Matchday: Hammers versus Stanley

Sliding doors. This train terminates at Stratford.

EFL CupWe asked 100 West Ham fans to “Name a Famous Stanley”. Top misty-eyed answer was the Lord Stanley in Plaistow one of the favourite pre-match watering holes from the old Boleyn Ground days. Second was the retractable blade knife that might have been taken to a match in the 70’s and in third place was former Socceroo Skippy Stan Lazaridis. The Stanley from Accrington were in a disappointing sixth place.

League Two Accrington Stanley find themselves in the 3rd round of the League Cup for the very first time. Their second round victory over Burnley being the first time that they have ever beaten a team from the top tier. West Ham’s last defeat to a fourth tier team was a 2-1 home defeat to Aldershot in 2011. Accrington manager, John Coleman, has vowed to come to the London Stadium to attack and so we could well be in for an interesting evening. They are not even bringing a bus let alone parking it.

“It will be a good side whoever we play as they are Premier League players. We will not be going there to park the bus, we will be going there to attack and score goals and if that means we get beat 7-0 so be it.”

– John Coleman

Our approach will be interesting and there are different schools of thought on the distraction or otherwise of cup competitions. The Avram Grant team had impressive runs in both League and FA Cup but remained woeful in the League. On other occasions a good cup win has galvanised League form. A good many supporters would sacrifice several League placings for a decent cup run (especially if it leads to a day out at Wembley) provided that the spectre of relegation is avoided. It is going back a long way but a 6-0 League Cup pounding of Tranmere in 1974, when we were bottom of the table, prompted a revival in fortunes that ended with FA Cup success against Fulham. Tonight is maybe a ‘sliding doors’ moment for us.

“We have to do it. Starting from today we have three mega games, three cup finals before the next international break. This game is a good opportunity for us, it’s an interesting competition for us. It’s good to have a game tonight.”

– Slaven Bilic

Head to Head

We have never played against tonight’s opposition before and so I will use the opportunity to repeat my favourite Accrington Stanley related story. Legendary goalkeeper Willie ‘Fatty’ Foulke was in the Bradford City team when Accrington Stanley visited Bradford for an FA Cup tie in February 1907. It was discovered just before kick-off that Foulke, who stood 6ft 3in and weighed in at 22 stone, was wearing a jersey that clashed with the red shirts of Stanley. After a fruitless search of the ground for a suitably large replacement Foulke used a sheet borrowed from a neighbouring house to cover the offending top. The game ended with a Bradford victory by the only goal and with Foulke barely called into action his makeshift attire was as pristine as it had been at kickoff. Thus, the origin of the phrase “keeping a clean sheet”. What are the chances of one of these today?

Team News

None of the long term injured are ready for action yet. In the circumstances I would anticipate a reasonably strong side that would include West Ham debuts for Alvaro Arbeloa and Edimilson Fernandes. I would also like to see Ashley Fletcher and Pedro Obiang given starting positions.

My predicted starting eleven:

Randolph
Arbeloa  Ogbonna  Oxford  Masuaku
Feghouli  Obiang  Fernandes  Tore
Antonio  Fletcher

Obviously, I know nothing about the likely Accrington line-up other than the increasingly cosmopolitan nature of football sees players from France, Benin and St Lucia feature in the League Two side’s squad.

Man in the Middle

Tonight’s referee is Stephen Martin from Staffordshire, a member of the Select Group 2 Refs who can usually be found blowing his whistle in Championship games. If we asked 100 West Ham fans to ‘Name a famous Steve Martin’ answering with the referee’s name would no doubt get you an “Eh-uhh”!

West Ham v Accrington Stanley – Anyone for Elevenses?

Keep ’em peeled for potential banana skins as an Accrington Stanley XI slip into town?

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The visit of Accrington Stanley in the third round of the EFL cup will be our first ever meeting with them. They are currently in League Two where this is their eleventh consecutive season, they sit in eleventh place in the table, with eleven points, having scored eleven goals, and conceded eleven goals. This will be their eleventh competitive game of the season.

The original Accrington Stanley resigned from the Football League in 1962 after suffering financial difficulties. They reformed later in the 1960s and worked their way through the football pyramid eventually regaining their place in the league after winning the Nationwide Conference by eleven points in 2005-2006. So this is their eleventh season back in the league. Prior to last season, their best performance since their return was in 2011 when they finished in fifth place but lost out in the play-offs.

Last season was their best ever. After a run of eleven games unbeaten they went into their last game of the season at home to Stevenage with a chance of automatic promotion, but could only draw 0-0 and once again went into the play-offs. But they lost in the two-legged semi-final to AFC Wimbledon, who later won the play-off final at Wembley and were promoted to League One.

In the first round of the EFL Cup this season they were drawn at home to League One Bradford City, and the game ended goalless after extra-time and went to a penalty shoot-out. Stanley missed their first penalty and looked to be on their way out until Bradford missed their fifth one to take it to sudden death. I hope our game today doesn’t go to penalties as they are rather good at them. After missing that first penalty they scored the next eleven in a row to win the shootout 11-10! Ironically they only had ten players on the field at the end!

In Round Two they faced Premier League Burnley and beat them 1-0 after extra time with a goal in the 120th minute from Matty Pearson. He plays as a defender / midfielder and before joining Stanley he played for Rochdale and Halifax. The goal that Pearson scored was the eleventh of his career. So that was their first goal in 240 minutes of EFL action and here they sit in the third round.

We have a magnificent record in home league cup ties. We have played 111 games and only lost 19 of them. We’ll need to score eleven goals to beat our record score in the competition, the 10-0 trouncing of Bury in 1983. I was in the crowd of just under 11,000 that evening when the goalscorers were Cottee 4, Brooking 2, Devonshire 2, Martin and Stewart (penalty).

So what score this evening? 11-0? I don’t think so. But watch out for their number 11! The way the season has been going to date it would be good if some of our players can just put in a confident performance, avoid injuries, and win comfortably to take us into the last 16.

WBA v WHU: The Numbers Game

The numbers are in and they just don’t add up.

NumbersA few numbers from the game at the Hawthorns:

“0” or zero = The number of points we’ve picked up in our last three games. It is also the number of our drawn games in the league this season (last season we drew 14 – no team in the Premier League drew more games than us)

1 = our position in the running order on Match of the Day, though not for the reasons we would like. It is also the number of times WBA have previously beaten us 4-2 in a league game (on 19 April 1965 – Ronnie Boyce and Geoff Hurst scored our goals in front of 13,713 at the Hawthorns). It is also the number of league games we have won this season. It is also the number of times in the whole of last season where there were exactly six goals in a league game we played in.

2 = The number of times in the past week where there were exactly six goals in a league game we played in.

3 = the position Slaven Bilic occupies in the betting for Premier League managers to lose their jobs.

195 = the number of days since WBA last won a league game at the Hawthorns.

581 = the number of days since WBA last scored four goals in any competition (it was in the FA Cup on Valentines Day 2015 v us!)

5 = the number of league goals scored by Michail Antonio this season. All five goals have been headers.

11 = the number of headed goals scored by Michail Antonio since the beginning of last season – more than any other Premier League player

20 = the number of total goals scored in our five matches this season (more than any other club). Incidentally, 116 = the number of total goals scored in West Ham Premier League games last season (more than any other club). So we’ve started this season as we were last season, the favourite of the “neutral spectator” (whoever he is!), but not a team for the “purists”)

40 = the number of times in history we have beaten WBA. After this weekend it is also the number of times WBA have beaten us.

18 = our position in the league table following this weekend’s games.

12 = the number of times in our last 15 league matches where we have conceded at least two goals.

53 = the number of goals we will score this season if we continue at the same rate (last season we scored 65).

99 = the number of goals we will concede this season if we continue at the same rate (last season we conceded 51)

152 = the total goals that will be scored in games involving West Ham if we continue at this rate (last season 116 which was the highest in the Premier League)

West Ham figures first in the following section:

71%-29% – our dominance in possession of the ball in the game
23-8 – our dominance in shots
5-6 – slight advantage to WBA in shots on target – very important if you want to score goals!
613-253 total passes; 552-185 completed passes; 90%-73% pass success – so once again we had far more of the ball, and were better at finding a team mate with it, but what these figures don’t tell us is the area of the field where the passes were made! In fact our pass success percentage was only bettered by one side in the whole Premier League on Saturday, Arsenal at Hull. So it is really nonsense as an indicator for success in the game.
14-12 tackles; 86%-75% percentage of tackles won.
5-9 corners; 13-25 crosses – the crosses were the complete opposite of last week against Watford but we still managed to lose the game.
9-10 fouls conceded – we committed one fewer than our opponents.

The really important statistic is that at one stage we were 4-0 down and lost the game 4-2.

Four of our next six matches are at home against Southampton, Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Stoke. On paper not the most difficult of fixtures, facing four teams who are currently in the bottom half of the table like ourselves. Two away games in the period are at Palace and Everton.

If we really are to kick-start the season then I’d like to see at least 13 points from those six games, making 16 from 11 games. This would probably just move us into the top half of the table. Win all six and we would be on 21 points after 11 games, 1 point ahead of the same period last year. Not very likely on current form! 8 points from the six games would put us on 11 from 11, averaging just one point a game which is relegation form.

Bearing in mind that the next four games after this batch of six are against Tottenham, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool (three of them away from home), then a poor return from the highlighted six games would almost certainly leave us in a relegation dogfight, not what was expected after last season.

5 Things Learned From West Brom

Picking over the pieces of the roadkill that was West Ham’s visit to the Hawthorns.

5 Things WHUA drama or a crisis?

Yesterday I mentioned that media had painted West Ham as though the club were teetering on the brink of a precipice at the edge of an abyss. There has been little good news surrounding what should be a milestone in the club’s history either on or off the pitch. Personally, I believe it is far too early for hysterics and we are not the first team to get a new season off to a slow start; you only have to look at Chelsea last year and Everton and Tottenham in years gone by. That is not to say a slow start cannot become a crisis if the issues are not addressed and there do seem to be some serious concerns regarding the professionalism of the club at the moment.

What doesn’t kill you may not make you stronger!

None of our new signings have killed us but there is little evidence so far to suggest that they have made us stronger. There were a lot of new arrivals during the summer and although none of the names made me excited I was prepared to be surprised by some astute recruitment on the basis that I didn’t know much about Dimitri Payet before last season either. Until yesterday I had been quietly impressed with Arthur Masuaku and I think that Sofiane Feghouli could become a useful and regular starter. I don’t want to write players off so early but I have yet to see what either Zaza or Calleri have to offer. Zaza looks to lack the mobility required by an effective lone striker need and Calleri looks just as lost as Enner Valencia at the moment. There is going to be an issue with Zaza if he doesn’t show his worth quite quickly with the apparent clause that makes his transfer permanent after a specified number of games.

Defend from the front; attack from the back.

We give every impression of being a team made of separate components rather than being a single unit. Sure there have been individual mistakes but there is also a collective weakness, whether physical or mental, running through the team. We were promised a reaction after the Watford defeat but didn’t get it. I do not understand why we do not play with a proper defensive midfielder but continue to rely on the Noble-Kouyate partnership to muddle through even though they have been proved wanting in this role before; when full backs push up the central defenders become stretched and a huge gap appears between them without any cover dropping in. This league is meant to be the pinnacle of world football featuring the most expensive and highly paid players available. Yes good players can adapt to play slightly different tactical roles (or it may be necessary in an emergency) but otherwise the modern game has become very specialist and a top level club shouldn’t be playing players out of position as often as West Ham do.

A lack of focus and style.

It is very difficult to pinpoint what our style of play is meant to be. Possibly Slave Bilic is looking to adopt the Croatian style of play which has been the mainstay of their national for some years; get it forward quickly for wide men (wingers or full-backs) to spray in the crosses to a big central striker. If that is the case it is not working. For a start we do not move the ball quickly at all (at least not forwards) which limits the ability for the wide players to get into good crossing positions before the defence shuts down the space. The tactic also has the danger of being as one-dimensional as a Big Sam team and unless you find a big man who is also quick and mobile it limits options. There have been some great goals in the Premier League this year as a result of quick passing, movement and interplay; often on the counter attack. Difficult to see West Ham repeating this with the current set up. We have some flair players but have shown little penetration.

We bossed the stats though!

We absolutely smashed the Baggies on the stats yesterday. More possession, shots, successful passes, aerial duels and tackles won and dribbles made. Just a shame about that one inconvenient statistic of goals scored.

Matchday: West Brom v West Ham

An unexpected Saturday fixture sees the Hammers entertained (!) by Albion at the Hawthorns.

Away at West BromThe consensus in the media, social and otherwise, on the current West Ham predicament and the evidence of 4 Premier League games (and an ignominious Europa League exit) is that we are teetering on the brink of the precipice at the edge of the abyss.  The vultures are circling and the fat lady is already practising her closing number.  The capitulation against Watford was indeed shameful where we not only took our foot off the gas but parked up on the hard shoulder (is that what they call the area around the outside of our pitch?) for a picnic and a refreshing glass of blackcurrant Rabona (I mean Ribena!).  The tendency of West Ham to become all passionate against the big boys but fake arousal against the smaller fry is not a new one (remember the final two home games from Upton Park) but it really should not be tolerated from a very highly paid professional team.  Nonetheless, a few good performances and wins can easily put the season back on track and there is no better opportunity to start than away to the beleaguered, low-scoring Baggies.

“Okay, we have done it for some of the time this season but you have to do it all the time. That is what serious football at this level is all about; to do it minute after minute, day after day, week after week. That is the key. I’m expecting a big-time response at West Brom. We have to dig in and, if we do that, I fear no-one.”

– Slaven Bilic

All of the noise coming out of the Hawthorns this week has been about the take-over of West Brom by the Chinese businessman, Guochuan Lai, and speculation over the future of manager Tony Pulis (or Nok So Long as he is referred to in the boardroom).  I am not a fan of the Pulis brand of football but he seems a decent enough chap and I am sure realistically he knows that his days are numbered whatever happens on the pitch.  The new owners will want to introduce their own style and culture into the club and can foresee the scenario where the Assistant Referee holds up Number 5 to denote added time and someone runs on with a portion of Chicken Chow Mein.  All in all I think it is a good time to be playing them.

Head to Head

The all-time head to head record between the two clubs is a very even one.  West Ham have won the last two Premier League meetings at the Hawthorns including a commanding 3-0 victory last time out.  If West Ham were to win today it would be only the second time in the Premier League where they have recorded three successive away victories against the same team (Fulham was the first).  These last two victories over Albion, however, were separated by the 4-0 drubbing received in the FA Cup 5th round tie in February 2015; whatever happened to (Tuesday and so slow) Brown Ideye?  The more regular outcome in recent fixtures between the two clubs has been the draw and that must be the minimum requirement from this afternoon. An emphatic win would be the ideal way to celebrate Billy Bonds 70th birthday though.

P W D L F A Sequence
Home 50 25 11 14 102 72 DDWDDD
Away 50 14 11 25 57 91 DDLWLW
Neutral 1 1 0 0 3 0
Total 101 40 22 39 162 163

A former Hammer who has fond memories of West Brom is Brian Dear who scored 5 goals in 20 minutes against them in 1965.  Brian celebrates his birthday tomorrow when he will be 73 years old.

“I think the players are more affected by not getting a new iPhone than they are about whether there is a change of ownership!”

– Tony Pulis

Team News

The long term injuries remain the same and so Ayew, Carroll, Sakho and Cresswell are all continued absentees.  Mark Noble has recovered from a hand injury and is available for selection.  I would be very surprised if James Collins kept his place (Ogbonna to start) and imagine Sam Byram’s place would be under threat if Alvaro Arbeloa was considered ready for first team action.  I think Bilic will stick with Adrian in goal and that Zaza will start again up front.

That leaves the midfield and the enigma of how to combine the available assortment into an effective unit.  Personally, I would start with a proper defensive midfielder (which means one from Oxford, Obiang or Nordtveit) to provide extra protection to the back four.  Antonio and Payet should be certain starters and that leaves another two from Kouyate, Lanzini, Noble, Tore and Feghouli; none of whom qualify on current form as automatic picks.

My preferred eleven for a welcome 2-0 victory would be:

Adrian

Byram  Reid Ogbonna Masuaku

Oxford

Antonio Kouyate Payet Lanzini

Zaza

West Brom are likely to have Solomon Rondon back for this game which is unfortunate as he seems to be their only credible threat; although on our day we can make even a Spurs reject like Chadli look like a world beater.

The Man in the Middle

Today’s referee is the self-important Mark Clattenburg.  Don’t expect at the end of the game to say to your mates “tell you what I didn’t notice the referee today.”

WBA v WHU Preview

Assessing the Hammer’s bouncebackability (© Iain Dowie) for Saturday’s away trip to the Hawthorns.

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As we approach the fifth game of the 2016-17 Premier League campaign I was hoping to be writing this preview with at least six points in the bag. Although no games are that easy, we have faced two of our easier opponents in our first two home league games, and for the fourth season in a row we’ve failed to take maximum points from our opening fixtures. The curse of defeat in the second home game struck again for the fourth season running.  In fact we’ve only won both of our first two home league games twice in this century! If you read social media then of course you will know that it is all the fault of the move to the new stadium. But I seem to recall that when we faced Leicester and Bournemouth at home last season we were playing at “fortress” Upton Park, as we were in the opening games of all those other seasons!

Three points from four games leaves us in 17th place and nine points adrift of the top. It is still early days, of course, and the table can change quite rapidly at this stage. However, another defeat at the Hawthorns would be bad news. We are now approaching a full squad fitness-wise, and we need to show that we have what it takes to bounce back and begin to make a realistic challenge in the top half of the table.

Even after four games, the top seven of Manchester City, Chelsea, Everton, Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool, and Arsenal could well be the top seven at the end of the season, albeit not necessarily in that order. We are four points away from the tail end of that group, so if we are to emulate last season’s seventh place finish we can’t afford to fall too far behind. Had we beaten Watford, as we should have done, then the gap would have only been one point.

I doubt that West Brom get too many Midlands ‘neutral’ spectators turning up because of the quality of the entertainment on offer. As befits a Tony Pulis team, they don’t score or concede many goals. Unlike the London Stadium the home fans aren’t on their feet a lot! But Pulis’ non-relegation record (like Big Sam’s) keeps the owners happy, if not the spectators. There have been five goals in their four games this season, scoring two and conceding three. They haven’t won a home game yet, with a goalless draw against Middlesbrough and a defeat to an in-form Everton side. We need to make sure that their home record doesn’t improve at our expense.

I’ve no idea what Slaven Bilic has in mind for his team selection for this game, but based upon the performances against Watford then Adrian, Byram, Collins, Reid, Noble, Lanzini and Kouyate could all potentially be looking over their shoulders to see if others are going to step into their boots for this game. Wholesale changes would be an unnecessary knee-jerk reaction to the capitulation against Watford, but I would be surprised if there weren’t at least two or three players replaced to freshen things up.

Reece Oxford was deployed in a defensive midfield capacity for the opening game at Arsenal last season and was magnificent. I’d like to see him given another opportunity in this role. I’m sure he would fit in well in front of the back four, and could drop back to make three centre backs when necessary. Mark Noble has seemed lethargic in the opening games and Kouyate doesn’t seem to be at his best either.

But whatever team he decides upon I’d like to see us open up our away points account in this game. A repeat of last season’s 3-0 win would be great, albeit unlikely, but I’ll take us to reverse our early season form and come away with a 2-1 win.

West Ham v Watford in Numbers

Know all there is to know about the numbers game.

 

NumbersGeoff Hopkins has written some excellent interesting articles about the use of statistics in football. I’ll add a few numbers of my own in an analysis of the Watford debacle. Like Geoff I’ve made use of the very good whoscored.com website, whilst also checking other statistical databases, newspapers, and the internet, as well as using my brain to recall other bits of data I’ve read or seen or thought of.

I’ll start with “0” or zero. This is the tolerance that the club say they will show to fans deemed to have offended in violence or standing issues within the stadium. This is also the number of times Watford have scored four goals away from home in a Premier League game.

56,974 – yesterday’s attendance at the start of the game. I wonder if the club have read a previous article of mine where I mentioned how co-incidental it is that our attendance is frequently x thousand, 977. Three fewer this time!

25,000 (estimated) – the number still in the stadium when the final whistle blew.

38 – the number of times Watford have found themselves two goals behind in a Premier League game, including this weekend.

37 – the number of times Watford have lost the game after falling two goals behind in a Premier League game.

33 – the number of minutes required to establish a two goal lead. This is also, roughly, the amount of playing time in minutes needed to turn a two goal lead into a two goal deficit.

4 – the number of Watford players that I read we were linked with in the last transfer window – Janmaat, Pereyra, Deeney and Ighalo were all on our “radar” according to one source or another. But like a lot of these rumours – probably just made-up stories to fill column inches. Nonetheless, Pereyra looked some player, and Deeney took his goal splendidly.

4 again – the number of league goals scored by Michail Antonio from inside the penalty area this season (I won’t call it a penalty box as a box is three–dimensional, and the area is not) – more than any other Premier League player

10 – the number of headed goals scored by Michail Antonio since the beginning of last season – more than any other Premier League player – not bad for a “winger” who has played often at right back! Keep him up front Slav! Trust the stats!

11,085 – the number of days since Watford last scored at least four goals away from home in the top division. On the same day (5 May 1986) we were losing 3-1 at Everton in the last game of the momentous season (1985-86) which saw us finish in third place.

“Any number you want to one” – the odds you could have got on a Watford victory if you had gone on the betting exchanges at around 3.35pm on Saturday afternoon.

1 – the number of times Watford have previously beaten us 4-2 at our ground in a league game (on 21 February 1984 – Bobby Barnes and Dave Swindlehurst scored our goals in front of 21,263 at Upton Park).

35,711 – the increase in the attendance between the two times Watford have beaten us 4-2 on our ground (the increase is greater than the “all-seating” Upton Park capacity – well you know what I mean)

West Ham figures first in the following section:

58%-42% – our dominance in possession of the ball in the game

19-13 – our dominance in shots

7-0 – our dominance in shots from set-pieces

12-13 – slight advantage to Watford in shots “in open play”

4-8 – now we’re getting to the more important stuff – Watford had twice as many shots on target as we did. You are very unlikely to score unless you have shots on target. Yes I know it is possible if you want to be pedantic – deflections and open goals.

441-322 total passes; 381-231 completed passes; 86%-72% pass success – so we had more of the ball, and were better at finding a team mate with it, but what these figures don’t tell us is the area of the field where the passes were made! I’d like to see the statistic of successful passes in the final third of the pitch – but we never see this one – it would be a better indicator. In fact our pass success percentage was not bettered by any side in the whole Premier League on Saturday. Hull equalled us on 86%, and Middlesbrough were next on 85%. Neither of those teams won either! So what does it prove?

12-25 tackles; 50%-92% percentage of tackles won – perhaps gives an indication of Watford defensively compared to ourselves?

4-4 corners; 25-13 crosses – our goals came directly from a corner and a cross.

10-15 fouls conceded – we committed fewer than our opponents.

The really important statistic is that we threw away a two goal lead and lost the game 4-2. David Sullivan said he wasn’t going to consider a new contract for Slaven Bilic until he’d proved himself in the second season. Now is the time for him to show us his management capabilities.

West Ham 2 v 4 Watford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

5 Things We Learned From The Watford Defeat

A frustrating day as we snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

5 Things WHUEarly Days & Late Fitness

These days any anger at a poor West Ham performance is fleeting; disappointment lingers a little longer whereas the glow of rip-roaring victory can keep me sustained through to the following Thursday. So far, this year it has been mainly disappointment (except on Twitter which has seen blistering rage) but we must remember that the season is young and that quirky results can occur all over the place at this stage. That is not to say there are not problems to address and weaknesses to resolve. Of these problems the most basic appears to be an issue with fitness levels. While some of the deficiencies could be put down to players coming back from injury (and the Euros) this obscures what appears to be an otherwise poor preparation for the new season; the pointless visit to North America and the halfhearted approach to the Europa League which certainly hasn’t seen us hit the ground running. In each of our league games this season we have been second best in terms of fitness and it is difficult to understand how there can be any excuse for this.

We have Improved the Squad but not the Team

There were plenty of arrivals at West Ham during the transfer window with only one senior first team player leaving in the shape of James Tomkins. Yesterday’s starting eleven only included two of the new boys (I am excluding Lanzini who is technically a new signing). Of the two, one (Masuaku) probably wouldn’t have been playing (or even at the club) had there not been the injury to Aaron Cresswell. Last season our problem was conceding goals rather than scoring them (which we did well enough provided that Payet was playing). The defensive side of the squad has not been improved and this includes introducing an effective defensive midfielder which I believe has been a significant gap in the squad fro some time. As we saw against Watford we are vulnerable when players run from midfield areas at us. I guess that is why Havard Nordtveit was signed and, on paper, an experienced international and Bundesliga player should be the perfect fit. So far though he has not impressed. The other assorted new midfield players don’t look to be a significant upgrade (or any upgrade at all) on what we already had. It would be foolish to write anyone off after a few games but some rapid improvement would be very welcome. For now, it seems like we have a deeper (rather than better) squad; ironically capable of coping with a competition that we have already been eliminated from.

Mark Noble, The Elephant in the Room

Wholehearted and committed players, especially if the are local, are very likely to become fans favourites at West Ham. It is part of the family/ community feel that, even now, surrounds the club. For many of us, there are far too few home grown players in and and around the first team. This is where the dilemma of “what do we want from our club?” comes in. Is it success or sentiment? Mark Noble ticks all the boxes for the romantic; from Canning Town and West Ham through and through. He has been a great servant (albeit a well payed one) to the club but I see him in the Steve Potts envelope rather than the Trevor Brooking or Billy Bonds one. His commitment is not matched by the necessary speed of thought or movement to be a regular at the heart of a team with ambitions of top 6 and beyond. I can understand why people love him but don’t believe he offers enough guile at the highest level particularly when his form drops as it has now. I see James Collins in a similar vein. If you want someone battling every aerial challenge and throwing his body in the way as a last gasp attempt to stop a goal bound shot then Ginge is your man. But, he makes too many mistakes, is vulnerable to runners and has terrible distribution. Angelo Ogbonna is streets ahead in terms of quality and would have been mightily upset at being overlooked for Ginge.

Dimitri Payet, I think we do understand…

For a long period during the 1970’s West Ham relied almost entirely on Trevor Brooking for any attacking endeavour. It was stop Brooking and you stopped West Ham; until Alan Devonshire came along. Now there is an over reliance on Dimitri Payet. He is a tremendous player and, of course, any team would miss him but we cannot expect him to carry the rest of the team through the season. Contributing tow assists for the goals against Watford, including the superb Rabona, he had a lively start but as he tired then so the attacking threat faded. The defensive implosion rightly grabbed the headlines but we need to be asking more questions in attack than leaving it all to Dimitri. We have an abundance of midfield parts and the coaching staff need to find a way of assembling them in a way that creates a beautiful, practical and efficient unit. Our inability to see off the teams we should beat will be a major problem if we are unlikely to repeat the heroics (and points haul) from the better teams.

Getting the first defeat out the way

A lot of teams would be thinking of coming to the London Stadium and being the first away team to win there in the league. Just like we remember being the last team to win at Highbury and the first to win at The Emirates. Well now that we have got that that defeat out the way early we can now set off on a barnstorming run of invincibility. So there!

West Ham v Watford Preview

Slaven’s Selection Dilemma?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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