Triskaidekaphobia for Bournemouth or West Ham?

Who will come out on top in the thirteenth meeting between West Ham and Bournemouth?

Today we meet Bournemouth for the thirteenth time in history. The record to date reads 5 wins for the Hammers, 4 draws, and 3 defeats. So who can look forward to lucky 13? If we look at Premier League meetings alone then our record is not so good. We have won 2, drawn 2 and lost 3, with all the games taking place in the last four seasons (including this one).

Our paths first crossed in 1929 in round 5 of the FA Cup. We were drawn away and drew the game 1-1, returning to Upton Park four days later to record a comfortable 3-1 win to progress to the Quarter Final, where we went out of the competition to Portsmouth.

Sixty years elapsed before we met again in the second tier of English Football in 1989. Once again we drew the away game 1-1, and comfortably won the return fixture at home by 4-1. We didn’t meet them the following season, not because we were promoted, but because the Cherries dropped into the third tier at the end of that campaign. A further ten years went by before we met them in a League Cup tie at Upton Park, where we won the round 3 fixture 2-0.

Bournemouth became one of the smallest (if not the smallest) clubs to reach the Premier League when they were promoted at the end of the 2014-15 season. They recorded their first ever victory in the top flight when they won 4-3 at Upton Park in August 2015, but we did win the reverse fixture on their ground the following January 3-1.

Another first came in the following season, our first at the London Stadium, where a late header enabled us to win our first league game at our new ground. But we were beaten in the return game away from home 3-2, despite taking an early lead after Bournemouth had missed a penalty.

There were even more goals the next time we met on Boxing Day in 2017. We were leading 3-2, after trailing 2-1 with ten minutes to go, when deep into injury time Bournemouth put the ball into our net. Not only did the linesman put his flag up for offside, but the ball was handled into the goal. Referee Bobby Madley chose to allow the goal to stand, which was one of the most astonishing decisions made by a referee, and a reason why VAR can’t come too soon for me. The return game less than a month later was a 1-1 draw, where once again we came from behind.

And finally, another first at the beginning of this season, the first home game under our new manager, which resulted in a 2-1 defeat after we had led in the first half.

Five interesting facts from West Ham v Bournemouth fixtures:

  1. West Ham have never failed to score in any of the 12 games against Bournemouth in history.
  1. Four West Ham players whose surnames begin with A have scored against Bournemouth (Arnautavic, Antonio, Ayew, and Allen (Martin)). We therefore hope that Arnie, Antonio and Anderson are on the pitch today! Arnie has scored 3 times for us against them, and Antonio twice.
  1. Conversely both Josh King and Callum Wilson have scored hat-tricks against us, and both could line up against us today, although Wilson faces a late fitness test.
  1. Seven different West Ham managers have been in charge in our 12 games against them: Syd King, Lou Macari, Billy Bonds, Harry Redknapp, Slaven Bilic, David Moyes and Manuel Pellegrini. King, Bonds, and Redknapp had a 100% record, Macari and Moyes never lost a game, Bilic won two and lost two, and only our current boss has a negative record in this fixture, which can be rectified with victory today.
  1. Our seven Premier League meeting average four goals a game, with 28 scored in total, 14 each.

Five other points to note:

  1. Since the beginning of last season, Bournemouth have conceded more goals in the Premier League than any other team. We come second!
  1. Bournemouth are the most out of form team in the Premier League, losing 11 of their last 14 games (league and cup), picking up only 7 points in the last 12 league games.
  1. We have collected 19 points since the beginning of December (the third most in the Premier League in that period).
  1. 17 of our last 20 goals have come in the second half of games.
  1. The majority of our Premier League goals against Bournemouth have come in the second half of games.

Taking into account past history of our meetings, and the recent record of both clubs, you can come to your own conclusion as to what will happen today. One thing is definite. It will not be a 0-0 draw! (or will it?).

My prediction is that the four goals per game average will be maintained, and we will end up winners by 3-1, with goals from the three A’s Arnautavic, Antonio, and Anderson.

“China In Your Hand”

Does Arnie fancy it? Or is his brother stirring it?

“Don’t push too far
Your Dreams are china in your hand
Don’t wish too hard
Because they may come true
And you can’t help them
You don’t know what you might
Have set upon yourself
China in your hand
Come from greed
Never born of the seed

 Took life from a barren hand
On eyes wide
Like a child in the form of a man
A story told
A mind of his own
An omen for our time
We take a flight on the wings of fantasy
Then you push too far
And make your dreams reality
Yeah! china in your hand
But they’re only dreams

And you shouldn’t push too far”

An excerpt from the lyrics of China in Your Hand, a number one from T’pau in 1987

arnieIf we had a full squad of players to choose from with no injuries (yes, that’s a mighty big if for West Ham), then I’d really fancy our chances against Arsenal today. Whilst still being one of the elite six teams in the Premier League, they are no longer the force of recent times, and they trail Liverpool and Manchester City by some distance.

It was only just over two years ago when they came here and handed out a 5-1 thrashing, one of two 5-1 victories over us in the last 23 meetings. In that time we’ve won just once, at the Emirates on the opening day of the 2015-16 season, a famous 2-0 win where Reece Oxford had Ozil in his back pocket. And where is Oxford today? A player we had high hopes for is still with us, but only just, and looks destined to leave in the near future, having barely played since that promising start.

Our last home win against the Gunners was on Guy Fawkes Day in 2006, and was in fact the only time we’ve beaten them on our own ground this century (until today I hope). On that day a late Marlon Harewood goal preceded a spat on the touchline between respective managers Pardew and Wenger. Wenger took exception to Pardew’s goal celebration and the handbags came out.

Today’s opponents are fifth in the Premier League at the moment, three points behind Chelsea, and three ahead of Manchester United. Whatever the outcome of this round of matches, then barring extreme scores they will remain fifth. A win for us today could lift us up as high as eighth if other results go our way, and will keep us in touch in the race for the unofficial Premier League Division Two title. The way I see the Premier League is that the elite top six form Division One, and the bottom six make up Division Three (i.e. those teams in the relegation dogfight). The middle eight form Division Two, and to finish at the top of this group would be a successful season for the team concerned.

This week it has been confirmed that Fabian Balbuena is likely to miss at least two months, and possibly most of the rest of the season. This will be a big loss, as despite Issa Diop getting most of the headlines in this season’s new central defensive partnership, I feel he has benefitted from the steady but unspectacular performances and positioning of his injured partner. Whilst being an OK replacement, Ogbonna seems to exhibit loss of concentration at times, and I believe Diop suffers as a result as he needs to cover for his new Italian partner, as well as looking after his own defensive responsibilities..

Of course the big headlines concerning our club in the last day or so involve our maverick Austrian striker whose brother (and agent) has been on the radio claiming that Arnie wants to join Shanghai SIPG in China. Apparently the initial offer of £35 million is contradictingly described as “fantastic” by the agent, and “derisory” by West Ham, who have issued a statement saying that they will not be won over by player power. Mmmmm. If selected to play, and it seems likely that he will be, then it will be interesting to see how Arnie performs today.

For me, much as I admire his ability, if he wants to go then I can’t see us stopping him, especially if a bigger offer comes on the table. No player is bigger than the club although I would hate to see him go at this point. If the offer was from a team playing in the Champions League, and he wanted to test himself at that level, then I could understand it more, but China? How much money does he need?

It would be difficult to replace a player of that calibre, especially in the short timeframe of this transfer window, but it was interesting to note that Bournemouth have signed Dominic Solanke from Liverpool for £19 million. Surely he hasn’t been bought to sit on the bench? But with King and Wilson occupying the front positions for the Cherries, I would expect that one of them is moving on, and I wonder if Bournemouth are looking to cash in on Callum Wilson. He has been linked with Chelsea, and is likely to cost approaching £50 million. I wonder if we are in a position to hijack that deal, or if he would want to come to the London Stadium?

Bookmakers are offering around even money on an Arsenal win, and about 5/2 on a home victory, the draw being in the region of 13/5. Perhaps the best bet of the day might be on the score remaining goalless at half time (21/10). West Ham haven’t scored a first half goal in a Premier League game at the London Stadium since the beginning of November, whereas Arsenal have scored 32 of their 46 league goals in the second half of games.

Although we have conceded 32 goals in the league so far this season, Arsenal do not have the defensive capabilities of their teams in years gone by, and, despite sitting fifth in the table, have only conceded one fewer than ourselves. Both teams have picked up seven points from their last five games, and a scoring draw with second half goals could be on the cards. However I reckon a determined Arnie will put on a show and score a late winning goal in a 3-2 victory. At 125/1 that will be my fun bet this week.

Hammers v Blues Clashes in the FA Cup

We look back on previous meetings between the two sides in England’s premier domestic cup competition.

1932-33 was a turbulent season in the history of West Ham United FC. Ten years after appearing in our first FA Cup Final, and the very first Wembley (White Horse) final we found ourselves back down in Division Two after spending the previous decade in the top flight. The season began poorly and we did not win a game until beating bitter rivals Millwall in mid-September. Early attendances that season at Upton Park were around the 10,000 mark but 25,000 were there to see our South London opponents comprehensively beaten 3-0.

The season continued with good form at home but we were abysmal on our travels. We hovered around the bottom of the league despite some impressive home wins, 5-2 against both Oldham and Grimsby, 7-3 against Charlton, 3-1 over Manchester United, Swansea and Southampton, and 5-0 against Port Vale. With just five league games to go we sat at the foot of the table, and with a difficult run-in looked destined to fall into the third tier of English football. However four successive wins over Nottingham Forest, Chesterfield, Manchester United and Tottenham (three of whom were to finish in the top six) saved us.

Off the field, our manager Syd King, who had been at the club as both player and manager for over 30 years back to the Thames Ironwork days, was warned on a number of occasions regarding his drink-related conduct, and in November 1932, he was suspended for three months. In early January his contract was terminated, and just a few days later he drank a mixture of alcohol and disinfectant and died. He was succeeded as boss by the club trainer, Charlie Paynter.

Our FA Cup fortunes were an improvement on our league form. After disposing of Corinthians (2-0) in Round 3, and West Brom by the same score in Round 4, we met Brighton and Hove Albion in the fifth round. The game was a 2-2 draw before we won the replay 1-0 to set up a quarter final tie against today’s opponents Birmingham City (then a mid-table Division One team). A reported 44,000 were at Upton Park on that day, although the figure is disputed and some sources reckon it was around 40,000. Nevertheless the stadium was packed to see us easily win the game 4-0 to progress to the semi-final.

Despite the poor league form, our journey in the FA Cup was an exciting one, and we faced Everton of Division One in Wolverhampton for a place at Wembley. With just a few minutes remaining the match was tied at 1-1 but we conceded a late goal and went out of the competition. Everton won the final at Wembley easily beating Manchester City 3-0. A co-incidence that we drew 2-2 with Brighton shortly before facing Birmingam in the FA Cup? Let us hope that the co-incidence extends further and that we record a 4-0 victory in this game today.

We didn’t meet Birmingham again in the FA Cup until they visited Upton Park for a third round tie in January 1965. This was our first FA Cup match since lifting the cup the previous May (winning our first ever major trophy). We were both top flight sides, although our visitors were struggling at the foot of the table (and were eventually relegated finishing bottom). The Blues (not the most exciting of nicknames I reckon) unexpectedly raced into a two goal lead, but we fought back with two goals from Geoff Hurst, and one apiece from Johnny Byrne and John Sissons to win 4-2. However we were unable to extend our hold on the cup any longer when we were knocked out by Chelsea (1-0) at Upton Park in the next round. Of course we did have a magnificent cup run that season in the European Cup Winners Cup where we progressed all the way to the final where we beat TSV Munich 1860 to win our first (and only) European trophy.

Our only other FA Cup meeting with the Blues was in the fifth round of the 1983-84 competition. After disposing of Wigan in Round 3 and Crystal Palace in Round 4 we travelled to the Midlands to face a Birmingham side once again hovering near the foot of the table in the fifth round. We played poorly that day and they easily beat us 3-0. It was disappointing in that we were a side that were third in the Division One table when we met them in February whilst they were eventually relegated.

If you are looking for good omens then the last time we won the FA Cup (in 1980) the third round tie was played on January 5th. But conversely the Round 3 game five years ago (in 2014) was also on this date, and Hammers fans will recall an embarrassing 5-0 defeat at the hands of Nottingham Forest. We put out a weakened side that day with five youth team players, who never had the opportunity to play in the first team again.

Let us hope that we put out a team strong enough to progress to the next round. This is a competition that we have a chance of winning. We are safely ensconced in mid-table in the league with no prospect of being involved in a relegation battle. Wouldn’t it be great to be involved in another exciting cup run? Unfortunately, in modern times the cup competitions take second place to obtaining the highest possible league position, and that is a big shame in my opinion. I remember vividly our FA Cup wins of 1964, 1975, and 1980. They are great memories. It’s about time for another!

Can West Ham add the Seagulls to the Magpies, Bluebirds and Eagles?

The hectic Christmas and New Year schedule continues as West Ham look to shoot down the seagulls and welcome in 2019 with a sixth win in eight.

It was a poor performance at Burnley, which means that we have lost two of our last three games. On the other hand, when I previewed the Newcastle game at the beginning of December, I was (admittedly, tongue in cheek) looking for 24 points from the next eight games. Perhaps I could have put it another way. If we could get 15 points from the seven games leading up to the Brighton fixture at the beginning of 2019, how many fans would have taken that? Or even, if in the month of December we could get three more points than Manchester City in the seven games to be played by the end of the year, who would be happy with that, especially with the (usual) lengthy injury list that we have?

Whatever the reasons for what happened at Burnley, and I’m sure that tiredness was a contributory factor, if not as important a part as has been said, then if we can bounce back with a win tonight then all will be forgotten for the time being. Wolves and Watford stand in our way of reclaiming eighth place, and even a point may be enough to take us into the top half of the table, as two of our adversaries in the race to finish seventh (Bournemouth and Watford) meet on the South Coast tonight. I’d like to see that game end in a draw, as well as the Wolves v Palace game. In fact I always like to see teams that we are in direct competition with losing or drawing their games for the benefit of our fortunes in the league.

Ironically, Brighton are not renowned for their performances away from the Amex, especially when they travel to London, where they have lost seven of their last eight games in the capital. Of course the exception to this is the 3-0 drubbing they gave us last season at the London Stadium. This is only their second season back in the top flight, but manager Chris Hughton (much under-rated in my opinion) has done an excellent job.

In the three games played so far since their return, the Seagulls have beaten us on each occasion, but given our recent run against flying creatures (magpies, bluebirds, eagles) let us hope that we can add a fourth bird to the list tonight. Oh, for a repeat of that glorious sunny afternoon in April 2012 when Ricardo Vaz Te scored some wonderful goals, and we trounced Brighton 6-0 in a Championship fixture on our way back to the Premier League.

If fit (and not too tired) I’d like to see a triple A front line tonight of Antonio, Anderson and Arnie. In midfield I’d like to see Snodgrass, Rice and Obiang. And if Zabaleta is fit, then I’d like to see him take his place alongside Diop, Ogbonna, and Cresswell. My player of the season, Fabianski (just shading Rice) will continue in goal, although I assume Adrian will get a run out in the Cup next week.

It won’t be easy against an Albion side that are well organised, and have taken four points from their last two games against Everton and Arsenal, after a run of three successive defeats. It would be good to get off to a quick start and score early on. But I’ve been racking my brains trying to remember the last time we scored a goal at home in the first half of a game, and despite our excellent recent run, I don’t think we’ve scored in the first 45 minutes of a match at the London Stadium for two months now, since the win over Burnley on 3 November.

Perhaps today we can put that right? I’ll go for a 3-1 win.

West Ham travel to the North-West to face Burnley in the Claret & Blue Derby

With the midpoint of the season reached, West Ham are favourites to overcome Burnley this afternoon in the battle to claim the best of the rest title.

When the referee Craig (I didn’t see it) Pawson blew the final whistle shortly before 10 pm on Thursday evening, the curtain was brought down on the first half of the Premier League season. 190 matches played and 190 to go. The midpoint is almost always reached at some time between when we sit down for our turkey and pudding on Christmas Day, and when the decorations come down on Twelfth Night at the beginning of the next calendar year.

And didn’t we bring the first half of our season to an end in some style. Hands up if you thought after four games had elapsed and we were pointless, that we would be sitting in ninth place in the table at this stage, with a points tally that was closer to a Champions League qualification place than the bottom three. Add to that a (typical West Ham?) squad ravaged by injuries, then our position is all the more remarkable.

Even when we lost at home to Watford last week, I didn’t hear anyone blaming the board or the manager or the stadium. Most shrugged their shoulders. Never mind, we’ll just have to win at Southampton on Thursday evening. And so we did with two splendid goals from the “ever coming to terms with the Premier League” record signing Felipe Anderson. The first was a splendid shot from outside the area, despite the distraction of poor positioning by the referee. The second was a goal that we scored after breaking from a corner at Boult-like breakneck speed to score within about ten seconds of Southampton’s corner being taken, expertly finished off by our new Brazilian. It was reminiscent of goals that I’ve seen us concede in recent seasons from the likes of Arsenal and Manchester City, which made it even more pleasing to note that we now have players with pace ourselves.

I thought that the team played well in all positions and heads didn’t go down when the Saints put up a contender for the season’s scrappiest goal. As it went in it didn’t look right and I felt sure that it should be disallowed but I didn’t really know why. Fabianski had performed miracles to keep it out (as he does consistently in every game), and we were unlucky that the referee was unable to see the ball punched into our net. Never mind now, all’s well that ends well, and we justifiably won the game against an in-form Southampton team.

After the six games played yesterday we have fallen to eleventh but a win today would lift us up to the dizzy heights of seventh. That’s right, top of Premier League 2 if you discount the elite top six who occupy those places regularly. And that is exactly where our initial aim should be. To finish the best of the rest. Our competitors for that spot are likely to be Wolves, Everton, Watford and Leicester, and it was good that only the first named of that quartet won yesterday, surprisingly beating our unpopular North London neighbours. Many of our fans relished that result on social media, but I took another view, and looking at the bigger picture I would have preferred a draw in that game to help our own position in the league table.

Burnley are in big trouble, unlike last season, and even in the unlikely event of them beating us today, they would still be in the bottom three. Bookmakers make us even money favourites to win today, which is almost unheard of when we are the away team. Burnley are approaching 3/1 with 23/10 for the draw.

Correct score odds for the most popular scores are:

1-1: 11/2; 0-1: 13/2; 1-2: 15/2; 0-2: 17/2; 0-0: 9/1; 1-0: 10/1; 2-1: 10/1; 2-2: 11/1.

First goalscorer odds show Chicarito and Arnautavic as favourites but are they fit enough to play? At the time of writing this piece I don’t know. Based upon recent form which shows that Burnley have lost six of their last seven games, and we have won five of our last six, then this should be easy. But having watched our team for sixty years now I know that no game is easy, as I’ve seen us slip up so many times in this position. But providing the legs aren’t too weary, with this game coming not much more than sixty hours after the last one ended, then I’m looking for us to make it six wins from seven. We’ve already smashed our record for points gained in a calendar month with 15, so let us hope that figure has risen to 18 by shortly after 4 o’clock this afternoon.

What are the odds on a West Ham win on the South Coast today?

A win big enough to move up to eighth in the table is priced at 200/1 upwards.

At the conclusion of the Southampton v West Ham game this evening we will have reached the halfway point in the 2018-19 Premier League season. A season that began so disastrously with four defeats in the first four games has turned around significantly, and we find ourselves in twelfth place in the table prior to this game. A defeat or a draw will see us remain in that position, but a win by any score will lift us into the top half of the table. We will be joint ninth with a 1-0 win, and ninth on our own by any other score. I think that even the most optimistic amongst us cannot see us winning by five goals to overtake Everton in eighth position.

We face a Southampton side lifted by the appointment of their new Austrian manager, and the Saints are favourites to win the game with the bookmakers at around 6/5. West Ham are second favourites at 23/10 slightly ahead of the draw at 12/5.

Correct score odds for the most popular scores are:

1-1: 11/2; 2-1: 7/1; 1-0: 15/2; 1-2: 9/1; 2-0: 10/1; 0-0: 10/1; 0-1: 10/1; 2-2: 10/1; 0-2: 14/1

First goalscorer odds:

Ings 4/1; Austin 11/2: Gabbiadini/Chicarito 13/2; Long/Carroll 7/1; Obafemi/Antonio/Perez 15/2.

If you fancy a West Ham defender to score the first goal then Diop or Ogbonna are priced at 45/1; Masuaku at 50/1 and Zabaleta 70/1.

You can get identical prices on scoring the last goal too.

A couple of scorecasts that I like the look at for fun bets are West Ham to win the game 2-1 with the first goal scored by Diop at 265/1 or Masuaku at 310/1. Once again you can get roughly the same odds (or even longer) by substituting the last goal for the first goal and looking around at the various prices being offered by the wide range of bookmakers all offering hundreds of prices.

A win big enough to move up to eighth in the table is priced at 200/1 upwards. It would be good (although extremely unlikely) to achieve that! I’ll just settle for the three points and a position in the top half of the table.

After eliminating the Watford Gap much quicker than might have been expected, West Ham entertain the Hornets.

We’ve done well in our games against flying creatures in December, can we continue the run and fly to even greater heights, or will we be stung just before Christmas?

I’ll begin my preview of this weekend’s game by repeating parts of my preview to the Newcastle game that I wrote just three weeks ago as we began the last month of 2018 and the run up to Christmas.

“As we reach December 1, the beginning of meteorological winter, we begin a run of eight matches in 33 days, that will possibly define the eventual outcome of our season. A look at the current league table reveals that, on paper at least, the forthcoming 720 minutes (plus time added on of course), will see us facing as easy a group of fixtures that we could hope for. Now this is unpredictable West Ham we are talking about, so although they may look like very winnable fixtures, those of us who have followed the team throughout the years know that this may very well not be the case.

Starting today we face (A) Newcastle (13th), (H) Cardiff (15th), (H) Palace (17th), (A) Fulham (20th), (H) Watford (9th), (A) Southampton (19th), (A) Burnley (18th), (H) Brighton (12th). At the moment we sit in 14th position on 12 points, so 24 points from these games will put us on 36 points, which will be above Manchester City if they lose their next 8 games. OK, so I know that anything like that is not remotely going to happen, (City could well be on 59 points at that time), but wouldn’t it be good to put together some back to back wins to propel us up the league table. When was the last time we won even two games in a row? Will this be the first game of an eight match winning run? I suspect you could get very long odds on that happening!”

Incredibly we are half way there! With four games of this season gone, we trailed today’s opponents by 12 points. As is often repeated, we lost our opening four games, whereas Watford were victorious in all four (admittedly three at home) against Brighton, Burnley, Palace and Tottenham. The gap was 12 points. What odds were on offer at that time, on us going into today’s game with both of us sitting in the top half of the table, with Watford below us? It would have been similar to the long odds mentioned before I suspect. And we’ve done it with a lengthy injury list too!

In fact, both Watford and ourselves have virtually identical records in the 17 games that we have each played to date. We’ve both won 7, drawn 3, lost 7, and have conceded 25 goals. The only difference is that Watford have scored 23, whereas we have 2 more, and as a result do not have a negative goal difference. This game, and the one on 27 December at St Mary’s, will take us up to the half way point of the season, and barring a calamitous run of results, I think we can safely say that we will not have to look over our shoulders any more. The positivity from all quarters is such that European qualification is now a distinct possibility, and that was not the case a few weeks ago.

I don’t think that we were at our best against Fulham last weekend but the win was comfortable without us needing to find the higher gears. Even without the talismanic Arnie, the team as a whole has been playing well, and they have reminded me to some extent of the West Ham I witnessed in the 1960s and 1970s. We look good going forward, the chances are being created and taken, but we can still be vulnerable and concede silly goals. And yet generally the defence has been playing well. Balbuena and Diop have formed the best central defensive partnership in many years, Zabaleta continues to defy his age and has played some excellent matches recently, and behind them the safest keeper I can remember since the days of Phil Parkes. Teams that attack the left hand side of our defence know what they are doing and that for me is the weakest part of the team.

I read someone on social media asking who our fans thought would end up as Hammer of the Year at the end of the season. There is still a long way to go, but the most pleasing aspect was the variety of responses from so many people which suggests that many players are doing well. There were numerous shouts for Fabianski, Zabaleta, Diop, Balbuena, Rice, Snodgrass, Noble, and Anderson, with not a single mention of Arnie. That would have been hard to believe a few weeks ago. But if Arnie comes back and adds his name to that list then we will almost certainly have had quite a season. Additionally, Antonio is beginning to look more like the player of a couple of seasons ago, and Hernandez is playing with the confidence that scoring goals brings to a natural goalscorer.

Side-tracking for a moment, I’m a bit of a traditionalist. I like my football on a Saturday, roast beef on Sunday, all right (could be the lyrics of a song!). In case you haven’t noticed some fixtures in February have been moved for the benefit of TV. So, if like me your favourite kick off time is 3pm on a Saturday, make the most of this weekend’s fixture, because there won’t be another home league game kicking off at 3pm on a Saturday until at least March next year!

Back to the game, with two teams equally balanced on the basis of the league table, then the odds reflect this. West Ham are around 13/10 to win the game, with Watford at 2/1, and 23/10 for the draw. Our historical record against Watford is one of overwhelming superiority, and in approaching 70 league games in more than a century, we have beaten them more than twice as many times as they have beaten us. I believe that in that time they have only won 3 league matches on our ground.

Of course there was the infamous 4-2 defeat in 2016 when we threw away a two goal lead and were accused of showboating by Mr. Deeney. Although that game was only just over two years ago, only Noble, Masuaku and Antonio of the 14 players on duty that day are likely to be in our starting eleven for this game! Our last league defeat at home to them before then was in 2007, but that game ended a sequence of 19 league games from April 1985, when we were unbeaten against Watford, winning 16 and drawing 3.

WHUWAT1

Historically, football matches played on the last Saturday before Christmas were played in front of lower crowds than usual; the theory was that a number of people did their last minute Christmas shopping on that day. The world has changed since those days with extended shopping hours. I can often remember us losing many of those pre-Christmas matches but there were some notable wins, for example a couple over Tottenham in the 1960s. In the mid-1970s I can recall Billy Jennings scoring a hat-trick in a pre-Christmas game, and both Tony Cottee and Paulo Di Canio scoring in those games too in later years.

In our last Saturday game before Christmas in 2011 (the season we were promoted back to the Premier League under Big Sam) we beat Barnsley 1-0 in a Championship game at Upton Park in front of almost 35,000 spectators. Our goalscorer that day had the last name of Diop. Not Issa of course, but Papa Bouba (remember him?). I’ll be continuing with my fun bets on Issa Diop to score the last goal of the game where very long odds are on offer. One of these weeks it will happen!

History counts for nothing and this could be a close, perhaps high scoring encounter. I’ll take us to win 3-2 with Diop heading home a corner for the winning goal. A merry Christmas and a happy New Year to West Ham fans everywhere! A fifth straight win would be a nice Christmas present for us all!