The two teams at the bottom of the current form league meet when West Ham entertain Everton on Saturday

Just one week ago I sat down to write a preview of our game at Wolves that would bring up the halfway point of the season. The subheading to the piece was that the wrong result might mean that we could be in the bottom three. The inevitable happened, we lost the game 1-0, and we now sit in the relegation zone, with just goal difference stopping us from propping up the league.

A large portion of the article considered a potential change of manager and the reasons behind why this should happen. Nothing has changed and David Moyes is still in charge. A number of articles have been written this week suggesting that the manager needs to win this game against Everton to save his job. I hope we beat Everton as I hope we win every game, but if we do does this mean a reprieve? 

Without a doubt Moyes did a splendid job in the last couple of seasons leading us to European qualification as a result of sixth and seventh place finishes. But this time around it has gone wrong. Is it surprising? There is a theory held by many that a football manager’s life cycle at any club is probably three years. After that it is often time to move on. Think Mourinho, think Conte, think so many managers. Some have lasted longer, think Benitez or Pochettino, but did it get any better after the third year in the job. Even Guardiola had a relatively poor fourth season at Barcelona and then moved after three successful seasons at Bayern. At Manchester City season four was a comedown after winning the league in seasons two and three, but he still continues to be relatively successful and perhaps disproves the theory.

Rebuilding a team on a regular basis is surely the key to bucking the trend. Guardiola has done this to some extent as did the two managers in recent times who built long lasting success at their clubs. Ferguson and Wenger built new teams when they deemed it was necessary. This is surely the only way to succeed.

Perhaps this was Moyes intent with the summer spending spree? But it hasn’t worked has it? The players he has brought in do not appear to be suited to West Ham, do not appear to be suited to Moyes favoured playing style, and do not appear to be suited to the Premier League. Were they his choice? There are many reasons for our disappointing first half of the season but so many of them are surely down to the manager.

Ironically Moyes himself could be said to disprove the three year theory in his time as manager of Everton, consistently achieving top eight finishes, although his fourth year in charge was possibly the low point. Somehow he turned it around. Can he do the same at West Ham? Bookmakers’ odds on the next manager to leave suggest that he won’t be given the chance. We shall see.

In last week’s article I highlighted the eight teams at the foot of the table at present as the ones involved in the relegation fight whilst stressing that some could escape and others could be drawn in. Of the eight, three won last weekend and five were beaten. The points for the bottom eight now reads:

Forest 20, Leicester 17, Leeds 17, Wolves 17, Bournemouth 16, West Ham 15, Everton 15, Southampton 15. 

Forest in particular are on the up whilst just two points separate the bottom seven. The form table for the last six games:

Forest 11, Wolves 7, Leicester 6, Leeds 5, Bournemouth 3, Southampton 3, West Ham 1, Everton 1. 

That makes desperate reading for the two teams meeting at the London Stadium on Saturday. I wonder if both, one, or neither of the two managers will be in charge of their team in the game after this one? At the time of writing they head the betting in respect of next managers to leave with Moyes 11/10 favourite and Lampard 5/2, with Marsch next at 12/1.

Current relegation odds make interesting reading:

Bournemouth 1/3, Everton 8/11, Southampton Evens, Wolves 11/4, Forest 11/4, Leicester 7/2, Leeds 4/1, West Ham 5/1.

Bookmakers fancy seven other teams as more likely relegation candidates than West Ham. Are they right? If they are then we are likely to finish 13th. We shall see.

This is a game that will undoubtedly be described as must win. But the points spread of the bottom 7 means that it is probably not the case. Nevertheless 3 points will be more than welcome.  Will we get them? Will Everton? Will the points be shared?

As I finish this article on Thursday evening I still await confirmation that we are signing Danny Ings. Without doubt he is a proven goalscorer although I note that many of our fans on social media describe this as a desperation signing. He is not exactly in the signings category promised to us but forgive me if I am wrong, these are desperate times. He obviously likes playing in claret and blue having previously played for Burnley and Villa. I just hope he is given the service, because if he is he will score goals. It was interesting to note that our odds on being relegated, and Moyes odds to be next Premier Manager to leave both lengthened on the news.

West Ham at Wolves – the game to bring up the halfway point in a disappointing season

The wrong result and we could be in the bottom three

By 5 o’clock on Saturday West Ham will have reached the halfway point in our Premier League season, a couple of weeks later than in a typical campaign when this normally arrives between Christmas and the New Year. Has the break for the World Cup been beneficial following our poor run of results prior to the tournament? With just one point from three league games since then it would not appear to be the case. Although we did finally win a game last weekend with our 1-0 victory away at Brentford (reserves?) to progress to the fourth round of the FA Cup for a meeting with Derby County.

We will have played all the other teams in the Premier League apart from Newcastle, a game that was postponed following the death of the Queen. We will have played Wolves twice following our 2-0 home win earlier in the season. 19 games, 9 at home and 10 away. Whatever the outcome of this nineteenth game we will not have averaged a point a game which is a rough benchmark for retaining a place in the top flight for the following season. At the moment we have just a paltry 15 points from 18 games and sit outside the relegation zone on goal difference alone. By 5 o’clock on Saturday we could be in the bottom three if we don’t win the game and other results go against us. Everton in 18th face Southampton at the bottom. If we lose to Wolves and Everton win then we would be just one off the bottom in 19th. This demonstrates the importance of this game plus the one next week when Everton visit the London Stadium. Two losses in the next two matches would be almost unthinkable and would surely see a managerial change.

It’s a sad state of affairs for a team that has won eight consecutive games in the Europa Conference this season and finished sixth and seventh in the last two campaigns. Added to that the money spent in the summer (not very wisely it would seem) we would have expected to be in the top half of the table at the very least. But the truth is we would seem to have been found out and the manager appears to have a lack of tactical ideas to change things. The list of complaints against him from fans as outlined in my article prior to the league game at home to Brentford a couple of weeks ago is unchanged. They include:

  • losing the dressing room,
  • picking his favourites however poorly they seem to be playing,
  • a lack of tactical ideas,
  • no plan B or C,
  • setting up to not lose or to hold on for a win if we do get in front,
  • making strange substitutions,
  • making substitutions too late,
  • an inferiority complex especially regarding the top teams,
  • giving too much respect to the top teams especially when we are away (he has a poor managerial record against some top clubs never having beaten them away after numerous efforts),
  • turning good players into average ones,
  • buying players not suited to the club, the Premier League or his playing style,
  • opposition teams have now found us out and he has failed to adapt or recognise this
  • failure to give academy players a chance

Even at this stage in the season the Premier League table has a fairly predictable look about it. The so-called big 6 have been gate-crashed by Newcastle with the missing club being Chelsea who are having a poor season by their standards, currently down in tenth. It’s hard to look beyond Arsenal or Manchester City winning the title.

At this point there are four distinct groups of clubs in the table with the top two clubs in the first group on 44 and 39 points respectively. The second group, between third to fifth place, Newcastle, Manchester United and Tottenham are the leading chasers separated by just two points (35 to 33). The third group go from Fulham in sixth down to Palace in twelfth with just nine points between then (31 to 22).

Unfortunately, we are members of the fourth group like Saturday’s opponents Wolves. At the moment it looks like there will be eight clubs who are involved in the fight to stay up with not much to separate them. With still just over half a season to go it could change but at the moment the bottom eight are:

Leicester 17, Leeds 17, Forest 17, Bournemouth 16, West Ham 15, Everton 15, Wolves 14, Southampton 12

But taking a look at the form table (I’ve chosen the last six games) then the number of points gained by these teams in those is:

Leeds 8, Forest 8, Leicester 6, Wolves 5, Bournemouth 3, Everton 2, West Ham 1, Southampton 0.

The current league form highlights the predicament we are in; one we surely didn’t think we would be in as the season began. Our form in the second half of last season was perhaps a pointer as to what was about to happen, but perhaps we were fooled by the summer spending spree which seemed to give us a boost. International footballers (current or recent) from Morocco, Italy, France, Germany, Ivory Coast and Brazil were added to the squad but for one reason or another (add injuries and bad luck to the list of complaints against the manager?), the domestic season has so far been a massive disappointment.

Our overall record against Wolves in history is a positive one, and the recent record too, as we have won four of the last five games. But we did lose four in a row before then. But previous games mean little really. Bookmakers can barely separate us with Wolves at 13/8 very marginal favourites over ourselves at 17/10 with the draw at 11/5. That surprises me based on recent form, and much as I’m hoping we can collect a very important three points, I can’t see it happening. Two of the lowest scoring teams in the Premier League with just 26 goals between them (Leicester, also involved near the bottom have scored 26 on their own) are hardly likely to play out a 4-4 draw and I don’t believe there will be many, if any, goals. Perhaps two at the most in the game. Who will score them? I’ve no idea, but I hope we do. I’ll go for a close game, a 1-1 draw. That might just be enough to keep us out of the bottom three for the moment. But it might not. What are the chances?

The (not quite) Half Term Review for West Ham United

In a normal season around this time of year, Christmas / New Year, we would be at the halfway point of the Premier League campaign. Of course this is not a normal season with interruptions to the fixture list following the death of the Queen and a World Cup played in our winter as opposed to the summer.

As we go into the final fixture of 2022 at home to Brentford we still have three league games to play before the halfway point is reached. Following Brentford we have away games at Leeds (4 Jan), and Wolves (14 Jan), with a third round FA Cup tie at Brentford in between (7 Jan).

In a normal season we would play all the other 19 teams first before embarking upon the reverse fixtures in the second half, but this time around it will not be quite like that, as our 19th fixture at Wolves will be the second time we have faced them. We haven’t yet faced high flying Newcastle as that game was postponed in Matchweek 7.

After 16 Premier League games we have lost 10, winning just 4 and drawing 2. That means we have 14 points and sit in 16th place in the table, just ahead of Everton based on goals scored (we are level on points and goal difference with them). Any team that is averaging a point a game or less is involved in a relegation situation. We are most definitely involved. Although Declan Rice believes the current position is just “a bump in the road.”

Everton are one of just three teams to have scored fewer goals than us. We have 13, Everton 12, Forest 11, and Wolves 10. Conversely our goals conceded record is much better with only Newcastle, Everton, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool having conceded fewer goals than us. That demonstrates where the problem lies. We are not scoring enough goals, especially away from home where we have managed just four and never more than once in any game.

At home we have 10 points from our 8 games with 3 wins by two goal margins, 2-0 v Wolves, 3-1 v Fulham and 2-0 v Bournemouth, and a 1-1 draw v Tottenham. Four home games have been lost conceding two goals in each, 0-2 v Manchester City, 0-2 v Brighton, 1-2 v Palace and 0-2 v Leicester.

Away from home this week’s 1-3 reverse at Arsenal was the first time we have been beaten by more than a single goal, with four 0-1 losses at Forest, Everton, Liverpool and Manchester United and a 1-2 reverse at Chelsea. The four points we have picked up on our travels are from a 1-0 win at Villa and a 1-1 draw at bottom club Southampton.

Current form is woeful with four league defeats in a row (the same as Southampton who have recently sacked their manager); our last win was 2-0 at home to Bournemouth (24 Oct). Said Benrahma is our leading league goalscorer with 3 (2 of which were penalties). In fact he has scored our last three league goals. The last time any other player has scored a goal was when Zouma scored (a controversial?) header just before half time in the win over Bournemouth.

Bowen, Scamacca and Antonio haven’t scored since 9 October when they all scored in the 3-1 win over Fulham. Bowen’s goal was a penalty in that game; he subsequently missed one at Liverpool on 19 October. They have each scored just twice this season.

The 14 points we have amassed from our first 16 games is exactly half of what we had achieved after 16 games last season when we had 28 points from 8 wins, 4 draws and just 4 defeats, and sat in 4th place in the table. This highlights our decline since then with the final 22 games from last term and the first 16 from this one (a full season’s worth of 38 games) producing just 42 points.

The only real positive from this season has been our 8 wins from 8 games in the Europa Conference League. You can only beat what is in front of you but these victories say more about the quality of the opposition in those games than anything else.

The pressure is building on David Moyes as we have lost four games in a row, the ten defeats are equally the most in the top flight, and we are just one point and two places above the bottom three. The next three games to the halfway point of the season are crucial.

  • Can we win all three to move on to 23 points from 19 games and mid-table?
  • If we lose all three and / or fall into the relegation places will David Moyes still be the manager? Or will two top seven finishes in the last two seasons, reaching the Europa Cup semi-final last time, and qualification for the round of 16 in the Europa Conference League this season buy him more time?
  • If he goes, who might replace him?
  • Will we still be in the FA Cup after the third round matches?

The mood on fan groups on the internet certainly seems to have shifted. The numbers calling for the manager to be replaced are growing, and the number of fans supporting him seems to be diminishing rapidly. That will escalate if the current slump does not get turned round quickly.

The list of complaints about him include:

  • losing the dressing room,
  • picking his favourites however poorly they seem to be playing,
  • a lack of tactical ideas,
  • no plan B or C,
  • setting up to not lose or to hold on for a win if we do get in front,
  • making strange substitutions,
  • making substitutions too late,
  • an inferiority complex especially regarding the top teams,
  • giving too much respect to the top teams especially when we are away (he has a poor managerial record against some top clubs never having beaten them away after numerous efforts),
  • turning good players into average ones,
  • buying players not suited to the club, the Premier League or his playing style,
  • opposition teams have now found us out and he has failed to adapt or recognise this,
  • failure to give academy players a chance

Those are just a random selection – there may be more.   

He was well supported in terms of finance in the summer but the newcomers have not (yet?) proved to be a success. Aguerd has been injured (is he injury prone – time will tell?), Paqueta is obviously a good player but does not seem to be suited to playing in the Premier League, Scamacca is Haller mark 2 and not suited to our style of play, Emerson is Masuaku mark 2, Cornet seems to be injury prone, Kehrer seems to make a lot of mistakes for a current German international defender, and Downes looks a good player  but doesn’t get selected.

This evening’s game against Brentford is vital if we are going to start to recover from this disappointing start to the season. We haven’t beaten them for almost 30 years, although we have only played them twice in that time when they did the double over us last season. Despite our recent form, bookmakers still have us as evens favourites to win the game. What are the chances?

It’s Good To Be Back! Domestic Football Resumes when West Ham visit the Emirates Stadium

It seems strange doesn’t it? Domestic football resumes after a month-long break for a winter World Cup. That’s something we’ve not experienced before, although the Covid break not so long ago was an interruption to the Premier League season too.

When I was young I (many years ago) I loved to watch international football but in recent years the friendly games have become virtually meaningless to me with unlimited substitutions disrupting matches. I’ve always enjoyed the tournaments though. The first one I remember (though not in detail) was the 1962 World Cup, and then of course the never to be forgotten 1966 one.

Despite my misgivings around this World Cup on a number of levels I watched a lot of the games and really enjoyed many of them, especially the upsets. Any one of a number of teams could have won the tournament – so much depends on penalties these days, which to some extent are a bit of a lottery. Thinking back to some of the early World Cups that I remember (1966 and 1970 in particular) I cannot remember any of the knockout games still being level after extra-time. Penalty shoot-outs didn’t exist at the time. What would have happened? Replays? I just can’t remember how the games would have been decided if games finished level. But I don’t think any did – none that I can remember anyway.

It was interesting to listen to Micah Richards and his disbelief when Gary Lineker told him that there were no substitutes back then. He was telling him about the 1966 final when the eleven players that started played all 120 minutes. Richards couldn’t believe that no substitutes could be brought on in those days. Obviously not a student of the history of the game. It’s a different game now, isn’t it?

I’m not sure I agree with the widely held belief that this was the greatest World Cup final ever. For 80 minutes France didn’t really turn up and it was very one-sided. Yes, the last ten minutes and extra time produced plenty of drama. For me the best final ever remains the 1970 one watching the great Brazil team of that era. I guess that was a bit one-sided too but still my favourite.

So now the Premier League resumes on Boxing Day and we face one of the more difficult games straight away, at league leaders Arsenal. But perhaps this is the best time to play them? It’s a bit like the first day of the season. I remember well the opening day of the 2015-16 season (our last at the Boleyn) when we travelled to the Emirates Stadium and came away with a 2-0 win thanks to goals from Kouyate and Zarate. That game was famous for the debut of 16 years-old Reece Oxford. What a talent and prospect he seemed. What a waste.

That was one of only two occasions in the last thirty meetings between the teams when we have collected the three points, the other being in January 2019 when Declan Rice scored his (first?) goal for us in a 1-0 victory at the London Stadium.

We’ve never beaten Arsenal on Boxing Day either in the past. The only two games that I can recall are a 1-0 defeat on 26th December 1998 when Marc Overmars scored the only goal of the game very early on. And then 15 years to the day later we lost to them at Upton Park when Carlton Cole gave us an early second-half lead, but two goals from Walcott and one from Podolski in the last quarter of the game wrapped up the points for the Gunners.

My earliest recollections of Christmas games are good though, beginning with two wins over Tottenham at Christmas 1958, home and away on December 25th and 26th – yes we did play on Christmas Day then! In the week immediately before and after Christmas there was a 4-4 draw and a 4-3 win over Forest in 1962, a 5-5 draw at Chelsea and two 4-1 wins over Blackpool in 1966, a 2-1 win over Tottenham and two 4-2 wins over Leicester in 1967, a 2-0 win over Tottenham in 1969, a 1-0 defeat of Tottenham in 1971, a 2-2 draw with Tottenham in 1972, a 4-2 win over Chelsea in 1973, and a 1-1 draw with Tottenham in 1974.

How many times have we played Tottenham in the Christmas period and beaten them?! They did beat us twice in 1960 on their way to doing the double that year but I’ve forgotten them. I’ve also neglected to mention Boxing Day 1963 when we lost 8-2 at home to Blackburn, although we did beat them at Ewood Park two days later (3-1).

So lots of good memories from my young days of Christmas games. Will this be another? To be honest I haven’t got a clue how we will fare this Monday. If the game had been played without the enforced break, then based on the form this season so far I wouldn’t have fancied our chances too highly. But now, who knows?

Our website has been talking up our unbeaten run in the three friendlies played in the past couple of weeks. Better than nothing I suppose but I’ve always felt that pre-season games were never a true indication of what would happen when the real stuff starts. And in a way this is no different to the start of the season.

I reckon we might surprise the league leaders. I hope so anyway. What are the chances?

West Ham entertain Leicester in the final game before the 2022 World Cup

West Ham United met Leicester City 54 years ago this week when I witnessed my favourite ever goal being scored

On Saturday 16th November 1968 West Ham met Leicester in a First Division game, almost exactly 54 years ago this week. It was a game I remember well and one I refer to in my book, Goodbye Upton Park Hello Stratford that was published in 2016. One of the chapters was entitled ’60 Favourite West Ham Goals’ and number 1 at the time and still my all-time favourite was scored by Martin Peters in that game. I stood on the North Bank behind the goal that it went in. I asked the question “what constitutes a great goal?” and two key elements that I identified, a spectacular volley, and a team goal were present in this goal being scored.

Bobby Ferguson was our goalkeeper and he had the ball in his hands at the South Bank end of the ground and rolled it out to Martin Peters on the edge of the penalty area. Peters advanced forward a few yards then passed it out to John Sissons on the left wing. Sissons, a tricky winger, moved forward and from just inside the Leicester half played a long diagonal cross into the penalty area where it was met by Peters on the volley as it came over his shoulder. His thunderous shot from about 12 yards almost decapitated Peter Shilton, the Leicester keeper as it sped into the roof of the net. He hadn’t stopped running from the moment he passed the ball out to Sissons.

The game ended 4-0, which included a brace from Brian Dear and came a fortnight after we had beaten Queens Park Rangers 4-3 with goals from Moore, Hurst, Peters and Redknapp. Harry’s goal in that game was number 3 in my favourite goals chapter, and Bobby Moore’s goal in the game was at number 8. Two weeks prior to the QPR game we had beaten Sunderland 8-0 when Geoff Hurst scored 6. Oh for a return to those free scoring days!

The QPR game as well as Martin Peters spectacular volley against Leicester can be seen on You Tube with commentaries from Brian Moore from the Big Match Sunday TV highlights programme, although sadly Martin’s goal doesn’t show the whole move, just the end of it. I’ve written about it before but even to this day it still remains as my favourite. I met Martin in 2007 at a book signing when I bought his book ‘The Ghost of ‘66’. He was a lovely man and we had a long chat. He couldn’t remember the goal and in fact could barely recall any of the many goals he had scored in his career. Sadly it was perhaps the beginning of the symptoms of the Alzheimer’s disease which brought about his untimely death at 76. I took along my programme from the game which I dug out of my collection and he very kindly signed it for me as well as his book.

Some interesting features from the programme:

  • The cost 1 shilling (5p)
  • The proposed teams on the inside cover (with no number 7) – of course no squad numbers in those days. The West Ham team that day was actually Ferguson, Bonds, Charles, Cushley, Stephenson, Moore, Peters, Boyce, Dear, Hurst, Sissons – it didn’t really pay to predict the team in advance, although there were fewer changes of personnel from game to game.
  • An interview with 22 years-old Billy Bonds
  • Trips by Lacey’s coaches to the forthcoming away game at Ipswich (70p)
  • A quote from Ron Springett the QPR keeper prior to the game a fortnight earlier where he said that West Ham was one of his favourite grounds, he never had a bad game there, he was leaving himself wide open to look a proper Charlie, he’d probably let four goals in (And he did!)
  • The league table prior to the game showed West Ham in 7th place (5 points from the top), with 21 points from 18 games (7 wins, 7 draws and 4 defeats) – only 2 points for a win in those days. Goals for 34, conceded 21. Only Liverpool and Everton (top and 2nd) had scored more (35 and 36)
  • Leicester were 2nd from bottom.

At the end of the season we had finished 8th, Leeds were champions, and Leicester were relegated despite reaching the FA Cup Final. We scored 66 goals, the third highest (exactly the same number as the champions Leeds, although we conceded 50 compared to Leeds 26)

So now we face Leicester 54 years on in a season that isn’t going particularly well so far, certainly on the domestic front. A look at the league table shows us in 15th place with 14 points from 14 games, having lost 8 times, and just two points above the relegation zone. The league is very tight with just 7 points separating Liverpool (19) in 8th from Southampton (12) in a relegation place (18th). If we had beaten Palace last weekend we would be in the top half, but after an inept performance we sadly didn’t. A look at the six teams immediately above us tells the story for me – Fulham, Palace, Brentford, Leeds, Villa and Leicester – all teams I would have expected to be on top of. It would take a very unlikely set of results, but if we lose to Leicester in this game it is mathematically possible for us to go into the break for the World Cup in the bottom 3. A defeat on Saturday is unthinkable, isn’t it?

The manager is getting increasingly tetchy in interviews and articles are beginning to emerge regarding his position. After two successful seasons and eight wins out of eight in Europe surely that is unthinkable too. Isn’t it?

Two West Ham games against Leicester appear in my book among my 20 favourite West Ham matches. The 4-0 game that I referred to earlier is at number 16, and at number 11 I recount the 4-2 win that took place on the morning of Boxing Day 1967 which kicked off at 11am. We came from two goals down in the first quarter of an hour to win the game thanks to the first Trevor Brooking goal that I remember seeing, and a hat-trick from Brian Dear.

Either of those scorelines would be a great result going into the break, but there is little logic in expecting that to happen given our recent form and performances. Leicester have picked up after a poor start and sit immediately above us in the table. Perhaps we can repeat the Boxing Day 1967 result? I say that more in hope than expectation. What are the chances?

Can West Ham win four successive home Premier League games for the first time in more than 20 years?

29 May 2004 is a date I always remember. Even though it is more than 18 years ago I cannot forget the long drive home from Cardiff after Palace had beaten us 1-0 in the Playoff final. It was a game I was convinced we would win to return to the Premier League but it was not to be. Fortunately we had a better result in the Playoffs the following season beating Preston 1-0. We did get relegated once again a few years later but only spent one season down before Sam Allardyce brought us back once again via the Playoffs beating Blackpool 2-1 at Wembley.

We’ve retained our place in the top flight since 2012 and Palace were promoted a season later and we’ve faced each other regularly since then. In those 9 seasons (18 games) we have won 7, Palace 5, and there have been six draws, so fairly evenly balanced.

There has been a certain symmetry to the results in that time. For example in 2013-14 Palace won both games 1-0. The following season we won one each with the away side winning 3-1 in both games.

In 2015-16, the final season at Upton Park we again won away 3-1 before drawing 2-2 at home in one of the final games. I will always remember that match for Payet’s wonder free kick.

In the next three seasons we were unbeaten against Palace winning three and drawing three before Palace won both games by a 2-1 score line in 2019-20.

The last two seasons have seen us drawing the home games 1-1 and 2-2, but winning away 3-2 both times. Our last meeting was on New Years Day when we led 3-0 at half time and held the lead until the 83rd minute. Two late Palace goals made for a closer finish than should have been the case.

If we win this game then it will be our fourth successive home Premier League win. That hasn’t happened for more than 20 years. If we look at all competitive fixtures then a win would be our seventh in a row and that hasn’t happened for 23 years.

David Moyes has only lost once as a manager in 14 games v Palace, and The Eagles have a poor away record in the Premier League this season, and also in Vieira’s time as their manager. I also noted that Zaha hasn’t scored a goal or registered an assist in any of his seven away games against us.

Going back to consecutive wins, what a great performance in the Europa Conference League where we have won eight games in a row, including six in the league, the only team to achieve a 100 per cent record in the competition. Perhaps not the strongest group but you can only beat teams up against you and we have done so with a largely second team, emphasising the improved strength of our squad. It was good to see so many Academy players given an opportunity.

For today’s game my preferred starting lineup would be:

Areola; Kehrer, Dawson, Zouma, Cresswell; Rice, Downes; Paqueta; Bowen, Antonio, Benrahma.

I wouldn’t mind if Aguerd was in the team; he has looked impressive in the games he has played but perhaps Moyes doesn’t believe he is quite ready yet. It seems that Dawson may be on his way soon, and Aguerd will take his place alongside Zouma (who was excellent last week) in the centre of our defence.

I suspect my lineup won’t happen as the manager will almost certainly find a place for Soucek (definitely), Fornals (probably), and Scamacca (quite probably).

Every statistic points to a West Ham win, and as we often score three against these opponents I’ll go for 3-1, especially as both teams seem to score in these fixtures. 

Can West Ham defy statistics and odds to win at Old Trafford?

When I was young I was interested in statistics but few were available to the average fan. We had league tables of course but little else. We had no idea regarding various statistics that are available today. Now you can know possession percentages, passes, completed passes, touches in opponent’s box, shots, shots on target, expected goals, distance covered by individual players and whole team and many more etc. etc.

Are we really interested in all these details? Some are I guess but to most of us the only real statistics of any importance are the goals scored in each game, the result, and the subsequent effect on the league table. Of course detailed statistics will have greater importance for the clubs themselves when analysing performance of individuals and the team as a whole. Bookmakers will also be interested when setting odds for games.

Having said all that I’ll now use some freely available statistics to look ahead to our game at Old Trafford this afternoon.

In their last 14 fixtures at Old Trafford against West Ham, Manchester United have won 11, drawn 3, and lost 0.

Manchester United have come out on top in their last 4 games against West Ham.

In their last 14 home Premier League games against all opponents Manchester United have won 8, drawn 5, and lost 1.

In their last 14 Premier League away games West Ham have won 2, drawn 2, and lost 10.

West Ham have kept just 2 clean sheets in their last 17 Premier League away games.

West Ham have scored just 3 away goals in the Premier League so far this season.

As an away team manager David Moyes has the following record at Old Trafford- won 0, drawn 4, lost 11.

There are thousands more that almost all point to a Manchester United win. But statistics didn’t indicate that Brighton would thrash Chelsea yesterday, that Leeds would win at Anfield last night, nor any other upsets that occur in football.

The odds for the match result are 4/6 for a home win, 15/4 for an away win and 3/1 for the draw.

With all this information I’ll predict the result of the game. I’ll go for a 2-2 draw. My bookmaker will offer me 16/1. He doesn’t think it’ll happen. I won’t mind being wrong if West Ham win the game. It hasn’t happened for 15 years. Not since that Carlos Tevez famous winner.

We’ve lost our place in the top half of the table following yesterday’s results. I’m hoping for a win to regain it but would be happy with a draw.

It’s about time we defied the statistics and the odds. What are the chances?

Can West Ham make it five home wins in a row for the first time in more than ten years?

How many of us (West Ham fans) would have thought at the start of the season that when it came to the fixture at home to Bournemouth, just a week from the end of October, with the World Cup looming up next month, and with almost one-third of the season completed, that we would be sitting below them in the Premier League table? West Ham, with a sixth and seventh place finish in the top-flight in the last two seasons versus a newly promoted Bournemouth side. Surely, with what was believed to be a very successful summer transfer window, with the recruitment of current internationals (German and Italian defenders, a Brazilian midfielder, and an Italian centre forward), we would be maintaining our challenge to the top teams, whereas our south coast opponents would be languishing towards the bottom?

Yet here we are with 11 points from 11 games whereas the Cherries are two points in advance of us, both of us having won three of our opening games, but they have drawn four and lost four, whereas we have drawn two and lost six. In fact, all three of the promoted teams have done relatively well (so far) with Fulham sitting in the top half of the table, Bournemouth amongst a cluster of mid-table clubs, and even Forest, despite sitting in the bottom three, beating our midweek conquerors Liverpool at the City Ground on Saturday.

After beginning this campaign with a 2-0 home win over Aston Villa, Bournemouth then lost three games in a row conceding four at Manchester City, three at home to Arsenal, and then a record-equalling nine at Liverpool. Sixteen goals conceded without a single goal scored meant cheerio Scott Parker, and since then Gary O’Neill has been in caretaker charge.

He began with a goalless draw against Wolves, an excellent 3-2 comeback win at Forest after being two down at half-time, a creditable 1-1 draw at Newcastle, another goalless draw at home to Brentford, a 2-1 home win against Leicester, and then a 2-2 draw at Fulham. Two wins and four draws in his first six games in charge, an excellent CV if he was hoping for a permanent appointment, was then spoiled by an (unexpected?) 0-1 reverse at home to fellow south coasters Southampton in midweek. Nevertheless, the midfielder, who spent two and a half years at Upton Park, turning out 48 times for the Hammers around ten years ago, has steadied the ship, and must be a contender for the role in the longer term if he can keep them away from the bottom.

This is our seventh season at the London Stadium. Do you remember our very first Premier League game here in August 2016? On a sunny Saturday afternoon Bournemouth were the visitors and we ran out 1-0 winners when Michail Antonio headed a very late far post winner. But we haven’t had it all our own way against the Cherries in top-flight games, and in fact they lead 4-3 in wins in Premier League matches.

We head into this game (our 85th Premier League match on a Monday, more than any other team I read) with 12 fewer points than at this stage last season (11 compared to 23) after 11 games. In our first 11 games last season we had won 7, drawn 2, and lost 2, so we are some way behind where we were last time around, and have some catching up to do if we are to equal the seventh-place finish in 2021-22.

Our recent home form has been good, winning our last four competitive games. We haven’t won five in a row at home for more than ten years now. Much is made of David Moyes’ poor record as a manager against the big boys, but conversely he has never lost a game in charge against Bournemouth. Is that a good or a bad sign?

I wonder what starting eleven he will select for this game? Is Aguerd ready for consideration yet? He must be close now, but they are hoping to give him a couple of under 23 games first I read. Perhaps Cornet and Dawson will be ready after their recent injuries, although it seems unlikely that Paqueta will be risked unless he is 100%. One player I definitely want to see is Flynn Downes. He has impressed me immensely in the games where he has been given the chance, he adds some solidity to our midfield, and enables Declan Rice to go forward more, something he did superbly in his man of the match performance at Anfield in midweek.

A win would equalise our top-flight record of wins against our visitors, but more importantly we would leapfrog them in the table. Yesterday’s results meant that we slipped down to seventeenth in the table, but it is so congested that a win would take us into the top half (10th) with 14 points, just two points adrift of eighth-place Liverpool, and four below Fulham in seventh.

This game won’t be as easy as some might predict, but I reckon we’ll do enough to achieve that fifth competitive home win in a row. 3-1? What are the chances?

West Ham at Anfield, plus abuse of officials setting a poor example to the junior game

I thought that Jurgen Klopp was very restrained on the touchline in our game at Liverpool on Wednesday night. He had previously “lost it” last weekend at assistant referee Gary Beswick and was sent off for his outburst. He did apologise and has vowed to try to contain his behaviour. To be fair he hadn’t been sent off before, but this time he really overstepped the mark. Some of his fellow managers, including our own gave him support. Frank Lampard for example does not seem to believe there is a link between the behaviour of managers at the top level and the abuse that referees get at junior levels. David Moyes believes that managers can “lose their heads” in a game and change their character from their true selves.

As someone who watches junior football I believe Klopp has a responsibility to set an example like all elite managers and players should. Like it or not, young players copy what they see the professionals doing. And parents on the touchline will copy what they see too. The abuse given to referees at junior matches can be quite appalling. Klopp’s conduct leads to parents reacting in the same way, because I guess, they think it’s OK. It’s not. Referees at grassroots level are giving up in droves because they can’t stand the abuse. The FA revealed that last season 380 players were banned for attacking or threatening officials in English grassroots football. I hope Klopp gets a significant touchline ban.

Players surrounding the referee when a decision goes against them is another issue that needs addressing. In the days of Alex Ferguson Manchester United players were notorious for this kind of behaviour. The same is true of their players today, and the club have been charged for failing to control them in last Sunday’s game against Newcastle when they surrounded the referee like a pack of dogs. Their current manager doesn’t agree believing it wasn’t that aggressive. Of course West Ham have now been charged with failing to control players after they too surrounded the referee (Peter Bankes) during last Sunday’s draw at Southampton when he body checked Jarrod Bowen as he attempted to tackle Perraud just before he scored. I’m not sure we can learn too much from the game of rugby, but the insistence that only the captain can approach the referee to question decisions is one that perhaps we could follow. Similar situations surrounding referees happen in junior football too. Would it happen if they didn’t see players at elite levels doing it? I don’t believe it would.

Back to Wednesday night’s game at Anfield. To only lose 1-0 and miss a penalty in the process is a sign that we are, perhaps, not too far away from getting back towards our form of the last two seasons. We restricted Liverpool to a handful of chances, and Fabianski was equal to the challenge when necessary. The amazing statistic that we are the lowest scoring Premier League team in the first half of games this season (only scoring 2 so far) was maintained during a first half where we were threatened to be overrun in the early stages. But a much improved second half performance could have, and perhaps should have resulted in us getting a point out of the game.

I thought that Declan Rice had a tremendous game, doing his usual stuff, plus thrusting forward and setting up attacks more than he has done in recent times. I believe that one of the reasons for this was the inclusion of Flynn Downes from the start. Every time I see Downes he impresses me with his strength when tackling and challenging for the ball, his positional sense, and his great habit of finding a team-mate when passing the ball, unlike one or two others in the team. I hope he gets a run in the starting eleven.

We still find ourselves in the bottom half of the table two points above the relegation zone, but only five points below seventh place where we finished last season. Three of the next four games before the break for the World Cup are at home to Bournemouth, Palace and Leicester with a trip to Old Trafford sandwiched in between. We have a good opportunity (on paper) to move into the top half before the break. Ten points from those four games would be good. What are the chances?

West Ham at Southampton, the Anderlecht game, and thoughts on VAR, offside and handball.

Did you read Geoff’s excellent article in Under The Hammers on Thursday prior to the European game against Anderlecht? In it he described how it never ceases to amaze him how much of a pigs-ear officials have made of implementing VAR, and how the beauty of football is it’s simplicity. He went on to discuss the meal that the VAR review system made of last Sunday’s game against Fulham. For once all three West Ham goals stood following review, but they took an absolute age, didn’t they, taking the spontaneity out of celebrating a goal scored?

I’ll put my cards on the table here and say that I am a fan of the concept of VAR. But, and this is a massive but, only if it is used as it was surely intended, to highlight to the referee that he has blundered by not seeing something that has resulted in a clear and obvious error.

Goals are checked for offside, but it seems to take an age to draw the lines, and in the end it often comes down to a toe being in an offside position or not. I’d personally like to see a change to the offside law. It was originally introduced to prevent goal-hanging more than 100 years ago and this made sense at the time, and not to decide whether a player had a toe (or any other part of the body that can touch the ball legally) in an offside position anywhere in the opponent’s half. Surely it would be simple enough to change the law such that if any part of the attacker’s body is in line with any part of the defender’s body then the attacker is onside? It would take literally seconds to confirm this.

Perhaps even more controversially, how ridiculous that you can be offside anywhere in the opponent’s half? Why not extend the line of the penalty area and only give offside decisions in the final 18 yards of the pitch? This would mean that the game would be stretched over a greater area. You can’t be goal-hanging 50 yards from the goal! Perhaps this idea of mine is a step too far, but at least I understand that technology is advancing to an extent that cameras will soon be able to identify offside automatically without the need for linesmen, or assistant referees as they are now called. Perhaps that will enable them to concentrate on assisting the referee more? Is that something we would want them to do?

But even more contentious than offside in the modern game is the concept of handball. I was interested to read an article by Mike Dean in his column in the Daily Mail this week where he talks about handballs being the hardest part of being an official. “Give me a tackle, a trip, a push, some grappling in the box or an offside any day of the week” he says.

But going back to Geoff’s point about football being a simple game, why can’t we make the handball law much more straightforward? Dean goes on to discuss what the officials have to consider when assessing handball. “Did the ball strike the player on the red zone (below the shirt sleeve) or the green zone which I assume to be above the shirt sleeve? I wonder how they assess this if players are wearing long sleeves? What was the proximity of the player to where the ball was struck from? Did they have time to react? Was it deliberate? Was their arm in an unnatural position or was it naturally a consequence of his body shape an movement? How can you be sure what position is natural for the arm from one individual to another? Was there a clear movement of the arm to make the body bigger?”

He goes on to say that “handballs have always been a talking point and they remain so to this day regardless of the introduction of VAR.”

Dean’s comments lifted from his article are in bold italics in the paragraphs above. No wonder it takes so long to come to a conclusion! Once again I have what I think is a simple solution. Just leave it to the referee to decide if a player deliberately uses his hand / arm to gain an advantage. If so, then penalise him. So many handball decisions seem to be given where there is no intent. Of course the decision of the referee will be a subjective one – these are often not clear-cut, but even after looking at a multitude of camera angles, it seems to me that it is impossible to decide whether all of the points that Dean raises for handball decisions lead to a clear conclusion. Pundits analysing the decisions on TV have varying opinions. Yes, VAR can intervene if the referee has made a clear and obvious error, but let’s keep it simple. Only intervene if the referee has missed something clear and obvious. Just have one criteria. Was it deliberate or not? And that’s the end of it.

The result of the Anderlecht game was not really a reflection of the 90 minutes. At 2-0 the team concentrated on possession rather than adding to the lead, then towards the end Ben Johnson made a clumsy challenge in the penalty area which led to an unnecessary few uncomfortable minutes to see the victory out. Once again a good performance from a number of players that haven’t been in the starting eleven in league games. Once again, Flynn Downes demonstrated his midfield potential and must surely get more minutes in the near future.

Southampton are the opponents this weekend. In my start of season predictions I forecast them to be one of the three clubs to be relegated this season, and nothing I’ve seen so far has made me change my mind on this. Three Midlands clubs (Leicester, Forest and Wolves) currently occupy the relegation places with Southampton immediately above them.

Their seven points all came in the opening month of the season, drawing at home to Leeds, winning at Leicester, and at home to Chelsea. In September they lost at Wolves and Villa, and in October so far they were soundly beaten (as so many are) by Manchester City and then last weekend lost at home to Everton.

We have yet to reach the heights of the last two campaigns this season, but our form contrasts with our south coast opponents. Where their game appears to be deteriorating with four consecutive league defeats, our form has slowly improved after not such a good start with six wins in our last seven games, two in the league and four in Europe. The European campaign has been promising without being outstanding, and we have (almost) already won the group with two games to spare.

I’d like to think that we’ll beat Southampton easily, but you never can be sure of how it will go on a Sunday following a Thursday game. 2-0 perhaps? What are the chances?