West Ham v Brighton Preview

The Seagulls visit the London Stadium to meet West Ham for the first time in a Premier League match.

Friday night, 8pm kick off. Don’t get me started. As a traditionalist I like to watch my football at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. But I have to accept that money talks, so if I want to watch my beloved West Ham live I have no option but to travel to London late in the afternoon and return home around midnight. For so many reasons it is not particularly convenient, but so be it, I cannot change it, and I will take my place in the East Stand as usual.

This is Brighton’s first season ever in the Premier League, although I am old enough to remember them in the top flight between 1979 and 1983, which culminated in a Cup Final appearance for them when they lost to Manchester United after a replay. That season (1982-83) they were relegated and were not to be seen in the top tier of English football again until now.

In the following years after relegation they had significant problems as they fell down the divisions and almost went out of business. In 1996-97 they were very close to losing their place in the Football League, and went into the last game of the season at home to Hereford United needing at least a draw to avoid dropping out. They were 1-0 down for much of the game, but a late equaliser enabled them to survive and sent Hereford out of the league. They also had significant ground problems when the Goldstone Ground closed, which meant that they shared Gillingham’s stadium for a while, and also spent a period at the Withdean Stadium, which effectively was a small athletics track. But they have bounced back from those troubled times and the impressive Falmer (Amex) Stadium which seats over 30,000 has been their home since 2011.

This season has started reasonably for them, and in fact they have an identical record to our own, having won two, drawn two, and lost four of their opening eight fixtures. But their goal difference of minus 4 (as opposed to our minus 6) means that they sit in 14th place in the table, immediately above us. They have a good home record unsurprisingly losing their opener to Manchester City (2-0), before beating West Brom 3-1, Newcastle 1-0, and unluckily drawing 1-1 with Everton when they conceded a penalty in the last minute which was converted by Wayne Rooney. But on their travels they have collected just a solitary point (in a goalless draw at Watford). They lost 2-0 at Leicester, 2-1 at Bournemouth, and 2-0 at Arsenal.

Most of our early games against them were in the old Southern League or FA Cup ties, and we didn’t play a game against them in the Football League until 1978. But in the last (almost) forty years since then we haven’t often been in the same division, and we have met them in just fourteen league games, winning six, drawing three, and losing five. I can remember clearly their only victory on our ground when I watched from the old East Stand at Upton Park in November 2004 with my dad. It was one of the last times he came with me to West Ham before he died. We dominated the whole game yet lost 1-0 to a header from a free kick from Guy Butters. I recall Steve Claridge being in their team at the time.

The last time we met them was a very enjoyable experience. It was in our promotion campaign of 2011-12 when, under Big Sam, we played them at Upton Park in the penultimate home game of the regular season. We were still chasing automatic promotion so a win was important, and we tied it up within the first quarter of an hour racing into a three goal lead. I watched this game from the Bobby Moore stand and was right behind the line of Ricardo Vaz Te’s powerful shot from outside the area at the other end which opened the scoring. Just a few minutes later it was all over as a contest when Vaz Te added the second and Nolan the third (or was it the other way round?). I can recall two of the second half goals, a stunning bicycle kick from Vaz Te to complete his hat-trick, and a mazy dribble followed by a powerful low shot from Carlton Cole. I am afraid that I have no memory of the other goal whatsoever. But it was an excellent game which made number 19 in my list of favourite West Ham matches in my book Goodbye Upton Park, Hello Stratford. Vaz Te’s powerful first goal and then his bicycle kick were numbers 18 and 28 in my list of 60 Favourite West Ham goals in the same book.

If we have any aspirations to make a convincing challenge to finish in the top half of the table, then games such as these are “must-win” ones. We won’t pick up many points against the top six sides, and we need to maximise our opportunities against the “lesser” teams, especially in the home fixtures. The bookmakers have us as 5/6 favourites to win the game, with Brighton at 7/2 and the draw at 12/5. The favourite scoreline is a 1-0 win for us quoted at around 5/1. And if you fancy a repeat of the 6-0 drubbing we gave them the last time they visited, then you can get odds of 425/1.

Can you remember the last time we scored more than three goals in a home game? It hasn’t happened under Slaven Bilic, although we did score four times in the away game at Swansea last season. In our first season back in the Premier League (2012-13) under Big Sam we did it twice. In the final game of the season we put four past Reading thanks to a Nolan hat trick and another goal from Vaz Te. And today, 20th October, is the fifth anniversary of our 4-1 home win over Southampton. Mark Noble scored twice that day, a free kick from very long range (at least 30 yards), and a penalty converted after a handball by Jose Fonte! I remember Andy Carroll giving the Southampton defenders a torrid time that day, something he won’t be repeating in today’s game. The other goals came from Nolan, and a fine solo effort from Maiga (remember that?).

I’m hoping that Brighton continue to find it difficult to score on their travels, and that we can come up with at least a couple of goals to win 2-0. Perhaps we can even go further and repeat the four goals of five years ago today? A 4-1 repeat of the score that day is 35/1. I won’t hold my breath.

Burnley 1 West Ham 1

Is it a point gained for West Ham or two points lost?

So the bookies were spot on. The most fancied scoreline for this game was 1-1, and that is how it ended up. But was it a point gained or two points lost? Certainly, when you are in fifteenth place in the table and playing away from home to an in-form team occupying a position in the top six, and you have to play for more than an hour with only ten men, then surely it is a point gained? But on the other hand, when you hold the lead for most of the game, and then concede an equaliser in the 85th minute, then it seems like two points lost?

In some respects we were perhaps lucky as we could have conceded a penalty when Hart dived at the feet of Wood. Sometimes in situations such as these they are given and sometimes not, but they often are when it is a player from the home side who goes down. Also Gudmundsson’s shot came back off the post and might have gone in off Hart’s back, but luckily it stayed out. Conversely the best move of the whole game was a slick passing movement involving several of our players, and Antonio’s shot was well saved by Pope in the Burnley goal.

I’m often surprised by the reaction of fans who like to see the big teams lose. Personally I look at the bigger picture, and think of the Premier League as two leagues. The “top division” of the six elite teams who will surely finish the season in the top six places, and then the remaining teams who make up “Division Two” of the Premier League. Whatever we like to think, that is the reality. The fourteen teams outside of the “big six” are really only fighting for a seventh placed finish, and to keep out of the relegation dogfight.

So when we see the other results, then I am personally disappointed to see Crystal Palace defeat Chelsea, much as I dislike the West Londoners, and to see Watford score a last minute winner to beat Arsenal. Palace and Watford are in our “league” so I don’t like to see them picking up points against teams that will be in the top six at the end of the season. I particularly enjoyed seeing Manchester City put seven past Stoke, firstly because I don’t like the way Stoke play football, and secondly because that result ultimately helps our cause in finishing as high as possible in the table. It also puts a dent in one of our competitor’s goal difference statistics. And much as I don’t like Tottenham, their 1-0 win over Bournemouth will benefit us in the long run.

When other teams in “our 14 team league” are playing against each other, then my favoured result is a draw so they only get one point each. So it was good to see Brighton drawing with Everton, and Southampton sharing the spoils against Newcastle. All four of those teams will be joining us in an attempt to finish seventh in the Premier League this season. I’ll be hoping for a similar result when Leicester take on West Brom on Monday, even though the Baggies are the team I dislike the most. In the short term it might seem better to see Leicester defeated at home opening up a three point gap between the bottom three and the rest, but in the longer term I feel a draw would be the best result.

Prior to Monday night’s game, the league outside of the top teams is taking on a similar feel to last season and  is looking very close, even at this early stage, with Newcastle in ninth on 11 points just three points ahead of Stoke who now occupy 17th. It won’t be long before Watford and Burnley drop down to join the rest of us leaving the elite six to fight out the top places.

There is some debate on social media as to whether or not Andy Carroll’s red card was justified, but unfortunately I think the referee was right. And much as I don’t like to see our players unavailable for games, I don’t personally believe that playing without Carroll will harm us, and hopefully will lead to a better approach as to how we play the game. By our standards we have a fit squad of players to choose from, and I don’t think he will be missed. At best I see him as an impact substitute these days rather than someone who should be in the starting line-up, but I guess it is all a matter of opinion.

So, rather like the manager I am in two minds as to whether it was a point gained or two points lost. We won’t really know until we see what happens in matches to come.

Personally I had two excellent days at Newmarket races, including picking the winner of the Cesarewitch amongst other notable selections that made the racing profitable as well as enjoyable. I hope you noted my tip in the Burnley preview on Friday.

Can West Ham repeat last season’s successful trip to Turf Moor?

The Hammers go looking for a repeat of last season’s success away to high flying Burnley

When Sean Dyche saw the opening games produced by the Fixtures Computer in June I wonder how many points that he thought Burnley would accrue in the first seven matches, four of them away from home? He would probably have bitten your hand off to achieve an average of one point a game at this stage. The fact that they lie sixth in the table with twelve points is one of the stories of the Premier League season so far.

Their four away games have all been against teams that finished in the top 7 last season. An opening day 3-2 win at Chelsea was followed by 1-1 draws at Tottenham and Liverpool, and then a 1-0 victory at Goodison Park. Incredibly, that is eight points from four of the toughest away games (on paper) that they would expect to face in a season. They have already exceeded their points tally on their travels for the whole of last season, when they only picked up seven points from their nineteen games with one win (at Palace), and draws at Hull, Manchester United, Middlesbrough, and Sunderland, three of the four relegated sides.

Their home form, for which they were renowned last season when winning more than half of their games, has not been as successful. They lost their first home fixture 1-0 to West Brom, before beating Palace (as everyone has done!) 1-0, and then they had a goalless draw against Huddersfield. So after three home games they have picked up four points, with just one goal scored and one conceded.

But an overall record of three wins and three draws from their seven matches played, placing them sixth in the table, is way beyond the expectations of even the most optimistic of Burnley fans. Our record matches them in just one respect. We, too, have scored seven league goals so far this season. The difference is that whereas Burnley have conceded just four goals, we managed that in the very first game, and in total we have let in thirteen!

All of Burnley’s seven goals have been scored by players who have been on international duty in the break, and either faced intense games or a lot of travelling. Sam Vokes (2) was on duty for Wales in their elimination from the World Cup by Ireland who had Jeff Hendrick (1) and Stephen Ward (1) in the side. Scott Arfield (1) turned out for Canada against El Salvador on Sunday, and Chris Wood (2) scored for New Zealand against Japan. Wood, a big money signing from Leeds as the summer transfer window was drawing to a close, is the second highest goalscorer in New Zealand history with 24 goals in 54 games, despite being only 25 years old. Let’s hope that Winston Reid can keep his fellow countryman quiet.

Our last visit to Turf Moor was on the final day of last season when, with a side depleted by injuries (as usual), we came from behind to clinch a 2-1 win. Vokes scored the Burnley goal midway through the first half, but we equalised shortly afterwards with a fine team goal where several players were involved in the move before Feghouli scored. This was a most unusual West Ham goal because it started from a quickly-taken free kick near the halfway line. On so many occasions free kicks in a similar position end up back with our keeper. Ayew headed the winner from close range after the ball came back off the bar from a Fernandes shot.

Our overall historical record against Burnley is a positive one, with 36 wins, 17 draws, and 31 defeats in all 84 competitive matches. This hasn’t always been the case, however, as our opponents were once a formidable club, winning the league twice, which is two times more than we have. Not many people will know that Burnley once reached the quarter-final of the European Cup, which was the forerunner of the Champions League.

But in recent years we have been by far the stronger in head to head games against them, winning 14 of the last 20 games. We have only lost once at Turf Moor in almost 40 years and that was in 2010, when we were on the receiving end of a 2-1 scoreline, with our goal being scored by Ilan (remember him?). To demonstrate how the make-up of a football team can change in less than eight years I will remind readers of the West Ham line-up that day.

Green
Faubert, Upson, Tompkins, Spector,
Behrami, Noble, Parker, Collison,
C.Cole, McCarthy.
Subs. who came on: Mido, Stanislas, and Ilan
Manager: Zola

Ilan and McCarthy each played eleven league games in their time with us. Ilan scored four goals whilst McCarthy failed to find the net. Mido played nine times and he, too, failed to score a goal.

Apparently it has been reported that we have an entirely fit squad for the manager to choose from, with the exceptions of Collins and Quina. I have given up trying to read the manager’s mind, and have absolutely no idea what the starting line-up will be, and will not even attempt to hazard a guess.

When you consider that an in-form team lying sixth in the league are playing at home to the side in fifteenth place, then the odds being offered on the game don’t really reflect that. Burnley are at around 13/8 to win, we are 15/8 to take all three points, and the draw is not much over 2/1. The most likely score according to the bookmakers is 1-1, offered at about 5/1. I can see their reasoning as both Burnley and ourselves are averaging scoring exactly one goal a game this season. Nothing to get really excited about. I would have hoped for more generous odds on a West Ham victory considering our poor start to the season.

I’m going to get out my trusty optimistic hat and bet on us to win the game. I’ll also have a fun bet on West Ham to win the game 3-1 at odds of 22/1. I might even try an additional one where the game is goalless at half-time, but we run out 3-1 winners at the end, with odds of 200/1 on that most unlikely outcome. A half-time scoreline of 1-1, with us winning the game 3-1 at the end is 90/1. You can bet on hundreds of different markets on every game of football these days, but in reality trying to predict the outcome of games, and correct scores / goalscorers is a minefield.

As for me, as usual I’ll be attending both days of the Dubai Future Champions horse racing meeting at Newmarket on Friday and Saturday, which includes my favourite race the Cesarewitch, which starts in Cambridgeshire and ends in Suffolk, with 34 runners tackling the two and a quarter miles course. The race itself is as difficult to predict as guessing the line-up that our manager will select. My ante-post selections are Withhold, Time To Study and Lagostovegas, although I’ll probably choose another for my bet on the day. But I’ll be keeping one eye on the football from Turf Moor, and hoping for a victory that will take us into a more comfortable mid-table position in the league.

What has been going on in the Second International break?

I’d prefer to watch a re-run of the West Ham v Swansea game (or even paint drying) rather than watch England play

I’ll begin my international break review with my usual rant. Why do we have to put up with these breaks so early in the season that totally disrupt the Premier League campaign? OK, so England have qualified for the finals tournament of the World Cup to be held in Russia next summer. Is that really much of a surprise when we were in a group of world football powers such as Scotland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta? The combined population of those five countries when added together totals around 16 million.

The biggest surprise is the fact that we haven’t actually won all of the games in the qualifying group. With one game to go we haven’t even averaged scoring two goals a game! When you compare our 17 goals against the other leading European nations it is clear that we are nowhere near their level, and if we continue to struggle to score goals against such weak teams in qualifying, then what chance will we have in the finals themselves? To be fair though, our goals conceded record is not bettered by any other team in any of the qualifying groups, so look forward to some low scoring games when England are playing in the tournament.

Fortunately I was playing football myself on Thursday evening when we clinched qualification, so I missed what must have been a performance equivalent to watching paint dry. I saw that Joe Hart was named as man of the match, so that says it all really. One wag wrote that Southgate comes from the same school of football tactics as our manager, in that a free kick in our opponents half ended up with Joe Hart after a succession of sideways and backwards passes, and then possession was given away by a long aimless kick upfield. Southgate was quoted as saying that we are “a work in progress”. A bit of an understatement?

So what else has been happening on the club front? I see that Reece Oxford is back after what appears to be an unsuccessful loan spell in Germany. I wonder if he can recapture the early promise that he was showing a couple of years ago? Or is he going to be one of those players that appears to have it all at a very young age, and then fades from the scene?

The manager seems to have survived the rumours that suggested he could be on his way out during the break, although constant speculation as to his successor continues in the media. The latest names that I’ve seen linked are Sean Dyche, who has done an excellent job at Burnley, our next opponents, and Carlo Ancelotti who is said to be taking a break from football for the remainder of the season, making him available for recruitment at the end of the season. Who knows? I reckon that provided we have an OK run from here and don’t dabble with relegation, then perhaps our owners are prepared to let our manager continue until the end of his contract. It would probably take a final league position of around seventh or eighth for him to be given an extension, and based upon what I’ve seen so far this season I would say that is extremely unlikely, though I would love to be proved wrong.

There hasn’t been much in the way of original transfer speculation, although I read that Everton are prepared to bid £20 million for Carroll in January! Walcott and Wilshere from Arsenal are names that we are constantly linked with, but we shall see what happens when the next window opens.

Many West Ham fans have been complaining on social media regarding our ticket allocation for the next round of the Carabao Cup against Tottenham at Wembley. I believe that they have failed to realise that Tottenham and the police have put a maximum crowd for the game, and as such the allocation is exactly what should be given to us.

Apparently there is much speculation that Sky Sports want to televise our game against Newcastle just before Christmas, and want to put the game back to a 1.30 kick-off on Christmas Eve. I can imagine that going down well with the Westfield authorities, not to mention the travelling support who would have rather a long journey at a time when all the transport systems will be closing down for the Christmas break. If true, it reinforces the belief that the TV companies who sponsor Premier League football to the tune of around £11 million a game, have no regard whatsoever for football supporters.

Our former captain, Kevin Nolan, has made an excellent start to his career as manager of Notts County and has won the League Two Manager of the Month award. The award itself is usually the kiss of death to a manager and it remains to be seen if he can follow this up throughout the season.

There have been many calls for both Sakho, and particularly Masuaku to be in the starting line-up in the Burnley game. I’m assuming that the majority of our injured players will be back available for selection in the near future, so soon we will have a fully-fit squad, which is most unusual. It will be interesting to see our line-up and formation for the forthcoming run of fixtures, which (on paper) is as easy a run of games that you can get in the top flight. If we don’t manage to start climbing the table in the next month then the speculation concerning the manager will once again reach a crescendo.

Premier League clubs will be voting soon on the distribution of overseas broadcasting TV rights. At the moment this money, which is expected to rise considerably at the next renewal in 2019, is shared equally among all clubs in the top division, but the elite teams want to see a change (unsurprisingly) such that it is based upon finishing positions. Reports initially suggested that we would be voting for this change, but latterly I have read that we intend to vote against, and quite right too in my opinion. The revenue received by the top teams is already way ahead of the rest, and this would exacerbate the divide still further if passed. Fortunately, it requires a majority of around two-thirds to go through so I can’t see it happening.

Some commentators are speculating that failure to make the change will result in the acceleration of the set-up of a European League for all the top clubs in Europe. Let it happen I say. Perhaps then our domestic football will be more of an equal contest among the remaining clubs. We are already seeing the boring predictability of the same six clubs dominating the Premier League season after season, and more games are finishing with these teams easily beating the rest by three or four goals in unequal contests. It is becoming rarer for the “also-rans” to beat the top sides, and I, for one, would much rather see closer games of football. I’m not sure that it would be beneficial for the national team, but as I grew up in an era of Moore, Hurst, Charlton, Greaves, Peters, Banks, Ball etc., then current international football leaves me cold anyway.

A preview of West Ham v Swansea

Will Swansea be the swansong for our beleaguered manager? Plus a few thoughts on the continuing effect of the London Stadium hosting the World Athletics Championships in August.

It’s a weird feeling isn’t it? A home league game that kicks off at 3pm on a Saturday. The first one of the season, so make the most of it if you are a fan of the traditional kick-off time, as it won’t be happening again until at least 9 December. The second international break of the season is upon us, and begins after the Swansea game. I wonder if it will be a swansong for our beleaguered manager who seems to be under more pressure than ever if media reports are to be believed.

I wondered about the derivation of the word swansong. Legend has it that swans are mute throughout their lives, but they sing beautifully and mournfully before they die. Let us hope that the team performs beautifully for the manager on Saturday, and that we pick up the much needed three points that would take us out of the relegation zone.

We only have one home game in the month of October (Friday 20 October 8pm v Brighton), and by the end of the month 10 league games will have been played (four at home and six away). November is a more balanced month with two home games (Saturday 4 November v Liverpool 5.30pm kick-off, and Leicester (Friday 24 November 8pm), and two away. Of course the third international break takes place in that month to continue the stop-start to the Premier League season that we endure every year now.

Seven games are scheduled for December, with just three at home and four away. The next potential Saturday 3pm kick doesn’t happen until the 9th when Chelsea are our visitors, but once the Sky / BT schedules are announced that may of course change. By the time we sit down for our Christmas lunch we will be exactly half way into the season, having played 19 games, 9 at home and 10 away, but visits to Bournemouth on Boxing Day, and the return fixture at Tottenham four days later, mean that we will once again be in the position we were in just three games into the season, that is having played three more games away from home than at the London Stadium!

We are forever behind, and the effect of the World Athletics Championships being held at our stadium will be a significant one if we are still lingering in the lower reaches of the table by then. The home / away balance doesn’t even itself out until the end of March, at which time we will have played 16 games at home and the same number away, with just six games left in the season at that time.

If you look back on the history of Swansea visits to West Ham, we have an overwhelming superiority. But I’m not sure that statistics such as these are a good thing! In almost 30 home games against them we have only lost on two occasions. The first of these was in 1956 when we were both in the second tier, but that was too long ago for even me to remember.

The second I can recall very clearly though. It was of course the penultimate game at Upton Park and the last to be played on a Saturday. We went with high expectations as a record-breaking season was coming towards a close and were thrashed 4-1, with a certain Andre Ayew scoring one of the Swansea goals. Of course this massive disappointment was soon forgotten in the following week when we met Manchester United in that never-to-be-forgotten final game at the old ground.

Last season we beat them in April with that terrific strike along the ground from Kouyate from outside the box which was the only goal of the game. That left Swansea in big trouble in the bottom three with just half a dozen games of the season to go, but they escaped the drop with a fine finishing run.

This season, their seventh consecutive one in the top flight, they (like ourselves) have not started as well as they would have hoped. They have lost all of their three home games at the Liberty Stadium, 4-0 to Manchester United, 1-0 to Newcastle, and 2-1 to Watford. But we need to be wary, as their form on the road has been excellent. A goalless draw at Southampton to begin the season, a 2-0 win at Palace, and then another goalless game at Tottenham has given them five points, all away from home. This puts them in 15th place, just one point above ourselves. It is a bit early I know, but we could perhaps call this a “six-pointer” this weekend, as well as an extremely important (must win?) game for our manager.

I rarely manage to accurately predict our starting line-up, as the manager always seems to throw in a surprise or two that I wasn’t expecting. But this time I am confident that he will start with the following eleven:

Hart, Fonte, Reid, Ogbonna, Zabaleta, Noble, Kouyate, Cresswell, Ayew, Arnautavic, Chicarito.

If the manager subscribes to the “horses for courses” theory then he will be tempted to include Carroll in view of his fine goalscoring record against today’s opponents. Apparently Lanzini is now fit, but I expect him to start on the bench, although I would personally include him from the start in place of Ayew. But I reckon Ayew will get the nod, particularly as the game is against his former employers. Depending on how the game is going I would expect important contributions as substitutes from Lanzini, Carroll, Masuaku, or Rice. I don’t think anyone else will get a look in.

The bookies make us favourites to win the game and we are slightly odds-on to do so. Swansea are around 3/1 plus, and the draw is around 5/2. Given Swansea’s away form, especially the fact that they have yet to concede a goal on their travels, the game is likely to be a tight one. Despite the tension surrounding the manager I hope that we can win a close game, possibly by the odd goal, just as we did about six months ago. A repeat of that scoreline, with the same goalscorer, is on offer at around 33/1.  

West Ham 2 Tottenham 3

A spirited comeback from West Ham but nothing to show for it.

Saturday’s result means that we move back into the bottom three in the Premier League. Six games played, four points. Four games away from home have yielded just a single point, and a win plus a defeat at home give us another three. To get back on to an average of a point a game we must win at home to Swansea next Saturday. The pressure is once again back on the manager, and this will increase still further if we don’t collect all three points in that game.

The Tottenham game was a strange one in many ways. I was there to watch it live as usual, and then saw re-runs of the game on TV later and the usual analysis on Match of the Day. I guess that each time you watch you pick up something new.

For much of the game we matched Tottenham for effort, but were lacking when it came to skill, and a tactical plan. Of course it didn’t help that Antonio picked up another muscle injury before half an hour had elapsed, and I was as surprised as those around me that Carroll was the manager’s choice to replace him. Once again Chicarito was moved to a wider position which, although he possesses a lot of skill it is not his forte. So much of football depends on the officials and their interpretation of events, but I could see quite clearly from a distance of 100 yards away that Arnautavic was having his shirt tugged when put through by Noble fairly early in the game. To my mind it was a clear penalty, (and even possibly a sending-off offence?) and if it had been converted, a 1-0 lead would have put a totally different complexion on the game.

But referee Oliver thought otherwise. He could see that the tackle was clean enough but apparently couldn’t see the shirt pulling. In many ways Oliver is a fine referee, although many social media views from West Ham fans suggested otherwise. They say that if you are good enough you are old enough, but I’m not entirely convinced that this applies to football match officials, particularly at the highest level. He wasn’t any older than some players on the pitch, and I’m not sure that he seems to have the authority necessary to handle a game.

Poor defending let us down, and I hope that when they look back at the game, then Carroll, Kouyate, Cresswell, Reid, and Fonte, will all feel that in different ways they could have done better for the first Tottenham goal. Similarly Carroll and Ogbonna for the second. And everyone back for the free-kick when Kane hit the post seemed transfixed when Eriksen stroked home the third.

But that wasn’t the end of the game, and our heads didn’t go down. A spirited comeback picked out a particular weakness of Tottenham for the ball in the air, and the headed goals from Chicarito and Kouyate led to an exciting climax. I felt that Carroll was moving at speed to head in the equaliser at the end when he was pushed just enough to put him off, in a similar way to Zabaleta conceding the injury-time penalty at Southampton that cost us a point. But once again referee Oliver thought otherwise, and our late pressure petered out with some handbags in the middle of the field that wasted endless time that stifled our momentum.

For me, Zabaleta was our best defender, but nobody else really stood out in the team apart from the short cameo from Masuaku in the latter stages, who showed good ability and looked dangerous going forward wide on the left. Cresswell can cross a decent ball at times, but doesn’t have Masuaku’s ability or pace to go past players. But neither are the best left-sided players around from a defensive point of view.

If you watch the game again you can measure how much time elapsed for each of the three goals scored in the second half and when the game was restarted. Add that to all the second half substitutions, the time taken for players to leave the field, and the Tottenham timewasting in the last twenty minutes and then try to reconcile that with the paltry four minutes that were added. The first half also had two goals, one substitution and Antonio’s injury, yet a mere two minutes was added. The sooner the authorities change the timing system in games, so that the clock is stopped every time the ball goes out of play or the game is halted, and then only re-started when the game resumes, the better. As spectators we are getting short-changed, and teams with a narrow lead are getting away with blatant timewasting.

We could possibly have got a point out of the game, but our shortcomings and contentious decisions not going our way let us down once again. Tottenham showed in many respects why they will probably end up in the top four or five in the league once again, although I cannot see them challenging the two Manchester clubs or Chelsea for a tilt at the top three. I believe that our lowly position is a false one, and that we have the quality of players to be a side challenging for a position in the top half of the table, but no better than that. But I’m not sure that we have a manager with the ability to motivate, and tactical awareness necessary, to go any further than that.

I’d love to see him prove me wrong, but unless we pick up three points against Swansea, then with the second international break following that game, I wonder if the board will lose patience and will give him the opportunity to do so.

A preview of West Ham versus Tottenham

Five Visits to Wembley in One Season for West Ham?

The draw for the Fourth Round of the Carabao Cup has paired us with our North London neighbours who are visiting us this weekend. The away tie, to be played in the last week of October, whilst not the kindest, guarantees at least two trips to Wembley this season. And when we go there for the Carabao Cup final, in addition to the FA Cup semi-final and final, that will make five trips to the iconic North-West London venue in one season. OK, so it is a long shot I’ll agree. I wonder what odds the bookies would give for us making the five visits to Wembley in one season? But we have to dream, don’t we?

The 12.30 kick-off is yet another “non-standard” time for a game of football, just as last season when we played Tottenham at 8.00 pm on a Friday night on May 5. We went into that game as vast underdogs. How much would we give for a repeat of the performance and result that we achieved just 141 days ago?

We moved up into 17th place in the table, and just outside the bottom three, when Everton were hammered by Manchester United last week. Tottenham, despite their (typical?) slow start to the season still manage to occupy fifth place, albeit five points adrift of the two Manchester clubs just five games into the season.

Much has been written about their inability to adapt to playing their home games at Wembley, but they have gone some way to rectify this with a convincing win (3-1) against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League last week, and scraping home 1-0 against Barnsley in the Carabao Cup this week. But in the league their results have been disappointing to say the least, with a home defeat (2-1) to Chelsea, and draws (1-1) with Burnley, and (0-0) v Swansea.

On the other hand, their away form has been excellent and has given them their two wins in the league with victories at Newcastle (2-0) on the opening weekend, and at Everton (3-0). So they come here with a 100% away record which we will be hoping to end. The bookies don’t give us much chance of doing so, and we are quoted at around 5/1 to win the game, with Tottenham around 4/6, and a draw at 3/1. But in the equivalent fixture last May we were even longer odds at 13/2 to win, with the draw at around 4/1, and a Tottenham victory was even shorter than it is this time. I took a punt on us winning the game then, and I’ll be doing the same this time.

The convincing win over Bolton with mostly fringe players was good for confidence, and a third clean sheet in a row. Bolton were poor, but the performances of the players should have given the manager some food for thought when he is selecting the team to face Tottenham. However, despite that I wouldn’t expect to see many changes from the team that played at West Brom last weekend.

Of course, Collins is out and will need to be replaced, but how the manager does this is the £64 million dollar question. Will we revert to a back four of Zabaleta, Fonte, Reid and Cresswell? Or if he wants to continue with three at the back, could Zabaleta be one of the three, or will he want Ogbonna to partner Reid and Fonte? Or might he even be bold and include Rice in his favoured position?

Apparently Obiang has a slight injury and is likely to miss the game, so he will need to replaced too if he doesn’t make it. Perhaps there will be a return for Noble in this position? That would certainly increase the traffic on social media. Or Fernandes even? After his performance in midweek, I also believe that Bilic may want to bring Arnautavic into the starting team to give us much-needed creativity, although many would argue that it is difficult to do this without weakening the team from a defensive viewpoint. Some media outlets suggest that he may come in at the expense of Chicarito, but personally I’d like to see them both in the team. We cannot go into games (even ones against top sides like Tottenham) without the means to create chances and score goals. Somehow the manager has to find a balance between defence and attack but this is what he is paid for. The best teams always defend in numbers without the ball, and attack in numbers when in possession, and we have to find the right personnel and strategy to achieve this.

We will find out the make-up of the team at about 11.30. We will need a performance of high intensity and total commitment to match the result from last May. A draw would be a good result but the optimist in me hopes that we might just sneak the win.