Two Weeks To Save The Season: West Ham’s Fateful Fortnight Begins With The Wolves At The Door

The top four dream fades by the week. Can David Moyes wake up and shake up his Hammers for the visit of in-form Wolverhampton?

Before the season started my prediction for West Ham’s finishing position in the Premier League was 10th. I felt it would be a struggle to reproduce the previous seasons success alongside a European campaign. The most probable outcome now is that the Hammers will end up somewhere between 6th and 8th. In that context the team will have exceeded my expectations.

Of course, there is still time for things to change. A few weeks ago, most were certain of Manchester City winning the title at a canter, with Norwich, Watford, and Burnley dead certs for relegation. Now, Liverpool are piling on the pressure at the top while Leeds (how did we lose to them), Brentford (how did we lose to them) and Everton are being dragged into the battle at the bottom.

For a team sitting in the top six and still in two cup competitions, there is plenty of disquiet among Hammers supporters. A combination of poor results, mediocre performances, and a shambles of a transfer window. It is easy to understand. They showed us a dream of the top four but complacency has it looking unattainable. As the song lyric by James put it: “Now I’ve swung back down again, it’s worse than it was before, if I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor.

Whatever happens between now and May, the next two weeks will be pivotal to how we remember the 2021/22 season. The sequence starts with today’s match up with close rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers, then an FA Cup visit to in-form Southampton at fortress St Marys, followed by the perennially fruitless trip to title-chasing Liverpool, and rounded off by the Thrilla in Sevilla ©.

A variety of factors seem to have contributed to the West Ham slump. Individual loss of form, playing with injuries, fatigue, and opponents working us out are among the most obvious. Ultimately all come back to a ridiculously thin squad and a bench that the manager doesn’t really trust. There are just not the options for rest, freshening things up or trying something different.

I still believe that David Moyes has done a fantastic job considering the position he found us in. But just like Leeds are discovering, a change of plan is required when Plan A isn’t working. Thankfully, Moyes Plan A isn’t as bad as Bielsa’s.  

The issues with the squad should clearly have been addressed in January but weren’t. There are too many limitations to play anything other than a counter-attacking game, even if we have some fine individual players. Genuine width and pace down the flanks, the ability to go past an opponent, the basics of pass and move, a dead-ball specialist are all in short supply. Adjusting the 4-2-3-1 (which is increasingly overrun in midfield) to a 3-5-2 or 4-3-3 look equally problematic. Something needs to change but nothing obvious sticks out.

Will there be any adjustments to the side that failed to impress against Newcastle? Ben Johnson in for the injured Vladimir Coufal, I would think. Possibly one of Manuel Lanzini or Pablo Fornals dropping into a midfield three with Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek. Leaving a front three of Jarrod Bowen, Michail Antonio and Said Benrahma (or Nikola Vlasic). It might improve the balance in what is likely to be a tight and cagey affair.

Wolves are in a fine run of form despite their late setback in midweek at Arsenal. Back in November, Wolves ended West Ham’s four match winning streak when Jimenez scored the only goal in an otherwise uninspiring game. In many ways, the Mexican is the ideal hold-up player in a team that score few, but concede even fewer. Manager Bruno Lage now has further options upfront with the long-awaited return of the impressive Neto providing competition for Hwang and Podence.

Nothing suggests to me that it will be anything but an afternoon of hard labour for the Hammers. Little threat to the Wolves goal was on show at Molineux other than hopeful long-range pot shots. Will it be any different today? Antonio’s customary Row Z skier, Benrahma’s curling it past the post, and Bowen hitting the bar. There is always a set piece, I suppose, and an early goal can easily change the complexion of a match.

As much as I would like to see a perfect Craig Dawson hattrick, I think this game might ending goalless. COYI!   

West Ham United face Wolves with both teams believing that a place in the top four is achievable

Here we are, the final game in February and just 12 games to go in the Premier League this season for West Ham. In view of the (mainly Covid) interruptions to the season that happened a few weeks ago some of the other teams competing for a place in the top four have either 13 or 14 games left prior to this weekend’s fixtures. I may be wrong but I can’t recall many (if any) Premier League postponements due to Covid since the transfer window closed. Interesting. No doubt someone will tell me if I am under a misapprehension here. Am I the only one who would have liked to see players recruited in the winter window stopped from playing in games that are rescheduled following postponements? Perhaps it is just because I am a West Ham fan and we didn’t have any additions to our squad? The only game I can remember being called off involving us was against Norwich and that was postponed at the request of our opponents and was quickly rearranged and played.

We currently sit in sixth place, still in touch and challenging for a top four place, although our recent indifferent performances mean that it would take a strong set of results in the run-in to achieve this. In many ways it is still in our own hands as we have to face seven of the top ten teams in our remaining 12 fixtures. Those seven teams are starred in the league table below.

The current league table – top 10 (games played in brackets)

Man City 63 (26) *
Liverpool 60 (26) *
Chelsea 50 (25) *
Man Utd 46 (26)
Arsenal 45 (24) *
West Ham 42 (26)
Wolves 40 (25) *
Tottenham 39 (24) *
Southampton 35 (26)
Brighton 33 (25) *

The form table (last 5 games of the top 10 in the current league table)

Liverpool 15
Man Utd 11
Southampton 11
Man City 10
Arsenal 10
Wolves 9
Chelsea 8
West Ham 5
Brighton 5
Tottenham 3

In addition to facing the seven teams in the top ten as outlined above, we also face five games against teams in the bottom half, and they too can be tricky fixtures with clubs fighting to retain their position in the top flight. Those games are against Villa (13th), Brentford (14th), Everton (16th), Burnley (18th) and Norwich (20th).

The form table, where I have collated the points for the last 5 Premier League games played by the teams speaks for itself to some extent. A few minutes from the end of their midweek game against Arsenal our opponents this weekend looked as though they would be recording their fourth win in the last five games and relegating us to seventh in the league. The Arsenal equaliser (had the game finished at 1-1) would possibly have been the best result for us but it wasn’t to be, and the Gunners very late winner puts them in the driving seat at this stage for the fourth spot but (as they say) there is still a lot of football to be played.

Unlike ourselves Wolves had a poor start to the season losing their first three games and finding themselves in 18th place in the table. But four wins in their next five league games turned it round, and by the time they beat us 1-0 in Matchweek 12 they had climbed to sixth place in the table, and they have remained comfortably in the top half ever since.

They have a mean defence and the 20 goals conceded in their 25 league games is bettered only (slightly) by Manchester City and Chelsea. But only Burnley and Norwich have scored fewer than Wolves (less than one goal a game) have scored – 24. Sa has been a revelation in goal and one of the mainstays of my Fantasy Football team.

I am hoping that the week’s rest (as opposed to Wolves game in the week against Arsenal) will work in our favour. I think that maybe we need a different approach, a change in personnel and formation perhaps, to try to recapture some of our early season form. No doubt the manager and his staff have been working on this, and I won’t try to guess what they have come up with. There is certainly plenty of conjecture on social media amongst our fans as to what this might entail. Or perhaps it will be more of the same, hoping that out of form players will regain their early season form.

Wolves games this season have been low scoring affairs and I doubt that this will be any different. It’s not a must win, but certainly a do not lose, if we are to stay in the hunt. I am hoping (as always) for a win but a draw is not out of the question. 0-0 or 1-1 perhaps? No, I reckon we’ll sneak a narrow win, 1-0 or 2-1.

But where will we finish come the end of the season? Top 3 is out of the question. 4th or 5th is possible although the odds are stacked against it at the moment. It could be 6th, 7th, 8th or possibly even lower. Surely not. I’ll go for 6th – the same as last season. I’ve noted the Europa draw. Sevilla could potentially be the best team in the competition. 2nd in the Spanish league, chasing Real Madrid at the top, and only two league defeats all season. We’ll certainly need to be at our best for that tie.

West Ham United face wealthy Newcastle United – the Hammers hoping to reverse recent form in this fixture

You don’t have to be too old to remember the days towards the end of the twentieth century when Manchester City were in the third tier of English football around 25 years ago. They climbed back into the top tier by early in this century but they weren’t exactly pulling up trees with mid-table finishes for four seasons from the time they moved into their new stadium in 2003.  

However in August 2008, the club was purchased by the Abu Dhabi United Group. The takeover was immediately followed by many bids for high-profile players. There wasn’t a massive improvement in performance compared to the previous season despite the influx of money however, with the team finishing tenth, although they did reach the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup. During the summer of 2009, the club took transfer spending to an unprecedented level, with an outlay of over £100 million on players. Mark Hughes was replaced as manager by Roberto Mancini and City finished the season in fifth position in the Premier League, narrowly missing out on a place in the Champions League, and competed in the UEFA Europa League in season 2010–11.

Continued investment in players followed in successive seasons, and results began to match the improvement in player quality. City reached the 2011 FA Cup Final, their first major final in over 30 years, where they beat Stoke City 1–0, the club’s first major trophy since winning the 1976 League Cup. In the same week, the club qualified for the UEFA Champions League for the first time. Strong performances continued to follow in the 2011–12 season with the club scoring two goals in injury time to complete a last-minute title victory to deny their city rivals, City’s first in 44 years.

And just look where City are now. After that title success they have since been Premier League champions four times, and runners-up on three occasions. A further win in the FA Cup, six League Cup titles, and runners-up in the Champions League last season. They are strong favourites to win the Champions League this time around, and their 5-0 win over the Portuguese champions away from home this week put them virtually into the last eight.

In October 2021, Newcastle United, precariously placed near the foot of the Premier League, was bought by a group led by the Saudi Arabian government’s sovereign wealth fund. It is widely reported that the purchase made Newcastle the richest club in the world. So are Newcastle about to become the new Manchester City in the next decade or so?

Spending in the winter transfer window has been the spark that has lifted them out of the relegation zone. They are now four points clear of Norwich (who are 18th) as a result of 11 points from their last (unbeaten) five games, a record bettered in the top flight by only Manchester City (13), Liverpool (13) and Wolves (12). That’s impressive considering their opening 18 games this season yielded only 10 points. In comparison we have 7 points from our last 5 games.

They visit the London Stadium with an impressive record here too, where they have won 75% of their visits in the Premier League, and are aiming for their third consecutive away win at our ground. In fact Newcastle’s most wins in away games in the Premier League have come against us with 10, which is more than they have achieved against any other club.

Our season has been going in the opposite direction although we are still clinging on to fifth place with just 13 games to go (7 at home and 6 away). Arsenal, Wolves and Tottenham in 6th, 7th and 8th can all go past us with success in their games in hand so it is imperative that we start to pick up more wins to retain any chance of emulating last season’s sixth place finish or even better it.

We won 7 of the first 11 league games this season but have picked up the three points for a win in only 5 of the last 14. We have at least scored a goal in every one of the 12 league games we have played at the London Stadium this season, a feat we haven’t achieved before. And Newcastle on the other hand haven’t scored more than one goal in any of their away league games this season. So if this statistic were maintained we won’t lose!

We have scored 44 league goals so far giving us a ranking of 4th, but the 33 goals conceded puts us at 10th in that category – even bottom of the table Burnley have conceded fewer than we have, but on the other hand they are 19th when it comes to goals scored. The return of Zouma should help our defensive record, although Diop, so out of touch in some recent games, had perhaps his best performance of the season at Leicester, and both he and Dawson had sound performances. It would be harsh to leave either of them out. It was in the full back department (on both sides) where our weakness was found out in that game.

In Jarrod Bowen we have a player in superb form in both scoring and creating goals, but so many others appear to be out of form, or at least not at their best in recent games. Declan Rice has been his usual consistent impressive self but these two can’t win games on their own (as hard as they try!) and some of the others must step up to the plate.

David Moyes needs to turn the tide in home games against Newcastle where he has lost the last three. I think he will. It’s about time that Newcastle’s impressive recent run came to an end, and wearing my optimistic hat I forecast a 3-1 win that will lift us back into the top four. Hopefully we can stay there if Manchester United fail to win at Leeds on Sunday. It’s games like this one where three points will go a long way in us maintaining our challenge at the top. What are the chances?

Bring Back That Winning Feeling: Can Moyes Liven Up Listless Hammers For Geordie Challenge

A crucial period for West Ham’s season begins with the visit of rejuvenated Newcastle United to the London Stadium. Can they see off the big spending Magpies?

A large part of winning football matches is the belief that you are going to win when you step out onto the pitch. As West Ham prepare for Saturday’s early kick-off against Newcastle, the sense is that the Hammers have lost that winning feeling, just as the Magpie’s have suddenly found it.

Last week’s draw at Leicester was a perfect example of the current apprehension at the club. In itself, a point at Leicester is no disgrace, but after taking an early lead against a side seemingly bereft of any attacking ideas, the reluctance or inability to press home the advantage was a disappointment and would ultimately cost a couple of points.

Quite what Aaron Cresswell was thinking in conceding that blatant penalty just before the break is a mystery, but it proved the ideal half team talk for the host’s manager. It came as no surprise at all when Leicester bagged their second to edge in front. Barnes had been giving Vladimir Coufal a torrid time in the second period and, not for the first time in recent weeks, Cresswell lost his man as Pereira ran in to score. Thankfully, we managed to show some character in the closing moments as Craig Dawson shouldered home a late corner.

The next two home games against Newcastle and Wolves, followed by a tricky FA Cup trip to Southampton, will now set the tone for the remainder of the season. The threadbare squad has to rediscover its spark if they are to make anything of it. Otherwise the season might fizzle out with Europe the only lifeline.

At least, we were able to watch from the sidelines as the Europa League Knockout Round got underway. There were good wins for Rangers, Sherrif and Sevilla in the first legs but the other ties remain on a knife edge. Some way to go before West Ham know their Round of 16 opponents. The Spanish sides by far the greatest threat.

A run of three successive league wins has pulled the visitors clear of the relegation places, which increasingly look to be a foregone conclusion. The cash rich Geordies were able to throw money at the problem without the usual concerns that buying a few duds, or spending on short term fixes, will hamstring them in future windows. A stark contrast to West Ham, at the other extreme, who preferred to risk a huge opportunity rather than invest on much needed reinforcements because they might be less than perfect.

No doubt, we will see Newcastle competing for honours at some point in the future, but with a whole new squad of players and after two or three managerial changes.

As things stand, David Moyes may have the fewest realistic options for team selection than any other manager in the Premier League. Reportedly, Kurt Zouma is available again after his mystery illness to is tipped to replace Issa Diop, who to be fair, put in a very good performance at the King Power.

Personally, I would prefer to see Ben Johnson replace Coufal and have no idea why Ryan Fredericks is seen as the first choice replacement at right back. Fredericks sole attribute is his pace, yet is so reluctant to use it. With a team shape that relies on the full-backs for width, none of them get forward frequently enough or far enough to be consistently effective.

Other than that, it is down to the weekly permutation of any 2 from 4 to play alongside Jarrod Bowen in attacking midfield. The Hammers did look a livelier once Said Benrahma and Nikola Vlasic replaced Manuel Lanzini and Pablo Fornals at Leicester, but all four have both positives and clear shortcomings. Benrahma potentially offers the greater creativity and goal threat but his decision making remains woefully erratic.

By default, the out of sorts Michail Antonio must continue up front. My preferred team would be: Fabianski, Johnson, Zouma, Dawson, Cresswell, Rice, Soucek, Bowen, Fornals, Benrahma, Antonio.

West Ham are becoming increasingly dependent of Declan Rice and Bowen, the only two candidates for Hammer of the Year. Despite their brilliance, we should not ignore how their changing roles have impacted other areas of the Moyes machine. Rice’s greater freedom showing up Tomas Soucek’s limitations once you take away his goals, despite the good defensive work he continues to offer. Bowen has been given/ taken up more central and forward positions in the most recent games. This is understandable from an attacking perspective but has reduced defensive cover on right hand side, exposing Coufal’s lack of pace to a wider audience. A couple of tweaks from the coaching side may well be necessary.

West Ham versus Newcastle games have a history of plenty of goals. Saturday’s game is likely to be no exception. In a fit of desperate optimism I take the Hammers to match their opening day success and run out 4-2 winners. COYI!

A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action, Please. Can West Ham Grab The Points At Leicester?

Stuttering West Ham are still in with a shout of top four but must up their performances on the pitch if it is to be sustained

At this stage last season, West Ham were two points better off than they are now – 42 points against 40. back then, we were in the early stages of the Lingard bounce that briefly raised hopes of a top four finish, that were ultimately undone by the injury to Declan Rice. The Hammers eventually ending the season in sixth place with 65 points.  

By comparison, today’s opponents, Leicester City, were on 46 points from the same number of games (ending with 66 points) while Liverpool, who eventually finished 3rd (69 points), sat on 40 points – the same as West Ham have now. It would need a Liverpool like surge to bring Champions League football to the London Stadium – averaging at two points per game until the end of the season. With no new faces to freshen up the squad it looks a huge challenge for a side where results are currently exceeding performances.

The midweek games did, however, offer a glimmer of hope. None of the chasing pack are pulling up any trees. All are beset with inconsistency. With Manchester United also dropping points yesterday, there is still hope for the Hammers if a new head of steam can be found. As things stand, Arteta’s unpleasant Arsenal side look the most likely, but hopefully their poor discipline will let them down.

West Ham’s win over Watford was uninspiring fare. The continuing problem of few ideas when faced with a deep and disciplined defence was all too apparent. And having no game changers on a depressingly tired looking bench never fails to depress.

The winning goal had an element of luck about it, but it was telling that it came when Jarrod Bowen drifted in to a more central area. If only he could play in more than one position at the same time we would be laughing. Unfortunately, none of Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals, Said Benrahma or Nikola Vlasic truly cuts it in the creative Number 10 position. Lanzini probably the pick of the bunch.

Of course, action on the pitch was overshadowed by the continued fallout from the Kurt Zouma affair. It was a disgraceful act from Zouma (and his brother) but some of the reaction from the pundit community has been hysterical. An escalation of outrage (and hypocrisy) as to who can come up with the most draconian career ending punishment – and generate the most clicks in the process. The media will find someone else to kick soon enough. Zouma deserves to be penalised, but it must be proportionate.

Leicester’s season has been underwhelming by recent standards. Currently in the bottom half of the table, out of Europe and soundly thrashed in the FA Cup by Nottingham Forest last weekend. Although manager, Brendan Rodgers, comes across as a bit of plonker sometimes – I blame him for the excruciating phrase “in the conversation” – he is a good manager. It is ludicrous that he should be under pressure.

David Moyes cites Leicester as a model for clubs looking to break into the top six on a regular basis. But Leicester’s experience also demonstrates how difficult that is without massive financial resources. When you regularly sell top players, even if it is at a handsome profit, it relies heavily on the replacements paying off more often than not. It is very much a lottery.

Rodgers has been unlucky with injuries. The promising Fofana has been a huge miss in an otherwise shaky defence. He is also witnessing the twilight of Jamie Vardy’s career, a player who has so often been the match winner for the Foxes over the years. As we all know, strikers like that are difficult to replace.

Like West Ham, Leicester have also found it difficult in games where they are forced to take the initiative rather than relying on counter attacks. Potentially, Madison has the ability to unpick defences but he seems to have lost his way of late.

Once again, we have to say the West Ham team largely picks itself. Not due to the brilliance of performance, but down to the lack of realistic options. My predicted line-up: Fabianski, Coufal, Zouma, Dawson, Cresswell, Rice, Soucek, Bowen, Lanzini, Benrahma, Antonio. We must hope that Michail Antonio has recovered from his Caribbean jet-lag and is ready to do his bit for the cause. It will be interesting to see whether Andriy Yarmolenko makes it to the squad after his demotion to the U23’s, and subsequent red card, in the week. Please can we have a little more imagination with the bench?

West Ham have a good recent record against Leicester, having won the last three meetings. The Foxes style suits the Hammers counter-attacking game. I am expecting a close game which the Hammers need to win to stay in the conversation for fourth place. Leicester 1 West Ham 2. COYI!

West Ham United – That Was The Week That Was

What a week this has been for West Ham, and not really for the right reasons. Last weekend we faced Kidderminster at the Aggborough Stadium in the FA Cup Fourth Round – a game that should have been relatively comfortable given the fact that we are one of the top sides in the Premier League, and they are one of the top sides in the Vanarama National League North which is effectively the sixth tier in England.

But in typical West Ham fashion in the FA Cup where there have been far too many occasions when we have been eliminated from the competition by teams from a lower division we contrived to make hard work of progression to Round Five coming within a couple of minutes from going out, and then within seconds of facing a penalty shootout at the end of extra time. That is exactly why we were prime candidates for a TV slot and didn’t the pundits enjoy watching us squirm? Their disappointment at our equaliser was so noticeable. How they would have loved the upset to have actually happened.

The fact that it didn’t was almost entirely down to one player. Declan Rice. If ever there was a one man performance in a game of football then he provided it in this one, both inspiring the team forward in the second half, and then scoring the last gasp equaliser himself. Where would we be without him? The fringe players that had performed so admirably in the European games and in the League Cup just didn’t perform in this game. And quite how Yarmolenko was still on the pitch after we had made five substitutions is beyond me!

But somehow we scraped through and face an away tie at Southampton in Round Five in one of only two ties that will be contested by two teams from the top tier. Most of the Premier League teams face a game against a team from a lower division and Liverpool are at home to Norwich so we definitely have one of the tougher tasks to progress to the Quarter-Finals. I suppose it could have been worse; we could have faced an away trip to Boreham Wood!

The dust had barely settled on our fortunate cup victory and before our Tuesday night game at home to lowly Watford when we were not only headlines on the back pages but on the front pages too. Kurt Zouma hit the headlines by mistreatment of one of his cats. Three things totally baffled me about this. Firstly, the fact that anyone could treat an animal in such a horrible way, secondly that his brother decided to video it happening, and then perhaps even more incredibly decided to post it on social media!

I was surprised that David Moyes selected him for the Watford game but he did, and as a result our centre back was jeered throughout the game, not only by the away fans but by many of the home supporters too. It was another poor game but we picked up the three points thanks to Jarrod Bowen’s deflected strike to move us back into the top four. The teams below can overhaul us with success in their games in hand but we have the points in the bag and march on despite not playing well – the sign of a good team as Joe Cole said.

One of the things that struck me about the week’s events was reading the varied opinions of West Ham fans who write on social media. Regarding the Kidderminster game I read calls for Moyes to be sacked, much criticism of the players and the performance, and others who hated the fact that some fans were critical and suggested that they weren’t true fans if they dared to criticise in any way. Fans were turning on each other, sometimes in an abusive manner using obscene language. Why can’t people accept that there are varying opinions and everyone is entitled to air theirs without resorting to some of the abuse that I read?

The same is true of “Zoumagate”. There are varying opinions as to how this should move forward from leaving it as it stands regarding the £250,000 fine that has been donated to animal charities, to sacking him. There are fans who, whilst not condoning Zouma’s actions, just want to move on and others who claim they will no longer watch the team while Zouma remains at the club.

I noted that we have lost a couple of club sponsors as a result of this, one of which is Experience Kissimmee. I also read Martin Samuel’s column in the Daily Mail where he wrote that they (Experience Kissimmee) continue to promote tickets for Sea World on their website, despite what would appear to be some allegedly awful treatment of animals by them (Sea World). But they are making a big deal of the Zouma cat affair. I guess that is their prerogative. I also assume that there could be further sponsor ramifications going forward depending on how it moves forward and is handled from here?

Most of us are horrified by the whole thing, but should someone’s career be ended by it? That is totally different I think, although some believe that all misdeeds, transgressions, misdemeanours, or crimes (call it as you see it) should result in the sack. We haven’t heard the last of this and however it resolves in the coming weeks, Kurt Zouma will forever be remembered and tainted by his actions, as will his brother for his amazing decision to broadcast it to the world.

Another headline to come out of all this is the reporting of an alleged mutiny by the West Ham players, who despite providing some support to Zouma believing that the public backlash is over the top, were seemingly unaware of his £125,000 per week wages. Apparently they are dissatisfied that he is the top earner at the club (just exceeding Yarmolenko), and they are ready to confront the club over this. I find the reporting of an upcoming mutiny hard to believe but the media seem to enjoy kicking players or clubs who are down, and this would appear to be another example?

So that was the week that was. For anyone of my age or older you might remember a late-night Saturday TV programme – That Was The Week That Was. The programme was a significant element of the satire boom in the UK in the early 1960s (it ran for a couple of years, 1962/3), breaking ground in comedy by lampooning political figures. Millicent Martin sang the theme which went “That Was The Week That Was, It’s Over Let It Go”.

But I suspect we haven’t heard the last of this week’s headlines, and that there are people who will not let it go. Quite how it affects our season moving forward remains to be seen. And by the way, as an interruption to all this we are playing football at Leicester on Sunday in the TV game that kicks off at 4.30.

After A Fortunate FA Cup Win West Ham Will Need More Than Rice and Luck To See Off The Hornets

It’s back to league action after a disappointing transfer window and then scraping past Kidderminster in the FA Cup. Time for the players to show they are more than a one-man band

I’m still not sure what to make of that performance against Kidderminster Harriers. How could a non-League side pass better, be more confident on the ball and have more ideas than a highly paid team from the Premier League’s top six? Was it just a case of poor attitude on the day against very committed opponents? Or are the Hammers reverting to type? If David Moyes had ordered a slice of luck before the game, he got a far larger portion than was deserved.

The first half was possibly the worst 45 minutes from West Ham for several years. I don’t recall any meaningful chances being created. It was a collective failure by all the players to impose themselves and their supposed superiority on the game. The performance of fringe players was a clear reminder of just how thin the squad is. Mark Noble was pedestrian and played far too deep; Nikola Vlasic was so anonymous it was easy to forget he was on the pitch; Andriy Yarmolenko was lethargic and disinterested throughout the whole two hours; Alex Kral was obsessed with playing first time passes without ever looking up; Issa Diop looked terrified of the opposition Number 9, while he and Ryan Fredericks looked like rabbits startled by the headlights each time the ball came to their feet. Neither did Alphone Areola do himself any favours in his quest to claim the Number 1 spot.

Incredible to think that the likes of Yarmolenko (106 caps), Vlasic (33) and Kral (29) are seasoned international players. This was the type of game they (as well as Said Benrahma) should be taking by the scruff of the neck and demonstrating their class. And whose daft idea was the short corner routine?

It was only the introduction of Declan Rice that eventually raised the tempo above comatose. What a poor side we look without him. Not a reassuring glimpse of a post Decxit future. We can’t always expect him to do all it by himself, even if he will try to. What a player! Surely, one of the best ever and an automatic choice in everyone’s all-time West Ham XI.

It was a heart-breaking way for Kidderminster to lose. They didn’t deserve to lose at all, and the timing of the goals must have been particularly distressing. Still the Hammers live to fight another round, although I am not confident on the chances of overcoming our next opponents. Maybe every cup run deserves a stroke of luck somewhere along the way. We may already have used ours up.

It’s back to league action tonight with Watford the visitors to the London Stadium. A quick re-match to follow on from the Hammers 4-1 win at Vicarage Road five weeks ago. Five weeks is a long time at Watford Football Club though and in that time they have swapped one ageing manager for another – Roy Hodgson replacing Claudio Ranieri. They have a very different concept of Manager of the Month in the Hornet’s boardroom.

Hodgson seems an odd choice to me. No doubt his team will be better organised and more difficult to beat than the shambles put out by Ranieri, but that may not be enough. The relegation race still looks like a four-horse race to me – Burnley, Newcastle, Watford, and Norwich – and the one that gets away will be the one able to score enough goals to win games. Difficult to imagine Hodgson’s Watford doing that.

As amusing as it would be, I can’t see Lampard Jr’s side getting dragged into the equation. Having crunched the numbers through the algorithm with my AI Predictor Pin TM I suspect it will be big spending Newcastle who will survive the drop.

Watford survived a drab goalless draw with fellow strugglers Burnley at the weekend and I doubt they will turn up tonight with entertainment on their minds. They are able to welcome Dennis back from suspension but are again without Sarr who has yet to return from AFCON.

Just as we were about to celebrate Kurt Zouma’s recovery from his worrying injury at the weekend, the dreadful story broke of his cat kicking exploits. Why anyone would do that is impossible to understand. Why they would also want it to be filmed for posterity is staggering. Zouma has made what passes for an apology these days – sorry I was caught out or sorry you were upset – but I would be surprised if he is included in today’s squad. His absence would have a huge impact, but the club need to make a stand for decency, even if it means playing Diop again.

Moyes will know he doesn’t have many options in team selection. His decision making will be limited to Coufal or Johnson at right back and which two of Benrahma, Pablo Fornals, and Manuel Lanzini joins Jarrod Bowen in the attacking midfield three. All that supposes Michail Antonio is fit and ready to resume the striker role. Bowen is not a viable alternative and his use there just weakens the team in two positions.

Predicted team: Fabianski, Coufal, Dawson, Diop, Cresswell, Rice, Soucek, Bowen, Fornals, Benrahma, Antonio

West Ham need to quickly get back to winning ways in the league if they are to build on an excellent first half of the season. A home fixture against Watford would have seemed straightforward some weeks ago. But to win they will need to break down what will be a determined and committed Watford rear-guard action. Unfortunately, there is scant recent evidence the Hammers are capable of this. Apart from the skipper, creativity and ideas are in very short supply.  Could a set piece once again be our best opportunity? Not if they persist with short corners, it won’t!

It’s a half-hearted uncertain prediction, this time around, but I will go West Ham to win 2-0. COYI!    

The lowest ranked club, Kidderminster Harriers, face one of the highest ranked teams, West Ham in a televised Round Four FA Cup tie

In my article previewing the FA Cup Third Round tie against Leeds last month I wrote a brief history of West Ham in the FA Cup covering the last 60 years. It didn’t make for particularly good reading apart from the three occasions when we lifted the trophy or reached the final and the odd season when we went some distance before falling to a top-flight opponent. There have been far too many occasions when we have been eliminated from the competition by teams from a lower division or even by sides from our own division who were performing poorly in the league and about to be relegated that season. And that is exactly why we were prime candidates for a TV slot this weekend.

We breezed past Leeds into the fourth round relatively comfortably but were unable to repeat the feat in the Premier League game at the London Stadium seven days later. The draw for Round Four has paired us with the lowest ranked club still left in the competition, Kidderminster Harriers, and a trip to the West Midlands where the average crowd of under 2000 will be increased four-fold for a visit from a team challenging at the top of the Premier League.

Our opponents are currently in the sixth tier of the English football pyramid and play at the Aggborough Stadium in the (Vanarama) National League North. They are currently enjoying an excellent season and sit in third place in their table just four points off the top and well placed to challenge for promotion into the (Vanarama) National League, which is the level immediately below the Football League. They attracted over 5000 spectators to their third round tie where they disposed of Championship side Reading.

They haven’t always been a non-league side; they won the Conference (as the National League was called previously) in 1999/2000 with Jan Molby (remember him from Liverpool?) as their manager and were promoted into the Football League where they remained for five seasons. Their highest finishing position was tenth in 2001/02, but they were relegated from the League three seasons later and have never returned, falling still further in the pyramid following relegation in 2015/16. They have reached the play-offs twice since then but didn’t manage to achieve promotion either time.

If you are old enough you’ll remember that we have faced them before in the FA Cup when they had their best ever run in the competition. It was Round Five in 1993/4 when we travelled to Worcestershire and came away with a 1-0 win. We then went out to (lower league side) Luton after a replay in the Quarter Final!

Kidderminster were a formidable non-league side at the time and were crowned the Conference champions that season. However they were denied a place in the Football League due to the Aggborough Stadium facilities being deemed not up to the standard required. After being champions again six years later they did successfully go up.

In that Round Five tie 28 years ago we scraped through thanks to a Lee Chapman header around 20 minutes from the end of the game. The West Ham line-up that day was Miklosko; Breacker, Potts, Martin, Rowland; (Martin) Allen, Bishop, Holmes, Marsh; Chapman, (Clive) Allen (sub Morley). After a poor start to that season our fortunes improved after Julian Dicks joined Liverpool in September in a swap deal that involved full back David Burrows and midfielder Mike Marsh coming to West Ham. To add more forward power Lee Chapman was bought from Portsmouth. It was a very different Premier League at the time with Blackburn, Newcastle, Leeds, Wimbledon, Sheffield Wednesday, QPR, Coventry and Norwich all finishing higher in the table than our 13th, with Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City all below us.

Of course none of our new recruits from this transfer window will be appearing because we didn’t sign anybody! My colleague Geoff covered our failure to improve the squad very clearly in his recent article. The FA Cup competition is almost certainly our best chance of winning a trophy this season so I hope that the manager puts out a strong side and takes it more than seriously. A lot of negative things have been written about West Ham in this transfer window and failure to beat Kidderminster will increase the levels of disappointment amongst the fans for a season that was going so well. But I’m sure we’ll be fine. We are not the West Ham of old and I’m confident that we’ll overcome our National League opponents comfortably and our ball will be in the cloth bag when the draw is made for Round Five.     

From Botched Transfer Slip Ups To Tricky FA Cup Banana Skin: West Ham Visit Kidderminster Harriers

With the fan furore following a disastrous transfer window fresh in the memory, West Ham will want to avoid further mishap as they visit non-league Kidderminster in the FA Cup

The extraordinary failure by West Ham to complete any business in the January transfer window has continued to reverberate among Hammers supporters since Monday’s deadline. Even allowing for years of bitter disappointment and the slippery nature of our owners, many of us were left incredulous that no much needed reinforcements to the threadbare London Stadium squad would be arriving.

Without any official explanation of what happened during those 31 days of January it was left to guesswork and supposition to fill the information vacuum. A litany of claims, theories, and hard-luck stories about time running out. I was very disappointed in David Moyes puff PR video on the official site where the manager trotted out the perennial ‘we tried our best, it’s a difficult window, everybody worked very hard’ mantra. I have always considered Moyes to be a decent, straightforward and honest chap who is above such corporate whitewash. While I hadn’t expected him to rage against the owners (as a Mourinho or Conte might have done) – he is far too diplomatic for that – he shouldn’t be the one making excuses on their behalf. His praise for the support received from the Board felt way over the top.

Moyes Declares Peace In Our Time Following Meeting With Herr Sullivan

The three probable record bids that are being talked about are likely nothing more than a smokescreen. If bids are made too late, are just enquiries, or set well below valuations, they may as well have never happened. I have read ‘reports’ that there was a real bid submitted for Darwin Nunez but too many people were involved to get it completed in time. Really? With the player away in Uruguay and all the agents who are known to be party to any deal, it came as a surprise that it couldn’t be completed in three hours?

I can accept that the nature of the January window means that most deals are completed in the final hours. But that’s not an excuse not to get the groundwork and preparation sorted well in advance.

The worry at the back of my mind is how the ownership conundrum may be impacting the club’s transfer activity. It is widely anticipated that Gold & Sullivan will wave farewell in 2023 once their obligations under the London Stadium deal come to an end. Indeed, it was reported that Daniel Kretinsky already has an agreement in place to buy the remainder of shares at an agreed price once that happens. Does that mean G&S are only going to be interested in essential maintenance between now and then? Is there any incentive for them to invest further or push forward? Although the Kretinsky deal may only be an option, it does cause concern at a time when the club is enjoying its best period on the pitch for several generations.

West Ham return to football action this weekend with a Saturday lunchtime FA Cup kick-off at Kidderminster Harrier’s Aggborough Stadium. On paper, one of the easier ties of the Fourth Round that pits the Hammers against the lowest ranked side left in the competition. In practice it will a difficult test for a club that is no stranger to embarrassing cup upsets.

Kidderminster are enjoying a successful season in the National League North (the sixth tier of English football) where they currently sit in third place. Tomorrow’s tie will be their seventh in this years Cup having already seen off Sporting Khalsa, Ware, Bedfont Sports, Grimsby Town, FC Halifax Town and Reading.

In the 3rd Round the Harriers came from behind to defeat Championship side Reading with an unusual winning goal where a Kidderminster player was sitting on top of the Reading keeper when the ball went in. An old fashioned goalmouth scramble with no VAR available to get Reading out of jail. VAR will again be absent today in a match which must end in a winner, with extra time and penalties if needed.

The only previous meeting between West Ham and Kidderminster was a 5th Round FA Cup tie in February 1994. The match played at a misty, muddy incarnation of Saturday’s venue. The Hammers squeezed through 1-0 thanks to a second half headed goal by Lee Chapman. The line-up that day was: Miklosko, Breacker, Potts, Martin, Rowland, Bishop, M Allen, Marsh, Holmes, Chapman, C Allen (Morley). Imagine having the luxury of three strikers in a Matchday squad of twelve!

Moyes will want to field a strong side for the game. One that will be up for the physical challenge against a highly motivated opponent. However, with Premier League games against Watford on Tuesday and Leicester the following Sunday, some rotation may be necessary.

Michail Antonio is a likely absentee after his international duty in the Americas with Jarrod Bowen taking over striker duties. It was unusual comment from Moyes to suggest that Bowen is the ideal replacement for Antonio as they are very different types of player. The only similarity is that neither is a natural finisher. And Bowen switching to the centre leaves an almighty gap on the right hand side of attacking midfield.

Moyes does have options in midfield where Mark Noble and even Alex Kral (is he considered good enough for this challenge) could allow Declan Rice or Tomas Soucek to be held in reserve. I’m hoping there is a recall for Ben Johnson in defence as it was a mystery why Ryan Fredericks was preferred to him at Old Trafford. I am also hoping that Kurt Zouma plays given that I have lost all confidence in the Craig Dawson/ Issa Diop partnership.

My predicted line-up: Areola, Johnson, Zouma, Dawson, Cresswell, Noble, Rice, Vlasic, Fornals, Benrahma, Bowen     

Despite West Ham’s vulnerability to shock FA Cup exist, they have yet to be eliminated by a non-League side. At least not since they were elected to the League themselves. There have, though, been several squeaky moments. Such as needing two games (both at Upton Park) to get past Farnborough Town in 1992 and the narrowest of victories against Emley in 1998. It is a record that should be extended this weekend. I’m not expecting an easy game but have to believe we have too much quality not to win by at least two goals. Perhaps there might even be an opportunity to see a couple of academy players from the bench rather than the usual tired, predictable substitutions we are usually treated to. COYI!

West Ham’s Transfer Window Of Shame And Betrayal

It was the perfect time to back up performances on the pitch with further investment in the squad. True to form the owners have failed to deliver yet again.

Well, I wasn’t expecting that. I was fully prepared to be underwhelmed by West Ham’s eventual January window signings. But it never occurred to me that there would be no incomings at all. Why would a club with one of the thinnest squads in the Premier League – with a reasonable chance of Champions League qualification (on two fronts) and a shot at an FA Cup run – decide not to improve its playing strength?

Media reports have suggested that West Ham fans will be frustrated and scratching their heads at the lack of activity. I would say it is far worse than that given the potential implications. Most are furious that a glorious opportunity to push on from a position of strength has been negligently squandered. A statement of intent was what we wanted but once again it never came. So, who is to blame?

As I said in a previous article, my assumption is that the part played by David Moyes and Rob Newman in the recruitment process is to come up with a list of potential targets that would complement and improve the current squad. It would be based on their assessment of key priorities, the type of player required and (I would imagine) would some take account of affordability. Ideally, they would also be taking both a short and a medium-term view, but for the January window it would focus primarily on immediate needs. Players able to make a telling contribution during what is left of the season. If for some reason they weren’t unable to identify any targets, then they should be rightly criticised. But that seems to be a highly unlikely scenario.

Some supporters suggest Moyes is complicit in the club’s transfer shortcomings because he is too much of a ‘Yes’ man. That seems a rather unfair observation to me. His character is the type to want a good working relationship with the owners, rather than ranting and raving about them in public, but what else can he do? His only other option would be to resign. Would you do that?

I don’t know the precise responsibilities in Newman’s job description, but I am confident that it doesn’t involve negotiating transfer fees and contracts. None of us can know what input he had made or whether he has earned his salary until signings have been made. Negotiation of those deals are handled by the Board and through their representatives (agents). In West Ham’s case it is under the direct supervision of David Sullivan, facilitated by the various agents he works with.

In hindsight, a rat should have been smelled on what we were up to immediately the spurious, unrealistic bids for unavailable players started to hit the headlines. What club is going to sell their best players in the final days of the window when there is little or no chance of finding replacements anyway. It was a typical Sullivan tactic. The grand gesture designed to give the impression of ambition but, lacking any foundation or expectation of success. Does he think we are stupid and have forgotten all the previous distractions? Or does he simply hold supporters in contempt? Any softening of attitudes towards Gold and Sullivan that had taken place due to improvements on the pitch will have hardened back to rock solid animosity once again. I wonder what Kretinsky makes of it all, or what role he played in the process?

I was left wondering whether there was ever any intention of making new signings right from the start. What groundwork had been made during the first thirty days to get deals over the line. Which players did we actually miss out on? You don’t just pick players names out of a hat on the final day.

As I have also written before, deals are complex affairs and include agreements of transfer fees, payment terms, player’s contracts, image rights, agent fees and so on. It is the easiest thing in the world to engineer a snag or sticking point if you don’t want to make it happen. There must be 50 ways to leave a transfer – Just bid a low fee, Lee; Or ask for loan, Joan.

Sullivan’s fixation with loan to buy agreements will likely scupper many deals. It stems from previous signings who have failed to settle into English football at great cost to the club. A try before you buy might be attractive for the buyer but offers little value to the selling club. No wonder they are so frequently rejected. Continuing to insist on these deals in the future will only lead to further pain. Even if they did get their fingers burned by backing Pellegrini’s poor recruitment in the past, they shouldn’t be placing that mistrust onto the shoulders of Moyes and Newman in the future.

Several West Ham websites with close links to the owners had started dropping hints about Dithering Dave (Moyes) in the final few days of the window. A classic attempt to distract from the Board failings in my view. Did Moyes turn down suggestions for the odd Sullivan special picks that have featured prominently in past transfer windows?  Should Moyes have lowered his standards for the purpose of expediency? Would an erratic backup striker (such as Origi or Benteke) have been better than no backup at all? It is all very unsatisfactory!

The transfer furore will slowly die down as the games start up again. The extent to which that is allowed to happen will depend on events on the pitch. The same key players will now be expected to see out the rest of the season with precious little chance of a rest. And that is without injuries and suspensions in a squad that is severely exposed at key positions including centre back, left back and striker. A squad where the game changing options from the bench are Yarmolenko and Masuaku.  Where we could have been flying high, it now feels like a season of great promise that will simply fade and die.

The transfer window was an opportunity sadly and inexplicably lost. It sends out a terrible message to those players in the squad with ambition who might have believed something special could be built at West Ham. Finishing top four or winning the Europa League might have convinced those admired by the bigger clubs to stick around for a little bit longer. Such dreams have suddenly become far less attainable.