West Ham visit Burnley

A trip to Lancashire to finish the season

When the Football League was formed in 1888 it consisted of 12 clubs. Five were from the Midlands and seven from the North-West in the county of Lancashire. Burnley were one of the original teams, and are one of only four of them who are currently in the top flight of English football, the others being Everton, Stoke and West Brom. Without counting I suspect that Lancashire houses more football league clubs than any other county, at least it did when I was growing up. Now, many teams that were considered to be in that county have a Greater Manchester address. Burnley was also one of the answers in a pub quiz I participated in where the question was asked, “Name the five football clubs who have finished as champions in all four divisions of English football.” The answer is at the end of this preview.

As I began taking an interest in football in the late 1950s, Burnley were a major force in England and were champions of Division One (that is equivalent to the modern day Premier League) in 1959-60, and reached the quarter-finals of the European Cup the following season. In 1961-62, they were runners-up in the league (to Ipswich), and lost in the FA Cup final to Tottenham. It just goes to show how the balance of power has shifted at the top in football when you consider that the top eight clubs in order that season were Ipswich, Burnley, Tottenham, Everton, Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa, and then West Ham. Arsenal were mid-table, the two Manchester clubs were in the bottom half, and Chelsea finished bottom and were relegated. Liverpool won the Division 2 title that season.

I’ve never been to Burnley, although I have a mental image of what the town might look like. I can remember many games against the Clarets over the years and two have so far been included in my favourite games series, the 1964 FA Cup quarter final victory over them, and the 5-0 demolition early on in the 1968-69 season. One game I can remember clearly took place at Upton Park on 6 October 1973. It was not a favourite game by any means; my recollection is based solely on the fact that I got engaged to be married that weekend.

We went into that game next to bottom in the table, not having won any of our first nine league games. Burnley were third from top, having only lost one of their opening nine games. They beat us 1-0 that day and went on to finish sixth. Our non-winning run continued for another fortnight until we won our first game of the season at the 12th attempt, 1-0 at Coventry. We continued with our miserable run in the league for a further six games without winning, before our second victory in the 19th game (2-1 v Manchester City), which was our first home win of the season.

Support was falling at the time, and only just over 16,000 were at Upton Park when we lost at home to Stoke on the Saturday before Christmas when we fell to the bottom of the table. But we completed a remarkable escape with a ten game unbeaten run, mainly inspired by our new captain, Billy Bonds, playing in midfield at the time. The return fixture at Turf Moor was one of the games in that unbeaten run, and a Graham Paddon goal helped us to a 1-1 draw. Improved performances and results led to bigger crowds in the second half of that season with several over 30,000, and a season high of over 38,000 when we defeated Leeds, the eventual champions, 3-1 in March.

After then Burnley went into a slow decline culminating in the final game of the 1986-87 season (just 30 years ago) when they needed to win the last game of the season to remain in the Football League and not be relegated to the Conference (now the Vanarama). They duly beat Leyton Orient and were also saved by Lincoln City, who were then automatically relegated when losing their final game. In the season just ended of course, Leyton Orient have been relegated from the Football League and Lincoln City have won promotion as Vanarama champions.

Burnley began to ascend again from that time, and in the last few years have yo-yoed between the Championship and the Premier League. This is their third time since 2009 in the top flight, with 2009-10 and 2014-15 being stays of one season only. But they have been more successful this time, and have avoided relegation despite being one of the favourites to go down at the beginning of the season. They currently sit in 15th place on 40 points with just the one game left. We are 12th on 42, so defeat would mean that they overtake us.

As 11th are playing 10th (Leicester v Bournemouth), the highest we can possibly finish is 11th, and we are guaranteed at least 12th if we win. Looking at the fixtures of the teams below us, I would predict that as long as we don’t lose to Burnley we will remain in 12th place. But this won’t be an easy game for us. Burnley have a magnificent home record where they have attained 33 of their 40 points this season with 10 wins and 3 draws, and they have lost just 5 times. Their defeats came at the hands of Swansea on the opening day of the season, and then to 4 of the sides currently in the top six, the two North London clubs and the two Manchester teams. Away from home they have only won once (at Palace), but at home they are a different proposition, and we will do well to get something out of the game there, especially considering the performance last Sunday, and our increasingly lengthy injury list.

Considering their illustrious past, our head to head record against Burnley is a surprisingly positive one, and we’ve won slightly more games than we’ve lost. That is mainly as a result of more recent history, and since that 1973 defeat that I referred to earlier, we have played them 24 times in league and cup matches, winning 16, drawing 4, and losing just 4. They haven’t beaten us since December 2011 when Sam Vokes scored the winner to complete a 2-1 comeback win for them. Sam Vokes is still there and is their leading goalscorer this season.

Predicting the outcome of final day games of the season with nothing (except prize money and final league position) to play for is tricky. You are never quite sure how many players are already on the beach. With many factors going against us it is hard to see a win, but I reckon a score draw is the likely outcome of the claret and blue derby that finishes our season.

(Pub quiz answer – Portsmouth, Wolves, Sheffield United, Preston.)

Midweek Miscellany: The Transfer Window Beckons

Time to forget about the football and concentrate on the more exiting matter of transfer speculation.

Owners and Manager

As the embers of the final week of Premier League action slowly die away we can soon move on in earnest to the more serious business of transfer speculation.  From what was once a few column inches in the Sunday newspapers many years ago has blossomed into a major internet industry where news-feeds are full of more and more tempting and ambiguous transfer headlines designed to seduce the excited reader to click on through.

The beauty of transfer speculation is that there is no pretence that it is anything other than fake news.  The more incredible or ridiculous the rumour the better, and the more it will be replicated and will spawn supplementary debate.  Whole football forums will go into meltdown berating owners and managers alike for the lack of ambition that pursuing this made up, imaginary target demonstrates.

The situation in the West Ham transfer war-room must be a strange one given that a large part of the deadwood that we have is made up of very recent purchases.   A clear-out and upgrade is essential if this seasons struggles are not to be repeated and while it would not be difficult to find better players it will be more a challenge to identify those who can become useful players in a side for the future.  My fear is that we will settle for those deemed good enough on past reputation rather than seeking out players to form individual parts of a grand design.  Without any particular defined style of play how on earth do you identify he players to fill it?

Meanwhile the owners will no doubt be giving it large and banding about names of exotic goal-machine targets who are usually well out of our current lower table league.  I’m sure that even our owners don’t believe such boasts sells season tickets; it merely serves to lower their credibility.  I don’t often agree with (or understand) much of what Jamie Carragher says but his comment that “average players will think ‘I could talk myself into a move to West Ham'” has the whiff of truth about it.   This also applies to players looking for that one final payday.  In my view signing any player who would be over 32 or 33 at the end of their contract should only happen in very exceptional circumstances.  It is not the future unless your horizon is only 12 months.

I read a report in the week that excitedly suggested West Ham would be looking forward to receiving a windfall payment based on their likely final league position.  It seems a bit of a stretch to term this a windfall when it is well known to all how the Premier League prize money is allocated.  I imagine that if anyone at the club had prepared financial forecasts at the start of the season they would have budgeted for several millions more than we will actually receive.

We will now finish somewhere between 11th and 16th  in the table; my bet would be as low as 14th or 15th.  With just shy of £2 million for each position that equates to some £12 to £14 million less than what might have reasonably been anticipated when we kicked off in August.  I have no knowledge whether player’s contracts have any clauses related to league position but I don’t expect our boys to be busting any guts up at Burnley at the weekend.

Scanning through the news-feeds during the week there were an equal number of contradicting headlines indicating that either ‘Wenger refuses to criticise West Ham’s performance’ or ‘Wenger rips into Hammer’s Holiday mood’.  Either way we are left with Arsenal’s remote pursuit of their customary Champion’s League place as the only almost interesting unresolved matter for the final weekend.  Leaving aside the delights of a boozy afternoon out with your mates I wonder how many will bother to turn out for Super Snoozeday?

West Ham 0 Liverpool 4

“It’s the same old story, it’s as old as the stars above”

After the Tottenham game just over a week before, I was really looking forward to my final visit to the London Stadium for our last game of our inaugural season there. I was full of trepidation when I knew just how many of our first choice players were not available for the match, but nonetheless we had many missing against our old enemy, and everyone stepped up to put in our best performance of the year. And for the first quarter of an hour or so, it looked like we might put in a similar performance again. Byram might have scored, or should at least have hit the target, to finish off an excellent swift passing move early on, and Fernandes hit a shot that had Mignolet scrambling to turn it away.

But then Liverpool scored an excellent goal, so well taken by Sturridge who just about managed to stay onside. The way he took the goal was reminiscent of Jimmy Greaves at his best. I am old enough to remember watching Greaves live, but you can look back on old footage of the way, when faced with a one on one with the keeper, he almost always dribbled around him to put the ball into an empty net. So many strikers in modern times when in this position, shoot as the keeper advances. Sometimes it goes in but frequently it hits the legs or body and a goalscoring chance is wasted. Of course players have to have the necessary skill to go around the keeper, and Sturridge demonstrated the confidence and ability to do it with ease.

At that point the heads appeared to go down, and we surrendered the ball tamely on frequent occasions, and never really looked convincing or up for the fight. When the second went in, after another bout of giving the ball away, the game was really all over. A brief resurgence of effort should have resulted in a penalty when Reid was assaulted in the area, and for good measure they really tried to give us a penalty by handling the ball as well, but the referee (and his assistant who was also well placed to see the incident) was oblivious to what everyone else in the stadium could see, and incredibly allowed the play to continue. Liverpool did not put the ball out of play as we had sportingly done on two occasions before in the game, and the incompetent referee also appeared to forget that head injuries can be a serious matter, and failed to stop the play. In a matter of seconds a third goal had gone in, and it was well and truly over at that point.

I am not trying to suggest that we lost the game because of this one incident, but had the penalty been justly awarded, we might have seen an improvement in effort if we were just one goal down. We have really seen some scandalous decisions go against us in the past couple of seasons, and this was another to add to the list. I find it hard to remember the last time we benefitted from a poor decision given against our opponents.

So many of our players gave up at this point, and where I had seen so many of them fighting to demonstrate that they were worthy of a place in the squad for next season in the Tottenham game, they showed equally why they were not in this match. One player I would excuse was Feghouli, who was a free transfer signing in the summer, but who showed great skill and commitment to try to get us back into it in the half-hour or so available to him. Cynics will say he was putting in the effort for personal reasons, but I am one (and I accept there are not many who agree with me) who really believe he is a good footballer, who given a decent injury-free run in the side, will one day prove all the doubters wrong.

Of course another turning point in the game, when we were just one down, was when Ayew somehow contrived to miss an open goal twice! This was amazing for a Premier League striker (whether he cost £20 million or not), and perhaps he will get the publicity given to Rosenthal, and be forever shown when you see clips of incredible misses. I’m sure he was just a panic buy at the end of the summer transfer window to appease fans after the board had talked about a marquee striker. I’m not sure I understand how the term marquee came to be used in a football sense, but assume the derivation relates to tents? If so, then his performances are more closely related to a wigwam.

So we now sit in twelfth place in the table with just the trip to Burnley left. That won’t be an easy game, but even if we somehow do win, our poor goal difference means that we cannot get into the top half of the table whatever happens elsewhere. With the points we’ve dropped from winning positions we could have even emulated or surpassed last season’s seventh place. But have we really progressed from last season? To the contrary, I think we’ve gone backwards. And it’s nothing to do with an un-named Frenchman either.

And on a final note, I’m not sure when the end of season awards dinner was held at the club last season, but if my memory is correct it was in the week prior to the game against Swansea, when we were unexpectedly hammered 4-1. This time, in the game after that event, we once again conceded four goals in a tame performance. As a club we don’t learn from our mistakes easily, but I would suggest that next season it is held at the end of the season when all the games have been played. I know that the players want to get off to the beach quickly once the season is over. In the Liverpool game some looked as though they were already there! But remember last season we bounced back for a terrific finale against Manchester United. Perhaps we can do the same at Turf Moor? I won’t hold my breath.

5 Lessons from a Liverpool Drubbing

Dey do do dat dough don’t dey dough! Scousers give dreadful West Ham a pasting.

5 Things WHUSaving the Worst for Last

“Now I’ve swung back down again, it’s worse than it was before.  If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor.” So sung the band James in their 1991 hit Sit Down perfectly summarising the emotions that followed the highs of last week’s victory over Tottenham with the lows of the abject tame surrender to Liverpool.  There could be some mitigation in defeat due to absence through injuries but it is no excuse for a collective giving up after the first goal went in.  This was not the result of complacency at the end of a hard season but an abysmal capitulation at the end of a campaign where survival was by the slimmest margins of some lucky wins and one storming performance against Spurs.  The fans deserve and expect more and who can blame the majority for leaving before the lap of honour?   If the players couldn’t be bothered to put in the ninety minutes effort why should supporters, who have given up so much time and money, hang around to acknowledge them.

The First Goal in Cheapest

One of my problems with Slaven Bilic is that he is a reactive manager, and even then he is usually slow to react.  Having by accident or design hit upon a formation that tightened up the defence for a while he was always likely to stick with it regardless until it went horribly wrong.  Despite having allowed Kouyate and Noble to blag season ending sick-notes he attempted to maintain the same system equipped with unsuitable players against a Liverpool side that were set up very differently.  Even the half time break did nothing to address the obvious problems.  The only hope would have been to stop Liverpool scoring and settle for a goalless draw, a task that look beyond them as the visitors were repeatedly given space and time in the box.  The breakthrough when it came stemmed from a pointless and wasted Calleri flick, in a rare West Ham attack, followed by Dad’s Army defending;  Collins inexplicably leaving Sturridge all on his own while a daydreaming Fonte kindly played him onside to capitalise on Coutinho’s excellent through ball.   With no ideas how to respond the remainder of the game became an exhibition match for the visitors which echoed prior desperate defeats to Arsenal and Manchester City.  Still at least we beat Tottenham.

Ayew Having a Laugh?

I was trying to think of the worst open goal miss that I have ever seen.  There are quite a few compilations on Youtube; Ronnie Rosenthal normally sets the standard but  I am sure that the one by 20 million pound striker Andre Ayew on the stroke of half-time will feature regularly in years to come.  What made the miss so special was, not that it was only 2 or 3 yards from goal, but that having hit the post of an open goal once he did exactly the same again when the ball rebounded nicely to him.  In a typical game Ayew rarely contributes a great deal but he can normally be relied on to convert the simple tap-in.  On this occasion he failed on both counts and yet still survived for almost 80 minutes before being replaced by 10 million pound misfit Robert Snodgrass.  It is all well and good putting youngsters like Rice and Quina on the bench for matchday atmosphere experience but why bother if there is no intention of giving them a run out no matter what the circumstances?

Good Intent

I have become wholeheartedly confused recently about what does or doesn’t constitute a foul or a penalty (or a handball come to that); particularly in relation to intent.  The Winston Reid penalty claim incident that immediately preceded the third Liverpool goal is a perfect example.  Liverpool’s Wijnaldum jumped with arms raised and struck Reid in the face (plus he may even have also handled the ball).  The referee waved play on and compounded his decision by not stopping play despite Reid appearing to have a head injury.  Typically, Liverpool did not put the ball into touch even though Adrian had done so earlier when a Liverpool player went down injured.  I have since heard pundits (well Andy Townsend to be precise) say that there was no intent by Wijnaldum; but then that is often the case with many tackles,, which are mistimed or reckless rather than intentional, and where even the merest hint of a touch has players tumbling ground-wards to general ‘they were entitled to go down’ punditry.  Surely anyone raising their arms should suffer the consequences whenever a collision occurs, just as they should if the balls hits them.  What with the goalkeeper’s get out of jail card that we saw in the Loris challenge on Lanzini such game changing decisions are becoming more of a lottery year on year; not that this one decision was the excuse for yesterday’s defeat.

What The Feghouli?

For the first time yesterday we saw a Feghouli who actually resembled a top level footballer.  Although only on the pitch for just over half an hour he looked both lively and to have a bit of pace, and was one of our better players. Where had that performance been all season or was this a pop-up shop window display?  Too late to convince me that he has a future, however, and is one of several players, along with the likes of Calleri, Snodgrass, Ayew and Fonte, who I would be happy to see the back of.  My fear, though, is that the club would simply replace them with a procession of fading, over 30’s whose best days are well behind them, just being currently better than what we have is not sufficient justification.  Perhaps one day we will realise that success in modern football requires pace and stamina all over the park.

Matchday: Mickey Mousers Come To Town

“Téléphonez à un ami!” Can West Ham provide a lifeline to Arsene Wenger by scuppering Liverpool’s top four pretensions?

Matchday LiverpoolThe misty eyed football historian may well remember the day when Liverpool, along with teams such as Preston North End, Huddersfield Town and Portsmouth, were serious contenders for top flight league honours.  In fact, for a time in the not too distant past, when footballers posed beside Ford Capris, advertised hair grooming products and sported flared trousers and moustaches, the men from Anfield were something of a dominant force.  Then suddenly, before anyone realised that simply appointing ex-players to the managerial boot-room didn’t guarantee success, the Premier League circus had begun and money started to talk in a Manc rather than Scouse accent; the media’s favourite club became marooned in the doldrums.

There have been a few occasions where they threatened to clamber back up the league ladder but ultimately there has always been a snake (or a Steven Gerrard slip) to see them tumble back down again.  Liverpool are the northern equivalent of Tottenham, better than many other teams in the league but nowhere near as good as their fans believe them to be.  With Arsenal’s win at Stoke last night it puts further pressure on Liverpool’s quest for a top four finish and so it is appropriate that West Ham have the opportunity to put the kibosh on both team’s seasonal aspirations in successive weeks at the London Stadium.

He (Noble) played through the pain and with that pain and it became a bit worse.  Kouyate has a wrist problem, he played through a lot of pain. We made a plan for him to play as much as possible, but it became worse.

– Slav explains injuries becoming worse

Our own season has been one heavily weighted towards disappointment.  As it reaches its conclusion there is not a great deal to look back on with pride apart from that victory over Tottenham and the EFL cup defeat of Chelsea.  Once again no Hammer, bar a late flurry, will get even half way to mythical 20 goals per season and after a first ever Premier League positive goal difference last term we are firmly back in deficit territory.  Hopefully a little of last week’s energy and enterprise will be carried forward to today so that the season doesn’t finally fizzle out on a depressing low point.

Head to Head

No West Ham supporter needs to be told how dreadful our record away to Liverpool is but may not be aware that they also hold the advantage in matches played on our own turf; a win for the Hammers today though would even things up at 22 wins apiece from 59 attempts and a 4-0 win would also restore goal parity at the same time.  West Ham are, however, on a tidy little run against the Reds with three wins and two draws in the last five; and still to lose against a Jurgen Klopp side.

Team News

Depending on whether Arthur Masuaku is fit or not then it could be up to eight first team players on the sick list for West Ham.  Probably at least six of those missing in action would get into most supporters preferred starting elevens.  It does seem a little odd that our two more defensively minded midfielders have been playing with injuries for some time but couldn’t hold out for another week or so before electing for surgery; maybe there are valid medical reasons.

With what remains (and with potential replacements still out on loan) it would appear that the team pretty much picks itself with Nordtveit and Fernandes coming in for Kouyate and Noble.  I have high hopes for Fernandes but he is not a defensive midfield player and I worry that it is a fragile pairing against the likes of Coutinho and Lallana; not that I can see any other options as Slaven fills out his team sheet. I guess another start for non-scoring striker, Calleri, is inevitable but hope that Fletcher gets more than a last five minutes today.

Everything is still in our hands. All the teams have to play tough games and no-one wins all of them. Now we have to win ours and it will be fine.

– Jurgen Klopp

Liverpool are without Mané, Henderson and, possibly, Firmino.  They are certainly not the same team in Mané’s absence.  There is a lot of speculation about whether Sturridge gets a start against a side that is rumoured to be interested in his signature.  Sturridge has a decent scoring record but whether an injury prone striker with a questionable attitude is precisely what is needed is a matter of opinion.

The Man in the Middle

Please welcome Neil Swarbrick from Lancashire making his third London Stadium appearance of the season having kept whistle for previous unbeaten home games against Middlesbrough & Crystal Palace.  In his 31 outings this term he has contributed 116 yellow and 3 red cards.

West Ham entertain Liverpool

A Sunday afternoon fixture to round off the first season at the London Stadium

It was a warm Thursday evening (August 4th 2016 to be precise) when I paid my first visit to the London Stadium to see us beat NK Domzale 3-0 in the second leg of the third qualifying round to overturn a 2-1 deficit from the first leg of the Europa League competition. A few days more than nine months later, in what almost seems like a blink of the eye, I will be there on Sunday afternoon for the final home game of what has been an interesting season. Unlike some others I have loved the stadium from the outset, but recognise the teething problems at the beginning. Hopefully the majority of issues have been resolved, but some fans will never be happy about us leaving Upton Park, and some still post messages on social media to this effect.

It was never built to be a football stadium, but there is no going back (as recent pictures of what is left of Upton Park will testify!). We have to make the most of it, and as witnessed last weekend against our old adversaries from North London, the atmosphere can be electric when we get the right commitment and performance from the team. Perhaps in the not too distant future the athletics people can be bought off, and the design within the stadium improved to make it more like an old fashioned football ground, but whether or not this will ever happen is a matter for conjecture. I’m sure that if safe standing is ever agreed, then perhaps something can be done to turn an oval into a rectangle. But in the meantime, the stadium is what it is, and we can still trudge off to Stratford station after the game in good spirits when we see a game as good as the one against Tottenham.

So for the last home game it is Liverpool, a return of the game at Anfield a fortnight before Christmas when we drew 2-2. This was a game which featured the last ever goal in a West Ham shirt from an un-named Frenchman, and another from this year’s Hammer of The Year, Michail Antonio. The top three in this year’s voting also included Manuel Lanzini and Pedro Obiang, and I reckon that is a fair reflection of the individual performances of those players this season.

For so many young football fans who think that top flight football only began with the introduction of the Premier League, then they will never remember Liverpool being champions of England. By their own standards of the immediate pre-Premier era, then they have had a relatively lean time in recent years. But I am old enough to remember Liverpool being promoted into the top division in the early 1960s, and they have never remotely looked like dropping out of it since.

The infamous Bill Shankly led them at that time and they won the league title in the same year we won the FA Cup in 1963-64. This was the first of their titles in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, that saw them being the dominant team in England with 13 league championship trophies in that time (making 18 in total in their history). They have also been European champions on 5 occasions.

Our historical record against them is not the best, and they have beaten us over 40 more times than we have beaten them. In fact in head to head fixtures they have won over 50% of games, with drawn matches being more prevalent than West Ham wins too. But in recent times the tide has turned, and we have won three of the last five games against them with two draws. We have won the last three home games against them, and have scored at least one goal in nine of the last ten league meetings at Upton Park. One team or the other has won the last 11 league games at Upton Park, and we haven’t had a drawn home league match against them for almost 16 years.

After five consecutive defeats we have now remained unbeaten for five games, and will be looking to make it six to put a dent in their top four finish aspirations. Although they now sit in third place in the league, they could possibly end up as low as sixth if their results, and those of the teams chasing them go against them.

If you look at the bookmakers odds for this game, then they haven’t taken into account the recent meetings of the clubs, and Liverpool are odds-on to win. But so were Tottenham! However we go into the match with an ever lengthening injury list of first choice players, and it is hard to see us coming out on top. But then we thought that against Spurs too!

I’m hoping for a win, as ever, but will be satisfied to see us put in a performance and commitment similar to that shown a week ago, with whatever team we can put out. We go into the penultimate match of the season with a mathematical possibility of finishing as high as 8th or as low as 16th in the final league table. We are just three points off 8th, and four points above 16th. The eventual outcome is anybody’s guess, but I reckon somewhere in the middle of these two extremes is likely. Let us hope for a resounding performance to round off the first season at our new stadium.

Midweek Miscellany: End of Season Spoiler Alert

West Ham’s contribution to spoiling the final day of the season and other haphazard ramblings.

A disappointing consequence for TV executives of West Ham’s excellent victory against Tottenham (and Chelsea’s subsequent win over Middlesbrough) is that the Premier League title race will be all done and dusted well before the final day of the season.  There may be final day ‘drama’ to determine Champion’s League qualification or the last relegation place but these are hardly headline acts for the worldwide TV audience to look forward to or get excited about.

An early conclusion means there is no requirement for deploying split screen technology or broadcasting gratuitous images of an airborne helicopter awaiting instructions on whether to rush the trophy to Stamford Bridge or the KCOM Stadium.  It is the equivalent of the case in Line of Duty being solved in the penultimate week of its run (possibly exposing John Terry as Balaclava Man) while episode 6 then only follows AC12 as they complete the necessary paperwork.

I caught a online clip from an American sport’s show where they were bemoaning the fact that both the Premier League and Bundesliga were suffering from premature culmination.  It made me wonder whether if TV continues its dominance of football’s revenues that the marketing men will try to convince those who govern the game to introduce a title play-off phase, with perhaps a best of seven finale, to provide the season with an orgasmic money-spinning climax.

Another lost opportunity that I am convinced must be on the money-men’s radar are the sub-optimal Champion’s League advertising revenues from the far-east as a result of locally unfriendly kick-off times.   At the moment an 8pm kick off in London equals a 3 or 4am one in Beijing.  It can’t be long before the fools at UEFA switch these games to weekends giving them priority over domestic fixtures.  The average TV viewer in Asia would be much happier watching a world series between, say, Real Madrid and Manchester United than following a full league campaign over the course of a season where there is little interest in the majority of the protagonists.  It all sounds very stupid to the paying customer at the turnstiles but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

On a related note, the televised game between Liverpool and Southampton was so dull that I gave up watching at half time and started to scan through other available channels.  In doing so I was surprised to come across a Chinese Super League game with an English commentary.  It is interesting to see some of the famous names that are now plying their trade out East including our old friend Nikica Jelavic, currently on loan to Guizhou Hengfeng Zhicheng F.C.  The game I saw (a top four clash bewteen Shandong Luneng and Guangzhou R&F) had the usual expected sprinkling of Brazilians, plus the talents of Papsis Cisse and Graziano Pelle, and was a far more entertaining affair than that on display at Anfield.

I would predict that the Chinese League will have a far brighter future than that other home for washed up footballers (who are not even good enough to interest West Ham), the US Major League Soccer.

It’s almost that time of year where we can ponder which managers will lose their jobs at the end of the season before the respective war chests are handed out.  Most probably Watford will lead the annual sack race while the incumbents at West Ham, Stoke, Southampton and even Arsenal may be warily looking over their shoulder as the Chairman approaches.

West Ham 1 Tottenham 0

“The more difficult the victory, the greater the happiness in winning.” – Pele

Ecstatic, euphoric, thrilled, over the moon, elated, delighted, on cloud nine, walking on air, in seventh heaven jubilant, rapturous, as pleased as Punch, cock-a-hoop, as happy as a sandboy, as happy as Larry (who was Larry?), like a child with a new toy, overjoyed.

In my preview to the Tottenham game last Friday I included a quote from the legendary footballer, perhaps the best player of all time, Pele. The quote is repeated above. I also gave a range of emotions that we would have if we pulled off a most unlikely result, and these too are repeated above. As we walked away on from the stadium on a chilly May evening, all West Ham fans could relate to these. Any victory against our most disliked neighbours is always something to savour, but as we all didn’t realistically expect a victory in this particular game, then the result is even sweeter.

Considering the season we’ve had, and Tottenham’s form coming into the game, then logically there was no way that we should have been able to live with them. But every West Ham player on the pitch, and you have to take into account that we had a number of first choice players unavailable, as well as the management team who constructed a game plan and strategy that hasn’t been seen almost all season, must take huge credit for what we witnessed.

The fans were really up for it, Bubbles was sung with a vigour and volume that reached new heights in the London Stadium, and the atmosphere was electric from the start. And with the players responding to the support from the outset, the noise generated by the supporters never wavered throughout the match. To me it just goes to prove that all the rubbish talked about the pitch size, the stadium, and the plethora of other excuses put forward for our indifferent form this season is absolute garbage. If our players show that level of commitment, and follow the game plan set out for them, then the results will come.

Yes, we do need some additional quality recruits to improve the team and the squad as a whole, but performances like that would have seen us higher in the table, and closer to the top teams, even if we are not yet in a position to make a real impression on them. For me, this game was up there with the final fixture at Upton Park against Manchester United in terms of excitement and tension, and I walked back to Stratford station unable to match the noise of my fellow supporters as I had completely lost my voice, and when I tried to speak nothing came out.

For the third game in a row since his recall Adrian remained unbeaten, and showed a determination not to let the ball enter our goal, especially with some important early saves, and was in the form that forced his international manager bring him into the Spanish squad in the past. But the clean sheet wasn’t entirely down to him, as the whole team defended with a passion that has been missed. Fonte and Collins were magnificent alongside the imperious Reid, and all three had games to remember. Cresswell looked more like his old self and played his best game of the season, and Byram showed all the qualities of a right back in both defence and when overlapping.

Noble, with undoubtedly his best game all season, and Kouyate bossed the midfield against their illustrious opponents in this area of the pitch. Ayew began to live up to his price tag, and the (once again) superb Lanzini, showed why the forgotten Frenchman is consigned to the very depths of our memories. And I finally “got” Calleri, and can understand why the manager rates him so highly. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would see 55,000 fans rise to their feet and applaud so enthusiastically when he was brought off exhausted near to the end. He really deserved a goal with his performance, and almost did score, but for a fine save from Lloris, after he had done everything right to create the chance. Even the brief cameos from Snodgrass, Fletcher and Fernandes were important contributions to ensure that we kept the lead.

All fourteen players made a strong case for their retention in the squad next season, and if you add Ogbonna, Obiang, Antonio and the ever improving Masuaku to these, in addition to the alleged (but unseen) quality of some of our youngsters (such as Oxford, Burke, Rice, Quina, Browne, Cullen, Martinez, and others) then that would form the nucleus of a squad that can improve on this season. But, and it’s a big but, they all need to show the same level of commitment and performance that we saw on Friday night. Even the very top teams don’t perform at the highest level week in and week out, but they do show greater consistency than we have managed this season.

In many ways I like Carroll, but his injury record, and the improved way the team play without him in the side, leaves doubts in my mind. And whilst Sakho is a Premier League quality player, there just seem to be too many questions about him.

So what do we need? Randolph is a good shot stopper but cannot command his area, and a high quality goalkeeper to challenge Adrian wouldn’t come amiss. We are short in the right back department, and have been for a long time, and a quality playmaker such as Sigurdsson would be a great addition. But for me, I would love to see two high quality goalscorers added to the squad, although our recruitment in this area fell well short last summer. A lot of people feel that Defoe would be a retrograde step, but personally I feel he could fulfil the role for a couple of seasons as he is still very fit, knows where the goal is, and is a proven goalscorer. It seems churlish to look at any negatives from the Tottenham game, but I would just love it if we could shoot on target, and at least force the opposition keeper into making saves. All season, far too many shots have been wildly off target, and this game was the same.

I purposely waited for a couple of days before writing my review of the game as I was on such a high on Friday evening. But I must confess that the smile hasn’t left my face yet, and although my voice has returned I am still croaky. I want to come away from a game after more performances of this calibre next season.

5 Lessons from being the Tottenham Nemesis

Everything comes together as West Ham smugly put an end to Tottenham’s lingering title aspirations.

5 Things WHUA Fitting Performance at Last

Well along with many other supporters I didn’t see that coming.  I can’t lie, I feared the worst last night sensing that keeping the score respectable would be the best we could expect.  Tottenham came into the match looking for a tenth successive win; they had the best defensive record and second best goal scoring record in the Premier League.  West Ham on the other hand, although unbeaten in four, had only won once in the last eleven games and had accumulated only a handful of points from top eight sides all season.  Never was the phrase ‘past performance is not indicative of future results’ ever more appropriate.  To say that it was West Ham’s best performance of the season does not do it justice; there is little competition for that honour.  This was an excellent performance worthy of any season and one that initially absorbed energy from the electrified London Stadium atmosphere and then generated excitement to power it further.  Proof that stadiums don’t create atmosphere but that supporters and performances do.  Despite continued snipes in the media the stadium is fine; not perfect but it is what we have and is a place that we need to make feel like home.

Game, Set and Match Plan

As Slaven Bilic said in his post-match comments; we had a game plan, we stuck to it and it worked.  It was a performance reminiscent of those last season where West Ham were the scourge of the elite clubs.  It was disciplined, well drilled and well organised involving defending in numbers, pressing and breaking at speed.  It negated the Spurs threat and exposed their weaknesses.  Apart from the odd moment of penetration Spurs were restricted to speculative shots from distance and their defence made to look uncertain.  One might ask where this commitment has been all season; why wait until the third last match of the season to bring it on.  Not unexpectedly much media attention has focused on Tottenham’s ‘lethargic’ performance rather than our own part in it.  I am sure that nerves did play a part for the ill-fated visitors but it was to West Ham’s credit that they were not allowed to settle.  The fact that Spurs needed to win and that a draw was good enough for West Ham worked in our favour.   That should not, however, take anything away from a memorable and tremendous night under the lights at Upton Park the London Stadium.

A Real Team Effort

It was a tremendous all round team performance and it would be churlish to pick out any individual man of the match.  Everyone played their part.  Adrian inspired confidence between the sticks and the save with his foot from Kane was pivotal.  The back three of Reid, Fonte and Collins were assured and effectively snuffed out the threat of Kane and Alli, the quarrelsome Alli in particular was a peripheral figure.  Byram and Cresswell produced performances usually associated with their opponents wing backs.  Noble and Kouyate were effective is denying space for Erikson to exploit.  Lanzini was busy, creative, influential and a goal scorer; what more can you say?.  Ayew enjoyed his freer role and demonstrated a far greater involvement and appetite for link up play than usual and even Calleri did a good job, at least in preventing Spurs building from the back.

End of Season Sale

So we are finally mathematically safe from the drop and momentarily, at least, have leapt into ninth place in the table.  For the remainder of this season time will tell whether we can be inspired by the Spurs win or whether players turn their attention to packing suitcases for a fortnight in the sun.  The incentive of a repeat against Liverpool might be compelling.  The important thing is to learn from the many mistakes of this season and start to build for the next one and beyond.  No doubt there are decisions to be made about the manager’s position and then the summer recruitment priorities.  There are also some important players that we need to do everything to hold on to.  Most notable among these are Lanzini (surely there will a whole host of clubs ‘monitoring’ a player of his age with pace, energy and dribbling skills), Reid (are there that many better central defenders in the Premier League?), Antonio and Obiang.  A club might be able to hold on to sought after players if there is belief in a long term plan but not if struggle and survival are all that is on offer.

Does He Stay or Does He Go?

The victory will certainly have done much to boost the manager’s chances of staying in post for next season.  With survival ensured and the owners not known for sacking managers under contract the odds are probably stacked in his favour.  I doubt there are many who dislike Slaven as a person but I remain among those who question his credentials as the type of manager who can build for the future.  Last season he was a breath of fresh air but since has been found wanting with recruitment, selection and tactics.  The win against Spurs equalled the highs of last season but it is struggles against lesser teams that should be dispatched with ease that is the Achilles heel.  Sentiment would see him remaining; business imperative requires an upgrade.  If he does stay then I hope he does well and can prove me wrong, but without other restructuring on how we recruit, promote youth and train then I don’t see that happening.

Matchday: Can West Ham deny a swaggering Spurs?

Wouldn’t it be nice to get one over on your neighbours? Will West Ham raise their game and electrify the London Stadium?

West Ham TottenhamWhen Tottenham visited Upton Park (lovingly described in one national newspaper report at the time as a clanky old corrugated arena) in early March last season, a victory would have sent them to the top of the Premier League on goal difference.  In the event, an early Michail Antonio goal topped an energetic and exuberant West Ham display to earn the Hammers all three points and instigate a Tottenham wobble than ended with them finishing third in what was essentially a two horse race.

Roll forward six months and by the time West Ham visited White Hart Lane, in November of this season, they were a team transformed by dreadful summer recruitment and a disinterested French playmaker.  Spurs were unbeaten at home (and, of course, remain so) but were without a win for seven games.  In a match that Tottenham dominated territorially, it was West Ham who rose to the occasion and held an unlikely lead with mere minutes of the game remaining; but then what has become characteristically suicidal substitutions resulted in, not just the tame surrender of two points, but the loss of all three.

It is a derby, whether you need the points or not, it’s a derby game against Spurs at our stadium.  They need points, we need points, so it is massive game for us and a massive game for them. We will try to get the points that will mathematically secure our status.

– Slaven Bilic predicts a massive game

The gulf between the two teams is now so great that only the very brave and the deluded are predicting a West Ham victory.  The challenge is not helped by a long list of injuries but damage limitation, rather than famous victory, seems to be the order of the day.  Perhaps an unexpected planetary alignment can inspire the uninspired, energise the weak and bring order where there has only been chaos.  A victory tonight, which would confirm rather than derail Tottenham’s doomed title bid, would require a performance to match the ‘obscene effort’ of 1992 so fondly remembered by Sir Alex Ferguson.

Head to Head

West Ham have played more league games against the snooty north London neighbours than against any other team.  Maybe others would deem the rivalry against the noisy ones from over the river to be the more heated but this one comes around far more frequently.  In 127 previous meetings against Tottenham, West Ham have won 43 and lost 53.  On home turf the Hammers hold the advantage with 28 wins and 20 defeats from 63 attempts.  The last 12 league meetings have seen 4 West Ham wins, 6 Tottenham wins and 2 drawn matches.

Team News

Diafra Sakho has decided to join Pedro Obiang, Angelo Ogbonna and Antonio on the out for the season rota.  I imagine that Sakho is one that we will not see in claret and blue again, while his long time injury room partner, Andy Carroll, faces a late fitness test along with burgeoning cult hero Arthur Masuaku.  There is often a great deal of anger about players who are constantly injured but I doubt that any footballer, and we have had our fair share of sicknotes, really wants to regularly spend time sitting out matches during their relatively short careers.

Team selection will be the usual Slaven lottery but with even fewer balls to select from than usual.  I am hoping that the Betamax machine in the Rush Green tactical war room has been working correctly and that the coaching staff have noticed that; Spurs attack with pace down the flanks through their full/ wing backs; that Kane and Alli are pretty lethal in front of goal; and that Erikson will have a field day if allowed too much space in midfield.  In these circumstances I believe that the Reid/ Fonte/ Collins combo should remain in force supported by Masuaku (or Cresswell) and Byram (until he gets booked) out wide and with Kouyate and Nordtveit in central midfield.  Fingers crossed that Carroll can put in an appearance and that Calleri, Feghouli and Snodgrass are well away from the action.

Of course it is a great opportunity to close the gap but we are playing another derby against West Ham and it will be very tough. The pressure is on us to win.

– Mauricio Pochettino thinks it will be tough

Tottenham appear far more resilient, injury wise, than West Ham but are without Danny Rose and long term absentee Eric Lamela.  The absence of Rose is a tiny bonus as stand-in Davies is not the same quality but other than that the visitors are at full strength.  It would be gratifying not to have to witness too many of the pre-teen choreographed goal hand celebrations this evening but I wouldn’t bet on it.

The Man in the Middle

The appointment of Anthony Taylor as tonight’s referee was described as diabolical news on one new source on the basis that West Ham had lost all three games where he has been in charge this season (Chelsea (a), Everton (a) and Leicester (a)).  Apart from failing to dismiss Diego Costa in the season opener I suggest that the defeats were due more to our own shortcomings than refereeing influence.  Taylor has officiated in 37 games in all competitions this season and issued an arm-wearying 144 yellow cards, but just the 4 reds.