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

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

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

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

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

– Slaven Bilic

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

Head to Head

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

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

Team News

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

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

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

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

– Chris Hughton

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

Man in the Middle

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

Predictions

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

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

West Ham v Brighton Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Head to Head

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

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

Team News

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

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

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

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

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

Man In The Middle

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

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

Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matchday: Hopeful Hammers Take On Stuttering Swansea

In the latest instalment of must win games for manager Slaven Bilic, West Ham entertain Swansea City

It was the visit of Swansea at the tail end of the 2015/16 season that raised the first alarm bells as to the vulnerabilities of Slaven Bilic’s side; notably showing up the shortcomings of players being played out of position as right back Michail Antonio was exposed for two of the goals in a 4-1 home defeat that finally ended any lingering Champion’s League aspirations that we may have held.  The ‘blip’ was soon forgiven and forgotten as a consequence of the emotional last game at the Boleyn victory over Manchester United just a few days later; but the Swansea performance has set the tone for much of what has come since.

West Ham come into the game having lost four out of six Premier League games from a relatively benign set of fixtures and now embark on a run of so-called ‘winnable’ games (including today’s) in an attempt to demonstrate there might be something to the season beyond a desperate survival battle.  A great deal of last year was wasted wishing that the season would soon be over and there is a huge danger of this happening again.  Yet again manager Slaven Bilic is under immense pressure and his continued week to week employment renewal is likely to remain a defining feature for much of the campaign.

At the time of Swansea’s victory in May 2016 their manager was Francesco Guidolin who, having steered the Swans to safety, was out of the door the following October following a terrible start to the season.  His replacement, Bob Bradley, had only been in post for eighty-five days when a 4-1 home defeat by the Hammers led to his dismissal.  Bradley was subsequently replaced by current boss Paul Clement who worked wonders to stave off what looked like certain relegation.  Swansea’s recent seasons have been characterised by poor starts and storming finishes which makes their current position look like over-achievement, even if they are only a point better off than West Ham.

Head to Head

West Ham have won twenty-eight and lost eighteen of the previous sixty-one meetings between the two clubs.  The last twelve meetings have seen five West Ham wins and three Swansea victories.

In the thirty-one of the matches played in London, the Hammers have won twenty-two, lost only twice, never failed to score and have averaged over three goals a game.  The victory in 2015/16 was Swansea’s only win in their last twelve visits during which time they have left empty handed on nine occasions.

Team News

It is reported that both Manuel Lanzini and Michail Antonio are available for selection while James Collins, Pedro Obiang and Edmilson Fernandes are unavailable.  The barnstorming finish that put an undeserved gloss on last week’s defeat at the hands of Tottenham might lead our manager to conclude that he ‘can’t change a losing team’.   We will see!

I probably have more chance of picking the first three (in order) at tomorrow’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe than successfully predicting how Slaven will choose to start the game this afternoon.  On paper it remains a strong looking squad but with all the ingredients selected independently of any particular recipe it is impossible to know what will be served up.

Personally, I would like to see Hernandez back in a central position with Lanzini in a more advanced role just behind him.  Swansea have yet to concede on the road this season and need to be unlocked rather than bombarded.  More likely though we will resort to the trademark direct style built around Andy Carroll’s head.  There were probably times when such a tactic was effective (the 1970’s for instance) but just like typewriters, floppy disks and VHS tapes the rest of the world has moved on.

Swansea have no significant injury concerns and are likely to be very compact defensively.  How adventurous they are will be interesting as a front three of Wilfred Bony, Tammy Abrahams and the talented one from the Ayew family definitely have the ability to upset West Ham’s suspect defence.

Man in the Middle

Once again we have a referee, Roger East from Wiltshire, who rarely gets run out at a top Premier League game.  East was at the London Stadium twice last season for the defeat by Leicester and the dull goal-less draw with Everton.

Predictions

Both TV pundits, Lawro and Paul Merson, have today’s game as a 2-0 home win; each feeling that Swansea lack the form or confidence to harm the Hammers.  I wish I was as confident as there is every chance, based on their away performances so far this season, that the visitors have enough to frustrate West Ham.  The shape of the game will depend on whether Swansea will show any attacking threat or belief; they have the potential but maybe not the appetite.

On previous occasions when Bilic has been desperate for a result to save his job the team has come through for him and this will probably be no exception.  This should not be the first West Ham to fail to score at home against Swansea even if a glut of goals in unlikely.  I will keep everything crossed for a narrow victory.

A preview of West Ham v Swansea

Will Swansea be the swansong for our beleaguered manager? Plus a few thoughts on the continuing effect of the London Stadium hosting the World Athletics Championships in August.

It’s a weird feeling isn’t it? A home league game that kicks off at 3pm on a Saturday. The first one of the season, so make the most of it if you are a fan of the traditional kick-off time, as it won’t be happening again until at least 9 December. The second international break of the season is upon us, and begins after the Swansea game. I wonder if it will be a swansong for our beleaguered manager who seems to be under more pressure than ever if media reports are to be believed.

I wondered about the derivation of the word swansong. Legend has it that swans are mute throughout their lives, but they sing beautifully and mournfully before they die. Let us hope that the team performs beautifully for the manager on Saturday, and that we pick up the much needed three points that would take us out of the relegation zone.

We only have one home game in the month of October (Friday 20 October 8pm v Brighton), and by the end of the month 10 league games will have been played (four at home and six away). November is a more balanced month with two home games (Saturday 4 November v Liverpool 5.30pm kick-off, and Leicester (Friday 24 November 8pm), and two away. Of course the third international break takes place in that month to continue the stop-start to the Premier League season that we endure every year now.

Seven games are scheduled for December, with just three at home and four away. The next potential Saturday 3pm kick doesn’t happen until the 9th when Chelsea are our visitors, but once the Sky / BT schedules are announced that may of course change. By the time we sit down for our Christmas lunch we will be exactly half way into the season, having played 19 games, 9 at home and 10 away, but visits to Bournemouth on Boxing Day, and the return fixture at Tottenham four days later, mean that we will once again be in the position we were in just three games into the season, that is having played three more games away from home than at the London Stadium!

We are forever behind, and the effect of the World Athletics Championships being held at our stadium will be a significant one if we are still lingering in the lower reaches of the table by then. The home / away balance doesn’t even itself out until the end of March, at which time we will have played 16 games at home and the same number away, with just six games left in the season at that time.

If you look back on the history of Swansea visits to West Ham, we have an overwhelming superiority. But I’m not sure that statistics such as these are a good thing! In almost 30 home games against them we have only lost on two occasions. The first of these was in 1956 when we were both in the second tier, but that was too long ago for even me to remember.

The second I can recall very clearly though. It was of course the penultimate game at Upton Park and the last to be played on a Saturday. We went with high expectations as a record-breaking season was coming towards a close and were thrashed 4-1, with a certain Andre Ayew scoring one of the Swansea goals. Of course this massive disappointment was soon forgotten in the following week when we met Manchester United in that never-to-be-forgotten final game at the old ground.

Last season we beat them in April with that terrific strike along the ground from Kouyate from outside the box which was the only goal of the game. That left Swansea in big trouble in the bottom three with just half a dozen games of the season to go, but they escaped the drop with a fine finishing run.

This season, their seventh consecutive one in the top flight, they (like ourselves) have not started as well as they would have hoped. They have lost all of their three home games at the Liberty Stadium, 4-0 to Manchester United, 1-0 to Newcastle, and 2-1 to Watford. But we need to be wary, as their form on the road has been excellent. A goalless draw at Southampton to begin the season, a 2-0 win at Palace, and then another goalless game at Tottenham has given them five points, all away from home. This puts them in 15th place, just one point above ourselves. It is a bit early I know, but we could perhaps call this a “six-pointer” this weekend, as well as an extremely important (must win?) game for our manager.

I rarely manage to accurately predict our starting line-up, as the manager always seems to throw in a surprise or two that I wasn’t expecting. But this time I am confident that he will start with the following eleven:

Hart, Fonte, Reid, Ogbonna, Zabaleta, Noble, Kouyate, Cresswell, Ayew, Arnautavic, Chicarito.

If the manager subscribes to the “horses for courses” theory then he will be tempted to include Carroll in view of his fine goalscoring record against today’s opponents. Apparently Lanzini is now fit, but I expect him to start on the bench, although I would personally include him from the start in place of Ayew. But I reckon Ayew will get the nod, particularly as the game is against his former employers. Depending on how the game is going I would expect important contributions as substitutes from Lanzini, Carroll, Masuaku, or Rice. I don’t think anyone else will get a look in.

The bookies make us favourites to win the game and we are slightly odds-on to do so. Swansea are around 3/1 plus, and the draw is around 5/2. Given Swansea’s away form, especially the fact that they have yet to concede a goal on their travels, the game is likely to be a tight one. Despite the tension surrounding the manager I hope that we can win a close game, possibly by the odd goal, just as we did about six months ago. A repeat of that scoreline, with the same goalscorer, is on offer at around 33/1.  

Matchday: West Ham Aim For Three In A Row Against Spurs

Can it happen again? West Ham target a hat-trick of home wins against the pretenders of Tottenham.

After a run of three games that has seen two wins and three clean sheets West Ham get the opportunity to convince whether it is a corner turned or simply a competent return from a benign set of fixtures.  There certainly seems to be a greater air of confidence around the club (and especially in the manager’s demeanour) and usually there is little needed in terms of additional motivation to prepare the team in readiness for today’s visitors.  That a London derby continues to arouse such passions on the pitch in an era where few players have any local connections is evidence that football has not totally lost its soul.  More of a concern for Hammer’s supporters is why the team being  ‘up for it’ is not something we can experience week in and week out!

“They have patterns, good players and, for me, that makes them one of the best teams probably the most attractive one.”

– Slaven Bilic

It is an unwholesome thought but Tottenham have most probably been the best footballing side in the Premier League over the past two seasons and they are very fortunate to have (for now) one of the best managers in the business.  In some ways it makes their ultimate failure to win the league and our part in that downfall all the more amusing.    Tottenham like to consider themselves as part of the ‘Big 6’ but in truth, from a financial viewpoint, they are very much in the second division of that six, along with Arsenal and Liverpool.  Astute transfer dealings and a progressive manager have enabled them to play above themselves but like West Ham it will take more than a larger stadium to mount a sustained challenge at the top table.  Once Pochettino moves on to greater things and the likes of Kane, Eriksen and Alli go searching for larger pay packets then they will surely bump back down to their customary status of flattering to deceive.

Head to Head

This will be the 148th meeting between the two sides (excluding Southern League and war-time cups).  West Ham have won forty-nine and lost sixty-two of those previous games but have won thirty-three (lost twenty-three) of the home games between the two clubs.  The last twelve matches (home and away) show five wins apiece while the last twelve in East London gives the Hammers an advantage of six wins to Tottenham’s five.   The Hammers are looking for their third consecutive home win against the north Londoners

Team News

James Collins and Manuel Lanzini are definitely out while Pedro Obiang and Edmilson Fernandes are doubtful.  Tottenham are without Rose, Wanyama and long term casualty Lamela.

There were some bright performances from several young players, together with a much more fluid look to the side, in midweek but I expect it will be back to the old guard for today’s game.

The way that Tottenham play will come as no surprise to anyone who has watched them under Pochettino over the past few seasons.  Pressing all over the pitch, full-backs getting forward quickly to provide width with the movement and probing from Eriksen and Alli creating space and chances for a clinical Kane.  It will be interesting to see what cunning plan is employed by our coaching team to counter these threats.  The greatest concern, as ever, is the lack of pace in defence and midfield; both to keep things tight defensively and to launch rapid counter-attacks.

West Ham continue to miss Lanzini and I hope that Bilic utilises Marko Arnautovic in a more central creative role.  Arnautovic and Michail Antonio can provide that much needed outlet for the defence which is sure to come under some intense pressure.  Otherwise the hopeful punt up-field is unlikely to trouble the visitor’s back-line.

“For all the excitement and desire they show to beat us, we must show the same. We must show the same desire, excitement and aggressivity,”

– Mauricio Pochettino

Bilic has indicated that he will continue his controversial fox-outside-the-box experiment which I suppose means that Andy Carroll will once again lead the line.  Maybe Carroll is the best at what he does; it’s just that there are not many others bothering to do it in the modern game.  Even though Spurs have conceded more all-time Premier League goals than any other club their defence is a little more experienced these days to be suckered by Route One tactics.

The Man in the Middle

Today’s referee is Michael Oliver from Northumberland.  At just thirty-two years old Oliver is still young enough for a place in the Hammer’s defence.  He was last seen at the London Stadium in the 2-2 draw with West Brom last season and before that in the 5-0 FA Cup drubbing by Manchester City.

Predictions

Lawro has this down as a 1-1 score draw while Paul Merson is predicting a 1-3 Tottenham win.  West Ham have surprised me in both the past two seasons and will do well to make it three wins on the trot this afternoon.  There will not be so much pressure on the visitors this time around with the fixture taking place early in the season and so West Ham will need to play with a high intensity from the off.  My fear is that we will be overly cautious and surrender too much possession as a result.  An early goal for Tottenham has the potential to spark the type of rout witnessed against Arsenal and Manchester City last season.

I would be very happy with a point but believe it will ultimately be a fruitless afternoon.  What we should be looking for is a committed and spirited performance or the pressure may well return on our beleaguered manager.