Matchday: West Ham visit West Bromwich Albion

The future is up in the air as West Ham travel to The Hawthorns for a not so eagerly anticipated encounter.

In a weekend where the neutral will need to wait until Sunday to find what looks, on paper, to be an attractive Premier League fixture we can look forward to an enticing encounter by two of the more direct sides in the ‘West’ derby at The Hawthorns.  Even the most ravenous supporter or TV commentary hype-ster would struggle to generate any level of mouthwatering anticipation for today’s unimaginative offering.

It was almost a year ago to the day that the equivalent fifth match of the season fixture, a 4-2 defeat, sounded the early alarm bells that the wheels might not be fixed as securely as first thoughton the Bilic bandwagon; that the stuttering start to his second season in charge was not solely down to the challenges of settling into a new home.  The game, best remembered for Arthur Masuaku’s handball in the area, featured a catalogue of collective and repeated defensive inadequacies that have been passed off as unexplained individual errors ever since.

“Of course, it’s early days but teams like West Brom – Stoke, Watford, Huddersfield as well – they have done what we wanted to do. But with a good run of results you can catch them up quite easily.”

– Slaven Bilic aiming high

Despite a welcome three points on Monday night the manager’s job remains under the spotlight.  The whole season may well unfold as a long running reality TV show where the suspense is whether it is this week where the manager will be finally voted off or whether he will make it through to the grand finale in May.  Any scenario that has Slaven Bilic as the manager of West Ham for the start of the 2018/19 season should probably be tested for substance abuse.

Head to Head

This is a fixture that has ‘even-steven’ written all over it.  In 105 previous meeting each team has won forty times while each has also won three of the last twelve encounters.

It is a slightly different situation for games at The Hawthorns with the Hammers having lost over half of all contests.  Surprisingly, however, the more recent record is relatively buoyant with West Ham having won five (and lost four) of the last twelve away games. History suggests at least three goals in any game.

Team News

As a rule of thumb Slaven Bilic does not change a winning side unless it is to accommodate a return for one of his inner circle of favourites.  With Manuel Lanzini and Mark Noble both unavailable through injury, any changes from the side that started on Monday seem unlikely.  Marko Arnautovic has completed his three match suspension and is in contention for a recall but bringing him in for Little Pea, which has been speculated in some quarters, would be a brave (where brave is a euphemism for foolish) decision.  The presence of Andy Carroll was enough to terrier-ise Huddersfield but the Baggies uncompromising approach to defending is unlikely to be as easily rattled.

West Brom are without Chadli (who has been as irritating as an inebriated autumn wasp in games against West Ham since his move from north London) but will, as usual, field a team of no-nonsense, take no prisoner giants.  Their lineup is likely to include Grzegorz Krychowiak who, may or may not have been, available to West Ham during the closing hours of the transfer window; sufficient justification in normal circumstances for him to play a blinder this afternoon.

“West Ham have got a lot of match winners in their squad. They might be where they are but I don’t expect them to stay there.”

– Oily Punts not making much sense

A potentially decisive factor in the game could be the form of Joe Hart in the West Ham goal.  If ever a match needed a keeper prepared to dominate his area then this is it.  On the evidence to date, Adrian in goal would fill me with marginally greater confidence.

The Man in the Middle

Premier League refereeing makeweight Paul Tierney from Lancashire is today’s man in the middle. A member of the Select Group of Referees, Tierney is only occasionally called into Premier League action and never for a high profile game.  This is his first EPL gig of the season.  His one and only encounter with West Ham was in the home draw with Everton in 2015/16 where he was very generous in his interpretation of McCarty’s scissor tackle on Dimitri Payet.


The BBC’s Lawro is seeing a 1-1 draw while Sky’s Paull Merson is going for a 1-0 home win.  It is always fascinating, although not necessarily in a good way, when two sides with equally direct ‘styles’ come up against each other.  Like one of those old school dinosaur fights in movies such as One Million Year’s BC; but with less finesse. A passing hot air balloonist might see as much of the ball as someone in the ground.

Past performance indicates a draw and although neither side are particular threatening in attack I am plumping for a scattering of goals in a 2-2 stalemate.

West Brom v West Ham Preview

A look forward to our trip to the Hawthorns, and a look back at our first win of the season at home to Huddersfield on Monday night

I have been watching West Ham for almost sixty years now, and when I go along to a game I hope for a West Ham win, a convincing performance, an entertaining game, a clean sheet, good conversation with fellow supporters, and a trouble-free journey both to and from the game. On Monday evening I saw a West Ham win, a very good performance, albeit not totally convincing, decent entertainment, good conversation, and a trouble-free journey to the game. I won’t dwell too much on the return journey other than the fact that two significant road closures meant that I didn’t arrive home until almost 2am, when I would have been in before midnight without the M11 and A12 being totally closed off for road works at important junctions, with no advance warning that I was aware of.

My blog colleague, Geoff Hopkins, wrote an excellent review of the game and I couldn’t add much to his article. In my view, by West Ham standards in recent times I felt that some of our movement and passing was slick, and I also felt that our organisation and set up was good, and appropriate for the opponents we faced. I liked the way the defence worked as a unit. Fonte and Zabaleta combined well on the right, as did Collins and Cresswell on the left. Reid was almost an old-fashioned sweeper, mopping up. Zabaleta and Cresswell went forward well to provide width on the flanks, as we had five defenders without the ball, but reverted to three when we were in possession.

If only Kouyate had managed to get on the end of Carroll’s splendid cross in the first couple of minutes, or if Chicarito’s shot against the bar had been inches lower, then an early goal might have set us on our way to a more convincing victory. As it was we needed a lucky break for the opening goal, but it was certainly well deserved. Huddersfield were well organised defensively and came looking to stifle us, but they lacked adventure and flair going forward, and I believe they got what they deserved from the game, which was absolutely nothing.

Anybody who has read this blog in the last couple of seasons, or who may have read my articles in Over Land and Sea, or in my book Goodbye Upton Park, Hello Stratford which covered the final season at Upton Park, will know that I am not a fan of West Bromwich Albion. The majority of our fans will, of course, put forward Tottenham as the team that they most dislike, and I don’t particularly care for them either, but when I consider which teams I just wouldn’t want to watch because of the way that they play football, then the Baggies top my list, having taken over the mantle from Stoke in recent seasons. The common denominator is, of course, their manager Tony Pulis. For me, there is so much to dislike about his approach to the game, and how his teams are set up, although I cannot argue with the effectiveness and results that are obtained. I watched a little of the televised West Brom v Stoke game earlier this season, but turned it off to go and watch some paint drying which was much more entertaining.

Last season was a particularly effective one for them, as they remained in the top half of the table almost throughout. In fact they were clear in eighth place for much of the second half, but had a disastrous run-in with seven defeats and a draw in their final eight games which relegated them to tenth, one place above, and level on points with us, but with a superior goal difference. They lost all of their four final home games of the season without managing to score a goal, losing every one of them to a single strike. In fact they failed to score a single goal in eight of their final twelve games of the season, their solitary victory in these dozen games being a 3-1 win over Arsenal.

This season began well for them results-wise with a (predictable?) 1-0 home win against Bournemouth, followed by another 1-0 win at Turf Moor. They were then held 1-1 by Stoke in their third game, before losing their unbeaten record in a 1-3 reverse at Brighton last weekend. From their viewpoint they have put an end to their failure to score at the end of last season, by finding the net once in each game. And seven points from four games puts them in the top half of the table once again, in ninth place.

Our manager has some interesting decisions to make in respect of team selection this weekend. I assumed that Lanzini, Fernandes and Noble would be fit, but this is apparently not the case. But of course Arnautavic has served his suspension for his lunacy at Southampton, and will therefore be pressing for a place in the starting line-up. The future dilemma for the manager will be how he can possibly fit players like Lanzini and Arnautavic back into the side to add much-needed creativity, whilst at the same time not losing out on the solidity in a defensive sense that was so evident in the Huddersfield game. Ayew’s contribution from the bench last Monday was an important, albeit surprisingly good one, and he will be hoping for his name on the team sheet today, too.

I have no idea what Mr. Bilic will decide to do, but personally, for the West Brom match I would retain the same team that started against Huddersfield, with Arnautavic and Ayew sitting eagerly on the bench waiting to enter the fray if we fall behind. I can see West Brom keeping up their record of scoring one goal in every game, and the question remains for me, will we manage to score one or even more goals? I’m hoping that we avoid complacency after our first win of the season on Monday. We need to watch for West Brom on set pieces as they are possibly the tallest side in the league, and try to use this to their advantage. Providing we can nullify this threat I can see us winning our first away game of the season by the odd goal in three.

Five Takeaways From West Ham Win Against Huddersfield

An energetic and deserved win at the London Stadium provides a stay of execution for birthday boy Slaven Bilic.

A Welcome Win and Clean Sheet

A wise man once said ‘Football’s a funny old game!’ At last, there are points on the board, a rare clean sheet to celebrate and a welcome birthday present for forty-niner Slaven Bilic.  It was not a classic game, the football was seldom slick and the team still had a disjointed look; but there was no doubting the effort put in by all and sundry and the vastly improved levels of fitness on display.  The intensity was several levels higher than anything we had previously seen this season and that effort, in itself, usually translates to the mood of the crowd.  Why it needed to reach crisis point before there was a reaction is a mystery; but not one that is unique to this set of players in West Ham’s history.  One game does not change a season but it gives Bilic a platform to build on and to prove to the doubters (of which I am one) that he can be a competent manager.  As they say ‘you can only beat what is in front of you’ and that was accomplished with relative ease against a strangely unadventurous Huddersfield side.  There was a huge slice of luck for the first goal (I wonder where the ball was headed before it hit the defender’s back) but we had squandered a handful of decent chances prior to that and clearly had the upper hand.  Sometimes in sport a change in fortunes can be sparked by the most accidental of incidents.  The visit to West Brom next weekend will provide more of a clue as to whether this will become a corner turned or a mere arbitrary wobble.

Three Men at the Back

A flat back four or three at the back is one of the hot topic arguments in football at the moment.  Listening to many you might be led to believe that it is a binary choice,  that you must always elect to play one system or the other.  Many will insist that West Ham are more solid with three at the back while others will swear blind that the exact opposite is true.  As I see it, a good team should be able to slip effortlessly between the two and that different opponents might require different solutions and different set-ups.  Recent history has seen us stick with one or other until a heavy defeat occurs when we revert to the other; rinse and repeat.  The back three was the right call against Huddersfield as it released the wide midfield players from most of their defensive duties.  Many of us were concerned that Zabaleta might not have the legs to carry off a wing back role but he did OK on fitness even if the quality delivery was not quite there.  Equally Cresswell had his most effective game for some time.  The presence of Reid on the pitch is always a boost and Collins, despite his lack of finesse, can be a colossus at times.  I would love to see Rice given an occasional chance as the one capable of carrying the ball out of defence as an alternative to Route One.

The Midfield Mix: Little Pea Cast Adrift?

I didn’t see any mention of the reasons why Noble did not feature in the match-day squad; perhaps it was an injury, convenient or otherwise.  Great servant and character that he is, his days as a regular starter seem to be over where his presence serves to slow everything down as we contrive play possession football well in our own half. The inclusion of Obiang and Kouyate worked well and gave the team the springboard to play at a far higher tempo; with the majority of our possession in the opponent’s half.  Obiang is the best defensive midfielder at the club by a street that is longer than a country mile, why he gets overlooked is weird.  Pace, power and athleticism are essential in the modern day Premier League football and with Antonio and Carroll added to the two central midfielders there are players able to mix it physically with the best of them.  The questions that arise from our formation are: the implications of playing Hernandez in a wider slightly withdrawn role which is contrary to his ‘fox in the box’ instincts; and how is a creative player such as Lanzini accommodated (or for that matter Arnautovic)?  The formation deployed and with Carroll spearheading the attack almost certainly guarantees a very direct style of play.  Possibly acceptable when desperate for points but as a footballing philosophy it is not necessarily the greatest entertainment, and not a significant upgrade from Big Sam style.

Andre Ayew Impact Sub

Maybe Andre Ayew’s best position has finally been discovered – super sub.  I have rarely seen him make a significant impact on a game as a starter but to come on with less than half an hour remaining with the score at 0-0 and contribute an assist and a goal is not to be sniffed at.  Mind you his assist was of the type that brings that particularly statistic into disrepute; a standard short range pass to a colleague well away from the danger area is not really opening up a defence is it?  On the other hand he does have a knack of popping up in the right place for tap-ins and his conversion from Cresswell’s corner effectively sealed the game.  A player who never does enough to justify a start but is worth having on the bench; but you could say that about a number of our players.

The Boot is on the Other Foot: Was Reid Lucky?

The boot in the face tackle by Reid on Mounie elicited something of a social media brouhaha, mainly from disgruntled Liverpool supporters still smarting over Mane’s red card, and the ensuing red faces, following annihilation at the hands of Manchester City.  A similar incident also occurred in the Swansea – Newcastle game where Ritchie was shown only a yellow card for a foot high tackle on Mawson.  The majority of fans interpret these situations according to who they support, or hate the most, but most commentators appear to agree that referee Friend was right not to punish Reid, and in fact did not even award a free-kick.  Graham Poll suggested the referee’s decision was right in the Mane and Reid incidents but wrong for the Ritchie one.  Fans moan about inconsistency and I guess this is where the argument for video referees comes in; but I am not sure that is always going to help if factors such as intent or how badly the opponent appeared to be injured are taken into account.  The question of intent confuses me tremendously.  I have no idea whether intent is technically allowed for in the way that referees interpret the laws of the game but it can be seen in practice every week with handball decisions in the area.

Matchday: West Ham take on Huddersfield in Bilic’s Last Stand

On a day known for its disasters can West Ham avoid collapse at the London Stadium.

High flying Huddersfield Town roll into town tonight, for the season’s opening fixture at the London Stadium, looking for the win which could take them to the very top of the Premier League table.  The Hammers, on the other hand, require victory by an equally unlikely six goal margin to lift themselves out of the relegation zone.

It is, of course, early days but Huddersfield manager, David Wagner, has the look of a man with a plan and an idea of how to implement it.  His team have a system that relies on round peg players fitting into round hole responsibilities where everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing and are both fit enough and disciplined enough to achieve it.  Almost the polar opposite, in fact,  of what we have been seeing from West Ham for the past year or so; aside from the notable odd occasion.

It would be difficult to imagine how the start to this season could have been any worse for the Hammers and the euphoria of what was meant to have been a fantastic transfer window is now a distant and illusory memory.  Poor performances and results on pitch and an obvious lack of unity between board and manager have created a toxic environment that could go critical should there be the typical slow and ponderous start in Stratford tonight. I imagine the visitors would be very aware of the situation and keen to exploit the vulnerability.

Head to Head

Games against Huddersfield have not been a regular feature in West Ham’s calendar in recent years.  In forty-one previous meetings, the Hammers have won eleven and lost twenty-two while the last twelve encounters (which include games as far back as 1958) have seen only three West Ham wins and seven defeats.  It is a rosier picture at home where West Ham have won six (lost five) of the last twelve; although for that sequence you need to go back to games played during the Great Depression of 1929.

Team News

There are, of course, two aspects to the concept of being fit; those who are not missing due to injury and those who have the stamina and pace to last a ninety minute game of Premier League football.  Focusing solely on the injury front, Manuel Lanzini and Edmilson Fernandes appear to be only definite non-starters while Marko Arnautovic serves the last of his three match ban.  This means possible returns for Winston Reid and (pause for trumpet salute) the unplayable Andy Carroll.  Trying to predict the starting lineup has become a pointless exercise given the disposition of the manager to come up with a formation and personnel that no-one else could possibly have thought of.

On paper, Bilic has the luxury of three fit strikers to choose from but with a fragile and sluggish central midfield and defence it is difficult to see how more than one can be accommodated at any one time, without the risk of further exposure.  The most likely scenario is starting with Javier Hernandez as the lonesome striker, bringing Carroll on in a desperate late attempt to score and leaving Diafro Sakho to sulk on the bench.

“Andy Caroll is OK. He’s been training now for almost four weeks with us and he looks good. He is going to be in the squad definitely. OK, we are playing on Monday but he is back and will be there, definitely.”

– Slaven Bilic on the return of the prodigal.

There is a good chance we will see the return of Cheikhou Kouyate in a midfield, where Mark Noble is still curiously preferred to Pedro Obiang, with the versatile Andre Ayew ( where versatile means equally inept in any position) filling in for Lanzini.  At least Reid returning to a probable back four is a welcome bonus.  Whether Declan Rice gets a look in after his one mistake is anyone’s guess but my sense is that Bilic will see his inclusion as a gamble in such a must-win game (for him).

Huddersfield have no significant injury problems and will be fresh from the international break where, with few of the squad away on international duty, they went one better than us by cruising to a 3-0 victory against pre-season opponents Altona 93 in Hamburg.

The Man in the Middle

Making his third London Stadium appearance is Kevin Friend from Leicestershire.  Friend was in charge of last season’s league defeat by Manchester City and the victory over Swansea.  He was also the referee in the historic win at Anfield in 2015 where he mysteriously sent of Noble for doing very little.  With officials continuing to make controversial game changing decisions let’s hope that he has a quiet game tonight.


Lawro has gone 2-1 for West Ham while Merson is also predicting the same result and scoreline.  It is difficult to know what to expect when the league’s best defence (with no goals conceded) comes up against the worst (ten goals conceded).  I don’t see a high scoring game and the only goal of the match could eventually be enough.

“We have our aim and our target on Monday, but I think we should be honest that in terms of the size, these are two different clubs.”

– David Wagner on West Ham match

Huddersfield will be full of spirit, confidence and pressing and with West Ham missing their only true creative force in Lanzini it will be a struggle for them to break down the opposition’s rearguard.  The usual pattern of having lots of pointless possession in our own half would not be a surprise.  From what I have seen of Huddersfield they do not possess a massive goal threat but they should not be under-estimated on the break.

What is not needed is a cautious start and an early home goal could completely change the complexion of the game and the atmosphere inside the stadium.  The longer that the visitors can frustrate the more the barely concealed negativity is likely to spread.

I never want West Ham to lose a game but you do have to wonder whether defeat (and a new manager) might not be in the best interests of all concerned.  I would be happy to take a three or four goal romp and heap bounteous praise on the manager accordingly; on the ether hand but a scrambled win (like last year’s wins over Hull and Burnley) would leave us stuck in that limbo land where we have spent too much of our existence.  I will assume my position on the fence and predict a 1-1 draw.

West Ham v Huddersfield Preview

A top v bottom clash as the team third in the league following Matchday 3 visits the London Stadium for the first time.

When Huddersfield successfully negotiated the Championship play-offs at the end of last season, they, along with Brighton, became the 48th and 49th teams to play in the Premier League, following the restructure of the Football League in 1992. Previously, of course, those of us over the age of 30 will remember the top flight being named Division One. Many people, being influenced by Sky TV no doubt, believe that football only began in 1992, and so many records and statistics published today only refer to the top division since that date.

But the Football League was founded in the nineteenth century (1888), and Division One was the top level league in England until the Premier League was formed. Huddersfield Town, despite not playing in the Premier League until this season, are one of the clubs that like to keep the old records alive. They were formed in 1908, elected to the Football League three years later, and by the 1920’s they were probably the top team in English football. The Terriers, as they are now affectionately known, roared through the 1920’s, with a domination of English football that has rarely been matched since.

After finishing third in Division One in 1922-23 (the same year that we played in the first Wembley Cup Final), they were champions for the following three years in a row, a feat that has been equalled, but not surpassed, since. They followed this up with runners-up finishes in the following two seasons, too. For good measure they won the FA Cup in 1922 (the final was played at Stamford Bridge), and were losing finalists in 1920, 1928 and 1930. So the 1920’s belonged to Huddersfield Town in football terms.

However, a gradual decline began from there, and by 1952 they were relegated from the top flight for the first time. They did regain their Division One status shortly afterwards but were soon relegated again, and spent some years yo-yoing in the bottom three divisions. A brief resurgence saw them win the second division title in 1969-70, and for two seasons they were in Division One before finishing bottom in 1971-72, when they disappeared from the top level, not to return until this season.

My first and most vivid memory of playing against them was when they knocked us out of the FA Cup in the third round in 1960. I wrote about this in my previous blog article where I recalled seasons 1958-59 and 1959-60. I have only scant memories of our top flight meetings in 1970-71 and 1971-72. We were both relatively poor sides at the time. In the first meeting in Huddersfield, Geoff Hurst scored a penalty to secure a 1-1 draw, and then in the final game of that season they beat us 1-0 at Upton Park. That win elevated them to a 15th place finish, two points ahead of us in 20th. Fortunately only two teams were relegated then, so we just survived.

In the following season we lost the away game 1-0, but thumped them 3-0 in the return game at Upton Park with two goals from Clyde Best and another from Pop Robson. Unfortunately Huddersfield were once again a bogey team in the FA Cup just a week before our league win over them, when goals from Best and Robson were not enough to save us from a 4-2 defeat.

For a number of years beginning in 1966 we had a horrific record in being eliminated from the FA Cup by teams who were either relegated that season or from a division below us. The full horror story reads:

1966 – lost in a fourth round replay to Blackburn Rovers who went on to finish bottom of the table

1967 – lost in a third round replay to Swindon Town of the third division

1968 – lost in the fifth round at home to Sheffield United who went on to be relegated

1969 – lost in the fifth round to Mansfield Town of the third division

1970 – lost in the third round at Middlesbrough of the second division

1971 – lost (infamously) in the third round to Blackpool who went on to finish bottom

1972 – lost in the fifth round to Huddersfield who went on to finish bottom

1973 – lost in the fourth round to Hull of the second division

1974 – lost in a third round replay to Hereford of the third division

It seems incredible to think that after that miserable run of nine years in the FA Cup we went on to win the FA Cup the following season! In fact, between our two FA Cup wins in 1964 and 1975, we were only once knocked out of the competition in the intervening seasons by a team above us in the league (Chelsea in 1965). There were some highly embarrassing League Cup defeats in that period, too, amongst others to Huddersfield(!), Coventry, Stockport County, and Fulham.

So our meetings with Huddersfield have been relatively rare, especially in recent times. Our overall record against them in competitive matches is poor and reveals just 10 wins, 7 draws and 22 defeats in 39 games. Clutching at straws, one fan on social media wrote that Huddersfield have not won on our ground for 46 years. We all know what happens when statistics such as these are quoted in relation to our team!

So many teams when promoted into the Premier League tend to start the season well, especially those who come up via the play-offs, and Huddersfield are no exception. They may not have had the most difficult of fixtures, but nevertheless they have acquitted themselves excellently with an opening day 3-0 victory away at Palace, followed by a 1-0 win at home to fellow promoted team Newcastle, and then a goalless draw at home to Southampton. Seven points from the three games with four goals scored and none conceded represents a start they we could only have dreamed of.

After the third round of matches they sat in third place in the league, and although they have fallen a little following this weekend’s matches played so far, they will hope to regain third spot with a victory at the London Stadium. It is a little ironical that West Ham, at the very foot of the table, are generally quoted as odds-on by the bookmakers to win the game, whilst punters betting on Huddersfield, riding high, can get odds of up to 7/2 to come out as victors! The draw is generally around the 5/2 mark.

Whilst writing this I have no idea of Mr. Bilic’s plans for the game, but he has hinted at changes to personnel and approach. I am hoping that we score an early goal, but I’ve seen that our visitors have an organised approach to defending and will be looking to frustrate us, especially in the early stages. I hope that our fans don’t get too restless if we fail to score early, as this could have a negative impact on the atmosphere in the stadium. If only we could produce a performance such as the one against Tottenham at the end of last season, then much of the negativity surrounding the club could begin to disappear. A win would still leave us in the bottom three, but nevertheless it is a must to get our season up and running, and not become one of the teams detached at the bottom.

West Ham are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

Recalling seasons 1958-59 and 1959-60, which included a “memorable” visit from Huddersfield Town

Having been a regular visitor for almost sixty years to Upton Park, and now the London Stadium, I continually have a wry smile to myself when I read our fans comments on social media bemoaning our performances, with comments such as “worst ever”, and “it’s never been this bad.” I have to say that, believe me, it has. The thing about supporting our team is the sheer inconsistency. If Forrest Gump’s mother had been a fan then I’m sure she would have said that West Ham are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. When we go to watch them play, we never know what will happen from one season to the next. We never know how we will perform from one game to the next. And what is more, we never know if our second half performance will bear any relation to what we have seen in the first forty-five minutes.

So, for example, compare our first season under Bilic, when we were impressive for much of the time, eventually finishing seventh, but if some dubious refereeing decisions had gone our way, it could have been much higher; to last season, when we started badly, flirted with relegation, before finally finishing eleventh, just a point off eighth place.

For a “one match to the next” example of inconsistency, look back to the end of last season, and that Friday night at the London Stadium just four months ago when we hammered our disliked North London rivals with probably our best performance of the season, before collapsing at home to Liverpool (4-0) just a week later. We then travelled up to Burnley, who had one of the best records at home in the Premier League, and beat them 2-1 to round off the season.

For an example of “one half to the next”, you can look back to Middlesbrough last season when an abject first half performance was followed by a dominating second-half one. You can even see massive inconsistency in a shorter time frame than that. In the first 30 minutes at home to Watford last season we really turned it on and raced into a two goal lead before collapsing defensively, and losing the game 4-2.

To demonstrate further how topsy-turvy our performances have been for so long now, I’ll take you back to when I first started to visit Upton Park to watch the team as a young boy, and recall my first two seasons as a supporter. My first season was 1958-59, our first back in the top division (Division 1 it was called at the time). We finished sixth in the end, an excellent achievement, although we topped the league in early September following an excellent 3-2 win over Manchester United, but dropped to 14th just before Christmas with a defeat to Manchester City. The City game was the final game in a 6 match winless run, including four consecutive defeats, which we then followed up with five straight wins on the bounce over the Christmas / New Year period.

Home league attendances that season varied from as low as 21,000 who witnessed our 6-0 demolition of Portsmouth the week before Christmas, to over 37,000 for the visits of the champions Wolves (who we beat 2-0) and Arsenal. The average home crowd was a little over 28,000 and our top scorer was my favourite, John Dick, with 29 goals in all competitions. Two notable youngsters made their debuts that season, Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst. We were dumped out of the FA Cup in Round 3 by a poor Spurs side that finished fifth from bottom. Wolves finished as champions for the second season running, and Forest beat Luton 2-1 in the first FA Cup Final I remember watching.

1959-60 was less successful as we finished in 14th place (just four points above a relegation place), despite topping the league towards the end of November. This was quite a dramatic fall in the second half of the season. I hoped I wouldn’t see that again! It was my first taste of the “coming down with the Christmas decorations” legend that existed for many years, although in truth it is perhaps a myth, and on a number of occasions the second half of the season has been better than the first.

On a cold Saturday afternoon in November 1959 I had watched Johnny Dick score a hat-trick as we beat reigning champions Wolves 3-2 to stay at the top of the league. The following Thursday I had to go into hospital for the removal of my adenoids. I was five years old when I went into St. Mary’s in Paddington. Hospitals were very different in those days – parents couldn’t stay with their children and I was left in this frightening place with just early evening visits from my mum and dad. Some of the nurses were very nice and some were very formidable ladies.

I had been in for three days, my adenoids had been removed, it was Saturday afternoon and I was due to come out the next day. I asked one of the nurses if the TV could be put on so that I could see the football results at five o’clock. I was told no, the TV is only turned on for childrens programmes. However when I burst into tears a kindly nurse took pity on me and switched it on. I was desperate to find out how we had got on. When the classified football results came on the screen I looked down the list of games to find West Ham (we were playing away to Sheffield Wednesday) and was horrified to see that we had lost the game 7-0! I burst into tears again and vaguely remember the kindly nurse who had put the TV on for me being admonished by one of the scary nurses and told to turn it off. This was one of my first examples of the “one game to the next” inconsistency that I’ve witnessed for the past sixty years.

But we were really a leading (despite the inconsistency) team at the time, and following our poor performance in the FA Cup the previous year, I was looking forward to an exciting run this time, and being just a small boy, I was hoping to see us at Wembley in May! We were drawn away to Huddersfield Town, who were one of the top teams in the second division at the time. Two of their star players were Denis Law, who went on to have a top career as a legend in Italy and Manchester, and Ray Wilson, who following a move to Everton in 1964, was England’s left back for a while, including when we won the World Cup in 1966.

A tricky game, but we came away with a 1-1 draw thanks to a John Dick goal. Surely the replay the following Wednesday would be just a formality? But on a snowbound frozen Upton Park pitch, in playing conditions that would not see a game go ahead today, I can recall West Ham players slipping and sliding all over the place, whereas Huddersfield seemed to have footwear that enabled them to breeze through the game on their feet. Huddersfield scored two early goals, and despite our left-winger Malcolm Musgrove pulling a goal back, we were 3-1 down at half-time. By the end of the game we trudged off the pitch having lost 5-1 to a team from the division below us. This was the first time I remember, but by no means the last time, that we exited a cup competition at the hands of a team from a lower division.

The Enduring Problem With West Ham

The long term lack of professionalism that continues to frustrate at West Ham both on and off the pitch.

A lot has changed in football since the days when I used to pay two-bob to get into the North Bank and listen to Bill Remfry for an hour or so before kick off.  Admission prices have rocketed, booking is essential but you can now turn up with a few minutes to spare. On the pitch the game has lost crunching tackles and sideburns as well as muddy pitches that are devoid of grass after the first frosts of winter. Players have become celebrity multi-millionaires who no longer pop into the local for a light and bitter after the match. Sponsorship is everywhere, ramshackle stadiums have been gentrified (in most cases) and news, gossip, conjecture, analysis appears in a constant stream, twenty four hours a day.  For those of us who resist change the crumb of comfort is the knowledge that West Ham, as a club, remain as accident prone and unprofessional as they have always been.  If there were an Opta stat for ‘shots into own foot’ then the Hammers would be in a class of their own.

Perhaps it is my memory playing tricks but back then football, although a matter of life or death, was very much a match-day activity.  Once the elation or disappointment of Saturday afternoon was out of the way and the Sunday papers had been read there was little to concern yourself with until ‘On The Ball’ was broadcast the following week.  The excitement of watching mainly local lads playing for the local team, that all the family supported, made up for any frustration caused by the lack of success.  In any case we did have our own mini-golden era with four cups in sixteen years to keep the bubbles blowing.  There were excellent West Ham sides in both the mid 1960’s and early 1980’s and yet, even then, a failure to invest and an absence of imagination led to missed opportunities.

West Ham’s record of having only five managers in eighty seven largely barren years up until John Lyall’s departure gave credence to the Hammer’s family club legend.  That there have been ten (plus caretakers) in the twenty eight years since, though, tells another story as the clubs make-do-and-mend muddle through strategy has failed to adapt to the cash rich era of modern football.  When managers only last an average of three years it is negligent and shortsighted not to have someone separately looking after the football strategy of the club.

I suppose it is possible that disaster has struck other clubs with equal regularity but because I have not be looking out for their news it passes me by.  Yet even a cursory trawl of the memory banks throws up enough gaffes and blunders to make a decent mini-series. In no particular order I give you: the Bond scheme, Mannygate, Tevezgate, the treatment of Bobby Moore and Billy Bonds, the Icelandics, Brown sacking Redknapp in a fit of pique, Pardew’s philandering, Curbishley’s constructive dismissal, transfer business conducted by twitter culminating in the unseemly spat with Sporting Lisbon regarding William Carvalho.  There are probably some I have missed and it is difficult to imagine anyone matching this hall of shame.  If it was any other business than the unconditional devotion of football then the loyal customers would have deserted long ago.

Thankfully, the club has (to date) avoided the type of massive financial meltdown or fall from grace that has been witnessed at clubs such as Leeds, the Sheffield’s and Portsmouth.  Arguably we came very close after the Icelandic’s collapse and that we do, in fact, have Gold and Sullivan to thank for saving the day.  Those brownie points, however, do not last forever and now is the time for them to demonstrate a better balance between the interests of their pockets and the interests of the club and its supporters.  While all West Ham’s owners in my lifetime have demonstrated an absence of true ambition, the current board, somehow, manage to combine this with contrary delusions of grandeur; at least in their public utterances.

It is quite apparent that there can be no next level in the current financial environment of the Premier League without massive external investment.  Consolidating as one of the best of the rest should be eminently attainable (for the 15th richest club in the world) if only it were better managed on the footballing side.  Brian Clough regularly complained that football chairmen didn’t know what they were doing when it came to football matters and David Sullivan has proved this point perfectly.  Of course he is entitled to an opinion (he is signing the cheques after all) but it is time he took a step back, as far as his little legs will allow, from his role as self-styled Director of Football.

I do not pretend to understand how transfers work at West Ham but, from what has been written, it is allegedly a joint effort between Sullivan, Slaven Bilic and Director of Recruitment, Tony Henry.  It is said that the players we signed in the summer were all at the top of Bilic’s wish-list which is good (in the sense of due process) but worrying if that is the extent of his vision.  I doubt that any of the signings are bad but are they the best a Slav can get, and what about the ones we didn’t sign to fill the obvious deficiencies in pace and athleticism throughout the team?

Having started the season so badly, the self-back-slapping euphoria that followed almost universal approval of a successful transfer window had started to look a little premature, prompting the supposed pursuit of Carvalho.  I am sure that some sort of approach was made, whatever Sporting Lisbon may say, but whether it was a serious one is debatable.  Would the Chairman who claims to be working sixteen hours a day on transfers really go on holiday for the last days of the window if there was more business to be done?  It would not be the first time that a lot of noise has been made about signing a player who is knowingly beyond our budget.  The Board had done better up until then in maintaining a lower profile on transfers and so it was disappointing that Sullivan was so thin-skinned when criticism arose that he felt the need to shift the blame to the manager as soon as possible; not a great advert for teamwork or collective responsibility!  The excuse about a bid finally being accepted for Carvalho but no time for a medical is pure hogwash.

Carvalho would have been an excellent signing and just the type of player needed to protect a porous defence.  Bilic was reported as saying that such a player had been his priority for the last two years but if that was the case why did he persist with his campaign to buy as many wingers as possible instead?

We now have to make do until January, at least, with the named twenty two man squad plus any youngsters that Bilic elects to trust.  That this squad includes Doniel Henry and Moses Makasi plus the ever injured Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho leaves little room for manouevre on match-days.  With a manager (described in one national newspaper as a tactical dunce) in the last year of his contract he is a dead-man walking and unlikely to command any respect from his players.  At a club where players have typically done whatever they please it would take an eternal optimist to expect Bilic to turn this round.  Players need to be shown discipline, be at the peak of fitness and be thoroughly drilled in what is expected of them; sadly Bilic (and his coaching pals) are not at all equipped to deliver this.

While the efforts on the pitch reflect badly on the manager, the Board are also implicated.  It is they who appointed him in the first place and have overseen the direction he is taking us; this is either nowhere or backwards! They must now act quickly to avoid a repeat of Avram Grant but they must also address the deficiencies that continue to impact the footballing side if any long term change is to be forthcoming.  Better training facilities and a dedicated Director of Football to drive strategy are fundamental, not optional, requirements for progression.  It is all well and good generating more revenues with slick commercial activities but it will all be for nothing without an overhaul of the factors that cause a lack of professionalism on the pitch.

The Carvalho saga lingers on for West Ham

As if we didn’t have enough of the William Carvalho saga for the whole of the last month of the transfer window, we find that it continues even though the window has slammed shut.

I dislike the international breaks that disrupt the domestic football season. It is a bit like starting off any activity and then finding that it continually gets interrupted. It wouldn’t seem so bad if the breaks were spread more evenly throughout the season, but no, we have to have a break for World Cup qualifiers (or Euro qualifiers) every year. The first one has arrived (as usual) just as the season has got underway, this time after just three games. We play four more games before the next break, and then a further four prior to the following one. So we will have only played eleven games and had a weekend off three times! At least it might help West Ham’s players to combat the tiredness that was put forward as a lame excuse following the disastrous performance in our last match in Newcastle.

The transfer window itself was seen by many, before a ball had been kicked, as being a relatively successful one for West Ham, although the evidence of the first three games has suggested to quite a few of us that the jury is out on our new recruits, with the possible exception of Chicarito. Lots of theories are put forward as to why we are currently bottom of the table, and the real reason is probably a mixture of all of them.

But one glaring weakness (of many) in the team from where I sit, is the number of goals that we are conceding. Poor defending is just part of that, which may be down to the individuals themselves that occupy those positions, or may be down to the way that they are organised, and the lack of consistent selection which suggests that the manager doesn’t really know his best defence. Of course this was not helped by the injury to Reid, but nevertheless we have a whole range of international defenders at our disposal.

But a modern football team needs to defend as a whole unit, and this means everyone in the side playing their part when we don’t have the ball. And this happens a lot as we have a tendency to give the ball to our opponents more easily than we should. A vital position in most successful teams is that of the central midfielders, and the ideal players in this position are those that can give cover to the defence whilst at the same time being comfortable in possession, and able to launch attacking moves. Last season’s champions, Chelsea, had Kante and Matic fulfilling this important role. They’ve lost Matic, but bought Drinkwater to resume the partnership with Kante that was an integral part of Leicester’s title winning season the year before. This season’s early leaders, Manchester United, have Pogba and Matic. The great Arsenal side of a few seasons ago had the dream pairing of Vieira and Petit.

In my opinion our best two players in this position in the current squad are Obiang and Kouyate. They haven’t yet started a game as the central pairing this season, with Obiang inexplicably only starting one of our three games, and Kouyate playing just twenty minutes as a substitute at St James Park. Incredibly we began the game at Newcastle with Rice and Noble as the partners in the middle. Now I see Rice as a very promising central defender, and Noble has looked a shadow of his previous self for over a year now. Both Obiang and Kouyate were warming the bench. I just didn’t get it myself, but the manager picks the team and stands or falls by his decisions. The way things are going then falling might come sooner rather than later.

According to the multitude of transfer news in the media during the window, our key target for the last month was William Carvalho, an experienced Portuguese international footballer, who would presumably fill one of the two central midfield slots. And from what I’ve seen of him he would be a perfect addition to the team. I would compare him in style of play to Patrick Vieira. Allegedly we continued to make bids for him, never quite reaching the figure that Sporting Lisbon supposedly wanted us to pay. As time went on I could see that it was unlikely that it would happen, and I was genuinely disappointed when we failed to land him as he looked to me just the type of player we needed.

At the last moment, just as it appeared the transfer wouldn’t happen, we apparently switched our target to Gomes from Barcelona, yet another Portuguese international midfielder, who at 24 (a year younger than Carvalho) was another who might satisfy the demands of fans as an exciting new recruit. Now while this may be the case I would question our strategy in the transfer market. Did we really want a (primarily) defensive midfielder (Carvalho), or one who fulfils a more attacking role? Whilst both would have been excellent acquisitions, we seem to be just trying to get good footballers, rather than looking to fill specific positions in the line-up.

Some West Ham fans have taken to social media slamming the board (in particular David Sullivan) for once again failing to bring in another top level signing, and at the same time Sporting Lisbon are now claiming that we didn’t even lodge a bid for Carvalho. Whatever the truth of the matter, it seems destined to fill some pages during the international break, and will continue to do so until the Premier League resumes next weekend and we can once again concentrate on football. The whole saga though just seems to me to be a typical West Ham transfer scenario, and doesn’t shed a good light on the club.

We must move on now, and if rumours are to be believed, then we need to start performing and picking up points very quickly if we are to move away from the bottom, and for the manager to keep his job. Mr. Sullivan issued an unusual statement last week saying that the manager got exactly the players he wanted in the window, and that to me suggested he was preparing to show him the exit door very soon if the results don’t arrive very soon. We shall see.

What Will Deadline Day Have In Store For West Ham?

The most eagerly awaited day of the football calendar has finally arrived. After 63 days of gossip, speculation and downright made up madness the transfer window finally closes (sorry, slams shut) at 11 pm tonight.  Spending has already topped the £1bn mark but with many believing the window is not complete without a last minute deal or two that figure is destined to hit new inflated heights.

A number of long running transfer sagas have dominated the window since it opened back in June and so today we may well finally find out what will happen to the likes of Coutinho, Costa, Barkley, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sanchez and Van Dijk .  One thing that we know for certain is that none of the above will be heading down the Jubilee Line to the London Stadium.

Whether there will be any more comings and goings at West Ham is a confused picture and subject to contradictory information.  Some say that our business is done and we can all go to bed early while others maintain that players from all corners of the  globe are making a beeline to the London as we speak; in order to thrash out terms, undergo medicals and ink deals with the Hammers.

The apparent pursuit of William Carvalho has kept the West Ham faithful entertained for a few weeks now and, despite being exactly the type of player needed to make us harder to beat, it has the whiff of a token affair about it.  A traditional part of every West Ham window has been to target a big name dream signing but to eventually come up short when it gets down to agreeing a fee; tweeting with an air of faux frustration that we had tried our best but failed even after checking down the back of every sofa in Sullivan Mansions for loose change.

With seven of last season’s squad having departed and only four new recruits then the squad looks light on quantity as well as the obvious gaps on quality.  Throw in a median figure of six or seven out injured at any one time and a reluctance to blood those young players who have yet to be sent out on loan and you might get the impression that there is a self-destruct element to our season’s preparation.  At the risk of labouring a point I can’t go along with satisfied self back slapping that has been going on regarding our transfer business.  Apart from Javier Hernandez (although even there I remain curious as to how we can support him from our midfield assets) I think we could have done better than the other recruits where proven experience has blinded us to current and future potential.

Further confusion has now arisen from the Diafra Sakho situation with the striker seemingly trying to arrange his own transfer back to France.  I have to admit to always having liked Sakho as he brings attributes of strength, mobility and defending from the front to forward areas that were otherwise missing.  Allegedly he has some attitude issues but he is far from the first to have fallen out with the management.  If he does end up staying I wonder what possible use he is going to be.  On the other hand relying on Hernandez alone (to score and stay fit) plus a fragile Andy Carroll is as thin as it possibly gets up front.  The continuing noise about cliques and favourites at the club is indeed worrying.

On the subject of noise, the Manuel Lanzini to Liverpool (as a replacement for Coutinho) refuses to go away.  It would be a disaster to lose the team’s only creative player on the last day of the window but I think we need to accept that, even if  he stays for now, it is only a matter of time before he is off to seek the brighter lights of European football that he is unlikely to find at West Ham anytime soon.

There have been a few new West Ham targets to emerge in the media over the last few days.  These include diminutive striker Abdul Majeed Waris from just down the road at Lorient (oh, not the Barry Hearn one!) and a loan deal for Barcelona central midfielder Andre Gomes.  My sense is that if there is any business done today then it is more likely to be loans than permanent deals.  Maybe a loan for Jack Wilshere could be on the cards.

I am always open to a touch of shock and awe in the transfer window and so will not be able to resist sitting by the computer, impatiently refreshing the deadline day news-feeds to see which players have been spotted changing trains at Canning Town or going into a Pie and Mash in the Roman Road with the Sullivan family.  If the Board could just see their way clear to bringing in William Carvalho and Moussa Dembele (every club needs a Dembele) then I am prepared to upgrade my transfer window assessment from ‘Slightly Disappointed’ to ‘Quietly Encouraged’.

Bilic out or Bilic in? Where do the fans stand?

With three games gone, and still almost a fortnight until our first home game of the season, we look at the speculation regarding the manager

Much has been said and written about our game last weekend at Newcastle, and our season to date. We are only three games into the Premier League campaign, but we sit at the foot of the table, just as we did after both the first and second round of games, too. We’ve been there before at this stage and gone on to have an OK season. Also, from this position we have not progressed and ended up being relegated.

I’ve been a regular at Upton Park (and latterly the London Stadium) for sixty years. I’ve seen us win the first three games of the season, or lose the first three, and every combination in between. Perhaps the worst start I remember was in 1962-63 when we lost our first three games 1-3, 1-4, and 1-6, and two of them were at home! (to cap it all, the 6-1 defeat was to Tottenham!). In fact we only had one point after five games, and were rock bottom of the league. But we rallied to finish comfortably in mid-table, and by the first week of October we’d had wins of 6-1, 4-0, 6-0 and 5-0.

But it is not just the fact that we have lost our first three games, albeit all away from home, and at grounds where we haven’t had much success in the past. It is the manner of those defeats that worries most fans, and apart from our comeback against the odds at St. Mary’s, our football has not been of sufficient quality to warrant a great deal of optimism. It would be hard to envisage a turnaround of 1962 proportions.

The majority view, as far as I can tell, is that we have generally had a successful transfer window. At least most thought so before we had played any games. Personally, I believe that the jury is out, although I do reckon that we have a squad of players capable of finishing in a mid-table position. The evidence of the opening games doesn’t necessarily suggest that, though, and fans and pundits alike have been having their say regarding what has gone wrong.

If you read the newspapers, watch football on TV and listen to the comments of ex-players who now ply their trade as experts, and sift through the multitude of views on social media, then there are so many differing views as to why we sit at the bottom.

The biggest debate seems to surround the manager (and coaching staff, perhaps), who many feel are not getting the best out of the players that we have. On the one hand we have the ‘Bilic out’ brigade who I generally feel aren’t just picking on him as a result of the first three games and lack of results and points. Many like him as a person, and for his enthusiasm, but feel that the writing was on the wall last season and has just continued into this one. They cite what they consider to be some strange team selections, players not playing in their best positions, an apparent favouritism for “undroppable players” (Noble being the main one here), poor preparation for games, a lack of organisation and tactical awareness, and players not seeming to understand (or able to carry out?) a playing style that has any consistency or is the right one for the opposition that we are facing. Many are also questioning the fitness of the squad, which is very worrying at this stage of the campaign, as were the post-match comments from the captain and manager talking about “tiredness” which I found to be astonishing.

The “pro Bilic” supporters on the other hand, which appear to me to be declining in numbers, although many still exist, cite the fact that we finished a very creditable seventh (which could have been even higher) in his first season in charge, we were only a point off eighth last season, after a difficult time of transition to a new stadium, both of which were final league positions that they consider to be appropriate for a team of our standing, and he should be given more time. I read phrases like “we need to stick together”, and “in Slav we trust”, whilst at the same time the pro-Bilic fans believe the blame lies elsewhere, in particular the board. But for those supporters who want to back the manager I have read very little that contradicts the reasons put forward by those of an opposing view.

Quite how anyone knows what the manager was told by the chairman at their meeting at Rush Green last Sunday I do not know. Perhaps the discussion was leaked, either deliberately or inadvertently, but the general consensus seems to be that he has four games to “turn it around.” Other reports suggest that he only has two. According to some, Sullivan has a “six defeats in a row and you are out” policy. Whether this is fact or conjecture only time will tell.

Discounting the Bolton League Cup tie, which is at home, three of the next four league games will also be played at the London Stadium, and they will not be as easy as many believe. Huddersfield have seven points from their opening three games without conceding a goal, Tottenham are always a danger despite their indifferent start to the season, and Swansea look more formidable than they were for much of last season. Those are the three home games, whilst a visit to the Hawthorns against a so-far unbeaten West Brom team will not be a walk in the park either. I have no idea what will be considered an acceptable improvement, but I would imagine that being unbeaten in the month of September will be the minimum requirement, but who knows for sure?

What we do know is that if the board decides that they have had enough and appoint a new manager, he will have to work with the squad that we have. And what odds can you currently get on who our next manager will be? Benitez is favourite at 5/2, followed by Mancini, Inzaghi, Jokanovic, Bielsa and Howe, in a list that extends to 33 names down to Curbishley at 66/1. And he isn’t the only ex-manager of our club on the list. Pardew, Redknapp, Zola and Roeder all appear too, showing what a nonsense this betting market can be.

As a fan, I hope he does turn it around and we have five wins in the next month, and sit with twelve points from seven games played in the league, as well as progressing to the next round of the league cup. I fear however that he may not be the right person to take the club forward, and wonder if he recognises and can change what many believe to be his shortcomings as a manager? The next month will be an interesting one, as it always is (one way or another) when you support our team.