The final game of the season, the fans are back, and West Ham are on course to secure a place in the top six of the Premier League, along with entry into next season’s Europa League. What could be better?
European football in some form is already guaranteed at the London Stadium after the last round of games, with 5th and 6th taking part in the Europa League and 7th entering the new Europa Conference. That allocation could change if Chelsea finish fifth but win the Champion’s League, although would not impact the Hammers. I it that would mean that both 6th and 7th enter the Europa League. But I am no expert on arcane UEFA rules.
The broadcasters will be thankful that there are, at least, some matters to resolve on the final weekend. Chelsea, Liverpool and Leicester will be fighting it out for the two remaining in the top four – I’m convinced it could have included us but for Declan’s injury on England duty. Liverpool now look certainties to salvage a place as Chelsea face a difficult trip to Villa Park. If Chelsea slip up and Leicester win, as we hope, against Spurs then the Foxes will sneak back up in the standings.
West Ham will confirm sixth place by securing at least a point against Southampton or by Tottenham failing to win at Leicester. There is one further mathematical scenario that would involve Everton overturning the eight goal deficit in goal difference in the event of a West Ham defeat, but as they visit the Etihad it hugely unlikely.
The midweek game at West Bromwich was a strange affair. It was unanimously accepted that we had not gien a good account of ourselves, while at the same time scoring three goals, missing a penalty, hitting the wordwork (twice if I can double count), and putting in twenty-one shots (nine on target). In the end the score-line made it look more comfortable than it was, but what a welcome victory – particularly in the light of the Villa win in N17. Can’t say I have ever really been convinced by the notion of Declan Rice as our penalty taker.
In an otherwise fraught year, the Hammer’s exploits have been a stand-out highlight. It is difficult to recall ever seeing a better team-spirit at the club. The manager, coaches and players have all exceeded expectations, overcoming squad limitations through hard-work, determination, effort, and collective desire. As well as that team ethic, there have also been outstanding individual contributions, making selection of Hammer of The Year arguably the most difficult decision since 1986. For me, it is impossible to split Rice from the two Czechs, Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal.
Key to tomorrow’s game will be how the Hammers handle the occasion. With the fans back in there should be a party atmosphere, but there is still a job to be done. We will want to claim top six through our own endeavours, not the failure of others.
How Southampton approach the game will also play a part. It has been a Jekyll and Hyde season for the Saints as early season optimism gave way to a dreadful run of form. The ship has now been steadied, but they have little to motivate them. Hasenhüttl adopts an unusual narrow formation but they are not without goal threat. Danny Ings is always on the go and will be keen to exploit the type of gaps the Hammers gifted when conceding against Everton and Brighton. And there are few better than Ward-Prowse in taking advantage of the needless free-kicks given away just outside the box.
It will be the usual selection toss-ups for David Moyes but with the addition of the goalkeeper injury situation. If I can see how intimidated Darren Randolph gets by high balls into the box, then so can opposition coaches. He is decent enough as a shot stopper (as we saw at the Hawthorns on Wednesday) but my fingers are well and truly crossed that Lukasz Fabianski can return.
I feel reasonably confident that we will win today. Another 3-1 perhaps! It will round off a tremendous season and we can get on to the serious business of transfer speculation. It should prove a fascinating insight into a more professional direction of the club, the promise of a new approach to recruiting younger players and what investment is forthcoming.
The squad badly needs to be re-balanced. Those not suited to the current work ethic must be shipped out, and better options and/ or cover for key positions brought in. Four or five new players at least. The immediate future of Rice is also of great significance.
It is fitting that this group of players will likely record West Ham’s best ever season in the Premier League, at least as far as points and wins are concerned. They have done us proud. My thanks to them all. COYI!