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.

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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.

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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!’

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.