Can West Ham register three away wins in a row without conceding a goal when they visit Selhurst Park?

Two of the most controversial aspects of modern-day football had a big influence on our defeat to Liverpool on Wednesday evening. I’ve written about them many times in the past but once again I’ll return to the difficult (to get right) topics of offside and handball.

Let’s start with offside. It is virtually impossible when it’s a close call for a linesman (or assistant referee as they call themselves now, although they don’t assist much really) to be able to be 100 percent certain that a player is offside at the exact moment a ball is played. Bearing in mind that a professional footballer can run at approaching 8-9 yards in a second, then just one-tenth of a second could mean a difference of a couple of feet in distance. So now we have a man in a VAR cabin somewhere who draws lines across the pitch to decide if a player is offside. And on this occasion Jarrod Bowen’s toes were definitely in an offside position. But how can we be sure that the lines were drawn at the exact moment that the ball was played? A fraction of a second less than one-tenth (0.1) and possibly up to one-hundredth (0.01) could make all the difference as to deciding if the lines are drawn at exactly the right moment.

But why do we have to go through all this? The offside rule was devised over a hundred years ago to prevent goal-hanging. The position of Bowen on the pitch could not remotely be described as goal-hanging. We were denied a wonderfully taken goal because Bowen’s toes were offside forty or so yards from goal, and that’s only if the lines were drawn at an exact moment that nobody could confirm was spot on. I’ve campaigned for years (but to no avail because I have no influence) that offside should be confined to the final 18 yards of the pitch, that is in the penalty area (with the line extended to the touch line) only. Play wouldn’t be as condensed as it is now; there would be more room on the pitch if defenders didn’t push up so far to try to catch people offside. That’s not the point of the game is it? Anyway the ‘goal’ was ruled out but nobody could possibly be sure that it was the correct decision. Why do football authorities make the laws / rules of the game more complex than they need to be?

If it was changed so that only the final 18 yards would count for offside there would be less controversy, but it could still exist. So let’s go further. Instead of looking for any part of the body that can legally play the ball being a fraction offside let’s go back to the theory of giving the advantage to the attacker. If any part of the attacker’s body is in line with any part of the defender’s body then it is not offside. We would still have some controversial decisions but the numbers of them would be reduced.

My second bugbear, and once again I have written about this before is handball. Thanks to TV we all saw a Liverpool defender handle the ball in his own penalty area, not once but possibly twice in the same movement. The current rule suggests that it is not handball if a player puts his hand down as he falls and then touches the ball with it. But was this the case here? I’m not so sure. Surely the referee couldn’t be sure at full speed. A definite case for VAR to refer him to take another look with the camera angles available. We are all biased as fans and want decisions to go the way of our team. On TV, Peter Crouch, whilst admitting he had a foot in the Liverpool camp, said that he would have been disappointed to not get the award of the penalty if this had been a West Ham player handling the ball. The referee may not have changed his mind if he had looked at the screen but surely he should have been advised to look?

Controversies such as these happen every week and we will never eliminate them entirely. But surely we must look at ways to try to minimise the numbers. The argument goes that they even themselves out over the course of a season. I wonder if any studies have been done to compare controversial decisions and which way they go according to the size of club involved? Perhaps it is just my imagination but it seems to me that bigger clubs seem to benefit more than smaller ones? Earlier this season Brighton lost a game 2-1 to Tottenham with at least four decisions that all went against Brighton, for which the refereeing authorities have apologised. But there is no question in my mind that Brighton should have at least three more points and Tottenham three fewer. That could make all the difference in respect of qualifying for Europe next season.

If Bowen’s goal was incorrectly ruled out and we had been awarded a penalty late in the game then we might have one or perhaps three more points than we have now. We are still not mathematically safe from relegation. We could in theory go down as a result of bad decisions in the Liverpool game (we won’t, trust me – but we could!).      

Who will go down this season? It’s still a tough question to answer, but it’s getting clearer as the weeks go by. A few weeks ago, today’s opponents Palace were in the mix and they decided to dispense with Patrick Vieira and replace him with the oldest manager around who had decided to give up managing last season. But Roy Hodgson taking over once again at Selhurst Park has taken the Eagles out of the equation and they are now safe.

I quoted the Opta Supercomputer prior to last weekend’s matches; their figures for percentage chances of relegation at that time were:

Southampton 93.6%, Everton 74.0%, Leeds 46.7%, Forest 46.3%, Leicester 34.3%, West Ham 2.1%, Bournemouth 1.6%, Wolves 0.5%

One week and two games later the figures have changed to:

Southampton 97.6%, Forest 74.4%, Everton 57.8%, Leicester 46.4%, Leeds 23.5%, Bournemouth 0.5%, West Ham 0.4%

Wolves have now disappeared from the figures and both Bournemouth and West Ham are as good as safe. In my article prior to the Bournemouth game I wrote “It’s any three from five now – Southampton, Leicester, Forest, Everton and Leeds. It can still change of course, but I’ll stick with that.”

There seems little reason to change my view now. Bournemouth have won four of their last six matches and we have won three, with twelve and ten points respectively. The bottom five have all won just once (Leeds, Forest and Leicester all with 4 points from those six games), or not at all (Everton, 3 draws and Southampton, 2 draws). If they didn’t improve their points tally per game (they all have 5 to play) then none of the five would overhaul West Ham even if we didn’t collect another point. One or two might raise their game and do better but I doubt that three of them will. We have six games to play and I suspect we need perhaps another win to be sure, but I’m hoping for better than that.

I reckon our manager will once again start with the same eleven, although personally I’d like to see a change of goalkeeper. I was disappointed with the goals we conceded in the week with a lack of closing down for the first and, despite it being a good shot, disappointment that Fabianski was beaten from that distance. And it’s always disappointing to concede a headed goal direct from a corner. What happened to the marking? Paqueta’s goal must be a contender for our goal of the season for the team move and superb powerful shot.

Palace are one of the teams that we can overtake to improve our final league position this season; in fact we would go above them if we win this game. They have ten points like ourselves from their last six games – there are only six teams in the Premier League who can better that haul from their last half a dozen games.

We have a good recent record visiting Selhurst Park, only losing once in the past eight visits there and winning five times. We haven’t lost two games in a row in this calendar year (yet), and David Moyes has won as manager in five out of five visits to Palace. This is Palace’s sixth home London derby of the season and so far they have only picked up one point. If we can keep a clean sheet it would be the first time we have done so in three consecutive away Premier League matches for more than nine years apparently. Despite their resurgence under Hodgson, Palace have only won one of their past nine home league games. With all these statistics you’d think we’d be well placed for another three points today. But it doesn’t necessarily work out like that, does it?

I have good memories of my first visit to see West Ham at Palace. I visited Selhurst Park to see West Ham play there in October 1971 and we won the game 3-0 with goals from Clyde Best, Billy Bonds and Ade Coker. It came after an improved run of form that season where we didn’t manage to score a goal in our first four games and were bottom of the league, and then only lost once in the next 16 games (in all competitions) to climb into a mid-table position.

After winning 4-0 in our last away game at Bournemouth, and 1-0 at Fulham in the away game before that, can we win and keep a clean sheet for the third match in a row? Of course we can!  

A Dangerous Outbreak of Optimism Reported at The London Stadium as West Ham Entertain Liverpool

A spectacular FA Youth Cup success has added to the feel-good factor at West Ham prompted by an upturn in league performances and qualification for the Europa Conference semi-final

It’s been a massive week to ten days at West Ham that has (for now) completely changed the vibe surrounding the club. The surprise spirited comeback against Arsenal, easing past Gent in the Europa Conference, the demolition of Bournemouth have now been topped off by the U18s spectacular 5-1 triumph in the FA Youth Cup Final at The Emirates Stadium.

The Youth Cup win was the first since the Cole and Carrick class of 1999 won a two-legged final against Coventry City. It was a proud day for what looks to be a very strong and talented squad of lads. Here’s hoping a good few of them go on to carve out distinguished careers in professional football, whether that is at West Ham (obviously) or elsewhere in the game.

Although the trip to Bournemouth always suggested it might be a winnable game, the style and nature of victory was wholly unexpected. An unheard-of brace of early goals set the tone of the match and the travelling fans were treated to the most expressive football of the Hammer’s season to date. The long deserted swagger had returned, and for a while, it was as if the clocks had been put back by two years. The mind is often conflicted in such circumstances. Was the performance down to West Ham’s excellence or the result of Bournemouth’s deficiencies. The next two games against Liverpool tonight and Palace on Saturday will provide further evidence.

The risk of relegation hasn’t receded completely but on current trajectory is very remote now. I don’t see a scenario where four or more of the bottom six teams manage to scramble to 35 points by the end of the season. There are sure to be more surprises, though, and remember that nothing is settled until survival is mathematically certain.

As things stand, West Ham are sixth in the Premier League form table with 11 points from the last six matches played. Indeed, if we take the narrow view that form is only about results – and ignore the quality of performance – the Hammers have been on an improving trend since the turn of the year. The 17 matches before the new year yielded just 14 points (a relegation bound 0.82 points per game) but the 14 matches in 2023 have generated 20 points (1.42 ppg). So, recent form, while not stellar, is good enough for mid-table obscurity. There will be claims that the upturn validates the Board’s decision to stick with Moyes in the darkest hour, but that is not proven beyond reasonable doubt. For perspective, in the same new year period, a once struggling Aston Villa have averaged over two points per game under Unai Emery to become credible top six finishers.

Of course, many would argue that football should be as much about entertainment as results – something that has been sadly lacking in the dull, passive, and predictable fare on show for most of the campaign. It is a distinction that is close to the hearts of supporters but is almost exclusively overlooked by pundits. Media coverage outside the rich six is, as ever, scandalously superficial.

If the new hint of adventure that has emerged in recent weeks is not just a flash in the pan, it begs the question ‘what has changed?’ Did the manager buckle to pressure and release the handbrake? Did the drab victories against the likes of Southampton and Fulham inspire the confidence to play with greater adventure? Did player-power break out and force a change of thinking? Has Lucas Paqueta finally adjusting to the demands of the Premier League provided a game-changing extra dimension going forward? Has the return of Mark Noble to the club improved communication between manager and players and taken some of the load away from Declan Rice? Or did every player lose and then rediscover form at the same time? Perhaps it is a mixture of them all.


The 2022/23 season has been equally underwhelming for this evening’s visitors, Liverpool. Having spent the previous few years going toe-to-toe with Manchester City for the title, they now find themselves in a pitch battle with Tottenham to qualify for the continent’s pre-eminent cup competition – the Europa Conference League. Ensuring that the competition gets a lot more media attention than it gathered this year.

The Liverpool side has the look of a squad urgently in need of a major surgery and overhaul this season as key players have aged or become stale. Lacking the resources available to other title hopefuls, the Reds opted to throw all their cash at forwards while neglecting the shortcomings of a defensively vulnerable back four and pedestrian, lacklustre midfield. The Klopp style of play may well have exceeded its best before date with more opponents having worked out how to counter it effectively. They clearly still possess a dangerous goal scoring threat when things go well – Jota is the man to watch for me. It just doesn’t come off as much as it used to.

I’m expecting a largely unchanged West Ham eleven for the game. Possibly the only question-mark would be over Said Benrahma who has continued to labour of late. There are many clamouring for the inclusion of Pablo Fornals after his elaborate drunken scorpion strike on Sunday and it is a switch that Moyes might well be considering. Fornals doesn’t provide too much of an attacking threat when playing out wide but offers better defensive cover than a ball-watching Benny. This could provide useful assistance to Aaron Cresswell’s attempts to handle Salah.

There can be no more likeable a character in the Hammers squad than Fornals. It would be great to see him get more minutes, but the reality is that he is now primarily understudy to Paqueta. The idea of playing him in place of Thomas Soucek (as some have suggested) sounds disastrous to me. Not because Soucek deserves his place, but because Pablo is nowhere near strong enough to compete as a defensive minded midfield player at this level.

If West Ham show plenty of aggression tonight it will unsettle Liverpool – they don’t like it up ‘em, these days for some reason. There’s no chance of the Hammers bossing possession but as long as they press higher up the pitch, avoid giving away free kicks on the edge of the area, and can break at speed there is no reason the feel-good factor cannot be extended even further. It’s suddenly not so bad being a West Ham fan. COYI!   

Survival Back On The Agenda As West Ham Head South To Visit The Vitality Bowl Of Cherries

West Ham must stop Billing to achieve top billing in the latest relegation scrap against Bournemouth. The Hammers need to display their new-found spirit and resilience if they are to pip the Cherries for the points.

West Ham eased themselves into the Europa Conference semi-finals on Thursday night with what turned out to be a comfortable victory over KAA Gent. Following yet another slow, stuttering start the Hammers picked up the tempo around the half-hour mark before running riot in the second period. The margin of victory should possibly have been even greater.

There is now the small matter of five Premier League fixtures in 15 days before the semi-final against AZ Alkmaar on May 11. With the first leg being played at the London Stadium this has the makings of a tricky tie against an unknown Dutch opponent. At first glance the relative youth of the Alkmaar team – an average age more than four years junior to the Hammers – raises anxiety levels, especially if it is the case that youthfulness equates to fast and energetic.

In an ideal world, West Ham will have been able to preserve their Premier League status before the Conference games resume. To do so will require a haul of six or seven points from the next five games. It’s a return that is above the season-to-date average – although below the last five match total of eight points.

Little further clarity was provided on the likely outcome of the relegation scramble from the games already played in the current round of matches. A win for Leicester puts them back in play while a point apiece for Southampton and Everton does more for morale than league position. Defeats for Leeds and Forest leaves both even more exposed to the dreaded drop

The run of West Ham’s five survival games kicks-off with a trip to the south coast to play Bournemouth this afternoon. It was not long ago that the Cherries were everyone’s favourite for relegation but a strong run of four victories from six has lifted them to the fringes of safety. A home win today might see them done.

Former Hammer, Gary O’Neil has knuckled down and performed a highly creditable job with his low budget squad. The Cherries are one of only two sides – the other is Forest – who have enjoyed less possession than West Ham this season. Their tendency is to get as many players behind the ball as possible – sound familiar – and rely on quick breakaways centred on the pace, movement and running of Dominic Solanke and Philip Billing.  

Solanke is a strange player who never delivered on his early potential at Chelsea and Liverpool. Although he scored a hatful of goals in the Championship, his Premier League total of eight from 70 games is less than impressive for a striker – did you know he also had one England cap?. However, his tally of five this season is as good as any West Ham player, and he has also contributed plenty in assists and as target man in counter-attacks. It is Billing who tops the scoring charts for Bournemouth (with seven) – goals which are typically scored from late runs into the box. Who will be picking him up? The other Cherry who has impressed in the games I have seen is Marcus Tavernier. If he plays – he went off injured at Tottenham last week – his runs along the flanks will require close attention from the West Ham full-backs.

Life and football is full of uncertainties. But one thing we can be certain of is that David Moyes will not be springing any selection surprises when the team sheets are handed in before kick-off. From the team that started against Gent, I see the only questions as: Aaron Cresswell or Emerson Palmieri, and Nayef Aguerd or Angelo Ogbonna.

That will mean starting berths again for two players – Tomas Soucek and Said Benrahma – who have looked well out of sorts for varying parts of the campaign. Moyes obsession with Soucek is legendary and hinges on the manager’s fixation with the aerial presence the Czech offers in defensive areas. If Soucek was still weighing in with goals at the other end it might be worth the trade-off. But he’s not and without goals his poor proficiency with the ball at his feet stands out even more. At this level a player shouldn’t he heading the ball because he doesn’t trust his own ability to bring it under control.

Benrhama has been consistently frustrating for much of his Hammer’s career and into this season. Granted he is joint top in Goals Scored and Goals + Assists but those stats do include four penalty kicks. His decision making is still haphazard, and, for me, he lacks the speed and strength to hack it at the top level. In the average game Benny looks incapable of pressing a grape, so it was something of a surprise last week when he outmuscled Ben White before crossing for what should have been West Ham’s winner against Arsenal.

It is baffling why Maxwell Cornet has yet to be given more minutes since his recovery from injury. Surely, he needs them to get match fit and his pace would be a welcome added dimension to attacks. Yet he has been mainly limited to five-minute cameos as a late Michail Antonio replacement since returning to the match day squad.

A West Ham win would be a second double of the season for the Hammers. It would also be a first ever double over the Cherries and the first win in Bournemouth since a Dimitri Payet inspired 3-1 victory in January 2016. A Hammer’s comeback inspired by one of Payet’s memorable free-kicks. How we could do with that now!

The game promises to be an intriguing clash of two sides inclined to play with a similar style – defend deep and counter-attack. It will be a very different challenge for West Ham than games against attack minded opponents like Arsenal and Gent. Despite some great goals scored recently – the Declan Rice and Antonio strikes on Thursday were top drawer – more penalty box chances need to be created from open play if the Goals For column is to be improved. The approach to the game must be adventurous enough for the Hammers to put pressure on the shaky home defence, with Jarrod Bowen and Lucas Paqueta the most likely to make it happen. But disciplined enough not to get caught out by Bournemouth counter attacks. A tight affair is forecast but one that must feature strongly on the winnable list. COYI!  

After a successful European win on Thursday, a cherry-picking trip to the South Coast for West Ham to face an improving Bournemouth team

An important game – the winner will virtually be safe from relegation, although whatever the result, they probably both will

The Opta Supercomputer makes and updates predictions on the likelihood of all manner of things, including which clubs will be relegated from the Premier League. It gives a percentage chance of facing the drop based on form, the strength of opponents in the games to play, and goodness knows what else. I wonder what the Supercomputer would have made of the chances of West Ham getting anything out of the Arsenal game last weekend after the first ten minutes? Surely it would have been close to zero percent. That’s what I thought, as did many of us I guess, so it was refreshing to witness a comeback that didn’t seem likely, and it could have even been a win at the end.

What brought about the change in the game? The Arsenal manager believes that they eased up once they were two ahead, and that may have been partly the case, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. There was a marked change in the way we played. We pressed them higher and played with an intensity rarely seen of late. Which begs the question – why haven’t we seen this for most of the season?

Who will go down? It’s still a tough question to answer, but perhaps a little easier than it was a couple of weeks ago. Back then there were just three points separating Palace in twelfth with Bournemouth in the third relegation spot. Palace decided to dispense with a young progressive manager and replace him with the oldest manager around who had decided to give up managing last season. But three wins in a row for Roy Hodgson since taking over once again at Selhurst Park has taken the Eagles out of the equation and they are now as good as safe.

It’s partly to do with the way that the fixtures have fallen with Palace now playing teams in the bottom half, as opposed to a run of games against teams closer to the top before Hodgson was appointed. Scoring goals has been the difference for Palace too. In the three games with the new manager in charge they have scored nine goals. In the 16 games prior to that they had also scored nine goals. What a difference! Not long ago there was a big gap between Palace and the team in eleventh place. Now they are just three points behind Chelsea who have collected just one point from their last three games.

A new manager at Everton had a similar (but only temporary) effect. When Sean Dyche took over they won two of their first three games reinforcing the change of manager ‘bounce effect’. But since then they have won just one of their last eight games, drawing three and losing four, and they are still in deep trouble with just seven games to play.

With Palace now out of it that leaves only eight clubs at most in the relegation mix. Let’s now take a look at some of the statistics involving the bottom eight.

This article was written before the result of the Arsenal v Southampton game last night was known.

The league table at present from the bottom up:

Southampton 23 points (7 to play), Leicester 25 (7), Forest 27 (7), Everton 27 (7), Leeds 29 (7), West Ham 31 (8), Bournemouth 33 (7), Wolves 34 (7).

The form table (once again from the bottom up) for the last six games played shows why the gaps are opening up near the bottom:

Leicester 1 point, Forest 1, Southampton 2, Everton 6, Leeds 7, West Ham 8, Wolves 10, Bournemouth 12.

The form table for the last three games is even more revealing:

Southampton 0, Leicester 0, Forest 0, Everton 1, Leeds 3, West Ham 4, Bournemouth 6, Wolves 7.

None of the bottom five teams are averaging a point a game for the season to date, and they are now in reality strong favourites to provide the three teams who will be playing in the Championship next season. If our game at Bournemouth on Sunday has a winner then that team will almost certainly be safe from the drop. If we can follow up the positive performance from last Sunday when we travel down to the South Coast then our relegation fears will be all but eliminated. We still have a game in hand and a goal difference that could be worth another point compared to the other teams in the bottom eight. That assumes that we don’t concede too many when we visit Manchester City of course.

I mentioned the Opta Supercomputer at the beginning of this article; their up-to-date figures for percentage chances of relegation are:

Southampton 93.6%, Forest 74.4%, Everton 57.8%, Leicester 46.4%, Leeds 23.5%, West Ham 2.1%, Bournemouth 1.6%, Wolves 0.5%

Bookmakers’ relegation odds vary a little, but taking Bet 365 as an example, the current odds before this weekend’s games are:

Southampton 1/14, Leicester 2/7, Forest 5/6, Everton 1/1, Leeds 9/4, Bournemouth 16/1, West Ham 20/1, Wolves 40/1.

On Thursday night we progressed into the semi-final of the Europa Conference League with a magnificent second half performance against Gent.  AZ Alkmaar, fourth in the Dutch league (as Gent are in the Belgian league) stand in our way from reaching a European final in Prague, our first since 1976.

But before then it is back to the important domestic action. We don’t have a good record in away games at Bournemouth in the Premier League. We have won just once in five attempts when two goals from Valencia and one from Payet secured a 3-1 victory in January 2016, a reversal of the 4-3 defeat we suffered earlier the previous August when Callum Wilson (now of Newcastle of course) scored a hat trick in our last season at Upton Park.

The stakes are high for this game. Both sides know that a win will make them virtually safe. Will it be a cagey affair? Will both sides be happy with a point apiece? Both teams can count on recent momentum. Whatever happens I think we’ll both be in the Premier League next season. I’ll agree with the Opta Supercomputer and the bookmakers. It’s any three from five now – Southampton, Leicester, Forest, Everton and Leeds. It can still change of course, but I’ll stick with that.

Dreaming Of A Second Successive Semi As West Ham Look To Slip Gently Past Belgian Challenge

The London Stadium mood was given a huge boost at the weekend. Was it a one-off or the sign of things to come? The first test for the new positivity is the opportunity for West Ham to ease past Gent and into the Europa Conference semi-finals.

At ten minutes past two on Sunday afternoon the worst prophecies of calamitous doom looked as if they would all be coming to fruition. This was going to be a rout against a rampant Arsenal side that would obliterate the Hammers relatively respectable goal difference advantage and leave them teetering despondently on the edge of relegation abyss.

Miraculously, something changed. Perhaps it involved a hint of complacency from the visitors but suddenly, West Ham were pressing higher up the pitch, the full-backs got to grips with the danger from the flanks, the composure of the Arsenal midfield was rattled, and space was intelligently exploited behind the high line of the Gunner’s defence.     

Anguish was replaced with anticipation and action and the type of spirited comeback where a deserved draw ends up feeling much more like victory. As satisfying as the performance was, it naturally raised questions as to where the spirit and intensity on show had been hiding all season. How had timid and cautious transformed into dynamic and confident? We had briefly seen an equivalent spirit and intensity when entertaining Tottenham in August but otherwise it has been distinctly absent. Is it a feature reserved solely for one-off London derby occasions? And will the penny finally drop that if you give the crowd something to shout about, then the London Stadium atmosphere can be as electric as you want?

The point earned was a welcome boost in the relegation struggle but has to be followed up in the remaining fixtures with equally positive displays. There is still plenty of opportunity to win and lose points and no chickens can yet be counted. It will be revealing to see how much of the new found adventure is taken to the game at Bournemouth when hostilities resume at the weekend.

In the meantime, there is the matter of a European Conference quarter final second leg with Gent to be played against the backdrop of increasing speculation on the future of David Moyes as West Ham manager. With so much online football ‘news’ tending towards fantasy it is impossible to sort the believable from what we would like to believe. But stories about gentlemen’s agreements and new managerial targets are starting to become commonplace, even in more mainstream outlets. The latest names thrown into the ring being Arne Slot of Feyenoord and Paulo Fonseca of Lille.

What any agreement between Moyes and the club to part ways in the summer would mean for the rest of this season is intriguing. Winning the Europa Conference would be a welcome addition to the threadbare Honours section of the manager’s CV. Is that sufficient motivation for the Scot to throw caution to the wind and risk the level of bravery that is often required to win knock-out competitions.

In theory, the Hammers should be red-hot favourites to reach the final. The draw has been kindly to the Hammers. Neither Gent, Anderlecht or AZ Alkmaar should prove insurmountable stumbling blocks on the march to Prague. But as we know from West Ham’s extensive back catalogue of banana skins, these matches frequently don’t go to plan. Nothing can be taken for granted!

Most observers agreed West Ham were fortunate to come away from the first leg on level pegging. An ultra cautious team selection surrendered all the initiative to the attack minded Belgian side who showed plenty of spirt but (fortunately) little real quality with the possession they were gifted. Surely the approach today will be nowhere near as negative and that all concerned will be going flat out to win the tie in normal time.

Angelo Ogbonna sits out the game through suspension while Gianluca Scamacca is now a long-term injury absentee. Nayef Aguerd should be available for selection after missing the weekend action and may well partner Kurt Zouma in the centre of defence. Surely tonight would be the ideal time to give Maxwell Cornet a starting position in what I’m hoping will be as strong a team as possible: Areola, Kehrer, Zouma, Aguerd, Emerson, Rice, Downes, Paqueta, Bowen, Ings, Cornet

There is a worry that too much is being read into the performance against Arsenal. It has certainly lifted the mood for now, but we need to see more evidence before we can call it a turnaround. A good start would be the Hammers demonstrating their intent with an efficient and positive victory to seal next month’s semi-final berth. COYI!

Can West Ham Survive Arteta’s Spanish Inquisition At The London Stadium

Nobody expects a West Ham victory in today’s big London derby. The Gunners have no fear, and the Hammers lack the element of surprise. Will it be an afternoon of torture to endure in Stratford?

It’s exciting isn’t it that West Ham are one of the teams able to have a say in the destination of the Premier League title. As they prepare to face Arsenal this afternoon and travel to Manchester City in a couple of weeks’ time, both opponents will have an eye on the games as a great opportunity to boost their respective goal differences.

Combining David Moyes miserable managerial record against ‘big six’ sides with the Hammers long-term tendency for lame surrender in such games injects a double dose of pessimism into today’s encounter. West Ham’s Premier League record against Arsenal is especially woeful. Just eight wins out of 53 attempts. Since a purple patch of three consecutive wins in 2006 and 2007, there have been just two victories to celebrate from a 34-match run.     

According to reliable sources, the Oracle Cloud algorithm for win probability is struggling to cope with small enough numbers for calculating the chances of a West Ham win. Whereas the Arsenal win probability can be seen from space, the Hammer’s probability is invisible to the naked eye.


Apart from avoiding defeat, there was little solace to be taken from the performance against Gent on Thursday evening. The Europa Conference campaign has been an isolated glimmer of hope for supporters this season. But as the quality of opponent has improved, performances are beginning to align with those in the league – never mind the performance, it’s all about the result! Being given the run around by a spirited but limited Gent side was unexpectedly dispiriting.

There was a not-so-subtle dig by Moyes after the match about the importance of supporters getting behind the team. Of course, a rocking stadium is everyone’s dream scenario, but there has to be something to get people off their seats – to keep the spirit of the crowd lifted. The atmosphere at kick-off is consistently positive but is sure to lose its sparkle if not reinforced by action on the pitch. Starting on the back foot, defending deep with ten players behind the ball, and failing to get forward in numbers is not a recipe for raising the passions. No surprise that West Ham have still yet to score in the first 15 minutes of any of this season’s Premier League games. It is easy to point to examples at clubs, such as Leeds, and praise the fanaticism of the support but they are cheering a team who are always willing to give it a go, despite whatever other limitations they may have.

Watching West Ham sitting back in passive resignation is about as stimulating and inspiring as settling down for an evening watching the Test Card on TV. While a relegation battle might suggest a reappraisal of tactics, West Ham are relying on the same approach that got them into a mess to get them back out of it. There is not just the one option of grinding out results and hanging on to a lead in every game. Sometimes the initiative must be seized. To play the game on our own terms that askes questions of opponents rather than sitting back and hoping for the best. Learn a little from the style we have seen from the likes of Brighton, Villa, Fulham and Brentford.

I don’t really care much for Mikel Arteta but have to admit that his team play superb fast attacking football and are a joy to watch. For some strange reason, I also have an irrational dislike of Aaron Ramsdale even if he is rapidly becoming England’s number one keeper. The Gunners have tremendous flexibility in the way they approach games with the ability to adjust formation and structure to suit changing circumstances throughout the game – a far cry form our own pre-formed rigidity. They can attack at pace through the middle as well as down the flanks, get plenty of support into the box and never leave their attacking arrowhead isolated to chase lost causes. Saka and Martinelli will give our full-backs a torrid time this afternoon and Jesus is always a handful pulling central defenders out of position. The player who makes everything tick for me though is Ødegaard. He is the dream creative midfield player – great decision maker who rarely wastes a ball. How long since West Ham have had a competent player in that role?

Arteta will now be feeling the hot, garlicky breath of Pep Guardiola on the back of his neck and it will be interesting to see how his team copes with that. A touch of the jitters might be our best hope for this afternoon. I do think that Manchester City will eventually pip them at the post but only based on their prior experience of handling the pressure of the run-in.

What I don’t find as exciting as the tile race is being entangled in the relegation battle. Yesterday’s results were generally favourable for West Ham although Crystal Palace, Wolves and maybe Bournemouth look to have eased themselves clear of danger. It’s now more a six-club race with Southampton starting to lose touch with each passing week. A disastrous result for Everton, a not unexpected defeat for Leicester, and Forest and Leeds yet to play. Could have been far worse in what all the omens suggest will be a blank weekend for the Hammers.

So, what might we expect from Moyes this week? As ever, his decision making will be underpinned by stereotypical caution. Perhaps, he will view a one or two goal defeat as a good enough result in that it preserves the goal difference advantage. My guess is that the starting XI will be the same as at Fulham except for Lucas Paqueta replacing Pablo Fornals. Nothing more adventurous or revolutionary than that. Plan for draw, prepare for defeat. If we are to pick up a point it will as likely be due to a sub-par performance from an anxious opponent than to our own enterprise. The type of game to watch through your fingers. COYI! 

Time Ghentlemen Please: Can West Ham’s Season Be Saved By A First Silverware in 43 Years?

A tricky hop across the Channel to Belgium is the latest destination in the Hammer’s two year European adventure. Can they free themselves from relegation anxiety to post a healthy first leg lead?

The West Ham European adventure rumbles into Belgium tonight for a fixture in the city where it had all began almost 59 years ago.

In September 1964, KAA Gent were known by the French name of La Gantoise when they were drawn against the Hammers in the 1st round of the European Cup Winners Cup. The first leg match played at the now defunct Stade Jules Otten was shaded by the visitors with Ron Boyce scoring the only goal of the game. A scrappy 1-1 draw at Upton Park – Byrne replying after a Peters’ own goal – was enough to set West Ham on the road to a second Wembley final success in two years.

It was easy to imagine back then that silverware might be a regular visitor to the Upton Park trophy room. The club was on the rise, great things were expected and the danger was we would end up with open-top bus parade fatigue before too long. But then reality stepped in and we have had to make do with just two FA Cup wins in the intervening years.

West Ham’s form in the European Conference has been the polar opposite of that served up in league matches. An exemplary record ten wins from ten games played. And a tally of 25 goals that is just two short of the 27 scored in 29 Premier League fixtures. To a large extent this is a reflection of the quality of opposition being faced, but games still need to be won and it has been largely achieved through the efforts of a fringe group of players.

Whether the Euro campaign has impacted domestic performances in any positive or negative sense this season is open to speculation. There have been enough enforced breaks in a stop/ start campaign and sufficient squad rotation to avoid the excesses of fatigue and injury, although shortened preparation time for league games might be seen as an issue.

The same argument is true for the consequences of continued participation between now and the end of May . I would hope fellow supporters starved of silverware for 43 years would be desperate to go all the way to Prague in this competition. But equally, the majority would be distraught at losing our Premier League status. It shouldn’t be a choice of sacrificing one for the other and it would be unforgivable (admittedly in a long line of unforgivable actions) not to take the Euro games seriously.

The narrowest of Premier League breathing spaces was accomplished after plundering three points from Craven Cottage last Saturday. Fulham were the most accommodating of hosts, not only scoring on our behalf but also declining to make much in the way of serious attempts to score at the correct end of the pitch. If there is a dream opponent for David Moyes it would be one who spend the entire afternoon pinging in hopeful balls for a player who is serving an eight-match suspension in the stands. The Moyes defensive playbook is relatively sound when it comes to the art of heading the ball away. It is being attacked direct and at speed where it is full of holes.

We must now hope that Fulham rediscover their mojo before facing Leeds, Leicester, Everton, and Southampton in the other basement battles they are involved in. But the absence of Mitrovic leaves them with little in the way of threat and little left to play for.

Tonight’s opponents, Gent, originally qualified as Belgian cup-winners for the Europa League play-off round where they were soundly defeated 4-0 on aggregate by Omonia of Cyprus. Dropping down into the Conference League Group F, they finished as runners-up to Djurgårdens IF of Sweden. Gent then went on to beat Qarabağ FK of Azerbaijan in the Knockout round and Başakşehir of Turkey to reach the Quarter Finals. The 4-1 second leg win in Istanbul featured the fastest ever hattrick in UEFA club competition scored by Gent’s 20-year-old Nigerian striker Gift Orban. West Ham defenders have a long standing familiarity with gifts but hopefully used up their quota in the recent Premier League thrashing by Newcastle.

The Gent team are enigmatically known to supporters as the ‘The Buffalo’s’ and sport the image of a Native American chief as the club’s logo. Apparently, this is a throwback to a visit to Belgium by Buffalo Bill’s circus at the turn of the 20th century. With circuses and clowns never more appropriate in the stewardship of West Ham – and current leader, Chief Talking Bull – we should feel very much at home.

An advantage that West Ham have when playing in Europe is that opponents are dazzled by the aura associated with teams from the Premier League. Unless opponents have done a detailed level of homework, they will imagine a team of internationals weaving intricate and elegant patterns across the football pitch that are interrupted by sudden and clinical bursts of power and precision that leave them reeling. Little do they know that our style employs all the tactical sophistication and finesse of a mid-table Sunday league outfit.

Gent are riding high in 4th place in the Belgian Pro League with just two games remaining in the regular season – it then splits out into complicated play-off groups that determine next season’s European participation. This tie will be no walk in the park for the Hammers even though they will be considered as firm favourites to progress. In the context of the Premier League relegation battle it would be good to get the tie sewn up in the first leg, but that is easier said than done when a team is schooled to shut up shop at a goal up.

I expect Moyes again to rely on midweek stalwarts including Alphonse Areola, Ben Johnson, Thilo Kehrer, Manuel Lanzini, Flynn Downes, and Pablo Fornals as the core of tonight’s team. Will it be enough? Who knows? I’ve still got my eye on that silverware though. COYI!

If it is any consolation after Wednesday’s debacle West Ham still have a game in hand over all their relegation rivals as they travel to Craven Cottage

But games in hand mean nothing unless you pick up points from them

I find it difficult to add to Geoff’s excellent article this week. If you haven’t read it yet, then I recommend you do so now. Of the nine teams still involved in the fight against dropping into the Championship, only West Ham and Forest have failed to change their manager this season. Will one or both go down? Who knows? It is still too close to call. I keep reading that our manager has one more game to save his job, but if he wasn’t going to go after a 5-1 home drubbing then I guess he’s here for the season now come what may. And I find that truly astonishing.

There are three specific changes I would definitely like to see for our trip to Craven Cottage. Firstly, I believe that a change of goalkeeper is long overdue and Areola must surely replace Fabianski now. Our number 1 has been good, but time is catching up on him.

Kehrer must be replaced by Coufal. I thought Kehrer was badly at fault for the first two goals (although not the only one!). As a defender he lacks awareness of what is going on around him and I believe Coufal, while not perfect, is a better bet in that position.

As for Soucek, I just cannot understand how he can possibly be picked for game after game. To me his season has been full of giving the ball to the opposition or committing fouls and giving an innocent look at the referee as if he cannot understand why a decision has gone against him.

Of course defensively there are others who had poor games against Newcastle. Perhaps Aguerd could be replaced by Ogbonna, but I’d personally be happy to retain him, or perhaps as Geoff has suggested we might even go with a 3-5-2 formation, and keep Zouma, Ogbonna and Aguerd? Fornals and Downes come into the picture, or perhaps play Antonio and Ings together up top and move Bowen a little deeper in a 4-4-2? I don’t think Ings as a lone striker works – he’s not that type of player.

My team would be (4-3-3): Areola; Coufal, Zouma, Aguerd, Emerson; Rice, Paqueta, Downes; Bowen, Antonio, Benrahma.

But I very much doubt that will be the starting eleven.

So who will go down? It’s still a tough question to answer. There’s still only three points separating Palace in twelfth with Bournemouth in the third relegation spot. We are 15th but only out of the bottom three on the basis of (a worsening) goal difference. All the teams involved at the bottom still have nine games to play, although we have ten.

Bookmakers’ relegation odds are not changing too much and we are still eighth favourites to go down. If you look at the form table for the very last game then we are bottom on goal difference! But if you look at the last five games then it is a different story. The three teams who are odds on to go down are Southampton, Bournemouth and Forest. Everton, Leicester, Leeds and Wolves come next (in that order) and then we are equal eighth favourites with Palace.

The league table at present from the bottom up:

Southampton 23 (9 to play), Leicester 25 (9), Bournemouth 27 (9), Forest 27 (9), Everton 27 (9), West Ham 27 (10), Wolves 28 (9), Leeds 29 (9), Palace 30 (9).

The form table (once again from the bottom up) for the last five games played shows ourselves and Leeds as the in-form teams:

Leicester 1, Forest 2, Palace 3, Wolves 4, Southampton 5, Bournemouth 6, Everton 6. West Ham 7, Leeds 7,

None of the bottom seven teams is averaging a point a game for the season to date, although five of the bottom nine teams are averaging a point a game for the last five games played (including two of the bottom three in the league table Southampton and Bournemouth).

I have updated the table that sets out our remaining 10 league games with the figures in brackets the points that we picked up in the reverse fixtures already played earlier in the season. If we were to replicate those then we would collect another 7 points to take us up to 34. Might that be enough? It might be or it might not. We now have only four home games left (where we have collected the bulk of our points this season) and Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United are three of them – not the simplest games on paper. If we are to survive then collecting more points on the road is likely to be vital.

8/4 Away v Fulham (3)

16/4 Home v Arsenal (0)

23/4 Away v Bournemouth (3)

26/4 Home v Liverpool (0)

29/4 Away v Palace (0)

3/5 Away v Man City (0)

7/5 Home v Man Utd (0)

13/5 Away v Brentford (0)

20/5 Home v Leeds (1)

28/5 Away v Leicester (0)

Fulham have had an excellent season and sit in the top half of the table, but their form in the last five games shows only four points attained (three less than ourselves) and they have lost their last three. We must go into this game thinking we can win. But will we be set up by the manager not to lose? The ‘six pointers’ still to come at Bournemouth, Palace and Leicester and at home to Leeds will be crucial to our hopes of survival, but we must look to pick up some points in games where we are possibly not expected to. I think we will win today and I’m confident we will stay up. What are the chances?

There’s Only One F in Failure: Paralysis and Denial Set West Ham on Course For Catastrophic Relegation

Shell shocked West Ham will hope to pick up their shattered reputations as they cross London to Fulham in search of desperately needed points at Craven Cottage

F is for failure, but also for feeble, fiasco, farcical or several other words that are too fruity to mention here. Admittedly expectations weren’t high from Wednesday night’s game-in-hand against Newcastle, but self-harm, surrender, capitulation and a complete mullering hadn’t been on my radar. How might that one-time goal difference advantage look once West Ham have crossed swords with Arsenal and Manchester City?

In other circumstances, the result could be written off as a freak – a one-off like Manchester United losing 7-0 to Liverpool. But we are well aware the problems run much deeper at the London Stadium. Except that no-one seems to want to do anything about it. Continuing to treat it as a temporary dip in form that will be effortlessly turned around by doing the exact self-same thing again for the remaining ten matches of the season.

In his Groundhog Day press conferences, David Moyes has been true to form. Assuring us that his genius had given West Ham and the fans the best two years of their lives by finishing 6th and 7th and presenting the European adventures that this had spawned. Supporters should be grateful for such scraps and are fooling themselves if they think they are too good to get dragged into desperate and demoralising relegation scraps every few seasons. This season, he had been let down badly by the shortcomings of the very players he had signed, coached, and selected. And by supporters who were not fanatical enough to appreciate the alternative interpretation of the beautiful game being served up at the London Stadium. The beauty of Moyes ball can only be truly understood by the perceptive and grounded few!

To be fair to Moyes, that first full season in 2020/21 was excellent as the club established new records for number of wins, points, and size of goal difference. The football played during the purple patch immediately following Jesse Lingard’s loan signing was a joy to watch. The team were well organised but also played with a freedom that is totally missing today. Much of that decline is entwined with the star-crossed love affair between David and Jesse. Moyes couldn’t get his man, lost himself in the pursuit over several transfer windows, and was negligent in not finding an alternative to bridge the enormous gap between midfield and isolated striker.

I doubt Moyes is left with many backers outside of the boardroom, and there are constant rumours of tensions between manager, coaches, and players. It is an untenable situation in the middle of relegation struggle and the only feasible solution is surely a change of manager. Strangely, the Board don’t see it that way – quite what the rationale is for sticking with Moyes defies comprehension. Whatever credit the manager had is well and truly used up, and no-one guides a team to this level of underperformance and then miraculously recovers from it. It is only the inevitable that is being delayed.

The easy conclusion to jump to is that it is all about the money. Yet, for all Sullivan’s deranged attempts to run a professional and sustainable football club, he has invested heavily in it and must be aware that the value of his asset is closely aligned to its Premier League status. The drop in value that relegation would bring far outstrips the cost of compensation payments due. 

We should not ignore, however, that the Newcastle debacle rested heavily on collective and individual player errors. We should demand a reaction from that on Saturday. The views of supporters on individual players – as posted on online forums and social media – is varied and often scathing. At the more extreme end there is no player who escapes criticism of being either hopeless, stealing a living, out of his depth, or lacking commitment. If that is true, then it is a hole that not even a change of manager can repair.

From my perspective, I think the current woes stem almost entirely from outdated and rigid tactics that exist in isolation from the strengths and abilities of the players on the pitch. Sure, some positions require upgrade, but as I have written before, football at the elite level is a game of fine margins that requires a collective sense of spirit and direction. It must combine sound organisation with freedom of expression if it is to flourish and tactics have to adapt as circumstances change. West Ham under Moyes have stood still tactically and opponents will give hardly a second thought as to how we will setup. Even when he makes in-game changes, they are like for like personnel swaps rather than tactical switches. Belief and motivation have disappeared and the the team have been going through the motions. No cohesion, little movement, few options, scant variation.

And so, we are back to yet another episode in the long running series of ‘One More Game To Save His Job’, this time against Fulham. I suppose it means that avoiding defeat tomorrow gives Moyes a free hit to lose to Arsenal the following Sunday, before the last chance cycle repeats again at Bournemouth in two weeks’ time. Seems to make perfectly, practical, and professional sense – to nobody!

I’m wondering whether Moyes will revert to a three/ five at the back at Craven Cottage. It’s rarely looked convincing for us, but it would be a typical Moysey thing to do following a heavy defeat. It would allow him to quietly drop Tomas Soucek for tactical reasons and play Jarrod Bowen further forward alongside Danny Ings or Michail Antonio. The idea of playing two up front but sticking with a back four doesn’t feel particularly viable given West Ham’s tendency for being overrun in midfield. I’m guessing something like: Areola, Aguerd, Zouma, Ogbonna, Coufal, Rice, Paqueta, Fornals, Emerson, Bowen, Ings.

It is fortunate timing that Fulham will be missing talisman striker Mitrovic for the game as he continues to serve his lengthy referee grappling ban. What we need now is for Toney to receive an equally lengthy ban for his betting misdemeanours before the visit to Brentford in mid-May.

Fulham have enjoyed a creditable season so far, and together with Brighton and Brentford have formed a refreshing alliance of ‘minnows’ upsetting the status quo of the Premier League. Whenever I have seen them, they have played an entertaining brand of football under the talented but volatile management of Marco Silva. Silva will be serving a touchline ban for tomorrow’s encounter. What odds a man-of-the-match performance from Issa Diop?

There needs to be a helpline setup for those of us who desperately want Moyes gone but equally would be devastated by a West Ham relegation. Despite a shockingly bad away record it is one of the potential winnable game for the Hammers. But if we get the win, then we are stuck with the manager for several more weeks. Lose, and we might be rid of the manager, but the opportunity for points is lost. What is the right thing to do? COYI


There was at least some good West Ham news last night when the U18s made it through to the FA Youth Cup Final with a 6-1 victory over Southampton at the London Stadium. It is the first time the Youths have made it to the final in 24 years. There are some serious good prospects among that group and I look forward to the final against Arsenal towards the end of April. Well done lads!

Of Moyes and Men: Will We See Yet Another Cautious, Cowering, Timorous West Ham Display As They Face Newcastle at the London Stadium?

There was a boost to survival hopes at the weekend as relegation rivals jostle for position. What approach will West Ham take as they use up one of their games in hand?

Picking up three points in the weekend fixture at home to Southampton was a welcome relief. It lifted West Ham clear of the relegation places for now, with the battle for survival not showing any signs of becoming less congested. The fat lady hasn’t even had her hair done and there’s much to play for before we know whether she’ll be blasting out a rendition of ‘Bubbles’.

Last night’s results did little to provide further clarity on who is most at risk for the drop. The Hammers go into tonight’s home game with Newcastle in 15th spot but only outside the bottom three courtesy of goal difference. If West Ham should win (strange things can happen during a full moon) then it would rocket them up into 12th place above Crystal Palace.

Sunday’s victory was hardly an inspiring one, with the team once again serving up a lethargic opening 20 minutes – preserving the record of being the only Premier League not to have scored in the opening quarter hour. The tone was set several times in the opening exchanges when Said Benrahma chose to come back inside and play the ball sideways rather than try his luck down the line. Whether that was under orders, to avoid the manager’s wrath, or the sign of a player low on confidence is open to speculation. It was one of Benrahma’s more frustrating afternoons, despite what appears to be a growing understanding with the rapidly improving Emerson.

Although David Moyes has made a slight adjustment to tactics in recent weeks with a formation that is closer to 4-3-3, it is not without its faults in terms of deployment. Declan Rice may be the best candidate to sit and protect the back four, but the team collectively loses out from other important aspects of his game. He is the only player in the squad capable of running with the ball at speed. In this current role, those surging runs are largely curtailed. And Tomas Soucek as part of a midfield tasked with probing and keeping the ball moving is possibly the greatest miscasting since Elijah Wood played Matt Buckner in Green Street Hooligans.

Equally disappointing was the situation up front where the isolated figure of Danny Ings must be wondering what he has let himself in for. I was dumbfounded by Moyes post-match comment that: “we’re only just getting to know him. He’s someone who probably might need more people around him.” Really, David? Isn’t it your job to know these things? Had you never seen him play and recognised his strengths and weaknesses before he signed for West Ham? Mr Due Diligence? Even if Ings was a gift from the Chairman, surely you must have watched him at least once or twice on Match of the Day!

The Saints have an increasing look of doom about them and as things stand are my favourites for the drop along with Forest and Bournemouth. The huge Southampton weakness was the absence of any significant goal threat until they threw on the lanky lad at the end.   

For the Hammers, it should now be a case of three or four more wins to ensure survival in a season that most of us just want to forget. I am clinging to the hope that the manager will be shown the door at the end of the season. There’s nothing to suggest that Moyes has any other game plan than caution, low blocks, breakaways and set pieces. Pre-season talk of a more possession based game turns out to hove been pure fantasy. There is small consolation in the circumstances in that West Ham have one of the better goals conceded records in the Premier League (6th best) – built upon the unadventurous nature of his ultra-low block and massed defences. The elephant in the room for survival is the atrocious away form, and we will need to wait until the weekend to see if that pans out.

This evening’s visitors are having a tremendous season in the league and can now only miss out on Champion’s League qualification with a Kevin Keegan style blowout. Underpinning their success is a surprisingly miserly defence which has conceded just 19 goals all season, seven less than their nearest rival. They have not been an especially high scoring but usually enjoy the lion’s share of possession. I expect Moyes to be targeting a scoreless draw.

The Newcastle team sheet doesn’t look overly fearsome on paper, but Eddie Howe has them playing with a pace, energy and intensity that West Ham supporters can only dream of. Indeed it is a side blessed with pace that are sure to create chances even if they are not the best at converting them. With a bottomless chest of tainted Saudi blood money still to spend they will be a force in English football for years to come. Unless a reappraisal of the fit and proper ownership rules is entered into.

As ever, optimism for the game will probably last until the team-sheets are released an hour before kick-off. Surely, the time has come to give Soucek some bench time. I would prefer to see Flynn Downes as the holding midfielder, allowing Rice to get more involved further forward with Lucas Paqueta. I really don’t see Pablo Fornals as the answer in a deeper role as some have suggested – there is not enough to his game other than running.

Something must also change up front. Ings as a lone striker is nonsense. If Jarrod Bowen cannot be played further forward and closer to Ings, then I would prefer to see Michail Antonio, with all his faults and poor control, in that role. His physical presence and pace is still capable of unsettling defences. Perhaps it is also time to give Maxwell Cornet a run. We badly need a wider distribution of pace across the park.

The Hammers earned one of this season’s modest tally of six away points in the reverse fixture at St James Park in February. The Magpies were without the suspended Bruno Guimarães that day which was quite fortuitous. They are a more complete side when he plays. Another draw wouldn’t be the worst outcome, but ambitions should always be set higher – plan to win, prepare to draw. Unfortunately, we now that type of thinking is not in the manager nature. COYI!