We Did It Moyes Way: West Ham Have No Regrets As Villa Face The Final Curtain

With the season coming to an end the Hammers have finally got into their stride. Can the end in style against relegation threatened Aston Villa or will they have mentally switched off?

So here we are, finally at the end of the longest season on record. The culmination of 9 games in 36 hectic days since the coronavirus interrupted restart. As often as not, there is little to play for come the last day of the season, and the whole occasion gets to take on something of a party atmosphere. Players go through the motions while supporters are happy to have a bit of a knees-up. Very different this year, however, with no fans in the stadium and opponents Aston Villa still very much embroiled in a last gasp relegation fight.

Those long suffering fans who have witnessed the last few West Ham matches might well be asking who those impostors in claret and blue are? The strutting air of confidence, dazzling movement, fizzing passes and rapid counter attacks all feels so foreign. What has happened to that team of plodders who laboured aimlessly through the previous thirty-odd games? There were media reports of players urging the team to take this current form into the next season. But this is not just a matter of form, it is a whole new chalk and cheese approach from that served up under Manuel Pellegrini and,  in fact, during the early months of David Moyes.

The new found confidence just goes to prove that passing success and possession retention increases significantly when improved fitness levels and mobility provide the passer with more and better options.  Players are no longer flat-footed or get easily channelled into nonthreatening cul-de-sacs. It would be churlish not to give much of the credit for the turnaround to Moyes. It may have taken longer than hoped to see improvement, but organisation, shape and energy have increased immensely. His two transfer window signings have made the world of difference and the transformation of Michail Antonio into an unlikely striking hero has been stunning – just as it had been previously with Marko Arnautovic.

No doubt there are the hardcore hate the board, hate the stadium and hate the manager brigade who will never be convinced but Moyes deserves a crack at re-modelling the squad at West Ham. Judge him on results and performances, by all means, but to dislike a manager as a matter of principle seems plain wrong.

I will be watching the summer transfer activity with interest. No doubt the club will need to unload a fair number of existing high earning players to balance the books and raise funds. And the extent to which transfer fees and activity will be impacted by post Covid financial realities is uncertain. The intention to recruit young, ambitious players with something to prove is the right strategy – let’s wait and see how well it is put into practice. Can David Sullivan resist the urge to meddle and pursue yet another of his vanity signings?

Moyes will certainly be treating today’s game with utmost seriousness, aware of the responsibility he has to other teams in the relegation battle. There is also a few extra bob in Premier League prize money to play for. I don’t envisage any surprise changes to the starting line-up being made, unless they are enforced by injuries. If either Aaron Cresswell or Jarrod Bowen are unavailable then it will be straight swaps by Arthur Masuaku and Andriy Yarmolenko.   There’ll be no throwing in kids or messing about with formations.

What we won’t know until the game kicks-off is whether the players are equally sufficiently motivated to put in one last shift. Or will they have mentally switched off, even unconsciously? I really hope they are able to carry the momentum from the last handful of games into today’s finale.

Villa have themselves come into a handy run of late season form with two wins and a draw in their last three. A marked improvement when you think that many wondered whether they would pick up any points at all after the re-start. Their defence is abysmal and the visitors will again rely heavily of the running, prompting and diving of Jack Grealish, possibly make his farewell performance for the Villains. It is widely repeated that Grealish is the most fouled player in the Premier League, but when you go over easier than a drunken ice-skater that is no real surprise. The dive to try to win a penalty in the game against Palace was outrageous. Whatever did happen to that law about deceiving the referee that earned Manuel Lanzini a retrospective ban? The shortest clampdown in refereeing history.   Grealish aside the only other real threat appears to be from the in-form Trezeguet.

Today’s dynamic refereeing duo are Michael Oliver (whistle) and David Coote (console). For some reason that combination does not fill me with total confidence when adjudicating exaggerated swallow-dives in the penalty area.

Lawro has today’s game down as a 2-0 home win – if all his West Ham predictions for the season had been correct, the Hammers would be finishing in 10th place with 53 points.  Charlie Nicholas says it will be 1-1.

I can’t see how West Ham can fail to score a few today against such a poor defence. I would love to see the team put on a bit of a show and end the season on a high – a performance with just a touch of arrogance that doesn’t end up as complacency. Villa will be fighting for everything but will also be nervous about what is happening elsewhere. My prediction is West Ham to win by a comfortable two goal margin, but with Villa to survive anyway due to events elsewhere.

No Sympathy For The Red Devils: West Ham Eye Unlikely Double Over The Manchester, United

A relieved West Ham have the opportunity to put a spoke in the wheel of Manchester United’s Champion’s League ambitions. Will they be up for the challenge?

Had you been an observer at the end of Matchweek 6, when West Ham had breezed past a lacklustre Manchester United at the London Stadium, you may well have been tempted to speculate on how the fortunes of the two clubs would map out during the remainder of the season.

Could it be possible that be the brilliantly coiffured Manuel Pellegrini could turn his team, now up to 5th place in the table, into credible top six contenders? Would the impish Ole Gunnar Solskjær confirm the view of the many naysayers that his was no more than a short-term tenure at Old Trafford and scuttle off back to the fjords?

By the halfway point in the season, the Pellegrini dream was over as the Hammers plummeted towards the bottom three while in Manchester, the Red Devils continued to drift along in an unconvincing mid-table no man’s land that did nothing to enhance their manager’s credibility . The West Ham board eventually ran out of patience with their man dismissing him just after Christmas and the chances of Solskjær making it until end of the season still looked doubtful.

Fast forward to today and much has changed. West Ham have finally scrambled clear of the relegation places while Manchester United have enjoyed a remarkable resurgence, prompted by the signing of Bruno Fernandes in the January transfer window, and now have eyes firmly on Champion’s League qualification.

West Ham overwhelmed Watford in the first half of last Friday’s game but still found time to give us all the serious jitters thanks to a collective loss of concentration between the second half restart and the drinks break. I feared more points needlessly thrown away yet again and was mightily reassured to see both Deeney and Doucouré removed from the field of play – one of Nigel Pearson’s last acts as Watford manager. In the end we managed to settle down again and were able to see the game out. The temperament of the team is impossible to fathom at times. It has been particularly bad this season but the ability to protect a lead has long been a weakness.  Chickens can never be prematurely counted where West Ham are concerned.

It was pleasing to see Mark Noble become the 10th West Ham player to make 500 first team appearances for the club. Although I don’t expect to see too many more starts for him in the future, he still has time to overtake Geoff Hurst, Vic Watson and Steve Potts in the all-time appearance stats. One more league goal for the skipper would also see him draw level with Paolo Di Canio as the Hammer’s leading all-time Premier League goal scorer (with 47 goals). A place among the backroom or coaching staff would be a fitting reward for Nobes.

Given his current rich vein of form, it is also worth pointing out that Michail Antonio only needs six goals in each of the two remaining games to also equal Di Canio’s total. He can do no wrong at the moment and I fully expect to see him pop up and head home one of his own long throws one day.  As things stand, no Hammer has yet reached double figure for league goals scored – finding a reliable regular goalscorer continues to be as elusive as dodo playing hide and seek. Antonio is leading the field with nine (equalling his previous 2016/17 best) which have been impressively scored achieved from just sixteen starts.

Today’s game is a rare opportunity for West Ham to record three league wins in a row. To do so, though, requires the Old Trafford form book to be torn up, shredded, and pulped. In the twenty-three Premier League meeting in Manchester, West Ham have won just twice (2001/02 and 2006/07) while there have been two draws and nineteen defeats. Attitude will also play a part now that the spectre of relegation has been removed. It has never needed much for the Hammers to take their foot off the gas and David Moyes will need to summon untold levels of motivation to get one over on his old club.

Although the hosts are not the strongest at the back (and can be sloppy when trying to play out of defence) they have plenty of pace, movement and scoring options in attack. Defensive organisation, 100% concentration, and the legs to get forward quickly in support of Antonio will be essential if this is not to become defeat number twenty.

Manchester United are one of the clubs reportedly interested in securing the signature of our club’s greatest asset, Declan Rice. It is impossible to know how this saga will play out during the close season, but with all the speculation I have yet to see any numbers quoted that I consider realistic – particularly if you are using Harry Maguire as a benchmark (Leicester must still be pinching themselves over that transfer fee). Certainly what we wouldn’t need is any Old Trafford clearance stock in part exchange. I have a funny feeling that Rice will eventually end up at Liverpool, but hopefully not any time soon.

Paul Tierney from Wigan makes the short trip to Manchester to perform the man in the middle duties while Championship referee Peter Bankes is at the helm in Stockley Park. In the absence of home support, VAR can once again be the 12th man for the Reds.

Putting a spanner in the Red’s Champion’s League aspirations would provide a memorable end to the season. A ten goal defeat would put a cat among the pigeons for us in a season that refuses to die.

The pundits are adamant that this will be a home victory. Charlie Nicholas has gone for 3-1 while Lawro has chipped in with 2-0. It is difficult to find grounds to argue with their logic as Manchester United chase that Champion’s League spot – and the Hammers have little to play for other than finishing above Crystal Palace. On the other hand, who needs logic when blind unfounded optimism is available? West Ham to win 3-2.

West Ham all but confirm Premier League football with first half performance against Watford

At the time of writing (Tuesday morning) it is not mathematically certain of course, but our blistering first half display against Watford was enough to all but confirm top flight football next season. At the same time, managerless Watford are still in trouble, and it could be worse depending on what happens when they face Manchester City this evening. If the City team that can destroy opposing teams turns up then their goal difference could take a battering, and then they’ll be closely watching the Villa game against Arsenal that kicks off later in the evening.

Bournemouth are still clinging on but they could be relegated before they visit Goodison Park on the final day of the season. If Arsenal don’t have a hangover from their FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester City, they could have quite a say in the final relegation outcome. Sky TV will probably want it to still not be settled by the final day, so will be hoping that Watford lose tonight and Villa win. That would make our last day game potentially more interesting for the broadcasters of course.

Our visit to Old Trafford on Wednesday evening will now be a more relaxed affair than it could have been thanks to the ten points we’ve collected in our last five matches. Only Manchester United and Tottenham (both 13 points) and Manchester City (12 points) have picked up more points than we have in this 5 game period. The United league form has been excellent since the resumption following lockdown as they press for a place in next season’s Champions League, and this is likely to be a difficult game for us. United seem to have got their team selection wrong for their FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea which has resulted in an all London final. But it is probably just another example of a team putting more emphasis on finishing in the top four of the Premier League rather than going all out to win a trophy. Money talks.

Our manager seems to have had quite an increase in popularity on social media after being instrumental in keeping us up. His two mid-season signings, Bowen and Soucek, have been important elements in the last few games, and I look forward to (hope for) more signings of this calibre in the transfer window at the end of the season. Reports suggest he is looking for hungry young players with pace, and I hope this is the case. I wonder what his team selection will be on Wednesday evening? I don’t envisage many (if any) changes for the last couple of games.

Who is in the running for Hammer of the Year this season? Declan Rice has been our outstanding player for the season as a whole and deserves it in my opinion, but I’ve also enjoyed the performances of Ogbonna (who wasn’t a particular favourite of mine, but this season he’s been our best defender in my opinion), and the recent goalscoring form, and all-out efforts of Antonio. Bowen and Soucek have also been excellent in their short time with us. The speculation regarding Rice continues apace and I would love it if he is still with us next season. Time will tell.

A Long Good Friday To Die Hard: West Ham Look To Triumph Over Watford In Stressful Stratford Showdown

Can wise cracking, no-nonsense Scot’s boss David Moyes create the decisive never-say-die spirit in his team that will defeat Watford and lead West Ham to Premier League safety? Yippee Ki-Yay!

In all good movies (and even in most bad ones) the action unfolds to a three act pattern: the setup; the confrontation and the resolution. West Ham’s season has kept faithfully to the plot so far. A benign, almost encouraging, opening that bred a confident swagger until it was rudely interrupted by a defining and crushing defeat to Oxford United in the EFL Cup. This was the turning point in our plot, after which, fortunes went rapidly from bad to worse to atrocious. The great pretenders were exposed as the kings with no clothes. Today we find ourselves perfectly set up for the final act – the first of two potential climactic moments that will determine the immediate future of West Ham as a Premier League club.

West Ham remain outsiders among the four clubs competing for the two available relegation places, but there are no foregone conclusions at a time when an unexpected result can crop up at any time. Principle antagonists, Villa and Bournemouth, might look down and out, but what if they are only stunned and awaiting the opportunity to pick themselves up and strike back.   Whereas three points today would see us walking off into the sunset of Premier League survival, anything less could still lead to a last day nail-biting, nerve jangling finale – great for the ratings but not for my sanity.

In a perfect act of symmetry, the season’s fixtures against Watford were scheduled as the third from the start and the third from the end. The deserved win at 3-1 Vicarage, with two goals from Sebastien Haller, set West Ham off on a mini sequence of games that briefly saw them flirt with the top three. The optimistic wisdom at the time being that a phenomenal potency in attack might be able to compensate for unresolved inadequacies in defence. Although there is some veracity in that train of thought (only the three bottom clubs have conceded more goals than the Hammers while ten EPL clubs have scored fewer) the differential has not been great enough to accumulate sufficient points – just enough to earn a better goal difference than our relegation rivals.

The only time this season that the Hammers have won back-to-back league matches were successive victories over Watford and Norwich at the end of August. Having easily dispatched a ragged Norwich on Saturday can history joyfully repeat itself against Watford, just when it is needed the most?

There will be a temptation for David Moyes to keep the same Carrow Road starting eleven, but we need to consider just how poor the Canaries were.  It was a convincing impression of a West Ham tribute act from those afternoons of surrender that we have witnessed far too often in the past against the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal. Their lack of fight and spirit was staggering, something that is unlikely to be repeated by the Hornets in this evening’s game. The question for me is whether Mark Noble, so influential in his contribution at Norwich, has the speed of thought or action to compete in what will be a busy and frenetic midfield battlefield of high tempo pressing and closing down. This would not be a time for dwelling on the ball, engaging reverse or taking multiple touches to nowhere.

If not Noble, though, is there anyone capable of performing a better job in directing operations in the attacking third? A case might be made for either Jack Wilshere or Manuel Lanzini, but neither has shrugged off long term injuries and returned to their former selves. I would prefer to see Pablo Fornals in a more central role, but he is needed wide left to provide much needed backup to Aaron Cresswell, a service that Andriy Yarmolenko is unable provide.

No solution is perfect, and the number 10 role has become a major weakness in the current setup. The Hammers will once again need to look for big performances as an attacking force from Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen. It is a given that the solid foundation provided in front of the back four by Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek will also be pivotal. Rice has been a season long star performer but the addition of Soucek both defensively, and as an unexpected item in the penalty area, has been a refreshing upgrade on what went before.

Watford have a very good squad on paper but, like our own, it has not been translated into performances on the pitch. They do, however, come into the game off the back of successive wins against Norwich and Newcastle. Gerard Deulofeu usually impresses against us but will be missing while Danny Welbeck (another West Ham bogey figure) has now recovered from injury. The greatest threat that I see is from the pace of Ismaïla Sarr down the right wing. Cresswell will be left floundering and will need all the support that he can get in cutting off the supply to the wounded Troy Dee-knee.

Martin Atkinson is today’s referee while Stuart Attwell is his invisible virtual assistant. There is not really much time left this season for all those wrong VAR calls to even themselves out for West Ham. Perhaps we will be the beneficiaries of half a dozen penalty awards tonight.

Lawro and Charlie Nicholas are in full alignment this week, both opting for a 2-1 West Ham victory. That would do nicely for me. In theory, you might expect this to be a nervy, error prone affair, but that might be tempered in an empty stadium where anxiety cannot easily be transmitted from fans to players. The outcome, though, will be as much about attitude, desire, character and strength of mind as it will technical football ability. Will our boys be up to the task?

It is games like these when you start to question where is the enjoyment in watching football. It needs at least a three goal cushion with less than five minutes remaining before I can feel relaxed. If we go a goal down, the cat will know to keep a safe distance. I really don’t want to have to go into the final round of games needing to get a result against Aston Villa. Accordingly, I am going to line up alongside the pundits and predict a 2-1 home win, in the hope that a concentrated force of positive thinking will ensure it actually happens. It could be a very long Friday night – but will it be a good one?  Yippee Ki-Yay!

Can West Ham confirm Premier League football when Watford visit the London Stadium in a relegation six-pointer?

I was keeping an eye on the score in the Bournemouth v Leicester game the other evening on my phone. I saw that Leicester had taken a 1-0 lead and then I started to view the game on TV early in the second half to hear the commentator confirming that Leicester were cruising and that Bournemouth were devoid of ideas. Shortly after I began to watch Leicester had a goal kick. And from that moment when Schmeichel fluffed the kick I witnessed one of the greatest implosions from a football team that I have seen for a very long time. And to think that the side from the lockdown city were supposedly trying to cement a place in the Champions League next season! Their performance in that final half an hour or so was woeful. The Bournemouth victory gave them confidence for their visit to the Etihad on Wednesday, where although they were outplayed, they could easily have gained another point in their desperate fight for survival. With two games to go they will probably need to win both of them to stand any chance of staying up. But they do still have an outside chance, and their odds to be relegated eased from 1/16 to 1/12.

Earlier that day I wasn’t at all surprised that Villa picked up their first three point haul for some time by disposing of a Crystal Palace team that already seem to be on the beach. By losing the game, Palace joined Norwich as the only side to fail to pick up a single point in the last five games. I wish that we had them to play in one of our final fixtures. Villa played away at Goodison Park on Thursday evening. What a boring game of football that was that highlighted both teams weaknesses in front of goal. 24 shots between them, and only one on target each. Fortunately Everton’s late equaliser denied Villa a victory.

Both West Ham and Watford will be thankful for their victories last Saturday, which meant that the four teams realistically involved in the relegation scramble (of course Brighton are not yet mathematically safe) collected 12 points between them in the round of matches scoring 12 goals and conceding just 2. While Antonio became the first West Ham player since David Cross many years ago to score four goals in an away fixture, Watford came from behind to beat Newcastle with two penalties.

That sets it up nicely for the relegation “six-pointer” this evening. It is hard really to assess our form and you can only beat what you are up against, but to be fair Norwich were awful. We played pretty well and could have had an even more emphatic victory with more care. It was good to see Mark Noble proving what I have always believed and written about in previous articles. He is still a very good player against the lesser sides. Whilst the pace of the top teams highlights his lack of speed, he can still play an important role when we are facing sides outside the top eight or so. If selected he will be making his 500th appearance for the club, which is really quite a milestone in the modern game. He has also scored three goals in his last two appearances against tonight’s visitors.

A win for either team tonight will mean that the winning team are virtually safe barring a remarkable turnaround in the goal difference situation, and a draw may not be a bad result for both teams. Sky TV would love to be able to show a last day showdown between ourselves and Villa, but hopefully that will not happen.

Apparently we have no fresh injury concerns after the Norwich game, and both Anderson and Snodgrass have returned to training giving even more strength to the bench, not that it is usual for our manager to utilise as many substitutes as he is allowed. I fully expect him to go ahead with the same starting eleven that began the Norwich game, and if he does it will probably be the first time this season where I have correctly predicted the team! But we shall see.

We are favourites to win the game with the bookmakers, but the draw at 2/1 is as low as odds usually go for a drawn match, with many expecting that to be the convenient outcome for both sides. The correct score market has a 1-1 draw as strong favourite at 9/2. Will 35 points be enough to ensure that both teams will be playing Premier League football next season? If the game does end level then Bournemouth and Villa will need to win both of their last two games to survive to overtake ourselves and Watford if neither of the teams playing tonight fail to pick another point. A win and a draw wouldn’t be good enough as it would only take them up to 35 points, which wouldn’t be enough without a significant win to boost their goal difference. The Hornets would be the most vulnerable with an inferior goal difference to ourselves.

After tonight there will be just two games left for each of the teams still involved. Villa have a home game against a seemingly improving Arsenal side before visiting the London Stadium on the final day. Bournemouth face Southampton at home in a South Coast derby before visiting Goodison Park on the final day. Watford have two tough fixtures at home to Manchester City and then away at Arsenal. We visit Old Trafford for our penultimate game before facing Villa to conclude the longest season in history.

A win tonight will almost certainly be enough to guarantee that we remain in the top flight for the next campaign, and a draw wouldn’t be the worst result either. However I don’t expect that either team would be entirely happy if the spoils are shared, and expect both to be going all out for the win.

Can West Ham win at Carrow Road for the first time since 1973?

I can add little to my co-blogger Geoff’s summary of the midweek game at home to Burnley. I had the feeling early on that it just wasn’t going to be our day when Pope (surely England’s best custodian?) pulled off two saves in quick succession from Soucek and then Antonio. And when he used his feet to save when Haller looked bound to score with his first touch after coming on, it was confirmed in my mind that we weren’t going to score. From that point on we ran out of ideas, and we needed some new bodies on the pitch towards the end to try to salvage a point. Unfortunately our manager didn’t seem to agree. I despair sometimes at his use (non-use?) of substitutes and throwing on Ajeti with a few minutes to go was too little and much too late. Burnley are a well-drilled organised team who can retain a 1-0 lead better than most. Even with a depleted team everyone knows their jobs, and they could easily contain our attacking ideas (non-ideas?) which mainly consisted of high balls into the box for them to head away with ease.

We are fortunate that Norwich are as good as down (albeit not mathematically yet), and that neither Bournemouth or Villa can seem to win a game of football. For me, Brighton are absolutely safe (again not mathematically), so it comes down to two out of Bournemouth, Villa, Watford and ourselves to join Norwich in the Championship next season. This round of fixtures could be more important than many think.

We have a poor record away at Carrow Road which is emphasised by the fact that Pop Robson scored the winner the last time we won there. And Pop Robson is now 74 years old! He scored the winning goal in a 1-0 victory on 10 February 1973, over 47 years ago! We finished sixth that season whilst Norwich narrowly escaped relegation. The following season (1973-74) he scored again in a 2-2 draw in Norfolk. That season the Canaries finished bottom and were relegated (together with Manchester United) while we finished fifth from bottom, the same positions that the two clubs now occupy. Seventeen winless games is a shocking record, and failure to halt that poor run could be significant in the relegation tussle. As eight of the last 13 games between the sides have ended in draws, and the away side has not won any of the last 11 Premier League encounters, history would seem to be pointing us towards a drawn game, perhaps 2-2 again? Apparently Norwich are the only side in the top 5 European leagues to fail to claim a single point when they have fallen behind in a game, so scoring the first goal would be good for us. But hold on a minute, haven’t we dropped 24 points from winning positions, more than any other team in the Premier League?

Despite the teams near the bottom failing to pick up many points since the re-start, they have an opportunity with this weekend’s fixtures. Watford could win at home to Newcastle, and both Bournemouth and Villa have home games against Leicester and Palace respectively. Should they win those, and if we go down at Norwich then the cushion of safety that was beginning to appear would disappear and we would be back in trouble. That is the worst case scenario but I still don’t think we will go down even if that does happen. I’m normally very optimistic, but if it happens like that this weekend, then our last two home games against Watford and Villa will take on added significance.

After being a Tottenham and Manchester United fan the other evening (for one night only), this weekend I’ll be supporting Newcastle, Palace and Leicester. With four games to go the table shows both ourselves and Watford on 31 points (with goal differences of -19 and -22 respectively), Bournemouth on 28 (-27), and Villa on 27 (-29). Our goal difference is healthy at the moment compared to the others and effectively is worth an additional point.

Whatever happens we won’t be in the bottom three with three games to go. But with the wrong results from our viewpoint we could be by the time that we play our next game at home to Watford next Friday evening. Having said that, even if both Bournemouth and Villa win on Sunday I would like to think that they will lose in the next round of fixtures when they travel to away games at Manchester City and Everton respectively. Let’s hope that we can break the Carrow Road jinx, win comfortably, and as a result move one step closer to safety. It won’t be as easy as that and I’ll be happy with any kind of win, however ugly. Perhaps 2-1? Even a repeat of the 1973-4 2-2 scoreline would edge us a further point towards safety.

The Wacky Relegation Races Continue: West Ham Seek Survival As Best Of The Worst

West Ham remain outsiders for relegation but without big changes it is only putting off the inevitable. Points from Norwich will provide breathing space but survival will be down to the inadequacies of others.

After an encouraging 4 point haul from consecutive games with Chelsea and Newcastle, the stage was set for West Ham to all but confirm their Premier League status against a much weakened Burnley on Wednesday evening. Alas, it was not to be and the visitors ended up leaving the London Stadium with a comfortable three points.

The manner of defeat perfectly illustrated the Hammer’s shortcomings which, even if relegation is avoided this season, will require extensive surgery to avoid a repeat next time around. While Burnley resembled a well-oiled machine with a structure, discipline and work ethic that compensated for their missing personnel, West Ham look like a collection of wayward individuals who have been bound together by sticky tape and string.

In fact, Burnley came with little ambition but when they get their noses in front, they are a very difficult team to breakdown. Not that there weren’t decent chances – some fine saves by Pope early on as well as two glaring misses by Michail Antonio and Sebastien Haller. Frustratingly, the home side had run out of ideas well before the final the whistle. The Hammers seemed convinced that hopeful high balls into the area were the route to success despite all the available evidence that Burnley’s defence would simply nod these away with ease. The manager didn’t see fit to change things and without any creative spark it was all so predictable. Plan B as far as it went was to bypass midfield completely.

Oh for the sorcery of a Devo, Berkovic, Benayoun or Payet right now! I guess that might have been Manuel Lanzini, but his injury has well and truly done for him. And quite why Jack Wilshere hasn’t been given an opportunity since the re-start is baffling. Indeed, David Moyes whole approach to substitutes is baffling, especially in the current circumstances with games come around every three or four days. The manager seems incapable of thinking on his feet and when things are going wrong, he is the last to see it.

We can all make mistakes and my assertion prior to the game that a starting place for Andriy Yarmolenko was justified saw me lured by Absent Player Paradox – that sense that the powers of an injured player increase exponentially in proportion to the time that he has been missing. Compounded by two promising cameo performances, it soon became clear that as a starter he really is too slow and too reliant on circus tricks and flicks. Similar exaggerated expectations are now starting to build over the possible return of Robert Snodgrass.

As is so often the case, the goal conceded to Burnley was a catalogue of collective incompetence. Yarmolenko went missing in action, failing to support his full-back; Ryan Fredericks was poorly positioned to prevent the cross; and Aaron Cresswell’s attempt to win the ball was even less than half-hearted. Even Lukasz Fabianski might have done better.

For some bizarre reason, successive West Ham managers have considered competent full-backs as an optional extra. The old Sunday park football concept of that’s where you play your worst footballers – the kid who turns up each week to cut up the half-time oranges. The current duo simply don’t cut the mustard and only one – depending on which side Jarrod Bowen is playing – gets consistent support from his wide midfield partner. The question is, are there any better alternatives – Ben Johnson or Arthur Masuaku?

The weekend trip to Norwich is the second of the supposed winnable games that will ensure top flight survival. Thankfully, Bournemouth and Aston Villa continue to show little sign of life and if safety is reached it will be by default, as it was in the Zola season. The record at Carrow Road is not a good one. For the last league win you need to go back to February 1973 when a Pop Robson goal was enough to give a West Ham side (containing Bonds, Moore, and Brooking) a narrow victory. The seventeen league games since then have resulted in nine defeats and eight draws.

Norwich are effectively relegated, but a West Ham win today will seal their fate mathematically. They may see the game as a last hurrah! The Canaries do pass the ball well but overall lack both pace going forward and a cutting edge – although the same could be said about the Hammers (apart from the passing the ball well bit). The home side’s form has been terrible, having lost each of their last six matches, yet anyone viewing this game is a ‘gimme’ may be in for a surprise.

I have said before that you cannot hold David Moyes responsible for the many weaknesses in the West Ham squad but, after 15 games or so in charge, he should have done far better on organisation, teamwork and fitness. His two signings, Bowen and Tomas Soucek, have been among the best performers in recent games and along with Fabianski, Antonio and Declan Rice at least look as though they belong in the Premier League. A good manager is paid to make the most of what he has got – to create a style of play that overcomes the weaknesses in the squad. This is where Moyes has fallen short.

What changes can and will be made this weekend is anyone’s guess. A return for Mark Noble? Arthur Masuaku on the left of midfield? Another chance for Lanzini as playmaker? An opportunity for Wilshere to prove his fitness? More game time for Haller who might even look like he is interested this time? Time to put some trust in Ben Johnson? There are options, just not too many obvious ones!

Following on from VAR duty on Wednesday, Kevin Friend has been given the whistle while Simon Hooper will be on patrol at Stockley Park. The eye in the sky was called upon twice in the week: correctly ruling out a second Burnley goal for a genuine offside; and confirming that is should only be yellow card only for Tarkowski’s challenge on Bowen – that one could easily have gone either way.

When in doubt or he can’t be bothered, Lawro always falls back on a 1-1 scoreline, as he does on this occasion. At time of writing, Charlie Nicholas has not unveiled his crstal ball. West Ham often serve up their better performances for those times when I am the least confident – and this is definitely one of those times. My sense is that Norwich will start brightly but easily run out of steam if they do not get any immediate reward. If the Hammers keep their shape and concentration during the initial exchanges they can grow into the game and exploit the Canaries frailty defending crosses. This will by no means be a classic, but I will stick my neck out for a 2-1 away win.

All Change At Stratford: Moyes Must Mix Things Up To Banish Burnley Bogey

The visit of a no-nonsense Burnley to the London Stadium presents West Ham with a different set of problems to the last two games. What change will David Moyes make to rise to the challenge.

With four points earned from the last two games, the Hammers are running ahead of the re-start expectations of many battle-hardened supporters. The next three fixtures, starting with today’s claret derby with Burnley, were the ones seen to be the passport to Premier League survival. A return of five points or more from those games should be enough to avoid a final day relegation play-off reckoning  with remaining claret club member, Aston Villa.

The win over Chelsea and a point against the Toons has helped us to breathe more easily, but nothing should yet be taken for granted. There might be an effective five-point cushion (if you take goal difference into account) over close rivals, Villa and Bournemouth, but there is still plenty to play for.

After a cautious first half display at St James’ Park, despite the early goal, there was a sense of disappointment at the failure to come away with all three points. West Ham looked comfortably in control after half-time, and yet allowed Newcastle to equalise with their only meaningful attack of the second period. Collective defensive failures, lapses in concentration and vulnerability down our left side continue to cost dear. It is now fourteen matches since the Hammers last kept a clean sheet – on New Year’s Day against Bournemouth – and the points lost from winning positions continue to mount.

While West Ham can be encouraged by their last two performances recent encounters with Burnley have not often ended well. As far as kettles of fish are concerned, this is a very different one to those previous two games. Burnley are a well organised, hard working and physical outfit. They will defend in numbers and will not be susceptible to the rapid breaks that benefited West Ham against Chelsea and Newcastle. The guile and finesse required to break down organised defences and team’s prepared to intimidate are not historic West Ham strong points. It might be tempting to select an unchanged team, but today’s challenge requires a very different approach.

At the back, there are few obvious options available to plug the alarming gaps in what is the fourth worst defence in the division. Pushing Declan Rice back weakens the midfield more that it strengthens the defence, and the return or either Fabian Balbuena or Arthur Masuaku adds no added confidence that things would be better. Although central midfield has looked defensively more solid since the recruitment of Tomas Soucek, the flanks remain a weak spot – particularly down the left hand side. Jarrod Bowen has done a great job of tracking back on the right and a similar level of support is badly needed on the left. That isn’t going to be provided by Manuel Lanzini but can anyone else do better – Andriy Yarmolenko, Pablo Fornals or Masuaku?

Further forward, it is doubtful that Sebastien Haller is ready to return, and so line-leading responsibilities once again fall to the broad shoulders of Michail Antonio. Antonio has performed admirably in this role recently, but I do fear burn-out or injury, especially given Moyes strange reluctance to deploy all his full substitution entitlement.

As for unpicking defences, the squad is short on creativity – it lacks anyone likely to come up with the unpredictable. Jack Wilshere is arguably the most able to do so, but has been been given insufficient pitch time to single him out as a starter.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Moyes plan is to bring back Mark Noble, as partner to Rice in defensive midfield, and push Soucek further forward to offer a greater aerial presence – a tactic that suited and worked for him in his Everton days. That would still leave a problem wide on the left of midfield. Yarmolenko has earned a start but with both him and Bowen preferring to play on the right, will one be able to effectively switch flanks? Of the two, switching Bowen would be the sensible choice, but it would require Yarmo to up his tracking back efforts in support of Ryan Fredericks. Alternatively, Moyes may opt for Masuaku in a wide midfield role as he has done in the past, but I don’t think he will go for this. Whichever way the team selection pans out, I sense it will be bench time once again for Fornals and Lanzini.

Burnley have enjoyed a decent season once again although are likely to miss out on Europa League qualification. Manager Sean Dyche has seen his stock rise in recent years and he now sits atop the rankings of plucky British managers, despite strong competition from newcomer Chris Wilder. The fall from grace of long-time leader and former golden boy, Eddie Howe, illustrates the conundrum facing managers at those clubs punching above their weight – when is the right time to jump ship out before the inevitable relegation and damaged reputation occurs

Dyche is, to date, undefeated in his managerial confrontations with Moyes (three wins and two draws) although their competitive relationship goes back to playing days in the mid 1990’s, slugging it out in League 2 in the colours of Chesterfield and Preston respectively.

The Clarets are experiencing something of an injury crisis at the moment and will be without influential captain, Ben Mee as well as midfielder Jack Cork and chief bully, Ashley Barnes.  Worryingly, Barnes strike partner Chris Woods, who has scored in each of his five outings for Burnley against West Ham, is back from injury and likely to start. Dwight McNeil is another danger and been tormentor-in-chief in recent games against the Hammers.

Matchday officials today are Michael Oliver on the pitch and Kevin Friend on VAR. There was nothing contentious from the officials at Newcastle on Sunday and will be hoping for more of the same today.

Both Lawro and Charlie Nicholas have this down as a Hammer’s win at 2-0 and 2-1 respectively. Their rationale being West Ham’s greater need and Burnley’s growing injury problems. The biggest barriers I see to a West Ham win are being able to break down the visitors resolute and determined defence – not for nothing is Nick Pope in the running for the Golden Glove award – and getting suckered by the visitors big guns on a set piece. Still as a fan of claret, I want my glass to be, at least, half-full and will go for a welcome 3-1 home win. This is a game that usually has goals in it.

Hammering Out A Toon: As The Pubs Re-open West Ham Head Up For A North-East Knees Up

A midweek win has transformed West Ham from an ugly duckling to a beautiful world-beating swan. Can West Ham justify our implausible new found optimism with a back-to-back win at Newcastle?

The past week has witnessed a massive TV make-over show style transformation at West Ham. From a ragged, unloved, down at heel, ugly duckling of a side to a beautiful swan, as the Hammers gracefully swept past an astonished Chelsea at the London Stadium.

Talk Sport presenter and Chelsea supporter, Andy Jacobs (the unfunny Sid Little half of the Hawksbee and Jacobs double act) received a lot of stick for his on-air rant on the Hammer’s performance and his desire to see them relegated – but he had a valid point. How can a team that has performed so badly and carelessly for most of the season, suddenly pull out a committed performance such as that?

As a brief reality check for seasoned Hammers, the last time that West Ham completed a league double over Chelsea, in the 2002/03 season, it all ended in tears and relegation. In an eerie coincidence, the scorelines were also the same (although in the reverse fixtures) and achieved under the guidance of different managers (Roeder and Sir Trev on that occasion.) Just worth bearing in mind!

Today at Newcastle, we will get a chance to observe the make-over show epilogue, that bit when they return a week or so later to see whether the ‘made-over’ has managed to maintain their new and improved glamorous persona, or has slumped back into their customary shabby ways. What do we think might happen?

In his article yesterday, my blogging partner, Richard Bennett, admitted to having a soft spot for today’s opponents. What I would add to that, is a sense that our fortunes are somehow inexplicably entwined, as if by some mysterious external force. Both are massively under-performing clubs, with fantastically loyal support, that should never get relegated, but regularly do. Clubs hamstrung by dodgy, arrogant owners with little feel for football or what it takes to run a professional football club and who lack even the merest hint of imagination when appointing managers. Football clubs don’t do twinnings, but if they did West Ham would be twinned with Newcastle – partners in adversity, in much the same way that Coventry is twinned with Dresden, in recognition of their shared devastation during WW2. Success has been a stranger in both East London and Tyneside for far too long, aside from both sides belonging to a select group of proud Intertoto Cup winners!

Consequently, this fixture is often an unpredictable one. The last ten encounters have produced four wins and six defeats for the Hammers. You need to go back to St James’ Park in August 20113 for the last drawn game – a goalless grim stalemate, according to the Sporting Life, as Alan Pardew faced off with Sam Allardyce. This time around it is Steve Bruce versus David Moyes, each with over 900 games under their respective managerial belts (as you would expect, Bruce’s belt is the larger of the two) but with little to show for it, apart from Moyes 2013 Community Shield win.

Takeover fever also surrounds both clubs, although, as far as West Ham are concerned, it might simply be wishful thinking. A Saudi takeover at Newcastle has been bubbling under for some months while in London there are renewed murmurings of a Tripp Smith consortium. Whenever, I see consortium mentioned Tony Cottee immediately springs to mind and the ones that he has supposedly been trying to put together for the last twenty years. Give me a filthy rich, single minded, megalomaniac over a consortium any day. How conflicted we are as football supporters. Principles, morals and money laundering are easily trumped by success!

I see no reason to make any changes today from the team that started on Wednesday (unless there are enforced changes) as Moyes is likely to adopt the same defend in numbers, forgo possession and break quickly approach to the game. The potential return of Mark Noble, Sebastien (the cheques in the post) Haller and Arthur Masuaku should make it no further than the bench. I would again look to use Andriy Yarmolenko and Jack Wilshere as substitutes, as they continue their respective roads to recovery. There are decent options on the bench.

For Newcastle, Shelvey and Ritchie have historically caused problems in games against West Ham but it is the mercurial Saint Maximin who worries me the most. Pace down the flanks is one of the Hammer’s principle Achilles body parts. Ryan Fredericks needs to be on his toes and Jarrod Bowen will have plenty of tracking back responsibility.  Apart from that, there is also the scores-against-his-old-club threat posed by Big Andy.

VAR has had an horrific week even by its own low standards. The disallowed Michail Antonio goal was bad enough but the Lucas Moura handball was possibly the most laughable yet. It’s not often I agree with Mourinho but his assertion that the principal refereeing decisions are now made by a guy hidden way in a Stockley Park bunker is difficult to argue with. You would have thought that only a government could take a good idea and implement it so badly – but never underestimate the incompetence of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited. Today’s deliberating duo are Craig Pawson (whistle) and Simon Hooper (mouse).

Returning to the Chelsea game it also looked as if their players were not sufficiently socially distanced (according to this season’s new guidelines) from our wall for the Willian equaliser. Did that get reviewed?

So, what might happen today? According to the pundits: closet Hammer’s fan Charlie Nicholas is predicting a 2-1 away win; while Lawro had adopted his default 1-1 fence sitting position. Prior to the re-start I had expected Newcastle to be one of those teams whose minds were more on an air-bridge to Mediterranean sunshine than empty football stadiums. From their efforts to date it seems I was wrong – although perhaps it was thoughts of FA Cup glory (now thwarted) that had spurred them on. Results yesterday were again favourable meaning that any additional points would be most welcome. Maybe the boys can sneak away with all three, but I think that just the one is more likely: 2-2!

Wednesday Wonderland for West Ham, but will it be a Super Sunday at Newcastle?

Was that an enjoyable finish to a game of football or what? On Wednesday night I enjoyed the ending of a game of football more than I have done in ages. When you have supported West Ham for as long as I have (back to the late 1950s) you can probably recall so many occasions when a game of football involving our team has had a dramatic finale. And in the vast majority of those we have been left shaking our heads in disbelief as a late goal has either stopped us from winning a game, or turned a draw into a defeat. And how many times in recent years have teams broken away at pace to score an important late goal against us? Well just for once tonight it was the other way round.

How important was Andriy Yarmolenko’s goal for West Ham? That single goal turned one point into three and gave us a small cushion ahead of our close rivals in the relegation stakes. We are now three points above the drop zone with a superior goal difference over the others involved. But despite only having 29% possession and facing a talented Chelsea team, that goal and the win it produced will (I hope) give everyone at the club massive confidence for the six games to come. You only have to look at the league table and the fixtures remaining to see why bookmakers’ odds, that had us not much better than even money to be relegated before the game, have now changed dramatically. If you still think we will go down you can get odds of 7/1 or bigger, and to stay up we are now quoted at around 1/16.

For me, the whole team, including the substitutes of course, played well. The commitment of the players against a team pushing for a Champions League place was admirable. As the game was drawing to a close I was pleased with the point we were about to get, but the joy of that breakaway winner will stay with me. And fine goal that it was, especially given the importance, it wasn’t even our best goal on the night. That was our second goal. Watch it back if you get a chance. How many West Ham players touched the ball in the build-up? I think I’ve got it right in saying that every outfield player was involved. Goals such as these rarely win goal of the season competitions (that is usually reserved for dramatic overhead kicks or volleys) but for me, this was our best goal of the season. After several viewings I think I’ve got it – Fredericks to Soucek to Diop to Ogbonna to Cresswell to Lanzini to Rice to Lanzini to Rice to Fornals to Rice to Antonio (penalty?) to Fornals to Bowen and finally swept home by the tireless Antonio (my man of the match but so many in contention).

I’m pleased I don’t have to say too much about that ridiculous three and a half minute VAR fiasco where Jonathan Moss, who has been involved in so many controversial decisions against us in the past few years, once again made my blood boil. But we won the game in the end so I’ll forget it for now. Until we come across the same official.

The games come thick and fast now, so how many of our players are fit to play against Newcastle? I was a Newcastle fan the other night when they played at Bournemouth. Actually I quite like Newcastle anyway, more so than many of the other clubs in the Premier League, so even without wanting Bournemouth to lose that game, I was pleased they won so convincingly. My prediction before the resumption was for Norwich, Villa and Bournemouth to go down and I see no reason to change my mind now. The bookmakers now have those three as strong favourites to be relegated with Norwich 1/100, Bournemouth 1/8 and Villa 1/4.

Apparently three of our injured players are back in contention for selection in this game, Noble, Masuaku and Haller. Will there be any changes in the starting eleven? I’ve really no idea, although normally I like to see the same players involved in such a confidence boosting victory retained. But the Chelsea game may have taken more out of the team than we know and there is little chance for a rest prior to the game.

Perhaps Haller will be recalled to play alongside Antonio in attack? If so, whose place would he take? Despite Lanzini’s improved performance the other night, both he, and to some extent Fornals give the ball away too much for my liking. Wilshere has a habit of finding team mates when he has the ball which is a good thing. Of course Yarmalenko made a strong case in his cameo for inclusion, but perhaps a place on the bench with greater trust in bringing him on will be what will happen? In all of this Anderson seems to be the forgotten man. Is there a way back for him? Not at the moment I would suspect.

And I haven’t even mentioned Noble. Before the Chelsea game I thought it would be good for him to sit it out, and as it turned he was injured anyway. I see him playing a part in the games to come, but more often from the bench would be my thinking. Rice did an excellent job as captain, cajoling and encouraging all around him, whilst delivering another imperious performance in midfield. I’m not sure whether or not there is any chance of him still being with us next season, but by giving him the captain’s armband and telling him that the team will be built around him, might be our only remote chance of him staying. I’m afraid that the owners’ eyes might light up if a substantial offer is received for him though.

The thing about being a West Ham fan is that you are never quite sure what you are going to get from one game to another. I hope we don’t see a reaction whereby the players think that the job is done and we are safe. The intensity and commitment from the Chelsea match needs to be maintained for the rest of the campaign, and must continue at least until we are sure of playing Premier League football next season. Perhaps this game will come too soon? Newcastle, despite playing on the same evening, didn’t really have to get out of second gear to beat a poor Bournemouth side, whereas we needed to be in top gear throughout.

So what will happen? I’d like another win of course, but we may need to settle for a draw in this one. With Bournemouth playing at Manchester United, Watford at Chelsea, and Villa at Liverpool in this round of matches, I suspect that a draw might prove to be a good outcome. I’m sure Messrs. Lampard and Klopp will demand better performances from their players after the midweek defeats, and surely Manchester United will thrash Bournemouth?