Burnley v West Ham – Who Will Have The Claret Blues After the Game?

At the start of the season, as a West Ham fan, would you have been happy that, after eleven games had been played, the team were level on points with Manchester United, Tottenham and Wolves? Almost certainly the answer would have been yes. But if you were asked a different question, such as, after eleven games have been played, would you be happy to be sitting below Sheffield United,  Bournemouth, Brighton and Crystal Palace in the Premier League table? The answer would definitely have been most certainly not. Such is the nature of the Premier League after eleven games with approaching a third of the season completed. Together with the Red Devils, Wolves and our friends from North London, then compared to last season’s finishing positions, then so far we are under-performing, unlike the other four teams mentioned who are currently occupying positions in the table which are exceeding expectations.

I always like to look at current form (say the last five games), and based on that then we would be in a relegation position with just two points, with only Southampton and Norwich below us on one apiece. Even Watford, who have been rooted to the bottom all season, have picked up three points from the last five games. Our opponents this weekend, Burnley, sit immediately below us trailing us by just one point. Their recent form has not been good either, collecting just four points in the last five games. But if they beat us, they will leapfrog us, and in fact all of the teams down to 17th in the table could go past us with wins this weekend if we lose, as we are only two points above Everton who are 17th.

So what exactly has gone wrong? It wasn’t that long ago when we were being touted (alongside Leicester) as one of the teams that could push ahead and perhaps challenge for a place in the top six, or even top four according to some. My friend and co-blogger Geoff wrote an article after the Newcastle game where he highlighted a number of the deficiencies in the team. In particular he mentioned a lack of pace, width, organisation, fitness, commitment and motivation. It is difficult to argue with those. He also mentioned (and I may have added one or two of my own) a slow pedantic build up when attacking, sideways and backwards passing to no real effect – this was particularly galling as the final whistle approached, a selection of an ageing right back to face one of the fastest wingers in the Premier League, the lack of strategy in not having faster players defending against counter attacks launched by the opposition from our corners, a manager with an apparently strange selection policy by not changing an underperforming team, an apparent reluctance to try something different when things are not going right, including a reluctance to try a different formation, the lack of chances given to in-form younger development players, the inability to recognise the need for the club to have at least two goalkeepers of the right quality for the Premier League, the apparent lack of assessing the strengths and weaknesses of opponents prior to games, and perhaps the most worrying of all, a manager who admits that he has no idea where things are going wrong, and no idea what he needs to do to turn it around. That’s quite a list!

On the plus side we do have some talented players. We are one of a number of teams that are probably not good enough to break into the elite six club at the top, but hopefully too good to become embroiled in the relegation scrap at the foot of the table (I hope!). The fact that Sheffield United in sixth place have 16 points and Everton in seventeenth have 11 points demonstrates how closely matched so many of the Premier League teams are. But we cannot become too complacent, and a continuation of the recent poor run would mean that we do get involved at the wrong end of the table. The theory of averaging one point a game throughout the season to avoid the drop usually applies, and this season doesn’t appear to be an exception at the moment with just three teams falling short of that level at the moment. Bookmakers’ odds in respect of relegation reflect the league table to some extent, although we are only tenth favourite to go down (and Everton are 12th), whereas Sheffield United are seventh. I guess the closeness of this season’s Premier League to date (ignoring the clubs at the top and bottom) makes it more interesting for the neutral observer, but how many neutral observers are there?

Burnley are favourites at around 5/4 to win the game, our odds are around 21/10, and the draw is about 13/5. But when you look at the correct score odds, a 1-1 draw is favourite at 5/1, very short odds for predicting a correct score in a football match! The overall head to head record between the two clubs is slightly in our favour, a fact bolstered by recent times. In the last 40 years we have won 15 of the 23 meetings, with 4 draws and 4 defeats. However our last visit to Turf Moor, just before 2018 drew to a close, resulted in a 2-0 defeat with an abject performance, despite coming off the back of a good run at the time. Burnley had suffered a heavy defeat just before they met us, and the same applies this time! This followed the game at the London Stadium a few weeks before then where we came out on top 4-2.

I’ve absolutely no idea about what the manager will decide regarding team selection. If he sticks with the same starting eleven as last week with no discernible change in how they approach the game, then I fear for us against a strong physical Burnley side. My best hope is for West Ham to do what they have done in the past and surprise me. I like surprises of a good kind!

West Ham versus Newcastle: Looking Forward Looking Back

At half-time in last weekend’s fixtures we reached the point where a quarter of the season had been completed. Had the half time score been the full time score then we would now be sitting on 15 points after 10 games, averaging 1.5 points per game and sixth in the Premier League table. 1.5 points per game over a whole season would result in 57 points. Sadly, the half time score was not the same at full time, and instead we have 13 points from 10 games which would give us 49 points over the course of a full season.

Looking back on the ten games played, and if my calculations are correct, we have thrown away 9 points from winning positions in games. Had we not done so, and instead held on to our leads in those games, then we would now have 22 points and be third in the table, level on points with Manchester City, with only City and Liverpool ahead of us. Apart from all our other shortcomings, which my co-blogger Geoff has written about on more than one occasion in recent times, the inability to hold on to a lead has proved to be very damaging to our prospects of finishing in a high position in the table. How many other teams have relinquished as many points from winning positions?

Our opponents today, Newcastle, are just one of four teams who are not yet averaging a point a game, which is roughly what is needed to retain a position in the top flight. They are 17th in the table, sitting immediately above the three teams currently occupying the relegation slots, Southampton, Norwich and Watford.  Of course they can put that right with an away win today, and move up to within a point of ourselves. That is something we must not let happen.

Up to date form (say, the last 5 games) shows our visitors have the same record as ourselves, with 5 points, from one win, two draws, and two defeats. Only Tottenham (4), Everton and Watford (3), Southampton and Norwich (1) have fewer points in this period. If you ignore the top 4 teams in the table (and Watford) then every other team has won either 2, 3 or 4 of the 10 games they have played. Conversely if you ignore Liverpool, and the bottom 6 teams, then every other team has lost either 2, 3 or 4 games to date. This demonstrates how closely positioned most of the teams are, and how either a good run or poor run can significantly alter a team’s place in the table.

Of course, apart from any other factors, the fixture list, and more particularly the order in which the games are played can have a significant impact on a team’s position in the league table at any point throughout the season. Based upon current positions in the table, Newcastle would appear to have had a tougher group of games than we have had so far. They have played against four of the teams currently in the top 5, whereas we have only faced one of them (Manchester City). Also, if you add up the current positions in the table of our opponents so far, then our total is 116 compared to Newcastle’s 82, once again reinforcing that they have so far faced much stronger opposition than we have.

So perhaps the disparity in our relative positions in the table is not so great after all, and it is not really worth making comparisons, or assessing progress throughout a season, until at least 19 games have been played and all teams have faced each other for the first time. But even that situation will be slightly altered this season as we have not yet faced league leaders Liverpool and don’t yet know exactly when we will. Our game against them scheduled for 21 December has been postponed due to their participation in the FIFA World Club Cup, so we will begin playing against some teams for a second time before we have even faced the Merseysiders once. As such we will have a game in hand in league tables published from Christmas onwards.

Our overall record against Newcastle in history is a negative one with more defeats than wins.  However, the memory is selective and I remember particularly the big wins and the games with lots of goals. When I was young I have a hazy memory of us drawing a game 5-5 at their ground, and other games I can specifically remember watching at Upton Park include a 4-3 win in the mid-1960s which included a hat trick from Geoff Hurst, a 5-0 win about 50 years ago when Trevor Brooking scored a hat trick, another 5-0 win about ten years after that, and the most memorable of all in 1986, as we were chasing the league title. That was the game when we won 8-1, including an amazing hat trick from Alvin Martin with each goal scored against a different keeper. I seem to recall a certain Glenn Roeder in the Newcastle side and he scored an own goal in that game.

One game I remember us losing was when we went down 2-0 at Upton Park and both Newcastle goals were scored by Bryan Robson. We signed him shortly after that, and he scored a lot of goals for us in his two spells here. “Pop” was a superb player and goalscorer. It was amazing that he never played for England. Of course, Robson is not the only player to have represented both ourselves and Newcastle. Others that I can recall off the top of my head include Paul Kitson, Stuart Pearce, Norbert Solano, Scott Parker, Craig Bellamy, Kevin Nolan, Demba Ba, Shaka Hislop, Lee Bowyer, Kieron Dyer, Rob Lee, and of course another who could potentially be facing us today, a certain Andy Carroll. Although if recent history is anything to go by no doubt he will be injured and unable to line up against us! But seriously I reckon he will be desperate to play, and of course it would be ironical if he scores against us, and possibly even more ironical if he plays the full 90 minutes and avoids injury. Those of you with long enough memories will recall that he has only played two games against West Ham (both for Newcastle in games at St James Park around 10 years ago), and he scored in each game, so I definitely wouldn’t bet against it happening for a third time. Goalscoring has been Newcastle’s problem this season with only six scored in the ten games so far, a statistic bettered only by Watford with five.

When I previewed last week’s game I wrote that the last six goals scored by West Ham had all been left-footed shots. But the run of “only left-footed goals” that stretches back to August was extended further when our only goal in the game was scored by the left foot of Robert Snodgrass. I may be wrong, but I’m not sure that we scored a single left-footed goal this season before the run began.

The betting has West Ham as odds on favourites to win the game, despite our indifferent recent form. I’ve gone for some small stake fun bets that involve West Ham winning the game and Andy Carroll scoring either the last goal, or scoring anytime in the match. The one that I hope will happen (from a financial viewpoint) is that West Ham win the game 3-1, and Andy Carroll scores the last goal of the game. The odds on that happening are 150/1. But, I’ll be happy if we win the game, and even happier if we perform well. I’ll be setting off for the game soon after the Rugby World Cup final finishes, and of course I’m hoping for an England win over South Africa in that. Hold on to your hats; both games could be tight affairs. What odds an England / West Ham double?

Dust down your Carlos Tevez masks to watch West Ham entertain Sheffield United in a league match for the first time in over twelve years.

West Ham began the Premier League season 2006-07 with high hopes. We had unluckily lost the 2006 FA Cup final to Liverpool on penalties after conceding a goal in time added on to the infamous Steven Gerrard strike, and then on transfer deadline day it was announced that we had signed Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, two highly sought after Argentinians who had starred in that summer’s World Cup. What could go wrong? This was West Ham remember.

In the opening week of the season we comfortably despatched of Charlton 3-1, and then drew 1-1 at Watford. A 2-1 reverse at Liverpool was followed by a 1-1 draw at Villa. Five points from four games and we were in the top half of the table. Bobby Zamora had scored in all four of those games (a total of five goals) and at the time few predicted what was about to happen. I doubt that Bobby Zamora himself would have believed that he wouldn’t find the net again until mid-January despite playing in almost all of the games.

A home defeat to Palermo of Italy in the UEFA Cup was just the first of eight consecutive defeats which included a run of seven games where we failed to register a single goal. When we did eventually score we had been dumped out of the UEFA Cup at the first hurdle, we’d gone out of the Football League Cup to lowly Chesterfield (2-1), and tumbled down the league to 19th place.

Two consecutive wins against Blackburn (2-1) and Arsenal (1-0 on Bonfire Night), the latter sparking a touchline spat between Pardew and Wenger when Marlon Harewood’s late strike won the game, seemed to have halted the slide, but these were followed by two 1-0 defeats at Middlesbrough and Chelsea. We were still above the relegation places at this time when we faced Sheffield United at Upton Park on November 25th. A first half Hayden Mullins goal was the only score of the match, and at this point we were 15th in the table with Sheffield United 18th.

However three consecutive defeats in the first nine days of December followed (all to nil), and the last one of those (a 4-0 loss at Bolton) resulted in the sacking of manager Pardew just two days later. Two days after that Alan Curbishley was appointed and in his first game in charge we beat Manchester United 1-0 with a goal from Nigel Reo-Coker. But just three points from three draws in the next eleven league games, the last of which was an unlucky 4-3 home defeat to Tottenham, meant that with just nine games of the season left we were effectively 11 points adrift of safety with virtually no hope of escape. The Tottenham game was Tevez’s 20th appearance and brought his first goal!

The rest is history as we won seven of our final nine games, including the last-day 1-0 win at Manchester United which ensured safety (although a draw would have been enough). The two defeats in that winning sequence included a 3-0 reverse at Sheffield United, and a 4-1 loss at Chelsea. Incredibly we then won the final four games. Sheffield United lost at home to Wigan on the final day when a draw would have been OK and this sent them down.

The Blades insisted they were victims of a relegation rival gaining an unfair advantage by breaching the rules that barred third parties such as agents, or a company or investors, from holding a stake in the financial rights to a player. To many of us it seemed ridiculous. Mascherano had barely featured all season, while Tevez only started scoring towards the very end.

West Ham were found guilty in April 2007 of acting improperly and withholding vital documentation, but Tevez was allowed to continue playing and his part in the Hammers’ survival rankled with the Blades. Sheffield United subsequently slid into League One before their recent resurgence, while West Ham, in contrast, have only spent one season since outside the top flight. West Ham eventually paid £20m in compensation, having initially being fined £5.5m rather than being docked points. An arbitration panel said “the club had not only deliberately breached the rules but committed a grave breach of trust and been responsible for dishonesty and deceit”. The teams have only met once since, in a League Cup tie five years ago, which away side Sheffield United won on penalties.

I’m always amazed at some of the statistics that are dragged up these days before Premier League matches but the following are some of what I have read. Firstly we haven’t won a league fixture in the month of October since beating Sunderland in 2016. In that time we have drawn three and lost six matches. Secondly, including cup games, after four clean sheets in a row we have conceded at least two goals in four consecutive games since. And thirdly, since Haller scored with his right foot in the first half of our game against Norwich at the end of August, the next six league goals we have scored have all been left foot strikes.

Did you know that Sheffield United could become the first newly-promoted side for over ten years to remain unbeaten in their first five away games in the Premier League? Also, they have not kept three consecutive clean sheets away from Bramall Lane in the top flight for over 48 years, a record they would equal if they do not concede a goal today. Plus, this is their best performance in the first nine games of a top division season. One statistic that I really hate repeating though is that they have not won once in their last 16 games in the top division in London!

My co-blogger Geoff Hopkins wrote an excellent article published yesterday where he set out his expectations for today’s game. I have to agree with most of what he wrote, and I don’t believe his prediction of a goalless draw will be far away. However I don’t want to travel all the way to the London Stadium to see us come away with just a single point without seeing a goal being scored. For that reason I will dust off my trusty optimistic hat, and predict a 1-0 win with the sequence of left-footed goals being broken by a Sebastien Haller header. What are the chances? Another prediction – we will once again be the last game on Match of the Day!

The Toffeemens’ supporters are getting restless, but will West Ham be Silva’s saviour?

Once again our hopes were built up as we pushed towards a place in the top four of the Premier League, only to be dashed by an indifferent performance against Crystal Palace a fortnight ago. Perhaps it will be an effective wake-up call to remind the players that merely turning up does not guarantee a win in the top league, even if we are playing against a team who had not beaten us in eight previous attempts. Despite not playing particularly well, we did take the lead in the game, but Rice’s (inexplicable to me) handball, and then switching off as the game approached the ninetieth minute, resulted in our second home defeat of the season. Palace were nothing special either, and the game could have gone either way, although those of us sitting in the stands could somehow predict what was about to happen when Ayew managed to stay onside (just!) to score the winning goal. Nevertheless despite the disappointment, 12 points from 8 games represents a decent start to the season (it took us 14 games to reach that figure last season, and 16 games the season before), and, after all, eighth place is higher than we have managed for a while in a whole season. Let us hope we can retain or improve upon that place as 2019-20 progresses. As much as I dislike the disruptive influence of international breaks, this one has come after a defeat, and gives the manager some time to work with the players who didn’t go away, and it is an opportunity to re-group and take stock.

To many followers of the game, one of the surprises of the season to date is to see Everton occupying one of the three relegation places with just 7 points from their eight games played. It is still very early days of course, and more than three-quarters of the season remains, nevertheless I still wouldn’t have expected to see the Toffees down there at this point. For many years (until fairly recently) they have been a bogey team of ours, but I do dislike seeing us coming up against a team in such poor form. How many teams break a losing sequence when facing us? It happens so often I’m afraid. Of course, early days in the league table mean that stringing together a few positive results can mean a rapid rise, as consecutive defeats can conversely mean a significant fall.

After their opening four games (wins at home to Watford and Wolves, a draw at Palace, and a defeat at Villa), Everton sat in a comfortable sixth place in the table, in the sort of position many expect them to occupy at the season’s end. But four consecutive defeats (in trips to Bournemouth and Burnley and in home games against Manchester City – no surprise, and Sheffield United – a big surprise) mean that with no points in their last four games they are the most out-of-form team in the league at this moment. It also means that Marco Silva heads the betting (at 5/4) for the next Premier League manager to leave his post (ahead of Solkskjaer at 2/1 and Pochettino at 5/1). What better for Everton than a home game against West Ham who specialise in helping teams and managers in this kind of predicament? Incidentally, at 50/1 our manager has only two managers below him in the betting to be next to leave (Klopp and Lampard are both 66/1).

Everton have only found the net six times in their eight games, and half of those came in the 3-2 win over Wolves. However five of those six goals have come in the four games on their own ground so it might be difficult for us to keep a clean sheet, especially in the absence of our first choice keeper who has successfully come through a hip operation, but is not expected to play again until 2020. The only time Everton failed to score at home this season so far was surprisingly against Sheffield United. I say surprisingly, but a look at the league table and fixtures played so far actually shows that Sheffield United are unbeaten in their four away games to date. Only Liverpool and ourselves can match that record after just four away games played by each team in the division this season! Also, no team in the Premier League has kept more clean sheets than ourselves this season (3). Even Liverpool have only managed two despite their 100% start.

Head to head fixtures against Everton stretch back for more than a century and, at the moment have a symmetrical feel to them. In 140 meetings, Everton have won 70, and the other 70 have been either draws (30) or West Ham victories (40). Positive results at Goodison Park are even rarer. Two goals from Yarmolenko helped us to achieve a 3-1 victory there last season, and in 2015-16, three late goals in the last 15 minutes meant an unlikely comeback win after trailing by two goals. Apart from those two wins, our only other success on their ground in the last quarter of a century came courtesy of a Bobby Zamora winner in another comeback win (2-1) in 2005.

But at least the bogey team thing seems to have disappeared for the moment as we have won two of the last three games we’ve played against Everton; previously we had won twice in the 22 meetings that preceded those! Everton have traditionally enjoyed playing against us, and in Premier League fixtures they have beaten us and scored more goals against us than against any other team.

For the benefit of TV we kick off at 12-30, so we have the opportunity (with a win) to temporarily leapfrog over other teams into a Champions League position! On the other hand a defeat would mean that Everton would (in the short term) rise six places in the table and they’d be just two points below us on ten points, a point ahead of the once mighty, and now not so mighty Manchester United, who will fall still further this weekend if they are unable to get a point against 100% Liverpool.

Everton are odds on to beat us, as are all the home teams on Saturday with the exception of Villa (at home to Brighton), and Palace (at home to Manchester City). Of the five games that Everton have lost (out of their eight games this season), four have been by a margin of two goals. Perhaps we can inflict a fifth two-goal margin defeat on them, perhaps repeating last season’s 3-1 win, to heap further pressure on their manager? All of our three wins have been by two goals, and another will do nicely. However, to do so we will have to improve significantly on our showing against Palace in the last game, but an early goal would silence the crowd, or perhaps even make them turn on their own team, who must be very short of confidence after these four successive defeats. I just hope that we don’t allow them to turn around their run of losses, as we are often inclined to do for any team having a poor time. It is 14 years since Everton last lost five league games in a row! I shouldn’t have highlighted that fact!

The Eagles visit the London Stadium. Will West Ham or Palace be Glad All Over on Saturday evening?

Oh joy of joys, once again we kick-off at what a traditional football supporter would call a non-traditional time. 5.30pm on a Saturday evening. I didn’t want to do anything on Saturday night anyway! This will be our eighth league game of the season and our fourth at home at the London Stadium. All four of our home games have started at different times. We’ve had 12.30 on a Saturday, followed by 3.00 on a Saturday, 2.00 pm on a Sunday, and now 5.30 on Saturday! That’s the price we have to pay for vast injections of money into the Premier League from Sky and BT. But as a West Ham fan of long standing I guess we don’t have too much to complain about this season; well not as far as the league games are concerned. If, after our 5-0 beating by Manchester City on the opening day of the season, we had been offered the opportunity to be facing Palace in Matchday 8, having not lost any further league games, with three wins and three draws in the next six games, and fifth place in the Premier League table, most of us would have comfortably settled for that.

And we are only denied fourth place in the table by virtue of Arsenal having scored more goals than us, as we both have an identical goal difference of +1. For us, that’s quite a turnaround after being -5 after the first game. Personally I find it refreshing to see two of the “reserved” places in the “elite six” being occupied by ourselves and Leicester, taking the places of Chelsea and Manchester United. And I’m not unhappy to see us one place above those North London neighbours with the new stadium. I do think West Ham fans need to be a touch cautious though when crowing about Tottenham on social media sites. There was the mickey taking re their exit from the Carabao Cup at the hands of Colchester which came before our poor performance and defeat at Oxford. And then after their loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League I’ve seen plenty of pictures of “Seven Up” bottles. Perhaps when we qualify to participate in the Champions League we can afford to crow more, but I guess we need to make hay while the sun shines in respect of taunting Spurs. I’m all for it really but hope it doesn’t come back to bite us again! Arsenal supporters must be enjoying it too, especially as one of their former players bagged four of the goals that sank their neighbours.

Seven games down, and only three of them at home, and our league position after each matchday has read 20, 16, 14, 7, 8, 5, 5, showing excellent progression. The performances have not always been as good as we would like, and we can definitely improve further so the outlook is good. On paper at least the next few matches are eminently winnable. Three of the next four are at home, with an away game at out of form (but still dangerous I suspect) Everton. Crystal Palace, Sheffield United and Newcastle are all teams we would expect to beat (especially at home) if we want to be considered a big team, and teams we would need to defeat if we want to continue to pursue a place in the top six.

As far as many of our fans are concerned, one big blot on our ambition is in the injury to Fabianski which is likely to keep him out for quite a while. Fans have taken to social media questioning why we let Adrian go, but it seems he wanted to go, and there’s no point in continuing with those moans. Many are also questioning whether the two back-up keepers we signed in the summer are of sufficient quality to play in the Premier League. Roberto seems to be the preferred choice to take over from Fabianski rather than David Martin, but his performances so far have not exactly earned rave reviews and many are concerned that this may be a significant stumbling block in our quest to continue our fine start to the season. He certainly moved around a lot in Spain, with visits to Portugal and Greece too, and there is some historical controversy in respect of the ownership of the economic rights of the player himself. Where have I come across that before? He has often been a second choice keeper for the teams he has played for, but having said that he has amassed over 300 senior appearances, and played for the Spanish national side at all age levels except for the full side. The West Ham crowd seem to have taken against him, but I just hope he makes some good saves early on to get the fans behind him. I’ve seen West Ham fans have issues with our goalkeeper before (Allen McKnight is the main example, but there have been others at times e.g. Ferguson, Day) and watched as the keeper visibly lost confidence and his performance suffered as a result. I just hope it doesn’t happen this time. If it all goes pear-shaped in the next few games as far as the goalkeeping position is concerned then Mario Husillos’ judgement will be called into question and perhaps the chairman will want to regain control over transfers and the Director of Football position at the club.

Palace themselves have made a decent start to the campaign with three wins, two draws and two defeats in their seven games, meaning that they are just a point below us among four clubs on 11 points. Like us they have beaten Norwich and Manchester United. In the main their games have been low scoring affairs, the exception being a 4-0 defeat away from home at the hands of Tottenham. They also lost 1-0 at Sheffield United, so the highlight of their travels was the 2-1 victory at Old Trafford. Of their six league goals scored, Van Aarholt, Townsend, Milivojevic (penalty as usual), and ‘Own Goal’ have scored one apiece and an Ayew of the Jordan variety has scored twice. AT least Milivojevic won’t be able to score a penalty this week – he is suspended.

I can recall a game early in 2016 when West Ham beat Aston Villa 2-0 (in the season they were relegated) and Jordan Ayew was sent off for inexplicably elbowing Aaron Cresswell for no apparent reason as they were waiting for a free kick to be taken. He ended up as Villa’s leading scorer that season albeit with only seven goals. I expect Cresswell (our in-form goalscorer!) is looking forward to renewing his acquaintance with him. Incredible really, two goals in two games, when he took more than 100 games for his last two.

Historically we have a positive record in head to head games against today’s visitors, and in the last four seasons we have a record against them of the kind that I don’t like, in that it is there to be broken. In the eight fixtures since the beginning of the 2015-16 season we have won four and drawn four. In last season’s game at the London Stadium just ten months ago, Palace led at half time, but we came back strongly in the second half and won the game 3-2. It was the very first time in a West Ham v Palace Premier League fixture that the team scoring the first goal went on to lose the match. We began that game less than a year ago with Hernandez and Perez up front; fortunately neither are still here. Incredibly West Ham and Palace are two of the three teams (Manchester City are the other team) that have kept three clean sheets this season.

With the bookmakers we are evens favourites to win. I expect us to be too strong for our opponents in attack. Zaha is a dangerous player but (and I hope I don’t regret writing this) I think he lacks an end product; he ought to score far more goals than he does. I’m not sure if we can retain our clean sheet record but I reckon we’ll win by two clear goals, either 2-0 or 3-1. Enjoy the game.

Two of the Premier League’s Top Six Go Head to Head on the South Coast

OK, so I know we are only six games into the new season. Nevertheless, how good is it to see three teams who are not members of the “elite six” occupying places in the top six of the Premier League even at this early stage? And if one of the two teams meeting at the Vitality Stadium (still known to some fans as Dean Court) emerges as the winner of this Saturday’s game then they are guaranteed a place in the top half dozen for another week at least, and potentially a place in the top two! Well that’s unlikely as I can’t see Manchester City tripping up at Goodison Park, but a third place beckons (at least in the short term) as neither Leicester nor Arsenal, who currently occupy third and fourth, play until Sunday or Monday. Let us hope we can keep our excellent run in the league going with another win to enable us to look down on the majority of teams in the top flight. But it won’t be easy!

Bournemouth are now an established Premier League side. Few would have predicted when they were promoted as champions of the Championship in 2014-15 that they would last long at this level, but they’ve proved the doubters wrong, and under the excellent leadership of Eddie Howe they are now embarking on their fifth consecutive season in the top division. In a game dominated by money it is refreshing to see a side who must rank fairly low in the Premier League revenue or turnover tables doing so well. I hope that it continues for them but not today!

Their start to the season is an interesting one in that both teams in their matches have scored in each of their six league games to date, an interesting statistic for anybody who likes to bet on the “both teams to score market”. Ironically they played at home to Forest Green Rovers in the second round of the Carabao Cup and this ended in a goalless draw (which Bournemouth then won 3-0 on penalties). But they too suffered an indignity in this competition on Wednesday night, but more of that later.

I can’t see this game ending without goals. In the four seasons that the two teams have met since Bournemouth’s promotion there have been 30 goals, giving us an average of almost four goals a game. Bournemouth have won four of those games and West Ham two with two draws. However many of you may recall Boxing Day 2017 when we were robbed of victory in the last minute by a Callum Wilson goal that was both offside and handball that the referee chose to ignore. If only VAR had existed then……

Another interesting feature of Bournemouth’s start to this season is the fact that four of their six games have ended with a 3-1 scoreline – the last four league games they have played in fact! 3-1 defeats to Manchester City and Leicester have been followed by 3-1 wins over Everton and Southampton. We can therefore eliminate 3-1 as a potential scoreline for this game, as to be involved in five consecutive league games ending in a score of 3-1 just will not happen.

I greatly enjoyed the game last weekend when we comfortably beat Manchester United, but I have to say I was not impressed with the TV coverage in the aftermath which I watched upon my return home from the match, nor did I take kindly to the radio, nor the newspaper coverage that followed a day later. Unfortunately the media are only really interested in the “elite six” that I mentioned previously, and cannot give credit where it is due to others who may beat one of that number. It was all about where Manchester United are failing and little mention of what we are doing right. But we have to ignore it really. Just as when a pundit makes a negative prediction about a forthcoming West Ham game, and you read on the internet, “West Ham fans will not want to hear what x is predicting about this game.” Poppycock we don’t care what x thinks. We should ignore it. It does not matter. What does matter is what actually happens on the pitch. It’s just a shame that the quality of punditry is just so poor and biased now, and frequently lacking in any form of neutrality. I can relate back to quality views on football, such as the ITV panel for the 1970 World Cup, when you really wanted to hear their views. Perhaps football punditry on TV began as a result of the panel in 1970? The modern equivalent is very poor in comparison.

As I sat in my seat last weekend and looked around me, I wondered how many of the people in the stadium were lucky enough, as I was, to see West Ham win trophies in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Our trophy cabinet may not be the largest but it was great to be there to see us win FA Cups, and a European trophy. But since 1980 what have we won? Of course there was the two bob cup, and we were desperately unlucky in the 1981 League Cup Final and the 2006 Cup Final, but we have achieved nothing to provide any reason for buying a bigger cabinet. We’ve seen some great football at times but wouldn’t it be great to see us add to the honours board? Of course the Carabao Cup provides the best chance of doing this, but despite coming close in the past, it is a trophy that we have never won.

I was really hoping that this time around we would be taking this competition seriously and doing our best to give the fans the chance of seeing us lift a trophy once more. As I looked around last week it occurred to me that probably only a relatively small proportion of the 57,000 West Ham fans there had been lucky enough to witness our past successes, and wouldn’t it be great to win something again? I have lost count of the number of times we have fallen to lesser teams from lower divisions, who may not have the skills but more than make up for it in desire and commitment. I was really hoping that this season would be different. But alas no. Our efforts in games such as this week are disrespectful to the fans, and incredibly so to those who travelled to support the team in Oxford on a September night.

Quite frankly I am appalled that we have done this once again. It is almost beyond belief that we can sink to such depths after the euphoria of the win over Manchester United. It is the West Ham way of course. Beat a top team then lose to a lowly team. I’ve watched it happen for more than 60 years but it doesn’t get any easier to comprehend. Shocks happen in football of course. But it is not really a shock when a “giant-killing act is performed on West Ham. It is almost the expected outcome. Despite not being a big fan of match statistics, just take a look at the shots, and shots on target count for this match. Together with the scoreline they tell the sorry tale of our capitulation once again at the hands of a team two divisions below us.

But wait! Am I falling into the same trap? Concentrating on the failings of the beaten team and not giving due credit to the victors. Without seeing the game but based on reports that I’ve read I suspect that Oxford were fully deserving of their emphatic win based on the shots that they had, and the number of those shots that were on target. Apart from the scoreline, they showed a desire to win the game, a desire to compete, and a desire to be in the next round of the Carabao Cup. It must be one of the best weeks in the history of Oxford United, a 6-0 win away at Lincoln last weekend followed by the scalp of a top six Premier League team. What could be better? Ten unanswered goals in half a week is quite an achievement and is to be congratulated. Well done Oxford for a fine performance and excellent win.

Our manager was quoted after the game with the words “nobody expected this.” Mmmmm. Not exactly expected, but not entirely a surprise either if you are old enough to remember Huddersfield 1960, Darlington 1961, Plymouth 1962, Rotherham 1963, Swindon 1967, Huddersfield 1968, Mansfield 1969, Middlesbrough 1970, Blackpool 1971, Huddersfield 1972, Stockport 1973, Hull City 1973, Hereford 1974, Swindon 1979, Newport County 1979, Wrexham 1981, Watford 1982, Torquay 1990, Oxford 1991, Crewe 1993, Grimsby 1996, Stockport 1997, Wrexham 1997, Northampton 1999, Swansea 1999, Tranmere 2000, Sheffield Wednesday 2001, Chesterfield 2007, Watford 2007, Watford 2009, Middlesbrough 2009, Aldershot 2012, Sheffield Wednesday 2012, Nottingham Forest 2014, Sheffield United 2015, Wigan 2018, AFC Wimbledon 2019. It doesn’t make good reading does it? And I’m not even sure that the list includes every embarrassing exit from the league cup or FA Cup either!

Pellegrini also said “It is very easy to say we played very badly, but they played very well too.” Also “Mentally the players were not prepared to give the 100% that they needed to give in this kind of game. I cannot find a reason.” One newspaper I read giving marks out of ten gave Zabaleta, Balbuena, Diop, Sanchez scores of 2, Masuaku 2.5, Roberto, Snodgrass and Holland 3. Noble top scored with 5 for his 20 minute “cameo” at the end?

So where do we go from here? Well Bournemouth also bowed out of the competition losing 2-0 at Burton Albion, in a game thrice halted by floodlight failure, but resolved each time. So both teams let down their fans in a competition that they could have gone far in, if they’d had the inclination to field full strength sides and matched the desire to win of their League 1 opponents. Hopefully we can win. Any score will do, but it definitely won’t be 3-1!

Can West Ham come out on top in the Battle of the Clarets?

I have to admit that I really enjoyed our performance a fortnight ago when we comfortably beat Norwich 2-0 with goals from our new French striker, Sebastien Haller, and the fit again Andriy Yarmolenko. As Norwich pressed forward when they were behind, we managed to create several chances to add to our tally, and in reality should have scored five or six quite easily. We didn’t because our finishing didn’t match our approach play, we were unlucky at times, and Krul in the Norwich goal made some fine saves. Haller finished off a fine attack with a relatively simple finish, whereas Yarmolenko showed great technique with a left-footed volley barely a minute after an early left-footed volley with similar impressive technique had rebounded from an upright.

Two things in particular pleased me about our performance. The first was that we had players who could break and counter attack at pace. In particular our front four (Haller, Lanzini, Anderson and Yarmolenko) didn’t hang around when given the opportunity to attack, and they really impressed me with the way they looked as though they had been playing together for a long time. Added to that, our two full backs, Fredericks and Masuaku, who never get the best press for their defending abilities, also showed great pace when attacking and supporting the front four, and created chances for the others. Masuaku provided the assist for the first goal, but I was impressed with them both.

The second thing to please me was the way that the front four added to the often missing concept of defending as a team. It looked as though they had been working hard in training, and they harried the Norwich players to a greater extent than I can remember our attacking players doing for a while now. They added to the efforts of Rice and Noble who both had fine games. Mark Noble looked rejuvenated, and we all know he is not the fastest player, but he showed that he can still contribute and dominate the midfield when surrounded by players blessed with more pace. Defensive organisation was first class.

Yarmolenko and Lanzini both surprised me with how well they have come back after long lay-offs, Anderson demonstrated his sublime skills throughout the game, and Haller looks to be the most complete forward since the days of Dean Ashton, a player he reminded me of with his style of play.

Norwich played but some nice tippy-tappy football but rarely threatened our goal, mainly due to the way we defended as a team, and their prolific goalscorer Teemu Pukki had barely a kick. I was impressed with Todd Cantwell in the Norwich midfield. The loss of Zimmerman was a blow to the visitors following a heavy challenge from Haller, but in my opinion it wasn’t as bad as Farke was suggesting. The referee didn’t blow for a foul even (which he should have done), but I’ve seen players booked for similar challenges but it certainly didn’t warrant any more than that.

The referee, Paul Tierney, was a poor advert for his profession in my opinion. He waved away three penalty appeals, one of which was so cast iron it was laughable that he didn’t give it. What was even worse is that VAR is now in existence, but somehow the referee working behind the scenes somehow missed it too. It seems to me that after the early (over) use of VAR which should only be used to correct decisions which are clearly and obviously wrong, it has now gone the other way, and they are perhaps under instruction not to get involved at all!

By the end of the weekend the league table (still early days of course) showed us in seventh place with seven points, which is seven more than we had after the first four games heading into the international break a year ago. If we can just match our performance of the last campaign in the remaining 34 matches, then we would finish on 59 points, which last time around would have been enough for a seventh placed finish. Of course I am hoping we can do even better than that but I am not going to get too carried away, despite the fact that we have only lost one league game since unluckily going down 2-1 at Old Trafford on 13th April, winning five and drawing two of the eight games played in that time, only losing (as almost everyone does) to Manchester City.

The two teams we have beaten this season (Watford and Norwich) now sit in the relegation places, and we face the third member of that club on Monday evening when we travel to Villa Park in front of the TV cameras. Villa had an impressive win against Everton (2-0) but were unlucky when their late “equaliser” at Palace was incorrectly ruled out by a referee blowing his whistle for a dive which was subsequently shown to be a clear foul on Grealish. Quite how it can be suggested that our referees are high on the list in the world in terms of their ability is beyond me I’m afraid. I’ve seen little evidence of that this season despite them supposedly getting help from VAR. Villa’s other defeats came on the opening weekend at Tottenham, and then at home to Bournemouth who haven’t pulled up any trees themselves so far this season.

The betting for this match is very even with West Ham the fractional favourites to win at around 6/4, with Villa around 8/5, and the draw about 5/2. A win would see us moving on to ten points from five games, with an average of two per game. This would relate to 76 points over the course of a whole season! Wouldn’t it be good if we were looking at achieving those kind of figures, which of course we won’t, but it’s good to dream isn’t it?

I would anticipate that the manager would start with the same eleven that began against Norwich, but he often throws in a surprise or two, or somebody picks up a late injury which we don’t know about. But I am confident that he won’t change it this time. A point away from home is always good, but I am hoping for three in a narrow victory, perhaps 2-1? I enjoy Monday Night football on TV when we are away from home. But is there a way of keeping the sound of the crowd but removing the commentary and punditry at the same time? I wish there was.