If the average Liverpool Street commuter went down as easily as Bernardo Silva did, after brushing against a bystander, then the station concourse would resemble a medieval battlefield at every rush hour. The referee, however, chose to apply the ‘he was entitled to go down’ interpretation and the resultant penalty was enough for the Hammers to leave Manchester once again with their pockets empty. There was an interesting contrast with an earlier penalty area incident where Manuel Lanzini (one of the select band of players to have a ‘deceiving the referee’ rap on his charge sheet) elected to stay on his feet – and thus no foul was committed in the eyes of the law!
Defeat left West Ham with just nine points from the eight league games played so far in 2019. A return that will need to be significantly improved if a realistic challenge is to be made for seventh place, the best of the rest title and the opportunity to lose to Romanian part-timers in next season’s Europa Cup.
Today’s opponents, Newcastle United, have continued to pursue their win a few/ lose a lot cycle of recent seasons, but having hauled themselves up to 13th place and 31 points (just five behind the Hammers) they no longer look to be serious relegation contenders. The Geordies have picked up thirteen points in this calendar year and come into the game looking for a third win on the bounce – following home victories over Huddersfield and Burnley. Their away form, however, is less impressive.
Just when the West Ham injury situation was starting to look more positive a new outbreak struck prior to the midweek game. A cluster of full-back ailments resulting in a Premier League debut for Ben Johnson; who performed admirably given the formidable circumstances. It is unlikely that we will see him again today with both Pablo Zabaleta and Aaron Cresswell reported to be available to start; this apparently despite Cresswell having broken toe – normally three months on the sidelines for a Hammer. Marko Arnautovic also missed the Manchester City game with a virus and a late fitness test will determine whether his course of industrial strength Lemsip will allow him to start. In his absence it should be a return for Javier Hernandez unless Manuel Pellegrini wants to give Andy Carroll another chance at failing to score against his old club.
Goalscoring has again been something of a disappointment this season with none of the nine teams above us in the table having scored fewer. The goals have been shared between twelve players but with no player yet to reach double figures. My enthusiastic prediction in the early part of the season that Arnautovic would beat Paolo Di Canio’s 16 goal Premier League record now seems well off the mark.
In midfield there should be a return for Mark Noble (at the expense of Pedro Obiang) and I expect Samir Nasri to keep his place ahead of Robert Snodgrass. Lanzini will again settle for a place on the bench as he continues his way back to full fitness.
For Newcastle, Rondon is always a handful and would be a top striker if only he scored more goals. Ritchie always seems to play well against West Ham and it will be interesting to see Longstaff who some (mainly Geordies) mention in the same breath as our own Declan Rice. The one iron that we don’t want to see doing well today is Almiron. With Benitez offering a little more in the way of adventure these days our defenders need to maintain their sometimes wayward concentration if we are to avoid a repeat of last season’s 2-3 defeat.
Chris Kavanagh from Lancashire is today’s referee and makes his third Hammer’s appearance of the campaign – a defeat at home to Wolves and draws at Huddersfield and home to Brighton.
If the Premier League table were based on the predictions of Mark Lawrenson, West Ham would be in 17th place with 25 points while Newcastle would be sitting pretty in 10th on 40 points. Sticking to these broken guns he is opting for a 2-0 away win today. Over at Sky, Paul Merson has settled for a 1-1 stalemate. Slow starts continue to plague the Hammers and they will need to hit the ground running to contain a lively Newcastle side that has looked better organised lately. West Ham home form has been much improved of late and I will bank on the players being motivated sufficiently to earn a second consecutive 3-1 win at the London Stadium.