In-form West Ham (well last weekend anyway!) travel to face the draw specialists at Molyneux

I have to be honest, prior to last weekend’s game at Stamford Bridge, I didn’t really think we had a chance of avoiding a heavy defeat. Of course I always hope, but even at my most optimistic I couldn’t really see it coming. The only factor in our favour was the fact that Chelsea had a European game in midweek, and statistics show that teams are more likely to have a poor result the following weekend. Frank Lampard didn’t use that as an excuse, but I think he was more than confident of a victory before the game, and left out a couple of key players who had been playing very well lately, in Kante and Willian. By the time he eventually brought them on it was too late, and we were good value for the win.

Of course the game will always be remembered for David Martin’s contribution, followed by his Pat Cash impersonation at the end, climbing the stairs in the stand to greet his legendary father, Alvin. What a story that turned out to be! But for me the team played well as a unit, defending together, and attacking as one. The back four had good games, and that is three goals this season now for Cresswell. Rice and Noble had their best games for a while, especially Rice, who perhaps with a point to prove against the club who let him go, really shone in all aspects of the midfielder’s role.

I’ve always liked Snodgrass, especially for his wholehearted attitude, and he and Fornals, who also had probably his best game, were vital cogs in the midfield. Anderson was OK, whilst not yet demonstrating that he is at the top of his form (we’ve seen what he can do). One pundit summed it up perhaps when he said that, for all his talent, there’s a reason Anderson is at West Ham, and not at one of the very top clubs. But for me, Antonio was superb, showing exactly what he is good at, pace, power, strength, and endless running. And to think that a previous manager once played him at right back! I remember a game at Stamford Bridge where he played in that position too! But then the same manager didn’t have a clue how to use Snodgrass either.

Writing the article last week I referred to the gulf between the teams at the top of the table and those further down. In particular I mentioned three games, and three teams who were not even in the bottom three, ourselves, Newcastle and Brighton who were very long odds to win their games.

“We are 9/1 to win at Chelsea, Newcastle are 14/1 to win at home to Manchester City, and Brighton are also 14/1 to win at Liverpool. A 2,250/1 treble on three football matches shows just what the Premier League has become.”

Without being really hopeful, I had a small wager on each of the three teams to win their games, and had to do the treble too, as I would have kicked myself if the three most unlikely results had all actually happened, and I’d mentioned the very long odds without placing a bet. As it turned out I made a profit (thanks to West Ham of course) but the others put up good performances too, with Newcastle holding Manchester City, and Brighton only going down narrowly at Liverpool. Perhaps the top teams were all suffering hangovers due to their midweek European games.

On average this season to date, slightly more than a quarter of matches have ended as draws (38 out of 140 = 27%). Sheffield United and Arsenal have each drawn half of their 14 games, whereas this evening’s opponents, Wolves, have gone one further drawing eight. With four wins and just two defeats they stand at sixth in the table on twenty points, four ahead of ourselves. The two games they lost were 3-2 at Everton, and then 5-2 at home to a rampant Chelsea. Apart from those setbacks it has been a good season, although no doubt they would have wished to have turned some of those draws into wins, just as we would perhaps have liked to have turned some of our defeats into draws? A 0-0 draw away to Leicester on the opening day (a very good result in hindsight) was the only game in which they failed to score this season, and perhaps their highlight was a 2-0 win away at Manchester City.

Seven of their eight draws have been with a 1-1 score, including four of them at home to Manchester United, Southampton, Burnley and Sheffield United. If you like to bet on scores in matches then 1-1 would seem to be an obvious result, with the odds being 11/2 on that happening, although the favourite is 1-0 to Wolves at 5/1. If you fancy us gaining a second 1-0 away win in less than a week against one of the top sides, then you can get 11/1 on that. A West Ham win is 7/2, and an away victory with both teams to score is 13/2.

Let us hope that we can take the confidence from our victory on Saturday into this game, and if David Martin can keep another clean sheet then, stating the obvious, we won’t lose! Despite their good season, Wolves have only stopped the opposition from scoring in three of their games, whereas we have amazingly kept four clean sheets. Amazingly runaway leaders Liverpool have only kept two!

I fancy another 1-0 win, although I’d settle for a 1-1 draw. Last season the game at Molyneux was one of our worst performances. Let us hope for a much improved one today.

In-form Chelsea face out-of-form West Ham. Surely there is only one possible outcome?

Shortly before our game against Bournemouth on 28th September, just two months ago, I wrote the following words in this column:

OK, so I know we are only six games into the new season. Nevertheless, how good is it to see three teams who are not members of the “elite six” occupying places in the top six of the Premier League even at this early stage? And if one of the two teams meeting at the Vitality Stadium (still known to some fans as Dean Court) emerges as the winner of this Saturday’s game then they are guaranteed a place in the top half dozen for another week at least, and potentially a place in the top two! Well that’s unlikely as I can’t see Manchester City tripping up at Goodison Park, but a third place beckons (at least in the short term) as neither Leicester nor Arsenal, who currently occupy third and fourth, play until Sunday or Monday. Let us hope we can keep our excellent run in the league going with another win to enable us to look down on the majority of teams in the top flight. But it won’t be easy!

The three non-elite teams in the top six just seven games ago were ourselves, Bournemouth and Leicester. We drew 2-2 at the Vitality Stadium that day whilst Leicester went on to thrash Newcastle 5-0 the following day. Not a bad result for us in the scheme of things. The previous Sunday we’d beaten Manchester United 2-0, but then we crashed out of the Carabao Cup in midweek to Oxford by an embarrassing 4-0 scoreline. Just another cup blip like so many in my lifetime. Never mind perhaps we were concentrating on the Premier League! So where are the three teams who had gate-crashed the top six just a few weeks ago? Well, Leicester are now second, Bournemouth are eleventh, and we are seventeenth! Just one place above the three teams occupying the relegation positions!

Just before the Everton game on 19th October, just six weeks ago, I wrote the following in this column:

It also means that Marco Silva heads the betting (at 5/4) for the next Premier League manager to leave his post (ahead of Solkskjaer at 2/1 and Pochettino at 5/1). What better for Everton than a home game against West Ham who specialise in helping teams and managers in this kind of predicament? Incidentally, at 50/1 our manager has only two managers below him in the betting to be next to leave (Klopp and Lampard are both 66/1).

Third favourite (Pochettino) has gone already, so the betting for the next Premier League manager to leave his post makes interesting reading. Emery at Arsenal is the new favourite at 1/2, Silva is still a low price despite Everton collecting 7 points in their last five games at 2/1, and the third favourite is guess who? Yes, Mr Pellegrini at 5/1. Quite a shortening of odds over a 7 game run in the league! The form table that I write about regularly in this column, based on the last 5 games, now has us at rock bottom, tied with Palace at 1 point! Southampton have 2 and Arsenal 3. Norwich have 4, and then both Watford and Bournemouth have 5. One point a game average is usually the minimum needed over the course of a whole season, so the teams I’ve just mentioned are the ones based on current form who would appear to be in the most trouble.

Our opponents this week have won four of their last five league games and so are in really good form. I watched their game last weekend where they lost 2-1 at Manchester City. The quality of football produced by both sides was so far superior to anything we have seen in recent times. Frank Lampard has made a very promising start to management at the top level, which won’t be a pleasing thing for some of our fans who dislike him (or worse). Where does he stand on the hate scale compared to Messrs. Ince, Defoe, and Payet? Chelsea sit comfortably in fourth place seven points clear of the fifth team, who incidentally are our next opponents. Yes, the game after this one will be another away game at Molyneux. Wolves, despite their slow start, have risen to fifth in the table and have only lost two games this season. Where are our next points coming from?

There is little point in me writing about the shortcomings of the team, or our current manager. In the last few columns both Geoff and I (mainly Geoff) have gone into some detail as to what we believe the problems would appear to be, but has anything changed? I always remain hopeful but the club appear to have hit a very low spot that requires drastic action. The dramatic fall from the top six down to seventeenth with a run of fixtures that on paper were not the most difficult would have resulted in action elsewhere, but, despite numerous rumours, it appears nothing has changed. I still expect to see the same team and squad selected this week, and cannot see anything other than another defeat. I’d love to be proved wrong, but I just cannot see anything else. If it is any consolation we can’t be in the bottom three on Saturday night, but by Sunday it is possible, albeit unlikely. At the current rate it will happen soon, and then perhaps some action will be taken.

The gulf between the teams at the top of the table and those further down is now massive. Three teams who are not even in the bottom three, ourselves, Newcastle and Brighton are very long odds to win their games this weekend. We are 9/1 to win at Chelsea, Newcastle are 14/1 to win at home to Manchester City, and Brighton are also 14/1 to win at Liverpool. A 2,250/1 treble on three football matches shows just what the Premier League has become.

Pellegrini’s West Ham v “The Special One’s” Tottenham – who would have predicted that?

A season which began with high hopes for both teams appears to have gone wrong for both West Ham and Tottenham as they approach Matchday 13. By the end of this London derby, one third of the season will have been completed. Prior to the game the teams occupy 16th and 14th places in the Premier League, not what was expected of either when the campaign began. But whereas Manuel Pellegrini will, according to reports, apparently be given time to turn round the club’s alarming slump in form, the same is not true for our unpopular North London neighbours, who sensationally sacked Mauricio Pochettino as manager on Tuesday. Jose Mourinho was appointed as his replacement almost before the Argentinian had cleared his desk, so we face a team with a new manager on Saturday lunchtime.

Despite occupying such lowly positions in the Premier League table, both teams can take comfort in the fact that with 13 points (West Ham) and 14 points (Tottenham), they are not far points-wise behind the team who surprisingly are currently fifth in the table (Sheffield United) who have 17 points. A good run could see a rapid climb up the table. With the exception of the teams at the very top and bottom the Premier League is a tight affair at the moment. Liverpool at the summit are eight points clear of the second team, and Manchester City in fourth are eight points clear of the fifth placed team. You would get long odds against the teams in the top four not being the ones to claim the Champions League places at the end of the season.

It is less than six months since Pochettino took Spurs to the final of the Champions League, and he will be coveted by many of the top teams in the world. In my opinion he performed miracles in his five seasons in North London, with four top four finishes in the last four seasons following a fifth place in his first season at the helm. Before his arrival Tottenham had finished in the top four just twice in the previous 24 campaigns. He did this without the spending power of his rivals in the elite six of the Premier League. However, Tottenham have slumped in 2019, and have been beaten 18 times in the calendar year. The board under chairman Daniel Levy obviously felt that a change was necessary and have appointed Mourinho, a proven winner, but I see this as a backward step. Not that I am concerned about our North London neighbours going backwards, and I will be interested to see if my view is borne out. Mourinho has had a lot of success and won trophies at all the clubs he has been at, but only when given a lot of money to spend. I wonder if Mr Levy has promised the “Special One” a big kitty to strengthen the team and squad?

Looking at our own form though, the manager is obviously under scrutiny following a disastrous run which has seen us pick up just one point in our last five games, a comparable figure to Norwich and Southampton at the foot of the table. Even Watford, currently occupying the third relegation slot, have collected six points from the last five games, and look as though they are potentially ready to climb out of trouble.

In the opinion of the writers of this blog, the reasons behind our decline in recent games have been well documented in the last few articles, and we can only hope that the manager has used the enforced two week international break to try to work out for himself what the problems are, and how they can be remedied, given the shortcomings of the squad at his disposal. My main gripe is his inability to make changes to either tactics or personnel when things are obviously going badly wrong. One thing is for certain though, and that is a continuation of recent form will soon see us embroiled in a relegation dogfight when a few weeks ago we were being touted as possible top six contenders. The manager himself was quoted after the miserable loss at Burnley as saying that we must improve, as he was angry and upset and the performance was unacceptable. As fans we all felt the same way, and in my view it was just a case of him stating the bleeding obvious. He is one of the most highly paid managers around and he is paid to sort problems such as the ones he is facing. It remains to be seen if he can.

Based on recent performances the long term injury to Lanzini, whilst being a blow to him personally after his long lay-off, will not be a big loss to the team, as he was performing well below the standards he reached prior to the injury, when he was selected as part of the Argentinian national squad. The loss of Fabianski, and the poor judgement in failing to recruit a suitable back-up keeper have been instrumental in recent results. Apart from the obvious errors, Roberto seems to have lost any confidence that he may have had, and worse than that, the rest of the team would appear to lack confidence in him too. I doubt that David Martin is of sufficient quality to replace him, so we must hope for the speedy return of Fabianski, and the purchase of an experienced keeper of the necessary quality in the transfer window to come in if he gets injured again. Saving some money by not doing so could have dire consequences if Fabianski is out of the team for an extended period.

Personally I am hoping that Antonio gets back sooner rather than later. We must get somebody to play alongside (or at least much closer to) Haller as he continues to be an isolated figure so far detached from the rest of the team. Our Development Squad has been in terrific form this season with several players catching the eye of seasoned observers. Whilst I accept that you can’t just throw in a load of youngsters is one go, I am amazed at the reluctance of the manager to even try to blood one or two by finding places on the bench and getting them used to being part of the first team squad. I despair at seeing Sanchez in the squad every week, and if none of the youngsters are considered good enough then what is the point of the Development Squad? I’d like to see Diangana recalled from his loan spell at West Brom too, where he has been performing well. We can then see if the loan experience has helped to turn him into a player of sufficient quality for our first team.

The important thing is that when things have been as bad as they have been in recent games the manager has to try something new. If I turn up to the game Saturday lunchtime and see the same group of players in the 18 with no attempt at trying something new, then I will not be in the least surprised to see a poorly performing Tottenham team beat us. And unless results start to improve, and we have a relatively tough set of fixtures coming up, then I can see Mr Pellegrini on his way through the exit door. I seem to recall the owners being very keen on Rafa Benitez in the past, and after his none too successful start in China, I wonder if they would want to try to tempt him back for another go as a Premier League manager? Money is of course the big issue in these moves, but unless the situation is turned around soon I fear the worst.

As I’ve written before, I love surprises. I just hope the manager can surprise me with some new ideas, and that the team can surprise me by beating Tottenham on Saturday.

Burnley v West Ham – Who Will Have The Claret Blues After the Game?

At the start of the season, as a West Ham fan, would you have been happy that, after eleven games had been played, the team were level on points with Manchester United, Tottenham and Wolves? Almost certainly the answer would have been yes. But if you were asked a different question, such as, after eleven games have been played, would you be happy to be sitting below Sheffield United,  Bournemouth, Brighton and Crystal Palace in the Premier League table? The answer would definitely have been most certainly not. Such is the nature of the Premier League after eleven games with approaching a third of the season completed. Together with the Red Devils, Wolves and our friends from North London, then compared to last season’s finishing positions, then so far we are under-performing, unlike the other four teams mentioned who are currently occupying positions in the table which are exceeding expectations.

I always like to look at current form (say the last five games), and based on that then we would be in a relegation position with just two points, with only Southampton and Norwich below us on one apiece. Even Watford, who have been rooted to the bottom all season, have picked up three points from the last five games. Our opponents this weekend, Burnley, sit immediately below us trailing us by just one point. Their recent form has not been good either, collecting just four points in the last five games. But if they beat us, they will leapfrog us, and in fact all of the teams down to 17th in the table could go past us with wins this weekend if we lose, as we are only two points above Everton who are 17th.

So what exactly has gone wrong? It wasn’t that long ago when we were being touted (alongside Leicester) as one of the teams that could push ahead and perhaps challenge for a place in the top six, or even top four according to some. My friend and co-blogger Geoff wrote an article after the Newcastle game where he highlighted a number of the deficiencies in the team. In particular he mentioned a lack of pace, width, organisation, fitness, commitment and motivation. It is difficult to argue with those. He also mentioned (and I may have added one or two of my own) a slow pedantic build up when attacking, sideways and backwards passing to no real effect – this was particularly galling as the final whistle approached, a selection of an ageing right back to face one of the fastest wingers in the Premier League, the lack of strategy in not having faster players defending against counter attacks launched by the opposition from our corners, a manager with an apparently strange selection policy by not changing an underperforming team, an apparent reluctance to try something different when things are not going right, including a reluctance to try a different formation, the lack of chances given to in-form younger development players, the inability to recognise the need for the club to have at least two goalkeepers of the right quality for the Premier League, the apparent lack of assessing the strengths and weaknesses of opponents prior to games, and perhaps the most worrying of all, a manager who admits that he has no idea where things are going wrong, and no idea what he needs to do to turn it around. That’s quite a list!

On the plus side we do have some talented players. We are one of a number of teams that are probably not good enough to break into the elite six club at the top, but hopefully too good to become embroiled in the relegation scrap at the foot of the table (I hope!). The fact that Sheffield United in sixth place have 16 points and Everton in seventeenth have 11 points demonstrates how closely matched so many of the Premier League teams are. But we cannot become too complacent, and a continuation of the recent poor run would mean that we do get involved at the wrong end of the table. The theory of averaging one point a game throughout the season to avoid the drop usually applies, and this season doesn’t appear to be an exception at the moment with just three teams falling short of that level at the moment. Bookmakers’ odds in respect of relegation reflect the league table to some extent, although we are only tenth favourite to go down (and Everton are 12th), whereas Sheffield United are seventh. I guess the closeness of this season’s Premier League to date (ignoring the clubs at the top and bottom) makes it more interesting for the neutral observer, but how many neutral observers are there?

Burnley are favourites at around 5/4 to win the game, our odds are around 21/10, and the draw is about 13/5. But when you look at the correct score odds, a 1-1 draw is favourite at 5/1, very short odds for predicting a correct score in a football match! The overall head to head record between the two clubs is slightly in our favour, a fact bolstered by recent times. In the last 40 years we have won 15 of the 23 meetings, with 4 draws and 4 defeats. However our last visit to Turf Moor, just before 2018 drew to a close, resulted in a 2-0 defeat with an abject performance, despite coming off the back of a good run at the time. Burnley had suffered a heavy defeat just before they met us, and the same applies this time! This followed the game at the London Stadium a few weeks before then where we came out on top 4-2.

I’ve absolutely no idea about what the manager will decide regarding team selection. If he sticks with the same starting eleven as last week with no discernible change in how they approach the game, then I fear for us against a strong physical Burnley side. My best hope is for West Ham to do what they have done in the past and surprise me. I like surprises of a good kind!

West Ham versus Newcastle: Looking Forward Looking Back

At half-time in last weekend’s fixtures we reached the point where a quarter of the season had been completed. Had the half time score been the full time score then we would now be sitting on 15 points after 10 games, averaging 1.5 points per game and sixth in the Premier League table. 1.5 points per game over a whole season would result in 57 points. Sadly, the half time score was not the same at full time, and instead we have 13 points from 10 games which would give us 49 points over the course of a full season.

Looking back on the ten games played, and if my calculations are correct, we have thrown away 9 points from winning positions in games. Had we not done so, and instead held on to our leads in those games, then we would now have 22 points and be third in the table, level on points with Manchester City, with only City and Liverpool ahead of us. Apart from all our other shortcomings, which my co-blogger Geoff has written about on more than one occasion in recent times, the inability to hold on to a lead has proved to be very damaging to our prospects of finishing in a high position in the table. How many other teams have relinquished as many points from winning positions?

Our opponents today, Newcastle, are just one of four teams who are not yet averaging a point a game, which is roughly what is needed to retain a position in the top flight. They are 17th in the table, sitting immediately above the three teams currently occupying the relegation slots, Southampton, Norwich and Watford.  Of course they can put that right with an away win today, and move up to within a point of ourselves. That is something we must not let happen.

Up to date form (say, the last 5 games) shows our visitors have the same record as ourselves, with 5 points, from one win, two draws, and two defeats. Only Tottenham (4), Everton and Watford (3), Southampton and Norwich (1) have fewer points in this period. If you ignore the top 4 teams in the table (and Watford) then every other team has won either 2, 3 or 4 of the 10 games they have played. Conversely if you ignore Liverpool, and the bottom 6 teams, then every other team has lost either 2, 3 or 4 games to date. This demonstrates how closely positioned most of the teams are, and how either a good run or poor run can significantly alter a team’s place in the table.

Of course, apart from any other factors, the fixture list, and more particularly the order in which the games are played can have a significant impact on a team’s position in the league table at any point throughout the season. Based upon current positions in the table, Newcastle would appear to have had a tougher group of games than we have had so far. They have played against four of the teams currently in the top 5, whereas we have only faced one of them (Manchester City). Also, if you add up the current positions in the table of our opponents so far, then our total is 116 compared to Newcastle’s 82, once again reinforcing that they have so far faced much stronger opposition than we have.

So perhaps the disparity in our relative positions in the table is not so great after all, and it is not really worth making comparisons, or assessing progress throughout a season, until at least 19 games have been played and all teams have faced each other for the first time. But even that situation will be slightly altered this season as we have not yet faced league leaders Liverpool and don’t yet know exactly when we will. Our game against them scheduled for 21 December has been postponed due to their participation in the FIFA World Club Cup, so we will begin playing against some teams for a second time before we have even faced the Merseysiders once. As such we will have a game in hand in league tables published from Christmas onwards.

Our overall record against Newcastle in history is a negative one with more defeats than wins.  However, the memory is selective and I remember particularly the big wins and the games with lots of goals. When I was young I have a hazy memory of us drawing a game 5-5 at their ground, and other games I can specifically remember watching at Upton Park include a 4-3 win in the mid-1960s which included a hat trick from Geoff Hurst, a 5-0 win about 50 years ago when Trevor Brooking scored a hat trick, another 5-0 win about ten years after that, and the most memorable of all in 1986, as we were chasing the league title. That was the game when we won 8-1, including an amazing hat trick from Alvin Martin with each goal scored against a different keeper. I seem to recall a certain Glenn Roeder in the Newcastle side and he scored an own goal in that game.

One game I remember us losing was when we went down 2-0 at Upton Park and both Newcastle goals were scored by Bryan Robson. We signed him shortly after that, and he scored a lot of goals for us in his two spells here. “Pop” was a superb player and goalscorer. It was amazing that he never played for England. Of course, Robson is not the only player to have represented both ourselves and Newcastle. Others that I can recall off the top of my head include Paul Kitson, Stuart Pearce, Norbert Solano, Scott Parker, Craig Bellamy, Kevin Nolan, Demba Ba, Shaka Hislop, Lee Bowyer, Kieron Dyer, Rob Lee, and of course another who could potentially be facing us today, a certain Andy Carroll. Although if recent history is anything to go by no doubt he will be injured and unable to line up against us! But seriously I reckon he will be desperate to play, and of course it would be ironical if he scores against us, and possibly even more ironical if he plays the full 90 minutes and avoids injury. Those of you with long enough memories will recall that he has only played two games against West Ham (both for Newcastle in games at St James Park around 10 years ago), and he scored in each game, so I definitely wouldn’t bet against it happening for a third time. Goalscoring has been Newcastle’s problem this season with only six scored in the ten games so far, a statistic bettered only by Watford with five.

When I previewed last week’s game I wrote that the last six goals scored by West Ham had all been left-footed shots. But the run of “only left-footed goals” that stretches back to August was extended further when our only goal in the game was scored by the left foot of Robert Snodgrass. I may be wrong, but I’m not sure that we scored a single left-footed goal this season before the run began.

The betting has West Ham as odds on favourites to win the game, despite our indifferent recent form. I’ve gone for some small stake fun bets that involve West Ham winning the game and Andy Carroll scoring either the last goal, or scoring anytime in the match. The one that I hope will happen (from a financial viewpoint) is that West Ham win the game 3-1, and Andy Carroll scores the last goal of the game. The odds on that happening are 150/1. But, I’ll be happy if we win the game, and even happier if we perform well. I’ll be setting off for the game soon after the Rugby World Cup final finishes, and of course I’m hoping for an England win over South Africa in that. Hold on to your hats; both games could be tight affairs. What odds an England / West Ham double?

Dust down your Carlos Tevez masks to watch West Ham entertain Sheffield United in a league match for the first time in over twelve years.

West Ham began the Premier League season 2006-07 with high hopes. We had unluckily lost the 2006 FA Cup final to Liverpool on penalties after conceding a goal in time added on to the infamous Steven Gerrard strike, and then on transfer deadline day it was announced that we had signed Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, two highly sought after Argentinians who had starred in that summer’s World Cup. What could go wrong? This was West Ham remember.

In the opening week of the season we comfortably despatched of Charlton 3-1, and then drew 1-1 at Watford. A 2-1 reverse at Liverpool was followed by a 1-1 draw at Villa. Five points from four games and we were in the top half of the table. Bobby Zamora had scored in all four of those games (a total of five goals) and at the time few predicted what was about to happen. I doubt that Bobby Zamora himself would have believed that he wouldn’t find the net again until mid-January despite playing in almost all of the games.

A home defeat to Palermo of Italy in the UEFA Cup was just the first of eight consecutive defeats which included a run of seven games where we failed to register a single goal. When we did eventually score we had been dumped out of the UEFA Cup at the first hurdle, we’d gone out of the Football League Cup to lowly Chesterfield (2-1), and tumbled down the league to 19th place.

Two consecutive wins against Blackburn (2-1) and Arsenal (1-0 on Bonfire Night), the latter sparking a touchline spat between Pardew and Wenger when Marlon Harewood’s late strike won the game, seemed to have halted the slide, but these were followed by two 1-0 defeats at Middlesbrough and Chelsea. We were still above the relegation places at this time when we faced Sheffield United at Upton Park on November 25th. A first half Hayden Mullins goal was the only score of the match, and at this point we were 15th in the table with Sheffield United 18th.

However three consecutive defeats in the first nine days of December followed (all to nil), and the last one of those (a 4-0 loss at Bolton) resulted in the sacking of manager Pardew just two days later. Two days after that Alan Curbishley was appointed and in his first game in charge we beat Manchester United 1-0 with a goal from Nigel Reo-Coker. But just three points from three draws in the next eleven league games, the last of which was an unlucky 4-3 home defeat to Tottenham, meant that with just nine games of the season left we were effectively 11 points adrift of safety with virtually no hope of escape. The Tottenham game was Tevez’s 20th appearance and brought his first goal!

The rest is history as we won seven of our final nine games, including the last-day 1-0 win at Manchester United which ensured safety (although a draw would have been enough). The two defeats in that winning sequence included a 3-0 reverse at Sheffield United, and a 4-1 loss at Chelsea. Incredibly we then won the final four games. Sheffield United lost at home to Wigan on the final day when a draw would have been OK and this sent them down.

The Blades insisted they were victims of a relegation rival gaining an unfair advantage by breaching the rules that barred third parties such as agents, or a company or investors, from holding a stake in the financial rights to a player. To many of us it seemed ridiculous. Mascherano had barely featured all season, while Tevez only started scoring towards the very end.

West Ham were found guilty in April 2007 of acting improperly and withholding vital documentation, but Tevez was allowed to continue playing and his part in the Hammers’ survival rankled with the Blades. Sheffield United subsequently slid into League One before their recent resurgence, while West Ham, in contrast, have only spent one season since outside the top flight. West Ham eventually paid £20m in compensation, having initially being fined £5.5m rather than being docked points. An arbitration panel said “the club had not only deliberately breached the rules but committed a grave breach of trust and been responsible for dishonesty and deceit”. The teams have only met once since, in a League Cup tie five years ago, which away side Sheffield United won on penalties.

I’m always amazed at some of the statistics that are dragged up these days before Premier League matches but the following are some of what I have read. Firstly we haven’t won a league fixture in the month of October since beating Sunderland in 2016. In that time we have drawn three and lost six matches. Secondly, including cup games, after four clean sheets in a row we have conceded at least two goals in four consecutive games since. And thirdly, since Haller scored with his right foot in the first half of our game against Norwich at the end of August, the next six league goals we have scored have all been left foot strikes.

Did you know that Sheffield United could become the first newly-promoted side for over ten years to remain unbeaten in their first five away games in the Premier League? Also, they have not kept three consecutive clean sheets away from Bramall Lane in the top flight for over 48 years, a record they would equal if they do not concede a goal today. Plus, this is their best performance in the first nine games of a top division season. One statistic that I really hate repeating though is that they have not won once in their last 16 games in the top division in London!

My co-blogger Geoff Hopkins wrote an excellent article published yesterday where he set out his expectations for today’s game. I have to agree with most of what he wrote, and I don’t believe his prediction of a goalless draw will be far away. However I don’t want to travel all the way to the London Stadium to see us come away with just a single point without seeing a goal being scored. For that reason I will dust off my trusty optimistic hat, and predict a 1-0 win with the sequence of left-footed goals being broken by a Sebastien Haller header. What are the chances? Another prediction – we will once again be the last game on Match of the Day!

The Toffeemens’ supporters are getting restless, but will West Ham be Silva’s saviour?

Once again our hopes were built up as we pushed towards a place in the top four of the Premier League, only to be dashed by an indifferent performance against Crystal Palace a fortnight ago. Perhaps it will be an effective wake-up call to remind the players that merely turning up does not guarantee a win in the top league, even if we are playing against a team who had not beaten us in eight previous attempts. Despite not playing particularly well, we did take the lead in the game, but Rice’s (inexplicable to me) handball, and then switching off as the game approached the ninetieth minute, resulted in our second home defeat of the season. Palace were nothing special either, and the game could have gone either way, although those of us sitting in the stands could somehow predict what was about to happen when Ayew managed to stay onside (just!) to score the winning goal. Nevertheless despite the disappointment, 12 points from 8 games represents a decent start to the season (it took us 14 games to reach that figure last season, and 16 games the season before), and, after all, eighth place is higher than we have managed for a while in a whole season. Let us hope we can retain or improve upon that place as 2019-20 progresses. As much as I dislike the disruptive influence of international breaks, this one has come after a defeat, and gives the manager some time to work with the players who didn’t go away, and it is an opportunity to re-group and take stock.

To many followers of the game, one of the surprises of the season to date is to see Everton occupying one of the three relegation places with just 7 points from their eight games played. It is still very early days of course, and more than three-quarters of the season remains, nevertheless I still wouldn’t have expected to see the Toffees down there at this point. For many years (until fairly recently) they have been a bogey team of ours, but I do dislike seeing us coming up against a team in such poor form. How many teams break a losing sequence when facing us? It happens so often I’m afraid. Of course, early days in the league table mean that stringing together a few positive results can mean a rapid rise, as consecutive defeats can conversely mean a significant fall.

After their opening four games (wins at home to Watford and Wolves, a draw at Palace, and a defeat at Villa), Everton sat in a comfortable sixth place in the table, in the sort of position many expect them to occupy at the season’s end. But four consecutive defeats (in trips to Bournemouth and Burnley and in home games against Manchester City – no surprise, and Sheffield United – a big surprise) mean that with no points in their last four games they are the most out-of-form team in the league at this moment. It also means that Marco Silva heads the betting (at 5/4) for the next Premier League manager to leave his post (ahead of Solkskjaer at 2/1 and Pochettino at 5/1). What better for Everton than a home game against West Ham who specialise in helping teams and managers in this kind of predicament? Incidentally, at 50/1 our manager has only two managers below him in the betting to be next to leave (Klopp and Lampard are both 66/1).

Everton have only found the net six times in their eight games, and half of those came in the 3-2 win over Wolves. However five of those six goals have come in the four games on their own ground so it might be difficult for us to keep a clean sheet, especially in the absence of our first choice keeper who has successfully come through a hip operation, but is not expected to play again until 2020. The only time Everton failed to score at home this season so far was surprisingly against Sheffield United. I say surprisingly, but a look at the league table and fixtures played so far actually shows that Sheffield United are unbeaten in their four away games to date. Only Liverpool and ourselves can match that record after just four away games played by each team in the division this season! Also, no team in the Premier League has kept more clean sheets than ourselves this season (3). Even Liverpool have only managed two despite their 100% start.

Head to head fixtures against Everton stretch back for more than a century and, at the moment have a symmetrical feel to them. In 140 meetings, Everton have won 70, and the other 70 have been either draws (30) or West Ham victories (40). Positive results at Goodison Park are even rarer. Two goals from Yarmolenko helped us to achieve a 3-1 victory there last season, and in 2015-16, three late goals in the last 15 minutes meant an unlikely comeback win after trailing by two goals. Apart from those two wins, our only other success on their ground in the last quarter of a century came courtesy of a Bobby Zamora winner in another comeback win (2-1) in 2005.

But at least the bogey team thing seems to have disappeared for the moment as we have won two of the last three games we’ve played against Everton; previously we had won twice in the 22 meetings that preceded those! Everton have traditionally enjoyed playing against us, and in Premier League fixtures they have beaten us and scored more goals against us than against any other team.

For the benefit of TV we kick off at 12-30, so we have the opportunity (with a win) to temporarily leapfrog over other teams into a Champions League position! On the other hand a defeat would mean that Everton would (in the short term) rise six places in the table and they’d be just two points below us on ten points, a point ahead of the once mighty, and now not so mighty Manchester United, who will fall still further this weekend if they are unable to get a point against 100% Liverpool.

Everton are odds on to beat us, as are all the home teams on Saturday with the exception of Villa (at home to Brighton), and Palace (at home to Manchester City). Of the five games that Everton have lost (out of their eight games this season), four have been by a margin of two goals. Perhaps we can inflict a fifth two-goal margin defeat on them, perhaps repeating last season’s 3-1 win, to heap further pressure on their manager? All of our three wins have been by two goals, and another will do nicely. However, to do so we will have to improve significantly on our showing against Palace in the last game, but an early goal would silence the crowd, or perhaps even make them turn on their own team, who must be very short of confidence after these four successive defeats. I just hope that we don’t allow them to turn around their run of losses, as we are often inclined to do for any team having a poor time. It is 14 years since Everton last lost five league games in a row! I shouldn’t have highlighted that fact!