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.

Matchday: Hammers v Black Cats

Looking forward with renewed enthusiasm as the Hammers take on the bedraggled Black Cats.

West Ham SunderlandFresh from the encouraging win against Crystal Palace last weekend Hammer’s supporters will be looking for the same professionalism and panache as West Ham entertain lowly Sunderland at the London Stadium today.  Without a win all season and just two draws in their account the visitors look almost as miserable as the look on their manager’s face.  If ever a team reflected the manager’s personality on the pitch then it is the Black Cats.

David Moyes is Sunderland’s 13th manager (plus a couple of caretakers) this century and is the epitome of the dour Scotsman; like the one who has won the lottery and then admonishes himself for buying a second ticket.  History would suggest that he won’t be at the Stadium of Light this time next year when in reality Sunderland need to stick with someone for a few years to sort themselves out.  A biggish stadium does not make a big club and there seems to be a lot wrong at the club as their perennial struggles and unlikely great escapes implies.

“It was good in the camp two or three weeks ago. We didn’t stop training but of course it’s a better mood because the confidence is back, in a positive way.”

– Slaven Bilic

Anything other than a convincing West Ham win today will be a huge disappointment.  We took four points off the Black Cats last season but were quite fortunate to do so; with the drawn away game hinging on a sending off after limply going 2-0 down and the home game a narrow and scrappy 1-0 victory.  We need to see more of the high tempo, quick passing and movement from last week and avoid a return to the ponderous build up that has characterised the majority of the season.

Head to Head

Our Head to Head record with Sunderland was another which I believed would be firmly to our advantage when in fact it is almost level pegging.  My instinct was that it this is a fixture where we routinely rattle in the goals but I guess that is merely the claret and blue spectacles playing havoc with my rear-view perception.

P W D L F A Sequence
Home 42 18 14 10 79 50 WWDDLW
Away 44 13 11 20 54 71 DDWLLW
86 31 25 30 133 121

West Ham have won three of the last six home fixture while the last Sunderland away success came in a 3-0 victory in the very final game of the woeful Avram Grant season.

Team News

By rights we should have been expecting an unchanged team from the previous match but, sadly, incompetent refereeing means that Aaron Cresswell sits this one out.  Andre Ayew is back in training but remains some way away from a recall while the recuperation of Carroll and Sakho is following a ‘tomorrow never comes’ regime; it seems that we have devised a new position of the ‘False Substitute’ which will be making Pep very jealous.

Gaun yersel’, haud yer wheesht.  Shut yer geggy, whit’s fur ye’ll no go by ye.  Away an bile yer heid.

– David Moyes

I expect the starting line-up will be as last week, retaining three at the back, with Arbeloa coming in for Cresswell.  It will not be as effective without Cresswell’s exceptional forward and link up play but is the best fit to build on the momentum of last week.  I wonder what the odds are on Zaza to emulate Geoff Hurst and score 6 goals?

Sunderland will include pantomime villain Jermaine Defoe in their line-up.  Still one of the best finishers in the Premier League I assume the defence are well aware that whatever else happens he mustn’t score.

Man in the Middle

Today’s referee is Robert ‘Bobby’ Madely from West Yorkshire.  Madely was in charge of West Ham on three occasions last season including the fine wins away at Manchester City and at home to Liverpool.  The other game, the 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge, was less auspicious as his various blunders cost the Hammers another memorable away success.  Madely is in fine yellow card form this season with 30 bookings from 6 games.

Sunderland Preview: Another Eight Goals?

Geoff Hurst’s on fire, the Sunderland defence was terrified.

Sunderland HurstWhen we set off for Upton Park on October 19 1968 I am not sure we knew what to expect that afternoon. When we were travelling from home to the game, on those Saturdays when we weren’t playing football for Barking Abbey School in the morning, we caught the British Rail train from Rainham to Barking, then met others for the two-stop trip on the District Line to Upton Park. Last season I made the same trip to a game, visiting memory lane (and Ferry Lane), and have to confess that not much has changed in the intervening forty-eight years. The overground trains now have automatic doors and are quieter, but Rainham Station, Barking Station, the District Line, Upton Park Station and Green Street all looked and smelt just the same as they did when we were young teenagers.

In mid-October 1968, fourteen games of the season had been played and we sat in sixth place in Division One. For younger readers that was the top division, equivalent to the Premier League today. The amazing thing about our league position was that we had not won a league game since August. In August itself we were on fire, although that was not an expression we used in the 1960s. There were seven league games in the first month of the season, and we won five of them, drew one, but lost heavily 4-1 to Everton on a warm Monday evening. In those seven games we had scored sixteen goals and conceded six, so apart from the Everton game we were scoring goals and defending well.

As September began, we had briefly topped the league, and we then thrashed Bolton 7-2 in the League Cup. What we didn’t know was that throughout the rest of September, and the first half of October we would play seven league games without winning a single one (although we did draw five of them), and also get dumped out of the League Cup by Coventry after a replay.

So we weren’t expecting anything particularly special that Saturday afternoon when Sunderland were the visitors, and as Autumn days were getting colder, less than 25,000 turned up, which was to be one of the lowest crowds of the season. As the half hour point of the match approached we still hadn’t seen anything special, although we were on top. Martin Peters crossed the ball and Geoff Hurst punched the ball into the net. From our position on the North Bank (at the other end of the ground) we thought he had handled the ball, but there were no protests from the visitors, the referee didn’t spot it, and we were 1-0 up.

Bobby Moore then smashed home a free kick to double the lead, Brooking crossed for Hurst to head home the third goal, and then a Harry Redknapp corner was turned in by Hurst shortly before half-time to make it 4-0. The hat-trick goal is shown in the photograph. Fifteen minutes before we hadn’t seen it coming, but here we were at half-time, a Hurst hat-trick, and 4-0 up.

We turned on the style in the second half. We were hoping that the first half goals would not be the end of the story, and that we would witness more of the same at our end of the ground. We were not disappointed. Two further goals from Hurst were followed by a netbuster from Brooking, before a Redknapp cross was finished by Hurst to make it 8-0, and a double hat-trick from the best centre-forward I have ever seen wearing a claret and blue shirt. I had never seen anybody score six goals in a game, and I am not sure that it has ever been done in the top division of English football since that day. Three years earlier I had witnessed Brian Dear scoring five goals in a game for us, but Geoff Hurst had gone one better.

We are meeting Sunderland this weekend almost 48 years to the day since that memorable game in 1968. We were both in the top half of the table when we met all those years ago, but this time the opposite is the case, and we both desperately need the points. If the game is still goalless as the half hour approaches don’t despair. There is still time for us to rattle in eight goals before the final whistle!

Matchday: Palace v West Ham

Can West Ham pull an unlikely iron out of the fire at Selhurst Park?

Palace West HamToday the stuttering Hammers make the short trip across the river to take on Crystal Palace at the boisterous Selhurst Park. Somewhere in there is an interesting comparison between our perceptions of the Boleyn and London Stadium experience and the type of atmosphere that is currently created by Palace’s self-styled Holmedale Ultras. It has often been dismissed as ‘Happy Clappy’ but has certainly contributed to the team’s performance and helped them preserve top flight status longer than their usual tenure.

I have always pigeonholed Palace with their South London neighbours, Charlton and Millwall, as a lower league club who only occasionally visit the top table before returning to their natural level. However, their current leadership appear to be doing a reasonable job of bringing the yo-yo under control having secured more stable investment.

“I have to make a decision on Zaza over Saturday, that is the only decision I am thinking about: the game against Palace. The only thing I am thinking about Saturday is not about the situation in his contract or around his contract but is he going to be the one I will put at centre-forward? The only objective is can he do it against Palace?”

– Bilic on Zaza

Traditionally Palace were one of the other claret and blue sides and, like us, can trace this back to an association with Aston Villa; although theirs was a more formal relationship rather than being the recipient of some kit that fell of the back of a cart. It was former Hammer, Malcolm Allison, who prompted the change to the current red and blue strip.

My last visit to Selhurst Park was in January 1984 for an FA Cup 4th round tie. This ended 1-1 but all I can remember from the trip into the badlands is that it was the same day that Michael Jackson’s hair caught fire while filming a Pepsi commercial.

Head to Head

Historically we have done well against Palace although more recent encounters have been more even.  We have won on the last two visits to Selhurst Park although the odds will not be be good on an unlikely hat-trick.





































Team News

There have been several stories in the week about West Ham having received double or treble injury boosts. Unfortunately, the only good news is that Aaron Cresswell is available for selection; the others returning from injury being Nordtveit and Calleri who would be better to advised to go shopping on a Saturday afternoon. The only other positive injury news is that Gokhan Tore is unavailable. With no imminent return of long term absentees Carroll, Sakho or Ayew we still have no useful striker to call on and so our best bet for a goal will continue to be from a Payet free kick; so expect a lot of falling over outside the box.

The return of Cresswell is very welcome and his absence has been significant; not so much for his defending but in providing variety and penetration in attacking areas. It will be interesting to see if he gets a start or is only on the bench. Convention is that returning players no longer go straight into the starting XI but this seems a waste to me. If fit enough then make him a starter and replace if and when tiring.

‘But he’s an experienced manager – an experienced international manager – and he’ll know how to deal with it. Better than I will. I have no doubt he’ll get it right sooner rather than later.’

– Pardew on Bilic

Palace are likely to have former Hammer James Tomkins in their lineup together with plenty of other tall men with beards. Hint: they score a lot of goals from set pieces. Hopefully, we will have Obiang starting in midfield and that we compete much better in the central midfield areas (and don’t pair Kouyate and Noble together again). I would leave Noble out on this occasion and go with Kouyate simply because of his height. Up front I see no benefit of enduring with Zaza and how can Ashley Fletcher possibly do any worse. So my team is:

Arbeloa Reid Ogbonna Cresswell
Antonio Lanzini Kouyate Obiang Payet

The Man in the Middle

Today’s referee is Martin Atkinson from West Yorkshire.  This is his second West Ham games this season having previously officiated at the home game against Watford.  He has yet to issue a red card this season – may be worth a bet?

Palace Preview: Another Four Goals?

Heading south of the river for the late Saturday kick-off!

Embed from Getty Images

After winning the away game at Palace last October (on exactly the same weekend as this season) by three goals to one, with goals from Jenkinson, Lanzini, and Payet, we looked well set to repeat the feat when we met them at Upton Park in the return fixture in April. In the home fixture, after conceding an early goal following a mistake from Adrian,  Lanzini scored our first, and then Payet scored with one of his sublime free-kicks, this one going to the same side where the Palace keeper was standing. The match changed when Kouyate was sent off in the second half, and then Palace equalised a few minutes later. The decision was harsh and was later rescinded on appeal. But it was too late then for us to win this game!

The referee in both of the games was Mark Clattenburg. At Selhurst Park he sent off a Palace player, so he evened it up by sending off one of our players in the return. In fact he has quite a record of dismissing players in games when he referees us, although he is not on a par with Jonathan Moss.

Last season was a season of two halves for Palace. At Christmas they sat in fifth place in the Premier League, but in the New Year they came down with the Christmas decorations (a feat we have managed once or twice, though not as often as some people believe). By the time we met them at the beginning of April they had plummeted to fifteenth and were on the verge of getting involved in the relegation dogfight. But they were OK in the end, and also reached the Cup Final where they (unluckily?) lost to a late goal against Manchester United, a game remembered for the Pardew dance when Palace scored.

We’ve only met the Eagles 22 times in league games in the top flight of English football, mainly because they have not often been in the top division until recent times. We have won nine of the games, drawn eight, and lost just five. Only two of those five defeats have been at Selhurst Park, in 1995 and 2013, on both occasions by the only goal in the game. This will be our sixth top flight game against them in the month of October and they have never beaten us in this month of the year; in fact they’ve only drawn once. So that’s a good omen. Or perhaps it is not?

I’ve been to Selhurst Park twice. The first time was in October 1970 when we drew 1-1 thanks to a goal from Bobby Howe. I was back there the following October when Rod Stewart topped the charts with Maggie May. We won the game comfortably 3-0, with goals from Ade Coker, Billy Bonds and Clyde Best. Back in those days the Palace colours were actually claret and blue, but shortly afterwards they changed to the red and blue you see today.

Do you know what the most popular score in West Ham league matches last season? Very unusually it was 2-2. We drew more matches 2-2 than any other team in the Premier League. It happened seven times. Manchester United didn’t manage a single 2-2 draw. In three seasons in the Premier League under Sam Allardyce we only had four 2-2 draws. In total in 2015-16 we drew 14 of our 38 games (37%), which was more than any other team in the Premier League.

Last season against Palace we won 3-1 away and drew 2-2 at home. The season before that we won 3-1 away and lost 3-1 at home to them. Where is all this leading to? Well for a start in recent times we seem to favour 2-2 draws. In addition, the last four games against Palace have all had four goals in them. This is leading me towards believing that we are destined to draw 2-2 at Selhurst Park this weekend. Based on the early games of this season for both sides, then this would seem to be a good result for us, and certainly one that is not anticipated by the pundits. Nevertheless getting my optimistic hat out once again I am hoping for even more. Perhaps there will be four goals in the game, and we will win 3-1?

Matchday: Hammers versus Boro

It’s only Boro but still preferable to being dragged around the shops.

West Ham BoroWhen the fixtures computer is busily whirring and blinking away today’s fixture is one you would happily see scheduled for the Saturday before Christmas when other duties might take precedence over the football. It might come as a surprise, therefore,  to discover that a match between West Ham and Middlesbrough, played almost 20 years ago, is still featured in the premier book of world records. But it is indeed the case and there for all to see in Guinness style black and white indicating the all-time world record for the most people simultaneously blowing bubbles:

“On May 16, 1999, a total of 23,680 people in the soccer stadium blew glycerine bubbles into the air for 1 minute. The mass bubble-blowing event took place prior to West Ham United F.C.’s home Premier League fixture against Middlesbrough F.C., at the Boleyn Ground, Upton Park, London.”

It is with a sense of pride that I continue to count myself as a world record holder but am equally surprised that the club’s PR department have failed, as yet, to mount a new challenge as another consequence of increased capacity. It seems that in the reported crowd of 25,902 for that 1999 end of season encounter there were 2,222 party poopers unwilling to stake their claim for posterity in the record books.

Today’s opponents Boro were elected to the Football League some 20 years before the Hammers but have pretty much kept their heads down ever since. Their one success was when Steve McLaren’s side triumphed over Sam Allardyce’s Bolton in the 2004 League Cup; what an enticing advertisement for the beautiful game that must have been.

“He (Zaza) is definitely a good player who came from a big club to a new country. New players need time. If we go back and think about Dennis Bergkamp, who needed – I don’t know – a year?”

– Slaven Bilic

Despite the lack of success, Boro have had some notable ex-players include Brian Clough who scored a phenomenal 204 goals in 222 matches for his hometown club, the little Brazilian Juninho and Fabrizio Ravenelli. Ravenelli is, I believe, still the only player ever to score a hat-trick on his Premier League debut (against Liverpool in August 1996) but despite his goals and Juninho’s trickery Boro were relegated in that same season; in part due to having 3 points deducted for failing to turn up for a fixture with Blackburn Rovers.

Head to Head

My initial instinct was that we would hold a healthy advantage over Boro in the head to head battle before remembering that we never travel well that far north. Accordingly it has been a fairly even contest. Our home record against them though is good having lost just once in the last 12 encounters (April 2000).  A particularly depressing match sticks in my memory from April 1989 where Boro were 2-1  victors (a pair of Bernie Slaven goals) in a quintessential six-pointer that ended with the two clubs partners in relegation.

P W D L F A Sequence
Home 30 17 6 7 47 30 DWDWWW
Away 30 7 7 16 29 53 WLDWLL
Neutral 1 1 0 0 1 0
61 25 13 23 77 83

Team News

Still no sign of any of the long term injured with Nordtveit facing a late fitness test following a knock; I can tell you now he is not fit to play at right back and so I am hoping common sense will prevail with Byram making a welcome return. From what has been said it looks like we will be persevering with Zaza up front as Slav sees him morphing into Dennis Bergkamp; although I can only see this being achieved by extensive surgery. It would be interesting to know the details of the loan deal, and the mysterious must-buy clause, as there has to come a point where everyone recognises he is not a Premier League footballer.

It is critical today that we find at least some kind of order and organisation in the midfield; Payet and Antonio and 3 others is the best I can suggest but I do hope for a dedicated defensive midfielder.

The other unknown is how many are still hungover from the midweek outing. As the ‘Gareth Keenan Investigates’ style inquest into the fallout has yet to be commissioned all we have are twitter rumours to go on.

Stewart Downing struggled to make an impact in the Championship last season because he was too good for the division.

– Aitor Karanka

Middlesbrough have no significant injury worries which means a return for the timid one-season-wonder Stewart Downing. Boro also have City flop Alvaro Negredo leading the line and he will be pleased to pitting his wits against the League’s most generous defence.

The Man in the Middle

Today’s headset wearing, card waving, whistle blowing official is Neil Swarbrick from Preston. He was in charge during our visits to Sunderland (where he sent off Lens) and Newcastle last year and so must be seen as something of a North-East specialist. He is best known for the mistaken identity red carding of West Brom’s Gareth McAuley in April 2015.

West Ham v Middlesbrough Preview

Looking forward to seeing off the Boro and starting to climb the table.

Embed from Getty Images

When I think back on all the games of football I’ve seen West Ham play, and the number is now approaching 1000, I find it very hard to recall many memorable games against today’s opponents. I was just four years old when we clinched promotion to the top flight in April 1958 when we beat Middlesbrough 3-1 at Ayresome Park with goals from Keeble, Dick and Musgrove. We were Division Two champions scoring over 100 goals in the process, and we were back in Division One after an absence of 25 years.

I know nothing about the game but I do remember my dad and my uncle, and various other friends of theirs celebrating long into the evening. The party at my nan’s house in Canning Town carried on long after I had been despatched to bed, but it was really the catalyst that got me into following West Ham’s results more closely the following season. Just a few months later I visited Upton Park for the first time.

Perhaps the most memorable game against Middlesbrough that I can recall was one that I watched on TV, when a Marlon Harewood goal in the FA Cup semi-final clinched our place in the final against Liverpool in 2006.

I never saw a league game against Middlesbrough until I was 20 years old because we were in the top Division and they weren’t! When they were finally promoted in 1974, after a gap of 20 years, they ran away with the Second Division title with Jack Charlton as their manager. So on a cold November day I added them to my lengthening list of clubs I’d never seen us play before, and we duly beat them 3-0. It was the first game in an unbeaten run that saw us reach fifth place by Boxing Day, although this was another of those “coming down with the Christmas decorations” seasons that saw us eventually finish 13th, although of course we were distracted by winning the FA Cup that year!

The following November we beat them again at Upton Park, but in the next two seasons we lost to them at home, and at the end of 1977-78 we were relegated ourselves. We didn’t meet them again until we were promoted back to Division One in 1981, when we beat them 3-2 but they were relegated themselves after finishing bottom, and we didn’t meet up with them again until the end of the 1980s.

We have had 20 home league games against them in my 58 years of watching West Ham and we have only lost four times, the last one being in April 2000, when in the penultimate game of the season they beat us 1-0. It was a bit of a crazy season in some respects. I particularly remember us putting five past Coventry the week before the Middlesbrough defeat. There was also the infamous 5-4 win over Bradford City where we came from behind when Di Canio and Lampard fought over taking a penalty, and we were also thrashed 7-1 at Old Trafford.

I always hate long sequences of not losing to a particular team, and Middlesbrough will believe that they have every chance of their first win at West Ham for over 16 years this weekend. But they don’t come here in the best of form either. They have only won once themselves in their first six games, beating local rivals Sunderland. They have drawn against Stoke and West Brom, and lost their last three games, to Palace, Everton and Tottenham.

I am confident that we can begin our resurgence and start to climb the table. With Swansea playing Liverpool I would hope that by 5 o’clock on Saturday we will be out of the relegation places and above both Swansea and Middlesbrough as we go into the second international break of the season.

After the break we visit Palace, then we have a home game against Sunderland. These are important games for us to pick up points, because after that we have a comparatively tough run of fixtures, where four of the next six matches are away at Everton, Tottenham, Manchester United and Liverpool, with just two home games versus Stoke and Arsenal.

Our biggest victory over Middlesbrough that I can recall was in the final game of our record breaking Premier League season of 1998-99, when two goals from Trevor Sinclair, and one each from Lampard and Keller gave us a 4-0 victory and a finishing league position of fifth place. Ever the optimist I am hoping that we can turn around our woeful start to the season and record a 4-1 victory today. What are the chances?

Matchday: West Ham versus Southampton

Will the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness deliver a change in fortune at the London Stadium?

West Ham SaintsIf there is a Hitchhikers Guide to the Premier League it would no doubt describe Southampton as ‘mostly harmless’. Like the city they represent the club is largely unremarkable with just a solitary FA Cup win to show for their trouble. I worked in Southampton for some years and it is about as interesting as watching a reality TV show of a group of Belgians putting their CDs in alphabetical order on a damp Sunday afternoon. A club like ours, and its supporters, who are dreaming dreams would unlikely list the Saints as one of their main competitors. Yet over the past few seasons they have performed rather better than us; and this at a time when their demise has been repeatedly forecast as, time and again, players and managers have looked for a speedy exit up the M3 towards the brighter lights of London and the North West. The likes of Clyne, Lovren, Chambers, Shaw, Wanyama, Schneiderlin, Lallana, Bale, Mane, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain have all eschewed the unfashionable red and white stripes, and a picnic in the New Forest, for something more exciting. Southampton come into the game on the back of a first League win (Home to Swansea) and an EFL victory against Palace. The ‘resurgent’ Hammers will be flying high after seeing off the mighty Stanley.

“We have two massive games coming up and this is a great opportunity for us to get out of the trouble we are in. The reaction has been there in training and we always train hard. We have to do that in games and for 90 minutes. I am expecting us to be really good on Sunday.”

– Slaven Bilic

Last season’s home game was the quintessential ‘game of two halves’. Southampton completely dominated an abysmal West Ham in the first half and should have had the game easily won at half time but went in just one goal to the good. The introduction of Carroll and Lanzini at half time helped turn things around and West Ham went on to record their only Payet-less victory of the season with a 2-1 margin. The game also witnessed Antonio’s first goal for West Ham when a clearance rebounded from his head and into the goal; I wonder if this strike is counted in his headed goals statistic?

Head to Head

The head to head situation between the two team is a relatively even one with West Ham just shading it overall but with a very strong home record.  Of the last 12 encounters Southampton have won 4, West Ham 3 with 5 draws.  The last home draw was the Championship game in 2012 where Matt Taylor was needlessly sent off in the melee that followed West Ham being awarded a penalty.

Home 47 26 11 10 86 46 WLWWDL
Away 48 10 16 22 57 81 LDDDLD
95 36 27 32 143 127

Team News

Arthur Masuaku has joined the other long term injured on the treatment table and so we are once again without a left back.  The worst case scenario in unfathomable team selections would Arbeloa moving to the left and Antonio taking his place on the right. I have heard some say that Ogbonna can play at left back but he doesn’t look like one to me.  The threat and pace of Shane Long (rarely given the credit he deserves) should not be underestimated.  Last season it was playing Jenkinson at left back in the first half that contributed to our poor first half showing.  Arbeloa on the left and Byram on the right looks the best option.

“He (Payet) is a very good player on the free-kicks, but our players also have many qualities and it will be difficult for West Ham to defend these players.”

– This Year’s Southampton Manager

For all the difficulties at the back, the balance in the midfield and a striker who looks capable of scoring also occupy the mind.  Noble and Kouyate sharing defensive midfield duties clearly doesn’t work and it is surprising the manager doesn’t see this or the importance of a specialist holding player in a setup where the fullbacks are meant to push forward.  Upfront neither Zaza nor Calleri look like they have seen a goal before.  It is difficult to explain away their performances off as settling in problems but some perseverance is necessary.

My predicted team:

Adrian (last life)
Byram  Reid  Ogbonna  Arbeloa
Antonio  Payet  Kouyate  Lanzini

Southampton are without Rodriguez but have Charlie ‘Dodgy Knee’ Austin available who is guaranteed to score; albeit in a 3-1 defeat for the Saints.

The Man in the Middle

Today’s referee is Jonathan Moss from West Yorkshire who was branded as the League’s most error prone official last season.  Moss took charge of West Ham on 5 occasions during 2015/16 (including the Blackburn cup game) and sent at least one player off on each occasion; 2 West Ham players and 4 opponents.  He was the referee for the away game at Leicester which was packed full of inconsistency and controversy.   In 4 games this year he has brandished 19 Yellow and 1 Red card.  The odds on seeing a penalty and red card today would seem to be high.

West Ham v Southampton Preview

Batten down the hatches for ‘The Perfect Storm’.

Embed from Getty Images

Last season we were very closely matched with Southampton. As we have been for the past few years. You will recall that they were promoted from the Championship automatically in 2011-12, when we came up via the play-offs. They won the game at St Mary’s that season and we drew the return at Upton Park on Valentines Day. Their three point margin over us in the two games effectively was the difference, as they finished the season on 88 points, two ahead of our 86. It meant that we had to go through the play-offs, which with hindsight was brilliant, and meant a great day out at Wembley.

In the first season back in the top flight we were the best performing of the three promoted sides, finishing tenth, five clear of the Saints in 14th. This included a comfortable 4-1 victory over them at home and an Andy Carroll goal in a 1-1 draw in the return. The following year we beat them 3-1 at home and drew 0-0 away. Move on a year and they got the upper hand with a win at Upton Park, and there was another goalless draw at St Mary’s.

Last season it was one win apiece. Antonio scored a remarkable goal as he was prostrate on the floor after a mazy run equalising the Southampton opener. Then Andy Carroll netted the winner with his head after Antonio’s header had rebounded from the woodwork. It was Antonio’s first ever Premier League goal and it came less than nine months ago. He has come on so much since then, being one of the first names on the team sheet, and recently called into the England squad. Apart from being leading scorer in the league he has scored the most headed goals of 2016, and his five headers this season are more headers than any team in the Premier League has scored. In fact he has scored five of our seven league goals.

We lost the return 1-0, despite playing against ten men throughout most of the second half. They ended the season one point ahead of us in sixth place. Some footballers seem to specialise against us. Rooney and Lukaku are two that come to mind, and Yoshida of Southampton is another. When he scored the only goal of the game it was only his third ever Premier League goal, but it was his second against us. I noticed that he was left on the bench for their last game when they recorded their first victory of the season, beating Swansea 1-0.  We need to watch out if he gets on today. We also need to watch Charlie Austin. I’m sure he will relish putting two fingers up to our directors box if he scores after one of our joint chairmen publicly questioned his fitness last season. Mr Sullivan askedwhether it was sensible to fork out £15 million for an injury prone player. What about Andy Carroll?

We wouldn’t normally expect many goals in any Southampton game. There have only been ten in their five games this season and they have only scored four of them. On their travels they are not prolific scorers; last season they only managed to score twice in five of their away games, despite winning seven times. As a comparison we scored at least two goals on eleven occasions away from home in our seven victories.

The referee Jonathan Moss has sent off at least one player in each of the last six West Ham games he has officiated in. In the last two seasons he has also on two occasions that I can recall given a penalty against us in the 95th minute, denying us a victory each time (Tottenham and Leicester). Both penalties awarded were dubious to say the least.

So what will happen this afternoon? We desperately need a victory to kick-start our season. Let’s hope we can be tighter at the back and win the game by perhaps two or three goals to one.

Slaven Bilic described our situation in his press conference as “the Perfect Storm”. It is the title of a film about a fishing expedition from the 1990’s. It is also an expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically. The move to a new stadium? The injuries? The new players? Bad luck? Poor defending? After every storm comes a calm. Let us hope that the storm has passed and we can now look forward to a brighter future.

Matchday: Hammers versus Stanley

Sliding doors. This train terminates at Stratford.

EFL CupWe asked 100 West Ham fans to “Name a Famous Stanley”. Top misty-eyed answer was the Lord Stanley in Plaistow one of the favourite pre-match watering holes from the old Boleyn Ground days. Second was the retractable blade knife that might have been taken to a match in the 70’s and in third place was former Socceroo Skippy Stan Lazaridis. The Stanley from Accrington were in a disappointing sixth place.

League Two Accrington Stanley find themselves in the 3rd round of the League Cup for the very first time. Their second round victory over Burnley being the first time that they have ever beaten a team from the top tier. West Ham’s last defeat to a fourth tier team was a 2-1 home defeat to Aldershot in 2011. Accrington manager, John Coleman, has vowed to come to the London Stadium to attack and so we could well be in for an interesting evening. They are not even bringing a bus let alone parking it.

“It will be a good side whoever we play as they are Premier League players. We will not be going there to park the bus, we will be going there to attack and score goals and if that means we get beat 7-0 so be it.”

– John Coleman

Our approach will be interesting and there are different schools of thought on the distraction or otherwise of cup competitions. The Avram Grant team had impressive runs in both League and FA Cup but remained woeful in the League. On other occasions a good cup win has galvanised League form. A good many supporters would sacrifice several League placings for a decent cup run (especially if it leads to a day out at Wembley) provided that the spectre of relegation is avoided. It is going back a long way but a 6-0 League Cup pounding of Tranmere in 1974, when we were bottom of the table, prompted a revival in fortunes that ended with FA Cup success against Fulham. Tonight is maybe a ‘sliding doors’ moment for us.

“We have to do it. Starting from today we have three mega games, three cup finals before the next international break. This game is a good opportunity for us, it’s an interesting competition for us. It’s good to have a game tonight.”

– Slaven Bilic

Head to Head

We have never played against tonight’s opposition before and so I will use the opportunity to repeat my favourite Accrington Stanley related story. Legendary goalkeeper Willie ‘Fatty’ Foulke was in the Bradford City team when Accrington Stanley visited Bradford for an FA Cup tie in February 1907. It was discovered just before kick-off that Foulke, who stood 6ft 3in and weighed in at 22 stone, was wearing a jersey that clashed with the red shirts of Stanley. After a fruitless search of the ground for a suitably large replacement Foulke used a sheet borrowed from a neighbouring house to cover the offending top. The game ended with a Bradford victory by the only goal and with Foulke barely called into action his makeshift attire was as pristine as it had been at kickoff. Thus, the origin of the phrase “keeping a clean sheet”. What are the chances of one of these today?

Team News

None of the long term injured are ready for action yet. In the circumstances I would anticipate a reasonably strong side that would include West Ham debuts for Alvaro Arbeloa and Edimilson Fernandes. I would also like to see Ashley Fletcher and Pedro Obiang given starting positions.

My predicted starting eleven:

Arbeloa  Ogbonna  Oxford  Masuaku
Feghouli  Obiang  Fernandes  Tore
Antonio  Fletcher

Obviously, I know nothing about the likely Accrington line-up other than the increasingly cosmopolitan nature of football sees players from France, Benin and St Lucia feature in the League Two side’s squad.

Man in the Middle

Tonight’s referee is Stephen Martin from Staffordshire, a member of the Select Group 2 Refs who can usually be found blowing his whistle in Championship games. If we asked 100 West Ham fans to ‘Name a famous Steve Martin’ answering with the referee’s name would no doubt get you an “Eh-uhh”!