In my article prior to the game against Manchester City last weekend I highlighted the gulf between the top three and the rest. The game itself confirmed what I believed. A score of 2-1 suggests a close game but that wasn’t really the case. Unfortunately we were not at our best and never really got going. Despite Jack Grealish, Kevin de Bruyne and Phil Foden being unavailable City were still too good in an attacking sense, and defensively they gave little away with Declan Rice’s long range effort being the only time I can recall Ederson needing to make a save before our goal.
We showed our hand before kick-off with Masuaku replacing Bowen suggesting we were worried about City’s attacking threat down our left hand side, as opposed to letting them worry about our potential going forward. But City were just too good and attacked from all sides. The heavy snow falling made the conditions difficult but while we were only a single goal down we were still in the game. The second goal finished us off but Lanzini once again produced a last second wonder strike (just as he did against Tottenham in the 3-3 draw) to make the score look more respectable, although there was no time left to go searching for a dramatic late equaliser.
But it wasn’t all bad, and in the past we might have folded and lost a game like this by a wider margin. The consolation is that despite two consecutive defeats we still retained our position in the top 4, even though the gap to the top three has grown. And even if we manage to lose a third game in a row, which I certainly hope we don’t, we would still be no lower than fifth in the table. Nine points from our last five games is a better return than all the teams in the Premier League apart from the top three and Arsenal immediately below us in fifth place.
The fixtures come thick and fast for the next month or so beginning with this evening’s visit from Brighton. We have faced them in the last four seasons since they came into the Premier League, and we have yet to beat them in eight attempts. Those games have usually been relegation battles, or at least lower-half of the table fixtures, but this time around we are both in the upper reaches with Brighton currently occupying ninth place after a bright start to the season.
They beat us in the first three games but the last five have all ended in draws. Three of those five draws have come in the corresponding fixtures in the last three seasons at the London Stadium. We had to come from behind twice in the home game last season, whereas the season before we relinquished a two goal lead. And in the season before that we were two down before an Arnautovic brace earned us a 2-2 draw.
The last time we beat them was in the later stages of our promotion winning season in 2011-12 when a superb Vaz Te hat trick was part of a 6-0 thrashing. I remember the game well – we were three up in the first ten minutes or so (Vaz Te had scored two of them) and he completed his hat-trick in front of the Bobby Moore end with an overhead kick.
Said Benrahma appeared on the front cover last season’s programme, but some are suggesting that he may not be in the starting eleven this time around following a bit of an exchange with David Moyes as he was substituted in the City game. I’ve seen some calling for Lanzini to start in that position but we’ll have to wait and see. I wonder if there are injury concerns, especially re Cresswell? Squad rotation has certainly been successful in the European games, but the manager has probably made fewer changes in the league games than most – he seems to have a very definite idea of his starting eleven for these matches.
Historically West Ham v Brighton fixtures go back to 1903, but we didn’t face them in any football league games until 1978 as we have often been in different divisions. The overall record is very even at 18 wins apiece and 19 draws. Graham Potter has done a superb job for the Seagulls but after their bright start they have faded a little, failing to win any of their last eight league games – always a worrying statistic for West Ham fans! But they have drawn a lot of games and have only lost three (we have lost four). So Brighton have failed to win any of their last eight league games, and West Ham have failed to win any of their last eight fixtures against Brighton. Will one of these runs be broken or are we heading for another draw?
With the last five meetings between the clubs ending in draws, and Brighton’s recent draws this season, a draw would seem a likely result. Bookmakers make us favourites to win with odds of around evens, but a 1-1 draw is the favourite in the correct score odds at around 11/2. I am convinced we can end our long run of failing to beat them, but it is likely to be a close game. Brighton has a mean defence with just 14 goals conceded in their 13 games, a figure only bettered by the top three and Wolves. But they have only scored 12 which is fewer than everyone apart from Norwich, Southampton and Tottenham. It is the failure to convert chances into goals that frustrates many Brighton fans and led to some booing following their 0-0 draw at home to Leeds last weekend.
There have been fewer goals in Brighton Premier League games this season than in those involving all the other clubs (except Wolves). So don’t expect us to repeat the 6-0 win of the last time we beat them. I forecast a West Ham victory by a single goal margin, possibly 1-0. What are the chances?