Can West Ham defy recent history and statistics to overcome City?

It seems a long time ago now, but the opening day of the 2020-2021 football season was just six weeks ago. And while last season was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic and described as the strangest season ever, this time around, with Covid-19 rising again, and no fans allowed into stadiums for the foreseeable future, the Premier League campaign has been absolutely bonkers! It has been full of strange results, and more goals than ever before. I’m not sure that any of us can predict what will happen next.

Who would have thought that, when we went down 2-0 at home to Newcastle in our opening game, and with an incredibly tough run of fixtures to follow, that we would be sitting in the top half of the table after just five games? The Geordies themselves are level on points with us, albeit with an inferior goal difference, whilst the other four teams we have faced currently sit in 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th places in the table (we are 9th), so yes, we did have a tough set of games.

Who would have possibly thought, after that opening game, that when we faced Manchester City in the sixth game of this season that we would be above them in the league table? Yes, they do have a game in hand, but nonetheless, few would have put money on it. Yet we go into this fixture as massive underdogs, with odds of around 13/2 being quoted for a West Ham win, 4/1 on the draw, and 2/5 for a City win. Perhaps recent history between the two sides has something to do with that?

This is our ninth consecutive season in the Premier League since returning to the top flight in 2012. In the sixteen league matches against the Citizens (are they really called that by anyone?) we have won two, drawn two and lost twelve. Our record in cups is even worse, losing 9-0 over two legs in the League Cup in 2013-14, and 5-0 in the FA Cup in 2016-17. In recent history our record against City is probably worse than against virtually all other teams. We have lost in the last nine competitive fixtures against them with a cumulative score of 30-3 (the exact period when Guardiola has been in charge). Since moving to the London Stadium we have played them five times at home (4 league and 1 FA Cup), and the cumulative score is 22-1 against us. Who is the only West Ham player to have scored a goal against them at the London Stadium? Aaron Cresswell. I don’t think that any team has taken us apart quite as comprehensively as City have done in recent times.

Can you remember the last time we beat City? It was at their ground in 2015-16 when we beat them 2-1 with goals from Victor Moses and Diafra Sakho. Four of our current squad took part in that game – Cresswell, Lanzini, Noble and Antonio. The last time we took even a point off them was later that same season (the last time we faced them at Upton Park) when Enner Valencia scored the two goals in a 2-2 draw. The last time we beat them at home was in the 2014-15 season when we won 2-1 with goals from Morgan Amalfitano (remember him?) and Sakho.

The last time City failed to score against us was in a 0-0 draw in the first game we faced them following our return to the top flight in 2012. They have always scored at least once, and invariably a lot more, in the 18 games that have been played since then.

But there are other statistics in our favour as we head into this match. For example, the last time we played against City when we were above them in the table was back in 2009, and we won that game 1-0 with Jack Collison scoring the only goal of the game. In the calendar year of 2020 (which coincides with David Moyes in charge for the second time, we have scored 3 or more goals in 9 matches. Only Manchester City themselves can equal that record. Of course we have scored 3 or more in our last three games. The last time we managed to score 3 or more in four consecutive league games was 92 years ago!

And do you remember last week when we were looking at Moyes record against Mourinho, and the fact that he has never beaten him in 15 attempts? His managerial record against City contrasts to that, having beaten them 12 times. In fact they are one of the clubs against whom he has his most wins as a manager.

Recent history tells us we can’t win this game. Statistics say we can’t win this game. The bookmakers don’t believe we will win this game. But our confidence must be sky high following our run of fine performances, victories, goals scored, and that dramatic comeback against that team from North London last week. How good was that? It’s about time we beat City again, and perhaps we will in this season of strange results? I’ll go for 3-2.

Cock-A-Hoop Hammers In The Mood To Win Their Spurs

Buoyant West Ham will be confident of causing yet another upset on the short trip to north London as Mourinho strives to assemble his pick and mix of expensive parts into an effective unit

At 5pm on Friday afternoon, David Sullivan double checked that all the ‘windows’ were now finally closed, poured himself a celebratory Tesco Value brandy and sat back satisfied that most of the hypothetical £40 million transfer kitty had not been disturbed, at least for now. Later he would count it all again, put it in the vault and reset the pressure pad and laser field alarms.

Switching of the blood samples, with some of his own, had worked a treat – the medical team hadn’t been expecting cold reptilian blood. A masterstroke of cunning. The transfer can was well and truly kicked down the road – in the summer permanent deals for Said Benrhama and Craig Dawson could be revealed as exciting new signings and their commitment to spend.

The signing of Benrhama may well turn out to be an excellent move – a touch of much needed flair in the mould of a Payet, Benayoun or Berkovic. He certainly fits the profile of a younger player with something to prove – and with an obvious abundance of natural talent. Exactly how this will fit into the manager’s freshly honed system will unfold over the coming months.

The recent upturn in performances has been founded on a collective work ethic, organisation, and discipline. Modern Premier League football demands that work done off the ball is as important as what occurs when in possession. That is the reason why players such as Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko and Sebastien Haller have failed to impress. You need to be an exceptional talent if you are not prepared to put in the graft.

Benrhama’s delayed signing means that he is not eligible for today’s game, but I expect his be to a gradual introduction into proceedings. As we have seen during both his spells at West Ham, David Moyes is not the quickest to make changes, even if he gets there in the end. There will be no impulsive or rash changes to shape to suit an individual player. While a back four allows for greater options further forward, it exposes the well-known weakness at left back. Unless Benrhama can match the work-rate of Pablo Fornals his opportunities may be limited to impact substitute in the immediate future.  A welcome addition, nonetheless, to a squad that is one pinged hamstring away from disintegration.

Impossible to imagine any changes to the West Ham starting line-up for today, unless enforced through illness or injury. According to reports the only doubt is Arthur Masuaku who sustained a knee injury on international duty with the DR Congo. If he is not available, I would prefer to see Ben Johnson as s direct replacement rather than a reshuffle bringing Issa Diop (or Dawson) into the back three and pushing Aaron Cresswell back out wide.

Tactically, it cries out for a re-run of what we saw at Leicester. Tottenham’s threat is speed in attack, and it will be the pace of Son (rather than Vardy) that the Hammers must be alert to. Then again, West Ham can boast the second meanest defence in the league, so maybe there is little to worry about – unless that is merely a quirk of the early season table.

For all the hosts attacking prowess, there is vulnerability and uncertainty at the back that can be exploited by the movement of our own forward players. Tottenham have yet to win at home this season and if the Hammers can reproduce their Wolves and Leicester form, it promises to be an intriguing contest. Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek will again be pivotal in maintaining discipline and providing the springboard for rapid counter attacking. Painful as it is to say, I think Tottenham will enjoy a very good season as others of the big six flounder, but not until after today’s game. My theory (or is it hope) is that it will take time for Mourinho to instil a workable balance into his side.

Much of the pre-match build up will undoubtedly be focused on the return of prodigal Spurs son, Gareth Bale. Astute readers will have spotted that Bale is an anagram of Abel and that linking up with Kane adds a biblical dimension, particularly with a manager who considers himself a god. The previous Cain and Abel story did not end well, and we must remember that Bale failed to end up on the winning side, in any league game, during his first season in north London. As far West Ham prophecies go, a chance, perhaps, for Moyses to lead his team to the promised land of top six by the end of the day.

The goals keep coming thick and fast in the mysterious atmosphere of a fan free Premier League, despite the dull affair served up by Manchester City and Arsenal at The Etihad yesterday evening. With the statistical averages to date favouring away sides and four VAR approved goals scored, everything points to a 3-1 West Ham win. That would do nicely!   

All Said And Done: It’s Back To The Action As West Ham Take On Spurs

It was a cold February Thursday afternoon in 1979. I was on my way home from work when West Ham appeared on the radio on the sports news at the end of the main news bulletin. At the time we were a second tier side so it was very unusual for us to show up in a sports news item on a weekday afternoon. Then I heard the announcement that West Ham had broken the world record transfer fee for signing a goalkeeper. £565,000 for a 29 year-old from QPR (then in the top flight) with one England cap to his name. It was considered a bit of a risk because even then it was alleged that he had dodgy knees. But he stayed with us for over a decade and became possibly the best goalkeeper we’ve ever had. Certainly he was the best keeper I ever saw playing for West Ham. Reg Pratt, the chairman at the time, made a comment that I can’t recall exactly, but it was along the lines of the fact that Phil was too much for us to possibly afford? But it happened.

The point of relating this is that until I heard on the radio that he had signed for us I didn’t even know we were after him. I was an avid fan who liked to keep abreast of all that was happening at the club but I didn’t have a clue. Contrast this with the situation we have today where, in every transfer window, fuelled and hyped by the written media, social media, and in particular Sky Sports, there is continual speculation regarding players that we are apparently chasing. So many names appear and nearly all of them are wide of the mark, but they spark a frenzy on West Ham sites with fans seemingly believing what they read, and adding their comments pro and against as if they are experts. I prefer the first scenario – the one where I find out that we have signed an excellent player without even knowing about it until he has the shirt on.

The Said Benrahma saga is a specific example of the nonsense surrounding football transfers today. How long has the transfer window been open? As I write this with about five minutes to go until the five o’clock deadline I still haven’t seen confirmation that Benrahma is a West Ham player, although there are some sketchy reports that the deal has been done on a loan basis with an obligation to buy. Apparently the reason for this is that the two clubs didn’t have the necessary time to complete the necessary paperwork to make the deal permanent by the 5pm deadline! There was a lot of reporting about a failed medical which was disputed by David Moyes in his lunchtime press conference, but really it can only be West Ham who typically make such a shambles of transfers. The circumstances regarding the change from purchase to “loan with obligation to buy” are a complete mystery at the moment, but will perhaps be revealed in the fullness of time. As a long- time fan I was just getting ready to hear how the transfer fell through at the last minute (the kind of statement I have heard before), but was then pleasantly surprised that it doesn’t appear to be the case.

I hope that we have secured the signing because, from what I have seen when watching Championship football, Benrahma is one of the most exciting talents in that division (just as Jarrod Bowen was). I don’t dispute what a number of our fans have said when they have suggested that this was not a priority position for a new acquisition and there are other areas of the pitch that perhaps need strengthening first. But we have signed what looks like an excellent right back in Coufal, and Craig Dawson at centre back is no mug either, even if he isn’t a world class signing that some had hoped for. For me he is a better buy than Tarkowski would have been at that ridiculous price being quoted, and if that has enabled us to fork out for Benrahma then so much the better.

But did I imagine that the chairman recently made a comment regarding “too many wingers”? Many fans didn’t understand why Diangana was allowed to go, and a few still believe that Anderson would have come good again, but I believe that Benrahma may be a better proposition than both of them and I hope that turns out to be the case. The purchase still makes the chairman’s comment look a little silly though.  

But enough of all this transfer nonsense, a quick recall of where we were before the unwelcome international break halted our progress. If you thought that the 4-0 win over a talented Wolves side was just another of those West Ham moments that happens once in a while, then you would have been surprised that we even surpassed that when visiting the league leaders Leicester, and comprehensively thumped them 3-0, and (just like the Wolves game) it could have been more. 7-0 in two games against two of the more fancied teams in the Premier League. As well as the host of chances that we created in each game, perhaps one of the most pleasing aspects was keeping two clean sheets, and defending as a team as well as any West Ham side I have seen in recent times. A 3-0 win away to the league leaders would have been headline news, but it barely raised a mention in the media in view of two other extraordinary results that weekend, with Tottenham winning 6-1 at Manchester United, and Villa thumping Liverpool 7-2.

Going back briefly to transfer signings, Coufal played superbly on his debut at Leicester, and looks an excellent acquisition. I was watching some international football in the week (something I don’t usually bother with much these days) and started to watch England facing Denmark. Rice seemed to be having a decent game, but I was bored with the match and switched over to watch Scotland facing the Czech Republic. Although the Czechs lost the game 1-0, they were playing really well. I was mostly interested to watch our two players, Soucek and Coufal, who along with their colleagues (most of whom seemed to be Slavia Prague players) were creating chance after chance but just failing to score. In view of the success of our two recently bought Czech players, perhaps a further raid in Prague for skilful footballers wouldn’t be the worst place to look in future?

So we look forward to another Sunday game (have we played a single game this season on a Saturday with a 3pm kick off?) against our neighbours from North London. Two in-form teams, neither of whom probably wanted the season to be disrupted at this point, will resume their local rivalry. But, despite the form of our opposition I hope that we go into the game full of confidence and continue to play as we have done in the last three league games. I know we lost at Arsenal but we could easily have won that game too. The pessimism surrounding the club has disappeared for the moment and we can be optimistic for another fine performance. We follow this game with matches against the top two from last season, and both Liverpool and Manchester City will be well up for improving on their start to this campaign.

Assuming no injuries I wonder if we will line up in the same formation with the same personnel that won at Leicester? As far I can gather the manager has a fully fit squad to choose from as he resumes his seat in the dugout, with Diop, Fredericks and Masuaku fully recovered from isolation / minor injuries. Just looking at recent history between the two clubs then the fixture looks like a home win, and the newly acquired Bale inspired Lilywhites (What kind of nickname is that? Do fans still use it?) will hope to record their fifth win in the last six meetings in all competitions against us. But as we have seen in our recent games against Wolves and Leicester, we appear to have turned the corner from a defensive viewpoint, and hopefully we will be difficult to break down. Michail Antonio is in splendid form and has a good goalscoring record against Tottenham so let us hope he can extend that in this game. The two managers have been in in opposite dugouts 14 times, and Mourinho has never lost. Well that is just the kind of statistic I like to see. There’s always a first time. Of course Tottenham are odds on to win, but you can get around 9/2 on West Ham notching a third successive league win this season. That’ll do me.   P.S. It’s now 10 p.m. so I thought I’d better check to make sure that the signing of Benrahma was completed satisfactorily and it was. That’s good. With our history I wouldn’t have been surprised if there had been errors with the completion or submission of the paperwork, so I thought I’d better make sure!

From A Jack To A King, Tomori Never Comes And Felipe Flops Off To Porto

With a lost weekend of international kickabouts interrupting the fledgling season, we take a backward glance to check on what has happened so far.

Isn’t Life Strange?

I think we can all agree that we are currently living through the strangest of times, and the early season Premier League results have been no exception to that rule. Whether a consequence of empty stadiums or the truncated nature of the summer break (particularly for those involved in Europe) the early rounds of matches have thrown up a succession of surprises. Who would have expected West Ham’s superb win at Leicester to be immediately and comprehensively overshadowed by the Liverpool and Manchester United games that followed it?

We have reached the first international kickabout weekend with exactly 10% of the leagues 380 scheduled games completed. Of course, it’s early doors (© Big Ron) but several interesting comparisons with previous seasons are emerging:

    • Goals scored per game is 3.79 compared to 2.72 for 2019/20 and 2.82 in 2018/19
    • Only 3 games (8%) have been drawn – 24% in 2019/20; 19% in 2018/19
    • There have been 16 home wins (42%) – 45% (2019/20); 47% (2018/19)
    • There have been 19 away wins (50%) – 31% (2019/20); 34% (2018/19

Maybe, the forces of equilibrium will return but on the evidence to date, it could be a memorable season for upsets as the usual suspects stumble. At the top of the table, Everton look best placed to gate crash the party, while neither Manchester United nor Chelsea look anywhere near convincing – expect some managerial changes there before too long. It pains me to even think it, but I can see T*tt*nh*m making a serious bid for glory this year. Unlike Leicester, who rely too much on Vardy, they have goals from all over the place. Our next match, in north London, will be a huge test.

At the bottom, the early runners in the relegation stakes are West Brom (red hot favourites), Fulham, Sheffield United and Burnley. Fulham have made some interesting signings (Lookman and Loftus-Cheek) which could give them fresh hope while I have a sneaking feeling that the lack of imagination at Palace will cause them to struggle big-time this year.

There’s Something Happening Here, But What It Is Ain’t Exactly Clear

I can’t lie but after the Newcastle game I had expected West Ham to reach this break with “nul points” on the board. Yet stunning victories, at home to Wolves and away at Leicester, have painted a very different complexion on to the season. Anguish has turned to astonishment. Where did that committed, well organised, hard-working, disciplined, skilful and quick breaking football suddenly come from?  How reassuring to be finally playing to a system – and one that suits the players available?  And all achieved despite the best efforts of the Board to create turmoil, despondency, and ill-feeling around the club. Full credit to the players and coaching staff for maintaining their dignity in such circumstances.

The Achilles heel, though, is a paper thin squad that threatens multiple single points of failure in the cohesion and stability of the team. In a West Ham context, Archilles has vulnerabilities in the knee, groin and hamstrings, as well as the heel. An injury to any one of Michail Antonio, Jarrod Bowen, Pablo Fornals, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Angelo Ogbonna and even Arthur Masuaku and the wheels could easily fall off. David Moyes is often criticised for his reluctant use of substitutes but I wouldn’t have wanted any of last Sunday’s bench on the field until we were safely 3-0 up with less than 5 minutes to go.

The bubble could so easily burst and the Hammers dragged into the relegation fray. Clearly the squad needs greater depth but whoever is brought must be able to fit the system. Players picked by the manager – not special offers or clearance items touted by favoured agents.  

Around The Transfer Window In 80 Days

They may have slammed the international transfer window shut last Monday night, but it immediately bounced back open to allow Premier League clubs to trade with those below them in the pyramid – until next Friday. When it does finally close it will have been after 81 days of potential deals. Despite being linked with several squads worth of new recruits the Hammers went beyond the ‘preparing a deal’ and ‘weighing up options’ stage just once, to sign Vladimir Coufal. A last minute, desperate sounding attempt  to secure the loan signing of Fikayo Tomori fell through leaving West Ham with even fewer resources as Felipe Anderson took his floundering to Porto, and space was cleared on the treatment table by finally paying off Jack Wilshere.

I’m not sure that a player who can’t get a place in Chelsea’s defence is any great loss. But then again nor would one who can’t get into Watford’s. I sincerely hope that the stories about Craig Dawson are just another humorous fabrication. Off all the players mentioned in recent days I am most encouraged by the prospect of Josh King. He is much closer to an Antonio alternative than anyone else we have, and can perform in wide areas up front as well. That doesn’t mean other defensive reinforcements aren’t also badly needed.  Experience suggests that with the window open for another 6 days, any moves will be again be left to the very last minute in another stunning display of Sullivan’s failed brinkmanship.

When the window finally does close, there will be just 80 days until it re-opens – and the madness can start all over again!       

Not All Goals Are Created Equal

I have always found the recent trend to obsess on football statistics as interesting rather than meaningful. I’m sure there are very talented performance analysts at the more professionally run clubs who perform a pivotal role in assessing individual players at a far more granular level than we get presented with on TV and the internet. Apart from goals scored, the rest bear little relation to the outcome of a match. One stat that always bewilders, but which the pundits love is the Assist. Always giving credit to the last person to touch the ball before the goal-scorer seems a nonsense to me. Just looking at our previous two games throws up several examples of how inconsistent a players contribution to a goal might be.

On Sunday, you could imagine Aaron Creswell studiously working out his angles, velocity, wind speed and trajectory before executing his sublime cross for Antonio to convert. An obvious assist in anyone’s eyes. Later in the same half, he executed a clearance plucked directly from the Ginger Collins box of tactical punts. There was no intent and the fact that Fornals anticipated it, then controlled and dispatched it with aplomb was all down the Spaniard. A week earlier, there was no assist given for Cresswell because Soucek’s header from his corner happened to hit a defender on the way in – a consequence of the dubious goals rule, not the acuuracy of Cresswell’s corner. Equally, there was also no assist credited to Bowen’s second goal, as Fornal’s goal creating shot had hit the post before he netted the rebound.  

Dear Santa, New Owners For Christmas Please

Interesting (and excited) to read the continued speculation that the Gold and Sullivan era could soon be coming to an inglorious end. Their relationship with the fans has broken down so badly that recovery is impossible. Most fans don’t want them around and I wonder why, at their stage in life, they would want to stick around. If it is just a matter of agreeing price then hopefully something might happen in the coming weeks. I can’t say there has ever been a time where West Ham have been blessed with likeable, ambitious, level-headed or visionary owners but the loyalty of the support deserves better. Nothing is yet known on the identity of any supposed bidder but it couldn’t be any worse, could it?

Trading Places: Smart Leicester Investors Put West Ham’s Barrow Boys To Shame

The season of light meets the season of darkness. Today’s fixture spotlights how two clubs have fared over ten years of new ownership.

Comparisons, they say, are odious, but a fixture between West Ham and Leicester is an ideal opportunity to consider a pertinent footballing one. Two clubs who, in terms of revenues, sit behind the Premier League’s traditional big six – and who should be well positioned to take advantage of any slip ups above them for an occasional top four finish, something that could well happen this season on the evidence of early results.

Ten years ago, both were under recent new ownership. West Ham were a Premier League side, were quickly relegated but then immediately regained top-flight status and are now in their 9th consecutive EPL season. Leicester, on the other hand, had just been promoted from the third tier of English football and it would take them until the 2013/14 season to win promotion from the Championship. This is their 7th season back in the Premier League.

Apart from the notable 2015/16 season in which Leicester were surprise Premier League Champions, while the Hammers started with promise but faded badly, it has been difficult to separate the clubs in terms of league finishes, until last term. Digging a little deeper exposes why the two clubs are on very different trajectories.

While Leicester have invested heavily in infrastructure for a sustainable future, West Ham have never progressed beyond perennial fire fighting – applying patched up solutions to problems with urgency always overruling importance. Loose change spent on ‘upgrading’ the Rush Green training complex compared to Leicester’s £100m new state-of-the-art facility is a perfect example.

While Leicester’s owners have provided stewardship, they leave the running of the club to professionals – a full-time CEO, Director of Football and Head of Recruitment provide a sound foundation on which the football side of the club can flourish. Success is not just about transfer spend – remember Leicester have sold Mahrez, Kante, Drinkwater, Maguire and Chilwell in recent seasons and may well be running a transfer surplus – but how wisely money is invested on and off the pitch. There have been poor managerial appointments in the past but these were quickly rectified and Leicester will be seen as an attractive destination – for both managers and players.

Conversely, while West Ham’s owners have spent money on transfers, it has rarely been well spent – short term expediency and vanity signings in the absence of underlying strategy or direction. A club overseen by Joint Chairman and a part-time Vice Chairman who mistakenly believe they have everything it takes to do it their way. A foolish, overconfident belief that they possess all the expertise required to run a football club, even though their record at Birmingham and West Ham suggests otherwise. Their only demonstrable competence appears to be hubris – a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own expertise, accomplishments, or capabilities.

No doubt, as fans we are going to have a different set of perspectives on the club that we support unconditionally than the owners do. The same would be true at any club, but those expectations should never be so far apart as they are at West Ham. I have no issues if owners make piles of money from their investment but isn’t the route to greater value and increased revenues (prize money and TV exposure) through success and progress on the pitch – not by selling more popcorn or replica shirts on matchdays? After ten years the West Ham footballing strategy is still all words and precious little action – what happened to that ten point pledge?. Even worse the owner’s financial aptitude is akin to the penniless guy who steals all the rent money to pay off the bookie.  Theirs is a dereliction of duty, no matter if it is deliberate or accidental.

With such a backdrop it is no surprise that West Ham is a club in turmoil and have found it difficult to recruit during the transfer window. Would many players with options choose to opt for the London Stadium, other than for financial reasons? Reliance on preferred agents, the absence of a scouting infrastructure and with the potential for David Sullivan’s legendary market trader negotiating skills to scupper most , it has to be a very frustrating time for David Moyes. I have mentioned before that Moyes would not have been my first pick as manager, but I do believe he is a decent guy who deserves better support. That we have reached the tail end of the window with little to show for it is scandalous. The last two days of the window are the worrying territory of desperation, misfits, and drifters.

At least/ at last we are able to welcome one new member to the squad, in the shape of Vladimir Coufal, and hope that he can have a similar positive impact to fellow countryman, Tomas Soucek. Coufal brings a good deal of experience with him that should help shore up a creaking defence, even though left back and centre back might have been (and remain) the areas of greater need.

West Ham put in an excellent performance last weekend against Wolves and we will probably see a very similar starting eleven and formation for today’s encounter. With Ryan Fredericks unavailable competition for the right back berth will be between Ben Johnson and Coufal (if considered ready). In central defence, Issa Diop is available for selection and it is a toss up between him and Fabian Balbuena as to who is best equipped to handle the threat of Jamie Vardy. It is remarkable that despite everyone knowing the danger of the through ball (or over the top) to Vardy, managers have found it impossible to counter.

An additional hazard to look out for will be the slippery penalty areas at the King Power Stadium – judging by how easily the Leicester players appear to go over. West Ham defenders must remember to tread that fine line between ‘not enough contact’ and ‘he was entitled to go down’ which is apparently how contact in the area is now judged by pundits and VAR.

I read various comments online in the week suggesting that by fielding a reserve side for the League Cup defeat at Everton (effectively throwing the game) it will have damaged the Hammer’s morale. I can’t see how that makes any sense and can be disregarded. What the midweek game did show, however, was just how poor our big name backup players actually are. What chance of getting anything more than the deposit returned on the likes of Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko, Manuel Lanzini and co? Others such as Robert Snodgrass and Mark Noble may show willing, but they are too far off the pace to be seriously considered as Premier League starters.

Leicester are without Pereira and Ndidi but have plenty of strength in depth with plenty of pace and guile in attack. Maddison is back from injury, Barnes is developing into a fine player and Castagne looks to be an excellent signing. If West Ham are to prevent a Leicester return to the top of the table it will require a superhuman effort of determination and concentration to achieve it. That might be too much to ask but what we are entitled to is the same level of commitment and organisation that was on show last weekend. If that is enough to frustrate Leicester than it will be an added bonus.

Can West Ham Outfox the Foxes?

What did you expect? Were we really in the EFL (Carabao) Cup to try and win it? I don’t think so. I know that these are early days, but Everton have made a blistering start to the season and are one of only four clubs on maximum points, together with Leicester, Liverpool, and Villa. They have won their away league games at Tottenham and Palace, and demolished West Brom at home. Their team selection indicated that they meant business. Our team selection, largely a reserve side, showed that we wanted to give a run-out to the fringe players who are currently not in the starting eleven in Premier League games. And while they looked impressive in the earlier rounds against lower league opposition, this time around they were found out. Even with our strongest team this would have been a tough ask to progress to the next round. But as soon as I saw the team selections I feared the worst. Everton (first team) v West Ham (reserves) – not really a contest. And so it proved. So once again one of the “winnable” competitions passes us by. There’s always the FA Cup of course. But will that take precedence over maintaining our Premier League status? Of course not.

Disappointed as I was with our performance at Everton, the opposite is true regarding the way we put Wolves to the sword. Considering the strength of the opposition this was most definitely one of our best performances in a long time, with the whole team shining. Defensively we looked very sound, and not many teams put four goals past Wolves. In the whole of last season only Everton (3) and Chelsea (5) managed to score more than twice in a game against them. Both those games were in the month of September, so perhaps we played them at the right time, in the month when they are at their weakest? The age-old argument – did we thrash them because we were so good or because they were poor? Possibly a bit of both, but I did enjoy the entertainment last Sunday evening.

This weekend we face Leicester who sit proudly at the top of the pile with three wins out of three in the league, scoring 12 goals in the process, and conceding 4. But Arsenal eliminated them from the EFL Cup. Can we take the form from the Wolves game into this fixture? We never know with our team of course.

Historically, just as with Wolves, we have a positive record against the Foxes, beating them in more competitive fixtures than they have beaten us. That record is largely enhanced by our results against them in the 1990s, when in 14 league games spread over the top two divisions, we won 12, drew 1, and lost only once. My memory of games against them is that they were fixtures that always seemed to have a lot of goals. On Boxing Day in 1967, we were 2-0 down in the first few minutes, but fought back to win 4-2 with a hat-trick from Brian Dear. It could have been many more but for a sparkling performance from the Leicester keeper (a 17 year old Peter Shilton who had ousted Gordon Banks from their team). Four days later in the return fixture we won 4-2 again at Filbert Street, and Brian Dear scored twice in this game too. And when we beat Leicester 4-0 the following season I saw the best goal that I have ever seen live when Martin Peters blasted a volley into the roof of the net after a pitch length move started by Bobby Ferguson, our keeper.

When he was in a rich vein of form Brian Dear took some stopping. In a two month period from mid-December to mid-February that season he found the net 11 times. In 1964-65 he didn’t play a single game until the middle of March, but in the final 15 games of that season he scored 14 goals, including 5 in 20 minutes in a game I watched on Good Friday against West Brom. It earned him a place in the team for the quarter-finals, semi-finals and the winning final in the successful European Cup Winners Cup run, where he scored four goals in those five games.

Over a course of several seasons in the 1960s Brian could not get a regular place in the side, but that may have been for reasons other than footballing and goalscoring ability. He only played 82 times for the club but averaged almost a goal in every other game, a better goals per game ratio than noted goalscorers such as Cottee, McAvennie, and Pop Robson. Loan spells away from West Ham in the late sixties were followed by a return to the club, but he never played for the Hammers again after the 4-0 defeat at Blackpool in the third round of the FA Cup, when he was one of the players involved in the notorious late-night drinking incident on the eve of the game. But what a fabulous finisher he was! We could do with a goalscorer with that kind of successful goals per game ratio now.

But enough of the Brian Dear nostalgia, and back to this game. The three teams that we will have played this week, Wolves, Everton and Leicester, are probably the biggest challengers to the elite six teams that have dominated the Premier League for some years now. Of course Leicester themselves were the 5000-1 winners not so long ago, after narrowly escaping relegation the season before with a great escape similar to our own a few years earlier, and are now consistently a top half of the table side. Brendan Rogers seems to have got the best out of Jamie Vardy, and last season he was the top Premier League goalscorer. He also notched a hat-trick against Manchester City last weekend, not the first time he has achieved that against City, and is already on five goals for the season after just three games. But four of those goals have come from penalty kicks! I wonder how many games will elapse this season before West Ham are even awarded four penalties?  

I see that we have a new right back! He’s Tomas Soucek’s Czech mate Vladimir Coufal from Slavia Prague. If he’s anywhere near as good a signing as Soucek then we’ll all be delighted. On the face of it he looks to be an absolute bargain. He looks to have all the right credentials so I’ll look forward to seeing him in the team. Does he have to spend time in quarantine first?

Of course with the start they’ve made, Leicester are odds on favourites to make it four wins out of four and remain at the top of the Premier League table. But I have faith in our team (the one that played Wolves anyway!) and I reckon we’ll spoil their party. 2-2 for me. What are the chances?

When this round of games is over, we will have our first international break of the season. Of course we all need a break after all the games we’ve played this season! Personally I don’t have the same interest in international football these days and hate these interruptions to the domestic campaign that appear so regularly so early on in the season. And in the current climate is it a good idea in this year in particular for players to be flying off all over the world in light of the pandemic? I’m not so sure.

Tales of the Unexpected: Wolves Sent Packing And A Route To An EFL Cup Quarter Final

West Ham face Everton in EFL Cup action to see which club has the strongest second string. Who will triumph in this midweek ‘bench test’ to claim a quarter final berth?

Just when we thought that football’s ability to surprise was a thing of the past, West Ham shrugged off the menacing dark clouds surrounding the London Stadium to register a remarkable and highly impressive victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers. Full credit goes to the players and manager(s) for lifting the gloom (at least for now) in the face of overwhelming adversity – what a difference a win makes!

As ever, there was going to be the usual debate. Was the win down to an excellent West Ham performance or a poor Wolves one? It’s impossible to answer but, for me, despite a number of fine individual performances, every West Ham player played their part in a superb effort. It was arguably the best we have seen for some years, scoring four times, preventing Wolves from getting into their stride playing and recording a rare clean sheet. Top half of the table and with a positive goal difference.  From despondency to ecstasy in 90 short minutes – the erratic pursuit that is football supportership!

While we must wait until the weekend to learn whether it was the Wolves or the Newcastle performance that was the blip on the radar, we first have an EFL away tie with Everton to deal with. For the winner, it will be a place in the final eight, where the prospect of silverware suddenly becomes a little more realistic. A trip to an empty Wembley would be very West Ham. Both managers will be wanting to win tonight, but without risking fitness or injuries in this hectic schedule.

The Toffees have enjoyed a flawless start to the Premier League season and will be hoping to sit proudly on top of the pile come Saturday evening. In the previous round of this competition (against Fleetwood) Ancelotti selected five players who also started in the subsequent league game at Palace, including Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin. By comparison, Fabian Balbuena was the only Hammer who started against both Hull and Wolves.

How them might they approach tonight’s game? For the Hammers, further run-outs are probable for the likes of Sebastien Haller, Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko, Manuel Lanzini and Robert Snodgrass – plus we might also see one of Mark Noble or Jack Wilshere given an outing. More experience will be needed in defence, though, should Everton decide field their big guns once again. A much sterner test than that posed by Charlton or Hull.

With the game being played at a Premier League ground, it will come under the auspices of the dreaded VAR, and its ludicrous handball interpretations. Following the criticism received during its first year of operation, it was difficult to see how VAR could be made even worse, but somehow they have managed it. Rulings on handballs, offsides and penalties are now as much of a lottery (and as unfathomable) as offside decisions in rugby. Too many loose interpretations and all seemingly designed to help Manchester United, even after the game is finished. The next step might be setting up a VAR Cold Case Unit to investigate historic handball decisions against the Red Devils – any incidents resulting in the next match against offending opponents kicking off with a United penalty.

We must give credit where it’s due, so well done to Martin Atkinson for allowing Pablo Fornals quickly taken free kick on Sunday to stand in the lead up to the opening goal. A good example of advantage well played. On the other hand, I don’t understand why Tomas Soucek’s header was chalked up as an own goal. Surely, some mistake there!

Days go by and the transfer window deadline moves ever closer, and still it is all talk and no action. By now, we must have reached page 3 or 4 of the transfer target list. Even if the manager finds a players he wants, who is happy to come to east London, there is plenty of scope for the Board to scupper the deal by insisting on long, drawn out payment conditions – no deposit and nothing to pay for three years, as if they were buying a sofa.

Back to tonight’s game and it is very difficult to call without knowing the relative line-up strengths – who will take the gamble and who has the strongest second string to call upon. Goodison Park has never been a happy hunting ground, although West Ham have managed two wins from the last five visits.

The teams have met twice before in the League Cup, with Everton winning on both occasions – 2-0 at Goodison in a 1983 4th round replay; and 2-1 at the Boleyn in a 5th round tie in 2007. There will, of course, have to be a result tonight and maybe it will end up with a penalty shoot-out, just as it did in the memorable FA Cup tie in 2015. I wonder what Randolph is like from the spot?

After tonight the EFL Cup will take a break, returning in the week commencing 21 December for the quarter final ties. Will the name of West Ham United be unexpectedly in that hat?

Can West Ham Be Hungry Like The Wolves?

What in heavens name was he thinking? For some reason only apparent to himself, our chairman chose to go on TalkSport on the morning programme of Jim White and Simon Jordan and proceeded to put his foot in his mouth. As a public relations exercise it was up there with Prince Andrew’s recent interview on Newsnight with Emily Maitlis. In both examples (Sullivan and the Prince) they were either very poorly advised, or more likely, they weren’t as clever as they thought they were. If there were any Hammers fans left who had any time for our chairman before the interview then I reckon there are fewer now. I even spotted on the internet that it even gave rise to a “GoFundMe” set up by a West Ham fan asking for humorous comments, and raising money for the Bobby Moore fund – “Mr Sullivan needs 50K to fly West Ham to Everton”.

At least there was some cheer in the week when West Ham “Reserves” thrashed Hull City to progress to the next round of the Carabao Cup where we will face an away tie at Everton, who, as I write this, sit at the top of the Premier League with nine points from their three games, after a 2-1 win at Palace. Were our talented fringe players trying to play their way into the Premier League starting line-up, or putting themselves in the shop window?

I don’t hold out a lot of hope of going any further in the competition, but having said that, few fans had a lot of hope when we went to Arsenal last weekend. But after dominating the second half, a combination of failing to take our chances, and poor defending let us down again, and we left North London with no points from a decent performance.

Of course this is West Ham. So the bad news doesn’t stop there. 45 minutes before kick-off in the League Cup tie, our manager and two of our players found out that they had tested positive for Covid-19 and had to go home at once. They are currently self-isolating and unable to take any part in this weekend’s game.

There doesn’t appear to be any progress on the transfer-in front either with no new bodies in positions where they are desperately needed – we all know where they are! Perhaps they will all appear next week with the club keeping quiet about the impending signings. I won’t hold my breath though. In the chairman’s radio interview he appeared to be blaming David Moyes for this. In fact he appeared to blame everyone (including the fans) for the state we are now in (except the board!). Is it really any wonder that there seems to be a reluctance on behalf of footballers who might want to join our club?

My earliest memories of our opponents today go back to the late 1950s when they took advantage of a new innovation at the time, namely floodlights. They were one of the top teams in England at the time and they invited a series of top overseas teams to come over and play in friendly games. Football matches were barely shown on TV then with the exception of the FA Cup Final and England internationals, but they managed to persuade the BBC to broadcast the games. I was very young at the time and in bed, but managed to set up a mirror that enabled me to watch via open doors in the bungalow I lived in. Wolves also won the first FA Cup final that I can clearly remember watching when they defeated Blackburn 3-0 with two goals from a player I recall as Norman Deeley.

Despite their success in the fifties and early sixties they went into decline but have recently bounced back, and in the past couple of seasons they (together with Leicester, and perhaps Everton) look like they will provide the biggest threat to the elite six in the Premier League. In competitive head to head matches in history, Wolves are one of the clubs against whom we have a positive record, beating them more often than they have defeated us. In the past two seasons that hasn’t been the case however, with four consecutive Wolves wins. We haven’t managed to score a single goal in those games and have conceded eight.

So far this season Wolves have won one (2-0 at Sheffield United) and lost (unluckily I believe) 3-1 at home to Manchester City. We had better be prepared at the very start of the game – the two goals against Sheffield United were scored in the first six minutes. We are not usually known for our start to a game. We also need to be aware of Jimenez who has been a prolific scorer for them and has scored in each of their opening two games. He has also scored three times in his past three Premier League appearances against us. One statistic that I read was that no Wolves player has scored a goal in each of their opening three top flight fixtures since Derek Dougan (remember him?) did way back in 1973. He will never get a better chance of equalling that record, and you’d think that this was a banker bet for this game.

On the other hand we have never failed to score in our first two top flight home games for even longer – going back to 1971. So we are bound to score then, aren’t we? My prediction is for us to build upon our promising performance against Arsenal and draw 1-1, with Antonio equalising an early goal from Jimenez. What are the chances? It would be a good result as I believe Wolves are an excellent side, destined for a top six finish.

As a club we create a lot of our own problems, don’t we? But it’s not always us. The season hasn’t started well. No points, no new signings, no decisions going our way from officials or VAR, no opposing players (who played for us) penalised for leading with their elbow, no opposition goals chalked off for dangerous (high) boot, no penalties awarded for obvious handball, no marginal offsides going our way. And we are only two games into the new season! At least the handball rule has been clarified this season! What a nonsense that is! We need all the luck we can get. Perhaps it will start to go our way in this game. Fingers crossed.

Mission Improbable: Sullivan’s Message Self Destructs As Hammers Prepare To Face Wolves

David Sullivan’s ill-advised, grotesque, and conceited radio interview casts an even deeper shadow at West Ham’s as they seek to book their first points of the season. Apparently, it is all everyone else’s fault!

Imagine this. You are the unpopular owner of a struggling Premier League side. You have recently sold a promising academy graduate much to the dismay of your fans. Your team has made the poorest possible start to the new season and are now one of the favourites for relegation. There are well-known and long-standing weaknesses in your squad, but you have failed to invest any money in the transfer market, even though the window is soon to close. What do you do: (A) Knuckle down, identify and recruit the desperately needed reinforcements, find creative ways to raise the necessary finance and hope to restore confidence; or (B) Go on national radio, blame everyone else for your perennial shortcomings and plead financial hardship?

No surprise then, that with a trademark lack of self-awareness, David Sullivan opted for route B. His interview with talkSPORT managed to combine the worst of Prince Andrew, Gerald Ratner, and Donald Trump – “I have so many wingers, literally, eight wingers. I have them all over the place. They’re virtually useless.”

Bottom line is that Sullivan considers himself blameless for the club’s current plight, despite the evidence ten years or more of erratic, short term mismanagement.

In Sullivan’s eyes, in fact, it is the fault of supporters for demanding he appoint a big-name manager and a Director of Football. That he appointed a washed up one with unrealistic ideas on how to compete in the mid to lower echelons of the Premier League – and then compounding it by taking on that manager’s best buddy as DoF – was not, it seems, relevant. He had no control (and, therefore, no responsibility) for the Pellegrini/ Husillos signings. It is now David Moyes fault for the absurd idea of wanting to sign players who would improve the first team, not just to put bums on the bench and allow the club to claim it had been active in the transfer market.

We can only speculate on what was he hoping to achieve by such a PR catastrophe? Did he imagine he would win us over by going on air? Any remaining shred of credibility that remained could now only be found by forensic science. There is no way back from here and it’s about time ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter’ replaced ‘The academy of football’ as the club’s strap line.

Despite frantic speculation, it is still all quiet on the transfer front as the clock ticks down to just over a week to go. As far as the outside world is concerned, the only newsworthy story of interest is whether Declan Rice will be eventually sold to Chelsea. Some news media, notably the Star and Express, are on a mission to make sure this happens. I am under no illusion that Rice will spend his whole career at West Ham, but it would be madness to sell him this late in the window. What over-priced, over-aged replacements would be we contrive to bring in with the money raised?

Elsewhere this week there was a comfortable EFL Cup success at home to Hull City, but not before the drama of Moyes, Issa Diop and Josh Cullen all being sent into isolation after testing positive for COVID-19. It’s a long time since the Hammers recorded four positive results in a single week. One anonymous source (@ExWHUtealady) tweeted that the three had previously shared one Ann Summer’s ‘Willy Soap on a Rope’ that are supplied complimentary in the Rush Green showers. All are unavailable for Sunday’s clash with Wolves, although apparently Moyes still intends to deliver his usual managerial address via Zoom. Perhaps images of him prowling the technical area of his lounge can be beamed onto the giant screens.  

On Sunday, it will be Chalk versus Cheese at the London Stadium as the downbeat Hammers face an effervescent Wolverhampton Wanderers for the fifth time since the visitors returned to the Premier League in 2018. West Ham have lost all of the previous encounters and failed to score on each outing – with an aggregate score of 0-8.  

There have been various comings and goings at Molineux during a close season that saw Jota, Doherty and Costa all leave to be replaced by Fabio Silva, Semedo and Hoever. However, Wolves still have Moutinho and Neves to pull the strings in midfield while Traore and Jimenez will be confident of causing alarm in the shaky Hammer’s backline.

For West Ham, it would be no surprise to see the same formation that performed well, but returned empty handed, from Arsenal. In Diop’s absence, the only alternative is a recall for Fabian Balbuena. Otherwise the back five is likely to be unchanged. Midfield protection will again be the responsibility of Rice and Tomas Soucek.

There could be scope for changes, though, in the forward three where Sebastien Haller and Andriy Yarmolenko made midweek claims for starts by showing they are more than good enough for League 2. I still struggle to see how and where Yarmolenko fits into a Premier League side. Despite his undoubted technical skills and accomplished finishing his lack of pace and work rate (particularly in tracking back) make him something of a luxury.

The situation with Haller is more complicated. In the right setup he will score goals but not unless he gets far better support. In addition to the much discussed defensive problems, we don’t have anyone with the right attributes to play just off the striker. In fact, the team have regularly struggled to get bodies into the box from open play – with only Soucek and Jarrod Bowen providing support to Michail Antonio. I feel that Bowen’s enforced defensive duties have detracted significantly from his goal threat in recent games, a situation that needs to be remedied if we are to see the best of him. Without doubt more goals are needed across the front three and we cannot continue to rely on Antonio’s heroics. Maybe a front three of Bowen, Haller and Antonio can be made to work.

It is difficult to know how much off-field calamity influences what happens on the pitch. It cannot be a force for good to have such disharmony coming down from the top. Own goals are never welcome in football and even worse when you find they are knocking them in in the boardroom. My only hope tomorrow is that the players can isolate themselves from the off-the-field mayhem and reproduce the effort and commitment that was shown at The Emirates. If they can then some sort of result is possible, even if it may not be very probable.

Alright, we’ll call it a draw.

Come Hull Or High Water: Are Hammers Up For League One Challenge?

West Ham should have more than enough quality to overcome League 1 Hull City. But will they show the determination and backbone necessary to see off an opposition who eliminated Leeds United in Round 2?

From what I have read on social media there are just a few areas of agreement trending with West Ham supporters at the moment. One is that Messrs Gold and Sullivan need to get out of town – and fast! And the other that Saturday’s performance at The Emirates was a marked improvement over the one served up on the opening day against Newcastle.

If football matches were decided on the basis of statistical algorithms, you could make a case that the Hammers deserved to win at Arsenal, or at least come away with a point. The sad reality, unfortunately, is that there is only one meaningful statistic in football, and that is the number of goals scored by each side. If you don’t take the chances when they come, or if you can’t keep concentration defensively for 90 minutes, then the result will go against you, no matter how well you have played otherwise.

That is not to say that we shouldn’t take some encouragement from the performance. It showed that the team are capable of discipline, intensity, and effort when they want to. The big question being: can they now take the same attitude into each and every game?

I do think that Saturday’s formation (three or five at the back) does compensae better for the limitations in the squad. Maybe when the much talked about, highly anticipated defensive reinforcements arrive things will be different. But it makes sense for now.

What made less sense was again David Moyes use of substitutes, which appear to work to an automated pre-planned schedule rather than as a reaction to events on the field. The switch of Andriy Yarmolenko for Jarrod Bowen was a perfect example and one where Yarmolenko’s unwillingness/ inability to track back, contributed enormously to the Arsenal winner. If the manager was intent on winning the (winnable) game then Sebastien Haller for Pablo Fornals, with Michail Antonio going out wide, looked to be the obvious change – but at around 70 minutes or earlier, not in the final 7 or 8.

Not that I’m inclined to blame the manager for much of the team’s failings. That lies solely with the owners and their haphazard stewardship. Just looking at the managerial sequence – Grant, Allardyce, Bilic, Moyes, Pellegrini, Moyes – shows there is no underlying philosophy regarding the club’s footballing direction. Without that there is no continuity on the playing side. From Pellegrini’s (supposed) flair but no graft to Moyes graft with little flair. What did they expect?

Tonight, sees a rapid return to EFL Cup action with the visit of Hull City for a third round tie. The winners will go on to play in the fourth round next week, away to the winners of the Everton vs Fleetwood Town tie. Just four steps from Wembley.

Hull endured a calamitous end to last season, losing sixteen of their last twenty matches, and culminating in relegation from the Championship to League 1.  This after they had sold two of their most influential players (including Jarrod Bowen) in the January transfer window.

The game also sees the return of two former West Ham academy graduates: defender Reece Burke, now in his third season with the Tigers; and manager, Grant McCann, best known for a bizarre own goal scored in the Hammer’s 1-7 drubbing by Blackburn Rovers in October 2001. McCann has been kept on despite last season’s relegation with his team making a positive start to the new campaign, winning both league matches played and eliminating Leeds United from the EFL Cup.

The West Ham team for tonight will likely show few changes to the one that played in the previous round against Charlton. On paper, it looks to be an impressive line-up of highly paid individuals who should be more than talented enough to see off a League 1 side. The niggling worry, of course, is that certain of those individuals would be unlikely ever win awards for gallantry. A spirited performance from the opposition might get them rattled and set the alarm bells ringing. We have been on the wrong end of too many giant-killings in the past to know how a gulf in class can be bridged with spirit and determination. Do you think we have learned those lessons?

Here’s hoping for an ideal Carlsberg outcome. West Ham to win tonight and Fleetwood to surprise Everton tomorrow.  After that there are just three steps to heaven (or Wembley!)