WBA v WHU Preview

Assessing the Hammer’s bouncebackability (© Iain Dowie) for Saturday’s away trip to the Hawthorns.

Embed from Getty Images

As we approach the fifth game of the 2016-17 Premier League campaign I was hoping to be writing this preview with at least six points in the bag. Although no games are that easy, we have faced two of our easier opponents in our first two home league games, and for the fourth season in a row we’ve failed to take maximum points from our opening fixtures. The curse of defeat in the second home game struck again for the fourth season running.  In fact we’ve only won both of our first two home league games twice in this century! If you read social media then of course you will know that it is all the fault of the move to the new stadium. But I seem to recall that when we faced Leicester and Bournemouth at home last season we were playing at “fortress” Upton Park, as we were in the opening games of all those other seasons!

Three points from four games leaves us in 17th place and nine points adrift of the top. It is still early days, of course, and the table can change quite rapidly at this stage. However, another defeat at the Hawthorns would be bad news. We are now approaching a full squad fitness-wise, and we need to show that we have what it takes to bounce back and begin to make a realistic challenge in the top half of the table.

Even after four games, the top seven of Manchester City, Chelsea, Everton, Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool, and Arsenal could well be the top seven at the end of the season, albeit not necessarily in that order. We are four points away from the tail end of that group, so if we are to emulate last season’s seventh place finish we can’t afford to fall too far behind. Had we beaten Watford, as we should have done, then the gap would have only been one point.

I doubt that West Brom get too many Midlands ‘neutral’ spectators turning up because of the quality of the entertainment on offer. As befits a Tony Pulis team, they don’t score or concede many goals. Unlike the London Stadium the home fans aren’t on their feet a lot! But Pulis’ non-relegation record (like Big Sam’s) keeps the owners happy, if not the spectators. There have been five goals in their four games this season, scoring two and conceding three. They haven’t won a home game yet, with a goalless draw against Middlesbrough and a defeat to an in-form Everton side. We need to make sure that their home record doesn’t improve at our expense.

I’ve no idea what Slaven Bilic has in mind for his team selection for this game, but based upon the performances against Watford then Adrian, Byram, Collins, Reid, Noble, Lanzini and Kouyate could all potentially be looking over their shoulders to see if others are going to step into their boots for this game. Wholesale changes would be an unnecessary knee-jerk reaction to the capitulation against Watford, but I would be surprised if there weren’t at least two or three players replaced to freshen things up.

Reece Oxford was deployed in a defensive midfield capacity for the opening game at Arsenal last season and was magnificent. I’d like to see him given another opportunity in this role. I’m sure he would fit in well in front of the back four, and could drop back to make three centre backs when necessary. Mark Noble has seemed lethargic in the opening games and Kouyate doesn’t seem to be at his best either.

But whatever team he decides upon I’d like to see us open up our away points account in this game. A repeat of last season’s 3-0 win would be great, albeit unlikely, but I’ll take us to reverse our early season form and come away with a 2-1 win.

The Language of Football – Number 4

50 Ways to Leave Your Lover (and even more emotions when we win a game!)

Language CloudPaul Simon sang in 1975 about 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. “Slip out the back, Jack”, “make a new plan Stan”, “you don’t need to be coy, Roy, just set yourself free”, “hop on the bus, Gus”, and “drop off the key, Lee” were his fifty ways. More like five to me!

In the Language of Football number 2 we looked at emotions when your lover has left, or when we lose a game. How many different emotions can you feel if your lover comes back? How many different feelings do you have when we win a game?

Here are some examples:

alive, blissful, buzzing, blessed, beatific, beside oneself with joy, brilliant, content, cheerful, cockahoop, carefree, delighted, delirious, encouraged, enraptured, entranced, elated, euphoric, ecstatic, exuberant, exultant, emotional,

felicitous, good, glad, gratified, high, happy (as a sandboy), (as Larry), (as a lark), (as a clam at high tide), in seventh heaven, joyful, jumping for joy, jubilant, like a child with a new toy, merry, over the moon, on cloud nine, on a high, overjoyed, on top of the world,

pleased (as Punch), rejoicing, rapturous, rhapsodic, relieved, sick, stimulated, tingling, tittilated, thrilled, timely, tickled pink, transported, triumphant, wrapped, walking on air, wicked,

There are more than 50 here. The list is not exhaustive. How many others can you come up with?

The Boy Never Quite Made It: Johnny Ayris

We had Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny Ayris on the wing…..

Boy Never Quite Made ItIn the first installment of this occasional series, which looks at players who came through from the youth team (or academy) but never quite made it as first team regulars, we featured Roger Cross whose debut was against Burnley in 1968. A year earlier a certain Trevor Brooking had also made a league debut against Burnley and continuing this theme into 1970 Johnny Ayris made his first team introduction against the same opponents.

Burnley ProgrammeWapping born Ayris was just 17 at the time and was seen as the next generation marauding winger to follow the fleeting footsteps of John Sissons and Harry Redknapp into the first team. His debut was a successful one providing the crosses (or assists in today’s terminology) for a Geoff Hurst hat-trick in a 3-1 victory. Ayris was used sparingly during the remainder of the 1970/71 season making a further 7 starts including in the infamous 4-0 FA Cup defeat at Blackpool where Moore, Greaves, Clyde Best and Brian Dear had been spotted partying into the early hours the night before the game.

At the commencement of the 1971/72 season Ayris had become a regular starter as the club recovered from a poor start to climb to a respectable mid-table position prior to a home clash against West London rivals Chelsea. The young Ayris started brightly and was giving the Chelsea full-back a torrid time much to the delight of the Chicken Run crowd as West Ham attacked the North Bank end in the first half. The full back in question was notorious 1970’s footballing hardman Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris who eventually decided it was time to let the young winger ‘know he was there’! The tackle itself became part of Upton Park folklore with some accounts describing Harris attempting to launch Ayris into row six of the terracing but my memory is that it was more of a robust bodycheck. Nevertheless, Ayris went right over the top of Harris and landed with a thump on the turf. He was to play no further part in the game, which West Ham won 2-1, and was hurried to hospital to be treated for a serious lung problem.

Johnny AyrisThe Harris incident may not directly have ended his career but it had a large part to play. At just 5 feet 5 inches and a slender 9 stone he was utilised selectively in subsequent seasons by manager Ron Greenwood who felt the need to protect the young winger from the more agricultural players who inhabited top flight football at the time. Ayris made a further 33 starts over the next 5 seasons before being given a free transfer to non-league Wimbledon in 1977 and drifted out of the game at just 24 years of age.

In total Johnny Ayris made 50 starts for West Ham and scored 2 goals; the only league goal in a 3-4 away defeat at Manchester City. He had announced his arrival in the team with great excitement but ultimately was not able to make the grade. He had been a regular at England Youth level and possibly his career highlight was winning the 1971 UEFA Youth Tournament including a goal scoring appearance in the 3-0 final win against Portugal. The victorious England lineup that day: Tilsed, Dugdale, Dillon, Parker, Shanks, McGuire, Busby, Ayris, Francis, Eastoe, Daley.

5 Things From the Latest Premier League Weekend

Now that the dust has settled a chance to rake over the embers of Matchweek 4.

Five Things EPLMeet The New Boss……

The build up to the weekend games was dominated by the Manchester derby and in particular the clash of the titan managers, Mourinho and Guardiola. One of the changes in the modern TV version of football is that all managers are celebrities; not just those who have something interesting to say or are otherwise entertaining such as a Clough or Shankly. The outcome of the match made it 8-3 to Pep in the head to head with Jose which makes it fairly conclusive that Pep is the main man. We can put this one to bed now I think. As usual Mourinho blamed the match officials for the defeat but they were second best in what was an exciting yet error prone contest; where spirit and determination dominated rather than the quality of the football – not one for the purists you might say. I’ve not yet heard Guardiola interviewed but his impression of Marcel Marceau on fast-forward on the touchline does provide added amusement.

Both Manchester clubs will likely be in at the death when the Premier League is decided next May. The amount of money spent on player recruitment will determine that, never mind the respective managerial competences. Manager of the season so far, for me, has to be Ronald Koeman at Everton; not only a great start for the Toffees but also for taking Enner Valencia off our hands.

Money’s Too Plentiful to Mention

It was revealed this week that Manchester United became the first UK side to earn more than £500 million in revenues in a single year. As with most Premier League teams an ever increasing proportion of revenue comes from TV and commercial operation rather than from matchday income. If in the future the crowd effect can be virtually added by CGI there may be no need for troublesome supporters in the stadium at all. It was estimated that the transfer fee cost of the starting 22 in the Manchester derby was somewhere in the region of £700 million. Big clubs with big managers tend to sign players with big reputations. It is surprising how little you might end up getting for your money if the performances of Pogba and Bravo are anything to go by. Interesting that despite all the spending City do not have a reliable backup to Aguero; Iheanacho may have potential but the remarkably one-footed Nolito doesn’t look a viable replacement. Kevin de Bruyne is a fine player and probably justifies his fee but I am still to be convinced that either Sterling or Stones are the best use of (getting on for) £50 million each – with almost the same again spent on a taller version of Sterling in Leroy Sane. Value is largely subjective but if there was any purpose in Fair Play Rules they would legislate against the indiscriminate spending of the likes of City and Chelsea.

Going off at even more of a tangent into the Championship, I was surprised to note that of the 27 players featured in the encounter between former European champions Villa and Forest only 9 were English.

Strikers, Goals and Movement

It is most unusual to see a West Ham player at the top of the goalscoring charts but Michail Antonio is currently up there along with Costa and Ibrahimovic. Maybe we will get someone into double figures this season. Off the mark this week were Lukaku and Kane and I would expect both to continue rattling them in during the remainder of the season. Many of the goals at the weekend were the result of quick, incisive passing and movement often on the counter attack. The type of goals we scored in the smash and grab away victories at Anfield and the Etihad but which have been rare ever since. Quite a few teams have adopted the pressing and quick break strategy with the notable exceptions of Arsenal and City who still tend towards the tippy-tappy. Our own current Plan A is something of a hybrid involving ponderous sideways passes (also known as fannying about) with the ball eventually played out to one of many wide-men who then attempt to put in a cross; Plan B is to try to win a free kick in a dangerous position.

There were two flying overhead kicks at the weekend by Koscielny of Arsenal and dirty Diego of Chelsea. Both looked spectacular and helped towards earning points for their respective clubs but both also raise the question of where the line is drawn for dangerous play. Had they happened elsewhere on the pitch I wonder what the decision would have been?

The Case for the Defence

There was a fair share of comedy (or was it schoolboy) defending this weekend. There were individual errors and there was collective incompetence. Top prize for individual error went to Lucas of Liverpool but fortunately for him it did affect the final outcome of the game. There was some complicity from Mingolet who should never have given him the ball in the first place. Players (playing for the more sophisticated coaches) may be under instructions not to welly it upfield but abdicating the responsibility to a teammate is not really any better. Claudio Bravo was not content with his initial flapping at a cross clanger and tried to go one better by embarking on several suicidal dribbles. The award for collective incompetence was hotly contested and in the final analysis Sunderland just pip West Ham for the honour. The West Ham defence at least put up a token resistance to opposition attacks whereas Sunderland just seemed to want to keep out of Lukaku’s way. Honourable mention as well to Stoke who conceded four at home for a second match running. A poor result for them but their defence was more undone by opposition cunning rather than them being absent without leave.

Bad Decisions Make Great Stories

A week in Premier League football would not be complete without referee inconsistency or downright bewilderment. Arsenal’s fortunate last minute penalty was a case in point with the referee making a (Freeman’s sized) catalogue of errors. First he failed to spot a clear foul on a Southampton player which gave Arsenal possession; then he didn’t stop the game despite there being an Arsenal player lying prone with a head injury in the middle of the goal; said prone player then prevented the Southampton keeper getting to the cross; and finally he penalised the Southamton defender in what was as clear a case of ‘six of one and half a dozen of the other’ as I have ever seen. Such events can kick-start a season. Elsewhere it appeared that ‘top whistle-blower’ Mark Clattenburg had decided that the new dissent clampdown didn’t apply to Wayne Rooney – on any of a number of occasions during the course of the match. Chelsea were, for once, on the wrong end of a refereeing blunder with Cahill clearly fouled by Leroy Fer before he scored Swansea’s second; this can, however, be put down as justifiable karma!

Counting Sheep – 4 – The Vowels

Trouble sleeping on the hottest September day since 1949?

Counting SheepIf you have seen my previous articles you will know that when I’ve had difficulty dropping off to sleep then instead of counting sheep I’ve been picking a West Ham team where all the surnames start with the same letter.

I’ve completed letters B, C and D, but decided that there weren’t enough players whose names begin with any of the individual vowels. So what I’ve done is combined all the vowels to select one team. This gave me enough options to pick a decent enough side.

So here is my all-time West Ham “Vowels” line-up in a 4-3-3 formation:

Allen (P)
Allen (C)

So who did I leave out? There was Ayew (because I haven’t seen him yet), Arbeloa (who has only just joined but it won’t take too much to oust O’Brien from the number 2 shirt), Almunia, Amalfitano, Armero, Omoyimni, Otalokowski, O’Neill, Ilic, Impey, Orr, Allen (M) – I couldn’t have three Allens in the team, Ilunga, Eustace, Unsworth, Ilan, Emenike, Etherington (who probably came closest to getting in) and Ayris. You’ll see what I’ve done there – I’ve even included Joey O’Brien in the team otherwise I might have had to put Antonio at right back! And I certainly wasn’t going to do that!

I’ve probably overlooked someone really good. Can you pick a team of “Vowels” to rival mine? Would you change my team?

And who would manage the “Vowels” teams? Only one I could think of, the current England manager, Big Sam.

The Language of Football – Number 3

A game of two halves or the match of the day?

Language CloudDo you use the word game or match in football terms? Which do you prefer? There are no specific rules for describing a game of football, or a football match. You might use the term game of football but are unlikely to say a match of football. I would usually say “I’m going to the game today”, whereas my wife is more likely to ask “Are you going to the match today?”

Many synonyms have come about to describe a game or match using different terms, many to satisfy the needs of journalists trying to avoid repetition. Game or match are the two most common and can be interchanged, or used to describe most of the scenarios that will arise in this article. Sometimes the word game doesn’t describe a single game, but can refer to football in general terms. A game of football for example can refer to a specific game, the game of football to football as a whole. The beautiful game is a term used to describe football as a whole, it’s never the beautiful match.

Sometimes you may hear the term “he’s been in the game long enough”. This does not describe a specific match, but someone who has been involved in football for a long time. However, a defender given a torrid time by the opposing attacker would know that he’s been in a game; you are less likely to say been in a match. A team that have been totally outplayed may be described as never in the game, but you could use match here.

All kinds of adjectives are used to describe a game/match. Sometimes the word clash is used but only in certain circumstances. The term suggests a more physical game where the teams will be more hyped-up than usual. So, for example, if we are about to play Tottenham then it might be an eagerly-awaited clash, whereas if we are about to face, say, Bournemouth, the word clash is less likely to be used. A derby game is likely to be described as a clash, an old firm game between Rangers and Celtic and the El Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona will definitely be clashes. A clash will often be a heavyweight one, or a titanic one, a Clash of the Titans, or a top-of-the-table clash. A fixture clash however is where a team might reach, say, the semi-final of the cup, when there is already a league game scheduled for the day of the semi-final.

Another term used is a fixture. This is often preceded by adjectives such as long-awaited, top-of-the-table, relegation (sometimes called a six-pointer), plum, or mouth-watering. Relegation often precedes the word scrap which suggests the game might be a bit of a battle. Relegation also precedes the word battle to describe teams in the drop-zone playing against each other. Sometimes a game may be an almighty battle. It could be a ding-dong one. Although teams meeting in battle is another phrase for a game/match, a battle is more frequently used to describe players having individual battles all over the field, or midfield battles, or Andy Carroll being involved in an aerial battle with a tall, uncompromising defender. Aerial is another interesting adjective often used to describe an onslaught, a tussle, or a bombardment. Teams facing a side managed by Big Sam have often faced these, although he would of course deny it.

Sometimes a game/match is described as an affair. No, not a sexual liaison between married people who are not married to each other, but often a game that is not a lot of fun. So affairs are often dismal, drab, lifeless, dull, boring, ill-tempered, or physical.

Contest is another alternative and these are often absorbing, fascinating, or gripping. The phrase all over as a contest is often used when one side has a big lead and we may as well go home.

An encounter can also be absorbing, fascinating or gripping, and can additionally be thrilling, boring, or drab. A game can be an end-to-end one with flowing football, teams that are stretched, and gaps appearing in defences. These often provide chances at both ends which often lead to goals. Games with lots of goals at either end are specifically designed for the neutral spectator, but these games are not for the purists who, for one reason or another, like to see good defensive play, and abhor lots of mistakes leading to goals.

My final description of a game/match occurs if say, West Ham are drawn against Accrington Stanley in the Cup. This match can be described as a banana skin for us, although (to keep up the use of fruit) it is a plum draw for the minnows, Accrington Stanley.

West Ham v Watford in Numbers

Know all there is to know about the numbers game.


NumbersGeoff Hopkins has written some excellent interesting articles about the use of statistics in football. I’ll add a few numbers of my own in an analysis of the Watford debacle. Like Geoff I’ve made use of the very good whoscored.com website, whilst also checking other statistical databases, newspapers, and the internet, as well as using my brain to recall other bits of data I’ve read or seen or thought of.

I’ll start with “0” or zero. This is the tolerance that the club say they will show to fans deemed to have offended in violence or standing issues within the stadium. This is also the number of times Watford have scored four goals away from home in a Premier League game.

56,974 – yesterday’s attendance at the start of the game. I wonder if the club have read a previous article of mine where I mentioned how co-incidental it is that our attendance is frequently x thousand, 977. Three fewer this time!

25,000 (estimated) – the number still in the stadium when the final whistle blew.

38 – the number of times Watford have found themselves two goals behind in a Premier League game, including this weekend.

37 – the number of times Watford have lost the game after falling two goals behind in a Premier League game.

33 – the number of minutes required to establish a two goal lead. This is also, roughly, the amount of playing time in minutes needed to turn a two goal lead into a two goal deficit.

4 – the number of Watford players that I read we were linked with in the last transfer window – Janmaat, Pereyra, Deeney and Ighalo were all on our “radar” according to one source or another. But like a lot of these rumours – probably just made-up stories to fill column inches. Nonetheless, Pereyra looked some player, and Deeney took his goal splendidly.

4 again – the number of league goals scored by Michail Antonio from inside the penalty area this season (I won’t call it a penalty box as a box is three–dimensional, and the area is not) – more than any other Premier League player

10 – the number of headed goals scored by Michail Antonio since the beginning of last season – more than any other Premier League player – not bad for a “winger” who has played often at right back! Keep him up front Slav! Trust the stats!

11,085 – the number of days since Watford last scored at least four goals away from home in the top division. On the same day (5 May 1986) we were losing 3-1 at Everton in the last game of the momentous season (1985-86) which saw us finish in third place.

“Any number you want to one” – the odds you could have got on a Watford victory if you had gone on the betting exchanges at around 3.35pm on Saturday afternoon.

1 – the number of times Watford have previously beaten us 4-2 at our ground in a league game (on 21 February 1984 – Bobby Barnes and Dave Swindlehurst scored our goals in front of 21,263 at Upton Park).

35,711 – the increase in the attendance between the two times Watford have beaten us 4-2 on our ground (the increase is greater than the “all-seating” Upton Park capacity – well you know what I mean)

West Ham figures first in the following section:

58%-42% – our dominance in possession of the ball in the game

19-13 – our dominance in shots

7-0 – our dominance in shots from set-pieces

12-13 – slight advantage to Watford in shots “in open play”

4-8 – now we’re getting to the more important stuff – Watford had twice as many shots on target as we did. You are very unlikely to score unless you have shots on target. Yes I know it is possible if you want to be pedantic – deflections and open goals.

441-322 total passes; 381-231 completed passes; 86%-72% pass success – so we had more of the ball, and were better at finding a team mate with it, but what these figures don’t tell us is the area of the field where the passes were made! I’d like to see the statistic of successful passes in the final third of the pitch – but we never see this one – it would be a better indicator. In fact our pass success percentage was not bettered by any side in the whole Premier League on Saturday. Hull equalled us on 86%, and Middlesbrough were next on 85%. Neither of those teams won either! So what does it prove?

12-25 tackles; 50%-92% percentage of tackles won – perhaps gives an indication of Watford defensively compared to ourselves?

4-4 corners; 25-13 crosses – our goals came directly from a corner and a cross.

10-15 fouls conceded – we committed fewer than our opponents.

The really important statistic is that we threw away a two goal lead and lost the game 4-2. David Sullivan said he wasn’t going to consider a new contract for Slaven Bilic until he’d proved himself in the second season. Now is the time for him to show us his management capabilities.