5 Things We Learned From The Watford Defeat

A frustrating day as we snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

5 Things WHUEarly Days & Late Fitness

These days any anger at a poor West Ham performance is fleeting; disappointment lingers a little longer whereas the glow of rip-roaring victory can keep me sustained through to the following Thursday. So far, this year it has been mainly disappointment (except on Twitter which has seen blistering rage) but we must remember that the season is young and that quirky results can occur all over the place at this stage. That is not to say there are not problems to address and weaknesses to resolve. Of these problems the most basic appears to be an issue with fitness levels. While some of the deficiencies could be put down to players coming back from injury (and the Euros) this obscures what appears to be an otherwise poor preparation for the new season; the pointless visit to North America and the halfhearted approach to the Europa League which certainly hasn’t seen us hit the ground running. In each of our league games this season we have been second best in terms of fitness and it is difficult to understand how there can be any excuse for this.

We have Improved the Squad but not the Team

There were plenty of arrivals at West Ham during the transfer window with only one senior first team player leaving in the shape of James Tomkins. Yesterday’s starting eleven only included two of the new boys (I am excluding Lanzini who is technically a new signing). Of the two, one (Masuaku) probably wouldn’t have been playing (or even at the club) had there not been the injury to Aaron Cresswell. Last season our problem was conceding goals rather than scoring them (which we did well enough provided that Payet was playing). The defensive side of the squad has not been improved and this includes introducing an effective defensive midfielder which I believe has been a significant gap in the squad fro some time. As we saw against Watford we are vulnerable when players run from midfield areas at us. I guess that is why Havard Nordtveit was signed and, on paper, an experienced international and Bundesliga player should be the perfect fit. So far though he has not impressed. The other assorted new midfield players don’t look to be a significant upgrade (or any upgrade at all) on what we already had. It would be foolish to write anyone off after a few games but some rapid improvement would be very welcome. For now, it seems like we have a deeper (rather than better) squad; ironically capable of coping with a competition that we have already been eliminated from.

Mark Noble, The Elephant in the Room

Wholehearted and committed players, especially if the are local, are very likely to become fans favourites at West Ham. It is part of the family/ community feel that, even now, surrounds the club. For many of us, there are far too few home grown players in and and around the first team. This is where the dilemma of “what do we want from our club?” comes in. Is it success or sentiment? Mark Noble ticks all the boxes for the romantic; from Canning Town and West Ham through and through. He has been a great servant (albeit a well payed one) to the club but I see him in the Steve Potts envelope rather than the Trevor Brooking or Billy Bonds one. His commitment is not matched by the necessary speed of thought or movement to be a regular at the heart of a team with ambitions of top 6 and beyond. I can understand why people love him but don’t believe he offers enough guile at the highest level particularly when his form drops as it has now. I see James Collins in a similar vein. If you want someone battling every aerial challenge and throwing his body in the way as a last gasp attempt to stop a goal bound shot then Ginge is your man. But, he makes too many mistakes, is vulnerable to runners and has terrible distribution. Angelo Ogbonna is streets ahead in terms of quality and would have been mightily upset at being overlooked for Ginge.

Dimitri Payet, I think we do understand…

For a long period during the 1970’s West Ham relied almost entirely on Trevor Brooking for any attacking endeavour. It was stop Brooking and you stopped West Ham; until Alan Devonshire came along. Now there is an over reliance on Dimitri Payet. He is a tremendous player and, of course, any team would miss him but we cannot expect him to carry the rest of the team through the season. Contributing tow assists for the goals against Watford, including the superb Rabona, he had a lively start but as he tired then so the attacking threat faded. The defensive implosion rightly grabbed the headlines but we need to be asking more questions in attack than leaving it all to Dimitri. We have an abundance of midfield parts and the coaching staff need to find a way of assembling them in a way that creates a beautiful, practical and efficient unit. Our inability to see off the teams we should beat will be a major problem if we are unlikely to repeat the heroics (and points haul) from the better teams.

Getting the first defeat out the way

A lot of teams would be thinking of coming to the London Stadium and being the first away team to win there in the league. Just like we remember being the last team to win at Highbury and the first to win at The Emirates. Well now that we have got that that defeat out the way early we can now set off on a barnstorming run of invincibility. So there!

Matchday: West Ham v Watford

What can we expect as the Hammers take on the Hornets with a returning Dimitri Payet.

West Ham WatfordThe early season international break, transfer dealings extending past the early games and players returning late due to the Euros and injuries give today’s game the feel of another new beginning;  not just for West Ham but also for other clubs including today’s visitors, Watford.

Going in to our game against the Hornets last April there was a lot of publicity about how few penalties had been awarded to West Ham compared with other teams at the top end of the table.  Watford, with Premier League safety assured, fielded a weakened side due to their approaching FA Cup semi-final appearance with Crystal Palace.  Anti-grappling referee, Mike Dean, duly obliged the critics by awarding the Hammers two penalties; both ably converted by Mark Noble in a largely comfortable 3-1 victory.  A late Deeney penalty for Watford was saved by Adrian.

“With the injuries it was tough. Now hopefully a few of them are back. It’s not a new start for us but with the players who are back I am very optimistic.”

– Slaven Bilic

For Watford, defying the pundits to secure a second season in the Premier League while reaching a cup semi-final was not enough for the difficult to please owners who replaced Spanish (Hugh Laurie lookalike) manager Quique Flores in the summer by itinerant Italian coach Walter Mazzarri.  Mazzarri has since embarked on a thorough overhaul of his squad which has seen them pick up just a single point so far this season.

Head to Head

West Ham have won 23 of 37 League and Cup encounters with Watford since the first senior meeting in 1978.  At Home, the Hammers have won 13 out of 18 losing just 3 times, 2 of which a month apart in early 2007 under Alan Curbishley.  The full record is:

P W D L F A Sequence
Home 18 13 2 3 19 16 WWLLDW
Away 19 10 4 5 25 22 DWDLWL
37 23 6 8 44 38

Team News

According to Physio Room the injury list is at an all time low with just Carroll (due back 17 Sep), Ayew (Nov 27), Cresswell (Nov 26) and Sakho (Oct 1) still unavailable.  All the signs are that Dimitri Payet will make his first start of the season and that we will see the striking debut of Simone Zaza up front.  It will be interesting to see how the remainder of the midfield is set up and whether Manuel Lanzini also gets a start or whether Havard Nordtveit returns as a more defensive option despite failing to impress so far.  I suspect Lanzini will be on the bench, along with Sofiane Feghouli, for this one.

“We can say that from this week the job that I perform can be judged. I like to work with a group that I choose myself, and I’m very happy with this one.”

– Walter Mazzarri

Slaven Bilic may also prefer to bring in Alvaro Arbeloa (assuming he is deemed to be match fit) at right back but personally I believe Sam Byram has done enough to keep his place and would be unlucky to miss out.

Watford have no injury problems.  Much of last season’s heroics were founded on the goals of Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney but neither have scored this term (yet!).  Deeney is a fine professional but looked off the pace when I watched Watford lose to Arsenal recently.  The Hornets certainly improved after the break in that game after the introduction of new signings Isaac Success (great name) and Roberto Pereyra, both of whom looked to carry a threat.  On the other hand; Kaboul is always worth a goal to the opposition; former Hammer Behrami good for a yellow card and defenders Cathcart and Britos sound like they belong in old TV sitcoms.

Here is my predicted line up in a 2-1 victory:

Team v Watford

Man in the Middle

Today’s referee is Martin Atkinson from West Yorkshire.  Atkinson officiated 3 West Ham games last season; away victories at Arsenal and Bournemouth and the home draw with West Bromwich Albion.  Atkinson is known for his reluctance to brandish red cards and award penalties.

The Lawro Challenge: Week 4

Where we attempt to show Lawro how predictions should really be done.

Lawro Crystal BallI am currently living in Asia and, at just a shade under 6 foot, happen to be rather taller than most of the local population.  This is just as well, for at the moment, I am unable to look anybody straight in the eye.  The reason for this discomfort is that it seems I am worse at predicting the results of Premier League matches than even Lawro.

However, fresh from warm weather training during the international break I am determined to claw back some of the disadvantage between myself and the early pacemakers.  This week’s naval-gazings are shown below and see Lawro depart from his usual cautious tradition by actually predicting a team to score more than two goals.  In the circumstances, I am quietly confident that my redoubled efforts will see me far better placed following this current round of matches.

   Rich    Geoff    Lawro
Cumulative Points     28     22     26
Saturday
Man United v Man City     1-1     1-0     1-0
Arsenal v Southampton     2-1     2-0     3-0
Bournemouth v WBA     1-0     1-1     1-1
Burnley v Hull     2-2     1-0     2-1
Middlesbro v Palace     2-1     2-2     0-2
Stoke v Tottenham     1-1     1-2     1-1
West Ham v Watford     3-1     2-1     2-0
Liverpool v Leicester     2-1     1-1     2-1
Sunday
Swansea v Chelsea     1-2     0-2     0-2
Sunderland v Everton     1-1     1-2     1-1

* Our scoring system is one point for a correct results plus two bonus points for the correct score.

More Damned Statistics

Studies have shown that accurate numbers aren’t any more useful that the ones you make up!

stats

For a while as a young boy I collected London bus numbers; not route numbers but the fleet number that was painted next to the driver’s cab. It was the budget version of train spotting because you didn’t need to buy a platform ticket. I would carefully write the numbers down in a small notebook but I didn’t stick at it very long before realising the whole exercise was a complete waste of time.

Nowadays any millennial geek fascinated by collecting and recording pointless information can ‘monetise’ their proclivity through gainful employment with an organisation such as Opta, the sport’s data specialists. Football, like most sports, is now awash with data that provides a minute by minute analysis of every action and incident so that at any time we can know how far Mark Noble has run today. My assertion, however, is that while the resulting statistics might be interesting they are nothing more and there is no cause and effect between the data presented and the actual outcome of a game i.e. that the stats are basically meaningless. I have written about this previously and undertook to keep a watchful eye as the season progresses to see if I could be proved wrong.

For the purposes of my study I am using the data presented on the Whoscored website, which despite my scepticism over the usefulness of the stats is an excellent resource. The Whoscored data is, I understand, sourced from Opta and fed real-time to a large number of media companies . For each game, the website provides a match report showing summary details for possession, passes completed, shots on goal, aerial duels won, tackles made and dribbles won. I am making an assumption here that having selected these categories the folks at Whoscored consider them to be the most pertinent to the outcome of a game.

Of the 30 Premier League matches played to date there have been 22 which have had a positive outcome (with 8 drawn games). Of these, the winning team had the advantage in possession, passes completed, shots and dribbles won while the losing side more often came out on top for aerial duels won and tackles made. In only 1 of 30 games (Burnley v Swansea) did the winning side dominate every category while there was also 1 game (Palace v WBA) where the losing side was on top across the board.

So are there any conclusions that we can make? Should managers tell their players that losing aerial duels and tackles is the best way to win the game? Or is it obvious that more shots on goal increase the chance of winning? Or that if you are forced to defend it is likely that you will need to make more tackles?

There was a school of thought last year that conceding possession bore some relation to winning the game; probably because it was a prevalent feature of Leicester’s season (and our own to some extent). This has not been reflected in the games so far this season although I am still not convinced as to how possession is actually measured; the only time I have seen it explained (a few years back) it was suggested that possession is, in fact, derived from passes completed. That in all 30 games the team with most possession also completed most passes may confirm this.

Maybe the only purpose for the stats is the fun of collecting them in a similar vein to the bus numbers and I am over-thinking them.  But I don’t believe that is how they are used by TV producers and pundits who present them as if they define the game. For now it remains case unproven as far as I am concerned but I will keep on tracking developments.

The Boy Never Quite Made It: Roger Cross.

Firs in a series of Hammer hopefuls that didn’t quite make the grade.

Boy Never Quite Made ItThere is nothing more satisfying as a supporter than seeing a young player come up through the youth system (or academy in modern parlance) and establish himself in the first team. Over the years we have been blessed with golden ages of plenty from our academy but there have also been periods of famine. In the Premier League age it is becoming increasingly rare for youth players to make it through the ranks and academies have become multi-cultural establishments; much different from bygone days when a youngster from Kent would have been considered exotic in our youth setup.

Roger CrossFor every successful youth team product there are many more who simply fade away. Among these there are those who are hotly tipped for stardom but who ultimately do not deliver. We shall be taking a look at some of these ‘Boys Who Never Quite Made It‘.

As a young teen in the late 1960’s it was not uncommon to arrive at the game two hours before kick-off on a Saturday afternoon in order to get the favoured view from the North Bank terrace. This allowed plenty of time to read the match programme from cover to cover to discover, not only what the current state of play was in the unofficial London championship, but also what was happening in the Football Combination (reserves) and South East Counties League (youth teams).

For several years running the name of Roger Cross repeatedly appeared in the back of the programme as he rattled in the goals for youths and reserves. He scored when he wanted to even before that idea was born.

Cross was part of the same youth intake as Trevor Brooking (they were born just a few weeks apart in October 1948) and Sir Trev mentions Cross as one of his pals at the club in his autobiography, My Life in Football. Strange to think that I had never heard of Trevor Brooking before his debut but was eagerly awaiting a first sighting of Roger Cross.

Cross made his debut as a substitute (for John Sissons) in August 1968 during a 5-0 home win against Burnley and later that season went out on loan just down the road at Leyton Orient. The start of the 1969/70 season saw Cross get a brief run of games in the first team, scoring his only goal in the 1-1 draw with Arsenal at Upton Park; but that run came to an end by October and he was transferred to Brentford.

His playing career then took him to Fulham, Brentford (again), Seatle Sounders and Millwall before going into coaching with QPR. Cross renewed his association with West Ham in 2001 and held a number of coaching and scouting roles before parting company in 2011 as a cost-cutting measure during the Avram Grant revolution.

The Hammer’s Week in History 1

How has the week 5 – 11 September shaped up in Hammer’s history?

This Week Hammers HistoryThe doldrums of the International Break is the perfect time to look elsewhere for entertainment rather than seeking it from that collection of expensive labourers masquerading as craftsmen in the national team.

The mission that I chose to accept was to travel back in time and forage through the annals of this week in Hammer’s history; here is what I discovered for the period 5-11 September.

The first weeks of September over the years have been characterised by an abundance of goals; before early season exuberance on flat, grassy pitches in late summer sunshine gives way to a cold, muddy mid-winter’s slog with floodlights switched on before half-time.

This week in history has witnessed some heavy home defeats which includes 1-5 and 2-5 reverses to the ‘scallies’ of Liverpool in both 1965 and 1968; had there been Twitter in 1965 it would have been awash with abuse, as less than a week after the 1965 Liverpool game, came a further 2-5 defeat at home to Leicester. Not a great start to the season for a team that would provide 3 world cup winners the following summer.

There have been a fair share of big wins as well though including two which featured rare Bobby Moore goals; home to Wolves in 1964 (5-0) and away to Sunderland in 1967. Other big wins were 6-1 away at Manchester City (1962), a Dave Swindlehurst hat-trick in the 5-2 home hammering of Coventry (1983) and a Frankie Van Der Elst goal in a 5-0 mauling of Birmingham (1982).

Goals galore also in two 7 goal thrillers; one being Sam Allardyce’s first home win against Portsmouth in 2011; and the other the 1998 encounter with Wimbledon, which is this week’s featured match.

The fourth game of the season saw both teams undefeated going in to the midweek encounter at Upton Park. West Ham had beaten Wimbledon twice the previous season and a repeat performance was anticipated by the expectant home support.

The Hammers raced into a 3-0 lead midway through the first half, with goals from John Hartson (7 mins) and Ian Wright (14 and 27 mins) and all seemed to be going to plan despite Marcus Gayle pulling one back for Wimbledon in the 30th minute to make it 3-1 at half time.

The second period was a very different affair. After 64 minutes, a defensive miscue from home debutant Javier Margas (he of the claret and blue hair-do) allowed Jason Euell to reduce the arrears to 3-2 and then Gayle struck again in the 77th minute to bring the scores level. Rather than sit back and admire their handywork Wimbledon kept pushing forward for substitute Efan Ekoku to score the winner in one of the most remarkable come-backs seen in the Premier League.

Hislop, Pearce, Ruddock, Lampard, Margas, Moncur, Sinclair, Berkovic (Impey), Hartson, Wright, Lazaridis

Notable West Ham players born this week (a very defensive week) include:

5 September Malcolm Allison (d. 2010)
7 September John McDowell (65)
7 September Ray Stewart (57)
11 September Slaven Bilic (48)
11 September George Parris (52)

3 Lions and a Hammer

Will Michail Antonio be flying down the wing for England today or will he be right back on the bench?

England TeamIf Michail Antonio picks up an England Cap today he will become the 40th player to represent England as a West Ham player. I don’t know about you but my interest in the England team is always heightened if there is a chance of seeing a Hammer in action. There has to be some incentive to watch the national team these days when there are so many alternative entertainment options such as sorting your CDs into alphabetical order.

The 39 previous England Hammers, the last being Stewart Downing in 2014, have pulled on the 3 Lions shirt a total of 415 times. Of these over 25% of the caps belong to Bobby Moore (108 ) followed by Hurst (49), Brooking (47), Peters (33) and Martin & James (17 each). Peters earned a further 34 caps following his transfer to the North London retirement home.

In fact, Tottenham top the list for supplying the most England players with 75 followed by Villa (73), Liverpool (70), Everton (66), Manchester United (65) and Arsenal (60). West Ham occupy 12th place in the rankings surprisingly below teams such as Blackburn Rovers, West Bromwich Albion and Sheffield Wednesday.

Congratulations on the call up, Michail and hope you get a look in on what is largely an uninspiring squad. It is again a weak Qualifying Group that England fortunately find themselves in with the opening game, away to Slovakia, possibly being the toughest that they will face. It is not a shock that the new Manager is already talking about “respecting the point”.