Last Saturday’s game against Everton was one of those where you left the ground thinking that the result was about right. Our first half display was bright enough and when we took the lead my initial thought was it was well deserved; let’s hope we can hold on to it or even improve on it in the few minutes that remain until half time. And then we conceded a corner, always a worrying thing to do given our record at defending them and the interval approaching. Our returning goalkeeper Darren Randolph had already demonstrated in the first half that he didn’t intend leaving his line to deal with crosses; he would leave them for our defenders to deal with. That was a mistake.
I’ve always liked Randolph as a keeper, particularly when it comes to reflexes, shot-stopping and clean handling. But when he was here before I always worried about his ability to deal with high crosses and his reluctance to come out to deal with them. I had hoped that aspect of his game may have improved in the Championship, but alas no. Ironically although I believe Fabianski to be an excellent goalkeeper that part of his game is perhaps his weakest too. That was one aspect of Joe Hart’s keeping that I liked, although his inability to hang on to shots and poor handling meant that many goals were conceded in that fashion in his time here.
Whilst on the subject of goalkeepers, between 1973 and 1988 only four goalkeepers started in matches for West Ham in the whole period of 15 years. Do you remember them? They were Bobby Ferguson, Mervyn Day, Phil Parkes and Tom McAlister. Incredibly, in our last six matches alone an equal number of goalkeepers have started the games for us – Fabianski, Martin, Roberto and now Randolph.
A trip to high-flying Leicester today will not be an easy one. The odds are stacked against us. It was only a few weeks ago when we tamely lost at home to a virtual Leicester Reserves side. In our last ten visits to Leicester we have won only twice, although to be fair we have only lost four of them. If you consider the last ten Premier League games between the sides, both home and away, then our record is even poorer with just one win, when we won 2-0 at the end of the 2017-18 season, a victory which ensured our safety that season. Incidentally David Moyes was the manager that day, and the two goals were scored by Mario, and that wonderful volley from Mark Noble.
Leicester’s recent form has been poor in comparison to their season as a whole, and they have now lost four of their last six games, conceding 12 goals in the process. In their first 17 games this season they only let in 11 goals. Despite that they are still third in the Premier League table well clear of fourth place, and likely to achieve a place in the Champions league next season. After being almost invincible at home all season, their defeat to Southampton was their second home defeat in a row. Generally fans believe that when it comes to scoring goals Leicester rely heavily on Vardy. To some extent that is true in that he is the Premier League’s leading scorer to date this season with 17 goals. But to balance that, Leicester’s last nine goals in the league have all been scored by different players.
Against Everton we extended our lead at the top of the Premier League table for sides dropping points from a winning position – the total is now 17. And returning to the goalkeeper, Darren Randolph has played in 15 away Premier League games and has only kept one clean sheet in all those games. Our manager has an even poorer record in that in 49 games away from home against a top four side he has only won just one of them!
Taking all of the above factors into account and adding the fact that we are the away side in poor form in 16th place in the table before this round of matches, facing a Leicester side intent on resuming winning ways to maintain their challenge for second place in the Premier League, then what realistic chance do we have? The bookmakers have Leicester at shorter than 1/2 to win the game, whilst we are a not very generous 11/2. Surely our odds should be much longer than that? I suppose we can take some heart from Southampton’s surprise win there ten days ago, although they are one of the form sides at the moment and have now taken 10 points from their last 5 games (as opposed to our 4 points, which is only better than Burnley’s 3 and Bournemouth’s 1). Even Norwich have picked up 5 points from their last 5 games! Also, Leicester were beaten at Turf Moor at the weekend by a Burnley side on a losing streak.
Perhaps another hope is the closeness of the Premier League this season. Last Saturday’s results illustrated that to some extent with 5 draws and the other 3 games being won by a solitary goal margin. On Sunday there was only a one goal margin in the Burnley v Leicester game, whilst Liverpool were the only side to win by two with their last minute second goal against Manchester United.
We’ve really got to hope for an unexpected win, because we have a tough run of fixtures coming up. After today in our next four games we have home and away games against Liverpool and a trip to Manchester City. In between we entertain Brighton, and then on 29th February in-form Southampton are our visitors. I may be wrong but I think that the last time we won a game on February 29th was the FA Cup quarter final against Burnley at Upton Park in 1964, the year we went on to win the trophy for the first time. I was in the West Stand standing enclosure at midday when the gates opened that day.
I can remember some entertaining games against Leicester. One of the highlights was a Boxing Day game in 1967 where we recovered from going two goals down to win 4-2. Another came the following season in 1968 when we beat them 4-0 and Martin Peters scored the best goal I have ever seen. Of course Mark Noble’s volley the season before last in our 2-0 win was also one of the goals nominated in the West Ham goals of the decade. Perhaps we can see a special goal today that wins us the game?