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.