Preview: West Ham v Manchester City

I Have a Dream! West Ham make the trip north to face Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.

West Ham at Man CityI had a strange dream last night. No, not that kind of dream! I was appearing on a quiz show and was just being asked the £1 million question. The quiz show itself was a mixture of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, A Question of Sport, Mastermind and Deal or No Deal. One minute I was facing Chris Tarrant, then Sue Barker, then Magnus Magnusson and then Noel Edmonds. I was sitting on a chair in front of an audience, then I was part of a team with Phil Tufnell, then I was on a black chair in darkness, and finally Noel Edmonds was asking me the question, Deal or No Deal, only to be interrupted by a telephone call from the banker, who then wanted to make me another offer.

The question I was being asked was “What Happened Next?” Four football matches were being described to me and I had to select the correct answer to win the money. In the first game West Ham were playing Manchester City and were winning the game 4-1, then in the second game West Ham were again playing City and once again were leading 4-1. In the third game I had the same situation, West Ham were beating Manchester City 4-1 close to the end of the game. And yes you’ve guessed it, the fourth game was exactly the same, we were beating them 4-1.

I was confused. I kept telling them there were four different answers. Chris Tarrant wanted to know if I wanted to phone a friend, Magnus said he’d started so he’d finish, Matt Dawson was in fits of laughter, Jeremy Paxman was telling me I’d have to hurry (how did University Challenge get in?), Noel Edmonds wanted to know if I wanted to swap my box, and the phone was ringing. I told them there were different occasions when we were beating City 4-1, how could I know what one they were referring to? Thankfully, at that point I woke up in a sweat. Yes, it has been very warm at night lately.

I can only blame myself. I was thinking about this week’s game at the Etihad and before going to bed I was looking back on previous memorable encounters with City that I remember well. There was the game at Maine Road in 1970 at Maine Road when Jimmy Greaves made his debut for us and scored twice, Ronnie Boyce scored from the half way line and we won the game 5-1, to gain our revenge on a 4-0 home defeat to them just three months earlier.

Then there was a game at Upton Park about twelve years later when Sandy Clark scored a brace (don’t you just love that phrase) in a 4-1 win. Then in 1996 Iain Dowie scored a couple of goals as we thrashed them 4-2, again at Upton Park, with Niall Quinn scoring City’s second as the referee blew the final whistle. Lastly in November 2000, we recovered from a half-time 1-0 deficit, with goals from Steve Lomas, Stuart Pearce, Trevor Sinclair (all three of whom ironically have a City connection) and finally a penalty from Paolo in the last minute to record another 4-1 victory.

So what will happen on Sunday? We have a mounting injury crisis which shows little sign of ending. Last September when we surprisingly won the away game 2-1 we had the following starting line-up: Adrian, Jenkinson, Tomkins, Reid, Cresswell, Noble, Obiang, Lanzini, Payet, Moses and Sakho. The goals were scored by Moses and Sakho. Antonio, Jelavic and Collins were second half substitutes. It was one of our famous away victories in the last campaign. How times change. How many of that starting line-up will begin Sunday’s game?

When the return fixture was played at Upton Park in January, Valencia scored twice in a 2-2 draw, making it four goals that he scored in under a fortnight. How many goals has he scored since that game?

In my lifetime I can only ever recall one goalless draw in an away league game at City (in 1994) and I don’t expect another this weekend. I have a feeling that the score may be 4-1, and that we will be on the losing end. I hope not, but our performances to date have not been encouraging. But even if we do lose the game we will still be on three points, exactly the same tally as we had after three games last season. And this time, two of the season’s toughest away games will have been played, whereas last season two of our first three games were at home.

Despite Thursday’s poor show, it’s not all doom and gloom. We can dream that it will get better. And congratulations to Adrian on his first call up to the Spanish squad. Perhaps he can keep a clean sheet to celebrate?

I Wouldn’t Bet On It 5

Let’s Try An Acca (with money back guarantee).

Fancy A BetLast week I was massively confident of a victory over Bournemouth and staked 10 points on a West Ham win at 21/20 (20.5). Antonio’s late goal saved us when it was beginning to look like we might lose out. So this brought our balance up to 100.6, giving us a small profit on the season to date.

Today we’ll try an accumulator bet, where if one of our selections is wrong we get the money back as a free bet, as offered by some bookmakers.

The selections are:

Everton to beat Stoke 8/11

Southampton to beat Sunderland 8/13

Bradford to beat Oldham 4/5

Accrington to beat Morecambe 19/20

Doncaster to beat Yeovil 4/6

I’ll put 1 point on the accumulator which gives odds of 15.3/1.

I’ll also try to select the result of three other games:

1 point on West Brom to draw with Middlesbrough @21/10 (3.1)

1 point on Brentford to draw with Sheffield Wednesday @21/10 (3.1)

1 point on Bristol City to draw with Aston Villa at 21/10 (3.1)

1 point on a treble of the above three matches at 28.8/1 (29.8)

Total spend is 5 points bringing our balance down to 95.6.

The Lawro Challenge Week 3

We continue to do battle with the thatch headed one.

Lawro Crystal BallLawro may be “steamrollering” his invited guests, band members, comedians etc. (none of whom seem to be particularly skilled in the art of predicting football matches) in the first two weeks of the season but he’s not having his own way against us. This week on the BBC website he faces Laura Trott, the well-known football tipster.

Early days of course, but last week’s scores were Rich 8, Lawro 8, and Geoff 5.

This makes the cumulative totals after two weeks, Rich 17, Lawro 14, Geoff 13.

This week’s Lawro:-

SATURDAY

Rich

Lawro

Geoff

Tottenham v Liverpool

2-1

1-1

2-1

Chelsea v Burnley

3-0

2-0

3-1

Crystal Palace v Bournemouth

1-0

2-1

2-2

Everton v Stoke

2-1

2-0

2-0

Leicester v Swansea

2-1

2-0

2-0

Southampton v Sunderland

2-0

1-1

1-0

Watford v Arsenal

1-2

0-2

0-3

Hull v Man Utd

1-3

0-2

0-2

SUNDAY

West Brom v Middlesbrough

1-1

2-0

2-1

Man City v West Ham

4-1

2-0

3-1

West Ham 0 v 1 Astra Giurgiu

Just Not Good Enough! When you set out for a walk in the park and end up flat on your face.

Angry Slaven BilicAs Super Slav sat down to select his team and squad to face Romanian champions Astra Giurgiu, he was fully aware of the delicate balancing act needed to win the game and hence qualify for the Europa League group stage, whilst at the same time not compromising his team selection for the difficult away Premier League game at Manchester City on Sunday. He was unable to do this last season but now had a much stronger squad to pick from despite the injuries and unavailable players. Or so we thought. He stated this was his strongest possible team. Captain Mark Noble had a slight knock and was not risked. It was disappointing to see Randolf displayed on the scoreboard instead of Randolph. It was even more disappointing to see Bilic start with just one forward in a home game against a team as poor as this.

On eight minutes Calleri, following a superb through ball from Burke, found himself one on one with the keeper and should have scored, but just like the last minute of the Bournemouth game, failed to do so. Full backs Byram and Burke caught the eye early on, and a superb strike from Obiang on 14 minutes came close to breaking the deadlock. But we weren’t showing enough urgency. We were moving the ball too slowly. Surely we weren’t playing for a 0-0 draw?

The German referee tried to keep the game flowing when Romanians were committing fouls, but seemed to be pulling us up regularly. Half time had almost arrived when the 35 year old ex-West Brom player Teixeira finished off a slick move reminiscent of one of the Juventus goals a couple of weeks back. Unfortunately the Astra counter attack was created by Byram and Burke perhaps revealing their inexperience. Oh how we longed for the creativity of a Payet, Lanzini, or Feghouli to come off the bench in the second half, but of course none of them were available.

Astra had only kept one clean sheet in twelve previous away games in Europe and that was in Scotland at Inverness. Surely it was only a matter of time before we equalised? We raised the tempo early in the second half and Calleri missed a header that Sandra Redknapp would have scored. Fletcher, who was one of the only players who could be happy with his performance, could have had a penalty, and should have scored from six yards but aimed straight at the keeper. But he was only the second choice attacking substitute and had barely half an hour to make his mark.

Valencia had come on at half time, but apart from one half decent free kick, just did his usual running down blind alleys. Antonio missed a header, albeit not as easy as you might think, from about four yards out. We continued to press forward, but a long time before the end of the game you just knew we weren’t going to score. And we didn’t. In some ways it was reminiscent of watching England play Poland in 1973. Just as then we thought we only had to turn up to win.

The German referee fell for all the Astra spoiling tactics and had a shocking game. But so did so many of our team who just weren’t good enough. If you could have seen that coming you could have made a lot of money. Astra were 8/1 with the bookies at the start. Some West Ham fans were fighting each other. The stewards let them get on with it. The crowd were getting very hostile. If only we’d seen more fight from the players, especially in the first half. According to reports Simone Zaza is expected to sign for us on Friday. I wonder if he was watching tonight?

Stand Up If You Love West Ham?

Could this become the biggest controversy at West Ham since the Bond Scheme?

Standing at Olympic StadiumMy first visit to Upton Park was in 1958. I was four years old. I sat in the stand. B Block in the old West Stand to be precise. When I was old enough to go with friends we always stood. The North Bank was our position of choice for many years. I stood when over 42,000 crammed into the ground against Tottenham one day. We could barely move. But we were young and we didn’t care. It was more fun to watch a game whilst standing on the terraces. It was all we could afford anyway.

But in 1989 a disaster in Sheffield led to a review of the law relating to safety certificates being issued at football stadiums. They became all-seater at Premier League grounds more than twenty years ago, and despite many people wanting safe standing areas, they remain so. Many would welcome these areas but it would require legal changes for it to happen. Just because unofficial standing areas became the norm at Upton Park, usually in the lower areas, and a blind eye appeared to be turned, it doesn’t mean that it is a right now that we have moved into a new stadium. Many who don’t wish to stand (or in fact cannot stand) are inconvenienced because of their position in the ground.

At Upton Park fans knew where the unofficial standing areas were and migrated to them accordingly if they wished to stand. Moving to a new stadium has meant that these unofficial areas have not yet been established and this has therefore exacerbated the issue.

We could have had 60,000 for the visit of Bournemouth. But this had to be reduced to 57,000 as we couldn’t get a safety certificate for the higher figure. Who is to say that this won’t get reduced further if the standing persists? With 52,000 season ticket holders and tickets for away fans then this only left around 2,000 tickets available for people who are unable to get a season ticket. And we are told there are thousands on the waiting list. The club would like to increase the capacity to 66,000 to accommodate the demand, but this looks increasingly unlikely whilst some supporters continue to defy the rules because they believe it is their right to stand.

Now I prefer to sit to watch football. I am not one of the new breed of supporters (Essex middle class was the term used by one standing fan). I have been a regular for nearly 60 years and I have reached an age where a day out to watch football involves a lot of standing and walking, and I prefer to watch the game in relative comfort sitting down. I join in with Bubbles, and I shout and scream as the game is on. I leap to my feet when a goal is scored. When I get home I have often got a very hoarse voice. I am as passionate about West Ham as I was in the sixties, seventies and eighties when I stood on the North Bank. But I don’t have to stand up to show my passion.

The new stadium is infinitely more comfortable than Upton Park. I am lucky in that I sit in an upper tier where others are also seated. As I looked down at the Bournemouth game I could see the problems and conflict arising. Many stood in defiance because they believe it is their right. Throughout the game many faced away from the game with their arms aloft and started the chant “Stand up if you love West Ham”. I love West Ham but I don’t have to stand to prove it. This was followed frequently with “We’re West Ham United, we stand if we want.” These fans are not concerned about the consequences of their actions. They don’t seem to care if they mar the enjoyment of others. They don’t care that fewer can get tickets.

West Ham v Astra Giurgiu Preview

Our gateway to the league group stage of the Europa League?

west ham v astra 2015For the second time in a week and the fourth time in a year we are playing Astra Giurgiu of Romania. This time it is for a place in the group stage of the Europa League which will mean an additional six Thursday games between now and the end of the year if we overcome them successfully. Will we be able to cope if we get through?

Last Thursday we drew 1-1 in Romania. The result should have been so much better. Shortly before the Astra equaliser we missed a really good opportunity to extend our lead to 2-0 which would have put us in a very strong position for the second leg. But it was not to be so we go into this game all square with an away goal.

We were not particularly impressive in our opening Premier League game on Sunday but nevertheless we claimed three points with Antonio’s late goal. It is still early in the season and we have many first choice players unavailable at the moment so let’s not get too disheartened. Some people on social media are really depressed about the way we have started but there is a long way to go this season. And if you compare the same games with last season (when we lost at home to Bournemouth and drew away at Chelsea) then we are already two points better off!

Astra Giurgiu may be the Romanian champions but they are in disarray as a club. They have numerous off field problems which are well documented, and their league performances are going from bad to worse. Before we played them last week they sat in ninth place in their domestic league. At the weekend they took a 5-1 hammering at CFR Cluj and have now sunk into eleventh place. They would be even lower if it wasn’t for teams close to the bottom (including CFR Cluj) who have had points deducted this season for “irregularities”.

So this game should be straightforward, shouldn’t it? If we put out a half decent team (and Slav has confirmed that we are taking this competition seriously) then there is no reason why we shouldn’t progress comfortably into the group stage. Scoring seems to be our problem but hopefully we will have some of our creative players back (Dimi and Manu?) and open up their defence at will. An early goal or two would be good – I am hoping for a 3-0 win at least.

The group stage draw takes place in Monaco on Friday with the first two Europa league games scheduled for 15th and 29th September, which are prior to our weekend games away at West Brom and then home to Middlesbrough. The next two European games are scheduled for 20th October and 3rd November, prior to the Premier League games at home to Sunderland and Stoke. So if we get through this match, and you prefer your Saturday games, you should savour our home game against Watford on Saturday 10th September which kicks off at 3pm. Because if we beat Astra, the Watford game will be our only Saturday game in the first half of the season until at least December!  I hope you are free on Sundays!

Spotlight on the Officials

A quick look at some of the decisions made by the referees this weekend.

RefereeingTraditionally it has always been said that if you don’t notice a referee in a game of football then he’s had a good game. To some extent this is true. Referees and their assistants do have assessors in the stands at every game feeding back on their performance so in theory their decisions (or non-decisions) are scrutinised carefully. But if a referee doesn’t get a mention in a newspaper or media report on a game then he should normally be pleased. Although some do court the attention and believe they are on a par with the players in providing the entertainment.

All officials will continue to make mistakes (as we all do in life), and until some form of video technology is introduced then these errors will continue to be highlighted, and can have a significant outcome on the results of games. The concept of using video referees in the stands is something that is gaining momentum, and something I am wholly in favour of. The technology is there, although we have to be careful how it is used. I will expand upon how it can be introduced at a later date, but I believe it is urgently needed to minimise the errors made by the officials. I have heard that generally they are in favour themselves and would welcome the help it would give them. In the meantime I have noted a few issues that have come up even at this early stage of the season.

Last weekend Jon Moss took charge of the Watford v Chelsea game. Apart from missing one of the most blatant handballs you will ever see when Cathcart handled from a corner, Moss also failed to send off Costa for simulation (diving to most of us) after he had booked him for dissent earlier in the game. This meant he was still on the field when he shouldn’t have been to score the winning goal late in the game. Ring any bells? Oh yes Anthony Taylor failed to send him off for his disgraceful challenge on Adrian, after he had previously booked him for dissent just a few days earlier. The result of all this? Chelsea have got six points this season after two games when some might argue they should only have two. Those points might be very important in the final analysis. I remember Mr. Moss well for what I believe were important decisions against us at Leicester last season and at Tottenham the season before. 95th minute penalties if I recall correctly?

“Perhaps the first on Drinkwater was debatable, but the second was cast-iron, stonewall, nailed-on, or whatever you would like to call it.”

Tony Pulis’ teams have I believe, got away with American Football style blocking in the penalty area at set pieces for some years. Perhaps they aren’t the only ones, but Stoke always stood out for me in this respect, and latterly West Brom are the same. Last weekend from a corner, Berahinho was detailed to “look after” the Everton keeper (Stekelenburg?) and backed him into the net as a corner came across allowing McAuley a free header to score. Not the first time the Albion have used this ploy. It was so obvious to see on TV but did Mr. Swarbrick see it? Apparently not.

I’ve always thought that Mark Clattenburg reminded me of somebody but I didn’t realise who until I saw him shake hands with Koscielny of Arsenal at the end of the game at Leicester. Last season Leicester were awarded a scandalous number of penalties and followed this up with one in their first game of the season at Hull. But I wonder if Mr. Clattenburg has cottoned on to this, as he denied them two fairly clear-cut spot kick awards in the game against the Gunners. Perhaps the first on Drinkwater was debatable, but the second was cast-iron, stonewall, nailed-on, or whatever you would like to call it. He was possibly the only person who saw it who didn’t think so. Perhaps he is single-handedly giving Leicester their comeuppance for some “dubious” penalty awards in the past year.

Well done to Mike Dean who appears to have started a one-man crusade against holding in the penalty area at corners. He awarded two penalties for this infringement in the Stoke v Man. City game and is to be congratulated in his stance to try to eradicate this nonsense from the game. But he doesn’t appear to have been backed up by referees elsewhere even though it was an issue they were going to tackle this season. Unless this is applied consistently then it will continue to spoil games. It will be interesting to see if Mr. Dean keeps it up, or if he gets criticised by the assessors for this.

My award for referee of the week goes to Craig Pawson who refereed our game v Bournemouth. I have been critical of him in the past (Arsenal last season) but felt he was spot on throughout the game and got most decisions right. He tried to let the game flow, but stopped it when he had to. He certainly made fewer mistakes than many of the players on view.