Time For West Ham’s Three Amigos To Step Up And Make Brighton Rock?

Once again West Ham’s plans are once again hampered by injury concerns but now is time for key players to live up to their reputations and kick-off the Hammer’s season for real.

It is safe to assume that the average football supporter experiences a far greater roller coaster of emotional volatility than do the players and coaching staff.  While we have had a week of festering after the early season optimism was so mercilessly crushed last weekend, we must hope that on the training ground there has been a more measured reaction to resolving problems. After all, very few people would have expected there to be any points on the board from our opener although most would have expected fewer entries in the goals against column.

To a certain extent the scale of last week’s defeat was overshadowed by debate of the tactical fouling employed by Manchester City.  With Manuel Pellegrini voicing his displeasure at the City tactics it brought to mind shades of Ron Greenwood, whose gentlemanly approach had him avoid the tough tackling enforcers favoured by many of his management contemporaries.  In truth, successful teams always have their tougher, darker side and even if the game has moved on from the outright thuggery of Revie’s dirty Leeds, a hard, uncompromising edge is still required to consistently bring home the trophies.  Like Greenwood, perhaps Pellegrini is just too nice.

West Ham’s woes aside, the Premier League season kicked off with a great deal of enthusiasm.  Word is that a new breed of managers with new sets of ideas are going to be breath of fresh air, at least in the lower reaches of table.  Farewell, the dour, attritional tactics of Allardyce, Pulis, Hughes and Hughton; welcome, the daring and enterprise of Farke, Wilder, Hasenhüttl, Smith and Potter.  The latter, of course, is now at the helm of today’s opponents, Brighton and Hove Albion.  Only time will tell whether the brave new spirit of adventure survives beyond the barren depths of winter – or whatever the modern day equivalent of a cold, wet Tuesday night in Stoke is.

The Seagulls were the surprise package of the opening weekend with an emphatic 3-0 away win against a muddled Watford side.  Brighton’s expansive style was a far cry from what had been served up under Chris Hughton – but which did ensure Premier League safety for two consecutive seasons.  By all accounts Graham Potter prefers a fluid and flexible formation that switches between 3, 4 or 5 at the back; something which will provide an interesting contrast to Pellegrini’s more predictable (tried but not fully tested) set-up.

Just a week into the season and the perennial injury jinx may have already have raised its ugly head.  Depending on what you read, there may or may not be concerns with the fitness of Felipe Anderson, Sebastien Haller, Jack Wilshere and Andriy Yarmolenko for today’s game.  Old-timers Mark Noble and Winston Reid are definitely unavailable.

The prospect of the Three Amigos (Anderson along with Manuel Lanzini and Pablo Fornals) forming a mesmerizing attacking midfield alliance seemed to promise so much just a week or so ago.  These are players with big reputations, hefty price tags and fat wallets who need to step up to be more than mere supporting parts.  With good fortune it can start today but maybe injuries will force us to wait a little longer to see if it can work in practice.  Will it reinvent West Ham as a team of rapid movement, quick passing and smart interplay or will it once more be all icing and no cake?  I have a lingering concern that exciting as the trio could be it lacks anyone with a cool head and range of passing to take the game by the scruff of the neck and pull the necessary strings.  It is Wilshere that is probably best suited to such a role but not if his freedom is curtailed by having to fill the problem area in central midfield alongside Declan Rice.  The sad thing is that with Noble injured there is no credible alternative to replace him if it was decided to deploy Wilshere further forward.

For a team that has just conceded five goals in a home match we are only likely to see one change in defence where Arthur Masuaku is likely to step in for the hapless Aaron Cresswell.  Since Cresswell’s England call-up a few years ago his form has dropped off significantly, apart from a brief spell as part of a back three under David Moyes.  Perhaps he only looked good at left back when he had Payet to set up perfect overlapping and crossing opportunities.

Injuries permitting here is how I think Pellegrini will line up:

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If Haller is really not available, I hope we don’t have to put up with another 60 minutes or so of Javier Hernandez wandering about forlornly to no effect.  Best option in my opinion would be for Michail Antonio to come in to lead the line.  I thought he was very unfortunate to be hauled off at half-time last week.  You know what you are going to get with Antonio – someone with pace, power and muscle who will unsettle defenders.  His lack of finesse doesn’t make him a good fit for a the softly, softly, tippy-tappy style.  Alternatives are Yarmolenko or Albian Ajeti although I don’t see Pellegrini opting for either of these two as a starter.

On the subject of Ajeti, I think if I was a twin and my parents called by brother Adonis it might leave me with an inferiority complex.  A little like “Hi, I’m Brian and this is my twin brother, Thor!”  Maybe Albian also has a significant meaning in Albanian that I am missing.  I am certainly looking forward to seeing him play.

Today’s Physical Assistant Referee is Anthony Taylor from Manchester while the person making all the important decisions will be his Virtual counterpart tucked away underneath the stands.  My blogging partner made some excellent points yesterday in his article about how VAR looks to be exceeding its original brief of righting the wrongs of clear and obvious mistakes.  TV pundits were unanimous in hailing VAR as an overwhelming success although to me this is from the perspective of football as business rather than as an entertainment.  While it cannot be said that VAR got anything wrong last week the danger is that it will spoil the matchday experience for the paying customers in the ground.  Fans will be unable to fully celebrate any goal until it receives official confirmation several minutes later.

For the record, today’s Virtual Assistant Referee’s name is Bond, Darren Bond – Dr No Goal, You Only Score Twice, Dive Another Day and so on.

On this week’s pundit watch we have Lawro back on his favourite fence with a 1-1 draw while Charlie Nicholas fancies West Ham to sneak a 1-0 away win.  As we all know, the Hammers will need to score at least twice to win making allowance for the customary Glen Murray goal.  I have a feeling there could well plenty of goals this afternoon, especially if the promised West Ham attacking creativity gets itself into gear and the defence remains as characteristically charitable.  My optimistic prediction is for a 4-2 away win, although this can only come about through a significant upgrade in resilience and commitment; ensuring that we are not out-fought, out-thought and out-maneuvered by what will be an enthusiastic opponent. COYI!

What can West Ham expect when they visit the AMEX to meet our bogey team, the flying Seagulls of Brighton?

Let’s get Manchester City out of the way first. We held our own for about 25 minutes or so, but once they scored it was all over. We didn’t play particularly well after that opening period, but by their standards neither did they, despite the scoreline. It was disappointing to see the goals go in, but I am afraid we won’t be the last team to be on the end of a spanking from the champions. They are just too good for the Premier League, which is no longer a competition that the majority of teams have any chance of winning. Just take a look at the bookmakers’ odds which reflect the fact that only two teams can win, with four outsiders and 14 no-hopers. Leicester? That was just a fluke of circumstances and will not happen again.

Moving on to VAR, then I am a fan and like to see correct decisions. But they still haven’t got it right have they? It’s there to correct clear and obvious errors in respect of goals, penalties, straight red cards and mistaken identity. But they are taking it further which should not happen. And it’s not the fault of VAR that Sterling’s shoulder was offside by 1.57 mm or some other ridiculously small margin. The fault lies with the offside rule itself. If any part of your body that can touch the ball legally is beyond the defender, no matter by how much, then you are offside. But let’s take a step back here. Why was the offside rule introduced all those years ago before any of us were born? To stop the concept of goal hanging, that’s why. So how can somebody be goal hanging if they are in an offside position anywhere in the opponents half of the field? It is a nonsense. Let’s bring some common sense to this. The offside rule should only exist for anyone in the penalty area only. And if any legal part of their body is level with a defender then I don’t believe they should not be ruled offside. Let’s give the advantage to attackers. It would also bring an end to a lot of controversy, and stretch the play on the pitch, which I believe would be a good thing.

And while I am on the subject of rules / laws, then I’ll return to the topic I raised last week. Timekeeping! The time added on by the referee last week was nowhere near sufficient to make up for the time spent or wasted in goals celebrations, injuries, VAR stoppages, and substitutions. OK so last week it didn’t matter and possibly saved us from further punishment. Perhaps Mike Dean was acting like a boxing referee by stopping the contest to save us from further punishment. But in some games, that time could be vital. Just look back at my comments last week. We need an independent timekeeper to control the stadium clock and stop it when the ball is not in play. We are being short-changed and teams will continually cheat by timewasting if they can get away with it.

Another subject I raised last week was goalkeepers moving for penalties. When Fabianski saved the first penalty against City he clearly moved off his line before the ball was kicked. Yet that wasn’t the reason for the re-take. That was because of encroachment by Rice, who then cleared the ball after the first save. I just happened to watch the penalty shoot-out of the Super Cup game this week and was pleased for our old friend Adrian who became an instant hero for Liverpool with his save when the fifth Chelsea penalty was taken. I wasn’t surprised by the love-in on West Ham social media that followed because Adrian was a popular guy, despite his shortcomings as a goalkeeper. But the rules were not followed. Very clearly he moved off his line before the kick was taken. Why are referees unable to see this? Some will and some won’t and that will lead to continued inconsistency.

Now to Brighton. The Seagulls are flying. They really are a bogey team for us in recent times. Have we beaten them since that glorious day in the sunshine when Ricardo Vaz Te ran wild with wonder goals, bullet shots, overhead kicks etc., and we beat them 6-0? Certainly in the last couple of seasons we haven’t done ourselves justice in this fixture, and I’m hoping that we rectify this and show a reaction after the City game last weekend. Brighton surprised most of us last weekend running out comfortable 3-0 winners at Watford. I doubt that they won any game by three goals last season, and there certainly seems to be a change in philosophy from their new manager. Now that they produce league tables after one game (which is a bit nonsensical really but obviously it is there to meet a demand), we are facing a team occupying a Champions League place, after meeting the champions last week. Let’s hope we can put an end to this miserable run against the Seagulls and pick up our first win of the season.

I see today (Thursday) that our new record signing (together with last season’s record signing) are both potential doubts for the game due to injury. We’ve started early this season haven’t we? Nothing we can do but hope that their replacements put in a performance. I just hope Hernandez is not one of them (to me he is one of the most over-rated players I’ve seen in a claret and blue shirt). We’ll have to wait and see. Perhaps Ajeti and Fornals will be given starting opportunities? Or possibly Antonio will be the one out and out striker? Whatever happens in terms of team selection, I just hope that the players and coaches have been working on the concept of defending as a team this week.

The other potential change I guess is Masuaku for Cresswell. Our captain of last week is unfortunately a shadow of the player who was Hammer of the Year not that long ago and selected for England too. Every player rating I saw for the game was unanimous – he was our worst player. I’m not sure that Arthur is the answer (especially in a defensive sense) and perhaps the highly rated youngster Ben Johnson will be given a chance sooner rather than later.

Considering last week’s results you would have thought that Brighton would be strong favourites to beat us, especially in view of their recent record against us. However, that is not the case, although they are marginal favourites to pick up the three points. I’m confident that we will win though, and expect a high scoring game, perhaps a 3-2 or 4-3 victory in our favour to kick-start our season. If we want to progress then fixtures such as these are ones that we should start winning, or at the very least we should be avoiding defeat.

West Ham Star Men On Mission To Eclipse Blue Moon

We’re gonna score one more than you! Have new look West Ham got the pizazz to cause an opening day upset against the reigning Premier League champions?

The big day has arrived.  It’s time to fish out the lucky underwear, try to retrace those superstitious morning routines and then head out for your preferred match-day refreshment.  Peak pre-season optimism will continue up until the team sheets are revealed, at which point pre-match tension (PMT) will kick-in with the realisation of just how strong today’s opponents are.

I was trying to remember back as a young supporter, looking forward to a new season following Ron Greenwood’s West Ham, whether I ever believed the Hammers were in  with a chance of winning the league.  Even then my expectations probably weren’t that high, but now a title challenge is well beyond the realms of possibility.  So what am I looking for – why bother?

For me a successful season is one where we look committed and are competing in every game – both league and cup.  We would be trading blows with the monied elite and making sure they know they have been in a game.  We should look to entertain but not be intimidated by the more physical opponents, whose priority to is contain and spoil.  We should be in with a shout (or be part of the conversation in modern footballing parlance) of European qualification right until the final weekend and be prepared to embark on barnstorming cup runs.  Not a lot to ask is it?

The pundits are always talking up the Premier League as an excitingly competitive pursuit but really it is most predictable, at least for the present moment.  There may be a big six when it comes to counting the money and overseas following but only two teams  have any real hope of lifting the trophy.  Manchester City will resume their long running weekend leapfrogging contest with Liverpool before finally recording their third title on the trot in the closing weeks.  Then there will be a gap to Tottenham in third place followed by a bigger gap to Arsenal in fourth.  After that the placings might get a little more interesting this time around, with clubs including ourselves, Everton, Wolves and Leicester fancying their chances of muscling in ahead of potentially distressed Chelsea and Manchester United sides.  Not that there is much hope of ever breaking into the top six longer term (not without significant outside investment) but it would nevertheless be amazing as a one-off event.

I was relatively pleased with the transfer window recruitment although only time will tell how well the new players adapt to life in the Premier League.  It was good to see signings in the right age profile rather than more of the traditional practice of boosting retirement funds for fading superstars.  Like many supporters I would have liked to have seen more but appreciate there are constraints.  It is strange how so many fans saw reinforcements in defensive midfield and at full-back as close season priorities and yet these have been left untouched by Manuel Pellegrini and his team.  A clear indication of where his football philosophy lies.  We have no option but to trust the manager but pre-season did nothing to allay the fears concerning wide open spaces left for opponents to exploit in midfield and on the flanks.

Today will be Manchester City’s 5th visit to the London Stadium with a record that reads played 4, won 4, goals scored 17, and goals conceded 1.  Guardiola has created a formidable team that pose a threat all across the pitch.  They weren’t so bad when Pellegrini was at the helm but are now fitter, more compact and more together.  They are also highly professional and even their most gifted of their players is prepared to do his bit defensively even if this involves a niggly, cynical foul to thwart an opposition breakaway.  A slight tug of the shirt or minor body check in the opposition half rarely receives more than a finger wagging censure from referees.

The Sky Blues were relatively restrained (for them) in the transfer window spending a mere £130m for Rodri (a Fernandinho replacement) and Cancelo (another expensive full-back).  It is without doubt the strongest squad in the league although today they will be without Sane and Mendy.

For the Hammers, the pre-season friendlies have offered a good indication of how they might line-up with the attack minded quartet of Felipe Anderson, Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals and Sebastien Haller looking to cause City problems.  The anticipation of some excellent movement, passing and interplay between the forward players is quite mouthwatering.

Declan Rice will adopt his usual defensive midfield role leaving Jack Wilshere (in the absence of Mark Noble) as the remaining midfield option.  If he stays fit, Wilshere can be a magnificent asset this season but playing in a more withdrawn position may not be conducive for his best work to be on view.

At the back, I am hoping to see the Fabian Balbuena/ Issa Diop partnership return to its optimum level of cohesion following an uncertain pre-season.  The full-back pairing is most likely to be Ryan Fredericks and Aaron Cresswell.  I doubt that we will see so much of Pablo Zabaleta’s weary legs this season and although I believed Pellegrini preferred Arthur Masuaku on the left, he didn’t feature a great deal in pre-season.  Incidentally, it was Cresswell who netted the Hammers only London Stadium goal against City and he will probably skipper the side today.

It goes without saying that ‘thoughts and prayers’ are with Lukas Fabianski being passed fit to start in goal.

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Is this a team that can cause an upset?  I don’t think we can rely on complacency or rustiness from the opposition and so it must be down to a cunning and perfectly executed game plan.  Strangely, the weakness in central midfield might not be as important in a game like this where we will be forced to defend deep with most players behind the ball for long periods anyway.  We do now have players able to cause problems on the break provided that focus, shape and discipline can be maintained throughout.  It is not a game where we will boss the possession stats!

Mike Dean is today’s referee and there is a huge likelihood that we will get to witness a controversial VAR incident or two at first hand.  But will it be to rule out Aguero’s last minute equaliser for offside or to confirm that Diop’s boot lace was sufficient to send Sterling tumbling in the box?  In theory, I welcome VAR but am worried about its execution.  I can envisage multiple incidents every game with players surrounding referees and making TV shaped gestures with their hands.

Lawro returns to the BBC with a 2-1 away win for Manchester City while punditry duties at Sky seem to have transferred to Charlie Nicholas who opts for a 3-0 away win.  At least both predicted outcomes would keep us off the bottom of the table after Norwich’s defeat at Liverpool last night.  Personally, I am going for broke, keeping everything crossed and predicting a 2-1 West Ham home win.  COYI!

What can West Ham expect in season 2019-20?

We begin our fourth campaign in the London Stadium, and our eighth consecutive season in the top flight with a game against possibly the toughest opponents of all, the champions Manchester City.

The Premier League comprises 20 clubs. Like in so many other major leagues there are very few of the teams that can realistically hope to come out on top at the end of the season. Perhaps six think they have a chance, although there are probably only two at the most who could be champions. The “elite” six teams, the ones with by far the greatest revenues, they were the ones that finished in the top six places last season, and according to most, will do so again this time, and possibly for the foreseeable future with the way that money is distributed within the league.

The aim of the remaining 14 is twofold, firstly not to be involved in the relegation scrap at the foot of the table ensuring that they remain a Premier League team, and secondly (in some cases) to try to threaten the top six and break their stranglehold. Based on the evidence of last season the chances of doing the second one would seem to be remote. I’d like to think that all teams would be trying to win one of the two domestic cup competitions but sadly, their importance is in decline as far as the clubs themselves are concerned, although perhaps not in the eyes of fans, who love to see our team involved in a cup run.

A quick reminder of the table last season shows City and Liverpool way ahead with 98 and 97 points, with Chelsea 25 points adrift on 72 in third, a point clear of Tottenham (71), and then Arsenal 70. A very poor Manchester United team trailed on 66, but they were still 9 points clear of the best of the rest (Wolves on 57). I would expect the four clubs who finished outside the top six but in the top half of the table (Wolves, Everton, Leicester and West Ham) to be the ones with aspirations to get closer to the elite but is it a realistic thought? I’d love to think so but I doubt it.

Of course the start that a club gets to the season often (although not always) sets the tone for what follows. I am aware that the fixtures computer arranges the fixtures randomly (with some input from clubs and police etc.), but what odds would you have got six years ago that West Ham would face an opening day fixture against each one of the elite six in the six seasons that followed? Very long I’ll wager, although when the fifth one came up last season I said at the time that next season I reckon it will be Manchester City (if we survived in the top flight of course!)

The one game of the previous five opening day games that we won (2-0 at Arsenal) coincided with one of our best ever seasons in the top flight, although those with a good memory will recall that we then went on to lose our first two home games that season, 2-1 to eventual champions Leicester, and 4-3 to Bournemouth.

Last season of course we had an abysmal start, losing our first four games and propping up the league at that point. Ironically, Watford had a dream start and had 12 points after their first four fixtures, so it was pleasing that we recovered well to finish in tenth place, just in the top half of the table, and incidentally two points clear of Watford in 11th.

Our opponents today won 32 of their 38 games in the league (as well as winning both domestic cup competitions, including the demolition of Watford in the FA Cup final) so will be formidable opposition. I suppose facing them in the opening game is as good a time as any, but personally I will just be looking for a good performance, and hope that the players begin to gel together.

Unlike many on social media I like to refrain from commenting in advance on players arriving until I’ve seen how they settle and trust that the players in our team and squad are ones that the manager and his team want there. But on the face of it, the two big signings, Haller and Fornals would appear to be excellent acquisitions, and the return to fitness of Lanzini, Wilshere and Yarmolenko is like adding three new players as well. It would appear that we will have the capability of creating lots of chances, and hopefully we will score a lot of goals. Unlike many observers, I don’t believe that we have bad players in defensive positions; on the contrary I am generally happy. What I think we don’t do well is defend as a team, and in this I mean everyone on the pitch. I’d like to see the manager appoint a first class defensive coach, but he will run the team and coaching (quite rightly) as he thinks fit. I did read that one or two of the top teams even have throw-in coaches! You might laugh but if you analyse how often we lose possession of the ball from our throw-ins (one of the few statistics I haven’t yet seen!) you’d agree that it would be a good thing.

Of course there are new things for us to see this season. The introduction of VAR is something I have personally advocated for years. Going back to the book I published in 2016, Goodbye Upton Park, Hello Stratford, I made many references as to how I would like to see it used to ensure that we got the correct decisions more often, especially in relation to offside. I’m not entirely happy with some of the ways it is being used however, but I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve witnessed it in action in the Premier League. I’ve seen some (tongue in cheek?) comments suggesting that we’ll all be home much later, and that the classified results will now be moved to Match of the Day!

There are a number of rule changes being introduced too. Some of them are minor, and some will be more influential on games, for example the change to handball. Once again I’ll wait to see it in action before commenting, although early examples, such as in the Women’s World Cup, showed some potential teething troubles and inconsistency. I was not happy to read that the head of referees is suggesting that the Premier League will have its own interpretation of the new handball law, but once again I’ll wait and see. Surely consistency is what we want, whether or not we agree with the interpretation of the laws?

I welcome the fact that goalkeepers should have at least one foot on the goal line when the kick is taken, but hasn’t that always been the case? The problem has occurred with referees and linesmen having an inability or lack of desire to penalise goalkeepers moving off their lines before the penalty is taken (or encroachment for that matter). I suppose with VAR we can expect a rise in the number of penalties, so let’s see how consistent the officials can be.

A lot of the minor changes are just tinkering, and the one big change I’d love to see implemented is the correct timing of games, and the correct amount of time added on for injuries, goal celebrations, time wasting etc. The referee already has a lot to think about, and this could be taken out of his hands with the introduction of a timekeeper controlling the stadium clock, and stopping the time when these things happen, as happens in Rugby Union for example. Am I the only person who can see how this could totally eliminate the concept of time wasting?

When the opposing team scores and goes off to celebrate with their fans (especially at our stadium!) make a note of when the goal goes in and when play resumes. The amount of time will surprise you. See how much time is added for substitutions from when the decision is made to change a player up to the resumption of play. And don’t get me going on how long goalkeepers take to take a goal kick when their team is winning. And referees never add it on. They just seem to add a token time to reflect stoppages which bears little relation to how much actual time is lost. And one thing I don’t understand. If a referee stops his watch at any time how does he know how long he has stopped it for? The only way is to have another (stopwatch) and start that when he stops the main watch, and then stop the stopwatch when he starts his main watch again! Doesn’t a referee have enough to think about without faffing about with watches? I repeat; a timekeeper controlling the stadium clock would put an end to it all. I’ll return to this hobbyhorse as the season progresses.

Anyway, enjoy the game. I’d love to see an upset, although doubt that it will happen. On paper of course the fixtures for the rest of August are easier, so don’t get too upset if the result is not great, as long as we put in a good performance. We won’t face Manchester City every week!

Mind The Watford Gap: A Welcome Break To An Average West Ham Season

West Ham and Watford go through the motions in their final Premier League game of the season at Vicarage Road. Can a third straight win add a little gloss to the Hammer’s campaign and allow them to slip into the top half of the table?

If the weekend Premier League fixtures were a music festival then the West Ham game would be scheduled for a small tent behind the portable toilet cubicles.  There will only be one act on the main stage and that is to know where the make-believe helicopters need to deliver this year’s league trophy.  The title going down to the wire is a marketing dream for the Premier League and they are sure to wring every ounce of tension out of it.

It would be fitting in the final match in the pre-VAR refereeing era if the title were to be decided by a monumental blunder by officials that gifted the title to Liverpool.  Having seen Fabinho’s outlandish dive at Newcastle last week, whatever happened to the ruling about gaining an advantage through deception that saw Manuel Lanzini receive a retrospective suspension a few years ago?

Turning attention to more mundane matters and West Ham end their 2018/19 campaign by travelling to the edge of the known world to meet the club that is almost but not quite in London.  Inside the M25 and on the London Underground, maybe, but certainly not a London club!  Nevertheless, the Hornets have enjoyed a commendable season and may potentially not sack their manager even if they lose the upcoming FA Cup Final.

It might be safe to assume that the Watford team will have at least one eye on next week’s Wembley appointment with a mostly meaningless end of season commitment against West Ham being viewed as an inconvenience.  Even if the financial rewards to the club (from an extra league position or two) are not much different from winning the cup, there is no comparison when it comes down to the glory and kudos to be had from bagging a trophy.

I can remember Watford’s previous cup final appearance (in 1984) being a very disappointing effort and they will want to do a lot better this time around.  Not that their task is an easy one and they will almost certainly lose against a rampant Manchester City side who could be looking to complete a domestic treble.  As Elton might have said: “I guess that’s why that call it the blues!”

Despite the Wembley distraction, Watford showed tremendous commitment in their game at Chelsea last weekend.  They bossed the first half during which time Deulofeu, Pereyra and Doucoure all looked threatening; they would have been disappointed that the scores were still level at the break.  They subsequently ran out of steam and it would not be a surprise if Javi Gracia rested a few of his key players this weekend to keep them fresh and injury free.

West Ham’s final league position is now confirmed as somewhere between 9th and 12th.  Interestingly the Hammers are closer in points to Chelsea in third place than Chelsea are to second place Liverpool. The worst-case scenario will happen in the event of defeat on Sunday and Palace winning at home against Bournemouth.  It would be most disheartening if the Hammers ended the season below the south Londoners once more.  The most favourable outcome will occur should the Hammers win at Watford and Leicester lose at home to Chelsea – now that Chelsea’s Champion’s League qualification is sealed this seems unlikely!  That leaves today’s game as a nail-biting 10th/ 11th place play-off scenario in which our boys must endeavour to bridge the Watford gap!

A West Ham win today would be three in a row and a decent note on which to end the season.  It would providing a gloss that leaves behind a lingering sense of optimism to carry us through the empty summer weekends.  I have to admit that when last week’s team-sheet was announced I feared the worst; only to be pleasantly surprised by an efficient and buoyant performance, albeit against a side content to sit back and reflect on having preserved their Premier League status the previous weekend.  The surprise absence of two of our best outfield players was a worry.  What had Declan Rice and Felipe Anderson been doing together to get struck down with a mystery virus?  Was this a Bishop and Morley scenario all over again?

At the beginning of the season I had backed Marko Arnautovic to break Paolo Di Canio’s Premier League West Ham goal-scoring record.  With just seven needed today to equal that milestone (both for him and Felipe Anderson) it seems that the search for a reliable and consistent goal-scorer enters another summer!

It is difficult to see any surprise team changes for the game and there are several players in the match-day squad who we will probably never see again in a West Ham shirt – farewell and good luck to them!  After today’s game we can concentrate fully on the important business of transfer speculation and the size or otherwise of Manuel Pellegrini’s supposed war-chest.  Will it be spending to stand still or is incremental improvement season by season really possible?

Chris Kavanagh from Lancashire gets the whistle for this week’s game in what will be his sixth Hammer’s appointment of the season – won one, lost two, drawn two.

A difference of opinion with pundits this week with Lawro firmly on the fence at 1-1 and Paul Merson confident that the Hornets minds will be elsewhere allowing West Ham to ease home with a 3-1 win.  For me, it is important to keep the faith and hope that we can creep back into the top half with a sneaky 2-1 success.

I heard there were some games played in a minor midweek competition for teams not good enough to win their domestic leagues which ended in wins for both Liverpool and Tottenham.  Is there any way that neither of them can end up winning in the final?  Perhaps a thought to dwell on is that when Tottenham became the first English team to win a European trophy in 1963, the Hammers followed suit two years later.  That could be a history worth repeating!

Southampton are the visitors to the London Stadium as we sing Auld Lang Syne at the last home game of the season

Before we visited White Hart Lane (is it still called that?) last weekend the headline of my blog was “West Ham visit White Hart Lane to collect three points”. I didn’t end the headline with a question mark, I was just going back to the future after a trip in my DeLorean to tell you what was about to happen. As if it wasn’t enough to be the first team to win at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, to complete a double of firsts at Tottenham was a very satisfying experience to say the least.

Our points haul against top six teams this season has been impressive compared to what usually happens, so it is a pity that so many points have been lost against the more mediocre sides in the Premier League, leaving us four points (and an inferior goal difference) away from achieving a finish in the top half of the table.

Seventh place was certainly achievable, but some indifferent performances at times has meant that unless we win both of our remaining games, and one of Everton, Watford or Leicester lose both of theirs then we will be confined to a bottom half finish, certainly below what should be expected for a club with our resources. It will be interesting to see what happens in the summer in an attempt to improve the squad and push on upwards towards a seventh place finish. That doesn’t seem to be much of an ambition, but in reality I can’t see any of the top six elite failing to finish in the top six once again next time.

I was reminiscing with a fellow fan recently and telling him about one of my favourite seasons in the sixty plus years I have been following West Ham, and this was one of the less remembered seasons as there was no trophy at the end (well there usually isn’t is there?), although we finished in a highly satisfactory eighth place in Division One, just a point below our visitors today, Southampton, and the team we beat last week, Tottenham.

WHUSOU2Recently an article in the Daily Telegraph brought to my attention that there have been fewer draws this season in the Premier League than in any other season since it began in 1992, and also that 0-0 draws are also at an all-time low. This reminded me of the 1968-69 season when our record at the end read “Played 42, Won 13, Lost 11, Drew 18! Goals for 66, Against 50, Points 44” (only two points for a win then, of course). By drawing 18 of our 42 games (43%) we missed out on an even higher finish, when we could easily have finished at least sixth. No team managed as many draws as we did, although Tottenham came close with 17. In fact for virtually the whole season we were in the top six, and even topped the division at one stage, before a dismal run at the end (failing to win any of our last nine league games), cost us dearly.

The reason I remember the season so fondly was for the excellent start, especially where we scored 18 goals in a four game winning run, including a 7, 5 and 4. We then went on a nine game winless run, although six of those games were drawn. This sequence included a goalless draw at home to Southampton on October 5. The lack of goals was surprising in view of the attacking talent on show for both sides including Brooking, Hurst, Peters and Sissons on our side, and Paine, Channon and Ron Davies for the visitors.

Ron Davies was a Welsh prolific scoring old-fashioned centre forward, strong in the air, who played for Southampton for the biggest period of his career, although he also played many games for Norwich. He averaged more than a goal every other game in his time for those two clubs, and often edged out Geoff Hurst when polls were taken (as they often were in football publications of the time, such as Football Monthly etc.) of the strongest British team that could be selected.

The return game at the Dell also ended in a draw, with four goals shared by the two aforementioned centre forwards, Hurst and Davies. As is often the case for West Ham, just turning one of those draws into a win would have secured a position two places higher in the final league table. We had a similar outcome in 2011-12 in the Championship, when a defeat and a draw in the two games against Southampton meant that we lost out to them on automatic promotion to the Premier League. Having said that, I wouldn’t have missed the day out at Wembley, when we defeated Blackpool in the Play-Off Final, for anything.

When we drew 0-0 against Southampton on October 5, which was then followed by away defeats at Burnley and Leeds, little did we know that we were about to witness four consecutive home games that were amongst the most memorable I can remember at Upton Park. On October 19 we thrashed Sunderland 8-0, although I can remember the crowd getting restless in the early stages as it took us around half an hour to score the first goal (which Geoff Hurst readily admitted he punched into the net). This was the first of his six goals, the only time in my life I’ve ever witnessed a double hat-trick in professional football.

On November 2 QPR were the visitors and this was a superb match eventually ending 4-3 to us, after the visitors had fought back from being behind. The match featured the goal by Bobby Moore where he ran from the half-way line and unleashed a terrific shot into the top corner from 20 yards (this is one of the goals we see on the big screens in the build-up to games at the London Stadium). This goal was number 8 in my list of all-time favourite West Ham goals but it was bettered in the same game by a superb move finished off with a stunning volley by Harry Redknapp, which was the third best West Ham goal I’ve ever seen.

The next home game was a 4-0 demolition of Leicester City which included the best goal I have ever seen. It included another brilliant move started by Bobby Ferguson in goal which culminated in a wonderful volley by Martin Peters. Then two weeks later on 30 November we were treated to two examples of moving the training ground into a game, with two expertly executed near-post goals, one with Peters crossing for Hurst, and the other with Hurst crossing for Peters, virtual replicas of the England winner versus Argentina in the 1966 World Cup quarter final 1-0 win, only this time from the other wing. This was the last game that we won in 1968 with another inconsistent spell which included the 2-2 draw away at Southampton on Boxing Day. 1968-69 was a memorable season in many ways with some great games and some not-so-great games. I wonder how many seasons that we can apply that theory to inconsistent West Ham?

We have a positive historical record in games against Southampton, and since we both returned to the top flight in 2012, there have been 13 games. We have won six, Southampton four, and three have been drawn. Hernandez, Arnautavic and Anderson have scored two goals each in the last three fixtures against them, but our top goalscorer in those games, who will certainly play in this game, is the captain Mark Noble. He has scored four goals against them, and I fancy him adding another in this one. In those 13 games there have been 10 different scores with draws of 0-0 and 1-1, West Ham wins of 2-1, 3-1, 4-1 and 3-0, and Southampton wins of 1-0, 3-0, 3-1 and 3-2.

If you fancy Mark Noble to score the first goal of the game, and a score we haven’t seen in recent times, perhaps 4-2, then you can get odds of 600/1 on that unlikely event. That will be my fun bet in this game. The odds are identical for the same score with Mark Noble scoring the last goal of the game. Considering we won our last game away at Tottenham, the odds on us winning this game of 5/4 appear on the generous side, although Southampton themselves have done reasonably well since their new manager took charge. However as we have lost only one of our last eight home Premier League games, and Southampton have won only one of their last six away Premier League games, then statistically, these facts allied to past history point to a West Ham win. Having said that, previous records don’t mean a lot when applied to West Ham!

If you wanted a double on West Ham to beat Southampton, and West Ham Ladies to win their FA Cup final in 90 minutes, you can get odds of 19/1. The Ladies start as massive underdogs against a City side almost as dominating in their own way as their male equivalent. Having said that the odds of 15/2 on West Ham Ladies winning the final in 90 minutes are about the same as those on West Ham winning at Tottenham last week! And we know what happened there.

After The Lord Mayor’s Show? Record Breaking Hammers To Turn Up For End Of Season Party?

The season’s last hurrah at the London Stadium but will West Ham bring the energy and commitment from their famous win at Tottenham into a more mundane appointment with Southampton?

Except when the spectre of relegation is looming large, the final home game of the season will often have a party atmosphere about it – like the last day of school before breaking up for the long summer holidays.  The quality and urgency of the football, however, can take on a decidedly pre-season friendly feel – and that’s even before allowing for West Ham’s infamous inconsistency.

Last weekend’s superb win at Tottenham was an historic one.  When a record is claimed by being faster, higher or further there is always potential for it to be broken.  When you record a first, though, it will stand forever!  Overall it was a very good performance but one that was competent in the first half and excellent in the second.  In the opening exchanges, those trademark gaps between defence and midfield and midfield and attack were all too apparent.  Opposition forwards were given too much space to operate in fromt of the defence and Marko Arnautovic was an isolated figure up front.  Then after the break, everything changed.  Arnautovic finally came back to life, Michail Antonio started to cause panic in the Tottenham defence and the likes of Mark Noble, Ryan Fredericks and Arthur Masuaku put in their best performances for some time.  It was also great to see the Fabian Balbuena/ Issa Diop partnership reunited and along with Lucas Fabianski they were excellent throughout, and largely responsible for keeping the scores level at the break.

Tomorrow’s opponents, Southampton, secured their Premier League safety last weekend as their point against Bournemouth and other results did just enough.  Following the appointment of Ralph Hasenhuttl, to organise the shambles bequeathed by Mark Hughes, it was always likely they would have enough quality to stay up.  How they react to the pressure being lifted also adds to the uncertainty of this weekend’s spectacle.  It is a chance for West Ham to complete a rare league double and maybe fifty points is still achievable if sufficient motivation is evidenced.  As welcome as the win at Tottenham was, only being pumped up for the occasional game is not really acceptable.  Finishing in the bottom half, if that is what eventually happens, would remain a disappointing outcome.

Once again, the weekend’s Premier League fixtures are strewn over an extended four day period with the West Ham game one of only two Saturday 3pm starts.  It will be ironic, therefore, if all the important issues are resolved in advance of the hoped for climactic Matchday 38 finale.  Cardiff will almost certainly confirm their relegation on Saturday and when Liverpool fail to beat Newcastle on Saturday evening it will effectively hand the title to Manchester City.  The media will only have the thrilling fourth place finish to fuel their final day frenzy.

Despite reports that both Manuel Lanzini and Samir Nasri are available for this week’s game it would be a major surprise if either appeared in the starting eleven.  I cannot see any changes being made from the team that started at Tottenham.

This week’s referee is Stuart Atwell from Warwickshire making his fourth West Ham appearance of the season.  The previous three encounters all ended in defeat for the Hammers – at home to Bournemouth and Tottenham (League Cup) and away at Manchester City.

Both of the featured pundits are predicting a Hammer’s home win; Paul Merson a thrilling 3-2 knockabout and Lawro a predictable 2-0 stroll.  West Ham have generally struggled against the type of high energy football that Hasenhuttl likes to play and will need to carry over that second half intensity from their last game.  Southampton, though, have a few injury problems at the back and the manager may choose to rotate his squad now that safety has been achieved.  A high scoring topsy-turvy end-of-season affair is not unthinkable and I will put my money on an exuberant 4-2 home win.

Finally, I have never watched a ladies football match either live or on TV but I guess, by default, I am a West Ham fan for the women’s game as well.  Accordingly, I would like to wish the West Ham Ladies the very best of luck in their Women’s FA Cup Final at Wembley against Manchester City tomorrow afternoon.  Obviously hoping for a Hammer’s win but most importantly that it is an exciting and memorable day for all concerned.  A remarkable achievement already to have reached the competition final.