West Ham attempt to win at Elland Road for the second season running. It hasn’t happened before!

The prospect of a game against Leeds always conjures up memories for me as a young boy, and the reputation of the Elland Road outfit under Don Revie at the time. They were a top side but perhaps didn’t win as many trophies when they were at their peak as they perhaps should have done. In many ways they were perhaps the team to beat, the best team in England, but somehow they didn’t always seem to achieve what they might have done. They certainly had their share of being runners-up. For example, following their promotion to the top flight in the early 1960s from 1964-65 onwards they finished 2nd, 2nd, 4th, 4th, 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 3rd, 1st in the next ten seasons.

They were also perhaps the most hated side in the country at that time. I guess it’s a long time ago now, and perhaps that reputation is unfair? I don’t know, but my memory is such that people seemed to enjoy Leeds being beaten. Not more so than in 1970 when it seemed to me that most of the country wanted Chelsea to beat them in the FA Cup Final. They did after a replay and so many seemed to rejoice in the victory although the Chelsea side themselves had their fair share of players who could, shall we say, look after themselves.

The Leeds side of that era were certainly high profile, and even now around 50 years later I can recall so many of their players; Sprake, Reaney, Charlton, Hunter, Cooper, Madeley, Bremner, Giles, Lorimer, Clarke, Jones, Gray. To be honest I can’t recall too many more from the subsequent 50 years, Yorath, Jordan, Batty, Speed, Bowyer, Rio Ferdinand of course, Hasselbaink, Lee Chapman are just a few that spring to mind.

West Ham fans of my vintage will recall 1966 with massive affection. Of course I’m referring to the World Cup, but there are a couple of other reasons that I remember that year in relation to Leeds. Firstly, on my twelfth birthday in February of that year we were playing away at Leeds and were soundly thrashed 5-0. But in the following season later that year the mighty Leeds brought their first team down to Upton Park on a Monday night in November to play us in the fourth round of the Football League Cup (Carabao in modern terms). They were humbled 7-0 with hat-tricks for Hurst and Sissons and a goal from Peters. It was perhaps one of the most astonishing victories in all my years of supporting West Ham. After that win we didn’t beat them at the next twelve attempts until we finally won against them, ironically in a League Cup replay at Elland Road in 1971.

That season was to be the first where the League Cup final was to be held at Wembley. Before then they were home and away two-legged affairs. We progressed to the semi-final where we lost 6-2 on aggregate over the two legs to West Brom, who themselves went on to lose the final to a Rodney Marsh inspired Queens Park Rangers who came from behind to win 3-2.

Which brings me to the present, and our visit to Elland Road today. Leeds under Bielsa won many plaudits for their football last season, their first in the top flight after a 17 year absence. But we did the double over them in empty stadiums winning 2-1 away, with goals from Soucek and Ogbonna enabling us to come from behind after conceding a penalty in the first five minutes, before the return leg in March when Lingard and Dawson scored to give us a 2-0 win. Those two victories doubled our wins over them in the Premier League to 4, whereas they have beaten us 14 times. I looked back in the records to try to find the last time that we did the double over them and eventually found it in the 1953-54 season in Division Two, the second game of which was a 5-2 victory on the day after I was born in 1954! And the last time we beat them three times in a row? That came in 1949 – we won four consecutive games against them in 1948 and 1949, although three of them were at Upton Park. And when was the last time we beat them at their ground in two consecutive seasons? It hasn’t happened.

History is irrelevant though really and current form is much more important. We lost in the league last Sunday of course to Manchester United after missing that last minute penalty which was the subject of much discussion. That was our only defeat this season, and came after two draws had followed our opening two wins. Leeds on the other hand have failed to win any of their opening five league games, but have drawn three of them (against Newcastle, Everton and Burnley) to sit in 17th in the table at this very early stage. They have also suffered heavy defeats to Liverpool and Manchester United.

Our much changed (virtually B team) gained some measure of revenge over Manchester United in the Carabao Cup in the week and were immediately drawn against Manchester City in the next round. We’ll certainly have to win it the hard way! Some good performances throughout the team will mean many will be pushing for a place in the starting line-up in the weeks to come. I was particularly impressed with Areola, Dawson, Diop, Lanzini and Kral, although to be fair almost everyone played their part in the victory which could have been more emphatic in the end but for two golden chances missed by Yarmolenko and Noble.

So what will happen today? West Ham have been playing Leeds since 1921 – that is 100 years now. It’s more than 100 games and Leeds have been victors in many more of those fixtures than we have. I’m hoping that we can resume our winning ways in the league this season, and also record a second consecutive victory at Elland Road for the first time in history. I reckon 2-1 today will change that. What are the chances? 

After midweek success in Croatia, and with Antonio unavailable, can West Ham defeat Ronaldo-inspired Manchester United?

Two wins and two draws in the Premier League, and success in the first game of the Europa League in what was meant to be the toughest fixture in Group H. Unbeaten so far with potentially an even more daunting challenge this weekend when the Red Devils visit the London Stadium. Such a shame we won’t be able to field our strongest side with Antonio being forced to sit this one out after what I thought was a needless red card at Southampton last Saturday. It will be interesting to see how David Moyes constructs the team without our number 9, and no obvious replacement in that position without changing the style of play. Antonio ran the Croatians ragged in Zagreb on Thursday evening and will be sorely missed on Sunday.

The 2-0 win to take us to the top of Europa League Group H after the first game was well deserved, and David Moyes deserves massive credit for the way he has transformed this squad since his return to the club. This was never going to be an easy fixture against a Zagreb side used to competing in Europe. It was just a few months ago that they put Tottenham to the sword beating them 3-0 in the round of 16 second leg in last season’s Europa League to overturn a 2-0 deficit from the first leg to progress to the last eight, where they went out of the competition against the Spaniards, Villareal. Dinamo had topped their group with 14 points from four wins and two draws so have considerable recent experience in European competition. They have also made an excellent start in this season’s Croatian League and currently sit on top with 16 points from their opening seven games.

This puts the strength of our performance into perspective. Even with a changed team, all of the players performed well and knew how they fitted into the side, and the roles they needed to play. The unchanged midfield partnership of Rice and Soucek was the springboard to our success, and how good was Rice when intercepting the ball in his own half and striding more than half the length of the pitch to score the second goal through the keeper’s legs? The goal reminded me of his strike in the final game of last season when a similar run led to the third goal in our victory over Southampton that sealed our sixth-place finish enabling us to qualify for this season’s Europa League.

Much credit too must go to the whole team for defending as a unit when we didn’t have the ball, and especially the back four who didn’t allow the home side to have a single shot on target in the entire 90 minutes. I thought that Fredericks had an excellent game, using his speed to great effect when going forward, and conversely when getting back to recover the ball. On the other flank the rejuvenated (under Moyes) Cresswell was as steady as ever. He continues to impress now that he appears to be fully recovered from the injury he suffered a couple of seasons back. But the defensive highlight for me was the massively impressive Zouma who dealt with everything comfortably, forming an excellent partnership with Diop. We have four centre backs vying for two places in the starting eleven when we play with a back four. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Zouma lining up alongside Ogbonna for the game on Sunday, although this would be harsh on Dawson who hasn’t done a lot wrong since he was signed. On the other hand I wonder if for this game, with the absence of Antonio, Moyes may consider playing with three centre backs? I don’t think he will and I would anticipate this starting line-up for the game.

Fabianski; Coufal, Zouma, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Rice, Soucek; Fornals, Vlasic, Benrahma; Bowen.

If my prediction for the starting line-up is correct then the choice of players to sit on our bench is also looking stronger than it has for years with a first-class international goalkeeper in Areola, Diop and Dawson as centre backs, and Fredericks and the fit-again Masuaku as well as Johnson covering the full back positions, although I believe Moyes sees Masuaku more as an attacking wing back / midfielder. Noble and Kral seem the likely cover for Rice and Soucek, with Lanzini and Yarmolenko the other attacking options in the absence of Antonio. Not quite two like for like players to cover all over the pitch, as they have at Manchester City and Chelsea for example, but nevertheless stronger than in recent times. Let’s hope that some youngsters from the Development Squad can make a name for themselves and become involved at the top level as the season progresses.

Manchester United have been strengthened by the addition of world-class Ronaldo, who might not quite be the player he once was, but nevertheless he is still a massive goalscoring threat. He has hit the ground running and already started scoring goals in his first week. Let’s hope we can keep him quiet on Sunday. Manchester United are favourites, particularly with the additional rest-time from midweek endeavours of 48 hours compared to ourselves, but I still believe we can beat them, despite Antonio not being available, although it will be tough to do so without our in-form number nine. Others will have to step up to score, and I fancy Jarrod Bowen to do so.

Bookmakers certainly don’t rate our chances highly, but as an unbeaten team playing at home after a midweek success in Europe playing against a Manchester United team who surprisingly lost to Young Boys of Switzerland, the odds of a home victory at 7/2 are certainly more enticing than the odds-on chances given to the visitors. The odds for West Ham winning 2-0 are 18/1, or a 2-1 victory is priced around 12/1.

I always enjoy a fun bet at long odds that rarely comes off, but you never know. Ronaldo to score the first goal and then West Ham to come back and win the match is priced at 50/1. Ronaldo to score the first goal and West Ham to win the match 2-1 is around 90/1. Or if you fancy Bowen to score the first goal and West Ham to win the odds are 20/1. Or perhaps Bowen to score first and West Ham to win 2-1 you can get 87/1. Rice to score the first goal and West Ham to win 2-1 is priced at 342/1. For a bit of fun I’ll choose one of those. What are the chances?    

A nice Selection Headache for David Moyes as the Hammers head to the South Coast

That’s the first international break over. Personally I’m not a fan of how the domestic season gets interrupted by three international breaks before a dozen Premier League games have been completed. I think we get four more league games before the next interruption and then four more before the November internationals. Of course at West Ham we have the Europa League getting underway very soon too, and I’m looking forward to that.

And thinking of our foray into Europe the transfer window has now slammed shut, and I believe we appear to have done very well this time around. David Moyes stated publicly that he didn’t just want players to make up the numbers in the squad, he wanted footballers that could enhance the first team, whilst allowing for the additional fixtures that we would be playing on Thursday nights in Europe. Four established international footballers would appear to be a much better result than seemed likely with just a few days of the window to go, although of course as always we have to wait and see how well they make the transition into our squad, and how the manager integrates them into the team. It will be interesting to see how quickly they get their chance to show what they can do, but with the opening Europa League fixtures less than a week away it shouldn’t be long.

All four of our new recruits will ensure that there will be strong competition for places in the starting eleven in most parts of the team, especially in goal, at centre back, and in an attacking sense. There is no direct alternative for Antonio though, and we wait to see how this one plays out when he is either injured or needs a rest. Zouma, especially, will put pressure on the centre backs for a starting place, as will Vlasic on Bowen, Fornals and Benrahma, who have all started the season in excellent form.

As this season was getting underway it appeared that Lanzini was looking at a new role playing deeper than in the past, but it will now be even more difficult for him to get into the team, with Kral in a similar position too. You’d want both Rice and Soucek to be starting as many games as possible, but from what I’ve seen I’d imagine Kral playing in their role when one or the other is not available. But perhaps our manager has other ideas? And Mark Noble will surely find opportunities even more limited for him to play a part in his last season. One thing is for sure though, we now have so much more quality cover for injuries than has been the case in the past. At this moment David Moyes is perhaps more spoiled for choice than at any time at the West Ham helm.

With the season barely underway it’s hard to predict what to expect at Southampton. We have won six out of the seven most recent Premier League encounters, including the final game of last season when 10,000 of us were lucky enough in the ballot to be able to attend the game. The Saints have yet to win a league game this season, drawing with Newcastle and Manchester United and going down at Everton. They sit thirteenth in the (very) early season table. On the other hand we are second following our two excellent wins and the slightly disappointing draw at home to Palace. Tottenham are the only team with 100% record after just three games and they visit Selhurst Park this weekend.

The newcomers have barely had the chance to meet their new team mates yet, so perhaps it is a little early for any of them to be pushing for a place in the starting eleven. For me, if any do get the nod I reckon it will be Zouma, but the others will surely be warming the bench waiting for their chance.

Despite being away from home we are slight favourites with the bookmakers to win this game at 6/4, with Southampton at 15/8 and the draw at 23/10. There were 6 goals in our opening game this season, 5 in the next, and 4 in the Palace match. I reckon 3 this time, with us winning 3-0. We’ve put 3 past Southampton in 5 of our last 9 games against them, so why not 6 out of 10? What are the chances?

“I Don’t Believe It!” – West Ham fans erupt as they score four again to go top of the table

If you thought beating Newcastle 4-2 on the opening day was good, how about a third consecutive win against Leicester (who finished last season in fifth place in the Premier League), and scoring ten goals against them in those three games? And as Michail Antonio thrashed the fourth goal into the net we had the realisation of being top of the league. As hardened West Ham fans we know it won’t last, but we’ll enjoy it for now, especially because we are watching a team playing some great attacking (or counter attacking) football. All over the pitch the players are playing with massive confidence and belief in their abilities.

Richard Wilson was on the TV on Wednesday. For those of you who have forgotten, or are not old enough to remember him, he was the main character in the sitcom One Foot In The Grave, playing Victor Meldrew, a grumpy sixty year old who had just involuntarily retired. He encounters a series of problems, many of his own making, and has a catchphrase “I don’t believe it”, a phrase echoed by most football fans seeing the Hammers perched at the top of the table. Incidentally I was surprised to see that the last episode aired over 20 years ago.

After all we are not noted for barnstorming starts to the season. The last time we won the opening two games in a Premier League season was in 1997. Comparing this season to last we are already six points ahead of where we were after two games. But as I say we won’t get carried away, but while we can keep our first choice players fit we can continue to win games. The problems will arise as the fixtures pile up with the Europa League games, and our relatively thin squad, especially if we get injuries to key players.

Here’s another poser for you. When do you think we last won our opening two games in the top flight and scored eight goals in the process? It has happened before, way back in 1930, a mere 91 years ago. That season we began with two home games, beating Huddersfield 2-0 in the first, and then in front of just 11,682 on the following Monday we put seven past Liverpool. Both of those teams went on to finish in the top half of the table, whereas we didn’t.

Our main goalscorer at the time (and the club’s leading goalscorer of all time) was Vic Watson. He scored six goals in those opening two games, and just like Antonio now was the leading goalscorer in the league. He scored 11 goals in the first 7 games and then he got injured and was missing for the next four months. Back then we had a ready-made replacement to play up front (Viv Gibbins) who took over the number 9 shirt and scored 19 goals in 22 games. When Watson was fit again he resumed his place in the team and Gibbins was left out, just playing a handful of games when Watson was injured again at the end of the season.

How did that season turn out after the brilliant start? Despite being fourth at Christmas a poor second half of the season saw us finish in 18th place. The two teams relegated that season were Leeds and Manchester United. Incidentally we won the first two games the following season too, but we only collected one point in the final ten games and finished bottom and were relegated. Of course there won’t be any parallels this season but the lack of cover for Antonio (at the time of writing) is a potential worry unless David Moyes has an alternative that we don’t know about.

Crystal Palace have collected just one point from their opening two fixtures, losing 3-0 to Chelsea and drawing 0-0 with Brentford. They were also dumped out of the EFL Cup 1-0 by Watford with an Ashley Fletcher goal (remember him?). In three games they have yet to score a goal and we are overwhelming favourites to make it nine points from our opening three games before the International break. We are 8/15 to win the game, with Palace at 5/1. We are now seventh favourites at 75/1 to win the Premier League too.

We’ll enjoy it while it lasts, and I’m hoping that my pre-season prediction of finishing sixth at the end of the season doesn’t end up being very far wide of the mark. Perhaps we can even do better than that? I’m hoping for four goals on Saturday for the third game in a row at the start of a season. I don’t believe that has ever happened before. What are the chances?

Can West Ham become the fifth Premier League side to boast a 100% record after two games this season?

Well that was a superb start wasn’t it? Three points away from home against a side who did the double over us last season. Conceding two headed goals in the first half wasn’t great defending, but that aside, most aspects of our performance were very pleasing. We do need a competent penalty taker though, Cresswell perhaps? He does strike the ball cleanly.

It certainly was an entertaining game for any neutral viewers with the chances created and attempts on goal, in addition to the six goals that were scored. I even thought the Sky TV commentary team were good (Bill Leslie and Andy Hinchcliffe). One thing that annoys me though – they love to highlight a player who loves playing against West Ham (e.g. Lukaku, Callum Wilson etc). They tell you before the game, and don’t they just love it when they score. They can’t stop going on about it.

I thought we were unlucky to be behind at the interval and loved the way we turned it on in the second half. Benrahma and Antonio combined so well for the counter attacking fourth goal, reversing the assist and goal scorer for Benrahma’s header. I’m looking forward to Benrahma being a key player for us. Soucek and Rice were excellent (as ever) and Coufal got better as the game progressed. Cresswell’s goal demonstrated how VAR should be used, although I was not convinced that Bowen was actually offside at the point Cresswell struck the ball, but that was not revisited with the thicker lines we can expect to see drawn from now on giving the benefit to the attacker. Bowen’s mazy first half run showed great dribbling skill but he should perhaps have been more composed and scored.

We now move on from a team that beat us twice last season to an opponent that we defeated in both games scoring three times in each one, although the away victory was more comfortable than the home one. Leicester were the only team that we managed to beat who finished above us in the table, and we achieved it twice.

Coming from behind to win 4-2 last weekend reminded me of facing Leicester way back on Boxing Day in 1968. That was a morning game at Upton Park, and it seemed we had barely taken our seats when we were two goals down. However a massively entertaining game ended with us winning 4-2 thanks to a Brian Dear hat trick and a goal from a very young Trevor Brooking. Four days later we visited Filbert Street, Leicester and won again with a 4-2 score line.

There were some high scoring games against Leicester in the 1960s and 1970s. The season following the two 4-2 wins we recorded a 4-0 win at Upton Park with two more from Dear. That was the game where I witnessed the best goal I’ve ever seen (scored by Martin Peters). In the seventies I remember beating them at Upton Park 3-2, 5-2 and even 6-2! On the other hand they also defeated us a couple of times in the sixties by 5-2 and 5-4.

Assuming no injuries I fully expect David Moyes to name the same starting eleven for this game. We are narrow favourites to win at 8/5 with Leicester at 7/4 and the draw at 23/10. Will it be another high scoring game? You can get 50/1 on 4-2 to West Ham (and incidentally 4-2 to the Foxes too).

If we win we will become the fifth Premier League side to boast a 100% record after just two games this season. That will be five more than achieved the feat in the ultra-competitive Championship where not a single team managed to win their first two games. History is against us. Can you remember the last time we won our opening two fixtures in a Premier League season? You have to go back to the 1997/98 campaign when we recorded two consecutive 2-1 wins, away at Barnsley and at home to Tottenham. That was a good season – we eventually finished eighth, winning the final game 4-3 at home to Leicester. Yet another high scoring game between the two clubs! Perhaps we’ll get another this evening? What are the chances?

Can West Ham reverse the poor opening day record against Newcastle?

In my last article earlier this week I referred to two games where we met Newcastle in the opening game. Those games were at home in 1973-74 and 2020-21. And we lost both of them. The last time that our first game of the season was away at St James Park was in 2002-03. And that, too, was perhaps a match (and a season) we’d like to forget.

The game in August 2002 was televised on Sky as the Monday night game, and for an hour it remained scoreless. By the end of 90 minutes we had lost 4-0 to goals from Lua Lua (2), Shearer and Solano. Do you remember Nobby Solano? He played for us subsequently as did another player in the Newcastle side that day, Kieron Dyer. Our team that night boasted players such as David James, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole, Trevor Sinclair and Jermain Defoe, but it was just the beginning of a wretched season that ended with relegation at the end of it.

After that poor start on the opening day we did not win a game until our seventh game of the season when we won 3-2 at Chelsea. We didn’t actually win a home league game that season until January 29th! One thing I do remember from that time was injuries to our strikers Di Canio and Kanoute, and a lack of depth in the squad forcing us to play Ian Pearce (a defender) as a striker. Nowdays that wouldn’t happen I assume with ‘false nines’ but I would like to see us begin the season with more out and out strikers other than just Antonio.

What do you think of West Ham’s three kits for 2021/22? Will we be wearing the middle one in the opening game, or is this too similar to Newcastle’s black and white stripes? I assume it will be the third strip, although our home kit would be my choice

Last season was probably our best ever in the Premier League, albeit not our highest finish, which was 5th in 1998/99. But back then (1998/99) we had only improved from a finish in eighth place the season before, and we were ten points below the fourth placed team. But our sixth place in the season just ended was only one win away from the top four, and an improvement of ten places over the season before.

But when you look at our results against the teams that did finish in the first four places, it wasn’t very good to say the least. In those eight games we drew one and lost seven. Compare that to the games against the other 15 teams that make up the Premier League and you will see a marked contrast. In those thirty games we won 19, drew 7, and lost 4, collecting 64 of our 65 points. Ironically two of those four defeats were against a very average Newcastle team. Better results against them could potentially have resulted in a top four finish.

It shouldn’t be too hard to predict our team for this first game, with few changes in the squad that ended last season. Fabianski will continue in goal (for the time being at least); Coufal, Diop, Dawson and Cresswell will be the back four, Rice and Soucek will play in front of them, with Fornals, Benrahma and Bowen supporting Antonio up front. Well that’s how I see it anyway. The only possible changes to that would see places in the starting line up for Ogbonna, Lanzini, or Yarmolenko, although the former two have had minor knocks in pre-season. We really need some reinforcements to the squad in view of the additional fixtures this season.

There’s no reason why our poor opening game record against Newcastle cannot be reversed this time around, especially considering our excellent pre-season form, and availability of almost all the players in the squad. I’ll predict a 2-0 away win. Unusually for us we go into an away game against a team who did the double over us last season as 6/5 favourites to win the game with Newcastle at 23/10, and the draw at almost the same odds at 12/5. A 2-0 win is around 10/1. I always like a slightly unusual bet, and this time I’m going for Antonio to score more goals in the game than Newcastle at 6/1.

I was looking at the odds for winning the Premier League, and they give a good indication of where the bookmakers, and most pundits expect teams to finish this season.

Manchester City 4/6; Chelsea 9/2; Liverpool 5/1; Manchester United 8/1; Arsenal, Leicester and Tottenham all 50/1; Villa, Everton, Leeds and West Ham all 100/1; Brighton, Palace, Newcastle, Southampton and Wolves all 500/1; Brentford and Burnley 750/1; Norwich and Watford 1000/1. Of course some bookmakers have slight variations but generally they seem to think we will finish somewhere between 8th and 11th. That’s probably about right, but I believe that with more investment in quality players we could perhaps achieve a finish similar to last season’s sixth.

It depends on how optimistic you are but if you fancy a bet on West Ham, we are 12/1 to finish in the top 4, 5/1 to finish in the top 6, and 8/11 to finish in the top 10. Anyone other than the top 4 in the betting is not a realistic bet to win the title, and few pundits vary from Manchester City (and possibly Chelsea) as realistic contenders, although Liverpool and Manchester United cannot be completely ruled out. I reckon everyone else can be.

I’d love to see us make a storming start to the season. If you are old enough to remember 1983/4 (as I am) then you might recall that we won our first 5 league games to top the league by the end of September with 15 goals scored and just 3 conceded. That was the season we beat Bury 10-0 in a League Cup tie too. We were still second in the table in December, but faded as the season progressed. With six games to go we were sixth, but just two draws and four defeats in those final six games meant that we finished 9th. In fact we only won one of our last twelve league games. Trevor Brooking retired after the last game which was a 1-0 defeat at home to Everton.

Football was very different then of course. The Premier League would not come into existence until the 1990s, and the top flight was called simply Division One. Liverpool were champions but Southampton, Nottingham Forest and Queens Park Rangers all finished in the top five. Other teams in the top division included Ipswich, Sunderland, Luton, West Brom, Stoke, Coventry, Birmingham and Notts County. Neither Manchester City or Chelsea were anywhere to be seen!

But Back to the Future, or 2021/22 as it will be known, football will once again be played in front of capacity crowds. Let’s hope that can continue throughout and not be interrupted by another wave of the wretched pandemic that has disrupted our lives for the past (almost) eighteen months. I’d like to see an improvement in the performances of officials to match those that we witnessed in the Euros in the summer. I hope we see better use of VAR, such as less fussiness (just concentrating on key decisions), no more offsides by a toenail or armpit, and better interpretation of handball. I’d also like to see West Ham finish as Premier League champions, or at least in the top four! What are the chances???!!!

With the new season approaching fast and expectations high, West Ham must surely need additions to the squad

I’m not really sure how many times we’ve faced the Geordies in our opening game. I do remember one season in particular, and that was back in 1973/74. We had ended the previous season in sixth place, one of our best ever top division finishing positions, and hopes were high for the new campaign. But that first game at Upton Park was a massive disappointment, which was exacerbated by a friend from Newcastle joining me at the game. We went down 2-1 with ex-Newcastle player Pop Robson scoring our goal.

Of course, we met them in the first game of last season too, but that ended in disappointment as well, as we went down 2-0. Having finished 16th the season before and then losing the opener at home to a side who were not particularly expected to do well led to doom and gloom amongst our fans, expecting a long hard campaign ahead. But of course that didn’t turn out to be the case and we made one of our best ever improvements from one season to the next, climbing ten places to finish sixth, narrowly missing out on a top four finish, but still qualifying for the Europa League.

The programme covers for the opening games of the season in 1973/74 and 2020/21(note the difference in the cost – 5p in 1973 and £3.50 in 2020

Just as in 1973-74 we begin a new season having finished sixth in the one just ended, with high hopes for the one that lies ahead. The rise from 16th to 6th must be one of the biggest improvements by any side, in the Premier League era at least. Of course Leicester went from narrowly avoiding relegation to finish as champions a few seasons back, but not many can have managed a jump of ten places, a rise that was most unexpected, but most welcome to those of us who, at the start of the campaign, would have settled for a mid-table finish, and not being involved in a relegation tussle.

So much of this was down to David Moyes and the coaching staff (as well as the players of course) People forget that when Moyes arrived at Everton in 2002 they were a bit like us, often fighting the drop. When he left there eleven years later they had finished in the top eight for seven consecutive seasons. He has achieved a top six finish in his first full season. That should buy him time to try to consolidate the club as one that will hopefully continue with top half finishes in the years to come, but that will only be possible if he is backed by the owners.

I can look back to 1984/85, in the days before the Premier League when, just like the season before last, we finished 16th. We narrowly avoided relegation by two points back then. The following campaign was our best ever in the top flight when we ended third, and only just failed to finish as champions. That should have been the time to invest in the team to push on but we failed to do so. In the two seasons that followed we finished 15th and 16th, and then we were relegated a season later. A lesson to be learned perhaps?    

It’s traditional for me to forecast (before a ball is kicked) how the Premier League will look at the end of the season. Last time I predicted a tenth place finish for us, which I thought was optimistic given the season that we had before. Of course we performed much better than I expected.

This time around I’ll be even more optimistic than last time, especially considering the added Europa League fixtures and a relatively small squad: 1. Manchester City, 2. Chelsea, 3. Manchester United, 4. Liverpool, 5. Leicester, 6. West Ham, 7. Arsenal, 8. Leeds, 9. Everton, 10. Tottenham, 11. Aston Villa, 12. Brighton, 13. Wolves, 14. Newcastle, 15. Southampton, 16. Burnley, 17. Norwich, 18. Watford, 19. Crystal Palace, 20. Brentford

But with just a few days to go before the new Premier League season gets underway we don’t appear to be much closer to adding reinforcements to the squad, which surely is absolutely necessary in view of the additional fixtures as well as the fact that the squad was thin last season too.

I was speaking to a Fulham supporter today who told me just how good their keeper was. It was a good piece of business to get him and puts pressure on Fabianski that didn’t exist before. It makes a change for us to be planning for the future, but it is imperative that reinforcements in other positions arrive too, sooner rather than later.

Of course the pandemic has meant that most clubs are in the same boat with the notable exceptions of the Manchester clubs and Chelsea, but our transfer policy in the past has been a cause for concern, and I just hope that there are negotiations going on behind the scenes to land additional quality footballers at the club.

Our pre-season has been excellent with many of our players hitting the ground running. And with a largely fully fit squad I expect a good start to the campaign. But this can only last as long as injuries to key players don’t start to mount up. For me the most important area is in attacking positions with an over reliance on the hamstrings of Michail Antonio not giving up, and lack of cover for if he is out. We’ll have to see how things develop in the days ahead. Perhaps there is a lot of activity that we are unaware of? What are the chances?              

And now the end is near as West Ham face the season’s curtain

Just one more point is all we need to be absolutely sure of sixth place – and we may not even need that

In these times of great uncertainty I can now stop trying to work out all the permutations of where we might finish at the end of this magnificent season. Just a few games ago I was speculating on how we could finish as high as fourth or as low as tenth and plumped for sixth. One point against Southampton today, or Tottenham’s failure to win at Leicester, will make my prediction come true and bring us European football in the Europa League next season. Even if the very worst happens today (and I don’t for one moment believe that it will) then we will still be taking part in this new-fangled European Conference competition, which would still be OK although it would bring greater early season fixture congestion.

The win against West Brom was a nervy affair and not really settled until the last few minutes, although anyone looking at the statistics of the game would think that it was a stroll at the Hawthorns. It most certainly wasn’t but somehow this team are superb at battling it out even when not at their best. It was the type of game that some Hammers teams of the past might have lost, but the spirit and togetherness is something I haven’t seen for a while. (And just a thought – I reckon Cresswell would be a good penalty taker. I wonder if this has been considered?)

Massive credit to David Moyes and the coaching team for what they have achieved in turning around a club close to relegation last season into one that has qualified for Europe in this one with minimal new faces, setting all sorts of club records along the way, such as number of Premier League wins, number of Premier League away wins, number of Premier League points, best Premier League finishing position this century, best Premier League defensive record and others. We’ve even won as many points away from home as the great team of 1985/86 in fewer games, and if we win today we will have the second best points total in home games of all Premier League teams this season (after Manchester City). That is some turnaround in such a short time.

Set out below is an extract from my first article this season that was published before the Newcastle game where we went down 2-0 at the London Stadium in the first match this season. Looking at what I wrote then not very much has changed personnel-wise. The brilliant capture of Coufal (my choice for Hammer of the Year very slightly ahead of Rice, Soucek, Ogbonna plus some others perhaps) has had a massive influence defensively, as has the surprising emergence of Dawson as a solid defender, forming a good partnership with Ogbonna. Benrahma was the only addition in an attacking sense in the summer window and I’m sure he will become a valuable addition in the years to come. Haller has gone, and I don’t see a way back for Anderson or Yarmolenko. Lanzini was beginning to come good at the end before his latest injury. It seemed that most of the fans were clamouring for a forward in the winter transfer window and were less than impressed when Lingard turned up. That soon changed when he had a massive impact, especially in his early games for us. I wonder what will happen in this respect in the next few weeks?

Prior to the first game of the season – “How will we line up? I expect Fabianski to be behind a back four of Fredericks (or Johnson?), Diop, Ogbonna and Cresswell. I fear that Saint-Maximin can run our defence ragged as he did at the London Stadium last season and wonder if Masuaku will be included to provide extra cover for Cresswell? It wouldn’t be my choice but it may happen. Rice, Soucek and Noble may start in midfield, with Bowen, Fornals and Antonio providing the main attacking options at the start. But will there perhaps be a place for the in-form Yarmolenko, or a hopefully rejuvenated Haller, Lanzini or Anderson? Will any of the youngsters get a chance? Who knows? What we do know is that there won’t be any new faces to bolster a defence that had one of the worst goals-against records in the Premier League last season. I’m confident that we can score goals, but can we improve defensively? Perhaps David Moyes and his coaches can work wonders on this aspect of our team, but has he got the raw materials to work with?

It’s traditional for me to forecast (before a ball is kicked) how the Premier League will look at the end of the season. So here goes: 1.Manchester City, 2.Liverpool, 3.Manchester United, 4.Chelsea, 5.Arsenal, 6.Wolves, 7.Everton, 8.Tottenham, 9.Leicester, 10.West Ham, 11.Southampton, 12.Newcastle, 13.Leeds, 14.Aston Villa, 15.Sheffield United, 16.Crystal Palace, 17.Brighton, 18.Burnley, 19.West Brom, 20.Fulham.

There’s optimism for you! Enjoy the game.”              

So we did get some defensive reinforcements in the end, and my forecast re league positions wasn’t too bad with Leicester and ourselves performing well above my expectations. But the squad remains light and will need reinforcing, especially to take into account participation in Europe. It remains to be seen how much backing that the manager gets from above. He has worked miracles with what he has despite very limited resources, and proved that he should never have gone in the first place to be replaced by Pellegrini. That was a massive error of judgement by those at the top.

A few additional seats for the game became available on Thursday from some of the 10,000 who were lucky in the ballot but who subsequently are unable to attend. I am one of the fortunate few who have come off the bench to replace them, so I am looking forward to my first visit to the London Stadium since February 29th 2020 when we beat Southampton 3-1 just before the initial lockdown. We have a good recent record against the Saints, winning five and drawing one of the last six encounters, and on quite a few occasions in recent years we have scored three or more goals in the games. I reckon 3-1 again today. What are the chances?

Qualification for Europe is within West Ham’s grasp tonight

Astonishingly, as we entered the penultimate round of matches in this season’s Premier League, there were still five teams with a mathematical chance of joining the two Manchester clubs in the top four at the end of the season, and one of those five was West Ham! Whoever would have believed that we would come this close to qualifying for the Champions League? Of course only three teams had a realistic chance, with the bookmakers’ odds reflecting their chances as follows: Liverpool 1/7, Chelsea 4/9, Leicester 8/11, Tottenham and West Ham both at 250/1.

Prior to yesterday Leicester knew that a win at Chelsea would guarantee a top four finish, as would a draw at Chelsea and a win over Tottenham in Sunday’s final game. Chelsea knew that they had to beat Leicester and then Villa on Sunday to be certain of finishing in the top four. Of course they had the backup of knowing that beating Manchester City in this season’s final would also secure entry into the next Champions League competition. Thanks to their 95th minute winner at West Brom last Sunday, Liverpool became the clear favourites, knowing that if Chelsea failed to beat Leicester, victories over both Burnley and Palace (hardly the most in-form sides) would see them into the top four. As it turned out (in this topsy turvy season) Chelsea reversed the FA Cup Final result by beating Leicester at Stamford Bridge last night.

Tottenham needed to win both of their games and then hope that Chelsea didn’t exceed one point in their final two games and Liverpool didn’t get more than two points in their last two. Although we were level on points with Tottenham, an inferior goal difference meant that we needed Chelsea to lose their final two games, Liverpool to not get more than one point in their last two games, Tottenham to fail to pick up six points from their last two, and for us to win both of ours. Based on our recent form and the permutations needed, this was realistically a much longer shot than 250/1! But I wonder what odds you would have got at the beginning of the season for West Ham to still mathematically have a chance of a top four finish after 36 games had been played?

Of course the Chelsea win finally ruined both Tottenham’s and our own remote chances of a top four finish to set up a potential final day scramble between the three teams who could finally capture the remaining two places. If Liverpool do beat Burnley today then it keeps Leicester really honest in their final game against Tottenham which is good for us in our hopes of finishing above our North London neighbours.

Chelsea (67 points, Goal Difference 23, 1 game to go) – Villa (Sun) – maximum points possible 70.

Leicester (66 points, Goal Difference 20, 1 game to go) – Tottenham (Sun) – maximum points possible 69.

Liverpool (63 points, Goal Difference 21, 2 games to go) – Burnley (today), Palace (Sun) – maximum points possible 69.

West Ham (59 points, Goal Difference 10, 2 games to go) –West Brom (today), Southampton (Sun) – maximum points possible 65.

Tottenham (59 points, Goal Difference 22, 2 games to go) – Villa (today), Leicester (Sun) – maximum points possible 65.

So where will we finish once the season is over on Sunday afternoon? Two defeats in our last two matches could mean that we are overtaken by Everton, Arsenal and possibly even Leeds to finish as low as tenth! Two draws in our final two games would still enable Everton and Arsenal to finish above us if they picked up two wins apiece, and we could finish a disappointing ninth. Winning just one of our final two games would guarantee that we retain our current position of seventh, and winning at least one game plus picking up more points than Tottenham would ensure sixth. To finish fifth would only be possible if Liverpool slip up badly now, and we outpoint Tottenham.

Seventh is therefore very realistic, and my understanding is that this would mean a place in the Play-Off round of the newly-formed Europa Conference League, which would mean an additional 17 games next season if we went all the way to the final. I believe that a sixth (or even 5th – very unlikely) place finish would mean entry at the group stage of the Europa League, which would add 15 games next season if we reached the final. Of course this kind of success in Europe is not likely to happen, but even being in the group stage of either competition adds a significant number of games in the first half of the season. We would need a much enhanced squad to do either competition justice.

Surely we can win at least one of our final two games to guarantee to be playing in Europe next season? After the excellent season that we’ve had so far it would be a big disappointment to fail to qualify for one of the European competitions. But West Brom showed against Liverpool last Sunday that they can be difficult to beat, so just because they have been relegated doesn’t mean we can take a victory for granted. In fact once teams reach a stage where they can play without pressure, they are often a much better side as a result.

In over 100 games against West Brom in major competitions each team has won 41 times, but in the 21 meetings in the Premier League, we have won eight, nine have been drawn and the Baggies have won four. Of course we won the reverse fixture in January (2-1) and a win tonight would be the first time in 15 years that we have completed the double over them, but more importantly would guarantee at least a seventh place finish and qualification for Europe.

Interestingly I read that West Brom have only won one of their past sixteen midweek league games, and all six of such games with Allardyce in charge. And Big Sam has lost in all four meetings against West Ham since he left us six years ago. These are the type of statistics that have come to haunt West Ham in the past. How long is it since we’ve kept a clean sheet? We’ve only kept two in the Premier League in this calendar year (Leeds and Sheffield United). I am looking forward to a repeat of the score at the London Stadium four months ago. We are 4/7 to win the game and 13/2 to win by two goals to one.

A win tonight would be great, plus we will all be hoping that Villa can deny a Tottenham victory. What are the chances?

On Saturday West Ham visit the Seagulls on the South Coast

We thought it was all over ………. It probably is, but not quite yet!

My first visit to Upton Park was in November 1958. Since then I’ve watched West Ham live many hundreds of times. I have been a season ticket holder for many years and for virtually all the last 60 plus years I’ve seen the majority of our home games plus some trips to away grounds too. Of course times have been very strange for the last year or more and the last time I was there to see us play at the London Stadium was on Leap Years Day 2020 when we comfortably beat Southampton 3-1.

Do you remember that cold sunny day? Jarrod Bowen made the starting eleven for the first time and celebrated by opening the scoring. Southampton equalised in the first half, but shortly before half time Haller jumped for Antonio’s up and under with McCarthy (the Southampton keeper) who made an absolute mess of it, and Haller was able to score from a tight angle. Antonio broke away to score the third in the second half and might have had a fourth after a superb rabona from Haller sent him clear. Fornals provided the assists for the first and third goals, and the result moved us out of the bottom three on goal difference.

That is the sum total of my memory of my last experience seeing West Ham live, and little did I think that in the following season I would not be able to see them at all except on TV. But I had a glimmer of hope due to the easing of restrictions which allow 10,000 fans at the London Stadium for the final game of this superb campaign against Southampton on Sunday week. But my hopes were dashed with the following correspondence from the club on Wednesday:

“Unfortunately, you’ve not been successful in the Southampton ticket ballot. However in the event that a supporter can no longer attend, we may be in touch to share an opportunity to attend. We appreciate your continued support and look forward to welcoming you to London Stadium soon.”

Oh well the odds were 5/1 against so all I can do now is look forward to August to take the Central Line to Stratford for the first time in around 18 months. Hopefully all restrictions will have been lifted by then? Of course despite not visiting the ground I have probably seen more West Ham games this season than ever before, all of them in fact thanks to all games being shown live on TV. At least that has been some consolation in a season where we have surpassed all expectations and with three games to go are still very much in with a chance of qualification for Europe next season, even a tiny chance of a top four place.

As the season enters the final eight days, mathematically there are still eight teams involved in the quest for the top four, and the remaining fixtures of those (excluding the two Manchester clubs who are already there) are set out below. Losing three of our last four games means that our chances are now extremely slim, and both Everton and Tottenham’s hopes are even more remote, but I am still hoping for a storming finish and three wins to make it a record breaking season. Manchester United’s congested fixture schedule with ten changes in their team for the game in their midweek defeat to Leicester didn’t help us either!

Both Chelsea and Leicester only have two games to go but face each other in midweek which guarantees either at least one point for each, or alternatively three for the winner. But Arsenal’s surprising win over Chelsea on Wednesday has raised our hopes again. If Chelsea had beaten Arsenal then we might have had the situation where both Leicester and Chelsea would have been happy to settle for a draw next Tuesday but this is unlikely to be the case now. Everton’s draw with Villa yesterday evening was another bonus for us. They can now only reach 65 points at best (like Tottenham) and have the worst goal difference of all the teams involved.

But Liverpool’s win at Manchester United last night was a real body blow though. How different it might have been if Manchester United had anything to play for in their last couple of games played?

Leicester (66 points, Goal Difference 21, 2 games to go) – Chelsea (Tues), Tottenham (Sun) – maximum points possible 72.

Chelsea (64 points, Goal Difference 22, 2 games to go) – Leicester (Tues), Villa (Sun) – maximum points possible 70.

Liverpool (60 points, Goal Difference 20, 3 games to go) – West Brom (Sun), Burnley (Weds), Palace (Sun) – maximum points possible 69.

West Ham (58 points, Goal Difference 10, 3 games to go) – Brighton (Sat), West Brom (Weds), Southampton (Sun) – maximum points possible 67.

Tottenham (56 points, Goal Difference 20, 3 games to go) – Wolves (Sun), Villa (Weds), Leicester (Sun) – maximum points possible 65

Everton (56 points, Goal Difference 4, 3 games to go) – Sheffield United (Sun), Wolves (Weds), Manchester City (Sun) – maximum points possible 65.

We are still in a position whereby we need to depend on the (extremely unlikely) results of others whilst attempting to get maximum points in our remaining three games. That would take us to 67 points, and in view of the goal differences, Leicester only need one point to achieve that, and Chelsea need three. Liverpool need seven from their last three games to match our maximum possible points total and you wouldn’t bet against them winning all three to end on 69. But if we can do our bit and beat Brighton and West Brom then we could still go into the final game of the season with an outside chance of finishing in the top four.

At that point we would be on 64 points. If Leicester beat Chelsea then the Foxes would be out of reach but we could still finish above Chelsea if we won the final game and Chelsea failed to beat Villa. If Chelsea draw with Leicester, then they would still need to beat Villa to go above us. And if Chelsea beat Leicester then we could finish ahead of Leicester if Tottenham beat them on the final day. I’m not sure what result I’m hoping for in that game!

But all of these scenarios are irrelevant if we don’t win all three of our final fixtures. It would be quite remarkable if we went into the final day of the season still with a chance of finishing in the top four, but it has still been a fantastic season when you consider that it is still a possibility, however remote, with just eight days of the season remaining. If we win all three games then we are guaranteed to finish at least sixth. But Liverpool, with their relatively easy final three fixtures, should be the team who will be the most likely to sneak into the top four if Leicester and Chelsea slip up.  

Unfortunately the performance against Everton was a little lacklustre, and fine margins like the inside of the post, and a possible penalty when Antonio was bundled over, made the difference. Brighton have been a bogey side in recent times and now that they are mathematically safe (they were already OK in reality) means that they can play with freedom from pressure, so this game won’t be an easy one.  

With three wins a fourth place finish is still a possibility (but extremely remote). But we will need some unlikely results elsewhere for it to happen. Three defeats and we could even finish as low as tenth! I’m hoping for the former and not even contemplating the latter. I guess that in the end it may be somewhere in between? Sixth? What are the chances?