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.

Dances With Canis Lupus

Matchweek Four sees the visit of newly-promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers to the London Stadium

If you had just landed in your spaceship after a long journey from another planet and looked at the Premier League table, then you might think to yourself that, despite West Ham sitting at the foot of the table with zero points, a match against a newly-promoted Wolves team sitting in fourteenth place, and without a win themselves, would be the ideal game for the Hammers to get off the mark for the season.

If you delved further into what has happened in their first three games, you might not think that West Ham’s task would be an easy one however, although in many respects, despite performing admirably in all three games, Wolves could just as easily be propping up the table themselves, alongside us, without a point.

In their opening fixture at home to Everton, they twice had to come from behind to draw the game with their second equaliser coming just a few minutes from time. However they were helped by a referee (Pawson) who (perhaps) controversially sent off Everton’s Jagielka just before half time. They did look quite impressive, but it is always easier to do so with a man advantage.

In their second game at Leicester they once again had a numerical advantage for the last half hour after Vardy had been sent off, but despite another good performance they failed to capitalise and lost the game 2-0.

Last weekend they were at home to champions Manchester City and after taking the lead were happy to settle for an unlikely draw. Once again they looked well organised; but if VAR had been in operation the Wolves goal would have been chalked off when the referee failed to spot Boly’s handball (and offside) goal. They gave City a bigger test than many sides do, but were fortunate in that they only conceded once, as their opponents hit the woodwork three times.

Our own performance against Arsenal last weekend was much improved, and in many respects we were unlucky to not get at least a point from the game, which could even have been three points if the players had remembered to pack their shooting boots. It was pleasing to see that Anderson began to show glimpses of why his transfer fee was as high as it was.

Against AFC Wimbledon in midweek most of our players had good games, and we ourselves were helped by the dismissal (a bit harsh I thought) of an opponent centre back after 17 minutes. We had gone behind in the second minute thanks to Ogbonna at a corner once again concentrating on trying to block the man he was marking, not watching the ball, and being beaten in the air. I also believe that Adrian would have been disappointed that he could not keep the header out. What I can’t understand is why nobody on the West Ham coaching staff is pointing out to our experienced Italian international the error of his method of defending at corners which was a copy of the Bournemouth winner just a fortnight ago.

For me there were excellent performances from many of the players, especially Snodgrass, Rice and Diop. Hernandez, known for his goalscoring as opposed to his general play, missed several chances to score by not even connecting cleanly with the ball, and even the goal he scored at the end was fortunate. For me he should be an impact substitute at best and certainly not a starter in our best eleven.

Bookmakers expect the game this weekend to be a close affair with 1-1 being the most likely score according to the odds they have set. We are marginal favourites at 6/4 to win the game, although our opponents are priced at around 9/5 with 12/5 for a draw. With my trusty optimistic hat once more on my head I’m predicting a 2-1 win which is priced at 8/1. With more difficult fixtures in the pipeline we could really do with three points from this game, otherwise we are likely to spend some time near the bottom of the table looking upwards, a similar situation to the past two seasons. Five of our next six games see us facing Everton, Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham and Leicester. And even the easiest game of the six (on paper) against Brighton will not be one to look forward to if last season’s two games against them are anything to go by.

One table where we often find ourselves near the top in recent times is the one where they work out how many points teams drop in a season from a winning position. After just three games this time around we find ourselves at the top once again having already dropped six points from being in the lead in two of our matches. Let us hope that this time we can score first and retain the advantage to pick up the much-needed three points and begin to climb the table.

West Ham in August

What does history tell us about the games West Ham play in the month of August? How important is it to get off to a good start? We look at a few seasons from the past to see if they give us a clue, mainly concentrating on those with an eight at the start such as 1958-59, 1968-69, right up to the present 2018-2019.

As August moves into September, summer begins to turn into autumn, and schoolchildren prepare for a new year at school. The new football season is already underway and, although the league tables mean little at this stage, we begin to get a feel for how the next nine months are likely to unfold. In just a couple of months I will be “celebrating” (if that is the right word) sixty years of following West Ham. My first visit to Upton Park was in November 1958, and my interest in following the team had already begun as that season had got underway in August. Promotion had been achieved the previous May when we finished at the top of Division Two and our return to Division One would be our first season in the top flight since we were relegated in 1932. That disastrous season (1931-32) had begun so well with winning the two games played in the month of August to take us into third place in the league. It ended with losing our last seven games, only picking up one point in our last ten matches and plummeting to the very foot of the table.

So after more than a quarter of a century outside of the elite, we began season 1958-59 with high hopes. There were three games to be played in the month of August, beginning with an away fixture at Portsmouth, followed two days later when we welcomed the champions from the previous season (Wolves), and then a home game against Aston Villa. Three games in a week and we won them all. The 2-0 win over Wolves (who would go on to be league champions again) was particularly satisfying, although the 7-2 slaughter of Aston Villa meant that we finished the month with nine points and eleven goals from the first three games. Incredibly we were only second in the league. An excellent season followed with a final league position of sixth. John Dick was my first favourite player and he ended the season as top scorer with 27 league goals (out of the 85 league goals scored by the team). We were fun to watch as we conceded 70 that season too.

Moving forward ten years to one of my favourite ever seasons (1968-69), we played seven league games in the month of August. Fifty years ago. This was the era of Moore, Hurst, Peters, Bonds and Brooking. The Beach Boys topped the music charts with Do It Again as the first month of the season drew to a close. We’d won five and drawn one of these fixtures, including wins of 5-0 and 4-0 to sit third in the league. We were just about to play our opening league cup game that season where we despatched Bolton 7-2. Despite remaining unbeaten throughout September we couldn’t keep it up but still finished eighth at the end of May. More draws than any other team in the division (18) and failure to win any of our last nine games stopped us from finishing higher.

Jumping ahead another ten years and 1978-79 finds us in Division Two after relegation the previous May. We still had Bonds and Brooking, together with Cross, Devonshire, Lampard (snr) and Pop Robson. Two wins and a draw from the league matches in August put us second in the league, but an inconsistent season followed and we finished fifth, just missing out on promotion, despite the strength of the team.

After our last major trophy winning the FA Cup in 1980 as a second division team, and a record-breaking promotion winning season that followed, we remained in the top flight for a few years but in 1988-89 we finished next to bottom and were relegated once again. Only one league match was played in August that season and we lost it 4-0. Moving ahead ten years again and 1998-99 had three August games, and again we were unbeaten with one win and two draws. And finally ten years ago in 2008-09 we won three of our four August games (two of them by a 4-1 scoreline) to lie fourth in the table.

This season has bucked the general ten year trend in that we have lost all three league games and sit at the foot of the table. I’ve looked back through (my) living memory and find that in the last sixty years our league position at the end of August is better than where we finish up in May roughly half of the time, and not as good as the final league position the other half. One thing is for certain; our final league position next May cannot be any worse than where we are now!

On eleven occasions in the past sixty years we have been in the top three at the end of August, and in two of those we have been top (1983-83, 1989-90). But some of our best ever seasons have not started particularly auspiciously. In our record breaking promotion season of 1980-81 we were seventh at the end of August, before running away with Division Two by the end. And two other second division promotion seasons (1990-91 and 1992-93) found us in 14th and 18th respectively at the end of the first month before the final finishing position of second. In our best ever season (1985-86) when we finished third in the table and came close to becoming champions for the only time, we were languishing in 17th by 31 August.

What does all this prove? To borrow and amend a financial phrase, past performance in the month of August is not necessarily indicative of future results throughout the remainder of the season. So don’t press the panic button yet as hopefully there is still plenty to be optimistic about for this season!

West Ham visit the Emirates Stadium to face Arsenal

Nineteenth Plays Seventeenth – Our first relegation six-pointer this season

In the middle of June when I first saw the Premier League fixture list for this season, how many points did I think that we would have by the end of August? The optimist in me, balanced against the realist, thought that after our first three games, two tough away fixtures at Liverpool and Arsenal, and an easier (on paper) game at home to Bournemouth, that we would have three points. An average of roughly one point per game for 38 games is what is needed to achieve the first target; that is survival to play in the top flight for a further season, and reap the rich financial rewards for doing so. Of course I hoped for nine points, but even the world’s most optimistic West Ham fan wouldn’t have dreamt of a start like that. We could, of course, still reach three points from three games, but that will require a victory at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday, and realistically how likely is that?

Many will point to the fact that if you look at the league table then getting something out of the game is very possible. After all, although we rose from the bottom into nineteenth place on Sunday, thanks to Manchester City’s (expected) demolition of Huddersfield, Arsenal only sit in seventeenth place themselves, level on zero points but with a goal difference superior to our own. Gunners fans would argue that you could hardly get two much tougher opening fixtures than facing Manchester City and Chelsea, and their realistic supporters probably also expected to have three points after three games when they realised that the Hammers were third game up. History will tell you that we don’t often win away games at Arsenal, although they are not as rare as wins at Anfield. I have witnessed it more than once, the most memorable being the “I was there” 2-0 victory at Highbury in the quarter-final of the FA Cup in 1975, one of the times we went on to lift the trophy at Wembley. But at that time Arsenal weren’t the force that they have been over the last couple of decades or more. Even though we finished in the bottom half of Division One in that “cup-winning” season, Arsenal were three places below us.

My first visit of this season to the London Stadium last weekend was a big disappointment. I fully expected us to beat the Cherries, especially so at half-time when we led 1-0, although the lead was perhaps more than we deserved. As the first half wore on Bournemouth began to realise that their attacks down the flanks behind our full backs were not bearing fruit, and that there might be a simpler way through the gaping hole right in the middle of our defence. The lack of a competent defensive midfielder (such as Pedro Obiang, inexplicably in my view left on the bench), and two centre backs lacking real pace, unused to playing together, too far apart, prone to switching off, and perhaps better suited to facing bigger (in stature) strikers of years gone by, was a godsend to a Bournemouth attack which had both the pace and skill to exploit the situation. It was only poor finishing and the fine reflexes of Fabianski that stopped them being at least level at the break.

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However, I can just picture the Bournemouth dressing room at the interval, and their fine young astute manager, Eddie Howe, pointing out the frailties of the West Ham defence, and how they could benefit from it. And whilst I could admire the Callum Wilson goal where he left five defenders in his wake (even though I had left him out of my fantasy football team that weekend!), I was disappointed to say the least in the abject defending that allowed him to do so. And the second goal was just as bad. Ogbonna, who I am afraid has never been my favourite centre back, was solely to blame in my view, firstly for losing his marker and getting on the wrong side when he should easily have won possession if he had been concentrating properly, secondly for conceding the foul in a dangerous position, thirdly for not watching the ball as the free kick was being taken (being more interested in obstructing the man he was facing), and finally allowing the header which ultimately won the match. The introduction of Rice to play as a central defender, and given the opportunity of a long run in the team, cannot come too soon from my point of view.

I have written more than once in these blog articles about the timing of football matches with regard to time wasting. I have championed (and will continue to do so) the simple method of having a clock in the stadium controlled by a timekeeper behind the scenes, who every time the ball the ball is out of play stops the clock, and starts it again when play resumes. The whole concept of time wasting would be totally eliminated with this simple procedure, plus everyone in the stadium would know exactly how long there was to go. Goal celebrations are a big thing in football these days (it is amusing to look back in time to see how they have changed), and as each of the Bournemouth goals went in I looked at my watch to time how long it would take for the game to be re-started. On each occasion it was almost two minutes. If you add to this the time taken for the second half substitutions to take place (especially the Bournemouth ones), and the lengthy (but understandable if you can get away with it!) time-wasting of the Bournemouth players, the feigning of injuries, and time taken to take goal kicks, then I fail to see how a referee can deem that only four minutes should be added.

But having said that, having just witnessed one of the poorest displays of refereeing that I have seen in years from Mr. Atwell, then perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. The loss of the match was in no way attributable to his poor performance, but the total lack of respect / confidence in him by the players, the way he kept stopping the game for silly things, his lack of using the advantage rule even once, his inconsistency in approach, in addition to the poor time-keeping, was a reflection of a bad day at the office for this official. I hope not to see him spoil a game of football again. Having witnessed the (generally) excellent refereeing in the World Cup tournament in the summer, it was a shame to see a domestic game handled so poorly.

Few of the West Ham players had impressive games and collectively we just do not look like a team yet. Hopefully it will happen sooner rather than later. A third straight defeat this weekend would leave us playing catch-up in the league, a similar situation to the past two seasons. For me, Fabianski, Wilshere, Snodgrass, Arnie, and Masuaku (when he was attacking only) had OK games, as did the three substitutes, Yarmolenko, Perez and Sanchez who all gave brief glimpses in their cameos of why they should become good acquisitions. I have to say I was expecting to see more from a player that supposedly cost over £40 million, and hope that he will begin to demonstrate this soon. I haven’t got a clue as to the manager’s thinking on team selection for this game, but for me, Rice in central defence, and Obiang in midfield would be my first two names on the teamsheet. For this game perhaps Sanchez could be selected alongside Obiang to provide even more defensive cover, with Wilshere pushed further forward into the so-called number 10 role.

My team selection for this game in a 4-2-3-1 formation would be: Fabianski; Zabaleta, Rice, Balbuena, Cresswell; Obiang, Sanchez; Anderson, Wilshere, Snodgrass: Arnautavic. If we played with three centre backs, Rice, Balbuena and Diop, then I would be more than happy for Fredericks and Masuaku to occupy wing-back roles as opposed to Zabaleta and Cresswell. Yarmolenko may not be 100% yet, but he will certainly be pushing for a starting place along with Perez. For me, Ogbonna, Noble, Antonio and Hernandez would just be squad players with places on the bench at best, but it is all about opinions and some would disagree.

The bookmakers’ odds for the game tell you what they believe will happen. The odds on a 4-0 Arsenal victory (14/1) are shorter than the price of a West Ham 1-0 win (17/1). Aubameyang is priced at only 10/1 to score a hat-trick, only slightly longer than the West Ham odds to win the game (8/1). Jack Wilshere has been quoted in the London papers as saying that it is “a good time to play Arsenal.” If you believe that he will score the first goal of the game, and that West Ham will win 2-0 (as they did on the opening day of the season at Arsenal just three years ago), then you can get a return of £3500 from a £10 stake. A £10 bet on Lucas Perez inflicting the same first goal on his previous employers in a 2-0 win would yield £2100.

Idris Elba (a Gunners fan) is up against Lawrenson this week and predicts a 6-0 victory as opposed to Lawrenson’s more conservative 2-0. “Football expert” Lawrenson trails his guests (not football experts!) after two weeks of the season with his predictions so far, which just goes to show that you don’t need to be a so-called “expert” to have a view on what will happen in football, and that the opinions of fans can be just as valid as those of pundits who have played the game at the highest level. For no logical reason based on past performances away at Arsenal, or our form this season to date, I will however don my optimistic hat once again and forecast a 2-0 victory for West Ham to kick-start our season and get us back on track to my thinking of three points after three games.

Stranger things have happened. Just three seasons ago, in the final season at Upton Park, our opening four games were (on paper) easy home games against Bournemouth and Leicester, and tough away fixtures at Arsenal and Liverpool. I thought then that we would hopefully have six points after the four matches and that is exactly what we had. But not in the way that I thought! We lost the home fixtures to Bournemouth and Leicester, but beat both Arsenal and Liverpool away from home scoring five goals without conceding at all. You never know quite what you are going to get when you follow West Ham, and perhaps that is part of the beauty of supporting them.

Keep Calm and Carry On Blowing Bubbles

“I Can’t Keep Calm I Support West Ham!”

It is amusing that we can get reminded of little things from Dad’s Army in other situations. Whilst watching the Liverpool FC love-in, otherwise known as Liverpool v West Ham on Sky TV last Sunday, my mind turned to a couple of phrases from the well-loved comedy programme of the 1960s and 1970s. Lance Corporal Jones (played by Clive Dunn) had a couple of famous catchphrases. One was “they don’t like it up ‘em” which I thought of when the commentary team were referring to Liverpool’s pressing on the West Ham players which they found distinctly uncomfortable, not giving them the chance to dwell on the ball. It would be good to see us doing the same to other teams. The other phrase was “don’t panic, don’t panic” which I was reminded of when reading some of the mass hysteria generated by West Ham fans writing on social media after the game.

OK, so the game could have gone better. We could have put up a better show. That is twelve Premier League season-opening games that we have lost now. More than any other team. But let us face reality. The top six teams in the Premier League are now so far ahead of the remaining 14 that it is very unlikely that they will drop many points against the lesser teams, especially when they are playing at home. Liverpool appeared in the Champions League final just three months ago. They have since strengthened an already outstanding team by spending more money than any other Premier League club. In Mane, Firmino and Salah, they had three players who scored almost 100 goals between them last season. They put four goals past Manchester City at Anfield in the league in January, and five past the same team in the two legs of the Champions League semi-final in the Spring. Manchester City won the league with over 100 points and are a far superior team in every respect compared to us. There was a good chance that our newly constructed defence / team would have difficulty in keeping them out. I reckon they will put as many goals past many other teams this season.

You only have to study the revenue figures and wage bills of Premier league clubs to realise how big an advantage the so-called elite six have over the rest of us. For the season 2016-17 figures were released in May 2018. In terms of revenue Manchester United were at the top at £581 million going down to Tottenham in sixth at £306 million. Leicester were seventh at £233 million, although these figures were bolstered by a one-off season of Champions League income of £70 million, which I suspect will not be repeated at any time in the near future for the Foxes or any other of the teams below them in the revenue table. West Ham were eighth at £183 million and were followed closely by Southampton and Everton. You then have a sizeable gap to Palace in eleventh at £141 million with the rest of the bottom half trailing down to Hull at £117 million. With TV and broadcasting income of £100 million upwards this demonstrates the reliance that clubs have on that money.

It is no coincidence how the make-up of the Premier League table reflects both the revenue figures and the wages bills of clubs. It is interesting to note that of the bottom eight teams in terms of revenue in 2016-17, six of them have been relegated in the past two seasons, namely West Brom, Stoke, Swansea, Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Hull. The two that have survived, and have therefore possibly over-performed are Watford and Burnley. So it is likely that the top six will dominate for years to come, and continue to walk over the others just as Liverpool did last weekend. In fact I fear that Manchester City and Liverpool will even break away from the other four to an extent and be the top two well ahead of the rest. And to make matters even worse in respect of equality, the top six clubs have won their battle to gain a larger share of the overseas TV rights from the season after this one. As there needs to be a vote of at least 14 of the Premier League clubs to effect a change such as this one, it makes you wonder how they got away with it. It must have taken astonishing diplomatic skill by Richard Scudamore the outgoing Chief Executive to persuade the majority that because the leading clubs claim to be the leading attractions they should receive more. In my view it is an iniquitous move that will only serve to widen the gulf between the “elite” and the rest.

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Going back to the coverage of last week’s game I was very disappointed once again with the lop-sided coverage provided by Sky TV. The commentary team and pundits drooled over Liverpool from the start and a casual observer would hardly have known who they were playing against. And who were the pundits? Jamie Redknapp. Jamie Carragher. Graeme Souness. Not a lot of West Ham representation there! At one stage I was so disgusted with the commentary that I turned down the sound completely and just watched the pictures. I didn’t watch any of the post-match analysis. The drivel I listened to at half-time was more than enough. They all jumped upon the “high line” posed by our defence and would not give it a rest, continually going over and over the same point.

But, to use the titles of two popular songs from the eighties and nineties, “things can only get better” from here, and “the only way is up.” Well, not strictly true, as we could stay at the bottom of the league. But we won’t. We have too much talent for that and will start to show it in our first home game against Bournemouth, a repeat of the opening home league fixture at the London Stadium two years ago, which we won with a late Antonio header.

It will be interesting to see the team selection for the game. On the evidence of the first game alone I was impressed with our new Polish goalkeeper, and felt he did little wrong and should continue between the posts in preference to Adrian. Of course the army of Adrian lovers on social media will disagree with me, but there is more needed than passion for the club to justify selection for the team (a similar situation to the followers of James Collins, perhaps?). Will we continue with a back four, or will we go with a three and play with two wing backs? Certainly if Fredericks and Masuaku are chosen then the latter option is better suited to their abilities. Central midfield continues to worry me, and if I were selecting the team then Obiang would be my first name there. I believe that he is the only one at the club with the mobility and athleticism to fulfil the defensive role, although Sanchez has been bought as a short-term fix in this position, and it will be interesting to see how quickly he is brought into the squad. Rice is a fine prospect, but for me he needs to play as a defender. I’m sure Wilshere will come good and start to dominate games. I have high hopes for him. He was fouled more times (5) than any of our players. If only we could make better use of free-kicks and not turn them into goal-scoring opportunities for our opponents! Much as I’ve loved Mark Noble over the years I believe that the modern Premier League has changed, and his best years are behind him. But despite this the statistics show he had the most touches of any of our players (78), the most passes (67), and the most passes in Liverpool’s half (29). Not that they achieved much.

I’m also convinced that our array of attacking players will cause many problems for opposing teams, certainly those in the 14-team “division two” of the Premier League. Yarmolenko, Anderson, Antonio, Arnautavic, Hernandez, Cullen, Snodgrass, Perez, and then later on Carroll and Lanzini give the manager a selection of differing offensive skills that would be the envy of many clubs. What we need of course is for them to gel sooner rather than later.

So what will happen against Bournemouth? The bookmakers agree with me regarding a West Ham victory and have odds of around 11/10 for us to win the game. You can get around 12/5 on either a Bournemouth victory or a draw. West Ham wins of 1-0 or 2-1 are both priced at 15/2, and if you believe that we will win more convincingly then you can get 9/1 on 2-0, 14/1 on 3-1 (my prediction), or 18/1 on 3-0. So many football games seem to have a 4-1 scoreline and this is priced at 33/1.

And finally, returning to the war theme, a message for our fans with a parody of the 1939 motivational poster produced by the Government at the time. “Keep calm and carry on blowing bubbles.” I was very amused by a T shirt worn by one of our fans with a satirical imitation of the poster that read “I can’t keep calm I support West Ham!” That is old-fashioned East End humour at its best.

2018-19 – A new campaign for West Ham to move to the next level?

A new manager, new backroom staff, many new players, and let us hope for a better season. But is it enough to move on to the next level? What are the odds?

We ended last season at the London Stadium in style with an emphatic win over Big Sam’s Everton. It was the end of Big Sam and also signalled the end of David Moyes following his short tenure as our manager. He did what he came here to do (to ensure we were not relegated) and was no doubt paid handsomely for it. The owners felt that we needed a change to “take us to the next level” and Manuel Pellegrini was installed as the new boss.

Premier League clubs voted for a shortened transfer window this time around, and may have shot themselves in the foot with the window elsewhere remaining firmly open whilst the weather remains warm until the end of the month, enabling foreign raids on our clubs until then. The general consensus among Hammers fans is that this has been one of our better windows, and the owners certainly seem to have dug deeper in their pockets this time around with the hope of avoiding the calamities of the last two seasons. Who would have thought when the last season ended that West Ham would buy more players than there would be days when it rained in the close season?

But can we reach the “next level”? What exactly is the “next level”? If you study the odds on offer among the vast array of bookmakers throughout the country then there is a certain similarity of where they all believe clubs will finish in the Premier League. Not surprisingly, Manchester City are odds on to retain the title and Liverpool are clear second favourites at 4/1. Then come Manchester United 7/1, Chelsea 12/1, Tottenham 14/1 and Arsenal 25/1. So that’s the top six sorted. Same as last time, the same top six elite, the clubs with the biggest revenues will fill the top six places again. As predictable as ever according to the odds makers.

Following hot on the heels of the top six, well not exactly on the heels but trailing behind at a distance, bookmakers have four clubs all priced in the region of 250/1 to fill places 7-10. Those clubs are (in no particular order, because the order varies from bookmaker to bookmaker) Everton, Wolves, Leicester, and West Ham. So we are well fancied to finish in the top half, and even as high as seventh place, but will not realistically be challenging the elite six. I suppose you could call that the next level?

As a matter of interest the next four clubs are priced generally in the 500/1 to 750/1 bracket – Palace, Newcastle, Southampton and Burnley. And finally the bottom six in the betting market at odds of between 750/1 up to 2000/1 are Bournemouth, Brighton, Fulham, Watford, Huddersfield and Cardiff.

Of course the aim of all fourteen clubs that make up the “also-rans” in the Premier League should be to break into the top six, but unfortunately the aim of many is to secure at least seventeenth place for a return visit next season. I’d like to think that our goal is to consolidate a position comfortably in the top half of the table, with a target of finishing in seventh place, and hopefully finishing as close to the top six as possible. If you believe that we can force our way into the elite group then you can get odds of between 9/1 and 12/1 to achieve this. Now that really would be the “next level”!

West Ham thank Jon Moss for the moment when safety for another season was guaranteed

With just two games of the Premier League season to play we were safe – following the point gained against Manchester United, how high can we get in the table with a win today?

Sunday 22 February 2015. West Ham playing at White Hart Lane. Ten minutes to go and we lead 2-0. Being West Ham you have a good idea what can happen. A mis-hit shot brings it back to 2-1. The referee Jon Moss adds on five minutes of extra time. The time passes slowly but we hang on. The five minutes are up but Tottenham are attacking. The ball goes into our penalty area, Harry Kane goes down, penalty. You could see it coming, but it was very soft. Just time for the penalty kick to be taken and then the final whistle should blow. Kane steps up and the kick is saved. Moss should blow the whistle for full time straight away. But he doesn’t. He just allows time for the rebound from our keeper to be put back into our net. 2-2. Poor refereeing. We were robbed.

Sunday 17 April 2016. West Ham playing at Leicester. The ninety minutes is up and we lead 2-1. Being West Ham you have a good idea what can happen. The referee Jon Moss adds on four minutes of extra time. Three minutes 35 seconds have elapsed and Valencia has the ball. Just keep the ball in our possession and the game is won. Oh dear. Valencia fails to keep the ball under control and Leicester regain possession and move towards our penalty area. Three minutes and 56 seconds have gone, and Andy Carroll lightly brushes against a Leicester player who throws himself to the ground. Book him for blatant diving! But Mr. Moss has other ideas and awards a penalty. Leicester score. 2-2. Poor refereeing. We were robbed.

Saturday 5 May 2016. We beat Leicester and reach 38 points. Everton playing at home to Southampton. If Southampton do not win the game then we are mathematically safe from relegation. Southampton had a midweek fixture at Swansea to look forward to after this game. Therefore only one of them could overtake us. Stoke and West Brom both could not. Southampton take the lead in the game and hold on to the slender goal advantage as 90 minutes is up. The board is raised and indicates an additional four minutes. At this time a Southampton player suddenly goes down with an injury. Teams know that injuries in time added for injuries rarely get fully added. He stays down for about a minute.

The ball is pumped deep into the Everton half close to their corner flag and an additional five minutes has now elapsed. The referee is a long way away as he is struggling to keep up with play. Redmond tackles an Everton defender. The linesman who is standing close by sees nothing wrong with the tackle. Jon Moss from some distance away does though, and awards a free kick which is dubious to say the least. Everton take the kick about 15 yards ahead of where the alleged infringement took place. About a minute later the ball ends up in the Southampton net via a wicked deflection. Mark Hughes is furious. All Southampton fans cannot believe it. But thanks to Jon Moss West Ham are safe. Of course the result of one match on its own isn’t the reason we will be playing in the Premier League next season. But this was the moment when safety was assured. Poor refereeing. Southampton were robbed. But we don’t care. Thank you Jon Moss.

And who was the referee appointed for our Thursday night game at home to Manchester United? Of course you know the answer. Mr. Moss refereed a tedious game but kindly refrained from sending off Mark Noble when many referees would have done so when he raised his arms to Pogba.

The point against United moved us up to 39 points and we remained in 15th place in the table, just two points adrift of tenth placed Newcastle. None of the teams from 10th to 15th are playing each other, so theoretically we could still end up in the top half of the table with the right set of results. With a difference of around £2 million for each additional place in the final table at stake, then a rise of 5 places could add £10 million to the “kitty”.  For this to happen we need to beat Everton and then hope that Chelsea beat Newcastle, West Brom beat Palace. Burnley beat Bournemouth, Manchester United beat Watford, and Liverpool beat Brighton.

The accumulative odds against those six results occurring is around 56-1, so of course the chances of us finishing tenth are very slim. Nevertheless it is not impossible and worth a couple of pounds of my money as a fun bet. I don’t honestly believe it will happen as Newcastle and Palace will win their games in my opinion. But switching the accumulator by just one result and predicting Newcastle to beat Chelsea lengthens the accumulative odds to 200-1, and this has produced another fun bet for me.

Of course when you place an accumulator bet there is always one shock result that ruins it. Nevertheless if we do beat Everton, the other fixtures are such that we stand a decent chance to rise in the final standings. Of course this shouldn’t mask the deficiencies of a disappointing season and a complete overhaul is necessary to avoid a repeat next time around.

So this is my penultimate visit to the London Stadium for a while. I’ve got one more which is a present of a tour of the stadium. I did the Upton Park tour shortly before we left there and it will be interesting to see how the behind the scenes facilities compare. I renewed my season ticket some weeks ago when our future was still in the balance. I will continue to follow the club whatever league or division we are in, but I am relieved that we are still in the top flight.

Three seasons ago Everton came to Upton Park on the final day of the season, and despite us taking a lead on the hour mark through Stewart Downing, Everton equalised and then snatched the winner in time added on. The fans deserted the stadium on the final whistle and not many remained to watch the “lap of honour” that is traditional at the end of the final home game of the season.

Today let us hope that we can end the season in style and see off a very average Everton side who will probably finish eighth in the final table. It would be good to think that we could finish that high next season. A lot of changes will be necessary for that to happen.