All Said And Done: It’s Back To The Action As West Ham Take On Spurs

It was a cold February Thursday afternoon in 1979. I was on my way home from work when West Ham appeared on the radio on the sports news at the end of the main news bulletin. At the time we were a second tier side so it was very unusual for us to show up in a sports news item on a weekday afternoon. Then I heard the announcement that West Ham had broken the world record transfer fee for signing a goalkeeper. £565,000 for a 29 year-old from QPR (then in the top flight) with one England cap to his name. It was considered a bit of a risk because even then it was alleged that he had dodgy knees. But he stayed with us for over a decade and became possibly the best goalkeeper we’ve ever had. Certainly he was the best keeper I ever saw playing for West Ham. Reg Pratt, the chairman at the time, made a comment that I can’t recall exactly, but it was along the lines of the fact that Phil was too much for us to possibly afford? But it happened.

The point of relating this is that until I heard on the radio that he had signed for us I didn’t even know we were after him. I was an avid fan who liked to keep abreast of all that was happening at the club but I didn’t have a clue. Contrast this with the situation we have today where, in every transfer window, fuelled and hyped by the written media, social media, and in particular Sky Sports, there is continual speculation regarding players that we are apparently chasing. So many names appear and nearly all of them are wide of the mark, but they spark a frenzy on West Ham sites with fans seemingly believing what they read, and adding their comments pro and against as if they are experts. I prefer the first scenario – the one where I find out that we have signed an excellent player without even knowing about it until he has the shirt on.

The Said Benrahma saga is a specific example of the nonsense surrounding football transfers today. How long has the transfer window been open? As I write this with about five minutes to go until the five o’clock deadline I still haven’t seen confirmation that Benrahma is a West Ham player, although there are some sketchy reports that the deal has been done on a loan basis with an obligation to buy. Apparently the reason for this is that the two clubs didn’t have the necessary time to complete the necessary paperwork to make the deal permanent by the 5pm deadline! There was a lot of reporting about a failed medical which was disputed by David Moyes in his lunchtime press conference, but really it can only be West Ham who typically make such a shambles of transfers. The circumstances regarding the change from purchase to “loan with obligation to buy” are a complete mystery at the moment, but will perhaps be revealed in the fullness of time. As a long- time fan I was just getting ready to hear how the transfer fell through at the last minute (the kind of statement I have heard before), but was then pleasantly surprised that it doesn’t appear to be the case.

I hope that we have secured the signing because, from what I have seen when watching Championship football, Benrahma is one of the most exciting talents in that division (just as Jarrod Bowen was). I don’t dispute what a number of our fans have said when they have suggested that this was not a priority position for a new acquisition and there are other areas of the pitch that perhaps need strengthening first. But we have signed what looks like an excellent right back in Coufal, and Craig Dawson at centre back is no mug either, even if he isn’t a world class signing that some had hoped for. For me he is a better buy than Tarkowski would have been at that ridiculous price being quoted, and if that has enabled us to fork out for Benrahma then so much the better.

But did I imagine that the chairman recently made a comment regarding “too many wingers”? Many fans didn’t understand why Diangana was allowed to go, and a few still believe that Anderson would have come good again, but I believe that Benrahma may be a better proposition than both of them and I hope that turns out to be the case. The purchase still makes the chairman’s comment look a little silly though.  

But enough of all this transfer nonsense, a quick recall of where we were before the unwelcome international break halted our progress. If you thought that the 4-0 win over a talented Wolves side was just another of those West Ham moments that happens once in a while, then you would have been surprised that we even surpassed that when visiting the league leaders Leicester, and comprehensively thumped them 3-0, and (just like the Wolves game) it could have been more. 7-0 in two games against two of the more fancied teams in the Premier League. As well as the host of chances that we created in each game, perhaps one of the most pleasing aspects was keeping two clean sheets, and defending as a team as well as any West Ham side I have seen in recent times. A 3-0 win away to the league leaders would have been headline news, but it barely raised a mention in the media in view of two other extraordinary results that weekend, with Tottenham winning 6-1 at Manchester United, and Villa thumping Liverpool 7-2.

Going back briefly to transfer signings, Coufal played superbly on his debut at Leicester, and looks an excellent acquisition. I was watching some international football in the week (something I don’t usually bother with much these days) and started to watch England facing Denmark. Rice seemed to be having a decent game, but I was bored with the match and switched over to watch Scotland facing the Czech Republic. Although the Czechs lost the game 1-0, they were playing really well. I was mostly interested to watch our two players, Soucek and Coufal, who along with their colleagues (most of whom seemed to be Slavia Prague players) were creating chance after chance but just failing to score. In view of the success of our two recently bought Czech players, perhaps a further raid in Prague for skilful footballers wouldn’t be the worst place to look in future?

So we look forward to another Sunday game (have we played a single game this season on a Saturday with a 3pm kick off?) against our neighbours from North London. Two in-form teams, neither of whom probably wanted the season to be disrupted at this point, will resume their local rivalry. But, despite the form of our opposition I hope that we go into the game full of confidence and continue to play as we have done in the last three league games. I know we lost at Arsenal but we could easily have won that game too. The pessimism surrounding the club has disappeared for the moment and we can be optimistic for another fine performance. We follow this game with matches against the top two from last season, and both Liverpool and Manchester City will be well up for improving on their start to this campaign.

Assuming no injuries I wonder if we will line up in the same formation with the same personnel that won at Leicester? As far I can gather the manager has a fully fit squad to choose from as he resumes his seat in the dugout, with Diop, Fredericks and Masuaku fully recovered from isolation / minor injuries. Just looking at recent history between the two clubs then the fixture looks like a home win, and the newly acquired Bale inspired Lilywhites (What kind of nickname is that? Do fans still use it?) will hope to record their fifth win in the last six meetings in all competitions against us. But as we have seen in our recent games against Wolves and Leicester, we appear to have turned the corner from a defensive viewpoint, and hopefully we will be difficult to break down. Michail Antonio is in splendid form and has a good goalscoring record against Tottenham so let us hope he can extend that in this game. The two managers have been in in opposite dugouts 14 times, and Mourinho has never lost. Well that is just the kind of statistic I like to see. There’s always a first time. Of course Tottenham are odds on to win, but you can get around 9/2 on West Ham notching a third successive league win this season. That’ll do me.   P.S. It’s now 10 p.m. so I thought I’d better check to make sure that the signing of Benrahma was completed satisfactorily and it was. That’s good. With our history I wouldn’t have been surprised if there had been errors with the completion or submission of the paperwork, so I thought I’d better make sure!

Can West Ham Outfox the Foxes?

What did you expect? Were we really in the EFL (Carabao) Cup to try and win it? I don’t think so. I know that these are early days, but Everton have made a blistering start to the season and are one of only four clubs on maximum points, together with Leicester, Liverpool, and Villa. They have won their away league games at Tottenham and Palace, and demolished West Brom at home. Their team selection indicated that they meant business. Our team selection, largely a reserve side, showed that we wanted to give a run-out to the fringe players who are currently not in the starting eleven in Premier League games. And while they looked impressive in the earlier rounds against lower league opposition, this time around they were found out. Even with our strongest team this would have been a tough ask to progress to the next round. But as soon as I saw the team selections I feared the worst. Everton (first team) v West Ham (reserves) – not really a contest. And so it proved. So once again one of the “winnable” competitions passes us by. There’s always the FA Cup of course. But will that take precedence over maintaining our Premier League status? Of course not.

Disappointed as I was with our performance at Everton, the opposite is true regarding the way we put Wolves to the sword. Considering the strength of the opposition this was most definitely one of our best performances in a long time, with the whole team shining. Defensively we looked very sound, and not many teams put four goals past Wolves. In the whole of last season only Everton (3) and Chelsea (5) managed to score more than twice in a game against them. Both those games were in the month of September, so perhaps we played them at the right time, in the month when they are at their weakest? The age-old argument – did we thrash them because we were so good or because they were poor? Possibly a bit of both, but I did enjoy the entertainment last Sunday evening.

This weekend we face Leicester who sit proudly at the top of the pile with three wins out of three in the league, scoring 12 goals in the process, and conceding 4. But Arsenal eliminated them from the EFL Cup. Can we take the form from the Wolves game into this fixture? We never know with our team of course.

Historically, just as with Wolves, we have a positive record against the Foxes, beating them in more competitive fixtures than they have beaten us. That record is largely enhanced by our results against them in the 1990s, when in 14 league games spread over the top two divisions, we won 12, drew 1, and lost only once. My memory of games against them is that they were fixtures that always seemed to have a lot of goals. On Boxing Day in 1967, we were 2-0 down in the first few minutes, but fought back to win 4-2 with a hat-trick from Brian Dear. It could have been many more but for a sparkling performance from the Leicester keeper (a 17 year old Peter Shilton who had ousted Gordon Banks from their team). Four days later in the return fixture we won 4-2 again at Filbert Street, and Brian Dear scored twice in this game too. And when we beat Leicester 4-0 the following season I saw the best goal that I have ever seen live when Martin Peters blasted a volley into the roof of the net after a pitch length move started by Bobby Ferguson, our keeper.

When he was in a rich vein of form Brian Dear took some stopping. In a two month period from mid-December to mid-February that season he found the net 11 times. In 1964-65 he didn’t play a single game until the middle of March, but in the final 15 games of that season he scored 14 goals, including 5 in 20 minutes in a game I watched on Good Friday against West Brom. It earned him a place in the team for the quarter-finals, semi-finals and the winning final in the successful European Cup Winners Cup run, where he scored four goals in those five games.

Over a course of several seasons in the 1960s Brian could not get a regular place in the side, but that may have been for reasons other than footballing and goalscoring ability. He only played 82 times for the club but averaged almost a goal in every other game, a better goals per game ratio than noted goalscorers such as Cottee, McAvennie, and Pop Robson. Loan spells away from West Ham in the late sixties were followed by a return to the club, but he never played for the Hammers again after the 4-0 defeat at Blackpool in the third round of the FA Cup, when he was one of the players involved in the notorious late-night drinking incident on the eve of the game. But what a fabulous finisher he was! We could do with a goalscorer with that kind of successful goals per game ratio now.

But enough of the Brian Dear nostalgia, and back to this game. The three teams that we will have played this week, Wolves, Everton and Leicester, are probably the biggest challengers to the elite six teams that have dominated the Premier League for some years now. Of course Leicester themselves were the 5000-1 winners not so long ago, after narrowly escaping relegation the season before with a great escape similar to our own a few years earlier, and are now consistently a top half of the table side. Brendan Rogers seems to have got the best out of Jamie Vardy, and last season he was the top Premier League goalscorer. He also notched a hat-trick against Manchester City last weekend, not the first time he has achieved that against City, and is already on five goals for the season after just three games. But four of those goals have come from penalty kicks! I wonder how many games will elapse this season before West Ham are even awarded four penalties?  

I see that we have a new right back! He’s Tomas Soucek’s Czech mate Vladimir Coufal from Slavia Prague. If he’s anywhere near as good a signing as Soucek then we’ll all be delighted. On the face of it he looks to be an absolute bargain. He looks to have all the right credentials so I’ll look forward to seeing him in the team. Does he have to spend time in quarantine first?

Of course with the start they’ve made, Leicester are odds on favourites to make it four wins out of four and remain at the top of the Premier League table. But I have faith in our team (the one that played Wolves anyway!) and I reckon we’ll spoil their party. 2-2 for me. What are the chances?

When this round of games is over, we will have our first international break of the season. Of course we all need a break after all the games we’ve played this season! Personally I don’t have the same interest in international football these days and hate these interruptions to the domestic campaign that appear so regularly so early on in the season. And in the current climate is it a good idea in this year in particular for players to be flying off all over the world in light of the pandemic? I’m not so sure.

Can West Ham Be Hungry Like The Wolves?

What in heavens name was he thinking? For some reason only apparent to himself, our chairman chose to go on TalkSport on the morning programme of Jim White and Simon Jordan and proceeded to put his foot in his mouth. As a public relations exercise it was up there with Prince Andrew’s recent interview on Newsnight with Emily Maitlis. In both examples (Sullivan and the Prince) they were either very poorly advised, or more likely, they weren’t as clever as they thought they were. If there were any Hammers fans left who had any time for our chairman before the interview then I reckon there are fewer now. I even spotted on the internet that it even gave rise to a “GoFundMe” set up by a West Ham fan asking for humorous comments, and raising money for the Bobby Moore fund – “Mr Sullivan needs 50K to fly West Ham to Everton”.

At least there was some cheer in the week when West Ham “Reserves” thrashed Hull City to progress to the next round of the Carabao Cup where we will face an away tie at Everton, who, as I write this, sit at the top of the Premier League with nine points from their three games, after a 2-1 win at Palace. Were our talented fringe players trying to play their way into the Premier League starting line-up, or putting themselves in the shop window?

I don’t hold out a lot of hope of going any further in the competition, but having said that, few fans had a lot of hope when we went to Arsenal last weekend. But after dominating the second half, a combination of failing to take our chances, and poor defending let us down again, and we left North London with no points from a decent performance.

Of course this is West Ham. So the bad news doesn’t stop there. 45 minutes before kick-off in the League Cup tie, our manager and two of our players found out that they had tested positive for Covid-19 and had to go home at once. They are currently self-isolating and unable to take any part in this weekend’s game.

There doesn’t appear to be any progress on the transfer-in front either with no new bodies in positions where they are desperately needed – we all know where they are! Perhaps they will all appear next week with the club keeping quiet about the impending signings. I won’t hold my breath though. In the chairman’s radio interview he appeared to be blaming David Moyes for this. In fact he appeared to blame everyone (including the fans) for the state we are now in (except the board!). Is it really any wonder that there seems to be a reluctance on behalf of footballers who might want to join our club?

My earliest memories of our opponents today go back to the late 1950s when they took advantage of a new innovation at the time, namely floodlights. They were one of the top teams in England at the time and they invited a series of top overseas teams to come over and play in friendly games. Football matches were barely shown on TV then with the exception of the FA Cup Final and England internationals, but they managed to persuade the BBC to broadcast the games. I was very young at the time and in bed, but managed to set up a mirror that enabled me to watch via open doors in the bungalow I lived in. Wolves also won the first FA Cup final that I can clearly remember watching when they defeated Blackburn 3-0 with two goals from a player I recall as Norman Deeley.

Despite their success in the fifties and early sixties they went into decline but have recently bounced back, and in the past couple of seasons they (together with Leicester, and perhaps Everton) look like they will provide the biggest threat to the elite six in the Premier League. In competitive head to head matches in history, Wolves are one of the clubs against whom we have a positive record, beating them more often than they have defeated us. In the past two seasons that hasn’t been the case however, with four consecutive Wolves wins. We haven’t managed to score a single goal in those games and have conceded eight.

So far this season Wolves have won one (2-0 at Sheffield United) and lost (unluckily I believe) 3-1 at home to Manchester City. We had better be prepared at the very start of the game – the two goals against Sheffield United were scored in the first six minutes. We are not usually known for our start to a game. We also need to be aware of Jimenez who has been a prolific scorer for them and has scored in each of their opening two games. He has also scored three times in his past three Premier League appearances against us. One statistic that I read was that no Wolves player has scored a goal in each of their opening three top flight fixtures since Derek Dougan (remember him?) did way back in 1973. He will never get a better chance of equalling that record, and you’d think that this was a banker bet for this game.

On the other hand we have never failed to score in our first two top flight home games for even longer – going back to 1971. So we are bound to score then, aren’t we? My prediction is for us to build upon our promising performance against Arsenal and draw 1-1, with Antonio equalising an early goal from Jimenez. What are the chances? It would be a good result as I believe Wolves are an excellent side, destined for a top six finish.

As a club we create a lot of our own problems, don’t we? But it’s not always us. The season hasn’t started well. No points, no new signings, no decisions going our way from officials or VAR, no opposing players (who played for us) penalised for leading with their elbow, no opposition goals chalked off for dangerous (high) boot, no penalties awarded for obvious handball, no marginal offsides going our way. And we are only two games into the new season! At least the handball rule has been clarified this season! What a nonsense that is! We need all the luck we can get. Perhaps it will start to go our way in this game. Fingers crossed.

West Ham visit the Emirates Stadium – what chance of a repeat of 2015 with a 2-0 away win?

West Ham began the final season at the Boleyn Ground (2015-16) with home games against Leicester (who would go on to become surprise winners of the Premier League, and Bournemouth. Both games were lost. Outfoxed by the foxes, and picked off by the cherries. But before then, in the season opener we travelled the short distance across North London to face an Arsenal side that had won virtually everything in pre-season, and were being strongly tipped to produce a stronger challenge for the Premier League title than they had for a while. Against the odds we came away with two goals, a clean sheet and three points from an excellent performance. That was the game where the phrase about Oxford having Ozil in his pocket was heard. Where is Oxford now? And come to think of it, what about Ozil? What a start to the season we had and sitting in a Champions League spot too! Of course we came down to earth in true West Ham style with the defeats to Leicester and Bournemouth, and then we went to Anfield and beat Liverpool 3-0!  

Of course that’s what supporting West Ham is all about. As Chuck Berry sang, you never can tell. It’s the West Ham way. This season we began with a defeat at home to Newcastle. Many thought that this was our best chance of three points in the first seven games with a daunting run of fixtures to follow. Five years ago we hoped to have six points from our first four fixtures, but we all thought that they would come from the home games against Leicester and Bournemouth. None of us expected anything from the visits to Arsenal and Liverpool. But that’s where we were successful, so what are the odds of repeating our victory in the first away fixture this time around with three points just as we did then?

If I’m honest I would have to admit the odds are massively against, but they were then, too. Bookmakers have Arsenal at 1/2 to win and we are priced at 5/1 which is not as generous as you might think given the starts that the two teams have made this season. League tables produced when four sides have yet to play a game are fairly meaningless of course, but even at this stage Arsenal sit at the top and we are in the bottom three. Interestingly, there were no draws in the Premier League last weekend, so can we perhaps get a point? The odds for this happening are about 10/3, once again not very generous. But then again the bookies aren’t known for their generosity are they?

My attempt at watching the Newcastle game after an evening out “as live” just like the Likely Lads attempted in the 1960s failed miserably when I accidentally found out that the score early in the second half was 0-0. So I ignored the first half and watched the last 45 minutes. Apparently we were unfortunate to hit the woodwork more than once in the opening half, but I saw little in the second half to make me think we were going to win. Somehow it was inevitable that Wilson would score against us, but was his foot dangerously high? Some referees might have thought so. Should we have been awarded a penalty when the ball struck a Newcastle arm in the penalty area. Again some might have thought so. But neither the referee nor VAR adjudged in our favour, and we ended up pointless after conceding a second goal close to the end.

At least we progressed in the League (Carabao) Cup with a comfortable 3-0 win over Charlton on Tuesday. Those are the type of fixtures we have lost in the past, but by all accounts the players that were given a run-out looked good, albeit against lower league opposition. So Hull in the next round, and then if we overcome that obstacle then Fleetwood or Everton. This is the easiest competition to win, but we have never done so, although we have come close. Perhaps this our year? We are around 15th favourites to lift this trophy with odds ranging from around 28/1 up to 66/1.

It’s all very depressing at the moment. I’ve lost count of the unrealistic transfer targets – with the Tarkowski story reminding me very much of stories from the past where we are supposedly chasing players well beyond our reach with no chance of it happening. I don’t know how many players we’ve been linked with but I still haven’t noticed anyone arriving. I see that the board have now allegedly taken vows of silence because of leaks from within the club. And what of all the takeover stories. Who will our new owners be? Chinese? Middle Eastern? American? I read some of this stuff but don’t believe a word of any of it until it happens. And hardly anything ever does.

I won’t speculate on the starting eleven, as last week for the first time ever I was spot on. I doubt that it can happen again. I’m sure that there will be some changes, but add the names of the players who played in the Carabao Cup tie to those who started last week, pick 4 or 5 who must start, and then perm any of the remainder into some kind of formation and hope for the best.

Almost certainly everyone is convinced that we are destined to lose to Arsenal by two or three goals at least. But I’m going to stick my neck out for an unlikely repeat of the score in August 2015. A top 4 UK hit by Napoleon XIV from the summer of 1966 comes to mind as I write this, but stranger things have happened. Well, not very often I’ll grant you, but I’m going for a 2-0 away win. Those not very generous bookmakers will only give me around a paltry 35/1 on that happening. What are the chances?     

Whistling A Happy Toon: West Ham To Make Winning Start To Season

When a new football season is about to begin then I am normally full of excitement, looking forward to going along to the London Stadium for the first game. If the opening game is away from home it is still exciting to watch the progress of the matches being played on Sports Saturday on Sky. But this time around I can’t really get as interested as I normally do, which considering I’ve been following West Ham since season 1958-59 may be surprising, and perhaps disappointing. Am I losing my enthusiasm for football? Of course last season was probably the strangest one of all time for reasons that we are all aware of, and this one may well be the same. Following the lockdown we began slowly, but then ended the season on a high, securing our place in the top division for another season with some excellent performances. Perhaps once the games get underway again I’ll regain my enthusiasm, but at the moment it’s not there yet.

The interval before the new season would start was obviously much shorter than usual, but I guess we were looking forward to seeing some departures and new arrivals in readiness for the new campaign. The friendly games against lower league opposition went well enough, although by all accounts the Betway Cup performance against Bournemouth (also lower league!) highlighted our defensive deficiencies. Of course some of our players were away on international duty, but the return of Fabianski, Rice, Yarmolenko, and Soucek will undoubtedly strengthen the team. But apart from confirming the permanent transfer of Soucek there is a distinct lack of new faces. All other Premier League clubs seem to have been active in the transfer market, but the eighteenth richest club in the world has been pleading poverty, much to the annoyance of the fans, who were looking forward to some new faces, in particular to strengthen the defensive positions, especially at full back.

The departure of Diangana to West Brom, where he spent last season on loan has caused much consternation on social media, but once Mark Noble and others had joined in with their disappointment at seeing him leave it became an issue for the national broadcast and newspaper media. Although the furore has died down a little, there still seems to be a lot of anger around still, and this will increase if we fail to get off to a good start in this game.

I’m not really sure how many times we’ve faced the Geordies in our opening game of the season. It makes a change in recent times to not be facing top-six opposition, although games against top sides come thick and fast after the opener. I do remember one season in particular, and that was back in 1973-74. We had ended the previous season in sixth place, one of our best ever top division finishing positions, and hopes were high for the new campaign. But that first game at Upton Park was a massive disappointment, which was exacerbated by a friend from Newcastle joining me at the game. We went down 2-1 with ex-Newcastle player Pop Robson scoring our goal.

From that point it didn’t get any better and a succession of draws and defeats in the first eleven matches left us at the bottom of the table. Eventually we won a game (1-0 at Coventry thanks to a John McDowell goal), but we remained at the foot of the table until we won our second game of the season beating Manchester City 2-1 on December 8th. Two 4-2 victories at Chelsea on Boxing Day and then at home to Norwich on New Years Day still left us in the relegation zone (21st), before a run of wins and draws from the beginning of January through to the middle of March eased the pressure slightly and we eventually stayed up by one point in 18th. Manchester United were one of the teams relegated. I’m hoping that we don’t replicate that season, which also included an ignominious defeat at the hands of Hereford in the FA Cup.

The point I’m trying to make here is that everything can look rosy before a season begins and then it all goes wrong. I can also remember pre-seasons where we have looked good in the friendly games and then performed badly once the league games have begun. The reverse has also happened at times with a disastrous pre-season leading to doom and gloom amongst the fans followed by some excellent performances. It just highlights the Forrest Gump box of chocolates story – with West Ham you never know what you are going to get. That applies from one season to another, one game to another, and frequently to the first half and second half of a game.

I’m not especially confident with everything about the club at the moment, but hopeful that David Moyes can continue where he left off at the end of the last campaign, despite the difficulties that he faces. He knows that the model of recent seasons has to change and he wants to build for the future. He doesn’t want players coming here for a good pay day in London, and if he can unearth more gems like Bowen and Soucek we will have a chance. People forget that when he arrived at Everton in 2002 they were a bit like us, often fighting the drop. When he left there eleven years later they had finished in the top eight for seven consecutive seasons. Whether he will be given the time, and even some of the resources that should be available to the eighteenth richest club in the world only time will tell.  

The game kicks off at 8pm and is available to view on TV. That’s some consolation for not being able to be at the stadium. How will we line up? I expect Fabianski to be behind a back four of Fredericks (or Johnson?), Diop, Ogbonna and Cresswell. I fear that Saint-Maximin can run our defence ragged as he did at the London Stadium last season and wonder if Masuaku will be included to provide extra cover for Cresswell? It wouldn’t be my choice but it may happen. Rice, Soucek and Noble may start in midfield, with Bowen, Fornals and Antonio providing the main attacking options at the start. But will there perhaps be a place for the in-form Yarmolenko, or a hopefully rejuvenated Haller, Lanzini or Anderson? Will any of the youngsters get a chance? Who knows? What we do know is that there won’t be any new faces to bolster a defence that had one of the worst goals-against records in the Premier League last season. I’m confident that we can score goals, but can we improve defensively? Perhaps David Moyes and his coaches can work wonders on this aspect of our team, but has he got the raw materials to work with?

The bookmakers have us at around 23/20 to win the game, with Newcastle and the draw both at around 5/2. If you fancy us to win then West Ham to win and both teams to score is on offer at around 7/2. My fun bet for this game is for West Ham to win 2-1 with Tomas Soucek scoring the last goal in the game – this is priced at 60/1. Without any great degree of confidence I’m just hoping for a decent performance and three points. What are the chances?

It’s traditional for me to forecast (before a ball is kicked) how the Premier League will look at the end of the season. So here goes: 1.Manchester City, 2.Liverpool, 3.Manchester United, 4.Chelsea, 5.Arsenal, 6.Wolves, 7.Everton, 8.Tottenham, 9.Leicester, 10.West Ham, 11.Southampton, 12.Newcastle, 13.Leeds, 14.Aston Villa, 15.Sheffield United, 16.Crystal Palace, 17.Brighton, 18.Burnley, 19.West Brom, 20.Fulham. There’s optimism for you! Enjoy the game

West Ham all but confirm Premier League football with first half performance against Watford

At the time of writing (Tuesday morning) it is not mathematically certain of course, but our blistering first half display against Watford was enough to all but confirm top flight football next season. At the same time, managerless Watford are still in trouble, and it could be worse depending on what happens when they face Manchester City this evening. If the City team that can destroy opposing teams turns up then their goal difference could take a battering, and then they’ll be closely watching the Villa game against Arsenal that kicks off later in the evening.

Bournemouth are still clinging on but they could be relegated before they visit Goodison Park on the final day of the season. If Arsenal don’t have a hangover from their FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester City, they could have quite a say in the final relegation outcome. Sky TV will probably want it to still not be settled by the final day, so will be hoping that Watford lose tonight and Villa win. That would make our last day game potentially more interesting for the broadcasters of course.

Our visit to Old Trafford on Wednesday evening will now be a more relaxed affair than it could have been thanks to the ten points we’ve collected in our last five matches. Only Manchester United and Tottenham (both 13 points) and Manchester City (12 points) have picked up more points than we have in this 5 game period. The United league form has been excellent since the resumption following lockdown as they press for a place in next season’s Champions League, and this is likely to be a difficult game for us. United seem to have got their team selection wrong for their FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea which has resulted in an all London final. But it is probably just another example of a team putting more emphasis on finishing in the top four of the Premier League rather than going all out to win a trophy. Money talks.

Our manager seems to have had quite an increase in popularity on social media after being instrumental in keeping us up. His two mid-season signings, Bowen and Soucek, have been important elements in the last few games, and I look forward to (hope for) more signings of this calibre in the transfer window at the end of the season. Reports suggest he is looking for hungry young players with pace, and I hope this is the case. I wonder what his team selection will be on Wednesday evening? I don’t envisage many (if any) changes for the last couple of games.

Who is in the running for Hammer of the Year this season? Declan Rice has been our outstanding player for the season as a whole and deserves it in my opinion, but I’ve also enjoyed the performances of Ogbonna (who wasn’t a particular favourite of mine, but this season he’s been our best defender in my opinion), and the recent goalscoring form, and all-out efforts of Antonio. Bowen and Soucek have also been excellent in their short time with us. The speculation regarding Rice continues apace and I would love it if he is still with us next season. Time will tell.

Can West Ham confirm Premier League football when Watford visit the London Stadium in a relegation six-pointer?

I was keeping an eye on the score in the Bournemouth v Leicester game the other evening on my phone. I saw that Leicester had taken a 1-0 lead and then I started to view the game on TV early in the second half to hear the commentator confirming that Leicester were cruising and that Bournemouth were devoid of ideas. Shortly after I began to watch Leicester had a goal kick. And from that moment when Schmeichel fluffed the kick I witnessed one of the greatest implosions from a football team that I have seen for a very long time. And to think that the side from the lockdown city were supposedly trying to cement a place in the Champions League next season! Their performance in that final half an hour or so was woeful. The Bournemouth victory gave them confidence for their visit to the Etihad on Wednesday, where although they were outplayed, they could easily have gained another point in their desperate fight for survival. With two games to go they will probably need to win both of them to stand any chance of staying up. But they do still have an outside chance, and their odds to be relegated eased from 1/16 to 1/12.

Earlier that day I wasn’t at all surprised that Villa picked up their first three point haul for some time by disposing of a Crystal Palace team that already seem to be on the beach. By losing the game, Palace joined Norwich as the only side to fail to pick up a single point in the last five games. I wish that we had them to play in one of our final fixtures. Villa played away at Goodison Park on Thursday evening. What a boring game of football that was that highlighted both teams weaknesses in front of goal. 24 shots between them, and only one on target each. Fortunately Everton’s late equaliser denied Villa a victory.

Both West Ham and Watford will be thankful for their victories last Saturday, which meant that the four teams realistically involved in the relegation scramble (of course Brighton are not yet mathematically safe) collected 12 points between them in the round of matches scoring 12 goals and conceding just 2. While Antonio became the first West Ham player since David Cross many years ago to score four goals in an away fixture, Watford came from behind to beat Newcastle with two penalties.

That sets it up nicely for the relegation “six-pointer” this evening. It is hard really to assess our form and you can only beat what you are up against, but to be fair Norwich were awful. We played pretty well and could have had an even more emphatic victory with more care. It was good to see Mark Noble proving what I have always believed and written about in previous articles. He is still a very good player against the lesser sides. Whilst the pace of the top teams highlights his lack of speed, he can still play an important role when we are facing sides outside the top eight or so. If selected he will be making his 500th appearance for the club, which is really quite a milestone in the modern game. He has also scored three goals in his last two appearances against tonight’s visitors.

A win for either team tonight will mean that the winning team are virtually safe barring a remarkable turnaround in the goal difference situation, and a draw may not be a bad result for both teams. Sky TV would love to be able to show a last day showdown between ourselves and Villa, but hopefully that will not happen.

Apparently we have no fresh injury concerns after the Norwich game, and both Anderson and Snodgrass have returned to training giving even more strength to the bench, not that it is usual for our manager to utilise as many substitutes as he is allowed. I fully expect him to go ahead with the same starting eleven that began the Norwich game, and if he does it will probably be the first time this season where I have correctly predicted the team! But we shall see.

We are favourites to win the game with the bookmakers, but the draw at 2/1 is as low as odds usually go for a drawn match, with many expecting that to be the convenient outcome for both sides. The correct score market has a 1-1 draw as strong favourite at 9/2. Will 35 points be enough to ensure that both teams will be playing Premier League football next season? If the game does end level then Bournemouth and Villa will need to win both of their last two games to survive to overtake ourselves and Watford if neither of the teams playing tonight fail to pick another point. A win and a draw wouldn’t be good enough as it would only take them up to 35 points, which wouldn’t be enough without a significant win to boost their goal difference. The Hornets would be the most vulnerable with an inferior goal difference to ourselves.

After tonight there will be just two games left for each of the teams still involved. Villa have a home game against a seemingly improving Arsenal side before visiting the London Stadium on the final day. Bournemouth face Southampton at home in a South Coast derby before visiting Goodison Park on the final day. Watford have two tough fixtures at home to Manchester City and then away at Arsenal. We visit Old Trafford for our penultimate game before facing Villa to conclude the longest season in history.

A win tonight will almost certainly be enough to guarantee that we remain in the top flight for the next campaign, and a draw wouldn’t be the worst result either. However I don’t expect that either team would be entirely happy if the spoils are shared, and expect both to be going all out for the win.

Can West Ham win at Carrow Road for the first time since 1973?

I can add little to my co-blogger Geoff’s summary of the midweek game at home to Burnley. I had the feeling early on that it just wasn’t going to be our day when Pope (surely England’s best custodian?) pulled off two saves in quick succession from Soucek and then Antonio. And when he used his feet to save when Haller looked bound to score with his first touch after coming on, it was confirmed in my mind that we weren’t going to score. From that point on we ran out of ideas, and we needed some new bodies on the pitch towards the end to try to salvage a point. Unfortunately our manager didn’t seem to agree. I despair sometimes at his use (non-use?) of substitutes and throwing on Ajeti with a few minutes to go was too little and much too late. Burnley are a well-drilled organised team who can retain a 1-0 lead better than most. Even with a depleted team everyone knows their jobs, and they could easily contain our attacking ideas (non-ideas?) which mainly consisted of high balls into the box for them to head away with ease.

We are fortunate that Norwich are as good as down (albeit not mathematically yet), and that neither Bournemouth or Villa can seem to win a game of football. For me, Brighton are absolutely safe (again not mathematically), so it comes down to two out of Bournemouth, Villa, Watford and ourselves to join Norwich in the Championship next season. This round of fixtures could be more important than many think.

We have a poor record away at Carrow Road which is emphasised by the fact that Pop Robson scored the winner the last time we won there. And Pop Robson is now 74 years old! He scored the winning goal in a 1-0 victory on 10 February 1973, over 47 years ago! We finished sixth that season whilst Norwich narrowly escaped relegation. The following season (1973-74) he scored again in a 2-2 draw in Norfolk. That season the Canaries finished bottom and were relegated (together with Manchester United) while we finished fifth from bottom, the same positions that the two clubs now occupy. Seventeen winless games is a shocking record, and failure to halt that poor run could be significant in the relegation tussle. As eight of the last 13 games between the sides have ended in draws, and the away side has not won any of the last 11 Premier League encounters, history would seem to be pointing us towards a drawn game, perhaps 2-2 again? Apparently Norwich are the only side in the top 5 European leagues to fail to claim a single point when they have fallen behind in a game, so scoring the first goal would be good for us. But hold on a minute, haven’t we dropped 24 points from winning positions, more than any other team in the Premier League?

Despite the teams near the bottom failing to pick up many points since the re-start, they have an opportunity with this weekend’s fixtures. Watford could win at home to Newcastle, and both Bournemouth and Villa have home games against Leicester and Palace respectively. Should they win those, and if we go down at Norwich then the cushion of safety that was beginning to appear would disappear and we would be back in trouble. That is the worst case scenario but I still don’t think we will go down even if that does happen. I’m normally very optimistic, but if it happens like that this weekend, then our last two home games against Watford and Villa will take on added significance.

After being a Tottenham and Manchester United fan the other evening (for one night only), this weekend I’ll be supporting Newcastle, Palace and Leicester. With four games to go the table shows both ourselves and Watford on 31 points (with goal differences of -19 and -22 respectively), Bournemouth on 28 (-27), and Villa on 27 (-29). Our goal difference is healthy at the moment compared to the others and effectively is worth an additional point.

Whatever happens we won’t be in the bottom three with three games to go. But with the wrong results from our viewpoint we could be by the time that we play our next game at home to Watford next Friday evening. Having said that, even if both Bournemouth and Villa win on Sunday I would like to think that they will lose in the next round of fixtures when they travel to away games at Manchester City and Everton respectively. Let’s hope that we can break the Carrow Road jinx, win comfortably, and as a result move one step closer to safety. It won’t be as easy as that and I’ll be happy with any kind of win, however ugly. Perhaps 2-1? Even a repeat of the 1973-4 2-2 scoreline would edge us a further point towards safety.

Wednesday Wonderland for West Ham, but will it be a Super Sunday at Newcastle?

Was that an enjoyable finish to a game of football or what? On Wednesday night I enjoyed the ending of a game of football more than I have done in ages. When you have supported West Ham for as long as I have (back to the late 1950s) you can probably recall so many occasions when a game of football involving our team has had a dramatic finale. And in the vast majority of those we have been left shaking our heads in disbelief as a late goal has either stopped us from winning a game, or turned a draw into a defeat. And how many times in recent years have teams broken away at pace to score an important late goal against us? Well just for once tonight it was the other way round.

How important was Andriy Yarmolenko’s goal for West Ham? That single goal turned one point into three and gave us a small cushion ahead of our close rivals in the relegation stakes. We are now three points above the drop zone with a superior goal difference over the others involved. But despite only having 29% possession and facing a talented Chelsea team, that goal and the win it produced will (I hope) give everyone at the club massive confidence for the six games to come. You only have to look at the league table and the fixtures remaining to see why bookmakers’ odds, that had us not much better than even money to be relegated before the game, have now changed dramatically. If you still think we will go down you can get odds of 7/1 or bigger, and to stay up we are now quoted at around 1/16.

For me, the whole team, including the substitutes of course, played well. The commitment of the players against a team pushing for a Champions League place was admirable. As the game was drawing to a close I was pleased with the point we were about to get, but the joy of that breakaway winner will stay with me. And fine goal that it was, especially given the importance, it wasn’t even our best goal on the night. That was our second goal. Watch it back if you get a chance. How many West Ham players touched the ball in the build-up? I think I’ve got it right in saying that every outfield player was involved. Goals such as these rarely win goal of the season competitions (that is usually reserved for dramatic overhead kicks or volleys) but for me, this was our best goal of the season. After several viewings I think I’ve got it – Fredericks to Soucek to Diop to Ogbonna to Cresswell to Lanzini to Rice to Lanzini to Rice to Fornals to Rice to Antonio (penalty?) to Fornals to Bowen and finally swept home by the tireless Antonio (my man of the match but so many in contention).

I’m pleased I don’t have to say too much about that ridiculous three and a half minute VAR fiasco where Jonathan Moss, who has been involved in so many controversial decisions against us in the past few years, once again made my blood boil. But we won the game in the end so I’ll forget it for now. Until we come across the same official.

The games come thick and fast now, so how many of our players are fit to play against Newcastle? I was a Newcastle fan the other night when they played at Bournemouth. Actually I quite like Newcastle anyway, more so than many of the other clubs in the Premier League, so even without wanting Bournemouth to lose that game, I was pleased they won so convincingly. My prediction before the resumption was for Norwich, Villa and Bournemouth to go down and I see no reason to change my mind now. The bookmakers now have those three as strong favourites to be relegated with Norwich 1/100, Bournemouth 1/8 and Villa 1/4.

Apparently three of our injured players are back in contention for selection in this game, Noble, Masuaku and Haller. Will there be any changes in the starting eleven? I’ve really no idea, although normally I like to see the same players involved in such a confidence boosting victory retained. But the Chelsea game may have taken more out of the team than we know and there is little chance for a rest prior to the game.

Perhaps Haller will be recalled to play alongside Antonio in attack? If so, whose place would he take? Despite Lanzini’s improved performance the other night, both he, and to some extent Fornals give the ball away too much for my liking. Wilshere has a habit of finding team mates when he has the ball which is a good thing. Of course Yarmalenko made a strong case in his cameo for inclusion, but perhaps a place on the bench with greater trust in bringing him on will be what will happen? In all of this Anderson seems to be the forgotten man. Is there a way back for him? Not at the moment I would suspect.

And I haven’t even mentioned Noble. Before the Chelsea game I thought it would be good for him to sit it out, and as it turned he was injured anyway. I see him playing a part in the games to come, but more often from the bench would be my thinking. Rice did an excellent job as captain, cajoling and encouraging all around him, whilst delivering another imperious performance in midfield. I’m not sure whether or not there is any chance of him still being with us next season, but by giving him the captain’s armband and telling him that the team will be built around him, might be our only remote chance of him staying. I’m afraid that the owners’ eyes might light up if a substantial offer is received for him though.

The thing about being a West Ham fan is that you are never quite sure what you are going to get from one game to another. I hope we don’t see a reaction whereby the players think that the job is done and we are safe. The intensity and commitment from the Chelsea match needs to be maintained for the rest of the campaign, and must continue at least until we are sure of playing Premier League football next season. Perhaps this game will come too soon? Newcastle, despite playing on the same evening, didn’t really have to get out of second gear to beat a poor Bournemouth side, whereas we needed to be in top gear throughout.

So what will happen? I’d like another win of course, but we may need to settle for a draw in this one. With Bournemouth playing at Manchester United, Watford at Chelsea, and Villa at Liverpool in this round of matches, I suspect that a draw might prove to be a good outcome. I’m sure Messrs. Lampard and Klopp will demand better performances from their players after the midweek defeats, and surely Manchester United will thrash Bournemouth?

What West Ham would give for a repeat of the score at Stamford Bridge earlier this season!

When we kick off at 8.15 pm on July 1st we may or may not be in the bottom three. Even if we are I stand by my assertion from my last blog article that we will not be relegated this season. Nothing that we have done on the field since the return after lockdown backs up my confidence. It is the form (or lack of it) from our rivals in the relegation stakes that makes me believe we will be OK.

Brighton (on 33 points) will almost certainly be OK thanks to their win against Arsenal and draw at Leicester. They have had (by a long way) the best results of the bottom six since resumption and still have seven games left to add to their tally. Four of their next five games look tough on paper (Man. Utd., Liverpool, Man City, and away at Southampton who have surprised me considering how poor they looked at the London Stadium shortly before the season was held up), but in between they play at Norwich, and then finish with games against Newcastle and Burnley. They should be fine.

Watford (on 28 points) now only have six games to play, two (out of their next three) of which don’t look too bad on paper at home to Norwich and Newcastle. Their toughest games should be at Chelsea and Arsenal and at home to Man. City. Of course they face us on July 15 which will be an important six-pointer. They have not looked that great so far, but I think they’ll be OK.

West Ham (on 27 points and outside the bottom three on goal difference only) will, after this home game against Chelsea (more on this later), face five teams currently in the bottom half of the table in our final six games, the only exception being the away trip to Old Trafford for the penultimate game of the season. Newcastle and Norwich (both away) plus three games at home to Burnley, Watford, and Villa are crucial games for us to pick up the necessary points for survival.

Bournemouth (also on 27 points) have a home game against Newcastle that kicks off just two and a quarter hours before our game against Chelsea. This surely is their best chance to move out of the bottom three, because their final six games will see them face Man.Utd, Spurs, Leicester, Man.City, Southampton, and Everton. I don’t see them picking up many more points from those.

Villa (also on 27 points) now only have six games to play, the first five of which are against Liverpool, Man.Utd, Palace, Everton, and Arsenal, before coming to the London Stadium on the last day of the season. Surely they won’t be collecting much from those games without a massive reversal of form.

Norwich (on 21 points) look doomed, although they won’t be the poorest team to have ever been relegated from the top flight. If they can hang on to their better players they will have a good chance of bouncing back.

So that’s my summary of what I think will happen. We won’t pull up any trees in the run-in, but if we still manage to go down now by failing to pick up enough points from the remaining games, then we will well and truly deserve it. And if we did happen to go down I would fear for our chances of bouncing back as quickly as we have done after previous relegations.

Of course we won 1-0 at Chelsea shortly before the end of 2019 in a game remembered for David Martin’s debut clean sheet, and his emotional reunion with his dad Alvin in the stands. Despite our win, we also scored another goal that was chalked off as a result of it “accidentally” touching Antonio’s arm, one of two goals denied to us this season by accidental handball both picked up by VAR. It’s a silly rule anyway in the sense that accidental handball by a defender in his own penalty area does not result in a penalty kick being awarded against him, so why are attacking teams penalised in this way? And don’t get me going about the VAR failure to spot the handball which led to Tottenham’s first goal against us!

As for team selection in this game then of course our keeper picks himself, but it will be interesting to see whether Ogbonna (who is now apparently fit) is recalled in place of Balbuena, who only looks a shadow of the player he was in his first season with us. And talking of players not at the same level as in the past, Cresswell now looks too slow, and seems to dwell on the ball in possession. It wasn’t that long ago that he won an England cap, but now he worries me, and we look especially vulnerable against teams attacking us on that flank.

Rice has been our standout player once again, and I’d like to see him line up alongside Soucek in a defensive midfield position. Of course there has been so much to admire about Mark Noble over the years, and much as I like him, the pace of the game just seems a little too quick now, especially against the top teams. He still has a part to play in this run-in but I’d like him to sit out this one.

Our attacking has been generally poor and we haven’t scored since Leap Years Day when we comprehensively put three goals past Southampton. Bowen and Antonio both scored on that day, and seem to me to be the only two attacking players who have shown any semblance of form in our last two games. Bowen continues to look impressive whilst Antonio has looked OK but is not a centre forward and certainly shouldn’t play up front on his own.

Beyond those two I don’t really know! Anderson and Lanzini have both looked so poor to me, and whilst I can see some potential in Fornals, he hasn’t looked that great in the last two games and certainly not in front of goal, spurning two excellent chances to score. Who else is there? Wilshere has apparently been very impressive in training, and should surely be given a chance to do it in games? If he could recapture some semblance of past form then there is a chance he could unlock some defences, but there must be a reason he hasn’t been given a chance yet in a team playing poorly? Yarmolenko has the highest ratio of goals to minutes played this season, but he has been inconsistent and Moyes doesn’t appear to rate him, nor does the manager seem to trust the inexperienced Xande Silva, nor Ajeti, who despite being an international footballer has not been given many minutes to prove himself.

Of course Haller apparently has a hip injury that is keeping him out. There are some scandalous conspiracy theories going around that suggest he isn’t playing because we will be selling him in the summer, and apparently one more appearance would trigger a hefty payment to Eintracht Frankfurt, the club from whom we bought him. That would be ridiculous! So my team for this game (but definitely not the manager’s selection) would be: Fabianski; Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna, Johnson; Rice, Soucek, Wilshere; Yarmolenko, Antonio, Bowen.

In the remaining games I’d like to see our manager make better use of substitutes, both in terms of who, and the timing. We are allowed to use up to five, and surely it makes sense to do so, especially if you are behind in a game?

I watched some of the FA Cup game between Leicester and Chelsea at the weekend and I was surprised at how poor Chelsea were, especially in the first half. But Lampard has laid into them deeming so many of their players’ performances unacceptable, and I would be surprised if they didn’t improve markedly when they face us. And talking of the FA Cup, an interesting fact. Teams are supposedly weakened in this competition these days, but the four semi-finalists, are four of the so-called elite six in this country, and in fact each of them has won the trophy in the last four seasons.

What do I expect from this game? Based on what I’ve seen in the last couple of games, I expect to be beaten, think that we could possibly snatch a draw, but hope for an unlikely win, the same as we managed at Stamford Bridge in November. What are the chances?