West Ham visit Old Trafford. Two of the most out of form teams in the Premier League for our tea-time viewing.

Once again we kick-off at a non-standard time – this one is 5.30pm on a Saturday afternoon. We get the chance to watch two teams whose recent form leaves a lot to be desired. At this stage of the season you need to have some form of motivation to perform at your best, and I’m afraid we are somewhat lacking at the moment. OK, the performance against Chelsea was better than what we witnessed against Everton a couple of weeks ago, but to be quite frank, after the raised hopes of our winning streak in December, 2019 has turned out to be rather flat.

The difference today is that Manchester United still have a target to aim for, namely a place in the top four and the Champions League qualification that comes with it, whereas we don’t really have much to get us going other than professional pride, and trying to finish in the top half of the table. Our manager wants us to improve with every game and believes that “we still have a mathematical chance for Europe and we must try for that.” Who is he kidding? Mathematical, yes, but realistically no chance whatsoever.

If we win today (and that’s a massive if, around 7/1 with bookmakers but surely the odds should be much greater than that!) it would be the first time that we’ve picked up six points in a season against the Red Devils since 2006-07, when they were champions, and we completed the “Great Escape” on the final day of the season. We won both games that season by 1-0, with Nigel Reo-Coker scoring in the home win a week or so before Christmas, and of course Carlos Tevez netting the winner in the last game. That was a season to remember; Tevez and Mascherano, Eggert Magnusson, Pardew sacked, Curbishley appointed, seven of the last nine games won after just five wins in the preceding 29 games, and of course the subsequent financial repercussions of the escape.

But today we don’t have a lot to play for. Our record against United is actually better than against many of the other big clubs, and the last eight league meetings are split with two wins apiece and four draws. However our last league win there was the aforementioned victory on the last day of the season almost 12 years ago.

Despite their impressive form when their new Norwegian manager was appointed on a caretaker basis, recent results have not been good for United, and they have not kept a clean sheet for eight games, their longest run for seven years. They have also lost four of their last five games.

But just look at our away form since 30 December 2018. There was the abysmal defeat to AFC Wimbledon, and in the league on our travels we lost 2-0 to Burnley, 2-0 at Bournemouth, 3-0 at Wolves, 1-0 at Manchester City, 2-0 at Cardiff, and 2-0 at Chelsea. That is six games lost with 12 goals conceded and none scored. In between we did manage a 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace, but had Fabianski to be thankful for that, as Palace had numerous shots on our goal in the second half.

Our record of keeping clean sheets is the second worst in the division with five, and only Fulham have kept fewer. Even Huddersfield have kept more clean sheets than we have. Fabianski is miles clear in the number of saves he has made this season compared to every other Premier League custodian, so this tells us everything we need to know about our defending.

And to top all this we are facing Romelu Lukaku who scores goals against us for fun. I’ll be watching and hoping for a surprise of course, but it is hard to see anything other than a defeat as our season limps towards its conclusion.

The Deadwood Stage Is A-Heading For Stamford Bridge

Uninspired, unbothered and unmotivated, the odds are stacked high against the lacklustre Hammers recording a whip-crack-away win!

As West Ham prepared to take the field for last week’s game against Everton they knew that victory would have taken them up to 7th place in the Premier League and potentially eliminated one of their rivals in the race for potential Europa Cup qualification.  It was a scenario more than should have provided more than sufficient motivation to a side which had, until recently, been enjoying a good positive spell at last at their home stadium.

What we got instead, however, was quite possibly the most abysmal performance of the season so far – even allowing for the fact that the bar isn’t set particularly high.  In truth, for all the optimism that might have existed, performances since the victory over Newcastle have been consistently poor – with the fortunate win over Huddersfield serving to disguise an overall malaise.  From potential ‘best of the rest’ to probable  bottom half finishers would deliver a disappointing and underachieving season.  All things being equal it would be no surprise if the Hammers bagged ‘nul points’ from the six remaining games against more skilful, better organised and more committed opponents.  Finishing below Crystal Palace is now a definite possibility unless an unexpected turnaround in attitude and application occurs.

Compared to the teams left competing for 7th spot (Wolves, Everton, Leicester and Watford) the Hammers resemble a collection of barely introduced individuals and a far cry from a team with structure and purpose where each member is aware of the roles they play, both on and off the ball.  Intensity, pace and a compact shape are fundamental to modern Premier League football and none of these have been consistently demonstrated at West Ham over the course of the season.  Manuel Pellegrini and his coaching staff must take a huge slice of responsibility for the way the situation has developed.  Admittedly it is still a relatively new regime but if they do not have the players to execute their preferred style then they need to adjust the style to suit the players; at least until better options can be recruited – hopefully, from a recruitment policy that steers well clear of the over 30’s and the perpetually injured.

The full-back situation is a prime example of square pegs and round holes.  None of the current candidates have been performing at an acceptable Premier League standard and yet the setup of the team allows opponents acres of space down the flanks as the full-backs push up there is minimal support from the midfield or attacking wide men.  No wonder so many opposition goals come from these areas and that Lukasz Fabianski is the most overworked keeper in the division.

The emergence of Declan Rice has been a massive bonus for West Ham but he cannot do it all by himself.  The need for better options in the centre of midfield has been obvious for several seasons but has been regularly overlooked unless you want to count the signing of Carlos Sanchez.  Games are so frequently won and lost in this midfield battleground that the strategy verges on negligence.

When West Ham do gain possession they seem unable or incapable of moving the ball forward quickly.  Instead they prefer elaborate, congested triangles which invariably lead nowhere or to lost possession.  Several current players are simply not cut-out for the type of quick, intricate passing moves that may have worked well at Manchester City.

With Felipe Anderson going through an enigmatic phase, the most creative player available to Pellegrini is Samir Nasri but he is another who is susceptible to injury.  It is reasonable to reserve judgement on Manuel Lanzini for the time-being, given the serious nature of his recent injury, but elsewhere possession is ponderous and predictable.

The post new year dip in form coincided with the injury to Fabian Balbuena and the Marko Arnautovic transfer farrago.  With Balbuena now restored to fitness, surely it is time to reform his partnership with Issa Diop in the centre of defence.

The options up front are far less clear cut.  Arnautovic’s attitude is all wrong, Javier Hernandez does not contribute enough off the ball (the concept of leading the line is not in his playbook) and Lucas Perez is hopeless.  Fielding a tailor’s dummy couldn’t be much worse than having Perez on the pitch. Impossible to predict where Pellegrini’s lucky selection pin will land tonight although we might not get close enough to the Chelsea goal for it to be a problem.

The West Ham season is effectively over.  Turn up and go through the motions is likely to be the sum total of what to expect.  We can only hope that plans are already underway to load up the Deadwood Stage and steer it out through the transfer window into the wilderness.  Too many of the occupants have been over-the-hill for some time..

Now that Sarri has realised he has two more gems available to him in the form of Reuben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi, Chelsea have a wealth of attacking talent to call on – even if they have no established clinical finisher.  Add in any combination of Hazard, Kante, Jorginho, Barkley, Willian and Pedro and there is more than enough firepower to overwhelm whatever resistance West Ham take with them.

The hosts can be vulnerable at the back, but see above to understand how West Ham’s attacking limitations are unlikely to cause any panic.

On paper, with Chelsea able to climb up to third by the end of the day, it all looks far too formidable to the West Ham team of recent weeks.  A repeat of the rear-guard action witnessed in the corresponding fixture at the London Stadium (and more recently on show at The Etihad) is the most probable game-plan; but once the wall is eventually breached it will be game over.

West Ham will be meeting referee Chris Kavanagh for the fifth time this season.  Previous encounters resulting in a win over Newcastle, defeat to Wolves and draws with Huddersfield and Brighton.

Unsurprisingly, the pundits see a comfortable home win – Lawro by 2-0 and Merson by 3-0.  Equally, I can see nothing more than a solid defeat unless we can miraculously hold out for 0-0.  The only mitigation against heavy defeat, by three or four goals, is if Chelsea ease up a little once ahead with their Europa League trip to Prague on the near horizon.  I imagine each of the three Top 4 hopefuls that the Hammers have yet to face will already have the game pencilled in as a gimme!

West Ham visit Stamford Bridge. Are our players already on the beach?

A couple of weeks ago I renewed my season ticket for next season. 2019-20 will my 62nd season of following West Ham. How many hundreds of games have I seen in that time? Why do I do it? Am I a masochist? I knew a masochist once who liked to take cold showers. So he took hot ones. But seriously why do I spend half a day or more so many times each year travelling to watch 90 minutes of football? What’s more there are 60,000 others who do the same to watch West Ham, as well as countless others throughout the country, and indeed the world, that want to know what happens to the team in every game. And this is replicated to a greater or lesser extent by followers of 19 other teams in the Premier League, as well as millions who follow teams throughout the pyramid of the English game. I guess we love to watch football, but more than that we want to see our team win games and be successful.

Of course, the best I’ve seen from the team in the last 61 years has been a third place finish in the top flight in 1985-86, three FA Cup wins, a major European trophy, and countless great games of football with lots of entertainment and great goals. I’ve also seen a lot of dross. In many ways, one of the most enjoyable seasons was in 1980-81 when, a year after lifting the FA Cup as a second division side, we ran away with the second division league title with a record points haul and a home record to die for, winning 19 of our 21 league games at Upton Park. After losing our first home game that season to Luton, we won every other game apart from a home draw against Oldham. We all came away happy after every game. Other seasons outside of the top flight have given us some great entertainment, with more games won than lost, and probably a much better feel good factor about our team.

Yet all teams want to dine at the top table. They all strive to be part of the Premier League, possibly the most successful domestic football league in the world. Of course money is a big factor, as well as the opportunity to see some of the top players playing for the top teams. Ironically the Premier League is one of the most competitive amongst the major leagues in Europe. I say competitive meaning that probably six teams have a chance of winning it each year. Compare this to Germany, France, Italy and Spain, where only one or two teams have any chance each season. Some might say that is true of the Premier League this time around where the second placed team (Manchester City) are currently 16 points clear of Tottenham who are third. Similarly there is a wide gulf between Manchester United in sixth who are 14 points ahead of the team who are seventh. Where is the fun in the fact that at the start of the season 14 of the 20 participants have zero chance of winning the league, and four of the others have only a very small chance? OK I remember Leicester, but that was a freak season and will not happen again.

I suppose I cannot really criticise the Premier League when the top six elite clubs are so successful in Europe this season. Four of them are in the last eight of the Champions League, and the other two are similarly placed in the Europa League. But this is entirely my point. The top six are too good. Wouldn’t we all like to see a competition that is more competitive which would lead to much greater excitement? Unless your team is still in the FA Cup, the final third of the season becomes very dull with little to play for. Of course there is money for placings in the league but that only seems to interest the club owners, not those actually in the team, who if West Ham’s players are anything to go by are already thinking of their summer holidays, rather than professional pride, and entertaining the thousands who come to watch them.

The performance against Everton last week lacked effort and desire, and was feeble, abysmal, appalling, very bad, awful, dire, ghastly, atrocious, hideous, dismal, terrible, maddening, disgraceful. Add any other description you like. We would have been seventh in the league if we had won the game, yet quite frankly, apart from Fabianski and Rice (perhaps Ogbonna?) none of the others turned up or seemed remotely interested. Even the manager, who I quite like, cannot escape criticism with his team selection, surely? Seventh would mean the best of the rest (outside the elite six). Surely that is something worth playing for? The owners must have been cringing in their expensive seats as they watched the team doing their level best to reduce the interest in season ticket renewals.

And while we were struggling against Everton, and fans were leaving in droves well before the end, Chelsea, our opponents today, were not faring much better against struggling Cardiff. The South Wales club outplayed their more illustrious opponents from West London, yet the result of the game was inevitable somehow as it always seems to be when a top six club plays against a lowly side. Chelsea won the game thanks to some incredible decisions by officials, including an offside as blatant as the one for Liverpool’s goal at the London Stadium a couple of months ago, both of which left you feeling that the top sides somehow always seem to benefit from questionable decisions. It never seems to be the other way around.

The result of the game highlights my point about the wide chasm between the teams at the top and those at the bottom. The record for the elite six teams playing against the bottom three sides this season so far reads, played 31, won 31, goals for 90, against 18. Watford, just a point away from seventh place, have now lost nine consecutive games against the top six sides. What chance will they have in the FA Cup Final? Wolves, however, the team most likely to finish seventh, are doing their best to disprove my theory with four wins and four draws (and just two defeats) against the top six, whilst even our own team performed creditably (at home at least) against Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.

What will happen this evening? Another “bad day at the office” like the one we witnessed last week will see us beaten easily, even by a ‘relatively poor’ Chelsea side, who nonetheless are 21 points better off than we are, and still in the hunt for a Champions League place next season, helped by Arsenal’s loss at Goodison Park yesterday. In just over a week we have gone from a team who could have gone seventh in the league, to a team now in the bottom half, four points (and a poorer goal difference) adrift of the tenth placed side.

With nothing other than pride and place money to play for, even the most optimistic among us find it hard to envisage anything other than a defeat tonight. It would be great to see the players turn it on for our fans who make the trek across London, and those watching on TV, but the bookmakers’ odds showing Chelsea at 4/1 on, and West Ham 9/1 against to win the game are a pretty fair reflection of what is likely to happen. Chelsea have only lost one of their 16 home league games to date. At Stamford Bridge they have beaten Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City, and drawn with the other two elite teams, Manchester United and Liverpool this season, so what chance do we have of doubling their home defeats figure? Their only loss at home was against Leicester. I’d love us to do the same as the Foxes, but I won’t be holding my breath.

Who Gives A Toffee? Fellow Under-Achievers Everton Take On West Ham In Battle For The Middle Ground

Inconsistency, poor attitude and delusions of grandeur continue to plague the two Premier League nearly clubs competing for scraps at the London Stadium.

A season punctuated by international breaks and blank cup weekends (one unavoidable and one unforced) comes back to life this weekend as the league finally moves towards its thrilling climax (© Sky Sports).

There comes a time in most seasons when you start to wish it was all over.  File it under disappointing and hope that it will all be better next time after a profitable summer pruning the deadwood and strengthening the squad .  I guess there has been definite improvement since the employment of Manuel Pellegrini – more entertaining football, at least –  but the fact remains that, with seven games to go, there is precious little to play for apart from a remote possibility of Europa League qualification.  The feeling is like being at stop nine of a twelve pub crawl, when the sensible option would be to give up, go home and get some sleep, but the voice inside convinces you to carry on to the World’s End.

No doubt when the season does eventually end there will be a football sized gap at the weekend which can only be replaced by the irritation of endless transfer window speculation.  Despite the knowledge that the majority of stories are most likely made up by some bloke in his bedroom, it is impossible to resist clicking that latest teasing headline to yet another spurious rumour.  We will then react with enthusiasm, disbelief or outrage depending on the prevailing view of the board’s ambitions. For the record, I have taken an indicative vote and decided to reject the Shelvey or Mitrovic rumours as undesirable outcomes.

Moving on to today’s game and we welcome fellow serial underachievers, Everton, to the London Stadium.  This fascination of this Cinderella derby, featuring two clubs from big footballing cities who have long lived in the shadows of more illustrious neighbours, is which of their inconsistent incarnations will be on show .  Both appear to have a shared set of shortcomings whereby, lacking the resources to compete with the truly big boys, they assume there is some form of reflected glory that renders it unnecessary to adopt the graft, commitment, determination and teamwork demonstrated by less glamorous clubs.

Everton have long been one of the Hammers principle bogey teams, both home and away, although a win today would make it three in a row for West Ham and earn a rare league double, the first since 1972/3.  The two teams are also in a tug-of-war battle for the honour of most all-time Premier League defeats; a tussle in which Everton have now regained the initiative to lead by 364 to 361.

Many people say that you should not change a winning team but I’m not sure whether that still applies when you have played badly and won.  Given how West Ham had the look of a pub team for much of the match against Huddersfield, until it was rescued by a rousing finish and a fortunate narrow victory, it would be no surprise if the manager decided to shake things up a bit.  Once again it was a poor attitude and lack of application that was mostly to blame.  Unfortunately, it appears that the player who made the greatest contribution to turning around that game, Samir Nasri, will not be available this weekend.

A recall for Fabian Balbuena following his recovery from injury must now be long overdue.  The team, and Issa Diop in particular, have missed his organisational and leadership skills.  In the absence of any other options, Pablo Zabaleta and Aaron Cresswell will continue as full backs.

It is difficult to imagine that any of the current strikers will still be at the club when the 2019/20 season kicks-off in August, and so it is anyone’s guess which name will appear on the team-sheet today.  Who will be Pellegrini’s choice between the angry Austrian, who remains the most able to play a lone striker role, and the mercurial Mexican who is likely to be full of confidence following his two goal haul against the Terriers?  As ever, playing two up front sounds appealing in theory but would see the flimsy West Ham midfield badly exposed, even allowing for the presence of new England international, Declan Rice.  The media have already agreed that the transfer of Rice to a top six club in the summer is a ‘done deal’ but we might be lucky to get one more season out of him leading up to EURO 2020.

Late season games often see the odd young player thrown into the mix but I do not see any radical team selection decisions being made until the chance of seventh has completely receded.  Personally, I feel that a youngster or two on the bench this time of year is always worth it just in case circumstances allow them to get a run out.

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Everton have experienced as inconsistent a season as West Ham and currently sit two places and two points below the Hammers.  In theory, they are another of the teams that could secure seventh place.  The greatest threats are Richarlison and Sigurdsson both of whom have twelve league goals to their credit this season – compared to no Hammer yet having reached double figures.  Keep those two quiet and the chances of victory are greatly increased.  Sadly, the hapless Walcott is unlikely to feature and his aimless running up and down the wing will not be part of the entertainment.  In the distant past, Walcott saved some of his best work for games against West Ham, but those days are long gone.  Arsenal have always known when the time was right to jettison their spent forces, something that West Ham have learned to their cost on several occasions over the years.

It will be a first London Stadium visit of the season this evening for referee Paul Tierney of Lancashire.  A prolific issuer of yellow cards (83 from 26 games), Tierney’s only other Hammer’s engagement this term was the away victory over Newcastle in December.

Neither Lawro nor Paul Merson were inclined think too long and hard about this fixture and both have gone for the draw, 1-1 and 2-2 respectively.  Failure to win today could be a final dent in the battered dreams of seventh place whereas victory would keep the flame flickering for a little while longer.  By the time kick-off comes around the Matchweek 32 fate of Wolves and Watford will already have been decided, as will the potential for ending the day any further up the table.  Heart is going to overrule head this week with the prediction of a controlled 2-0 home win.

West Ham entertain Everton in the “Premier League most games lost derby”

Is the race for seventh place still alive?

This week I went to see Only Fools and Horses – the Musical. As a fan of the TV programme I thought that this stage musical, originally the brainchild of the show’s creator sadly deceased, John Sullivan, was superb. There was an interval to the show, but only one. It is not a perfect analogy I know, but I don’t think the audience would have been happy with four breaks. But this is exactly what happens to the domestic football season when the natural rhythm of weekly matches is broken by international football matches.

Some may like this but I am not keen personally. It is certainly better when the matches have some meaning (as in qualification for the 2020 European Championships), and are not friendly matches with limitless substitutions. I guess this is especially so when the England team rattle in five goals in each of their two matches against arguably our strongest opponents in the qualifying group, and have virtually qualified already. I’d still like to see the international break limited to perhaps once in the season, and then have additional matches for the national teams at the end of the domestic season. When I was young England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland used to play the Home International Championship at this time and it worked well. Qualifying matches for major tournaments could be played at the season end without frequently interrupting the domestic leagues.

Today we face Everton, so we have two clubs still aiming for a seventh place finish, but despite their aspirations both will probably fall short. Apart from the opening few games in our case, neither team has been involved in the relegation scrap at the foot of the table. Both are comfortably placed in mid-table, but both probably believe they should be a bit higher, and want to challenge Wolves and Watford for the honour of finishing as the top team outside the elite six. Three points this afternoon would help the cause of both and keep the winning team in with an outside chance. In fact a West Ham win could even put us in seventh place after this weekend’s games if Watford and Wolves slip up in their away games at Manchester United and Burnley respectively.

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Three programme covers from around 50 years ago, all costing 1/- (5p), compared to £3.50 for today’s matchday “magazine”

It would be great to see a seven goal thriller for the second consecutive home game but this is highly unlikely. More likely (I hope) is a 3-1 home victory to match our win at Goodison Park earlier in the season, and the score in our win over the Toffeemen in the final home game last season. If I recall correctly our three goals in May were all from outside the box. Lanzini scored two of them in what was to be his last game for us until recently (of course we didn’t know that at the time!) and Arnie thumped one home from 20 yards too. To me it highlighted the limitations of Jordan Pickford as a goalkeeper, and commentators would have said that he would have been disappointed to let them in. Of course since then he has cemented his place in goal for the national team, although I remain unconvinced. Of all the England keepers currently playing who I have seen live my preference is for Jack Butland of Stoke. He is probably overlooked as he is not playing Premier League football though.

Just to emphasise the importance of the results when playing against teams around you in the league I will go back 50 seasons to 1968-69. That was an excellent time for us, and our final finishing position was eighth whilst Everton finished third. We began that season so well only losing one of our opening eleven league games. That defeat was our biggest of the season, a resounding 4-1 loss at “fortress” Upton Park to Everton. We also lost the return fixture at Goodison Park. Had we won both of those games then Everton would have finished fourth and we would have been sixth at the end. In the following season Everton were the champions of England, topping the league by a massive nine points (these were the days of only two points for a win). We finished seventeenth. And yes, they beat us twice that season too.

Our head to head record against Everton is a poor one, where our wins and the drawn games are just about equal to the number of Everton victories. For a long time in the early years of this century, Everton were considered to be a bogey team, and Lukaku seemed unable to fail to score when they played us. In fact, until our 3-1 win on the final day of last season, we had only beaten them twice at home in the league in the 21st century, both 1-0 victories in 2002 and 2007. Although there was, of course, the FA Cup win 9-8 on penalties when Adrian famously threw his gloves to the ground before scoring the winning penalty.

One league where Everton and West Ham are fighting for top spot is that of most games lost in the Premier League. Both have topped the table in recent times, and there is little to choose between the two, although Everton have played considerably more games than we have, as they have been ever present. Everton currently lead by 374 to 371. But to be fair, it is not all bad news as to have this record confirms longevity and appearances in the Premier League, with both clubs also in the top ten for games won too.

The similarity of inconsistency and records this season is reflected in the bookmakers’ odds, where we are slight favourites at 6/4 to win the game. Everton are 7/4 with the draw at 9/4. 1-1 is the favourite score at around 5/1, whereas a West Ham win of 1-0 is 8/1, and a repeat of the 3-1 for our last two wins over Everton in the past year is 18/1. Our home record is improving, whereas Everton have been relatively poor on their travels. But the past counts for nothing. I’ll go for 3-1 again, although any victory would keep us in the hunt for a seventh placed finish.

West Ham Need A Shot Of Enthusiasm Or The Season Will Simply Fade And Die

To maintain a semblance of interest in the remainder of the season, West Ham must find a far better attitude in today’s contractual obligation encounter with doomed bottom dwellers, Huddersfield.

With it being FA Cup weekend, there is only the remnants of a Premier League afternoon with just three uninspiring fixtures scheduled including the visit of doomed Huddersfield Town to the London Stadium.  On paper this should be the most cast iron of banker home wins; yet the combined lack of motivation and consistency that has plagued Manuel Pellegrini’s West Ham revolution leaves a niggling doubt in the dark recesses of the mind.

Following their spirited survival last season, Huddersfield have spent most of this one on life support to the point where it might have been kinder to all concerned if they had been able to forfeit the remainder of their games.  When they parted company with promotion winning manager, David Wagner, early in the new year only the appointment of Tom Cruise or The Expendable could have given them any hope of escape.  Still, for a team looking for chink of light at the end of a very long tunnel (if only to raise their spirits) then an encounter with the Hammers will often oblige.

Infected with the eternal, irrational, straw clutching optimism of the football supporter, I had been clinging to the hope that West Ham could somehow find sufficient momentum to launch a viable challenge for a seventh place finish.  For me, however, that flicker of hope was finally extinguished in the dreadful performance at Cardiff last week – one of many tame away defeats to lower placed opposition that we have had to endure in recent months.  As managers often do in these circumstances, Pellegrini has vowed to improve the awayday experience; but in truth his squad looks well short of the qualities needed to overcome resolute opponents.  It is admirable that the manager is determined to play with a particular style and formation but sadly, it seems he doesn’t have the players to put his plans into practice in an effective and consistent manner.  In particular, we easily lose shape and compactness when put under pressure – leaving the team exposed down the flanks and isolated in attack.

It would be a major surprise if we did not see several changes from the side that performed so feebly in Wales.  In defence, there should be a welcome return to the Fabian Balbuena/ Issa Diop partnership (at the expense of Angelo Ogbonna) plus a possible recall for Pablo Zabaleta in place of Ryan Fredericks.  By default, Aaron Cresswell will continue at left back.

The centre of midfield continues to be an obvious  weakness despite the season long heroic performances of Declan Rice.  Based on last week’s showing maybe Samir Nasri will get the nod over Manuel Lanzini while skipper Mark Noble will probably keep his place to make up the numbers.  There is not a lot to choose between Noble and Pedro Obiang especially considering there is precious little leadership demonstrated on the pitch right now – at least not in the face of adversity!

In the more advanced positions, surely we will, at long last, see the return of Marko Arnautovic, in place of Javier Hernandez; supported by Felipe Anderson and Michail Antonio on the flanks.  Antonio has been very unfortunate to find himself on the bench after recent performances and is capable of posing more of a threat to Huddersfield than Robert Snodgrass.  While Anderson has not been at his best in recent weeks the team was still very much poorer after he was substituted at half time last week.

Just so that he doesn’t feel left out, soon to be HOTY, Lukasz Fabianski, will continue with his undisputed run between the goalposts.

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Perhaps there is now an opportunity to give at least some game time to a number of the young players who have been training with the first team squad.  I would particularly be keen to get a look at Nathan Holland who, from my admittedly limited viewing, has looked a more complete player, at current stage of development, than Grady Diangana.  Another opportunity to see Ben Johnson would also be interesting.

As well as experiencing a lengthy run of poor form on the pitch, Huddersfield are also now suffering badly in the injury room.  A long list of injuries includes Durm, Depoitre, Diakhaby, Duhaney, Hogg  and Mbenza.  Their main problem during two seasons in the Premier League has been the failure to score goals and a toothless terrier is not really any threat.  Despite this, they do have several useful players; notably Billing and Pritchard.

Anyone looking for additional entertainment this afternoon will be able to watch overweight West Yorkshire referee Jonathan Moss in his struggle to keep up with play.  Didn’t there used to be a fitness test for refs?  Moss was last seen at the London Stadium for the win against Arsenal.

As they did last week, the BBC and Sky pundits are banking on a comfortable Hammer’s win – Lawro by 2 – 0 and Charlie Nicholas, standing in for the absent Paul Merson, by 3-0.  Despite my concerns that the remainder of the season could become two months of going through the motions, I do expect a routine victory today.  Home form at the London Stadium has been very strong (one defeat in the last nine games) and it would be remarkable if the Hammers let this one slip.  Just to be perverse we are sure to concede a goal but still run out as 4-1 winners.

West Ham entertain Championship-bound Huddersfield

Can we still maintain a challenge to finish seventh this season?

In the football season, when you arrive at the middle of March you hope that the team that you support has something to play for. It is not as interesting when you are just going through the motions looking ahead to next season, without any real aims, such as a place in Europe, a visit to Wembley for the FA Cup Final, or even in a poor season, a fight against relegation. A place in Europe is still a possibility, albeit a receding one, following our non-show in Wales last week. Although we sit in ninth place, seventh place is still achievable with a good run-in in the final eight games, as we are just five points behind Wolves, and four behind Watford, our two main rivals for the coveted seventh place, also known as “the best of the rest”, or Premier League Division 2 champions, once the “elite six” are disregarded. But how much easier would seventh position and a place in Europe have been if we had picked up three points at Cardiff last week. But once again we showed that we are the most consistently inconsistent team.

Of course if we had taken the FA Cup more seriously, and not lost to a pub team destined for relegation to an even lower division than the lowly one they currently reside in, then the interest of us fans would be still heightened as we looked forward to the latter stages of the competition, and possibly quarter-final ties this weekend. But once again it was not to be. I believe that we have been eliminated from the two domestic cup competitions by teams from a lower division more than any other team in my 60 years of following West Ham.

But despite all this, I have already renewed my season ticket for next season, and look forward to my visit to the London Stadium today. Surely we must overcome relegation-bound Huddersfield, who sit at the foot of the Premier League with a meagre 14 points, which makes them 16 points from safety with eight games to go.

But if you want some reasons why we might not win, then here are 7 to be getting on with.  West Ham fans will understand what I mean.

We have never lost to Huddersfield in a Premier League game.

  1. We haven’t lost a league game to Huddersfield since the weekend of my very first date with my wife, which was over 47 years ago!
  2. We are unbeaten at home in 2019.
  3. If we win it would be the first time that we have won three consecutive league games at the London Stadium.
  4. Huddersfield have lost 7 of their last 8 games.
  5. Huddersfield have only scored 8 goals on their travels – which is less than any other team in the Premier League.
  6. Huddersfield have failed to score in 5 successive away games.

Ironically our overall record against Huddersfield in history is a negative won, but that is mainly due to the fact that they were once a force in the game. This is before most people who are alive today can remember. In their golden period back in the 1920s and 1930s they won the league title in three successive years, and were runners-up on three other occasions, also winning the FA Cup at that time, and were finalists in four other years. But latterly they have been in the doldrums relatively speaking, and after relegation in 1972 they spent the next 45 years in the three tiers outside the top flight until returning in 2017. After just about surviving last season they are now on their way back down.

Despite our inconsistency, even the bookmakers make us very strong odds-on favourites to win the game at odds of about 8/15. Given our visitors inability to score away from home then you would have to believe that a win to nil would be a good bet, and the odds will depend on how many it might be.

For example, 1-0 is favourite at 9/2, 2-0 is 11/2, 3-0 is 10/1, 4-0 is 22/1, 5-0 is 70/1, with 6-0 200/1. But remember this is West Ham we are talking about. Huddersfield might score and might beat us. I’d like to think that won’t happen though. Let’s hope that we can turn up, turn it on, and our attacking players in particular can provide us with some goals to cheer. I’m hoping for 3-0 or 4-0. Let’s see.

Wolves and Watford are still involved in the FA Cup this weekend, and both have away games to play in the league next. We have this game at home to Huddersfield and our next game is at home to Everton. That five point gap can be dramatically closed, or possibly eradicated completely by the end of March. If we can win these two games then we can definitely challenge for seventh place. Three points today is a must to enable this to happen.