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.

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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.

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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!