My first visit to Upton Park was in November 1958. Since then I’ve watched West Ham live many hundreds of times. I have been a season ticket holder for many years and for virtually all the last 60 plus years I’ve seen the majority of our home games plus some trips to away grounds too. Of course times have been very strange for the last year or more and the last time I was there to see us play at the London Stadium was on Leap Years Day 2020 when we comfortably beat Southampton 3-1.
Do you remember that cold sunny day? Jarrod Bowen made the starting eleven for the first time and celebrated by opening the scoring. Southampton equalised in the first half, but shortly before half time Haller jumped for Antonio’s up and under with McCarthy (the Southampton keeper) who made an absolute mess of it, and Haller was able to score from a tight angle. Antonio broke away to score the third in the second half and might have had a fourth after a superb rabona from Haller sent him clear. Fornals provided the assists for the first and third goals, and the result moved us out of the bottom three on goal difference.
That is the sum total of my memory of my last experience seeing West Ham live, and little did I think that in the following season I would not be able to see them at all except on TV. But I had a glimmer of hope due to the easing of restrictions which allow 10,000 fans at the London Stadium for the final game of this superb campaign against Southampton on Sunday week. But my hopes were dashed with the following correspondence from the club on Wednesday:
“Unfortunately, you’ve not been successful in the Southampton ticket ballot. However in the event that a supporter can no longer attend, we may be in touch to share an opportunity to attend. We appreciate your continued support and look forward to welcoming you to London Stadium soon.”
Oh well the odds were 5/1 against so all I can do now is look forward to August to take the Central Line to Stratford for the first time in around 18 months. Hopefully all restrictions will have been lifted by then? Of course despite not visiting the ground I have probably seen more West Ham games this season than ever before, all of them in fact thanks to all games being shown live on TV. At least that has been some consolation in a season where we have surpassed all expectations and with three games to go are still very much in with a chance of qualification for Europe next season, even a tiny chance of a top four place.
As the season enters the final eight days, mathematically there are still eight teams involved in the quest for the top four, and the remaining fixtures of those (excluding the two Manchester clubs who are already there) are set out below. Losing three of our last four games means that our chances are now extremely slim, and both Everton and Tottenham’s hopes are even more remote, but I am still hoping for a storming finish and three wins to make it a record breaking season. Manchester United’s congested fixture schedule with ten changes in their team for the game in their midweek defeat to Leicester didn’t help us either!
Both Chelsea and Leicester only have two games to go but face each other in midweek which guarantees either at least one point for each, or alternatively three for the winner. But Arsenal’s surprising win over Chelsea on Wednesday has raised our hopes again. If Chelsea had beaten Arsenal then we might have had the situation where both Leicester and Chelsea would have been happy to settle for a draw next Tuesday but this is unlikely to be the case now. Everton’s draw with Villa yesterday evening was another bonus for us. They can now only reach 65 points at best (like Tottenham) and have the worst goal difference of all the teams involved.
But Liverpool’s win at Manchester United last night was a real body blow though. How different it might have been if Manchester United had anything to play for in their last couple of games played?
Leicester (66 points, Goal Difference 21, 2 games to go) – Chelsea (Tues), Tottenham (Sun) – maximum points possible 72.
Chelsea (64 points, Goal Difference 22, 2 games to go) – Leicester (Tues), Villa (Sun) – maximum points possible 70.
Liverpool (60 points, Goal Difference 20, 3 games to go) – West Brom (Sun), Burnley (Weds), Palace (Sun) – maximum points possible 69.
West Ham (58 points, Goal Difference 10, 3 games to go) – Brighton (Sat), West Brom (Weds), Southampton (Sun) – maximum points possible 67.
Tottenham (56 points, Goal Difference 20, 3 games to go) – Wolves (Sun), Villa (Weds), Leicester (Sun) – maximum points possible 65
Everton (56 points, Goal Difference 4, 3 games to go) – Sheffield United (Sun), Wolves (Weds), Manchester City (Sun) – maximum points possible 65.
We are still in a position whereby we need to depend on the (extremely unlikely) results of others whilst attempting to get maximum points in our remaining three games. That would take us to 67 points, and in view of the goal differences, Leicester only need one point to achieve that, and Chelsea need three. Liverpool need seven from their last three games to match our maximum possible points total and you wouldn’t bet against them winning all three to end on 69. But if we can do our bit and beat Brighton and West Brom then we could still go into the final game of the season with an outside chance of finishing in the top four.
At that point we would be on 64 points. If Leicester beat Chelsea then the Foxes would be out of reach but we could still finish above Chelsea if we won the final game and Chelsea failed to beat Villa. If Chelsea draw with Leicester, then they would still need to beat Villa to go above us. And if Chelsea beat Leicester then we could finish ahead of Leicester if Tottenham beat them on the final day. I’m not sure what result I’m hoping for in that game!
But all of these scenarios are irrelevant if we don’t win all three of our final fixtures. It would be quite remarkable if we went into the final day of the season still with a chance of finishing in the top four, but it has still been a fantastic season when you consider that it is still a possibility, however remote, with just eight days of the season remaining. If we win all three games then we are guaranteed to finish at least sixth. But Liverpool, with their relatively easy final three fixtures, should be the team who will be the most likely to sneak into the top four if Leicester and Chelsea slip up.
Unfortunately the performance against Everton was a little lacklustre, and fine margins like the inside of the post, and a possible penalty when Antonio was bundled over, made the difference. Brighton have been a bogey side in recent times and now that they are mathematically safe (they were already OK in reality) means that they can play with freedom from pressure, so this game won’t be an easy one.
With three wins a fourth place finish is still a possibility (but extremely remote). But we will need some unlikely results elsewhere for it to happen. Three defeats and we could even finish as low as tenth! I’m hoping for the former and not even contemplating the latter. I guess that in the end it may be somewhere in between? Sixth? What are the chances?