West Ham Season 2022/23 Half-Term Reports – Part One: Players F to Z

Concluding our two part half term report on the West Ham first team squad before Boxing Day’s return action at Arsenal

Fabianski: Lukasz: Hanging on as the club’s Number One despite his advancing years and the challenge from Areola. His powers have not yet shown significant decline and his strengths and weaknesses remain as they were. One of the better shot stoppers in the league but liable to be vulnerable in the air. There have been several goals this season where he ‘could have done better’ (© Jim Beglin, Tony Gale and others) but no alarming clangers have been dropped. In the context of modern day goalkeeping his kicking and distribution are woeful. A deficiency amplified by the number of rushed back passes that are made in his direction. Grade: C+

Fornals, Pablo: Impossible to fault Fornal’s energy but difficult to pinpoint what his core competencies are other than non-stop running. Too frequently deployed as Cresswell’s minder, he lacks the pace to offer true offensive threat out wide. Plays the occasional sublime through ball but otherwise his passing is as erratic as his finishing. His strength is inversely proportional to his stamina – invariably loses every challenge and seemingly lacks the power to make successful long-range passes. Always looks very happy though. Grade: C-

Johnson, Ben: At one time I would have described Johnson as the best defensive full-back at the club. But this season, performances have fallen away worryingly to a point where he has looked lost and is frequently stranded in no-mans-land. A string of injuries has not helped his development nor has being asked to switch between right and left back and as part of a makeshift central defence – not easy in a struggling side. Hopefully he can rediscover his defensive mojo but has yet to show that he has much to offer from an attacking perspective. Grade: C

Kehrer, Thilo: With the received wisdom being that players need time to adjust to the Premier League, Kehrer should be allowed some slack for a less than impressive start to his West Ham career. Thrown in at the deep end, played in every game and switched between full-back and center back, there has been little time for him to settle. Has a tendency towards recklessness but there may be a touch of confirmation bias when apportioning blame his way to goals conceded, which are rarely down just to individual error. He should improve to become a valuable squad member. Grade: C

Lanzini, Manuel: Never the same player since his unfortunate injury on duty for newly crowned World Cup champions, Argentina. He was approaching his peak at the time but these days Lanzini is more sloppy than messi. Has the occasional better game when sitting deeper and is capable of the spectacular strike. But the days of tricky runs and probing passes are filed under historic record rather than current affairs. Grade: D+

Ogbonna, Angelo: Another of the wily campaigners with a decent West Ham career to his credit. Now 34 and recovering from a bad injury that ruled him out for most of last season, Ogbonna is at the tail end of his career. Used mainly in European games, he has been limited to 27 Premier League minutes this season. However, given the hoodoo surrounding the fitness of fellow central defenders, he may well be called upon more in the coming months than originally anticipated. A huge risk as to whether he will be able to manage the pace and physicality if thrown into the mix. Grade: C-

Palmieri, Emerson: The strangest of signings which was presumably meant to be either backup or competition for Cresswell. Left back has been a long-term problem position and that was the best option available? Has the feel of a last-minute panic buy, equivalent to Moyes buying saucepans as his wife’s Xmas present.  Emerson is neither a left back nor a particularly effective wing back. In that sense the ideal replacement for Masuaku. Grade: D

Paqueta, Lucas: It would be an understatement to say that Paqueta has not lived up to the hype surrounding his £50 million summer transfer. Early signs are that he is not the game-changing, playmaker that was advertised. No doubt there is talent there but one that favours one-touch flicks and killer passes rather than crafting openings, running with the ball, and directing operations. It is a frustrating style to shoehorn into a team of such limited movement and pace. Does have a couple of assists to his name while looking indecisive in front of goal. Grade: C

Rice, Declan: Continues to be the club’s best and most influential player, despite not quite reaching the heights of previous campaigns. Has the added responsibility of being captain taken its toll or was he distracted by the glamour of the world cup? One of the most exceptional players to pull on a West Ham shirt in recent history there are so many facets to his game – tackles, interceptions, passing, surging runs – that will be sorely missed if, and when, he leaves. Has carried the team more and more to the point of over-reliance. The only player capable of carrying the ball forward at pace and under control. Quite possibly his last half-season as a Hammer is coming up. Grade: B+

Scamacca, Gianluca: On evidence to date Scamacca is a candidate to join the very long list of West Ham strikers failing to deliver in the penalty area. It’s a prophecy that’s guaranteed to come true if he remains as isolated as he has been until now. To prosper he needs others close by, playing off and around him. If the counter attacking style of football was not going to change then a player with pace prepared to run and run would have been a more suitable option – not one more comfortable playing with his back to goal. His attitude seems OK but frustration must be building. Despite everything, he is the club’s joint top scorer (alongside Bowen, Benrahma and Antonio) with two apiece. Grade: C

Soucek, Tomas: The 2021 Hammer Of The Year has seen a rapid fall far from grace as his limitations have been exposed. He is the type of player that you don’t want to have involved in the middle third where he has made a major contributor to poor ball retention and the slowness of build-up play. Still does a lot of great work defensively protecting the backline but has lost the knack of ghosting in to score at the other end – now that he is a known quantity. When the goals dried up his value dropped like a stone. Can’t think of another Premier League midfielder who looks anywhere near as awkward when on the ball – not even Kouyate. Grade: D+

Zouma, Kurt: Zouma is a solid and dependable centre back, whenever he is not injured. Rarely does a game go by when he doesn’t appear to be in some degree of agony. Will his recent surgery sort him out or will he be forever injury prone? Very strong in the air and not easily bullied, he is adept at making clearances all day long. The potential partnership with Aguerd is appealing but will they ever both be fit at the same time? Not the greatest on the ball but competent enough. Grade: B

Click here to read part one of the half-term report.

West Ham Season 2022/23 Half-Term Reports – Part One: Players A to D

With the World Cup Wall Chart back in the drawer, attention returns to the depressing plight of events on the pitch at the London Stadium. Here is Part One of how individual players were rated at the (almost) half-way stage of the season.

Aguerd, Nayef: A disappointing pre-season injury limited Aguerd’s contribution to four appearances, with just one of those coming in the Premier League. His recovery was a strategy to prepare him for the World Cup where he distinguished himself in Morocco’s surprisingly successful campaign – until he was injured yet again in the quarter final. Signs for an early return to West Ham action are said to be good but the temptation to rush him back into a creaking backline must be resisted if he is not fully fit. Looks far more comfortable on the ball than any of the other central defenders but will that be put to good use by the management? Grade: C

Antonio, Michail: Antonio has always been an erratic footballer, but his unpredictability allied to raw pace and power can make him a nightmare opponent to deal with. It is a symptom of the club’s striker woes that a player who is not natural in front of goal is the leading all-time Premier League goal-scorer, just ahead of a penalty taking midfielder. While his original conversion to striker paid unexpected dividends he has gravitated more and more out to the wing with the passing of time – a fruitless tactic for a team playing with an isolated lone striker. Used more as a second half sub this season when the team are desperately chasing the game, this season has been a huge disappointment. Could still make a valuable contribution with a change of tactics. Grade: D+

Areola, Alphonse: The French keeper has become a specialist bench warmer for both club and country. In his two years at the London Stadium, he has made just three league appearances including two stints as a substitute this season. Has acquitted himself well and competently in European matches where the Hammers managed 100% success. His penalty saving attempts in the League Cup against Blackburn did not instil confidence for any future shoot-outs. Marginally better at distribution than Fabianski. Is now the time to make him first choice? Grade: C

Benrahma, Said: A front-runner for the Hammer Of Half A Year award. Benrahma is the one attacking player who has most regularly looked capable of delivering something different, despite the manager’s stubborn attempts to keep him away from the action. Moyes appears to judge his performances against a different set of criteria to other players. Has easily been the team’s most consistent creative threat this term, but still needs to improve on decision making. Doesn’t have the genuine pace to be played primarily as a touchline hugging wing man. Grade: B+   

Bowen, Jarrod: Made a very poor start to the season by his own standards. Possibly distracted by hopes of a World Cup call-up and the international games that interrupted the summer break. There were signs of a sharper Bowen re-emerging as the season progressed, and in the recent mid-season break friendlies. His effectiveness would surely benefit from a change to the existing low block tactics which require him to do far too much defending in deep positions. Would also benefit from more variety in his play and greater fluidity between the front three. Is there any opponent who doesn’t know he is going to cut inside from the right hand side? Grade: C+

Cornet, Maxwel: Where did he go? Last sighted in early October when he was admitted to the West Ham treatment room with a slight thigh strain, he has not been seen or heard of since. A missing person’s report has been filed and next of kin informed! Cornet’s embryonic Premier League career at West Ham comprised 91 minutes across five appearances, in addition to four Europa Conference starts. Best known for a couple of glaringly fluffed open goals and the smartly taken disallowed effort at Chelsea. Grade: D-   

Coufal, Vladimir: Part of the haphazard right-back rotation project, Coufal has struggled to regain his initially impressive West Ham form following injury in February 2022. No denying he is a tenacious and committed competitor but that only goes so far at this level. Has the engine to get up and down the line but not the pace to get beyond the opposition defence nor a consistency of delivery at the end of it. Can also be exposed for pace defensively but some of that may be a consequence of how narrow Moyes deploys his full-backs – allowing copious amounts of space for opposition wide men to exploit. Grade: C-

Coventry, Conor: Coventry has been around the first team for a while now but looks destined to be little more than a bit part player. His entire Premier League career comprises a single minute against Manchester City in the opening game of this season, Has also been used sparingly in European games. Has occasionally looked impressive in pre-season games but in competition appears overly passive and ponderous on the ball – reminiscent of Noble in the twilight of his career. Grade: D

Cresswell, Aaron: May have performed marginally better this season than at the tail end of last, but it was a very low bar. Cresswell has been excellent for much of his nine years at the club, but it has been apparent for some time that an upgrade at left back was urgently needed. For some reason this was not properly addressed in the summer. Now looks to be increasingly targeted and exposed by opposition managers where both pace and positioning have become suspect. The once reliable supply of dangerous crosses has been curtailed by the inability or reluctance to get into attacking positions as frequently. Grade: D

Dawson, Craig: Everyone loves a display of body-on-the-line last ditch defending and Dawson is the master of the art. But is the need for it due to deficiencies elsewhere in his game? Has a great attitude, never shirks responsibility, and continues to be strong in aerial challenges. Moyes defensive principles are based on allowing crosses into the box in the hope that the central defenders will head clear – which plays to Dawson’s strength. Hampered by injury this season, he is not the quickest across the ground and has not been able to provide the usual goal threat to date. Something of a Jekyll and Hyde character when it comes to passing – a general sense of panic when in possession interspersed with exquisite cross-field bullets. Supposedly keen to move back north. Grade: C+

Downes, Flynn: The emergence of Downes has been one of the bright spots of the half-season. Forcing his way into Premier League contention with a string of star-man Europa performances that even Moyes has been unable to ignore. All that is required now is for him to be played in his preferred position. A busy, competitive player who loves to make a nuisance of himself but with good close control and the ability to pick out progressive passes. Needs to work on his contributions in the final third where he has yet to register either goal or assist. Grade: B

Zigi Played Qatar: A West Ham World Cup Notebook

An enjoyable World Cup has entered the business end of the knockout rounds. How are the individual Hammers faring as the clock ticks down towards a return to Premier League action.

A talent that I share with the West Ham owners is the art of procrastination. If gongs were available for services to procrastination, we might each be in line for a lifetime achievement award. Any distraction will do to delay difficult decisions or put off doing those unpleasant jobs around the place. What better than a World Cup to take our minds off the spiralling decline of West Ham?

No matter what your thoughts on the idea of a winter tournament in Qatar, and the murky shenanigans that led to its award, the entertainment on the field has been some of the best I can remember. Shocks, jeopardy, and excitement are what makes cup football special and the levelling-up between confederations has been the perfect antidote to the predictability of domestic competition.

In 2018, fourteen of the last sixteen teams were from Europe and South America, while this year it was down to ten. We may still be a very long way from an African or Asian champion but at least they are getting within shouting distance. The approach of the African teams has been particularly refreshing. A carefree spontaneity replacing the well-drilled, tactical stodge that too often stifles and dominates club football, where outcome often outweighs entertainment.

In fact, international managers don’t get the luxury of working with their players over extended periods. No opportunity for them to instruct each player where on the pitch they need to be at any given moment or in any particular set of circumstances. Especially with such a short break between the domestic seasons stopping and the first group games starting. For me, the spectacle has more than made up for any perceived tactical imperfections.

So, what of our World Cup Hammers?

Tonight, the apparent soon to be ex-Hammer, Declan Rice, will be central to England’s plans to overcome a tricky Senegalese obstacle. Rice really should have avoided answering questions about his club future in the middle of an international tournament, but his position is not surprising. His desire is not specifically to leave West Ham but to be at a club capable of competing for top honours. No sign of that happening anytime soon at the London Stadium.

Rice’s world cup performances have been decent enough although the role assigned to him by Southgate – protecting the back four and playing short, simple balls forward – is criminally misusing his array and range of abilities. A Hammer in the England line-up always ramps up my interest in the national team which at times has been ambivalent. It might not by Moore, Hurst and Peters but there’s still an element of pride.

It has been a good tournament so far for Nayef Aguerd, and the admirable Moroccan side, despite his own goal being the only one conceded to date. Morocco did noticeably wobble when Canada put them under late pressure and thy will need to show greater resilience when they face Spain on Tuesday. Sofyan Amrabat (Fiorentina) has impressed in the midfield anchor role – would make a decent Rice replacement – but is already said to be on the radar of both Liverpool and Tottenham.

Lucas Paqueta has featured in the first two group games for Brasil before missing the third through sickness. He has made a solid rather than spectacular contribution to his side’s progress without providing any clues as to the best way of using his talents in the Premier League – apart from getting a new manager, that is. As favourites to win the World Cup, with an added twist of poignancy given the sad news about Pele’s declining health, Paqueta is likely to be out in Qatar until the very end.

The same cannot be said for Thilo Kehrer who may already be laying out his towel at a Florida beach resort before heading back to Rush Green. His contribution was limited to 70 minutes against Spain before being replaced – or hooked off, if you prefer – in a multiple substitution as Germany looked for an equaliser. Kehrer has come in for plenty of criticism in certain parts of the media but there is far more to the abysmal showings of West Ham and Germany than his own performances.

Completing the line-up is seasoned bench warmer, Alphonse Areola. As well as being forced to play second fiddle to 37-year-old Lukasz Fabianski at West Ham, Areola was also overlooked in France’s dead rubber encounter with Tunisia in favour of 37-year-old Steve Mandanda.

Rounding up the other Hammer’s connections. Nikola Vlasic once gain proved what an underwhelming, peripheral player he is and has not featured since Croatia’s opening game with Morocco. Edmilson Fernandes – remember him – has been given a couple of run-outs as a substitute for an over-achieving Switzerland.  And Qatar-based, Andre Ayew scored one and missed a decisive penalty as Ghana tumbled out of Group H. I was sad to see the departure of Zigi, the flamboyant and exuberant Ghanaian keeper.

Meanwhile, back in Blighty, David Moyes will have been carefully plotting for a narrow defeat when the Hammers return to action against Arsenal on Boxing Day. I’m confident a poll of West Ham fans would have shown a sizeable majority in favour of replacing the manager during the enforced break – the timing would have been perfect. In their wisdom, the board have opted for the n number of games to save your job strategy, in the hope that the manager can ‘turn things around’ and delaying the eventual pay-offpackage.

Has a manager ever returned from the brink like that? Not just as an act of survival but to go on to greater success? I doubt it! It’s not as if there have been signs of a plan that is just about to come together. It’s been more of the same low budget football, just with more expensive actors. Perhaps, we will be surprised and the new shoots of turnaroundability will be on show in the upcoming friendlies. More likely it is a case of putting off the inevitable; kicking the can down the road to the point of desperation where the club is in an even more perilous position.

Winter transfer speculation has also started to heat up. So far, reporting covers a complete spectrum of scenarios from there is no money/ it’s only loans to splashing copious amounts of extra cash on extravagant overseas signings. And still no sign of the lauded Red Bull model starting to emerge. Would you be inclined to back Moyes with additional funds? It would make about as much sense as providing the finest ingredients to a chef who only knows how to make beans on toast.

Good luck to England tonight. An extended run helps take our minds off the resumption of the Premier League in three weeks’ time. Can’t help feeling there will be a mighty World Cup hangover. COYI! COYE!

The David Moyes Doom Spiral: Is There Any Way Back From The Brink?

As with politics, almost all managerial careers in football end in failure. Are these the final days of David Moyes reign at West Ham or will he launch a counter-offensive as his side take on Leicester City?

It’s been a bad week, so far, at the London Stadium. Quite possibly the limpest performance of the season against Crystal Palace was followed by an ignominious exit from the Carabao Cup at the hands of Blackburn Rovers reserves.

The once muted murmurings surrounding the future of David Moyes in the West Ham hot seat has incrementally risen towards a disturbing crescendo. What was once a small hardcore of supporters ideologically opposed to his appointment in the first place, has grown to an increasing number of Remainers progressively move across into the Leave camp. Is the Grim Reaper of football gaffers heading in his directio?

I’ve never considered Moyes credit with the club was about saving us from relegation. In many ways he is an odd choice to pick as a firefighter in that his brand is more about building effort, stability, and organisation than the spirit and passion demanded of relegation battles. Instead, it is the consecutive top seven Premier League finishes and the ensuing European campaigns that have caused his spell as manager to stand out.

By almost all measures, the 2020/21 season was West Ham’s most spectacular Premier League effort ever.  For the period coinciding with Jesse Lingard’s loan spell there was a swagger and fluidity on display that was as thrilling to watch as it was effective in winning matches. But for the injury to Declan Rice on England duty there would surely have been an excellent chance of Champions League qualification.

Sadly, those heights have not been repeated and today look as far away as ever. Moyes was bewitched by what Lingard added to the team and his transfer strategy became obsessed with a permanent deal. By the time it was obvious that Lingard would stay at Old Trafford no alternatives had been lined up with similar strengths. Aside from Kurt Zouma, the summer 2021 transfer window was a disaster. I don’t go along with the view that Nikola Vlasic was not given a chance by Moyes or was played out of position. He simply didn’t have the attributes for the intensity and physical nature of English league football. He failed at West Ham, just as he had failed at Everton. He is much better suited to the Italian game.

Despite everything, the following season still showed a creditable outcome. Seventh place in the Premier League and a Europa Cup semi-final was certainly an above average West Ham season. Cracks were starting to show in the league though, as form flatlined dramatically after Christmas. In mitigation the demands of Thursday – Sunday football should not be underestimated. Not just from the perspective of player fatigue in a small squad, but also due to the limited time that is left available for match preparation.

The huge mistake of the 2021/22 season was not strengthening in the winter transfer window. The Lingard fixation continued to dominate thinking and the opportunity to boost the squad by bringing in new blood was lost. By the second half of the season, there was a sense that West Ham were no longer a surprise package, the tactics were one dimensional and opposition coaches found them easy to counter. The team were becoming stale and despite raising their game for impressive European performances against Sevilla and Lyon, a rot had set in.

That brings us finally to this season, which has been a shocker by any definition. Significant amounts of money were spent on transfers, even if most of the business was completed too late in the day to start the season well prepared. Overall, the summer signings looked decent enough on paper and the squad had a far stronger look to it. But that added strength has failed to materialise on the pitch – and will continue to do so while the manager insists on stubbornly sticking to the same tactics, just with different names on the shirts. Where Moyes initial success was understandably pragmatic – getting the best from limited resources – he has lately been attempting to shoehorn more talented players into the same style, even though it clearly doesn’t suit them.

No matter how encouraging the summer purchases appear to be, the types of players that weren’t signed are equally pertinent. Despite the drawn out and ultimately fruitless pursuit of Lingard, no-one with similar attributes (which clearly were a Moyes priority) was eventually brought into the squad. Further, no left back was signed even though a long-term replacement for Aaron Cresswell had been apparent for many, many months. The last-minute signing of Emerson as the left sided defensive backup has every hallmark of a panic buy.

Received wisdom is that integrating a host of new players into a team will always a challenge. I cannot argue with that. It is the reason why bringing in a few in January or doing the summer business early would have made clear sense. Indeed, I think many would cut the manager some slack if it looked like a more progressive, less passive style was evolving. But it hasn’t, it is more of the same. The style has remained the same, and perversely the execution has become worse. It is an unfortunate fact of modern footballing life that standing still means going backwards

The negative approach of defending deep and in numbers, the poor passing and ball retention, and the dearth of movement and fluidity through the middle, all continue to be alarmingly apparent. With everyone behind the ball, who is there left to pass to? The imbalance between hard work and flair has created a side that is pedestrian, and which expects its attacking players to spend more time focused on defence, than threatening the opponent’s goal.

The only player in the squad capable of running with the ball (and having it under control) is Declan Rice. None of the other attack minded players have either the ability or the pace to do so reliably – only Moyes believes Manuel Lanzini can still offer this. The upshot is there is no obvious out-ball to relieve pressure or to build attacks when possession is won, a further contributing factor to poor ball retention. There just seem to be so many structural faults in the side right now, and no plan to address them.

To make matters even worse, notoriously slow starts have been added to the matchday playbook. Are the first half of games written off – hoping, perhaps, to snatch something late on with the energy conserved in the first forty-five minutes? This has happened far too frequently, in too many games, for it not to be an intentional tactic.

Clearly, it is not my decision whether the manager stays or goes. That is down to the board. Previously, they have waited and waited before pulling the trigger, but there are now obvious parallels to the last days of Bilic and Pellegrini. Although loyalty is an admirable quality, the question the board members must ask themselves is: “does Moyes have what it takes to turn things around?” It’s not a simple question of fighting for survival – surely finishing anywhere in the bottom half would be regarded as serious failure after the investment that has been made. It is about having the right man in place for the longer-term development of the club. A man with progressive ideas who is not stuck with outdated ways. I would be quite happy for Moyes to prove he can do it, but to my mind, it would require a scale of conversion rarely seen outside of road trips to Damascus.

I have read elsewhere that those inside the game believe it would be madness for West Ham to sack Moyes. It’s a valid point of view to take if you are looking from a distance only at past performance. The pundit community mostly operates as a mutual back-slapping fraternity insulated from supporters who might consider entertainment just as important as results. The common pundit line is one of players letting down the manager – which does raise the question as to whether the level of solidarity in the dressing room has decayed since the departure of Mark Noble?

Timing is the other issue that the Board must consider. The imminent break for the World Cup feels like the perfect opportunity for a club thinking of a managerial change to make a move. It allows the new man time to settle in, work on new ideas and prepare for any adjustments required in the transfer window. Is it an opportunity too good to be missed?

Whatever the Board’s current inclination – and noises to date are that they are in support of Moyes – today’s game against Leicester will be an nervous affair. It will not be lost on the opposition that another frustrating start by the home side is likely to produce a toxic atmosphere inside the stadium. It will be in their interests to play on that.

Brendan Rodgers is another manager who has struggled of late in his attempts to evolve to a more possession based style of play. For a few seasons the Foxes were the team most likely to disrupt the ‘big six’ but have lost their recently way due to financial difficulties and player departures. Signs of recovery have started to show after a dreadful start to the season, and they have conceded just one goal in the last five league outings. They certainly carry enough of a threat – in the form of James Madison, Youri Tielemans and Harvey Barnes – to worry a hesitant and accident prone Hammers.

Despite everything, I cannot join those hoping that a West Ham defeat will lead to a change of manager. I will always want them to win every game they play and will not cross that line today. But I’m not sure what to expect. A new mindset from Moyes? A more front-foot approach from the team? Or another slow start and an uprising in the stands? The finger nails will be taking a battering. COYI?

West Ham entertain Leicester in the final game before the 2022 World Cup

West Ham United met Leicester City 54 years ago this week when I witnessed my favourite ever goal being scored

On Saturday 16th November 1968 West Ham met Leicester in a First Division game, almost exactly 54 years ago this week. It was a game I remember well and one I refer to in my book, Goodbye Upton Park Hello Stratford that was published in 2016. One of the chapters was entitled ’60 Favourite West Ham Goals’ and number 1 at the time and still my all-time favourite was scored by Martin Peters in that game. I stood on the North Bank behind the goal that it went in. I asked the question “what constitutes a great goal?” and two key elements that I identified, a spectacular volley, and a team goal were present in this goal being scored.

Bobby Ferguson was our goalkeeper and he had the ball in his hands at the South Bank end of the ground and rolled it out to Martin Peters on the edge of the penalty area. Peters advanced forward a few yards then passed it out to John Sissons on the left wing. Sissons, a tricky winger, moved forward 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 Peter Shilton, the Leicester keeper as it sped into the roof of the net. He hadn’t stopped running from the moment he passed the ball out to Sissons.

The game ended 4-0, which included a brace from Brian Dear and came a fortnight after we had beaten Queens Park Rangers 4-3 with goals from Moore, Hurst, Peters and Redknapp. Harry’s goal in that game was number 3 in my favourite goals chapter, and Bobby Moore’s goal in the game was at number 8. Two weeks prior to the QPR game we had beaten Sunderland 8-0 when Geoff Hurst scored 6. Oh for a return to those free scoring days!

The QPR game as well as Martin Peters spectacular volley against Leicester can be seen on You Tube with commentaries from Brian Moore from the Big Match Sunday TV highlights programme, although sadly Martin’s goal doesn’t show the whole move, just the end of it. I’ve written about it before but even to this day it still remains as my favourite. I met Martin in 2007 at a book signing when I bought his book ‘The Ghost of ‘66’. He was a lovely man and we had a long chat. He couldn’t remember the goal and in fact could barely recall any of the many goals he had scored in his career. Sadly it was perhaps the beginning of the symptoms of the Alzheimer’s disease which brought about his untimely death at 76. I took along my programme from the game which I dug out of my collection and he very kindly signed it for me as well as his book.

Some interesting features from the programme:

  • The cost 1 shilling (5p)
  • The proposed teams on the inside cover (with no number 7) – of course no squad numbers in those days. The West Ham team that day was actually Ferguson, Bonds, Charles, Cushley, Stephenson, Moore, Peters, Boyce, Dear, Hurst, Sissons – it didn’t really pay to predict the team in advance, although there were fewer changes of personnel from game to game.
  • An interview with 22 years-old Billy Bonds
  • Trips by Lacey’s coaches to the forthcoming away game at Ipswich (70p)
  • A quote from Ron Springett the QPR keeper prior to the game a fortnight earlier where he said that West Ham was one of his favourite grounds, he never had a bad game there, he was leaving himself wide open to look a proper Charlie, he’d probably let four goals in (And he did!)
  • The league table prior to the game showed West Ham in 7th place (5 points from the top), with 21 points from 18 games (7 wins, 7 draws and 4 defeats) – only 2 points for a win in those days. Goals for 34, conceded 21. Only Liverpool and Everton (top and 2nd) had scored more (35 and 36)
  • Leicester were 2nd from bottom.

At the end of the season we had finished 8th, Leeds were champions, and Leicester were relegated despite reaching the FA Cup Final. We scored 66 goals, the third highest (exactly the same number as the champions Leeds, although we conceded 50 compared to Leeds 26)

So now we face Leicester 54 years on in a season that isn’t going particularly well so far, certainly on the domestic front. A look at the league table shows us in 15th place with 14 points from 14 games, having lost 8 times, and just two points above the relegation zone. The league is very tight with just 7 points separating Liverpool (19) in 8th from Southampton (12) in a relegation place (18th). If we had beaten Palace last weekend we would be in the top half, but after an inept performance we sadly didn’t. A look at the six teams immediately above us tells the story for me – Fulham, Palace, Brentford, Leeds, Villa and Leicester – all teams I would have expected to be on top of. It would take a very unlikely set of results, but if we lose to Leicester in this game it is mathematically possible for us to go into the break for the World Cup in the bottom 3. A defeat on Saturday is unthinkable, isn’t it?

The manager is getting increasingly tetchy in interviews and articles are beginning to emerge regarding his position. After two successful seasons and eight wins out of eight in Europe surely that is unthinkable too. Isn’t it?

Two West Ham games against Leicester appear in my book among my 20 favourite West Ham matches. The 4-0 game that I referred to earlier is at number 16, and at number 11 I recount the 4-2 win that took place on the morning of Boxing Day 1967 which kicked off at 11am. We came from two goals down in the first quarter of an hour to win the game thanks to the first Trevor Brooking goal that I remember seeing, and a hat-trick from Brian Dear.

Either of those scorelines would be a great result going into the break, but there is little logic in expecting that to happen given our recent form and performances. Leicester have picked up after a poor start and sit immediately above us in the table. Perhaps we can repeat the Boxing Day 1967 result? I say that more in hope than expectation. What are the chances?

Can West Ham win four successive home Premier League games for the first time in more than 20 years?

29 May 2004 is a date I always remember. Even though it is more than 18 years ago I cannot forget the long drive home from Cardiff after Palace had beaten us 1-0 in the Playoff final. It was a game I was convinced we would win to return to the Premier League but it was not to be. Fortunately we had a better result in the Playoffs the following season beating Preston 1-0. We did get relegated once again a few years later but only spent one season down before Sam Allardyce brought us back once again via the Playoffs beating Blackpool 2-1 at Wembley.

We’ve retained our place in the top flight since 2012 and Palace were promoted a season later and we’ve faced each other regularly since then. In those 9 seasons (18 games) we have won 7, Palace 5, and there have been six draws, so fairly evenly balanced.

There has been a certain symmetry to the results in that time. For example in 2013-14 Palace won both games 1-0. The following season we won one each with the away side winning 3-1 in both games.

In 2015-16, the final season at Upton Park we again won away 3-1 before drawing 2-2 at home in one of the final games. I will always remember that match for Payet’s wonder free kick.

In the next three seasons we were unbeaten against Palace winning three and drawing three before Palace won both games by a 2-1 score line in 2019-20.

The last two seasons have seen us drawing the home games 1-1 and 2-2, but winning away 3-2 both times. Our last meeting was on New Years Day when we led 3-0 at half time and held the lead until the 83rd minute. Two late Palace goals made for a closer finish than should have been the case.

If we win this game then it will be our fourth successive home Premier League win. That hasn’t happened for more than 20 years. If we look at all competitive fixtures then a win would be our seventh in a row and that hasn’t happened for 23 years.

David Moyes has only lost once as a manager in 14 games v Palace, and The Eagles have a poor away record in the Premier League this season, and also in Vieira’s time as their manager. I also noted that Zaha hasn’t scored a goal or registered an assist in any of his seven away games against us.

Going back to consecutive wins, what a great performance in the Europa Conference League where we have won eight games in a row, including six in the league, the only team to achieve a 100 per cent record in the competition. Perhaps not the strongest group but you can only beat teams up against you and we have done so with a largely second team, emphasising the improved strength of our squad. It was good to see so many Academy players given an opportunity.

For today’s game my preferred starting lineup would be:

Areola; Kehrer, Dawson, Zouma, Cresswell; Rice, Downes; Paqueta; Bowen, Antonio, Benrahma.

I wouldn’t mind if Aguerd was in the team; he has looked impressive in the games he has played but perhaps Moyes doesn’t believe he is quite ready yet. It seems that Dawson may be on his way soon, and Aguerd will take his place alongside Zouma (who was excellent last week) in the centre of our defence.

I suspect my lineup won’t happen as the manager will almost certainly find a place for Soucek (definitely), Fornals (probably), and Scamacca (quite probably).

Every statistic points to a West Ham win, and as we often score three against these opponents I’ll go for 3-1, especially as both teams seem to score in these fixtures. 

In Like Flynn: Changing The Guard For The Visit Of Palace

Will David Moyes stick with caution and his old favourites or adopt the spirit of adventure and enterprise that his players can now offer?

Thursday evening’s game against FCSB turned out to be a far more entertaining spectacle than originally anticipated. Even the manager and coaches on the West Ham bench seemed surprised how well their scratch Hammer’s XI had performed. Who knew that fluidity, movement, passing the ball through the middle and early purposeful delivery from the flanks could reap such rewards?

The performances of Oliver Scarles, in particular, but also Divin Mubama generated plenty of welcome and well-deserved praise for the youngsters. As ever the club were not slow to jump on the bandwagon extolling the virtues of the ‘Academy of Football’. Yet reality tells a different story. Of an academy whose output has been sporadic at best since that golden age around the turn of the century. Hopefully, a bumper crop is on the way and it would be great to see at least two youngsters on every bench, who are given experience at every opportunity.

There can be no argument as to the effectiveness of our Europa Conference campaign to date. The group may not have offered the sternest of tests, but games still need to be won. And six out six ain’t bad! The competition now represents the most direct path to a first major title since 1980 – and a third consecutive season of European football. The most significant obstacle on the way will undoubtedly be Villareal – currently joint favourites alongside West Ham to lift the trophy in early June. Avoiding them until Prague would be good!

If you look at current UEFA coefficients, there are six clubs remaining in the Conference ranked higher than West Ham. The Hammers have climbed to 48th in the overall rankings – not bad going for a side that has only competed in two of the five seasons that qualify for points. The six higher ranked clubs being: Villareal (18th), Basel (34th), Braga (35th), Lazio (38th), and AZ Alkmaar (44th).

There is a long break now until the 9 March 2023 before the first leg of the Round of Sixteen kicks-off and we will not know who the opponents will be until 24 February. With three of their teams remaining in the hat, probability dictates that a trip to Turkey could well be on the cards.

Europe has added a lustre to an otherwise muted season for David Moyes and his team. Many appreciate the Moyesiah’s fine work since his second coming and the fact that we can realistically talk of three consecutive seasons of European football is testament enough to that. But it is clear that his approach is becoming stale. Change is needed but is happening far too slowly now that his team are no longer an unknown quantity. It really has to be time to throw off the caution both in personnel and tactics and introduce a measure of adventure into the game plan.

There is amazing consistency in the preferred side and formation that I see suggested online by significant numbers of West Ham fans. It is along the lines of: Areola – Kehrer, Dawson, Zouma, Cresswell – Downes, Rice, Paqueta – Bowen, Scamacca, Benrahma (or Antonio). Can they all be wrong? Time to give it a try? I think so!

It would be a travesty if Flynn Downes does not start in his natural position, alongside Declan Rice tomorrow. Some games might need the extra height that Tomas Soucek brings as auxiliary defensive cover – this is not one of them. Downes has much more to his game; full of energy, strong in the tackle, plays on his toes, and moves the ball quickly and accurately. Every side needs a handful of players with such no-nonsense attributes. He could also prove to be the perfect foil for Lucas Paqueta, creating the space required for the Brazilian to flourish.      

West Ham go into tomorrow’s home fixture against Crystal Palace as the lowest placed of the seven London clubs. I doubt any of us expected that after thirteen games; or that the Hammers would have lost over half of the league matches played. Two wins from the two matches remaining before the break would paint a healthier picture but we will start the game no more than three points off the relegation places.

Crystal Palace sit two points better off than the Hammers, having played one game less. Their record of won four, lost four, drawn four typifies a mixed bag of fortunes and results – they have yet to win away this term. In fact, their position closely mirrors a typical Palace season, (since their return to the topflight in 2013) which usually sees them finishing in a narrow band between 10th and 14th.

Current manager Patrick Viera is the Eagles eighth since their Premier League return. His illustrious career as one of the Premier League’s finest midfild players gives him an aura that has yet to translate to managerial success.  Admittedly he inherited an ageing squad from Roy Hodgson but while he has attempted to address that, results on the pitch have yet to show much improvement. It is said that Viera has adopted a more possession based approach, yet the stats show them marginally behind West Ham on that measure.

For the eighth season running, Wilfried Zaha will pose the greatest Palace threat, unless it is one of those afternoons where he gets wound up and spends the entire ninety minutes complaining – an early encounter with Craig Dawson might do the trick. Elsewhere Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise are capable of providing dangerous but inconsistent moments, while old warhorse Jordan Ayew will spend his time looking for trouble and scowling angrily at anyone who crosses his path.

It’s been four seasons since West Ham last beat Crystal Palace at home. So, high time that authority was exerted and the natural order of things restored. A 3-1 home win. COYI!

Sliding Tackles – What If West Ham Had Beaten Eintracht Frankfurt?

The European Conference League group stages splutter to and end for West Ham with a dead rubber tie in Bucharest. Can they raise the enthusiasm to make it six wins out of six?

Seeing Eintracht Frankfurt make it through to the last sixteen of the Champions League made me wonder what might have happened in a parallel reality had things worked out differently in last seasons Europa League semi-final. What if Aaron Cresswell hadn’t had a rush of blood to the head in the 19th minute, didn’t receive a foolish red card, and West Ham had gone on to overturn the one goal first-leg deficit? A footballing Sliding Doors moment, or Sliding Tackles, in this case.

Granted it would still have required the Hammers also to overcome Glasgow Rangers in the final – no foregone conclusion if pre-season friendlies were anything to go by – but how might our boys team have fared in the glare of Champions League floodlights? Could they have emulated the admirable success of Frankfurt or would it have been the abject failure of Rangers?

Frankfurt probably got lucky in being drawn into one of the weaker or, at least, more balanced of groups – but that should not detract from their fine achievement. Their squad is not radically different to the one we met last May and net summer spending was a modest €6 million. West Ham target, Filip Kostic departed for Juventus while the largest outlay was the permanent signing of loanee Jens Petter Hauge (the player Cresswell had fouled) who was promptly loaned out to Gent in Belgium. Kostic’s replacement was another reported Hammer’s target, Luca Pellegrini, signed on a season long loan from Juventus. In addition to their impressive Champions League exploits, Frankfurt also currently sit a creditable fifth in the Bundesliga.

So what if West Ham had qualified for the Champions League? Would it have been easier to recruit new players in the summer, get the first choices in early and have a reasonably settled side before the season started? Or would the usual haggling and dithering have been just the same?

Despite never being wholly convincing, the Hammers Europa Conference campaign has mostly been a walk in the park against the also-rans of the Denmark, Romania, and Belgium leagues. How might they have fared in group games against the likes of Marseille or Sporting Lisbon? Or against one of the qualifiers from either Italy or Germany – as it would not have been possible to be drawn against Tottenham? Would we have seen the same negative away day tactics that have become the norm in domestic matches against ‘bigger’ clubs?  

Many unknowns but my feeling is that dropping down to the Europa League would have been the most likely outcome. We can never know and the best we can now hope for is another shot at the Europa League next year. It remains the easiest route to the holy grail of Champions League participation for a club like ours.

I’m sure we were all shocked when the cunning David Moyes plan of ‘not trying to score until going a goal down’ failed once again to pay dividends at Old Trafford. Do you think he has spotted a pattern yet? We will have to wait until Boxing Day when his team visit Arsenal to see how Plan B is coming along.

Back in the present reality, there is a meaningless final Conference League group game tonight as West Ham travel to play FCSB, the club formerly known as Steaua Bucharest. Apparently, a West Ham win would be the first time any club has won all six games in this particular competition’s group stages. Even the most desperate manager would be embarrassed to put that on his CV!  

By all accounts it will be a mix of second string and youth players representing the Hammers tonight. According to one unverified source, the only first-team squad members travelling to Romania were Areola, Randolph, Ogbonna, Coufal, Ashby, Johnson, Aguerd, Downes, Coventry, Fornals and Lanzini. So that could very well mean Darren Randolph doing a Les Sealey turn up front!

Still no sign of Maxwell Cornet who was last seen wandering the labyrinth of corridors in the West Ham treatment facility – searching for the way out. You can check out, but you can never leave!

I should be looking forward to seeing a few youngsters getting a run out in tonight’s game – unleashed, I think, is the technical term. Hopefully it will be for more than three minutes of added time, although with the U21s rock bottom of the Premier League 2 perhaps we shouldn’t be getting too excited. But it would be a great experience for the lads involved.

Very difficult to generate any real enthusiasm for the game with all jeopardy removed, but hoping it’s an enjoyable trip for any travelling fans. West Ham to win 2-1. COYI!

Can West Ham defy statistics and odds to win at Old Trafford?

When I was young I was interested in statistics but few were available to the average fan. We had league tables of course but little else. We had no idea regarding various statistics that are available today. Now you can know possession percentages, passes, completed passes, touches in opponent’s box, shots, shots on target, expected goals, distance covered by individual players and whole team and many more etc. etc.

Are we really interested in all these details? Some are I guess but to most of us the only real statistics of any importance are the goals scored in each game, the result, and the subsequent effect on the league table. Of course detailed statistics will have greater importance for the clubs themselves when analysing performance of individuals and the team as a whole. Bookmakers will also be interested when setting odds for games.

Having said all that I’ll now use some freely available statistics to look ahead to our game at Old Trafford this afternoon.

In their last 14 fixtures at Old Trafford against West Ham, Manchester United have won 11, drawn 3, and lost 0.

Manchester United have come out on top in their last 4 games against West Ham.

In their last 14 home Premier League games against all opponents Manchester United have won 8, drawn 5, and lost 1.

In their last 14 Premier League away games West Ham have won 2, drawn 2, and lost 10.

West Ham have kept just 2 clean sheets in their last 17 Premier League away games.

West Ham have scored just 3 away goals in the Premier League so far this season.

As an away team manager David Moyes has the following record at Old Trafford- won 0, drawn 4, lost 11.

There are thousands more that almost all point to a Manchester United win. But statistics didn’t indicate that Brighton would thrash Chelsea yesterday, that Leeds would win at Anfield last night, nor any other upsets that occur in football.

The odds for the match result are 4/6 for a home win, 15/4 for an away win and 3/1 for the draw.

With all this information I’ll predict the result of the game. I’ll go for a 2-2 draw. My bookmaker will offer me 16/1. He doesn’t think it’ll happen. I won’t mind being wrong if West Ham win the game. It hasn’t happened for 15 years. Not since that Carlos Tevez famous winner.

We’ve lost our place in the top half of the table following yesterday’s results. I’m hoping for a win to regain it but would be happy with a draw.

It’s about time we defied the statistics and the odds. What are the chances?

West Ham Head To Old Trafford On Sunday: Can They Find A North-West Passage To Victory?

The cities of Manchester and Liverpool have never been happy hunting grounds for West Ham. Can they break the hoodoo at Manchester United or will they yet again be north-west passengers?

The midweek Europa Conference game against Silkeborg ended in the type of unexceptional victory that has become commonplace in the late stage group games. West Ham were all but assured of top spot prior to kick-off and the visitors would have been aware that next week’s home fixture against Anderlecht was their key to progressing in the competition. The game really should have been more of a stroll for the Hammers but once their finishing was about as convincing as a politician’s promise.

Still. it was good to get a first competitive glimpse of Nayef Aguerd. Without being tested it provided an encouraging teaser for we might expect from a speedy, ball-playing central defender. There was also an accomplished performance from Conor Coventry. He may be some way down the defensive midfield pecking order – unless David Moyes fancies picking four of them together at some point – but he is now firm favourite for the tidiest haircut since Scott Parker award.

I can’t help thinking the club is going a little over the top with their seven home wins on the trot marketing campaign, especially when considering the quality offered by much of the opposition. I suppose they were games that needed to be won, though. As for the Conference, we can now look forward to the most pointless match ever held for next week’s trip to Bucharest. Are we allowed to field the Under 13’s?

Sunday sees a return to league action against another of the sides enjoying the rigours of Thursday – Sunday football. Manchester United have now guaranteed group qualification but must triumph at Real Sociedad next week to avoid the play-off round lottery in the Europa League.

Trips to Old Trafford may not be as fruitless for West Ham as they are to Anfield, but there’s not much in it. The Hammers have returned with all the points on just six occasions since 1958; just twice in the Premier League era with the last time being the great escape in the final game of the 2006/7 season. With an equally dismal record against Manchester City, and even Everton proving a regular bogey side, trips to the north-west rarely turn out well. Since the Hammers most recent return to the Premier League they have lost 31 of 42 league matches played in Manchester and Liverpool (won six and drawn five). Indeed it is a record that has been passed down from manager to manager.

Although facing the Red Devils is nowhere near as daunting as it once was, it should be pointed out that Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham have already been beaten this season at Old Trafford. The home side may not yet be credible title challengers but they will certainly be in the mix for a top four finish.

Then there are the lurking perils of VAR. If you cast your mind back to the equivalent fixture last season, the home side won the game with the last kick of the game. Despite a strong suspicion that Cavani was offside before he played in Rashford to score, the goal was expediently awarded with indecent haste. No three or four minutes of line and angle drawing at Stockley Park on this occasion – the players were back in the dressing room by then.    

I have run the numbers and the eXpected VAR balls up ratio (xVAR) comes out as 1.9 : 0.2. This week our fate is in the hands, whistle and mouse of Chris Kavanagh (referee) and Paul Tierney (VAR). The current standard, consistency and subjective nature of officiating reminded me of playing football over the park as kids – with the legendary jumpers for goalposts. If you shouted ‘post’ or ‘over’ quickly and loudly enough, it was often all that was needed to get a goal chalked off!

I think most West Ham supporters expect a further dose of David Moyes cautious medicine tomorrow.  Initiative will be surrendered, opposition will be shown too much respect, defending will be as deep as possible, all in the hope of scoring on the break. His well-known inferiority complex preferring to hang on passively rather than forcefully targeting the host’s weaknesses.

With Lucas Paqueta again nursing his mysterious shoulder injury, Moyes may well persist with the unusual defensive midfield triumvirate of Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, and Flynn Downes that featured against Bournemouth. It screams lack of creativity and ambition but may just work if the three selected further forward are predominantly attack minded players – e.g. three from Said Benrahma, Gianluca Scamacca, Jarrod Bowen, and Michail Antonio. At the rear the much-missed Craig Dawson is adding weight to the axiom that West Ham injuries always take longer to heal than originally anticipated. Dawson partnering Kurt Zouma in the centre with Thilo Kehrer and Aaron Cresswell as full-backs provides a solid enough backline.

The hosts may make several change to the team that shot three past Sheriff in midweek, with frequent West Ham irritant Rashford replacing the increasingly petulant Ronaldo. As usual the Red Devils have a surfeit of attacking talent but invariably look shaky at the back. If only West Ham could bring their clinical shooting boots with them.

Interviewed after the Silkeborg game, Aguerd (very good English) said the team set out to win every game. Is that true, does he believe it, or hasn’t he been around long enough to know differently? Observation and experience suggest the first priority is not to lose every game. Who knows, perhaps the spots on the leopard can be purposefully re-arranged this weekend? More probable, I think, is a goal apiece draw. COYI!