At half-time in last weekend’s fixtures we reached the point where a quarter of the season had been completed. Had the half time score been the full time score then we would now be sitting on 15 points after 10 games, averaging 1.5 points per game and sixth in the Premier League table. 1.5 points per game over a whole season would result in 57 points. Sadly, the half time score was not the same at full time, and instead we have 13 points from 10 games which would give us 49 points over the course of a full season.
Looking back on the ten games played, and if my calculations are correct, we have thrown away 9 points from winning positions in games. Had we not done so, and instead held on to our leads in those games, then we would now have 22 points and be third in the table, level on points with Manchester City, with only City and Liverpool ahead of us. Apart from all our other shortcomings, which my co-blogger Geoff has written about on more than one occasion in recent times, the inability to hold on to a lead has proved to be very damaging to our prospects of finishing in a high position in the table. How many other teams have relinquished as many points from winning positions?
Our opponents today, Newcastle, are just one of four teams who are not yet averaging a point a game, which is roughly what is needed to retain a position in the top flight. They are 17th in the table, sitting immediately above the three teams currently occupying the relegation slots, Southampton, Norwich and Watford. Of course they can put that right with an away win today, and move up to within a point of ourselves. That is something we must not let happen.
Up to date form (say, the last 5 games) shows our visitors have the same record as ourselves, with 5 points, from one win, two draws, and two defeats. Only Tottenham (4), Everton and Watford (3), Southampton and Norwich (1) have fewer points in this period. If you ignore the top 4 teams in the table (and Watford) then every other team has won either 2, 3 or 4 of the 10 games they have played. Conversely if you ignore Liverpool, and the bottom 6 teams, then every other team has lost either 2, 3 or 4 games to date. This demonstrates how closely positioned most of the teams are, and how either a good run or poor run can significantly alter a team’s place in the table.
Of course, apart from any other factors, the fixture list, and more particularly the order in which the games are played can have a significant impact on a team’s position in the league table at any point throughout the season. Based upon current positions in the table, Newcastle would appear to have had a tougher group of games than we have had so far. They have played against four of the teams currently in the top 5, whereas we have only faced one of them (Manchester City). Also, if you add up the current positions in the table of our opponents so far, then our total is 116 compared to Newcastle’s 82, once again reinforcing that they have so far faced much stronger opposition than we have.
So perhaps the disparity in our relative positions in the table is not so great after all, and it is not really worth making comparisons, or assessing progress throughout a season, until at least 19 games have been played and all teams have faced each other for the first time. But even that situation will be slightly altered this season as we have not yet faced league leaders Liverpool and don’t yet know exactly when we will. Our game against them scheduled for 21 December has been postponed due to their participation in the FIFA World Club Cup, so we will begin playing against some teams for a second time before we have even faced the Merseysiders once. As such we will have a game in hand in league tables published from Christmas onwards.
Our overall record against Newcastle in history is a negative one with more defeats than wins. However, the memory is selective and I remember particularly the big wins and the games with lots of goals. When I was young I have a hazy memory of us drawing a game 5-5 at their ground, and other games I can specifically remember watching at Upton Park include a 4-3 win in the mid-1960s which included a hat trick from Geoff Hurst, a 5-0 win about 50 years ago when Trevor Brooking scored a hat trick, another 5-0 win about ten years after that, and the most memorable of all in 1986, as we were chasing the league title. That was the game when we won 8-1, including an amazing hat trick from Alvin Martin with each goal scored against a different keeper. I seem to recall a certain Glenn Roeder in the Newcastle side and he scored an own goal in that game.
One game I remember us losing was when we went down 2-0 at Upton Park and both Newcastle goals were scored by Bryan Robson. We signed him shortly after that, and he scored a lot of goals for us in his two spells here. “Pop” was a superb player and goalscorer. It was amazing that he never played for England. Of course, Robson is not the only player to have represented both ourselves and Newcastle. Others that I can recall off the top of my head include Paul Kitson, Stuart Pearce, Norbert Solano, Scott Parker, Craig Bellamy, Kevin Nolan, Demba Ba, Shaka Hislop, Lee Bowyer, Kieron Dyer, Rob Lee, and of course another who could potentially be facing us today, a certain Andy Carroll. Although if recent history is anything to go by no doubt he will be injured and unable to line up against us! But seriously I reckon he will be desperate to play, and of course it would be ironical if he scores against us, and possibly even more ironical if he plays the full 90 minutes and avoids injury. Those of you with long enough memories will recall that he has only played two games against West Ham (both for Newcastle in games at St James Park around 10 years ago), and he scored in each game, so I definitely wouldn’t bet against it happening for a third time. Goalscoring has been Newcastle’s problem this season with only six scored in the ten games so far, a statistic bettered only by Watford with five.
When I previewed last week’s game I wrote that the last six goals scored by West Ham had all been left-footed shots. But the run of “only left-footed goals” that stretches back to August was extended further when our only goal in the game was scored by the left foot of Robert Snodgrass. I may be wrong, but I’m not sure that we scored a single left-footed goal this season before the run began.
The betting has West Ham as odds on favourites to win the game, despite our indifferent recent form. I’ve gone for some small stake fun bets that involve West Ham winning the game and Andy Carroll scoring either the last goal, or scoring anytime in the match. The one that I hope will happen (from a financial viewpoint) is that West Ham win the game 3-1, and Andy Carroll scores the last goal of the game. The odds on that happening are 150/1. But, I’ll be happy if we win the game, and even happier if we perform well. I’ll be setting off for the game soon after the Rugby World Cup final finishes, and of course I’m hoping for an England win over South Africa in that. Hold on to your hats; both games could be tight affairs. What odds an England / West Ham double?