And now the end is near as West Ham face the season’s curtain

Just one more point is all we need to be absolutely sure of sixth place – and we may not even need that

In these times of great uncertainty I can now stop trying to work out all the permutations of where we might finish at the end of this magnificent season. Just a few games ago I was speculating on how we could finish as high as fourth or as low as tenth and plumped for sixth. One point against Southampton today, or Tottenham’s failure to win at Leicester, will make my prediction come true and bring us European football in the Europa League next season. Even if the very worst happens today (and I don’t for one moment believe that it will) then we will still be taking part in this new-fangled European Conference competition, which would still be OK although it would bring greater early season fixture congestion.

The win against West Brom was a nervy affair and not really settled until the last few minutes, although anyone looking at the statistics of the game would think that it was a stroll at the Hawthorns. It most certainly wasn’t but somehow this team are superb at battling it out even when not at their best. It was the type of game that some Hammers teams of the past might have lost, but the spirit and togetherness is something I haven’t seen for a while. (And just a thought – I reckon Cresswell would be a good penalty taker. I wonder if this has been considered?)

Massive credit to David Moyes and the coaching team for what they have achieved in turning around a club close to relegation last season into one that has qualified for Europe in this one with minimal new faces, setting all sorts of club records along the way, such as number of Premier League wins, number of Premier League away wins, number of Premier League points, best Premier League finishing position this century, best Premier League defensive record and others. We’ve even won as many points away from home as the great team of 1985/86 in fewer games, and if we win today we will have the second best points total in home games of all Premier League teams this season (after Manchester City). That is some turnaround in such a short time.

Set out below is an extract from my first article this season that was published before the Newcastle game where we went down 2-0 at the London Stadium in the first match this season. Looking at what I wrote then not very much has changed personnel-wise. The brilliant capture of Coufal (my choice for Hammer of the Year very slightly ahead of Rice, Soucek, Ogbonna plus some others perhaps) has had a massive influence defensively, as has the surprising emergence of Dawson as a solid defender, forming a good partnership with Ogbonna. Benrahma was the only addition in an attacking sense in the summer window and I’m sure he will become a valuable addition in the years to come. Haller has gone, and I don’t see a way back for Anderson or Yarmolenko. Lanzini was beginning to come good at the end before his latest injury. It seemed that most of the fans were clamouring for a forward in the winter transfer window and were less than impressed when Lingard turned up. That soon changed when he had a massive impact, especially in his early games for us. I wonder what will happen in this respect in the next few weeks?

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

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

There’s optimism for you! Enjoy the game.”              

So we did get some defensive reinforcements in the end, and my forecast re league positions wasn’t too bad with Leicester and ourselves performing well above my expectations. But the squad remains light and will need reinforcing, especially to take into account participation in Europe. It remains to be seen how much backing that the manager gets from above. He has worked miracles with what he has despite very limited resources, and proved that he should never have gone in the first place to be replaced by Pellegrini. That was a massive error of judgement by those at the top.

A few additional seats for the game became available on Thursday from some of the 10,000 who were lucky in the ballot but who subsequently are unable to attend. I am one of the fortunate few who have come off the bench to replace them, so I am looking forward to my first visit to the London Stadium since February 29th 2020 when we beat Southampton 3-1 just before the initial lockdown. We have a good recent record against the Saints, winning five and drawing one of the last six encounters, and on quite a few occasions in recent years we have scored three or more goals in the games. I reckon 3-1 again today. What are the chances?

The London Stadium Will Be Rocking To A Top Six Finish And West Ham’s Euro Vision

Should the Hammers avoid nul points in the final game of the season, it will be Congratulations for a top six finish and ensuring the owners are Making Their Mind Up on improving the squad for Europe.

The final game of the season, the fans are back, and West Ham are on course to secure a place in the top six of the Premier League, along with entry into next season’s Europa League. What could be better?

European football in some form is already guaranteed at the London Stadium after the last round of games, with 5th and 6th taking part in the Europa League and 7th entering the new Europa Conference. That allocation could change if Chelsea finish fifth but win the Champion’s League, although would not impact the Hammers. I it that would mean that both 6th and 7th enter the Europa League. But I am no expert on arcane UEFA rules.

The broadcasters will be thankful that there are, at least, some matters to resolve on the final weekend. Chelsea, Liverpool and Leicester will be fighting it out for the two remaining in the top four – I’m convinced it could have included us but for Declan’s injury on England duty. Liverpool now look certainties to salvage a place as Chelsea face a difficult trip to Villa Park. If Chelsea slip up and Leicester win, as we hope, against Spurs then the Foxes will sneak back up in the standings.

West Ham will confirm sixth place by securing at least a point against Southampton or by Tottenham failing to win at Leicester. There is one further mathematical scenario that would involve Everton overturning the eight goal deficit in goal difference in the event of a West Ham defeat, but as they visit the Etihad it hugely unlikely.

The midweek game at West Bromwich was a strange affair. It was unanimously accepted that we had not gien a good account of ourselves, while at the same time scoring three goals, missing a penalty, hitting the wordwork (twice if I can double count), and putting in twenty-one shots (nine on target). In the end the score-line made it look more comfortable than it was, but what a welcome victory – particularly in the light of the Villa win in N17. Can’t say I have ever really been convinced by the notion of Declan Rice as our penalty taker.

In an otherwise fraught year, the Hammer’s exploits have been a stand-out highlight. It is difficult to recall ever seeing a better team-spirit at the club. The manager, coaches and players have all exceeded expectations, overcoming squad limitations through hard-work, determination, effort, and collective desire. As well as that team ethic, there have also been outstanding individual contributions, making selection of Hammer of The Year arguably the most difficult decision since 1986. For me, it is impossible to split Rice from the two Czechs, Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal.

Key to tomorrow’s game will be how the Hammers handle the occasion. With the fans back in there should be a party atmosphere, but there is still a job to be done. We will want to claim top six through our own endeavours, not the failure of others.

How Southampton approach the game will also play a part. It has been a Jekyll and Hyde season for the Saints as early season optimism gave way to a dreadful run of form. The ship has now been steadied, but they have little to motivate them. Hasenhüttl adopts an unusual narrow formation but they are not without goal threat. Danny Ings is always on the go and will be keen to exploit the type of gaps the Hammers gifted when conceding against Everton and Brighton. And there are few better than Ward-Prowse in taking advantage of the needless free-kicks given away just outside the box.

It will be the usual selection toss-ups for David Moyes but with the addition of the goalkeeper injury situation. If I can see how intimidated Darren Randolph gets by high balls into the box, then so can opposition coaches. He is decent enough as a shot stopper (as we saw at the Hawthorns on Wednesday) but my fingers are well and truly crossed that Lukasz Fabianski can return.

I feel reasonably confident that we will win today. Another 3-1 perhaps! It will round off a tremendous season and we can get on to the serious business of transfer speculation. It should prove a fascinating insight into a more professional direction of the club, the promise of a new approach to recruiting younger players and what investment is forthcoming.

The squad badly needs to be re-balanced. Those not suited to the current work ethic must be shipped out, and better options and/ or cover for key positions brought in. Four or five new players at least. The immediate future of Rice is also of great significance.   

It is fitting that this group of players will likely record West Ham’s best ever season in the Premier League, at least as far as points and wins are concerned. They have done us proud. My thanks to them all. COYI!

Running In Please Pass! More Revs Required To Put The Brakes On Hammers Slide Down The Table

It may be all about perceptions, but a late season slump may take the shine off an admirable Hammer’s season. Can the Irons pull European qualification out of the fire?

Does anyone remember the ‘Running In Please Pass’ signs sometimes seen in the rear window of cars with a new or rebuilt engine installed? The driver was obliged to stick below 4000 revs for the first 1000 miles or get it run-in. He (or she) could only watch in frustration as the other vehicles raced by. The recent West Ham run-in experience has brought those stickers to mind.

Securing a top four spot and breaking the big club dominance of the Premier League was always going to be a tall order, just as it might ultimately be for Leicester on the final day. Yet, there is a feeling that, if it was ever going to happen for the Hammers, this was the year of opportunity. That the dream was kept alive so long is no small credit to the manager and players.

The first season run-in calculators started to appear with around eight games to go. At the time the Hammers had 52 points from 30 games – a creditable average of 1.73 points per game. There were tough games to come against Leicester and Chelsea but apart from that the remaining games looked winnable. It started with great promise and victory at Leicester saw us up to fourth, just a point behind the Foxes. Then momentum suddenly stalled as defeats to Newcastle and Everton, coinciding with critical injuries, took a heavy toll. A return of just seven points from six games (1.1 points per game) had left us in the slow lane and we could only watch as Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham all roared past. Was this a repeat of the disappointing end to the 2015/16 season?

Football has much to do with perceptions. Consider those two rip-roaring 3-3 draws against Tottenham and Arsenal. After the first, joy and elation to celebrate a miraculous comeback; after the second, despondency and anger at throwing away a three goal lead. Similarly, a late end of season charge taking us from tenth to seventh would be viewed very positively, while slipping from fourth to seventh is seen as a huge disappointment – even though the outcome is the same.

Still, all is not lost. Two attractive targets remain available to the Hammers. To secure a claim for some form of European adventure next season, and the chance to finish above a Tottenham side reeling from the intended departure of Citizen Kane (his probable destination). Winning the final two games, starting away at The Hawthorns tonight, must be the catalyst for hitting those targets.

You wait half a season for one Albion and then two of them come along together. A largely forgettable draw against the Brighton and Hove variety at the weekend saw the Hammers salvage a priceless point with a first ever West Ham goal for Said Benrahma. Perhaps he can now feel a little less anxious about the need to get on the scoresheet. As in the Everton game it was a very poor (and similar) goal to concede – an opposition forward allowed to simply run past a static defence. Is that too high a line to play with little pace in the centre of defence?

In attack, the Hammers once again struggled to sparkle in a game where space for forward runners was denied by the opponents. Setting up as a fast counter-attacking side is all well and good (and it has reaped tremendous dividends on plenty of occasions this season) but there are times when a different approach is needed. One that shows greater intensity but also the variety and guile to get behind and break open defences. In the game against Everton and Brighton there was plenty of probing but most of it was so predictable and short on fervour. Energy, passion, intensity and bravery need to be on show tonight.

Recent woes have highlighted the downside of not having a natural goalscorer in the squad. Sharing the goals around is great but sometimes you need to rely on the guy who is almost guaranteed to put away the one chance that falls his way. I believe West Ham are the only top half team where no-one has yet to reach double figures in the scoring charts.

It is impossible to know how West Brom will approach tonight’s game. There are always two schools of thought on already relegated sides. Either they will play with freedom now the pressure is off, or they will already be mentally basking on a green list beach somewhere. They certainly played with a spirited determination against Liverpool at the weekend and I don’t think we should rely on last-minute goal drama such as a Lukasz Fabianski overhead scissors kick for salvation. A half-hearted resistance from the Baggies, like that shown by Norwich at the end of last season, would be perfect. Albion did after all start out in life as the West Bromwich Strollers. Does Big Sam (I’ve Only Ever Been Relagated Once) Allardyce owe us any favours?

Team-wise we are left with only the usual matchday debates between Craig Dawson or Issa Diop and Said Benrahma or Jarrod Bowen. Injuries aside, everything else usually stays the same. If we should be looking for late goal-scoring heroics then wouldn’t Mipo Odubeko be a better hat to throw in the ring than Andriy Yarmolenko? Surely, he couldn’t perform any worse.

Despite the apparent shortcomings in penetrating massed defences, West Ham have a decent record against bottom half sides this season. The thing about a massed defence is that you only have to breach it once and the floodgates are wide open for good. This is my hope for tonight. A headed set-piece goal followed by the rampant Hammers running riot with a 4-1 win. COYI!

Qualification for Europe is within West Ham’s grasp tonight

Astonishingly, as we entered the penultimate round of matches in this season’s Premier League, there were still five teams with a mathematical chance of joining the two Manchester clubs in the top four at the end of the season, and one of those five was West Ham! Whoever would have believed that we would come this close to qualifying for the Champions League? Of course only three teams had a realistic chance, with the bookmakers’ odds reflecting their chances as follows: Liverpool 1/7, Chelsea 4/9, Leicester 8/11, Tottenham and West Ham both at 250/1.

Prior to yesterday Leicester knew that a win at Chelsea would guarantee a top four finish, as would a draw at Chelsea and a win over Tottenham in Sunday’s final game. Chelsea knew that they had to beat Leicester and then Villa on Sunday to be certain of finishing in the top four. Of course they had the backup of knowing that beating Manchester City in this season’s final would also secure entry into the next Champions League competition. Thanks to their 95th minute winner at West Brom last Sunday, Liverpool became the clear favourites, knowing that if Chelsea failed to beat Leicester, victories over both Burnley and Palace (hardly the most in-form sides) would see them into the top four. As it turned out (in this topsy turvy season) Chelsea reversed the FA Cup Final result by beating Leicester at Stamford Bridge last night.

Tottenham needed to win both of their games and then hope that Chelsea didn’t exceed one point in their final two games and Liverpool didn’t get more than two points in their last two. Although we were level on points with Tottenham, an inferior goal difference meant that we needed Chelsea to lose their final two games, Liverpool to not get more than one point in their last two games, Tottenham to fail to pick up six points from their last two, and for us to win both of ours. Based on our recent form and the permutations needed, this was realistically a much longer shot than 250/1! But I wonder what odds you would have got at the beginning of the season for West Ham to still mathematically have a chance of a top four finish after 36 games had been played?

Of course the Chelsea win finally ruined both Tottenham’s and our own remote chances of a top four finish to set up a potential final day scramble between the three teams who could finally capture the remaining two places. If Liverpool do beat Burnley today then it keeps Leicester really honest in their final game against Tottenham which is good for us in our hopes of finishing above our North London neighbours.

Chelsea (67 points, Goal Difference 23, 1 game to go) – Villa (Sun) – maximum points possible 70.

Leicester (66 points, Goal Difference 20, 1 game to go) – Tottenham (Sun) – maximum points possible 69.

Liverpool (63 points, Goal Difference 21, 2 games to go) – Burnley (today), Palace (Sun) – maximum points possible 69.

West Ham (59 points, Goal Difference 10, 2 games to go) –West Brom (today), Southampton (Sun) – maximum points possible 65.

Tottenham (59 points, Goal Difference 22, 2 games to go) – Villa (today), Leicester (Sun) – maximum points possible 65.

So where will we finish once the season is over on Sunday afternoon? Two defeats in our last two matches could mean that we are overtaken by Everton, Arsenal and possibly even Leeds to finish as low as tenth! Two draws in our final two games would still enable Everton and Arsenal to finish above us if they picked up two wins apiece, and we could finish a disappointing ninth. Winning just one of our final two games would guarantee that we retain our current position of seventh, and winning at least one game plus picking up more points than Tottenham would ensure sixth. To finish fifth would only be possible if Liverpool slip up badly now, and we outpoint Tottenham.

Seventh is therefore very realistic, and my understanding is that this would mean a place in the Play-Off round of the newly-formed Europa Conference League, which would mean an additional 17 games next season if we went all the way to the final. I believe that a sixth (or even 5th – very unlikely) place finish would mean entry at the group stage of the Europa League, which would add 15 games next season if we reached the final. Of course this kind of success in Europe is not likely to happen, but even being in the group stage of either competition adds a significant number of games in the first half of the season. We would need a much enhanced squad to do either competition justice.

Surely we can win at least one of our final two games to guarantee to be playing in Europe next season? After the excellent season that we’ve had so far it would be a big disappointment to fail to qualify for one of the European competitions. But West Brom showed against Liverpool last Sunday that they can be difficult to beat, so just because they have been relegated doesn’t mean we can take a victory for granted. In fact once teams reach a stage where they can play without pressure, they are often a much better side as a result.

In over 100 games against West Brom in major competitions each team has won 41 times, but in the 21 meetings in the Premier League, we have won eight, nine have been drawn and the Baggies have won four. Of course we won the reverse fixture in January (2-1) and a win tonight would be the first time in 15 years that we have completed the double over them, but more importantly would guarantee at least a seventh place finish and qualification for Europe.

Interestingly I read that West Brom have only won one of their past sixteen midweek league games, and all six of such games with Allardyce in charge. And Big Sam has lost in all four meetings against West Ham since he left us six years ago. These are the type of statistics that have come to haunt West Ham in the past. How long is it since we’ve kept a clean sheet? We’ve only kept two in the Premier League in this calendar year (Leeds and Sheffield United). I am looking forward to a repeat of the score at the London Stadium four months ago. We are 4/7 to win the game and 13/2 to win by two goals to one.

A win tonight would be great, plus we will all be hoping that Villa can deny a Tottenham victory. What are the chances?

Can The Hammers Stroll Past A Brighton B-Side Beside The Seaside? We’ll Have To See!

Tiddely-om-pom-pom! A depleted Brighton side provide the opposition as West Ham look for a seaside shuffle into European qualification.

There may well be special circumstances this season, but it seems very odd (and wrong) to be playing a league game immediately after the FA Cup Final has finished. For so long, Cup Final day was where everything stopped and the outside world went eerily quiet. Weekend chores were set aside early so we could settle down in front of the Grandstand with some tins of Ind Coope Long Life beer and a party pack of Hula Hoops for company.

West Ham players will barely have time to finish tweeting their Cup Final congratulations before kicking-off at the Amex Stadium in a bid to rescue European hopes . Although the top four dream would appear to have slipped tantalisingly out of reach there is still much to play for – a place in the top six and finishing above Tottenham for starters.

It is always tempting to want to blame someone else for your own shortcomings, but it in the end it was three defeats in the last four games that burst the West Ham bubble. That’s not to say a clandestine conspiracy by the sordid six to ensure top four dominance for themselves is out of the question. We still await news of their punishment for breaching Premier League rules!

The thinness of the Hammers squad was ultimately the undoing. Was it ever likely to be strong enough to mount a sustained challenge with the injuries and suspensions? Even in in a normal season, let alone one as compressed as this one has been. A late rush of injuries to key players just became impossible to manage.

For me, the absence of Rice has been the most crucial, particularly in the defeats to Newcastle and Everton. Others may argue that not bringing in a striker in January was the key factor but I do understand the manager’s stance on that one, unless an overseas loan could have been arranged. A permanent deal from the bargain bucket (think Jordan Hugill) would only have made a sizeable hole in the summer’s budget, and for questionable benefit.

The parlous state of the squad is a direct consequence of woeful oversight at Board level for many years. Paying over the odds for unsuitable vanity signings, with lengthy and inflated contracts, and with little or no re-sale value has proved a disastrous strategy. That when there were inspired signings (Payet and Arnautovic), insult was added to injury by allowing them both to leave for well below market value.  At the same time, the academy has been experiencing years of famine.  Aside from the good fortune of picking up Rice when he was rejected by Chelsea, the last academy graduate of any note was James Tomkins.

The game with Everton proved exceptionally frustrating. The Toffees are a notorious bogey-side for the Hammers and once they had been gifted an early goal it was always going to be a struggle to find a way back. It was a typical Everton away performance and the Hammers, not for the first time, lacked the individual flair to unlock a massed and well marshalled defence. The two clear opportunities that did arise, for Said Benrahma and Vladimir Coufal, were left unconverted.

The Everton goal highlighted the weakness still present in centre of the Hammer’s defence. For all his strength, bravery and aerial prowess, Craig Dawson has clear limitations on the ground that explain why he was plying his trade at Watford. Most certainly a decent squad player but not a mainstay for a team hoping to be regular European contenders. With an ageing Angelo Ogbonna, central defence is one more area requiring reinforcements in the summer – along with keeper, left back, striker and, indeed, others.

End of season games can be wildly unpredictable as more teams start to take their foot off the pedal, peruse the travel green list and stock up on Ambre Solaire. With Brighton having secured Premier League safety in the week it will be interesting to see how they react. More so in light of the rush of blood that saw two red cards in their fixture at Wolves last week, leaving them short of a captain and two leading goal scorers.

Brighton under Graham Potter are something of an enigma. It is quite unusual for a club on such a limited budget to strive for attractive possession football. I have been suitably impressed at how comfortable even their lanky defenders are on the ball. It is a lack of goals that has typically let them down. Bissouma and Trossard are very fine players as was Lamptey in the early part of the season before his injury. In seven matches since returning to the top-flight the Seagulls have yet to lose to the Hammers, and have scored every time.

The major hope for today is that it will mark the return of Rice to the midfield. Not only for his own undoubted talent, drive and contribution but also because it releases Tomas Soucek to get further forward. Seeing Ogbonna and Aaron Cresswell on the team sheet would also be an enormous bonus.  Apart from those injury concerns the outstanding call is between Jarrod Bowen and Benrahma for a starting berth. I think it goes to Bowen

As usual the bench will be very light on game changing options. When Andriy Yarmolenko and Ryan Fredericks are your big hopes, it does not auger well.

A big game for the Hammers, less so for the depleted Seagulls. Similar circumstances, perhaps, to when we faced a depleted Swansea at the end of the 2015/6 season and lost 4-1 at home, eventually costing the chance of a top six spot. Hopefully, we are made of sterner tough this time around. If Brighton play their normal possession game it should allow space for the West Ham runners to exploit on the counter attack. In theory, it should make them an ideal opponent. My prediction is that greater desire can break the Brighton duck with a comfortable 3-1 victory.

On Saturday West Ham visit the Seagulls on the South Coast

We thought it was all over ………. It probably is, but not quite yet!

My first visit to Upton Park was in November 1958. Since then I’ve watched West Ham live many hundreds of times. I have been a season ticket holder for many years and for virtually all the last 60 plus years I’ve seen the majority of our home games plus some trips to away grounds too. Of course times have been very strange for the last year or more and the last time I was there to see us play at the London Stadium was on Leap Years Day 2020 when we comfortably beat Southampton 3-1.

Do you remember that cold sunny day? Jarrod Bowen made the starting eleven for the first time and celebrated by opening the scoring. Southampton equalised in the first half, but shortly before half time Haller jumped for Antonio’s up and under with McCarthy (the Southampton keeper) who made an absolute mess of it, and Haller was able to score from a tight angle. Antonio broke away to score the third in the second half and might have had a fourth after a superb rabona from Haller sent him clear. Fornals provided the assists for the first and third goals, and the result moved us out of the bottom three on goal difference.

That is the sum total of my memory of my last experience seeing West Ham live, and little did I think that in the following season I would not be able to see them at all except on TV. But I had a glimmer of hope due to the easing of restrictions which allow 10,000 fans at the London Stadium for the final game of this superb campaign against Southampton on Sunday week. But my hopes were dashed with the following correspondence from the club on Wednesday:

“Unfortunately, you’ve not been successful in the Southampton ticket ballot. However in the event that a supporter can no longer attend, we may be in touch to share an opportunity to attend. We appreciate your continued support and look forward to welcoming you to London Stadium soon.”

Oh well the odds were 5/1 against so all I can do now is look forward to August to take the Central Line to Stratford for the first time in around 18 months. Hopefully all restrictions will have been lifted by then? Of course despite not visiting the ground I have probably seen more West Ham games this season than ever before, all of them in fact thanks to all games being shown live on TV. At least that has been some consolation in a season where we have surpassed all expectations and with three games to go are still very much in with a chance of qualification for Europe next season, even a tiny chance of a top four place.

As the season enters the final eight days, mathematically there are still eight teams involved in the quest for the top four, and the remaining fixtures of those (excluding the two Manchester clubs who are already there) are set out below. Losing three of our last four games means that our chances are now extremely slim, and both Everton and Tottenham’s hopes are even more remote, but I am still hoping for a storming finish and three wins to make it a record breaking season. Manchester United’s congested fixture schedule with ten changes in their team for the game in their midweek defeat to Leicester didn’t help us either!

Both Chelsea and Leicester only have two games to go but face each other in midweek which guarantees either at least one point for each, or alternatively three for the winner. But Arsenal’s surprising win over Chelsea on Wednesday has raised our hopes again. If Chelsea had beaten Arsenal then we might have had the situation where both Leicester and Chelsea would have been happy to settle for a draw next Tuesday but this is unlikely to be the case now. Everton’s draw with Villa yesterday evening was another bonus for us. They can now only reach 65 points at best (like Tottenham) and have the worst goal difference of all the teams involved.

But Liverpool’s win at Manchester United last night was a real body blow though. How different it might have been if Manchester United had anything to play for in their last couple of games played?

Leicester (66 points, Goal Difference 21, 2 games to go) – Chelsea (Tues), Tottenham (Sun) – maximum points possible 72.

Chelsea (64 points, Goal Difference 22, 2 games to go) – Leicester (Tues), Villa (Sun) – maximum points possible 70.

Liverpool (60 points, Goal Difference 20, 3 games to go) – West Brom (Sun), Burnley (Weds), Palace (Sun) – maximum points possible 69.

West Ham (58 points, Goal Difference 10, 3 games to go) – Brighton (Sat), West Brom (Weds), Southampton (Sun) – maximum points possible 67.

Tottenham (56 points, Goal Difference 20, 3 games to go) – Wolves (Sun), Villa (Weds), Leicester (Sun) – maximum points possible 65

Everton (56 points, Goal Difference 4, 3 games to go) – Sheffield United (Sun), Wolves (Weds), Manchester City (Sun) – maximum points possible 65.

We are still in a position whereby we need to depend on the (extremely unlikely) results of others whilst attempting to get maximum points in our remaining three games. That would take us to 67 points, and in view of the goal differences, Leicester only need one point to achieve that, and Chelsea need three. Liverpool need seven from their last three games to match our maximum possible points total and you wouldn’t bet against them winning all three to end on 69. But if we can do our bit and beat Brighton and West Brom then we could still go into the final game of the season with an outside chance of finishing in the top four.

At that point we would be on 64 points. If Leicester beat Chelsea then the Foxes would be out of reach but we could still finish above Chelsea if we won the final game and Chelsea failed to beat Villa. If Chelsea draw with Leicester, then they would still need to beat Villa to go above us. And if Chelsea beat Leicester then we could finish ahead of Leicester if Tottenham beat them on the final day. I’m not sure what result I’m hoping for in that game!

But all of these scenarios are irrelevant if we don’t win all three of our final fixtures. It would be quite remarkable if we went into the final day of the season still with a chance of finishing in the top four, but it has still been a fantastic season when you consider that it is still a possibility, however remote, with just eight days of the season remaining. If we win all three games then we are guaranteed to finish at least sixth. But Liverpool, with their relatively easy final three fixtures, should be the team who will be the most likely to sneak into the top four if Leicester and Chelsea slip up.  

Unfortunately the performance against Everton was a little lacklustre, and fine margins like the inside of the post, and a possible penalty when Antonio was bundled over, made the difference. Brighton have been a bogey side in recent times and now that they are mathematically safe (they were already OK in reality) means that they can play with freedom from pressure, so this game won’t be an easy one.  

With three wins a fourth place finish is still a possibility (but extremely remote). But we will need some unlikely results elsewhere for it to happen. Three defeats and we could even finish as low as tenth! I’m hoping for the former and not even contemplating the latter. I guess that in the end it may be somewhere in between? Sixth? What are the chances?

West Ham: Four wins might do it: Beginning with Sticky Toffee Fixture

Do you remember the days when we could go to the stadium to watch football? It seems a long time ago now. The last home game that we saw was the Southampton game on 29th February 2020. 59,962 of us were there on that sunny afternoon and very few of us would have thought that it would be more than a year before we could come again. Apart from the 2000 who were lucky in the ballot to see the Manchester United game on 5 December last year, none of us have been able to watch our team but there is light at the end of the tunnel. The success of the vaccination programme in the UK means that there is a very good chance that when the 2021-22 season begins it will be in front of full capacity crowds. And even before then, it seems that a lucky 10,000 will be able to attend the final home game of the season, which ironically is against Southampton. Fingers crossed in the ballot.

As a season ticket holder in the Billy Bonds stand I have a good view of some of the pre-match warm ups which take place half an hour or so before kick off. The routine that I tend to watch closely is when the ten outfield players who are in the starting line up play five a side (with no goals) just working on retaining possession of the ball. I’ve often been impressed with the swift interchange of passing that takes place, and sometimes wished that this could be translated to the actual game that follows. But on Monday night at Burnley we were able to watch the team demonstrate these skills in a game.

Our performance was superb as we played some great stuff with high tempo against a Burnley side who surprised me with how good they were. They were just unlucky to come up against us at the top of our game. The only downside was our finishing as we should have had the game wrapped up long before the nervous end that they like to put us through. Antonio took his goals superbly as well as adding a candidate for the miss of the season, but we are a much better side when he is playing.

But so many others had superb games too. Fornals, Lanzini and Benrahma showed great flair whilst at the same time doing their bit as the team defended as a whole. In fact just about everyone looked in great form, even Diop, who after a shaky first half recovered well to put in an excellent second half performance alongside Dawson. I was especially pleased with Benrahma who has had his critics (including the manager) but who began to show some of the great promise and potential that I believe he has. I saw a few Brentford games on TV before he came to us and hoped that he could translate his wonderful skills to playing in the top flight after he joined us. He’s not quite there yet but I believe he will be an important player for us in the years to come.

There are so many outstanding candidates for the Hammer of the Year this time around. Normally there are just a couple of players that stand out in a season but this time any one of a number could win it. My vote would go to Coufal. It is probably quite unusual for a full back (or wing back?) to win but for me if there has been a better right back in a claret and blue shirt since Billy Bonds played in that position (Ray Stewart perhaps?) then I haven’t seen him. Coufal has been a wonderful acquisition, just like his fellow countryman Soucek.  

We have already exceeded our 1998/99 fifth placed finish points total of 57 points, and sit in fifth place before this round of matches on 58 with four games to go. We’ll probably need to finish on 68-70 to end up in the top four, and that might not even be enough but I hope it will. 62 points is our Premier League best (in the 2015/16 final season at Upton Park) and surely we will go past that total. Looking at the fixtures to come then if we beat Everton in this game (or at least don’t lose the game) then I believe that should almost ensure a top six finish at the very least. It certainly helped us when Villa beat them last week.

But we want more than that, don’t we? I hold out hopes (if not quite expectations) of top four still, especially after Leicester began their annual implosion on Friday evening when capitulating to our 2020-21 nemesis, an improving Newcastle. I really wasn’t expecting that. Looking at their three remaining games how many points are they likely to finish with?

Leeds were worthy winners against Tottenham which was another result that helped our quest for a top four finish. But I have to say that I was massively disappointed with Manchester City’s casual approach to team selection, penalty taking, and all round effort against Chelsea. Even a draw in that game, which Manchester City should have wrapped up by half time, would have been a decent result for us, but the late winner puts Chelsea in the driving seat to finish third now. Liverpool’s win against Southampton, the poorest side in the Premier League in 2021 was not a surprise, but I was hoping for a shock there. We may need four wins to stay ahead of them. I’d love Manchester United to beat them but they have four fixtures in an eight day period which may mean they will not be at their best against the Merseysiders.

There are still eight teams involved in the quest for a top four place, and the remaining fixtures of those (excluding the two Manchester clubs who are already there [City], or close [United]) are set out below. I’ve left Everton in this analysis despite bookmakers offering 100/1 on them finishing in a top four position. There is still a lot of football to be played and although they are very definite outsiders, those odds are generous, and they would still have an outside chance, albeit very slight, if they beat us. Tottenham will rely on others losing too, even more so after their defeat at Leeds, even if they manage to win their final three games. It could even come down to Tottenham beating Leicester in the final game to assist our cause. If we can keep winning we will put pressure on both Chelsea and Leicester who still have to face each other of course, but Liverpool are a big threat too.

Leicester (63 points, Goal Difference 20, 3 games to go) – Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham

Chelsea (64 points, Goal Difference 23, 3 games to go) – Arsenal, Leicester, Villa

West Ham (58 points, Goal Difference 11, 4 games to go) – Everton, Brighton, West Brom, Southampton

Liverpool (57 points, Goal Difference 18, 4 games to go) – Manchester United, West Brom, Burnley, Palace

Tottenham (56 points, Goal Difference 20, 3 games to go) – Wolves, Villa, Leicester

Everton (52 points, Goal Difference 3, 5 games to go) – West Ham, Sheffield United, Wolves, Manchester City, Villa (away)

We are still in a position whereby we need to depend on the results of others whilst attempting to get as close as possible to maximum points in our remaining four games.

I’ve been looking at the odds for the Premier League next season. Manchester City are odds on to retain their title, and the “self-named big six” plus Leicester are the only teams with odds of between 5/1 (Liverpool) and 66/1. Everton are eighth favourites at 100/1, and we are joint ninth favourites with Leeds at 150/1, showing that bookmakers don’t believe that our performance this season will be repeated next time around. Excellent seasons in the past have generally not been consolidated by West Ham but this time I am hoping that it will be. At the start of this season we were quoted at 750/1 to win it this time. All of these prices are immaterial really because Manchester City should easily win again, with possibly Liverpool and Chelsea as the only challengers.

Three points today would be great. What are the chances?

West Ham’s Top Four Odyssey: Nobody told me there’d be days like these!

The clouds have lifted, the sky is blue and West Ham’s road to a spectacular top four finish is looking clear – unless, that is, they get stuck against the Toffees

Successive defeats and an injury ravaged squad had seen menacing dark clouds rolling in on West Ham’s top four aspirations.  But just as it gets darkest before dawn, those negative thoughts were blown away by a superb, barnstorming victory at Turf Moor on Monday night.

The surprise return of a turbo-charged Michail Antonio, the awakening of Said Benrahma and the re-birth of Manuel Lanzini united to give notice that while many in the media may “have thought it was all over”, it isn’t now! The fat lady can put her feet up for a few more weeks, yet.

More good news was to come last night when this season’s West Ham nemesis, Newcastle United, gratefully returned part of the favour by beating Leicester, 4-2. Both Leicester and Brendan Rodgers have previous with letting good positions slip and their one-time grip on third place is now looking decidedly precarious. Picking up points against Manchester United, Chelsea and Spurs is no certainty.

Games towards the latter stages of the season are notoriously difficult to call, as an increasing number of teams are left with little left to play for. The champions, runner-up and relegation places are to all intents and purposes sealed leaving only Champion’s League qualification and the crumbs of the Europa League up for grabs.

The race for those remaining two top four places is realistically down to Leicester, Chelsea, West Ham and Liverpool. Tottenham are sure to be in denial until the last mouthful of lasagne confirms otherwise but it is beyond them to outpoint three of the above. Not to say that the north Londoners couldn’t finish above West Ham, should the Hammers fall away badly, but best not to think about that.

On paper, West Ham and Liverpool have the easiest of the run-ins. Chelsea are difficult to beat but would do exceptionally well not to drop points from games against Manchester City, Arsenal, Leicester and Villa. The re-scheduled Manchester United – Liverpool game could well prove a pivotal moment in a congested programme for the Red Devils. It’s a shame that second place already looks nailed on for them. Hopefully, local rivalry will not allow them to take it easy.

All of this speculative daydreaming would become inconsequential, of course, if the Hammers are unable to keep their end up. As much as we might fancy the run-in, no game is going to be a straightforward. As the tension mounts there will be psychological obstacles as well as the opposition to overcome. With less to lose in terms of expectation, and being considered as rank outsiders, it may hopefully take some of the pressure off. It will still be a huge test of character. Although the ideal would be to win each of the four remaining games, maybe we can get away with one draw.

The first of those four games is arguably the toughest, when Everton visit the London Stadium on Sunday afternoon. The Toffees started the season at a blistering pace but have been largely flat and inconsistent ever since. They look like a collection of potentially fine players without any cohesion or spirit. As with Pellegrini’s Hammers, Everton have spent large on players who are big on reputation, but light on attitude or application. The times that I have watched them recently, they have been predictable and short on ideas. Despite this, they are still in with a shout of the Europa League and cannot be dismissed.

As ever, David Moyes has been coy about the state of the injury situation. Not aware of any new knocks being picked up, the key questions pertain to the return to action, or otherwise, of Declan Rice and Angelo Ogbonna. It would be a massive boost to have them both available. The success of Lanzini in defensive midfield on Monday may allow Moyes to exercise greater caution in the timing of Rice’s return.

The dilemma for Moyes is that an opposition midfield of Doucoure, Allan and Gomes will not give the Hammers the same room that they exploited so well at Burnley. Both Newcastle and Chelsea stifled West Ham by denying space for their runners. Although, the Hammer’s attacking dynamic is very different with Antonio back in the picture, Moyes must find the right balance between getting players forward and not being overrun in midfield.

Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined West Ham being in the mix for the Champion’s League with just four games of the season to go. It’s usually a tense relegation battle or midtable obscurity by now. I’m not quite sure what to expect or how to handle the raised expectations. It seems just as tense as when we are at the bottom and the same hypothetical ‘if-only’ thoughts frequently flash through my  mind – if-only we hadn’t thrown away a three goal lead against Arsenal.

All we can ask is that manager and team give it a real go. No-one can complain if they fall short. It’s been a magnificent effort.

My gut feel is a 2-0 home win, but I will wait to see what the psychic octopus predicts before committing.

Hammers Hoping To Upset The Clarets And Stop The Fat Lady From Singing Too Early

Injuries remain a concern but Moyes playing with a full deck can keep the European dream alive until the final day of the season

In an unusual turn of events, the weekend’s Super Sunday was thrown into disarray by a pitch invasion at an empty Old Trafford. Unexpected as it was, it is perhaps not surprising that something like this has happened. Authorities do not like it when the hoi polloi take direct action, but if complaints are persistently ignored, then frustrations will eventually boil over. Incidents of violence should not be condoned, but that is not the main story here. The continued hijacking of the national game by mega business interests, sovereign states and private equity funds cannot proceed unchecked. The aborted ESL plans have brought the issue to a head and must be addressed before the next inevitable power grab raises its ugly head.

What the fall-out from the postponement will be can only be speculated on. A deathly silence remains on the sanctions yet to be applied to the sordid six for their original breach of Premier League rules. Given that rulings generally work against the interest of West Ham, I expect Liverpool to be awarded last night’s match as a walkover with Manchester United docked just enough points not to threaten their top four status.

It was interesting to hear David Moyes raise the issue of the Hammer’s treatment by referees and the league in the wake of the Fabian Balbuena red card debacle. Having had five of the last straight red cards overturned should be raising alarm bells, even at the FA. It’s a while since I studied probability, but if we assume the likelihood of a card being overturned is 10%, then five out of eight equates to a seven in a million chance of being random. Perhaps I have worked that out wrong, but said with enough confidence, people will believe it!

I was quite surprised at the number of pundits coming out in support of the referee’s decision. Too many basing their opinion incorrectly, it seems, on selected slow-motion replays of the point of contact, just as the ref had done. Do all the ex-players not good enough to coach now take up punditry? Having a controversial opinion online has no downsides, it appears.

Each time the authorities introduce rule change to address perceived problems in the game they manage to make things worse, or more inconsistent. Football is the world’s most popular sport due to its simplicity. Having different rules to punish offences depending where on the pitch they occur defies that simplicity. Cynical fouls and handballs are perfect examples.

Christensen was allowed to escape a yellow card for an early cynical foul on Tomas Soucek in the game last week because it was in the Hammer’s half. Leaving him free to repeat the crime on Jesse Lingard later on to take his ‘one for the team’. It is not selfless sacrifice it is cheating.

Elsewhere, Azpilicueta was deemed not to have handled the ball because he was as a defender, whereas Callum Wilson (as an attacker) was earlier penalised for a similar accidental play when scoring the first equaliser for Newcastle against Liverpool?  Cynical (or tactical) fouls like diving and acting are not part of the game and should be dealt with severely and consistently, wherever they occur.

As for the 3D line measurements coming out for VAR offside decisions, why not just simplify matters, until a complete review of the offside law is completed, by taking account of feet only and ignoring other body parts?

The one late Sunday game that did go ahead yesterday saw West Ham drop down to sixth and swapping places with Tottenham. A little more pressure added to the Hammers as they prepare for their visit to Burnley.

Injuries will play a major part in the concluding weeks of the Hammer’s excellent season. The current situation is far from clear with different reports suggesting Declan Rice, Aaron Cresswell, Arther Masuaku and Michail Antonio are either all available or all still knee deep in the treatment room. With Moyes preferring to play his cards close to chest, we have no way of knowing whether he has a full deck (or Dec) or not. Having Rice and Cresswell back at Burnley would be a huge bonus. Without having any inside knowledge I am doubtful that we will see much of Antonio and Masuaku for the rest of the season.

The captain (and by that, I mean Rice) in particular, has been sorely missed in the past two games for his drive, energy and leadership in every area of the pitch. His influence cannot be overestimated. In his absence, Mark Noble has tried hard but nowadays plays so deep it would be no surprise to see him run out with a miner’s lamp and a canary. Ironically, there are rumours that Noble is also on the injured list. Both missing would be perplexing.

Getting the Balbuena red card rescinded was something of an academic exercise in that we are unlikely to see any more of him in a West Ham shirt. The damage of that poor decision was done on the day, not by any subsequent suspension. Craig Dawson will be back tonight (from his own suspension) and is the ideal man to stand-up to the physical challenge of Chris Wood, as he did in the home fixture last January. All other changes will depend on what the injury situation finally reveals.

Burnley produced the stand-out result from last weekend when they beat Wolves 4-0, effectively making themselves safe from lingering relegation worries.  As well as Burnley played, Wolves were truly dreadful – one of the most incompetent performances I have seen for some time. The Clarets have some useful players and more importantly a tremendous team spirit. Pope is a top class keeper, Wood and McNeil are always dangerous, Vydra is starting to look a handful and the Tarkowski/ Mee partnership doesn’t give too much away in the air. Certainly no pushovers wo were never realistic relegation candidates!

Only desperate TV executives and commentators continue to hang on to the belief that the Premier League title and the relegation places are yet to be decided. Outcomes are usually obvious well before mathematical certainty confirms them to be so. Those wanting final day drama may be banking on a West Ham resurgence to ensure there is at least one issue in the balance. It will be a damp squib Sleepy Sunday if they are left cutting from match to match to check on the race for seventh.

Burnley are one of the few teams in the Premier League who rank below West Ham in terms of possession, touches and passes completed this season. With both teams averaging around 41% possession, where the ball go for the rest of the game?

It is fascinating how few touches players actually have during a game. According to the stats, West Ham players have totalled just under 17,500 touches in 33 games this season: the equivalent of 48 touches per player per game. Or around £1,000 per touch per week.

With a full complement available, this is a game that West Ham can win. Jarrod Bowen and Lingard carry enough pace, movement, and threat to compensate for the loss of Antonio, but only if the midfield foundation is solid. Without Rice the midfield platform looks shaky and Bowen gets drawn too much into defensive duties – leading the line and chasing back very soon begin to take its toll.

As ever, width on the left hand side is a problem. Ryan Fredericks and/ or Ben Johnson filling in again on their wrong foot is just not good enough in this league. Better contributions are also needed from Pablo Fornals (ineffective in the last two games) and Said Benrahma (ineffective for most of the season). It is a game that has to be won to keep the dreams alive. The TV guys may also need a West Ham win to generate season ending excitement. Otherwise, the fat lady may just as well sing her song and toddle off home for an early bath.

Claret and Blue Derby – the first of Five Cup Finals for West Ham

It’s that time of year for Cup Finals. Manchester City won their first trophy of the season beating Tottenham in the Carabao Cup Final last weekend, and the month of May will bring us the FA Cup Final and European Finals too. But for West Ham, we face Five Cup Finals of our own in our bid to achieve a top four finish for the first time in the Premier League. Of course we will not match the success of the 1985-86 season when we finished a close third in Division One (as the top flight was then), but to attain our highest ever final league position (which was 5th in 1998/99) we may need to win our remaining five games.

In 1998/99 our fifth placed finish was achieved with 57 points, but that total will certainly not be enough this time. We sit on 55 points, and in the last five games we will need to break (probably smash) our Premier League points total best (62 in the 2015/16 final season at Upton Park) to finish in the top four. Whatever the final outcome, it has been an excellent season, but how disappointed will we be if it ended with a whimper and our final position was eighth?   

It was disappointing to lose to the only goal of the game last weekend against Chelsea. But with a relatively thin squad hit by injuries it was perhaps inevitable, although it was a goal that I felt could have been avoided. With our best possible team I feel that we would have given them a lot more to think about, but the injury list has taken its toll now, and we have to hope that the scheduling of this game at Burnley, being the very last fixture in this matchweek, gives us more time for our absentees to return to fitness and be involved.

There are still eight teams involved in the quest for a top four place, and the remaining fixtures of those (excluding the two Manchester clubs who are already there [City], or close [United]) are set out below:

Leicester (62 points, Goal Difference 22, 5 games to go) – Southampton, Newcastle, Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham

Chelsea (58 points, Goal Difference 20, 5 games to go) – Fulham, Manchester City, Arsenal, Leicester, Villa

West Ham (55 points, Goal Difference 10, 5 games to go) – Burnley, Everton, Brighton, West Brom, Southampton

Liverpool (54 points, Goal Difference 16, 5 games to go) – Manchester United, Southampton, West Brom, Burnley, Palace

Tottenham (53 points, Goal Difference 18, 5 games to go) – Sheffield United, Leeds, Wolves, Villa, Leicester

Everton (52 points, Goal Difference 4, 5 games to go) –Villa (home), West Ham, Sheffield United, Wolves, Manchester City, Villa (away)

We are now in a position whereby we need to depend on the results of others whilst attempting to get as close as possible to maximum points in our remaining five games. Our game at Burnley will not be an easy one given our poor record at Turf Moor in recent times and the Clarets current form. Their last game, a 4-0 win at Molyneux, was not a result that many would have forecast, although Wolves have had a poor season compared to expectations at the beginning of this campaign.

Leicester have maintained their pole position to finish third with points in the bag and the best goal difference, but based on league positions, their final three fixtures are tough and will coincide with their FA Cup Final involvement. But they may have already done enough? Perhaps not quite yet but their results since losing at the London Stadium have strengthened their hold on that position.

This weekend three of our rivals for a top four place have relatively easy (on paper) fixtures. Leicester travel to Southampton, whereas Chelsea and Tottenham have home games against Fulham and Sheffield United respectively. Everton too are at home to Villa and perhaps Liverpool have the toughest game away at Old Trafford.

By the time we face Burnley on Monday evening we will know how all of our rivals have fared, and it is more than likely that we’ll need three points just to retain our current position. I wonder how many (if any) of our injured players will be fit to return? Reports suggest that some are close, but we need to wait and see.

It’s about time for a win at Burnley, and I’m predicting that we’ll keep a clean sheet and nick a goal or two to maintain our challenge. What are the chances?