West Ham – It’s a sad, sad, situation, and it’s getting more and more absurd

A little less conversation, a little more action please

Have you read Geoff’s article published yesterday? If you missed it look it up now. It tells you everything you need to know about West Ham’s current plight. The insipid display at Tottenham, the board dithering over a dithering manager who has presided over a team in freefall for more than a year now, unadventurous and inadequate tactics, lack of entertainment, a relegation dogfight that really shouldn’t be a situation for one of the world’s richest clubs, and a cautionary approach taken to another level last week.

Even our captain, Declan Rice took a veiled swipe at the tactics employed by our manager in the wake of last Sunday’s debacle. He was spot on when he was quoted as saying: “When you play with five at the back and the three like we set up today, maybe our strikers felt a bit isolated when we got the ball up to them – they didn’t really have enough around them, not enough support.”

He was only saying what a vast number of West Ham fans have been for some time now; the approach to games is wrong, and the fact that he sticks to a rigid formation when we don’t really have the right sort of players to make the most of lining up that way (for example wingbacks that are really just defenders and don’t really pose much of an attacking threat). It is no coincidence that we are seventh in the Premier League when it comes to defence and not conceding too many goals, but sixteenth when looking at goals scored (just 19 in our 23 games this season, a woeful figure).

If we are going to get out of the desperate situation we are in then we need to score more goals and win more matches. We need a more attacking formation, and not an isolated front man. Antonio was reasonably successful at this a year or so ago, but he has lost form, and he barely scores these days. The manager has even used others (Haller, Scamacca) in a similar role even though it is clear to most of us that they are not suited to playing in this way, their strengths lie elsewhere, but David Moyes (in his obstinacy?) fails to recognise this.

In previous articles I have been analysing the position and current form of the bottom teams. I will continue to concentrate on the bottom nine as Palace in twelfth place are only six points clear of the relegation zone. The points of the bottom nine (all with 15 games still to play) are:

Palace 26, Forest 25, Leicester 24, Wolves 23, Everton 21, Bournemouth 21, West Ham 20, Leeds 19, Southampton 18.

The points gained in the last 6 games shows today’s opponents Nottingham Forest ahead of the rest, but we have now slipped in this guide to current form:

Forest 11, Wolves 10, Leicester 7, Everton 6, West Ham 6, Southampton 6, Bournemouth 5, Palace 4, Leeds 2.

Ironically, the early season fixture won by Forest by a solitary goal could easily have gone the other way with a slightly different interpretation of rules (Benrahma’s disallowed goal) and a little more luck (twice hitting the crossbar) as well as a better taken penalty (Rice). If we had won that game then we would now be on 23 points and Forest on 22. But that’s football. Will that very first game come back to bite us at the end of the season?

And talking of interpretation of rules, that old chestnut (handball) has been a talking point in our last two games with Soucek (against Chelsea) and Kehrer (against Tottenham) both handling the ball in the process of falling and that was why penalties were not awarded against us. A new rule this season says that if a player is falling and the ball touches their hand / arm when it is between their body and the ground (but not extended to make the body bigger) then that is not handball.

Whether you like this new rule or others (designed to make the interpretation of handball simpler – ha ha), that is how the referees and VAR looked at these two examples although pundits on TV tended to disagree quite vehemently. As it happens it made no difference to the points in the Tottenham game, and we benefitted by one point (if the penalty had been successful) in the Chelsea match. But as far as Chelsea were concerned this was simply karma from the reverse fixture where we were robbed.

With the bottom five clubs achieving less than a point a game so far this season, averaging a point a game equalling fifteenth place in the table at present, and so many clubs potentially involved in the relegation struggle, then how many points from the final 15 games will be enough to ensure safety? I reckon that a final total of 37 or 38 might potentially be enough to confirm Premier League football next season. That would mean 17 or 18 from those games if my estimate turns out to be correct. Based on current averages then 35 could be enough. In the last five seasons the total needed to ensure safety was 36, 29, 35, 35, 34. In the ‘29’ season three teams were significantly detached which is not the case so far this time, so that one may not be representative of what is needed. Have a look at the remaining fixtures and see if you can tell where the requisite number of points will come from.

25/2 Home v Forest

4/3 Away v Brighton

12/3 Home v Villa

19/3 Away v Man City

2/4 Home v Southampton

5/4 Home v Newcastle

8/4 Away v Fulham

16/4 Home v Arsenal

22/4 Away v Bournemouth

26/4 Home v Liverpool

29/4 Away v Palace

6/5 Home v Man Utd

13/5 Away v Brentford

20/5 Home v Leeds 28/5 Away v Leicester

Five wins and two or three draws from those fifteen games might just be enough. If you think that should be easy bear in mind that we have only achieved five wins and five draws so far from 23 games, that is eight more played than those that are remaining. Of the eight home games, four are against teams in the bottom half (the next three and the last one). In the seven remaining fixtures away from home, three are against teams in the bottom half (three of the last four). Therefore, a fairly equal spread in terms of potential difficulty based on league positions.

I began this article referring to Geoff’s excellent summary of our current plight and the action perhaps needed (change the manager?) to stay up. He ended the piece with the sentence ‘It’s a sad, sad, situation.’ You know the Elton John song – Sorry Seems to Be The Hardest Word? Some of the lyrics from the song sum it up nicely:

It’s sad, so sad

It’s a sad, sad situation

And it’s getting more

And more absurd

Note to the board from an entirely different (Elvis) song – A little less conversation a little more action please!

Towering Incompetence: Incendiary West Ham Atmosphere May Be Fanned By Forest Fire

The ongoing saga of last chances for David Moyes has now been running for longer than an Eastenders story line – doof, doof, doof, doof, doof, doof, doof, doof, doof!

How many last chances does a failing manager get to have. I was convinced the game was up after et another typically insipid display at Tottenham. But no, he gets to fail another day.

I would have thought that by the time a Board gets to the stage of giving manager’s last chances, you might as well fire him and be done with it. It will only be a matter of time, anyway. Stupendous turnarounds in fortune rarely happen. And this is a team that has been in decline for over a year, and woeful for the best part of this season.

Should the Hammers eke out a victory win this weekend, and then lose (as usual) at Brighton, is the clock then reset once again to last chance for the home fixture with Villa? Repeat until relegated. What a way to run a football club!

Even the media have now woken up to recognise that David Moyes is an emperor without any clothes. At last, journalists are scratching their heads and questioning the merits of our unadventurous, unambitious manager. It is only fellow dinosaurs such as Graeme Souness who believes everything can be fixed by the players rolling up their sleeves up and showing some grit. The players are a victim of the tactics, not the other way round. The squad can’t be changed now, but manager and tactics can. Freeing the players from Moyes inertia is the only escape route.

We should remember, West Ham are one the world’s top twenty richest clubs. They have spent hundreds of millions on players. Yet Moyes talks about fans having unrealistic expectations as if it is a low budget operation. I doubt many supporters are demanding repeated top six finishes, but we would like to be entertained and should be nowhere near a relegation scrap. 

Last weekend was the latest in a string of tame surrenders – the scene set even before kick off. Fighting talk about drawn games not being good enough didn’t make it past the team selection. Starting the game with a maximum of two attack minding players in the side was all the incentive that the opposition needed to know the points were theirs. There is nothing to fear from West Ham at the best of times – no explosive pace, no accomplished dribbler, and the main set piece threat having been sold in January – but this was caution taken to another extreme. One more notch on the bedpost of failed away trips to ‘big six’ clubs.

It has been reported that the Board’s stance on a stay of execution was swayed by improvements in form since the Everton game. I do wonder what they have been watching from their lofty position? Had there been a run of victories then fair enough. But the club need a better rate of return than five points from four games if they are to avoid the drop.

It was supremely ironic to read David Sullivan’s rant in the week about how fantastic an organisation the Premier League is – and how it didn’t need regulation – when he is doing everything in his power to leave it by the trapdoor.

There was one piece of good news in the week as the U18s reached the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup for the first time since 1999 – the days of Joe Cole and Michael Carrick. There looks to be a lot of promise in the youth ranks, even if there is still a lot of development yet to be done. We hear mostly about the goalscorers – Divin Mubama and Callum Marshall – but George Earthy, Lewis Orford and Oliver Scarles all look to be great prospects. Interesting that the Youths play nothing like the first team in style or formation. The watching Moyes would have been livid with the boys pressing for a fourth goal once they had gone ahead in extra time. All behind the ball, boys!

The sad news of the week was the passing of John Motson. He and Brian Moore were both top class commentators who knew their primary job was to tell us what was going on – and knew when to let the action do the talking. Nostalgia’s not what it used to be but they were happier and simpler days at West Ham.

Oh, Devonshire round the back …… Oh, right across ….. It’s free ….. Driven in ……. And is it a goal? It is! Brooking, ………. Trevor Brooking. The ball ricocheted in off him and West Ham are in front.

RIP Motty 1980 FA Cup Final

Tomorrow’s game will be a first home league meeting with Nottingham Forest since January 2012 when two Mark Noble penalties took the Hammers to the top of the Championship.

It wasn’t long ago that Forest looked red-hot favourites for a quick return to the second tier, despite their early season win against West Ham. Yet an upsurge in results has lifted them to the higher fringes of the relegation quagmire. They currently sit five places and five points above their hosts. They are one of only three teams to have scored fewer goals than West Ham this season, while conceding nine more. Defensively they look suspect, but they do have pace in attack through Brennan Johnson and the always busy Morgan Gibbs-White. One-time West Ham nemesis Chris Wood might also feature in the game. Woods had been well marshalled in recent encounters by Craig Dawson, but obviously that is no longer an option.

So, what approach can we expect from the Moyes book of old school football tactics for this one? We know from experience that change only happens at glacial speed. He will usually stick with a formation, regardless of opposition, until something dramatic forces his hand to change it. It is a self-evident truth that the route to survival is scoring goals – it is only Moyes who believes not conceding them is more important. If he picks the same formation – with three/ five at the back – for this game, there could be mutiny in the stands before kick-off. It is overly cautious, and the wingbacks do not offer sufficient attacking threat to compensate.

I have argued for some time that West Ham should be lining up in a 4-3-3 formation. Ideally a midfield three of Rice, Paqueta and Downes but Rice, Soucek and Downes would do if Paqueta is unavailable. Then it must be a front three who are geared towards pushing forward and playing closer together. Is any more evidence needed that the isolated striker gambit is never going to work?

Forest will be well aware of a potential powder keg atmosphere at the London Stadium tomorrow. A trademark cautious team selection by Moyes and a typically slow start by the team will play right into the opponents hands. As a supporter I feel conflicted. I want Moyes gone but I would rather three of the most winnable points remaining were not sacrificed to achieve that. But it is hard to envisage a scenario where Moyes stays and we are not relegated. It’s a sad, sad, situation. COYI!

West Ham’s Titanic Mistake As The Iceberg Of Relegation Looms Large On The Horizon

West Ham continue their rudderless drift towards the icy waters of the Championship. Who will save us from this nightmare of football oblivion?

There’s no doubting that yesterday’s results didn’t go the way we would have liked. Wins for Southampton, Bournemouth, and Everton and Nottingham Forest’s unexpected point against Manchester City were not what was needed. The table has become compressed at the bottom, no team has yet been left stranded, and West Ham now occupy one of the relegation places ahead of today’s trip across London to Tottenham.

At this stage of the season, West Ham’s ultimate fortunes will still depend on their own endeavours rather than the fate of others. We are not yet relying on snookers with 16 games to go and 48 points to play for. But where will the 20 or so points required to survive come from? Can a team that has only won five of its 22 games – and won only two of the last ten – manage to scramble another five or six wins from what is left? If, as usual, games against the ‘Big 6’ are written off, then that focuses the wins target to a 50% success from 11 matches.

The general mood among fans has largely turned to one of pessimism. But strangely, pundits and bookmakers continue to see the Hammers as one of least likely casualties among the relegation possibles. The rationale is lost on me – although we should remember pundits pay only superficial attention to any clubs outside the Champions League elite.

Perhaps, they are seduced by selected stats that suggest the Hammers have the 5th best defences in the Premier League. Or show a respectable 8th in the list of clubs with the highest number of shots. And a pass success rate consistent with Newcastle and better than Fulham or Brentford. But stats can’t pull the wool over the evidence of our own eyes. Defensive competence is earned at the expense of nine or ten men behind the ball. A high proportion of shots are long range hopeful efforts when no creative options remain. Too many passes are made where it doesn’t matter, and where no opposition pressure is being applied.

From a distance, West Ham’s form gives the impression of improvement, with three wins, three draws, and just the one defeat since the start of 2023. But form and performances aren’t always the same thing. Take away the FA Cup games, and it is less spectacular, just a marginal improvement on what had gone before. A win in the death throes of Lampard’s Everton career and two draws against sides who for different reasons had gone off the boil.

Any difference in approach or style has been negligible. Perhaps a tad more pressing further up the pitch at certain times. Maybe the three/ five at the back releasing Jarrod Bowen from onerous defensive duties and allowing him to play closer to Michail Antonio. Nothing fundamental – caution remains the overriding watchword. When Danny Ings comes on, it is to replace Antonio, not to play alongside him in a more enterprising shape. Ings has a decent scoring record at this level, but not while playing as an isolated striker chasing hopeful long balls.

David Moyes has become increasingly implausible in his media comments – like a hapless government minister trying to explain how everything that has gone wrong is outside of his control. Something about over-achieving in the past two seasons and the cyclic nature of success for clubs like West Ham meaning we would be foolish to expect too much. Claiming that draws are not enough but routinely setting up with the sole purpose of protecting the point. When Leicester beat Tottenham 4-1 last weekend, they didn’t shut up shop after going ahead, but that will always be the Moyes mindset. Caution always trumping ambition. His team may rarely be on the end of a thumping, but equally they are never allowed to press home an advantage.

The formula Moyes hit upon worked for a while, but stubbornness and intransigence prevent him from adapting to changed circumstances. A lot of money has been splashed without addressing obvious deficiencies in the squad or developing greater fluidity in the style of play. I can think of no other side in the top division so lacking in genuine pace.

With Moyes unable or unwilling to change, what hope is there that he can turn things around? The club is on a collision course with the icy waters of relegation. The manager unable to plot a course to safety and the Board asleep at the wheel. You would think the owners have been in football long enough to know a lost cause when they see one.

Today’s game at Tottenham may be the latest in a long sequence of Moyes last chances. A defeat could well be terminal. A draw granting a stay of execution until the Forest game. But is there any confidence that a contingency plan is in place should the axe fall? How damaging will not taking action during the World Cup break turn out to be? I’m sure the players would welcome the opportunity to be released from the straightjacket of the manager’s cloying negativity.

Injuries will again influence West Ham team selection. Lucas Paqueta joins Gianluca Scamacca, Kurt Zouma and Maxwell Cornet in the sick bay. Nayef Aguerd will supposedly have a late fitness test but it feels risky to rush him back into action so soon. Expect two changes from the Chelsea game with Tomas Soucek in for Paqueta and Ben Johnson replacing Aguerd. 

Despite their own inconsistencies, Tottenham are having a decent season as far as results are concerned. A win today would put them up into fourth spot. These days they are not a team you would go out of your way to watch, although, as we know, winning games can put a gloss on the lack of entertainment. In some ways they are rather like West Ham in style, but with far, far better attacking options. As always, Kane will be the main danger, especially when dropping deep to dictate play. Declan Rice’s attacking intent will no doubt be sacrificed to keep an eye on that. Apart from Kane, I will also be concerned for the potential mayhem that Perisic’s crosses can cause from the flank.

Despite the talk of playing for the win, there will be no surprise to see a repeat of the Chelsea performance. A passive low block, sub 30% possession, and set pieces being the main goal threat. We are all well aware of Moyes depressing big six record. Surely, we deserve better than this. COYI!

Statistics would suggest that West Ham’s visit to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium won’t end in a draw.

London derbies; just like London buses you wait a while for one and then two come along together. We are the last game on Sunday afternoon on Sky at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium after being the early kick off last Saturday at home to Chelsea.

After an awful first 25 minutes when we conceded a goal, and Chelsea could have been out of sight, we got better as the game went on and perhaps deserved a draw following Emerson’s equaliser against his former club.

In our five 2023 Premier League games we have beaten Everton 2-0, lost by the solitary goal against Wolves, and drawn against Leeds, Newcastle and Chelsea in addition to two FA Cup wins. That’s an improvement in results and to some extent performance too, but we still sit just two points above the relegation zone, and remain in trouble. We really need some wins and the three points that come with them to start to climb the table.

In previous articles I have been analysing the position and current form of the bottom teams and update the current situation below. The points of the bottom nine (all with 16 games still to play) are:

Palace 25, Leicester 24, Forest 24, Wolves 23, West Ham 20, Leeds 19, Everton 18, Bournemouth 18, Southampton 15.

The current form looking at points gained in the last 5 games:

Forest 10, Wolves 10, Leicester 7, West Ham 6, Everton 3, Palace 3, Southampton 3, Leeds 2, Bournemouth 2.

It won’t be easy to pick up three points in this game. In our last ten games against Tottenham our opponents have won half of them whereas we have claimed victory just twice.

Paqueta is definitely out and Scamacca is also unlikely to be involved. Aguerd faces a late test; I really hope he is fit as he has looked good and is very important to our defence. Coufal, Emerson and Soucek had reasonable games against Chelsea and will all probably play as Moyes continues with three at the back (but who will the three be?). Antonio has a good goal scoring record in this fixture.

Unusually for me I’ll predict the lineup for the game: Fabianski; Kehrer, Ogbonna, Aguerd (or Cresswell if he doesn’t make it); Coufal, Rice, Soucek, Emerson; Bowen, Antonio, Benrahma. 

Statistically it would seem unlikely that the fixture will end in a draw as the reverse one did in the game in August when Soucek’s second half equaliser cancelled out Kehrer’s own goal in the opening period.  It is 38 years since the two teams drew both league games in the same season, and additionally Tottenham have now played 21 consecutive home games without a draw. My prediction will defy the statistics as I’ll go for a 2-2 draw. What are the chances?

We Got The Saturday Lunchtime Blues: West Ham’s Tentative Improvement Faces Expensive Test

A more encouraging set of results needs to be quickly translated into league points. Do the Hammers have what it takes to see off extravagantly high-spending Chelsea?

If West Ham were a hospital patient the bulletin issued to anxious friends and relatives would read critical but stable. The outlook is not quite as bleak as it was a few weeks ago, but there was still a long way to go on the road to recovery.  

Recent form can be looked at in two ways. The optimistic view is that the Hammers have won three and lost just one in their last six games. Those with emptier glasses might point out that two of those wins were in the FA Cup against a deliberately weakened Brentford side and League 1 side, Derby.  Still winning games is good for confidence and that can never be a bad thing. It’s just that confidence needs to translated into league points very quickly. Failure to improve on the current rate of five points from six games would lead to almost certain relegation – with 33 points. Relying on the incompetence of others for survival is not a recommended strategy.

I do sense there has been some improvement in performances of late, even if it is largely imperceptible to the naked eye. Absences through Injury continue to play a debilitating part and certain positional weaknesses cannot be resolved from within the current squad. But signs that the collective spirit have been rekindled are heartening. Perhaps the return of Mark Noble behind the scenes has been a factor, diverting some of the non-playing pressure away from Declan Rice. Survival chances depend significantly on Rice continuing to put in the type of performance that we saw at St James’ Park last Saturday.

A huge positive from the Newcastle game was the team not capitulating following a dreadful opening five minutes. West Ham gradually fought their way back into contention and grabbed a deserved equalizer through Lucas Paqueta. It was possibly one of the most flamboyant goal celebrations ever seen from a Hammer, although while his backflip scored high for degree of difficulty, execution was let down by an unstable landing. I don’t recall if we were ever treated to a Robbie Keane cartwheel after either of the two goals he netted in claret and blue.   

The remainder of last Saturday’s game was reasonably even, although neither team worked the opposing goalkeeper particularly hard. The Hammers had their share of shots, but most were harmless long shots rather than skilfully crafted openings. A stunning last-ditch Moore-esque tackle from Nayef Aguerd was the highlight of the latter stages.

David Moyes substitutions were again disappointing as he opted to stick with the point in the bag with twenty minutes remaining, rather than risk pressing for a winning goal. Caution will always be his core competency.

Today’s visitors arrive on the back of equally unimpressive league form, having taken only six points from the last six games. Their only success was a 1-0 win against Crystal Palace in mid January. Despite (or perhaps as a result of) a profligate spending spree, they languish in 9th spot, nine points away from 4th place Tottenham. Chances of a top four finish are wafer thin and participation in next year’s Champions League will depend on how well they fare in this year’s competition – in which they visit Dortmund on Wednesday.

A factor in Chelsea’s favour is that manager Graham Potter has yet to lead a side to defeat against the Hammers. His record at Brighton was two wins and five draws – two wins and four draws against David Moyes.

We should expect a couple of changes from the team that started last week. Ben Johnson will take over from the injured Thilo Kehrer in the back three, with either Pablo Fornals or Manuel Lanzini the probable replacement for Said Benrahma in attacking midfield. Benrahma was particularly frustrating at Newcastle, getting into great positions and then dithering, over elaborating, or taking the wrong decision. He appears to struggle even more when there is a wing-back behind him.

Moyes has now reverted to a back three as his preferred defensive formation. It does have a more solid look to it but unless you have fast, fit wing-backs with great delivery – we don’t – it comes at the expense of attacking and creative options. The efforts and probing of Rice and Paqueta will be key for the Hammers today, as will the running of Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen.

For all Chelsea’s woes they continue to dominate possession in the majority of their games. And that is unlikely to change today. The danger for West Ham is retreating too far into their shells and leaving nine behind the ball in the all too familiar negative low block. It shows the opposition too much respect and it is obvious we look a better side when playing on the front foot. I still believe the team’s poor ball retention is as much to do with tactics and having too few options available as it is with technical ability.

The visitors have a wealth of potentially exciting talent to select from, but nothing approaching a team as yet. For Potter, a problem of too many individuals when his previous success was built on team ethic. My advice to him is stick with the floppy haired Cucurella instead of bringing in Chilwell today.

For some reason, Saturday lunchtime kick-offs have a reputation for being unpredictable affairs. While a draw would be the predictable outcome, perhaps the Hammers can enhance that reputation with a surprise three points. Otherwise it may be bottom three again by the end of the weekend. COYI!  

In a fixture famous for late goals can West Ham defeat big spending underachieving West London rivals Chelsea?

In last week’s article I predicted (or more correctly hoped for) a 0-0 draw. Within about 45 seconds I thought that was a forlorn hope, but fortunately VAR intervened as the ball had gone fractionally out of play when Newcastle thought they had scored within the first minute. But not to be deterred they came straight back at us and a minute or two later we were 1-0 down when Wilson ran on to a through ball that split our centre backs. I have to admit that at that point I feared the worst.

Not many teams score against the meanest defence in the Premier League (they have conceded far fewer than anyone else), particularly at St James’s Park. But the early setback seemed to spur us on and for much of the first half we were the better team and it was no surprise when Paqueta equalised from a corner well taken by our new corner taker Declan Rice. Is there anything that he doesn’t do well? The statistics at the end of the first half showed that we had eight shots compared to the home side’s two. Very promising.

The second half was more even but we held on well and by the end of the game we had collected a well deserved point in a 1-1 draw against the draw specialists. That was the Magpies tenth draw in 21 games. The shots count at the end was 10-8 in our favour and we were the better side in the expected goals (xg) statistic too. An excellent point in our fight for survival which we are very definitely still very much involved in. The point gained was very welcome but the most important thing for me was the overall performance which pleased me immensely.

In previous articles I have been analysing the position and current form of the bottom teams. I was concentrating on the seven sides closest to the foot but now I will extend it to nine as Palace in twelfth place are only six points clear of the relegation zone. The points of the bottom nine (all with 17 games still to play) are:

Palace 24, Forest 24, Leicester 21, Wolves 20, Leeds 19, West Ham 19, Everton 18, Bournemouth 17, Southampton 15.

The points gained in the last 5 games shows Forest well ahead of the rest, but we have now risen to third in this guide to current form:

Forest 11, Wolves 7, West Ham 5, Leicester 4, Everton 4, Leeds 3, Southampton 3, Palace 2, Bournemouth 1.

A couple of tough games coming up starting with the visit of Chelsea this weekend in the early kick-off. By the standards of recent times our visitors have had a poor season so far and are one of seven teams to relieve their manager of his position in the last six months. Graham Potter, after winning many plaudits for what he had done at Brighton, took over from Thomas Tuchel, but their fortunes have not improved whilst the Seagulls have continued with their impressive start and sit in sixth place, four clear of ninth placed Chelsea.

I read that everything seems to happen in the last five minutes of our Premier League games against Chelsea, more than in any other fixture. Each of the last three games has been settled by a goal in this time, and it has happened seven times overall with winning goals coming this late. Yarmolenko and Masuaku strikes stand out in my memory, but the finish of the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge earlier this season is one that was not good from our viewpoint. Do you remember that game played early in September?

Antonio scored the opening goal of the game about half an hour from the end before Chilwell equalised fifteen minutes later from a virtually impossible angle that Fabianski would have saved easily had he not advanced trying to narrow it even further. At 1-1 with the game almost over Cornet (remember him?) should have equalised but managed to hit the post before the ball went down the other end for Havertz to score what turned out to be the winner. We thought we had equalised in the last minute (Cornet again) but the goal was disallowed by referee Madley after a VAR check decided that keeper Mendy had been fouled by Bowen. Ridiculous in my view and many others thought the same too. Our manager described it as scandalous. That was one of the unlucky decisions that went against us in the early season games.

There’s a lot that annoys me about Chelsea. It goes back around 40 years when I was threatened with a knife in the Stamford Bridge stand at a Chelsea v Newcastle Division 2 game, when I was there with a Geordie friend. Back in 1983/4 neither of those two teams who now have some of the richest owners in the Premier League were in the top division. I dislike the fact that the Blues, bankrolled by billionaire owner Todd Boehly, have spent money outrageously in January, dwarfing that of every one of the teams in the German, Spanish and Italian leagues combined. More than the rest of the Premier League combined too. It just seems to be a continuation of the Abramovich era.

I find the spending outrageous, obscene even. It is not good for football. And at a time of a cost of living crisis too it seems even worse. There always used to be an argument that the vast amounts of money in the Premier League found its way down the leagues and into grass roots football. But does it? Somehow wealthy clubs such as Chelsea spending record-breaking eye-watering sums don’t get touched by Financial Fair Play. Somehow they manage to keep within the regulations. For me there must be something wrong with how the fair play rules are constructed. Nothing fair about it at all and the ruination of fair competition.

Despite their indifferent recent form (they have only picked up five points from their last five games – the same as ourselves), the visitors are favourites with the bookmakers to win the game at 5/4. A West Ham win and the draw are both priced at 23/10. I hope that we beat them. I think that we can. What are the chances of the game being settled once again with a West Ham winner in the last five minutes? I do hope so.

Can West Ham snatch an unlikely point at St James’ Park against the Premier League’s draw specialists?

I am often intrigued by a debate amongst football fans about the size of their club. The ‘my club is bigger than yours discussion.’ Newspaper journalists and the media in general will often refer to x being a big club, or will a certain player want to join a ‘bigger’ club. But what is a big club? A club that is considered big today may not have been at some time in the past. Is it the fan base, average attendances, revenue, trophies won in history, or honours gained in recent times, or one or more of many other criteria that you could toss into the mix? A club that is considered big today may not have been at some time in the past. It’s all quite subjective really.

I watched a TV quiz show recently where contestants had to decide if clubs had won more FA Cups than Ipswich Town (one win in 1979). When the name Old Etonians came up the contestant scoffed. But Old Etonians reached the final of the FA Cup six times in the nineteenth century winning it twice and supplied a number of players for the England national team, including three in one match against Wales in 1879. Old Etonians were once a big club, but not now of course.

Few of us would argue against Newcastle United and West Ham United being big clubs at the present time. (Our fans sing that we are not just big but massive of course!). But if the criteria was based on trophies won in recent times then perhaps we would not be considered quite so big. West Ham last won a major trophy in 1980 when as a second tier side we beat Arsenal in the FA Cup final on that sunny May day when Sir Trev stooped to head the only goal of the game.

Newcastle have won four league titles, six FA Cups, and like ourselves have won an Inter Two Bob Cup and a European trophy. In fact they have won the ninth highest total of trophies by English clubs (we are about 18th on that list). But Newcastle’s last major domestic trophy was in 1955, though their last major trophy was when they won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1969.

Both of us took steps towards rectifying the lack of recent honours this week. We beat Derby County fairly comfortably to move into the last 16 of the FA Cup. In theory we only need to win three games from here to reach the final at Wembley, and four to actually lift the trophy. But the draw has not been kind to us and our task has been made harder with a trip to Old Trafford in Round Five.

Newcastle are much closer to landing a trophy having beaten Southampton in a two-legged semi final to reach the final of the EFL Cup where Manchester United stand between them and achieving their aim. A rejuvenated Manchester United could put paid to both our hopes.

After battling relegation for much of last season the Magpies recovered well in the latter stages, and in this campaign they have turned it around to such an extent that they currently sit third in the Premier League with just under half of the season to play, and are among the favourites to be playing Champions League football next season. The Saudi-led takeover of the club is a massive contributing factor of course, but Eddie Howe deserves a lot of praise for building a team capable of challenging the top teams in England.

On the other hand as a complete reversal of last season’s fortunes we sit in sixteenth place just one point above the bottom three and in need of some good results in the second half of the season to ensure that we are still in the Premier League next season. Following the death of the Queen earlier in the season the reverse fixture was postponed so we have not yet faced the Magpies yet.

As so often seems to be the case we are once again hindered by injuries. In the transfer window that has just closed I think we signed two players, Danny Ings, a recognised Premier League goalscorer, but who is apparently injured already, and a young Brazilian who has gone into the Development Squad. Around nine players left the club in the window including some promising Academy graduates who barely got a chance to show what they could do in our colours. The manager must believe we have a big enough and good enough squad to move up the table. Many would disagree.

On form we don’t really have much of a chance in this game, do we? Third at home to sixteenth. I read that the Geordies have been trailing in games for just 80 minutes in total in their 20 league games to date, fewer than any other team. They haven’t conceded a single goal in the first half in any of their last sixteen Premier League games! They have only conceded 11 goals in total in 20 games, five fewer than league leaders Arsenal, and by far the best defensive record in the top flight. They have only lost once, a 2-1 defeat to Liverpool with the winner coming in the 98th minute. Nick Pope, (allegedly a target of West Ham last summer?), has kept six consecutive Premier League clean sheets. When did we last win an away game?

Just 3 points separate Leicester in 14th (on 18) and Southampton at the bottom (on 15). The points table for the last five games for the bottom 7 clubs is as follows (none apart from Wolves perhaps pulling up any trees or averaging a point a game):

Wolves 7, West Ham 4, Leeds 3, Southampton 3, Leicester 1, Bournemouth 1, Everton 1.

All seven teams are averaging less than a point a game for the season as a whole so far which is a figure that is generally enough to avoid relegation, and at this moment they would appear to be the teams who will produce the three who go down, although Forest and Palace are not too far above, and invariably a team that is not involved in the scrap at the bottom has a poor run at the season’s end.

The odds on a Newcastle win (3/5) are not as short as you might expect given the relative form of both teams and their league positions. The draw is only 11/4 with a West Ham win at 5/1. I reckon the best chance of us getting anything from the game is to play for a 0-0 draw. That’s probably what David Moyes has in mind too, as he seems to for so many of our games, particularly on our travels. The odds on the game being goalless are around 8/1, unlikely despite the fact that Newcastle have played six such games out of the 20 so far this season, Palace (twice), Brighton, Manchester United and Leeds featuring in 0-0 draws. Wolves, Bournemouth and Manchester City all held the Magpies to a scoring draw, and their solitary defeat at Liverpool should really have been a point apiece too, but the referee in that game seemed to continue playing until the Reds scored their winner deep into added time.

It’s time for Paqueta to demonstrate why he is preferred to the suspended Guimaraes in the Brazil national team; in fact time for so many to perform. Quite what Areola and Downes have to do to get an extended run in the league team is beyond me, but the manager will no doubt select some players in the team that many of us would not. I fear the worst but hope for a 0-0 draw, and being optimistically greedy how about snatching a late winner for three points in a 1-0 win? What are the chances?

He Came In Through The Transfer Window: Can West Ham Steal A Point At St James’ Park

An underwhelming transfer window is followed by the long trip north to face high-flying Newcastle United. Do David Moyes ambitions stretch beyond the hope of a desperate goalless draw?

Another January transfer window has come and gone and once again supporters are left frustrated and disappointed at the lack of imagination and planning involved. Our high-flying bubbles had begun to fade and die at the same stage last year when the club failed to build from a position of strength. What will be our fate in this time of weakness? West Ham have fiddled as their relegation rivals splashed the cash for survival!

Once the dust had settled on the closing window, the only new signing was Danny Ings, an intelligent but injury-prone striker. A player who will provide additional options in attack even if his best days are behind him. But any opportunity that offers is offset by the departure of Craig Dawson, probably the Hammers most dependable central defender over the past couple of seasons – and one of the principle goal threats at the other end. Agreeing to Dawson’s request to return north for personal reasons was a reasonable one. But not bringing in a replacement is the latest in a long list of negligent and short-sighted decisions. Particularly considering the injury records of the remaining defenders.

Following Dawson out the door went three academy graduates – Harrison Ashby, Pierre Ekwah, and Emmanuel Longelo. Only time will tell how well these young players develop or whether some were motivated by money rather than opportunity. It would have been good to have given them an opportunity in claret blue – everybody loves an academy graduate – but that, it seems, is too risky for the cautious one. I saw a statistic that Divin Mubama’s four minutes against Arsenal is the only game time seen by an under-22 player for West Ham this season. Interestingly, the next ‘worst’ is Newcastle where Elliot Anderson is the only under-22 to have been given a run out – although he has played 100 minutes more than Mubama.

When West Ham last played Newcastle United in mid-February 2022, the Hammers sat 4th in the Premier League while the Magpies languished in 17th place. Today the positions are almost exactly reversed. Newcastle reaping the reward of ditching their own dinosaur manager, Steve Bruce, and bringing in the more progressive, Eddie Howe. Plus of course having access to large piles of grubby Saudi cash which has allowed them to invest £250 million in the squad over the last three windows.

With a League Cup final place already booked and an outstanding chance of Champions League qualification, it is shaping up to be a fantastic season for the Magpies. Howe has made astute signings and teased the best from the talented but underperforming players already at his disposal. It is impossible to begrudge the loyal and passionate Newcastle fans their whiff of glory but it still beggar’s belief that representatives of the brutal and murderous Saudi regime are considered to be fit and proper owners of a British football club.

There was a leak yesterday of what might become future government legislation for the regulation of football. Some way to go before we discover how that might turn out or what powers the independent regulator (surely, it has to be known as OFF-SIDE?) might be given. The leaked documents suggest that all clubs would need to reapply for a licence, but is that really going to happen without extended and costly legal challenge should a licence be revoked? The new rules will, no doubt, be introduced just in time to prevent a consortium of Dr Evil, Kim Jong-un and Prince Andrew taking over at the London Stadium.

Newcastle’s on-field success this season has been built around the most frugal defensive record in the league and a whole laundry full of clean sheets . They have conceded just 11 goals in total and none at all since a late Southampton consolation on November 6. It’s a record that offers scant hope for a misfiring West Ham attack. Especially where David Moyes primary target will be to add to the tally of six 0-0 draws that Newcastle fans have already witnessed this term.

Early reports are that West Ham will be without Kurt Zouma, Danny Ings, Gianluca Scamacca, and someone called Maxwell Cornet. It has proved fruitless to speculate in the past about Moyes baffling team selections but I’m guessing he will stick with three at the back and a massed defence for this one. It will largely be the same side that won at Derby but with Lukasz Fabianski back in goal (for some reason), Declan Rice replacing Flynn Downes and Lucas Paqueta in for Pablo Fornals.

As long as the game remains scoreless, West Ham incursions into the opposing third will be as sporadic and half-hearted as usual, with possession hovering around the 30% mark. If Newcastle score, it will be more of the same as the Hammers seek to keep their powder dry until the final ten minutes. At least, that is what experience suggests will happen. Unless, of course, this is the week that Moyes finally unleashes his brand-new possession-based football experiment.

The glimmer of hope is that the hosts will be without influential Bruno Guimarães following his midweek red card – interesting that Paqueta gets the nod ahead of him for the Brasil national team. And there’s no longer the possibility of Jonjo Shelvey being called up for a once in a blue moon stormer! That still leaves plenty of threats to the Hammers goal, however, in the form of Wilson, Almiron, Willock, and Saint-Maximin.

This weekend is the start of a tough run of games for West Ham. Newcastle is followed by Chelsea at home and Tottenham away. How many of the 20 points needed to survive are they likely to pick up from that lot? No better than zero to three is my guess. Would that be enough for Moyes to keep his job? Does he then get out of jail again by scraping a narrow win over Forest? It’s going to be a long hard slog. COYI!