West Ham entertain Championship-bound Huddersfield

Can we still maintain a challenge to finish seventh this season?

In the football season, when you arrive at the middle of March you hope that the team that you support has something to play for. It is not as interesting when you are just going through the motions looking ahead to next season, without any real aims, such as a place in Europe, a visit to Wembley for the FA Cup Final, or even in a poor season, a fight against relegation. A place in Europe is still a possibility, albeit a receding one, following our non-show in Wales last week. Although we sit in ninth place, seventh place is still achievable with a good run-in in the final eight games, as we are just five points behind Wolves, and four behind Watford, our two main rivals for the coveted seventh place, also known as “the best of the rest”, or Premier League Division 2 champions, once the “elite six” are disregarded. But how much easier would seventh position and a place in Europe have been if we had picked up three points at Cardiff last week. But once again we showed that we are the most consistently inconsistent team.

Of course if we had taken the FA Cup more seriously, and not lost to a pub team destined for relegation to an even lower division than the lowly one they currently reside in, then the interest of us fans would be still heightened as we looked forward to the latter stages of the competition, and possibly quarter-final ties this weekend. But once again it was not to be. I believe that we have been eliminated from the two domestic cup competitions by teams from a lower division more than any other team in my 60 years of following West Ham.

But despite all this, I have already renewed my season ticket for next season, and look forward to my visit to the London Stadium today. Surely we must overcome relegation-bound Huddersfield, who sit at the foot of the Premier League with a meagre 14 points, which makes them 16 points from safety with eight games to go.

But if you want some reasons why we might not win, then here are 7 to be getting on with.  West Ham fans will understand what I mean.

We have never lost to Huddersfield in a Premier League game.

  1. We haven’t lost a league game to Huddersfield since the weekend of my very first date with my wife, which was over 47 years ago!
  2. We are unbeaten at home in 2019.
  3. If we win it would be the first time that we have won three consecutive league games at the London Stadium.
  4. Huddersfield have lost 7 of their last 8 games.
  5. Huddersfield have only scored 8 goals on their travels – which is less than any other team in the Premier League.
  6. Huddersfield have failed to score in 5 successive away games.

Ironically our overall record against Huddersfield in history is a negative won, but that is mainly due to the fact that they were once a force in the game. This is before most people who are alive today can remember. In their golden period back in the 1920s and 1930s they won the league title in three successive years, and were runners-up on three other occasions, also winning the FA Cup at that time, and were finalists in four other years. But latterly they have been in the doldrums relatively speaking, and after relegation in 1972 they spent the next 45 years in the three tiers outside the top flight until returning in 2017. After just about surviving last season they are now on their way back down.

Despite our inconsistency, even the bookmakers make us very strong odds-on favourites to win the game at odds of about 8/15. Given our visitors inability to score away from home then you would have to believe that a win to nil would be a good bet, and the odds will depend on how many it might be.

For example, 1-0 is favourite at 9/2, 2-0 is 11/2, 3-0 is 10/1, 4-0 is 22/1, 5-0 is 70/1, with 6-0 200/1. But remember this is West Ham we are talking about. Huddersfield might score and might beat us. I’d like to think that won’t happen though. Let’s hope that we can turn up, turn it on, and our attacking players in particular can provide us with some goals to cheer. I’m hoping for 3-0 or 4-0. Let’s see.

Wolves and Watford are still involved in the FA Cup this weekend, and both have away games to play in the league next. We have this game at home to Huddersfield and our next game is at home to Everton. That five point gap can be dramatically closed, or possibly eradicated completely by the end of March. If we can win these two games then we can definitely challenge for seventh place. Three points today is a must to enable this to happen.

West Ham visit Cardiff

West Ham were flying in December, but 2019 has been mixed. Can we take off in the run-in to claim seventh place?

December 2018 was a record month for the Hammers. Five wins in seven games including three at the start of the month against the Magpies, Bluebirds and Eagles. Those are the three flying creatures who we have done well against this season. Our record has not been as impressive however against the Seagulls or Hornets, neither of whom we have beaten. Today’s game gives us the opportunity to extend our run of consecutive wins against the team from the Welsh capital to eight. In fact our overall record against them is outstanding. Since December 1965 we have faced them on 22 occasions, winning 15, drawing 5, and losing just twice. Only one of those defeats came in our last 11 visits to play them in Cardiff.

2019 league results have a symmetrical feel to them with three wins, three draws and three defeats. Excellent performances to beat Arsenal and draw with Liverpool have been counter-balanced by defeats (and poor performances) at Bournemouth and Wolves. When I dusted down my crystal ball before a football had been kicked this season, I looked ahead to what I could see would be another predictable season in the top flight of English football. And as it turns out I haven’t been far wrong. My top six were Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal, and with just nine games remaining those half dozen clubs are 13 points clear of the sides chasing them. Not the hardest prediction to make I know, but nevertheless the group at the top show no signs of giving up their positions in the “elite six” in the Premier League. I may even have those six in the correct order by the season’s end, but if not, it won’t be far off.

I then guessed that the four teams who would be chasing them without any real hope of joining the group would be Wolves, Everton, Leicester and ourselves, and that too has turned out much as I expected as they occupy 7th, 9th, 10th and 11th.

Watford are the team that have surprised me, as they are currently 8th and level on points with Wolves for that coveted seventh place. In my predictions last August I felt that they would be one of the half dozen clubs in biggest danger of falling down into the Championship, the others being Bournemouth, Brighton, Fulham, Huddersfield and Cardiff. Not quite so accurate there, although the last three on that list are the clubs currently occupying the relegation places.

When the season began I am sure that Neil Warnock, the Cardiff manager, would have been more than delighted to still be in with a chance of avoiding the drop in March. At present they are just two points away from Southampton who are 17th ( realistically 3 points away from the bottom three when their goal difference is taken into account), and will believe that they can still be a Premier League side next season, although it will be a difficult task.

Five of their seven wins this season have come at home to Fulham, Brighton, Wolves, Southampton and Bournemouth, with two victories on their travels at Leicester and Southampton. Their double over Southampton, who are their nearest rivals for the drop as it currently stands, has been vital in keeping them in with a chance. They have drawn four games this season against Newcastle, Palace, and Huddersfield (twice) without a goal being scored in any of them. So based on that statistic alone, if a goal is scored in today’s game, then one of the two sides will come out on top. Cardiff don’t do score draws.

CARWHU1As more of our first team squad return to full fitness, our manager is given a greater choice in who he selects for both the starting eleven and the match day squad of 18. I was very impressed with Balbuena this season (he appeared on the front cover of the home game against Cardiff in December) and felt that his partnership with Diop was the way forward. But, despite not being Ogbonna’s biggest fan, due to what I perceive to be a tendency to occasionally “switch off” at vital times, I have enjoyed his recent stand-out performances, and he will be hard to displace in the starting eleven. Fredericks is beginning to find his feet in the side, and together with Cresswell (if fit) will surely occupy the full back berths. Surely not even the most ardent Adrian fans (and there are many) can argue against the choice of Fabianski as the number one custodian; he has exceeded most expectations with many faultless performances.

Rice and Noble will surely occupy the two “defensive” midfield slots, and of course they were our two goalscorers last week in the victory over Newcastle. That leaves four offensive positions to be filled. Surely Anderson and Lanzini will occupy two of them leaving the remaining places to be taken by Antonio (or perhaps Snodgrass), and then Hernandez (or Arnautavic). My preference would be for Antonio and Arnautavic, although Snodgrass has done little wrong. Hernandez has improved his play outside the box as the season has progressed, but I still remain unconvinced with his “fox in the box” reputation, and don’t believe he converts as many chances as I thought he would when we signed him. Of course Arnautavic remains a bit of an enigma (and always will be I suspect), but at his best he is a formidable striker who adds quite a goalscoring threat to our team.

Unusually for West Ham playing away from home we are favourites with the bookmakers to win the game at around 6/5, with the odds around 16/1 for us to repeat the scoreline in the reverse fixture on that cold early December Tuesday evening when we ran out 3-1 winners with two goals from Perez and one from Antonio. If we are serious in believing that we are a “big team” and that we can be the seventh best team in the Premier League, than these are the games that we must win just as the “big teams” do.

Three of the games that we have lost this season have been to Wolves (twice) and to Watford, our two main challengers for the seventh spot. Had we won those games then we would now be sitting on 48 points, 8 clear of Watford (whose tally would be 40, and 11 clear of Wolves who would be on 37). We have also lost twice to Bournemouth. Six more points and we could have been sitting pretty on 54 points only just outside of the top six. These are the games that we must do better in next season if we are going to push on and get nearer to those clubs at the top. But in addition to the matches against our closest rivals we must beat the teams who are struggling in the bottom half as well. A win in the Welsh capital today would help enormously in our attempt to reach seventh place.

The game after this one is at home to Huddersfield. Wolves have two away fixtures against Chelsea and Burnley coming up, whilst Watford face both Manchester clubs in their next two games. If results go our way we could be in seventh place with seven games of the season to go. That would be quite an achievement considering the lead we gave those two clubs after four games of the season, especially Watford who we trailed by 12 points at that time. But whatever the results elsewhere we must keep on winning, and I’m looking for a repeat of the 3-1 win that we achieved in December.

West Ham visit Manchester City

Will we get a “Once in a Blue Moon” victory?

49 years ago next month, one of the most prolific goalscorers in English football made his debut for West Ham. A certain Jimmy Greaves, aged only 30 at the time, but nearing the end of his career was acquired from Tottenham as part exchange in Martin Peters transfer to White Hart Lane. Greaves England career had ended in 1967 with 44 goals in only 57 international appearances, a phenomenal strike rate at that level, and it was hoped that his arrival would spark a revival in Hammers’ fortunes, as we were languishing in 17th place in the table with half a dozen games to go.

His first game in March 1970 was at Maine Road, then the home of Manchester City, at the time a mid-table team, although two seasons previously they had been league champions. The omens for an immediate impact didn’t look good. I can remember standing on the North Bank at Upton Park on a cold rainy day the previous December and watching in horror as City gave us a 4-0 thrashing. Contrary to popular belief among younger West Ham followers, Upton Park was never a fortress, and that day the atmosphere reached quite a low point. Ironically I can remember us having quite a lot of the game (they didn’t have possession statistics in those days so I have to rely on memory), and we created a number of chances to score with shots rebounding off the woodwork, and goalmouth scrambles.

On a quagmire of a pitch Francis Lee scored the only goal of the first half with a long range shot along the ground, and I can remember watching the Big Match the following day and Brian Moore’s comments along the lines of a suspicion that Bobby Ferguson was a little slow at getting down to it. In modern day parlance we would have said that he would have been disappointed to let it in. A young Ian Bowyer scored two headers in the second half, one from at least a dozen yards out, and the other resulting from non-existent West Ham marking. Doyle scored City’s fourth goal with a long range effort where Ferguson didn’t move. I’m sure he would have been disappointed with his effort to save once again!

So could Greaves inspire us in the return fixture three months later? You bet he could. He had a record of always scoring in his first game for new clubs and at all international levels and he didn’t disappoint. On a pitch that was even more of a quagmire than we saw at Upton Park in December he bagged two goals as did Geoff Hurst, although the game is remembered for a Ronnie Boyce volley from around the half-way line, returning Joe Corrigan’s clearance with interest. We won the game 5-1, astonishingly outperforming City’s win on our ground.

Now you would think that to win 5-1 at City is something that would happen once in a blue moon (sorry, I had to get that in somewhere!), but it wasn’t that unusual in that era! When I was a young boy (in the 1961-62 season) we won our away fixture at Maine Road by 5-3! Ironically we also lost the home game against them that season by 4-0!

Moving on to the following season (1962-63), we did even better winning 6-1 at Maine Road. A young Geoff Hurst, wearing the number 10 shirt for only the second time after being converted from a wing-half into a striker by Ron Greenwood, scored his first ever away goal in that game. In the final game of the season we repeated the early season victory winning 6-1 yet again, condemning City to relegation. Geoff Hurst scored twice this time, and finished the campaign with 15 goals in 29 appearances. As a wing-half the previous season he had netted just once in 24 games. We had unearthed a new goalscorer, and the rest (they say) is history.

Following the 5-1 success in 1970, we haven’t done too well in away fixtures at City since. Our next league win there came in 1982 when Paul Goddard scored the only goal of the game. And then we had to wait until the twenty-first century (2003) before another away win there when Freddie Kanoute scored the only goal of the game in our magnificent end of season revival under caretaker manager Sir Trev, which narrowly failed to keep us up, despite winning six and drawing four of our final eleven games. The damage had been done earlier in the season when we occupied a relegation place almost throughout.

Fast forward to the last season at the Boleyn (2015-16) for the next (and our last) win at City, and our first league win at the Etihad. When we met them early in that season we had already won our away games at Arsenal and Liverpool, so why not add City to the list? Moses and Sakho scored our goals past Joe Hart early in the game, with De Bruyne pulling one back just before half time. The expected onslaught came in the second half but we held firm. The statistics for that match made interesting reading, with City “beating us” 672-279 in passes, 16-3 in corners, 27-6 in shots, 89%-68% in pass accuracy, 50-7 in crosses, 66%-34% first half possession, and 78%-22% in second half possession. I don’t think that they had that nonsensical statistic of “expected goals” at the time, but it reinforces the fact that these statistics are a mere indicator of what has happened; it is only goals scored and conceded that really matters at the end of the day.

So, just three league wins at City since Jimmy Greaves made his debut for us all those years ago. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, with the financial aspect in English football being (almost) the over-riding factor in the success or otherwise of clubs at the top. It is no coincidence that the six biggest clubs in terms of revenue will finish (once again) in the top six places in the Premier League. City are one of those clubs and have had a lot of success in recent years. After a mid-season wobble they have almost recovered the ground on Liverpool, and I believe that they will go on to retain the title that they won last May with a record points tally. It will be closer this time, but with the depth of their squad I can see them coming out ahead of the nervous Merseysiders.

I have read some West Ham fans on social media talking up our chances tonight due to the fact that City went to extra time on Sunday before winning the Carabao Cup, the first of four possible trophies that they could win this season. The bookmakers don’t give us much of a chance with odds of around 18/1 on a victory (as high as 7/1 on a draw), and West Ham wins with a score of 1-0 or 2-1 around 50/1, or 2-0 around 100/1! It is quite an indictment of football in this country, and the Premier League in particular, that the team sitting in second place, playing at home to another team in the top half of the table, should be such overwhelming favourites to win the game. Of course upsets can happen, and we almost managed it last season, but it looks a tall order to say the least.

Nevertheless I shall have a small wager on a 2-1 West Ham win at 50/1 to repeat our last victory there. I’ll also have another fun bet on Arnie to score the first goal in the game, with Kompany to receive the first card in the game. I’ve got odds of 200/1 on that one. What are the chances? There are words in the lyrics of Blue Moon about saying a prayer I believe. We need to do that. I’m sure that the bookmakers have got it about right, but you have to dream, don’t you?

West Ham entertain Fulham in yet another match with a “non-standard kick-off time”

Who will come out on top in the derby between the “Former Managers of Premier League Champions”?

When ten-man Fulham held off Aston Villa to win the Championship Play-Off final barely nine months ago thanks to a first half goal from their captain Tom Cairney, I suspect that they did not believe that they would be in this predicament now. Promotion was gained in what many believe is the most exciting way, and there were high hopes that they could consolidate a position in the Premier League. The owner spent a not inconsiderable amount in the transfer market, and like Wolves, it was felt that they had given themselves a good shot at steering clear of the relegation places. They were certainly more fancied than Cardiff to retain their top flight status.

However after an horrific start the owner lost his nerve after a dozen games, sacked Jokanovic, and brought in Claudio Ranieri, hopefully to recreate the magic of his achievements at Leicester. It hasn’t improved much since then, and now Fulham, with an horrendous goal difference (-33), are effectively 9 points adrift of safety with just a dozen games to go. To achieve an average of a point a game by the end of the campaign, they would need to collect 21 points in their final 12 games, a tall order when you consider they have amassed just 17 points to date from 26 games.

Those 17 points have been won from just four wins and five draws, with their only victories coming over fellow strugglers in the bottom eight who are involved in the relegation dogfight, namely Burnley, Southampton, Huddersfield and Brighton. All of those wins have come at Craven Cottage, highlighting that their form away from home has been particularly miserable, with just two points gained from draws at Newcastle and Brighton. As a seasoned West Ham fan that is a worrying statistic.

As the season begins to approach its climax we sit in the top half in tenth place, in the pack of six clubs chasing seventh place, or perhaps being champions of the unofficial Premier League Division Two. Wolves and Watford lead that particular competition at the moment, but they can be caught by any of the four teams immediately below them, (Everton, ourselves, Bournemouth and Leicester) with a good run to the end of the season.

Certainly our six remaining home games against Fulham, Newcastle, Huddersfield, Everton, Leicester and Southampton are eminently winnable games, although I suspect (but hope otherwise) that we will pick up far fewer points on our travels, where, apart from Cardiff, the other five games are against teams in the top eight, with only Arsenal and Wolves from that octet having to wait until next season to meet us again.

It seems that our awful injury list is diminishing, and more players are available for this game. We have quite an array of (fit) attacking talent at our disposal, and I wonder how the manager will piece together four offensive players from this list: (a hopefully interested) Arnautavic, Chicarito, Carroll, Anderson, Snodgrass, Lanzini, Nasri, Antonio, Perez, Diangana, and Silva. This assumes that Fabianski, Zabaleta (or Fredericks), Cresswell, Diop, Ogbonna (or Balbuena), Noble and Rice will form the remainder of the team.

In order to provide a mixture of width and guile, and based upon recent form, I fully expect Antonio, Nasri, and Anderson to line up behind Arnautavic or Chicarito. I expect Lanzini to be eased back gently, and would see him playing a part from the bench. Who fills the other places waiting to come on later in the game is anyone’s guess but (apparently) Perez is out of favour, and Diangana, Silva, and possibly even Carroll may not make the 18. In addition to one of the right backs, and one of the centre backs, plus Adrian and Obiang, then Lanzini, Snodgrass and one of Arnautavic or Chicarito will probably make up the squad, unless there are any further questions re fitness.

Perhaps Carroll will be in the 18 to provide another attacking option in place of one of the more defensive minded options. Masuaku is another I haven’t mentioned, and his versatility could get him a squad place, although he would not be my choice. It may be a shame for Diangana and Silva to miss out, but their turn will come next season I’m sure. They have been in and around the squad in recent times and will benefit from the experience gained, and will get further opportunities once injuries start to kick in again!

Looking at the odds offered by leading bookmakers, they seem to believe that Fulham have a better chance in this game than form (ours at home, and theirs away) would suggest. We are only slightly odds on to win the game (around 5/6) and Fulham are quoted at around 11/4. Now if this wasn’t West Ham we were talking about then I would say there was easy money to made here. Will we see a performance like against Wimbledon or one that was so unlucky not to beat Liverpool? In view of the competition for places (and putting Fulham’s poor away form aside – it’s amazing how teams with records like this bring poor runs to an end against us!), I fully expect us to take them apart under the lights, and further condemn them in their (vain) battle to remain a Premier League team. It’s about time we had a five or six goal romp, and 6-0 is quoted at 125/1. The bookies aren’t particularly generous are they? When did we last win a game 6-0? Even Fulham are quoted at a paltry 150/1 to beat us 6-0! Now that wouldn’t be worth a bet at 150,000/1!

Crystal Palace versus West Ham Preview

Will the Hammers Take it to the Limit against the Eagles? Or will they Take It Easy?

You start to see the pressure on football managers when things start to go wrong. After an uninspiring draw against Leicester, most people fully expected Liverpool to bounce back and see off an out of form West Ham on Monday evening. But the Hammers being the Hammers lived up to their reputation of consistent inconsistency. How could a team who performed so miserably as to be dumped out of the FA Cup by lowly AFC Wimbledon, and then play even more abjectly (some would argue) against Wolves, possibly be a match for top of the table Liverpool? It is an easy one to answer. As I have written so many times before, with West Ham you never know what you are going to get. It is the West Ham way!

Considering how out of touch we had been in the matches leading up to this we performed admirably. It is hard enough to take on the top of the table team anyway without being subjected to one of the most appalling offside decisions (or rather lack of decision) that you will ever see. We were easily holding our own, and probably had the upper hand in the game when Milner, clearly in an offside position, received the ball from Lallana. He crossed to Mane who turned and scored. I’ve been writing about the need for VAR for years, and in this case, the “goal” would have comfortably been chalked off. But worse than that is the failure of the linesman to be able to see it with his eyes. Sometimes offside decisions can be difficult to call, and you cannot blame the linesman when the human eye only has fractions of inches to differentiate between offside and not offside. But this was not one of those occasions. The linesman seemed more interested in watching Lallana’s skill on the ball and found himself in the wrong position. Shocking.

What I found just as bad was the decision (or lack of it again) in the third minute of time added on, when the other linesman did not raise his flag when Origi was also clearly offside and should have put the ball in the net to win the match. That would have really compounded the injustice, but fortunately the Liverpool substitute demonstrated why he isn’t in the starting eleven.

But perhaps the most appalling aspect of the poor decisions made by the officials was listening to Klopp afterwards complaining about the referee favouring West Ham! In my opinion he had a nerve. I guess he was just trying to deflect the attention away from his players who had been outplayed by West Ham. We had the most shots on goal and deserved our point at the very least, but could easily have had all three points. Noble should definitely have scored in the second half after fine work by Anderson, and Rice once again missed a header on the stroke of half time that you would have expected him to score.

But all in all it was an excellent performance against the team on top of the league. Klopp made further excuses about injuries. But has he seen our first team squad injury list? The pressure looks like it is beginning to tell on Liverpool, and Manchester City, after recovering from their recent blip, may well have the ability to retain their title.

The Daily Telegraph had an interesting feature this week where they compared the progress of teams in the Premier League by assessing how many points they have attained at this stage of the season set against how many they had at exactly the same time in the last campaign. Liverpool top this “league” with +12, followed by Tottenham (+9), Watford (+7), and then we are one of three teams on +5 (with Arsenal and Bournemouth). Five teams have fewer points than at this stage last season with Huddersfield (-13), Burnley (-11), Manchester City (-7), Manchester United (-5), and Leicester (-2) showing their lack of progress. Having said that, Manchester City had a record breaking campaign last time, and may still win the title, without reaching the heights that they did then. They seem to have the strongest squad, and may be too strong for a nervous Liverpool team.

Today’s opponents sit 14th in the league just two places and six points below us, but only four points above the drop zone. Their next few games will decide whether they join us in the mid-table pack, or take part in the relegation dogfight. There are currently six teams in that contest who are not averaging a point a game, with Palace just above them. Their seven wins this season have been against Fulham (twice), Huddersfield, Burnley, Leicester, and most impressive of all, away wins at Wolves and Manchester City.

In fact they have picked up more points on their travels than at Selhurst Park, where they have only won three of their twelve home games. In those dozen games they have only scored 8 goals (and conceded 11), making games on their home ground the least entertaining in the Premier League in terms of goals by some margin. Away from home they have scored more than twice as many goals (and conceded more than twice as many also!). A worrying statistic is that Palace have only once this season recorded back to back victories. As they beat Fulham in their last game, this gives them the opportunity to double this.

Our head to head record against Palace is a positive one, and in fact the last seven games have resulted in wins for us or drawn games. Our last four visits to Selhurst Park have resulted in three wins and a draw. It should really have been four wins (oh Michail, why didn’t you take the ball into the corner?).

Apparently Arnautavic is now fit to resume his place in the squad, but can he displace Chicarito in the starting eleven, after the Mexican had one of his best games for us against Liverpool? They could be selected to play together but I believe that would upset the balance of the team. With the continued absence of so many players I expect the team to be as follows:

Fabianski;
Fredericks (or Zabaleta), Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell;
Rice, Noble, Snodgrass;
Antonio, Anderson;
Chicarito (or Arnautavic)

Our old boys, Tompkins and Kouyate are both doubtful due to injuries, but I notice that Zaha can play as he is in the process of challenging his ban for ironically applauding the referee who sent him off in a recent game. If his finishing could match his approach play then he would be some player but he has not been able to do this. Another statistic I noticed was that in the past two years the Palace penalty taker, Milivojevic, has scored 15 penalties, which puts him way ahead of all the other teams’ penalties in the league. I wonder how many of those kicks were awarded for fouls on Zaha?

In three of our last four visits to Selhurst Park there have been four goals scored in each match. Despite the dearth of goals at that ground in this season’s games I fully expect another four this time. If we are serious about pushing upwards to join the race for seventh place then this game is one we need to win, and I expect a 3-1 victory if we can reproduce the form of the Liverpool game. If we are not quite on the ball then there could be a repeat of last season’s 2-2 draw. And if the West Ham of the Wimbledon / Wolves games turns up then we could be on the receiving end of a 3-1 defeat.

If you fancy a small wager on our team then you can get 27/10 on a West Ham victory. A 3-1 win has odds of 28/1, and a 3-1 win with Issa Diop the unlikely scorer of the last goal in the match you can get odds of 1250/1. Any one of those three outcomes, or all three of them will do for me.

Liverpool visit West Ham – will we see the next Premier League winners tonight?

You’ll Never Walk Alone to the London Stadium

When I began to take an interest in football in the late 1950’s I have to confess I didn’t take a lot of notice of Liverpool as they were not a top flight team at the time. I was vaguely aware of them in the early sixties when I was updating my football league ladders (given away by comics at the time) as they were prominent in Division Two, and since they were champions of that league in 1961-62 they have barely looked back. It is not as if they hadn’t had success in football prior to then, as they had been winners of the First Division title five times before, beginning in the very early twentieth century, and for the fifth time just after the Second World War.

They had been going through a lean period by their standards, having been relegated in the 1950’s, and when they were knocked out of the FA Cup in 1958-59 by non-league Worcester City, they appointed a new Scottish manager, Bill Shankly, who became a club legend that completely transformed their fortunes, and since that time they have barely looked back. Following their promotion to the top tier they finished a creditable eighth in their first season, and then in 1963-64 they were league champions. This was therefore their sixth title, but now their record stands as champions of England 18 times. Bearing in mind that the last of these was in 1990, this demonstrates their dominance of English football throughout the sixties, and especially in the 1970s and 1980s. They go into tonight’s game two points clear at the top with a game in hand, desperately seeking their first title for almost thirty years.

WHULIV1

When we won the FA Cup in 1964, Liverpool had never won it at the time, but they did the year after, and their record now stands as having lifted the trophy 7 times. They have also been England’s most successful team in Europe and from the 1970s onwards they have won the European Cup or UEFA Champions League five times and the UEFA Cup three times.

Given this historical background it will come as no surprise that our head to head record against the Merseysiders is not an impressive one. They have beaten us 74 times to our 28, and in the twenty-first century we have only won 7 of the 34 meetings. In fact the last four games between the sides have been disastrous for us with Liverpool winning all of them and scoring four goals in each game. No team has ever scored four goals or more against a specific opponent on five consecutive occasions in the top flight since Arsenal managed the feat in the 1930s. Oh dear, that’s the kind of statistic I shouldn’t be mentioning!

Despite our poor overall record against them we have had many memorable games against Liverpool. The two with the highest profile were both Cup Finals. In 1981 when we were a second division side we met them in the League Cup Final, and lost after a replay. In 2006, we were seconds away from a famous 3-2 victory when up stepped Steven Gerrard with a wonder goal to take the game into extra time, and we subsequently lost the penalty shoot-out. Why didn’t Lionel Scaloni put the ball high into the stands when he should have?

But enough of defeats, what about some famous victories. In 2015-16 we won 3-0 at Anfield to end one of the longest running records of defeats at that ground that stretched back to 1963. Or the season before that when we led early on 2-0, Sterling pulled one back, before Amaltifano (remember him?) scored the winner close to the end. Even in our ill-fated relegation season under Avram Grant we led 2-0, Glenn Johnson pulled one back, and then Carlton Cole scored the winner with a scorching left-footed strike. I can even remember back to 1982-83 when we led 2-0, Liverpool pulled one back through Souness, and then Sandy Clark scored to give us a 3-1 win. You can probably see a pattern emerging here. We lead 2-0, Liverpool pull one back and then we score the winner. It has happened more than once!

Delving through my football programme collection I came across the one pictured above from 50 years ago this month. I recall the game clearly as I stood on the North Bank with friends on a very sunny Saturday afternoon. West Ham took the lead in the first half when, after some excellent work out wide on the right by Geoff Hurst, he crossed the ball for John Sissons to slam high into the net in front of the South Bank. Liverpool’s equaliser came at the same end in the second half, when after excellent wing play from Ian Callaghan, he crossed the ball for Roger Hunt to head home. I remember thinking at the time that Bobby Ferguson should perhaps have done a better job at keeping it out. The game ended 1-1. Liverpool finished as runners-up to Leeds that season, although neither of them scored more goals than we did (66). However their combined goals conceded (50) matched ours exactly, highlighting that our problems at the time were nothing to do with scoring goals, but more as a result of conceding them.

We have just 14 games left this season; what have we got to play for other than pride and finishing as high in the table as we can? We are now 7 points adrift of Wolves who lie seventh, so we’ll struggle to finish at the top of the clubs beginning with W even. We have a lengthy injury list – this is one area where we are the top team in the Premier League, and the bookmakers have us at 7/1 or thereabouts to win tonight’s game. Liverpool have won 19 of their 24 games this season losing just one (to Manchester City) so those odds are not realistic, they should be much longer.

But for no logical reason football sometimes provides us with an upset. Perhaps this evening we will go into a 2-0 lead, Liverpool will then score to set up an exciting climax, but we will then grab a winner. 3-1 to West Ham. The odds on us winning the game by that score are around 60/1. I can dream, can’t I?

FA Cup embarrassment for West Ham, now it is back to Premier League action

Will West Ham wobble when visiting Wolverhampton Wanderers as they wobbled when facing the Wombles of Wimbledon?

Prior to the FA Cup debacle on Saturday I headed my preview of the game “FA Cup embarrassment for West Ham?” Somehow you could just see it coming given our appalling record against lower league opposition and I could easily have left off the question mark when writing the piece. Once again social media went into overdrive, both during the game and afterwards, with opinion on what happened. For me it was a case of not really wanting to be in Wimbledon on a Saturday night facing a team prepared to give everything, and totally make a nonsense of their position at the foot of League One. At the same time we made a nonsense of our position in the top half of the Premier League.

As a supporter of over 60 years I felt that our performance in the first half was right up there with the most appalling I have ever seen. Who was to blame? Well firstly the players on the pitch, and secondly the manager who has previous in underestimating the opposition going back to his Manchester City days.

For this game he thought he could win the game by resting Fabianski, Zabaleta, Cresswell, Rice, Nasri and Anderson. And that ignores the soap opera going on with our “talisman” Arnautavic. What is the reasoning behind this? We are nowhere near getting involved in the relegation scrap, so why is the FA Cup not our top priority? Of course I know the reason behind this; it is all about money.

But this was a competition we could possibly win. Ask our fans whether they would prefer a trip to Wembley for the FA Cup Final or a finishing place of seventh in the Premier League. I think I know the answer that the overwhelming majority would give. We certainly are not able to challenge for the top places in the Premier League, but you don’t have to win many games to lift the FA Cup. Just six actually. And the way that this year’s competition has worked out, and with the luck of the draw, it might have been an easier task for us than usual. How many Premier League teams went into last night’s draw for the fifth round? Not a lot, as Paul Daniels might have said. Interesting that our conquerors face a home tie in Round 5 against another team from South London, a side not exactly popular with our fans. That could have been us!

Shortly after the end of the game our missing Austrian striker appeared in a video uploaded for all to see. He said that he is back, just like his thespian similar namesake told us he would be, in The Terminator. I wasn’t aware he had actually been away! Apparently he loves the London Stadium and West Ham and we should only believe what he is saying. So what was all that nonsense from his brother / agent about going to China to win trophies? Surely if he loved West Ham so much then he would have been available for the last couple of games and in the right frame of mind?

So before we are even in February what is there left for us to win this season? For a start there is the unofficial Premier League Division 2 title. The league has neatly divided into three divisions. There is the top ‘elite’ six (Division 1), who are the same six clubs virtually every year; there is the battle to avoid relegation (Division 3), currently being contested by the bottom 7 teams; and finally there is the middle section (Division 2) of which we are one of the competing teams. Only Brighton do not fit neatly into one of the categories at the moment as they hover in no-mans-land between Divisions 2 and 3.

Another competition that we could win is the unofficial title of champion club beginning with the letter ‘W’. There are only three of us competing in the Premier League this season, namely Watford, Wolves and ourselves. Watford are currently on top with 33 points, closely followed by today’s opponents Wolves on 32, and then we bring up the rear on 31. This could be a very exciting contest in the remainder of the season and gives us something else to play for!

And while I am writing about teams beginning with a certain letter of the alphabet I would like to pay tribute to the English football “L’s”. There are 92 clubs in the Football League and a further 24 in the Vanarama National League, the fifth tier of the game. That is 116 in total. How many can you name who begin with the letter L? Well you have Liverpool, Leeds, Luton, Lincoln, Leyton Orient, and one more that I have forgotten, oh yes, Leicester. The amazing thing for fans of the letter L is that the first five I have named are currently the top teams in the Premier League, Championship, League One, League Two and Vanarama League respectively. How uncanny is that?

Avid readers of the Sun will have noticed on Saturday a column “Top Tips” where they make betting suggestions. I will repeat part of the column here. “The team worth a punt for me (to win the FA Cup) is West Ham. Not wanting it is not an option. Hammers fans are quicker than anyone about reminding their players of their obligations. And in Wimbledon tonight they all but have a ticket to the last 16 already. As Paddy Power says “West Ham have nothing else to play for”. Paddy make the Hammers a generous 16-1 to win it. But the bet I really like is the monster 8-1 Coral offer on them making the semis”. I hope you didn’t invest too heavily here!

In betting terms West Ham are undoubtedly one of the most unreliable teams that you can bet on. They have proved that consistently. I have a small wager on them from time to time (with small being the key word). I wonder if Kevin Dunne will refer back to Saturday’s column when he puts forward his suggestions in his article next week?

So what will happen tonight? Wolves themselves are hardly at the peak of their form, only just scraping a replay at Shrewsbury on Saturday. Our players need to put in a performance to begin to atone for Saturday. With the return of the seven players I mentioned earlier who were left out of the starting line-up against Wimbledon, I fully expect a totally different kind of showing from our team.

But as we all know, this is West Ham, anything can possibly happen. A 4-2 win for the Hammers is on offer at around 100/1. It might be a fun bet, but I wouldn’t put your house on it.