Football Is Back. Controversy Is Back. West Ham are Back

West Ham entertain Wolves at an almost deserted London Stadium. Who can possibly predict the outcome?

More than 100 days have elapsed since we last played a Premier League game. When I write these articles I like to predict the outcome. But what evidence have we got to go on? I have to admit I haven’t got a clue what to expect.

I tuned in to watch the Aston Villa v Sheffield United game on Wednesday evening. It wasn’t a football match that I would normally have any interest in viewing, but I guess I had a token interest as Villa are one of our rivals in the relegation stakes. I don’t particularly like Sheffield United, but this was a game I wanted them to win.

I juggled between watching on Sky Sports Main Event with the artificial crowd noise, and the alternative where you could hear a few shouts in the echoing stadium to see which I preferred. I had a slight preference for the crowd noise which sounded like it was straight from the FIFA computer game. Perhaps it is. Whoever operates this got rather over excited however by turning up over enthusiastic crowd noise for pathetic attempts on goal which were nowhere close.

When I switched to the lack of crowd sound, the first thing I heard was a player (I think from Sheffield United) shouting at his teammates about “f***ing second balls”. And then came the defining moment of the game. The young Villa keeper was pushed into his own net. We didn’t need Hawkeye, VAR or an assistant referee or linesman to tell us that the ball had crossed the line. But inexplicably a goal was not given. I thought that perhaps Michael Oliver had accidentally put on his Mickey Mouse watch instead of the Hawkeye one? His wrist didn’t “buzz” and the keeper cleared the ball as if nothing had happened.

Apparently the goal-line sensor failed to register and Hawkeye later apologised. The seven goal-line cameras surrounding the goal were supposedly occluded by the keeper, the defenders and the post. So where was VAR when it could have stepped up to the plate? The VAR referee was possibly asleep due to the lack of any excitement in the game when he clearly needed to tell Oliver to stop the game and look at it on the monitor. And surely linesmen should use their eyes and not rely purely on technology? Social distancing went out of the window as the Blades players demanded to know why the goal was not given.

In lockdown we’ve become familiar with new technology such as Zoom. It’s a pity the technology failed us by not zooming in on the goal! Apparently it was the first time in over 9000 games that it had failed. What a joke! I couldn’t really care less about Sheffield United possibly missing out on a European place, but one of the teams at the bottom (even ourselves) could possibly be relegated on goal difference and Villa could stay up. Of course there are many dodgy decisions in the course of a season and you don’t get relegated on the strength of one of them. But if we go down by the narrowest of margins I’ll remember this game.

But enough of that, what will happen when we face Wolves? We actually have a positive historical record against them, but we have lost the most recent fixtures. Looking at the bookmakers odds, Wolves are favourites to win the game, based I suppose on the season to date, but the favourite in the correct score market is the one that I’ll predict, and that is a 1-1 draw. I have to admit that I have nothing really to go on but a point wouldn’t be the worst outcome for us in this first game back, although naturally I’d prefer three.

One Wolves player I worry about is Adama Traore, who with his pace can cause us massive problems down the flanks. He has always had great pace but in the earlier part of his career he flattered to deceive, except when playing against us. However in more recent times he seems to have added an end product to his game and he is possibly the player we should fear. Ironically when the game was originally scheduled to be played I seem to recall he was injured.

Wolves are seventh in the league and the seventh highest scoring team. We are not far behind as far as scoring goals is concerned in tenth, but the fact that only Southampton, Norwich and Villa have conceded more goals than we have is the main reason we sit sixteenth in the table, out of the relegation zone on goal difference alone.

Current form doesn’t really apply because of the enforced break, but looking at the last five matches played by the bottom six teams, Brighton, Watford, Norwich, Bournemouth and ourselves all have four points from those games, and Villa have one. Southampton and Newcastle would appear at the moment to be out of the scrap, but I’m hoping that with some poor early results, they too can be dragged into it.

It seems that we are virtually injury-free and David Moyes has a full squad to choose from. Of course we have different rules and five substitutes can be utilised out of nine sitting suitably spaced out on the sidelines. I’ve no real idea what the starting line-up will be but it would be good to think back to the Southampton game and the attack made up of Haller, supported by Antonio and Bowen, who looked very threatening. I’m sure that Anderson will have a key role in the remaining matches, perhaps coming on later in games as teams could be tiring due to lack of match practice and the potential heat of games played in June and July. Fornals and Wilshere can also play important roles in unlocking opposing defences, and I hope that Yarmolenko can play his part too.

So here goes, I’ll predict an attacking starting line-up, although whether the manager will prefer to be more cautious I don’t know.

Fabianski; Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Rice, Noble; Soucek; Antonio, Haller, Bowen.

As I said earlier I’ll predict 1-1 but hope for better. In case something untoward happens and the season is curtailed early as a result it is important that we don’t lose and fall into the bottom three. This weekend, of our key rivals, Norwich have a very winnable game at home to Southampton, Watford beat Liverpool in their last home game so won’t be perturbed by facing Leicester, Brighton haven’t won for ages but are at home and face a very average looking Arsenal team, Bournemouth are at home to a possibly disinterested mid-table Palace, and Villa are also at home against Chelsea. I have written this article prior to any of those games being played so don’t know the outcome. Let’s hope that the results go our way, and we can hit the ground running.

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