No Cockiness Please, We’re West Ham: Hammers Travel To Yorkshire

On the verge of something great or just another false down? Will West Ham’s momentum be in a forward direction or flat on their faces as they face lowly Huddersfield at the John Smith’s Stadium?

Although we may not dare say it out loud, many of us will be looking at today’s fixture as the footballing equivalent of a ‘gimme’.  A mere formality; a case of going through the necessary motions to pick up the three points – just as when Manchester City visit the London Stadium the weekend after the international break.

Looking at the stats only serves to justify this confidence to ourselves.  Huddersfield have only scored five goals so far this season, of which just the one has been scored in a home game; and even that was an own goal despite it being enough to beat rock bottom Fulham – their first win in fourteen league matches.  Further, the Terriers have not scored more than once in any of their last twenty-one Premier League games.

West Ham, on the other hand, come into the match full of verve and confidence off the back of that barnstorming performance against Burnley.  That win may have been the first in five attempts but there’s no doubt we tell ourselves, that the team have finally turned the corner; the only way is up and all eyes can be firmly focused on seventh place.  That’s right, isn’t it?

There is another voice in our head, however. “Hold on” it is saying “this is West Ham.  Anything can happen.”  We are a team, for sure, with lots of previous in providing charitable handouts to struggling sides and allowing them to end their unwelcome sequences of defeats or goal droughts.  Complacency has always come easy in claret and blue and today’s game could easily be lost in the minds of the players before a ball is kicked.

Whatever Huddersfield may lack in technical ability, they will not be short of effort, passion and energy.  Despite having picked up only four points from six home games this season they have only conceded seven goals in the process.  It has the makings of a very tight game with goals at a premium – although statistically if we score then we shouldn’t lose!

It is going to long, tough season at the John Smith’s Stadium and the Terriers look like they will remain front runners for relegation. Having pulled off a miraculous escape last season, David Wagner will have his work cut out to repeat the trick.  Although Bournemouth are defying the odds with survival on a limited budget, Eddies Howe’s team and style was created over a longer period of time.  Wagner found instant success when he came into his job and it could well be taken away again just as quickly.

As both teams look for rare back to back wins, the West Ham optimism roller coaster has entered a steep climb.  Even suspended skipper, Mark Noble, was reported in the week to be dreaming of a best-of-the-rest seventh place finish.  I sense there are several more twists and turns, ups and downs before the season is over even though I believe the trajectory under Manuel Pellegrini is in a positive direction.  I don’t know what the various super-computers have to say about final league standings but my low tech equivalent (pin and piece of paper) suggests a finish somewhere between ninth and twelfth.

There seems little point discussing the afternoon’s starting line-up as it will be 100% guaranteed the same as last week – assuming no last minute flu epidemics or shower based accidents.  Allegedly, the post international break will witness unheard of selection option overload at the club with the recovery from injury of (big) Andy Carroll and (little) Jack Wilshere – plus the return of Noble, who serves the last of his three match suspension today.

HUDWHU3

Chris Kavanagh from Lancashire makes the short journey over the Snake Pass as today’s match-day referee.  It is weird that so many of the elite referees are from the north of the country but, then again, if the other southern based refs are as bad as Wiltshire’s Roger East then perhaps that is a good thing.  Kavanagh was previously in charge of the Hammer’s defeat by Wolves.

Paul Merson has again tipped a West Ham win (this time by 2-1) while Lawro is back on his fence at 1-1.  I will be looking for early signs that the team are fired up and are not strolling into the match with an air of apparent superiority.  The fear is a repeat of the Brighton performance where they only start to play in the second half when the damage has already been done.  Intensity and energy levels need to be up from the first whistle.  If Pellegrini can ensure his team are raring to go from the off then I can see a second on-the-road win of the season.  It is Hammers to win 2-0 for me.

Huddersfield versus West Ham Preview

Last season we won the corresponding game comfortably by four goals to one. Can West Ham take the positive psychological momentum from the performance against Burnley into their trip to Huddersfield?

I hear a lot in the football media these days about momentum. A team goes on a winning run and commentators describe how they can benefit positively from the effects of positive momentum in their next match. Similarly a team that are 1-0 ahead and dominating a game can react negatively when the opposition scores an equaliser with the stadium clock showing 44 minutes: 46 seconds as Burnley did last Saturday. All the talk was how Burnley would benefit from the positive momentum they would gain from the late first half goal, and how West Ham’s heads would be down as the second half got underway. Did this actually happen, or was the manager able to reverse the effect of the psychological momentum gained by the opposition when he gave his half-time team talk?

On many occasions in the past I’ve seen West Ham fold after a negative event such as conceding a goal or having a player sent off, but that hasn’t seemed to happen as much in recent times. Of course we are not in on what the manager and his staff say to the team but I give him credit for developing a more positive attitude amongst the West Ham players, and their reaction when something goes wrong. For example, we conceded a late goal just before half time after coasting to a 2-0 lead at Everton, and on previous occasions I would have expected us to surrender the initiative to the opposition when the second half got underway. But we didn’t.

At Leicester, Mark Noble was sent off after we had taken the lead, but we didn’t let our heads drop, and put up a tremendous rearguard action before falling unluckily to a deflected shot just before the end. But even then, the spirit in the side was such that we went forward and could (probably should) have snatched a late winner if Ogbonna had kept his composure.

Perhaps a good example of positive momentum is the case of Michail Antonio two or three years ago. For a while his confidence was high, and it seemed he couldn’t stop scoring goals, especially headed ones. At one time he had scored with as many headers in a year as any footballer in the Premier League. He found the net with the headed equaliser in the last game at Upton Park v Manchester United, and then with the winner in our first league game at the London Stadium against Bournemouth. For a time he was almost unplayable, and a lot of people forget that he was Hammer of the Year in 2016-17, after finishing runner-up to Payet the year before. He got into national squads with both Allardyce and Southgate as England manager, although he never won a cap. The positive momentum seemed to disappear after he was continually played out of position at right back, and then had some injuries, and he has never been the same since.

So does psychological momentum in football actually exist? Can it be backed up by statistical analysis? Or if it does exist, can the opposition negate it by being prepared better? Both West Ham and Huddersfield go into this match with positive momentum. Our performance and victory over Burnley was widely acclaimed, whereas Huddersfield managed their first win of the season (and even their first goal at home) in the 1-0 win over Fulham on Monday night. They are one of the bookmakers’ favourites for relegation, whereas we are now pulling away from the bottom after collecting eleven points from our last seven games, following the “pointless” opening four matches.

In addition to their win over Fulham, Huddersfield have picked up three further points this season with a goalless draw at home to Cardiff, and 1-1 draws at Everton and Burnley. Five goals scored and twenty-one conceded is not good, but will the momentum gained from their win lead to better times? One thing that struck me when I watched the closing stages of Monday night’s game was how both the Huddersfield players and the supporters celebrated after the final whistle. You would expect them to be on a high, but the sight of a team all joining hands and running towards the crowd in jubilation is one normally reserved for winning a trophy, not a single game of football. It did seem rather over the top to me, but if they have such positive celebrations for that win, then how will they top it if they beat us?

All of our players had decent games last weekend, especially in an attacking sense. I really enjoyed the game and the atmosphere was great, even remaining positive when we were twice pulled back. The only slight disappointment was conceding the two goals and very nearly a third. In particular the second equaliser direct from a corner was one that should have been averted, especially with better preparation in terms of marking their players who are most dangerous in the air (including substitutes!). For me, Anderson had his best game in a claret and blue shirt, and what a prospect young Diangana is! Arnautavic dominated their defenders, but unusually for him was unselfish at times when he might have done better by shooting himself. Snodgrass and Obiang put in the yards in the middle of the pitch, and Rice gets better every time I see him, this time totally controlling so much of the play, both defensively and then setting up the next attack.

If everyone is fit I would expect the same starting eleven for this game, but with our recent injury record how likely is this? Apparently even Carroll (remember him) and Wilshere are likely to be available for our next home game against Manchester City in a fortnight. Yes, we have to wait two weeks for the next game because of the third international break of the season even though only twelve Premier League games will have been played by each team. The football authorities who plan the timing of fixtures certainly know how to destroy the momentum of the domestic season with these continual interruptions for international football. I can’t speak for football fans as a whole, but personally my only interest in games played by the national side is when we are taking part in the World Cup or European Championship Finals tournaments. The new format for European qualification with these mini-leagues hasn’t hit the mark for me and I look forward to the return of the domestic game in two weeks, with no further international breaks until much later in the season.

The quality of our opposition this week is reflected in the bookmakers’ odds where we are generally around 5/4 favourites to win the game. That is very rarely the case for a West Ham team at any time, especially away from home. The draw is second favourite at around 21/10, with a Huddersfield home victory on offer at around 5/2. These are often the types of game where West Ham sides have slipped up in the past, but I am confident that it won’t happen this time. I predict a relatively comfortable victory by one or two goals to nil. My forecast of a 4-3 win over Burnley ended up nearer to actually happening than I would have thought at half-time, but this time around I don’t expect as many goals. On average this season, Huddersfield score a goal every other game, and concede twice. I expect this average to be maintained in this game.

West Ham entertain Burnley. Can we come out on top in the Clarets derby?

With a run of theoretically easier games on paper can West Ham follow through on the pitch by beating Burnley?

A quarter of the season has whizzed by. Well, not exactly whizzed because of two international breaks, and yet another one will arrive after the games that are played next weekend. It used to be a tradition to say that you should ignore the league table until at least a dozen games have been played, and by that time you will have an idea as to how the season will pan out. We have two further games to play until then, and you would have to say that on paper at least they are eminently winnable ones. Having had the toughest ten games of all the teams in the Premier League until now when you take into account the average points per team, or positions in the league table, we now face a run of games which on paper at least are easier fixtures and should define our season.

As we sit in thirteenth place at the moment with seven teams below us, there are just nine games to play until we reach the half way point of 2018-19 following the game that takes place the day after Boxing Day. Watford in seventh, and Manchester City, inevitably at the top, are the only sides currently above us that we haven’t yet played, whereas we still have to play each of those teams presently below us in the run up to the midpoint of the season (Burnley, Huddersfield, Newcastle, Cardiff, Palace, Fulham and Southampton).

We have yet to put in many really convincing performances, (Everton away, and Manchester United at home, excepted), although our two draws against Chelsea and Leicester could easily have been winning games. Nevertheless, despite our inconsistent, and at times indifferent form, we do have a few teams below us who haven’t even matched our record so far. We really need to start to pull away from the bottom cluster sooner rather than later, but once again our injury list is beginning to match that of recent seasons. Is it really bad luck or is it something more that makes this keep happening to our club?

Our visitors today have a very similar record to our own so far, winning two, drawing two and losing six of the ten games played. But whilst our early goal difference was very poor it has since improved to -6, whereas the Burnley goal difference is -11, mainly as a result of their last two games, defeats of 5-0 and 4-0 to Manchester City and Chelsea respectively. Their only two wins were against an uncharacteristically poor (for this season) Bournemouth 4-0, and a 2-1 win at Cardiff. Their draws were against Southampton and Huddersfield.

When the Football League was formed in 1888 it consisted of 12 clubs. They were all from the Midlands and North-West. Burnley were one of the original teams, and are one of only three of them who are currently in the top flight of English football, the others being Everton and Wolves. The other nine teams were Aston Villa, Blackburn, Bolton, Notts County, Stoke, Derby, West Brom, Preston and Accrington. So Burnley have a history of 130 years in the Football League and in that time they have finished at one time or another as champions in all four divisions in England.

As I began taking an interest in football in the late 1950s, Burnley were a major force 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 six clubs in order that season were Ipswich, Burnley, Tottenham, Everton, Sheffield United, and Sheffield Wednesday. Arsenal finished in 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.

Burnley couldn’t maintain their position near the summit of English football after those heady years of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Perhaps the abolition of the maximum wage for footballers in 1961 was one of the reasons for that. At that time no footballer could earn more than £20 a week, and once this was no longer the case, that was possibly one of the factors for the decline in the fortunes of teams from smaller towns, such as Burnley, who were less able to compete financially with teams from bigger towns and cities. Since that 1961-62 season, only nine towns or cities have provided the English football league (or Premier League) winners, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, London, Birmingham, Nottingham, Derby, Blackburn and Leicester. Only the last four on that list have populations of less than half a million. Nottingham (300,000) and Derby (250,000) were largely the result of an exceptional manager (Brian Clough), whilst Blackburn (110,000) and Leicester (325,000) benefitted from wealthy owners.

Burnley did maintain their status in the top tier throughout the 1960s, even finishing third in 1965-66, which was followed by another good campaign in Europe in the Fairs Cup, reaching the quarter final the following season before going out at the hands of Eintracht Frankfurt. Their league positions after then were closer to the bottom than the top, and in 1970-71 they were relegated.

After then Burnley went into a slow decline culminating in the final game of the 1986-87 season when they needed to win the last game of the season to remain in the Football League and not be relegated to the Conference. They duly beat Leyton Orient and were also saved by Lincoln City, who were then automatically relegated when losing their final game. Burnley began to ascend again from that time, and in the last few years have yo-yoed between the Championship and the Premier League.

After finishing on top of the Championship in 2015-16, they finished 16th in their first season back at the top, and then last season they rose to the dizzy heights of seventh place, their highest finish for almost half a century. Once again they qualified for Europe but this time they were eliminated before the kids went back to school after the summer holidays. This has enabled them to concentrate on the league, and they may need to do so after their indifferent start, similar to our own.

I’ll finish this week with a few random thoughts:

  • Spectators encroaching onto the playing area against Tottenham in midweek brought back memories of the last time Burnley visited the London Stadium in March.
  • Leicester’s late deflected equaliser maintained our lead at the top of the “points dropped from winning positions” league.
  • It would be good if we could score a headed goal. I can’t recall us getting one so far this season.
  • The two keepers this weekend, Fabianski and Hart, are at the top of the goalkeepers league for saves made this season (44 apiece).
  • West Ham are odds-on with bookmakers to win a league game for the first time this season.
  • You can almost guarantee that Burnley will be awarded a penalty against us. They weren’t given one in the whole of last season or in this season to date.
  • The magnificent goal that you see Bobby Moore score on the screens at our games was against QPR in our 4-3 win fifty years ago yesterday. It wasn’t even the best goal in the game. Harry Redknapp scored the winning goal with a thunderous volley.

Let’s hope we can get back to winning ways. I don’t think it will be as easy as some are expecting, but I take us to win by a narrow margin.

Up With The Christmas Decorations: Can West Ham Kick-Off A Winning Run?

A run of winnable games can see West Ham go up with the decorations in the run up to Christmas. Failure to create a level of consistency against lesser side could spell disaster.

Burnley were the surprise team of 2017/18, achieving a seventh placed finish and attracting plenty of praise for gravelly voiced manager Sean Dyche.  Having scaled such heights, however,  and only scoring thirty six in the process (only the three relegated clubs and Huddersfield scored fewer), it was always unlikely that a threat to the Premier League status quo was being built at Turf Moor.  The Dyche philosophy is not a style of play that is going to prosper in the long term; although it might be adequate for pragmatic survival in the footsteps of Allardyce, Pulis and co.

The Clarets still managed to record three goals in two of their thirty eight league matches last season: the first in the season opener away at Chelsea; the second in the infamous day of protests at the London Stadium – a game in which West Ham had controlled the first half but self-destructed in the final half hour.

This season with the added burden of a Europa Cup campaign, where they were eliminated at the Play Off stage, it has been a disappointing start for the visitors who are one of two teams sitting below the Hammers by virtue of goal difference.  Apart from a shock 4-0 win against high riding Bournemouth their performances have been underwhelming and they come into today’s game having conceded nine goals in their last two outings.

West Ham are now without a win in their last four games in all competitions – evidently still basking in the glory (and resting on the laurels) of victory against Manchester United.  With today’s game heralding the start of a winnable streak, Manuel Pellegrini will be desperate to see some added points on the board.  The dilemma is whether his team have enough guile and penetration to break down what will surely be a massed Burnley defence.  If past performance is in any way indicative of future results the omens are not good.

The West Ham lineup for today pretty much picks itself.  Not that the players have performed brilliantly just that there are so few options available due to either quality, injuries or suspensions.  The goalkeeper and the core of the defence are givens and the return of The General, missing in midweek, will be welcome – I am convinced he would have prevented at least two of the Tottenham goals.  The defensive problem area is left back where neither Arthur Masuaku nor Aaron Cresswell are comfortable as a traditional full-back – particular when midfield backup is so flaky.  As Cresswell remains a doubt I would expect Masuaku to get the nod again.  Declan Rice is a certainty to continue his impressive protection of the back four.

In Mark Noble’s absence, Pedro Obiang and Robert Snodgrass will be expected to put in the midfield yards but, while their energy is to be commended, it is a combination that doesn’t shout creativity.

In the advanced roles Marko Arnautovic will be back leading the charge with attacking support provided by Grady Diangana and Felipe Anderson.  Diangana continued to look promising in midweek, in complete contrast to Anderson who looks to be shrouded in a cloak of lethargy.  It is, perhaps, the best we have but has a worryingly one dimensional feel to it.

WHUBUR2

Javier Hernandez and Michail Antonio will feature at some point but both have been mightily disappointing.  Hernandez is an impact player at best and Antonio has completely lost his mojo over the past couple of seasons – what happened to the player who one minute was tackling Liverpool’s Moreno just outside his own penalty box and then heading home at the other end a moment later?

Last season it was Barnes and Wood who did the damage but neither are expected to start this afternoon.  You would like to think that Pellegrini and the players are aware of the Burnley threat particularly from crosses and set pieces – cutting off supply will be key to keeping a rare clean sheet.

The match-day referee is Roger East from Wiltshire who is taking charge of only his second Premier League game of the season.  He was in the middle for the home win over Swansea last term as well as away defeat at Brighton.

Both Lawro and Paul Merson have predicted a 2-0 Hammer’s success which would be very welcome indeed.  It is a game that we should and need to win to give the season a lift and to prove that this is a team that are not only motivated for the bigger games.  Not picking up all three points would be extremely disappointing.  The worry is that West Ham will be too predictable allowing Burnley to frustrate and dampen the mood in the stadium- much like last season’s game, in fact.  Hopefully, an early goal will lighten that mood and set things up for a comfortable win.

West Ham Take On Tottenham Again In League Cup Shootout

The Hammers seek a third consecutive League Cup success against their homeless north London neighbours. It’s a competition that West Ham have never won but who will want to win this one more?

West Ham will be seeking their third consecutive League Cup victory against Tottenham when they take on the homeless North Londoners in a fourth round tie at the London Stadium this evening.

This round represents the pivotal moment in the competition after which the bigger clubs, who initially treat it as a second class contractual obligation, suddenly realise it could be a way to keep the trophy cabinet topped up after all.  Like it or not, the cup (n its many incarnations) is more often than not hoisted aloft by the skipper of a top six side (apart from Arsenal who haven’t bothered to win it since 1993).  The best hope for the rest of us is a combination of mutual elimination (assuming the draw really is random) or by catching the big boys when they are focused on something more important.

Tottenham currently find themselves in the type of turmoil that is normally associated with West Ham.  With all the cash tied up in Levy’s vanity stadium rebuild project, currently massively over budget and over schedule, they are having to play their second game in three days due to weekend fixture congestion at their threadbare Wembley squat.  Yet, even at this stage of the season (all but eliminated from the Champion’s League and well off the pace in the Premier League), Pochettino may see the EFL cup as his best chance to finally nab a piece of consolation silverware.

While the Tottenham manager must decide which of his weary troops to hold back for the tough trip to Wolverhampton at the weekend, his West Ham counterpart has an equally difficult choice.  How to put together a competent enough side to demonstrate the claim of taking the competition seriously while at the same time avoiding any further damaging injuries that might impact a stuttering league campaign as it enter a period of apparently winnable games?

Once again, West Ham are top of the Premier League injury standings and, of the nine reported invalids, only Pedro Obiang has a chance of making it onto the pitch tonight.  The remainder: Marko Arnautovic, Andriy Yarmolenko, Andy Carroll, Lucas Perez, Manuel Lanzini, Jack Willshere, Carlos Sanchez and Winston Reid are joined by newly suspended skipper Mark Noble in sitting this one out.

The replacement of Noble by Obiang could be the most significant change from those involved at Leicester on Saturday.  Probably there will be starts for Adrian, Angelo Ogbonna, Ryan Fredericks and Aaron Cresswell; maybe Michail Antonio will get the nod over Javier Hernandez; or could there even be a rare sighting of, the now, lukewarm prospect, Reece Oxford?.  Elsewhere during the game expect some degree involvement for Joe Payne and Connor Coventry – you know you are getting old when professional football players look like they should still in school uniform!  Good luck to them anyway as it is always pleasing to see academy players getting an opportunity.

One League Cup tie that really sticks in my memory was when the Hammers beat Tottenham 1-0 at Upton Park in December 1980.  It was one of those electric nights under the lights of the Boleyn cauldron (quite appropriate for Halloween).   It may not have needed much to raise the roof off from those rickety old stands but it almost happened when David Cross scored the night’s only goal with just ten minutes to spare.  Rather than speculate of today’s lineup, here is a nostalgic look back to the team from 1980 that would eventually secure West Ham’s last visit to a league cup final.

EFL1

The match referee will be Stuart Atwell from Warwickshire who was previously in Startford for the Hammers defeat to Bournemouth in August.  One way or another there has to be a result tonight and it would be no surprise to me if it all came down to the lottery of penalties.

Can Shape Shifting Be The Key To Hammers Success At Leicester

West Ham are hoping that the clocks can go back to last May to record a second successive victory at the King Power Stadium. With a depleted squad is tinkering with formation the key to success for Pellegrini?

It was this corresponding fixture last season that effectively guaranteed West Ham’s Premier League survival for at least another season.  The Hammers had triumphed 2-0 (Mario and Noble) against a Leicester side who had already packed up for the season and had failed to register an attempt on target until the final five minutes.

The end of that game saw a jubilant David Moyes celebrating with his players and it was his opposite number, Claude Puel, whose position was under intense pressure from disgruntled home supporters following a run of just four wins in nineteen games.  Yet it was Moyes who got the chop while Puel was given a stay of execution to prepare for a new Premier League term.  A few months ago I predicted that Puel would be in line as the first managerial casualty of the season but he has managed to keep his head above water in an uninspired mid-table no-mans-land.  Puel does remain one of the front-runners in the sack race but some way behind the leading pack of Mourinho, Jokanovic and Benitez.

With Mahrez having departed for pastures new in the search of further silverware, Leicester will rely even more heavily on Vardy’s goals for salvation.  There is some doubt as to whether he will be available for today’s game but, if he is, I hope the Hammer’s defenders have been well-drilled in understanding the Foxes primary tactic of the ball over the top.  Teams wanting to play a high defensive line can still be caught out as witnessed in the early stages of Leicester’s game at Arsenal last week.

The home side have a number of players in and around the England set-up in Maddsion, Maguire and Chillwell.  Maddison is an excellent player and just the sort of signing I would like to have seen at West Ham.  I’m not quite sure what to make of Maguire who has the look of the old fashioned big lump  who occasionally scores from a corner.  If the rumours of a 75 million Manchester United bid in the summer were true I would have taken it without a second thought.  It is a shame that Morgan is suspended as whoever they bring in as replacement is sure to be less erratic.

West Ham go into the game trying to avoid a third defeat on the bounce and, with mounting injury concerns, Manuel Pellegrini has few options to shake things up.  Andriy Yarmolenko joins the long term injured and Pedro Obiang is reported to be also missing.

If Pellegrini sticks with his preferred system then the only debate is whether it is Michail Antonio or Grady Diangana who replace Yarmolenko, and which of Aaron Cresswell or Arthur Masuaku claim the bothersome left back berth.  The only argument I can see for starting with Diangana on the bench is that it may be too much too soon for the youngster – and that he needs to be introduced gradually into the hurly burly of Premier League football.  Maybe Pellegrini will prefer to play safe with the experience of Antonio, even though the latter has offered little variety beyond his attempted foot races with assorted defenders along the touchline.

Keeping that formation will require Felipe Anderson to once again be charged with tracking back duties on the left hand side.  After his poor showing last weekend he badly needs rehabilitation.  Putting him in a more advanced role might well lessen his load but would also require Declan Rice to be moved slightly further forward reducing the protection he offers to the central defenders.  In effect 4-1-4-1 would become 4-4-1-1.  Either way, it is likely to be the same eleven players and in Obiang’s absence it will mean another start for Robert Snodgrass; all it needs is for the Scot to add some much needed quality to his new found energy.  He would, though, be a better option to support the full-back and it would take some of the pressure away from Anderson and allow him to focus on the attacking side of his game.  Rice had looked lost as part of a midfield four at Anfield but today’s opponents do not offer the same threat; he now has many more yards under his belt and I’m sure he would have learned from it.

LEIWHU3

Today’s referee is Michael Oliver from Northumberland who previously refereed the home win over Manchester United.  In 11 games this season he has flourished 36 yellow and two red cards.

On the pundit front, Lawro is predicting a 2-0 home win for The Foxes while Merson sees a 1-1 draw – which would be Leicester’s first stalemate of the season.  I suspect a low scoring game which West Ham will nick by the only goal.

West Ham visit Leicester to complete the first quarter of the season.

Can we start to climb the table?

As we near the centenary of the end of the First World War, we are also approaching 100 years since West Ham’s first ever games in the Football League in the following year, and our very first meetings with this weekend’s opponents, Leicester. They were formed as Leicester Fosse towards the end of the nineteenth century, but changed their name to Leicester City in readiness for the 1919-20 season when our paths first crossed. The initial game was at Filbert Street, their home for over 100 years before they moved to their current stadium around twenty years ago. It ended in a goalless draw, and then one week later in the return at Upton Park we won by a solitary goal. We were both Division Two sides at the time, and we have now met them on around 130 occasions in both the second tier and the top tier of English football. We have the upper hand winning slightly more games than the Foxes, although it is a close thing.

But nothing could be closer than the climax to the 1922-23 season in Division Two just three seasons later. A week after taking part in the infamous White Horse FA Cup Final, the very first final to be held at the original Wembley Stadium (which we lost 2-0 to Bolton Wanderers), we went into the last day of the season at the top of the league on goal average from Leicester and Notts County (goal difference wasn’t the deciding factor then), all tied on 51 points. We were looking for our first ever promotion to the top tier of English football, but had a tough fixture at home to Notts County. A draw would have guaranteed promotion, but we conceded an early goal, and despite constantly attacking could not get an equaliser, and lost. In those days there wasn’t the communication that exists today, so we thought our promotion hopes were dashed. It was much later when news arrived that Leicester had also lost their game, so we did move up to Division One for the very first time.

The amazing thing about our games versus Leicester in that promotion season was that we drew the home game (2-2), but in an extraordinary match at Filbert Street we won 6-0. Had we won that game just 1-0, 2-0, or even 3-0, then Leicester’s goal average would have been better than ours at the end of the season and they would have been promoted instead of us. And what was even more remarkable was that Leicester only conceded 19 goals in total in their 21 home league games that season, and we had scored six of them. In addition we had achieved promotion scoring only 21 goals in our 21 league games at Upton Park, but we won more games on our travels and scored 42 away goals in the process.

One of the best games I remember against Leicester came almost exactly fifty years ago in November 1968 when we beat them 4-0. My favourite West Ham goal of all time was scored by Martin Peters that day, and I was standing on the North Bank behind the goal that it went in. Bobby Ferguson, our keeper, had the ball in his hands and rolled it out to Peters on the edge of the box. Peters then advanced forwards a few yards and a couple of passes later the ball went out to John Sissons on the left wing. Sissons, a tricky winger, moved forwards and from just inside the Leicester half played a long diagonal cross into the penalty area where it was met by Peters on the volley as it came over his shoulder. His thunderous shot from about 12 yards almost decapitated Shilton in the Leicester goal as it rocketed into the roof of the net. He hadn’t stopped running from the moment he passed the ball out to Sissons. The goal combined a move from one end of the pitch to the other and also wonderful technique from the goalscorer.

You can see that goal on the internet, or at least the last part of it, but that doesn’t really give you the opportunity to appreciate the sweeping move from beginning to end. Incidentally I met Martin Peters many years later at a book signing for his autobiography (around 2006), and told him that it was my favourite ever West Ham goal. He couldn’t recall it and told me that he hardly remembered any of his goals. I got him to sign my copy of that 1968 programme as well as his autobiography. He scored so many in his illustrious career including of course, the second goal in the 1966 World Cup Final. Perhaps this was an early sign of the dementia / Alzheimer’s that he now sadly suffers from.

At half-time this Saturday we will be exactly a quarter of the way through the season. Our seven points from nine games, which include six defeats, would normally be relegation form, but we are outside of the bottom three, and surely now looking upwards rather than over our shoulder. It is not an excuse, but we could add the order of the games in the fixture list as a possible additional reason for the position we find ourselves in. In our first ten games we have met the teams who are currently 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th in the league table, so we have yet to meet any of the teams towards the bottom, where on paper at least, the games should be easier. We have already met 5 of the top 6 “elite” teams, with just Manchester City to come in the second quarter of the season. And while I am mentioning the fixture list, have you noticed our opening game of the season in the last five years has been against Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, and Liverpool, in that order. Hardly the recipe for a good start! What chances it will be Manchester City next season?

Our second half performance last week against Tottenham was an improvement on the first half, and in my opinion we didn’t deserve to lose the game. Only a couple of excellent saves from Lloris denied us an equaliser. I hope that Obiang is soon fit again to take his place in midfield, but it appears that this game is too soon. I don’t see too many changes from the last line-up. I was impressed by the trickery and pace of young Diangana, and expect him to make an impact this season in the team. Perhaps Anderson could be moved to try out the so-called number 10 role to relieve him a little of wide defensive duties which are most definitely not his forte! I predict the following starting eleven and squad for this game: Fabianski; Zabaleta, Balbuena, Diop, Cresswell; Rice, Noble; Snodgrass, Anderson, Diangana; Arnautavic. Subs. Adrian, Ogbonna, Fredericks, Masuaku, Chicharito, Lucas, Antonio.

For those of you who like a bet on West Ham to win, then level stakes on all nine league games this season would probably have you slightly ahead of the bookmakers, depending of course on whose odds you took, as they can vary. This is a surprise to some as we have only won two games, but the odds on those victories would have ensured a payout in excess of the seven losses. This time around we are around 5/2 to 3/1 to win the game, and 10/1 to win the game 2-1. For those of you who like a fun bet then this week I will be focussing on Issa Diop who I am sure will score sooner or later. Diop to score the first goal in the match is 50/1, and the odds are the same for him to score the last goal. For him to score at anytime in the game you can get 18/1, and for him to score two or more goals you can get 250/1. A bet on Diop to score the first goal in the game and West Ham to win 2-1 is priced at 400/1, and the same odds are on offer for him to score the last goal in a 2-1 victory. Of course bets such as these are very unlikely, but I like to combine one with my bet on West Ham to win the game for a bit of fun.

Four of Leicester’s league games this season have had a score of 2-1, and three of those they have lost, including two 2-1 home defeats. Despite our lengthening injury list, I expect us to win the game 2-1 and Issa Diop to score one of the goals. It is about time that we started to climb the table, and our fixtures in the run-up to the end of the year give us every chance of doing so.