West Ham 2 v 4 Watford

Groundhog Day? Is there some unexplained phenomenon at work in our second home game of the season?

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The second home league game of the season. We are playing against a team who are one of the favourites for relegation, and who are already in the bottom three at this early stage of the season. We have already been eliminated from the Europa League by a very average Romanian team. And what do we do? We concede four goals at home with one of our worst defensive performances you can imagine in the top flight. Yes, the defence imploded (that’s a word frequently used for anything that collapses inwardly in a violent fashion, that breaks down or falls apart from within, or undergoes a catastrophic failure). Who can we blame? Let’s study social media and see what everyone is saying.

Now as you read this you think I’m writing about our performance against Watford. But I’m not. I’m referring to last season. The game I’m alluding to is the Bournemouth one in August 2015. You’d think that yesterday was February 2nd. In North America this is a national holiday, the day when the groundhog is said to come out of his hole at the end of his hibernation period. If he sees his shadow that means the sun is shining, and tradition suggests that six more weeks of winter weather is expected. This is also translated into a modern definition where Groundhog Day is a situation in which a series of unwelcome or tedious events appear to be recurring in exactly the same way. E.g. the second home league game of the season!

I can go back further if you want me to. Let’s look back at the season before the Bournemouth game. In our second home league game of 2014-15 we played Southampton. We had already lost the opening game (1-0 to Tottenham), but in this game if I remember correctly we took an early lead through Mark Noble (a long range deflected shot?) and then the defence imploded in the second half and we lost the game 3-1.

Want further evidence of the modern Groundhog Day second game of the season theory? Ok, let’s look at the season before the one I’ve just referred to. In 2013-14 on the last day of August we played our second home league game of that particular season at home to Stoke. As I recall it was a fairly tedious game (Groundhog Day theory again, games against Stoke are frequently tedious events occurring regularly). The game was 0-0 and almost over when Stoke were awarded a free kick just outside our box. Up stepped Jermaine Pennant, if I recall correctly, and beat Jaaskelainen from the free kick, and we lost the game 1-0. And this was the first of yet another Groundhog Day phenomenon, a series of unwelcome or tedious events started to recur in exactly the same way, this time it was our Finnish keeper letting in goals scored directly from a free kick. In the next home game he did it twice with both goals coming from Baines as Everton beat us 3-2. It was the beginning of his downfall.

We are all looking for reasons, so why did we lose 4-2 at home to Watford yesterday. Ignoring the Groundhog Day theory, I can think of a few.

  1. We were playing some great stuff in the first 40 minutes or so, and with a two goal lead we thought we had the game won. So we indulged ourselves a little with a series of tricks, which offended Watford somewhat (as confirmed after the game by Troy Deeney) and helped to spur them on with a “we’ll show them” attitude.
  2. Our back four and goalkeeper all had a poor game at the same time. I think I can excuse Masuaku from this, but Byram and Reid in particular were guilty of backing off much too far when they should have been closer to their players, you all saw what Ginge did, and Adrian had one of those games where I reckon he will be disappointed that he didn’t save a couple of the goals that we conceded.
  3. We played without a defensive midfielder. Nordtveit or preferably Obiang (in my opinion) would have made a big difference. Noble and Kouyate are both neither defensive or attacking midfielders. They are midfield midfielders if you get my drift. And both had very average games.
  4. Our attacking foursome of Antonio, Payet, Lanzini, and Zaza will cause opposing defences a lot of problems this season. With the exception of Antonio, the others were clearly not match fit and faded somewhat in the second half.
  5. We underestimated Watford who were much better (certainly in an attacking sense) than we thought.

But I am wrong though. Because according to social media I read the key reasons for our defeat were, in no particular order; the stadium, moving to a new stadium, not playing the game at “fortress” Upton Park where Watford would have been intimidated (just as Bournemouth were eh?), the size of the pitch, the standing issue, poor stewarding, the board, Karren Brady daring to stand up, in-stadium violence, and David Gold’s 80th birthday.


I Wouldn’t Bet On It 7

Today’s Bets Will Mostly be on the West Ham Game.

Fancy A Bet

Our last accumulator bet had three successful components, so although the “acca” did not come in, our three winning single bets were:

1 point on each of the following:

Tranmere to beat Guiseley @1/3 (1.3)

Forest Green to beat Southport @4/11 (1.4)

Lincoln to beat Gateshead @10/11 (1.9)

 This brought our cumulative total to 100.4 points, a fraction above where we started.

Today I intend to be a little more adventurous, whilst at the same time having a bit of fun, and extra interest when watching our game against Watford. So today’s bets are:

 18 points on West Ham to beat Watford @5/6 (33)

1 point on West Ham to win and both teams to score @3/1 (4)

1 point on West Ham to win the game 3-1 @14/1 (15)

1 point on West Ham to win the game 3-1 and Zaza to score the first goal @50/1 (51)

1 point on West Ham to score 3 or more goals @16/5 (4.2)

1 point on West Ham to win and Noble to score anytime @ 7/1 (8)

1 point on Zaza to score the first goal @11/2 (6.5)

That will give us a few things to follow when watching the game. If West Ham fail to win the game then we are down by 24 points. If we do win the game then we are guaranteed to be up on the day, irrespective of the details of the victory. Our best bet is if West Ham win the game 3-1, Zaza scores the first, and Noble scores anytime. That would give us a return of 121.7 points on our stake of 24 points.

Remember, Noble scored twice against Watford last season in a 3-1 victory, and Watford, like ourselves have scored in each of the three games played this season. So I am looking for a repeat of last season.

To finish off I’ll try a five game Premier League accumulator at odds of 43.85/1. So I’ll stake 1 point on an accumulator bet based on victories this weekend for Arsenal, Bournemouth, Middlesbrough and West Ham, and the Manchester derby to finish in a draw. If all 5 happen then our return is 44.85; if just one is unsuccessful then we get our point back; if we get 2 or more wrong then we lose.

Incidentally, Paddy Power have Sakho as 9/2 favourite to score the first goal in the match. Have they got some inside information on our team? That’s one ridiculous bet I won’t be making.

We began the weekend on 100.4 points and we have staked 25 points in total. Whatever happens it’s a bit of fun, but I’ll be massively disappointed if we don’t win the game, and hence improve our balance.

West Ham v Watford Preview

Slaven’s Selection Dilemma?

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If we are really serious about mixing it with the big boys in the Premier League, and at least matching our seventh place finish last season, then this is a game we really should be winning. Of course no games are that simple to win in the top flight; we have to make sure that we don’t believe that we simply have to turn up to be sure of winning (as per Astra Giurgiu for example), but this should be considered one of the easier ones.

At the time of writing this preview I have no idea how many of the players on our lengthy injury list are ready to return, but I am assuming that the number available has increased somewhat. One thing I do know is that the manager is going to have quite a problem trying to keep all of the squad happy when the majority have returned to fitness. It’s always described as a nice problem to have, and that is true, but how is he going to fit them all in?

We now seem to have a squad where we have at least two quality players vying for every position and that is healthy. We know we have two very capable keepers, and following the last day of the transfer window, two right backs, Byram and Arbeloa, which should finally end the need to put one of the most potent attackers in the Premier League, Antonio, in a position that he very clearly was not comfortable in. Masuaku has slotted in well at left back and Cresswell should have a fight for his place. At centre back we have Reid, Ogbonna, Collins and Oxford. I think the manager believes that the first two are his favourite pairing but I’m not so sure that they play well together. Personally I’d like to see Oxford given more chances; I’m convinced that he is going to be even better than Ferdinand.

We have one of Nordtveit and Obiang in the defensive midfielder position (I prefer the latter, but I don’t think the manager does), Noble and Kouyate (almost guaranteed picks) slightly in front, and that leaves just three more spaces for attacking players to fill if he stays with the 4-1-2-2-1 formation. And what a choice we have to fill those three places. Antonio, Feghouli, Tore, Lanzini, Payet, Ayew, Zaza, Carroll, Fletcher, Calleri. Ten into three doesn’t fit comfortably! And to think I read that some people weren’t comfortable that we let Valencia go! And of course we still have Sakho at the club. Paddy Power has him at 9-2 favourite to score the first goal in the Watford game! Do they know something we don’t? Or are they just totally out of date?

We have to remember that it was the results against “lesser” sides that let us down last season, and we have to put that right.

And one player I haven’t mentioned yet is our young Swiss signing Edimilson Fernandes (sounds Brazilian but is Swiss). Despite his age he has played 66 games in the Sion first team, including eight matches in last season’s Europa League where Sion finished second in their group to Liverpool, and only lost narrowly 4-3 to Braga of Portugal in the round of 32. Braga reached the quarter final. He therefore has much more recent European experience than most of our players! I would liken him most in style and position to Kouyate. I think we have a real prospect here, but like Oxford, and other promising youngsters not even mentioned above, I wonder if they will ever get the chance to break through.

Our opponents Watford are already sitting in the drop zone, albeit after just three games, and relatively difficult ones at that. They have lost at home to both Arsenal and Chelsea (1-3 and 1-2) and drawn 1-1 at Southampton. Notably, they have scored in each game played, and were unlucky to lose to a late goal against Chelsea when many believe that the scorer, Costa, shouldn’t have been on the field. Where have I heard that one before? They will be desperate to record their first win of the season and not get embroiled in the relegation dogfight so early. Of course if they beat us they will go ahead of us. However I am confident that we will finally get our season really underway with a good performance and win the game 3-1. This would take us up to six points from four games played which would match last year’s opening.

The fixtures running up to the next international break (yes only four league games until we break again!) are ones that will begin to define whether or not our season can match the success of the last one. Three home games (Watford, Southampton, Middlesbrough) and a visit to West Brom does not constitute the toughest run of fixtures that we will have. If we really mean business then I’d like to see 12 points (or at the very least 9 or 10). Anything less than that will not really be good enough to push towards a top eight place. We have to remember that it was the results against “lesser” sides that let us down last season, and we have to put that right.

The Language of Football – Number 2

50 Ways to Leave Your Lover (and even more emotions when we lose a game!)

Language Cloud

Paul Simon sang in 1975 about 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. “Slip out the back, Jack”, “make a new plan Stan”, “you don’t need to be coy, Roy, just set yourself free”, “hop on the bus, Gus”, and “drop off the key, Lee” were his fifty ways. More like five to me!

How many different emotions can you feel if your lover has actually left you? How many different feelings will you have when we lose a game that we should have won? Take the game against Astra Giurgiu for example. Without resorting to bad language, how or what did you feel that night when you were leaving the ground? Or how do you feel about all that effort to qualify for European competition last season, only to be eliminated with such a poor performance?

angry, annoyed, appalled, bad tempered, bothered, bleak, bitter, cross, crestfallen, disapproving, devastated, disheartened, disenchanted, dejected, despondent, disillusioned, dismayed, dreadful, displeased, depressed, disgruntled, dissatisfied,

enraged, exasperated, empty, furious, fed up, frustrated, grumpy, gutted, gloomy, humiliated, irked, ill-tempered, irascible, indignant, infuriated, incensed, inconsolable, irritated, irate,

livid, let down, mad, moody, melancholic, needled, nauseated, outraged, put out, piqued, rotten, resentful, raving, shattered, scathing, sad, sick as a parrot, sombre, sorrowful, subdued, unhappy, vexed, wrecked.

There are more than 50 here. The list is not exhaustive. How many others can you come up with?

West Ham Heroes –Number 1: John Dick

Remembering a legendary inside-forward and 3rd highest West Ham goalscorer.

John Dick PhotosWhen we are growing up most of us have heroes. As a young boy, once I had outgrown the nursery rhyme wallpaper, my walls were adorned with pictures of my first heroes. Photographs of West Ham footballers and pop stars filled my bedroom walls from the late 1950’s throughout the 1960’s. Pride of place was an action photograph of my first West Ham hero, John Dick, in a mid-air tussle for the ball in a game at Upton Park. It was taken by a press photographer who my uncle knew.

West Ham were promoted to the top flight at the end of the 1957-58 season. John Dick, who always wore the number 10 shirt (no names on them in those days), netted 26 times in that season, and scored 29 goals in Division One the following term. It was around this time that I began to take an interest in football and West Ham. I was only four at the time but I have memories, albeit hazy ones, of this period. 

I remember my first visit to Upton Park to see the Malcolm Allison testimonial game in November 1958, the delight when opening my Christmas present of a claret and blue short-sleeved V-neck West Ham shirt with a hand-sewn number 10 on the back on Christmas Day 1958, the excitement of seeing my first league game the same morning (yes Christmas Day 11am kick off!), and the first John Dick goal I recall when he netted a rebound off the Spurs keeper in front of the North Bank that day. We won the game 2-1 as well!

In a West Ham career that started before I was born and ended when I was eight, John Dick was leading scorer most seasons he was with us, scoring 177 goals at a rate of almost exactly one in every other game. His partnership with Vic Keeble for three years at the end of the 1950’s produced abundant goals (Keeble himself scored 51 goals in 84 games before injury curtailed his career).

Ted Fenton, our manager, spotted 22 year-old Dick when he was doing his National Service in Colchester, after watching him play for Crittall Athletic, now known as Braintree Town. He had a lethal left foot and was almost unplayable in the air. He was similar in a way to Andy Carroll, but with the added bonus of being more mobile, a prolific goal scorer, and a player who rarely missed a game through injury. In 1959, John, who was born in Glasgow, also won his first and only cap for Scotland against England.

My favourite game was in November 1959 when he scored a hat trick in a 3-2 win over champions Wolves. I remember the time well – we were top of the league and I went into hospital the following week for removal of my adenoids. The following weekend when I was still in hospital, despite leading Division One, we managed to lose 7-0 at Sheffield Wednesday! That’s West Ham for you.

I cried when we sold him to Brentford at the start of the 1962-63 season. I just couldn’t understand it. He was only 32 and had scored 23 goals the previous season. He was even more prolific at Brentford scoring 45 times in just 72 games.

John Dick AutographHis autograph took pride of place at the top of my West Ham 1959 team signatures. So many West Ham legends signed that page for me and I added some miniature pictures cut out of programmes alongside some of them. In addition to John Dick my book was signed by Noel Dwyer, Harry Obeney, Malcolm Musgrove, Andy Malcolm, Phil Woosnam, Ken Brown, Mike Grice, Vic Keeble, John Bond, and Noel Cantwell.

John Dick died in 2000 aged 70. A seat in his memory stands in Hainault Forest near to where he lived and his ashes were scattered nearby. I will always remember my first footballing hero.

Counting Sheep – 3 – The Letter D

Difficulty Sleeping These Warm Nights? And now a complete team of D’s!

Counting SheepPreviously I came up with a cure for when you can’t sleep. Forget those counting sheep theories and try to select a West Ham team of players that you have seen whose surnames all start with the same letter.

I’ve so far selected the “B” and “C” teams. Today it is my “D” team.

So here is my all-time West Ham “D” Team, selected in a 3-4-3 formation so that I could include players I wanted to be in it:

Di Canio

And what other players did I consider but leave out? Two keepers, De’ath and Dwyer, Davenport, Diame, Deane, Diamanti, Diop, Dowie, Dumitrescu, Dear and Dunmore.

I’ve probably forgotten someone really good. Can you pick a team of “D”s to rival mine? Who would you pick in place of any of my selections?

And who would manage the “D”s? I can’t recall a manager beginning with D so I’ll go for Dicks who has managed the West Ham Ladies Team and is also on the current coaching staff (and he made my team, too).

The First International Break (A Review of the Season To Date)

A look back at the season so far before it all stopped for the Internationals.

EPL TeamsSome things in life just don’t seem to make sense when you analyse them in the cold light of day. Last season’s Premier League season ended in the middle of May. We then had a three month break before resuming mid-August. Almost ninety days without playing a Premier League game. So we start again, play for three weekends, and then we have a fortnight break just as we seem to be getting into it again!

Of course for West Ham, we began a little earlier because of our Europa League involvement. But from the date of our first league game on 15 August we then played five competitive games in a fourteen day period. And now we have a fortnight without a game! At best it could be described as disjointed, in reality it is madness. But from our point of view, because of our lengthy injury list, very welcome madness, and relief that we have the opportunity to get some of our first choice players back from a horrendous injury list.

The stop-start nature of the Premier League season continues such that we will hit the third international break early in November! And from the Manchester United away game at the end of that month we will then have a period of eight league games in 37 days. And some people are calling for a winter break on top of all the other breaks. I’m absolutely certain that the fixture list could be managed much more effectively!

As last year, we were handed two of the most difficult away games possible in our first four games of the season. Against all the odds we won them both last time, but this term we lost them both. Also, last season we lost our opening two home games. This time we won our first home game. And if we don’t win the next one at home to Watford then I suspect we may be in for a difficult season. The upshot is we have three points after three games, exactly the same as a year ago.

Even at this very early stage the Premier League table has a predictable feel about it. Three teams have won their opening three games, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United. Three other teams haven’t been beaten yet, Tottenham, and perhaps more surprisingly, Middlesbrough and Everton. Hull will also be delighted with their start. With two wins and a defeat to a very late goal from Manchester United, their six points puts them above teams like Middlesbrough and Tottenham, who despite achieving the much praised “unbeaten” tag, have both only got five points from one win and two draws.

In addition to the seven teams mentioned above, a further six clubs have yet to record their first win, Stoke, Bournemouth, Watford, Palace, Sunderland and Southampton. It’s much too early to draw conclusions but even now, I can see the teams in the relegation dogfight being those latter six with the addition of Hull, Burnley and perhaps West Brom. I predicted a seventh place finish for us before the season started and I’ll stick with that although we’ve not really justified it yet.

With thirty games of the 380 in the Premier League completed, eleven have been won by the home team, eleven by the away team, and there have been eight draws. Thirty-six goals have been scored by the home team and an equal number by the away side. In the whole of last season, around 41% of games were won by the home side, and 31% by the away team, with 28% drawn. So away wins are up this time, although it is too early and the sample is too small to draw conclusions yet. With 2.4 goals average per game this season to date, then goals scored are more than 10% down on last season’s average of 2.7, but once again it is perhaps too early to predict a continuation of the downward goal scoring trend. In an average round of matches last season 27 goals were scored, so three fewer goals have been scored on average each week so far.

Last season, of course, we were the favourite team of the “neutral” supporter who likes to see goals in games from either side. The 116 goals scored in our games (3.05 per game) put us on the top of that particular “league” with only Everton’s matches achieving an average of 3 per game. After three games of this season our games have had eight goals, but unfortunately we’ve only managed three of them, one in each. Manchester City, apart from being top of the Premier League, have also had the most total goals with twelve in their three games (4 per game).

So we have a band of seven teams at the top who have all won at least two of their games or remain unbeaten (on 5 points or more), and six clubs without a win at the foot (with two points or less). No team has drawn all three of their games. We therefore sit in the middle band of seven teams on 3 or 4 points, where the result of the next games will start to decide if we are heading towards the top or bottom groups, or remaining in mid-table.