Forty Years Of Hurt Never Stopped Us Dreaming: Will West Ham Be Up For The Cup This Time Around?

Time to enter HA9 0WS into your GPS system as the Hammers set off on the Road to Wembley from the modest surroundings of the Priestfield Stadium.

The FA Cup 3rd Round marks the final opportunity of the season to generate a sense of optimism. By this midway point, we have a reasonable idea as to how the league placings will pan out and, for most teams, the Cup offers a last chance of true glory. Finishing the season in 10th rather than 14th place in the table may deliver greater financial rewards but that is largely academic to supporters.

Historically, the dream of glory has been a short-lived one at West Ham and, although past performance gives favourable odds for progressing beyond the 3rd Round, it is a less than 40% chance of the Hammers being in the 5th round draw. Reach as far as the semi-finals, however, and the omens are much better.

Looking back at the club’s FA Cup exploits since the 1958/59 season (i.e. when the modern football  era begun in my own mind) this is our elimination record:

3rd Round                  22 times
4th Round                  16 times
5th Round                  9 times
6th Round                  9 times
Semi Final                 1 time
Losing Finalists        1 time
Winners                    3 times

What we have to remember is that for the majority of those 61 seasons West Ham have actually been doing their best to win all FA cup games – the same cannot be said for some of the more recent seasons. Over the years the relative importance placed on the competition by fans and clubs has diverged significantly – and not only at West Ham.  Although the idea of owners ‘instructing’ managers to throw cup games is a ludicrous suggestion, the fact that achieving the highest possible Premier League position is where the managerial bread is buttered is sure to influence thinking and thus, team selection.

I suspect that David Moyes will want to put out a ‘strongish’ today side – if only to keep the fans onside during his second honeymoon. He will face some tricky decisions as he endeavours to steer the side away from the relegation battle with a squad thin in numbers and quality in certain key positions (and then there is that £2 million no-relegation bonus to consider.)  Does he risk Lukasz Fabianski and Sebastien Haller, for whom there is inadequate competent cover, and can Mark Noble and Robert Snodgrass handle another game so soon after their impressive efforts on New Year’s Day? Perhaps a place for one or two young sets of legs from the Under 23s can play a part – Nathan Holland or Connor Coventry, for example. Hopefully, we have seen the very last of Roberto and Carlos Sanchez.

I must confess to knowing next to nothing about Gillingham. They are a mid-table League 1 side – so thankfully nowhere near as good as Oxford United. From their record it appears that they neither score nor concede that many goals. That prising open well organised, packed defences and coping with quick counter attacks are not West Ham core competencies, it leaves plenty to be concerned about – especially if any complacency creeps in or the team are not up for the physical challenge often associated with lower league opposition.

We will be spared the delight of VAR today as it is only in operation at top flight stadiums in the 3rd to 5th rounds of the competition. That all sounds very inconsistent to me. What are the chances of a contentious handball decision in the build up to a Gillingham goal that VAR would have certainly disallowed? At least, if there are any goals, we will be able to celebrate with gay abandon without the fear of virtual intervention. In the absence of a virtual assistant all decisions will be the sole responsibility of Andrew Madley from West Yorkshire.

It is, of course, a serious topic but I can’t help detect a sense of irony that kick-off times this weekend have all been delayed by one minute as part of FA’s mental health awareness campaign. If anything has produced a negative effect on my wellness over the years, it has been following the Hammer’s cup exploits.  Conversely, having experienced three FA cup wins during my supporting career, it is difficult to over-estimate the magnificent ‘high’ that accompanied each one.

This year it will be 40 years since the last of those successes, and 14 since the closest near miss. What are the chances of marking that 40th anniversary with a repeat performance – around 40/1 according to the bookmakers!

As a Premier League club, we really should be expected to overcome League 1 opposition – but shock results are part and parcel of the Cup’s attraction. Several top-flight clubs have already gone out to lower league opponents and we don’t need to be joining them. This is not going to be an easy game and the attitude must be right to back up the obvious superior technique. Everyone in claret and blue will need to graft – there is no room for lightweights in this type of fixture. With the correct preparation I fully expect to see our name alongside ball number 29 when the 4th round draw takes place on Monday evening.

Groundhog New Year’s Day: The Moyes Is Back In Town And This Time He’s Looking For A Bounce

Cometh the man, cometh the dour. He’s back but what will be the biggest challenge – winning over the opposition or winning over the fans?

Another year and the eternal hope for the dawn of an exciting new era for West Ham. At least, that is what they would like us to think. That a change of manager will wipe away the past, fix the present and lead us to a future of sunlit uplands and silverware.

Without doubt getting shot of Manuel Pellegrini was the right thing to do.  The current predicament, flirting with relegation, was largely his doing and we need not feel sorry for him. Beyond that, the lack of direction, the failure to deliver a plan or strategy that might produce a step change in the club’s fortunes and the absence of a required level of investment is down the board. I have said this several times before but the two Daves lack both the financial resources and imagination to turn West Ham into a club capable of challenging at a higher level. The appointment of David Moyes, as West Ham’s seventh manager in their ten-year tenure, was typical of their muddled thinking and short-term outlook.

I don’t have any particular issues with Moyes, but he is not a progressive choice. He will most probably keep us in the Premier League but the fact is, once again, survival has become the only objective. From the owner’s perspective retention of Premier League status will see the value of the asset appreciate until the right time comes to sell. The level of investment need only be sufficient to keep heads above the Championship. A cynical view, perhaps, but one that the owner’s actions have done little to dispel. I have read some fans on social media hoping for relegation as a means of forcing the owners out. That feels like a naive view to me as they would unlikely sell in those circumstances. In fact, the level of investment has been fairly consistent with other also-rans but most others have spent more wisely.

There are two schools of thought concerning Moyes previous spell in the West Ham hot seat. One that he steered the club from a desperate situation to mid-table respectability and did what was needed to make that happen; the other that it was a grim period in recent Hammer’s history where a couple of late wins put an undeserved gloss on an otherwise mediocre record and below average win ratio. The case for the prosecution will also point to the signing of Jordan Hugill.

Unfortunately for Moyes he finds himself back in a similar position as last time, where the priority for points is weighted far more highly than a duty to entertain – if, in fact, he has that tool in his locker. As we supporters should have learned from our own history, it is very difficult to reach judgement on a manager from a single or part season only. Maybe the situation will spawn a new round of anti-Board protests but I sense that we will now have Moysie here for the next 18 months. I can’t see anything other than pretty ugly football for the remainder of this term; after that we will need to wait and see which way the latest new direction points.

There have been some horrendous suggestions in the media and online of players linked with a move to the London Stadium during the transfer window. I prefer to take these with a pinch of salt as only a small percentage of rumours turn out to be true. Maybe it is just wishful thinking.

Today’s game against Bournemouth is a classic six-pointer. Both teams have struggled for points in recent weeks and look to be in free-fall, just as other clubs in relegation peril start to rally. There has been precious little time for Moyes to work on the team’s obvious lack of fitness and organisation, but it would be no surprise if he decided to go for a change of formation – to the 3-5-2 set-up that he settled on during his previous reign. As many of us were imploring Pellegrini to do likewise, I couldn’t argue with that. Whatever the eventual line-up, we could certainly do with a generous helping of new manager bounce to help us on our way. Perhaps losing but not from a winning position will be as good a bounce as we’re likely to get!

The visitors have been badly hit by injuries this season but any team that lost Leicester reserves cannot take much relief from that fact.  Eddie Howe’s team have a good record against West Ham and strikers Callum Wilson and Josh King must both rate the Hammers as a favourite and hospitable opponent. Fortunately, King looks to have been added to list of sick and will probably miss the game.

Graham Scott from Oxfordshire is the matchday referee aided by Lee Mason on VAR duty in the underground Stockley Park bunker. The implementation of VAR appears to be getting worse and more intrusive week by week – more so for those in the ground who are left waiting with little information. Allowing the referee’s to supervise implementation was never going to be a good idea.

Our pundit buddies have both gone for a West Ham home win: Lawro by 2-0 and Charlie Nicholas by 2-1.  I can see this being the most cagey of games and wouldn’t be surprised to see it settled by a single goal. Hopefully, it will be one that works to our advantage.

17th v 16th, another 6 pointer. Can West Ham reap the benefit of the arrival of an old acquaintance when Bournemouth visit the London Stadium to begin the New Year?

So, at last action was taken. I won’t need to write about my perception of Mr Pellegrini’s shortcomings any more. Minutes after the final whistle following the disappointing defeat to Leicester Reserves on Saturday, he was summoned to face Ms Brady, who, having seen Lord Sugar perform the act on numerous occasions, extended the index digit on her left hand and added the words “With regret, you’re fired.” Relief at last for the majority of West Ham fans who couldn’t wait for him to go, but this was tempered by news that David Moyes was odds on to replace him, an appointment that was confirmed by late Sunday evening.

If you want to see what West Ham fans think of the appointment just head to the appropriate social media sites which give a whole variety of opinions on the new manager. There are literally thousands of them, mostly negative I would say on balance, but many saying wait and see. This is my stance too. I saw his interview on West Ham TV as well as his press conference and he was certainly saying all the right things. You wouldn’t think that based on his track record after leaving Everton he would be the person to “take us to the next level”, but having said that, the immediate next level for our club at the moment is movement away from the relegation zone, and he does have previous in that respect. In my opinion his record as manager at Goodison Park was largely impressive, and though he didn’t pull up any trees at Old Trafford, no manager has really been able to replace Alex Ferguson, have they?

Many have pilloried the board for the appointment, but then again Messrs. Sullivan, and Gold and Ms Brady are so disliked by so many, that I doubt there was little they could possibly do in the circumstances mid- season that would satisfy a majority of fans. It was interesting to read the views of fans on social media as to who they actually wanted to manage the club. Such a diverse list of possibilities but nobody knows who would want to come here or who was available. I really hope that David Moyes is a success because I am a supporter of over 60 years who wants to see the club move forward. Whether or not it will happen I don’t know. Personally I am just glad that they didn’t turn to Allardyce or Pulis, I rate David Moyes much higher than those two. We’ll just have to wait and see. I’ll make my views known on the appointment in a few weeks’ time in this blog. For now I give him the benefit of the doubt.

Bournemouth haven’t been in the Premier League for long (this is their fifth season), but in the short time that they have been they have a good record against us. We have only beaten them twice in nine meetings, and only once in the four home games, when we won the very first league game that we played at London Stadium with a late headed goal from the Snowman. So head-to- head recent history is not in our favour.

Both teams go into the game with very poor recent form and that is why they are 17th and 16th in the Premier League table. We have the worst home form of all the teams in the Premier League, and as we all know, we have lost the last four home league games. The most consecutive home games that we have ever lost in our entire history is five, and that happened in 1931! There aren’t many of us who remember then! That is one record that we don’t wish to equal.

Even conceding a solitary goal can be a problem for us this season. In the 15 games we have conceded at least one goal we have only won one of them. That happened in August when we beat Watford 3-1. Even the day itself has been a problem in the past as we have lost seven of the eleven Premier League games played on January 1st, which is more than any other team, apart from Everton.

Bournemouth have been equally poor, losing seven of their last nine league games, and winning only one of them. In the last four and a half seasons they have lost more Premier League games away from home than any other team, apart from Watford. Two things in particular worry me though. Bournemouth are second only to Liverpool when it comes to scoring set-piece goals in the Premier League this season, and you know how good we are at defending set pieces! And Callum Wilson has not scored for 12 games. He has never gone 13 games without scoring!

It will be interesting to see our new manager’s team selection and the way we set up. I reckon he may try three at the back (Balbuena, Diop and Ogbonna) and then use two wing backs (Fredericks and Masuaku or Cresswell). But who knows? He hasn’t really had the chance to assess very much in a couple of days, but our fans will be on his back if it doesn’t go well.

There has never been a 0-0 draw in a West Ham v Bournemouth game in history. In just 14 games that have been played there has been between 1 and 7 goals in every game, including every number in between. Who can possibly predict what we can expect today? We are fractionally odds-on to win the game despite our recent poor form, probably as a result of the new manager effect. West Ham to win and both teams to score is 23/10, and if you want to predict a score, my forecast would be a 2-1 win at 15/2. I’d settle for that.

That Was The Decade That Was: West Ham’s Past Ten Years In Numbers

As a brief respite from the general turmoil surrounding the club, we look back at the numbers that define the past decade at West Ham. 

Not only have we reached the end of yet another year of disappointment but also the end of the 2010s. A decade that coincides almost perfectly with the club’s current ownership, David Sullivan and David Gold having purchased a 50% controlling stake in January 2010. It was a decade that opened with a 2-1 FA Cup home defeat to Arsenal at Upton Park on 3 January 2010 and ended with a 2-1 Premier League home defeat to Leicester at the London Stadium on 28 December 2019.

Here is what the numbers tell us about all matches played in the intervening ten years.

9 – seasons played in the top flight, representing the second best decade on record from that point of view. The 1960’s being the only decade that West Ham were ever present at the top level.  What can we expect from the rip-roaring 20’s as we once again flirt with relegation? It will take some fundamental new year’s resolutions to ever reach that next level we have heard about.

3 – number of top ten finishes (excluding the Championship year), the highest being 7th in 2015/16 (the Payet season) which also saw record points and the only ever Premier League positive goal difference. The average finishing position during the Premier League years has been 12.5. The average points tally is 45. Not so impressive for a club regularly among the top ten richest in the league.

478 – total number of games played, of which 171 were won (35.8%) and 184 were lost (38.5%).

6 – number of managers employed, although technically you could say 7 if you were inclined to count David Moyes twice. Either way it was a record for any decade. The complete rogues gallery comprises Gianfranco Zola, Avram Grant, Sam Allardyce, Slaven Bilic, David Moyes and Manuel Pellegrini

17,412,173 – the cumulative attendance at all West Ham matches, home and away – an average of 36,427. The highest was the 78,523 watching the Paly-Off final in 2012 while the lowest was the 1,300 who turned up to see the 2015 Europa League qualifier at FC Lusitans.

40,276 – average home attendance – they keep turning up regardless. The highest recorded attendance at any home game was 59,988 against Everton in March 2019 while the lowest was the 14.390 optimistic souls who turned up hoping to see the Hammers reverse a 6-0 first leg deficit against Manchester City in the 2014 league cup semi-final. The lowest attendances at league games (by division) were 25,680 versus Cardiff (Championship, 2011) and 31,033 versus Hull City (Premier League, 2014).

171 – total number of players fielded by West Ham during first team games in all competitions. 57 of who made fewer than 10 career appearances for the club.

347 – the highest number of appearances made by an individual player – Mark Noble.  The remainder of the top ten appearance list are Winston Reid (215), James Tomkins (200), Aaron Cresswell (179), Carlton Cole (176), Angelo Ogbonna (143), Andy Carroll (141), Kevin Nolan (140), James Collins (139), Michail Antonio (138)

43 – the most goals scored by an individual player during the 10 years – again Mark Noble. Possibly the most telling statistic, considering players at some clubs almost reach that total in a single season. Only 8 players scored more than 20 goals during the entire ten years. The rest of the top ten scorers list are Carlton Cole (40), Andy Carroll (33), Kevin Nolan (31), Michail Antonio (29), Marko Arnautovic (22), Diafra Sakho (22), Manuel Lanzini (21), Javier Hernandez (17), Dimitri Payet & Ricardo Vaz Te (15)

15 – most goals scored in a season in all competitions by an individual player – Carlton Cole in the 2011/12 Championship season (14 league goals). The best return during a Premier League season is 12 (9 league) by Dimitri Payet in 2015/16.

0.538 – the best goals scored per game played ratio by a West Ham player. This was Demba Ba who grabbed 7 goals in 13 appearances at the end of the end of the 2010/11 season. Other players who have averaged 0.3 goals per game or better are Diafra Sakho, Ilan, Marko Arnautovic, Ricardo Vaz Te and Lucas Perez.

641– the total number of goals scored by West Ham (1.34 per game) in all cometitions. Goals conceded totaled 685 (1.43 per game)

8 – the most goals scored by West Ham in a single game – the 8-0 win against Macclesfield in the 2018/19 League Cup. The biggest league win was 6-0 in the Championship against Brighton (2011/12). The Hammers twice scored 5 times in FA Cup ties (Burnley (H) & Blackburn (A)) but did not score more than 4 in any Premier League match – something (scoring 4) that they achieved on 7 separate occasions.

6 – most goals conceded in a single match – the 6-0 league cup semi, first leg, defeat by Manchester City in 2014.  The West Ham rearguard conceded 5 goals on 7 occasions and 4 goals 25 times.

8 – highest aggregate score in a West Ham game – the 8-0 win against Macclesfield. There were 3 games that featured 7 goals – 4-3 wins against Huddersfield and Portsmouth and a 3-4 defeat to Bournemouth.

131 – the number of West Ham clean sheets earned (27.4% of games played)

125 – the number of games in which the Hammers failed to score (26.1%)

34 – the total number of goalless games featuring West Ham (7.1%)

8 – the number of players to win the Hammer of The Year Award with Scott Parker and Mark Noble both two time winners. The remainder of the list includes several heroes to zeroes and comprises Winston Reid, Aaron Cresswell, Dimiri Payet, Michail Antonio, Marko Arnautovic and Lukasz Fabianski. Young HOTY was won by Zavon Hines, Freddie Sears, Dan Potts, George Moncur, Sam Howes, Reece Burke, Reece Oxford and Declan Rice (3 times).

0 – the number of trophies won. (unless you want to include the Play Off Final).  The most productive cup runs were in reaching the League Cup semi-final on two occasions (2010/11 & 2013/14). In the FA Cup, the best the club could manage was the 6th round in 2010/11 and 2015/16. Apart from the that, the FA Cup saw West Ham eliminated in the 3rd round (4 times) and 4th round (twice). In 2020, it will be 40 years since that last trophy success in May 1980.

In conclusion, we would like to wish all Hammers, wherever they are in the world, a happy, healthy, prosperous and, if possible, stress-free new year!

“Come in Mr. Pellegrini your time is up” – West Ham entertain Leicester.

“I really cannot believe that I will be writing about Manuel Pellegrini any more after this weekend. There cannot possibly be any way that he can survive as the manager of West Ham, whatever the result this evening.”

These are the words I wrote prior to the game against Southampton. But I was wrong. We won the game after clinging on in the end, and our manager lived to fight another day. Since then we have had the postponement against (World Club Champions) Liverpool, followed by the defeat at Crystal Palace on Boxing Day. We now sit in seventeenth place in the Premier League table, just one point above Aston Villa (and with an inferior goal difference). We have a game in hand, but that is against Liverpool! We have now dropped 15 points from winning positions. With 15 more points we would now be sitting in a Champions League position in fourth place in the table. But we are not. We are in big trouble, but Dave and Dave either haven’t got the will to act (or pay off the manager), or they think he will turn it around, or perhaps they are unable to find anyone who will want to work under them.

Ironically, in recent articles I have often referred to the form table, where I have analysed results for all Premier League teams in their last 5 games. We have often appeared very close to the bottom of that table, but as we go into today’s game against Leicester, that is not the case this time. We have six points together with Burnley and (fourth placed) Chelsea. Six clubs have accrued less than that in their last five games; Watford, Brighton and Arsenal with 5, Bournemouth with 4, Villa with 3, and Norwich with 1.

But it’s not good is it? The natives are restless. I think our early season form promised so much more, but the dramatic fall down the league table, mixed with a combination of throwing away leading positions, the (poor) quality of our football, a manager who doesn’t appear to have a clue what is wrong or what he can do to change things, and the apparent low morale and in-fighting among the players (Noble and Ogbonna for example), means that a lot of us want to see a change of manager.

Our opposition today have had a terrific season so far, and sit in second place in the Premier League table, despite two heavy defeats in their last two games (admittedly against Manchester City and Liverpool). They are ten points clear of fifth placed Tottenham, so unless they plummet down the table (in West Ham fashion) a Champions League place next season looks assured. Of course those two big defeats by a combined scoreline of 7-1 shows they still have a way to go to match the top two, but nevertheless the quality of their football is great to watch, and we could be on for a hammering today.

It is now almost 14 years since we lost four home Premier League games in a row, but defeat in the last three home games leaves us perilously close to matching that unwanted statistic. What is even worse is that in those three defeats we have conceded three goals in each of the games. Only three other teams in the history of the Premier League have managed to concede three goals in four consecutive home games, Palace in 1998, Bradford in 2001, and Fulham five years ago.

Our head to head record against Leicester is one which is positive in that we have beaten them more times than they have beaten us. But the recent record is not so good, and in the last nine Premier league fixtures we have beaten them only once. In fact Leicester have never lost a game at the London Stadium.

I always want us to win, but the omens for this game don’t look too good. More in hope than expectation though, perhaps we can defy the bookmakers’ odds (around 3/1 for a West Ham victory).

WHULEI1I was sad to learn of the recent death of one of the West Ham greats, Martin Peters, shortly before Christmas. I met Martin at a book signing in 2006 when I bought his autobiography The Ghost of ’66. I had quite a chat with him and what a lovely man he was. I also took along a copy of the West Ham v Leicester programme for November 16th 1968 and asked him to sign it for me (see photo of programme). The reason for this is that was the day I saw my favourite ever West Ham goal. Martin scored past Peter Shilton in front of the North Bank, a thunderous volley at the end of a move that went from one end of the pitch to the other. I wrote about the goal in my book, Goodbye Upton Park, Hello Stratford, and to this day it remains my favourite ever West Ham goal. On that wet November day we beat Leicester 4-0. What are the chances of a repeat scoreline today? Somewhere around 125/1 according to one bookmaker I saw. We can hope, can’t we?!

Since You Gotta Go, You Had Better Go Now! Can Someone Please Put Us Out Of This Misery?

In a low budget, poorly produced sequel to the Avram Grant season, the West Ham board continue to dither over compensation payments in a further blow to the next level credibility.

Baffled Of Santiago

I was expecting to wake up this morning to discover that Manuel Pellegrini had finally been dismissed. Now just a single point away from the relegation places (with an inferior goal difference) and with a manager who: admits he is baffled; has been largely responsible for assembling this current one-paced squad; has seemingly no idea how to set up and organise a team to compete in the modern game; and is completely out of touch with current tactical trends. No-one in their right mind can surely believe that Pellegrini has got what it takes to turn things around; or, based on past performance,  would want to trust him with any further funds in the upcoming transfer window.  The season is a poorly produced, low budget, remake of the Avram Grant Season. There is no footballing rationale whatsoever for keeping him on – compensation payment is the only issue on the table. The longer a decision is put off, the greater will be the imperative to hire a manager specialising in ‘ugly’ tactics to sort it out. Stop the dithering, bite the bullet and pull the trigger – even if it is with a caretaker in charge for the next run of games.

Insider Dealing

The ubiquitous club-insider is suggesting that the manager will be given another two more games (again) to save his job. Also that if he does go then David Moyes is the probable replacement. Now I have no idea whether the insider is just making stuff up like the rest of us or is being fed information from the club (which would be massively unprofessional, but easy to believe) but if it is true then it is a deeply worrying scenario. Not that I don’t think Moyes would be a better option than Pellegrini but that is not the point. He is not the right person for the type of club we need to be. Someone who would be able to take the team in a direction that most supporters want to travel. Ultimately, football is meant to be an entertainment. It has to offer more than just doing enough to hang on to your place at the top table so that we can see the top players in the world come to tear us to pieces every season. As supporters, we need something to believe in, to be proud of, and at least be given a glimmer of hope of an a honest tilt at the occasional cup competition.

Not Fit For Purpose

Yesterday, we looked doomed right from the start. Any side with probably the three slowest players in the Premier League (Mark Noble, Robert Snodgrass and Pablo Zabaleta) is going to struggle. Throw in a comedy goalkeeper and whatever hope there was disappeared over the horizon. To be fair, Roberto was not at fault for either of the goals and made a couple of decent saves. The bench looked a little brighter with the return of Manuel Lanzini and Felipe Anderson but neither ultimately made any impression. As usual there was no sign of any young legs and energy among the substitutes. There may have been a desire to ship out what was thought to be deadwood (Obiang, Fernandes, for example) but they were far better than what has been left behind. Is there some kind of collective madness at the club?

Two Poor Sides

The match was, as the one at Southampton, a contest of very poor quality. The Hammers nominally adopted the same 4-4-2 formation that had triumphed just over a week earlier but on this occasion the gaps between each block of players were far too great. Having won one game it was apparently beyond the players to put in the same level of effort for two matches in a row.  Michail Antonio was the only real threat, and the only one to come away with any real credit, but he cannot maintain those energy levels for a full ninety minutes. In a re-run of the past few matches, once Antonio starts running on fumes, the whole team shape collapses and becomes fatally exposed.

New Formation, Same Failings

Although there were now ostensibly two layers ‘up top’ the supply line to them was as ineffective as ever. Snodgrass despite his goal (and almost getting a second) was pedestrian throughout and again demonstrated that perseverance with the winger on the wrong flank is complete madness. Mark Noble’s only notable contribution was a bust up with Angelo Ogbonna (not sure why, but possibly due to Noble’s lazy pass putting Aaron Cresswell under pressure.) The formation, as implemented, doesn’t suit Declan Rice as his ability to break forward is seriously curtailed – he is utilised as a holding midfielder only and gave one of his least effective displays for some time as a consequence. The upshot was that Palace were given acres of space both in the centre of midfield and down their left wing where Zaha ran Pablo Zabaleta ragged all afternoon. If only we had known that might happen. Even at a goal up, it was clearly only going to be a matter of time (and Antonio’s battery running flat) before the home side breached the West Ham defence. I would take one (a defeat) for the team if it meant the end of our bewildered manager.

Ratings: Roberto (5), Zabaleta (3), Ogbonna (6), Balbuena (5), Cresswell (5), Snodgrass (5), Rice (5), Noble (4), Fornals (6), Antonio (8), Haller (5) Subs: Lanzini (4), Anderson (5), Ajeti (?)

Present Imperfect: West Ham Win Would Be Ideal Gift But Leave Manager Dilemma Unresolved

Boxing Day matches have long been a highlight of the footballing calendar. On the second day of Christmas will our true loves send us yet another stuffing or serve up a real Christmas cracker?

Christmas is over, West Ham are not in the bottom three, even have a game in hand, and the Manuel Pellegrini doomsday clock is stuck permanently at one minute to midnight. Time to feast on the left over turkey and wonder whether Santa has delivered any new ideas to the London Stadium.

Boxing Day football is as much part of the traditional festive landscape as snowmen, robin redbreast, eggnog and maids-a-milking.  My all-time fantasy Christmas list would have taking the 723 to the Boleyn for an early morning kick-off as one of its many highlights. Sadly, it seems that a home fixture on Boxing Day is now a thing of the past and that we must be content with the short trip across town to the land of allotments and inflatable clapper sticks.

On the face of it the omens are favourable for today’s game. Our boys have had a few extra days to rest or work on ‘stuff’ in training while hosts, Crystal Palace, have an injury list that would overwhelm even the best funded of A&E department. The only fly in this ointment being that such favourable circumstances have rarely worked to our advantage in the past.

The cancelled fixture against Liverpool has presented an opportunity for the Hammers to chalk up rare successive back-to-back Premier League victories. Apart from the promising run early in the season and a purple patch in November/ December last year, victories have arrived in staccato fashion separated by missed opportunities. The compact nature of mid-table means that a few wins can change the apparent complexion of the season significantly, allowing a decision on the manager’s immediate future to be parked until the summer.  As I fail to see any good place where Pellegrini can take the club, it leaves me conflicted.

Aside from the enforced change at right back due to Ryan Fredericks suspension, Pellegrini’s major selection headache will be who plays in goal. Even he must realise that either Lukasz Fabianski or David Martin on one leg has to be a better option than the hapless Roberto. If reports are to be believed it will be Martin who gets the nod today with Fabianski making his return at the weekend. Other than that, I would imagine that the team will lineup as at Southampton, with Felipe Anderson restored to the bench following his mystery illness. Certainly, if Antonio and Haller reproduce last week’s from they can unsettle the usually well-organised Palace defence.

The major (only) Palace threat will again be provided by Zaha and the hope is that there will be a plan to double up on him in times of emergency – otherwise he will lead the ageing legs of Pablo Zabaleta a merry dance. The Eagles will probably be fielding two ex-Hammers in their starting eleven – James Tomkins and Cheikhou Kouyate. Tomkins is a decent but erratic defender who is always a danger as an attacking threat from set pieces; while Kouyate has become more dependable in the limited role expected of him by Roy Hodgson.

Thoughts at this time of year also turn to the impending transfer window – which will ‘burst open’ on 1 January. Already, there are conflicting reports on how busy the Hammers will be; ranging from their being no cash available at all to a lengthy list of apparent targets that the Daves have sent to the North Pole. Whatever money there is, we can but hope that it is spent wisely. Dependable (youngish) replacements for the troublesome central midfield and full-back positions would be at top of my list but how that will lay out amid uncertainties with manager and director of football is unclear. Recruits should be fit, athletic, technically competent and, importantly, with the right attitude. They do not need to be exotic, flamboyantly named, Hispanics or ex-Champion’s League winners. It has reached a point where I am wary of any player who is reported as keen to join West Ham. Typically it is for the wrong reasons – munificent wages, the bright lights of London, or the easy life. To paraphrase Groucho Marx “I refuse to sign any player who is eager to become a (squad) member.”

I received an email from West Ham in the week announcing a 60% off clearance sale but was surprised to see that Carlos Sanchez and Roberto were not yet listed as available. The squad is far too thin to allow many departures but cannot see a downside in letting those two go. If numbers get that desperate, then give some of the young players a go. How could it be worse?

The matchday referee is Andre Marriner from West Midlands making his second West Ham appearance of the month (he was in charge of the defeat at Wolves). His VAR chum is Andrew ‘Andy’ Madley from West Yorkshire. Any chance of a seasonal penalty decision going our way today?

Looking at the TV pundits, we see Lawro backing West Ham for a 2-1 win and Charlie Nicholas unable to separate two inconsistent sides with a 1-1 draw.  It really should be an opportunity for the Hammers to add to their points tally. After all, with the season almost halfway done, the 20 point threshold has still to be reached. Thankfully, as illustrated by some of the games that I watched last weekend there are a plenty of poor teams in the Premier League right now – no matter what the marketing boys say about there being no easy games. I would prefer not to be (and we shouldn’t be) part of the Premier League leftovers but fear that is how it will stay for the foreseeable future.  Limping into the second half of the season with a bewildered manager who is living on past glories rather than present realities. I do believe, however, that we can win today.

The week was overshadowed by the sad news of the death of Martin Peters, one of the all-time great West Ham United players. Peters was a huge favourite of mine when I first started following West Ham and is easily part of my all-time West Ham XI. It was a massive disappointment when he left prematurely in 1970 as the first big-name Hammer’s departure of my West Ham supporting career. He was part of a West Ham team that played in the first ever top flight clash between West Ham and Crystal Palace, in November 1969 – a 2-1 home win in front of 31,515 spectators. The team that day, including at least five West Ham legends, was: Ferguson, Bonds, Lampard, Howe, Stephenson, Moore, Redknapp, Peters, Brooking, Hurst (1), Best (1)