A Captain’s Tale Of Woe: Five Takeaways From West Ham’s Dropped Points At Leicester

With the game overshadowed by the dreadful post-match helicopter crash, what lessons were learned from events on the pitch?

Fatal Helicopter Crash

Ultimately, what happened on the football pitch was understandably overshadowed by the shocking helicopter crash that occurred an hour after the end of the game.   A sad and terrible tragedy for those involved, their families and friends.  An element of fortune, perhaps, that there were no further casualties among those on the ground.

A Captain’s Tale

The pivotal moment in the game was the needless Mark Noble red card at a time when West Ham seemed to be in full control of proceedings.  Difficult to argue against the referee’s interpretation of the laws except from the perspective that inconsistency by officials does sometimes leads to leniency.  I am certain that there was no malice involved in the tackle but then that is invariably the case in such situations; it makes it no less dangerous and that is the criteria like it or not.  It was a reckless lunge and an out of control tackle, and the captain should have known better.  To attempt it at that stage of the game in that area of the pitch was foolish – particularly as his tackles get a little bit later with each passing week.  Noble’s best days are some way behind him but his contribution is till required given the length of the injury list and the absence of fit alternatives.  It is impossible to know whether it would have been three valuable points gained had he stayed on his feet (and on the pitch) but the odds of it would have been greatly increased.

Yes, Ndidi

How to play when reduced to ten men is always a challenge.  In the end the tactic was to hang on for dear life by getting as many people behind the ball as possible and defending deep.  It was still quite surprising how much room Leicester were allowed, particularly down the flanks.  However, the defence was remarkably resolute and well organised managing to lure opposition forwards into offside positions on multiple occasions.  Aside from some early dodgy moments dealing  with crosses Fabianski, once again, pulled off some smart saves.  I had little confidence that the Hammers could repel the Leicester siege for the entire second half but, as I was starting to think it might just happen, the cruellest of luck intervened.  The latest in a long line of desperate long range shots, this time from Ndidi, was destined for obscurity until it pinged off the backside of a Hammers defender and deflected into the empty net.  Defeat (two points anyway) was snatched form the arse of victory.

Little Pea Fritters Away His Chance

In the absence of sick Marko Arnautovic there was a chance for Javier Hernandez to show what he was made of leading the attack.  Sadly, he just reinforced the view that his style of play is a relic of distant age – before football required every player to contribute both on and off the ball.  It might well be the case that he is the most gifted natural finisher in the squad but he remains a luxury that the team cannot afford – and we might already have one of those in Felipe Anderson.  This reliance on Arnautovic and the lack of any real striking alternatives conjures wistful thoughts about the return of Big Andy  – an event that is rumoured to be any day now, it offers a glimmer of hope even though experience suggests it will once more end in disappointment.  Maybe Angelo Ogbonna was making his case for an attacking start, demonstrating that he can spurn chances as proficiently as any of our strikers.  He could easily have had two goals in his brief ten minute cameo.  Any commentator writing off Ogbonna’s last minute effort as a defender’s finish surely hasn’t ever watched West Ham strikers over the years.

The Three Amigos

As in so many of our games this season, the shining lights were the defensive minded trio of Declan Rice, Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena (in no particular order).  Great to see ‘The General’ get his name on the score-sheet – what an honest, wholehearted player he is and what a snip in the transfer market.    Rice and Diop show immense maturity, and no shortage of technique, skill and application, for such young players.  It would be nice to think that we could be watching them in claret and blue for years to come but it is probably wishful thinking, and we should make the most of them while we can.  With a quarter of the season now gone it is a three horse race for Hammer Of The Year!

Can Shape Shifting Be The Key To Hammers Success At Leicester

West Ham are hoping that the clocks can go back to last May to record a second successive victory at the King Power Stadium. With a depleted squad is tinkering with formation the key to success for Pellegrini?

It was this corresponding fixture last season that effectively guaranteed West Ham’s Premier League survival for at least another season.  The Hammers had triumphed 2-0 (Mario and Noble) against a Leicester side who had already packed up for the season and had failed to register an attempt on target until the final five minutes.

The end of that game saw a jubilant David Moyes celebrating with his players and it was his opposite number, Claude Puel, whose position was under intense pressure from disgruntled home supporters following a run of just four wins in nineteen games.  Yet it was Moyes who got the chop while Puel was given a stay of execution to prepare for a new Premier League term.  A few months ago I predicted that Puel would be in line as the first managerial casualty of the season but he has managed to keep his head above water in an uninspired mid-table no-mans-land.  Puel does remain one of the front-runners in the sack race but some way behind the leading pack of Mourinho, Jokanovic and Benitez.

With Mahrez having departed for pastures new in the search of further silverware, Leicester will rely even more heavily on Vardy’s goals for salvation.  There is some doubt as to whether he will be available for today’s game but, if he is, I hope the Hammer’s defenders have been well-drilled in understanding the Foxes primary tactic of the ball over the top.  Teams wanting to play a high defensive line can still be caught out as witnessed in the early stages of Leicester’s game at Arsenal last week.

The home side have a number of players in and around the England set-up in Maddsion, Maguire and Chillwell.  Maddison is an excellent player and just the sort of signing I would like to have seen at West Ham.  I’m not quite sure what to make of Maguire who has the look of the old fashioned big lump  who occasionally scores from a corner.  If the rumours of a 75 million Manchester United bid in the summer were true I would have taken it without a second thought.  It is a shame that Morgan is suspended as whoever they bring in as replacement is sure to be less erratic.

West Ham go into the game trying to avoid a third defeat on the bounce and, with mounting injury concerns, Manuel Pellegrini has few options to shake things up.  Andriy Yarmolenko joins the long term injured and Pedro Obiang is reported to be also missing.

If Pellegrini sticks with his preferred system then the only debate is whether it is Michail Antonio or Grady Diangana who replace Yarmolenko, and which of Aaron Cresswell or Arthur Masuaku claim the bothersome left back berth.  The only argument I can see for starting with Diangana on the bench is that it may be too much too soon for the youngster – and that he needs to be introduced gradually into the hurly burly of Premier League football.  Maybe Pellegrini will prefer to play safe with the experience of Antonio, even though the latter has offered little variety beyond his attempted foot races with assorted defenders along the touchline.

Keeping that formation will require Felipe Anderson to once again be charged with tracking back duties on the left hand side.  After his poor showing last weekend he badly needs rehabilitation.  Putting him in a more advanced role might well lessen his load but would also require Declan Rice to be moved slightly further forward reducing the protection he offers to the central defenders.  In effect 4-1-4-1 would become 4-4-1-1.  Either way, it is likely to be the same eleven players and in Obiang’s absence it will mean another start for Robert Snodgrass; all it needs is for the Scot to add some much needed quality to his new found energy.  He would, though, be a better option to support the full-back and it would take some of the pressure away from Anderson and allow him to focus on the attacking side of his game.  Rice had looked lost as part of a midfield four at Anfield but today’s opponents do not offer the same threat; he now has many more yards under his belt and I’m sure he would have learned from it.

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Today’s referee is Michael Oliver from Northumberland who previously refereed the home win over Manchester United.  In 11 games this season he has flourished 36 yellow and two red cards.

On the pundit front, Lawro is predicting a 2-0 home win for The Foxes while Merson sees a 1-1 draw – which would be Leicester’s first stalemate of the season.  I suspect a low scoring game which West Ham will nick by the only goal.

West Ham visit Leicester to complete the first quarter of the season.

Can we start to climb the table?

As we near the centenary of the end of the First World War, we are also approaching 100 years since West Ham’s first ever games in the Football League in the following year, and our very first meetings with this weekend’s opponents, Leicester. They were formed as Leicester Fosse towards the end of the nineteenth century, but changed their name to Leicester City in readiness for the 1919-20 season when our paths first crossed. The initial game was at Filbert Street, their home for over 100 years before they moved to their current stadium around twenty years ago. It ended in a goalless draw, and then one week later in the return at Upton Park we won by a solitary goal. We were both Division Two sides at the time, and we have now met them on around 130 occasions in both the second tier and the top tier of English football. We have the upper hand winning slightly more games than the Foxes, although it is a close thing.

But nothing could be closer than the climax to the 1922-23 season in Division Two just three seasons later. A week after taking part in the infamous White Horse FA Cup Final, the very first final to be held at the original Wembley Stadium (which we lost 2-0 to Bolton Wanderers), we went into the last day of the season at the top of the league on goal average from Leicester and Notts County (goal difference wasn’t the deciding factor then), all tied on 51 points. We were looking for our first ever promotion to the top tier of English football, but had a tough fixture at home to Notts County. A draw would have guaranteed promotion, but we conceded an early goal, and despite constantly attacking could not get an equaliser, and lost. In those days there wasn’t the communication that exists today, so we thought our promotion hopes were dashed. It was much later when news arrived that Leicester had also lost their game, so we did move up to Division One for the very first time.

The amazing thing about our games versus Leicester in that promotion season was that we drew the home game (2-2), but in an extraordinary match at Filbert Street we won 6-0. Had we won that game just 1-0, 2-0, or even 3-0, then Leicester’s goal average would have been better than ours at the end of the season and they would have been promoted instead of us. And what was even more remarkable was that Leicester only conceded 19 goals in total in their 21 home league games that season, and we had scored six of them. In addition we had achieved promotion scoring only 21 goals in our 21 league games at Upton Park, but we won more games on our travels and scored 42 away goals in the process.

One of the best games I remember against Leicester came almost exactly fifty years ago in November 1968 when we beat them 4-0. My favourite West Ham goal of all time was scored by Martin Peters that day, and I was standing on the North Bank behind the goal that it went in. Bobby Ferguson, our keeper, had the ball in his hands and rolled it out to Peters on the edge of the box. Peters then advanced forwards a few yards and a couple of passes later the ball went out to John Sissons on the left wing. Sissons, a tricky winger, moved forwards and from just inside the Leicester half played a long diagonal cross into the penalty area where it was met by Peters on the volley as it came over his shoulder. His thunderous shot from about 12 yards almost decapitated Shilton in the Leicester goal as it rocketed into the roof of the net. He hadn’t stopped running from the moment he passed the ball out to Sissons. The goal combined a move from one end of the pitch to the other and also wonderful technique from the goalscorer.

You can see that goal on the internet, or at least the last part of it, but that doesn’t really give you the opportunity to appreciate the sweeping move from beginning to end. Incidentally I met Martin Peters many years later at a book signing for his autobiography (around 2006), and told him that it was my favourite ever West Ham goal. He couldn’t recall it and told me that he hardly remembered any of his goals. I got him to sign my copy of that 1968 programme as well as his autobiography. He scored so many in his illustrious career including of course, the second goal in the 1966 World Cup Final. Perhaps this was an early sign of the dementia / Alzheimer’s that he now sadly suffers from.

At half-time this Saturday we will be exactly a quarter of the way through the season. Our seven points from nine games, which include six defeats, would normally be relegation form, but we are outside of the bottom three, and surely now looking upwards rather than over our shoulder. It is not an excuse, but we could add the order of the games in the fixture list as a possible additional reason for the position we find ourselves in. In our first ten games we have met the teams who are currently 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th in the league table, so we have yet to meet any of the teams towards the bottom, where on paper at least, the games should be easier. We have already met 5 of the top 6 “elite” teams, with just Manchester City to come in the second quarter of the season. And while I am mentioning the fixture list, have you noticed our opening game of the season in the last five years has been against Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, and Liverpool, in that order. Hardly the recipe for a good start! What chances it will be Manchester City next season?

Our second half performance last week against Tottenham was an improvement on the first half, and in my opinion we didn’t deserve to lose the game. Only a couple of excellent saves from Lloris denied us an equaliser. I hope that Obiang is soon fit again to take his place in midfield, but it appears that this game is too soon. I don’t see too many changes from the last line-up. I was impressed by the trickery and pace of young Diangana, and expect him to make an impact this season in the team. Perhaps Anderson could be moved to try out the so-called number 10 role to relieve him a little of wide defensive duties which are most definitely not his forte! I predict the following starting eleven and squad for this game: Fabianski; Zabaleta, Balbuena, Diop, Cresswell; Rice, Noble; Snodgrass, Anderson, Diangana; Arnautavic. Subs. Adrian, Ogbonna, Fredericks, Masuaku, Chicharito, Lucas, Antonio.

For those of you who like a bet on West Ham to win, then level stakes on all nine league games this season would probably have you slightly ahead of the bookmakers, depending of course on whose odds you took, as they can vary. This is a surprise to some as we have only won two games, but the odds on those victories would have ensured a payout in excess of the seven losses. This time around we are around 5/2 to 3/1 to win the game, and 10/1 to win the game 2-1. For those of you who like a fun bet then this week I will be focussing on Issa Diop who I am sure will score sooner or later. Diop to score the first goal in the match is 50/1, and the odds are the same for him to score the last goal. For him to score at anytime in the game you can get 18/1, and for him to score two or more goals you can get 250/1. A bet on Diop to score the first goal in the game and West Ham to win 2-1 is priced at 400/1, and the same odds are on offer for him to score the last goal in a 2-1 victory. Of course bets such as these are very unlikely, but I like to combine one with my bet on West Ham to win the game for a bit of fun.

Four of Leicester’s league games this season have had a score of 2-1, and three of those they have lost, including two 2-1 home defeats. Despite our lengthening injury list, I expect us to win the game 2-1 and Issa Diop to score one of the goals. It is about time that we started to climb the table, and our fixtures in the run-up to the end of the year give us every chance of doing so.

Half Time Hoodoo: Five Takeaways From West Ham’s Latest Disappointing Home Defeat

The curse of the half time oranges as the Hammers first lose Yarmolenko and then the lead during five minutes of madness just before the break. The second half sees a more dominant performance but not enough to rescue the points.

Funny Old Game

Never has the phrase “it’s a funny old game” been more appropriate than for yesterday’s defeat at the London Stadium by Tottenham.  West Ham didn’t play well nor did they play badly – and the same can be said for the opposition.  Neither team had the upper hand and any of the three possible outcomes would have been difficult to argue against.  Once again the Hammers were slow out of the traps – lacking any real intensity against what was a makeshift Tottenham lineup as the visitors had one eye firmly on the challenge of salvaging their upcoming European campaign.  The Hammers appeared to show Tottenham far too much respect with an approach that lacked bite or an appetite to knock the visitors out of their stride.  The game was raised in the second period but not enough to prevent the North Londoners from running down the clock with some ease.

Dreaming Of The Half Time Orange

Not much happened in the opening forty minutes.  Even though West Ham demonstrated little threat they remained well organised, working hard to keep their defensive shape.  There was little action of note at either end.  That all changed in the final frantic minutes of the half.  It started with what looks likely to be a very serious injury to Andriy Yarmolenko and was quickly followed by the only goal of the game, courtesy of Lamela’s head.  Once again it was vulnerability down the flanks that led to the goal – and it was not too dissimilar to that conceded at Brighton.  This time it was Aaron Cresswell who had gone AWOL; Felipe Anderson’s defending wasn’t even close to half-hearted; the two centre backs raced out looking for offside; leaving Pablo Zabaleta floundering in Lamela’s wake.  It was Tottenham’s first attempt on target in the game but there was still time for the Hammers to attempt a repeat performance; on this occasion, however, they were rescued by a fine Lukasz Fabianski double save.  Although West Ham were far brighter after the break (and with a noisy crowd urging them on) there were only a few real chances created – unfortunately Lloris was equal to challenge and made smart saves to deny Marko Arnautovic on two occasions.

Green Kryptonite

I don’t know what the Brazilian equivalent of green kryptonite is but someone had clearly been lacing Anderson’s coffee with it during the international break- so weak was his performance.  In his previous two outings at the London Stadium, West Ham’s record signing had started to show glimpses of what he might bring to the table – even if he had yet to deliver the full forty million quid’s worth.  Yesterday, though, he was atrocious.  It was not just his feeble defending but also the inability to reach the goal from the corner flag and his general all-round sluggishness.  Touch wood this was just a bad day at the office but he has yet to have any outstanding ones to give him a free pass.  In modern football it is impossible to carry a player who blows hot and cold.  He needs to do much more or be played in a position that suits him better.

Highlights and Lowlights

The injury to Yarmolenko could potentially be a big blow.  Although we don’t yet know the full extent of the damage it looked very bad.  For any player it would mean a long lay-off but with West Ham’s track record that is probably his lot for this season.  Wishing him a speedy recovery.  It was encouraging that Manuel Pellegrini opted for Grady Diangana as his replacement rather than Michail Antonio.  The youngster looked lively – and not in a Zavon Hines sort of way that involved running very fast but without any control of the ball.  Diangana has the look of a real prospect and, although it may be too soon to throw him in as a regular starter, surely we are going to see a lot more of him.  I am not the greatest fan of Robert Snodgrass but the energy, effort and appetite in his latest incarnation cannot be faulted – Chicharito and Antonio, please take note!  Any game where Kane does not score against West Ham has to be a positive.  Both Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena had excellent games once again, as did Declan Rice, and you could easily have forgotten that Kane was on the pitch.

Structural Weakness

Having enjoyed initial success with his 4-3-3 (or is it 4-1-4-1) formation, it is starting to show some structural weaknesses.  In particular the vulnerability to attacks down the flanks and the lack of flair and variety from the midfield.  Of the four senior full-backs only Zabaleta is primarily a defender.  The others (Fredericks, Cresswell and Masuaku) are more suited to a role where they provide attacking width and give defending a go when needed (not unlike Trippier, Rose et al).  I am not yet sure what Pellegrini is expecting from his full backs (they rarely get forward in the way that their Tottenham counterparts do) and who is meant to be providing backup support to them?  It is a lot to ask attacking players to do this consistently over the entire course of a match.  For example, Chelsea would not expect Hazard and Willian to track back except in an emergency – but then they have a very energetic midfield three to do the hard yards for them.  That balance is still missing from the West Ham lineup.  With a run of ‘easier’ games on the horizon how capable will that midfield be in unlocking more defensively minded teams?  As a final thought, it would be dangerous to rely solely on Arnautovic to score goals.  He is a real handful for opposing defenders but there needs to be other options and with Yarmolenko likely to be needing a lengthy lay-off it is difficult to see who can provide them.  Perhaps the hot-shot striker currently leading the line for La Liga table toppers, Alaves (at least they were top until Barcelona won yesterday), is worth having a look at – goes by the name of Jonathan Calleri!

West Ham v Tottenham: A Retrospective Preview

Looking back on the first league match I saw at Upton Park, a Christmas Day 2-1 win against this weekend’s opponents, Tottenham, and highlighting some memorable games since.

As a West Ham fan who has been attending games since 1958 I must have seen us play against the old enemy on countless occasions. I have watched us win, lose and draw, and can recall some notable victories. The first one that I remember was the only occasion that I watched a game of football on Christmas Day.

The day had begun at a ridiculously early hour, as is quite normal for four year olds anticipating what is inside those wrapped parcels left by Santa Claus overnight. My presents that Christmas were memorable and included a bright red three-wheeled bike with a compartment at the back. Inside was a package which when I ripped it open revealed a claret and blue v-necked short-sleeved West Ham football shirt, which on the back had a hand-sewn big number 10, the number worn by my first football hero, West Ham’s inside-left Johnny Dick. Another package contained a small claret and blue West Ham scarf which I still own today. To add to my delight my dad told me that we were going to watch West Ham later in the morning when they played Tottenham. This would be the first (and the last) game of football I have ever seen on 25 December.

Until the late 1950s there was always a full league programme on Christmas Day. Modern footballers and management complain these days about the fixture congestion during the Christmas period, and many call for a winter break, but at that time there were 42 top flight league games, as well as FA Cup games and replays, to be fitted into a season, and it wasn’t that unusual for three games to be played in a four day period, or four games in a week. And there wasn’t the squad rotation prevalent in the modern game. It wasn’t unusual for the same eleven players to play in almost all of the games, and of course there were no substitutes either.

But with the introduction of floodlights heralding the ability to play games in the evenings, as well as the reduction and eventual removal of public transport on Christmas Day, the need and desire to play games on that day disappeared, and West Ham have never played on 25 December since, although Boxing Day retains the tradition of a full league programme.

To get back to my story, off we went on Christmas morning, me, dad, Uncle Bill, and Uncle Ted to catch a bus for the short journey along the Barking Road from Canning Town (where we stayed with my grandparents for the Christmas period) to Upton Park to see the game that kicked off at 11am. I had only been to Upton Park once before then (to see my first game just a few weeks before, the Malcolm Allison testimonial game) so this was my first league game. And the team didn’t let me down.

We won the match 2-1, and Johnny Dick scored the first ever league goal I remember seeing when he pounced on a rebound from the Tottenham keeper (a chap called Hollowbread) in front of the North Bank early in the second half. The photo captures the goal. Vic Keeble scored a second goal before Tottenham pulled one back when we only had ten players on the field with Phil Woosnam off injured from a bad tackle. The return fixture was at White Hart Lane the following day. I wasn’t there but my dad told me about West Ham’s 4-1 win with goals from Johnny Dick, Keeble, John Bond and an own goal.

Since my first game in 1958 we have played them over 100 times, and in the games played at Upton Park or the London Stadium we have a positive record, winning more often than losing. Many games stand out in my memory, especially winning ones. There was a 4-0 victory in our cup winning season of 1964, a 3-2 win the following season with a Johnny Byrne hat trick (he often scored against them), and a 2-0 win in one of the last games prior to the 1966 World Cup (Byrne scored both goals, both penalties!).

1976-77 was memorable as they were relegated, and we beat them 5-3 to end a poor run where we had lost six games in a row. In our best ever league season (1985-86) we won 2-1, one of the games in the frenetic run-in, with goals from (who else?) McAvennie and Cottee, and the same deadly duo were our goalscorers the following season on Easter Monday when we won by the same score. There was a superb Monday night 4-3 win at Upton Park when John Hartson and Paul Kitson made their debuts to help us narrowly avoid relegation in the 1996-97 run-in. And of course we will never forget the final league game of 2005-06 when we faced them in the game that was to famously become “Lasagne-gate”. Once again a 2-1 win dented their hopes of a place in the Champions League.

A 1-0 win with an Antonio header in our final season at Upton Park. A Lanzini goal in our first season at the London Stadium to repeat the score of the previous season and dent Tottenham’s lingering title hopes. So many great, roof-raising memories!

What will be the outcome this Saturday? I’ll predict a 2-1 West Ham win to replicate that first game I saw almost sixty years ago.

Hammers Prepare To Liquidate Harry Kane & The All Stars

West Ham face Tottenham in an unexpected Saturday afternoon kick-off. Can the Hammers shake off defeat at Brighton and enjoy another post-international bounce?

Having endured yet another enforced break for the international equivalent of the EFL cup it is back to real football action this weekend as West Ham face Harry Kane & his All Stars in a surprise 3 o’clock Saturday afternoon kick off at the London Stadium.

After performing with some distinction in the previous intra-break spell of Premier League football, until falling at the final hurdle at Brighton, this will be a stern test for Manuel Pellegrini in what many see as the biggest game of the season – or at least the one with the greatest ‘mustn’t lose’ factor.

As usual the visitors sit on the periphery of the title race.  Solidly in the chasing pack but lacking that little extra something that would get them close to the winner’s enclosure.  I have been an admirer of the managerial talents of Mauricio Pochettino as a tactician and organiser but with his team starved of transfer funds and previous recruitment having been uninspired, he will need to find fresher pastures if he wants to add trophies to the plaudits.  If Tottenham had a chance of winning the Premier League title it would have been several years ago when they still had the element of surprise.  Now the squad looks tired and in need of a significant makeover.  On those occasions where they did invest they may have succeeded in improving squad depth but have not found those missing pieces required for success.

For Saturday’s game, West Ham will still be missing long term absentees Manuel Lanzini, Winston Reid, Andy Carroll, Jack Wilshere, Javier Hernandez and Carlos Sanchez while there are fresh doubts over the fitness of Robert Snodgrass and Arthur Masuaku – both having picked up knocks while away on international duty.  It was a surprise to see Marko Arnautovic turning out for Austria during the break given his apparent long running injury problems, but the signs are that he will be fit to start.

There have now been a couple of weeks to forget the disappointment of the south coast escapade and it will be interesting to see if Pellegrini is inclined towards any personnel changes from that night.  The Brighton goal was a true team effort from West Ham with Pablo Zabaleta, Mark Noble, Andriy Yarmolenko, Fabio Balbuena, Issa Diop and Masuaku all implicated in its concession.  Many social media observers pinned all of the blame on Masuaku and, while he should have at least made a token attempt to follow the run of Murray, I fear that it was too late by then to do anything about it other than giving away a penalty.  Still with Arthur on the possibly injured list it may be an opportunity to give Aaron Cresswell another run out.  Either way West Ham will continue to look exposed down that flank while it lacks adequate midfield reinforcement.

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The goal aside, the Hammer’s greater failings at the Amex Stadium were a slow start and a lack of creativity in turning possession into sufficient goal-scoring opportunities.  It is always puzzling how often the team manages to lack collective intensity before the half-time pep talk.  Although the midfield threesome of Noble, Declan Rice and Pedro Obiang has worked well since its introduction at Everton, it is more suited to games where the opposition are looking to attack.  To that extent it can do a job this weekend.  Where it falls short is in providing the wit and variation to break down packed defences.

The visitors will be without Alli, Rose and Vertonghen but could welcome back Eriksen, Dembele and Wanyama – although with a midweek Champion’s League game on the horizon they may not all be risked.  Tottenham always looked more solid to me with Dembele and Wanyama as the midfield anchors but, for some reason, the manager seems to prefer Dier and Sissoko – which is like trying to win an F1 race in a Ford Transit.  South Korean draft dodger Son has often been a thorn in the Hammer’s side (as has any player prepared to run at us speed) but will probably have to make do with a place on the bench.

The referee for the afternoon is Martin Atkinson from West Yorkshire.  Atkinson was in charge earlier this season for West Ham’s win at Goodison Park and also Tottenham’s opening day victory at Newcastle.

There is punditry alignment this week with both Paul Merson and Mark Lawrenson  firmly on the fence for a 1-1 draw.  The good thing about playing Tottenham is that motivation is unlikely to be an issue meaning that the requisite level of commitment and intensity should be apparent all around the ground.  The worry as always will be to keep Kane quiet and cut off his supply from the full-backs.  Assuming we can manage those defensive backs I am backing West Ham to run out as 2-0 winners.

Can West Ham’s Seaside Shuffle Launch Them Into The Premier League Top Ten?

It’s a warm day. The sun is shining. Someone says “Let’s go to Brighton”. The West Ham roller-coaster shuffles down to the seaside for the big Friday night match. Can Pellegrini’s men set sail into the Premier League top ten?

Having picked up seven of nine points from a run of games where the majority had given the Hammers little chance, they now travel to face a Brighton side in a match where the law of big money should point to West Ham success more often than not.  That ignores, however, the Hammer’s historic propensity to stumble badly (perhaps in a misplaced sense of complacency) in the wake of the optimism that follows a string of good results.  Just as the equivalent fixture last season put an end to a six game unbeaten run in the league by David Moyes’ side.

In fact, although the overall record against Brighton looks good on the surface this most reflects bygone non-league and war-time cup encounters.  In the senior leagues it is the Seagulls that have the upper hand and, in the very top flight, West Ham have won only once in the six meetings to date – a 2-1 win (Cottee, Dickens) at Upton Park in March 1983.

Last season, West Ham charitably donated six of Brighton’s forty league points as well as six of their thirty four league goals.  When the two sides met at the Amex Stadium in February this year, the home side ran out 3-1 winners but only three Hammers (Mark Noble, Pablo Zabaleta and Declan Rice) from that game are likely to be on show again tonight.

PellegriniWith no fresh injury worries there can be no debate about Manuel Pellegrini’s starting lineup tonight.  Any changes to the formation that has worked so well since being introduced at the Everton game would be a big surprise.  Whether by accident or design the manager has hit upon a system that suits the players available, giving them the freedom to demonstrate their particular talents and to play a style of football that is finally worth the admission money.  Provided that key players stay fit and over-confidence is kept at bay then I see no reason why it cannot continue to pay dividends.  The squad still has a flimsy look in certain positions but everything is looking a whole lot rosier than it was before the last international break.

No matter what system a team plays there will always be comparative weakness somewhere in its make-up that opposition team will seek to exploit.  For West Ham, it is the amount of space that we allow attacking players down the flanks.  It is a delicate balance as to how much support wide attacking players should give to the full-backs without restricting attacking ambitions.  Keeping the shape seems to work better on the right hand side where Andriy Yarmolenko tracks back effectively despite a few chaotic attempts to clear the danger.  On the left, however, the shape has been a lot less compact and it will be a key battle tonight to see how how well Arthur Masuaku, Pedro Obiang and Felipe Anderson collectively nullify the threat from the pacey Knockaert.  The Obiang role is rather confusing involving as it does a lot of running and closing down but relatively few touches.  It is interesting that in the last two games his average position has been further forward than that of Anderson.

Brighton may well have been many people’s tip for relegation at the start of the season but have shown enough spirit and organisation to suggest that they can survive for a second season.  There are certainly more than three worse teams in the Premier League at the moment.  Home form will again be important to them and they will surely be targeting a return from tonight’s fixture.

The absence of Gross is a big blow for Chris Hughton (and a bonus for West Ham) but the Seagulls may be able to welcome back Colombian Izquierdo, a player who did little last season other than embarrass the Hammers on two occasions.  One would assume that the Fabian Balbuena/ Issa Diop partnership would be too strong to be bothered by veteran striker Murray, but having written him off several times in the past I will reserve any critical judgement of his threat and abilities for the time being.  It is a surprise that Murray never featured in the long list of failed West Ham striker signings but you just know, if he had, he would have been turning out, a broken man, in the National League by now.  Instead he has had a new lease of life mixing it with the best on the south coast.

The matchday referee is Kevin Friend from Leicestershire who takes charge of his second Brighton game of the season, the previous one being the home side’s victory at home to Manchester United.  Friend is one of the lower key Premier League referees and one of the least likely to go around waving red cards.

Neither of our favourite pundits have foreseen a West Ham win tonight and, while Merson predicts a 2-2 draw, Lawro has the Hammers stumbling to a 2-1 defeat.  A win by more than two goals will see West Ham clamber into the league’s top ten, at least temporarily, at the expense of Manchester United.  It will by no means be an easy game but using the power of positive thinking to will us above Mourinho’s miscreants I will be predicting a 4-1 win.