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.