West Ham v Burnley preview

‘Twas The Night Before Burnley!


Once again I will return to my rhyming theme as it has generally brought us a good result or a fine performance. I have written a number of poems based on the famous ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. I included similar poems in my book, Goodbye Upton Park, Hello Stratford, which is available in paperback or Kindle on Amazon. So if you are looking for a last minute Christmas present for a West Ham fan, then look no further. I have been a regular at Upton Park for almost sixty years, and the book chronicles the last famous season there.

‘Twas the night before Burnley, you couldn’t hear a sound
Just wait till tomorrow, for the noise in the ground;

Three tough league away games plus one in the cup;
A home game v Arsenal, and they’re on the up;
Performances were mixed, for a short time we fell
Into the bottom three, cos we weren’t doing well;

At Tottenham we led with minutes to go,
But two very late goals dealt us a blow;

The Old Trafford league game, we started full throttle;
And Jose was sent off for kicking a bottle.
Sakho was back in the lone striker role;
With two minutes gone, he headed a goal;
Zlatan equalised, I thought we were gone;
But 1-1 was OK, we were able to hold on.

A few days later, they opened the scoring,
In the EFL cup it was getting quite boring;
But then at his old ground up popped Ashley Fletcher;
But the second half was awful, the less said the better;

Arsenal at home, it wasn’t much fun;
Sanchez was brilliant, they beat us five-one.

At Anfield one down, looked like we were done,
But a Payet free kick and the score was one-one.
Antonio pounced to give us the lead;
Nordtveit was given a rollicking by Reid;
Then a simple mistake, we’ve made a quite a few;
A Randolph disaster, Origi, two-two.
Many years at Anfield, t’was always the same;
But in the last couple we’ve given them a game.

So now we face Burnley, then Hull City too;
Six points for the taking? I hope it comes true;
However we play, I’ll take two wins gladly,
It won’t be that easy they haven’t played badly;

At Turf Moor they’re good, five wins to their name;
But out on the road, it’s not been the same;
Just one point away, they’ve found it quite hell;
On other teams grounds, they’ve not played that well;

They’re keeper’s a good’un, he’s known as Tom Heaton,
But six away games, and five games been beaten;
Fifteen conceded, and only scored one;
And that was a pen, they’ve not had much fun;

I do like their colours, I’ll give them their due;
For this game they’ll change out of claret and blue;
Today I’m convinced we’ll go for the kill;
We’ll be at our best and beat them four-nil.

Counting Sheep – 12 – The Letters (V,W, X, Y, Z)

Finishing off the last of the series of alphabetically themed West Ham teams.

Counting SheepIt had been a really good summer this year with hot days and warm nights. I began this series of articles by describing how, whenever I have trouble going off to sleep when the night temperatures are high, I think of teams of West Ham players. So I forget the idea of counting sheep and try to select a West Ham team that I have seen whose surnames all start with the same letter. It was harder, in fact impossible, for me to select players beginning with a single letter in many cases, so I’ve combined the letters in some cases to form a single team.

For the final article in my feature I now move on to the very end of the alphabet and have chosen a team whose surnames begin with V, W, X, Y or Z. Not surprisingly I couldn’t come up with any players beginning with X. But less surprisingly no Ys either! Can somebody help me out here? I honestly cannot remember ever seeing a West Ham player whose surname begins with Y.

So far I’ve picked eleven teams, “B”, “C”, “D”, “F”, “S”, a combined “G” and “H”, a combined “J”, “K” and “L”, a combined “M” and “N”, a combined “P” and “Q”, a combined “R” and “T”, and “Vowels”. So here is my V/W/X/Y/Z team (with no X or Y!) in a 3-3-4 attacking formation:

Ward (E)
Ward (M)
Van der Elst
Wright (I)
Vaz Te

Players left out include Richard Wright, Williamson, Whitton, Whitbread, Valencia and Zarate

I’ve probably missed someone who I should have remembered. Would you have selected any of the players that I left out of my final XI?

And who would manage the V/W/X/Y/X team? It has to be Zola.

So I started at the beginning of the alphabet and worked my way through selecting twelve teams to help me drop off to sleep. I was disappointed to only manage five teams with single letters, but it was a fruitful exercise, albeit much harder than I thought it would be when I began. It helped me drop off to sleep, worked my brain, and brought back memories of the best players I’ve seen playing for West Ham. The summer is now behind us so going off to sleep is not a problem. But if I can’t drop off I can always revert to counting sheep.

The Lawro Challenge – Week 16

Midweek madness takes hold as we continue to battle Lawro for the prediction crown.

Lawro Crystal BallFifteen rounds of games in the Premier League have now been completed. That means we have now predicted the results of 150 matches. In Week 15, Rich again came out on top scoring 8 points while Geoff and Lawro could only scrape together 4 points each. In this challenge we award one point for a correct result, and a further two points (making three in total) if the score prediction is spot on.

The predictions for the pre-Christmas midweek games are below anticipating a continuation of the recent Premier League goal-rush.  Even the ultra cautious Lawro, who rarely expects any team to score more than two, has pushed the boat out in the spirit of seasonal exuberance.  Whether his new found daring can make any inroads on Rich’s lead in the predictions table remains to be seen.

     Rich    Geoff    Lawro
Total after 14 weeks     122     77      110
Score in week 15         8       4          4
Total after 15 weeks     130     81      114
Predictions – Week 16      
     Rich    Geoff    Lawro
Bournemouth v Leicester      2-1     1-2      0-2
Everton v Arsenal      1-1     1-3      1-1
Middlesbrough v Liverpool      1-2     0-2      0-2
Sunderland v Chelsea      0-2     0-1      0-2
West Ham v Burnley      4-0     2-1      2-0
Palace v Man Utd       1-1     1-2      1-2
Man City v Watford      4-0     4-1      3-1
Stoke v Southampton      1-1     1-0      2-1
Tottenham v Hull      4-0     3-0      3-0
WBA v Swansea      2-1     2-0      1-1

This Week in Hammer’s History

A thrilling drawn London derby and League Cup incident in the week 12 – 18 December in Hammer’s History.

This Week Hammers HistoryIt was sad to read yesterday of the death of Peter Brabrook who featured as a flying winger for the Hammers between October 1962 and January 1968.  Peter made 215 appearances for West Ham scoring 43 times and was part of the victorious 1964 FA Cup winning side.

On 17 December 1966 Brabrook was in the West Ham side that visited Stamford Bridge to play his old team, Chelsea in a First Division fixture.  The Hammers made an uncharacteristic strong start to the game and were 2-0 to the good after 30 minutes with Brabrook himself scoring the first and Martin Peters the second.  Tommy Baldwin pulled one back for Chelsea just before the break prompting a change in the direction of the match and ten minutes into the second half the hosts were leading 3-2 (Tony Hately, Charlie Cooke).  Undeterred, West Ham regrouped to score 3 goals in an 8 minute spell (John Sissons (2) and a Johnny Byrne penalty) and with 10 minutes to go continued to hold a 5-3 advantage.  Bobby Tambling then scored from the penalty spot and then completed the scoring in the dying minutes with one that came off his shin to make the final score 5-5.  These goals elevated Tambling to Chelsea’s all-time record goal-scorer; a position that he held until overtaken in by Lampard Junior in 2013.

Standen, Bovington, Charles J (Burnett), Peters, Brown, Moore, Brabrook, Boyce, Byrne, Hurst, Sissons

On the 15 December 1971 it was the second leg of the Football League Cup semi-final against Stoke City.  Confidence was high with West Ham having won the first leg in the previous week by 2 goals to 1.  This was a full-bloodied affair under the Upton Park floodlights but with Stoke the better side on the night it remained goalless until the 73rd minute when a mix-up in the West Ham defence between Tommy Taylor and John McDowell allowed John Ritchie to convert a hopeful cross.  No away goals rule in this competition at the time and the game went into 30 minutes of extra time.  With the clock slowly ticking away Harry Redknapp was put through on goal only to be hauled down by a flying Gordon Bank’s rugby tackle.  Not considered a sending off offence at the time it was then Banks against Geoff Hurst for the resulting penalty.  Hurst had scored from the spot in the first leg and had a tremendous penalty record and so most in the 38,000 crowd considered it a formality and were already making plans for their trip back to Wembley.  Hurst adopted his usual pile-driver approach to penalty kicks but somehow Banks managed to deflect the thundering shot over the bar.  There was just enough time to take the resulting corner before the final whistle signaled that a replay was going to be required.

Ferguson, McDowell, Lampard, Bonds, Taylor, Moore, Redknapp, Best, Hurst, Brooking, Robson

More League Cup action (then known as the Worthington Cup) exactly 28 years later with a 5th round home tie against Aston Villa.    Ian Taylor put Villa ahead in the first half only for Lampard Junior to steer home a pass from Paolo Di Canio for a second half equaliser.   Dion Dublin appeared to win the game for the visitors with an added time volley but there was still time for Paul Kitson to win a penalty which then Di Canio then converted.  Extra time was goalless and so the game went to penalties which ended in West Ham’s favour when Gareth Southgate missed his sudden death kick.  Of course the game is best remembered for the Mannygate affair where West Ham fielded an ineligible player when Emmanuel Omoyinmi came on as an extra time substitute for Paulo Wanchope.  Omoyinmi had previously played both legs in an earlier round of the competition while on loan at Gillingham and was thus ineligible.  The match against Villa was replayed which the Hammers eventually lost 1-3.

Hislop, R Ferdinand, Margas, Lomas, Ruddock, Cole (Kitson), Sinclair, Wanchope (Omoyinmi), Di Canio, Lampard, Keller

Notable Birthdays

12 December     Nobby Solano                    42
15 December     Aaron Cresswell               27
16 December     Reece Oxford                    18
17 December     Andre Ayew                       27
17 December     John Bond                           d. 2012
17 December     Joe Kirkup                           77

5 Observations from West Ham @ Liverpool

Happy with the point but are West Ham in good shape for the winnable games?

5 Things WHUThe Fixture List of Death

The point at Anfield was an unexpected, welcome and hard earned one that brought with it some relief.  If the match commentator was correct West Ham are one of only two teams to avoid defeat at Liverpool so far this season.  The run of games of death is now behind us and a two point return is maybe more than many expected; but for the last few minutes at White Hart Lane it could have been even healthier.  With the exception of last weekend’s rout by Arsenal the performances against Tottenham, Manchester United and Liverpool have been generally acceptable and, in many ways, were similar (but with less successful outcomes) to games against the ‘top’ sides last year.  At Anfield the team worked hard, provided some degree of collective organisation, and were able to frustrate Liverpool and limit the number of clear cut goal-scoring opportunities.  The Achilles heel last term, however, was not winning the ‘winnable’ games and so the next three matches are going to be a serious test of that characteristic and will go a very long way in defining the remainder of the season.

Fitness, Passing and Movement

Although very happy with the point there are some common basic shortcomings with our play and it was highlighted in the differences between the two teams yesterday.  A number of our players do not look to be at acceptable fitness levels and some visually look to be carrying too much weight (notably Ayew and Payet).  Liverpool played most of the game on their toes, were constantly on the move and there were always several passing options available to the man on the ball.  Passing was quick and slick and it was fortunate for West Ham that, on the day, the leagues freest scoring side lacked a cutting edge in front of goal.  In contrast we are routinely flat footed with players waiting for the ball to arrive before deciding the next move; there are often few passing options available through lack of movement which, in my view,  is more of an issue for conceding possession than poor pass execution itself.  Exceptions yesterday (and for the majority of the season) were Obiang, Reid and Antonio who all had excellent games.

Changing Formations

Once again West Ham have been front runners in the injury table at The Physio Room.  Whether this is simply bad luck or a consequence of deeper seated problems is a mystery.  The situation is not helped by a lopsided squad which resulted in a recall for Havard Nordtveit to defensive duties  on Sunday.  I was surprised that he was at right back as, when I saw the team sheet, I expected he was going to be part of the dreaded back three formation that does not suit our players and leaves us wide open down the flanks.  The other surprise was that Antonio was the main striker but once he had demonstrated that he is one player who knows where the goal is he was quickly switched around; first to right wing back (when Carroll replaced Ayew and Nordtveit did become one of three centre backs) and then subsequently to a more advanced right midfield position (when Fernandes replaced Lanzini).  Possibly Slaven Bilic has a yearning for a retro 1970’s totaalvoetbal style of play but it just seems to confuse the hell out of our tactically limited players.

Dead Wood United

Over the years the West Ham squad has been littered with its fair share of dead wood.  With the departure of Fat Sam much of what was left over from the sojourn in the Championship was steadily cleared away leaving ample room to assemble a new pile.  Fortunately we have only borrowed some of this excess baggage and hopefully they will be on their way back to their parent clubs straight after the Xmas party.  Unfortunately the club are stuck paying the wages of Havard Nordtveit and Sofiane Feghouli for the time being though.  Feghouli was nowhere near the squad this week but Nordtveit made his 7th Premier League appearance.  Accepting that he has been played in a few different positions it is still difficult to put your finger on exactly what his qualities are that allowed him to establish a career in the Bundesliga and at international level.  He may not be a right back but you would think he’d understand what one is supposed to do.  Is it naive to assume that he would have prepared for it most of the week; but that didn’t stop his going walkabout and he fully deserved his rollicking by Reid?  Another player I have become disillusioned with is Angelo Ogbonna.  A steady defender at times but tends to switch off too often and appears to shirk the most basic defensive responsibilities.  Once again slack play by Ogbonna was the precursor to the first Liverpool goal which could so easily have scuppered the whole game plan.  It make me nostalgic for the Reid – Tomkins partnership.

Where Have All The Young-stars Gone?

In the build up to the game I read some interesting comments by Jurgen Klopp to the effect that he prefers to keep promising young players at the club rather than sending them out on loan.  This enables them to train with the first team squad and assimilate better into the team’s style of play.  West Ham have half a dozen or so youngsters out on loan, the majority of whom rarely get game time.  The exception is Reece Burke who, injuries apart, has been a regular starter at both centre back and emergency full-back at struggling Wigan.  Given our own travails at right back why is he not back with the squad and plugging that gap.  Come to that, although he is injured now, why have we not seen anything of Reece Oxford this season despite the defensive frailties experienced?  It was good to see a few youngsters on the bench at Anfield but I am concerned about how reluctant Bilic has become to blood youngsters.  The Academy of Football is currently far behind the likes of Liverpool, Southampton and Tottenham in giving young talent an opportunity.

Liverpool 2 v 2 West Ham – Blowing my own trumpet!

Taking the positives from a hard earned point against Liverpool at Anfield.

Embed from Getty Images

Sometimes in life you have to blow your own trumpet. Well I haven’t actually got a trumpet but you know what I mean. Since the beginning of this season Geoff and I have been writing this weblog and haven’t pulled any punches when writing about our beloved West Ham. But despite our less than convincing start to the season, I have remained optimistic throughout and my optimism was fully justified after our draw at Anfield.

Anybody who has followed our blog will know that there are certain features that are constant. Firstly, we are involved in a prediction competition with Lawro. Secondly, I write a betting column each week. And thirdly, we write a preview of each game that West Ham play.

First things first. If you have read our prediction competition involving Lawro you will know that I am comfortably ahead in our forecasts for the season to date. This, despite the fact that Lawro is actually paid by the BBC to predict the Premier league results each week, probably because they believe he is a so-called expert. If you have followed his predictions you will know that sometimes he has been beaten by celebrities, some of whom confess they know little about the game. Amongst my predictions this week you will also note that I forecast a 2-2 draw at Anfield.

If you follow my betting column you will know that, after this week, I am comfortably in profit for the season to date, even despite some outrageous fun bets. If it hadn’t been for the last two minutes against Tottenham, which I didn’t foresee, then our season profit would have been huge. Nevertheless I was consistent, and believed that we would get at least a draw from our game at Anfield, and a 2-2 scoreline was a good result for the column.

Finally, if you read my preview for this week’s game you will note that I made comments like “What is there to worry about? We faced Liverpool four times last season. We won both league games, drew 0-0 there in the fourth round of the FA Cup, and beat them after extra time in the replay at Upton Park. That is 390 minutes of football, plus injury time, and we scored seven goals to their one. And we finished above them in the league. So why do the bookies make them 3/10 favourites, and offer odds of 9/1 on us winning the game?” I finished by saying “I’ll put my optimistic hat on and say we’ll get a 2-2 draw on Sunday.”

Now forecasting the results of football matches is a bit of a minefield. It’s even harder to predict what West Ham are going to do. You win some and you lose some. Sometimes you win, hence the reason for blowing my own trumpet after this game.

As far as the game goes, then I was extremely disappointed that we conceded a goal in the first five minutes once again. Anybody who read my book, Goodbye Upton Park, Hello Stratford, which is available in paperback or Kindle on Amazon, will note that constantly throughout that last famous season at Upton Park, I wrote about our inability to start a game, or indeed to start a second half of a game, on the front foot. And so it proved again, when we even exceeded our first half lapse at the beginning of the second half, by conceding a goal in just two minutes.

Randolph’s lapse was unfortunate and led to calls on social media for Adrian to return to our goal. It is not a belief I share, and I was pleased he had the opportunity for some redemption with a world class save to deny Henderson later in the game.

I note that I also wrote in the preview of this game that “Bournemouth showed us last Sunday that the Liverpool defence can be got at, and their keeper looked very vulnerable.” Payet once again showed his class by scoring from yet another free kick, although I reckon the Liverpool keeper would have been disappointed that his right arm wasn’t stronger, as he should perhaps have kept it out. And Antonio took his goal well, pouncing on a Liverpool defensive lapse, and just for once scoring with his feet and not his head. I liked his post-match interview where he jokingly said that he considered getting down to nod the ball into the goal.

I also noted that the statisticians came up with a new one that I hadn’t seen before “touches in the opposition penalty area”. It showed that Liverpool won this contest 53-5. But whilst it may be an interesting feature for some, the game proved that it really is a meaningless statistic unless you turn those touches into goals.

I’m sure that Mr. Nordveidt, like Messrs. Zaza and Tore amongst others, must have shown some footballing qualities that made us want to buy them in the first place, but to date I haven’t yet seen what they are. I reckon that, despite Mr. Bilic’s admirable qualities as a football manager, which undoubtedly far exceed my own judgement of footballers, I have a better idea as to what makes a decent right back. He persisted with Antonio in this position for far longer than I believe he should have, and his selection of Nordveidt in the full back role leaves me totally bewildered. His positioning is so far out, and Liverpool spotted this in their pre-match planning. It was no surprise to me that their two goals came from attacks down their left flank.

It was good to hear the West Ham away support throughout the game, and in particular their support for the manager, when he has come under so much pressure. Despite his inability to know a right back when he sees one, I hope that he continues to get the support to get us out of the trouble that we are undoubtedly still in. We have just pulled out of the bottom three, and I hope that it is the last time I see a league table this season where we are in it.

When all is considered it was a point well earned, and the players showed a lot of spirit to earn the draw. Let us hope that we now build on that in the relative easier (on paper) four games to come. I’ll keep my optimistic hat on and hope that I get more opportunities to blow my own trumpet in the weeks to come!

I Wouldn’t Bet On It 20

The odds of being struck by lightning twice in your lifetime are 1 in 9 million. It’s still worth a try…….

Fancy A BetLast week we lost six points in the forlorn hope that we would get at least a draw against Arsenal. We now have 95 points. Despite Liverpool’s second half capitulation at Bournemouth last Sunday, they are still massively odds-on to beat an out of form, and lacking in confidence West Ham team. But then again, they were big odds-on favourites to beat us when we went to Anfield at the end of August 2015.

You will recall what happened then. In the two previous weeks we had lost at home to Leicester and Bournemouth, and prior to the game we hadn’t won at Anfield since September 1963. Gerry and the Pacemakers hadn’t even released You’ll Never Walk Alone when we won that 1963 game 2-1.

But last season, against the odds, we won 3-0 there, and then we beat them 2-0 at Upton Park in the first game of 2016. If I recall correctly they were the only team that we took six points off. We also knocked them out of the FA Cup after a replay. So you would think that we wouldn’t be such enormous underdogs in this Sunday’s game. But of course, anyone who has seen us this season will know why.

However, in a continuation of previous week’s optimism, my main bet this week will be to stake 10 points on West Ham to win or draw the game @5/2 (35). Then a small outlay on the following fun bets:

1 point on West Ham to repeat last season’s 3-0 win @250-1 (251)
1 point on a 2-2 draw @16/1 (17)
1 point on a West Ham win with Lanzini to score anytime @30/1 (31)
1 point on a West Ham win with Obiang to score anytime @90/1 (91)
1 point on West Ham to win the game @9/1 (10)

Our balance is now down to 80 points following this 15 point outlay.

If we win or draw the game we are in profit. In the extremely unlikely event of us winning the game 3-0, including goals from both Lanzini and Obiang, then our return would be 418 points!

What are the chances?