Matchday 1: West Ham’s Typically Tricky Trip to Old Trafford

West Ham face what is usually a tricky task at the Theatre of Shattered Dreams.

Football is back and at last the weekend routine can return to normal subject to international breaks permitting.  In the last of the weekend’s Matchweek 1 fixtures the Hammers travel north to face Manchester United at Old Trafford.  After last season’s frustrations the slate is wiped clean as Slaven Bilic resumes his place in the hot seat with what looks to be a much improved and better balanced squad.  Time to get behind the manager and team for the highs and lows of what we can only hope will be an exciting, enjoyable and entertaining season.

West Ham do not hold many Premier League records but the highest number of opening day defeats (with ten) is one of them, while today’s opponents are joint leaders in the collection of opening day victories, with sixteen.  Throw in the fact that Jose Mourinho has never, as a manager, lost a season opener or lost a home league match on a Sunday then the omens do not look very promosing.  Still there are always a handful of surprises on the opening weekend and hopefully these were not all used up yesterday.

Head to Head

Of the last twelve meetings between West Ham and Manchester United that wonderful and memorable last game at the Boleyn is the only win that the Hammers have recorded.  The remainder have seen six defeats and five draws.

Old Trafford has never been the happiest hunting ground and despite some notable successes West Ham have only won fourteen times out of seventy visits (nine draws and forty seven defeats).  The most recent victory was on the final day of the Great Escape season (May 2007) and in the twelve encounters since that day the record is lost nine and drawn three.  Both the last two league meetings at Old Trafford have ended in draws including a scoreless one in December 2015 where the Hammers were clearly the better side.

“It’s not ideal playing against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the first game of the season, but on the other hand, it is brilliant and one of the greatest away games in the league.”

Slaven Bilic on the opening day fixture

You have to go back to the early days of the 1986/87 season for the last time that West Ham scored more than one goal at Old Trafford when two goals from Frank McAvennie and another from Alan Devonshire earned a 3-2 win to put West Ham top of the table.  If Javier Hernandez is unsure whether or not to celebrate any goals that he scores then history suggests that he will only need to agonise about it one time.

Team News

Once again West Ham are pace setters on the Physio Room injuries table with several key players not available for selection.  The probable absence of Manuel Lanzini and Michail Antonio are the biggest blows particularly with respect to any attacking aspirations that the Hammers may have.  Cheikhou Kouyate, Diafra Sakho and Andy Carroll are all missing and Aaron Creswell is a doubt.

My expectation is that Bilic will start with the back three of Winston Reid, Angelo Ogbonna and Jose Fonte supported by Pablo Zabaleta and one of Arthur Masuaku or Cresswell as full/ wing backs.  A probable midfield will see Pedro Obiang and Mark Noble at its heart with Marko Arnautovic and Andre Ayew wide and Herndandez a lonely figure up top.

“Everyone is available except the injuries that everybody knows, so the injuries that come from the previous season with surgeries.  Every one of the 22, plus the goalkeepers, that started the pre-season is ready for Premier League match one.”

Jose Mourinho on his fully fit squad

Manchester United have no new injury concerns and will parade a host of expensive new signings including bogey man Romelu Lukaku.

Man in the Middle

Today’s referee is Martin Atkinson from West Yorkshire.  We enjoyed Atkinson’s company four times last season: the home defeat to Watford; away wins to Crystal Palace (where he sent off Cresswell for two alleged yellow card offences) and Middlesbrough; and the away defeat to Arsenal (where he denied the Gunners a penalty or two to prevent an even more comprehensive scoreline).

Prediction

Both Lawro and Paul Merson see the game as a stonewall 2-0 home win for the hosts.  Mourinho’s teams are never flamboyant or packed with flair but rely on strength and relentless pressure to break teams down.  West Ham will likely take several buses to park on the edge of the area and the danger will be giving away too many free-kicks close to goal.  How well Zabaleta deals with the threat of Rashford could be a decisive individual contest.  The shortest odds this afternoon must be for a Lukaku goal and I fear that if one goes in it could lead to several more.  Difficult to see the Hammers fashioning too many quick breakaways but maybe Arnie and the Little Pea can conjure something up.

I would like to think that we can snatch a draw but deep down feel that we could lose by two or three.  It would be nice to get off to a flying start to the season but with three away games on the bounce it will be tough to get many points on the board before the international break.

 

 

Manchester United versus West Ham Preview

West Ham travel to Old Trafford for their 2017/18 season opener.

So there we have it. The pre-season fixtures have been done and dusted and we now get down to the nitty gritty of the Premier League. Of course because of the World Athletics Championships we face three fixtures away from home to begin with while they put the stadium back together again. In reality though, only one game had to be re-arranged, and that is our second match which is now a visit to the South Coast, instead of a home game against Southampton.

The opener though is just about as tough a game as we can expect, and nothing we’ve seen in pre-season leads me to expect that we can create a surprise here. The bookmakers don’t anticipate an upset, with the home side at odds of between 1/3 and 1/4, and a West Ham win quoted at between 10/1 and 12/1. You can get 4/1 on a drawn game.

Although friendly games very rarely give an indication of the real business to come, our final pre-season game in Iceland against Manchester City demonstrated very clearly the gulf in class between the very top teams, and those, like ourselves, who can really only hope to be contending for an eighth place finish. Our hosts have had an excellent pre-season including a win over City, and their only defeat was a single goal loss to Barcelona.

But you never know. Perhaps a visit to Old Trafford for the first game in the season is as good a time to visit there as any. Mourinho has added to what was already a strong squad, with their big signings of Lindelof, Matic, and our old friend Lukaku, who will be looking for his customary goal against West Ham, although to be fair we stopped him from scoring the last time he played against us for Everton in April.

The opening game can throw up some surprises, however; none more so than our visit to the Emirates the season before last when we shocked everybody with a 2-0 win. Last season we only just lost to Chelsea with a late goal from Costa, who shouldn’t really have still been on the field at the time, and they of course went on to win the league comfortably. But Manchester United began last season well with three straight wins, and every indication is that they might be even stronger contenders to finish at the top this time around.

I am writing this preview a few days in advance, as I will be watching the game in a bar in Camp de Mar in Majorca, and as such I am not sure of the likely make-up of our team, and how many injuries we will have before the season gets underway! I have a feeling that we will go into the game with a defensive 3-5-2 formation, with Fonte, Reid and Ogbonna in front of Hart in goal. Zabaleta and Masuaku could well be the wide (defensive) players in the middle (back?) five, and I would expect that Noble, Obiang and Lanzini will be the others. I would anticipate the two strikers to be Arnautavic and Hernandez. This would not necessarily be my choice of formation, but I am not paid to manage the team. If we do line up in this way then I can see us being on the back foot from the start.

Nevertheless I have dusted down my optimistic hat, and for no logical reason predict a 1-0 win, courtesy of a goal by Hernandez against the club that let him go.

Matchday: Going Through the Motions at Turf Moor

It’s dead rubber day in the Premier League as the Hammers go limp in Lancashire.

Burnley West HamI used to think that a dead rubber was a used condom until I started to read about the finale to this season’s Premier League programme.  Paradoxically at the time when condoms were actually made from rubber (rather than latex) they were considered reusable and so, technically, not dead once they had performed their duty.  Of course, the UK’s most famous condoms were produced just a short ride around the North Circular by the London Rubber Company using a brand that took its name from the phrase Durability, Reliability and Excellence.  If only our team could have demonstrated such admirable qualities this season and been as effective in both scoring and preventing leaks.  In truth the term dead rubber should only really apply in a ‘best of’ series between two competing sides where the contest is decided before the series has been completed; today’s games are merely mostly meaningless.

If Burnley round off the season by maintaining their impressive home form with an expected win against West Ham today they will also leapfrog the Hammers in the table at the same time.  With Palace likely to pick up at least a point against Manchester United reserves this will see us dropping to 14th or possibly lower unless Stoke come back from Southampton empty handed.  Overall it is difficult to put a spin on the season that is anything other than a complete disaster, even if there are some mitigating factors related to injuries and the stadium move.   It looks to me that the club has taken several steps backwards this year and is now barely in a better position than a newly promoted side.  Looking for a bright straw clutching side one could point to Machester City’s first campaign after leaving Maine Road where they finished 16th with only 41 points.  The chances of history repeating itself now rest solely on the emergence of rich foreign owners with very deep pockets.

We don’t need squad players.  Take our last game against Liverpool. We were without eight players but still had a decent team so that shows that squad-wise, with the quantity of the players, we are okay.

– Slaven Bilic on his squad’s okayness

After 9 months of competition and hype the Premier League season ends in somewhat muted fashion with the majority of teams playing only for pride; an amusing concept in itself.  The desperation in the media to talk up the battle for fourth place illustrates perfectly how much the game has become a slave to money, for which Champion’s League qualification is the perfect embodiment.  We are meant to rely on relegated Middlesbrough and manager-less Watford to generate the day’s excitement.  I’m sure I would feel differently if it were the Hammers fighting it out for that final spot but then we all know what would happen once drawn against the Romanian or Latvian champions in the qualifying round don’t we?

Head to Head

The inaugural meeting between West Ham and Burnley took place at Turf Moor in 1923 following the Hammers promotion to the top flight for the first time.  West Ham keeper Ted Hufton was beaten five times as the Clarets ran out 5-1 winners.  Huddersfield Town pipped Cardiff City to win the league that season with a goal average difference of 0.024; now that is what I call a close finish.

Since then West Ham have shaded matters and recent results are heavily skewed heavily in our favour, having won eight and lost only two of the last twelve meetings.   West Ham have only lost at Turf Moor once in the last 39 years.

Team News

Winston Reid has joined the long list of players revealed to have been playing (or battling on) with a chronic long term injury that required immediate surgery.   Let;s hope for a speedy recovery as Winston is one of our better players.  I wonder who gets to wear the captain’s armband this afternoon?  Probably Jose Fonte!

There has been some speculation that Bilic will give a debut to young Declan Rice but it would be truer to form if he recalled a fit again Angelo Ogbonna to the side.  The bench is likely to have a few youngsters sat on it but whether any will get more than a token five minutes as the clock ticks down is anyone’s guess.

We’ve added to the squad but we still need to look at the market again – we want to keep upgrading not just for for the quality, but as an in-house challenge to the players.

– Sean Dyche plans an upgrade

Burnley may have Michael Keane back for what will most likely be his last game before a big money move to one of the big boys.  Final tests don’t come much sterner than having to keep Argentine hotshot Jonathan Calleri quiet for the afternoon!

The Man in the Middle

The Premier League website has some timely insights into the matchday routine of today’s referee Robert ‘Bobby’ Madley from West Yorkshire.  You will be enthralled to know that he will have enjoyed an early hearty breakfast of porridge and a couple of poached eggs before getting mentally prepared for the game by listening to Ocean Colour Scene in the dressing room.

Madley has been in the middle for three West Ham games this season; home wins against Sunderland and Burnley and an away defeat to Bournemouth.  In 34 games he has issued 142 yellow and 4 red cards.

 

 

 

 

West Ham visit Burnley

A trip to Lancashire to finish the season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matchday: Mickey Mousers Come To Town

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

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

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

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

– Slav explains injuries becoming worse

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

Head to Head

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

Team News

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

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

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

– Jurgen Klopp

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

The Man in the Middle

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

West Ham entertain Liverpool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matchday: Can West Ham deny a swaggering Spurs?

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

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

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

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

– Slaven Bilic predicts a massive game

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

Head to Head

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

Team News

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

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

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

– Mauricio Pochettino thinks it will be tough

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

The Man in the Middle

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