This Might Hurt A Bit: Part One Of West Ham’s Damage Limitation Double Header

West Ham’s visits to the north-west are rarely fruitful. Coming away from today’s encounter against Manchester City with self-respect intact is possibly the best we can hope for

Several years ago, I had an abscess on the back of my leg. The doctor decided he needed  cut it out out but that due to its location behind the knee it would not be possible to administer a local anaesthetic. Just before scalpel cut into my skin he warned me: “this might hurt a bit.” He wasn’t wrong. To make matters worse, the wound had to kept open until all signs of the infection had gone. This involved opening up the flaps of skin and cleaning it out every few days. That too hurt a bit. In the end, though, it was a happy ending, and a complete recovery was made.

The story seemed a perfect metaphor for West Ham’s current predicament. Having slipped into the bottom three, they now face consecutive away games against the two best teams in the land. There is going to be pain – and things will get much worse before any hope of getting better. As to whether this story too will have a happy ending depends as much on others as it does on the Hammer’s own efforts. Will there be three worse sides in a season where 40 points is looking increasingly like the minimum requirement for safety.

My expectations for the next two games are set very low. West Ham are sure to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League all-time losses table (377 to Everton’s 375) Anything better than zero points but with the goal difference deteriorating by less than five goals would be a bonus. It is damage limitation pure and simple.

These two fixtures are separated by the Premier League’s first ever mid-season break; as if the season isn’t already interrupted enough by international breaks. For a team that is not in Europe, gets eliminated in the early rounds of the cup and runs less than all the others, West Ham really don’t need a rest. Best just to get it over with.

I always try to find some crumbs of optimism but reality invariably gets in the way. Any team suffering a relative dip in form, as City are right now, tend to find a visit from the Hammers the prefect antidote. Guardiola will have given up any hope of the title but he will want to finish as strongly as possible. His primary target will be the Champion’s League but with a week’s break there is no imperative to rest players for this one. At least they will be without Sterling today.

There has been a clamour among supporters for Declan Rice to switch into defence for this game, particularly in light of last weekend’s Keystone Cops defending. But following on from David Moyes comments that Rice is arguably the best holding midfield player in the league, I am not sure this will happen.  In fact, with City being a team that like to pass through the opposition and gradually wear them down I am not convinced this would be the best policy. If West Ham are to get anything out of the game (even if it is merely a sense of pride in having made a game of it) they need to be strong and compact throughout and break forward quickly. If City have a weakness it is to rapid counter attacks. A central midfield partnership of Rice and Tomas Soucek would be my choice for keeping a good shape and not conceding lots of unnecessary free-kicks just outside the penalty area.

It will be interesting to get a first look at Jarrod Bowen who I believe will partner Michail Antonio as the most advanced of the Hammers. I can see no reason why Sebastien Haller would merit a starting berth in a game like this. As mentioned last week I find Moyes stance with Pablo Fornals has been puzzling – just when he was finding form he has been relegated to the sidelines. I expect Robert Snodgrass will again be preferred to the Spaniard today.

Graham Scott from Oxfordshire is the matchday referee. Scott is one of the league’s leading red card issuers so far this season and was previously in charge of the Hammer’s 4-0 win against Bournemouth. Doing his very best to create some much needed talking points from the VAR eye in the sky will be Craig Pawson.

Top media pundits Lawro and Charlie Nicholas are united in predicting an emphatic Hammer’s defeat, at 3-0 and 4-0 respectively. If there is anything united among West Ham fans it is desire for new owners. We have regularly highlighted the obvious lack of direction or strategy at the club on this blog, and we are by no means alone in that regard. But now, several mainstream media journalists have jumped on the bandwagon to ridicule the two Daves. It is a sad state of affairs and the reaction by the board to the comments made on Sky Sports were a massive own goal. Still I don’t see any chance of the them selling up until after the 2023 repayment deadline in the stadium agreement. Equally, anyone hoping that relegation would spur them into selling is sadly misguided in my view. It would only prolong the agony.

As for today’s game I can’t help thinking that losing by only two goals would represent a good result. We can live in hope that the unexpected might happen, though – at least for the first twenty minutes or so.

After the debacle of the last twenty minutes against Brighton, Prexit is getting nearer. Can West Ham spring a major surprise at the Etihad?

If we supported any other team we would have been in shock after the last twenty minutes of the Brighton game last weekend. But as we are West Ham fans we’ve seen it all before, and many of us could see what was about to happen before it actually did. Nevertheless as we trudged back to Stratford Station after the game, being constantly stopped by those wretched stop-go boards which come into operation at random intervals that appear to have little logic to them, we were all scratching our heads and grumbling about what we’d just witnessed.

It was a crazy afternoon where all of the bottom six in the Premier League occupied places in the bottom three at one time or another between 3 o’clock and 5 o’clock. When we were in the lead in the game at one stage we had climbed up to 15th in the table (in-play). We led 2-0 at the interval, thanks to a near post goal from Diop, and a deflected shot from Snodgrass. Brighton emerged after the break on the front foot and caught us cold, and had soon reduced the deficit when Fabianski’s weak punch rebounded off Ogbonna into the net. Was Fabianski fouled? Would we be reprieved by VAR? Of course not.

It was looking a bit ominous as Brighton seemed to gain more confidence and increased possession and attacking threat. But no, we restored our two goal lead with yet another deflection to a Snodgrass shot to make the score 3-1. With a little over a quarter of an hour to go the manager decided to take off Antonio. He had been terrorising the Brighton defenders all afternoon, but as usual was beginning to tire, and to save him from injury he was allocated a place in the comfy seats and replaced by Masuaku.

Within a couple of minutes Masuaku attempted a clearance which looped into the West Ham penalty area on the rebound from a Brighton player, which began a chain reaction of laughable defending that reminded me of the Marx Brothers for comical effect. Diop and Ogbonna were the initial culprits as they hesitated. Fabianski realising the problem rushed from goal only to be beaten to the ball by Gross who nipped in first, and the ball rolled agonisingly slowly into the goal off the post, barely reaching the net. “You are kidding me” uttered the West Ham fan sitting beside me. But I kid you not. It really happened.

It was now game on as Brighton pressed forward searching for the equaliser. Just a couple of minutes had gone by when a cross was not intercepted and Murray (who always scores against us) seemingly controlled the ball with his arm before scoring. But despair turned to relief when we spotted that Michael Oliver had spotted the handball and disallowed the goal. But wait, VAR got involved, and it seemed several minutes elapsed before there was a decision. The referee had disallowed the goal but VAR overturned it. I thought they could only do that if there was a clear and obvious error. I could see the handball from 100 yards away, and then they showed it on the big screens. It certainly looked like handball on there too. Booing broke out all around, but the referee accepted the decision of VAR and the goal stood.

How many points has the handball issue cost us this season? And how many points have we dropped from winning positions too? The total has now increased to 19 ensuring we extend our lead in that league table; unfortunately not a table we would want to be at the top of. So by the end of the game, where we just about held on for the draw, we were sitting in the relegation zone, with some tough upcoming fixtures, beginning with Manchester City and Liverpool away games either side of the winter break. Oh dear. We are well in the mire now.

So we now have 13 games to go with six at home and seven away. On paper the away fixtures are generally much tougher than the home games, but if we are to avoid dropping into the Championship with the long term ramifications of that, we need to start winning some games of football. I have studied the remaining fixtures for all six teams that currently look in most danger of going down, and whilst there are various people in the media who are highlighting our difficult fixtures that are coming up, I have to say that all six teams have equally tough games to face between now and the end of the season.

The problem that we have is that the harder fixtures on paper generally come up first and then it gets relatively easier towards the end. Somehow we have to try not to fall too far behind which would then mean we are trying to catch up. In five of the last six games we face Newcastle, Burnley, Norwich, Watford and Aston Villa – on paper an easier run of matches than the ones coming up next. If we can still be in touch by the beginning of April we will have every opportunity of staying up. Perhaps there could even be a last day relegation decider when we face Aston Villa at the London Stadium?

Manchester City away is tough. They beat us on our own ground 5-0 in the first game of this season, almost exactly six months ago to the day, but whilst they haven’t been quite as formidable this season as last, they are still easily the second best team in the country. They have failed to score for two games in a row, so must be relishing the thought of their next visitors. I have no idea how long it is since they failed to score for three games in a row, but I’ll bet it hasn’t happened for some time. And they haven’t won a home Premier League game since they beat Everton 2-1 on New Years Day.

With the imminent return of Anderson, the signings of Soucek who made a promising debut, and Bowen who arrives with many praising his potential, and also hoping that Antonio will be fit, then I am confident that we can score goals. What worries me is that I am not sure how we can avoid conceding them. Declan Rice has been massively important to our midfield, but he grew up as a centre back, and I wonder if any thought has been given to playing him there as part of three at the back, perhaps for the games against City and Liverpool. There is not a lot to lose in those two games as we are not expected to pick up any points, and it may be worth trying something different.

I have had to write this column well in advance this week so have no idea regarding injuries and availability. But perhaps we could line up something like this:

Fabianski, Zabaleta, Diop, Rice, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Snodgrass, Soucek, Anderson, Bowen, Antonio

That would leave Fredericks (who seems reluctant to use his pace going forward, and is making too many errors), Noble (who looks in need of a rest, and pace could be more important than usual in the next 2 games), Lanzini (who is so out of form and short on confidence), Masuaku (who to me should only be used as a forward) and Haller (who looks unfit and short of confidence) out of the starting eleven at the moment, but all will be needed in the games to come.

Haller (when he plays) really needs to play with someone close to him, whether it is Antonio, or perhaps Bowen could be the one. It was good to read that Silva is now fully recovered as he really does look like one for the future, but it is unlikely that many youngsters will be given any opportunities this season.

As fans we all have our own ideas as to the players we like, the team we would pick, the formation we would adopt, and generally how we would manage the side. And they would all be different. I’ve read so many opinions on social media. But, we are now in the hands of David Moyes and his coaching staff. We are in the bottom three, and are generally third favourites to go down. Can we stay up? Yes we can. Will we stay up? It is likely to be touch and go, but I hope so. A miracle at the Etihad would be welcome.

The Deals Are Done But Will It Be Enough: West Ham Kick Off Their Escape With Pivotal Brighton Showdown

West Ham are the biggest spenders on deadline day but have just as much trouble getting deals over the line as they do the ball.

It was free UK delivery all weekend on the West Ham United official website, yet still there were no takers for Carlos Sanchez. With the transfer window now well and truly closed, David Moyes must make do and mend with what he has available – and find a way to amass those missing seventeen points or so.

As the dust finally settled on deadline day, the Hammers had bolstered their squad with the loan signing of Czech defensive midfielder, Tomas Soucek; the £22 million capture of attacking midfielder Jarred Bowen from Championship side, Hull City; and the return of Darren Randolph to resume his role as spare goalkeeper. Going the other way were hapless custodian Roberto (loan to Alaves) and three of the leading academy players, Nathan Holland, Conor Coventry and Dan Kemp – much to the delight, I’m sure, of the U23 coach who had steered his side to the top of the Premier League 2 Division 2. There had also been talk of Winston Reid packing his bags for the MLS, but I have been unable to find the current status of that move.

The signing of Soucek is, at last, an attempt to address the long-standing problem at the heart of the midfield – introducing much needed energy and an additional physical presence.  Soucek also has a fairly impressive goal return for a defensive midfielder – 20 goals in the last 18 months – although that number does include several from the spot. I got the impression from what Moyes said at his press conference that although Soucek will play a part today, it will be from the bench rather than as a starter. We shall see if that is the case!

When it was revealed very early yesterday morning that Bowen was on his way to West Ham for a medical, I had high hopes that he too would be signed in time for today’s game. It was not to be. Seems he must have taken the scenic route down from Humberside (not like a bat out of Hull), and it was well past 11 pm that the deal was finally announced. Not being an avid Hull City watcher, I have only seen Bowen on YouTube highlights but have been impressed by what I’ve seen. It is not just the goals but the fact that he looks lively with it – not a word you normally associate with many in our squad. Whether he can inflict similar damage against Premier League defences only time will tell. All this assumes, of course, that he is played in a position suitable to his attributes and Moyes doesn’t try to convert him to a left back.

On the face of it, the signings of Bowen and Soucek are just the type of players we should be going after. Younger, not yet established, players from the smaller European leagues or the lower tiers at home. It would be nice to think that this was the result of diligent scouting, but we know that is not the case. Even though they were signed in desperation, they may still turn out to be successful additions – and better value for money than much of what has gone before.

According to reports West Ham will again be without Michail Antonio to face Brighton today. If that is true, then it is a big miss and further highlights the impact of not signing Bowen in time for this winnable game. With Felipe Anderson also missing, the remaining creative option would be to persevere with the disappointing Manuel Lanzini. It is difficult to know whether Lanzini can ever get back to his best, but he has always been more of a support player than the main string puller.

Moyes likes to pick his shape and then select players to fit into it – it is, indeed, a sensible approach. If he continues with 3 at the back then it will probably mean Arthur Masuaku and one of Pablo Zabaleta or Jeremy Ngakia again as wing backs – I hope he sticks with Ngakia after his promising debut on Wednesday. Masuaku certainly divides opinion but at least he offers an element of width and wizardry going forward. I would, however, like to see Pablo Fornals start again. Fornals was beginning to find his feet in the Premier League but his progress looks to have faltered again under Moyes.

Like us, Brighton are well and truly in the relegation mix, two points better off than we are, with a recent run of form that is similar to our own. If we need five or six wins to ensure safety, then this should be one of them.

WHUBRI3The Seagulls have shown a more adventurous style under new manager (and Jonathan Pie look-a-like) Graham Potter but the outcome has been pretty much the same as it was with Chris Hughton. They have some decent players in Pascal Groß and Aaron Mooy but promising attacking play is frequently let down by a lack of finishing. Both Brighton and West Ham have only managed 27 goals from their 24 games this season, although the visitors have been more frugal at the back. Leading scorer Neal Maupay is one of those live-wire players who typically cause problems for the Hammers easily startled defence – and not forgetting that old-stager Glenn Murray always fancies his chances against West Ham, if given the opportunity.

It will be a fourth encounter of the season with referee Michael Oliver from Northumberland with West Ham having lost on each of the previous three occasions. On hand to agree with all Oliver’s on-field decisions but watching out for balls brushing hands and studs straying offside will be Andre Mariner at VAR central.

This week Lawro says 1-0 and Charlie Nicholas 2-1. I like their confidence. We are not exactly in must-win games territory yet (that would be the relegation decider against Villa on May 17) but this is as close as it gets. Neither team will want to lose but who will be brave enough to go all out for the win? I am hoping the reports about Antonio are designed to mislead. If he plays, I think we win. Otherwise it may well turn into a very scrappy affair. With trips to Manchester City and Liverpool to follow, three points today would be kinda welcome.

Yesterday was Brexit, Today could lead to Prexit as West Ham entertain the Seagulls in a massive six pointer

A good transfer window for West Ham? In Tomas Koucek we have undoubtedly improved the midfield. In Jarrod Bowen we have recruited a young proven goalscorer with pace (albeit at Championship level), and with Darren Randolph we have definitely improved the back-up goalkeeper.

I have seen Jarrod Bowen on TV and he looks like the type of player we need. One description I heard was that he was a cross between Antonio and Salah! If that was even half true then it would be an improvement on some in our squad! Only time will tell. If you haven’t seen him in Championship games on TV, just take a look on YouTube to see what he can do. He is very fast, strong and knows how to score goals. Look at his statistics.

The deal appeared to stall in mid-afternoon, and there was doubt right up to the end of the window. So many ex-footballer pundits on TV on Friday have given glowing descriptions of him, and many described the signing as a bargain. In my opinion, based on what I have seen, he will be a tremendous acquisition.

But only West Ham can make such a meal of getting an important signing over the line. As I write this at 11pm on Friday night the deal has still not been confirmed. But my sources tell me that he has signed. I just hope it is true.

There is no sign of the right back that so many have been crying out for, but perhaps it was felt that Jeremy Ngakia made a good enough impression in his debut on Wednesday. Who knows, perhaps more of our Development Squad can be trusted to step up?

The bottom six in the Premier League are now beginning to become detached from the middle of the table teams, with a five point gap now open between Brighton (25) in 15th and Newcastle (30) in 14th. Newcastle are just one of five clubs on 30 points (with Burnley, Everton, Palace, and Arsenal) and Southampton on 31 that could still be pulled into the relegation fight if they have an indifferent run.

The bottom six are tightly grouped with Brighton and Villa on 25, with ourselves, Bournemouth and Watford on 23. Only Norwich on 17 are detached at present. 38 points (or an average of a point a game) is the target for all clubs involved and it might be necessary to even get to 40 this season, or possibly slightly higher. That means at least 15 points (and perhaps 17 even) for us in the 14 games remaining. So many of our away games look tough (Man C, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, Newcastle, Norwich and Man U) and are certainly tougher on paper than the remaining home matches (Brighton, Southampton, Wolves, Chelsea, Burnley, Watford and Villa).

What do we have to do then? Five wins and a couple of draws, or four wins and five draws would be necessary to take us up to the 40 point mark. That is certainly achievable. We are outside of the bottom three now, albeit with a slender goal difference margin. Three points today is vital though, because apart from ensuring Brighton stay in the mix, the next two away games at City and Liverpool are as tough as it gets. If we started to fall behind then playing “catch-up” adds pressure to the performance.

Hopefully our signings will give the team and fans a lift and I hope that we can get our first ever Premier League victory over Brighton. It is likely to be tight though.

Top Of The Klopps: David Moyes One Hit Wonders Aiming For New Record

Things have rarely been unhappier or in worse shape at West Ham. Tonight they face the simple task of resisting the runaway Liverpool juggernaut.

Feels like there are no wheels on the West Ham wagon any more. Things look bad, the fans are mad, and nobody wants to sing a happy song. Whether that is to be our fate now depends on whether owners, manager and players can collectively get their ideas sufficiently bucked up in time to sort matters out. They may have to wait until the weekend, however, before making a start.

There have been some truly terrible seasons at West Ham (Roeder in 2002/03 and Grant in 2010/11 rapidly spring to mind) and this one is only part way through – but it is among the grimmest in living memory. Possibly, this is because it started with such high expectations. On those previous two occasions the team barely made it out of the bottom six all season; this time we were actually pinching ourselves in third place for a fleeting moment.

We had expected better. After all, Pellegrini had enjoyed a solid first season in charge; a top of the range striker had been recruited from the Bundesliga; an exciting young Spaniard was to take his place in an exciting Latin triumvirate ready to tear through opposition defences; and Wilshere and Yarmolenko, back from long term injuries would return like even more new signings. How wrong could it go? How wrong could we be? Even if early performances rarely reached the heights, we were still picking up points and any thoughts of relegation were left to the terminally anxious.

Yet, by early November it was clear that something was seriously wrong. A good, hard look beneath the covers revealed a squad that was slow, unbalanced, ageing and far too thin to cope with the inevitable injuries that come with a West Ham Premier League season. We had, somehow, despite the millions spent, assembled a squad that required major surgery rather than running repairs.

As ever, where spending money is involved, the owners were slow to react – with them it is always a case of waiting until events are ominously bad before taking any action. Planning is an alien concept at the club – amateurs tinkering in a professional sport. They left it too long to replace Pellegrini, just as they have left it to the very last minute to bring in fresh faces during the transfer window.

It was interesting to see Joe Cole speaking with some passion about the situation at West Ham on Sky Sports. He made a point about player recruitment that I have mentioned several times previously – that the club have a history of signing players with the wrong attitude – attracted by the bright lights of London and looking for a guaranteed, all-expenses paid holiday in the capital for the duration of their contracts. The type of players who would have no interest in slumming it in the backwaters of Leicester or Wolverhampton. For me, it was merely an observation; from him, it was circumstances that he had experienced a number of times – although he fell short of naming names.

David Moyes made an immediate impact when he took up the managerial reins with a rousing win against Bournemouth, but the bounce was short lived in the extreme – and the gloom has only deepened after an awful FA Cup exit last Saturday. Moyes would not have been many fans pick for manager, but he cannot be blamed for what has gone on before. He has been making lots of sensible noises about taking a new long term approach to player recruitment but then again …… Jordan Hugill!

Quite what the last frantic days of the transfer window will deliver is a known unknown. Having no discernible scouting network, the club are left at the mercy of predatory agents. Apparently, West Ham’s scouting department comprises one man and a dog – and the dog (appropriately called Scout) is only part-time. “Good boy, Scout, what do you think of that Carlos Sanchez?” “Ruff!”

Which brings us to tonight’s mismatch against Champions-elect Liverpool. What chance does a team soundly beaten in recent weeks by Leicester and then West Bromwich Albion reserves have against the all-conquering Liverpool team? None, that’s how much! The best we can hope for is that once the visitors have cruised into a two-goal lead, they are happy enough to take it easy and keep their powder dry for more demanding battles. At least that will keep us out of the bottom three – for now!

There are many who would not welcome a first ever Premier League title for our Liverpool friends. The thought of the sporting airwaves being overrun with celebrating Scousers and their ‘one-third Irish, one-third welsh, and one-third catarrh’ accents is an unpleasant one. Yet they are by far and away the best and most attractive team to watch in the league right now. Jurgen Klopp has worked wonders at Anfield and their success is well deserved. Good luck to them, I say. Just steer clear of all TV and radio for best part of May.

There is a certain inevitability about tonight’s game – that the result will end in an away win for the record breaking Merseysiders. But can West Ham, the only Premier League team yet to lose to Liverpool this season, set a few records of the their own: no shots on target, no corners, most popcorn sold at half-time, enjoying less than 15% possession? I suppose for appearances sake we should show a shred of belief. Burnley once beat Liverpool 2-0 in a game where they had only 19% possession. Maybe the footballing gods will again show that they have a sense of humour and repeat the performance – with a little help from VAR to right the wrong for last season’s blatant offside blunder.

Record-Breaking Liverpool visit the London Stadium to face West Ham as Premexit is now a serious worry for the home team

One of my favourite jokes from the Edinburgh Festival in recent years is the one that goes “if you don’t know what introspection means you need to take a long hard look at yourself.” Apparently in the aftermath of the West Brom debacle on Saturday Mark Noble addressed his team mates and told them precisely that. They need to take a long hard look at themselves. And it is true. Supporters may not like the owners, the stadium, the manager or whatever, but the fact remains that the players on the pitch are just not doing what they should be doing. We are now fighting a third relegation battle in just four seasons despite a sizeable investment in players in the past couple of years. And in the 40 years since we won the FA Cup we have now played in 80 domestic cup competitions (FA Cup and League Cup), and have been eliminated by a side from a lower tier in almost half of them. I wonder how many other clubs can “boast” a record to match that?

OK so the recruitment policy has been flawed, and for one reason or another we have neglected to sign enough appropriate players to compete in the Premier League, but the fact remains that we still had eleven players on the pitch at all times, and West Brom, who hadn’t won a league game for eight matches, had made eight changes, and with virtually a reserve side, and only ten players for the last twenty minutes or so, beat us more comfortably than the scoreline would suggest. Quite frankly there are so many problems at the moment at our club, but for some reason so many of the players just haven’t grasped a number of simple concepts including the need to tackle opponents to win the ball, the need to pass to a team mate when we do have the ball, and the need to move into spaces (or even move in some cases!) to enable the person with the ball to have somebody to pass the ball to.

We can debate all the many problems at our club at length, but those simple concepts are the ones that went through my mind as I sat watching the game in disbelief on Saturday. For once I decided not to book my usual season ticket seat for this game, but instead chose to sit level with the halfway line at virtually the top of the East Stand. After over 60 years of watching the majority of West Ham home games, as well as some away games too, I’ve viewed the team from many angles and different terraces and stands, and I have to confess I liked the view from where I sat. If I am to believe social media then I am in the minority of fans in that I like the stadium too. Yes, it’s not perfect, and if we owned it then alterations could be made to make it more like a football stadium. The stadium wasn’t a problem when we were thrashing Bournemouth recently.

One thing I did appreciate on Saturday though was the concept of “tourists” that I’d read about on social media, but hadn’t witnessed from my usual season ticket seat, as when I am there I guess I am surrounded by other season ticket holders. There was a sizeable range of nationalities in the seats all around where we sat, and many of them were up and down like yo-yos travelling down to the toilets, bars and food outlets, and returning with their goodies whilst missing large parts of the game. They didn’t appear to be too interested in the game, but having said that, the game on offer before them wasn’t that interesting anyway.

Amongst the comments on social media regarding our performance, some of which reached vitriolic highs, there were some that made me smile. One, which summed up Balbuena’s distribution in the game was very apt. It read “I’d just gone down for a piss, and as I stood there in front of the urinal I received a perfect pass from Balbuena.” There were other comments about Sanchez not taking part in the race between the two mascots, because in practice he didn’t qualify as fast enough to join them, and would have trailed in a distant third. Another suggested that if he ever saw Sanchez in a West Ham shirt again he would immediately be in touch with the Samaritans. One also suggested that Haller would be excellent at the game of statues, while some others made comments about Lanzini and blind alleys.

My ratings for the game were Randolph 6, Zabaleta 4, Balbuena 1, Diop 5, Cresswell 5, Sanchez 1, Rice 4, Fornals 3, Lanzini 1, Ajeti 3, Haller 3. Subs: Ogbonna 6, Noble 6, Antonio 7.

Today we face a side that has won 22 of its 23 Premier League games, and drew the other one. They are on course to break all kinds of records and top the table by 16 points with a game in hand. And that game is against us! I’m not sure that bookmakers have fully grasped how one-sided this game is going to be. We are quoted at around 17/2 to win the game, which means that if the game were played 100 times they believe we would win 12 of them. I think if this game were played 100 times then we would be lucky to win one of them, and that would rely on Liverpool having their pre-match meal at a   certain hotel in Canary Wharf.

Throughout the past sixty years of watching our club, I have often felt that we could spring a surprise and get something against the top teams. But this one is different. We really have virtually no chance whatsoever based upon our recent games. After the dismal display away to Leicester, and then the even more abysmal performance against West Brom, I think we’ll be doing well to keep the score down to four or five. A reverse by four goals would see us drop into the bottom three, and looking at the fixtures coming up we could be well adrift of the pack by the end of February.

I hope I’m being unduly pessimistic. Usually I am unrealistically optimistic that we can win games against superior opponents, but quite frankly not this time. So many fans reckon that it has never been this bad. It certainly has in the days of Avram Grant and Glenn Roeder. And even more revered managers have been in charge when we have been relegated before. But what began as a season with high hopes has very quickly turned sour, and looks like it will rank with some of our worst in the top flight.

We urgently need some new faces in so many positions both in the team and in the squad as a whole. We definitely need more pace in the side, especially in midfield. I was thinking about some of the midfielders we’ve let go in recent times as I watched the lack of movement in the West Brom game. Edmilson Fernandes, Cheikhou Kouyate, and Pedro Obiang all had some limitations, but all had attributes that would have been useful this season. Personally I particularly liked Obiang but just like Upton Park, it is water under the bridge now.

As I write this it would appear that the signing of Tomas Soucek is close, although I never trust these “signings” until I see the player at the London Stadium photographed wearing the claret and blue shirt. He has quite a reputation but I am not sufficiently versed in Czech football to have an opinion. Others are urgently needed too before the window closes on Friday.

Perhaps our recent performances have finally galvanised the owners into buying players that have been required for so long now. But why are they leaving it so late? As fans we all knew what was needed. Perhaps the fans unrest is beginning to sink in. As it is, any new recruits will have to try to settle into a side in the midst of a relegation dogfight. That will not be easy. Nevertheless it is probably our only chance of avoiding the drop.

We also need our injured players back quickly (particularly Anderson), and for Antonio (and others) to remain injury-free. Diangana has been earning rave reviews in the Championship, and although he is currently injured I don’t think it’s a long term thing. He may not be the answer but I am surprised he hasn’t been recalled to bolster the squad as is our right at this time.

There is so much we do need to do if we are to avoid going down into the Championship. We definitely need to avoid losing this game by more than three goals to avoid occupying one of the relegation positions with just 14 games of the season left to go. And we need to beat Brighton this weekend in view of the other more difficult games that are coming up in February. We need a lot, don’t we? I think that tonight we need a miracle. But very occasionally miracles do happen! Let us pray for one today.

Go West: The FA Cup Fourth Round Tie That Neither Manager May Really Try To Win

When the manager was putting together the storyboard for Season 2 of the David Moyes show, he may well have visualised a few games that would stabilise the perilous league position followed a crowd pleasing run at this year’s FA Cup. Unfortunately, it hasn’t quite gone according to script.

After a run comprising one win, one draw and two defeats in the league, West Ham sit precariously just outside the relegation places – on goal difference only. Perversely what might in other times be seen as the comfort of a game in hand over our relegation rivals, could realistically see the Hammers drop into the bottom three after it is played next Wednesday.  Equally, Moyes boast of an unbeaten home record will have been thoroughly tested by next weekend. The manager’s dilemma then is what permutation from his slow and ageing squad does he send out to face West Bromwich Albion in Saturday’s FA Cup Fourth Round tie? The strongest possible side and risk further fatigue to worn-out limbs or adopt a cautious approach and risk stoking the fires of supporter outrage? Either way, the options are few!

Three weeks into the transfer window and it is still more talk than action at the London Stadium – the return of Darren Randolph being all there is to show from the alleged ‘working all the hours efforts’ to bolster the squad.  I suppose it is typical of the Used Car Salesman approach to running West Ham that no ‘oven ready’ list of new recruits had been drawn up prior to the window opening – despite the desperate position the club finds itself in. For the past two or three years many of us have been banging on about a general lack of pace and athleticism throughout the squad; and specific weaknesses at full back and in central midfield. Any chance that the message has finally got through to those charged with running the club?

Adding to the foolishness of the situation is that two of the most promising academy players (Nathan Holland and Conor Coventry) have already been shipped out on loan to lower league sides. Maybe all well and good for their long term development but they could have played some part in proceedings between now and the end of the month.

Perhaps the most interesting dimension to the weekend’s game is the return of the manager formerly known as Super Slav. Since leaving the Hammers, Bilic had a brief unsuccessful stint at club management in Saudi Arabia before being appointed Head Coach of West Bromwich Albion during the close season. It has been a promising start for him at The Hawthorns, although a recent alarming dip in form (no wins in eight games) has significantly tempered Albion’s billing as runaway promotion certainties. They have been very difficult to beat but have been prone to drawing too many games. The distraction of a cup run may not be the highest of priorities for them right now.

This will be West Ham’s sixth meeting  with Albion in the FA Cup dating back to 1913 when Southern League West Ham beat First Division Albion in a first round second replay at Stamford Bridge. There were further upsets in 1933 and 1980 when the Second Division Hammers eliminated their First Division opponents while Albion were easy winners in 1953 and 2015 – scoring four goals on both occasions. Hammer’s fans with long memories will need no reminding that it was the 1980 victory that launched West Ham on the road to Wembley, and our most recent trophy success. Sadly, there will be very few players with the genuine quality of Parkes, Stewart, Lampard, Bonds, Martin, Devonshire, Brooking, Allen, Cross and Pearson available this time around.

Quite what line-up Moyes will go for, with an eye on two important Premier League games in the following week, is impossible to call. Can old-timers Pablo Zabaleta, Mark Noble and Robert Snodgrass really feature in four games in ten days? If not, who can replace them? We are probably looking at starts for Carlos Sanchez, Albian Ajeti and Fabian Balbuena. Hardly the glamour of the cup! It is no wonder that FA Cup attendances continue to fall when there is no telling just how seriously clubs will be taking the games. I am not expecting too much!

One-nil to the cockney boys!