Trading Places: Smart Leicester Investors Put West Ham’s Barrow Boys To Shame

The season of light meets the season of darkness. Today’s fixture spotlights how two clubs have fared over ten years of new ownership.

Comparisons, they say, are odious, but a fixture between West Ham and Leicester is an ideal opportunity to consider a pertinent footballing one. Two clubs who, in terms of revenues, sit behind the Premier League’s traditional big six – and who should be well positioned to take advantage of any slip ups above them for an occasional top four finish, something that could well happen this season on the evidence of early results.

Ten years ago, both were under recent new ownership. West Ham were a Premier League side, were quickly relegated but then immediately regained top-flight status and are now in their 9th consecutive EPL season. Leicester, on the other hand, had just been promoted from the third tier of English football and it would take them until the 2013/14 season to win promotion from the Championship. This is their 7th season back in the Premier League.

Apart from the notable 2015/16 season in which Leicester were surprise Premier League Champions, while the Hammers started with promise but faded badly, it has been difficult to separate the clubs in terms of league finishes, until last term. Digging a little deeper exposes why the two clubs are on very different trajectories.

While Leicester have invested heavily in infrastructure for a sustainable future, West Ham have never progressed beyond perennial fire fighting – applying patched up solutions to problems with urgency always overruling importance. Loose change spent on ‘upgrading’ the Rush Green training complex compared to Leicester’s £100m new state-of-the-art facility is a perfect example.

While Leicester’s owners have provided stewardship, they leave the running of the club to professionals – a full-time CEO, Director of Football and Head of Recruitment provide a sound foundation on which the football side of the club can flourish. Success is not just about transfer spend – remember Leicester have sold Mahrez, Kante, Drinkwater, Maguire and Chilwell in recent seasons and may well be running a transfer surplus – but how wisely money is invested on and off the pitch. There have been poor managerial appointments in the past but these were quickly rectified and Leicester will be seen as an attractive destination – for both managers and players.

Conversely, while West Ham’s owners have spent money on transfers, it has rarely been well spent – short term expediency and vanity signings in the absence of underlying strategy or direction. A club overseen by Joint Chairman and a part-time Vice Chairman who mistakenly believe they have everything it takes to do it their way. A foolish, overconfident belief that they possess all the expertise required to run a football club, even though their record at Birmingham and West Ham suggests otherwise. Their only demonstrable competence appears to be hubris – a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own expertise, accomplishments, or capabilities.

No doubt, as fans we are going to have a different set of perspectives on the club that we support unconditionally than the owners do. The same would be true at any club, but those expectations should never be so far apart as they are at West Ham. I have no issues if owners make piles of money from their investment but isn’t the route to greater value and increased revenues (prize money and TV exposure) through success and progress on the pitch – not by selling more popcorn or replica shirts on matchdays? After ten years the West Ham footballing strategy is still all words and precious little action – what happened to that ten point pledge?. Even worse the owner’s financial aptitude is akin to the penniless guy who steals all the rent money to pay off the bookie.  Theirs is a dereliction of duty, no matter if it is deliberate or accidental.

With such a backdrop it is no surprise that West Ham is a club in turmoil and have found it difficult to recruit during the transfer window. Would many players with options choose to opt for the London Stadium, other than for financial reasons? Reliance on preferred agents, the absence of a scouting infrastructure and with the potential for David Sullivan’s legendary market trader negotiating skills to scupper most , it has to be a very frustrating time for David Moyes. I have mentioned before that Moyes would not have been my first pick as manager, but I do believe he is a decent guy who deserves better support. That we have reached the tail end of the window with little to show for it is scandalous. The last two days of the window are the worrying territory of desperation, misfits, and drifters.

At least/ at last we are able to welcome one new member to the squad, in the shape of Vladimir Coufal, and hope that he can have a similar positive impact to fellow countryman, Tomas Soucek. Coufal brings a good deal of experience with him that should help shore up a creaking defence, even though left back and centre back might have been (and remain) the areas of greater need.

West Ham put in an excellent performance last weekend against Wolves and we will probably see a very similar starting eleven and formation for today’s encounter. With Ryan Fredericks unavailable competition for the right back berth will be between Ben Johnson and Coufal (if considered ready). In central defence, Issa Diop is available for selection and it is a toss up between him and Fabian Balbuena as to who is best equipped to handle the threat of Jamie Vardy. It is remarkable that despite everyone knowing the danger of the through ball (or over the top) to Vardy, managers have found it impossible to counter.

An additional hazard to look out for will be the slippery penalty areas at the King Power Stadium – judging by how easily the Leicester players appear to go over. West Ham defenders must remember to tread that fine line between ‘not enough contact’ and ‘he was entitled to go down’ which is apparently how contact in the area is now judged by pundits and VAR.

I read various comments online in the week suggesting that by fielding a reserve side for the League Cup defeat at Everton (effectively throwing the game) it will have damaged the Hammer’s morale. I can’t see how that makes any sense and can be disregarded. What the midweek game did show, however, was just how poor our big name backup players actually are. What chance of getting anything more than the deposit returned on the likes of Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko, Manuel Lanzini and co? Others such as Robert Snodgrass and Mark Noble may show willing, but they are too far off the pace to be seriously considered as Premier League starters.

Leicester are without Pereira and Ndidi but have plenty of strength in depth with plenty of pace and guile in attack. Maddison is back from injury, Barnes is developing into a fine player and Castagne looks to be an excellent signing. If West Ham are to prevent a Leicester return to the top of the table it will require a superhuman effort of determination and concentration to achieve it. That might be too much to ask but what we are entitled to is the same level of commitment and organisation that was on show last weekend. If that is enough to frustrate Leicester than it will be an added bonus.

Can West Ham Outfox the Foxes?

What did you expect? Were we really in the EFL (Carabao) Cup to try and win it? I don’t think so. I know that these are early days, but Everton have made a blistering start to the season and are one of only four clubs on maximum points, together with Leicester, Liverpool, and Villa. They have won their away league games at Tottenham and Palace, and demolished West Brom at home. Their team selection indicated that they meant business. Our team selection, largely a reserve side, showed that we wanted to give a run-out to the fringe players who are currently not in the starting eleven in Premier League games. And while they looked impressive in the earlier rounds against lower league opposition, this time around they were found out. Even with our strongest team this would have been a tough ask to progress to the next round. But as soon as I saw the team selections I feared the worst. Everton (first team) v West Ham (reserves) – not really a contest. And so it proved. So once again one of the “winnable” competitions passes us by. There’s always the FA Cup of course. But will that take precedence over maintaining our Premier League status? Of course not.

Disappointed as I was with our performance at Everton, the opposite is true regarding the way we put Wolves to the sword. Considering the strength of the opposition this was most definitely one of our best performances in a long time, with the whole team shining. Defensively we looked very sound, and not many teams put four goals past Wolves. In the whole of last season only Everton (3) and Chelsea (5) managed to score more than twice in a game against them. Both those games were in the month of September, so perhaps we played them at the right time, in the month when they are at their weakest? The age-old argument – did we thrash them because we were so good or because they were poor? Possibly a bit of both, but I did enjoy the entertainment last Sunday evening.

This weekend we face Leicester who sit proudly at the top of the pile with three wins out of three in the league, scoring 12 goals in the process, and conceding 4. But Arsenal eliminated them from the EFL Cup. Can we take the form from the Wolves game into this fixture? We never know with our team of course.

Historically, just as with Wolves, we have a positive record against the Foxes, beating them in more competitive fixtures than they have beaten us. That record is largely enhanced by our results against them in the 1990s, when in 14 league games spread over the top two divisions, we won 12, drew 1, and lost only once. My memory of games against them is that they were fixtures that always seemed to have a lot of goals. On Boxing Day in 1967, we were 2-0 down in the first few minutes, but fought back to win 4-2 with a hat-trick from Brian Dear. It could have been many more but for a sparkling performance from the Leicester keeper (a 17 year old Peter Shilton who had ousted Gordon Banks from their team). Four days later in the return fixture we won 4-2 again at Filbert Street, and Brian Dear scored twice in this game too. And when we beat Leicester 4-0 the following season I saw the best goal that I have ever seen live when Martin Peters blasted a volley into the roof of the net after a pitch length move started by Bobby Ferguson, our keeper.

When he was in a rich vein of form Brian Dear took some stopping. In a two month period from mid-December to mid-February that season he found the net 11 times. In 1964-65 he didn’t play a single game until the middle of March, but in the final 15 games of that season he scored 14 goals, including 5 in 20 minutes in a game I watched on Good Friday against West Brom. It earned him a place in the team for the quarter-finals, semi-finals and the winning final in the successful European Cup Winners Cup run, where he scored four goals in those five games.

Over a course of several seasons in the 1960s Brian could not get a regular place in the side, but that may have been for reasons other than footballing and goalscoring ability. He only played 82 times for the club but averaged almost a goal in every other game, a better goals per game ratio than noted goalscorers such as Cottee, McAvennie, and Pop Robson. Loan spells away from West Ham in the late sixties were followed by a return to the club, but he never played for the Hammers again after the 4-0 defeat at Blackpool in the third round of the FA Cup, when he was one of the players involved in the notorious late-night drinking incident on the eve of the game. But what a fabulous finisher he was! We could do with a goalscorer with that kind of successful goals per game ratio now.

But enough of the Brian Dear nostalgia, and back to this game. The three teams that we will have played this week, Wolves, Everton and Leicester, are probably the biggest challengers to the elite six teams that have dominated the Premier League for some years now. Of course Leicester themselves were the 5000-1 winners not so long ago, after narrowly escaping relegation the season before with a great escape similar to our own a few years earlier, and are now consistently a top half of the table side. Brendan Rogers seems to have got the best out of Jamie Vardy, and last season he was the top Premier League goalscorer. He also notched a hat-trick against Manchester City last weekend, not the first time he has achieved that against City, and is already on five goals for the season after just three games. But four of those goals have come from penalty kicks! I wonder how many games will elapse this season before West Ham are even awarded four penalties?  

I see that we have a new right back! He’s Tomas Soucek’s Czech mate Vladimir Coufal from Slavia Prague. If he’s anywhere near as good a signing as Soucek then we’ll all be delighted. On the face of it he looks to be an absolute bargain. He looks to have all the right credentials so I’ll look forward to seeing him in the team. Does he have to spend time in quarantine first?

Of course with the start they’ve made, Leicester are odds on favourites to make it four wins out of four and remain at the top of the Premier League table. But I have faith in our team (the one that played Wolves anyway!) and I reckon we’ll spoil their party. 2-2 for me. What are the chances?

When this round of games is over, we will have our first international break of the season. Of course we all need a break after all the games we’ve played this season! Personally I don’t have the same interest in international football these days and hate these interruptions to the domestic campaign that appear so regularly so early on in the season. And in the current climate is it a good idea in this year in particular for players to be flying off all over the world in light of the pandemic? I’m not so sure.

Tales of the Unexpected: Wolves Sent Packing And A Route To An EFL Cup Quarter Final

West Ham face Everton in EFL Cup action to see which club has the strongest second string. Who will triumph in this midweek ‘bench test’ to claim a quarter final berth?

Just when we thought that football’s ability to surprise was a thing of the past, West Ham shrugged off the menacing dark clouds surrounding the London Stadium to register a remarkable and highly impressive victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers. Full credit goes to the players and manager(s) for lifting the gloom (at least for now) in the face of overwhelming adversity – what a difference a win makes!

As ever, there was going to be the usual debate. Was the win down to an excellent West Ham performance or a poor Wolves one? It’s impossible to answer but, for me, despite a number of fine individual performances, every West Ham player played their part in a superb effort. It was arguably the best we have seen for some years, scoring four times, preventing Wolves from getting into their stride playing and recording a rare clean sheet. Top half of the table and with a positive goal difference.  From despondency to ecstasy in 90 short minutes – the erratic pursuit that is football supportership!

While we must wait until the weekend to learn whether it was the Wolves or the Newcastle performance that was the blip on the radar, we first have an EFL away tie with Everton to deal with. For the winner, it will be a place in the final eight, where the prospect of silverware suddenly becomes a little more realistic. A trip to an empty Wembley would be very West Ham. Both managers will be wanting to win tonight, but without risking fitness or injuries in this hectic schedule.

The Toffees have enjoyed a flawless start to the Premier League season and will be hoping to sit proudly on top of the pile come Saturday evening. In the previous round of this competition (against Fleetwood) Ancelotti selected five players who also started in the subsequent league game at Palace, including Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin. By comparison, Fabian Balbuena was the only Hammer who started against both Hull and Wolves.

How them might they approach tonight’s game? For the Hammers, further run-outs are probable for the likes of Sebastien Haller, Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko, Manuel Lanzini and Robert Snodgrass – plus we might also see one of Mark Noble or Jack Wilshere given an outing. More experience will be needed in defence, though, should Everton decide field their big guns once again. A much sterner test than that posed by Charlton or Hull.

With the game being played at a Premier League ground, it will come under the auspices of the dreaded VAR, and its ludicrous handball interpretations. Following the criticism received during its first year of operation, it was difficult to see how VAR could be made even worse, but somehow they have managed it. Rulings on handballs, offsides and penalties are now as much of a lottery (and as unfathomable) as offside decisions in rugby. Too many loose interpretations and all seemingly designed to help Manchester United, even after the game is finished. The next step might be setting up a VAR Cold Case Unit to investigate historic handball decisions against the Red Devils – any incidents resulting in the next match against offending opponents kicking off with a United penalty.

We must give credit where it’s due, so well done to Martin Atkinson for allowing Pablo Fornals quickly taken free kick on Sunday to stand in the lead up to the opening goal. A good example of advantage well played. On the other hand, I don’t understand why Tomas Soucek’s header was chalked up as an own goal. Surely, some mistake there!

Days go by and the transfer window deadline moves ever closer, and still it is all talk and no action. By now, we must have reached page 3 or 4 of the transfer target list. Even if the manager finds a players he wants, who is happy to come to east London, there is plenty of scope for the Board to scupper the deal by insisting on long, drawn out payment conditions – no deposit and nothing to pay for three years, as if they were buying a sofa.

Back to tonight’s game and it is very difficult to call without knowing the relative line-up strengths – who will take the gamble and who has the strongest second string to call upon. Goodison Park has never been a happy hunting ground, although West Ham have managed two wins from the last five visits.

The teams have met twice before in the League Cup, with Everton winning on both occasions – 2-0 at Goodison in a 1983 4th round replay; and 2-1 at the Boleyn in a 5th round tie in 2007. There will, of course, have to be a result tonight and maybe it will end up with a penalty shoot-out, just as it did in the memorable FA Cup tie in 2015. I wonder what Randolph is like from the spot?

After tonight the EFL Cup will take a break, returning in the week commencing 21 December for the quarter final ties. Will the name of West Ham United be unexpectedly in that hat?

Can West Ham Be Hungry Like The Wolves?

What in heavens name was he thinking? For some reason only apparent to himself, our chairman chose to go on TalkSport on the morning programme of Jim White and Simon Jordan and proceeded to put his foot in his mouth. As a public relations exercise it was up there with Prince Andrew’s recent interview on Newsnight with Emily Maitlis. In both examples (Sullivan and the Prince) they were either very poorly advised, or more likely, they weren’t as clever as they thought they were. If there were any Hammers fans left who had any time for our chairman before the interview then I reckon there are fewer now. I even spotted on the internet that it even gave rise to a “GoFundMe” set up by a West Ham fan asking for humorous comments, and raising money for the Bobby Moore fund – “Mr Sullivan needs 50K to fly West Ham to Everton”.

At least there was some cheer in the week when West Ham “Reserves” thrashed Hull City to progress to the next round of the Carabao Cup where we will face an away tie at Everton, who, as I write this, sit at the top of the Premier League with nine points from their three games, after a 2-1 win at Palace. Were our talented fringe players trying to play their way into the Premier League starting line-up, or putting themselves in the shop window?

I don’t hold out a lot of hope of going any further in the competition, but having said that, few fans had a lot of hope when we went to Arsenal last weekend. But after dominating the second half, a combination of failing to take our chances, and poor defending let us down again, and we left North London with no points from a decent performance.

Of course this is West Ham. So the bad news doesn’t stop there. 45 minutes before kick-off in the League Cup tie, our manager and two of our players found out that they had tested positive for Covid-19 and had to go home at once. They are currently self-isolating and unable to take any part in this weekend’s game.

There doesn’t appear to be any progress on the transfer-in front either with no new bodies in positions where they are desperately needed – we all know where they are! Perhaps they will all appear next week with the club keeping quiet about the impending signings. I won’t hold my breath though. In the chairman’s radio interview he appeared to be blaming David Moyes for this. In fact he appeared to blame everyone (including the fans) for the state we are now in (except the board!). Is it really any wonder that there seems to be a reluctance on behalf of footballers who might want to join our club?

My earliest memories of our opponents today go back to the late 1950s when they took advantage of a new innovation at the time, namely floodlights. They were one of the top teams in England at the time and they invited a series of top overseas teams to come over and play in friendly games. Football matches were barely shown on TV then with the exception of the FA Cup Final and England internationals, but they managed to persuade the BBC to broadcast the games. I was very young at the time and in bed, but managed to set up a mirror that enabled me to watch via open doors in the bungalow I lived in. Wolves also won the first FA Cup final that I can clearly remember watching when they defeated Blackburn 3-0 with two goals from a player I recall as Norman Deeley.

Despite their success in the fifties and early sixties they went into decline but have recently bounced back, and in the past couple of seasons they (together with Leicester, and perhaps Everton) look like they will provide the biggest threat to the elite six in the Premier League. In competitive head to head matches in history, Wolves are one of the clubs against whom we have a positive record, beating them more often than they have defeated us. In the past two seasons that hasn’t been the case however, with four consecutive Wolves wins. We haven’t managed to score a single goal in those games and have conceded eight.

So far this season Wolves have won one (2-0 at Sheffield United) and lost (unluckily I believe) 3-1 at home to Manchester City. We had better be prepared at the very start of the game – the two goals against Sheffield United were scored in the first six minutes. We are not usually known for our start to a game. We also need to be aware of Jimenez who has been a prolific scorer for them and has scored in each of their opening two games. He has also scored three times in his past three Premier League appearances against us. One statistic that I read was that no Wolves player has scored a goal in each of their opening three top flight fixtures since Derek Dougan (remember him?) did way back in 1973. He will never get a better chance of equalling that record, and you’d think that this was a banker bet for this game.

On the other hand we have never failed to score in our first two top flight home games for even longer – going back to 1971. So we are bound to score then, aren’t we? My prediction is for us to build upon our promising performance against Arsenal and draw 1-1, with Antonio equalising an early goal from Jimenez. What are the chances? It would be a good result as I believe Wolves are an excellent side, destined for a top six finish.

As a club we create a lot of our own problems, don’t we? But it’s not always us. The season hasn’t started well. No points, no new signings, no decisions going our way from officials or VAR, no opposing players (who played for us) penalised for leading with their elbow, no opposition goals chalked off for dangerous (high) boot, no penalties awarded for obvious handball, no marginal offsides going our way. And we are only two games into the new season! At least the handball rule has been clarified this season! What a nonsense that is! We need all the luck we can get. Perhaps it will start to go our way in this game. Fingers crossed.

Mission Improbable: Sullivan’s Message Self Destructs As Hammers Prepare To Face Wolves

David Sullivan’s ill-advised, grotesque, and conceited radio interview casts an even deeper shadow at West Ham’s as they seek to book their first points of the season. Apparently, it is all everyone else’s fault!

Imagine this. You are the unpopular owner of a struggling Premier League side. You have recently sold a promising academy graduate much to the dismay of your fans. Your team has made the poorest possible start to the new season and are now one of the favourites for relegation. There are well-known and long-standing weaknesses in your squad, but you have failed to invest any money in the transfer market, even though the window is soon to close. What do you do: (A) Knuckle down, identify and recruit the desperately needed reinforcements, find creative ways to raise the necessary finance and hope to restore confidence; or (B) Go on national radio, blame everyone else for your perennial shortcomings and plead financial hardship?

No surprise then, that with a trademark lack of self-awareness, David Sullivan opted for route B. His interview with talkSPORT managed to combine the worst of Prince Andrew, Gerald Ratner, and Donald Trump – “I have so many wingers, literally, eight wingers. I have them all over the place. They’re virtually useless.”

Bottom line is that Sullivan considers himself blameless for the club’s current plight, despite the evidence ten years or more of erratic, short term mismanagement.

In Sullivan’s eyes, in fact, it is the fault of supporters for demanding he appoint a big-name manager and a Director of Football. That he appointed a washed up one with unrealistic ideas on how to compete in the mid to lower echelons of the Premier League – and then compounding it by taking on that manager’s best buddy as DoF – was not, it seems, relevant. He had no control (and, therefore, no responsibility) for the Pellegrini/ Husillos signings. It is now David Moyes fault for the absurd idea of wanting to sign players who would improve the first team, not just to put bums on the bench and allow the club to claim it had been active in the transfer market.

We can only speculate on what was he hoping to achieve by such a PR catastrophe? Did he imagine he would win us over by going on air? Any remaining shred of credibility that remained could now only be found by forensic science. There is no way back from here and it’s about time ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter’ replaced ‘The academy of football’ as the club’s strap line.

Despite frantic speculation, it is still all quiet on the transfer front as the clock ticks down to just over a week to go. As far as the outside world is concerned, the only newsworthy story of interest is whether Declan Rice will be eventually sold to Chelsea. Some news media, notably the Star and Express, are on a mission to make sure this happens. I am under no illusion that Rice will spend his whole career at West Ham, but it would be madness to sell him this late in the window. What over-priced, over-aged replacements would be we contrive to bring in with the money raised?

Elsewhere this week there was a comfortable EFL Cup success at home to Hull City, but not before the drama of Moyes, Issa Diop and Josh Cullen all being sent into isolation after testing positive for COVID-19. It’s a long time since the Hammers recorded four positive results in a single week. One anonymous source (@ExWHUtealady) tweeted that the three had previously shared one Ann Summer’s ‘Willy Soap on a Rope’ that are supplied complimentary in the Rush Green showers. All are unavailable for Sunday’s clash with Wolves, although apparently Moyes still intends to deliver his usual managerial address via Zoom. Perhaps images of him prowling the technical area of his lounge can be beamed onto the giant screens.  

On Sunday, it will be Chalk versus Cheese at the London Stadium as the downbeat Hammers face an effervescent Wolverhampton Wanderers for the fifth time since the visitors returned to the Premier League in 2018. West Ham have lost all of the previous encounters and failed to score on each outing – with an aggregate score of 0-8.  

There have been various comings and goings at Molineux during a close season that saw Jota, Doherty and Costa all leave to be replaced by Fabio Silva, Semedo and Hoever. However, Wolves still have Moutinho and Neves to pull the strings in midfield while Traore and Jimenez will be confident of causing alarm in the shaky Hammer’s backline.

For West Ham, it would be no surprise to see the same formation that performed well, but returned empty handed, from Arsenal. In Diop’s absence, the only alternative is a recall for Fabian Balbuena. Otherwise the back five is likely to be unchanged. Midfield protection will again be the responsibility of Rice and Tomas Soucek.

There could be scope for changes, though, in the forward three where Sebastien Haller and Andriy Yarmolenko made midweek claims for starts by showing they are more than good enough for League 2. I still struggle to see how and where Yarmolenko fits into a Premier League side. Despite his undoubted technical skills and accomplished finishing his lack of pace and work rate (particularly in tracking back) make him something of a luxury.

The situation with Haller is more complicated. In the right setup he will score goals but not unless he gets far better support. In addition to the much discussed defensive problems, we don’t have anyone with the right attributes to play just off the striker. In fact, the team have regularly struggled to get bodies into the box from open play – with only Soucek and Jarrod Bowen providing support to Michail Antonio. I feel that Bowen’s enforced defensive duties have detracted significantly from his goal threat in recent games, a situation that needs to be remedied if we are to see the best of him. Without doubt more goals are needed across the front three and we cannot continue to rely on Antonio’s heroics. Maybe a front three of Bowen, Haller and Antonio can be made to work.

It is difficult to know how much off-field calamity influences what happens on the pitch. It cannot be a force for good to have such disharmony coming down from the top. Own goals are never welcome in football and even worse when you find they are knocking them in in the boardroom. My only hope tomorrow is that the players can isolate themselves from the off-the-field mayhem and reproduce the effort and commitment that was shown at The Emirates. If they can then some sort of result is possible, even if it may not be very probable.

Alright, we’ll call it a draw.

Come Hull Or High Water: Are Hammers Up For League One Challenge?

West Ham should have more than enough quality to overcome League 1 Hull City. But will they show the determination and backbone necessary to see off an opposition who eliminated Leeds United in Round 2?

From what I have read on social media there are just a few areas of agreement trending with West Ham supporters at the moment. One is that Messrs Gold and Sullivan need to get out of town – and fast! And the other that Saturday’s performance at The Emirates was a marked improvement over the one served up on the opening day against Newcastle.

If football matches were decided on the basis of statistical algorithms, you could make a case that the Hammers deserved to win at Arsenal, or at least come away with a point. The sad reality, unfortunately, is that there is only one meaningful statistic in football, and that is the number of goals scored by each side. If you don’t take the chances when they come, or if you can’t keep concentration defensively for 90 minutes, then the result will go against you, no matter how well you have played otherwise.

That is not to say that we shouldn’t take some encouragement from the performance. It showed that the team are capable of discipline, intensity, and effort when they want to. The big question being: can they now take the same attitude into each and every game?

I do think that Saturday’s formation (three or five at the back) does compensae better for the limitations in the squad. Maybe when the much talked about, highly anticipated defensive reinforcements arrive things will be different. But it makes sense for now.

What made less sense was again David Moyes use of substitutes, which appear to work to an automated pre-planned schedule rather than as a reaction to events on the field. The switch of Andriy Yarmolenko for Jarrod Bowen was a perfect example and one where Yarmolenko’s unwillingness/ inability to track back, contributed enormously to the Arsenal winner. If the manager was intent on winning the (winnable) game then Sebastien Haller for Pablo Fornals, with Michail Antonio going out wide, looked to be the obvious change – but at around 70 minutes or earlier, not in the final 7 or 8.

Not that I’m inclined to blame the manager for much of the team’s failings. That lies solely with the owners and their haphazard stewardship. Just looking at the managerial sequence – Grant, Allardyce, Bilic, Moyes, Pellegrini, Moyes – shows there is no underlying philosophy regarding the club’s footballing direction. Without that there is no continuity on the playing side. From Pellegrini’s (supposed) flair but no graft to Moyes graft with little flair. What did they expect?

Tonight, sees a rapid return to EFL Cup action with the visit of Hull City for a third round tie. The winners will go on to play in the fourth round next week, away to the winners of the Everton vs Fleetwood Town tie. Just four steps from Wembley.

Hull endured a calamitous end to last season, losing sixteen of their last twenty matches, and culminating in relegation from the Championship to League 1.  This after they had sold two of their most influential players (including Jarrod Bowen) in the January transfer window.

The game also sees the return of two former West Ham academy graduates: defender Reece Burke, now in his third season with the Tigers; and manager, Grant McCann, best known for a bizarre own goal scored in the Hammer’s 1-7 drubbing by Blackburn Rovers in October 2001. McCann has been kept on despite last season’s relegation with his team making a positive start to the new campaign, winning both league matches played and eliminating Leeds United from the EFL Cup.

The West Ham team for tonight will likely show few changes to the one that played in the previous round against Charlton. On paper, it looks to be an impressive line-up of highly paid individuals who should be more than talented enough to see off a League 1 side. The niggling worry, of course, is that certain of those individuals would be unlikely ever win awards for gallantry. A spirited performance from the opposition might get them rattled and set the alarm bells ringing. We have been on the wrong end of too many giant-killings in the past to know how a gulf in class can be bridged with spirit and determination. Do you think we have learned those lessons?

Here’s hoping for an ideal Carlsberg outcome. West Ham to win tonight and Fleetwood to surprise Everton tomorrow.  After that there are just three steps to heaven (or Wembley!)

West Ham visit the Emirates Stadium – what chance of a repeat of 2015 with a 2-0 away win?

West Ham began the final season at the Boleyn Ground (2015-16) with home games against Leicester (who would go on to become surprise winners of the Premier League, and Bournemouth. Both games were lost. Outfoxed by the foxes, and picked off by the cherries. But before then, in the season opener we travelled the short distance across North London to face an Arsenal side that had won virtually everything in pre-season, and were being strongly tipped to produce a stronger challenge for the Premier League title than they had for a while. Against the odds we came away with two goals, a clean sheet and three points from an excellent performance. That was the game where the phrase about Oxford having Ozil in his pocket was heard. Where is Oxford now? And come to think of it, what about Ozil? What a start to the season we had and sitting in a Champions League spot too! Of course we came down to earth in true West Ham style with the defeats to Leicester and Bournemouth, and then we went to Anfield and beat Liverpool 3-0!  

Of course that’s what supporting West Ham is all about. As Chuck Berry sang, you never can tell. It’s the West Ham way. This season we began with a defeat at home to Newcastle. Many thought that this was our best chance of three points in the first seven games with a daunting run of fixtures to follow. Five years ago we hoped to have six points from our first four fixtures, but we all thought that they would come from the home games against Leicester and Bournemouth. None of us expected anything from the visits to Arsenal and Liverpool. But that’s where we were successful, so what are the odds of repeating our victory in the first away fixture this time around with three points just as we did then?

If I’m honest I would have to admit the odds are massively against, but they were then, too. Bookmakers have Arsenal at 1/2 to win and we are priced at 5/1 which is not as generous as you might think given the starts that the two teams have made this season. League tables produced when four sides have yet to play a game are fairly meaningless of course, but even at this stage Arsenal sit at the top and we are in the bottom three. Interestingly, there were no draws in the Premier League last weekend, so can we perhaps get a point? The odds for this happening are about 10/3, once again not very generous. But then again the bookies aren’t known for their generosity are they?

My attempt at watching the Newcastle game after an evening out “as live” just like the Likely Lads attempted in the 1960s failed miserably when I accidentally found out that the score early in the second half was 0-0. So I ignored the first half and watched the last 45 minutes. Apparently we were unfortunate to hit the woodwork more than once in the opening half, but I saw little in the second half to make me think we were going to win. Somehow it was inevitable that Wilson would score against us, but was his foot dangerously high? Some referees might have thought so. Should we have been awarded a penalty when the ball struck a Newcastle arm in the penalty area. Again some might have thought so. But neither the referee nor VAR adjudged in our favour, and we ended up pointless after conceding a second goal close to the end.

At least we progressed in the League (Carabao) Cup with a comfortable 3-0 win over Charlton on Tuesday. Those are the type of fixtures we have lost in the past, but by all accounts the players that were given a run-out looked good, albeit against lower league opposition. So Hull in the next round, and then if we overcome that obstacle then Fleetwood or Everton. This is the easiest competition to win, but we have never done so, although we have come close. Perhaps this our year? We are around 15th favourites to lift this trophy with odds ranging from around 28/1 up to 66/1.

It’s all very depressing at the moment. I’ve lost count of the unrealistic transfer targets – with the Tarkowski story reminding me very much of stories from the past where we are supposedly chasing players well beyond our reach with no chance of it happening. I don’t know how many players we’ve been linked with but I still haven’t noticed anyone arriving. I see that the board have now allegedly taken vows of silence because of leaks from within the club. And what of all the takeover stories. Who will our new owners be? Chinese? Middle Eastern? American? I read some of this stuff but don’t believe a word of any of it until it happens. And hardly anything ever does.

I won’t speculate on the starting eleven, as last week for the first time ever I was spot on. I doubt that it can happen again. I’m sure that there will be some changes, but add the names of the players who played in the Carabao Cup tie to those who started last week, pick 4 or 5 who must start, and then perm any of the remainder into some kind of formation and hope for the best.

Almost certainly everyone is convinced that we are destined to lose to Arsenal by two or three goals at least. But I’m going to stick my neck out for an unlikely repeat of the score in August 2015. A top 4 UK hit by Napoleon XIV from the summer of 1966 comes to mind as I write this, but stranger things have happened. Well, not very often I’ll grant you, but I’m going for a 2-0 away win. Those not very generous bookmakers will only give me around a paltry 35/1 on that happening. What are the chances?     

Batten Down The Hatches: Trouble Ahead As West Ham’s Defence Put To The Test

Quick, incisive, attacking flair meets slow, disorganised, accident-prone defence. What could possibly go wrong? Moyes and the Hammers have their work cut out to avoid crushing defeat.

If, as they say, you are as good as your last game, then Arsenal are in for a torrid time against a rejuvenated West Ham at the The Emirates on Saturday evening. Alternatively, using the more realistic yardstick of how the two teams performed in their opening games of the season and the only conclusion reached is that the Hammers could be in deep, deep trouble.

With another week gone by where the east London arrivals lounge has been closed for business, there are few options available to freshen up the side this weekend. Reinforcements continue to be desperately needed for three or four starting positions.

There are more than two weeks remaining before the ceremonial slamming shut of the transfer window and the Hammers should be one of several clubs looking to get more business done. With a few exceptions it has been quite a relatively cagey window so far, as changing financial realities hit the game at all levels.

This uncertainty does not to give a free pass to the dithering Board regarding our own lack of transfer engagement, though, as they once again give the impression that the opening of the window has taken them by surprise. Any thought that they might have prepared a recruitment master plan with detailed plans and scouting dossiers on well researched targets would be simple flight of fancy.  As usual we have been drip fed the annual long running transfer pursuit saga (Tarkowski on this occasion) who will end up going elsewhere (Leicester) for twice what we were hoping to pay. At the same time, a succession of young, promising talent gets snaffled by more imaginative clubs while we are not looking.

The official club narrative (and their mouthpieces) tell us of frenetic behind the scenes activity involving gallons of midnight oil being burned as bids are prepared and deals hammered out. No doubt there will eventually be money spent on oven-ready deals as the clock ticks down and the Black Friday sales or liquidation sales become apparent. Like the man who doesn’t buy his presents until Christmas Eve, we will get what’s left rather than what we need.

The West Ham performance against Newcastle was bitterly disappointing but not that surprising. It reminded me of that first post lockdown effort back in June against Wolves – enough possession but not knowing what to do with it. Will we now see a similar level of improvement? Or was the change in fortune back then more the result of opponents lacking season end commitment?

Until the deep seated issues in the squad of defensive frailty, lack of pace and the absence of midfield creativity are addressed, it is difficult to break free of the pessimism. The only consolation from last weekend was how bad Fulham and West Bromwich Albion looked. appearing even more clueless than we were.

I have seen plenty of debate over the last few days regarding playing Sebastien Haller in a front two, supported either by Michail Antonio or Andriy Yarmolenko. In an ideal world that makes a lot of sense. Haller did his best work at Eintracht Frankfurt in a two and looks a fish out of water in the lone striker role. The fly in that particular ointment, however, are the consequences that removing a player from midfield would have on the rest of the team’s setup. If there was more mobility and athleticism in midfield and if the defence wasn’t so abysmal then it could be a decent plan. Failing that it is an open invitation for opponents to overrun us.

Arsenal may no longer be the title contenders that they were, but they have chosen well in appointing Mikel Arteta as manager – the kind of progressive appointment we can only dream about. They will believe a return to Champion’s League football is a real possibility next season. Although not the strongest defensively, they have attacking flair in spades. The worrying thing from a West Ham point of view is the pace at which they attack. Any two of Willian, Pepe and Bellerin marauding down the right wing promises to make it a disastrous evening on the left side of our defence – the weakest of our weak positions. With no other options than Aaron Cresswell or Arthur Masuaku to provide resistance, I’m glad it’s not me not picking the team!

The game has all the hallmarks of being a very long ninety minutes for Hammer’s supporters. David Moyes will make a few changes from last week but none of them will be inspiring or carry much hope with it. Maybe Haller, Yarmolenko or Robert Snodgrass are all in with a shout of a start, but with damage limitation likely at the forefront of the manager’s thinking, it might all be academic. The objective may be to play for a goalless draw (there were no draws in the last round of games) but that plan often falls to pieces once a goal is conceded, allowing the floodgates to open.

It pains me to say this, but West Ham will lose this game – and probably quite heavily!   

Going Through The Motions: West Ham Plot Carabao Cup Exit

Is it right to have a definition of Meaningless in the dictionary? If so, it could be tonight’s EFL game at the London Stadium.

“Name something that is completely pointless” asks host, Les Dennis, in an episode of Family Fortune’s Always Hiding. Of one hundred people surveyed, the second most popular answer is “West Ham after their first seven Premier League games of the season.” Top answer, though, is tonight’s 2nd round EFL cup game against Charlton Athletic – played in an empty stadium, where any pretence of winning is a distant second to damage limitation and the need to fulfil contractual obligations.  In a congested and compressed season, it is a puzzle that the competition is actually going ahead.

In recent years successive of West Ham managers have, for whatever reasons, failed to treat the competition seriously – and even when we did, being on the wrong end of a lower league giant-killing was not unheard of. It is a footballing conundrum. The League Cup is surely the easiest of the three major trophies to win for the Premier League also-rans – yet many make no real effort to compete. While in the past twenty years, the names of Leicester, Blackburn, Middlesbrough, Birmingham and Swansea have all been etched onto the not so famous trophy, risk averse managers continue to consider giving it a go as a distraction from the real business of not being relegated. It’s enough to make you wonder what the point of following football is?

In a further downgrade to the League Cup’s  status, this season’s winners no longer qualify for the Europa League, but will instead have to make do with the unimaginatively named third-tier Europa Conference League – an Auto Windscreens/ Sinod Cup affair designed to prevent smaller clubs and countries clogging up the more illustrious televised competitions.

This evening’s match provides the opportunity for our former tenants from south-east London to inflict an early round embarrassing defeat on the Hammers. Although newly relegated to League 1, manager and ex- Hammer, Lee Bowyer, will be confident his side can pull off an apparent upset. That no-one would be particularly surprised, or even really care, is a sad reflection of where we find ourselves.  After all, there is plenty of transfer speculation and the excitement of a potential US consortium takeover to tweet about.

Tonight will see the fourth meeting between the two clubs in the 61 year history of the League Cup, an exchange in which West Ham boast a 100% success rate. For the record, these were: 3-1 in 1960 (Moore, Dick, Musgrove); 1-0 in 1976 (Alan Taylor) and 2-1 in 1980 (Cross 2). That win in 1980 came in a run that took the Hammers all the way to their last major final appearance, where they lost to Liverpool in a replay in April 1981.

Despite never having won the competition, there are two West Ham related entries in the League Cup record books. The first, a 10-0 win over Bury in 1983 which stands as the biggest ever winning margin (equalled by Liverpool v Fulham in 1986) and notable in that so impressive was the performance of the Bury centre-half (Paul Hilton) that he was subsequently signed for the Hammers by John Lyall. The second, Geoff Hurst’s career total of 50 League Cup goals which remains a competition record (shared with Ian Rush), although some of Hurst’s goals were scored after he had moved to Stoke. An extra side-note is that Rush’s first League Cup appearance for Liverpool was in that 1981 final replay, although he failed to score on that occasion.

It is quite difficult to imagine what would represent a weakened West Ham side these days  – one that doesn’t include Rice, Soucek, Bowen and Antonio I suppose. Otherwise we might not be able to tell the difference. Perhaps we will be surprised, who knows? I will probably check the score in the morning paper.

Whistling A Happy Toon: West Ham To Make Winning Start To Season

When a new football season is about to begin then I am normally full of excitement, looking forward to going along to the London Stadium for the first game. If the opening game is away from home it is still exciting to watch the progress of the matches being played on Sports Saturday on Sky. But this time around I can’t really get as interested as I normally do, which considering I’ve been following West Ham since season 1958-59 may be surprising, and perhaps disappointing. Am I losing my enthusiasm for football? Of course last season was probably the strangest one of all time for reasons that we are all aware of, and this one may well be the same. Following the lockdown we began slowly, but then ended the season on a high, securing our place in the top division for another season with some excellent performances. Perhaps once the games get underway again I’ll regain my enthusiasm, but at the moment it’s not there yet.

The interval before the new season would start was obviously much shorter than usual, but I guess we were looking forward to seeing some departures and new arrivals in readiness for the new campaign. The friendly games against lower league opposition went well enough, although by all accounts the Betway Cup performance against Bournemouth (also lower league!) highlighted our defensive deficiencies. Of course some of our players were away on international duty, but the return of Fabianski, Rice, Yarmolenko, and Soucek will undoubtedly strengthen the team. But apart from confirming the permanent transfer of Soucek there is a distinct lack of new faces. All other Premier League clubs seem to have been active in the transfer market, but the eighteenth richest club in the world has been pleading poverty, much to the annoyance of the fans, who were looking forward to some new faces, in particular to strengthen the defensive positions, especially at full back.

The departure of Diangana to West Brom, where he spent last season on loan has caused much consternation on social media, but once Mark Noble and others had joined in with their disappointment at seeing him leave it became an issue for the national broadcast and newspaper media. Although the furore has died down a little, there still seems to be a lot of anger around still, and this will increase if we fail to get off to a good start in this game.

I’m not really sure how many times we’ve faced the Geordies in our opening game of the season. It makes a change in recent times to not be facing top-six opposition, although games against top sides come thick and fast after the opener. I do remember one season in particular, and that was back in 1973-74. We had ended the previous season in sixth place, one of our best ever top division finishing positions, and hopes were high for the new campaign. But that first game at Upton Park was a massive disappointment, which was exacerbated by a friend from Newcastle joining me at the game. We went down 2-1 with ex-Newcastle player Pop Robson scoring our goal.

From that point it didn’t get any better and a succession of draws and defeats in the first eleven matches left us at the bottom of the table. Eventually we won a game (1-0 at Coventry thanks to a John McDowell goal), but we remained at the foot of the table until we won our second game of the season beating Manchester City 2-1 on December 8th. Two 4-2 victories at Chelsea on Boxing Day and then at home to Norwich on New Years Day still left us in the relegation zone (21st), before a run of wins and draws from the beginning of January through to the middle of March eased the pressure slightly and we eventually stayed up by one point in 18th. Manchester United were one of the teams relegated. I’m hoping that we don’t replicate that season, which also included an ignominious defeat at the hands of Hereford in the FA Cup.

The point I’m trying to make here is that everything can look rosy before a season begins and then it all goes wrong. I can also remember pre-seasons where we have looked good in the friendly games and then performed badly once the league games have begun. The reverse has also happened at times with a disastrous pre-season leading to doom and gloom amongst the fans followed by some excellent performances. It just highlights the Forrest Gump box of chocolates story – with West Ham you never know what you are going to get. That applies from one season to another, one game to another, and frequently to the first half and second half of a game.

I’m not especially confident with everything about the club at the moment, but hopeful that David Moyes can continue where he left off at the end of the last campaign, despite the difficulties that he faces. He knows that the model of recent seasons has to change and he wants to build for the future. He doesn’t want players coming here for a good pay day in London, and if he can unearth more gems like Bowen and Soucek we will have a chance. People forget that when he arrived at Everton in 2002 they were a bit like us, often fighting the drop. When he left there eleven years later they had finished in the top eight for seven consecutive seasons. Whether he will be given the time, and even some of the resources that should be available to the eighteenth richest club in the world only time will tell.  

The game kicks off at 8pm and is available to view on TV. That’s some consolation for not being able to be at the stadium. How will we line up? I expect Fabianski to be behind a back four of Fredericks (or Johnson?), Diop, Ogbonna and Cresswell. I fear that Saint-Maximin can run our defence ragged as he did at the London Stadium last season and wonder if Masuaku will be included to provide extra cover for Cresswell? It wouldn’t be my choice but it may happen. Rice, Soucek and Noble may start in midfield, with Bowen, Fornals and Antonio providing the main attacking options at the start. But will there perhaps be a place for the in-form Yarmolenko, or a hopefully rejuvenated Haller, Lanzini or Anderson? Will any of the youngsters get a chance? Who knows? What we do know is that there won’t be any new faces to bolster a defence that had one of the worst goals-against records in the Premier League last season. I’m confident that we can score goals, but can we improve defensively? Perhaps David Moyes and his coaches can work wonders on this aspect of our team, but has he got the raw materials to work with?

The bookmakers have us at around 23/20 to win the game, with Newcastle and the draw both at around 5/2. If you fancy us to win then West Ham to win and both teams to score is on offer at around 7/2. My fun bet for this game is for West Ham to win 2-1 with Tomas Soucek scoring the last goal in the game – this is priced at 60/1. Without any great degree of confidence I’m just hoping for a decent performance and three points. What are the chances?

It’s traditional for me to forecast (before a ball is kicked) how the Premier League will look at the end of the season. So here goes: 1.Manchester City, 2.Liverpool, 3.Manchester United, 4.Chelsea, 5.Arsenal, 6.Wolves, 7.Everton, 8.Tottenham, 9.Leicester, 10.West Ham, 11.Southampton, 12.Newcastle, 13.Leeds, 14.Aston Villa, 15.Sheffield United, 16.Crystal Palace, 17.Brighton, 18.Burnley, 19.West Brom, 20.Fulham. There’s optimism for you! Enjoy the game