively benign set of fixtures continues for a few games yet until they come up against Arsenal in mid-January.  Extrapolating the current points to games ratio for the entire season would take West Ham to 53 points but to 70 points if the first four games were disregarded.  Now that the side has become much more settled and the players understand better what is expected of them, there is cause for optimism – but whether it is sufficient for the Hammers to claim a best of the rest sixth place, only time will tell.  At the moment it is West Ham and Wolves who are the form teams in the chasing pack but previously it had been Everton, Watford and Bournemouth.  No doubt Manchester United will again be throwing the cash around during the transfer window (in a desperate attempt to hold on to sixth) but their problems look too deeply embedded to be solved by a few extra high priced signings.

Through To The Transfer Window

With only fourteen shopping days left until the transfer window it is time for the reckless and unfounded speculation to ramp up once again.  Pellegrini has been reported as saying that he is happy with squad (which must be music to the owner’s ears) but it is still a squad that is heavily hit by injuries.  It is highly unlikely that we will see anything of Manuel Lanzini, Andriy Yarmolenko or Winston Reid this season, leaving only Marko Arnautovic and Jack Wilshere of what I would call regular first-teamers to return to the fold.  January is always a notoriously difficult time to get good value and a team sitting comfortably in mid-table might be disinclined to invest heavily.  It may well depend on how important for the Board’s income and egos the securing of European football is seen to be.  Burnley are a fine example of why getting into Europe isn’t always the bonus it might seem for clubs with fewer resources.  While a case could be made for strengthening both in central midfield and at full-back it would be no surprise if these challenges were deferred to the summer.

Football Is Fun Again

Although myself (and others) occasionally find Pellegrini’s selection decisions and preferences somewhat surprising, I doubt that we can genuinely question his wisdom based on how the season has gone for him so far.  The team is set up to play with enterprise and is a far more entertaining watch than for many a long year – possibly back to some of the more cavalier Harry Redknapp days.  There is, however, always room for improvement.  The defence is prone to being caught square – evidenced by Kamara’s early glorious chance – as they endeavour to play very narrow and set the offside trap.  The narrowness of the defence is not consistently matched by an equivalent compactness elsewhere on the pitch – a necessity if opponents are to be denied space to pick out a pass.  In possession, we also give the ball away far too cheaply and far too often.  Although possession and passing accuracy stats can be misleading I believe the team should be doing better with the players available.  On the plus side we have started to score freely and the goals are being shared around.  Great to see Robert Snodgrass sweep another one home and have Michail Antonio back on the scoresheet twice in recent weeks.  Antonio is looking more like the players from a few seasons back.  Life is good, long may it continue.

There’s Only One ‘F’ in Felipe. Hammers Go West For The Quadruple.

Can West Ham’s cottage industry secure a fourth straight Premier League win or do the sequence omens foretell a high scoring draw?

To kick-off this week’s match preview I will set you a simple puzzle.  What is the next score in the following sequence: 3-0, 3-1, 3-2,……..?  If you are among the 100% that can spot the answer, then you would probably be disappointed should West Ham came away from today’s game against the craven cottagers with only a share of the spoils.  A three game winning run builds confidence and expectations and, although we know it has to end somewhere, surely it is not going to be today against the leagues, bottom dwelling hosts.  Leaving aside the comparative form of the two clubs, this is traditionally the most profitable of regular London derbies.

Already the league has effectively split into three groups with a top five, bottom seven and middle eight (which lends a rather musical feel to it all).  The Hammers sit comfortably in the middle eight – the inconsequential piece in the middle that serves to fill the void between the repetition at the top and the fade out at the end.  Still, an outside run at a European place does remain a possibility if the team can continue to demonstrate an engaging freedom of movement in attack.

Fulham, on the other hand, are rock bottom of a very desperate bunch.  There may be only one ‘F’ in Fulham and right now it is decidedly looking like the past participle (f*cked!).  New manager Claudio Ranieri might be able to dine out for the rest of his days on taking Leicester City to the Premier League title, but his current task, based on what has gone before, may require an even greater miracle.  The possible silver lining in a very dark sky for the Cottagers is that they have scored more goals than any other side in the bottom seven – but then again, they have conceded many more, and by some margin.  Surely, the rip roaring, free scoring Hammers will have a field day against this frighteningly, flimsy Fulham backline!

The only debate about the West Ham starting eleven centres on whether Aaron Cresswell replaces Arthur Masuaku at left back and who starts up front alongside Javier Hernandez.  Any other change to shape and personnel would be a huge surprise.  In an ideal world the team wouldn’t concede quite as many goals but that is a difficult issue to address with current squad members and without reducing the attacking threat (and arguably the entertainment value).

The success in recent weeks, although a team effort, has been inspired by the mercurial talent of Felipe Anderson and the energy of Robert Snodgrass.  Anderson is now the club’s leading scorer and has attracted wide media attention, including the jackals who believe he is far too good to be plying his trade (or wasting his time in the view of some commentators) at the London Stadium. Snoddy has been the surprise of the season and much of the credit, in addition to his own immense attitude, has to go to Manuel Pellegrini and his coaching team.  I discovered by chance that ‘snod’ is a an old Scottish word meaning neat, trim and orderly which would make a Snodgrass someone who prefers a well-tended front lawn.

Pellegrini’s striking dilemma is who out of Lucas Perez, Andy Carroll or Michail Antonio will partner Chicharito from the start?  I really don’t see a Hernandez/ Perez offering enough off the ball in terms of mobility and power; while Carroll still resembles Mr Rusty and Antonio has the power but lacks the control.  All things considered I would opt for Carroll even in the knowledge that he may not last, stamina wise, for more than a half – he could well cause major chaos for the Fulham defence.   Big Andy was complaining in the week that he was tired of all the ‘old crock’ jokes and maybe he now has a chance to prove the doubters wrong by taking better care of himself.  My worry is that his style of play will always make him susceptible to knee and ankle impact injuries.


The Fulham side doesn’t look so bad on paper, particularly in attacking areas.  I am not a particular fan of Mitrovic who seems little more than a battering ram but he does have seven goals to his name in a struggling team this season.  The ‘S’ men in midfield of Seri, Sessegnon and Schurrle would be potentially good players in the right set up although I am not convinced by Chambers in midfield – he is no Declan Rice.  One happy piece of news is that West Ham didn’t pursue their reported interest in Mawson (there were repeated links during the summer) who I think is a poor defender at this level – the modern day Roger The Relegator who is firmly on course for a second successive relegation.

We’ve got a Friend refereeing the game today as Kevin from Leicestershire takes charge of his second Hammers game of the season – the first being the disappointing defeat at Brighton in October.  Friend is averaging four yellow cards a game over seventeen matches but his only red of the season was the dismissal of Shane Duffy two weeks ago.

A difference of opinion between the pundits this week.  Whereas Merson sees the Hammers continuing their fine run with a 3-1 win, Lawro is predicting a surprise 2-1 home win.  Provided that West Ham can avoid complacency, over confidence and a slow start they should really win this one at a canter.  There should be far too much fire power for the hosts to handle.  My heart is confident of a 4-1 win to make it four in a row, but there is also that little voice in my head that is whispering ‘rule out the 3-3 draw that the sequence omens suggests at your peril!’