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.