Huddersfield versus West Ham Preview

Last season we won the corresponding game comfortably by four goals to one. Can West Ham take the positive psychological momentum from the performance against Burnley into their trip to Huddersfield?

I hear a lot in the football media these days about momentum. A team goes on a winning run and commentators describe how they can benefit positively from the effects of positive momentum in their next match. Similarly a team that are 1-0 ahead and dominating a game can react negatively when the opposition scores an equaliser with the stadium clock showing 44 minutes: 46 seconds as Burnley did last Saturday. All the talk was how Burnley would benefit from the positive momentum they would gain from the late first half goal, and how West Ham’s heads would be down as the second half got underway. Did this actually happen, or was the manager able to reverse the effect of the psychological momentum gained by the opposition when he gave his half-time team talk?

On many occasions in the past I’ve seen West Ham fold after a negative event such as conceding a goal or having a player sent off, but that hasn’t seemed to happen as much in recent times. Of course we are not in on what the manager and his staff say to the team but I give him credit for developing a more positive attitude amongst the West Ham players, and their reaction when something goes wrong. For example, we conceded a late goal just before half time after coasting to a 2-0 lead at Everton, and on previous occasions I would have expected us to surrender the initiative to the opposition when the second half got underway. But we didn’t.

At Leicester, Mark Noble was sent off after we had taken the lead, but we didn’t let our heads drop, and put up a tremendous rearguard action before falling unluckily to a deflected shot just before the end. But even then, the spirit in the side was such that we went forward and could (probably should) have snatched a late winner if Ogbonna had kept his composure.

Perhaps a good example of positive momentum is the case of Michail Antonio two or three years ago. For a while his confidence was high, and it seemed he couldn’t stop scoring goals, especially headed ones. At one time he had scored with as many headers in a year as any footballer in the Premier League. He found the net with the headed equaliser in the last game at Upton Park v Manchester United, and then with the winner in our first league game at the London Stadium against Bournemouth. For a time he was almost unplayable, and a lot of people forget that he was Hammer of the Year in 2016-17, after finishing runner-up to Payet the year before. He got into national squads with both Allardyce and Southgate as England manager, although he never won a cap. The positive momentum seemed to disappear after he was continually played out of position at right back, and then had some injuries, and he has never been the same since.

So does psychological momentum in football actually exist? Can it be backed up by statistical analysis? Or if it does exist, can the opposition negate it by being prepared better? Both West Ham and Huddersfield go into this match with positive momentum. Our performance and victory over Burnley was widely acclaimed, whereas Huddersfield managed their first win of the season (and even their first goal at home) in the 1-0 win over Fulham on Monday night. They are one of the bookmakers’ favourites for relegation, whereas we are now pulling away from the bottom after collecting eleven points from our last seven games, following the “pointless” opening four matches.

In addition to their win over Fulham, Huddersfield have picked up three further points this season with a goalless draw at home to Cardiff, and 1-1 draws at Everton and Burnley. Five goals scored and twenty-one conceded is not good, but will the momentum gained from their win lead to better times? One thing that struck me when I watched the closing stages of Monday night’s game was how both the Huddersfield players and the supporters celebrated after the final whistle. You would expect them to be on a high, but the sight of a team all joining hands and running towards the crowd in jubilation is one normally reserved for winning a trophy, not a single game of football. It did seem rather over the top to me, but if they have such positive celebrations for that win, then how will they top it if they beat us?

All of our players had decent games last weekend, especially in an attacking sense. I really enjoyed the game and the atmosphere was great, even remaining positive when we were twice pulled back. The only slight disappointment was conceding the two goals and very nearly a third. In particular the second equaliser direct from a corner was one that should have been averted, especially with better preparation in terms of marking their players who are most dangerous in the air (including substitutes!). For me, Anderson had his best game in a claret and blue shirt, and what a prospect young Diangana is! Arnautavic dominated their defenders, but unusually for him was unselfish at times when he might have done better by shooting himself. Snodgrass and Obiang put in the yards in the middle of the pitch, and Rice gets better every time I see him, this time totally controlling so much of the play, both defensively and then setting up the next attack.

If everyone is fit I would expect the same starting eleven for this game, but with our recent injury record how likely is this? Apparently even Carroll (remember him) and Wilshere are likely to be available for our next home game against Manchester City in a fortnight. Yes, we have to wait two weeks for the next game because of the third international break of the season even though only twelve Premier League games will have been played by each team. The football authorities who plan the timing of fixtures certainly know how to destroy the momentum of the domestic season with these continual interruptions for international football. I can’t speak for football fans as a whole, but personally my only interest in games played by the national side is when we are taking part in the World Cup or European Championship Finals tournaments. The new format for European qualification with these mini-leagues hasn’t hit the mark for me and I look forward to the return of the domestic game in two weeks, with no further international breaks until much later in the season.

The quality of our opposition this week is reflected in the bookmakers’ odds where we are generally around 5/4 favourites to win the game. That is very rarely the case for a West Ham team at any time, especially away from home. The draw is second favourite at around 21/10, with a Huddersfield home victory on offer at around 5/2. These are often the types of game where West Ham sides have slipped up in the past, but I am confident that it won’t happen this time. I predict a relatively comfortable victory by one or two goals to nil. My forecast of a 4-3 win over Burnley ended up nearer to actually happening than I would have thought at half-time, but this time around I don’t expect as many goals. On average this season, Huddersfield score a goal every other game, and concede twice. I expect this average to be maintained in this game.

West Ham entertain Burnley. Can we come out on top in the Clarets derby?

With a run of theoretically easier games on paper can West Ham follow through on the pitch by beating Burnley?

A quarter of the season has whizzed by. Well, not exactly whizzed because of two international breaks, and yet another one will arrive after the games that are played next weekend. It used to be a tradition to say that you should ignore the league table until at least a dozen games have been played, and by that time you will have an idea as to how the season will pan out. We have two further games to play until then, and you would have to say that on paper at least they are eminently winnable ones. Having had the toughest ten games of all the teams in the Premier League until now when you take into account the average points per team, or positions in the league table, we now face a run of games which on paper at least are easier fixtures and should define our season.

As we sit in thirteenth place at the moment with seven teams below us, there are just nine games to play until we reach the half way point of 2018-19 following the game that takes place the day after Boxing Day. Watford in seventh, and Manchester City, inevitably at the top, are the only sides currently above us that we haven’t yet played, whereas we still have to play each of those teams presently below us in the run up to the midpoint of the season (Burnley, Huddersfield, Newcastle, Cardiff, Palace, Fulham and Southampton).

We have yet to put in many really convincing performances, (Everton away, and Manchester United at home, excepted), although our two draws against Chelsea and Leicester could easily have been winning games. Nevertheless, despite our inconsistent, and at times indifferent form, we do have a few teams below us who haven’t even matched our record so far. We really need to start to pull away from the bottom cluster sooner rather than later, but once again our injury list is beginning to match that of recent seasons. Is it really bad luck or is it something more that makes this keep happening to our club?

Our visitors today have a very similar record to our own so far, winning two, drawing two and losing six of the ten games played. But whilst our early goal difference was very poor it has since improved to -6, whereas the Burnley goal difference is -11, mainly as a result of their last two games, defeats of 5-0 and 4-0 to Manchester City and Chelsea respectively. Their only two wins were against an uncharacteristically poor (for this season) Bournemouth 4-0, and a 2-1 win at Cardiff. Their draws were against Southampton and Huddersfield.

When the Football League was formed in 1888 it consisted of 12 clubs. They were all from the Midlands and North-West. Burnley were one of the original teams, and are one of only three of them who are currently in the top flight of English football, the others being Everton and Wolves. The other nine teams were Aston Villa, Blackburn, Bolton, Notts County, Stoke, Derby, West Brom, Preston and Accrington. So Burnley have a history of 130 years in the Football League and in that time they have finished at one time or another as champions in all four divisions in England.

As I began taking an interest in football in the late 1950s, Burnley were a major force and were champions of Division One (that is equivalent to the modern day Premier League) in 1959-60, and reached the quarter-finals of the European Cup the following season. In 1961-62, they were runners-up in the league (to Ipswich), and lost in the FA Cup final to Tottenham. It just goes to show how the balance of power has shifted at the top in football when you consider that the top six clubs in order that season were Ipswich, Burnley, Tottenham, Everton, Sheffield United, and Sheffield Wednesday. Arsenal finished in mid-table, the two Manchester clubs were in the bottom half, and Chelsea finished bottom and were relegated. Liverpool won the Division 2 title that season.

Burnley couldn’t maintain their position near the summit of English football after those heady years of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Perhaps the abolition of the maximum wage for footballers in 1961 was one of the reasons for that. At that time no footballer could earn more than £20 a week, and once this was no longer the case, that was possibly one of the factors for the decline in the fortunes of teams from smaller towns, such as Burnley, who were less able to compete financially with teams from bigger towns and cities. Since that 1961-62 season, only nine towns or cities have provided the English football league (or Premier League) winners, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, London, Birmingham, Nottingham, Derby, Blackburn and Leicester. Only the last four on that list have populations of less than half a million. Nottingham (300,000) and Derby (250,000) were largely the result of an exceptional manager (Brian Clough), whilst Blackburn (110,000) and Leicester (325,000) benefitted from wealthy owners.

Burnley did maintain their status in the top tier throughout the 1960s, even finishing third in 1965-66, which was followed by another good campaign in Europe in the Fairs Cup, reaching the quarter final the following season before going out at the hands of Eintracht Frankfurt. Their league positions after then were closer to the bottom than the top, and in 1970-71 they were relegated.

After then Burnley went into a slow decline culminating in the final game of the 1986-87 season when they needed to win the last game of the season to remain in the Football League and not be relegated to the Conference. They duly beat Leyton Orient and were also saved by Lincoln City, who were then automatically relegated when losing their final game. Burnley began to ascend again from that time, and in the last few years have yo-yoed between the Championship and the Premier League.

After finishing on top of the Championship in 2015-16, they finished 16th in their first season back at the top, and then last season they rose to the dizzy heights of seventh place, their highest finish for almost half a century. Once again they qualified for Europe but this time they were eliminated before the kids went back to school after the summer holidays. This has enabled them to concentrate on the league, and they may need to do so after their indifferent start, similar to our own.

I’ll finish this week with a few random thoughts:

  • Spectators encroaching onto the playing area against Tottenham in midweek brought back memories of the last time Burnley visited the London Stadium in March.
  • Leicester’s late deflected equaliser maintained our lead at the top of the “points dropped from winning positions” league.
  • It would be good if we could score a headed goal. I can’t recall us getting one so far this season.
  • The two keepers this weekend, Fabianski and Hart, are at the top of the goalkeepers league for saves made this season (44 apiece).
  • West Ham are odds-on with bookmakers to win a league game for the first time this season.
  • You can almost guarantee that Burnley will be awarded a penalty against us. They weren’t given one in the whole of last season or in this season to date.
  • The magnificent goal that you see Bobby Moore score on the screens at our games was against QPR in our 4-3 win fifty years ago yesterday. It wasn’t even the best goal in the game. Harry Redknapp scored the winning goal with a thunderous volley.

Let’s hope we can get back to winning ways. I don’t think it will be as easy as some are expecting, but I take us to win by a narrow margin.

West Ham visit Leicester to complete the first quarter of the season.

Can we start to climb the table?

As we near the centenary of the end of the First World War, we are also approaching 100 years since West Ham’s first ever games in the Football League in the following year, and our very first meetings with this weekend’s opponents, Leicester. They were formed as Leicester Fosse towards the end of the nineteenth century, but changed their name to Leicester City in readiness for the 1919-20 season when our paths first crossed. The initial game was at Filbert Street, their home for over 100 years before they moved to their current stadium around twenty years ago. It ended in a goalless draw, and then one week later in the return at Upton Park we won by a solitary goal. We were both Division Two sides at the time, and we have now met them on around 130 occasions in both the second tier and the top tier of English football. We have the upper hand winning slightly more games than the Foxes, although it is a close thing.

But nothing could be closer than the climax to the 1922-23 season in Division Two just three seasons later. A week after taking part in the infamous White Horse FA Cup Final, the very first final to be held at the original Wembley Stadium (which we lost 2-0 to Bolton Wanderers), we went into the last day of the season at the top of the league on goal average from Leicester and Notts County (goal difference wasn’t the deciding factor then), all tied on 51 points. We were looking for our first ever promotion to the top tier of English football, but had a tough fixture at home to Notts County. A draw would have guaranteed promotion, but we conceded an early goal, and despite constantly attacking could not get an equaliser, and lost. In those days there wasn’t the communication that exists today, so we thought our promotion hopes were dashed. It was much later when news arrived that Leicester had also lost their game, so we did move up to Division One for the very first time.

The amazing thing about our games versus Leicester in that promotion season was that we drew the home game (2-2), but in an extraordinary match at Filbert Street we won 6-0. Had we won that game just 1-0, 2-0, or even 3-0, then Leicester’s goal average would have been better than ours at the end of the season and they would have been promoted instead of us. And what was even more remarkable was that Leicester only conceded 19 goals in total in their 21 home league games that season, and we had scored six of them. In addition we had achieved promotion scoring only 21 goals in our 21 league games at Upton Park, but we won more games on our travels and scored 42 away goals in the process.

One of the best games I remember against Leicester came almost exactly fifty years ago in November 1968 when we beat them 4-0. My favourite West Ham goal of all time was scored by Martin Peters that day, and I was standing on the North Bank behind the goal that it went in. Bobby Ferguson, our keeper, had the ball in his hands and rolled it out to Peters on the edge of the box. Peters then advanced forwards a few yards and a couple of passes later the ball went out to John Sissons on the left wing. Sissons, a tricky winger, moved forwards and from just inside the Leicester half played a long diagonal cross into the penalty area where it was met by Peters on the volley as it came over his shoulder. His thunderous shot from about 12 yards almost decapitated Shilton in the Leicester goal as it rocketed into the roof of the net. He hadn’t stopped running from the moment he passed the ball out to Sissons. The goal combined a move from one end of the pitch to the other and also wonderful technique from the goalscorer.

You can see that goal on the internet, or at least the last part of it, but that doesn’t really give you the opportunity to appreciate the sweeping move from beginning to end. Incidentally I met Martin Peters many years later at a book signing for his autobiography (around 2006), and told him that it was my favourite ever West Ham goal. He couldn’t recall it and told me that he hardly remembered any of his goals. I got him to sign my copy of that 1968 programme as well as his autobiography. He scored so many in his illustrious career including of course, the second goal in the 1966 World Cup Final. Perhaps this was an early sign of the dementia / Alzheimer’s that he now sadly suffers from.

At half-time this Saturday we will be exactly a quarter of the way through the season. Our seven points from nine games, which include six defeats, would normally be relegation form, but we are outside of the bottom three, and surely now looking upwards rather than over our shoulder. It is not an excuse, but we could add the order of the games in the fixture list as a possible additional reason for the position we find ourselves in. In our first ten games we have met the teams who are currently 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th in the league table, so we have yet to meet any of the teams towards the bottom, where on paper at least, the games should be easier. We have already met 5 of the top 6 “elite” teams, with just Manchester City to come in the second quarter of the season. And while I am mentioning the fixture list, have you noticed our opening game of the season in the last five years has been against Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, and Liverpool, in that order. Hardly the recipe for a good start! What chances it will be Manchester City next season?

Our second half performance last week against Tottenham was an improvement on the first half, and in my opinion we didn’t deserve to lose the game. Only a couple of excellent saves from Lloris denied us an equaliser. I hope that Obiang is soon fit again to take his place in midfield, but it appears that this game is too soon. I don’t see too many changes from the last line-up. I was impressed by the trickery and pace of young Diangana, and expect him to make an impact this season in the team. Perhaps Anderson could be moved to try out the so-called number 10 role to relieve him a little of wide defensive duties which are most definitely not his forte! I predict the following starting eleven and squad for this game: Fabianski; Zabaleta, Balbuena, Diop, Cresswell; Rice, Noble; Snodgrass, Anderson, Diangana; Arnautavic. Subs. Adrian, Ogbonna, Fredericks, Masuaku, Chicharito, Lucas, Antonio.

For those of you who like a bet on West Ham to win, then level stakes on all nine league games this season would probably have you slightly ahead of the bookmakers, depending of course on whose odds you took, as they can vary. This is a surprise to some as we have only won two games, but the odds on those victories would have ensured a payout in excess of the seven losses. This time around we are around 5/2 to 3/1 to win the game, and 10/1 to win the game 2-1. For those of you who like a fun bet then this week I will be focussing on Issa Diop who I am sure will score sooner or later. Diop to score the first goal in the match is 50/1, and the odds are the same for him to score the last goal. For him to score at anytime in the game you can get 18/1, and for him to score two or more goals you can get 250/1. A bet on Diop to score the first goal in the game and West Ham to win 2-1 is priced at 400/1, and the same odds are on offer for him to score the last goal in a 2-1 victory. Of course bets such as these are very unlikely, but I like to combine one with my bet on West Ham to win the game for a bit of fun.

Four of Leicester’s league games this season have had a score of 2-1, and three of those they have lost, including two 2-1 home defeats. Despite our lengthening injury list, I expect us to win the game 2-1 and Issa Diop to score one of the goals. It is about time that we started to climb the table, and our fixtures in the run-up to the end of the year give us every chance of doing so.

West Ham v Tottenham: A Retrospective Preview

Looking back on the first league match I saw at Upton Park, a Christmas Day 2-1 win against this weekend’s opponents, Tottenham, and highlighting some memorable games since.

As a West Ham fan who has been attending games since 1958 I must have seen us play against the old enemy on countless occasions. I have watched us win, lose and draw, and can recall some notable victories. The first one that I remember was the only occasion that I watched a game of football on Christmas Day.

The day had begun at a ridiculously early hour, as is quite normal for four year olds anticipating what is inside those wrapped parcels left by Santa Claus overnight. My presents that Christmas were memorable and included a bright red three-wheeled bike with a compartment at the back. Inside was a package which when I ripped it open revealed a claret and blue v-necked short-sleeved West Ham football shirt, which on the back had a hand-sewn big number 10, the number worn by my first football hero, West Ham’s inside-left Johnny Dick. Another package contained a small claret and blue West Ham scarf which I still own today. To add to my delight my dad told me that we were going to watch West Ham later in the morning when they played Tottenham. This would be the first (and the last) game of football I have ever seen on 25 December.

Until the late 1950s there was always a full league programme on Christmas Day. Modern footballers and management complain these days about the fixture congestion during the Christmas period, and many call for a winter break, but at that time there were 42 top flight league games, as well as FA Cup games and replays, to be fitted into a season, and it wasn’t that unusual for three games to be played in a four day period, or four games in a week. And there wasn’t the squad rotation prevalent in the modern game. It wasn’t unusual for the same eleven players to play in almost all of the games, and of course there were no substitutes either.

But with the introduction of floodlights heralding the ability to play games in the evenings, as well as the reduction and eventual removal of public transport on Christmas Day, the need and desire to play games on that day disappeared, and West Ham have never played on 25 December since, although Boxing Day retains the tradition of a full league programme.

To get back to my story, off we went on Christmas morning, me, dad, Uncle Bill, and Uncle Ted to catch a bus for the short journey along the Barking Road from Canning Town (where we stayed with my grandparents for the Christmas period) to Upton Park to see the game that kicked off at 11am. I had only been to Upton Park once before then (to see my first game just a few weeks before, the Malcolm Allison testimonial game) so this was my first league game. And the team didn’t let me down.

We won the match 2-1, and Johnny Dick scored the first ever league goal I remember seeing when he pounced on a rebound from the Tottenham keeper (a chap called Hollowbread) in front of the North Bank early in the second half. The photo captures the goal. Vic Keeble scored a second goal before Tottenham pulled one back when we only had ten players on the field with Phil Woosnam off injured from a bad tackle. The return fixture was at White Hart Lane the following day. I wasn’t there but my dad told me about West Ham’s 4-1 win with goals from Johnny Dick, Keeble, John Bond and an own goal.

Since my first game in 1958 we have played them over 100 times, and in the games played at Upton Park or the London Stadium we have a positive record, winning more often than losing. Many games stand out in my memory, especially winning ones. There was a 4-0 victory in our cup winning season of 1964, a 3-2 win the following season with a Johnny Byrne hat trick (he often scored against them), and a 2-0 win in one of the last games prior to the 1966 World Cup (Byrne scored both goals, both penalties!).

1976-77 was memorable as they were relegated, and we beat them 5-3 to end a poor run where we had lost six games in a row. In our best ever league season (1985-86) we won 2-1, one of the games in the frenetic run-in, with goals from (who else?) McAvennie and Cottee, and the same deadly duo were our goalscorers the following season on Easter Monday when we won by the same score. There was a superb Monday night 4-3 win at Upton Park when John Hartson and Paul Kitson made their debuts to help us narrowly avoid relegation in the 1996-97 run-in. And of course we will never forget the final league game of 2005-06 when we faced them in the game that was to famously become “Lasagne-gate”. Once again a 2-1 win dented their hopes of a place in the Champions League.

A 1-0 win with an Antonio header in our final season at Upton Park. A Lanzini goal in our first season at the London Stadium to repeat the score of the previous season and dent Tottenham’s lingering title hopes. So many great, roof-raising memories!

What will be the outcome this Saturday? I’ll predict a 2-1 West Ham win to replicate that first game I saw almost sixty years ago.

Can West Ham deepen the frown on Mourinho’s face when Manchester United visit the London Stadium this weekend?

The Hammers face the Red Devils in this week’s early kick-off

Prior to our game against Everton just a fortnight ago I wrote in my preview that, although we were pointless at the time, I would be more than happy if we could amass eight points from the following four difficult fixtures to bring our average up to a point a game. With away games at Everton and Brighton, and home games against Chelsea and Manchester United that would be a difficult task, especially considering our performances in our opening four matches. Nevertheless, we are half way to my “target”, and based upon what I’ve witnessed in the past two games, I am confident that we can reach eight points from eight games. We just need a win and a draw from this game at home to the Red Devils, and the trip to the South Coast to face the Seagulls next Friday. Hopefully we can start with a win this weekend.

A game against Manchester United is always something special. Like them or loathe them, they have been the most successful club in England in the history of the game. They have won the league 20 times, as well as 12 FA Cup wins and various other honours including three wins in the European Cup / Champions League. They are the biggest club in England and the third biggest in the world in terms of revenue.

Of course all West Ham fans fondly remember the final game at the Boleyn just over two years ago, where we followed the script and came from behind to win the game 3-2. Despite Manchester United’s success over the years their record against us on our ground is not the best. Other “big” clubs have visited us on a similar number of occasions in history and have beaten us more times than we have beaten them. But our record against United bucks the trend and we have more wins against them than they do against us on our home turf.

I’ve written previously about the changes in personnel at football clubs, especially our own in recent times. Of the fourteen West Ham players involved on that historic night in May 2016, only Antonio (who played at right back), Noble, and Obiang (who came on as an 84th minute substitute) were on the pitch last Sunday against Chelsea. Randolph, Kouyate, Payet, Sakho, Tomkins, and Valencia have left the club, Reid, Carroll, and Lanzini have long-term injuries, and Ogbonna and Cresswell were on the bench. It’s funny how the term bench has survived; these days players sit back on comfortable padded (and heated?) seats whilst awaiting the call to enter the fray.

I’m not sure how much attention we need to pay to the supposed behind the scenes unrest at United, especially the apparent issues between Pogba and Mourinho, but in many ways they don’t seem to be a happy bunch. Based on what I’ve seen so far they are nowhere near the level of Manchester City, Liverpool or Chelsea, or perhaps even our North London neighbours, Arsenal or Tottenham, and given our battling performance against the blues from West London last weekend I am hopeful that we can go one better in this game.

They have won half of their six games so far, losing on their travels at Brighton, and a hefty home defeat to Tottenham. Last week they drew 1-1 with newly-promoted Wolves, so their ten points sees them sitting in seventh place, two points behind the aforementioned North London duo, but already eight points adrift of the top of the table.

Those people who bet on West Ham to win or draw against Chelsea were in profit, and you would be equally successful this weekend with the same bet, if one of those two results happen. The bookmakers are not as generous with their odds on us beating United as they were against Chelsea, with around 10/3 the going rate, and 12/5 for a draw. I think I’ll just stick with the win for this one, as I’m confident we will pick up the three points to heap more misery on the face of the opposition manager, and even more so if Arnie has recovered from his knee injury. I’m not expecting 8-0, but a good performance, and any kind of win would be good. 3-2 again?

Can West Ham’s team of many nationalities end Chelsea’s 100% start to the season?

I woke up it was a Chelsea Morning ………….

Well, not quite morning, but an early kick-off nonetheless. We have to leave early on a Sunday morning to watch this game. Chelsea Morning was the title of a song written by Joni Mitchell in 1968. It was initially released as a track on the debut Fairport Convention album that same year, before Mitchell herself released it as a single the following year. Ah, 50 years ago. I am old enough to remember it well.

Coincidentally 50 years ago this very weekend West Ham played Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Hey Jude by the Beatles topped the chart as West Ham came from behind to earn a 1-1 draw in front of a 58,000 crowd. I stood in the Shed as a 14 year-old, not revealing my allegiance to the away team, as I was amongst the home supporters. I had to suppress my excitement as Billy Bonds moved forward with ten minutes to go and found Trevor Brooking on the right. Trevor went to the bye-line and crossed for Martin Peters to head home off the underside of the bar, the ball barely crossing the line, a trick mastered by West Ham in the sixties. Fortunately, although it was many years before goal-line technology was to send a message to the referee’s watch, an alert linesman spotted that the ball was over the line and the game was drawn. This was a good point earned against a Chelsea team who went on to finish fifth at the end of the season (we were eighth).

The game was our tenth league fixture that season and at that stage we had only lost once, 4-1 at home to Everton, who coincidentally are the only team we have actually beaten this season in a league game. The West Ham team that day was full of famous players who played many times in the claret and blue; Ferguson; Bonds, Howe; Peters, Stephenson, Moore; Redknapp, Boyce, Brooking, Hurst, Sissons.

The Chelsea goal in that game was scored by Bobby Tambling, the player who held the Chelsea record for most goals scored (202) before it was overtaken by Frank Lampard. Bobby Tambling was born in 1941 (the same year as our own Bobby Moore), and made his Chelsea debut in February 1959 (two days after my fifth birthday), scoring the winner in a 3-2 victory over (you’ve guessed it) West Ham. Our own Bobby Moore (full name Robert Frederick Chelsea Moore), also made his West Ham debut in the same season, coincidentally also in a 3-2 victory (against Manchester United).

In the same season that Moore and Tambling made their debuts (1958-59), then yet another coincidence, 60 years ago this very weekend West Ham played at home to, you’ve guessed it again, Chelsea. In those free-scoring days we won that match 4-2, to record our fifth win out of nine games played at that stage, to move up to eighth in the table. In the three league games that we’d lost prior to that match, we had conceded four goals in each one, to Luton, Nottingham Forest, and Manchester United. It will be no surprise to learn that by May that year we had scored 85 league goals and conceded 70, to finish sixth in the table in our first season back in the top flight in over a quarter of a century.

Despite an indifferent time last season we took four points off Chelsea, who were the reigning Premier League champions. In the away fixture on 8 April, less than six months ago, Chicarito came on as a substitute with 20 minutes remaining and within three minutes equalised Azpilicueta’s first half goal. Despite that game being so recent, only four players from that day were involved in our win over Everton last Sunday, namely Masuaku, Noble, Rice, and Arnie.

And on 9 December last year we had another early kick off at 12.30 pm on a Saturday lunchtime. Arnie scored his first goal for the club in the sixth minute, and we held on for a nail-biting 1-0 win to record our first victory under David Moyes in his fifth game in charge. A repeat of that scoreline this weekend would be most welcome.

For supporters who like to place a bet on West Ham to win games, then the losses incurred after the first four league games would have been largely wiped out with the win at Goodison Park last Sunday. A win this weekend would put you well in profit as West Ham are around 9/2 and upwards to repeat last December’s victory, and even the odds on a draw at around 7/2 would appeal to some. Of course Chelsea have begun the season with five straight wins in the league, and are tying for top spot with Liverpool, so naturally are hot favourites to win the game. If you think that we can repeat the same score as last season then the odds on 1-0 to us are around 18/1.

If you are looking for an omen, then the last time that Chelsea won their first five games of the season (which was eight years ago when Ancelotti was their manager), they lost their next match by a 1-0 scoreline. But having said that, they have twice (in this century) won their opening six league games, and on both occasions went on to win the title.

Barring any necessary changes for injuries I would expect the same starting line-up this week. Thankfully the manager has finally seemed to realise the necessity for greater strength and mobility in central midfield, and in my opinion the performances of both Obiang and Rice in particular were outstanding against Everton. Why they haven’t been selected to fulfil those roles before now is a mystery to me. Of course Yarmalenko took the headlines, but the front three with Arnie and Anderson added to the Ukrainian, started to show that they can cause problems for opposition defences this season. And our central defensive partnership of Diop and Balbuena could be the first choice for the foreseeable future. I can’t remember a West Ham victory when so many different players were accorded the star rating for the team by various newspaper / media reports of the game. It goes to prove how many of the side had played so well.

At half-time last weekend I was trying to work out in my mind if we were fielding a starting line- up of eleven totally different nationalities. Quite probably the answer is yes, although Diop and Masuaku were both born in France and represented them at lower age levels, but are not full internationals and their allegiances could change. I’m not sure about Obiang either – he has played for Spain at the lower age levels but could still become a full international for Equatorial Guinea. With two of our three substitutes used being Snodgrass (Scotland), and Sanchez (Colombia), we fielded (probably?) thirteen different nationalities in the match, which must be some kind of record? And in addition we have had players from Spain, Italy, and Mexico on the pitch this season, and New Zealand could be added to this list in the future. An interesting comparison can be made with the West Ham team that played against Chelsea 50 years ago which comprised ten Englishmen and a Scotsman. How times have changed!

Fabianski (Poland); Zabaleta (Argentina), Diop (France/Senegal/Morocco), Balbuena (Paraguay), Masuaku (France/DR Congo); Obiang (Spain/Equatorial Guinea), Noble (England), Rice (Ireland), Yarmalenko (Ukraine), Arnautavic (Austria), Anderson (Brazil).

It will be a difficult game against a team in such excellent form, but let’s hope for another fine performance, and perhaps even an end to Chelsea’s unbeaten start to the season. 1-0 again?

Sticky Toffee Pudding or Goodison Glory for West Ham on Sunday?

Game Five sees pointless West Ham visit Goodison Park to face unbeaten Everton. Will this be the game to get our season going?

If you are one of those supporters who like a bet on your team to win a game of football, then this season wouldn’t have been ideal if you are a fan of West Ham. If you placed, say, a tenner on each of our league games so far then you would now be £40 out of pocket. If West Ham had been as successful as Watford in the opening four league games then you would now be sitting on a pot of around £260. And if we had picked up four wins and you had been bold and reinvested your winnings each time then your original £10 would now be worth over £6000! But sadly that hasn’t happened.

Now of course this may seem a little far-fetched, but any Watford fans who had done this would have been looking at some very big gains. You have to remember that whilst bookmakers had West Ham finishing somewhere between 7th and 10th, their odds suggested that Elton John’s unfashionable North of London outfit were one of the favourites to be playing Championship football next season. And if you do like a bet then one of the games to consider this weekend is the very generous 7/2 being offered on Watford beating a poor Manchester United team who are at even money.

One sensationalist newspaper that I read suggested that West Ham were the only team in the top eleven leagues in the English football pyramid to have not earned a single point so far this season. But I’m not sure they did their homework correctly because Lancaster City were stuck at the bottom of Evostik North (see what I did there?) with a similar points tally after they had played five matches.

But joking aside, it has been an horrendous beginning to a season that began with high hopes. A few statistics: At the first international break we are the only team out of the 92 Football League sides without a single point. We have scored the least goals in the Premier League (2, tying with Cardiff and Huddersfield), have conceded the most (10, level with Huddersfield), and have the worst goal difference (-8, again the same as Huddersfield). Our manager is second favourite to be the first Premier League manager to depart the club this season (after Mourinho). And apparently our players have covered less distance on the pitch than every other team in the top flight bar Cardiff and Manchester United. But it is still early days and two or three wins on the bounce would soon wipe out the pessimism surrounding the club. But do we have the ability to do this?

Everton, under new manager Silva, are one of the five clubs in the Premier League who haven’t lost a game so far (one win and three draws), and currently sit 7th in the table, which is probably roughly where they are likely to finish at the end of the season according to most pundits. They are generally seen as the team most likely to challenge the established order of the top six so-called elite clubs. Their six points sees them six points off the top, as well as six points ahead of where we are.

Our record against them in history shows that in 138 meetings, Everton have won exactly half of the games (69), with the other 69 seeing 39 West Ham wins and 30 draws. Our record defeat in football was 7-0 at the hands of Everton (in 1927, before my time!). But, of course the last time we met was our final home game last season, when, with the pressure off, we gave them a good hiding with a very comfortable 3-1 victory, with England keeper Pickford conceding three goals from distance.

I’m not one of those who believe that football only began with the advent of the Premier League, but it does provide a convenient timeframe to examine results of the last 25 years or so. And our meetings with Everton do not make for good reading. In 44 matches we have won just 8, whilst Everton have come out on top 24 times. 5 of our 8 wins were at home meaning that we have won just 3 of our 22 league visits to Goodison Park in the Premier League era. Those wins were 1-0 on New Years Day 1994, 2-1 shortly before Christmas in 2005, and 3-2 in March 2016, when a Payet-inspired comeback saw us come from two down to win the game in the last 15 minutes. Those of you who like symmetry will anticipate that our next win there will be 4-3, so let us hope that is what happens on Sunday.

I won’t even begin to predict the team that our manager will select for this game as I have no idea how he will have reacted after the dismal showing against Wolves a fortnight ago. We were quite rightly universally castigated for that performance and we will need to have improved significantly to start to climb the table. Our four games leading up to the next international break are, in addition to the game at Everton, home games against Chelsea and Manchester United, and a trip to Brighton. We could theoretically have 12 points by that time, but I would be more than happy if we can amass 8, which would mean 2 wins and 2 draws. That would still leave us averaging just one point a game, which is still relegation form, but would nevertheless be a significant, although possibly unlikely scenario and much needed improvement. On paper at least the fixture list gets easier for a while after the end of the next half a dozen games, but by then, if results haven’t improved, we could be in a relegation battle with barely a quarter of the season gone.

As someone who personally enjoys football at 3pm on a Saturday our next four games are an interesting mix of times, but they give everyone who has the necessary TV platforms the opportunity to watch us on TV. Coming up the games are at 4pm on Sunday, 1.30pm the following Sunday, 12.30pm the Saturday after, and then finally 8pm on Friday 5th October.

Bookmakers are not very generous with their correct score odds on football matches. The best that I could find for my unlikely “symmetrical” West Ham 4-3 win was just 175/1. A 6-0 West Ham victory was only 250/1, but how likely is that? Considering the relative starts to the season of both sides, the odds on the game are not quite what I expected either. You can generally get only 5/2 or perhaps 11/4 on a West Ham win. The correct odds should be much longer than that, surely? But nevertheless if you take them, and we do win, then you will go some way towards winning back the money you might have lost so far this season betting on West Ham.