Matchday: Spurs versus West Ham

Preparing the sparrow’s wings and the crow’s arse for the annual visit to White Hart Lane.

Tottenham West HamTo the combatants and the committed a West Ham versus Spurs derby is one of the biggest games of the season. To the outsider it is simply another Premier League fixture. Tottenham may pretend that it is not so important to them but losing to their noisy neighbour always hits them hard. They regard West Ham with the same self-appointed conceit and arrogance that Arsenal view them with; as the Gunners pursue their main London rivalry with Chelsea.

In wider footballing circles the two clubs meeting in today’s late kick-off are, at best, part of the chasing pack that occasionally threaten but ultimately disappoint. They are like two old actors who love to reminisce about past glories and the good old days. If you took the combined trophy room silverware from the last 50 or so years to a car boot sale then it would barely fill a couple of carrier bags.

Against all the evidence, however, both clubs have lofty ambitions; a future where super-sized stadia thrust them into the big time of perpetual Champion’s League qualification. That both sets of owners and supporters see themselves as pretenders to the crown of ‘top team in London’ ensures that tensions are kept on simmer and that success in this fixture remains a priority of the highest order.

They are solid, they are electric, but we have improved and if we play good, we have a chance.

– Slaven Bilic

Tottenham’s unwarranted and overblown opinion of themselves has frequently been the source of great amusement but the fly in that particular ointment is current manager Mauricio Pochettino. The Argentine has elected to follow a build an effective team route of management over the long standing tradition of assembling a squad of expensive misfiring prima donnas. The sooner that Mauricio is poached by a proper big club the better.

Head to Head

One of our longest running rivalries, the following statistics exclude meetings in the Southern League and war-time cups. Our record at White Hart Lane is not good with only one league win in the last 14 visits. Slaven Bilic made his West Ham debut at White Hart Lane in February 1996 – a 1-0 victory courtesy of a Dani goal.

 

P

W

D

L

F

A

Sequence

Home

66

27

19

20

97

88

WLWLWL

Away

66

15

17

34

85

120

LDWWLD

 

132

42

36

54

182

208

 

Team News

No fresh injury concerns reported for West Ham although Mark Noble is suspended. Winston Reid has recovered the hamstring injury that prevented him travelling to play in New Zealand’s world cup games with New Caledonia and supposedly Diafra Sakho is finally fit, at least physically, and may well find a place on the bench.

I guess it will be 3 at the back again with Antonio and Cresswell as wing-backs, Fernandes coming in for Noble and Ayew up front. This formation raises concerns given the way Tottenham like to get their full-backs forward.

Every time we play and compete in the Premier League, the opponent takes the game like a derby or a final. That is good. This is another derby, another final for us.

– Mauricio Pochettino

Tottenham have a number of injury concerns with Alderweireld and Lamela out and late fitness tests for Alli, Denbele, Rose and Eriksen. A Champion’s League fixture on Tuesday may influence how many are risked today.

Arguably a good time to play them and end their unbeaten start to the season as Tottenham do not have strength in depth but similar injury-hit opposition situations have worked against us in the past.

Man in the Middle

A first encounter of the season today with referee Mike Dean from The Wirral. Dean has 49 Yellows and 2 Reds from 11 games in this year’s account and was most recently involved with West Ham in the final Boleyn Ground match against Manchester United.

Tottenham v West Ham preview

‘Twas The Night Before Tottenham

Tottenham West Ham

With Christmas approaching fast I was reminded this week of the famous Christmas poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” which later became more famously known as “Twas The Night Before Christmas”. It was reputedly written by Clement Clarke Moore who was an American professor of Divinity and Biblical Learning in New York in the early nineteenth century, although it is still debated as to whether or not he actually wrote it.

Last season when I wrote a regular column in the fanzine Over Land and Sea, I was inspired to try to emulate his writing suitably adapted for the Chelsea game, which we won 2-1. You remember the one where Mourinho was still in charge and sent off at half-time. There was a picture of a forlorn looking Chelsea manager (although for not much longer after the game) standing in the directors’ box area as his side were comprehensively beaten with goals from Zarate and substitute Carroll. It seems a long time ago now, but it was only just over a year ago. The poem actually ended with the 2-1 prediction for the game, which won me some money on the day when I placed a small wager at 16/1.

I also included the poem in my book, Goodbye Upton Park, Hello Stratford, which incidentally is available in paperback or Kindle on Amazon. So if you are looking for a Christmas present for a West Ham fan, and don’t want to shell out megabucks for a piece of the Upton Park turf in a glass case, or a plastic seat from the Betway stand, then look no further. I have been a regular at Upton Park for almost sixty years, and the book chronicles the last famous season there.

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Anyway, as we won the game, I was once again motivated to write a similar poem for the visit of Everton. We drew that game, so my record of adapting this famous poem was an unbeaten one. In view of the potential difficulty of this week’s visit to White Hart Lane, I decided to try once again, and the resulting effort of my preview to the game is below.

‘Twas the night before Tottenham when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring not even a mouse;

In our last game, the visit of Stoke;
Another home draw, the table’s no joke;
In seventeenth place, after Adrian’s error;
We need some more points, we must play much better;

The game’s at the Lane, with tough games to come;
Just one year ago, they ‘Kaned’ us 4-1;
Revenge came in March, our tactics were clever;
We beat them 1-0 with Antonio’s header;
Going for the title, it was really absurd;
They faded away, and fell down to third;

This season unbeaten, a close title race;
But too many draws, they’re down in fifth place;
Our record at their place is generally poor;
But remember ’81, when Psycho scored four;

In 2013 we were close to the bottom;
We went there twice, you can’t have forgotten;
Morrison’s goal was one of the best;
Vaz Te and Reid, you know the rest;
And then in the League Cup there was never a doubt;
A Maiga header, and Tottenham were out;

93-94 was not our best season;
A very poor start was part of the reason;
They beat us at our place, 3-1 was the score;
But when we went there we managed four;

About ten years ago, I remember it well;
Last game of the season and we gave them hell;
They were close to the top and well in the reckoning;
A win against us, and Europe was beckoning;

They stayed at the Marriott, their pre-match hotel;
But a dodgy lasagne had left them unwell;
Carl Fletcher scored first, Defoe made it 1-1;
But then up popped Yossi, and Tottenham were done.

Kane has been injured, he’s been in the wars;
But Son has come in and sometimes he scores;
But now Kane is back, there’s no time for flapping;
With Walker and Rose, full backs overlapping;

Eriksen and Lamela are always a danger,
And Dele Alli can be a game changer;
Lloris is in goal, the keeper for France,
I’ve looked at the odds, they give us no chance;

Our season so far, a brief aberration?
I wonder if Bilic will change the formation?
Lanzini and Payet have not been their best;
And Tottenham away will be quite a test;

We need to start quickly, incisive and fast,
Be first to the ball, and not be the last;
Play a high tempo, and keep up the pace;
Hustle and chase, and look for a space;

I know they’re our neighbours, but there’s no love lost;
We must raise our game or lose to our cost;
The optimist in me says go for the kill,
Obiang to score and we’ll win it one-nil.

Matchday: West Ham versus Stoke City

Can we look forward to an afternoon of ooohs and aaahs or will the players be getting a rocket?

West Ham StokeA game at the heavily scrutinised London Stadium on a day known for fires and explosions – what could possibly go wrong?  Today’s visitors are the mostly harmless Stoke City who after a disastrous start to the season come to London today unbeaten in their last 5 matches.  Known as the Potters after the eponymous boy wizard (itself is a reference to Stoke’s most famous ever player, wizard of the dribble, Stanley Matthews) the club is competing in their 9th consecutive Premier League campaign following the promotion in 2008 which ended a 23 year ‘spell’ in the wilderness.  When Stoke were relegated in 1985 they did so with a record low number of points for the 22 team, 3 points-a-win top flight.

“I would rather have us creating chances and waiting for a moment to convert them than not create them at all. We are disappointed with the Everton result but we are on a good path, we are there, and we are going to score goals.”

– Slaven Bilic

A game that we will be very much hoping to win as our theoretical easier run of games comes to halt just before yet another international break and a chance to do the Christmas shopping.  A few West Ham – Stoke connections that spring to mind are that Geoff Hurst played for both clubs, Lou Macari managed both and both were briefly owned by Icelandics at some point in their history.

Head to Head

Another close run head to head record that shows an emphasis on home victories with Stoke’s visits to the capital being as fruitless as our ventures to the north-westwards.  Two of their seven victories have, however, been in the last six encounters. History reveals a healthy goal haul from home games against the Potters which hopefully can be repeated this afternoon.

P

W

D

L

F

A

Sequence

Home

40

20

13

7

70

35

DDLDWW

Away

41

11

8

22

43

62

LDLWLD

81

31

21

29

113

97

Team News

Winston Reid is suspended  and injured although the latter might just be a convenient excuse to avoid travelling down under for two World Cup fixtures against New Caledonia.  Potential replacement Reece Oxford has also picked up an injury which opens the door for the more probable replacement James Collins and his silky passing skills.  With still no striker to speak of available our sources (I read it on the internet) suggest that there will be a return to the starting lineup for Andre Ayew with Edmilson Fernandes dropping out.  While welcoming Ayew’s return it would be disappointing for Fernandes, one of our better players last week, to be demoted to the bench.  Slav says the players now feel at home at the London Stadium but I get the impression that he is trying to convince himself that everything is going to be alright rather than anything else.

“We’re looking forward to every game we play now because we’re playing some good stuff now and we’re playing with confidence.”

– Mark Hughes

Stoke have Arnautovic missing through suspension with Shaqiri doubtful and a few other longer term injuries including Butland, Cameron and Johnson.  Danger men are Bony, who open his Stoke account last week against former club Swansea, and Joe Allen.

Man in the Middle

Andre Marriner from Birmingham is today’s top official.  This is his 7th Premier League game of the season during which time he has brandished 1 red and 24 yellow cards whilst at the same time missing Aguero’s elbow assault on Winston Reid at the Etihad.

Stoke Preview

A victory today would be most welcome with the difficult run of fixtures to follow after the international break

Embed from Getty Images

I can honestly say that the game against Stoke is not the one that I look for when the fixtures schedule is released in the middle of June each year. In fact I think that when Tony Pulis was in charge, it was probably the game that I least looked forward to. I have never been a fan of watching Pulis’ teams play, and West Brom have now assumed the Stoke mantle for me. Perhaps many West Brom fans feel the same judging by the empty seating in last week’s game at the Hawthorns? Those fans who have been watching for a few years will probably remember the Rory Delap long throw tactic. Stoke would do all they could to attain throw-ins in the opposition half, and then Delap would spend an age drying the ball before launching a long throw into the penalty area, with his team mates blocking off defenders as if it were a game of American Football. Somehow they got away with it, and often went unpunished by referees.

But Stoke under Mark Hughes are different, although they still retain some players who play the game in the same way they did under Pulis, especially Shawcross and Walters. In my opinion Shawcross has always been one of the most over-rated central defenders in the Premier League, and I could never understand the clamour in the media to get him called up into the England squad. That appears to have died down in recent times though. He is one of those defenders often referred to as uncompromising, although I could think of other adjectives to describe his methods.

Last December at Upton Park the game ended goalless, but of all the 0-0 games I have ever seen this one was one of the best. Both sides played entertaining stuff and were applauded off at the finish. There were 34 shots in the game, of which we had 22, and there was a grandstand finish where we almost nicked the points. One of the reasons we didn’t win was the superlative goalkeeping of Jack Butland. He got injured playing for England in a later game, and has been out for a long time. I think they, and England, miss him

When I look back over the past fifty years or more I don’t have great memories of watching us play Stoke. At the Britannia Stadium, in the final game of last season we took the lead and had control of the game. We conceded an equaliser against the run of play and then lost the game right at the death. We pulverised them in the first half but only had a solitary goal at the interval for our endeavours. It should have been three or four with the game wrapped up. We missed stacks of chances, and Stoke cleared about four off the line. One was only an inch or so from being a goal but it just wasn’t going to be our day. In some ways we missed Payet, but we created so many chances it shouldn’t have mattered. We had more than twenty shots on goal to Stoke’s half a dozen.

Going back almost fifty years, in 1967-68 we were 3-0 up at half-time in a league game at Upton Park and we let Stoke back into the game to win 4-3. Two seasons later, almost to the day we were once again 3-0 up at half time, and Stoke fought back to draw 3-3 and were just denied a late winner with a shot that came back off the post! In 1971-72 we met them in the League Cup semi-final that went to four games that had everything (they didn’t have penalty shoot-outs in those days). We won the first leg away 2-1, but Stoke won 1-0 in the second leg at Upton Park when Gordon Banks saved a late-in-the-game Geoff Hurst penalty and it went to a replay. The first replay was drawn and we then lost an incredible second replay 3-2. I can also remember visiting their old stadium, the Victoria Ground in 1973. All I can recall is that a smallish crowd made a lot of noise, and we lost the game 2-0.

In some ways, their start to this season has mirrored our own. They began with a draw at Middlesbrough, and then lost four games in a row, conceding four goals in each of three of those fixtures. They followed this with two more draws, before a recent run of three consecutive victories, albeit against Sunderland, Hull and Swansea, the three teams currently occupying the relegation places. As I knew we were playing them this weekend I watched some of their 3-1 win over Swansea on the Monday night football on Sky. They looked quite impressive, especially Bony who scored twice, and Allen, who has scored four goals from midfield this season. Arnautovic will be missing serving a one match ban, whilst Shaqiri is a doubt for the game.

We haven’t actually beaten Stoke at home since March 2011 when our three goalscorers were Demba Ba, Da Costa, and Hitzlesperger. Where are those three ex-players now? The last time we did record a victory over them was in March 2013 when Jack Collison scored the only goal in the game at the Britannia. But since then we have played them six times in total, drawing three and losing three. Since returning to the Premier League our home record against them has been three draws and one loss, so it is about time we put an end to this run.

They currently sit in twelfth place in the table (to our seventeenth), but are only two points ahead of us, so a victory would take us above them, and we could in theory be in the top half of the table by Saturday evening if other results went our way, although this is unlikely. But with our difficult run of fixtures after the international break, three points would be most welcome, and I predict that we will win a tight game by the odd goal, perhaps 1-0 or 2-1.

Matchday: Toffee and Hammer

Three in a row for the Hammers or a return to Merseyside misery?

Everton West HamLast season’s victory at Everton put the seal on a season long respite from the traditional northwest travel sickness with a once in a lifetime haul of three wins and a draw from the away-day excursions to Liverpool and Manchester. Defeat by Manchester City means that it is a feat that cannot be matched this time around but today is an opportunity to see if the cure was purely temporary.

West Ham go into the game looking for a third league win on the bounce (four in all competitions) while Everton after a bright start to the season under Ronald Koeman have not won any of their last 5 outings. Victory at Goodison last March was the last time West Ham won three league games in a row and so the omens are good but remember they usually lure us with hope and leave us disappointed.

“So he is always scoring against us, unfortunately, so that’s also going to be interesting. It will be a great game. They need points. We need points.”

– Slaven Bilic on Lukaku

The game last season was the classic game of two halves (or more accurately a game of the first 78 minutes and the final 12). For most of the match we were poor against an Everton side who were reduced to 10 men just after the half hour until some strange Martinez substitutions handed the initiative to the Hammers with three late goals and an unlikely 3-2 victory. Re-live the entertainment below and for the ‘twitchers’ among you there is a rare sighting of Carroll and Sakho on the pitch at the same time.

Head to Head

Everton have dominated the encounters between the two clubs and until last March had been unbeaten against West Ham in 15 matches. If history is anything to go by a visit to Goodison usually ends in a heavy defeat; Everton having averaged 2 goals per game on their own turf..

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W

D

L

F

A

Sequence

Home

63

23

17

23

95

92

DLDLLD

Away

61

11

13

37

50

122

WDLLLD

124

34

30

60

145

214

Team News

No new injury concerns for West Ham and no return to fitness from any long term treatment room residents as yet. It would be a major surprise if the team that started against Chelsea was not the same one that starts today but with Adrian back between the sticks. It would mean that the striker conundrum remains unresolved but allows room for the many suddenly in-form midfield players which now also appears much better balanced as a unit. We will most probably see a further 20 minute run-out for Andre Ayew as he continues his return to full match fitness.  The slight concern of three at the back is against fast breaking teams who are strong on the flanks. Definitely something to watch out for against Everton although Koeman is far more cautious than his predecessor and has focused on improving his team’s defensive capabilities with some, although not total, initial success.

“Overall I’m happy with the defensive organisation but I’m not happy with the offensive aspect. We need to improve and be more clinical and have more productivity.  That’s what we need to change.”

– Ronald Koeman

Everton are without dirty James McCarthy and Leighton Baines is apparently doubtful. We can hope that Lukaku stubs his toe or slips over in the shower this morning otherwise we will need to score at least twice to claim all three points.

As ever I am hoping for a win but would settle for a point in a game where I believe both teams will score.

The Man in the Middle

Today’s referee is Anthony Taylor from just down the road in Greater Manchester. He was also in charge of this fixture last season where he sent off Kevin Mirallas for two bookable offences; another positive and enticing omen. Taylor was also holding the cards in our season opener at Chelsea in August when he failed to wave one in the direction of eventual match-winner Diego Costa following his assault on Adrian.

Everton Preview

Can We Halt Lukaku’s Amazing Goalscoring Run Against Us?

Everton ProgrammeWe go into this game on the back of three consecutive victories, and if we manage at least a point then we will have remained unbeaten in five games, which cover the whole of the month of October. After a disastrous beginning to the season then this is exactly what we needed. With a home game next week against Stoke City, we have the opportunity to put ourselves in a reasonable position in the league before the next international break. When we entered the last break, after seven league games, we had amassed just four points including only one victory.

We needed that break to re-charge, re-think, and work out how we could improve our performances to ensure that we did not become involved in the relegation dogfight. Of course we are not yet in a comfortable league position, and need to consolidate the recent improvement before the run of difficult games that will follow immediately after the next fortnight recess from league football. The four games that come after the interval include visits to Tottenham, Manchester United and Liverpool with just one solitary home game against Arsenal.

It is therefore vital to get something from the next two games, and then hope to spring a surprise or two in the tough fixtures. We then have relatively easier games at home to Burnley and Hull, and away at Swansea and Leicester. At that point we will have reached the end of 2016, and be exactly half way through the season.

At the equivalent stage last season we had 29 points. To reach a similar total in this campaign would require 19 points in the next ten games, of which just four are at home and six away, including the Everton game. That could be achieved with six wins, a draw, and three defeats, or alternatively five wins, four draws and just one reverse. Despite our recent improvement this scenario seems very unlikely, and if we can get anywhere close to our halfway points total last term then we will have done well.

Of course we improved still further in the second half of last season, with 33 points in the final 19 games to finish on 62 in seventh place. We will be looking for a similar upturn this time around.

Everton, on the other hand, come into this fixture on a run of five games without a win. Their early season sparkling form seems to have disappeared, although they still sit in sixth place in the table. Their new manager, Ronald Koeman appears to have halted their relatively poor defensive record under Martinez, especially at home, and the eight goals that they have conceded to date in all league games is the second best record in the division so far. Last season they conceded 30 goals in their 19 home games, a total only exceeded by Aston Villa and Bournemouth. This, of course, includes the three late goals that we put into their net in a dramatic comeback in March.

Their top scorer this term with six goals is, unsurprisingly, Lukaku, and he has netted eight times in eight games against us. He always seems to score against us and is a good bet to be the first goalscorer in the game. In fact he is odds-on with bookmakers to score against us at any time in the game, and given his previous record we cannot be surprised by that. We also need to beware of Cleverley, who, despite being a midfielder who does not have a particularly great goalscoring record (around 25 goals in approaching 200 senior games in his career), has scored against us for three different teams (for Wigan, Villa, and Manchester United).

If we can keep Lukaku quiet, and at the same time play with the same level of intensity and desire that we showed against Chelsea, then I am hopeful that we will get something from the game. A win would be great, but my prediction is for Lukaku to open the scoring, and then for Antonio to end his recent goalscoring drought, and the game to finish 1-1. Antonio hasn’t scored since netting five times in our opening four league games, which is surprising considering our improved performances of late. But that’s the way it goes sometimes, and I’m sure his goalless run will end soon.

I hope that Bilic retains the same team that played in midweek, and I also hope that my forecast for the result will be wrong, and that perhaps Ayew will come off the bench to score a late winner in a 2-1 victory. Perhaps the Everton players will get nervous thinking about last season, and remember our storming finish to win the game.

What are the chances?

Can We Win the EFL Cup?

Previewing the EFL Cup Fourth Round clash with Chelsea.

EFL Cup ChelseaAs I wrote prior to the last round of the competition, our two realistic chances of a trophy before the season began, and now our only two opportunities, come in the domestic cup competitions. And when you analyse the competitions in detail, you realise how relatively easy they should be to win. The EFL Cup can be won by getting through four rounds of football and then winning the final at Wembley. Sounds easy doesn’t it? To be handed a draw at home to Accrington Stanley of League Two should have been a very easy passage into the last 16, but, although we made it in the end, we made heavy weather of it.

Prior to the last round we were the seventh or eighth favourites to land the trophy (you could get odds of between 14/1 and 20/1), so the bookmakers at that time fancied our chances more than some teams higher than us in the Premier League. Now, with just sixteen teams remaining, and just one home game away from a place in the quarter-final our odds have drifted to 25/1, making us eighth favourites to land the trophy. Chelsea are fourth favourites at 11/2, so you can see who the bookmakers believe are going to win this tie. And it’s not as if Chelsea are pulling up trees themselves this season.

Recent history gives us a chance. Although they beat us with a very late goal in the opening match of this season at Stamford Bridge (by a player who should not have still been on the pitch at the time!), we won the last encounter at Upton Park on 24 October last year with goals from Zarate and substitute Carroll. This win was one that hastened the departure of Jose Mourinho. Do you recall those forlorn photographs of him standing in front of the directors’ box after he had been sent off by the referee.

The only time that we have met them in a League Cup tie at Upton Park was in the third round of the 1994-95 competition, on October 26 1994. Don Hutchison scored the goal that enabled us to progress to the next round (where we were eliminated by Bolton!). Of course we have never won the competition ourselves, but Chelsea have won it five times, most recently in 2015. Our two friends, Terry and Costa scored the goals that beat our other friends from White Hart Lane 2-0.

In 2004 (October 27), when we were only in the Championship, we met them in this round at Stamford Bridge and they ran out winners 1-0. They went on to win the trophy that year beating Liverpool in the Final. They were also the runaway champions of the Premier League that season, winning by a dozen points, and only losing one league match in the process. So our narrow defeat, given our position at the time, was a noteworthy performance.

By coincidence we meet them once again on October 26. Despite our relatively poor form this season, this is a one-off cup tie and anything can happen. Hopefully we can take advantage of the home draw and progress into the last eight.