The Week in Hammer’s History

Picking through the crumbs of comfort for the week 26 September to 2 October.

This Week Hammers HistoryThis week in Hammer’s history begins on 27 September 1997 where a run of 4 straight defeats was brought to end with a fortuitous 2-1 home victory over a Liverpool side including Paul Ince and David James. Both West Ham goals were the result of combination play between John Hartson and Eyal Berkovic who would come together in a less collaborative manner at the training ground later in the year.

Five years and one day later, West Ham secured their first league win of the season with the Paolo Di Canio inspired 3-2 victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. I was tempted to have this as the featured game but the less I think about that Glen Roeder season (the worst football manager ever) the better. You can, however, re-live the match below!

It has been a good week to play Chelsea and on 2 October in consecutive years we managed to stuck the blue flag firmly into the appropriate passage. The very average pre-money-laundering Blues being beaten 1-0 at Upton Park in 1993 (Morley) and 2-1 at Stamford Bridge in 1994 (M Allen, Moncur).

If beating Chelsea has been feature of this week over the years then so has losing to Arsenal including the time that they put 4 past Allen McKnightmare in 1988. There was also a time when a heavy defeat at Goodison Park was never too far away and September 2001 was no exception with a 0-5 reverse for Roeder and the boys. There being no game the following week it allowed the Hammers to work on their defending before the next game; a 7-1 pummeling by Blackburn. Difficult to believe the season ended with a 7th place finish.

For the featured game we return to European Cup Winners Cup and the second leg tie with Castilla. You may recall that due to crowd disturbances at the first game in Madrid, West Ham were forced to play the return behind closed doors. The game was so eerily silent, in front of 262 spectators, that it could have been played at Highbury. Within 30 minutes goals from Pike and Cross brought the tie back to 3-3 on aggregate and before half time the Hammers were ahead through a Paul Goddard strike. There was just the one goal in the second period, a thunderbolt from Castilla’s skipper, Bernal, to level the tie once more at 4-4. Into extra time and a goal in each half by the original Psycho, David Cross, made it 5-1 to West Ham on the night and 6-4 on aggregate.

Parkes, Stewart, Lampard, Bonds, Martin, Devonshire, Holland (Brush), Goddard (Morgan), Cross, Brooking, Pike

Notable West Ham birthday’s this week:

26 September:  Alan Stephenson (72)
Tommy Taylor (65)
27 September:   Me
28 September:   Geoff Pike (60)
30 September:   John Sissions (71)
2 October:           Trevor Brooking (68)
Jack Collison (28)
Ashley Fletcher (21)

5 Things From The Saints Capitulation

The list of what went wrong against Southampton could be as long as your arm.

5 Things WHUA Big Stadium Doesn’t Automatically Make You a Big Club

Personally, I believe the connection between the move to the new stadium and the poor performances so far this season is being vastly overplayed. It certainly is not the prime factor and cannot explain the performances on the road. The expectations at club following the move were unrealistically high though and maybe an assumption that we are now one of the big boys has found its way into the psyche at the club. Overall it was a good season last year but the report card still included a fair few areas where we could and should have done better. This requires hard work and application from the Board through to the coaching staff and players. Early signs are that the investment made in new players has not been well spent; that the coaching staff are short on ideas and the players low on effort and application as well as confidence. Both Newcastle and Sunderland have above average sized stadiums and their current positions demonstrate that on its own it does not bring success.

Second Season Syndrome: An Absence of Style and Formation

One major positive that Bilic brought to club was an approach that was the antidote to the unadventurous, football by attrition of his predecessor. It was a big relief in respect of football as an entertainment and brought further joy in victories over Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and the two Manchester clubs. The successes were enough to overshadow those disappointing aspects of our season where we failed to dispatch the teams we should have beaten with ease. Tame defeats at home to Swansea and away at Stoke in the last weeks of the season were definite warning signs of our limitations. On the good days our approach was high tempo, organised, hard working with quick counter attacks. On the not so good days it was slow, ponderous, short on creativity and focused on high balls to a big striker. Most of the teams setting the early pace this term play at a high tempo and most employ a pressing game. It is difficult to identify or articulate what our game plan is meant to be. Bilic says that the players are working hard on the training ground but to a man they look slower and less fit than any opposition we face. We lack cohesion and do not attack or defend as a team; operating as three detached units. Big gaps exist between midfield and defence and not enough players are getting up quickly enough to support the attack. There are major issues to address. Maybe confidence and injuries plays a part but there are deeper fundamental problems that need to be resolved (and fast!)

We Appear to Have Wasted a Lot of Transfer Cash

It is said that we spent £43 million in the transfer window on 10 or more new players (although that includes the permanent signing of Manuel Lanzini) with just James Tomkins leaving the club. If all the squad were fit it would be unlikely that any of the new players would feature in many people’s preferred starting eleven. Until his aberration at the Hawthorns I did like the look of Masuaku but he is no Cresswell; who even if he is not the best defender in the world is one of our most potent attacking threats. We haven’t seen too much of Arbeloa yet but for a player of such experience he looks to have poor positional sense. Likewise for a player who spent a good few season in a decent Bundesliga side, Nordtveit seems to be completely lost (at sechs and siebens you might say) and his distribution is woeful. Tore and Calleri look dreadful and if there is an exit clause on their respective loans then it would make sense to terminate them now. Zaza did put in some effort (at least in the first half) but looks wanting as a Premier League lone striker; did he have the ball under control at any point in the game? Without knowing the structure of his loan it would be a brave man to trigger the apparent ‘must buy‘ clause. I will cut some slack for Fletcher and Fernandes as I guess they were bought for the future rather than today and would be willing to give Feghouli a few more more chances. We will not know whether Ayew can make an impact for several weeks yet.

Players out of Position

As soon as I saw the team announced my heart sank. I understand that we had a left back problem and playing Arbeloa there may have been the only option available. However, Nordtveit at right back was just plain stupid (even if it was marginally less stupid than playing Antonio there earlier in the season). Why do we so frequently play players out of position in supposedly the best league in the world and expect them to perform. It didn’t take long to recognise that Bertrand was going to be a big threat for Southampton;and why did Nordtveit just give up running for the first goal? I’m not sure the midfield players know who is supposed to be playing where and we continue to defy convention by playing without a proper holding midfielder. With Kouyate drifting right and Payet keeping left there is no threat coming through the centre.

Where Will the Goals Come From

We have just the two tactics for scoring. High balls into the box from open play or set pieces and hope that Antonio will get on the end of one; or a Payet free kick. That it was obvious that the Southampton defence could cope with Plan A for the rest of the week appeared to bypass everyone in claret and blue. For Plan B, no amount of diving won any free kicks in a dangerous enough position for Payet to take advantage. Yes, we probably should have had a penalty in that brief 5 minute spell were we showed a little spirit but otherwise very little was created. No quick interplay and no openings created to bother the keeper. I am not a believer in most football statistics but 6 games and no goals from a striker is quite worrying.

Matchday: West Ham versus Southampton

Will the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness deliver a change in fortune at the London Stadium?

West Ham SaintsIf there is a Hitchhikers Guide to the Premier League it would no doubt describe Southampton as ‘mostly harmless’. Like the city they represent the club is largely unremarkable with just a solitary FA Cup win to show for their trouble. I worked in Southampton for some years and it is about as interesting as watching a reality TV show of a group of Belgians putting their CDs in alphabetical order on a damp Sunday afternoon. A club like ours, and its supporters, who are dreaming dreams would unlikely list the Saints as one of their main competitors. Yet over the past few seasons they have performed rather better than us; and this at a time when their demise has been repeatedly forecast as, time and again, players and managers have looked for a speedy exit up the M3 towards the brighter lights of London and the North West. The likes of Clyne, Lovren, Chambers, Shaw, Wanyama, Schneiderlin, Lallana, Bale, Mane, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain have all eschewed the unfashionable red and white stripes, and a picnic in the New Forest, for something more exciting. Southampton come into the game on the back of a first League win (Home to Swansea) and an EFL victory against Palace. The ‘resurgent’ Hammers will be flying high after seeing off the mighty Stanley.

“We have two massive games coming up and this is a great opportunity for us to get out of the trouble we are in. The reaction has been there in training and we always train hard. We have to do that in games and for 90 minutes. I am expecting us to be really good on Sunday.”

– Slaven Bilic

Last season’s home game was the quintessential ‘game of two halves’. Southampton completely dominated an abysmal West Ham in the first half and should have had the game easily won at half time but went in just one goal to the good. The introduction of Carroll and Lanzini at half time helped turn things around and West Ham went on to record their only Payet-less victory of the season with a 2-1 margin. The game also witnessed Antonio’s first goal for West Ham when a clearance rebounded from his head and into the goal; I wonder if this strike is counted in his headed goals statistic?

Head to Head

The head to head situation between the two team is a relatively even one with West Ham just shading it overall but with a very strong home record.  Of the last 12 encounters Southampton have won 4, West Ham 3 with 5 draws.  The last home draw was the Championship game in 2012 where Matt Taylor was needlessly sent off in the melee that followed West Ham being awarded a penalty.

P W D L F A
Home 47 26 11 10 86 46 WLWWDL
Away 48 10 16 22 57 81 LDDDLD
95 36 27 32 143 127

Team News

Arthur Masuaku has joined the other long term injured on the treatment table and so we are once again without a left back.  The worst case scenario in unfathomable team selections would Arbeloa moving to the left and Antonio taking his place on the right. I have heard some say that Ogbonna can play at left back but he doesn’t look like one to me.  The threat and pace of Shane Long (rarely given the credit he deserves) should not be underestimated.  Last season it was playing Jenkinson at left back in the first half that contributed to our poor first half showing.  Arbeloa on the left and Byram on the right looks the best option.

“He (Payet) is a very good player on the free-kicks, but our players also have many qualities and it will be difficult for West Ham to defend these players.”

– This Year’s Southampton Manager

For all the difficulties at the back, the balance in the midfield and a striker who looks capable of scoring also occupy the mind.  Noble and Kouyate sharing defensive midfield duties clearly doesn’t work and it is surprising the manager doesn’t see this or the importance of a specialist holding player in a setup where the fullbacks are meant to push forward.  Upfront neither Zaza nor Calleri look like they have seen a goal before.  It is difficult to explain away their performances off as settling in problems but some perseverance is necessary.

My predicted team:

Adrian (last life)
Byram  Reid  Ogbonna  Arbeloa
Nordtveit
Antonio  Payet  Kouyate  Lanzini
Zaza

Southampton are without Rodriguez but have Charlie ‘Dodgy Knee’ Austin available who is guaranteed to score; albeit in a 3-1 defeat for the Saints.

The Man in the Middle

Today’s referee is Jonathan Moss from West Yorkshire who was branded as the League’s most error prone official last season.  Moss took charge of West Ham on 5 occasions during 2015/16 (including the Blackburn cup game) and sent at least one player off on each occasion; 2 West Ham players and 4 opponents.  He was the referee for the away game at Leicester which was packed full of inconsistency and controversy.   In 4 games this year he has brandished 19 Yellow and 1 Red card.  The odds on seeing a penalty and red card today would seem to be high.

The Lawro Challenge – Week 6

Whose tea leaves make the most sense in the latest round of match predictions.

Lawro Crystal BallLast weekend we were very close with Rich and Lawro each predicting seven correct results, whereas Geoff just took the honours with five correct results plus a correct score. Rich continues to lead with 43, with Lawro on 36 and Geoff on 33.

Speaking ahead of the latest round of matches Geoff said that he was “delighted to have regained ground.  A corner has been turned and will now look to make great strides, change gears and narrow the deficit even  further before the international break.  This massive result provides a firm foundation to build on as I redouble efforts to kick start my campaign.”

This week’s predictions below:

 

Rich

Geoff

Lawro

Total after 4 weeks

36

25

29

Score in week 5

7

8

7

Total after 5 weeks

43

33

36

 

 

 

 

Predictions – Week 6

 

 

 

 

Rich

Geoff

Lawro

SATURDAY

 

 

 

Man Utd v Leicester

2-1

1-1

2-1

Bournemouth v Everton

2-2

1-2

1-1

Liverpool v Hull

4-0

3-0

3-0

Middlesbrough v Tottenham

1-2

1-3

0-2

Stoke v West Brom

1-0

2-1

1-1

Sunderland v Crystal Palace

1-1

2-1

2-1

Swansea v Man City

1-3

0-3

0-2

Arsenal v Chelsea

2-1

2-1

1-1

SUNDAY

 

 

 

West Ham v Southampton

2-1

2-0

2-1

MONDAY

 

 

 

Burnley v Watford

2-2

1-2

2-1

All The Young Dudes

Is there any place for optimism from within the youth ranks?

Embed from Getty Images

In a similar way that North Korean leaders insist on fancy titles such as ‘Peerless Leader’ or ‘Great Sun of the Nation’ our club has adopted as its own the moniker of the ‘Academy of Football’. While initially this was attributed by the football press in recognition of West Ham’s proficiency in coaching young players it has in recent year become more of a self-proclamation.

The development of Moore, Hurst, Peters and Brooking set the standard back in the 1960s but there then followed, with the odd exception, a long unproductive period for the youth system until the arrival, over the course of just a few years, of (Rio) Ferdinand, Lampard Jr, Cole, Carrick, Defoe and Johnson. That the potential of the golden generation was dismally squandered is a painful tale of woe that we won’t go into here.

Awash with pre-season optimism there was much chatter that part of West Ham’s glorious future; along with a new stadium, a reinforced squad and European football was a new crop of youngsters that would soon be knocking on the first team door. As the early season has developed most of these dreams have turned out to be like beautifully wrapped Christmas presents that turn out to be very disappointing once opened. But can our young players give us real hope for the future?

In an article I read before the season started Slaven Bilic described the difficulty of introducing young players in the modern Premier League. My interpretation of what he was saying is that it was a risk not worth taking in a scenario where a few bad results can have fans (and owners) clamouring for your head; just like we have now!  For young players, the more normal route is to spend time out on loan to get experience and see how they cope. Ferdinand, Lampard, Carrick and Defoe all had successful loan spells whereas Cole and Johnson went straight into the West Ham first team.

At the present time we 8 youngsters out on loan; Burke, Samuelsen, Cullen, Knoyle, Page, Belic, Dobson and Hendrie. Of these only Burke (who is now out injured following a hernia operation), Cullen and Page are getting regular first team football and of these only Burke is playing with a Championship side. Arguably the more exciting prospects (at least in terms of expectation) are still at the club compridsing Oxford, Martinez, Browne and Quina.

The Reece Oxford situation is very strange. An impressive debut against Arsenal over a year ago followed by a more difficult game at home to Leicester and he has only started one Premier League game since. The midweek EFL cup tie would seem to have been the perfect opportunity to give him another opportunity but instead a central defensive position was given to midfielder Nordtveit. It is easy to conclude that speculation about his future is playing a part in selection and my instinct is that he won’t remain a West Ham player for the long term.

Toni Martinez appears from the statistics to be a natural goalscorer something which typically our own academy has found it difficult to produce (Cottee being the last with Defoe having been snatched from Charlton) and how we could do with one of those in the first team at the moment. On the evidence to date it is difficult to see how Martinez and Fletcher would be worse striker choices than Zaza and Calleri.

Domingos Quina came to West Ham as a very highly rated and sought after player. Two substitute appearances against Domzale and nothing since; to the point that he doesn’t appear in any squad on the Official West Ham website. Marcus Browne also had a Europa Cup cameo but has not been considered since including being overlooked for the EFL Cup; and showing his disappointment on Twitter. Martin Samuelsen looks an extremely talented individual but, for whatever reason, he has not been getting regular game time on loan; either at Peterboro last year or at Blackburn, so far, this season.

When West Ham won the FA Youth Cup in 1999 only Bywater, Cole and Carrick went on to have top level careers. Many young players drop by the wayside and there is no reason to suspect that the current crop will be any different. There is nothing better as a supporter than witnessing a youth team player breakthrough into the first team. Obviously they need to have the talent but it would be disappointing if chances were not given simply because the manager is risk averse.  I would like to believe that there are 3 or 4 regular first teamers in the current youth setup.

Another title that has been given to successive North Korean leaders is ‘Great Defender’. Now that would be a novelty this season; but maybe we already have one sitting on the bench.

Matchday: Hammers versus Stanley

Sliding doors. This train terminates at Stratford.

EFL CupWe asked 100 West Ham fans to “Name a Famous Stanley”. Top misty-eyed answer was the Lord Stanley in Plaistow one of the favourite pre-match watering holes from the old Boleyn Ground days. Second was the retractable blade knife that might have been taken to a match in the 70’s and in third place was former Socceroo Skippy Stan Lazaridis. The Stanley from Accrington were in a disappointing sixth place.

League Two Accrington Stanley find themselves in the 3rd round of the League Cup for the very first time. Their second round victory over Burnley being the first time that they have ever beaten a team from the top tier. West Ham’s last defeat to a fourth tier team was a 2-1 home defeat to Aldershot in 2011. Accrington manager, John Coleman, has vowed to come to the London Stadium to attack and so we could well be in for an interesting evening. They are not even bringing a bus let alone parking it.

“It will be a good side whoever we play as they are Premier League players. We will not be going there to park the bus, we will be going there to attack and score goals and if that means we get beat 7-0 so be it.”

– John Coleman

Our approach will be interesting and there are different schools of thought on the distraction or otherwise of cup competitions. The Avram Grant team had impressive runs in both League and FA Cup but remained woeful in the League. On other occasions a good cup win has galvanised League form. A good many supporters would sacrifice several League placings for a decent cup run (especially if it leads to a day out at Wembley) provided that the spectre of relegation is avoided. It is going back a long way but a 6-0 League Cup pounding of Tranmere in 1974, when we were bottom of the table, prompted a revival in fortunes that ended with FA Cup success against Fulham. Tonight is maybe a ‘sliding doors’ moment for us.

“We have to do it. Starting from today we have three mega games, three cup finals before the next international break. This game is a good opportunity for us, it’s an interesting competition for us. It’s good to have a game tonight.”

– Slaven Bilic

Head to Head

We have never played against tonight’s opposition before and so I will use the opportunity to repeat my favourite Accrington Stanley related story. Legendary goalkeeper Willie ‘Fatty’ Foulke was in the Bradford City team when Accrington Stanley visited Bradford for an FA Cup tie in February 1907. It was discovered just before kick-off that Foulke, who stood 6ft 3in and weighed in at 22 stone, was wearing a jersey that clashed with the red shirts of Stanley. After a fruitless search of the ground for a suitably large replacement Foulke used a sheet borrowed from a neighbouring house to cover the offending top. The game ended with a Bradford victory by the only goal and with Foulke barely called into action his makeshift attire was as pristine as it had been at kickoff. Thus, the origin of the phrase “keeping a clean sheet”. What are the chances of one of these today?

Team News

None of the long term injured are ready for action yet. In the circumstances I would anticipate a reasonably strong side that would include West Ham debuts for Alvaro Arbeloa and Edimilson Fernandes. I would also like to see Ashley Fletcher and Pedro Obiang given starting positions.

My predicted starting eleven:

Randolph
Arbeloa  Ogbonna  Oxford  Masuaku
Feghouli  Obiang  Fernandes  Tore
Antonio  Fletcher

Obviously, I know nothing about the likely Accrington line-up other than the increasingly cosmopolitan nature of football sees players from France, Benin and St Lucia feature in the League Two side’s squad.

Man in the Middle

Tonight’s referee is Stephen Martin from Staffordshire, a member of the Select Group 2 Refs who can usually be found blowing his whistle in Championship games. If we asked 100 West Ham fans to ‘Name a famous Steve Martin’ answering with the referee’s name would no doubt get you an “Eh-uhh”!

5 Points From The Recent Weekend

Sorting through the garbage from the Premier League weekend and wondering how our on-loan players are faring.

Five Things EPLCity Slickers 2: The Sequel

At this stage last season Manchester City sat at the top of the Premier League with a 100% record from the first 5 games before successive defeats to West Ham and Tottenham took the spring out of their step and resulted in an indifferent (by their expectation) 4th place finish, and snatching the final Champion’s League spot. This year they are again top of the pile with a flawless record and even though it is “early doors” (©Big Ron) it is difficult to see who is going to stop them this time around. In Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero they have probably the best player and best striker in the league backed up by a very deep and talented squad and a manager who really does look like he is making a difference. Their city neighbours, on the other hand, resemble a cross between the Harlem Globetrotters and a circus freak show without any real tactical plan; a little like Chelsea last year you might say. Chelsea themselves require a lot more rebuilding before they can mount a serious title challenge while Liverpool and Arsenal will veer from the sublime to the unconvincing. Tottenham will act all mouth and no trousers again and along with Everton, as the new Southampton, will be tussling for Europa League qualification.

Light Blue Touch-Paper and Retire

On Guy Fawkes night, the 5th of November, the fixtures computer has paired West Ham with Stoke City and on the evidence of recent defensive performances we could well see some fireworks that day. There has been much debate on West Ham forums as to whether our own poor defending is down to individual blunders or collective incompetence. I tend to believe that the two are related and that haphazard organisation is often (but not always Arthur) the catalyst for mistakes. One imagines that having already conceded 4 goals twice this season Mark Hughes would have spent much of the week preparing his side to stand firm against the expected Crystal Palace aerial threat from set pieces and yet they surrendered two routine goals in the first eleven minutes. Unless both the Stoke and West Ham defenders get a rocket before the two teams meet the game might yield a whole youtube bloopers compilation by itself.

Goals with a Lustrous Finish

Speaking of rockets that is how a shot from outside the box that whistled into the back of the net was once described. Or else it might have been a screamer, unstoppable or a piledriver. These were all good masculine sounding words that conjured up the image of a glove free warrior with no shinpads, crepe bandage barely concealing a gash on the head, ploughing through the mud and letting one rip with his Gola Speedster boots. Now a commentator feels that they are allowed to describe a goal as ‘sumptuous’ as with the Jordan Henderson strike at Stamford Bridge; what next – gorgeous, luscious, lavish, opulent, orgasmic, splendiferous….? The long range shot is more often than not top contender in the goal of the week/ month/ season compilations but give me a slick passing, quick movement team goal any day. It was good to witness a few of these over the weekend. Also good to see converted Right Back, Michail Antonio still leading the goal scoring charts which in the absence of the illusory 20 10 goals a season striker is most welcome. For teams that do have functioning strikers there were further goals for Costa, Lukaku, Deeny, Kane, Rashford and Iheanacho while Leicester look to have done shrewd business in recruiting Slimani from Sporting Clube de Portugal.

The Not-So Special One

I was among many who believed that Manchester United under Jose Mourinho would be a force to be reckoned with this season. Instead they appear to be a ramshackle assortment of spare parts that have been assembled without access to the necessary instructions. If you scan through the list of names of the teamsheet it might look impressive at first glance but it is not a team rather a collection of individuals, some of whom are well past their best. The manager gives the impression of being perplexed about the whole business. There was a perfect description of Jose’s demeanour in a recent Guardian article which I repeat below:

“More recently José Mourinho seems to have decided the best approach at Manchester United is to spend his first few weeks standing on the touchline looking crumpled and sad and heroically betrayed, like a man on the hard shoulder of the M6 staring balefully across the nearside lines above his raised bonnet, rain gluing his shirt to his back, phone dead, credit card maxed out, kids living in Bicester, golf clubs repossessed, 800 units of polyester carpet samples scattered across the back seat.”

Naturally, the 3 defeats in a week for Manchester United are not the fault of Jose himself but are down to poor refereeing and Luke Shaw. In the game against Watford (good team!) they were second best in the first half and it looked ominous when Watford surrendered the initiative during the second period yet the Hornets showed great spirit and resilience to claim all 3 points from their largely uninspiring opponents.

Loans and Miscellany

Most Premier League teams have players out on loan at other clubs. This can be to give younger players experience or simply to remove some cost from the wage bill. It is well known that at any time Chelsea have something like 30 players loaned to other teams. As far as I know West Ham have 10 players out on loan so let’s take a look at what they were up to at the weekend. Enner Valencia had his first run out for Everton as a 66th minute replacement for Lukaku and was caught offside just the once, so encouraging signs so far. Neither Reece Burke nor Kyle Knoyle took part in Wigan’s goalless draw with Fulham (my assumption is that Burke was injured); Martin Samuelsen was a 90+3 rd minute time-wasting substitute for Blackburn in their 4-2 win against Rotherham but there was no place in the squad for Stephen Hendrie. Josh Cullen played 90 minutes for Bradford as did Lewis Page for Coventry in their respective drawn games but there was no game time for George Dobson (Walsall), Luca Belic (Motherwell) or Doneil Henry (AC Horsens in Denmark). The most notable action from any of these games being a hovering drone stopping play for several minutes in the Bradford – Bristol City game.