NOW That’s What I Call Football!: 5 Takeaways From Victory Over Palace

A three match winning run for West Ham but more importantly the fun is back in football. What did we learn from the Hammer’s victory over Crystal Palace?

They’re Flying So High

Three consecutive wins and scoring three goals in each and the team being described as free scoring, maverick, weird and wonderful!  It is like West Ham’s Marty McFly moment having traveled back in time to the unpredictable but entertaining days of Greenwood and Lyall.  A cornucopia of silky skills, glorious goals, inconsistency, sloppy defending and nervously bitten nails.  Periods of rampant, full throttle dominance interspersed, in the blink of an eye, with others of careless, lost concentration.  In all probability it will not bring any greater success but after the dark days of the recent past, it is, at last, worth getting out of bed for on a chilly morning to brave the hazards of public transport.  Welcome back West Ham!  All of a sudden it is great to be a Hammer again with plenty of reasons to be cheerful.

Reasons To Be Cheerful Part 1

The central defensive partnership of Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena continues to look sound.  In fact, they had little to bother them against Palace who lacked any out and out striker.  There are concerns, given our vulnerability at set pieces, as to who is meant to be marking who, in that our shortest players are often assigned to deal with the greatest aerial threats.  Nevertheless, Diop and Balbuena are developing into one of the best central defensive pairings since Alvin Martin and Tony Gale.  The full-back positions remain a priority upgrade, but more likely in the summer than next month.  Pablo Zabaleta shows tremendous commitment and is a truly great professional but his legs are not a long term solution.  I love to see Arthur Masuaku when he gets forward (some delightful interchanges with Felipe Anderson on Saturday) but we know he is suspect defensively – although suggestions that he is single-handedly responsible for all goals conceded are entirely ludicrous.  Following a succession of fine displays, Lucasz Fabianski is so solidly cemented in the number one shirt that there is never any debate as to whether there are other options.

Reasons To Be Cheerful Part 2

Looking at the defensive and central midfield area, the standout successes of the season so far have been the performances of Declan Rice and Robert Snodgrass.  Both have surprised me and proved my initial judgements on them to be wildly wrong.  I was sceptical that Rice could do an effective job in midfield – seeing him an emergency central defender conversion who might be able to provide protective cover but offer nothing creatively.  He has proven to be a far more technical, adaptable and accomplished all-round player than I imagined – even if he was the cause of the failed offside trap for the opening Palace goal.  There was one tackle in the first half that was outstanding.  Snodgrass has been a revelation.  He had never really been on my radar before signing for West Ham and his performances under Bilic were uninspiring to say the least.  I fully expected him to return to what I assumed to be his more appropriate level, in the second tier, during the summer.  But the new slimmer, fitter, faster Snoddy now fully deserves his starting place on merit and it was great to see him get on the scoresheet.  Mark Noble has been a mixed bag for most of the season.  The effort is still there but the legs are very heavy.  There have been great passes but too many careless ones.  This is the position I see and the number one priority if the club are going to spend in January.

Reasons To Be Cheerful Part 3

As suspected the Little Pea/ Lucas Perez partnership lacked the necessary pizzazz.  It was no surprise to see Andy Carroll appear after the break although the timing could equally have been due to the hole in Perez’s foot than as a tactical change.  Although Carroll still looks too rusty to play for more than parts of a game, his presence certainly shook up Palace and gave them a more difficult problem to deal with.  Felipe Anderson is now demonstrating what a super player he is.  Far more involved, getting used to the pace and physical aspects of the English game and growing in confidence all of the time.  An excellent performance topped off with an amazing goal – when he shaped up to shoot I wondered how he would manage to get it through the goalkeeper’s legs from there but I needn’t have worried.  Chicharito remains an enigma.  He does very little in the game apart from score but it is goals that win matches.  At what point does the balance of goals scored outweigh the absence of team play contribution?  A conundrum for Pellegrini to ponder!  His goal on Saturday was a perfect example of the poacher’s goal and followed up with a perfect goal celebration.  However, despite another three goal haul the return of Marko Arnautovic cannot come soon enough for me.

The Twitterati

Having dragged ourselves up, albeit temporarily, into the top half and accumulated a points tally that would have been unthinkable at the start of September, we can now forget all about the situation at the foot of the table.  I also get the impression that an excellent team spirit has been created in the squad and that it is a very together group of players.  A tussle for sixth spot with Everton and Manchester United should at least be the new target – even if it will be a difficult one to achieve.  The new found optimism has largely muted the long running criticism of the Board and the stadium – even though both may never be loved actually.  Despite all the recent positivity there are still those who can’t help themselves but take to Twitter to slag off individual players.  I suppose there have also been lunatics, the opinionated and even opinionated lunatics but in the past these voices were laughed at and lost in the crowd.  Now the internet and social media gives them a limitless audience (just like me on here, really).  The usual, possibly drunken insults are along the lines of ‘waste of space’, ‘stealing a living’, ‘get out of my club’ to whoever this weeks scapegoat is.  Of course, everyone is entitled to an opinion but the degree of vitriol about the team you are meant to ‘support’ is difficult to fathom.  And shame on the so-called fan pages who chase readership and advertising revenue by cutting and pasting to give oxygen to such inanities.

I’m Dreaming Of A …….. Arthur Masuaku Goal

Never mind about partridges in pear trees, turtle doves and French hens, West Ham’s avian Christmas campaign prepares to follow wins against magpies and bluebirds with victory over the eagles.

In the past, an unwelcome seasonal dilemma was whether to go to the match or help with the family Christmas shopping.  In the days before 1994, shops didn’t open on a Sunday either and unless you intended to buy all your presents at a petrol station time was at a premium.  Happily, subject to the availability of mobile data or a wifi signal, it is now possible to go online during the half-time interval to buy your loved one a bargain set of festive saucepans or perhaps a stylish facial sauna, from the comfort of your own stadium seat.  For balance, I will point out that lady supporters may do likewise to surprise their special man with the great small of Brut or a value pack of Argyll patterned socks.

Meanwhile on the football field, West Ham will be endeavouring to complete a third bird battering on the bounce where, having seen off the Magpies and the Bluebirds, they now face the Eagles from south of the river.  Bird themed football clubs are becoming an endangered species in the top flight and it would be no surprise if one of more of these were seen flocking to the Championship next season where birds continue to exist in greater numbers (swans, owls, throstles, robins, peacocks and so on.)

The Hammers are unbeaten in their last six Premier League games against Palace having won three and drawn three.  Both matches last season ended in draws and the last Palace win was at Upton Park back in February 2015.  Another stat from Premier League games between the two clubs is that the team scoring first has never lost – well apart from that time when the floodlights failed (a televised game in November 1997) where Palace had held a 2-0 lead at one stage before the game was abandoned at 2-2.  West Ham won the re-arranged fixture 4-1.

It will be disappointing if we do not improve on the record against Palace this afternoon.  As Manuel Pellegrini pointed out at his pre-match press conference, if we could wipe out the first four games of the season, his team would be sitting sixth in the table.  While that is impossible to do, there is no reason why the Hammers should not be close to the European places come the end of the year.  Yes, I know I am getting ahead myself but what is the point if we can’t dream.

The fly in the West Ham ointment is the enforced absence of Marko Arnautovic.  He has been threatening an injury layoff for some time and will now be missing for the next four weeks at least.  It is true that Arnie has not been at the top of his game just recently but he brings a strength, power and mobility to the side that is not available elsewhere in the squad.  He is an important part of Pellegrini’s plan and is the focal point of most attacking play – he will be badly missed.  Because they have both banged in a couple of goals in recent weeks there could be a temptation to consider a Little Pea-Perez partnership up front, but I don’t see how this works in practice – too static and passive to make the required off-the-ball contribution.  The alternative are a striking start are Andy Carroll or Michail Antonio while the wildcard is Xande Silva (from the Triple X programme).  It might be too soon to give the injury prone Geordie a start but I feel he will get the nod.

The rest of the selection should be self-explanatory with the return of Pablo Zabaleta and Fabian Balbuena to the defence but, otherwise, as you were!

lineup (1)

Palace are likely to start with two former Hammers with pretty-boy James Tomkins in defence and the permanently perplexed Cheikhou Kouyate in midfield.  It will be a Slug Versus Sloth midfield contest where we can decide whether Mark Noble and Kouyate make more effective opponents than they did team-mates.  With Benteke missing the greatest Palace threats will be the dribbling and diving of Zaha and the set pieces of Milivojevic.  I believe that by playing Zaha in a central role it gives our defence a better chance of handling the menace than if he was terrorising the full-backs.

Today’s referee is Anthony Taylor from Cheshire who was in charge of West Ham’s season opener at Anfield back in August.  He is another referee who loves yellows but is a little more reluctant with the reds.

Pundits Lawro and Merson both see a routine 2-0 win for the Hammers today.  Palace will be smarting after the manner of their defeat at Brighton and I think we can expect a very tight encounter against very defensively minded visitors.  Roy Hodgson will be looking for a disciplined and organised reaction from his team.  A fast start, high intensity, concentration and patience will all be necessary in order to break down the resistance and to avoid any sucker punches.  I am currently in hopelessly optimistic mode and confident of another three goal winning performance.  Whereas my co-blogger, Richard Bennett, has his money on Issa Diop getting on the score-sheet, but I have a dream that it will be Arthur Masuaku’s turn to add some credit to his flagging popularity balance by nabbing himself the opening goal – perhaps in the style of Frank Lampard at Elland Road.

West Ham Aiming To Fly High Against The Eagles

Will West Ham be “Glad All Over” against Palace today? Will the Hammers nail the Eagles and soar into the top half of the table?

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?

Magnificent Severn: West Ham Look To Extend Impressive Run Against Cardiff

First back to back wins for Pellegrini and a seventh victory on the trot against Cardiff are on the cards as West Ham entertain international opposition under the London Stadium lights.

Gareth Southgate has been featured in the media this week bemoaning the shortage of English players represented in the Premier League, a situation which hit a record low at the weekend with less than 25% of all starters eligible to wear the three lions.  West Ham were slightly above average with three of the starting eleven (27%) as potential qualifyers.  It is a similar story at managerment level where only five clubs (if you include Chris Hughton at Brighton) can boast that dying breed that is an English gaffer. Today’s visitors are one of that select group and today we can welcome our old Sheffield United friend, and the most famous anagram in football, Colin Wanker. Now in his thirteenth managerial position at a league club, Warnock has been at the helm at Cardiff for the past two, largely successful, years.

Games against Cardiff are the closest that we get these days to exotic European competition and with a little imagination it might be possible to recreate those special sepia tinted nights under the floodlights on a chilly winter’s evening.  Take you own Bovril and Percy Dalton peanuts to complete the illusion.

West Ham will be aiming for their seventh consecutive win against the Bluebirds having beaten them three times in the 2013/14 Premier League season (including a 3rd round League Cup tie) and three times in 2011/12 Championship season (including the two legged Playoff semi-final).

Cardiff have picked up just one of their eleven points on the road this season (a “dreadful scoreless draw” according to the Telegraph against the ten-men of Huddersfield) and although there have been heavy defeats, at Chelsea and Liverpool, they managed to keep both Tottenham and Everton down to a single goal margin.  The Hammers may well go into the match as favourites, buoyed by victory at Newcastle, but this will be no walkover.  Cardiff will look to defend deep and will be well organised.  The experience in recent years is that it is just the type of game that West Ham struggle to impose themselves on.  Still there can be no better time for Manuel Pellegrini to achieve his first back to back wins as West Ham manager.

Team selection speculation for the game is centred around defensive availability.  In normal circumstances, I would have expected there to be no discretionary changes made to the team that started at Newcastle.  However, there has been much talk about a well-earned rest for Pablo Zabaleta’s ageing legs as well as fitness doubts over Fabian Balbuena and Aaron Cresswell.  Three changes to a relatively stable back four could prove disastrous and the idea of twin scapegoats-in-chief Michail Antonio and Arthur Masuaku as full back partners sounds unthinkable.

In the absence of inside knowledge on the extent of the injuries, my anticipated lineup relies even more heavily on guesswork than usual.  I am certain Pellegrini will continue with the twin spearhead of Marko Arnautovic and Chicharito during the upcoming set of benign fixtures.  I would also expect Andy Carroll and Jack Wilshere to play some part tonight.


Cardiff have no new reported injury concerns and are likely to keep the same side that did so well to come from behind last Friday to win and nudge Wolves further in their slow slide down the table.

Tonight’s referee is occasional Premier League whistle-blower Graham Scott from Oxfordshire.  This is only his fourth top flight match of the season, although that did include the Arsenal – West Ham clash in August, the game which launched the Gunners on their long unbeaten run.  I don’t recall any particular refereeing bloopers arising in that game.

Top pundits Lawro and Merson are both going for home wins at 2-0 and 3-0 respectively.  It is the sort of game where if West Ham score once then they might go on and get a hat-full. But it will be no easy task to break down a deep=lying, disciplined and determined defence.   The Hammers attacking strength is through swift counter attacking and there has been little evidence of getting behind defensive lines of teams with minimal attacking intent.  Even so, I have to remain optimistic and will align with Merson at 3-0.

West Ham v Cardiff: Midweek Preview

Will West Ham be all over the Bluebirds? Just you wait and see.

With tongue in cheek when I previewed our game at Newcastle on Saturday, I ended the article asking if it would be the first game of an eight match winning run, and suggested that the odds on our achieving that would be very long. Well, they would still be long, although they are a bit shorter now after our magnificent win at St James Park.

I also said that of course it wouldn’t happen, but wouldn’t it be nice to record back to back wins for the first time in a while. Surely there can be no better opportunity to do so than in a home meeting against newly promoted Cardiff.

Also in my article I was hoping that we could repeat the 1-0 win at Newcastle from six years ago, but also mentioned the 3-0 win there 20 years ago. I certainly wasn’t expecting a repeat of that scoreline. We should savour the victory, which was well earned and could have been by an even greater margin, as it doesn’t happen all that often. How many times in the last ten years have we won Premier League games away from home by three goals or more? I think I can remember just seven occasions before Newcastle, and will list those at the end of this article. Perhaps there were more, and if there were then I apologise for forgetting them.

I’m sure that today’s opponents will be relatively pleased with their performance in the Premier League this season, as they currently sit in 16th place on 11 points. They were the bookies favourites for relegation at the start of the season (a mantle taken over by Burnley at the moment), but wins over Fulham, Brighton and Wolves have given them every optimism that they can stay up. It will be hard, but if they do so then it will be as good an achievement by their controversial manager, Neil Warnock, as all the various promotions he has achieved over the years.

If everyone is fit then surely our manager will opt for an unchanged starting eleven for this game? However, Cresswell and Balbuena would appear to be potential doubts. The whole team played well at Newcastle (with the possible exception of Masuaku in his substitute role), and it would be good to see a settled team forming. It was good to see a strengthening of the squad with the return from injury of both Wilshere, who I feel will be an important player for us this season, and Carroll. I relish the thought of seeing Wilshere, Anderson and Lanzini all playing together in the same side, although of course this would be potentially an issue from a defensive viewpoint. But perhaps we could adopt the Manchester City theory of outscoring the opposition and not worrying if we concede?

One player I have been pleased to see doing well is Robert Snodgrass. I have always liked him, although I am aware that some fans are not so keen, but I have always loved his wholehearted attitude. I believe he is more skilful than many realise, although this hasn’t always been evident yet in a claret and blue shirt. I remain convinced we will see more good performances from him.

Not surprisingly, we are odds on favourites to win tonight’s game, and it will be a big disappointment after the weekend victory if we fail to do so. I hate statistics such as the one I am about to reveal, but Cardiff have only managed to collect a solitary point away from home (in a goalless draw at Huddersfield), and have only scored a total of two goals in their seven fixtures on their travels. We all know from history how teams boasting records like these can improve them significantly with a game against West Ham. However I am sure it will not happen tonight, and I look forward to a second consecutive win by a three goal margin. That is not something I write very often, if at all, and I hope that Cardiff don’t spoil my hopes of us achieving the second of eight consecutive wins!

As promised earlier, the games that I can recall in the last ten years where we have won by a three goal margin away from home were: at Stoke, Huddersfield, Swansea, West Brom, Liverpool (yes Liverpool!), Tottenham (Morrison wonder goal game), and Portsmouth which I remember was on Boxing Day about ten years ago. There may have been more, but it is something that doesn’t happen often. I am old enough to remember us winning 5-1 at Manchester City when Jimmy Greaves made his debut for us almost fifty years ago (and scored twice). That game was particularly memorable for a Ronnie Boyce volley scored from about fifty yards out! Those were the days.


A West Ham programme from the early 1970’s when we played a League Cup tie at home to Cardiff. We drew the game 1-1 before winning the replay. We had quite an attacking line-up that night. That was the season we went on to reach the semi-final against Stoke where we lost in the fourth game! The 20 page programme cost 5p.

Many people believe that Cardiff’s nickname, the Bluebirds is purely a result of the colour of their shirts. That is only partly true, as it is also connected to a children’s play “The Blue Bird” written by Belgian Nobel Prize for Literature winning playwright Maurice Maeterlinck, which had a production in Cardiff in 1911. The publicity surrounding the play and its famous author led to supporters calling the team the Blue Birds, as they also wore a blue strip, and it emerged as the most popular nickname, surpassing “the Cardiffians” or “the City”. Not a lot of people know that, which is a famous saying of another Maurice, (Micklewhite), better known as Sir Michael Caine. And of course, Vera Lynn famously sang of Bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover, tomorrow just you wait and see. I don’t believe that had anything to do with Cardiff City though.

Howay The Lads: Five Takehoways From West Ham’s Win At Newcastle

West Ham defy expectations to record a rare win on their travels to St James’ Park. What did we learn from the experience?

Just Like Watching …….. West Ham

I have to admit it, my confidence gauge was close to empty at the start of this game and hearing the starting lineup did nothing to improve the situation.  During the opening ten minutes it looked as if the players had left their passing boots back in the dressing room as the ball was repeatedly given away far too cheaply.  But then on the cusp of the feeble Mike Ashley protest moment, a teasing cross from Robert Snodgrass was shrewdly anticipated and skilfully dispatched by Chicharito; and the character of the game changed completely.  Following below par performances against Huddersfield and Manchester City, the Hammers were unexpectedly professional and competent against a Newcastle side who had spirit but little quality.  Will a rare win in the north-east be a springboard for a surge up the table between now and Christmas or will it be yet another false dawn of inconsistency that we have witnessed so often in the past?

What Are The Chances?

Viewing only the MOTD highlights might well  have left the impression of an afternoon of Newcastle domination disrupted by three West Ham breakaway goals.  It wasn’t anything like that and had West Ham won the game by a four of five goal margin it would not have been a surprise or undeserved.  It seems that there are only two types of goal-scoring opportunity: the chance and the half chance.  It’s about the time that the nerdy football Statto’s and their overblown algorithms came up with a percentile system for the rating of chances.  Had they done so, the conclusion would surely have been that only one of the attempts by Perez broke the 50% half chance barrier – whereas both Little Pea and Felipe Anderson were presented with 80% plus chances which really should have added to their eventual goal tallies.  There were also several occasions where Marko Arnautovic might be wondering how he didn’t do more to extend the Hammer’s lead.  Having seen Son Heung-min’s outrageous dive at Arsenal yesterday I wonder what would have happened if Arnie had tumbled over the keeper rather than jumping to avoid a collision?

Dynamic Duo

I doubt many of us expected Snodgrass and Chicharito to make much of a contribution to West Ham’s season after failing to impress during their early careers at the club.  But both played a major role in Saturday’s victory.  It was a surprise when Snodgrass didn’t make a permanent move to Aston Villa in the summer and the thought of his return to the squad was not an inspiring one.  However, under Manuel Pellegrini’s tutelage there has been an amazing metamorphosis from plodding journeyman to bustling dynamo.  It is a rather different story with Chicharito in that the dilemma is how to accommodate his undoubted low input/ high output scoring prowess without weakening an already under-strength midfield.  This will continue to be a challenge for the manager and likely to be managed on a game by game basis where he feels that a numerical disadvantage in midfield can be outweighed by the superior goal threat provided.

Favourite Andersons

Felipe is fast becoming my all-time favourite Anderson.  He is right up there with Ian (the singer from Jethro Tull) and Pamela (Baywatch era) but ahead of Sylvia and Gerry of Thunderbirds fame.  The pundits definitely love him and a few of them have already been saying that he is too good to be playing for West Ham – the arrogant b*st*rds!  I am sure that Pellegrini is right in saying that it will take him some time to fully adjust to the rough and tumble of English football but the signs are becoming increasingly encouraging.  Some of his thoughtful passing is a delight and I am excited that there could be more to come.  To date, his best performances have been in games where the team has been well on top anyway – taking advantage rather than creating advantage.  It would be good to see him exerting more control and influence in the tighter encounters.  He still looks inclined to pull out of challenges although he did make use of his strength when bursting through to score with his trademark scuffed shot through the keeper’s legs.

Left Back Where He Started

Issa Diop was rightly singled out for praise for his performance at Newcastle.  He is a special talent who will become a big players if he continues to develop.  Rondon may not be the greatest goal-scorer but he is a real handful and Diop matched the physical challenge with aplomb.  The General also continues to impress, both in his defensive duties and as the springboard for launching attacks.  However, it was Aaron Cresswell who caught the eye on Saturday with a defensive performance reminiscent of the early days at the club which had brought him England recognition.  He also found time to get forward to great effect.  It was a big shame to see him limp off and hopefully there will be a quick recovery.  We know that Arthur is not the most alert of defenders but he looked to possess added jitteriness when he came on as Cresswell’s replacement – or else it was just me getting the jitters on his behalf.

West Ham at Newcastle

Can Newcastle make it four wins in a row? Or can West Ham win at St James Park for only the second time in the twenty-first century?

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 (and following Cardiff’s victory over Wolves last night) 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?

Today’s opponents had only two points after nine games this season, but a 0-0 draw at Southampton, followed by consecutive wins against Watford, Bournemouth and Burnley has put them level on points with ourselves, but they sit just above us with a superior goal difference. They have only scored 11 goals this season to date (three fewer than us), but more than half of them have been headed goals, which in percentage terms is the highest of all Premier League teams. Their manager Rafael Benitez has won more top flight games against us than against any other team, and I suspect he may not be the only manager with that boast.


Our recent record has not been the best with just one win in our last six games, and the results of our recent visits to St James Park have been even worse than that. Younger supporters will only be able to remember one win on their ground in this century, when Kevin Nolan (their former captain) scored the only goal of the game on Remembrance Day in 2012. That match was full of familiar faces with Andy Carroll (as well as Nolan) back facing his former club. Our manager that day, Sam Allardyce, was also back at the club who had sacked him the previous season, whereas the Geordies’ manager was Alan Pardew, an ex-West Ham manager of course.

The last “convincing” win on their ground that I can recall is twenty years ago when Ian Wright netted a brace to add to Trevor Sinclair’s goal in a 3-0 victory. Apart from 2012 that is probably the last time that we won there. The Hammers’ side that day boasted five players who won 233 international caps for England between them. In addition to Wright and Sinclair we had Rio, and Frank Lampard (junior), as well as another player who surprisingly to many, played a game for the full England team, Neil (Razor) Ruddock.

What do the bookmakers make of the fixture today? Their odds roughly reflect the fact that if this game was to be played 100 times, then Newcastle would win 40, we would win 33, and 27 would be drawn. In other words they believe it is a close call for all three possible results, despite the fact that the Magpies are on a good run and we are not, as well as our poor record when visiting the North-East.

Apparently, Carroll and Wilshere may both be fit to return from injury, and Snodgrass has served his suspension. How many of those will be in the starting eleven? Trying to predict the team and how West Ham will fare in a game of football is not an easy task, but I believe that just one goal will settle this match. Perhaps Carroll will score the only goal to reprise what Nolan did six years ago? The odds on that happening are surprisingly low at around 22/1. Perhaps Issa Diop will score the only goal of the game? That is priced at around 200/1. A 1-0 West Ham win is about 7/1, and you can get 2/1 on West Ham winning the game by any score.

Will this be the first game of an eight match winning run? I suspect you could get very long odds on that happening!