Can West Ham return to winning ways with the visit to Old Trafford?

After three successive wins in the Premier League game number 22 proved to be a copy of game number 18 from just three weeks before. 3-2 home defeats to teams in the lower half of the table (Southampton and then Leeds) may prove to be costly in the final reckoning next May in our quest once again to infiltrate the top four. Of course there is still a long way to go, but the results this week from the teams chasing us has moved them ominously closer to our current points total and they have games in hand. But if a Premier League season was the London Marathon then we have only just crossed Tower Bridge. There is still a long way to go to reach the Mall.

Although we have retained fourth place for now with 37 points from 22 games, the chasing pack have had games postponed and, as a result will be able to play those with refreshed teams, perhaps even bolstered by recruits in the transfer window later in the season. We, on the other hand have fulfilled our fixtures without resorting to asking for games to be called off. I do wonder if some of the teams have pulled a bit of a fast one here? I reckon they’ve got away with it too. But what can you do? We’ve just got to get on with it.

The top of the table now has three distinct sections. Manchester City are already virtually assured of being champions with an almost unassailable 11 point lead over Liverpool, who are jockeying with a Chelsea team that have faltered in recent weeks for second place. Then another gap before us in fourth but Tottenham now only trail us by one point and have three games in hand, Arsenal are a further point away with two games in hand, as are Manchester United with one game in hand. Perhaps even Wolves in eighth place will feel they are in contention as they trail us by six points but have played two games fewer. The games where this cluster of five clubs play each other take on added significance beginning with this Saturday’s game at Old Trafford. We face Wolves at the London Stadium before the end of February too.

Our points per game average still has us on course to reach 64 points by the end of the campaign (just one fewer than last season). The disappointment of home defeats to Brentford, Southampton and Leeds are water under the bridge now, and we need to look ahead, get players back from injury and COVID (especially Zouma and Soucek), Benrahma back from AFCON, and perhaps there is a chance for the players to regroup, take a breath, and perhaps regain a little of form that has been lost through tiredness or whatever? It’s good to see academy players on the bench. Wouldn’t it be good to see them on the pitch when (late) substitutions are made rather than the predictable Yarmolenko or Masuaku who (to me) add very little when they are introduced?

I wonder if there will be any recruitment before the end of the window to add a little freshness to the squad? I won’t hold my breath on that one – we’ll just have to wait and see. There’s an industry that has built up on social media and you can read about so many players that we are apparently interested in. 99 per cent of it is total rubbish. I am just hoping for a last day surprise or two that will add to the mix of very good players that we already have.

After the Manchester United game we don’t face league opposition again until Tuesday 8th February when Watford are the visitors to the London Stadium (It’s Round 4 of the FA Cup next weekend at Kidderminster). It would be great to come away from Old Trafford with a win but avoiding defeat and picking up a point against one of our rivals near the top would be a more than useful result.

As one might expect we are the outsiders with the bookmakers with the home side slightly odds on to win the game. The draw is priced around 14/5, and an away win at around 3/1. I’ll go for a 1-1 draw. What are the chances?  

Can West Ham extend their winning sequence when Leeds visit the London Stadium for the second time in a week?

When I write these articles for Under The Hammers I often refer to current form and relate this to the last five league games played by the sides in the Premier League. The positions in the league table don’t always reflect the latest five games, but at the moment they are a very good guide, although Chelsea’s recent glut of draws (4 in the last 5 games) puts them at the bottom in respect of the current form of the top 7 in the league, despite remaining unbeaten in those matches.

What I’ve done is divided the league table into three sections; the top 7, the middle 7, and the bottom 6, and looked at the points that each team has accrued in the last 5 fixtures. The present position in the league appears in brackets, although this can be a little misleading in view of the disparity in numbers of games played following the postponements for COVID in the last few weeks.

Top 7: Manchester City 15 (1); Arsenal 12 (5); Tottenham 11 (6); Manchester United 10 (7); West Ham 9 (4); Liverpool 8 (3); Chelsea 7 (2)

Middle 7: Brighton 8 (9); Southampton 8 (11); Wolves 7 (8); Leicester 7 (10); Palace 7 (12); Brentford 6 (13); Villa 6 (14)

Bottom 6: Everton 4 (15); Leeds 4 (16); Newcastle 4 (19); Burnley 2 (18); Watford 0 (17); Norwich 0 (20)

The situation can change of course, but at the moment it looks as though the top 7 will fill the top 7 places at the end of the season, the ‘middle’ seven will finish between 8th and 14th, and the bottom 6 will stay there. Current form doesn’t indicate a great deal of change from that.

Leeds are the visitors for the second weekend running after we comfortably beat them 2-0 in the FA Cup third round last Sunday. We followed this up with a fairly straightforward 2-0 win over bottom club Norwich in midweek to make it three league wins in a row, to keep up our challenge at the top. We’ve now won four games in a row in all competitions since the unfortunate 2-3 reverse against Southampton on Boxing Day, and Leeds didn’t show too much last week to suggest that they can stop us making it five if we are anywhere near our best. The interesting thing is that I don’t believe that we have been playing that well in those games, but we have still been winning. That’s the sign of a good team I reckon.

If Zouma has recovered from his injury I would expect him to take his place in the team straight away, replacing Diop, who to me has looked half a yard off the pace in recent games. Assuming Soucek is still out I would expect the starting eleven to be Fabianski; Coufal, Dawson, Zouma, Cresswell; Rice, Lanzini; Bowen, Fornals, Vlasic; Antonio.

If Soucek returns then who would miss out? Vlasic has impressed me in recent games and I would expect him to retain his place. Similarly Lanzini who appears rejuvenated as of late, and of course Bowen is the man of the moment, so perhaps Fornals would be the one to drop out, although he, like Johnson at full back has done little wrong to be out of the starting eleven.

The transfer rumour mill continues apace but nothing concrete yet, and I don’t tend to believe anything until I see the incoming player holding up the claret and blue shirt and crossing his arms. We all know what areas need strengthening if we are to maintain our challenge in the Premier League, the FA Cup and Europe. David Moyes knows and the board do too, and I believe (hope) that they will support him if the right players are identified.

We’ve scored 13 goals (2,4,3,2,2) and conceded 6 (3,1,2,0,0) in our five games played since Christmas, an average of almost four goals scored by the two teams in every game in that period. I see little reason why our recent record cannot be maintained and look forward to our third 2-0 win in a week in this game.

The West Ham games to follow Sunday’s game against Leeds are:

Saturday 22 January – Away v Manchester United

Saturday 5 February – Away v Kidderminster (FA Cup Round 4)

Tuesday 8 February – Home v Watford

Sunday 13 February – Away v Leicester

Saturday 19 February – Home v Newcastle

Saturday 26 February – Home v Wolves  

I wonder how well we will do, and what position we will be in at the end of February with the European fixtures kicking in again in March? The game at Old Trafford is an important one against one of our key rivals at the top, and then three of our next four league games are at home. Those league games are all winnable but who knows how we will do?

The FA Cup game at Kidderminster comes 50 years to the day after that famous giant killing with John Motson’s Match of the Day commentary recorded for posterity when Hereford upset Newcastle 2-1 on Saturday 5th February 1972. Of course we put paid to the giant killers in the next round when we beat them (but only after a replay), but 2 years later Hereford were once again giant killers when they knocked us out of the FA Cup in 1974! I wonder if they will wheel John Motson out of retirement to commentate on our game at Kidderminster?

It’s interesting to note that all English Premier League clubs will have a week off at the end of January (despite the backlog in fixtures) for a new national team break that FIFA has created specially to help clear the backlog of World Cup qualifying games outside Europe. There will be no Premier League games after the weekend of January 22/23 until they resume with midweek games on February 8. This pause in fixtures is being taken despite European national teams not playing. The Premier League have confirmed that they will not allow league games to take place during the break despite the domestic backlog. Surely this will increase the backlog later on in the season? Or am I missing something?

A Very Brief History of West Ham in the FA Cup in the last 62 years, as Leeds visit the London Stadium today

The Third Round of the FA Cup was one of the great footballing days when I was a boy. But that was some time ago (when I was a boy that is). Of course it was (and still is) the day when the minnows who have battled through the qualifying rounds and the two proper rounds join the teams from the top two tiers hoping to perform a giant killing act. As a West Ham fan for many years I have witnessed plenty of those but unfortunately in the majority of cases we have been on the wrong end of them.

My first FA Cup memory was in season 1958-59. The third round in early January 1959 saw me approaching my fifth birthday. We were riding high in the top half of the table in our first season in Division One following promotion (we eventually finished 6th) whilst Tottenham were languishing near the bottom (eventually finishing 18th). They beat us 2-0. The following season we met Huddersfield of Division 2 and drew the away game in Yorkshire 1-1, taking them back to Upton Park where they thrashed us 5-1! In 1961 (again in Round 3) we drew 2-2 at home to 2nd Division Stoke, and then lost 1-0 in the replay. In 1962 (round 3 yet again), despite being a top half Division One team, we crashed out 3-0 at lowly Plymouth. At this time I’d never known us play an FA Cup game beyond 13th January! After 4 seasons I knew what giant killing was all about. We had been humbled on every occasion by inferior opponents.

But in 1963 we reached the quarter final (disposing of Fulham, Swansea and Everton) before losing 1-0 at Anfield. We were really getting the hang of the FA Cup by now and the following season (aged 10) I witnessed the first of what I expected to be many trophies when we beat Second Division Preston 3-2 to lift the cup. I wasn’t there on that day, but the win took us into Europe and I was at Wembley the following May when we won our second trophy, lifting the European Cup Winners Cup beating Munich 1860 in the final. But in that year we reverted to type in the FA Cup losing 1-0 at Stamford Bridge in Round 4.

In 1966 we lost 4-1 in a 4th round replay to Blackburn (who finished bottom that season), and the following year we got no further than the third round losing 3-1 away at 3rd Division Swindon in a replay. In 1968 we got to round 5 where we lost 2-1 at home to Sheffield United who were relegated that season. In 1969 we had progressed to round 5 before we were unceremoniously dumped out 3-0 by lowly Mansfield, and in 1970, once again in the third round we were beaten by a team from a lower level going down 2-1 at Middlesbrough.

It’s not making great reading so far (1964 excepted) so surely it would only get better you would think. Wrong! 1971 was the year of the famous Blackpool night club incident (Google it if you don’t know the detail) when we went out 4-0 in round 3 to the team who were to finish bottom that season. Huddersfield finished bottom in 1972 but that didn’t stop them knocking us out in the third round (4-2), and in 1973 we went out in round 4 to lowly Hull City. 1974 was no better when we lost to third division Hereford in a third round replay.

But, lo and behold come 1975, and we were once again FA Cup winners beating second division Fulham in the final, thanks to a brace from Alan Taylor in the quarters, semis and final itself. But for the remainder of the 1970s, it was back to despair in the FA Cup losing 2-0 at home to Liverpool (round 3 1976), 3-0 at Aston Villa (round 4 1977), 6-1 (!) at QPR (4th round replay 1978), and (how low can you get!) 2-1 at 4th division Newport County – by now we were a second division side ourselves for the first time since I had started watching in 1958.

Incredibly, as a second division team we battled through to the final in 1980 where we won the FA Cup for the third time beating Division One Arsenal 1-0 with Trevor Brooking’s famous header. And for most (but not all of the next decade) our FA Cup performances were generally better than I had experienced before. In 1981 we lost in a third round second replay to lowly Wrexham (1-0), and in 1982 it was round 4 to another team from a lower division Watford (2-0). In 1983 it was 2-0 at Old Trafford in round 3, but the following year we reached the fifth round before losing 3-0 to (eventually relegated) Birmingham.

For the next two seasons we lost in round 6 to Manchester United and Sheffield Wednesday, and in 1987 it was Wednesday again in a fifth round replay. In 1988 we lost 3-1 to QPR in round 4 and the following year it was a sixth round replay where we went out 3-1 to Norwich. So, a slight improvement in the 1980s?

In 1990 we lost 1-0 in Round 3 to lowly (I keep using that word!) Torquay but the following year we reached the semi-final at Villa Park where thanks mainly to Keith Hackett we were denied a place at Wembley. The following seasons were not too great losing 3-2 at home to Sunderland (round 5 replay 1992), 4-1 to Barnsley (round 4 1993), 3-2 at Luton (round 6 replay 1994), 1-0 at QPR (round 4 1995), 3-0 at Grimsby (!) (round 4 replay 1996), 1-0 at home to Wrexham (!) (round 3 replay 1997), on penalties at home to Arsenal  (round 6 1998), 1-0 at Swansea (round 3 replay 1999).

We have done better in the 21st century (in not being the victims of giant killing!) going out to Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester United (4 times), Manchester City twice), and Arsenal. But there have still been some less than impressive performances losing to Fulham, Sheffield United, Watford, Middlesbrough, Stoke, Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest, West Brom (twice), Wigan, and AFC Wimbledon. The best performance was, of course, in 2006 when we unluckily lost the final in Cardiff to Liverpool on penalties after drawing 3-3 after extra time and conceding the late equaliser in normal time to Steven Gerrard when the ball should have been planted into the stands in the last minute!

Without carrying out a study of every club I am quite confident that we have probably lost in the FA Cup to “lesser” teams (that is those lower than us in the same division or from a lower division) on more occasions than any other team in the top tier of English football. And our record in the League Cup is equally poor. Nonetheless I am confident we will dispose of Leeds on our way to our 4th FA Cup win in 63 years next May. What are the chances?

Mid-term report as West Ham make a trip to the Palace

If the season had gone to plan with no postponements due to COVID then Boxing Day should have signalled the mid-point of the Premier League season. However the fixture at home to Norwich on 18 December was called off, so we didn’t complete our 19th game of the 38 match season until last Tuesday when we comprehensively beat (what I thought was) a poor Watford team by four goals to one, our third win by that score in the first half of the season.

Normally one would expect that in the first half of the season a team would play against all the other 19 teams first and then play the reverse fixtures in the final 19 games. This season that hasn’t happened, partly because of the postponement of the Norwich game, but also because the fixtures scheduler arranged for us to play against Southampton twice before we faced Watford. I’m not sure of the reasoning behind this (perhaps something to do with Christmas?) but the fairest way for a season to be arranged is surely to play all 19 opponents first and then start again with the reverse 19 matches. In years gone by it wasn’t always the case, but in recent seasons it has. In any event we have reached the halfway stage having played nine games at home and ten away, though we have yet to face two games against bottom club Norwich.

We enter 2022 in a very creditable fifth place in the table, although two teams below us could go above us if they won games in hand (Tottenham and Manchester United). Nevertheless with the injuries that have piled up in key positions in the past month, most of us would have been more than happy to have reached the mid-point of the season where we are.

On the basis of league table positions alone, we have faced much tougher fixtures at home than when on our travels. The nine teams we have played at the London Stadium are currently in the following positions in the league (2,3,6,7,9,10,11,13,14) which has an average of 8th. Ironically we have managed famous victories against four of the five highest placed visitors, but on the other hand have failed to beat the four lowest placed teams with draws against those in 10th and 11th, and home defeats against those in 13th and 14th. Our home record is therefore 4 wins, 2 draws and 3 defeats.

Our travels have taken us generally to teams lower in the league at this stage (1,4,8,12,13,15,16,17,18,19) which has an average of 12th. We have lost the 3 games against the teams in the top half, but are unbeaten against the 7 teams we have faced from the bottom half of the table (5 wins and 2 draws). Our overall away record is therefore 5 wins, 2 draws and 3 defeats.

Of course the second half of the season will be in reverse with tougher fixtures away from home and easier games at home based upon the current standings. Of the remaining 10 games at home, 6 of them are against the current bottom 6 teams, and only Manchester City and Arsenal are from the top 7. What we must do is match last season’s performances against the weaker teams. I would like to think that we could win up to 8 of these games, and then it would depend upon our performances away from home to see our final finishing position. 31 points from the second half of the season to match the 31 from the opening 19 games would result in 62 points, which is exactly what Tottenham managed last season finishing 7th. We finished 6th of course with 65. So much will depend on the injury situation (particularly in defence positions), whether we can pick up two or three exciting acquisitions in the forthcoming transfer window, winning home games against teams below us in the table, picking up valuable points on our travels, and the unknown effect that COVID might have in the next few months of the season.

Exciting times ahead – my prediction is for 34 points from our remaining 19 games to end the season on 65 points, an exact match of last time, and hopefully a place in the top 6 once again.

Of course I’ve only looked at the league so far, and in a week’s time we will begin our FA Cup campaign at home to Leeds. We have to wait until March for our resumption in the last 16 of the Europa League. I hope that we can go a long way in both of these competitions too. We performed so well in the EFL Cup with very difficult draws, and the loss to Tottenham came at a time when injuries had hit us hard.

Transfer rumours are already underway. I’d like to see a couple of left sided defenders (perhaps a left back and a centre back comfortable on the left) both with pace. For me the pace is important.  And also an out and out goalscorer would be more than useful; in fact a necessity if we are to maintain our challenge on all fronts. Personally I’m happy with the players we have in midfield. I wonder if it will be possible to unearth the players we need in these difficult times? We seem to have a very promising crop of Academy players at the moment, and we can hope that one or more will break through too at the top level.

Which brings me to the game against Palace. First time around the game ended 2-2 at the London Stadium in our third game of the season in August. The impressive loan signing from Chelsea, Gallagher, scored twice as Palace came from behind in that game. They have had a decent start to the season and sit comfortably in mid-table. Their highlight was an unexpected 2-0 win at Manchester City who are once again having an excellent season on top by 8 points at this stage.

Palace are one of the teams where the draws column exceeds both wins and losses. Their figure of 8 draws is equal to Burnley and Newcastle and exceeded by only Brighton and Southampton with 9. They have a decent goalscoring record with 27 goals putting them equal 7th in the Premier League at this stage. They haven’t failed to score at home since being held to a goalless draw against Brentford in August.

I have a feeling that they will struggle when the African Nations Cup comes around in January as a number of key players will be lost to that competition. But that’s in the future and their current form of 7 points from their last 5 games is equivalent to our own.

We are favourites with the bookmakers to win the game at around 13/10, with Palace at 2/1 and the draw about 12/5. A 2-2 draw to match the reverse fixture is around 14/1, but my forecast, a 2-1 Hammers win comes in at around 17/2. These are the games we would love to win to maintain our challenge for the top 6. What are the chances? A Happy New Year to all readers of Under The Hammers; let’s hope for three points for a great start to 2022!

Some Christmas memories of the late 1950s and 1960s as West Ham entertain the Saints on Boxing Day

I can’t remember the last time we had a home game on Boxing Day, but I don’t think it has happened since we have been at the London Stadium. As a young boy I used to love going to Christmas games at Upton Park, and just like in modern times, they used to cram as many games as they could into the festive period. The first one I ever went to was actually on Christmas Day. Yes that’s right on 25th December. The Year was 1958, and my second ever visit to Upton Park on that day was for the visit of Tottenham. We beat them 2-1 with goals from my first favourite footballer, Johnny Dick and Vic Keeble. I believe that this was the very last time that West Ham played a game on Christmas Day. For good measure we visited White Hart Lane the following day and beat them 4-1 this time.

My next Christmas visit to Upton Park came on Boxing Day two years later (1960), but this wasn’t such a happy trip. Once again the visitors were our ‘friends’ from North London – this was their double season and they beat us 3-0. The following year (1961) Blackburn came down on Boxing Day and beat us 3-2. Two years after that on 26 December 1963 I witnessed one of the most remarkable games I have ever seen. Blackburn were once again the visitors and people never believe me when I say that it was a fairly even game – but they beat us 8-2! Two days later with just one change to the starting line up we went to Ewood Park and gained swift revenge with a 3-1 win. Johnny Byrne scored two goals that day – he was a magnificent footballer and goalscorer in his time with us – he hit 10 goals in a five game purple patch that culminated in the victory over Blackburn, and 25 league goals in the season (in 34 appearances), just eclipsing his 24 goals in 33 appearances the season before. He formed a formidable partnership with Geoff Hurst who was in the early part of his career.

On Boxing Day in 1966, we thrashed Blackpool 4-1 and the following day we went to their ground and won 4-0. Not surprisingly, Blackpool were relegated that season after finishing bottom of the table. The following year (26 December 1967) I saw one of the best ever games I can remember at Upton Park. We were 2-0 down to Leicester in the first 15 minutes or so, and then we fought back to win 4-2. Brian Dear scored a magnificent hat-trick and the other West Ham goal was scored by a very young Trevor Brooking wearing the number 9 shirt in his debut season. Four days later we visited Filbert Street and beat them again by exactly the same score (4-2). Brian Dear scored twice that day and Trevor Brooking scored again. Both times the score would have been much greater but for the performance of a teenage Peter Shilton in the Leicester goal who showed even then what a player he would become.

Draw specialists Southampton are today’s visitors. They have drawn 8 league games this season, the same as Palace, Brighton and Burnley. All four of those teams could be much higher in the table if they had managed to turn some of those draws into three points, but all four are currently in the bottom half. As I write this, one-third of the Boxing Day games have already been called off due to COVID, and only 6 of the 9 remain. But there could be more by the time kick-off arrives.

All these postponed matches make the league table harder to decipher with teams such as Arsenal having played 18 matches, whereas Tottenham have only played 14. We currently sit in fifth place having played 17, but both Manchester United and Tottenham could overtake us if they win games in hand. The form table from the last five games shows why we have been joined by others in the race for a top four place. We have picked up 5 points in that time, compared to Arsenal (9), Manchester United (10) and Tottenham (11).

I was one of the lucky 10,000 in the ballot to witness the final game of last season against Southampton when we won the game very easily 3-0. Pablo Fornals scored a couple that day and Declan Rice scored one where he just kept running with the ball, similar to a goal he subsequently scored in Europe this season against Dinamo Zagreb. If we had our best team available I would expect a similar outcome today, but injuries (and perhaps tiredness?) have taken their toll. The performance in the midweek defeat in the Carabao Cup against Tottenham wasn’t too bad, and one player who stood out for me in perhaps his best game in a claret and blue shirt was Vlasic. I think he played well enough to retain a place in the team.

So what chances a 3-0 repeat victory today? Despite our recent indifferent league form we are slightly odds-on to win the game at 5/6, and 13/1 to win 3-0. What are the chances?

Recent results have not generally been great for the Hammers at Arsenal. What will happen when these two teams in the top six clash on Wednesday night?

With just five points from our last five games it is perhaps surprising that West Ham are clinging on to fourth place in the Premier League table. The latest disappointment was the goalless draw at Burnley on Sunday. I write “disappointment” because, although in years gone by we would always have been happy with a point from a trip up north, we now hope (and expect perhaps) for three to maintain a challenge towards the top of the table. It was disappointing too in that we were the much better side creating all the chances, but came across a goalkeeper in Nick Pope determined to impress the watching England manager with some excellent saves from Diop, Benrahma and Bowen. And on a weekend where all the top clubs won games with the help of (in some cases) very soft penalty awards there was also a contentious incident where McNeil appeared to foul Dawson in the Burnley area but referee Scott did not award one and the referee on VAR duty (surprisingly to me, although I am biased) decided not to intervene.

Scoring goals is a bit of an issue away from home at the moment and Michail Antonio hasn’t managed to score in his last eight appearances. But he is not alone, and although he is perhaps expected to be our leading scorer others must chip in too. Although we have only managed one goal in our last three Premier games on our travels it is perhaps just a blip; after all if the league table was produced based on goals scored in this season to date we would be in fourth place by that measure too. I guess the disappointment comes from the cracking start to the season where we picked up 13 points from our first five away games with four wins and a draw, and this has been followed by just one point and one goal from the next three games away from the London Stadium.

Part of the reason for us retaining fourth place is down to the fact that the team who were closest to us just a few games ago (Wednesday’s opponents Arsenal) have had a relatively poor run too with just six points from their last five games (only one better than us) and have dropped a place in the table with Manchester United under new management having a resurgence and now just a point behind us. Manchester City and Liverpool are undoubtedly the form teams with a maximum 15 points from their last five league games, but they are followed (with a bit of a gap) by Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester United who all have ten points from their last five, although Tottenham now have two games in hand over us and trail us by only three points.

Wednesday’s game is an important one for both ourselves and the Gunners in the quest to finish fourth – the top three will undoubtedly be the top three at the end of the season, such is their lead over the chasing pack and their consistency. Of course they can be beaten in odd games, as we have showed against both Liverpool and Chelsea, but over the course of a season those three will finish a long way clear I reckon.

Will last Sunday’s starting eleven be the same again against Arsenal? Perhaps yes, although I wonder if Fornals will return in place of Benrahma for this one? I’m not sure if any of the fringe players have done enough to make a compelling case to start. Vlasic is possibly the closest, but is he a better bet than Benrahma or Fornals? I’m not convinced but perhaps if he gets a chance of a run in the team at some stage he can show why we paid such a lot of money for him. I believe that Areola looks a great long-term prospect and once he gets his chance to be a starter in league games it may be difficult for Fabianski to get his place back. He has been an excellent goalkeeper for us but could he have done better with some of the goals we have conceded this season? And as modern keepers go, is his distribution perhaps a little below par at times?

The bookmakers have done their research based on past performances and Arsenal are favourites to win the game at odds of around 11/10. We are about 23/10 with the draw priced at around 5/2. A Bobby Zamora goal at the Emirates was enough for us to seal a 1-0 win in April 2007 which was the third win in a row against Arsenal, and enabled us to complete the double over them that season. But we have faced them on 28 occasions home and away since then and we have beaten them just twice, a 2-0 win on their patch on the opening day of the 2015-16 season (Kouyate and Zarate were the goalscorers that day), and 1-0 at the London Stadium in January 2019 with a goal from Declan Rice, his very first for us. There have been two 3-3 draws in those 28 games. What are the chances of a similar score tomorrow?

West Ham face league leaders Chelsea at the London Stadium. Can the Hammers turn round recent results that have seen just one point from the last three games?

A look at the league table tells us everything we need to know regarding the difficulty that West Ham face in the early kick-off against Chelsea in Matchweek 15 today. Only Liverpool have found the net more than Chelsea’s 33 goals in their 14 league games to date, and no ne have been as mean as the Chelsea defence that has only conceded six goals in those 14 fixtures. They have only lost once, and that was to a goal from Jesus for Manchester City, who are themselves rather formidable opponents as we found out ourselves last weekend.

The last time we met Thomas Tuchel’s men was back in April where a 1-0 win for the men in blue put quite a dent in our ambition to finish last season with a top four finish. The game was a well fought contest, but a simple move attacking the right hand side of our defence resulted in Chilwell crossing for Werner to put the ball into the net from close range.

Although we tried hard we didn’t manage to create much against a well organised team, and then towards the end Balbuena was ridiculously sent off by referee Chris Kavanagh, a decision that was quite rightly overturned following West Ham’s appeal, but by then of course we were already forced to chase the game with only ten men on the field. It was hard enough when we had eleven!

Looking at the head to head games against Chelsea, the records were fairly even up until the end of the twentieth century with Chelsea slightly having the upper hand. But since then the West Londoners have extended their superiority although I’ll remind you of same famous West Ham victories in the last 20 years.

In May 2003 we were facing relegation and really needed to beat Chelsea in the season’s penultimate game to have any chance of avoiding the drop. Caretaker manager Trevor Brooking had sent on Paolo Di Canio early in the second half and he came up with a goal twenty minutes before the end which gave us the victory and an outside chance of staying up but it wasn’t to be. It was Di Canio’s last significant contribution in a claret and blue shirt, although he did score another as a substitute in the final game, a 2-2 draw at Birmingham. We completed the double over Chelsea that season but we still went down.

After that win we had 13 winless games against Chelsea, which included just two draws, before another famous victory in December 2012 with Sam Allardyce as our boss. We trailed 1-0 at half time before an equaliser from Carlton Cole, and then two late goals from Diame and Maiga gave us a 3-1 win. And to put the icing on the cake, Mourinho was sent to the stands!

In October 2015 in the final season at Upton Park goals from Zarate and Carroll gave us a 2-1 victory, a scoreline that was repeated early in our first season at the London Stadium when Kouyate and Fernandes both scored superb goals in a League Cup tie.

In December 2017 Arnautovic scored an early goal which turned out to be the only goal of the game, and that same 1-0 scoreline was repeated in November 2019 at Stamford Bridge in a match famous for David Martin’s heroics and clean sheet in the West Ham goal which went a long way towards contributing to our ultimate survival that season. We went on to complete a superb double when Yarmolenko’s 90th minute strike gave us a 3-2 win in July 2020 in the season extended way beyond normal as a result of COVID-19.

So what of today’s fixture? In the midweek game against Brighton I had predicted (and bet on!) a 1-0 West Ham win which so nearly was the case but for the disappointing late Brighton equaliser. Perhaps the Seagulls may have deserved a draw, but the close VAR decision which denied us a second goal, and the timing of Brighton’s goal made it just one point from our last three games, although Arsenal’s defeat at Manchester United meant that we retained fourth place in the league despite the recent results. The top three have, however opened up a gap to take them away from the rest; a lead that I can’t see being closed by anyone this season.

But thinking back to Di Canio’s strike in 2003, Arnautovic’s early goal in 2017, and Cresswell’s early second half goal backed up by David Martin’s great display on the last day of November two years ago, all of which gave us 1-0 wins over Chelsea I’ll predict a repeat of that scoreline. Bookmakers don’t think it will happen as we are around 18/5 to win the game, with Chelsea odds-on. A 1-0 Hammers win is priced at around 11/1, with a Chelsea win by that score to repeat last season’s game at the London Stadium at around 11/2.

It will take quite a performance, but I’ll stick with my 1-0 forecast. I fancy Dawson will score with a header from a corner sometime soon too. What are the chances?

Can West Ham end an eight game winless run against the Seagulls at the London Stadium tonight?

In my article prior to the game against Manchester City last weekend I highlighted the gulf between the top three and the rest. The game itself confirmed what I believed. A score of 2-1 suggests a close game but that wasn’t really the case. Unfortunately we were not at our best and never really got going. Despite Jack Grealish, Kevin de Bruyne and Phil Foden being unavailable City were still too good in an attacking sense, and defensively they gave little away with Declan Rice’s long range effort being the only time I can recall Ederson needing to make a save before our goal.

We showed our hand before kick-off with Masuaku replacing Bowen suggesting we were worried about City’s attacking threat down our left hand side, as opposed to letting them worry about our potential going forward. But City were just too good and attacked from all sides. The heavy snow falling made the conditions difficult but while we were only a single goal down we were still in the game. The second goal finished us off but Lanzini once again produced a last second wonder strike (just as he did against Tottenham in the 3-3 draw) to make the score look more respectable, although there was no time left to go searching for a dramatic late equaliser.

But it wasn’t all bad, and in the past we might have folded and lost a game like this by a wider margin. The consolation is that despite two consecutive defeats we still retained our position in the top 4, even though the gap to the top three has grown. And even if we manage to lose a third game in a row, which I certainly hope we don’t, we would still be no lower than fifth in the table. Nine points from our last five games is a better return than all the teams in the Premier League apart from the top three and Arsenal immediately below us in fifth place.

The fixtures come thick and fast for the next month or so beginning with this evening’s visit from Brighton. We have faced them in the last four seasons since they came into the Premier League, and we have yet to beat them in eight attempts. Those games have usually been relegation battles, or at least lower-half of the table fixtures, but this time around we are both in the upper reaches with Brighton currently occupying ninth place after a bright start to the season.

They beat us in the first three games but the last five have all ended in draws. Three of those five draws have come in the corresponding fixtures in the last three seasons at the London Stadium. We had to come from behind twice in the home game last season, whereas the season before we relinquished a two goal lead. And in the season before that we were two down before an Arnautovic brace earned us a 2-2 draw.

The last time we beat them was in the later stages of our promotion winning season in 2011-12 when a superb Vaz Te hat trick was part of a 6-0 thrashing. I remember the game well – we were three up in the first ten minutes or so (Vaz Te had scored two of them) and he completed his hat-trick in front of the Bobby Moore end with an overhead kick.

Said Benrahma appeared on the front cover last season’s programme, but some are suggesting that he may not be in the starting eleven this time around following a bit of an exchange with David Moyes as he was substituted in the City game. I’ve seen some calling for Lanzini to start in that position but we’ll have to wait and see. I wonder if there are injury concerns, especially re Cresswell? Squad rotation has certainly been successful in the European games, but the manager has probably made fewer changes in the league games than most – he seems to have a very definite idea of his starting eleven for these matches.

Historically West Ham v Brighton fixtures go back to 1903, but we didn’t face them in any football league games until 1978 as we have often been in different divisions. The overall record is very even at 18 wins apiece and 19 draws. Graham Potter has done a superb job for the Seagulls but after their bright start they have faded a little, failing to win any of their last eight league games – always a worrying statistic for West Ham fans! But they have drawn a lot of games and have only lost three (we have lost four). So Brighton have failed to win any of their last eight league games, and West Ham have failed to win any of their last eight fixtures against Brighton. Will one of these runs be broken or are we heading for another draw?

With the last five meetings between the clubs ending in draws, and Brighton’s recent draws this season, a draw would seem a likely result. Bookmakers make us favourites to win with odds of around evens, but a 1-1 draw is the favourite in the correct score odds at around 11/2. I am convinced we can end our long run of failing to beat them, but it is likely to be a close game. Brighton has a mean defence with just 14 goals conceded in their 13 games, a figure only bettered by the top three and Wolves. But they have only scored 12 which is fewer than everyone apart from Norwich, Southampton and Tottenham. It is the failure to convert chances into goals that frustrates many Brighton fans and led to some booing following their 0-0 draw at home to Leeds last weekend.

There have been fewer goals in Brighton Premier League games this season than in those involving all the other clubs (except Wolves). So don’t expect us to repeat the 6-0 win of the last time we beat them. I forecast a West Ham victory by a single goal margin, possibly 1-0. What are the chances?

Goodnight Vienna as Hammers Waltz into Europa League Last 16

On Thursday evening West Ham waltzed into the last 16 knockout stages of the Europa League with yet another professional performance without playing as well as we can. With a little more composure in front of goal it could have been four or five nil but with eight changes it was still a more than satisfactory performance. With the other game in the group between Dinamo Zagreb and Genk ending 1-1 it would have only needed a draw in Vienna to top the group with a game still to play, but the confidence that the fringe players will have gained from the comfortable victory bodes well for the remainder of the season. With so many games to play in such a short space of time (10 in 31 days), many of the squad players are likely to be called upon.

Four clean sheets and just two goals conceded in five games is the best defensive performance of all 32 teams in the Europa League. In this game some of our most important and influential players (such as Zouma, Rice and Antonio) were not needed and most of the other Premier League regulars did not play full games. There were many good performances but one that stood out for me was that of Coufal who I believe should regain his place in the league team this weekend. It was also good to see a 17 year old debutant given his chance and he so nearly scored too. I wonder how many fringe players will be given an opportunity in the final group game against Dinamo Zagreb?

This weekend’s Premier League game away to Manchester City is about as tough as it gets. Along with Chelsea and Liverpool, City are undoubtedly one of the three standout teams that will contest the title. It wasn’t that long ago that we spoke about the elite six, but now in my opinion there are only three teams that are well ahead of the rest. We are one of a few teams that will be fighting for that fourth spot in the table. City will be desperate for revenge after we dumped them out of the League Cup, a competition that they have dominated for the last five years. They were excellent when disposing of PSG to top their Champions League group on Wednesday and we will be doing very well to come out of the game with a point. But it’s not Impossible if we are at our best and they are not. Crystal Palace won there recently so I hope we can do the same, but I wouldn’t underestimate how difficult it will be.

Bookmakers recognise the gulf between the top three and the rest, but their odds set for this game are even more extreme than the league positions would suggest was appropriate. City are at home and one would expect them to be favourites of course. They are currently second in the league on 26 points, just three points ahead of ourselves in fourth. Recent form is similar although we were a little disappointing in Wolverhampton last week. Nevertheless, based on this, one wouldn’t expect us to be the biggest outsiders in all the games this weekend. But we are and I’ve seen odds of up to 10/1 on a West Ham victory and around 6/1 on a draw. City on the other hand are around 2/9. Astonishing really given the closeness of league form and positions.

I am a little less confident for a positive result in this game compared to our previous fixtures this season, but wearing my optimistic hat I will be hoping for a draw, and predict 1-1 with Dawson scoring our goal with a header from a corner. Dawson to score the first goal in the game attracts odds of around 50/1. The odds are the same for him to score the last goal in the game. I’ll go for the latter with my fun bet this week. What are the chances?

A look ahead to West Ham at Molineux this afternoon and memories of games against Wolves (mainly November ones!)

Thank heavens that is the last of the early season pointless international breaks finished. I get it that we have to play for World Cup qualification but surely someone can devise a better way to do it. I don’t wish to deny San Marino, Andorra or any other minor nation of their opportunity to take part but surely there should be some kind of pre-qualification among lesser teams and then the top teams from pre-qualification leagues can then progress to face the bigger teams. Our very own FA Cup is an example of how this can happen. The top teams don’t enter the competition until the third round proper. There are a number of qualification rounds to win through before the non-league teams who are successful in those get to face the big boys.

Albania aren’t exactly a minor footballing nation, picking up quite a few points in the group, but San Marino? I watched some of this and quite frankly it was a farce. The commentators and pundits did their best to talk up the England team and Harry Kane, but it was nonsensical as a game of football, it was really just attack versus defence. I got no pleasure from the twenty minutes or so that I watched.

This was in contrast to the last Premier League game I saw where we denied Liverpool the opportunity to extend their long unbeaten record any further. I thought it was a magnificent performance that saw us leapfrog the Merseysiders to reach the dizzy heights of third place in the table. Unlike Mr Klopp I saw nothing wrong with our first goal. Goalkeepers have been a protected species for too long and I don’t see anything that says you can’t jump in front of them to put them off. And as for suggesting Cresswell should have been sent off I don’t agree with that either. His tackle clipped the top of the ball which lifted his leg to foul Henderson. To his credit the Liverpool captain made nothing of it and was soon back on his feet. A foul yes but anything more? Not for me. Perhaps I am a biased Hammer but others I have spoken to who support Arsenal, Fulham and Norwich didn’t agree with Mr Klopp either.

We have lost Angelo Ogbonna for a long period now, but personally I am happy with Craig Dawson alongside Zouma at the heart of our defence. There have been reports that we might renew our interest in Tarkowski in the forthcoming window. He is certainly a quality player, but do we need strengthening elsewhere first? Perhaps with our new Czech shareholder there will be an injection of finance to boost the transfer kitty? We’ve never been in a better position to challenge the top teams but the addition of two or three quality players would do us no harm in our endeavour to maintain that challenge in the league and the three cups that we can still aim for.

We visit Molineux today to take on a Wolves team that are in eighth place in the chasing pack where sixth to thirteenth positions in the table are separated by just three points. When I began to watch football as a young boy in the late 1950s Wolves were probably the best team in the country at the time, and were league champions in 1957-58 and 1958-59. One of my earliest football memories was our first home game following promotion to face the champions in our first home game of the 1958-59 season. I wasn’t there but I was excited to wake up on the Tuesday morning following the Monday night game to be told the result by my dad and to read of our 2-0 win in the morning paper.

The following season I was at our game against the champions – Saturday November 21st – so this weekend’s game is almost on the same date. My first favourite footballer Johnny Dick scored a hat trick in our 3-2 victory that retained our position at the top of the league. The following Thursday I went into St Mary’s hospital in Paddington to have my adenoids removed. And then in typical West Ham fashion we lost 7-0 at Sheffield Wednesday the following Saturday! How many times has a team at the top of the league lost their next game 7-0? Only West Ham could do that. That was a season when we went down with the Christmas decorations and finished in fourteenth place just four points above the relegation places.

Wolves went on to finish second in the table that season finishing a point below champions Burnley. They won the FA Cup too beating Blackburn 3-0 in the final and were so close to being the first team to achieve the league and cup double. If only they hadn’t lost to West Ham!

Other highlights from games against Wolves include an entertaining 3-3 draw in November 1970. Apart from surrendering a 3-1 lead my main reason for remembering this game was a Bobby Moore headed clearance that hit the referee square in the face that knocked him out cold. Moore picked up his whistle and blew it to stop the game. Bobby Gould, who five years later played for us tapped in the late Wolves equaliser in that game.

Two years later (yes in November once again!) we were 2-1 down at Upton Park in the last seconds of the game when a Bobby Moore cross was headed across the edge of the area by Clyde Best, and Trevor Brooking equalised with a stunning diving header from fully 15 yards. It’s always said that Trevor never scored with his head, but I can remember quite a few, including an important one in the European Cup Winners Cup in 1976 against Eintracht Frankfurt, and perhaps the most famous of all, the Wembley header in the 1980 FA Cup final.

Two years later once again in the month of November (are you picking up the pattern here?) we gave Wolves quite a thrashing (5-2) with five different goalscorers. The best goal of the lot, and one of the best free kicks I’ve ever seen was a result of Trevor Brooking flicking the ball in the air and Frank Lampard (senior of course) smashing a half volley into the bottom corner of the net.

I’ll deviate from the month of November with a final memory from the past to remember Liam Brady’s final game before retirement. After a fantastic career he spent his final three seasons at West Ham. Although he wasn’t quite the player he was at his peak, he was still great to watch with wonderful skill on the ball and magnificent passing ability. On as a substitute late in the game he picked the ball up midway in the Wolves half, moved forward, and unleashed a trademark left footed stunner that rocketed into the net, a fitting goal in his final ever game.

Last season we did the double over Wolves winning 4-0 at home and 3-2 at Molineux. What with our 3-2 win over Liverpool in our last game too, that seems to be the score of the moment and I’ll predict a win by that score today. We are around 7/5 favourites to win the game and around 22/1 to repeat last season’s score in the corresponding fixture. Jarrod Bowen scored in both games against Wolves last season, and is around 13/2 to score the first goal (same price for the last goal too) in the game, or 5/2 to score at anytime. One of those will be my fun bet. I might even combine Bowen scoring the first goal with a 3-2 win at odds approaching 200/1. With 12 points from our last 4 league games we are the form team in the Premier League. No other team matches that recent record. If Leicester can beat Chelsea in the lunchtime fixture, and if we can win at Wolves, then we would be level on points with Chelsea at the top of the table on Saturday evening. That would be good, wouldn’t it? What are the chances?