Everton Preview

Can We Halt Lukaku’s Amazing Goalscoring Run Against Us?

Everton ProgrammeWe go into this game on the back of three consecutive victories, and if we manage at least a point then we will have remained unbeaten in five games, which cover the whole of the month of October. After a disastrous beginning to the season then this is exactly what we needed. With a home game next week against Stoke City, we have the opportunity to put ourselves in a reasonable position in the league before the next international break. When we entered the last break, after seven league games, we had amassed just four points including only one victory.

We needed that break to re-charge, re-think, and work out how we could improve our performances to ensure that we did not become involved in the relegation dogfight. Of course we are not yet in a comfortable league position, and need to consolidate the recent improvement before the run of difficult games that will follow immediately after the next fortnight recess from league football. The four games that come after the interval include visits to Tottenham, Manchester United and Liverpool with just one solitary home game against Arsenal.

It is therefore vital to get something from the next two games, and then hope to spring a surprise or two in the tough fixtures. We then have relatively easier games at home to Burnley and Hull, and away at Swansea and Leicester. At that point we will have reached the end of 2016, and be exactly half way through the season.

At the equivalent stage last season we had 29 points. To reach a similar total in this campaign would require 19 points in the next ten games, of which just four are at home and six away, including the Everton game. That could be achieved with six wins, a draw, and three defeats, or alternatively five wins, four draws and just one reverse. Despite our recent improvement this scenario seems very unlikely, and if we can get anywhere close to our halfway points total last term then we will have done well.

Of course we improved still further in the second half of last season, with 33 points in the final 19 games to finish on 62 in seventh place. We will be looking for a similar upturn this time around.

Everton, on the other hand, come into this fixture on a run of five games without a win. Their early season sparkling form seems to have disappeared, although they still sit in sixth place in the table. Their new manager, Ronald Koeman appears to have halted their relatively poor defensive record under Martinez, especially at home, and the eight goals that they have conceded to date in all league games is the second best record in the division so far. Last season they conceded 30 goals in their 19 home games, a total only exceeded by Aston Villa and Bournemouth. This, of course, includes the three late goals that we put into their net in a dramatic comeback in March.

Their top scorer this term with six goals is, unsurprisingly, Lukaku, and he has netted eight times in eight games against us. He always seems to score against us and is a good bet to be the first goalscorer in the game. In fact he is odds-on with bookmakers to score against us at any time in the game, and given his previous record we cannot be surprised by that. We also need to beware of Cleverley, who, despite being a midfielder who does not have a particularly great goalscoring record (around 25 goals in approaching 200 senior games in his career), has scored against us for three different teams (for Wigan, Villa, and Manchester United).

If we can keep Lukaku quiet, and at the same time play with the same level of intensity and desire that we showed against Chelsea, then I am hopeful that we will get something from the game. A win would be great, but my prediction is for Lukaku to open the scoring, and then for Antonio to end his recent goalscoring drought, and the game to finish 1-1. Antonio hasn’t scored since netting five times in our opening four league games, which is surprising considering our improved performances of late. But that’s the way it goes sometimes, and I’m sure his goalless run will end soon.

I hope that Bilic retains the same team that played in midweek, and I also hope that my forecast for the result will be wrong, and that perhaps Ayew will come off the bench to score a late winner in a 2-1 victory. Perhaps the Everton players will get nervous thinking about last season, and remember our storming finish to win the game.

What are the chances?

I Wouldn’t Bet On It 15

Prevent that loose change making a hole in your pocket with our betting predictor.

Fancy A Bet

Last week we had some fun bets on West Ham v Sunderland. They all lost apart from the key one, where Winston Reid’s late strike saved our bacon, and gave us a healthy 38 points return bringing our balance up to 108.1.

The bet was 22 points on West Ham to beat Sunderland @8/11 (38).

This week we’ll have a look at our game at Everton. The best odds I found were on Betfair where we were quoted at 3.8/1 to win, and 2.95/1 to draw. Bearing in mind that in the 134 times we have played Everton, they have won 67, and the other 67 have been won by us or drawn, then statistically you might expect that we have a 50/50 chance of at least getting a draw out of the game.

Of course the fact that the game is at Goodison Park would change that, but then again they may have nightmares about last season. They were beating us 2-0 when they were awarded a penalty. Lukaku missed and we went on to gain a very unlikely 3-2 victory. You could have named your own odds on a West Ham win when Lukaku was stepping up to take the spot kick.

Worryingly, Everton haven’t beaten a London team in their last ten attempts – statistics like those can be broken at any time, and West Ham have often been the fall guys when a bad run such as that is broken.

I really fancy the draw, so we’ll stake:

3 points on a draw @2.95/1 (9.85)
2 points on a win @3.8/1 (8.6)
1 point on a 1-1 draw @13/2 (7.5)
1 point on Lukaku 1st goal and a 1-1 draw @22/1 (23)
1.1 points on a draw double in our game and Southampton v Chelsea @13.4/1 (14.4)

Total stake 8.1 points, reducing our balance to 100 (which is where we started!)

If we win or draw the game then we’ll be up on the day. But if Lukaku scores the first goal, the game ends 1-1, and the Southampton v Chelsea game is drawn, then our return will be 54.75 points.

What are the chances?

The Lawro Challenge – Week 10

We show the BBC pundit just how match predictions should be done.

Lawro Crystal BallI am confident that I can still win this. The race is far from over and there is still a long way to go.  My shrewd predictions have suffered more than most to the vagaries of contentious refereeing decisions and unfortunate injuries.  Adjusting the results to account for these anomalies and it would still be pretty much neck and neck.  These are sure to even themselves out over the course of the season.

I am also convinced that Lawro is copying Rich’s predictions in many cases.  It is type of thing he would do; looking over someone else’s shoulder while shielding his own working’s out with his forearm.  This week’s predictions are below (remember 1 point for a correct result and a further 2 for a correct score) and I can sense better times ahead.

Last week, Lawro’s 9 points just shaded it over Rich’s 8 while Geoff picked up a plucky 5 points in third place.

     Rich     Geoff     Lawro
Total after 8 weeks         67        49       58
Score in week 9            8           5          9
Total after 9 weeks         75        54       67
Predictions – Week 10
     Rich     Geoff     Lawro
Sunderland v Arsenal       0-3       1-3        1-2
Man.Utd. v Burnley       3-0       3-1       2-0
Middlesbrough v Bournemouth        1-1       1-2        1-0
Tottenham v Leicester       2-0      2-0        2-1
Watford v Hull       2-0      3-0        2-0
West Brom v Man.City       0-2      0-2        0-2
Crystal Palace v Liverpool        1-2       1-1        0-2
Everton v West Ham         1-1       1-2          1-1
Southampton v Chelsea         2-1       1-1         0-2
Stoke v Swansea        2-1      2-1         2-0

West Ham 2 v 1 Chelsea

A time for reflection on the EFL Cup victory over Chelsea.

Embed from Getty Images

1. Pedro Obiang – All season I have been writing about the need for Pedro Obiang to be one of the first names on the West Ham team sheet. Once again he demonstrated in the Chelsea game his importance to the team. We need a defensive midfielder who can tackle, pass, and show athleticism to get around the pitch. Players like this are vital in the modern game. To me he plays like Patrick Vieira did for Arsenal. He hasn’t yet showed an ability to score goals, but that is not his function in the team. He did, however, hit a tremendous shot from distance that could have been a goal.

The season began with Nordtveit in this role, but to me he doesn’t appear to have the all-round capabilities of Obiang. Pedro has now been with us for more than a year and I don’t believe he has been given an extended run to show his capabilities. And, despite knowing that statistics can be used to prove anything you want them to, I’ll now throw in one that I believe proves his value. In the last 31 Premier League and FA Cup games where he has been involved either as a starter, or as a substitute, we have lost just once. That’s right, one defeat in 31 games, and he only played for 45 minutes in the game that we lost. There is not another player at the club with this record. I don’t believe that it is any coincidence that our recent resurgence has come about partly because Pedro Obiang has been playing.

2. Edimilson Fernandes – Here we have a young player that I believe that the club bought with an eye to the future. But we must not underestimate his experience gained in Switzerland before he joined us. He was a regular as a teenager, and played a number of key games in European competition where he demonstrated his skills. It is early days I know, but to me he has already shown his versatility by playing in different positions. He is also athletic, appears to have a good temperament, can tackle, has good distribution, and showed that he knows where the goal is. I hope he is given an extended run, because I believe we may have unearthed an absolute gem. He seems to me to be a player ideally suited to the Premier League, and once again we look a better side with him in the team.

3. Mark Noble – A lot of people were writing off our captain following his early performances this season. To an extent I can understand this. Despite his many attributes, his lack of pace can sometimes let him down. And in some ways, our game seems more pedestrian when he is playing. However, we can get away this this if there are players with pace around him such as Obiang, Fernandes and Kouyate for example. I believe that the Chelsea game was his best so far in this campaign, and he orchestrated, and helped to dominate, the middle of the pitch. He did provide both of the assists, and can still be an important player in the team. I’m not writing him off yet.

4. Michail Antonio – Once again he has showed his versatility by playing in an unfamiliar position, and although he still has plenty to learn, we have to remember he has only really been playing top flight football for a year now. With his pace and movement he ran the Chelsea defence, and in particular, John Terry, ragged. He is definitely a better player when we don’t rely on him for his defensive capabilities, and I believe he can become a really top class forward. He has already shown his goal scoring ability, especially in the air, and with more composure can perhaps learn to score more goals with his feet.

5. Cheikou Kouyate – Once again here we have a player who has not yet shown this season the same form that he demonstrated in the last one. Nevertheless our new formation, which I assume we will continue to play, at least for the time being while it seems to be working, has shown him heading back towards his best. And not many players can score a powerful headed goal from the edge of the area such as the one that gave us the important early lead in the game.

6. The crowd trouble – For the life of me I cannot understand the mentality of individuals who support any football team, that show such hatred towards opposition fans, that they need to throw coins and seats at them with the sole purpose of causing injury. Obviously there are still issues to sort out in respect of the stadium safety issues, but if you look at some of the still photographs of the faces of some of the people involved, purporting to be both West Ham and Chelsea fans, you can see just why they are there, namely to cause trouble. There is no place for them, and if we do have a season ticket waiting list of over 50,000, as Ms Brady suggests, then anyone causing trouble must be identified, banned and face criminal proceedings. There are so many cameras that focus on the crowd this must be possible. If this continues then we will face unpalatable consequences from the authorities. An urgent solution to the problem must be found.

7. The players I haven’t yet mentioned – It is unusual to be approaching the end of an article about a famous victory without mentioning Payet, Lanzini, Cresswell, Reid and Ogbonna. The first three of these are beginning to show a wonderful understanding with quick incisive passing, movement off the ball, and marvellous skill. Reid and Ogbonna have never entirely convinced me as a partnership, although I can see the individual merits of both, and perhaps the addition of Kouyate alongside them will bring out the best in both of them. And finally Randolph in goal has many admirable qualities and will continue to push Adrian, and keep him on his toes.

8. Chelsea – I fail to understand why football managers rest key players and leave them on the bench, only to bring them on when a game may already be lost (e.g. Hazard, Costa). Surely put them on from the start to try to get into a winning position, and then perhaps take them off if the poor tired things are really in such need of a rest.

9. And Finally – We are now in the last eight of a major competition. Our season appears to be on the up. If we play as we did in this game then we can be a match for most teams. Let’s hope it continues.

West Ham Heroes – Number 3 – Sir Geoff Hurst

The West Ham and World Cup striking hero who had no trouble knowing where the goal was.

Sir Geoff Hurst

For a West Ham footballer of the 1960s Geoff Hurst was something of a rarity. Almost all of the team at the time were born within the sound of Bow Bells, whereas Geoff was born, as all the football programmes of the time will tell you, in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire. His family moved to Chelmsford when he was a small boy, so he qualifies as another local player. His dad was a professional footballer in the lower leagues. Geoff joined the youth set-up at Upton Park around the same time as Bobby Moore.

In his early days he was a wing half, just like Bobby, but one day, in September 1963, Ron Greenwood made one of the most inspired footballing decisions of all time, when he decided that Geoff should swap his number 4 shirt for the number 10 shirt and play up front. Of course the rest is history.

In around 500 games for us he scored 249 goals, making him our second highest goalscorer of all time behind Vic Watson from an earlier era. As a centre-forward he had all the attributes needed, powerful, fast, strong in the air, two good feet, and an unshakeable temperament, where he refused to be intimidated by the tough-tackling defenders that were around at the time. He also knew how to put the ball in the net.

He played 49 games for England, scoring 24 goals. For West Ham and England he scored an average of a goal every other game. Of his type, and I know I am biased, I believe he was the best centre-forward I have ever seen. Only Alan Shearer runs him close; they had many similarities as footballers, with similar goalscoring records.

Of course he is most famous to the world at large for scoring a hat-trick for England in the 1966 World Cup Final. He remains the only footballer to have achieved the feat. He only won his first England cap in February 1966, and didn’t even start the tournament that year in the team. He came into the side for the quarter-final against Argentina when Jimmy Greaves was injured. He scored the only goal of a tough game, turning in a near post cross from Martin Peters, a goal straight from the West Ham training ground at Chadwell Heath.

He kept his place for the semi-final, setting up one of the goals in a victory over Portugal, and controversially (to some) also retained his place in the team for the final, despite Jimmy Greaves having recovered from injury. In so many ways, the hat-trick in the final was perfect. A near post header from a Bobby Moore free kick, a right footed shot that thundered down off the underside of the bar, and a left footed screamer in the last seconds of extra time (when some people were on the pitch thinking it was all over!).

But my main memories are of the goals and performances for West Ham throughout the 1960s. In many ways Geoff took over from my previous hero who wore the number 10 shirt, John Dick. Geoff was the leading scorer in seven seasons, and in the mid-sixties he twice scored forty goals in all competitions.

Perhaps the most impressive front-two partnership I have ever witnessed in almost sixty years of watching the game was the one Geoff forged alongside Johnny (Budgie) Byrne for a five year period from around 1962 until 1967. Their understanding, not to mention their prolific goal tally, was superb. He also played up front for a short time alongside both Jimmy Greaves and Pop Robson in a claret and blue shirt. Many will also recall the almost telepathic partnership with Martin Peters who played in midfield. On so many occasions they set up goals for one another, many of them coming from the near post cross that West Ham patented at the time.

I was listening to Dean Ashton (another in the Geoff Hurst mould) on the radio recently and he was bemoaning the current trend for one striker playing up front on his own. How I would love to see a change of tactic with a front pairing along the lines of Hurst and Byrne, or McAvennie and Cottee, in our attack at the moment.

Geoff was Hammer of the Year on three occasions in the 1960s at a time when we had so many great players. He is one of a handful of footballers to have been knighted, although quite why that honour was not bestowed upon the whole of the 1966 World Cup winning team is beyond me.

Of course we can’t leave a piece on Geoff Hurst without mentioning the controversial third goal (the first in extra time) in the 1966 World Cup Final. Apparently Geoff is asked the question almost every day. Did it cross the line? Well Roger Hunt says it did, as did the Azerbaijan linesman. That’s good enough for me!

Five Things From The Chelsea Bashing

Picking out the gems from a very satisfying night in the EFL Cup against Chelsea.

5 Things WHULoving The Tempo and Mobility

A game in which we were definitely ‘up for it’. Playing again at a high tempo with great movement and incisive passing. In some ways it is easier to play like this when teams come to attack you but that is not really an excuse as to why we have floundered against the weaker teams again this season.  If you look at the performance last night you can believe that we are a match for anyone; far removed from the laboured display (especially in the second half) against lowly Sunderland just a few days ago. When you are passing and moving with pace you will always create chances and there could have been more to add to the the excellent strikes by Kouyate and Fernandes. The interplay between Cresswell, Lanzini and Payet is exceptional at times.  We simply need to play like this more often and more consistently; not just when the big boys come along.

The Peripatetic Michail Antonio

Michail Antonio is becoming Slav’s odd job man; right back, right wing, wing-back and striker. I have heard some question his attitude, that he sulks if not in his favoured position, but I believe that is nonsense. He shows great commitment and spirit wherever he plays but is not equally as effective in each one. Although I don’t think he is an answer to our striking problems it was great to see someone with the strength and movement to give the opposition defence the run around. Poor old John Terry was dragged all over the place. The presence of this type of frontman is so important in the modern game. The static lump of a centre forward has no place at the top level and certainly not when played as a lone striker. Pace and movement as well as an eye for goal are what is required both to score goals and create space for others.

Fan Trouble

It is very unfortunate that the crowd trouble over-shadowed the performance; at least as far as the media were concerned who preferred it as a story to Chelsea being ‘ousted’ from the EFL Cup. I have no insight as to who caused the trouble, the ‘real’ extent of the problem and whether the stadium design contributed in any way towards it. Probably need to get the taxpayer to sort it out for us! Other than that it was a tremendous atmosphere.

Three Men at the Back

It is unusual to see a full bloodied English cup-tie with both teams employing 3 at the back. You might expect the midfield to be super over-crowded but it was an open and free-flowing game. The 3 man backline had worked well (until yesterday) for Chelsea and it is so far so good as far as West Ham are concerned as well. It can and does leave more room to exploit down the flanks but is possibly our best option given current available personnel. I guess Slaven will use the system until it goes wrong but in reality it will be more successful against some opponents than others. At the moment Reid, Kouyate and Ogbonna seem to create a solid partnership and acquitted themselves far better than Old Man Terry and his pals.

Obiang and Fernandes

All of the midfield players did their bit last night but in a situation where supporters have perhaps been generally underwhelmed by the summer transfer business it has been very pleasing to see what Fernandes can offer; he looks a very talented and assured player and not just one for the future. Although Obiang is not a new signing he seems like one due to the limited opportunities he was given last season. He provides much needed solidity in front of the defence and what a strike that was towards the end of the first half. It is difficult to understand why he was trusted so little previously. Similar to playing Antonio at right back (and signing Tore) it is one of Slav’s stranger decisions. Great to see Ayew back in the action as well.

Can We Win the EFL Cup?

Previewing the EFL Cup Fourth Round clash with Chelsea.

EFL Cup ChelseaAs I wrote prior to the last round of the competition, our two realistic chances of a trophy before the season began, and now our only two opportunities, come in the domestic cup competitions. And when you analyse the competitions in detail, you realise how relatively easy they should be to win. The EFL Cup can be won by getting through four rounds of football and then winning the final at Wembley. Sounds easy doesn’t it? To be handed a draw at home to Accrington Stanley of League Two should have been a very easy passage into the last 16, but, although we made it in the end, we made heavy weather of it.

Prior to the last round we were the seventh or eighth favourites to land the trophy (you could get odds of between 14/1 and 20/1), so the bookmakers at that time fancied our chances more than some teams higher than us in the Premier League. Now, with just sixteen teams remaining, and just one home game away from a place in the quarter-final our odds have drifted to 25/1, making us eighth favourites to land the trophy. Chelsea are fourth favourites at 11/2, so you can see who the bookmakers believe are going to win this tie. And it’s not as if Chelsea are pulling up trees themselves this season.

Recent history gives us a chance. Although they beat us with a very late goal in the opening match of this season at Stamford Bridge (by a player who should not have still been on the pitch at the time!), we won the last encounter at Upton Park on 24 October last year with goals from Zarate and substitute Carroll. This win was one that hastened the departure of Jose Mourinho. Do you recall those forlorn photographs of him standing in front of the directors’ box after he had been sent off by the referee.

The only time that we have met them in a League Cup tie at Upton Park was in the third round of the 1994-95 competition, on October 26 1994. Don Hutchison scored the goal that enabled us to progress to the next round (where we were eliminated by Bolton!). Of course we have never won the competition ourselves, but Chelsea have won it five times, most recently in 2015. Our two friends, Terry and Costa scored the goals that beat our other friends from White Hart Lane 2-0.

In 2004 (October 27), when we were only in the Championship, we met them in this round at Stamford Bridge and they ran out winners 1-0. They went on to win the trophy that year beating Liverpool in the Final. They were also the runaway champions of the Premier League that season, winning by a dozen points, and only losing one league match in the process. So our narrow defeat, given our position at the time, was a noteworthy performance.

By coincidence we meet them once again on October 26. Despite our relatively poor form this season, this is a one-off cup tie and anything can happen. Hopefully we can take advantage of the home draw and progress into the last eight.