Tottenham v West Ham preview

‘Twas The Night Before Tottenham

Tottenham West Ham

With Christmas approaching fast I was reminded this week of the famous Christmas poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” which later became more famously known as “Twas The Night Before Christmas”. It was reputedly written by Clement Clarke Moore who was an American professor of Divinity and Biblical Learning in New York in the early nineteenth century, although it is still debated as to whether or not he actually wrote it.

Last season when I wrote a regular column in the fanzine Over Land and Sea, I was inspired to try to emulate his writing suitably adapted for the Chelsea game, which we won 2-1. You remember the one where Mourinho was still in charge and sent off at half-time. There was a picture of a forlorn looking Chelsea manager (although for not much longer after the game) standing in the directors’ box area as his side were comprehensively beaten with goals from Zarate and substitute Carroll. It seems a long time ago now, but it was only just over a year ago. The poem actually ended with the 2-1 prediction for the game, which won me some money on the day when I placed a small wager at 16/1.

I also included the poem in my book, Goodbye Upton Park, Hello Stratford, which incidentally is available in paperback or Kindle on Amazon. So if you are looking for a Christmas present for a West Ham fan, and don’t want to shell out megabucks for a piece of the Upton Park turf in a glass case, or a plastic seat from the Betway stand, then look no further. I have been a regular at Upton Park for almost sixty years, and the book chronicles the last famous season there.

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Anyway, as we won the game, I was once again motivated to write a similar poem for the visit of Everton. We drew that game, so my record of adapting this famous poem was an unbeaten one. In view of the potential difficulty of this week’s visit to White Hart Lane, I decided to try once again, and the resulting effort of my preview to the game is below.

‘Twas the night before Tottenham when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring not even a mouse;

In our last game, the visit of Stoke;
Another home draw, the table’s no joke;
In seventeenth place, after Adrian’s error;
We need some more points, we must play much better;

The game’s at the Lane, with tough games to come;
Just one year ago, they ‘Kaned’ us 4-1;
Revenge came in March, our tactics were clever;
We beat them 1-0 with Antonio’s header;
Going for the title, it was really absurd;
They faded away, and fell down to third;

This season unbeaten, a close title race;
But too many draws, they’re down in fifth place;
Our record at their place is generally poor;
But remember ’81, when Psycho scored four;

In 2013 we were close to the bottom;
We went there twice, you can’t have forgotten;
Morrison’s goal was one of the best;
Vaz Te and Reid, you know the rest;
And then in the League Cup there was never a doubt;
A Maiga header, and Tottenham were out;

93-94 was not our best season;
A very poor start was part of the reason;
They beat us at our place, 3-1 was the score;
But when we went there we managed four;

About ten years ago, I remember it well;
Last game of the season and we gave them hell;
They were close to the top and well in the reckoning;
A win against us, and Europe was beckoning;

They stayed at the Marriott, their pre-match hotel;
But a dodgy lasagne had left them unwell;
Carl Fletcher scored first, Defoe made it 1-1;
But then up popped Yossi, and Tottenham were done.

Kane has been injured, he’s been in the wars;
But Son has come in and sometimes he scores;
But now Kane is back, there’s no time for flapping;
With Walker and Rose, full backs overlapping;

Eriksen and Lamela are always a danger,
And Dele Alli can be a game changer;
Lloris is in goal, the keeper for France,
I’ve looked at the odds, they give us no chance;

Our season so far, a brief aberration?
I wonder if Bilic will change the formation?
Lanzini and Payet have not been their best;
And Tottenham away will be quite a test;

We need to start quickly, incisive and fast,
Be first to the ball, and not be the last;
Play a high tempo, and keep up the pace;
Hustle and chase, and look for a space;

I know they’re our neighbours, but there’s no love lost;
We must raise our game or lose to our cost;
The optimist in me says go for the kill,
Obiang to score and we’ll win it one-nil.

West Ham 1 Stoke 1

Trading Places. Would a different perspective bring new insights to Slaven Bilic.

Pedro ObiangI wonder if Slaven Bilic would like to swap places with me. No I don’t mean that he becomes a writer and I become West Ham’s new football manager. I don’t think that either of us is cut out or suitably trained for the other one’s role. I was just wondering if he would like to swap his touchline view of the game with my seat in the upper tier of the East Stand. I don’t really want to swap, but for just one game I would like to watch the match from his vantage point on the touchline. I’d like to be able to see what he sees when he watches the game from there, because it seems to me that he watches a different game to me, judging by the decisions he makes regarding the team and tactics to be employed for each match. I’m not sure, but I think he would benefit from a different view too.

Last December at Upton Park the match against Stoke ended goalless, but of all the 0-0 games I had ever seen it was one of the best. This time we drew with them again with a goal apiece. But what did I think of the game? Well, it is 100 minutes of my life that I won’t get back. I like to go to football to see us win, but what’s more I like a bit of entertainment. This is my 59th season of watching us play. I’ve seen very few less interesting games than this.

I don’t have great memories of watching us play Stoke in the past. And this game has been added to the list. Entirely forgettable. At least my journey to and from the game was trouble-free. I haven’t always been able to say that. Past trips this season have included a suicide by someone at Mile End station, another unfortunate individual having a heart attack at Leytonstone, and the evacuation of Stratford station, leading to long delays, and a very long walk to Leytonstone station.

The board held up after 45 minutes suggested that we were going to be “entertained” with one further minute. I looked at my watch to check the time, and looked again more than five minutes later when Mr. Marriner eventually brought the first half to an end. I’m afraid I thought Mr. Marriner had as poor a game as most of the West Ham team. To me, he just didn’t seem to understand the game. This was highlighted by the award of a free kick to us which broke up one of our rare promising attacks a few seconds after a Stoke player had been flagged for offside.

What else can I remember about the game? I can recall a header from Ogbonna, which brought a reaction save out of Grant in the Stoke goal, Payet’s free kick which went just over the bar, and Antonio’s headed goal which apparently would have gone wide if the Stoke defender hadn’t deflected it in. I couldn’t see the deflection from my seat. Perhaps Mr. Bilic had a better view on the touchline. Pedro Obiang, was once again my West Ham man of the match.

Stoke were more organised than we were, and had a definite plan. Bony looked dangerous early on, and created chances which, with better touch and finishing may have led to goals. Our attack had no idea how to penetrate their well organised defence. To me this was epitomised by the excellent full back play of Pieters, who stayed close to Antonio and frustrated the life out of him. But all credit to Antonio for keeping going and once more getting his head on the end of a Payet cross for our goal. Payet, like Noble, just as they both did at the game at Everton last week, were guilty of frequently giving the ball away, either by bad passes, over-elaboration, or getting caught on the ball, leading to swift Stoke counter attacks.

I don’t recall any of our attacking play that could be described as swift. It was ponderous, retention of the ball, perhaps looking to improve our passing statistics at the expense of meaningful football, going sideways and backwards, and occasionally a lump forward to nobody. You could see the building frustration of Ayew who came deeper and deeper to try to get some action with the ball. Lanzini’s touch was a little off, but at least he was trying to inject a bit of pace into the proceedings, realising the need for more urgency and movement off the ball.

I was shocked to see the double substitution on the hour. Don’t get me wrong I was delighted to see both Fernandes and Fletcher come on, two very important players for our future, but not at the expense of Lanzini and Ayew. I would have liked to see both Noble and Payet substituted, but captain and talisman both seem untouchable when it comes to making substitutions. They did however, combine together to create the goal, so perhaps the Bilic view was better than mine.

I like the look of Fletcher, and with some more game time and experience I believe he will prove to be a better striker than both Carroll and Zaza. I can’t see much of a long term future for these two at the club, and I wonder about Payet who seems to be increasingly disinterested. We are all entitled to bad games but his heart just doesn’t seem in it. I can’t recall a single occasion of the crowd singing “We’ve got Payet ….” which has always happened several times every game for more than a season now.

And as for Adrian, what was he thinking? It would have been a penalty if they hadn’t scored anyway. I’d like to see Randolph given his opportunity now. It wasn’t just the goal he conceded, his performances have been below par all season, with the occasional superb reflex save.

But that’s just my view. Obviously Slaven Bilic sees the game very differently from his view on the touchline.

5 Things We Learned From The Limp Draw With Stoke

Sorting through the debris of a dire draw with Stoke at the London Stadium.

5 Things WHUA Very Poor Spectacle Indeed

No doubt about it this was one of the poorest games of Premier League that I have seen all the way through for a long time. I would imagine that any neutral observer would have walked away/ switched off at some point before half time. Very little action and incident with just two saves of any note during the whole 90 minutes; one at each end. Any football that was played was played by the visitors and it was fortunate that they appeared to come with very low expectations in the absence of Amautovic and Shaqiri.  West Ham didn’t deserve to win and they barely deserved a draw.

A Rigid Style with No Obvious Pattern

We tried 3 at the back, it worked in a couple of matches and now we appear to be sticking with it rigidly regardless of opposition and circumstances; repeat until accidentally stumbling upon a new formation. From the kick-off a typical piece of Noble-Collins shuffling backwards and sideways before a hopeful punt up-field set the tone for what was to come. The 3 centre-backs playing it to each with no urgency or sense of what to do next allowing a well discipline Stoke side plenty of time to close down any space. It was impossible to work out what the game plan was meant to be and even more puzzling why it took so long to do anything about it when it was clear that the original plan (whatever that was) wasn’t working.

Slow and Sluggish Doesn’t Win Anything

In those games where we have looked a better team we have approached the game with intensity and pace. This doesn’t seem too difficult to comprehend to me and so would expect match preparation to focus on achieving those objectives. How can a team collectively turn up for their 90 minute working week with such little energy and spirit. Where is the leadership? It really didn’t look like the players knew what they were supposed to be doing which, I guess, may go back to the lack of a plan. We had Cresswell pushed way up, Antonio dropping too deep and Ayew (our lone striker) coming back to retrieve the ball in his own half. We might hope for a moment of magic from Payet to come to the rescue, as he did so often last year (and he looked well off the pace), but he still needs others to create space to work in. The lack of movement in front of him did him no favours. Stoke were given every opportunity to fill any space that became available while we were much more generous with it for their attacks.

Those Strange Substitutions Again

The BBC reported that inspired substitutions changed the game. Hardly! The substitutions, like the curate’s egg, were good in parts with the right players came on but the wrong players went off. There appears to be a predetermined plan that no matter how well or poorly anyone is playing that Lanzini and Obiang are the players taken off. Maybe because the technical area is such a long way from the dugout it is easier to decide these things beforehand. I don’t know! Not for the first time this season Pedro was our best player and, even if Lanzini delivered no end product, at least he was willing to run with the ball with an attempt at purpose. But no, off they both go! As far as the men coming on were concerned Fernandes didn’t really get into the game but Ashley Fletcher made a good account of himself and looks much more like a footballer than Zaza does. Plus there was a little cameo from Feghouli that included probably his first successful cross of the season.

Where Do We Go From Here?

If the alarm has not yet reached the full light flashing, klaxon blaring, buzzer sounding intensity that you see in the movies there has to be some very serious warnings being issued. As things stand we don’t look like we can play our way out of trouble and I doubt we are equipped for a relegation dogfight. Of course there is still time and there are hopefully enough poorer teams to keep our head above water but this is not a team on the up. We have seen no consistent signs that the foundations of a solid and organised team are in place. We still struggle to break down teams we should (and need) to beat and the freak results against the top teams will not be repeated so readily. After his monumental gaffe for the equaliser it is time for Adrian to take a break from first team duty while Mr Marriner has forced decision to leave Mark Noble out of the next starting eleven. Noble looks increasingly lost and pedestrian to me; I have long admired his commitment but that is no longer enough on its own.  Perhaps we will have other striking options by the time of the Tottenham game but I am not going to be holding my breath. And please let’s not stick slavishly to 3 at the back and learn to use it when it is appropriate to the match and opposition in hand.  My approval rating for the management team is currently at all-time low.  Not a time to panic but a demonstration that all is under control would be welcome.

Matchday: West Ham versus Stoke City

Can we look forward to an afternoon of ooohs and aaahs or will the players be getting a rocket?

West Ham StokeA game at the heavily scrutinised London Stadium on a day known for fires and explosions – what could possibly go wrong?  Today’s visitors are the mostly harmless Stoke City who after a disastrous start to the season come to London today unbeaten in their last 5 matches.  Known as the Potters after the eponymous boy wizard (itself is a reference to Stoke’s most famous ever player, wizard of the dribble, Stanley Matthews) the club is competing in their 9th consecutive Premier League campaign following the promotion in 2008 which ended a 23 year ‘spell’ in the wilderness.  When Stoke were relegated in 1985 they did so with a record low number of points for the 22 team, 3 points-a-win top flight.

“I would rather have us creating chances and waiting for a moment to convert them than not create them at all. We are disappointed with the Everton result but we are on a good path, we are there, and we are going to score goals.”

– Slaven Bilic

A game that we will be very much hoping to win as our theoretical easier run of games comes to halt just before yet another international break and a chance to do the Christmas shopping.  A few West Ham – Stoke connections that spring to mind are that Geoff Hurst played for both clubs, Lou Macari managed both and both were briefly owned by Icelandics at some point in their history.

Head to Head

Another close run head to head record that shows an emphasis on home victories with Stoke’s visits to the capital being as fruitless as our ventures to the north-westwards.  Two of their seven victories have, however, been in the last six encounters. History reveals a healthy goal haul from home games against the Potters which hopefully can be repeated this afternoon.

P

W

D

L

F

A

Sequence

Home

40

20

13

7

70

35

DDLDWW

Away

41

11

8

22

43

62

LDLWLD

81

31

21

29

113

97

Team News

Winston Reid is suspended  and injured although the latter might just be a convenient excuse to avoid travelling down under for two World Cup fixtures against New Caledonia.  Potential replacement Reece Oxford has also picked up an injury which opens the door for the more probable replacement James Collins and his silky passing skills.  With still no striker to speak of available our sources (I read it on the internet) suggest that there will be a return to the starting lineup for Andre Ayew with Edmilson Fernandes dropping out.  While welcoming Ayew’s return it would be disappointing for Fernandes, one of our better players last week, to be demoted to the bench.  Slav says the players now feel at home at the London Stadium but I get the impression that he is trying to convince himself that everything is going to be alright rather than anything else.

“We’re looking forward to every game we play now because we’re playing some good stuff now and we’re playing with confidence.”

– Mark Hughes

Stoke have Arnautovic missing through suspension with Shaqiri doubtful and a few other longer term injuries including Butland, Cameron and Johnson.  Danger men are Bony, who open his Stoke account last week against former club Swansea, and Joe Allen.

Man in the Middle

Andre Marriner from Birmingham is today’s top official.  This is his 7th Premier League game of the season during which time he has brandished 1 red and 24 yellow cards whilst at the same time missing Aguero’s elbow assault on Winston Reid at the Etihad.

Stoke Preview

A victory today would be most welcome with the difficult run of fixtures to follow after the international break

Embed from Getty Images

I can honestly say that the game against Stoke is not the one that I look for when the fixtures schedule is released in the middle of June each year. In fact I think that when Tony Pulis was in charge, it was probably the game that I least looked forward to. I have never been a fan of watching Pulis’ teams play, and West Brom have now assumed the Stoke mantle for me. Perhaps many West Brom fans feel the same judging by the empty seating in last week’s game at the Hawthorns? Those fans who have been watching for a few years will probably remember the Rory Delap long throw tactic. Stoke would do all they could to attain throw-ins in the opposition half, and then Delap would spend an age drying the ball before launching a long throw into the penalty area, with his team mates blocking off defenders as if it were a game of American Football. Somehow they got away with it, and often went unpunished by referees.

But Stoke under Mark Hughes are different, although they still retain some players who play the game in the same way they did under Pulis, especially Shawcross and Walters. In my opinion Shawcross has always been one of the most over-rated central defenders in the Premier League, and I could never understand the clamour in the media to get him called up into the England squad. That appears to have died down in recent times though. He is one of those defenders often referred to as uncompromising, although I could think of other adjectives to describe his methods.

Last December at Upton Park the game ended goalless, but of all the 0-0 games I have ever seen this one was one of the best. Both sides played entertaining stuff and were applauded off at the finish. There were 34 shots in the game, of which we had 22, and there was a grandstand finish where we almost nicked the points. One of the reasons we didn’t win was the superlative goalkeeping of Jack Butland. He got injured playing for England in a later game, and has been out for a long time. I think they, and England, miss him

When I look back over the past fifty years or more I don’t have great memories of watching us play Stoke. At the Britannia Stadium, in the final game of last season we took the lead and had control of the game. We conceded an equaliser against the run of play and then lost the game right at the death. We pulverised them in the first half but only had a solitary goal at the interval for our endeavours. It should have been three or four with the game wrapped up. We missed stacks of chances, and Stoke cleared about four off the line. One was only an inch or so from being a goal but it just wasn’t going to be our day. In some ways we missed Payet, but we created so many chances it shouldn’t have mattered. We had more than twenty shots on goal to Stoke’s half a dozen.

Going back almost fifty years, in 1967-68 we were 3-0 up at half-time in a league game at Upton Park and we let Stoke back into the game to win 4-3. Two seasons later, almost to the day we were once again 3-0 up at half time, and Stoke fought back to draw 3-3 and were just denied a late winner with a shot that came back off the post! In 1971-72 we met them in the League Cup semi-final that went to four games that had everything (they didn’t have penalty shoot-outs in those days). We won the first leg away 2-1, but Stoke won 1-0 in the second leg at Upton Park when Gordon Banks saved a late-in-the-game Geoff Hurst penalty and it went to a replay. The first replay was drawn and we then lost an incredible second replay 3-2. I can also remember visiting their old stadium, the Victoria Ground in 1973. All I can recall is that a smallish crowd made a lot of noise, and we lost the game 2-0.

In some ways, their start to this season has mirrored our own. They began with a draw at Middlesbrough, and then lost four games in a row, conceding four goals in each of three of those fixtures. They followed this with two more draws, before a recent run of three consecutive victories, albeit against Sunderland, Hull and Swansea, the three teams currently occupying the relegation places. As I knew we were playing them this weekend I watched some of their 3-1 win over Swansea on the Monday night football on Sky. They looked quite impressive, especially Bony who scored twice, and Allen, who has scored four goals from midfield this season. Arnautovic will be missing serving a one match ban, whilst Shaqiri is a doubt for the game.

We haven’t actually beaten Stoke at home since March 2011 when our three goalscorers were Demba Ba, Da Costa, and Hitzlesperger. Where are those three ex-players now? The last time we did record a victory over them was in March 2013 when Jack Collison scored the only goal in the game at the Britannia. But since then we have played them six times in total, drawing three and losing three. Since returning to the Premier League our home record against them has been three draws and one loss, so it is about time we put an end to this run.

They currently sit in twelfth place in the table (to our seventeenth), but are only two points ahead of us, so a victory would take us above them, and we could in theory be in the top half of the table by Saturday evening if other results went our way, although this is unlikely. But with our difficult run of fixtures after the international break, three points would be most welcome, and I predict that we will win a tight game by the odd goal, perhaps 1-0 or 2-1.

The Lawro Challenge – Week 11

Our mission to out-predict the BBC pundit predictor.

Lawro Crystal BallTen rounds of games in the Premier League have now been completed. That means we have now predicted the results of 100 matches. Just over a quarter of the season has elapsed, and Lawro has narrowed the gap at the top of the prediction league. Rich and Lawro are currently in the Man City and Arsenal positions, whereas Geoff is imitating Sunderland.

However a lot can happen in the next 280 games, just as it can to the teams in the Premier League, and Geoff has more chance of winning this challenge than Sunderland do of winning the league. But he will need to start making inroads into the points gap before falling too far behind.

In Week 10, Rich scored 5 points, Geoff 4 points, and Lawro had the best total again with 9 points. In this challenge we award one point for a correct result, and a further two points (making three in total) if the score prediction is spot on.

 

Rich

Geoff

Lawro

Total after 9 weeks

75

54

67

Score in week 10

5

4

9

Total after 10 weeks

80

58

76

 

 

 

 

Predictions – Week 11

 

 

 

 

Rich

Geoff

Lawro

SATURDAY

 

 

 

Bournemouth v Sunderland

2-1

 3-1

2-0

Burnley v Palace

1-1

1-2

1-1

Man City v Middlesbrough

 3-0

4-0 

3-0

West Ham v Stoke

2-1

3-1 

1-1

Chelsea v Everton

2-1

2-0 

2-1

SUNDAY

 

 

 

Arsenal v Tottenham

1-1

2-2 

2-0

Hull v Southampton

0-1

0-2 

1-1

Liverpool v Watford

4-1

3-1

3-0

Swansea v Man United

1-1

 0-0

0-2

Leicester v WBA

2-0

1-0 

2-1

5 Thing We Learned From Defeat At Everton

A few tricks but no treats in the lessons from last weekend’s match.

5 Things WHUYou may already have read the excellent 20 Questions article inspired by Sunday’s defeat at Goodison Park.  For good measure here are some additional takeaways from the game following a little more quiet reflection.

Early Dominance but No Reward

Going into the game with a shot of confidence most of us were probably reasonably happy with the display in the first 20 minutes or so. We had plenty of the ball, passed and moved well and Lukaku hardly got a kick. Payet and Lanzini were bossing matters as far as creativity was concerned and it seemed that the momentum was with the Hammers against an opposition suffering a longish winless streak. Koeman spoke about having words at half time but in fact Everton had sorted it out on the pitch before then. The inability to turn good possession into at least one goal appeared to dispirit the team and the early intensity fizzled out. As in a few games last year the Payet/ Lanzini combination faded as the game went on; whether it is because they lack the stamina to maintain that intensity level or whether it was due to Everton closing them down more quickly I cannot decide. Antonio worked hard with good movement and, as suggested by Jim Beglin, is likely the best forward we have available at the moment. He created space for others but is not the natural goalscorer that is so badly missing from our ranks.

The Return of the Injured Strikers

It is true that injuries have yet again been unkind and losing Ayew to the treatment room alongside Carroll and Sakho was extremely unfortunate. Ayew is now back and hopefully can show us what he can do but I doubt he is lone striker material. It would take a very optimistic fan to imagine a lasting return to full fitness for the other two invalids. Both would seem to have conditions that will continue to plague them. With Sakho there is the additional question of his temperament (and whether he has burnt his bridges with Bilic) and with Carroll I still have reservations about his all-round game. On occasions (Arsenal at home last season) he did indeed look ‘unplayable’ but I would disagree that he is “brilliant outside of the box” as suggested by Bilic last week. He does not have the technique nor mobility to play the effective lone striker role in the modern game. Could we play two up front? Unlikely without getting overrun in the midfield. The striker conundrum remains with us even with a fully fit squad.

Three at the Back and Cresswell

One of the disappointing aspects of Sunday’s game was that Cresswell didn’t seem to get as far forward to link up with Payet as he usual does. Despite being a full-back he is one of our most potent attacking threats and far more competent at crossing the ball than other players that we employ specifically for that purpose. The three at the formation should theoretically allow him more freedom to get forward but the impression I took away from the game was that he had been instructed not to venture too far forward. This was possibly to counter the threat of Bolasie and if that was the case it raises the question of whether the 3 man backline was the best option in the circumstances. Despite Everton being the better team I thought Reid and Ogbonna could have done much more the prevent the two goals. Reid was both slow to react and lightweight in his challenge for the first and Ogbonna looked like he was on a training jog when tailing Lukaku for the second; that he might have anticipated an offside call is no excuse.

Those Crazy Substitutions

The substitutions were puzzling particularly from the perspective of the players taken off. By that stage of the game the most under-performing players were Noble and Payet who were both giving away possession and offering little creatively. Maybe there was a notion that Payet could grab something from a set piece but on the evidence of the day this seemed unlikely. It was confusing that the two most effective midfield players (Obiang and Fernandes) were the first to be sacrificed. I can understand the imperative to make changes and ‘give it a go’ but keeping some degree of shape is important and the changes contributed more to the second goal that they did to any greater attacking threat. It was expected that Ayew would be given a further 20 to 30 minutes but he was unable to create much impact. The introduction of Zaza was akin to throwing in the towel and Feghouli, who I do have lingering hopes for, only provided a masterclass in how not to cross the ball. Antonio may have claimed the record for number of positions played in a single match. This certainly did not help in creating cohesion.

League and Cup Form

At the end we were unable to build on the momentum from the excellent performance in the EFL Cup against Chelsea to improve our league position and end this round of matches just outside the relegation places. In the This Week in Hammer’s History post we highlighted two seasons where West Ham reached League Cup semi-finals and FA Cup 6th Rounds in 1988/89 and 2010/11. Now we all love a cup run but in both those seasons we were relegated. Thankfully, I do not believe in omens (………….or do I?).