West Ham visit the Emirates Stadium – what chance of a repeat of 2015 with a 2-0 away win?

West Ham began the final season at the Boleyn Ground (2015-16) with home games against Leicester (who would go on to become surprise winners of the Premier League, and Bournemouth. Both games were lost. Outfoxed by the foxes, and picked off by the cherries. But before then, in the season opener we travelled the short distance across North London to face an Arsenal side that had won virtually everything in pre-season, and were being strongly tipped to produce a stronger challenge for the Premier League title than they had for a while. Against the odds we came away with two goals, a clean sheet and three points from an excellent performance. That was the game where the phrase about Oxford having Ozil in his pocket was heard. Where is Oxford now? And come to think of it, what about Ozil? What a start to the season we had and sitting in a Champions League spot too! Of course we came down to earth in true West Ham style with the defeats to Leicester and Bournemouth, and then we went to Anfield and beat Liverpool 3-0!  

Of course that’s what supporting West Ham is all about. As Chuck Berry sang, you never can tell. It’s the West Ham way. This season we began with a defeat at home to Newcastle. Many thought that this was our best chance of three points in the first seven games with a daunting run of fixtures to follow. Five years ago we hoped to have six points from our first four fixtures, but we all thought that they would come from the home games against Leicester and Bournemouth. None of us expected anything from the visits to Arsenal and Liverpool. But that’s where we were successful, so what are the odds of repeating our victory in the first away fixture this time around with three points just as we did then?

If I’m honest I would have to admit the odds are massively against, but they were then, too. Bookmakers have Arsenal at 1/2 to win and we are priced at 5/1 which is not as generous as you might think given the starts that the two teams have made this season. League tables produced when four sides have yet to play a game are fairly meaningless of course, but even at this stage Arsenal sit at the top and we are in the bottom three. Interestingly, there were no draws in the Premier League last weekend, so can we perhaps get a point? The odds for this happening are about 10/3, once again not very generous. But then again the bookies aren’t known for their generosity are they?

My attempt at watching the Newcastle game after an evening out “as live” just like the Likely Lads attempted in the 1960s failed miserably when I accidentally found out that the score early in the second half was 0-0. So I ignored the first half and watched the last 45 minutes. Apparently we were unfortunate to hit the woodwork more than once in the opening half, but I saw little in the second half to make me think we were going to win. Somehow it was inevitable that Wilson would score against us, but was his foot dangerously high? Some referees might have thought so. Should we have been awarded a penalty when the ball struck a Newcastle arm in the penalty area. Again some might have thought so. But neither the referee nor VAR adjudged in our favour, and we ended up pointless after conceding a second goal close to the end.

At least we progressed in the League (Carabao) Cup with a comfortable 3-0 win over Charlton on Tuesday. Those are the type of fixtures we have lost in the past, but by all accounts the players that were given a run-out looked good, albeit against lower league opposition. So Hull in the next round, and then if we overcome that obstacle then Fleetwood or Everton. This is the easiest competition to win, but we have never done so, although we have come close. Perhaps this our year? We are around 15th favourites to lift this trophy with odds ranging from around 28/1 up to 66/1.

It’s all very depressing at the moment. I’ve lost count of the unrealistic transfer targets – with the Tarkowski story reminding me very much of stories from the past where we are supposedly chasing players well beyond our reach with no chance of it happening. I don’t know how many players we’ve been linked with but I still haven’t noticed anyone arriving. I see that the board have now allegedly taken vows of silence because of leaks from within the club. And what of all the takeover stories. Who will our new owners be? Chinese? Middle Eastern? American? I read some of this stuff but don’t believe a word of any of it until it happens. And hardly anything ever does.

I won’t speculate on the starting eleven, as last week for the first time ever I was spot on. I doubt that it can happen again. I’m sure that there will be some changes, but add the names of the players who played in the Carabao Cup tie to those who started last week, pick 4 or 5 who must start, and then perm any of the remainder into some kind of formation and hope for the best.

Almost certainly everyone is convinced that we are destined to lose to Arsenal by two or three goals at least. But I’m going to stick my neck out for an unlikely repeat of the score in August 2015. A top 4 UK hit by Napoleon XIV from the summer of 1966 comes to mind as I write this, but stranger things have happened. Well, not very often I’ll grant you, but I’m going for a 2-0 away win. Those not very generous bookmakers will only give me around a paltry 35/1 on that happening. What are the chances?     

Batten Down The Hatches: Trouble Ahead As West Ham’s Defence Put To The Test

Quick, incisive, attacking flair meets slow, disorganised, accident-prone defence. What could possibly go wrong? Moyes and the Hammers have their work cut out to avoid crushing defeat.

If, as they say, you are as good as your last game, then Arsenal are in for a torrid time against a rejuvenated West Ham at the The Emirates on Saturday evening. Alternatively, using the more realistic yardstick of how the two teams performed in their opening games of the season and the only conclusion reached is that the Hammers could be in deep, deep trouble.

With another week gone by where the east London arrivals lounge has been closed for business, there are few options available to freshen up the side this weekend. Reinforcements continue to be desperately needed for three or four starting positions.

There are more than two weeks remaining before the ceremonial slamming shut of the transfer window and the Hammers should be one of several clubs looking to get more business done. With a few exceptions it has been quite a relatively cagey window so far, as changing financial realities hit the game at all levels.

This uncertainty does not to give a free pass to the dithering Board regarding our own lack of transfer engagement, though, as they once again give the impression that the opening of the window has taken them by surprise. Any thought that they might have prepared a recruitment master plan with detailed plans and scouting dossiers on well researched targets would be simple flight of fancy.  As usual we have been drip fed the annual long running transfer pursuit saga (Tarkowski on this occasion) who will end up going elsewhere (Leicester) for twice what we were hoping to pay. At the same time, a succession of young, promising talent gets snaffled by more imaginative clubs while we are not looking.

The official club narrative (and their mouthpieces) tell us of frenetic behind the scenes activity involving gallons of midnight oil being burned as bids are prepared and deals hammered out. No doubt there will eventually be money spent on oven-ready deals as the clock ticks down and the Black Friday sales or liquidation sales become apparent. Like the man who doesn’t buy his presents until Christmas Eve, we will get what’s left rather than what we need.

The West Ham performance against Newcastle was bitterly disappointing but not that surprising. It reminded me of that first post lockdown effort back in June against Wolves – enough possession but not knowing what to do with it. Will we now see a similar level of improvement? Or was the change in fortune back then more the result of opponents lacking season end commitment?

Until the deep seated issues in the squad of defensive frailty, lack of pace and the absence of midfield creativity are addressed, it is difficult to break free of the pessimism. The only consolation from last weekend was how bad Fulham and West Bromwich Albion looked. appearing even more clueless than we were.

I have seen plenty of debate over the last few days regarding playing Sebastien Haller in a front two, supported either by Michail Antonio or Andriy Yarmolenko. In an ideal world that makes a lot of sense. Haller did his best work at Eintracht Frankfurt in a two and looks a fish out of water in the lone striker role. The fly in that particular ointment, however, are the consequences that removing a player from midfield would have on the rest of the team’s setup. If there was more mobility and athleticism in midfield and if the defence wasn’t so abysmal then it could be a decent plan. Failing that it is an open invitation for opponents to overrun us.

Arsenal may no longer be the title contenders that they were, but they have chosen well in appointing Mikel Arteta as manager – the kind of progressive appointment we can only dream about. They will believe a return to Champion’s League football is a real possibility next season. Although not the strongest defensively, they have attacking flair in spades. The worrying thing from a West Ham point of view is the pace at which they attack. Any two of Willian, Pepe and Bellerin marauding down the right wing promises to make it a disastrous evening on the left side of our defence – the weakest of our weak positions. With no other options than Aaron Cresswell or Arthur Masuaku to provide resistance, I’m glad it’s not me not picking the team!

The game has all the hallmarks of being a very long ninety minutes for Hammer’s supporters. David Moyes will make a few changes from last week but none of them will be inspiring or carry much hope with it. Maybe Haller, Yarmolenko or Robert Snodgrass are all in with a shout of a start, but with damage limitation likely at the forefront of the manager’s thinking, it might all be academic. The objective may be to play for a goalless draw (there were no draws in the last round of games) but that plan often falls to pieces once a goal is conceded, allowing the floodgates to open.

It pains me to say this, but West Ham will lose this game – and probably quite heavily!   

Going Through The Motions: West Ham Plot Carabao Cup Exit

Is it right to have a definition of Meaningless in the dictionary? If so, it could be tonight’s EFL game at the London Stadium.

“Name something that is completely pointless” asks host, Les Dennis, in an episode of Family Fortune’s Always Hiding. Of one hundred people surveyed, the second most popular answer is “West Ham after their first seven Premier League games of the season.” Top answer, though, is tonight’s 2nd round EFL cup game against Charlton Athletic – played in an empty stadium, where any pretence of winning is a distant second to damage limitation and the need to fulfil contractual obligations.  In a congested and compressed season, it is a puzzle that the competition is actually going ahead.

In recent years successive of West Ham managers have, for whatever reasons, failed to treat the competition seriously – and even when we did, being on the wrong end of a lower league giant-killing was not unheard of. It is a footballing conundrum. The League Cup is surely the easiest of the three major trophies to win for the Premier League also-rans – yet many make no real effort to compete. While in the past twenty years, the names of Leicester, Blackburn, Middlesbrough, Birmingham and Swansea have all been etched onto the not so famous trophy, risk averse managers continue to consider giving it a go as a distraction from the real business of not being relegated. It’s enough to make you wonder what the point of following football is?

In a further downgrade to the League Cup’s  status, this season’s winners no longer qualify for the Europa League, but will instead have to make do with the unimaginatively named third-tier Europa Conference League – an Auto Windscreens/ Sinod Cup affair designed to prevent smaller clubs and countries clogging up the more illustrious televised competitions.

This evening’s match provides the opportunity for our former tenants from south-east London to inflict an early round embarrassing defeat on the Hammers. Although newly relegated to League 1, manager and ex- Hammer, Lee Bowyer, will be confident his side can pull off an apparent upset. That no-one would be particularly surprised, or even really care, is a sad reflection of where we find ourselves.  After all, there is plenty of transfer speculation and the excitement of a potential US consortium takeover to tweet about.

Tonight will see the fourth meeting between the two clubs in the 61 year history of the League Cup, an exchange in which West Ham boast a 100% success rate. For the record, these were: 3-1 in 1960 (Moore, Dick, Musgrove); 1-0 in 1976 (Alan Taylor) and 2-1 in 1980 (Cross 2). That win in 1980 came in a run that took the Hammers all the way to their last major final appearance, where they lost to Liverpool in a replay in April 1981.

Despite never having won the competition, there are two West Ham related entries in the League Cup record books. The first, a 10-0 win over Bury in 1983 which stands as the biggest ever winning margin (equalled by Liverpool v Fulham in 1986) and notable in that so impressive was the performance of the Bury centre-half (Paul Hilton) that he was subsequently signed for the Hammers by John Lyall. The second, Geoff Hurst’s career total of 50 League Cup goals which remains a competition record (shared with Ian Rush), although some of Hurst’s goals were scored after he had moved to Stoke. An extra side-note is that Rush’s first League Cup appearance for Liverpool was in that 1981 final replay, although he failed to score on that occasion.

It is quite difficult to imagine what would represent a weakened West Ham side these days  – one that doesn’t include Rice, Soucek, Bowen and Antonio I suppose. Otherwise we might not be able to tell the difference. Perhaps we will be surprised, who knows? I will probably check the score in the morning paper.

Whistling A Happy Toon: West Ham To Make Winning Start To Season

When a new football season is about to begin then I am normally full of excitement, looking forward to going along to the London Stadium for the first game. If the opening game is away from home it is still exciting to watch the progress of the matches being played on Sports Saturday on Sky. But this time around I can’t really get as interested as I normally do, which considering I’ve been following West Ham since season 1958-59 may be surprising, and perhaps disappointing. Am I losing my enthusiasm for football? Of course last season was probably the strangest one of all time for reasons that we are all aware of, and this one may well be the same. Following the lockdown we began slowly, but then ended the season on a high, securing our place in the top division for another season with some excellent performances. Perhaps once the games get underway again I’ll regain my enthusiasm, but at the moment it’s not there yet.

The interval before the new season would start was obviously much shorter than usual, but I guess we were looking forward to seeing some departures and new arrivals in readiness for the new campaign. The friendly games against lower league opposition went well enough, although by all accounts the Betway Cup performance against Bournemouth (also lower league!) highlighted our defensive deficiencies. Of course some of our players were away on international duty, but the return of Fabianski, Rice, Yarmolenko, and Soucek will undoubtedly strengthen the team. But apart from confirming the permanent transfer of Soucek there is a distinct lack of new faces. All other Premier League clubs seem to have been active in the transfer market, but the eighteenth richest club in the world has been pleading poverty, much to the annoyance of the fans, who were looking forward to some new faces, in particular to strengthen the defensive positions, especially at full back.

The departure of Diangana to West Brom, where he spent last season on loan has caused much consternation on social media, but once Mark Noble and others had joined in with their disappointment at seeing him leave it became an issue for the national broadcast and newspaper media. Although the furore has died down a little, there still seems to be a lot of anger around still, and this will increase if we fail to get off to a good start in this game.

I’m not really sure how many times we’ve faced the Geordies in our opening game of the season. It makes a change in recent times to not be facing top-six opposition, although games against top sides come thick and fast after the opener. I do remember one season in particular, and that was back in 1973-74. We had ended the previous season in sixth place, one of our best ever top division finishing positions, and hopes were high for the new campaign. But that first game at Upton Park was a massive disappointment, which was exacerbated by a friend from Newcastle joining me at the game. We went down 2-1 with ex-Newcastle player Pop Robson scoring our goal.

From that point it didn’t get any better and a succession of draws and defeats in the first eleven matches left us at the bottom of the table. Eventually we won a game (1-0 at Coventry thanks to a John McDowell goal), but we remained at the foot of the table until we won our second game of the season beating Manchester City 2-1 on December 8th. Two 4-2 victories at Chelsea on Boxing Day and then at home to Norwich on New Years Day still left us in the relegation zone (21st), before a run of wins and draws from the beginning of January through to the middle of March eased the pressure slightly and we eventually stayed up by one point in 18th. Manchester United were one of the teams relegated. I’m hoping that we don’t replicate that season, which also included an ignominious defeat at the hands of Hereford in the FA Cup.

The point I’m trying to make here is that everything can look rosy before a season begins and then it all goes wrong. I can also remember pre-seasons where we have looked good in the friendly games and then performed badly once the league games have begun. The reverse has also happened at times with a disastrous pre-season leading to doom and gloom amongst the fans followed by some excellent performances. It just highlights the Forrest Gump box of chocolates story – with West Ham you never know what you are going to get. That applies from one season to another, one game to another, and frequently to the first half and second half of a game.

I’m not especially confident with everything about the club at the moment, but hopeful that David Moyes can continue where he left off at the end of the last campaign, despite the difficulties that he faces. He knows that the model of recent seasons has to change and he wants to build for the future. He doesn’t want players coming here for a good pay day in London, and if he can unearth more gems like Bowen and Soucek we will have a chance. People forget that when he arrived at Everton in 2002 they were a bit like us, often fighting the drop. When he left there eleven years later they had finished in the top eight for seven consecutive seasons. Whether he will be given the time, and even some of the resources that should be available to the eighteenth richest club in the world only time will tell.  

The game kicks off at 8pm and is available to view on TV. That’s some consolation for not being able to be at the stadium. 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?

The bookmakers have us at around 23/20 to win the game, with Newcastle and the draw both at around 5/2. If you fancy us to win then West Ham to win and both teams to score is on offer at around 7/2. My fun bet for this game is for West Ham to win 2-1 with Tomas Soucek scoring the last goal in the game – this is priced at 60/1. Without any great degree of confidence I’m just hoping for a decent performance and three points. What are the chances?

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

West Ham Disunited: Where the Calamity Never Ends

Years of delusion, unprofessionalism and poor decision making at West Ham have shown the next level promises to be a shambolic farce. If ever a club has been ill-prepared for a new season it is West Ham in 2020/21

I can’t remember a time when I have had less enthusiasm for the start of a new football season. Although partly due to the unusual circumstances that we are living through – forcing a foreshortened break and the absence of that slow build pre-season anticipation – the primary reason is undoubtedly the continued chaos and calamity that the club conjures up  for itself out of nowhere.

Having finished the post lockdown phase of the season in a relatively positive manner there should have been grounds for optimism in the face of a new campaign. All that was required was careful grown-up stewardship to address the obvious critical deficiencies in the squad, and then building on the hard work and collective team spirit that had been growing during the closing run of games.  What we got instead was the worst of all possible worlds – a malignant disharmony that has quickly spread throughout the club alienating owners, chief executive, manager, skipper, players and supporters. What could possibly go wrong with that as a preparation for a new season?

In days gone by, we might have laughed off supporting West Ham as a character building roller-coaster ride – but it is now a curious roller-coaster that travels only downwards. Starting a new season in turmoil; selecting from an even smaller squad of players; glaring weaknesses in defence left unaddressed; and a tough opening set of fixtures leads to only one conclusion. We are faced with yet another season of backs-to-the-wall attrition, where the only hope is there being three even more incompetent sides in division – it is difficult to see who these might be!

This will be West Ham’s ninth consecutive season in the top flight of English football. During that period the club have signed close to 75 players at a combined outlay of over £420 million (in transfer fees) and goodness knows how many millions frittered away in wages. That we have a squad that is little better in depth and quality than a promoted club is damning evidence of a club with no strategy and poor leadership. A board obsessed with short-term vanity signings at the expense of building for the future. As one newspaper article described the recruitment policy:

“And when age finally takes its toll, when the world stops waiting for you to become what it seemed you once could be, when you are written off with a dismissive shrug as a could-have-been then, in England at least, there are really only two places you can go: West Ham or Everton.”

In isolation I was ambivalent about the sale of Grady Diangana. I was not convinced that he would become a consistent Premier League performer but, on the other hand, he is an academy product (which we all love) and he could do no worse than several other of our very highly paid squad members. In a well run club he would have been given time to prove his worth but sadly West Ham is now a make do and mend operation, crippled by knee-jerk decision making and arrogance at Board level. Throwing money at Pellegrini and allowing him to appoint his mate as Director of Football was astonishingly foolish and will take years to recover from without a further injection of funds. The owners have created the chaos and we look to them to repair the damage. Either by shelling out or selling up.

Any pretence of building for another level is laughable. We can all see the king has got no clothes, so please stop telling us he has. It is clear that Gold and Sullivan do not have the competence to run a progressive football club and if they intend to stick around then they must bring in someone who understands what it takes to run a modern football – someone who knows the importance of scouting, recruitment, player development and training facilities – and is not just focused on shifting merchandise.

As for the season opener, West Ham entertain a Newcastle side who had hoped to be starting their own campaign under new ownership. Even so they have been busier in the transfer market than the Hammers (who hasn’t) and will be approaching the game in the more positive frame of mind.

The good news for David Moyes is that both Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek are available to start but beyond that he has no fresh options to call on. The famously leaky defence has not been reinforced and it is bare bones right across the backline – West Ham being the only club in the league who regard full-backs as optional extras.

Strangely, for a club that boasts only one recognised striker and little midfield creativity, scoring goals has not been a major problem in the recent past. Much will depend on the tireless endeavours of Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio to keep that record going. Maybe we will be surprised and Moyes will find a way to deploy the likes of Felipe Anderson, Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals and Andriy Yarmolenko that will justify at least part of their phenomenal wages.

Newcastle can now boast two players in Jonjo Shelvey and Callum Wilson who traditionally thrive in games against West Ham. Throw Saint-Maximin and Almiron into the mix and they carry more than enough threat to cause serious headaches to the West Ham rearguard – even at the best of times. In the current toxic atmosphere surrounding the London Stadium any outcome more positive than a draw is difficult to predict.

This weekend’s game is meant to be the easiest (on paper) of the opening sequence of Premier League games. If West Ham extend their opening day of the season losing streak to five games, then it is no leap of the imagination to suggest that we might find ourselves rock bottom after the first seven games on zero points.  Perhaps a late flurry in the transfer window can lighten the gloom but right now there is little cause for optimism. A season of real struggle awaits!

We Did It Moyes Way: West Ham Have No Regrets As Villa Face The Final Curtain

With the season coming to an end the Hammers have finally got into their stride. Can the end in style against relegation threatened Aston Villa or will they have mentally switched off?

So here we are, finally at the end of the longest season on record. The culmination of 9 games in 36 hectic days since the coronavirus interrupted restart. As often as not, there is little to play for come the last day of the season, and the whole occasion gets to take on something of a party atmosphere. Players go through the motions while supporters are happy to have a bit of a knees-up. Very different this year, however, with no fans in the stadium and opponents Aston Villa still very much embroiled in a last gasp relegation fight.

Those long suffering fans who have witnessed the last few West Ham matches might well be asking who those impostors in claret and blue are? The strutting air of confidence, dazzling movement, fizzing passes and rapid counter attacks all feels so foreign. What has happened to that team of plodders who laboured aimlessly through the previous thirty-odd games? There were media reports of players urging the team to take this current form into the next season. But this is not just a matter of form, it is a whole new chalk and cheese approach from that served up under Manuel Pellegrini and,  in fact, during the early months of David Moyes.

The new found confidence just goes to prove that passing success and possession retention increases significantly when improved fitness levels and mobility provide the passer with more and better options.  Players are no longer flat-footed or get easily channelled into nonthreatening cul-de-sacs. It would be churlish not to give much of the credit for the turnaround to Moyes. It may have taken longer than hoped to see improvement, but organisation, shape and energy have increased immensely. His two transfer window signings have made the world of difference and the transformation of Michail Antonio into an unlikely striking hero has been stunning – just as it had been previously with Marko Arnautovic.

No doubt there are the hardcore hate the board, hate the stadium and hate the manager brigade who will never be convinced but Moyes deserves a crack at re-modelling the squad at West Ham. Judge him on results and performances, by all means, but to dislike a manager as a matter of principle seems plain wrong.

I will be watching the summer transfer activity with interest. No doubt the club will need to unload a fair number of existing high earning players to balance the books and raise funds. And the extent to which transfer fees and activity will be impacted by post Covid financial realities is uncertain. The intention to recruit young, ambitious players with something to prove is the right strategy – let’s wait and see how well it is put into practice. Can David Sullivan resist the urge to meddle and pursue yet another of his vanity signings?

Moyes will certainly be treating today’s game with utmost seriousness, aware of the responsibility he has to other teams in the relegation battle. There is also a few extra bob in Premier League prize money to play for. I don’t envisage any surprise changes to the starting line-up being made, unless they are enforced by injuries. If either Aaron Cresswell or Jarrod Bowen are unavailable then it will be straight swaps by Arthur Masuaku and Andriy Yarmolenko.   There’ll be no throwing in kids or messing about with formations.

What we won’t know until the game kicks-off is whether the players are equally sufficiently motivated to put in one last shift. Or will they have mentally switched off, even unconsciously? I really hope they are able to carry the momentum from the last handful of games into today’s finale.

Villa have themselves come into a handy run of late season form with two wins and a draw in their last three. A marked improvement when you think that many wondered whether they would pick up any points at all after the re-start. Their defence is abysmal and the visitors will again rely heavily of the running, prompting and diving of Jack Grealish, possibly make his farewell performance for the Villains. It is widely repeated that Grealish is the most fouled player in the Premier League, but when you go over easier than a drunken ice-skater that is no real surprise. The dive to try to win a penalty in the game against Palace was outrageous. Whatever did happen to that law about deceiving the referee that earned Manuel Lanzini a retrospective ban? The shortest clampdown in refereeing history.   Grealish aside the only other real threat appears to be from the in-form Trezeguet.

Today’s dynamic refereeing duo are Michael Oliver (whistle) and David Coote (console). For some reason that combination does not fill me with total confidence when adjudicating exaggerated swallow-dives in the penalty area.

Lawro has today’s game down as a 2-0 home win – if all his West Ham predictions for the season had been correct, the Hammers would be finishing in 10th place with 53 points.  Charlie Nicholas says it will be 1-1.

I can’t see how West Ham can fail to score a few today against such a poor defence. I would love to see the team put on a bit of a show and end the season on a high – a performance with just a touch of arrogance that doesn’t end up as complacency. Villa will be fighting for everything but will also be nervous about what is happening elsewhere. My prediction is West Ham to win by a comfortable two goal margin, but with Villa to survive anyway due to events elsewhere.

No Sympathy For The Red Devils: West Ham Eye Unlikely Double Over The Manchester, United

A relieved West Ham have the opportunity to put a spoke in the wheel of Manchester United’s Champion’s League ambitions. Will they be up for the challenge?

Had you been an observer at the end of Matchweek 6, when West Ham had breezed past a lacklustre Manchester United at the London Stadium, you may well have been tempted to speculate on how the fortunes of the two clubs would map out during the remainder of the season.

Could it be possible that be the brilliantly coiffured Manuel Pellegrini could turn his team, now up to 5th place in the table, into credible top six contenders? Would the impish Ole Gunnar Solskjær confirm the view of the many naysayers that his was no more than a short-term tenure at Old Trafford and scuttle off back to the fjords?

By the halfway point in the season, the Pellegrini dream was over as the Hammers plummeted towards the bottom three while in Manchester, the Red Devils continued to drift along in an unconvincing mid-table no man’s land that did nothing to enhance their manager’s credibility . The West Ham board eventually ran out of patience with their man dismissing him just after Christmas and the chances of Solskjær making it until end of the season still looked doubtful.

Fast forward to today and much has changed. West Ham have finally scrambled clear of the relegation places while Manchester United have enjoyed a remarkable resurgence, prompted by the signing of Bruno Fernandes in the January transfer window, and now have eyes firmly on Champion’s League qualification.

West Ham overwhelmed Watford in the first half of last Friday’s game but still found time to give us all the serious jitters thanks to a collective loss of concentration between the second half restart and the drinks break. I feared more points needlessly thrown away yet again and was mightily reassured to see both Deeney and Doucouré removed from the field of play – one of Nigel Pearson’s last acts as Watford manager. In the end we managed to settle down again and were able to see the game out. The temperament of the team is impossible to fathom at times. It has been particularly bad this season but the ability to protect a lead has long been a weakness.  Chickens can never be prematurely counted where West Ham are concerned.

It was pleasing to see Mark Noble become the 10th West Ham player to make 500 first team appearances for the club. Although I don’t expect to see too many more starts for him in the future, he still has time to overtake Geoff Hurst, Vic Watson and Steve Potts in the all-time appearance stats. One more league goal for the skipper would also see him draw level with Paolo Di Canio as the Hammer’s leading all-time Premier League goal scorer (with 47 goals). A place among the backroom or coaching staff would be a fitting reward for Nobes.

Given his current rich vein of form, it is also worth pointing out that Michail Antonio only needs six goals in each of the two remaining games to also equal Di Canio’s total. He can do no wrong at the moment and I fully expect to see him pop up and head home one of his own long throws one day.  As things stand, no Hammer has yet reached double figure for league goals scored – finding a reliable regular goalscorer continues to be as elusive as dodo playing hide and seek. Antonio is leading the field with nine (equalling his previous 2016/17 best) which have been impressively scored achieved from just sixteen starts.

Today’s game is a rare opportunity for West Ham to record three league wins in a row. To do so, though, requires the Old Trafford form book to be torn up, shredded, and pulped. In the twenty-three Premier League meeting in Manchester, West Ham have won just twice (2001/02 and 2006/07) while there have been two draws and nineteen defeats. Attitude will also play a part now that the spectre of relegation has been removed. It has never needed much for the Hammers to take their foot off the gas and David Moyes will need to summon untold levels of motivation to get one over on his old club.

Although the hosts are not the strongest at the back (and can be sloppy when trying to play out of defence) they have plenty of pace, movement and scoring options in attack. Defensive organisation, 100% concentration, and the legs to get forward quickly in support of Antonio will be essential if this is not to become defeat number twenty.

Manchester United are one of the clubs reportedly interested in securing the signature of our club’s greatest asset, Declan Rice. It is impossible to know how this saga will play out during the close season, but with all the speculation I have yet to see any numbers quoted that I consider realistic – particularly if you are using Harry Maguire as a benchmark (Leicester must still be pinching themselves over that transfer fee). Certainly what we wouldn’t need is any Old Trafford clearance stock in part exchange. I have a funny feeling that Rice will eventually end up at Liverpool, but hopefully not any time soon.

Paul Tierney from Wigan makes the short trip to Manchester to perform the man in the middle duties while Championship referee Peter Bankes is at the helm in Stockley Park. In the absence of home support, VAR can once again be the 12th man for the Reds.

Putting a spanner in the Red’s Champion’s League aspirations would provide a memorable end to the season. A ten goal defeat would put a cat among the pigeons for us in a season that refuses to die.

The pundits are adamant that this will be a home victory. Charlie Nicholas has gone for 3-1 while Lawro has chipped in with 2-0. It is difficult to find grounds to argue with their logic as Manchester United chase that Champion’s League spot – and the Hammers have little to play for other than finishing above Crystal Palace. On the other hand, who needs logic when blind unfounded optimism is available? West Ham to win 3-2.

West Ham all but confirm Premier League football with first half performance against Watford

At the time of writing (Tuesday morning) it is not mathematically certain of course, but our blistering first half display against Watford was enough to all but confirm top flight football next season. At the same time, managerless Watford are still in trouble, and it could be worse depending on what happens when they face Manchester City this evening. If the City team that can destroy opposing teams turns up then their goal difference could take a battering, and then they’ll be closely watching the Villa game against Arsenal that kicks off later in the evening.

Bournemouth are still clinging on but they could be relegated before they visit Goodison Park on the final day of the season. If Arsenal don’t have a hangover from their FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester City, they could have quite a say in the final relegation outcome. Sky TV will probably want it to still not be settled by the final day, so will be hoping that Watford lose tonight and Villa win. That would make our last day game potentially more interesting for the broadcasters of course.

Our visit to Old Trafford on Wednesday evening will now be a more relaxed affair than it could have been thanks to the ten points we’ve collected in our last five matches. Only Manchester United and Tottenham (both 13 points) and Manchester City (12 points) have picked up more points than we have in this 5 game period. The United league form has been excellent since the resumption following lockdown as they press for a place in next season’s Champions League, and this is likely to be a difficult game for us. United seem to have got their team selection wrong for their FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea which has resulted in an all London final. But it is probably just another example of a team putting more emphasis on finishing in the top four of the Premier League rather than going all out to win a trophy. Money talks.

Our manager seems to have had quite an increase in popularity on social media after being instrumental in keeping us up. His two mid-season signings, Bowen and Soucek, have been important elements in the last few games, and I look forward to (hope for) more signings of this calibre in the transfer window at the end of the season. Reports suggest he is looking for hungry young players with pace, and I hope this is the case. I wonder what his team selection will be on Wednesday evening? I don’t envisage many (if any) changes for the last couple of games.

Who is in the running for Hammer of the Year this season? Declan Rice has been our outstanding player for the season as a whole and deserves it in my opinion, but I’ve also enjoyed the performances of Ogbonna (who wasn’t a particular favourite of mine, but this season he’s been our best defender in my opinion), and the recent goalscoring form, and all-out efforts of Antonio. Bowen and Soucek have also been excellent in their short time with us. The speculation regarding Rice continues apace and I would love it if he is still with us next season. Time will tell.

A Long Good Friday To Die Hard: West Ham Look To Triumph Over Watford In Stressful Stratford Showdown

Can wise cracking, no-nonsense Scot’s boss David Moyes create the decisive never-say-die spirit in his team that will defeat Watford and lead West Ham to Premier League safety? Yippee Ki-Yay!

In all good movies (and even in most bad ones) the action unfolds to a three act pattern: the setup; the confrontation and the resolution. West Ham’s season has kept faithfully to the plot so far. A benign, almost encouraging, opening that bred a confident swagger until it was rudely interrupted by a defining and crushing defeat to Oxford United in the EFL Cup. This was the turning point in our plot, after which, fortunes went rapidly from bad to worse to atrocious. The great pretenders were exposed as the kings with no clothes. Today we find ourselves perfectly set up for the final act – the first of two potential climactic moments that will determine the immediate future of West Ham as a Premier League club.

West Ham remain outsiders among the four clubs competing for the two available relegation places, but there are no foregone conclusions at a time when an unexpected result can crop up at any time. Principle antagonists, Villa and Bournemouth, might look down and out, but what if they are only stunned and awaiting the opportunity to pick themselves up and strike back.   Whereas three points today would see us walking off into the sunset of Premier League survival, anything less could still lead to a last day nail-biting, nerve jangling finale – great for the ratings but not for my sanity.

In a perfect act of symmetry, the season’s fixtures against Watford were scheduled as the third from the start and the third from the end. The deserved win at 3-1 Vicarage, with two goals from Sebastien Haller, set West Ham off on a mini sequence of games that briefly saw them flirt with the top three. The optimistic wisdom at the time being that a phenomenal potency in attack might be able to compensate for unresolved inadequacies in defence. Although there is some veracity in that train of thought (only the three bottom clubs have conceded more goals than the Hammers while ten EPL clubs have scored fewer) the differential has not been great enough to accumulate sufficient points – just enough to earn a better goal difference than our relegation rivals.

The only time this season that the Hammers have won back-to-back league matches were successive victories over Watford and Norwich at the end of August. Having easily dispatched a ragged Norwich on Saturday can history joyfully repeat itself against Watford, just when it is needed the most?

There will be a temptation for David Moyes to keep the same Carrow Road starting eleven, but we need to consider just how poor the Canaries were.  It was a convincing impression of a West Ham tribute act from those afternoons of surrender that we have witnessed far too often in the past against the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal. Their lack of fight and spirit was staggering, something that is unlikely to be repeated by the Hornets in this evening’s game. The question for me is whether Mark Noble, so influential in his contribution at Norwich, has the speed of thought or action to compete in what will be a busy and frenetic midfield battlefield of high tempo pressing and closing down. This would not be a time for dwelling on the ball, engaging reverse or taking multiple touches to nowhere.

If not Noble, though, is there anyone capable of performing a better job in directing operations in the attacking third? A case might be made for either Jack Wilshere or Manuel Lanzini, but neither has shrugged off long term injuries and returned to their former selves. I would prefer to see Pablo Fornals in a more central role, but he is needed wide left to provide much needed backup to Aaron Cresswell, a service that Andriy Yarmolenko is unable provide.

No solution is perfect, and the number 10 role has become a major weakness in the current setup. The Hammers will once again need to look for big performances as an attacking force from Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen. It is a given that the solid foundation provided in front of the back four by Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek will also be pivotal. Rice has been a season long star performer but the addition of Soucek both defensively, and as an unexpected item in the penalty area, has been a refreshing upgrade on what went before.

Watford have a very good squad on paper but, like our own, it has not been translated into performances on the pitch. They do, however, come into the game off the back of successive wins against Norwich and Newcastle. Gerard Deulofeu usually impresses against us but will be missing while Danny Welbeck (another West Ham bogey figure) has now recovered from injury. The greatest threat that I see is from the pace of Ismaïla Sarr down the right wing. Cresswell will be left floundering and will need all the support that he can get in cutting off the supply to the wounded Troy Dee-knee.

Martin Atkinson is today’s referee while Stuart Attwell is his invisible virtual assistant. There is not really much time left this season for all those wrong VAR calls to even themselves out for West Ham. Perhaps we will be the beneficiaries of half a dozen penalty awards tonight.

Lawro and Charlie Nicholas are in full alignment this week, both opting for a 2-1 West Ham victory. That would do nicely for me. In theory, you might expect this to be a nervy, error prone affair, but that might be tempered in an empty stadium where anxiety cannot easily be transmitted from fans to players. The outcome, though, will be as much about attitude, desire, character and strength of mind as it will technical football ability. Will our boys be up to the task?

It is games like these when you start to question where is the enjoyment in watching football. It needs at least a three goal cushion with less than five minutes remaining before I can feel relaxed. If we go a goal down, the cat will know to keep a safe distance. I really don’t want to have to go into the final round of games needing to get a result against Aston Villa. Accordingly, I am going to line up alongside the pundits and predict a 2-1 home win, in the hope that a concentrated force of positive thinking will ensure it actually happens. It could be a very long Friday night – but will it be a good one?  Yippee Ki-Yay!

Can West Ham confirm Premier League football when Watford visit the London Stadium in a relegation six-pointer?

I was keeping an eye on the score in the Bournemouth v Leicester game the other evening on my phone. I saw that Leicester had taken a 1-0 lead and then I started to view the game on TV early in the second half to hear the commentator confirming that Leicester were cruising and that Bournemouth were devoid of ideas. Shortly after I began to watch Leicester had a goal kick. And from that moment when Schmeichel fluffed the kick I witnessed one of the greatest implosions from a football team that I have seen for a very long time. And to think that the side from the lockdown city were supposedly trying to cement a place in the Champions League next season! Their performance in that final half an hour or so was woeful. The Bournemouth victory gave them confidence for their visit to the Etihad on Wednesday, where although they were outplayed, they could easily have gained another point in their desperate fight for survival. With two games to go they will probably need to win both of them to stand any chance of staying up. But they do still have an outside chance, and their odds to be relegated eased from 1/16 to 1/12.

Earlier that day I wasn’t at all surprised that Villa picked up their first three point haul for some time by disposing of a Crystal Palace team that already seem to be on the beach. By losing the game, Palace joined Norwich as the only side to fail to pick up a single point in the last five games. I wish that we had them to play in one of our final fixtures. Villa played away at Goodison Park on Thursday evening. What a boring game of football that was that highlighted both teams weaknesses in front of goal. 24 shots between them, and only one on target each. Fortunately Everton’s late equaliser denied Villa a victory.

Both West Ham and Watford will be thankful for their victories last Saturday, which meant that the four teams realistically involved in the relegation scramble (of course Brighton are not yet mathematically safe) collected 12 points between them in the round of matches scoring 12 goals and conceding just 2. While Antonio became the first West Ham player since David Cross many years ago to score four goals in an away fixture, Watford came from behind to beat Newcastle with two penalties.

That sets it up nicely for the relegation “six-pointer” this evening. It is hard really to assess our form and you can only beat what you are up against, but to be fair Norwich were awful. We played pretty well and could have had an even more emphatic victory with more care. It was good to see Mark Noble proving what I have always believed and written about in previous articles. He is still a very good player against the lesser sides. Whilst the pace of the top teams highlights his lack of speed, he can still play an important role when we are facing sides outside the top eight or so. If selected he will be making his 500th appearance for the club, which is really quite a milestone in the modern game. He has also scored three goals in his last two appearances against tonight’s visitors.

A win for either team tonight will mean that the winning team are virtually safe barring a remarkable turnaround in the goal difference situation, and a draw may not be a bad result for both teams. Sky TV would love to be able to show a last day showdown between ourselves and Villa, but hopefully that will not happen.

Apparently we have no fresh injury concerns after the Norwich game, and both Anderson and Snodgrass have returned to training giving even more strength to the bench, not that it is usual for our manager to utilise as many substitutes as he is allowed. I fully expect him to go ahead with the same starting eleven that began the Norwich game, and if he does it will probably be the first time this season where I have correctly predicted the team! But we shall see.

We are favourites to win the game with the bookmakers, but the draw at 2/1 is as low as odds usually go for a drawn match, with many expecting that to be the convenient outcome for both sides. The correct score market has a 1-1 draw as strong favourite at 9/2. Will 35 points be enough to ensure that both teams will be playing Premier League football next season? If the game does end level then Bournemouth and Villa will need to win both of their last two games to survive to overtake ourselves and Watford if neither of the teams playing tonight fail to pick another point. A win and a draw wouldn’t be good enough as it would only take them up to 35 points, which wouldn’t be enough without a significant win to boost their goal difference. The Hornets would be the most vulnerable with an inferior goal difference to ourselves.

After tonight there will be just two games left for each of the teams still involved. Villa have a home game against a seemingly improving Arsenal side before visiting the London Stadium on the final day. Bournemouth face Southampton at home in a South Coast derby before visiting Goodison Park on the final day. Watford have two tough fixtures at home to Manchester City and then away at Arsenal. We visit Old Trafford for our penultimate game before facing Villa to conclude the longest season in history.

A win tonight will almost certainly be enough to guarantee that we remain in the top flight for the next campaign, and a draw wouldn’t be the worst result either. However I don’t expect that either team would be entirely happy if the spoils are shared, and expect both to be going all out for the win.