Burnley 1 West Ham 2

A win in the North-West to finish the season.

So we have ended a so-so season with a victory. And for a change, instead of relinquishing a lead and giving up the points we did it the other way round. When we fell behind midway through the first half I feared the worst, but a spirited comeback against a side with an enviable home record, and other results going our way, meant that we finished the season in eleventh place, just one point behind eighth, albeit with an inferior goal difference. Many have commented that with just one more victory we would have been clear in eighth, and it is easy to look back and see where that additional win might have come from, as we lost 22 points from a winning position.

The difficulties in settling in to a new home have been written about extensively, and whilst there is perhaps some merit in the change of stadium being the reason for our indifferent home form, I do not subscribe to it being such a key factor. Quite frankly we played poorly in so many home games, and we cannot blame the stadium for that. We just didn’t turn up at times, and failed to put in the level of commitment that we showed in our better performances. If the stadium was such a key factor, then where did we play the home game against Chelsea in the EFL Cup? And where did we play against Tottenham in the penultimate home game of the season?

The inability to score goals at the London Stadium is something that we will need to rectify next season, as in this one we only managed to score two goals or more on four occasions. On the other hand we scored at least two goals in nine of our away games. Compare this to the previous (successful) season when we scored at least twice in 23 of our games (12 at home, and 11 away).

The season was a balanced one in that we picked up 22 points in the first 19 games, and 23 in the last 19. Some of our 1-0 wins were fortunate, but all sides have those. The aforementioned 22 dropped points would, had we won the games where we were in front, have seen us finish in sixth place in the table. But it was not to be.

Injuries to key players was perhaps another factor in some of our poor results, but again many sides have those. Quite what is the reason for so many injuries is a debatable point, but we either have to improve our training facilities (the reason given by some), or consider our training methods and performance of the people behind the scenes who are responsible for ensuring the fitness of players. Or is it just bad luck? I’m not so sure.

Transfer target speculation is already well under way, and I hope we can secure some quality signings this time. But most of all I’d like to see us adopt a method of playing where we have a definite plan (and back up plans) where we find a successful formula and stick to it. To me, we appear to pick what the manager considers are his best eleven players available for each game, and because of injuries we bring in alternatives who don’t necessarily fit the same style of play. It is no coincidence that the two best teams in the country, Chelsea and Tottenham, have a style of playing where, in the event of injuries, they bring in players who fit into their pattern. They don’t just pick their best eleven players available and change the style to fit them.

We also need to consider what is one of the most important facets of the game at the top level, and that is pace. Teams can afford to have the odd player here or there who may be lacking in this if they bring other additional qualities to the team. But to me we seem to be lacking in this aspect in too many areas of the pitch. Some of our build up play is predictable and laborious with not enough movement off the ball. Sometimes when I watch our pre-match routine where the players play five against five retaining possession of the ball in a confined area I marvel at their ability to find space with quick movement, but we often cannot seem to replicate this in the game itself.

And one other thing I’d like to see. How many times have we had a free kick (or even a throw in) in the opponents half of the pitch, and several (mainly sideways and backwards) passes later it ends up with our goalkeeper, who then kicks the ball long and possession is lost? So many times we take a quick free kick (and there is nothing wrong with that in itself), but we don’t appear to give it much thought. Sometimes we need to consider what we are going to do. A quickly taken free kick can be a good attacking option, but only when the players are ready for it. It has the most effect when played in a forward direction.

Having said all that, despite some indifferent displays we finished eleventh, and could have even been higher. But I think that our mid table position was just about right. Some people writing on social media suggest that it was the worst season ever. No it wasn’t. Remember Glenn Roeder and Avram Grant? Our average finishing position in the Premier League era is around 12th / 13th. So it was just about right. Typical West Ham you might say.

Looking ahead I cannot foresee any changes to the top seven places in the table, and reckon that at our best we would be challenging with so many others in the mid-table cluster for eighth place. I hope I am wrong. I hope that we see some quality recruits, a definite style of play, and better luck with injuries. Only time will tell, but the new season is less than three months away, and a lot of work needs to be done behind the scenes to give us a chance of improvement. I hope it happens.

5 Anti-Climactic Thoughts from the Last Day of the Season

The season is over. The next one will be along in 12 weeks time. What will happen in the interim?

5 Things WHUIt’s All Over Now

So there you have it.  It’s all over for another year and we can switch modes from can’t wait until this season’s over to can’t wait until the new season starts!   When all done and dusted the league table shows West Ham slap bang in the middle.  Whichever way you look at it: mean, mode or median it was an average one.  Looking back in five or ten years’ time it will have the appearance of a table from many other seasons.  The poor performances, the flirt with relegation, the scrappy and lucky wins against Bournemouth, Hull and Burnley will be consigned to history.  The highlight of heroic victory over Tottenham, putting yet another spoke in their title aspirations, will survive as the season’s only legacy; apart from £120 million in TV and merit payments.

A Table of Two Halves

Normal service was resumed in the Premier League after the interruption of Leicester City last time around.  The order rather than make up of the top six positions is the extent of the uncertainty.  The gap between Everton in seventh and Southampton in eighth was a whopping fifteen points while a meagre six points separated eighth from seventeenth.  One more win and on paper one could be mistaken for believing that this season was only slightly behind the previous one; yet performances, points and goal difference tell a vastly different story.  We wait expectantly to learn the close season plans for the club.  Will Slaven Bilic be given more time?  Will there be a more reasoned and less public approach to transfer dealings (and that elusive free scoring twenty goals a season striker)?  Are any of our players on the radar of bigger clubs?  Will we finally give a worthwhile and extended opportunity to younger players?  Will the club ever adopt a top to toe level of professionalism that a multi-million pound football business requires?

A Final Day Victory For Once

It was an unexpected win at Turf Moor and possibly slightly more entertaining than one might have hoped for in the circumstances.  With even more injuries added to the disinterested squad who succumbed so weakly the previous week, victory at a ground which had been a fortress for Burnley all season looked remote.  When the hosts took the lead after 23 minutes it looked a good bet that the form book would rule the day.  However, within four minutes a delightful equalising goal fashioned by the unlikely duo of Andre Ayew and Sofiane Feghouli caught everyone unawares.  Had it not been for the referee treating the game like a pre-season friendly he might well have given Burnley midfielder Westwood his marching orders on at least two occasions for a series of rash challenges.  Still the Hammers looked generally comfortable and the game was settled when a neat passing move resulted in the strangest of winning goals for the visitors.  A smart shot by Edmilson Fernandes was well stopped by keeper Heaton but his save sent the ball into an unusual orbit where, on re-entry, it bounced off the bar, onto Ayew’s head and into the net.  Ayew notching his sixth league goal to put him behind Antonio (9), Lanzini (8) and Carroll (7) in the scoring charts.

Back in 12 Weeks

There are just eighty two shopping days (or just over 12 weeks) to the start of the 2017/18 Premier League season on 12 August.  It is not clear how many of the players who have recently gone under the knife will be back, fit and ready by the big kick-off.  Recuperation times of up to eleven or twelve weeks have been mentioned for some of the ailments.  Added to that it is probably time to give up on Carroll and Sakho for good although the abuse they receive from some supporters for being injured is bizarre.  It was good to see Angelo Ogbonna back in action even if it deprived us of an opportunity to have a look at Declan Rice, apart from his added time walk-on part.  The academy seems to be specialising in centre backs these days and we now have Rice, Oxford and Burke ready to knock on the first team door, even if there are deaf ears the other side of it.  Both Ayew and Feghouli had good games yesterday to the extent that maybe they do have some part to play in the future of the squad.  Fernandes too did well and the question with him is how he fits into the team (with Lanzini) without weakening the defensive responsibilities of the midfield.  Perhaps we will know more when the manager creates a preferred formation and distinct style of play.

Not So Super Sunday

The TV crew did their best to instil some degree of excitement in the race for fourth place and the uncertainty did last until just before half time when Liverpool scored their first against Middlesbrough.  Had the referee awarded Boro a penalty for the foul by Lovren on Bamford (before that opener) then the nerves could well have got to the Scousemen.  As it was the tackle was deemed to be just the wrong side of that no-mans-land between ‘he went down too easily’ and ‘he was entitled to go down’ that is only visible to football pundits.  The final forty-five minutes of the season, therefore, was only interesting in guessing how many goals the top teams would eventually score.

Matchday: Going Through the Motions at Turf Moor

It’s dead rubber day in the Premier League as the Hammers go limp in Lancashire.

Burnley West HamI used to think that a dead rubber was a used condom until I started to read about the finale to this season’s Premier League programme.  Paradoxically at the time when condoms were actually made from rubber (rather than latex) they were considered reusable and so, technically, not dead once they had performed their duty.  Of course, the UK’s most famous condoms were produced just a short ride around the North Circular by the London Rubber Company using a brand that took its name from the phrase Durability, Reliability and Excellence.  If only our team could have demonstrated such admirable qualities this season and been as effective in both scoring and preventing leaks.  In truth the term dead rubber should only really apply in a ‘best of’ series between two competing sides where the contest is decided before the series has been completed; today’s games are merely mostly meaningless.

If Burnley round off the season by maintaining their impressive home form with an expected win against West Ham today they will also leapfrog the Hammers in the table at the same time.  With Palace likely to pick up at least a point against Manchester United reserves this will see us dropping to 14th or possibly lower unless Stoke come back from Southampton empty handed.  Overall it is difficult to put a spin on the season that is anything other than a complete disaster, even if there are some mitigating factors related to injuries and the stadium move.   It looks to me that the club has taken several steps backwards this year and is now barely in a better position than a newly promoted side.  Looking for a bright straw clutching side one could point to Machester City’s first campaign after leaving Maine Road where they finished 16th with only 41 points.  The chances of history repeating itself now rest solely on the emergence of rich foreign owners with very deep pockets.

We don’t need squad players.  Take our last game against Liverpool. We were without eight players but still had a decent team so that shows that squad-wise, with the quantity of the players, we are okay.

– Slaven Bilic on his squad’s okayness

After 9 months of competition and hype the Premier League season ends in somewhat muted fashion with the majority of teams playing only for pride; an amusing concept in itself.  The desperation in the media to talk up the battle for fourth place illustrates perfectly how much the game has become a slave to money, for which Champion’s League qualification is the perfect embodiment.  We are meant to rely on relegated Middlesbrough and manager-less Watford to generate the day’s excitement.  I’m sure I would feel differently if it were the Hammers fighting it out for that final spot but then we all know what would happen once drawn against the Romanian or Latvian champions in the qualifying round don’t we?

Head to Head

The inaugural meeting between West Ham and Burnley took place at Turf Moor in 1923 following the Hammers promotion to the top flight for the first time.  West Ham keeper Ted Hufton was beaten five times as the Clarets ran out 5-1 winners.  Huddersfield Town pipped Cardiff City to win the league that season with a goal average difference of 0.024; now that is what I call a close finish.

Since then West Ham have shaded matters and recent results are heavily skewed heavily in our favour, having won eight and lost only two of the last twelve meetings.   West Ham have only lost at Turf Moor once in the last 39 years.

Team News

Winston Reid has joined the long list of players revealed to have been playing (or battling on) with a chronic long term injury that required immediate surgery.   Let;s hope for a speedy recovery as Winston is one of our better players.  I wonder who gets to wear the captain’s armband this afternoon?  Probably Jose Fonte!

There has been some speculation that Bilic will give a debut to young Declan Rice but it would be truer to form if he recalled a fit again Angelo Ogbonna to the side.  The bench is likely to have a few youngsters sat on it but whether any will get more than a token five minutes as the clock ticks down is anyone’s guess.

We’ve added to the squad but we still need to look at the market again – we want to keep upgrading not just for for the quality, but as an in-house challenge to the players.

– Sean Dyche plans an upgrade

Burnley may have Michael Keane back for what will most likely be his last game before a big money move to one of the big boys.  Final tests don’t come much sterner than having to keep Argentine hotshot Jonathan Calleri quiet for the afternoon!

The Man in the Middle

The Premier League website has some timely insights into the matchday routine of today’s referee Robert ‘Bobby’ Madley from West Yorkshire.  You will be enthralled to know that he will have enjoyed an early hearty breakfast of porridge and a couple of poached eggs before getting mentally prepared for the game by listening to Ocean Colour Scene in the dressing room.

Madley has been in the middle for three West Ham games this season; home wins against Sunderland and Burnley and an away defeat to Bournemouth.  In 34 games he has issued 142 yellow and 4 red cards.

 

 

 

 

West Ham visit Burnley

A trip to Lancashire to finish the season

When the Football League was formed in 1888 it consisted of 12 clubs. Five were from the Midlands and seven from the North-West in the county of Lancashire. Burnley were one of the original teams, and are one of only four of them who are currently in the top flight of English football, the others being Everton, Stoke and West Brom. Without counting I suspect that Lancashire houses more football league clubs than any other county, at least it did when I was growing up. Now, many teams that were considered to be in that county have a Greater Manchester address. Burnley was also one of the answers in a pub quiz I participated in where the question was asked, “Name the five football clubs who have finished as champions in all four divisions of English football.” The answer is at the end of this preview.

As I began taking an interest in football in the late 1950s, Burnley were a major force in England and were champions of Division One (that is equivalent to the modern day Premier League) in 1959-60, and reached the quarter-finals of the European Cup the following season. In 1961-62, they were runners-up in the league (to Ipswich), and lost in the FA Cup final to Tottenham. It just goes to show how the balance of power has shifted at the top in football when you consider that the top eight clubs in order that season were Ipswich, Burnley, Tottenham, Everton, Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa, and then West Ham. Arsenal were mid-table, the two Manchester clubs were in the bottom half, and Chelsea finished bottom and were relegated. Liverpool won the Division 2 title that season.

I’ve never been to Burnley, although I have a mental image of what the town might look like. I can remember many games against the Clarets over the years and two have so far been included in my favourite games series, the 1964 FA Cup quarter final victory over them, and the 5-0 demolition early on in the 1968-69 season. One game I can remember clearly took place at Upton Park on 6 October 1973. It was not a favourite game by any means; my recollection is based solely on the fact that I got engaged to be married that weekend.

We went into that game next to bottom in the table, not having won any of our first nine league games. Burnley were third from top, having only lost one of their opening nine games. They beat us 1-0 that day and went on to finish sixth. Our non-winning run continued for another fortnight until we won our first game of the season at the 12th attempt, 1-0 at Coventry. We continued with our miserable run in the league for a further six games without winning, before our second victory in the 19th game (2-1 v Manchester City), which was our first home win of the season.

Support was falling at the time, and only just over 16,000 were at Upton Park when we lost at home to Stoke on the Saturday before Christmas when we fell to the bottom of the table. But we completed a remarkable escape with a ten game unbeaten run, mainly inspired by our new captain, Billy Bonds, playing in midfield at the time. The return fixture at Turf Moor was one of the games in that unbeaten run, and a Graham Paddon goal helped us to a 1-1 draw. Improved performances and results led to bigger crowds in the second half of that season with several over 30,000, and a season high of over 38,000 when we defeated Leeds, the eventual champions, 3-1 in March.

After then Burnley went into a slow decline culminating in the final game of the 1986-87 season (just 30 years ago) when they needed to win the last game of the season to remain in the Football League and not be relegated to the Conference (now the Vanarama). They duly beat Leyton Orient and were also saved by Lincoln City, who were then automatically relegated when losing their final game. In the season just ended of course, Leyton Orient have been relegated from the Football League and Lincoln City have won promotion as Vanarama champions.

Burnley began to ascend again from that time, and in the last few years have yo-yoed between the Championship and the Premier League. This is their third time since 2009 in the top flight, with 2009-10 and 2014-15 being stays of one season only. But they have been more successful this time, and have avoided relegation despite being one of the favourites to go down at the beginning of the season. They currently sit in 15th place on 40 points with just the one game left. We are 12th on 42, so defeat would mean that they overtake us.

As 11th are playing 10th (Leicester v Bournemouth), the highest we can possibly finish is 11th, and we are guaranteed at least 12th if we win. Looking at the fixtures of the teams below us, I would predict that as long as we don’t lose to Burnley we will remain in 12th place. But this won’t be an easy game for us. Burnley have a magnificent home record where they have attained 33 of their 40 points this season with 10 wins and 3 draws, and they have lost just 5 times. Their defeats came at the hands of Swansea on the opening day of the season, and then to 4 of the sides currently in the top six, the two North London clubs and the two Manchester teams. Away from home they have only won once (at Palace), but at home they are a different proposition, and we will do well to get something out of the game there, especially considering the performance last Sunday, and our increasingly lengthy injury list.

Considering their illustrious past, our head to head record against Burnley is a surprisingly positive one, and we’ve won slightly more games than we’ve lost. That is mainly as a result of more recent history, and since that 1973 defeat that I referred to earlier, we have played them 24 times in league and cup matches, winning 16, drawing 4, and losing just 4. They haven’t beaten us since December 2011 when Sam Vokes scored the winner to complete a 2-1 comeback win for them. Sam Vokes is still there and is their leading goalscorer this season.

Predicting the outcome of final day games of the season with nothing (except prize money and final league position) to play for is tricky. You are never quite sure how many players are already on the beach. With many factors going against us it is hard to see a win, but I reckon a score draw is the likely outcome of the claret and blue derby that finishes our season.

(Pub quiz answer – Portsmouth, Wolves, Sheffield United, Preston.)

West Ham 0 Liverpool 4

“It’s the same old story, it’s as old as the stars above”

After the Tottenham game just over a week before, I was really looking forward to my final visit to the London Stadium for our last game of our inaugural season there. I was full of trepidation when I knew just how many of our first choice players were not available for the match, but nonetheless we had many missing against our old enemy, and everyone stepped up to put in our best performance of the year. And for the first quarter of an hour or so, it looked like we might put in a similar performance again. Byram might have scored, or should at least have hit the target, to finish off an excellent swift passing move early on, and Fernandes hit a shot that had Mignolet scrambling to turn it away.

But then Liverpool scored an excellent goal, so well taken by Sturridge who just about managed to stay onside. The way he took the goal was reminiscent of Jimmy Greaves at his best. I am old enough to remember watching Greaves live, but you can look back on old footage of the way, when faced with a one on one with the keeper, he almost always dribbled around him to put the ball into an empty net. So many strikers in modern times when in this position, shoot as the keeper advances. Sometimes it goes in but frequently it hits the legs or body and a goalscoring chance is wasted. Of course players have to have the necessary skill to go around the keeper, and Sturridge demonstrated the confidence and ability to do it with ease.

At that point the heads appeared to go down, and we surrendered the ball tamely on frequent occasions, and never really looked convincing or up for the fight. When the second went in, after another bout of giving the ball away, the game was really all over. A brief resurgence of effort should have resulted in a penalty when Reid was assaulted in the area, and for good measure they really tried to give us a penalty by handling the ball as well, but the referee (and his assistant who was also well placed to see the incident) was oblivious to what everyone else in the stadium could see, and incredibly allowed the play to continue. Liverpool did not put the ball out of play as we had sportingly done on two occasions before in the game, and the incompetent referee also appeared to forget that head injuries can be a serious matter, and failed to stop the play. In a matter of seconds a third goal had gone in, and it was well and truly over at that point.

I am not trying to suggest that we lost the game because of this one incident, but had the penalty been justly awarded, we might have seen an improvement in effort if we were just one goal down. We have really seen some scandalous decisions go against us in the past couple of seasons, and this was another to add to the list. I find it hard to remember the last time we benefitted from a poor decision given against our opponents.

So many of our players gave up at this point, and where I had seen so many of them fighting to demonstrate that they were worthy of a place in the squad for next season in the Tottenham game, they showed equally why they were not in this match. One player I would excuse was Feghouli, who was a free transfer signing in the summer, but who showed great skill and commitment to try to get us back into it in the half-hour or so available to him. Cynics will say he was putting in the effort for personal reasons, but I am one (and I accept there are not many who agree with me) who really believe he is a good footballer, who given a decent injury-free run in the side, will one day prove all the doubters wrong.

Of course another turning point in the game, when we were just one down, was when Ayew somehow contrived to miss an open goal twice! This was amazing for a Premier League striker (whether he cost £20 million or not), and perhaps he will get the publicity given to Rosenthal, and be forever shown when you see clips of incredible misses. I’m sure he was just a panic buy at the end of the summer transfer window to appease fans after the board had talked about a marquee striker. I’m not sure I understand how the term marquee came to be used in a football sense, but assume the derivation relates to tents? If so, then his performances are more closely related to a wigwam.

So we now sit in twelfth place in the table with just the trip to Burnley left. That won’t be an easy game, but even if we somehow do win, our poor goal difference means that we cannot get into the top half of the table whatever happens elsewhere. With the points we’ve dropped from winning positions we could have even emulated or surpassed last season’s seventh place. But have we really progressed from last season? To the contrary, I think we’ve gone backwards. And it’s nothing to do with an un-named Frenchman either.

And on a final note, I’m not sure when the end of season awards dinner was held at the club last season, but if my memory is correct it was in the week prior to the game against Swansea, when we were unexpectedly hammered 4-1. This time, in the game after that event, we once again conceded four goals in a tame performance. As a club we don’t learn from our mistakes easily, but I would suggest that next season it is held at the end of the season when all the games have been played. I know that the players want to get off to the beach quickly once the season is over. In the Liverpool game some looked as though they were already there! But remember last season we bounced back for a terrific finale against Manchester United. Perhaps we can do the same at Turf Moor? I won’t hold my breath.

5 Lessons from a Liverpool Drubbing

Dey do do dat dough don’t dey dough! Scousers give dreadful West Ham a pasting.

5 Things WHUSaving the Worst for Last

“Now I’ve swung back down again, it’s worse than it was before.  If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor.” So sung the band James in their 1991 hit Sit Down perfectly summarising the emotions that followed the highs of last week’s victory over Tottenham with the lows of the abject tame surrender to Liverpool.  There could be some mitigation in defeat due to absence through injuries but it is no excuse for a collective giving up after the first goal went in.  This was not the result of complacency at the end of a hard season but an abysmal capitulation at the end of a campaign where survival was by the slimmest margins of some lucky wins and one storming performance against Spurs.  The fans deserve and expect more and who can blame the majority for leaving before the lap of honour?   If the players couldn’t be bothered to put in the ninety minutes effort why should supporters, who have given up so much time and money, hang around to acknowledge them.

The First Goal in Cheapest

One of my problems with Slaven Bilic is that he is a reactive manager, and even then he is usually slow to react.  Having by accident or design hit upon a formation that tightened up the defence for a while he was always likely to stick with it regardless until it went horribly wrong.  Despite having allowed Kouyate and Noble to blag season ending sick-notes he attempted to maintain the same system equipped with unsuitable players against a Liverpool side that were set up very differently.  Even the half time break did nothing to address the obvious problems.  The only hope would have been to stop Liverpool scoring and settle for a goalless draw, a task that look beyond them as the visitors were repeatedly given space and time in the box.  The breakthrough when it came stemmed from a pointless and wasted Calleri flick, in a rare West Ham attack, followed by Dad’s Army defending;  Collins inexplicably leaving Sturridge all on his own while a daydreaming Fonte kindly played him onside to capitalise on Coutinho’s excellent through ball.   With no ideas how to respond the remainder of the game became an exhibition match for the visitors which echoed prior desperate defeats to Arsenal and Manchester City.  Still at least we beat Tottenham.

Ayew Having a Laugh?

I was trying to think of the worst open goal miss that I have ever seen.  There are quite a few compilations on Youtube; Ronnie Rosenthal normally sets the standard but  I am sure that the one by 20 million pound striker Andre Ayew on the stroke of half-time will feature regularly in years to come.  What made the miss so special was, not that it was only 2 or 3 yards from goal, but that having hit the post of an open goal once he did exactly the same again when the ball rebounded nicely to him.  In a typical game Ayew rarely contributes a great deal but he can normally be relied on to convert the simple tap-in.  On this occasion he failed on both counts and yet still survived for almost 80 minutes before being replaced by 10 million pound misfit Robert Snodgrass.  It is all well and good putting youngsters like Rice and Quina on the bench for matchday atmosphere experience but why bother if there is no intention of giving them a run out no matter what the circumstances?

Good Intent

I have become wholeheartedly confused recently about what does or doesn’t constitute a foul or a penalty (or a handball come to that); particularly in relation to intent.  The Winston Reid penalty claim incident that immediately preceded the third Liverpool goal is a perfect example.  Liverpool’s Wijnaldum jumped with arms raised and struck Reid in the face (plus he may even have also handled the ball).  The referee waved play on and compounded his decision by not stopping play despite Reid appearing to have a head injury.  Typically, Liverpool did not put the ball into touch even though Adrian had done so earlier when a Liverpool player went down injured.  I have since heard pundits (well Andy Townsend to be precise) say that there was no intent by Wijnaldum; but then that is often the case with many tackles,, which are mistimed or reckless rather than intentional, and where even the merest hint of a touch has players tumbling ground-wards to general ‘they were entitled to go down’ punditry.  Surely anyone raising their arms should suffer the consequences whenever a collision occurs, just as they should if the balls hits them.  What with the goalkeeper’s get out of jail card that we saw in the Loris challenge on Lanzini such game changing decisions are becoming more of a lottery year on year; not that this one decision was the excuse for yesterday’s defeat.

What The Feghouli?

For the first time yesterday we saw a Feghouli who actually resembled a top level footballer.  Although only on the pitch for just over half an hour he looked both lively and to have a bit of pace, and was one of our better players. Where had that performance been all season or was this a pop-up shop window display?  Too late to convince me that he has a future, however, and is one of several players, along with the likes of Calleri, Snodgrass, Ayew and Fonte, who I would be happy to see the back of.  My fear, though, is that the club would simply replace them with a procession of fading, over 30’s whose best days are well behind them, just being currently better than what we have is not sufficient justification.  Perhaps one day we will realise that success in modern football requires pace and stamina all over the park.

Matchday: Mickey Mousers Come To Town

“Téléphonez à un ami!” Can West Ham provide a lifeline to Arsene Wenger by scuppering Liverpool’s top four pretensions?

Matchday LiverpoolThe misty eyed football historian may well remember the day when Liverpool, along with teams such as Preston North End, Huddersfield Town and Portsmouth, were serious contenders for top flight league honours.  In fact, for a time in the not too distant past, when footballers posed beside Ford Capris, advertised hair grooming products and sported flared trousers and moustaches, the men from Anfield were something of a dominant force.  Then suddenly, before anyone realised that simply appointing ex-players to the managerial boot-room didn’t guarantee success, the Premier League circus had begun and money started to talk in a Manc rather than Scouse accent; the media’s favourite club became marooned in the doldrums.

There have been a few occasions where they threatened to clamber back up the league ladder but ultimately there has always been a snake (or a Steven Gerrard slip) to see them tumble back down again.  Liverpool are the northern equivalent of Tottenham, better than many other teams in the league but nowhere near as good as their fans believe them to be.  With Arsenal’s win at Stoke last night it puts further pressure on Liverpool’s quest for a top four finish and so it is appropriate that West Ham have the opportunity to put the kibosh on both team’s seasonal aspirations in successive weeks at the London Stadium.

He (Noble) played through the pain and with that pain and it became a bit worse.  Kouyate has a wrist problem, he played through a lot of pain. We made a plan for him to play as much as possible, but it became worse.

– Slav explains injuries becoming worse

Our own season has been one heavily weighted towards disappointment.  As it reaches its conclusion there is not a great deal to look back on with pride apart from that victory over Tottenham and the EFL cup defeat of Chelsea.  Once again no Hammer, bar a late flurry, will get even half way to mythical 20 goals per season and after a first ever Premier League positive goal difference last term we are firmly back in deficit territory.  Hopefully a little of last week’s energy and enterprise will be carried forward to today so that the season doesn’t finally fizzle out on a depressing low point.

Head to Head

No West Ham supporter needs to be told how dreadful our record away to Liverpool is but may not be aware that they also hold the advantage in matches played on our own turf; a win for the Hammers today though would even things up at 22 wins apiece from 59 attempts and a 4-0 win would also restore goal parity at the same time.  West Ham are, however, on a tidy little run against the Reds with three wins and two draws in the last five; and still to lose against a Jurgen Klopp side.

Team News

Depending on whether Arthur Masuaku is fit or not then it could be up to eight first team players on the sick list for West Ham.  Probably at least six of those missing in action would get into most supporters preferred starting elevens.  It does seem a little odd that our two more defensively minded midfielders have been playing with injuries for some time but couldn’t hold out for another week or so before electing for surgery; maybe there are valid medical reasons.

With what remains (and with potential replacements still out on loan) it would appear that the team pretty much picks itself with Nordtveit and Fernandes coming in for Kouyate and Noble.  I have high hopes for Fernandes but he is not a defensive midfield player and I worry that it is a fragile pairing against the likes of Coutinho and Lallana; not that I can see any other options as Slaven fills out his team sheet. I guess another start for non-scoring striker, Calleri, is inevitable but hope that Fletcher gets more than a last five minutes today.

Everything is still in our hands. All the teams have to play tough games and no-one wins all of them. Now we have to win ours and it will be fine.

– Jurgen Klopp

Liverpool are without Mané, Henderson and, possibly, Firmino.  They are certainly not the same team in Mané’s absence.  There is a lot of speculation about whether Sturridge gets a start against a side that is rumoured to be interested in his signature.  Sturridge has a decent scoring record but whether an injury prone striker with a questionable attitude is precisely what is needed is a matter of opinion.

The Man in the Middle

Please welcome Neil Swarbrick from Lancashire making his third London Stadium appearance of the season having kept whistle for previous unbeaten home games against Middlesbrough & Crystal Palace.  In his 31 outings this term he has contributed 116 yellow and 3 red cards.