Five Takeaways: West Ham’s Abysmal Defeat by Brighton

Surely it is farewell to Slaven Bilic following the Hammer horror show home defeat to newly promoted Brighton.

Poor Organisation and Individual Errors

Unfortunately there is great deal of repetition in any West Ham match review as the underlying problems that haunt the team’s performance continue to go unresolved.  There have been times when these sub-par performances have resulted in narrow victories leading to a temporary sense that maybe things aren’t as bad as they seems.  Then the cycle starts again and, to be honest, I expected another plundered 1-0 win from last night’s contest with Brighton.  What we got, however, was quite possibly the most woeful, collective demonstration of West Ham’s inadequacies for some time.  No player came out of it with any credit with the possible exception of Pablo Zabaleta who at least gave the impression that he was prepared to try for the whole ninety minutes.  Post-match reviews frequently look back to individual errors when goals are conceded (and of course they do happen) but with West Ham it has largely been the absence of structure and organisation that has been the downfall; the players consistently look like a group of strangers who have rarely met before and have no idea as to what is expected of them or how they are supposed to support one another.  We have by no means the worst squad in the league but I have rarely seen a team at this level do such little work off the ball.  It is a total shambles.

How To Turn It Around When You Don’t Know Where You’re Heading?

Supporter’s views on the manager have become sharply polarised by now.  There is the growing camp who believe that he is clueless, has no game-plan and cannot motivate or prepare his team properly either in terms of fitness or tactics.  The other group is the Slav’s a nice guy camp who admire his passion, believe that he ‘gets us’ and that he should be given more time to turn things around.  There is a third group, of course, which comprises the board who know that he is useless but are prepared to give him more time if they don’t have to pay compensation.  If there was any hope of Bilic turning things around then it would need some clear direction of where we were heading in the first place.  I have seen no evidence of this and only see a side that stumbles from one crisis to another.  One report summed West Ham’s performance up as a confused mess and quite frankly that is how it has been since the start of last season.  From where we are now it is impossible to see any way of avoiding a frantic relegation scrap (for which we are ill equipped) without changing the manager and coaching staff.

Organisation and Discipline Again

As shocking as West Ham were, some credit has to go to the opposition for having a game-plan and sticking to it.  It is a perfect example of what organisation and discipline can bring to a set of less talented players.  Brighton are a team without any stars, reputations and egos.  They are aware that it will be a difficult first season in the Premier League for them but that by putting in the effort, pulling together and sticking to a plan it gives them a shot at survival.  Contrast that attitude to the West Ham one, which assumes that simply turning up is enough.  I have written before that being the ‘fourth club in London’ is a potentially huge disadvantage for us as it attracts players of a big-time-Charlie persuasion who see themselves equivalent to their counterparts at Arsenal or Chelsea but without the need to put in the required level of graft.  One imagines that our nice-guy manager is not so hot on player discipline and this is carried forward on to the pitch.  Sure, he has petulantly fallen out with a few players over the years but that is not the same thing as having strict standards of behaviour.  It should be no surprise that the multi-millionaire young men that make up the footballing elite nowadays need strong discipline to keep their feet firmly on the ground.

Time For The Board To Act

On the evidence of social media, there is a very toxic atmosphere associated with the club at the present time.  I have to say that this is not necessarily affirmed by those that I talk to in the real world who tend to apply more perspective.  The more vociferous keyboard supporters lay much of the blame for the current malaise at the door of the Board or the move to the London Stadium; or both!   Everyone, of course, is entitled to their opinion but the reality is that neither of those things are going change any time soon without time travel.  Further, neither of those factors are responsible for the poor football that is being served up week on week.  Performances on the pitch are directly down to the manager and his coaching staff who are tasked with getting the best out of the resources available.  We have not been plucky losers but lethargic pushovers. As painful as the defeat to Brighton was, if it heralds, as it should do, the end of  the manager’s reign then it would have been a medicine worth taking.  Where the board are culpable, in my view,  is in continuing to oversee the amateurish approach taken to the footballing side of the club; in the long term it will be a more important factor for revenue growth than selling a few more Hammer’s souvenirs.  Until a long term football strategy is developed (with Sullivan stepping back from his de facto Director of Football role) and there is proper investment into training and youth development we will continue to punch well below our weight.

Who Should Be The Replacement

It will be hugely disappointing if Bilic is still in charge by the time our next game comes around.  I do not profess to have the low down on what managers are available but I am hoping (maybe optimistically) that soundings have been taken and the market scoured to find the right replacement.  Whoever comes in (and please not serial failure Alan Pardew) needs to have a tactical brain, obsessed with fitness and be strong on discipline.  I remain convinced that a decent manager can create a competent top half team from the under-performing collection of players that would be at his disposal.  Personally, I would liked to have gone for Marco Silva in the summer but that ship has sailed.  Maybe Roberto Mancini is the man.

Matchday: Friday On Our Mind as West Ham take on Brighton

Gonna have Friday night fun in the city as a place in the top half awaits the winners of tonight’s Premier League clash.

The latest in a regular series of ‘must-win’ games sees West Ham entertain Brighton & Hove Albion at the London Stadium.  Although there is always something special about night-time football under the floodlights there is also something unnatural about games being played on a Friday night – surely this should be reserved for clubs such as Southend United.  On the other hand, West Ham have a 100% win record for home Friday night Premier League fixtures which we should have a good reason to preserve against the south coast day trippers.

Today’s visiting manager is one-time Hammer Chris Hughton, who having spent most of his playing career at White Hart Lane was signed by Billy Bonds, as cover for the injured Julian Dicks, and became a regular during the promotion season of 1990/91.  His management career has been a mixed bag: having been unfortunate to be dismissed from Newcastle in favour of Alan Pardew; taking Birmingham City to the Championship play-offs; before experiencing a less successful period in charge at Norwich City.  In his third season as manager of Brighton the club achieved automatic promotion from the Championship to earn a return to the top tier of English football for the first time since 1983.

“We have improved results, we have players back from injury and the players who missed a big part of pre-season have their match-fitness. We improved and we are on the right path, so it’s much better.”

– Slaven Bilic

Having watched Brighton’s home match against Everton last weekend it was apparent that Hughton has put together a resolute and well organised side even if it lacks something in creativity and goal threat.  Although Everton dominated first half possession they moved the ball forward far too slowly (very reminiscent of how West Ham play) allowing Brighton to easily re-group and defend in numbers.  If the Hammers adopt that that usual ponderous and pedestrian style again tonight it will turn out as another frustrating ninety minutes at the London Stadium.

Head to Head

If you ignore Southern League and war-time cup games then West Ham and Brighton have only crossed swords on twenty-one occasions, with the Hammers winning eleven and losing five of those encounters.  On home soil, West Ham have won nine out of the twelve games played.

The single Brighton victory in the east end was in a Championship game in November 2004 and may serve as a warning against what could happen tonight.  West Ham dominated the entire game (mugged off in the words of manager Pardew) mustering seventeen attempts on goal, of which only three were on target.  Conversely, Brighton scored the only goal of the game from a rare foray into the West Ham half.

Team News

With Andy Carroll missing through suspension cue an injury to Diafra Sakho, joining James Collins on the treatment table.  There is a slight doubt about Javier Hernandez but he is expected to start.  The disappearing striker phenomenon could possibly open the door for Tony Martinez to spend an evening on the bench.

In normal circumstances I would say that tonight’s team picks itself with Pedro Obiang coming into the side in place of Carroll as the only change from the eleven that started at Burnley.  This would allow Hernandez to play alone up front but with support from Michail Antonio and Marko Arnautovic in wide positions while Manuel Lanzini is given more freedom in a central attacking position behind the striker.  In fact, this may well be the best balanced eleven that we have in the squad.  Whether Mr Bilic has the same idea remains to be seen.

There has been much praise in the week for the performances of Jose Fonte, proclaimed as West Ham’s most improved player of the season,  Although this probably reflects on how bad he was previously than on any sudden display of brilliance.  The back four is generally competent at heading the ball away and is only exposed when it comes up against attackers with pace and movement.  It is doubtful whether Brighton, in the shape of 34-year-old Glenn Murray, will be asking too many questions in that respect this evening.

“It’s going to be about away form that’s going to be the most challenging. It’s a game away from home, in a big stadium, against a very talented team.”

– Chris Hughton

Brighton hope to have Shane Duffy available after picking up an injury last week but otherwise have no injury woes.  The danger men for Brighton would appear to be Pascal Groß and Anthony Knockaert

Man in the Middle

It is a second encounter of the season with Martin Atkinson from West Yorkshire, Atkinson having previously officiated in the season opener at Old Trafford.  He was in charge of four Hammer’s games last season; defeats to Watford (Home) and Arsenal (Away) and away wins at Palace and Middlesbrough.

Predictions

Merson has this down as a 1-0 Hammers win while Lawro goes one better by predicting a 2-0 home victory.  The match has the look of an only goal of the game victory to me and fingers crossed it will go our way.  One-nil to the cockney boys is fast becoming our trademark home result (particularly in ‘must-win’ games) and it will also be consistent with the two previous Friday night Premier League wins.

An early West Ham goal could, of course, put a completely different complexion on the game while the longer Brighton can hold out the more frustrating the game could become.  Long gone are the days when you would experience that feeling in your water that the Hammers could very well go on a goal scoring rampage at any time.

West Ham v Brighton Preview

The Seagulls visit the London Stadium to meet West Ham for the first time in a Premier League match.

Friday night, 8pm kick off. Don’t get me started. As a traditionalist I like to watch my football at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. But I have to accept that money talks, so if I want to watch my beloved West Ham live I have no option but to travel to London late in the afternoon and return home around midnight. For so many reasons it is not particularly convenient, but so be it, I cannot change it, and I will take my place in the East Stand as usual.

This is Brighton’s first season ever in the Premier League, although I am old enough to remember them in the top flight between 1979 and 1983, which culminated in a Cup Final appearance for them when they lost to Manchester United after a replay. That season (1982-83) they were relegated and were not to be seen in the top tier of English football again until now.

In the following years after relegation they had significant problems as they fell down the divisions and almost went out of business. In 1996-97 they were very close to losing their place in the Football League, and went into the last game of the season at home to Hereford United needing at least a draw to avoid dropping out. They were 1-0 down for much of the game, but a late equaliser enabled them to survive and sent Hereford out of the league. They also had significant ground problems when the Goldstone Ground closed, which meant that they shared Gillingham’s stadium for a while, and also spent a period at the Withdean Stadium, which effectively was a small athletics track. But they have bounced back from those troubled times and the impressive Falmer (Amex) Stadium which seats over 30,000 has been their home since 2011.

This season has started reasonably for them, and in fact they have an identical record to our own, having won two, drawn two, and lost four of their opening eight fixtures. But their goal difference of minus 4 (as opposed to our minus 6) means that they sit in 14th place in the table, immediately above us. They have a good home record unsurprisingly losing their opener to Manchester City (2-0), before beating West Brom 3-1, Newcastle 1-0, and unluckily drawing 1-1 with Everton when they conceded a penalty in the last minute which was converted by Wayne Rooney. But on their travels they have collected just a solitary point (in a goalless draw at Watford). They lost 2-0 at Leicester, 2-1 at Bournemouth, and 2-0 at Arsenal.

Most of our early games against them were in the old Southern League or FA Cup ties, and we didn’t play a game against them in the Football League until 1978. But in the last (almost) forty years since then we haven’t often been in the same division, and we have met them in just fourteen league games, winning six, drawing three, and losing five. I can remember clearly their only victory on our ground when I watched from the old East Stand at Upton Park in November 2004 with my dad. It was one of the last times he came with me to West Ham before he died. We dominated the whole game yet lost 1-0 to a header from a free kick from Guy Butters. I recall Steve Claridge being in their team at the time.

The last time we met them was a very enjoyable experience. It was in our promotion campaign of 2011-12 when, under Big Sam, we played them at Upton Park in the penultimate home game of the regular season. We were still chasing automatic promotion so a win was important, and we tied it up within the first quarter of an hour racing into a three goal lead. I watched this game from the Bobby Moore stand and was right behind the line of Ricardo Vaz Te’s powerful shot from outside the area at the other end which opened the scoring. Just a few minutes later it was all over as a contest when Vaz Te added the second and Nolan the third (or was it the other way round?). I can recall two of the second half goals, a stunning bicycle kick from Vaz Te to complete his hat-trick, and a mazy dribble followed by a powerful low shot from Carlton Cole. I am afraid that I have no memory of the other goal whatsoever. But it was an excellent game which made number 19 in my list of favourite West Ham matches in my book Goodbye Upton Park, Hello Stratford. Vaz Te’s powerful first goal and then his bicycle kick were numbers 18 and 28 in my list of 60 Favourite West Ham goals in the same book.

If we have any aspirations to make a convincing challenge to finish in the top half of the table, then games such as these are “must-win” ones. We won’t pick up many points against the top six sides, and we need to maximise our opportunities against the “lesser” teams, especially in the home fixtures. The bookmakers have us as 5/6 favourites to win the game, with Brighton at 7/2 and the draw at 12/5. The favourite scoreline is a 1-0 win for us quoted at around 5/1. And if you fancy a repeat of the 6-0 drubbing we gave them the last time they visited, then you can get odds of 425/1.

Can you remember the last time we scored more than three goals in a home game? It hasn’t happened under Slaven Bilic, although we did score four times in the away game at Swansea last season. In our first season back in the Premier League (2012-13) under Big Sam we did it twice. In the final game of the season we put four past Reading thanks to a Nolan hat trick and another goal from Vaz Te. And today, 20th October, is the fifth anniversary of our 4-1 home win over Southampton. Mark Noble scored twice that day, a free kick from very long range (at least 30 yards), and a penalty converted after a handball by Jose Fonte! I remember Andy Carroll giving the Southampton defenders a torrid time that day, something he won’t be repeating in today’s game. The other goals came from Nolan, and a fine solo effort from Maiga (remember that?).

I’m hoping that Brighton continue to find it difficult to score on their travels, and that we can come up with at least a couple of goals to win 2-0. Perhaps we can even go further and repeat the four goals of five years ago today? A 4-1 repeat of the score that day is 35/1. I won’t hold my breath.

Burnley 1 West Ham 1

Is it a point gained for West Ham or two points lost?

So the bookies were spot on. The most fancied scoreline for this game was 1-1, and that is how it ended up. But was it a point gained or two points lost? Certainly, when you are in fifteenth place in the table and playing away from home to an in-form team occupying a position in the top six, and you have to play for more than an hour with only ten men, then surely it is a point gained? But on the other hand, when you hold the lead for most of the game, and then concede an equaliser in the 85th minute, then it seems like two points lost?

In some respects we were perhaps lucky as we could have conceded a penalty when Hart dived at the feet of Wood. Sometimes in situations such as these they are given and sometimes not, but they often are when it is a player from the home side who goes down. Also Gudmundsson’s shot came back off the post and might have gone in off Hart’s back, but luckily it stayed out. Conversely the best move of the whole game was a slick passing movement involving several of our players, and Antonio’s shot was well saved by Pope in the Burnley goal.

I’m often surprised by the reaction of fans who like to see the big teams lose. Personally I look at the bigger picture, and think of the Premier League as two leagues. The “top division” of the six elite teams who will surely finish the season in the top six places, and then the remaining teams who make up “Division Two” of the Premier League. Whatever we like to think, that is the reality. The fourteen teams outside of the “big six” are really only fighting for a seventh placed finish, and to keep out of the relegation dogfight.

So when we see the other results, then I am personally disappointed to see Crystal Palace defeat Chelsea, much as I dislike the West Londoners, and to see Watford score a last minute winner to beat Arsenal. Palace and Watford are in our “league” so I don’t like to see them picking up points against teams that will be in the top six at the end of the season. I particularly enjoyed seeing Manchester City put seven past Stoke, firstly because I don’t like the way Stoke play football, and secondly because that result ultimately helps our cause in finishing as high as possible in the table. It also puts a dent in one of our competitor’s goal difference statistics. And much as I don’t like Tottenham, their 1-0 win over Bournemouth will benefit us in the long run.

When other teams in “our 14 team league” are playing against each other, then my favoured result is a draw so they only get one point each. So it was good to see Brighton drawing with Everton, and Southampton sharing the spoils against Newcastle. All four of those teams will be joining us in an attempt to finish seventh in the Premier League this season. I’ll be hoping for a similar result when Leicester take on West Brom on Monday, even though the Baggies are the team I dislike the most. In the short term it might seem better to see Leicester defeated at home opening up a three point gap between the bottom three and the rest, but in the longer term I feel a draw would be the best result.

Prior to Monday night’s game, the league outside of the top teams is taking on a similar feel to last season and  is looking very close, even at this early stage, with Newcastle in ninth on 11 points just three points ahead of Stoke who now occupy 17th. It won’t be long before Watford and Burnley drop down to join the rest of us leaving the elite six to fight out the top places.

There is some debate on social media as to whether or not Andy Carroll’s red card was justified, but unfortunately I think the referee was right. And much as I don’t like to see our players unavailable for games, I don’t personally believe that playing without Carroll will harm us, and hopefully will lead to a better approach as to how we play the game. By our standards we have a fit squad of players to choose from, and I don’t think he will be missed. At best I see him as an impact substitute these days rather than someone who should be in the starting line-up, but I guess it is all a matter of opinion.

So, rather like the manager I am in two minds as to whether it was a point gained or two points lost. We won’t really know until we see what happens in matches to come.

Personally I had two excellent days at Newmarket races, including picking the winner of the Cesarewitch amongst other notable selections that made the racing profitable as well as enjoyable. I hope you noted my tip in the Burnley preview on Friday.

Five Takeaways: More Red Card Madness for West Ham at Burnley

Pleased with a point or unhappy at dropping two as an early red card defines West Ham’s latest Premier League awayday.

The Starting Eleven

At first glance, the starting eleven was once again a little bewildering. It was perhaps as adventurous but looked fragile in the centre of midfield where the pairing of Cheikou Kouyate and Manuel Lanzini lacked the necessary defensive discipline to combat Burnley’s five man midfield. With Andy Carroll and Javier Hernandez playing as a front two, the attack minded Michail Antonio and Marko Arnautovic providing midfield width, and a flat back four it looked like trying to shoehorn in the preferred players rather than setting up in a conscious style of play. As it turned out, Burnley did not attempt to exploit the apparent frailties in the system and the game, although it offered incident, lacked any real quality. Even so, it was more interesting than the massively over-hyped, ‘greatest game of all time’, Liverpool versus Manchester United anti-entertainment that went earlier. The limitations of the formation meant that Pablo Zabaleta and Aaron Cresswell rarely ventured forward into the opponents half and Lanzini was bypassed (later to be isolated on the wing) as once again the main tactic was to aim for Carroll’s head. The bench comprised the usual suspects with not a young player in sight. I am fairly confident that West Ham having a reasonable enough squad if only it could be assembled into a cohesive unit properly.

Route 1 Please, David

If ever there is ever any doubt as to what a Route 1 goal looks like then in future you can just search out Antonio’s goal on Youtube. The longest and most hopeful of punted clearances from Joe Hart, a shocking misjudgement of the flight of the ball by the defender, and Antonio nipping in to nudge it past the keeper and then roll it into the net. In striking contrast West Ham were unlucky not to double their lead just after half time when a delightful move involving Hernandez, Pedro Obiang and Lanzini ended with Antonio unable to find a way to guide a relatively easy chance past the keeper. The briefest of glimpses at some uncharacteristic excellent movement by the team and a reminder of a style of football that West Ham used to play it.

Red Cards and Referees

It is not difficult to see why referee, Stuart Attwell, is not trusted to take charge of more high profile Premier League games, such was his inconsistency and lack of authority. To be fair he made a common refereeing mistake by allowing a period of lenience in the opening stages of the game before (apparently) deciding that the next wholehearted challenge would end with the perpetrators name going in the book. The unsuspecting victim of this ill-conceived, totting up, the next-fouls-a-booking interpretation was Andy Carroll whose challenge, in my mind, was innocuous and without intent; if it was even a foul. You would like to think that an offence is an offence regardless of the circumstance but that doesn’t seem to be part of the referee’s code; they prefer to apply a random filter that is largely based on outcome rather than the actual level of recklessness – as witnessed by the reaction to a number of recent raised foot incidents. If the first booking was harsh then the second was sheer stupidity on Carroll’s part and reflects a wider issue with ill-discipline in a squad that leads the field in red cards. To restore balance after the sending off Atwell turned a blind eye to what looked like a certain penalty (when Joe Hart felled the Burnley attacker) and later allowed several challenges as bad or worse than Carrolls to go unpunished.

Scheduled or Tactical Substitutions

In the circumstances of playing over an hour with ten men then it would be churlish to complain about the result. Overall the players put in a great shift to limit Burnley to few goal-scoring opportunities. The introduction of Pedro Obiang was no surprise other than it did not take place until half time. It is difficult to conclude whether the other substitutions had any material impact. I have a sense that Bilic has a substitution timetable and that Diafra Sakho was always going to replace Hernandez at or around 70 minutes regardless of what was taking place on the pitch. I saw this as an unnecessary change as Hernandez was still full of running and was doing a job of holding the ball up very well. In hindsight, bringing on Masuaku earlier to double up after the introduction of Gudmundsson might have made sense. Both Cresswell and a tiring Antonio should have done better to prevent the cross that led to the equaliser.

Reflection on The Summer Signings

The stand-out success from the summer transfer business has to Zabaleta who continues to show determination and passion in his claret and blue shirt. Arnautovic was again disappointing and was the right player to sacrifice after the sending off. Apart from some impressive moments in the Bolton EFL Cup game he has done nothing to justify his huge fee. Perhaps it is still early days but the jinx of the record signing shows no sign of going away. My worry that he is a player who only shines when things are going well. I have yet to see what improvement Hart offers over Adrian – a strange set of circumstances when you consider he is only on loan. Hernandez was rightly disappointed at being substituted once again. Let’s hope that he does not easily become despondent.

Matchday: Can West Ham Triumph In Turf Moor Claret and Blue Derby?

Chim chiminey, chim chiminey, chim chim cheroo. Who are the b*st*rds in claret and blue?

The staccato Premier League season resumes today with a short burst of winnable fixtures for West Ham that commences with today’s visit to face Burnley at Turf Moor. The rub of the green in these games could see the Hammers scramble into the top half of the league (or first page of Teletext as it used to be known). That we tend to divide games into winnable and write-offs is a sad indictment on the predictability of the league but nonetheless they are the games where points are required if a messy relegation scrap is to be avoided.

Burnley are the surprise team of the season so far occupying sixth place in the table under the leadership of flavour of the month manager, Sean Dyche. In recent weeks, it has been claimed that Dyche’s name has been added to the list waiting for Slaven Bilic to be relieved of his London Stadium duties as well as being touted as an unlikely successor to Arsene Wenger at The Emirates; albeit only by Ian Wright. The suspicion though is that, as well as Dyche has done at Burnley, he is a graduate of the Allardyce/ Pulis school of difficult to beat and ugly wins rather an exponent of the expansive football yearned for by bigger clubs. Perhaps one day he will get the chance to prove his mettle at the top table.

The claret and blue derby is probably not the most eagerly anticipated in most people’s football calendar and a game between two of the division’s most direct sides is unlikely to dominate today’s Match of The Day coverage or engage the average neutral.

Turf Moor is one of the few remaining old school stadiums having been Burnley’s home since way back in 1883. It has previously also served as both a cricket ground and a horse race track which hopefully does not give our own owners any fresh ideas.

Head to Head

West Ham have won thirty-six and lost thirty-one of their previous eighty-four encounters with Burnley. In history the game has largely gone in favour of home advantage whereas, in more recent times, the Hammers have generally been in control – winning nine of the last twelve (home and away) and, more impressively, having secured seven wins out of the last twelve encounters in the north-west.

West Ham’s first win at Turf Moor was at the seventeenth attempt in the opening weeks of the 1959/ 60 season, a season in which Burnley went on to win the second of their two First Division titles. An amusing ‘typical West Ham‘ event occurred in November that season when, having just beaten current champions Wolves to retain top spot in the table, they then travelled away to face Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough only to lose 7-0. “They gave us a jolly good whacking” was the honest opinion of West Ham manager Ted Fenton.

Team News

Most unusually West Ham are reporting an almost fully fit squad with only James Collins unavailable for selection. Perhaps it is a coincidence or simply good fortune but sick bay occupancy has reduced remarkably since the appointment of Gary Lewin as chief medic during the summer.

It is rare for Bilic to bring a player returning from injury straight back into starting eleven contention; a state of affairs that prepares us for the (bad) news that Mark Noble will be preferred to the more effective alternative of Pedro Obiang in the centre of midfield.

In fact, we shouldn’t expect too many changes from the game against Swansea given that we ended up victorious, no matter how unconvincingly. I would imagine that Manuel Lanzini will start in a five man midfield and that we will play just one up front, where Diafra Sakho or Javier Hernandez would be the best option – so expect Andy Carroll to get the nod.  I don’t see Slav pulling any other selection surprises opening the door for Declan Rice to reprise last season’s 93rd minute substitute role.

So confident is the manager as to the squad’s level fitness and preparation for today’s game that he gave the players extra time off during the international break.  I wish this was a confidence shared!

Burnley are without several long term injuries including keeper Heaton, summer signing Walters and Marney.  It will be between Wood and Vokes as to who takes their own lone striker role.

Man In The Middle

Today’s referee is Stuart Atwell from the West Midlands. I read elsewhere that Atwell had not previously taken charge of a West Ham game but that is not the case; having officiated in Hammer Premier League away wins against Wigan (2009) and Blackpool (2011). He was subsequently demoted from the Elite referees list only to return several seasons later. He now spends time between the Championship and Premier League but is not yet trusted to handle top six games.

The 1-0 win at Wigan in 2010 was notable for Carlton Cole’s finest ever goal when he rounded off a fine Parker, Noble, Di Michele move with a ‘sumptuous’ curling finish from the edge of the area; Cole was later sent off for a second bookable offence. The game will also be remembered as when Jack Collison picked up the knee injury that would ultimately cause an early end to his career.

Predictions

Merson is going for a 1-0 Burnley while Lawro is firmly on the fence at 1-1. It is difficult to see this game as a classic. Both sides are way down the rankings for successful passes in the final third which is consistent with their direct approaches. Burnley have allowed their opponents to take way more shots than any other team in the league this season which could be encouraging if the kit-man has packed our shooting boots. West Ham have scored a meagre thirty six goals so far during 2017 – which is exactly the same number as Harry Kane!

While West Ham have the better squad on paper the evidence suggests that Burnley have superior organisation and team spirit. I can only see this as a low scoring game settled by a mistake, set piece goal, wonder strike or deflection. Finger crossed that it goes our way.

Can West Ham repeat last season’s successful trip to Turf Moor?

The Hammers go looking for a repeat of last season’s success away to high flying Burnley

When Sean Dyche saw the opening games produced by the Fixtures Computer in June I wonder how many points that he thought Burnley would accrue in the first seven matches, four of them away from home? He would probably have bitten your hand off to achieve an average of one point a game at this stage. The fact that they lie sixth in the table with twelve points is one of the stories of the Premier League season so far.

Their four away games have all been against teams that finished in the top 7 last season. An opening day 3-2 win at Chelsea was followed by 1-1 draws at Tottenham and Liverpool, and then a 1-0 victory at Goodison Park. Incredibly, that is eight points from four of the toughest away games (on paper) that they would expect to face in a season. They have already exceeded their points tally on their travels for the whole of last season, when they only picked up seven points from their nineteen games with one win (at Palace), and draws at Hull, Manchester United, Middlesbrough, and Sunderland, three of the four relegated sides.

Their home form, for which they were renowned last season when winning more than half of their games, has not been as successful. They lost their first home fixture 1-0 to West Brom, before beating Palace (as everyone has done!) 1-0, and then they had a goalless draw against Huddersfield. So after three home games they have picked up four points, with just one goal scored and one conceded.

But an overall record of three wins and three draws from their seven matches played, placing them sixth in the table, is way beyond the expectations of even the most optimistic of Burnley fans. Our record matches them in just one respect. We, too, have scored seven league goals so far this season. The difference is that whereas Burnley have conceded just four goals, we managed that in the very first game, and in total we have let in thirteen!

All of Burnley’s seven goals have been scored by players who have been on international duty in the break, and either faced intense games or a lot of travelling. Sam Vokes (2) was on duty for Wales in their elimination from the World Cup by Ireland who had Jeff Hendrick (1) and Stephen Ward (1) in the side. Scott Arfield (1) turned out for Canada against El Salvador on Sunday, and Chris Wood (2) scored for New Zealand against Japan. Wood, a big money signing from Leeds as the summer transfer window was drawing to a close, is the second highest goalscorer in New Zealand history with 24 goals in 54 games, despite being only 25 years old. Let’s hope that Winston Reid can keep his fellow countryman quiet.

Our last visit to Turf Moor was on the final day of last season when, with a side depleted by injuries (as usual), we came from behind to clinch a 2-1 win. Vokes scored the Burnley goal midway through the first half, but we equalised shortly afterwards with a fine team goal where several players were involved in the move before Feghouli scored. This was a most unusual West Ham goal because it started from a quickly-taken free kick near the halfway line. On so many occasions free kicks in a similar position end up back with our keeper. Ayew headed the winner from close range after the ball came back off the bar from a Fernandes shot.

Our overall historical record against Burnley is a positive one, with 36 wins, 17 draws, and 31 defeats in all 84 competitive matches. This hasn’t always been the case, however, as our opponents were once a formidable club, winning the league twice, which is two times more than we have. Not many people will know that Burnley once reached the quarter-final of the European Cup, which was the forerunner of the Champions League.

But in recent years we have been by far the stronger in head to head games against them, winning 14 of the last 20 games. We have only lost once at Turf Moor in almost 40 years and that was in 2010, when we were on the receiving end of a 2-1 scoreline, with our goal being scored by Ilan (remember him?). To demonstrate how the make-up of a football team can change in less than eight years I will remind readers of the West Ham line-up that day.

Green
Faubert, Upson, Tompkins, Spector,
Behrami, Noble, Parker, Collison,
C.Cole, McCarthy.
Subs. who came on: Mido, Stanislas, and Ilan
Manager: Zola

Ilan and McCarthy each played eleven league games in their time with us. Ilan scored four goals whilst McCarthy failed to find the net. Mido played nine times and he, too, failed to score a goal.

Apparently it has been reported that we have an entirely fit squad for the manager to choose from, with the exceptions of Collins and Quina. I have given up trying to read the manager’s mind, and have absolutely no idea what the starting line-up will be, and will not even attempt to hazard a guess.

When you consider that an in-form team lying sixth in the league are playing at home to the side in fifteenth place, then the odds being offered on the game don’t really reflect that. Burnley are at around 13/8 to win, we are 15/8 to take all three points, and the draw is not much over 2/1. The most likely score according to the bookmakers is 1-1, offered at about 5/1. I can see their reasoning as both Burnley and ourselves are averaging scoring exactly one goal a game this season. Nothing to get really excited about. I would have hoped for more generous odds on a West Ham victory considering our poor start to the season.

I’m going to get out my trusty optimistic hat and bet on us to win the game. I’ll also have a fun bet on West Ham to win the game 3-1 at odds of 22/1. I might even try an additional one where the game is goalless at half-time, but we run out 3-1 winners at the end, with odds of 200/1 on that most unlikely outcome. A half-time scoreline of 1-1, with us winning the game 3-1 at the end is 90/1. You can bet on hundreds of different markets on every game of football these days, but in reality trying to predict the outcome of games, and correct scores / goalscorers is a minefield.

As for me, as usual I’ll be attending both days of the Dubai Future Champions horse racing meeting at Newmarket on Friday and Saturday, which includes my favourite race the Cesarewitch, which starts in Cambridgeshire and ends in Suffolk, with 34 runners tackling the two and a quarter miles course. The race itself is as difficult to predict as guessing the line-up that our manager will select. My ante-post selections are Withhold, Time To Study and Lagostovegas, although I’ll probably choose another for my bet on the day. But I’ll be keeping one eye on the football from Turf Moor, and hoping for a victory that will take us into a more comfortable mid-table position in the league.