El Hokey Cokey! All the “Ins” and “Outs” will be good moves by Pellegrini?

With a new season appearing on the horizon, do West Ham have a clear 2020 vision; or will it just continue to muddle along?

Between the finale of the last Premier League season and the start of the new one was a total of 90 days.  We have now spent 40 of those days in the wilderness and there are just 50 more before it all kicks off again.  In two weeks’ time West Ham return to training and the pre-season preparations build on from there.

The 2019/20 season the Premier League sees the introduction of a mid-season break in the middle of February (although it is staggered over two weekends) and along with 4 international breaks (3 before Christmas) plus those annoying getting knocked out of the cup early breaks, it promises to be another disjointed campaign.

The fixture list was, course, published last week and controversially West Ham yet again have to play each of the other 19 teams home and away.  With its sense of the absurd, though, the fixtures computer has come up with a sixth consecutive opening day encounter with a top six side for West Ham – on this occasion completing the full set against reigning champions Manchester City.  For a welcome change, however, the Hammers find themselves at home on both the opening and closing weekends – an end of season clash against Aston Villa coming just one week before a long awaited return visit to Wembley for the FA Cup Final, perhaps!  Still no sign of a home Boxing Day match though; clashing as it would with the start of the post Christmas sales at Westfield.

With less than 50 shopping days until the slamming of the transfer window, the speculation industry is at full throttle.  To date there have been more outs than ins as the Hammers embark on one of their periodic dead-wood clearance sales – the hope this time around is that we don’t then start collecting more!  Moore than just a club for one last payday!

I have tried to avoid wasting too much time following transfer news on the basis that the majority is made up nonsense.  Rumours have become more of a device for generating internet traffic than sharing credible news.  Instead, my time-wasting has been focused on watching old Youtube videos of West Ham greatest goals – an enjoyable claret and blue tinted way of viewing the past.  One thing that struck me was the contribution from either Eyal Berkovic or Yossi Benayoun to many of the sweeter attacking moments.  Both had only fleeting Hammer’s careers but were the type of player that has been sadly missing for much of the interim period.  Now I can build up my hopes that Pablo Fornals will be the player to fill that gap.

The recruitment of Fornals came as something of a surprise as I believed another attacking midfielder would not be top of the club’s priorities.  I can only assume that there is a fair bit of business still to be done as we remain very light in attack, short of numbers in holding midfield and lacking a defensively competent left full-back.

Not surprisingly the performances of Declan Rice and Issa Diop have caught the attention of the circling richer clubs – both are young players who put creditable Premier League mileage under their belts last season.  As long as West Ham remain a mid-tier club, the best players will always be at risk of big money bids from sides offering European competition.  Ultimately, every player has a price but I would like to think that both players will realise that another season (at least) in the Hammers first team is beneficial to their long term development.  Even worse than losing either player would be taking any washed up Old Trafford cast-offs in part-exchange.  Beyond that, any hope of holding on to players such as Rice and Diop (and potentially Fornals) requires significant progress on the pitch and why further recruitment is so vital – players who will be challenging for a starting position, not as back up.

The pursuit of Maxi Gomez is becoming the summer’s long running blockbuster transfer saga.  Past performance suggests that it will eventually fizzle out to nothing – but something needs to be done urgently to supplement the club’s meagre striking options – which otherwise will be down to one gloomy pot-hunting Austrian who may still prefer to take his sulking elsewhere.  Talk that Gomez was looking for assurances that he would be first choice would seem to be an odd deal breaker – would any manager give such as assurance?  Only performance on the pitch can guarantee selection!

Overall, I feel quietly optimistic over what is happening this close season.  Much of the deadwood has been shifted and I would expect/ prefer several more to follow (Obiang, Ogbonna, Sanchez, Hernandez), the Sullivan’s have maintained commendable radio silence and player recruitment looks to be focusing on younger (mainly Hispanic) players.  Plenty of opportunity for it to all go horribly wrong but so far so good!

Everything Is Average Nowadays: A Typically Inconsistent West Ham Season

The 2018/19 Premier League season was close to average for West Ham. Slightly below where we might have expected to finish but slightly better than we have typically done in the past.

The 2018/19 season finally ended on a positive note with West Ham recording a third successive win that allowed them to sneak into the top half of the table at the expense of Watford.  Better than anticipated a few weeks ago but no open topped bus parade! A first run of back to back victories since December allows us to go into the summer break with an unexpected sense of optimism.

The general consensus in the media was that it was a good first season in charge for Manuel Pellegrini and but for a disastrous start (and the usual collection of dubious refereeing decisions) it could have been even better.  In truth, pundits don’t pay detailed attention to clubs outside of the ‘big six’ and their views are often superficial and patronising.  Which players from the likes of West Ham, Leicester, Wolves or Everton could attract interest from the elite is the usual extent of their insight.

The exciting last day finish together with the dominance of English clubs in the European finals has reignited claims that the Premier League is both the best in the world and the most competitive.  It certainly has the best players money can buy but, in reality, it is largely predictable.  If you rank and compare finishing positions with the revenues of each club you will find a very high level of correlation.  In any year there will be over-achievers (Wolves, Watford) and under-achievers (Manchester United, Southampton) but the majority of clubs finished the 2018/19 season within two places of what their revenue ranking would suggest.  My research suggests that West Ham are 8th highest revenue earners suggesting that a 10th place finish is just below average.  Of course, it is not just about having money – you need to use it and use it wisely!

Looking at West Ham’s performance against their Premier League history you might conclude that it was a slightly above average season.  The following table shows how this season compares with the average for the 21 seasons in which the Hammers have competed since the Premier League was reduced to 38 matches (eagle eyed observers will note that points does not tally with the results for the average season – this is due to rounding) :

P W D L F A W D L F A Pts
Average 38 8 5 6 28 24 4 5 10 19 31 47
2018/19 38 9 4 6 32 27 6 3 10 20 28 52

The 9 home wins was the best return since the move to the London Stadium.  The last time West Ham won more than 9 games at home during a season, however, was back in 2001/02 (12) while the most successful season was 13 home wins in 1997/98.  That same season also saw the fewest home defeats (2) with the worst being 9 in both 2006/07 and 2010/11.

Away from home, 6 victories is towards the top end of West Ham’s on-the-road achievements and has only been bettered in 2005/06 and 2015/16.  However, the move away from the cautious ‘respect the point’ philosophy saw a below average number of away draws.

Aside from the record points haul of 62 in 2015/16, this year’s total was the highest since 2005/06 and the 7th highest out of the 21 seasons reviewed.  The 2015/16 season is famously the only Premier League one where West Ham have finished with a positive goal difference and this season’s total (-3) was in the top six outcomes and bettered the 21 season average of -9.

If goals are what you like then the best teams to follow in 2018/19 season would have been Bournemouth (126), Arsenal (124) and Manchester United (119).  West Ham matches saw 107 goals awarded – ranking in 10th position.

Most would agree that the style of football has improved significantly this season, even though a shocking inconsistency has frequently overshadowed this.  Excellent performances in matches against top sides were balanced out by some shockers with struggling sides.

In summary, there are enough positive signs to believe that Pellegrini is moving the club in the right direction but recognising there is plenty of work to do and plenty of additional investment necessary if the club is to consistently achieve its expected position of 7th or 8th.  Unfortunately, any progress beyond that (unless there is another collective top six blip as happened in 2015/16) would require massive external investment – the idea of a next level without that happening is really wishful thinking.

That leaves us with looking forward with interest at how the summer player recruitment and sales pan out.  How much money can be made available, can we hold on to our better players and will the club be able to make further astute signings that suit Pellegrini’s style of play and ensure that relegation battles are a thing of the past?

2018-19 – Was this a campaign for West Ham to move to the next level, or one to consolidate under a new regime?

A new manager, new backroom staff, many new players, and hope for a better season. But was it enough to move on to the next level? How accurate were the bookmakers in predicting how this season would end?

So many people begin so many sentences with the word “so” these days. I was thinking this when trying to evaluate the season that is coming to an end today, as the phrase that came into my head was “so so”! So what does “so so” actually mean? Neither very good nor very bad, middling, all right, respectable, satisfactory, indifferent, mediocre, ordinary, passable, run of the mill, adequate, acceptable, tolerable, moderate, modest, unexceptional, OK, undistinguished? Have I got it right or am I being too harsh?

At times the football we have played has been very good, especially with victories over some top teams. We managed to beat three of the elite top six teams, Manchester United, Arsenal, and Tottenham, and drew with both Chelsea and Liverpool, two games that with better luck and better officials we could easily have won. Only Manchester City of the top teams were just too good.

Of the five teams that have been chasing that seventh spot for much of the season, we have held our own with equal points in games against Everton and Leicester. Wolves, like Manchester City, were just too good for us in both games, and we suffered a home defeat to Watford. That game put an end to a four match winning run in December which gave us high hopes of chasing a European place. It also resulted in an injury to the General when giving away the penalty for Watford’s opening goal. In my opinion that was a key factor in many performances that followed in that his partnership with Diop was broken, and we never quite looked the same at the back. Can we balance the books against the Hornets today? If so, a top half finish is achieved, but if not then we are consigned to the bottom half of the table.

Disappointingly, we only picked up one point in the four games against Bournemouth and Brighton, and suffered away defeats at Burnley and Cardiff where our performances were definitely unacceptable. Once again I don’t believe that we got the points we might have done due to some dubious refereeing decisions and poor line calls that robbed us, whereas very few close calls went in our favour. I very much welcome the use of VAR next season which hopefully will eliminate some of these diabolical errors.

When writing this piece today I had a look back at my first article this season written shortly before the season began. The next part is an extract that shows how predictable the Premier League has become.

But can we reach the “next level”? What exactly is the “next level”? If you study the odds on offer among the vast array of bookmakers throughout the country then there is a certain similarity of where they all believe clubs will finish in the Premier League. Not surprisingly, Manchester City are odds on to retain the title and Liverpool are clear second favourites at 4/1. Then come Manchester United 7/1, Chelsea 12/1, Tottenham 14/1 and Arsenal 25/1. So that’s the top six sorted. Same as last time, the same top six elite, the clubs with the biggest revenues will fill the top six places again. As predictable as ever according to the odds makers.

Following hot on the heels of the top six, well not exactly on the heels but trailing behind at a distance, bookmakers have four clubs all priced in the region of 250/1 to fill places 7-10. Those clubs are (in no particular order, because the order varies from bookmaker to bookmaker) Everton, Wolves, Leicester, and West Ham. So we are well fancied to finish in the top half, and even as high as seventh place, but will not realistically be challenging the elite six. I suppose you could call that the next level?

As a matter of interest the next four clubs are priced generally in the 500/1 to 750/1 bracket – Palace, Newcastle, Southampton and Burnley. And finally the bottom six in the betting market at odds of between 750/1 up to 2000/1 are Bournemouth, Brighton, Fulham, Watford, Huddersfield and Cardiff.

Of course the aim of all fourteen clubs that make up the “also-rans” in the Premier League should be to break into the top six, but unfortunately the aim of many is to secure at least seventeenth place for a return visit next season. I’d like to think that our goal is to consolidate a position comfortably in the top half of the table, with a target of finishing in seventh place, and hopefully finishing as close to the top six as possible. If you believe that we can force our way into the elite group then you can get odds of between 9/1 and 12/1 to achieve this. Now that really would be the “next level”!

The bookmakers were spot on with the top six teams, although not exactly in the correct order. The four teams they predicted to chase the top six was a good shout too, as was the four to follow them. And they were very accurate in that their forecast of the bottom six had the bottom four teams in it. The only teams that really outperformed the bookmakers’ odds were Watford (significantly), and to a lesser extent Bournemouth. Manchester United underperformed their odds, but in reality the bookmakers virtually knew the outcome before the season began. Of course there is always the chance of a few unlikely results but I’m afraid the Premier League has become much too predictable.

The Championship on the other hand, whilst not being of quite the same quality, is a much more open competition each season, and in many ways more enjoyable as a result. You would have got long odds on Norwich and Sheffield United gaining automatic promotion. Not many would have predicted that before the season began. The holy grail for all teams is to be in the Premier League because of the money involved, but does that mean entertainment for the fans?

When West Ham have been playing away this season I have often gone along to Ram Meadow, the home ground of my local club, Bury Town. They play in step four of non-league football in the Bostik Isthmian League North and finished the season in sixth place just outside the play-offs. Incidentally Julian Dicks is the boss of the team that finished fifth, Heybridge Swifts. I can honestly say that, although the football was obviously not on the same level as the Premier League, the entertainment on offer matched what I saw at the London Stadium this season. That does not mean that I am about to bring an end to over sixty years of going along to watch West Ham, as I have already renewed my season ticket for next season. I will go along and hope that we can improve and move on to “the next level”.

Mind The Watford Gap: A Welcome Break To An Average West Ham Season

West Ham and Watford go through the motions in their final Premier League game of the season at Vicarage Road. Can a third straight win add a little gloss to the Hammer’s campaign and allow them to slip into the top half of the table?

If the weekend Premier League fixtures were a music festival then the West Ham game would be scheduled for a small tent behind the portable toilet cubicles.  There will only be one act on the main stage and that is to know where the make-believe helicopters need to deliver this year’s league trophy.  The title going down to the wire is a marketing dream for the Premier League and they are sure to wring every ounce of tension out of it.

It would be fitting in the final match in the pre-VAR refereeing era if the title were to be decided by a monumental blunder by officials that gifted the title to Liverpool.  Having seen Fabinho’s outlandish dive at Newcastle last week, whatever happened to the ruling about gaining an advantage through deception that saw Manuel Lanzini receive a retrospective suspension a few years ago?

Turning attention to more mundane matters and West Ham end their 2018/19 campaign by travelling to the edge of the known world to meet the club that is almost but not quite in London.  Inside the M25 and on the London Underground, maybe, but certainly not a London club!  Nevertheless, the Hornets have enjoyed a commendable season and may potentially not sack their manager even if they lose the upcoming FA Cup Final.

It might be safe to assume that the Watford team will have at least one eye on next week’s Wembley appointment with a mostly meaningless end of season commitment against West Ham being viewed as an inconvenience.  Even if the financial rewards to the club (from an extra league position or two) are not much different from winning the cup, there is no comparison when it comes down to the glory and kudos to be had from bagging a trophy.

I can remember Watford’s previous cup final appearance (in 1984) being a very disappointing effort and they will want to do a lot better this time around.  Not that their task is an easy one and they will almost certainly lose against a rampant Manchester City side who could be looking to complete a domestic treble.  As Elton might have said: “I guess that’s why that call it the blues!”

Despite the Wembley distraction, Watford showed tremendous commitment in their game at Chelsea last weekend.  They bossed the first half during which time Deulofeu, Pereyra and Doucoure all looked threatening; they would have been disappointed that the scores were still level at the break.  They subsequently ran out of steam and it would not be a surprise if Javi Gracia rested a few of his key players this weekend to keep them fresh and injury free.

West Ham’s final league position is now confirmed as somewhere between 9th and 12th.  Interestingly the Hammers are closer in points to Chelsea in third place than Chelsea are to second place Liverpool. The worst-case scenario will happen in the event of defeat on Sunday and Palace winning at home against Bournemouth.  It would be most disheartening if the Hammers ended the season below the south Londoners once more.  The most favourable outcome will occur should the Hammers win at Watford and Leicester lose at home to Chelsea – now that Chelsea’s Champion’s League qualification is sealed this seems unlikely!  That leaves today’s game as a nail-biting 10th/ 11th place play-off scenario in which our boys must endeavour to bridge the Watford gap!

A West Ham win today would be three in a row and a decent note on which to end the season.  It would providing a gloss that leaves behind a lingering sense of optimism to carry us through the empty summer weekends.  I have to admit that when last week’s team-sheet was announced I feared the worst; only to be pleasantly surprised by an efficient and buoyant performance, albeit against a side content to sit back and reflect on having preserved their Premier League status the previous weekend.  The surprise absence of two of our best outfield players was a worry.  What had Declan Rice and Felipe Anderson been doing together to get struck down with a mystery virus?  Was this a Bishop and Morley scenario all over again?

At the beginning of the season I had backed Marko Arnautovic to break Paolo Di Canio’s Premier League West Ham goal-scoring record.  With just seven needed today to equal that milestone (both for him and Felipe Anderson) it seems that the search for a reliable and consistent goal-scorer enters another summer!

It is difficult to see any surprise team changes for the game and there are several players in the match-day squad who we will probably never see again in a West Ham shirt – farewell and good luck to them!  After today’s game we can concentrate fully on the important business of transfer speculation and the size or otherwise of Manuel Pellegrini’s supposed war-chest.  Will it be spending to stand still or is incremental improvement season by season really possible?

Chris Kavanagh from Lancashire gets the whistle for this week’s game in what will be his sixth Hammer’s appointment of the season – won one, lost two, drawn two.

A difference of opinion with pundits this week with Lawro firmly on the fence at 1-1 and Paul Merson confident that the Hornets minds will be elsewhere allowing West Ham to ease home with a 3-1 win.  For me, it is important to keep the faith and hope that we can creep back into the top half with a sneaky 2-1 success.

I heard there were some games played in a minor midweek competition for teams not good enough to win their domestic leagues which ended in wins for both Liverpool and Tottenham.  Is there any way that neither of them can end up winning in the final?  Perhaps a thought to dwell on is that when Tottenham became the first English team to win a European trophy in 1963, the Hammers followed suit two years later.  That could be a history worth repeating!

Southampton are the visitors to the London Stadium as we sing Auld Lang Syne at the last home game of the season

Before we visited White Hart Lane (is it still called that?) last weekend the headline of my blog was “West Ham visit White Hart Lane to collect three points”. I didn’t end the headline with a question mark, I was just going back to the future after a trip in my DeLorean to tell you what was about to happen. As if it wasn’t enough to be the first team to win at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, to complete a double of firsts at Tottenham was a very satisfying experience to say the least.

Our points haul against top six teams this season has been impressive compared to what usually happens, so it is a pity that so many points have been lost against the more mediocre sides in the Premier League, leaving us four points (and an inferior goal difference) away from achieving a finish in the top half of the table.

Seventh place was certainly achievable, but some indifferent performances at times has meant that unless we win both of our remaining games, and one of Everton, Watford or Leicester lose both of theirs then we will be confined to a bottom half finish, certainly below what should be expected for a club with our resources. It will be interesting to see what happens in the summer in an attempt to improve the squad and push on upwards towards a seventh place finish. That doesn’t seem to be much of an ambition, but in reality I can’t see any of the top six elite failing to finish in the top six once again next time.

I was reminiscing with a fellow fan recently and telling him about one of my favourite seasons in the sixty plus years I have been following West Ham, and this was one of the less remembered seasons as there was no trophy at the end (well there usually isn’t is there?), although we finished in a highly satisfactory eighth place in Division One, just a point below our visitors today, Southampton, and the team we beat last week, Tottenham.

WHUSOU2Recently an article in the Daily Telegraph brought to my attention that there have been fewer draws this season in the Premier League than in any other season since it began in 1992, and also that 0-0 draws are also at an all-time low. This reminded me of the 1968-69 season when our record at the end read “Played 42, Won 13, Lost 11, Drew 18! Goals for 66, Against 50, Points 44” (only two points for a win then, of course). By drawing 18 of our 42 games (43%) we missed out on an even higher finish, when we could easily have finished at least sixth. No team managed as many draws as we did, although Tottenham came close with 17. In fact for virtually the whole season we were in the top six, and even topped the division at one stage, before a dismal run at the end (failing to win any of our last nine league games), cost us dearly.

The reason I remember the season so fondly was for the excellent start, especially where we scored 18 goals in a four game winning run, including a 7, 5 and 4. We then went on a nine game winless run, although six of those games were drawn. This sequence included a goalless draw at home to Southampton on October 5. The lack of goals was surprising in view of the attacking talent on show for both sides including Brooking, Hurst, Peters and Sissons on our side, and Paine, Channon and Ron Davies for the visitors.

Ron Davies was a Welsh prolific scoring old-fashioned centre forward, strong in the air, who played for Southampton for the biggest period of his career, although he also played many games for Norwich. He averaged more than a goal every other game in his time for those two clubs, and often edged out Geoff Hurst when polls were taken (as they often were in football publications of the time, such as Football Monthly etc.) of the strongest British team that could be selected.

The return game at the Dell also ended in a draw, with four goals shared by the two aforementioned centre forwards, Hurst and Davies. As is often the case for West Ham, just turning one of those draws into a win would have secured a position two places higher in the final league table. We had a similar outcome in 2011-12 in the Championship, when a defeat and a draw in the two games against Southampton meant that we lost out to them on automatic promotion to the Premier League. Having said that, I wouldn’t have missed the day out at Wembley, when we defeated Blackpool in the Play-Off Final, for anything.

When we drew 0-0 against Southampton on October 5, which was then followed by away defeats at Burnley and Leeds, little did we know that we were about to witness four consecutive home games that were amongst the most memorable I can remember at Upton Park. On October 19 we thrashed Sunderland 8-0, although I can remember the crowd getting restless in the early stages as it took us around half an hour to score the first goal (which Geoff Hurst readily admitted he punched into the net). This was the first of his six goals, the only time in my life I’ve ever witnessed a double hat-trick in professional football.

On November 2 QPR were the visitors and this was a superb match eventually ending 4-3 to us, after the visitors had fought back from being behind. The match featured the goal by Bobby Moore where he ran from the half-way line and unleashed a terrific shot into the top corner from 20 yards (this is one of the goals we see on the big screens in the build-up to games at the London Stadium). This goal was number 8 in my list of all-time favourite West Ham goals but it was bettered in the same game by a superb move finished off with a stunning volley by Harry Redknapp, which was the third best West Ham goal I’ve ever seen.

The next home game was a 4-0 demolition of Leicester City which included the best goal I have ever seen. It included another brilliant move started by Bobby Ferguson in goal which culminated in a wonderful volley by Martin Peters. Then two weeks later on 30 November we were treated to two examples of moving the training ground into a game, with two expertly executed near-post goals, one with Peters crossing for Hurst, and the other with Hurst crossing for Peters, virtual replicas of the England winner versus Argentina in the 1966 World Cup quarter final 1-0 win, only this time from the other wing. This was the last game that we won in 1968 with another inconsistent spell which included the 2-2 draw away at Southampton on Boxing Day. 1968-69 was a memorable season in many ways with some great games and some not-so-great games. I wonder how many seasons that we can apply that theory to inconsistent West Ham?

We have a positive historical record in games against Southampton, and since we both returned to the top flight in 2012, there have been 13 games. We have won six, Southampton four, and three have been drawn. Hernandez, Arnautavic and Anderson have scored two goals each in the last three fixtures against them, but our top goalscorer in those games, who will certainly play in this game, is the captain Mark Noble. He has scored four goals against them, and I fancy him adding another in this one. In those 13 games there have been 10 different scores with draws of 0-0 and 1-1, West Ham wins of 2-1, 3-1, 4-1 and 3-0, and Southampton wins of 1-0, 3-0, 3-1 and 3-2.

If you fancy Mark Noble to score the first goal of the game, and a score we haven’t seen in recent times, perhaps 4-2, then you can get odds of 600/1 on that unlikely event. That will be my fun bet in this game. The odds are identical for the same score with Mark Noble scoring the last goal of the game. Considering we won our last game away at Tottenham, the odds on us winning this game of 5/4 appear on the generous side, although Southampton themselves have done reasonably well since their new manager took charge. However as we have lost only one of our last eight home Premier League games, and Southampton have won only one of their last six away Premier League games, then statistically, these facts allied to past history point to a West Ham win. Having said that, previous records don’t mean a lot when applied to West Ham!

If you wanted a double on West Ham to beat Southampton, and West Ham Ladies to win their FA Cup final in 90 minutes, you can get odds of 19/1. The Ladies start as massive underdogs against a City side almost as dominating in their own way as their male equivalent. Having said that the odds of 15/2 on West Ham Ladies winning the final in 90 minutes are about the same as those on West Ham winning at Tottenham last week! And we know what happened there.

After The Lord Mayor’s Show? Record Breaking Hammers To Turn Up For End Of Season Party?

The season’s last hurrah at the London Stadium but will West Ham bring the energy and commitment from their famous win at Tottenham into a more mundane appointment with Southampton?

Except when the spectre of relegation is looming large, the final home game of the season will often have a party atmosphere about it – like the last day of school before breaking up for the long summer holidays.  The quality and urgency of the football, however, can take on a decidedly pre-season friendly feel – and that’s even before allowing for West Ham’s infamous inconsistency.

Last weekend’s superb win at Tottenham was an historic one.  When a record is claimed by being faster, higher or further there is always potential for it to be broken.  When you record a first, though, it will stand forever!  Overall it was a very good performance but one that was competent in the first half and excellent in the second.  In the opening exchanges, those trademark gaps between defence and midfield and midfield and attack were all too apparent.  Opposition forwards were given too much space to operate in fromt of the defence and Marko Arnautovic was an isolated figure up front.  Then after the break, everything changed.  Arnautovic finally came back to life, Michail Antonio started to cause panic in the Tottenham defence and the likes of Mark Noble, Ryan Fredericks and Arthur Masuaku put in their best performances for some time.  It was also great to see the Fabian Balbuena/ Issa Diop partnership reunited and along with Lucas Fabianski they were excellent throughout, and largely responsible for keeping the scores level at the break.

Tomorrow’s opponents, Southampton, secured their Premier League safety last weekend as their point against Bournemouth and other results did just enough.  Following the appointment of Ralph Hasenhuttl, to organise the shambles bequeathed by Mark Hughes, it was always likely they would have enough quality to stay up.  How they react to the pressure being lifted also adds to the uncertainty of this weekend’s spectacle.  It is a chance for West Ham to complete a rare league double and maybe fifty points is still achievable if sufficient motivation is evidenced.  As welcome as the win at Tottenham was, only being pumped up for the occasional game is not really acceptable.  Finishing in the bottom half, if that is what eventually happens, would remain a disappointing outcome.

Once again, the weekend’s Premier League fixtures are strewn over an extended four day period with the West Ham game one of only two Saturday 3pm starts.  It will be ironic, therefore, if all the important issues are resolved in advance of the hoped for climactic Matchday 38 finale.  Cardiff will almost certainly confirm their relegation on Saturday and when Liverpool fail to beat Newcastle on Saturday evening it will effectively hand the title to Manchester City.  The media will only have the thrilling fourth place finish to fuel their final day frenzy.

Despite reports that both Manuel Lanzini and Samir Nasri are available for this week’s game it would be a major surprise if either appeared in the starting eleven.  I cannot see any changes being made from the team that started at Tottenham.

This week’s referee is Stuart Atwell from Warwickshire making his fourth West Ham appearance of the season.  The previous three encounters all ended in defeat for the Hammers – at home to Bournemouth and Tottenham (League Cup) and away at Manchester City.

Both of the featured pundits are predicting a Hammer’s home win; Paul Merson a thrilling 3-2 knockabout and Lawro a predictable 2-0 stroll.  West Ham have generally struggled against the type of high energy football that Hasenhuttl likes to play and will need to carry over that second half intensity from their last game.  Southampton, though, have a few injury problems at the back and the manager may choose to rotate his squad now that safety has been achieved.  A high scoring topsy-turvy end-of-season affair is not unthinkable and I will put my money on an exuberant 4-2 home win.

Finally, I have never watched a ladies football match either live or on TV but I guess, by default, I am a West Ham fan for the women’s game as well.  Accordingly, I would like to wish the West Ham Ladies the very best of luck in their Women’s FA Cup Final at Wembley against Manchester City tomorrow afternoon.  Obviously hoping for a Hammer’s win but most importantly that it is an exciting and memorable day for all concerned.  A remarkable achievement already to have reached the competition final.

Don’t Mention The VAR. West Ham Set To Battle Spurs And Dodgy Refereeing At The Daniel Levy Stadium

Will the run of poor decisions by match officials continue as West Ham visit the North London Diving Academy?

As the frenzied excitement of the Premier League title race builds towards a crescendo, West Ham’s season shuffles forwards to the one match capable of putting a superficial gloss onto an otherwise unmemorable campaign.  A win against the Tottenham Hotspurs, while become the first visiting team to triumph at the Daniel Levy stadium (thus completing a North London double), would at least provide something to look back on in the years to come.

The failure to build on a strong start against Leicester last week, compounded by a collective loss of concentration in the final minutes, effectively consigned West Ham to a bottom half finish for 2018/19.  The final tally will be at the lower end of the 43 to 52 points range with a resulting league position somewhere between 11th and 14th.  Ending the season below Crystal Palace and Newcastle is not now an unthinkable outcome.  But for the purple patch at the end of 2018, events could have turned out to be much more uncomfortable.

Manuel Pellegrini maintains that West Ham are a team in transition – a state of affairs that has existed for the best part of 50 years.  Agreed, the style of football has shown an improvement from recent seasons but little else has changed.  Fitness levels, effort, intensity, pace, guile, cohesion and organisation all fall short of that required to perform well at the top level.  There should be a strong relationship between a club’s revenues and its league position and by that measure this has been a collective underachievement.  Further transition will require significant change – and that will not come cheaply!

Today’s game will be overshadowed by the host’s scheduled midweek appointment in the Champion’s League semi-final.  How did that happen?  The sooner that Mauricio Pochettino goes on to manage a proper big club the better.  Of course, Tottenham still need points to make sure of a top four finish this season but Tuesday will certainly be on the player’s minds.  Can West Ham take advantage of that uncertainty or will they turn out to be compliant opponents just as they were in the League Cup clash earlier in the year?

It is unlikely that Pellegrini will do anything radical with his team selection – it would be out of character. Rather, we can expect him to have another shuffle of the usual suspects to fill the starting berths.  Surely it is well past the time to bring back Issa Diop to reform his partnership with Fabian Balbuena.  Will it be Pablo Zabaleta or Ryan Fredericks; Arthur Masuaku or Aaron Cresswell?  Are there any new options available in midfield that would be a little less ponderous?  Can Felipe Anderson play more than a second half cameo? Will Jack Wilshere make a contribution without further injury?

The long running selection dilemma exists upfront where West Ham are one of a handful of club where no player has yet to reach double figures for Premier League goals.  Does Lucas Perez earn a start following his goal scoring exploits as substitute last weekend? Is Javier Hernandez fit again?  Should we just give up with Marko Arnautovic?  Who knows what the manager will be thinking?  I just get the sense that I will once again be disappointed when I hear the team announced an hour before kickoff!

There is a reasonable case to bemoan how refereeing decisions have gone against the Hammers in recent games.  With the North London Diving Academy having some of the league’s most accomplished exponents of going to ground at the slightest change in air pressure, we must rely on Anthony Taylor keeping his wits about him today.  Or perhaps this will be the day that all the injustices of the past evens itself out before the introduction of VAR – the Hammers scoring four offside goals and earning three penalties.

Both Lawro and Paul Merson believe Tottenham will just do enough and come away with a 2-1 victory.  Theirs is a compelling scenario.  West Ham start with enterprise, Spurs score from a set piece and then a penalty, take their foot off the pedal with Tuesday on their minds with the Hammers scoring a late consolation.  I will predict a somewhat more optimistic outcome on the basis that both sides might happily settle for a draw – rare as that is for the hosts.