“I really cannot believe that I will be writing about Manuel Pellegrini any more after this weekend. There cannot possibly be any way that he can survive as the manager of West Ham, whatever the result this evening.”
These are the words I wrote prior to the game against Southampton. But I was wrong. We won the game after clinging on in the end, and our manager lived to fight another day. Since then we have had the postponement against (World Club Champions) Liverpool, followed by the defeat at Crystal Palace on Boxing Day. We now sit in seventeenth place in the Premier League table, just one point above Aston Villa (and with an inferior goal difference). We have a game in hand, but that is against Liverpool! We have now dropped 15 points from winning positions. With 15 more points we would now be sitting in a Champions League position in fourth place in the table. But we are not. We are in big trouble, but Dave and Dave either haven’t got the will to act (or pay off the manager), or they think he will turn it around, or perhaps they are unable to find anyone who will want to work under them.
Ironically, in recent articles I have often referred to the form table, where I have analysed results for all Premier League teams in their last 5 games. We have often appeared very close to the bottom of that table, but as we go into today’s game against Leicester, that is not the case this time. We have six points together with Burnley and (fourth placed) Chelsea. Six clubs have accrued less than that in their last five games; Watford, Brighton and Arsenal with 5, Bournemouth with 4, Villa with 3, and Norwich with 1.
But it’s not good is it? The natives are restless. I think our early season form promised so much more, but the dramatic fall down the league table, mixed with a combination of throwing away leading positions, the (poor) quality of our football, a manager who doesn’t appear to have a clue what is wrong or what he can do to change things, and the apparent low morale and in-fighting among the players (Noble and Ogbonna for example), means that a lot of us want to see a change of manager.
Our opposition today have had a terrific season so far, and sit in second place in the Premier League table, despite two heavy defeats in their last two games (admittedly against Manchester City and Liverpool). They are ten points clear of fifth placed Tottenham, so unless they plummet down the table (in West Ham fashion) a Champions League place next season looks assured. Of course those two big defeats by a combined scoreline of 7-1 shows they still have a way to go to match the top two, but nevertheless the quality of their football is great to watch, and we could be on for a hammering today.
It is now almost 14 years since we lost four home Premier League games in a row, but defeat in the last three home games leaves us perilously close to matching that unwanted statistic. What is even worse is that in those three defeats we have conceded three goals in each of the games. Only three other teams in the history of the Premier League have managed to concede three goals in four consecutive home games, Palace in 1998, Bradford in 2001, and Fulham five years ago.
Our head to head record against Leicester is one which is positive in that we have beaten them more times than they have beaten us. But the recent record is not so good, and in the last nine Premier league fixtures we have beaten them only once. In fact Leicester have never lost a game at the London Stadium.
I always want us to win, but the omens for this game don’t look too good. More in hope than expectation though, perhaps we can defy the bookmakers’ odds (around 3/1 for a West Ham victory).
I was sad to learn of the recent death of one of the West Ham greats, Martin Peters, shortly before Christmas. I met Martin at a book signing in 2006 when I bought his autobiography The Ghost of ’66. I had quite a chat with him and what a lovely man he was. I also took along a copy of the West Ham v Leicester programme for November 16th 1968 and asked him to sign it for me (see photo of programme). The reason for this is that was the day I saw my favourite ever West Ham goal. Martin scored past Peter Shilton in front of the North Bank, a thunderous volley at the end of a move that went from one end of the pitch to the other. I wrote about the goal in my book, Goodbye Upton Park, Hello Stratford, and to this day it remains my favourite ever West Ham goal. On that wet November day we beat Leicester 4-0. What are the chances of a repeat scoreline today? Somewhere around 125/1 according to one bookmaker I saw. We can hope, can’t we?!