Match Scene: West Ham v Astra Giurgiu

Surely a walk in the Olympic Park tonight and guaranteed Europa League group stage qualification.

Home to AstraTonight the nomads of FC Astra Giurgiu are the visitors to the London Stadium for the Europa League Play Off Round second leg match. With the tie finally balanced at a goal apiece from the away leg in Romania it will be an evening high on expectation but no doubt with a drop of typical West Ham nerve-wracking tension thrown in.

Many an old timer will be more than pleased to tell you for the price of half a pint of stout and an arrowroot biscuit that their favourite Upton Park night was the European Cup Winners Cup (ECWC) semi final second leg against Eintract Frankfurt in 1976. (I always maintain that the ECWC was a superior and far more difficult competition to succeed in than the old European Cup; contested as it was by teams proven to be good at winning cups.)

Going in to the game 2-1 down from the first leg it was a night where Sir Trev imperiously glided over the sodden pitch surface; scoring twice as the Hammers raced into a 3-0 lead. Fearing that this lacked the requisite drama, the Germans were gifted a late goal meaning that if they scored again it would be they to go through on the away goals rule. Cue a whistle blowing, nail biting, nervous hopping finale.

“They beat us last year and it is not job done. We have had enough time to recover from Sunday and I am optimistic.”

– Super Slav

I fully expect something similar to happen tonight. Cruise into a two goal lead, take the foot off the pedal, concede a sloppy goal, followed by an exhibition of sloppy slapstick defending before scoring a breakaway third in added time.

Head to Head

This is our fourth encounter against the current Romanian champions and, to date, we have yet to beat them (2 draws and 1 defeat). I have seen many reports stating that we lost to Astra at the same stage last year but this is not the case – we have progressed a whole round further so far this time around. Romainian champions they may be but I fully expect us to get the win that secures group stage qualification – but then I have been disappointed (and wrong) before.

Team News

The usual suspects of Cresswell, Carroll, Ayew, Sakho and Feghouli remain absent injured. Masuaku and Lanzini are not registered to play tonight but Dimitri Payet may now be available. Slaven Bilic has suggested that it will be a strong side and it will be a balance between doing what is necessary and keeping fresh legs for Sunday’s trip to the Etihad.

In the unlikely event that I were asked to pick the team I would start with Payet, to give him some match time and look for an early advantage, but leave Noble and Kouyate on the bench until needed; as both could do with a breather. This is how I would line-up (subject to availability):

My team v Astra

The Man in the Middle

We have a German referee tonight in the shape of Manuel Grafe from Berlin. Grafe was the ref for the goalless Euro 2012 qualifier between England and Montenegro where he was ‘blasted’ by Wayne Rooney for giving England’s players “no protection whatsoever” – and for not awarding any penalties.

The Names They Are a-Changin’

A look at the top 10 all-time most popular forenames for West Ham players.

NamesWest Ham famously won the FA Cup in 1964, and again in 1975, with a team full of Englishmen. The 1975 team being the last all English winners of the cup. By 1980 the rot had set in with the inclusion of a single Scot in the form of Ray ‘Tonka’ Stewart.

The lineup back in those days would be full of what Al Murray (the Pub Landlord) would describe as beautiful British names. The team would be populated by players with old fashioned names such as Jim, John, Jack, Eddie, Bobby, Billy, Alan, Ken and Trevor. Scan down any West Ham team-sheet this season and you will find the likes of Adrian, Dimitri, Manuel, Cheikhou, Pedro, Gokhan, Enner, Diafra, Havard and Sofiane.

As an aside, I can remember Ron Greenwood trying to sign Israeli international Mordecai Spiegler after the 1970 World Cup (and I actually witnessed him in a West Ham shirt in a pre-season friendly against the Orient) but numerous obstacles surrounding international clearance and work permits prevented the deal going through. In different circumstances there could have been an Israeli in the 1975 cup winning team.

The foreign player is now a fixture of Premier League football and arguably the most skillful, entertaining and creative players are all from overseas. English players accounted for just 31% of Premier League starts during 2015/16 while West Ham were just above average with 36% (or 42% if you count British and Irish players). With James Tomkins having left the club, Aaron Cresswell injured and (as yet) no home grown recruits no the English contingent will no doubt show a downward trend this time around.

At least one of our new signings comes with a traditional name that would meet the Pub Landlord’s approval and that is Arthur Masuaku. It is perhaps surprising that only 12 Arthurs have ever played for West Ham (including Thames Ironworks) and that Masuaku is only the second ever post war Arthur. I know this piece of useful information because in an idle hour during the summer I crunched the data to discover what were the most common West Ham forenames.

The winner by some distance was William (including Bill and Billy) with 67 occurrences. There was stiffer competition for the runner-up spot where John (42) just pipped James (41) and George (40).

The complete Top 10 is:

  1. William (67)
  2. John (42)
  3. James (41)
  4. George (40)
  5. Tom (31)
  6. Robert (26)
  7. David (23)
  8. Harry (21)
  9. Frank (20)
  10. Fred (19)