Can West Ham end City’s Winning Run?

I’ve been watching West Ham for more than 60 years and throughout that time I have often been able to witness some excellent attacking football. Not always of course, but at times we have had some great teams going forward, some brilliant goalscorers, and many skilful midfielders. During that time defending has never been our forte despite boasting some super defenders, with perhaps Bobby Moore and Billy Bonds being the pick. This season has been a revelation in that respect, and David Moyes plus his coaching staff must take great credit in producing a group of players that are highly organised and know their jobs when it comes to defending as a whole team.

The bargain recruits, Coufal and Dawson, have fitted in magnificently with Ogbonna and Cresswell, who are both having arguably their best season at the club. Diop and Balbuena have both come into the centre back positions when called upon, and Johnson is beginning to show what a fine player he may become. Fredericks doesn’t get a good press with many of our supporters, and whilst I can understand that in some ways, I believe he has plenty to offer as a squad player, with many underestimating how important he was when used as an auxiliary full back to help Coufal in taming Grealish. If he could add better touch to his undoubted pace he could yet offer a lot.

Moyes is building a team with power and pace, and it is unusual for us to be able to boast the best record in the top flight for goals scored from set pieces. It is even more unusual to see us at the top of the charts when it comes to defending set pieces, and great credit must go to the coaching staff for this too. That is why it was particularly surprising to concede a goal headed in directly from a corner scored by Moura of Tottenham last weekend, a player not noted for his aerial ability.

Nonetheless we defended well against the second half Tottenham onslaught, rode our luck a couple of times, and moved into fourth position, and a Champions League place, following our 2-1 win. I still have to pinch myself when I look at the league table, especially after we lost the first couple of games of the season. But with just 13 games to go we are in a strong position to finish higher in the table than any of us would have dreamt of just six months ago.

The next few games will probably hold the key to our eventual finishing position with a tough run of fixtures in March and April being followed by an easier (on paper) May. And it doesn’t come any tougher than this game against Manchester City, who are by far the best team in England at the moment, and likely to go a long way in the Champions League – they are currently 9/4 favourites to come out on top in that competition, with perhaps the only real threats coming from Bayern and PSG.

There seems little doubt that they will win the Premier League as they are now ten points clear in that, as well as being able to boast nineteen straight wins in all competitions. Can we stop them from making it twenty? Quite probably not as they play at a level beyond all other teams in the league at the present time. But it is probably as good a time to play them as any.  I’ll be looking for us to put up a strong performance. Our final finishing position will not depend on this result, but it will be a good test to see how far we have come as this season has progressed. Hopefully our defensive unit will show how difficult we are to beat, and perhaps we could come out of the game with a draw. Unlikely I know, but let’s hope we can snatch a point.

If you think we can you can get odds of about 5/1. An unlikely victory is priced at around 12/1. City are 1/4 which is not as short as they often are to win home games. I’ve done pretty well in recent times with my score predictions in West Ham games, with the 2-1 win last weekend another to add to my collection. For this game I’m going for a goalless draw. The odds on that happening are around 16/1. A win would be great but I can’t see that outcome.

City had won ten consecutive games against us before we held them 1-1 in the reverse fixture early in the season. So we do have form when it comes to disrupting their winning runs. Like Tottenham last week they had a European fixture in midweek before facing us, although with the depth and strength of their squad I can’t see this inconveniencing them too much. There have been a few 0-0 draws in league games between the two teams in history but all happened at Upton Park. It has never happened before in a league game where Manchester City are at home to us. But there’s always a first time isn’t there? What are the chances?  

Can West Ham Maintain Hopes of European Qualification?

I was interested to see Jose Mourinho’s thoughts ahead of our derby game at home to our North London neighbours today. In one observation he suggested that the relative positions of West Ham and Tottenham will not be the same at the end of the season as they are now. Of course everyone takes this to mean that he believes they will improve their league position whereas we will falter. But perhaps he thinks we will move up further in the table while they will plunge lower? No, I don’t think he meant that but it’s always interesting to read how his remarks are interpreted as it is not always clear exactly what he means.

He was certainly getting his excuses in early in the event of West Ham winning the game by suggesting that we have a distinct advantage by not being involved in Europe. We’ve had a week to prepare the team, to work on tactics for our next game, for injuries to heal, for players to rest, for the fatigue induced by a congested fixture list to diminish. His team however had to play on Thursday evening giving them little time to prepare and recover. He did concede that we’ve done well so far, but he certainly seemed to suggest that we won’t keep it up for another 14 games. Time will tell. He may be right.

But if you study recent form everything points to an optimistic outcome for the Hammers this lunchtime. Tottenham may have the edge when you look back over history of fixtures between the clubs that goes back to the nineteenth century, but based on the last few weeks we would certainly hope to come out on top.

In the season to date we already have 42 points which is our best tally in the top flight after 24 games for 35 years, which takes us back to that great campaign of 1985-86 (we had 48 at the same stage) when we finished third, and came as close as we ever have to being champions. Already we have surpassed our total points for the whole of last season by three points and there are still 14 games to go.

Recent form is even more impressive. Looking at the last five games only, we have 10 points to Tottenham’s 3. In fact in our last 10 Premier league games we have won six, drawn three, and lost just once (to Liverpool).

Bookmakers are not sure which way this game will go. Both teams are favourites with differing firms and are on offer at around 13/8 to win the game with the draw at 9/4. Of course the first meeting this season ended up 3-3 with our amazing comeback in the final nine minutes. The odds are 55/1 for a repeat of that scoreline, or if you fancy that score with Lanzini scoring the last goal of the game again then you can get 350/1. Or how about our new penalty taker (Rice) scoring a last minute penalty to force a 3-3 draw at 500/1?

I wonder what formation we will start with in this game? I just hope we remember that we need to counter the pace of Son who I believe is their most dangerous player. I wonder if the manager will consider using Fredericks in the same way that he used him to help Coufal to nullify Grealish in the Aston Villa game? Or perhaps Johnson who has looked good in recent games? If Antonio is fit then he will undoubtedly play but who will be the other attacking players? Lingard will almost certainly be one of them but he’ll also be considering Bowen, Benrahma, Lanzini, Noble and Fornals for probably one or possibly two starting places.

I am hoping that David Moyes can be successful against Mourinho for the first time in about fifteen attempts. It will be close. A draw is on the cards but I’ll go for a 2-1 Hammers win with Rice scoring the last goal of the game. That is on offer at around 85/1. Following Liverpool’s defeat to Everton and Chelsea’s draw with Southampton yesterday we can move into fourth place in the table two points clear of Chelsea if we can win today. What are the chances?  

Mind The Gap – West Ham Target Nine Point Lead Over Fast Fading Tottenham

It may be tougher at the bottom, but success can bring its own anxieties as confounded Hammer’s fans continue to pinch themselves over phenomenal season.

I have found myself just recently sitting at the computer and staring at the Premier League table for many minutes at a time. Can it really be true? Last season’s ragged and sorry strugglers are loud and proud in fifth position with twenty-four games already played? With a chance (even if it is an outside one) of European qualification? Surely, it’s just a dream?

It should be time to enjoy the moment, but too many years of bad experience won’t let me shake off the feeling that it can’t possibly to last. I get that uneasy feeling whenever things are going well that it’s bound to be followed by something bad happening. It’s a symptom, apparently, of a condition known as cherophobia – although, technically, that is the fear of being happy, which is certainly not true in my case. I couldn’t be more happier if West Ham suddenly embarked on a momentous fourteen game winning streak between now and the end of the season.

The holy grail would undoubtedly be gatecrashing the Champion’s League places. Although quite how a shoestring squad such as ours could possibly negotiate a CL campaign would defy the greatest minds. In an average year, a total of seventy-one points are needed to bag a CL spot – a target that would require the Hammers to up their points per game tally from 1.75 to just over 2 in the remaining games. Sounds like a tall order, but, of course, it depends equally on how other team’s fare. Qualification with sixty-six points has been known in the past.

As football fans, we are never fully satisfied. A circumstance that led me to ponder those what-if moments that have denied us an even greater points haul by now. (For the purposes of this exercise, I will conveniently ignore any instances where the rub of the green actually went our way.) What-if the incompetent officials had noticed the clearance by the Manchester United keeper had gone 10 yards out of play? What-if a few of those fifteen attempts that hit the woodwork had bounced back into the net? What-if the blatant penalty for the foul on Michail Antonio against Manchester City at 1-0 up had been rightfully given? What-if we had started the comeback against Tottenham five minutes earlier and won 4-3?

That brings us nicely to this week’s opponents, and a game where anticipation anxiety is typically at its highest. A contest where you would be tempted to sell at least a small part of your soul in exchange for a positive result. A West Ham win would open up a nine point gap over the one-time north London giants, while injecting ever greater turmoil onto the chaotic reign of Jose Mourinho. The replacement of Pochettino by Mourinho is now looking as inspired as sacking Harry and bringing in Roeder was. The spirit and verve that once typified Pochettino’s Spurs has been thoroughly exorcised to a point where they now rely totally on the goals and assists from Son and Kane. Still a threat but a far more predictable one.

Something that has surprised me with David Moyes in recent games is his willingness to play around with formations and personnel. Even though some of this was forced upon him by injuries and availability, it did demonstrate a greater tactical nous then we might give him credit for. Manager and team have grown in confidence together.

Although Monday night’s game did end with a routine win, the changes against Sheffield United did illustrate that tinkering can sometimes expose hidden weaknesses – like a man uprating the power of his car engine but not upgrading the brakes and suspension at the same time. With Jarrod Bowen occupied elsewhere he was not available to support Vladimir Coufal. As a result Coufal looked unusually exposed at times, allowing the visitors to get in more crosses than might have been comfortable. It was also no surprise that an opponent with a mainly aerial threat would look to isolate Aaron Cresswell as part of back three. A team with more clinical finishers than the Blades (Harry Kane, for example) might well have made a lot more of the headed opportunities that presented themselves.

The Hammers line-up tomorrow will again hinge on the fitness of Antonio. All indications in the media are that he is available and raring to go. His inclusion would see a return to the favoured 4-2-3-1 formation with a toss up between Said Benrahma or Manuel Lanzini as to who partners Jesse Lingard and Bowen in the ‘3’. This would mean an unfortunate demotion to the bench for Ben Johnson who is rapidly becoming a very fine footballer, both defending and going forward, even playing on the wrong foot.

Tottenham will be without several minor players but may welcome back the unsettled Kane. Watch out for wind assisted tumbles in the penalty area.

West Ham have a below average record this season in London derbies – a return of just nine points from seven games played. The game will be a big chance to correct this and give a boost to the pursuit of finishing as top London club for the first time since 1985/86. If the Hammers are to win they must avoid getting caught by a slow start as they did in the return fixture back in October. Big performances will be needed from the likes of Craig Dawson, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Lingard and Antonio, but if they are the scene will be set for another famous victory.

I mentioned earlier the anxiety brought about by cherophobia. This should not, of course, be confused with chorophobia which is, in fact, the fear of dancing. Should my prediction of an impressive 3-1 West Ham victory prove correct, they’ll be dancing in streets of East London tomorrow afternoon.   

West Ham, Sheffield United, Tevezgate, the Icelandic Consortium, and the Great Escape – Memories of 2006-2007

Do you remember season 2006-2007? Of course you do – all Hammers fans can recall the season of the “Great Escape” and one that will go down in history as one of the most bizarre, and there have been a few of those. The final game of the previous campaign had been in Cardiff where we were massively unlucky to lose one of the great FA Cup finals on penalties. We had also finished ninth in the Premier League in our first season back in the top flight after promotion from the Championship.

We were confident that the club could build on that, and also shocked to learn that we had signed two top class Argentinian footballers in Mascherano and Tevez, potentially one of the biggest coups in our transfer history. Little did we know at the time that the signings, particularly that of Tevez, would lead to controversy and repercussions that would haunt us for many years to come.

The season had begun well enough with a win and a draw which put us top of the league on the evening of Tuesday 22 August. A defeat at Liverpool followed by a home draw against Villa gave us five points from four games, and Bobby Zamora had scored five of our six goals. Then came the introduction of the Argentinians into the team, and a disastrous run of games where we lost eight times in a row, scoring just once in those fixtures, a 2-1 defeat at Chesterfield in the League Cup. In that time we were dumped out of the UEFA Cup by Palermo of Italy, and tumbled to 19th in the table, to begin a relegation fight that would last until the end of the season.

The terrible run continued until the end of the year. After we had scored six goals in our first four games, we then only scored six more league goals in the rest of 2006. Zamora didn’t score any of them despite playing in most of the games. We did manage four wins in that time, three with the only goal of the game. In the middle of that run of games was a 1-0 victory over Sheffield United in November, which was the last time that we managed to beat them before the 1-0 victory at Bramall Lane this season, almost 14 years to the day later. Hayden Mullins scored the goal, one of just a handful he scored in his time here.

Off the field plenty was happening too. In November the board accepted an £85 million takeover by an Icelandic Bank headed by Eggert Magnusson, then shortly afterwards, following three successive defeats with no goals scored and eight conceded, culminating in a 4-0 loss at Bolton, manager Alan Pardew was sacked and former player Alan Curbishley was appointed. His first game in charge was a 1-0 victory over Manchester United (the eventual champions) at Upton Park, but we only scored once more before the end of the year and only collected one point from a 0-0 draw at Craven Cottage.

2007 began therefore with the team in the bottom three and only six league goals from the last 17 matches; relegation form for sure. Surely we could only improve from here! On 1st January we travelled to Reading and were humbled 6-0. By the time we faced Tottenham at Upton Park on March 4th Curbishley had still only had the one league win (in his first game). The 4-3 defeat to our North London neighbours dropped us to the bottom of the league and only a miraculous turnaround would save us now. Tevez actually scored his first goal for us in the Spurs game (from a free kick) – it was his 20th appearance!

At this point there were just nine games of the season left. We had only won 5 out of 29 at this point; surely relegation was just a formality. Our survival hopes were boosted with wins over Blackburn and Middlesbrough (with goals in each game for Tevez and Zamora), before a magnificent 1-0 win at Arsenal with Zamora scoring for the fourth game in a row (just as he had at the beginning of the season). We then went to Bramall Lane and a poor performance saw us lose 3-0 to one of our relegation rivals. We followed this with a 4-1 loss at Upton Park to Chelsea, and with just four games left we looked to be down.

But a nervous 1-0 win over Everton, followed by victories over Wigan (3-0) and Bolton (3-1), meant that we travelled to Old Trafford to face the champions Manchester United, probably needing an unlikely win to retain top flight status. Of course we did so thanks to a Tevez goal and the great escape had been achieved. Sheffield United went down but they later claimed that third party rules had been broken by our signing of Tevez. They claimed that he had been instrumental in us avoiding relegation while they were relegated, despite the fact that it took him 20 games to score a goal. He scored just seven goals in his 26 league appearances for us, but in the end we had to pay Sheffield United over £30 million in compensation in instalments.

After an excellent first season back last year when they were the surprise team of the Premier League, Sheffield United appear to have been found out this time around, and will need to better our Great Escape of all those years ago to avoid dropping into the Championship. They go into this game at the very bottom, with just three wins and eleven points from 23 games, 14 points adrift of safety. It seems inconceivable that any of the bottom three can possibly escape, but that does not mean that games against them are gimmes as we found when facing Fulham recently.

Our lack of alternative striking options to Antonio is now a cause for concern, although I never thought that Yarmolenko could possibly play in the lone striker role anyway. His performance at Old Trafford seemed to prove that and his injury now means that he is likely to be unavailable for some time. If Antonio is not available for any games from now then we will go into those matches without a recognised striker, and perhaps we will start a trend with Bowen, Benrahma and Lingard playing as three false nines at the same time interchanging at the top of the pitch. It seems a shame that our push for a top seven finish (or higher) is likely to be halted by a lack of foresight in investment of strikers.

For my lockdown treat today I have been having a look at the league table and noting how unusual the season is in that the majority of teams have better away records than home ones. Of the top 11 teams, only Manchester City and Liverpool have won more games at home than on their travels. Our record is interesting and for lovers of symmetry wouldn’t it be good if we could beat Sheffield United by two goals to nil? That would mean that our home and away records to date would be exactly the same; played 12, won 6, drawn 3, lost 3, goals scored 18, goals conceded 14, points 21. Bookmakers will only give me around a measly 7/1 for that scoreline, despite our dearth of striking options.

I’d be happy with a win of any kind, which presuming Chelsea beat Newcastle later, will leave us in fifth place, relegating champions Liverpool to sixth, and just four points behind second. Who would have believed that we could possibly be in this position when the season started? So don’t let us down West Ham. A win please, preferably by 2-0. What are the chances?

Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue, We Don’t Have A Striker, Will A Midfielder Do?

High flying West Ham take on an apparently doomed Sheffield United in the latest test of their top six ambitions

It seems inconceivable that any of the Premier League’s current bottom three have the remotest hope of escaping relegation – even though only 60% of the season has so far been completed. Not only would it require a massive turnaround in their own form, but also a drastic collapse by one of the sides immediately ahead of them. There must come a time when even the most optimistic of squads realise that survival is a lost cause, even before it is mathematically proven. Usually, this will bring with it a consequential loss of belief and commitment on the pitch – think Norwich when they visited the London Stadium in July. Some of the mid-table teams (Crystal Palace) already look like they are planning their summer holidays.

 Despite Sheffield United sitting fourteen points from safety and being the league’s lowest scorers, I make them the least likely of the three condemned to throw in the towel. The mindset of the manager and squad will ensure that doesn’t happen, at least not yet. So another tough assignment for David Moyes and his West Ham team to negotiate as they endeavour to spend a fourth consecutive week in the top six.

If the relegation places appear nailed on, then recent form and events suggest the title is little more than a one-horse race. While each of the chasing pack performs in fits and starts, Manchester City are suddenly unstoppable. The ‘genius’ of Pep and a bottomless transfer budget have somehow managed to work their magic.

Of the teams with an eye on a European finish, West Ham and Aston Villa are the most improbable, having finished fifth and fourth bottom respectively last season. Both will be relying on a handful of key players staying fit as they attempt to get the better of Everton and Chelsea for the chance of glory.

I clearly haven’t been paying attention with Everton. In my mind they had faded badly after a promising start, and yet remain the most handily placed with a couple of games in hand over their rivals. Chelsea have embarked on a lukewarm streak since the appointment of Tuchel as manager, but in truth they have had such a benign set of fixtures that even Frank would have picked up a few points. The West Ham mission then, should they choose to accept it, is to demonstrate ever more over-achievement, teamwork and determination – and avoid picking up any unwanted injuries and suspensions. It might well come to nothing but it is a pleasant surprise to be in with a shout.

The media has been gushing over Guardiola in recent weeks and pouring effusive praise for his tactical innovation of playing without a recognised striker. Don’t they realise the Hammers have been doing that for most of the past twenty-five years. The club rarely gets the credit it deserves. Just because they failed to designate the string of hapless strikers as ‘False 9’s’. Same as the Hammers being the first side to field a ‘False 1’ by playing Roberto in goal.

Whether a striker will take the field in claret and blue on Monday night depends (as usual) on the fitness of Michail Antonio. By all accounts he is on track to be involved, but will that be as a starter or available from the bench if absolutely needed? My sneaking suspicion is that he will be held in reserve, for use in emergencies only. The crucial Tottenham game next weekend is a more probable target for him. If Antonio is absent then the troika of Jesse Lingard, Jarrod Bowen and Said Benrahma must take responsibility for providing the necessary movement and creating space for others to exploit. It sounds all good in theory, but they will need to raise their passing and decision making game if it is to be the Hammer’s Moyesiola moment.

Elsewhere, the backline will be missing Antonio Ogbonna for the first time this season. His absence leaves Craig Dawson as the mainstay of the defence – an argument that would have been laughed out of court just a few short months ago. A string of outstanding performances has proved many of us doubters wrong. At least with centre backs West Ham have Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena in reserve. Based only on media chatter I guess Diop will get the nod and a chance to show that he is more commanding in the air than we have come to expect.

Other team or position changes are unlikely, and I will be keeping my fingers crossed that we don’t have to put up with Andriy Yarmolenko or Mark Noble for anything other than late cameos.

The Blades will be without several important players including Sander Berge, Jack O’Connell and George Baldock.

The game is unlikely to be a classic. The neutral might prefer to find a good book or take the opportunity to arrange their CDs into alphabetical order. The long running West Ham conundrum of how to break down a well organised defensive wall will determine the chances of success. Can the passing and movement be slick and incisive enough to find a way through and behind the Blades defence. Relying on lofted crosses and set pieces when faced with a defensive minded opponent is an unconvincing strategy. Past performances might point to a 1-0 win, courtesy of a late Tomas Soucek goal, but better is required if a serious tilt at the top six in this topsy-turvy season is to be kept alive. I know that after the event I would take a 1-0 win but we really need to see more dominant performances from the Hammers in this type of game. Hope never dies even if experience suggests it should. COYI!     

Soucek Available as Hammers Bid to Reach FA Cup Quarter Final

If you read newspapers or social media to see what happened when we played at Craven Cottage at the weekend then you wouldn’t have found out very much about the actual football played. The conditions were awful, the rain was bucketing down and the pitch was slowly deteriorating as the game went on. It reminded me of our FA Cup tie at Stockport in many respects. We were playing a side that on form we should be dominating but in many aspects we were second best. Fulham actually play some neat football, but unfortunately they are likely to go down this season because of a lack of a cutting edge in the final third. Either team could have won the game with each of our Czech imports missing headed chances whilst at the other end all the Fulham players seemed to lose composure when a half chance appeared.

The major talking point came as a result of a West Ham free kick with seconds to go, when Lee Mason (on VAR duty at Stockley Park) drew Mike Dean’s attention to the fact that Mitrovic was on the floor, looking like he’d been felled by Mike Tyson, and suggested that he should go and view the incident on the screen at the side of the pitch. After reviewing the footage 23 times (that says enough in itself that it wasn’t clear to him!) he then produced a red card. Cue astonishment all round – it was obvious to anyone who understands the game that it was accidental. There has been about 99% agreement everywhere you view or read that the decision was a wrong one, and fortunately the red card was rescinded on Monday. The only real doubt that this would be the outcome was would the panel want to overturn a second decision by (supposedly) one of the top referees in one week? But common sense won the day (sometimes it doesn’t in football) and Soucek is available to play in tonight’s game. The sad thing is that a (top!?) referee should see an incident in a different way to virtually all other observers.

We face a Manchester United side that are having a good season, lying second in the league with a very good chance of retaining a position in the top four and qualifying for the Champions League. Of course we are sixth ourselves, only one point behind Liverpool (in fourth) and should be harbouring ambitions to achieve a top four place too. But with limited attacking options and little investment from the top of the club to remedy this we are very much outsiders in this respect and that’s why I believe tonight’s game takes on added importance. To achieve a top four league finish would require consistency of performance that may be beyond us with our current squad. Excellent though we have been in so many ways this season, our best chance of glory must realistically be to emulate what we achieved in 1964, 1975 and 1980, and that is of course to win the FA Cup.

Yes, a tough fixture tonight, but if we can come out on top then that would put us into the last eight, just one game away from the semi-final, and two wins away from a final appearance at Wembley. Sitting close to the top of the Premier League, with absolutely no chance of going down with 15 games of the season to go is a position we don’t often find ourselves in, but that is where we are. That is why we should be focussing 100% on putting out our best team and trying to win the FA Cup.

As a fan I know that I’d prefer an appearance in the FA Cup final to a sixth or seventh place finish in the Premier League, which is realistically the best we are likely to achieve. Of course our owners may feel differently and prefer the idea of finishing as high as possible in the league, with an extra £2m in prize money for each incremental position achieved. If players need to be rested at any time then I’d prefer this to be for league games whilst we still have an interest in the cup. Of course I’d like to think we could achieve a top 4 finish and a visit to Wembley for the Cup Final, but that may be too much of an optimistic dream. We definitely have a better chance of winning tonight with Soucek available now, and that one piece of news might help to drive us on to achieve a shock result. It wouldn’t be the biggest shock in the world for the team lying sixth to overcome the team in second place, but the bookmakers have decided that it would be. The Red Devils are 8/13 to win the game, whereas we are 21/5, with the draw around 16/5.

The odds against us winning were even greater twenty years ago on 28 January 2001 when we went to Old Trafford to face them in Round 4 of the FA Cup, but that didn’t stop Paolo Di Canio beating the offside trap to put the ball past the raised hand of Barthez which culminated in a famous 1-0 victory.

MUNWHU1The odds against us winning were even greater twenty years ago on 28 January 2001 when we went to Old Trafford to face them in Round 4 of the FA Cup, but that didn’t stop Paolo Di Canio beating the offside trap to put the ball past the raised hand of Barthez which culminated in a famous 1-0 victory.

I’m also old enough to remember an even more famous win against them in the semi-final of the cup in 1964, on our way to winning the trophy. We faced them the week before the semi-final in a league game at Upton Park. They beat us 2-0 despite resting most of their first team, including the trio of Best, Law and Charlton, whilst we had our first choice team playing. The following Saturday at Hillsborough we lined up with the same XI whereas they brought back their top guns expecting an easy victory.

That season Manchester United finished second in the league whereas we were a lowly 14th. But that didn’t stop us progressing to Wembley comfortably in that one-off game with two goals from Ronnie Boyce (seen being chased by fellow team members after scoring one of the goals in the semi-final) and another from Geoff Hurst. Boyce only scored 29 goals in 341 appearances for us but he knew about scoring important ones, as he also headed the winning goal in the final minute of the Final when we defeated Preston 3-2.

My prediction for tonight (optimistic hat on as usual) is for the game to end 1-1 after 90 minutes, 2-2 after extra time, and then for us to win 4-3 on penalties (despite our lack of penalty practice this season!). What are the chances?

Capital Punishment: Hammering More Nails Into The Cottager’s Coffin

There’s plenty to play for at either of the table as the top team in London visit the one at the bottom. Can West Ham put a further dent in Fulham’s survival chances?

I have to admit to being quite nervous about the Hammers reaction to defeat by Liverpool before they travelled to Villa Park on Wednesday night. After too many years of disappointment, my default setting, when it comes to supporting West Ham, is locked permanently at ‘fear the worst’. That they not only won, but did so with such aplomb, and with one of the most accomplished performances for some time, was mightily impressive. If courage, composure and determination is the new ‘West Ham way’, then it gets my vote!

If the previous Sunday was a reality check for the Hammers, then Wednesday was reality Czech for Villa. The two bargain signings from the Czech Republic has proved to be some of the most inspired transfer business in West Ham history.

Vladimir Coufal handed out a defensive masterclass by completely neutralising the threat of a dejected Jack Grealish. Ably assisted by the surprise inclusion of Ryan Fredericks the message was clear for all, stop Grealish and you stop Villa. Coufal has quickly become a West Ham cult hero. A tough, determined, and resolute master of the full back craft, full of running, skill and experience – and without the reckless tackles than has so often lead similar characters into troubled waters.

Tomas Soucek just gets better and better. Not only part of one of the best defensive midfield partnerships in the league, but also superb in the air at both ends and continuing to weigh in with priceless goals. The man never stops running. Even for the second West Ham goal – a rapid Hammer’s counter-attack – it was Soucek who turned up right on top of the keeper in case the ball was spilled from Jesse Lingard’s shot.  There should also have been a first West Ham penalty of the season when he was clearly (and obviously) tripped in the area by McGinn during the first half. Perhaps VAR had popped out to the toilet.

In truth, there were excellent performance right throughout the team even though, not surprisingly, it was Lingard who grabbed most of the plaudits and headlines with his two-goal debut performance – a first for the Hammers since Tricky Trev did the same against Everton in January 1998. The addition of Lingard brought a much better balance to the West Ham forward play and his level of understanding with those around him was impressive for such a new arrival. Now we wait to see whether that level of performance can be maintained.

The frenetic Premier League programme eases off after this week’s round of games as European competition starts up once again to fill the vacant midweek spots for the seven English clubs still involved. Does having longer breaks between matches offer any advantage to a team looking to sneak up on the rails?  

This weekend it is another London derby with a visit to struggling Fulham at Craven Cottage – our last away derby of the season. Many years ago, West Ham would publish the Unofficial London Championship in the matchday programme, based on the results of the derby matches. In the season to date, despite being top London club, the Hammers would only be midtable if such a competition existed, having already lost to Chelsea and Arsenal. Fulham have been defeated in all three of their home derby matches so far, and will be favourites to make it four in a row tomorrow. The Cottagers are currently on an eleven game winless run in the league and are also winless in their last nineteen top-flight London derbies – those are the kind of statistics that would worry a West Ham fan of old but things are different now ……….. aren’t they?

It does look grim for the three clubs at the bottom of the Premier League table as the teams above them start to pick up wins, appearing to leave Sheffield United, West Brom and Fulham. Of the three, it would be good to see Fulham (and Scott Parker) pull off an unlikely escape – they are, probably, the best placed to do so given current points total and relatively modest negative goal difference. As long as any revival waits another week.

It should be more of the same from West Ham as far as team selection is concerned. Most of us were surprised to see Fredericks named in the starting lineup at Villa Park, but I expect him to make way for Jarrod Bowen tomorrow – unless David Moyes feels that Bowen needs a bit of a longer rest. Other than that, it should be business as usual.

The Fulham danger man will again be the industrious Lookman, although he is unlikely to be taking any more penalties. New signing Maja may make his debut for the hosts following his move from Bordeaux if Parker decides not to stick with the lumbering Mitrovic. Perhaps it’s just me, but I really don’t get what Loftus-Cheek offers. Amazing that he has ten England caps to his name.

Despite their long winless run, Fulham have drawn a good few matches – including games against Liverpool, Tottenham, and Southampton – and they have not been shipping a lot of goals of late. So we might expect the game to be a tight affair, and one where the Hammers must be alert to an early period of home pressure. West Ham are the form team, though, and should have more than enough quality to add another victory to their impressive 2021 tally. West Ham to win 2-0. COYI!  

We Got Knocked Down, But Can West Ham Get Up Again For Their Visit To Villa Park

Reality called at the weekend with an emphatic defeat to the league champions. The Hammers must now show their character in tonight’s tough Aston Villa test

Ultimately it was a bridge too far. It was meant to big our big moment. Talked up in the media, the final game of a perfect January, a place in the top four beckoning, and facing a jaded, injury ridden opponent struggling to find enough competent defenders. The higher the expectations built, the more disheartening the fall when it came.

It was no disgrace to be outplayed by what turned out to be a very good Liverpool performance, but it was disappointing that West Ham didn’t give a better account of themselves. Where the visitors passing was smart, crisp and incisive, the Hammers were unable to break the press, were funnelled into cul-de-sacs and invention was limited to hopeful first-time flicks.

Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek found themselves outnumbered in midfield and were unable to offer the usual solid foundation to build upon. Not the first time this has happened against an opponent playing 4-3-3, so perhaps a Plan-B is required for such occasions.

As the game progressed, it seemed a scoreless draw was the best we could hope for, but a moment of poor judgement by Aaron Cresswell allowed Salah the gilt edged opportunity needed to put an end to his scoring drought. The goal played out like watching an accident in slow motion. We all knew what Salah was hoping to do and yet he was allowed to execute it without challenge. After that, there was no way back.

In different circumstances, the last two Liverpool goals would have merited a polite round of applause, even from opposition fans. The breakaway goal was a thing of beauty and a more worthy goal of the season contender, in my opinion, than the usual 30-yard pile-driver.

What we need now from West Ham is to see a positive reaction. It is not uncommon, once the momentum of a good run is lost, that it has a debilitating effect on the player’s mentality. The last thing we want is to do a Southampton – and the next few games will be a true test of the player’s character. Bouncebackability as Iain Dowie once termed it.

No surprise that the transfer window came and went without putting a dent in the West Ham war chest. An already skeletal squad ending the day a net one down in its senior player complement (Haller and Snodgrass out; Lingard in). It turns out that the myriad worldwide striker links in the media and the teasing in-the-know insights from ExWHUtealady and others, were all just made-up in someone’s bedroom.

I do understand David Moyes pragmatic position on transfers. Better to spend what limited money might be available in the summer than on a Sullivan-special now. Sullivan loves to parade an exotic name in a misguided attempt to impress and appease the fans. Moyes has done a fantastic job with the resources he has to work with, but progression at the club is constrained by ongoing mismanagement in the boardroom – and the consequences of the big sums wasted by Pellegrini on players patently unsuited to the Premier League.

Perhaps the inactivity will provide an opportunity for selected academy players – Ben Johnson, Jamal Baptiste, Connor Coventry, Nathan Holland, Mipo Odubeko – to stake a claim during the remainder of the season. High time that the ‘Academy of Football’ delivered the goods.

Today’s opponents, Aston Villa, leave me heavily conflicted. They are having a fine season, have invested (mostly) wisely in the squad, play attractive and enterprising football and can boast arguably the most creative midfielder in the country. Yet all those positives are undone by their ever whinging manager, Dean “VAR ate my hamster” Smith, and the unashamed cheating antics of Jack Grealish. The outlandish dive by Grealish in this season’s reverse fixture, conning the referee into awarding a yellow a card to Pablo Fornals, simply has no defence. Any self-respecting sport that was interested in cleaning up its act would find a way to take retrospective action over such incidents.

Tonight, is going to be a tough game. I don’t see many changes to the West Ham line-up except a first glimpse of Jesse Lingard in a West Ham shirt, probably from the bench.  Goals will again prove a problem for the Hammers and any thoughts that Villa are vulnerable at the back are dispelled by their having the second lowest goals against in the league right now. We will do well to come away with a point and I am liking the look of 1-1 draw. COYI!

The Hammers visit Villa Park hoping to start another winning run

Our run of consecutive winning games (which had reached six in number) had to come to an end at some stage, and I guess it was inevitable that the Premier League champions, who had found some form when visiting our North London neighbours just a few days ago, would be the team to end the sequence. We went into the game full of confidence, but right from the outset appeared to me to show the Merseysiders too much respect. We didn’t play as well as we might, and our lone striker (Antonio), despite having an excellent season so far, seemed a bit below par for the second game running. Perhaps he needs a rest, although the lack of alternatives to fit into the lone striker role is a definite worry for the remainder of the campaign.

Liverpool’s first goal came as a result of allowing Salah to come inside and curl a shot into goal with his left foot. He should have been forced to go on the outside; a defensive error. The second goal resulted from an excellent counter attack from our corner as we chased the game from a losing position, but despite the brilliant execution of the goal I was disappointed that we let it happen. It reminded me of other counter attacks where we have conceded in recent seasons (goals from Arsenal and Manchester City come to mind).

The game and the result provided a reality check to those fans talking us up into a potential top four finish and showed the gulf between the very best (Liverpool and Manchester City in my opinion) and those chasing them. Liverpool showed that not only their best eleven are a very good side, but that they have strength in depth that we do not possess.

Nevertheless we need to put the game behind us, learn from our mistakes, and move on to the Villa match, and try to recapture the form that has enabled us to climb the table. The Midland claret and blues, like ourselves, have performed beyond expectations in the season to date. But when you look at the form table for the last five games, they have lost three of them, whereas we have twelve points, second only to Manchester City in the Premier League.

It will be interesting to see if the manager makes any changes for this game to try to freshen up the team, although I’ll be surprised if he does. He tends to stick with largely the same players who have taken us to fifth place, and it is hard to argue against the success of the season to date. I’m always surprised by the substitutions he makes (or doesn’t make), but he stands or falls by those decisions.

As far as the bookmakers are concerned Aston Villa are favourites at 6/5 to take the spoils, with both a West Ham win and the draw available at around 23/10. The favourite “correct score” is a 1-1 draw, and this is a likely outcome, although wearing my optimistic hat, I’ll take us to sneak a 2-1 win. I just hope that the referee is not fooled by diving antics which were a feature of the game when the sides met at the London Stadium, with one player in particular (and we all know who he is) guilty of falling to the ground very easily.

So 2-1 is my prediction plus we are overdue being awarded a penalty kick. What are the chances?

The rollercoaster ride of following West Ham

A brief summary of more than sixty years of being a West Ham fan

I read an article recently that was written by a West Ham fan who likened following the team to a rollercoaster ride. I could see where he was coming from with the ups and downs from season to season, and even from game to game. I suppose a lot of football supporters feel this way about their team, but at West Ham I’m sure we experience it more than most.

As a fan I came in when we were fairly high on the ride. The first season I remember (as a five- year-old) was 1958-59. We had been promoted the previous year from Division Two into the top flight (Division One in those days) and in our first season finished in sixth position, and were holding third place before losing our final game. The following season we began a slow descent. A magnificent run through September to November where we won 11 out of 13 games in all competitions (losing just one) meant that we topped the league on 21 November. The following Saturday (I remember it so well because I was in hospital) we travelled to Hillsborough and were soundly beaten 7-0 by Sheffield Wednesday. We began to go down at that point, were bundled out of the FA Cup in the third round 1-5 at home by second division Huddersfield, and finished the season in 14th.

The 1960s were good in that we remained in the top division throughout, hovering between lower top half and bottom half, with the highs of the FA Cup trophy in 1964, followed by the European Cup Winners Cup a year later. The rest of the sixties and early seventies saw more of the same with another peak in the middle of the latter decade with our second FA Cup followed by an excellent run to another European final, playing some great football on the way through the competition.

Following that we began to hover just above the relegation places and eventually went down in 1978. A win in the final game at home to Liverpool would have kept us up but the Merseysiders cruised to a 2-0 win and our 20 year stay in the top flight was over. But all our best players remained and we began to go upwards again. It took us three years to get promoted, but we had a wonderful run in that time, winning the FA Cup for the third time in 1980, and then breaking all records the following season winning promotion as champions with a record points haul, and reaching the League Cup final where we unluckily lost to Liverpool after a replay.

Top half finishes throughout most of the early 1980s culminated in our best league season ever (1985-86), finishing third after being in contention to be champions for most of the season, despite a poor start where we only won one of our first seven matches. Liverpool finished top that year and we were pipped for the runners-up spot after losing at Everton on the final day.

A sharper decline followed that great year however, and three seasons later we were once again relegated. We came back at the second attempt, only to be relegated the following season and then promoted once again in the next campaign. This was a real yo-yo period but we stayed in Division One throughout the nineties and managed a fifth place finish in 1999. We partied with Prince after the final game of the season (a 4-0 win over Middlesbrough) as we qualified for the Inter Toto cup which meant a July start to the following campaign. Success in that early season tournament gave us entry into the UEFA Cup where we were eliminated in the second round, but still finished in the top half in the last year of the twentieth century.

The roller coaster was back in the early noughties with a lower half followed by a seventh place followed by relegation under Glenn Roeder. But we were back in the Premier League once again a couple of years later and reached the FA Cup Final in our first season. The final against Liverpool at the Millenium Stadium was one of the great finals, but Gerrard’s 30 yard shot in injury time denied us victory, and of course we lost the penalty shoot-out.

Top half finishes throughout most of the rest of the decade came to an end with a 17th place finish under Zola in 2010 followed by another relegation a season later under Avram Grant. This time we bounced back at the first attempt under Big Sam and have remained there since, with an excellent final season at the Boleyn in 2015-16, followed by a leaner period since.

So we have come full circle with the high of six wins in a row to begin 2021 followed by a reality check from Liverpool on Sunday. Looking back it is interesting how often Liverpool have featured in this brief summary of more than 60 years of following the ups and downs of West Ham.

Has it been a rollercoaster ride? In one respect the analogy is a false one because the greatest thrill that you get when riding the rollercoaster is not when you are ascending, but more in the rapid plunge to the low point after reaching the top. As a football fan, the best times are the ride to reach the peak, not the fall that has inevitably followed. Nevertheless it has been a great ride that, despite some of the many frustrations in being a West Ham fan, I wouldn’t have swapped for growing up following any other team.