Middlesbrough Preview

Can we continue where we left off in the second half against Palace?

Embed from Getty Images

After the euphoria of our magnificent second half performance against Palace last week, we head to the North-East to face what I believe to be one of the most uninteresting teams in the Premier League, Middlesbrough. They certainly do not seem to play in games where there are many goals, and they are the only team in the League where the average goals per game (for both sides playing) is less than 2. With just 39 goals scored by them and their opponents combined in 21 games, I guess (although I haven’t checked), that they usually feature later on Match of the Day than we do.

They have scored a paltry 17 goals in 21 games, the least in the league, with only one goal in their last four games. Southampton are the next lowest on 19. Defensively, though, they are one of the top teams in the division, having conceded only 22 goals, a figure bettered by only Tottenham, Chelsea, and Manchester United. So on past performance this season we shouldn’t expect a lot of goals in the game.

They currently sit in 16th place in the table, just four points above the relegation zone, and will no doubt be hoping that their excellent defensive record will keep them out of the bottom three. They will certainly hope that they are clear of the drop zone as the season nears the end, as in four of their final six matches they face Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool.

In the season to date they are the draw specialists of the Premier League, having drawn eight of the 21 games (they have won four and lost nine). Their draws included a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture at the London Stadium at the beginning of October, when a wonderful individual effort from a French international player who doesn’t want to play for us anymore rescued a point. The four teams they have beaten are their North-East neighbours, Sunderland, plus Bournemouth, Hull and Swansea. Of course we have beaten the same four teams plus Burnley and Palace (twice).

One player we need to watch out for is Middlesbrough’s leading scorer, Negredo, who is on a season-long loan from Valencia, having previously been at Manchester City in recent times. Negredo has only scored (I believe) 14 goals in all the time he has spent in England, but five of them have come against West Ham! Another one of the opposition who we know well is Stewart Downing, although he appears to have fallen out of favour in recent times. They paid a lot of money to buy Jordan Rhodes from Blackburn on transfer deadline day a year ago (the fee was undisclosed, although Blackburn had previously rejected an offer of £10 million for him), but he barely gets a look in and hasn’t scored in his rare appearances this season. On 18 January they completed the transfer of Patrick Bamford from Chelsea for £6million. When he was on loan there previously in 2014-15 he scored 19 goals in 44 appearances, so he has been bought to improve their poor scoring record. I wonder if he will be in the team?

Changing the subject, I have another statistic for those people who are interested in the effect on our results of our move to the London Stadium. So far this season we have played 11 games at home in the league and have accrued 17 points. Last season we had one of our best ever seasons in recent years, and our highest points total ever achieved in the Premier League era. So how many points do you think that we picked up at “fortress” Upton Park in the first 11 games there in that last record breaking season? Yes, you are right – 17!

Our failing this season has really come away from home. Last season we collected 16 points in our first 10 away games of the season, whereas this time around we have only picked up 8 from the same number of games. The difference in points accrued for the season to date can be accounted for solely by our away form; our home form (in terms of points picked up, if not level of performance) is identical.

The transfer window continues to let in a draught, if not any players, at the time of writing. Are we waiting on Payet’s potential exit to free up money to buy players and pay salaries within the Financial Fair Play limits? I’m afraid that the Profitability and Sustainability rules within Financial Fair Play leave me cold, and I fail to understand how they work. At first glance they appear to be totally in favour of helping big clubs get bigger, and making it virtually impossible for other clubs to close the gap. But what do I know?

I keep reading about Hogan, Snodgrass, Defoe and others but I guess we’ll have to keep on waiting until the window is about to slam shut to see if anything happens. Our position in the table is looking more comfortable now, and I hope we don’t just throw good money after short-term fixes to appease the fans who are desperate to see new players. Of course we need a right back and a goalscorer, but let’s hope that any incoming players are ones that can actually improve the team as opposed to the squad. Geoff summed up the situation well in his article Sliding Through The Transfer Window on January 18, so I’ll add no more here.

Back to the game, I would guess that there won’t be too many goals, but I am hoping for us to continue where we left off against Palace and record our third away win of the season. I’ll go for 2-1.

As I write this at 9pm on the eve of the game I note that Fonte has finally put pen to paper. No news yet re Hogan, or any other signings, and conflicting reports regarding the exit of Payet. Fonte is a surprise signing in some respects, although having seen some Southampton games, I am convinced that he is a signing that will add to the quality of the actual team, as opposed to just the squad. He is obviously not a long term acquisition, but I guess fewer and fewer players are these days. Is it me, or are our transfer dealings more protracted than those of other clubs?

Palace Preview

The return of Big Sam (again) and James Tompkins, as we look for three points to further cement our mid-table position and pull further away from the relegation zone

Pardew Allardyce

He has only been gone for a season and a half, but our previous manager is back for the second time. Last season Big Sam did the Red Adair job at Sunderland, and now he has been employed in the same capacity by Palace to try to turn their season around. In between he managed England for a game, before a newspaper sting caught him out and forced him out of a role that he had coveted for his whole career.

His start has not been an auspicious one, and in their last game they lost at home to Swansea. That meant that Swansea did the double over them, winning 5-4 in an extraordinary game at the end of November, before a late goal gave them a 2-1 victory at Selhurst Park.

Now we have the chance to complete our first double of the season (we only did the double over one team in the Premier League last season – Liverpool). A first half Lanzini goal was enough to take the spoils at Palace, although the day was marred slightly by another ridiculous sending off when Cresswell was dismissed by Martin Atkinson, after picking up two yellow cards within a minute. The first was for a dive that wasn’t a dive, the second was for a foul that was barely a foul!

Palace actually started the season well and by the end of September were seven points ahead of us. As they now trail us by six points, and we haven’t had the best of seasons, it goes to show what an alarming slump they have had. Of course that resulted in the sack for another of our old managers, Alan Pardew, who once again demonstrated that he can have have a good effect at a club for a while, and then everything goes wrong. He’d done it before for us, and at Newcastle.

After picking up just one point in their opening three fixtures, three wins on the bounce with a convincing 4-1 victory at home to Stoke sandwiched between away victories in the North-East over Middlesbrough and Sunderland, left them in the top half of the table. But they have only won once since, a 3-0 victory at home to Southampton early in December. They now sit just one point and one place above the drop zone in seventeenth place.

They made three big signings in the summer with Bentecke, Townsend, and our own James Tompkins costing them around £50 million. Their net spend wasn’t so big though, as they recouped around £43 million with the sales of Bolasie, Gayle, McCarthy and Jedinak. Speaking to some Palace supporters, they are not too impressed with Tompkins, although you can’t help thinking he would have got a decent amount of playing time had he remained with us, especially after we fell into the three at the back system. He would have been ideally suited to play on the right side of that. Many fans could not understand why we let him go, but I’m not sure he is good enough to take us to the next level. But supporters often have a greater affinity with “one of our own”.

Palace is one of those fixtures where we must look for three points to cement our mid-table position and hopefully push on in the remainder of the season. The major talking point surrounding the game will be the Payet revelation that he doesn’t want to play for us anymore. I am hoping for a galvanising effect on the team as a whole, and as a result I fully expect us to win, but I feel like that for most games. Perhaps 2-1?

Matchday: Hammers host City in the Cup

Could she be wearing a claret ribbon in the merry month of May?

City in the CupIt is FA Cup time once more and the stage where the big teams finally enter the famous competition which started with the Extra Preliminary Round on 6 August 2016. A total of 672 ties have been played to date with another 63 to play before someone lifts the trophy at Wembley on 27th May. In total 828 teams will have featured in the competition and there can only be one winner; can the ribbons on the cup this year be claret and blue?

There were 64 teams in the hat for 3rd draw and so it was rather unfortunate to get drawn against one of the big 4 or 5 clubs. Still it is a home tie and the Hammers have only lost one of the last 8 home FA Cup encounters and that was last season in the 6th round replay against the other team from Manchester.

This is a big game for us and big game for them, it is the FA Cup and it is big for the fans.

– Slav says the right things

The FA Cup is the only remaining chance of glory for West Ham this season following our exit from both the Europa League and EFL Cup and the continued struggles in the Premier League. It is only 5 games to the Final so anything could happen and a win today can take us a step nearer the prize. Unfortunately there are only 4 all Premier League ties in this year’s 3rd round draw (and one of those is Hull v Swansea) and so there is no opportunity for the bigger teams to knock each other out and create a clear path to the Final.

Head to Head

The overall record against Manchester City of home turf remains a positive one although we only won one of the last 6 meetings at Upton Park. The record against City has been on a downward trend since they were adopted as a Middle Eastern plaything in 2008 and during this era we have only beaten them 3 times out of 16. West Ham have only met City three times in the FA Cup before and hold a 2 to 1 advantage in the series.

 

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Team News

Ever since Manchester United withdrew from the 1999/2000 completion the FA Cup has lost some of its glamour and sparkle. Managers of top teams began to treat it very much as a secondary priority behind the cash-raking goal of Champion’s League qualification and began to field ‘weakened’ teams made up of squad or younger players. For some unaccountable reason managers of other Premier League teams have adopted the same tactic possibly in the hope that it deposits some big-time manager stardust onto their shoulders as well. The consequences are that it is almost impossible to predict how the teams will line-up especially during the early rounds.

The cup is special because the lower team can beat the big teams, which is why it is fascinating, I’m looking forward to it, but of course it’s a Premier League game so it will be tough. We were unlucky in the draw.

– Guardiola on the FA Cup

I am hoping that Slaven Bilic is confident enough in his ability to stay away from relegation trouble to give this one his best shot. We don’t play again for 8 days and so fatigue should not be an issue and, my perception is, that most injuries occur in training rather than in competitive games anyway. Kouyate and Ayew have now set sail for the Africa Cup of Nations while Mark Noble, Reece Oxford, Sam Byram and James Collins may be available. Someone definitely available is Sofiane Feghouli after his ludicrous Mike Dean red card was rescinded by the FA Incompetent Referee panel. If Manchester City have a weakness it is in central defence particularly if it comprises Otamendi and the massively over-hyped John Stones; for this reason I would like to see birthday boy Andy Carroll let loose on them with maybe Michail Antonio playing just behind.  I assume that Adrian will back, courtesy of the Cup rotation code, helping the Post to keep the score respectable.

Manchester City are missing Gundogan, Kompany, Sane and possibly Fernando (through injury) and Fernandinho )through suspension). It would be nice if Aguero, De Bruyne and Sterling were also given the night off (although Guardiola always took cup games seriously whilst at Bayern); not that I rate Sterling too highly in the normal course of events but he always seems to give our defenders the run around.

The Man in the Middle

A first encounter this season with young Michael Oliver from Northumberland. Oliver was in charge of two West Ham games last season; both at home against Southampton (won 2-1) and Swansea (lost 1-4). In 21 games this season Oliver has shown 70 Yellow cards and a solitary Red. Despite his prudence with red cards Oliver is one of the top penalty givers (just behind Mike Dean) with 8 awarded so far this season.

West Ham v Manchester City preview

Only our third ever meeting with Manchester City in the FA Cup. Can we pull off a famous win?

City Cup Game

In my previous article, 11 v 11, I wrote about red cards. I mentioned that some of our recent red cards have been rescinded after the event. What I didn’t say was that of our last five red cards, 4 have been wiped off by the FA commission that adjudicates on the appeals. That is a ridiculously high percentage of games where the referee has got an important decision totally wrong.

For this BBC televised game we have Michael Oliver, who at 31 is by far the youngest referee at the top level, and in my opinion is one of the best. He doesn’t issue red cards lightly; in fact his sending off of the Bournemouth captain in the 3-3 draw against Arsenal this week was his only dismissal this season, and few argued with it. I hope I haven’t jinxed his performance with this praise, and hope that there are no dismissals in this game.

This is the first time he has officiated in one of our games this season, but Liverpool seem to like him. He has refereed four of their games this season, and they have won all four scoring 16 goals in the process! He hasn’t been our luckiest referee in the past. We’ve only won three of the eleven games when he has been in charge.

For anyone who is superstitious with dates I am happy to relate that in the past twenty years we have played five FA Cup ties on January 6, and haven’t lost any of them. In 1996, Michael Hughes and John Moncur scored in a 2-0 victory over Southend. In 2001, we knocked out Walsall 3-2 with two goals from Kanoute and one from Lampard. Fifteen years ago, in 2002, Macclesfield were safely despatched 3-0 with two goals from Jermaine Defoe (where have I come across that name lately??) and one from Joe Cole. And ten years ago in 2007, another comfortable victory against Brighton (3-0), with goals from Carlton Cole, Mullins and Mark Noble.

Two years ago in 2015, we drew 1-1 at Everton, before drawing 2-2 in the replay at Upton Park which was decided 9-8 on penalties, with the winning kick being scored by Adrian, famously throwing off his gloves before blasting home the decisive penalty. Of course that is not the only goal Adrian scored at Upton Park; many will remember the great fun of the Mark Noble testimonial game last season, when Adrian ran the length of the pitch (ably minded by Pedro Obiang) to score past David James.

I haven’t gone back beyond 20 years when looking at FA Cup ties, because before then we did have some ignominious defeats on January 6, being knocked out by Torquay and Plymouth, and drawing against Wrexham before losing in a second replay (no penalty shoot outs in the distant past). But recent history is good.

We seem to be drawn against some teams frequently in the FA Cup, but Manchester City is not one of them. We have only met them three times in the competition before this season. In the fourth round in 1998 we won 2-1 at Maine Road with goals from Berkovich and (ex-City player) Steve Lomas. In 2006 we were drawn away to them in the sixth round, and two Dean Ashton goals helped to secure a 2-1 victory on our way to the final. In 2008, we met them in the third round at Upton Park, drawing 0-0, before losing the replay eleven days later to the only goal of the game.

The bookmakers are quoting odds of 4/6 for City to win this game, a ridiculously short price considering their recent form, and the lack of knowledge regarding the strength of the team they will put out. It’s hard to predict who Bilic will select as well, but I believe he will ensure we have a strong side out, especially as our next league game (at home to Palace) is more than a week away. Of course we haven’t pulled up many trees either this season, but as always I am confident of a victory, and wearing my optimistic hat once again, predict 4-1.

What are the chances? The bookmakers will give you around 125/1! Enjoy the game.

Matchday: West Ham ‘entertain’ Manchester United

The other United take their bus to the London Stadium for today’s late kickoff.

West Ham Man UtdThe visitors to the London Stadium today are Manchester United who, in terms of revenue, continue to be the biggest club in the Premier League. Given the strong correlation between money and success the Manchester club have underperformed since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and this season, under third post-Fergie manager, Jose Mourinho, are once again off the pace from the leading pack. Coming into today’s game on a run of 5 straight wins they remain 13 points behind leaders Chelsea and 7 behind second place Liverpool.

Mourinho has brought his 19th century tactics and introduced the traditional siege mentality to the Old Trafford club and we will need a strong performance from referee Mike ‘Penalty King’ Dean this afternoon.

“We played a good game. I’m very disappointed, angry, frustrated we lost. They started better, we knew they were going to start aggressively and for the first 20 minutes they deserved the goal. I’m very disappointed but we played a good game and that makes one part of me satisfied. We look good but that final product wasn’t there.”

– Slaven Bilic on defeat at Leicester

West Ham’s mini-revival was brought to an abrupt halt in the East Midlands on New Year’s Eve and it will require one of those ‘obscene’ performances to repeat last year’s rousing victory in the final Boleyn encounter.

Head to Head

West Ham’s home record against Manchester United is a reasonably healthy one although last year’s success was the first in the league since 2007. It was also the only victory against the Red Devils in the last 12 meetings home and away.

 

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Team News

There are no new escapees from the treatment room and Mark Noble has become a new inmate after getting a whack on the knee in the Leicester game. It has become very difficult to anticipate Slaven Bilic’s selection decisions and, for all I know, he may be plotting something revolutionary like playing rush-goalie. The logical changes, for me, to the team that lost on Saturday would be to recall Pedro Obiang to centre midfield and start with Manuel Lanzini instead of Andre Ayew. I am much happier with a back 4 and the added protection that Obiang provides provided that Angelo Ogbonna stays awake for the whole game. Also time for Dimitri Payet to step up and put in a performance to impress the visiting manager.

“It’s a challenge for everybody but Chelsea, as they play only on the 4th, Tottenham played Sunday and then on the 4th. For us and West Ham it’s the same – difficult. Middlesbrough play at 12 o’clock, so less than 48 hours. It’s very hard, especially when you see the intensity of this game.”

– Jose Mourinho on everything being so unfair.

Manchester United are without their best defender Eric Bailly who has already left for the Africa Cup of Nations and may be without Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney. Fingers crossed that Rooney is not involved and is thus unable to break Sir Bobby Charlton’s goal-scoring record on our manor. Mourinho’s side are more a bunch of individuals than a cohesive team but they do have some exceptional talent; we will do well to get anything from today’s game.

The Man in the Middle

Welcome for the second time this season Mike Dean from The Wirral (just down the road from Manchester). He previously officiated in our match at White Hart Lane where he sent off Winston Reid. Reid is the season’s top penalty giver with 10 awarded to date. In his 16 games he has flourished 72 Yellow and 4 Red cards.

Preview: West Ham v Manchester United

Previewing the Manchester United game plus a look back at the 1-0 defeat at Leicester.

Reid v Man UtdThe second half of our 2016-17 Premier League campaign begins with the visit of Manchester United. Nobody who was there will ever forget their last visit on that warm May evening eight months ago, when we came from behind to record that famous 3-2 victory in our final game at Upton Park. We will be hoping to achieve a similar points haul against United to that attained last season, when we drew at Old Trafford before beating them at home.

When you consider that they are the most successful club in the history of English football, with 20 league titles and 11 FA Cups, we have a good record against them in competitive matches on our own ground. In over 60 meetings we have won 26 to their 15, although in the 21st century we have only beaten them three times in the league at Upton Park. In addition to last season’s win, we beat them in two consecutive seasons; 2006-07, when a Reo-Coker goal was the only goal of the game, and the following year when Anton Ferdinand and Upson were our scorers in a 2-1 victory. In that game we were trailing to an early Ronaldo goal when United were awarded a penalty midway through the second half. However Ronaldo pulled the penalty kick wide of the post, and our two central defenders each scored with late headers in a memorable finale to the game. Of course it was a similar tale last season when two late headers won the game for us.

Embed from Getty Images

United go into this game in sixth place in the table, although I guess their fans would have expected them to be closer to the top and challenging for the title, especially with the appointment of Mourinho this season. They have had a good run of results recently, and remain unbeaten since a heavy defeat at Stamford Bridge in October. This included a 1-1 draw against us, when Sakho’s early goal was cancelled out by Ibrahimovic. Mkhitaryan scored a spectacular goal for them in a recent victory over Sunderland, although this was well offside. I fail to understand how a trained assistant referee failed to spot this, or was it just another of those occasions when a “big club” get fortunate with decisions in their favour, especially when playing at home?

Our 1-0 defeat at Leicester on Saturday meant that we reached the mid-point of the season with 22 points from our nineteen games, which is 7 fewer than last time, but more than we might have expected just one month ago. We rose a place to twelfth position thanks to Tottenham beating Watford 4-1 on Sunday, meaning that our goal difference is now better than that of the Hornets. Mark Noble picked up an injury at Leicester and I believe is likely to be missing for this game. This might be a blessing in disguise for us enabling Pedro Obiang to return in the defensive midfield role.

Geoff reviewed the game at Leicester admirably. I have only seen highlights but from what I saw we were unlucky to not get a point, but we seemed to start slowly once again. We must really get out of this bad habit of starting lethargically, and be up for a fast start to the game, especially against United. We need to be at them from the start in a similar way to how they started against us in the EFL cup game. The bookies don’t fancy us at all and I’ve seen odds of up to 5/1 for us to win the game. I’ll have some of that and will be looking for a win by the odd goal, perhaps 2-1 or 3-2. What are the chances?

Matchday: West Ham @ The King Power Stadium

The last day of the year and halfway through the season. Can it be four wins on the bounce, a scramble into the top half of the table and can Michail Antonio claim the ‘golden bonce’?

Leicester West HamIf history has taught us anything it is to select the bits of it that we like the look of and disregard the rest. Today West Ham travel to Leicester to face a side who we have traditionally done well against, with some particular success in games played during the Christmas and New Year period. Victory would make it 4 Premier League wins on the bounce for the Hammers; a feat that, while not unprecedented, is as rare as a proper right back or a 20 goals a season striker. In fact our Premier League record is 5 consecutive wins established during January to February 2006; an achievement that could potentially  be matched in the next 3 days – or not!

“He is a big player. He deserves everything and is always there to score goals.  Every time I turn to my staff in training and ask who has scored a goal, they say it is always Antonio.  I would not say that we taught him to score. It’s his sheer determination, his hunger. You have to keep him close to the box when we have the ball because his stats are unbelievable.”

– Slaven Bilic on Antonio (despite wanting him to play right back)

Our hosts and last year’s Champions have struggled to come even close to last season’s ebullience despite making an admirable and successful fist at Champion’s League qualification. A danger when your team is based on being greater than the sum of the parts is that it can all fall apart when some of those parts stop working. The loss of N’Golo Kante has been Chelsea’s spectacular gain, Riyad Mahrez has failed to inspire, the defensive shenanigans of Huth and Morgan have been under increased refereeing scrutiny and the threat of the ball over the top to Vardy tactic has been neutralised by most opponents. Thankfully the snarling one is suspended for today’s game and will not be able to test the speed or extent of our own learning curve. I did think that once the Champion’s League group stages were over we would see a resurgence from Leicester but as yet, apart from a fine win against Manchester City, it has failed to materialise. Is it possible that the most unexpected Champions since Ipswich Town in 1962 could suffer the same fate and face relegation shortly after?

Head to Head

West Ham’s overall record against Leicester is a moderately good one and the Hammers have avoided defeat on their travels to the east Midlands more often than not. The last 12 meetings have seen honours equitably shared with 4 wins for each team and 4 draws; a sequence that includes our solitary win at the King Power stadium following the Foxes move from Filbert Street in 2002.

 

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Team News

Our player of the season so far, Pedro Obiang, is available again after suspension so let’s hope that Slaven Bilic is not so blinkered as to leave him on the bench and stick with the team that won at Swansea. Personally, I would play Obiang and Kouyate as a defensive midfield two and give Mark Noble some bench time. This would retain the back 4 by keeping Nordtveit at right back despite his offering little attacking capability. Slaven is unlikely to heed my advice, however, and will probably return to his (unaccountably) preferred back 3.

“The first six months of this year were a fairytale – now this is reality. I was waiting for this to happen. We are like a little baby compared to a team like Chelsea. They are like a big man and we’re a little child and we need to grow up.”

– Claudio Ranieri

Manuel Lanzini may be available again but I don’t expect him to make the starting XI with Andre Ayew given the nod again following his maiden goal last weekend. Reece Oxford can be added to the long list of players who have found their way into the treatment room only to find that there is no way out.

If Michail Antonio scores with his head today he will create a Premier League record for headed goals in a calendar year – the golden bonce!

Apart from suspended Jamie Vardy, Leicester are at all full strength with Huth and Fuchs returning from one match bans.

Man in the Middle

A third West Ham away game this season for Anthony Taylor from Manchester; the previous two affairs ending in defeats at Chelsea (where he failed to send off match-winner Diego Costa) and at Everton. Taylor has had a busy season officiating at 20 games in which he has waved 69 Yellow and 3 Red cards.