West Ham v Arsenal Preview 13 December 2017

Can West Ham use the unexpected victory over the champions as a springboard for another win against a top six side when Arsenal visit the London Stadium tonight?

Once again I am able to use my analogy from Forrest Gump that West Ham are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get. The win against champions Chelsea on Saturday was unexpected and gave us a much-needed three points in our efforts to climb the table. Nevertheless we are still in the bottom three, and need to continue to demonstrate a consistency of effort and performance to retain the excellent backing from the fans. The atmosphere generated in the London Stadium once again disproved the nonsensical argument that the venue can be compared to a library. All football grounds can be like that at times when the home team are not doing well. Yes, it is not an ideal stadium at the present time and we can hope that structural changes at some stage in the future can make it better. For the time being we have to live with it and not keep harping back to Upton Park. We are not going back. For the record I love the stadium and speak to many others who feel likewise, but until we win more games at home then there will always be doubters.

With three points for a win and just one for a draw, then even if we remained unbeaten and managed a draw in each of the Chelsea and Arsenal games this week, we wouldn’t have been in as good a position as winning one and losing one. And having won the first then hopefully we can do it again in the second against the odds.

Recent history of this fixture suggests that it won’t be an easy task to say the least. Of course we won on their ground in the opening game of the 2015-16 season when Reece Oxford famously kept Ozil in his pocket, but that followed ten consecutive defeats at the hands of the Gunners. The last time we beat them at home was when Marlon Harewood scored a late winner in 2006 which sparked an interesting confrontation between Pardew and Wenger. The Arsenal manager seemed to take offence at our manager’s celebrations, a situation which has reared its head this week following accusations of over-celebration by City players when they won the Manchester derby at Old Trafford on Sunday.

We now have 13 points from 16 games, which means that even a win tonight would still not bring us up to the one point per game average that is the absolute minimum needed to keep us in with a chance of avoiding the drop. But I am looking forward to more than that.

I will repeat the run of 10 league games following Arsenal tonight to highlight the opportunity that we have to significantly improve our position by 10 February. It would be good if we could collect an average of somewhere between 1.5 and 2 points a game in these fixtures. If we could achieve this we will be going a long way towards allaying relegation fears.  (A) v Stoke, (H) v Newcastle, (A) v Bournemouth, (H) v West Brom, (A) v Tottenham, (A) v Huddersfield, (H) v Bournemouth, (H) v Palace, (A) v Brighton, and (H) v Watford, presents a realistic opportunity (on paper) to start to climb the table. Failure to do so will bring a nervous run-in to the season.

It is pleasing to see that the way-over-the-top negative reaction to the appointment of David Moyes has died down considerably. There is still a long way to go of course, but the work ethic and organisation he (and his staff) has introduced are clearly evident in recent games. He has a good record and must be given the opportunity to make an impact. Rome wasn’t built in a day and I believe that he realises the task ahead and is prioritising what is necessary to achieve improvement. One small criticism I would level against him in the Chelsea game was his inability to realise that Antonio was out on his feet long before he was substituted.

Once again the bookmakers have virtually written off our chances but if you believe that there is a chance that we will cause another upset you can get around 9/2 on a West Ham win. Personally I would take a draw from this game, but hope of course for a second victory in five days. Despite being a top six side, Arsenal are not quite the team that they once were, and are eminently beatable. One statistic that surprised me was that the Gunners are fourth in the table of goals conceded in 2017, showing that their once renowned defence can be breached. We certainly don’t want a repeat of the 5-1 defeat that we suffered here last season.

The much under-rated Pedro Obiang was in my opinion one of the reasons that we kept a world class player like Hazard quiet at the weekend, and I don’t believe that he gets the credit he deserves for this unfashionable role. I would expect him to be deployed in similar fashion against Ozil, or perhaps Sanchez tonight. Arnautavic and Masuaku were rightly singled out for excellent games, but it really was a whole team performance. Masuaku is really becoming a bit a bit of a revelation in an attacking sense, and providing he doesn’t try his wonderful tricks in vulnerable areas of the pitch then he can become a major creator for us going forward. I would expect Hernandez to play a part now that he appears to have recovered, and Carroll does have a very good record of scoring against Arsenal as witnessed in the 3-3 draw a couple of seasons ago, and even in his Newcastle days.

Adrian deserves his chance to continue between the sticks, but I cannot agree with the vilification of Hart that I read. Hopefully the competition between the two keepers will spur them both on to produce top class performances. Cresswell had one of his best games for ages at the weekend, and the unlikely threesome when he combined with Reid and Ogbonna, who both performed excellently, is likely to be the selection for this game. Noble performed admirably, and Lanzini, whilst not being at the top of his game at the moment, is still our best hope of unlocking opposition defences. But whoever is selected (and I don’t expect many changes) let us hope for another stirring game and three more points.

West Ham v Chelsea Preview 9 December 2017

I woke up it was a Chelsea morning, but what will West Ham need to do in the next dozen games to get ourselves out of the relegation zone?

For those of us old enough to remember the 1960s, there was a popular song at the end of the decade famously recorded by Fairport Convention, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Diamond entitled Chelsea Morning. The song began with the line “I woke up it was a Chelsea morning.” Well today is not exactly a Chelsea morning, but kick off time is 12.30, so our Saturday morning is spent travelling to the London Stadium for an early start time. How I look forward to 23 December when we kick off the game against Newcastle at the traditional time of 3pm on a Saturday, which will be only the second time this season when a home game will commence at this “normal” time.

Today’s game will be the fifth under our new manager and we have yet to see a victory. The opener at Watford was a poor performance, the following home fixture against Leicester showed much improvement from both the players and the fans, then the game at Goodison Park was appalling. None of us expected much at the Etihad Stadium last Sunday, but we led unexpectedly at half-time thanks to Ogbonna’s well placed header, and were within a few minutes of getting a point against the runaway Premier League leaders who have been brushing aside all and sundry this season. But the solitary point from the last four games leaves us firmly entrenched in the relegation zone with two difficult games against top six sides to follow, and unless we can start winning some games we could easily find ourselves beginning to become detached from safety.

But after Chelsea (today) and Arsenal (in midweek) we embark on a run of league fixtures which, on paper at least, most are games that will be easier for us to start a winning run and begin to climb the table. If we don’t then our season could be well defined by February as one that sees us in a desperate scramble to try to retain our place in the top flight.

The 10 league games following Arsenal are:

16 Dec – (A) v Stoke
23 Dec – (H) v Newcastle
26 Dec – (A) v Bournemouth
2 Jan – (H) v West Brom
4 Jan (A) v Tottenham
13 Jan (A) v Huddersfield
20 Jan (H) v Bournemouth
30 Jan (H) v Palace
3 Feb – (A) v Brighton
10 Feb (H) v Watford

Currently we have just ten points from fifteen games. By the end of the Watford game on 10 February we will have played 27 games, which is almost the three-quarters point in the season. That will then leave us just 11 games to retain our Premier League status, of which six (of the last nine) will be at home to Burnley, Manchester United, Southampton, Stoke, Manchester City and Everton.

So in the next 12 games (including Chelsea and Arsenal this week) we will need to collect at least 17 points to achieve the point a game average at that time which is likely to be the minimum that we will need to be outside the relegation places. And that may not even be enough! I see the five home league games between 23 December and 10 February as ones that can be described as “must win”, and at the same time we must start to pick up some points on our travels. Points obtained against Chelsea and Arsenal this week would be a bonus, and two wins would be simply fantastic, but being realistic that is a lot to hope for, but it won’t stop me hoping!

The players who lined up at the Etihad acquitted themselves well and all will be looking to retain their places against Chelsea. Surely Adrian will start in goal, but whether all of the others will keep their places is hard to predict, and will be subject to any injuries picked up, as well as any players that may be fit to return to the squad. But our new manager is keeping his cards close to his chest, so let us hope that he plays his cards right. Apparently Chelsea will be without Luiz and Drinkwater. That is a shame as I wouldn’t have minded them both playing when compared to some other players at their disposal.

Once again the bookmakers have virtually written off our chances but if you believe that there is a chance that we will cause an upset you can get around 6/1 on a home victory, or 10/1 on West Ham to win and both teams to score. If you fancy a fun bet that is a little different then Paddy Power are offering 33/1 on the following four things all to happen: West Ham to score the first goal and win the first corner, and Chelsea to receive the first card and win the first throw-in.

It will be cold watching for us tomorrow, with the wind chill factor making it seem like minus temperatures. It would be great to spring a surprise, but realistically anything that we can get out of the game will be a bonus.

Manchester City v West Ham Preview

What chance that West Ham can win at Manchester City this weekend? A chance that will happen once in a blue moon?

I have been supporting West Ham for almost sixty years. I am an optimist by nature. I must have watched us play more than a thousand games of football. On virtually every occasion, I’ve always thought that we had a chance of winning the game. OK I’ll admit sometimes it is a slight chance or a long shot, but a chance nonetheless. But for this game? We are more likely to see a blue moon.

On Sunday afternoon we face Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. Now City have really been a class apart so far this season in the Premier League. These are some of the thoughts attributed to our manager this week ahead of our visit. He has said that “I think that there have been moments when we’ve looked OK.” Even if there have been, my understanding of the word moment is that it refers to a very brief period of time, perhaps a second or two. The word OK is perhaps a very overused word that means adequate or acceptable. I just have a feeling that looking adequate for a few seconds won’t be anywhere near enough to trouble the league leaders.

He has also said “the players are trying to improve and get better”. Well sitting in the bottom three then this is something I would be hoping for. Shouldn’t this be true of all professional footballers at all times? This was followed by “a lot of our goals are down to individual mistakes.” Tell me something that anyone who follows the team didn’t know. He then said “we’ve got a good team.” Many comments I’ve read on social media and in the newspapers this week would suggest that there are a number of people out there who wouldn’t necessarily agree with that one.

He finished with “I’ve never gone into any game thinking that we’ve not got a chance of winning.” Now going back to my opening paragraph this is something I’ve almost always believed, albeit sometimes with many doubts. But this time I am going to make an exception. I really don’t believe that we have any chance whatsoever. In fact it would take a miracle.

One definition of a miracle:

A miracle is an extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore attributed to a divine agency.

My grandson (who is seven) was asked at school this week as part of an English lesson to come up with a sentence that included the word miracle. His offering was “It would be the most amazing miracle of all time if West Ham beat Manchester City on Sunday.” The teacher was full of praise for his excellent understanding of the meaning of the word.

I’ll be watching the game on Sunday with a fellow West Ham fan in a local pub in Bury St Edmunds. I’ll be taking my abacus along to help me keep track of the score, and I’ll be praying for a miracle. On current form this is likely to be one of the most one-sided games in the history of the Premier League. No team has yet scored ten goals in a single game (the record is 9). If you believe in miracles and fancy a flutter here are some of the bets (using Paddy Power as an example) you may like to consider:

West Ham to win the game 33/1
West Ham to win 2-0 200/1
West Ham to win 3-0, 4-0, or 4-1 500/1
No goals to be scored in the game 45/1
Man. City to win 10-0 500/1

There is a saying that is something along the lines of “you never can tell what will happen in a game of football”. This time I think I’ve got a pretty good idea. But I’ll still be hoping for a miracle,

West Ham To Hammer The Toffees?

After our encouraging performance last Friday against the Foxes, a midweek visit to Goodison Park to face the Toffees is next

It was a privilege to be at the London Stadium last Friday evening. Not for the quality of the football, although it was a small improvement on what we have previously seen this season. No, the reason was the energy and commitment of the players, which in turn led to the fans giving a demonstration of what backing a team is all about. The volume of support was right up there with what we heard in the games against Chelsea (EFL Cup) and Tottenham last season. The difference this time was that we weren’t actually winning the game. In some ways it was reminiscent of the infamous FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest over a quarter of a century ago when Keith Hackett totally ruined a game of football, but the fans continued to support the team until the end. The only disappointment was that we couldn’t get a winning goal, but nevertheless the fans received plaudits from players, pundits and the media generally for the voluminous and continuous support.

Now, can we please put an end to the stadium excuses and comments regarding lack of atmosphere? If the players demonstrate their commitment, then the fans will show theirs. Those of us who have been supporters for many years will accept losing games. What we won’t accept is heads going down when a goal is conceded, or lack of effort. As David Moyes has said, full commitment for 90 minutes should be the absolute minimum that players should give to a game. Too often in recent times that hasn’t been the case. It is still early days, and there is a long way to go, but I have to say that I have been very impressed with the start that our new manager and coaching staff have made. There was some ridiculous criticism of an appointment of a manger who, arguably, has been more successful (certainly in terms of league positions attained) than any other manager in our history. The players have been given a justifiable kick up the backside, so let us hope that the increased enthusiasm leads to some positive results, especially in view of the tough fixture list coming up.

The game against the Toffees is one where both teams are considered to be in crisis, perhaps Everton even more surprisingly than ourselves. They were widely tipped to finish seventh in the Premier League and perhaps be challenging the dominance of the elite six. Quite clearly that hasn’t happened, Koeman was sacked around a month ago, and surprisingly they have left a caretaker (Unsworth) in charge. If anything their season has nosedived still further in the last month, and Moyes has said we are going into the game full of confidence. I have some reservations, partly because of our past record against teams who are in poor form, where somehow they seem to relish our visit which enables them to turn their form around. Beware a wounded toffeeman, he can be a dangerous beast!

Wayne Rooney in particular has had a miserable return to his home town club, and a miserable few months off the pitch too. He has been left on the bench for the past couple of games, but somehow I can see him being picked for our visit and we all know what an impressive record he has when playing against us. But at least we haven’t got Lukaku to deal with this time!

Everton actually began the season well with a 1-0 win against Stoke in the opener, followed by an even more impressive draw at Manchester City in their next match. They still remain the only team (with 13 games of the season gone) to have denied City a three point haul in a game. Of course City are our next opponents at the weekend, and if recent history is anything to go by then many will be dusting down their abacuses in readiness for our visit to the Etihad, but perhaps it is our time to turn the tables on a team in superb form?
After the four points from their opening two games, Everton have only won twice more, 2-1 against Bournemouth, and an extremely fortuitous 3-2 victory over Watford (from 2-0 down). If you believe in sequences, then Everton seem to win a game, then fail to win in the next four. They won their first, sixth, and eleventh game of the season, so they are not due a victory until the sixteenth (this is game 14). But we are a good bet to help other teams break a sequence aren’t we?

Once more our game is being televised, so I’ll settle down with my Everton mints and hope that we can get at them as soon as the Z-Cars theme is over. An early goal from us would hopefully get the home crowd on the backs of their players. The Merseyside natives are getting restless with the performances of their team in recent games, so let us hope they don’t choose to up their game for this one, as they have frequently done in the past few seasons against us. At the time of writing this article they still haven’t appointed a permanent manager, but our old friend Big Sam is widely tipped to be taking over the reins there. Their search is now even more urgent after their poor performance in a 4-1 defeat at Southampton at the weekend.

As with all West Ham games this is a difficult one to call, and despite their indifferent form, the bookmakers still have Everton as firm favourites to win the match. Historically they have a far superior record in games against us with 68 wins in 136 matches, and we have only beaten them once in the league (either home or away) in the last ten years (3-2 at Goodison in 2016, after coming back from two down). Perhaps it is now our turn to break our sequence of poor results against them?

Will It Be A Black Friday For West Ham Against Leicester?

After being stung in the Hornets nest, West Ham go Foxhunting. But will it be a Black Friday night?

Leicester City, the most unlikely 5000-1 winners of the Premier League just over a season ago are the next visitors to the London Stadium in the first game of the weekend on Friday night. This is their fourth consecutive season in the top flight and their 50th in their history, compared to our 60. They returned after a period of ten years out in 2014-15, and struggled throughout that season. With 29 games played they had amassed just 19 points and were seven points adrift of safety. They looked odds-on to return to the Championship, but with Nigel Pearson at the helm they won seven of their last nine games to finish on a respectable 41 points in 14th position, just two places below us. Early in that season we had beaten them 2-0 at Upton Park with goals from Carroll and Downing, but we were the losers in the return, which was one of their seven wins in the run-in, going down 2-1 with Kouyate scoring our goal.

The following season was the stuff of fairy tales and has been written about at length. Suffice to say we will probably have to wait another 5000 years for a repeat. Pearson had been sacked and Ranieri took over to mastermind one of the most astonishing stories in the history of football. They beat us 2-1 at Upton Park in our first home game of the final season there (a Frenchman scored our goal), but we were unlucky in the return at their place near the end of the season, when leading 2-1 in the 95th minute we failed to retain possession of the ball (just for a change!!) and then Carroll conceded what to most observers was a dubious penalty decision, and we ended with a draw. Carroll and Cresswell were our scorers that day.

Last season (2016-17) they came back down to earth and eventually finished in 12th place (we finished 11th). Ranieri was sacked in February after five consecutive defeats, and replaced by Shakespeare, who began his tenure with five straight wins, although four of them were home games, and Hull, Stoke, Sunderland and ourselves were not the most demanding of opponents. They did the double over us winning 1-0 at their place, and 3-2 at the London Stadium, where goals from Lanzini and Ayew were not enough to complete an unlikely comeback in a 3-2 defeat. They did perform exceptionally well in the Champions League, before just going out at the quarter-final stage to Atletico Madrid.

This season, after a poor start winning just one of their first eight games, the Bard himself was sacked and they now have Claude Puel in charge. They have since picked up a creditable 7 points from their last four games and now sit 12th in the table on 13 points, winning 3, drawing 4 and losing 5 of their 12 games. This puts them out of our reach even if we can manage a victory in this game, but we desperately need to win the match to ensure that we don’t fall further behind in the relegation scrap at the foot of the table. Their away record comprises a win at Swansea, draws at Huddersfield, Bournemouth and Stoke, and defeats at Arsenal and Manchester United.

So many of our players had poor games at Watford that it hard to second guess the team that Moyes will select to try to achieve what would be an important win. One player who did do himself justice was Masuaku who had a fine 20 minute cameo, and I would like to see him selected in a more advanced role than full back. He showed an ability to take on and beat opponents as well as putting in decent crosses. I’d like to see Sakho and possibly Martinez start up front to give us greater mobility in that position, which would mean no place for Carroll who can be a potential liability. Lanzini needs to have a central role to be effective, not stuck out on the left. I hope that Rice enters the manager’s plans, perhaps filling a defensive midfield role protecting the defence, possibly alongside Obiang who has not been at his best recently, but in my view would be preferable to Noble and Kouyate.

When I looked at the bookmakers’ odds for the game, both Leicester and ourselves are currently priced at around 17/10 to win the game, with 23/10 on the draw. Surely we can’t play as badly again as we did at Watford where we were totally outclassed, yet could have possibly scored four goals from clear-cut chances. I would like to think that Hernandez would have made much more of the goalscoring opportunities that fell to Kouyate (twice), Arnautavic and Lanzini, although Gomes did pull off one tremendous double save.

The statistics from the Watford game apparently show that collectively, West Ham players covered more ground than in any other league game this season. But that alone is quite clearly not the answer, and Moyes and his coaching team will have had to work hard this week to try to ensure an improved performance for this game. The atmosphere has been described as “toxic” around the club, and I hate to imagine the reaction if we concede the first goal in the game. Scoring first would give everyone a lift, and that is what we must hope for.

Come in number 9, your time is up?

A shortage of goals and appearances and a worsening disciplinary record have defined Andy Carroll’s West Ham career. Time to cut the losses?

Just imagine that you have a history of stealing cars. Eventually you are caught and are sentenced to a short term in prison for your misdemeanours. In the week leading up to your release you criticise those people who had supported you for years, because they had had enough and had walked out on you. The prison gates slam shut behind you and you are free. You walk out having served your sentence. You spot an unattended car parked at the side of the road and then immediately break into it and drive away. You have only been out of jail for a matter of seconds and you break the same law again. Luckily for you, although there are many people around that see you do it, the policeman walking by probably thinks that you are getting into your own car and somehow doesn’t spot the fact that you have broken into it, although everyone else can see it quite clearly.

We all witnessed a similar scenario last Sunday in the Watford game. David Moyes could quite easily have been managing a team reduced to ten men after six seconds in his first game in charge. With the benefit of hindsight it probably wouldn’t have made much difference, as even with eleven versus eleven we were totally outplayed. To many it looked like Andy Carroll was determined to get himself sent off, just as he had been in his last appearance for us in the Burnley game for which he received the customary ban. I hope that wasn’t really the case, but his style of play, which a few years ago brought him international caps for the unorthodox attributes he brought to a team, now seems to have become even more physical and is attracting even more attention. Money shouldn’t really come into it, but many on social media liked to point out that the amount he earns in a week is considerably more than that earned in a year by virtually every single person who pays to go and watch him and his teammates perform throughout the season.

I was astonished that the referee Andre Marriner didn’t send him off for that early challenge. Of course I was relieved that our numbers wouldn’t be reduced so soon in the game, but couldn’t believe that he missed it. Perhaps it was because the game had only just started, or perhaps he didn’t see it clearly, or perhaps he thought it was an accidental clash, but whatever the reason he didn’t even book him for that (although he did receive a yellow card later in the half). The media were virtually unanimous in their view that he should have seen a red card, and even many of our own fans were reluctantly in agreement with that view.

For much of his time with us I have been a big supporter of his aerial ability and the potential goal threat that he brought to our team. I don’t know if it is the injuries that he has had over the years but to me he doesn’t seem the player he once was. And when he is in the team the players have adopted a route one style, and the managers have followed a game plan to play to his strengths, to the detriment of trying to play the “West Ham way”.

Many argue that the goalscoring statistics for a record signing England international number 9 are not too impressive. He is now into his sixth season and has played in over 100 games for us in the Premier League and scored 30 goals. He has never once reached double figures for us in a season. His supporters will point to his assists and mere presence on the field of play creating goal scoring opportunities for others, but his detractors are not convinced by this and are a little more doubtful of this benefit to the team. In 85 Premier League games for Newcastle and Liverpool before he joined us he scored 21 times, so his top flight record here is merely on a par with his previous tally.

It would be great if he could turn it around and prove his doubters wrong. Many fans cannot see it happening, and would like to see us play without him, using players with greater mobility and pace in attack, and no longer relying on pumping long high balls up to him to win in the air and knock down for others. How many goals have we scored in this fashion, particularly in recent times?

And finally, just a thought on the standard of poor officiating and inability of referees to see things that so many others clearly see, I happened to catch some on the Brighton v Stoke game on Monday evening. Lee Mason was the man in charge, and he made one of the all-time poor decisions in my view. Glenn Murray of Brighton was in the box heading goalwards when his feet were taken away by Ryan Shawcross. The uncompromising Stoke centre back completely missed the ball, and as Murray fell he grabbed hold of the ball, convinced he was about to be awarded a penalty. The ball did not go anywhere near out of play, yet the referee waved away claims for a penalty and pointed for a corner. It either had to be a penalty (which Shawcross admitted in his post-match interview that it definitely was) or either hand ball against Murray. By giving a corner the referee was perhaps trying to compromise, when in fact it was quite a ridiculous award to make. Astonishing.

Some still believe that Andy Carroll should be involved in the England set-up, as he would provide an alternative tactic, especially if England was chasing the game. But it seems that Gareth Southgate doesn’t agree. Perhaps he feels like many others that he doesn’t score regularly enough, or that international referees would not take too kindly to his style of play. It will be interesting to see if he makes the starting line-up tomorrow night.

Watford versus West Ham Preview

We’ve already faced the Magpies, Swans, Seagulls, and Eagles this season; can our new manager turn around our form as we go into the Hornets’ Nest?

Now that the furore surrounding the appointment of our new manager has largely died down we can begin to think about the return of our players away on international duty, assess the injury list, and the coaching staff can prepare the team for the important trip around the M25 to Watford on Sunday afternoon. From some of the reactions that I read on social media you would have thought that the board had re-appointed Avram Grant, not a manager who in his career has managed teams to finish in the top eight almost as many times as we have finished in one of those lofty positions in the entire history of the club. Not that he was particularly my first choice, but it may just be that he is the type of manager needed at the present time. He certainly seems to have made some impression in his short time here with the appointment of his backroom team being particularly well received, and the stepping up of the training sessions being very evident on videos released, to replace the usual jokey crossbar challenge and other joviality that came before. The arrival of Stuart Pearce is one that is favoured by many, and it is hoped that he can exert the necessary influence behind the scenes that many thought would be provided by Julian Dicks, but didn’t appear to be in evidence.

Not being a fan of friendly international football I am afraid that I didn’t see a single minute of the two England games in the break. I did, however, see one of the most ridiculous penalty awards of all time which effectively eliminated Northern Ireland from the World Cup finals tournament. I watched a bit of the Republic of Ireland playing in Denmark and thought to myself, why can’t West Ham defend like that? But then I watched some of the return game in Dublin and recognised some classic West Ham style kamikaze defending. Sweden also turned the tables on Italy with a masterful display of defence in the old Italian style, including one of their defenders committing a foul so bad (a knee in the stomach) that would have resulted in an arrest on the street, yet the referee deemed that the Italian forward who controlled the ball on his thigh before being assaulted had handled the ball! Some of the refereeing decisions that I saw in those World Cup qualifiers made me fear for the potential standard of the officials in the World Cup next year.

But for me the Premier League makes a welcome return this weekend. No more interruptions for internationals until March. I watched David Moyes’ press conference and was impressed with his positivity and confidence. This will be his 500th game as a manager in the Premier League, a total only surpassed by Ferguson, Wenger and Redknapp. I liked the way he answered many of the questions put to him, but the real test will be in what happens on the pitch in the coming games. Watford will not be the easiest away trip, although their form at Vicarage Road has not been as impressive as their form on the road. Their five home games have yielded just five points, with a solitary victory (2-1 v Arsenal) after they had been outplayed by their visitors for much of the game. Home draws against Liverpool and Brighton were certainly better results than we achieved at home against the same teams. A 6-0 reverse at home to Manchester City was an even heavier defeat than most other teams have suffered at the hands of the odds-on favourites for the Premier League title, and they will have been disappointed going down 1-0 to Stoke in their last home fixture.

Victories in their first three away games of the season at Bournemouth, Southampton and Swansea were followed by a draw at West Brom and then two defeats at Chelsea and then Everton. Somehow at Goodison they contrived to turn a 2-0 lead well into the second half into a 3-2 loss and even missed a penalty in the eleventh minute of injury time which would have given them a share of the spoils. After eight games they sat in fourth place in the table, but losing three in a row has seen them drop to ninth. Nevertheless I reckon they would have settled for 15 points and a top half position at this stage of the season.

Our head to head record in games against Watford is a heavily positive won with more than twice as many victories as defeats. In the period from 1984-85 for the next 20 years or so we played them on 23 occasions, winning 19, drawing two, and losing just twice. But the last ten games since then has seen a reversal of fortunes, and we have won just two of the matches, drawn three, and we have been beaten five times.

In the final season at Upton Park we beat them comfortably 3-1 with two Mark Noble penalties following an opening goal from Andy Carroll. How often are we awarded a single penalty in a game, let alone two? Incidentally the referee who gave them to us was (the now not so popular with West Ham fans) Mike Dean.

And who can possibly forget just over a year ago in one of the early games at the London Stadium when we raced into a 2-0 lead (which should have been even more) with two headed goals from Antonio, one from an outrageous rabona cross by a Frenchman who was popular with our fans at the time? We then contrived to concede two goals in the last five minutes of the first half, and a further two in the opening 15 minutes of the second, in a woeful defensive display. Some Watford players even accused our team of showboating when we were two goals ahead. In the return fixture we drew 1-1 with Ayew equalising an early penalty scored by Deeney, and Antonio was sent off close to the end of the game.

What do the bookmakers offer on the game? Watford are close to even money to win, whereas we are around 3/1. The favourite score is 1-1 (as it so often is), which is Lawro’s prediction and is priced at around 11/2. I am hoping that we will benefit from the “new manager factor” and inflict on Watford their fourth league defeat in a row. As each of us have featured in five games this season where four or more goals have been scored, my fun bet will be on a half-time score of 1-1, with West Ham to run out 3-1 winners at the end of the game at 125/1. I’ll add this to West Ham to win and four or more goals to be scored in the game which is priced at 10/1.