All The Young Dudes

Is there any place for optimism from within the youth ranks?

In a similar way that North Korean leaders insist on fancy titles such as ‘Peerless Leader’ or ‘Great Sun of the Nation’ our club has adopted as its own the moniker of the ‘Academy of Football’. While initially this was attributed by the football press in recognition of West Ham’s proficiency in coaching young players it has in recent year become more of a self-proclamation.

The development of Moore, Hurst, Peters and Brooking set the standard back in the 1960s but there then followed, with the odd exception, a long unproductive period for the youth system until the arrival, over the course of just a few years, of (Rio) Ferdinand, Lampard Jr, Cole, Carrick, Defoe and Johnson. That the potential of the golden generation was dismally squandered is a painful tale of woe that we won’t go into here.

Awash with pre-season optimism there was much chatter that part of West Ham’s glorious future; along with a new stadium, a reinforced squad and European football was a new crop of youngsters that would soon be knocking on the first team door. As the early season has developed most of these dreams have turned out to be like beautifully wrapped Christmas presents that turn out to be very disappointing once opened. But can our young players give us real hope for the future?

In an article I read before the season started Slaven Bilic described the difficulty of introducing young players in the modern Premier League. My interpretation of what he was saying is that it was a risk not worth taking in a scenario where a few bad results can have fans (and owners) clamouring for your head; just like we have now!  For young players, the more normal route is to spend time out on loan to get experience and see how they cope. Ferdinand, Lampard, Carrick and Defoe all had successful loan spells whereas Cole and Johnson went straight into the West Ham first team.

At the present time we 8 youngsters out on loan; Burke, Samuelsen, Cullen, Knoyle, Page, Belic, Dobson and Hendrie. Of these only Burke (who is now out injured following a hernia operation), Cullen and Page are getting regular first team football and of these only Burke is playing with a Championship side. Arguably the more exciting prospects (at least in terms of expectation) are still at the club compridsing Oxford, Martinez, Browne and Quina.

The Reece Oxford situation is very strange. An impressive debut against Arsenal over a year ago followed by a more difficult game at home to Leicester and he has only started one Premier League game since. The midweek EFL cup tie would seem to have been the perfect opportunity to give him another opportunity but instead a central defensive position was given to midfielder Nordtveit. It is easy to conclude that speculation about his future is playing a part in selection and my instinct is that he won’t remain a West Ham player for the long term.

Toni Martinez appears from the statistics to be a natural goalscorer something which typically our own academy has found it difficult to produce (Cottee being the last with Defoe having been snatched from Charlton) and how we could do with one of those in the first team at the moment. On the evidence to date it is difficult to see how Martinez and Fletcher would be worse striker choices than Zaza and Calleri.

Domingos Quina came to West Ham as a very highly rated and sought after player. Two substitute appearances against Domzale and nothing since; to the point that he doesn’t appear in any squad on the Official West Ham website. Marcus Browne also had a Europa Cup cameo but has not been considered since including being overlooked for the EFL Cup; and showing his disappointment on Twitter. Martin Samuelsen looks an extremely talented individual but, for whatever reason, he has not been getting regular game time on loan; either at Peterboro last year or at Blackburn, so far, this season.

When West Ham won the FA Youth Cup in 1999 only Bywater, Cole and Carrick went on to have top level careers. Many young players drop by the wayside and there is no reason to suspect that the current crop will be any different. There is nothing better as a supporter than witnessing a youth team player breakthrough into the first team. Obviously they need to have the talent but it would be disappointing if chances were not given simply because the manager is risk averse.  I would like to believe that there are 3 or 4 regular first teamers in the current youth setup.

Another title that has been given to successive North Korean leaders is ‘Great Defender’. Now that would be a novelty this season; but maybe we already have one sitting on the bench.

Counting Sheep – 6 – The Letters G and H

I’ve Started So I’ll Finish

Counting SheepOk, I’m not Magnus Magnusson and certainly have no thoughts of ever appearing on Mastermind, but I do like Magnus’ catchphrase – it is one that I tend to follow in all aspects of life, that is, if I start something I do have to finish it. This series of articles began when I couldn’t sleep at night and instead of counting sheep to help me drop off I selected teams of West Ham players whose surnames all started with the same letter.

I’ve picked five to date, “B”, “C”, “D”, “F” and “Vowels”. For today I have racked my brain (sounds worse than it was) trying to think of all the players I’ve ever seen in a West Ham shirt whose surnames begin with G. I’ve managed to jot down 12 names, but they wouldn’t make the best team as three of them, Green, Grotier, and Gregory (who was the first Hammers keeper I ever saw) were goalkeepers. I then moved on to H, and this time managed 13 names with only one keeper (Hislop), but virtually no defenders. So at this point I decided to make my second combined team utilising the letters “G” and “H”.

Therefore my all-time West Ham “G” plus “H” Team in an attacking 4-2-4 formation are:

Green (R)

Green (B)

Gale

Gabbidon

Harley

Holland

Hutchison

Goddard

Greaves

Hurst

Hartson

 

So who else did I think of that I’ve left out? The other keepers I’ve mentioned were omitted, although this position wasn’t the easiest part of selecting my team, plus Grice, Gordon, Gould and Garcia from “G”, and Harkes, Heffer, Howe, Holmes, Hales, Harewood and Hughes from “H”. I certainly had plenty of attacking options but fewer defensive ones. I think Ray Houghton may have made the first team once or twice perhaps, but although he went on to have a great career in football elsewhere, I can’t remember watching him play for us.

Perhaps I’ve forgotten someone really good. Can you pick a team of “G”s plus “H”s to rival mine?

And who would manage the “G”s plus “H”s? There’s only one candidate I believe, the legendary Ron Greenwood.

West Ham 1 v 0 Accrington Stanley

Between A Rock and A Hard Place.

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Before the game against Accrington Stanley, Slaven Bilic found himself caught between a rock and a hard place. He was in a predicament, a quandary, he was on the horns of a dilemma, between the devil and the deep blue sea. Whichever way you look at it he couldn’t really win. All managers in this position cannot win.

Should he select the best possible team to try to ensure a comfortable victory and boost the confidence of players that have lost four games in a row? Or should he give all the fringe players in the squad the opportunity to stake their claim for a place in the team? If we won the game easily then, well, that is what you should expect at home to a mid-table league two side. But, if the unthinkable should happen, and we went out of the competition that gives us the best possible chance of winning a trophy, then he would be slaughtered by the media, the fans, and possibly his employers, too. You have to remember too that he knew that before this game it would only take five wins for us to lift the EFL cup, and qualify for Europe for the third season in a row.

As it turned out he chose a team close to the second option with only Nordtveit, Ogbonna, Masuaku, and Zaza in the starting eleven of the team who started the last game at the Hawthorns. None of the retained four played well at the weekend, and Masuaku had one of the worst games in the history of West Ham defenders, and there have been some candidates for this honour over the years. If we’d had an alternative fit left back I’m sure he would have been included. I read one tongue-in-cheek article today suggesting that Dicks and Bilic should dig out their boots and play. What is perhaps surprising is that two renowned defenders from our past cannot seem to coach our present defenders.

Having chosen the fringe player option I particularly liked the pairing of Obiang and Edimilson, making his debut along with the experienced Arbeloa. The surprising omission from my point of view was that of Oxford. If ever there was an opportunity to give this brilliant prospect some game time then surely this was it. I hope that he doesn’t get too disillusioned with his lack of opportunities. You never know how much to believe in what you read in the media nowadays, but I would hate to see him leave us, as he must be one of the brightest up and coming talents in the game.

The joint-chairmen today issued a lengthy statement acknowledging some of the issues surrounding the stadium in respect of the three s’s, segregation, stewarding and standing, although the latter was cleverly referred to as “appropriate grouping of likeminded supporters”! This game was not the one to test if any improvement has been made in any of these areas. That will come when we get back towards a full stadium at the weekend. Only 39,877 were present to witness yet another dismal performance. Note the attendance ending in “77” yet again.

This report of the game hasn’t so far mentioned anything that happened. That is mainly because very little did actually happen! Shades of visiting minnows in cup competitions in the past came to mind. Why do we seem to find it so difficult to see off teams that we should be beating comfortably? After a totally lacklustre first half, anybody visiting from planet Mars, could not distinguish which team were Premier League and which were League Two.

Lanzini and Payet were introduced at the beginning of the second half to replace the ineffective Feghouli and Tore and the game livened up a little. Later in the half Antonio replaced Calleri, but despite getting well on top as the League Two side tired we were still unable to break them down. As extra time approached Masuaku left the field on a stretcher, and we were down to ten men. Six additional minutes were signalled by the fourth official, and a shot from Obiang brought a magnificent save from the keeper.

As extra time beckoned (which is what extra time does!)we were awarded a free kick in a central position 25 yards from goal and up stepped the imperious Dimitri Payet to score yet another trademark goal in the 96th minute to take us into Round 4. Accrington Stanley put up a brave performance and restricted us to just four shots on target.

But if you are going to be beaten then to lose to a moment of brilliance is perhaps the best way. It might have been a different story if we had to face extra time with just ten men, but Payet ensured that it didn’t happen.

The draw for Round Four took place shortly after the end of the game, and of the ten Premier League teams left in the competition, eight have been drawn to face each other with some mouth-watering ties. We are at home to Chelsea.

  • West Ham v Chelsea
  • Man Utd v Man City
  • Arsenal v Reading
  • Liverpool v Tottenham
  • Bristol City v Hull
  • Leeds v Norwich
  • Newcastle v Preston
  • Southampton v Sunderland

Matchday: Hammers versus Stanley

Sliding doors. This train terminates at Stratford.

EFL CupWe asked 100 West Ham fans to “Name a Famous Stanley”. Top misty-eyed answer was the Lord Stanley in Plaistow one of the favourite pre-match watering holes from the old Boleyn Ground days. Second was the retractable blade knife that might have been taken to a match in the 70’s and in third place was former Socceroo Skippy Stan Lazaridis. The Stanley from Accrington were in a disappointing sixth place.

League Two Accrington Stanley find themselves in the 3rd round of the League Cup for the very first time. Their second round victory over Burnley being the first time that they have ever beaten a team from the top tier. West Ham’s last defeat to a fourth tier team was a 2-1 home defeat to Aldershot in 2011. Accrington manager, John Coleman, has vowed to come to the London Stadium to attack and so we could well be in for an interesting evening. They are not even bringing a bus let alone parking it.

“It will be a good side whoever we play as they are Premier League players. We will not be going there to park the bus, we will be going there to attack and score goals and if that means we get beat 7-0 so be it.”

– John Coleman

Our approach will be interesting and there are different schools of thought on the distraction or otherwise of cup competitions. The Avram Grant team had impressive runs in both League and FA Cup but remained woeful in the League. On other occasions a good cup win has galvanised League form. A good many supporters would sacrifice several League placings for a decent cup run (especially if it leads to a day out at Wembley) provided that the spectre of relegation is avoided. It is going back a long way but a 6-0 League Cup pounding of Tranmere in 1974, when we were bottom of the table, prompted a revival in fortunes that ended with FA Cup success against Fulham. Tonight is maybe a ‘sliding doors’ moment for us.

“We have to do it. Starting from today we have three mega games, three cup finals before the next international break. This game is a good opportunity for us, it’s an interesting competition for us. It’s good to have a game tonight.”

– Slaven Bilic

Head to Head

We have never played against tonight’s opposition before and so I will use the opportunity to repeat my favourite Accrington Stanley related story. Legendary goalkeeper Willie ‘Fatty’ Foulke was in the Bradford City team when Accrington Stanley visited Bradford for an FA Cup tie in February 1907. It was discovered just before kick-off that Foulke, who stood 6ft 3in and weighed in at 22 stone, was wearing a jersey that clashed with the red shirts of Stanley. After a fruitless search of the ground for a suitably large replacement Foulke used a sheet borrowed from a neighbouring house to cover the offending top. The game ended with a Bradford victory by the only goal and with Foulke barely called into action his makeshift attire was as pristine as it had been at kickoff. Thus, the origin of the phrase “keeping a clean sheet”. What are the chances of one of these today?

Team News

None of the long term injured are ready for action yet. In the circumstances I would anticipate a reasonably strong side that would include West Ham debuts for Alvaro Arbeloa and Edimilson Fernandes. I would also like to see Ashley Fletcher and Pedro Obiang given starting positions.

My predicted starting eleven:

Randolph
Arbeloa  Ogbonna  Oxford  Masuaku
Feghouli  Obiang  Fernandes  Tore
Antonio  Fletcher

Obviously, I know nothing about the likely Accrington line-up other than the increasingly cosmopolitan nature of football sees players from France, Benin and St Lucia feature in the League Two side’s squad.

Man in the Middle

Tonight’s referee is Stephen Martin from Staffordshire, a member of the Select Group 2 Refs who can usually be found blowing his whistle in Championship games. If we asked 100 West Ham fans to ‘Name a famous Steve Martin’ answering with the referee’s name would no doubt get you an “Eh-uhh”!

I Wouldn’t Bet On It 9 – The Recovery!!

The weekend’s winnings weighing down our pockets we throw some loose change at the EFL Cup.

Fancy A BetYou may recall that last weekend I introduced a variation into our football betting. I looked at the odds for the number of goals scored in games, and I had a look at the odds of there being at least 3 goals in the game in each of the Premier League games. I think I chose the right weekend to do so!

The Premier League kept up the record of being the division where this happens the most – before last weekend there had been three or more goals in the game in 21 of the season’s 40 games. The table below shows the results of the games alongside the odds that were on offer.

 

 

Odds

 

Chelsea v Liverpool

1-2

4/6

*

Hull v Arsenal

1-4

8/11

*

Leicester v Burnley

3-0

4/5

*

Man C v Bournemouth

4-1

1/2

*

WBA v WHU

4-2

5/4

*

Everton v Middlesbrough

3-1

Evens

*

Watford v Man U

3-1

5/6

*

Palace v Stoke

4-1

6/5

*

Southampton v Swansea

1-0

Evens

 

Spurs v Sunderland

1-0

4/6

 

In the weekend’s ten games, 8 had three or more goals. The only games that didn’t manage this were the ones at Southampton and Tottenham. So the total is now 29 out of 50 games (58%). The cumulative odds of those eight games having three or more goals was over 141/1.

The game that really took my eye was the one involving our trip to West Brom, which gave the most generous odds, meaning that this was the game expected to produce the least goals. This was not surprising in that West Brom (managed by Pulis) had scored the least goals in the Premier League this season before the weekend. I felt that it had the potential for goals with our poor defending of late, plus the need for us to rally after poor recent performances. As it was the requisite three goals were all scored by half time, unfortunately all into our net!

I staked 16 points on the game to produce three or more goals and this was converted into 36 points. In addition I staked four points on an accumulator for the games at West Brom, Watford, and Manchester City to each have three or more goals at accumulated odds of 6.19/1. We had to wait until ten minutes before the end of the Watford game on Sunday for the third goal for the accumulator to be successful to produce an additional 25.7 points.

Our total stake of 20 points reduced our balance to 55.4, but our 100% success rate won us a total of 61.7 points from our single bet plus the accumulator. Our points balance is now up to 117.1, giving us an increase of 17.1 points on our starting level.

As I expect the EFL Cup (it has had a multitude of names over the years – I remember it most as the basic League Cup) to produce goals I will continue with the same bets that were successful for us this week, with two four-game accumulators each based on there being three goals or more in the matches.

So on Tuesday I shall stake a 1 point accumulator on the games at Forest, Brighton, Everton and Leicester at 7.85/1 (8.85), and on Wednesday a 1 point accumulator on the games at Swansea, Tottenham, West Ham and Northampton at 5/1 (6). Potential winnings are in brackets. I’ve kept the stakes small as the early stages of this cup are unpredictable with teams fielding weakened sides, but we can still have some fun and interest in the games hoping for three or more goals in each of them. Our guarantee is that if just one of the nights is successful then we are in profit.

With 2 points staked our balance is reduced to 115.1 with potential winnings totalling 14.85. What are the chances?

West Ham v Accrington Stanley – Anyone for Elevenses?

Keep ’em peeled for potential banana skins as an Accrington Stanley XI slip into town?

The visit of Accrington Stanley in the third round of the EFL cup will be our first ever meeting with them. They are currently in League Two where this is their eleventh consecutive season, they sit in eleventh place in the table, with eleven points, having scored eleven goals, and conceded eleven goals. This will be their eleventh competitive game of the season.

The original Accrington Stanley resigned from the Football League in 1962 after suffering financial difficulties. They reformed later in the 1960s and worked their way through the football pyramid eventually regaining their place in the league after winning the Nationwide Conference by eleven points in 2005-2006. So this is their eleventh season back in the league. Prior to last season, their best performance since their return was in 2011 when they finished in fifth place but lost out in the play-offs.

Last season was their best ever. After a run of eleven games unbeaten they went into their last game of the season at home to Stevenage with a chance of automatic promotion, but could only draw 0-0 and once again went into the play-offs. But they lost in the two-legged semi-final to AFC Wimbledon, who later won the play-off final at Wembley and were promoted to League One.

In the first round of the EFL Cup this season they were drawn at home to League One Bradford City, and the game ended goalless after extra-time and went to a penalty shoot-out. Stanley missed their first penalty and looked to be on their way out until Bradford missed their fifth one to take it to sudden death. I hope our game today doesn’t go to penalties as they are rather good at them. After missing that first penalty they scored the next eleven in a row to win the shootout 11-10! Ironically they only had ten players on the field at the end!

In Round Two they faced Premier League Burnley and beat them 1-0 after extra time with a goal in the 120th minute from Matty Pearson. He plays as a defender / midfielder and before joining Stanley he played for Rochdale and Halifax. The goal that Pearson scored was the eleventh of his career. So that was their first goal in 240 minutes of EFL action and here they sit in the third round.

We have a magnificent record in home league cup ties. We have played 111 games and only lost 19 of them. We’ll need to score eleven goals to beat our record score in the competition, the 10-0 trouncing of Bury in 1983. I was in the crowd of just under 11,000 that evening when the goalscorers were Cottee 4, Brooking 2, Devonshire 2, Martin and Stewart (penalty).

So what score this evening? 11-0? I don’t think so. But watch out for their number 11! The way the season has been going to date it would be good if some of our players can just put in a confident performance, avoid injuries, and win comfortably to take us into the last 16.

Can We Win The EFL Cup?

Can this be the first silverware since the 1999 Intertoto glory?

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We began the season in our new stadium with high hopes following the relative success of our final season at Upton Park. Our seventh-placed finish in the Premier League gave us qualification for the UEFA Europa League, which meant that we were in with a theoretical chance in four trophies this season. I use the word theoretical as opposed to realistic, although we have to remember that Leicester, at 5000-1, were only considered to have a notional chance of winning the Premier League, and we all know what happened.

We were eliminated from the Europa League earlier than we would have hoped, or expected, and even the world’s biggest West Ham optimist would have to concede, that with just five Premier League games completed, we will not overhaul a Manchester City team who already have a 12 point lead over us in the league competition, as we sit in the relegation zone.

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. But bearing in mind that our last FA Cup win was in 1980, and the fact that we have never won the League Cup, you realise that we haven’t done as well perhaps as we should have done.

This is my 59th season of watching the club, and our 50th in the top flight. We should perhaps have won more competitions than we have. But this is another season, so perhaps this will be the one. The FA Cup can be won by winning just six games of football. But the EFL Cup requires even less! The seven English teams who qualified for European competition this season, including ourselves, received byes into the third round of the League Cup, which in the absence of a sponsor is now called the EFL Cup. Those of you who have been around as long as I have will remember some of the sponsors of this competition, such as the Milk Marketing Board, Littlewoods, Rumbelows, Coca-Cola, Worthington, Carling, and Capital One.

This effectively means that you can win this trophy by winning just five games of football. You could have a magnificent defence that keeps clean sheets and get through on penalties without actually winning any games at all, but that is one winning route I can’t see us taking! So, just win five games of football. Easy isn’t it! Surely we can manage that. To be handed a draw at home to Accrington Stanley of League Two should, in theory, be a straightforward passage into the last 16, but I have supported the club for long enough to know that this is not the case!

I can remember so many banana skins in this competition with defeats to Darlington, Rotherham, Huddersfield, Coventry (more than once), Forest (at least four times!), Stockport (twice), Fulham, QPR, Swindon, Barnsley, Luton, Oldham, Oxford, Norwich, Crewe, Bolton (three times), Northampton, Sheffield Wednesday, Reading, Chesterfield, Birmingham, Aldershot, Wigan, and Sheffield United. The list is very long, and to coin a phrase popular with our manager at the moment, embarrassing!

Of course, although we have never won the competition we have come close, losing a two-legged final to West Brom in 1966 (this was the very last final decided over two legs), and to Liverpool in 1981 after a replay. We have also lost in two-legged semi-finals too, to Leicester in 1964, West Brom in 1967, Stoke in 1972 (4 epic games), Luton in 1989, Oldham in 1990, Birmingham in 2011, and the 9-0 drubbing by Manchester City in 2014.

Traditionally, throughout history, cup semi-finals have often been very tight affairs. But if you believe that our recent defensive performances are just a current phenomenon, you may like to know that in those seven two-legged semi-finals spread over fifty years we conceded 41 goals in 16 ties (6, 6, 5, 5, 6, 4, 9)!

When we beat Accrington Stanley (OK I’ll say if), then we will be in the round of 16. As we begin round three there are 16 Premier League teams left in the competition, with four all top-flight ties, meaning that at least that many will be going out. We are currently the seventh or eighth favourites to land the trophy (you can get odds of between 14/1 and 20/1), so the bookmakers fancy our chances more than some teams higher than us in the Premier League. I guess our home draw to a league 2 side in this round has something to do with that.

So can we win the EFL Cup? History tells you “no”. Our opening games this season tell you “no”. I just hope we take it seriously. We can win this trophy by winning just five games of football. Four wins guarantees a day out at Wembley, and a win there ensures European football next season. Let’s be honest, this is the simplest route into Europe.