After a comfortable win (despite Neil Warnock’s disbelieving comments) over the Bluebirds of South Wales on Tuesday night, we now have the opportunity to record a third successive win (in our eight game winning streak – it is still a possibility!) and soar into the top half of the Premier League table. All we need to do is beat a Palace team that were woeful on Tuesday away at Brighton and hope that the Seagulls themselves lose at Burnley on Saturday. The other two teams above us, the other W’s in the top flight (Wolves and Watford) who can stop us moving into the top ten, do not play until Sunday or Monday.
In many ways I don’t like to see us meeting opponents who have just had a poor game, because I’ve seen on so many occasions West Ham lose in these circumstances. The “woeful” description I gave earlier was told to me by an avid Palace fan friend who suggested that we would hammer them today. We shall see. Brighton were a goal up when they had a player sent off in the first half, and you would have thought that Palace had a great opportunity against ten men for such a long period. In fact, Brighton had a further player being tended for an injury and were down to nine on the field when they scored a second goal. Manager Roy Hodgson’s face was like thunder throughout the rest of the game, and it remains to be seen if he can motivate them to improve their performance today. But it was only last weekend that Palace themselves hammered Burnley, and the 2-0 score didn’t reflect their total superiority in the game.
Of course we potentially face ex-Hammers Tomkins and Kouyate in this match, although unlike some who have written on social media this week, I am personally not sorry to have lost either of them. But former players can sometimes come back to hurt you, and we must hope that doesn’t happen. Palace sit 15th in the table with 12 points, six below us, and just three above the three teams in the relegation zone (Southampton, Fulham, and Burnley). Their three victories have come away at Fulham and Huddersfield, and at home to Burnley, and they have shared the spoils with Newcastle and Arsenal at Selhurst Park, and at Old Trafford.
Arnie will be out for around a month it seems, and Perez took his goals well when he came on to replace him shortly before half-time. And of course Carroll has now made a timely return from injury, and if he plays a part in this game we will all be hoping for a repeat of his spectacular goal against Palace in January 2017. Antonio had a good game in his role as a right back but I would expect Zabaleta to return for this match, and in Cresswell’s absence no doubt Masuaku will continue at left back. Ogbonna also did little wrong but I prefer Balbuena to partner Diop.
I would expect to see the following line-up: Fabianski; Zabaleta, Diop, Balbuena, Masuaku; Rice, Noble, Snodgrass; Anderson, Hernandez, Perez. That’s eleven different nationalities if Rice is still Irish! Depending on how the game goes, I would expect Antonio and Carroll to play a part too if they are not in the starting line-up, with other possible involvement from Obiang and Diangana.
Surprisingly, in my opinion, we are not odds-on with the bookies to win the game, and you can get odds of around 5/4 or 6/5 on a West Ham victory. For my fun bets this week I will hope that we continue with our current trend of scoring three goals a game, and will be considering 3-0 (at 18/1) or 3-1 (at 16/1). Cardiff’s late goal on Tuesday ruined my bet on a 3-0 score.
And continuing my belief in Issa Diop to score, I will look at Diop scoring the last goal in a 3-0 win (500/1) or in a 3-1 victory (600/1). For Diop to score a goal at any time in the game you can get 16/1, or to score the first goal of the match (40/1), the last goal of the match (40/1), two or more goals (200/1). I reckon a hat-trick at 2000/1 is unlikely!
Those of us who have supported the team for any length of time will know that we can expect the unexpected. In fact with West Ham we have no idea what to expect. Much has been made in the press about our last two victories being our first back to back wins in the league for almost two years (January 2017). The first of those games was actually against Palace (the second was away at Middlesbrough), but we came back down to earth in our attempt at the hat-trick when we faced Manchester City in the next game.
We had already achieved back to back wins earlier that season with wins at Palace and at home to Sunderland, and we also achieved a hat-trick of league wins in December 2016 (Burnley, Hull and Swansea), so it is not that unusual. We just didn’t manage it last season.
For this week’s trip down memory lane I rummaged through my programme collection to find the game we played at home to Palace on 8 November 1969, almost fifty years ago. This was our first match against these opponents since the 1922-23 season when we met them in Division 2. That was the season we went on to compete in the first Wembley FA Cup Final.
We went into the 1969 game 7th from the bottom of Division One with Palace three positions and one point below us. Goals from Geoff Hurst and Clyde Best ensured a 2-1 win in front of over 31,000. How many of the players in the first team squad can you recognise from the photo on the front of the programme?