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!