OK, so I know we are only six games into the new season. Nevertheless, how good is it to see three teams who are not members of the “elite six” occupying places in the top six of the Premier League even at this early stage? And if one of the two teams meeting at the Vitality Stadium (still known to some fans as Dean Court) emerges as the winner of this Saturday’s game then they are guaranteed a place in the top half dozen for another week at least, and potentially a place in the top two! Well that’s unlikely as I can’t see Manchester City tripping up at Goodison Park, but a third place beckons (at least in the short term) as neither Leicester nor Arsenal, who currently occupy third and fourth, play until Sunday or Monday. Let us hope we can keep our excellent run in the league going with another win to enable us to look down on the majority of teams in the top flight. But it won’t be easy!
Bournemouth are now an established Premier League side. Few would have predicted when they were promoted as champions of the Championship in 2014-15 that they would last long at this level, but they’ve proved the doubters wrong, and under the excellent leadership of Eddie Howe they are now embarking on their fifth consecutive season in the top division. In a game dominated by money it is refreshing to see a side who must rank fairly low in the Premier League revenue or turnover tables doing so well. I hope that it continues for them but not today!
Their start to the season is an interesting one in that both teams in their matches have scored in each of their six league games to date, an interesting statistic for anybody who likes to bet on the “both teams to score market”. Ironically they played at home to Forest Green Rovers in the second round of the Carabao Cup and this ended in a goalless draw (which Bournemouth then won 3-0 on penalties). But they too suffered an indignity in this competition on Wednesday night, but more of that later.
I can’t see this game ending without goals. In the four seasons that the two teams have met since Bournemouth’s promotion there have been 30 goals, giving us an average of almost four goals a game. Bournemouth have won four of those games and West Ham two with two draws. However many of you may recall Boxing Day 2017 when we were robbed of victory in the last minute by a Callum Wilson goal that was both offside and handball that the referee chose to ignore. If only VAR had existed then……
Another interesting feature of Bournemouth’s start to this season is the fact that four of their six games have ended with a 3-1 scoreline – the last four league games they have played in fact! 3-1 defeats to Manchester City and Leicester have been followed by 3-1 wins over Everton and Southampton. We can therefore eliminate 3-1 as a potential scoreline for this game, as to be involved in five consecutive league games ending in a score of 3-1 just will not happen.
I greatly enjoyed the game last weekend when we comfortably beat Manchester United, but I have to say I was not impressed with the TV coverage in the aftermath which I watched upon my return home from the match, nor did I take kindly to the radio, nor the newspaper coverage that followed a day later. Unfortunately the media are only really interested in the “elite six” that I mentioned previously, and cannot give credit where it is due to others who may beat one of that number. It was all about where Manchester United are failing and little mention of what we are doing right. But we have to ignore it really. Just as when a pundit makes a negative prediction about a forthcoming West Ham game, and you read on the internet, “West Ham fans will not want to hear what x is predicting about this game.” Poppycock we don’t care what x thinks. We should ignore it. It does not matter. What does matter is what actually happens on the pitch. It’s just a shame that the quality of punditry is just so poor and biased now, and frequently lacking in any form of neutrality. I can relate back to quality views on football, such as the ITV panel for the 1970 World Cup, when you really wanted to hear their views. Perhaps football punditry on TV began as a result of the panel in 1970? The modern equivalent is very poor in comparison.
As I sat in my seat last weekend and looked around me, I wondered how many of the people in the stadium were lucky enough, as I was, to see West Ham win trophies in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Our trophy cabinet may not be the largest but it was great to be there to see us win FA Cups, and a European trophy. But since 1980 what have we won? Of course there was the two bob cup, and we were desperately unlucky in the 1981 League Cup Final and the 2006 Cup Final, but we have achieved nothing to provide any reason for buying a bigger cabinet. We’ve seen some great football at times but wouldn’t it be great to see us add to the honours board? Of course the Carabao Cup provides the best chance of doing this, but despite coming close in the past, it is a trophy that we have never won.
I was really hoping that this time around we would be taking this competition seriously and doing our best to give the fans the chance of seeing us lift a trophy once more. As I looked around last week it occurred to me that probably only a relatively small proportion of the 57,000 West Ham fans there had been lucky enough to witness our past successes, and wouldn’t it be great to win something again? I have lost count of the number of times we have fallen to lesser teams from lower divisions, who may not have the skills but more than make up for it in desire and commitment. I was really hoping that this season would be different. But alas no. Our efforts in games such as this week are disrespectful to the fans, and incredibly so to those who travelled to support the team in Oxford on a September night.
Quite frankly I am appalled that we have done this once again. It is almost beyond belief that we can sink to such depths after the euphoria of the win over Manchester United. It is the West Ham way of course. Beat a top team then lose to a lowly team. I’ve watched it happen for more than 60 years but it doesn’t get any easier to comprehend. Shocks happen in football of course. But it is not really a shock when a “giant-killing act is performed on West Ham. It is almost the expected outcome. Despite not being a big fan of match statistics, just take a look at the shots, and shots on target count for this match. Together with the scoreline they tell the sorry tale of our capitulation once again at the hands of a team two divisions below us.
But wait! Am I falling into the same trap? Concentrating on the failings of the beaten team and not giving due credit to the victors. Without seeing the game but based on reports that I’ve read I suspect that Oxford were fully deserving of their emphatic win based on the shots that they had, and the number of those shots that were on target. Apart from the scoreline, they showed a desire to win the game, a desire to compete, and a desire to be in the next round of the Carabao Cup. It must be one of the best weeks in the history of Oxford United, a 6-0 win away at Lincoln last weekend followed by the scalp of a top six Premier League team. What could be better? Ten unanswered goals in half a week is quite an achievement and is to be congratulated. Well done Oxford for a fine performance and excellent win.
Our manager was quoted after the game with the words “nobody expected this.” Mmmmm. Not exactly expected, but not entirely a surprise either if you are old enough to remember Huddersfield 1960, Darlington 1961, Plymouth 1962, Rotherham 1963, Swindon 1967, Huddersfield 1968, Mansfield 1969, Middlesbrough 1970, Blackpool 1971, Huddersfield 1972, Stockport 1973, Hull City 1973, Hereford 1974, Swindon 1979, Newport County 1979, Wrexham 1981, Watford 1982, Torquay 1990, Oxford 1991, Crewe 1993, Grimsby 1996, Stockport 1997, Wrexham 1997, Northampton 1999, Swansea 1999, Tranmere 2000, Sheffield Wednesday 2001, Chesterfield 2007, Watford 2007, Watford 2009, Middlesbrough 2009, Aldershot 2012, Sheffield Wednesday 2012, Nottingham Forest 2014, Sheffield United 2015, Wigan 2018, AFC Wimbledon 2019. It doesn’t make good reading does it? And I’m not even sure that the list includes every embarrassing exit from the league cup or FA Cup either!
Pellegrini also said “It is very easy to say we played very badly, but they played very well too.” Also “Mentally the players were not prepared to give the 100% that they needed to give in this kind of game. I cannot find a reason.” One newspaper I read giving marks out of ten gave Zabaleta, Balbuena, Diop, Sanchez scores of 2, Masuaku 2.5, Roberto, Snodgrass and Holland 3. Noble top scored with 5 for his 20 minute “cameo” at the end?
So where do we go from here? Well Bournemouth also bowed out of the competition losing 2-0 at Burton Albion, in a game thrice halted by floodlight failure, but resolved each time. So both teams let down their fans in a competition that they could have gone far in, if they’d had the inclination to field full strength sides and matched the desire to win of their League 1 opponents. Hopefully we can win. Any score will do, but it definitely won’t be 3-1!