West Ham 0 v 3 Southampton

Don’t Press The Panic Button

Embed from Getty Images

Let me start by saying that I am massively disappointed with our poor showing in the first few games of this season. After the great promise of Slaven Bilic’s first year in charge when we came tantalisingly close to finishing in a Champions League qualifying position, it appears to have all gone pear-shaped. So why has it happened?

Firstly, we are defending very poorly and at the back we appear to have lost confidence. But don’t believe that this is a new thing. In thirteen of our last sixteen Premier League games (that is the six of this, and the final ten of last season) we conceded two or more goals. That is not a good record. For me, the manager can’t seem to pick a right back. Yesterday we had Arbeloa filling in at left back and Byram was not selected. Instead he preferred a defensive midfielder in that position. The game was fairly even until we conceded the first goal, inevitably via the right back position, and of course inevitably scored by Charlie Austin. Didn’t you just know that would happen?

Reid and Ogbonna are international defenders but I don’t believe that they make a good pairing. Both to me are old-fashioned number sixes that play better alongside a commanding number five, like Oxford for example? Like Bobby Moore playing alongside Jack Charlton, or even Tommy Taylor.

And the loss of Cresswell has proved more important than many believed it would. Kouyate seems a shadow of the player we saw last season, Noble just isn’t doing it, and Lanzini isn’t yet up to speed. Payet still seems to be suffering a hangover from the Euros, and his body language didn’t look good; it was almost as if he wanted to be elsewhere. Zaza did more running off the ball than people give him credit for, but does not look like an international forward on the evidence so far. Antonio cannot be expected to carry the team on his own and the look on his face when he was moved to right back was priceless.

If it was my team then I’d be looking for more youthful energy and pace. Based on the current fit players then I would play Byram at right back, Reid and Oxford in the middle, and Ogbonna at left back. I would have Obiang as a defensive midfielder with Fernandes and Kouyate in midfield. Can nobody else see the promise, pace and energy in Fernandes in just the few minutes he has been given? Up front I’d have Antonio and Payet wide, and persevere with Zaza for the time being. Apart from left back it would be all players playing in their natural positions, and even Ogbonna does have experience in the left back berth.

My bench would be selected from Arbeloa to cover either of the full back berths, Collins for the central positions, Nordtveit as cover for Obiang, Lanzini, Noble and Feghouli for the midfield positions and Fletcher up front. I’d also be hoping for the quick return to fitness of Cresswell, Ayew and Carroll which would enable greater choice.

Southampton have received a lot of plaudits for their performance, and yes, they deserved to win. But until they scored it was an even game. The worrying thing was how our heads appeared to drop once we were behind. A lot of confidence has gone in a defending sense, in fact it is at rock bottom, and we lack creativity. We don’t look like we have a plan as to how we are going to score goals.

I wonder if there are other behind-the-scenes issues? Are there problems off the pitch that we are not aware of? Are there perhaps cliques developing? That is my suspicion after seeing the body language, especially when goals are conceded. When things are going wrong players need to stand together. We need to win together and lose together. But we are losing as individuals. The support can’t even seem to stick together. It was great until the second goal went in. But after that the stadium emptied at a faster rate than ever before.

Slaven Bilic described our situation in his press conference as “the Perfect Storm”. The move to a new stadium? Rubbish – I’ve seen plenty of poor performances at Upton Park. The injuries? We’ve had injuries before. Thirteen new players? Poor summer recruitment? We’ve improved the squad but not the team? Perhaps this is true – we’ve bought a lot of second hand Mondeos when we needed a couple of Rolls Royces or Bentleys. Bad luck? Last season’s performances over-hyped? Poor defending?

We’ve got to stop making excuses. We have players of sufficient quality to be at least a mid-table team. I’ve described how I would tinker with the team but I’m not in charge. Bilic has to prove his managerial qualities now. The players must get together, stick together, and play as a team. We have only played six games. There is no need to press the panic button yet. We’ve been in this position before. Let’s see where we are at the end of October when four more league games have been played.

The Week in Hammer’s History

Picking through the crumbs of comfort for the week 26 September to 2 October.

This Week Hammers HistoryThis week in Hammer’s history begins on 27 September 1997 where a run of 4 straight defeats was brought to end with a fortuitous 2-1 home victory over a Liverpool side including Paul Ince and David James. Both West Ham goals were the result of combination play between John Hartson and Eyal Berkovic who would come together in a less collaborative manner at the training ground later in the year.

Five years and one day later, West Ham secured their first league win of the season with the Paolo Di Canio inspired 3-2 victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. I was tempted to have this as the featured game but the less I think about that Glen Roeder season (the worst football manager ever) the better. You can, however, re-live the match below!

It has been a good week to play Chelsea and on 2 October in consecutive years we managed to stuck the blue flag firmly into the appropriate passage. The very average pre-money-laundering Blues being beaten 1-0 at Upton Park in 1993 (Morley) and 2-1 at Stamford Bridge in 1994 (M Allen, Moncur).

If beating Chelsea has been feature of this week over the years then so has losing to Arsenal including the time that they put 4 past Allen McKnightmare in 1988. There was also a time when a heavy defeat at Goodison Park was never too far away and September 2001 was no exception with a 0-5 reverse for Roeder and the boys. There being no game the following week it allowed the Hammers to work on their defending before the next game; a 7-1 pummeling by Blackburn. Difficult to believe the season ended with a 7th place finish.

For the featured game we return to European Cup Winners Cup and the second leg tie with Castilla. You may recall that due to crowd disturbances at the first game in Madrid, West Ham were forced to play the return behind closed doors. The game was so eerily silent, in front of 262 spectators, that it could have been played at Highbury. Within 30 minutes goals from Pike and Cross brought the tie back to 3-3 on aggregate and before half time the Hammers were ahead through a Paul Goddard strike. There was just the one goal in the second period, a thunderbolt from Castilla’s skipper, Bernal, to level the tie once more at 4-4. Into extra time and a goal in each half by the original Psycho, David Cross, made it 5-1 to West Ham on the night and 6-4 on aggregate.

Parkes, Stewart, Lampard, Bonds, Martin, Devonshire, Holland (Brush), Goddard (Morgan), Cross, Brooking, Pike

Notable West Ham birthday’s this week:

26 September:  Alan Stephenson (72)
Tommy Taylor (65)
27 September:   Me
28 September:   Geoff Pike (60)
30 September:   John Sissions (71)
2 October:           Trevor Brooking (68)
Jack Collison (28)
Ashley Fletcher (21)

5 Things From The Saints Capitulation

The list of what went wrong against Southampton could be as long as your arm.

5 Things WHUA Big Stadium Doesn’t Automatically Make You a Big Club

Personally, I believe the connection between the move to the new stadium and the poor performances so far this season is being vastly overplayed. It certainly is not the prime factor and cannot explain the performances on the road. The expectations at club following the move were unrealistically high though and maybe an assumption that we are now one of the big boys has found its way into the psyche at the club. Overall it was a good season last year but the report card still included a fair few areas where we could and should have done better. This requires hard work and application from the Board through to the coaching staff and players. Early signs are that the investment made in new players has not been well spent; that the coaching staff are short on ideas and the players low on effort and application as well as confidence. Both Newcastle and Sunderland have above average sized stadiums and their current positions demonstrate that on its own it does not bring success.

Second Season Syndrome: An Absence of Style and Formation

One major positive that Bilic brought to club was an approach that was the antidote to the unadventurous, football by attrition of his predecessor. It was a big relief in respect of football as an entertainment and brought further joy in victories over Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and the two Manchester clubs. The successes were enough to overshadow those disappointing aspects of our season where we failed to dispatch the teams we should have beaten with ease. Tame defeats at home to Swansea and away at Stoke in the last weeks of the season were definite warning signs of our limitations. On the good days our approach was high tempo, organised, hard working with quick counter attacks. On the not so good days it was slow, ponderous, short on creativity and focused on high balls to a big striker. Most of the teams setting the early pace this term play at a high tempo and most employ a pressing game. It is difficult to identify or articulate what our game plan is meant to be. Bilic says that the players are working hard on the training ground but to a man they look slower and less fit than any opposition we face. We lack cohesion and do not attack or defend as a team; operating as three detached units. Big gaps exist between midfield and defence and not enough players are getting up quickly enough to support the attack. There are major issues to address. Maybe confidence and injuries plays a part but there are deeper fundamental problems that need to be resolved (and fast!)

We Appear to Have Wasted a Lot of Transfer Cash

It is said that we spent £43 million in the transfer window on 10 or more new players (although that includes the permanent signing of Manuel Lanzini) with just James Tomkins leaving the club. If all the squad were fit it would be unlikely that any of the new players would feature in many people’s preferred starting eleven. Until his aberration at the Hawthorns I did like the look of Masuaku but he is no Cresswell; who even if he is not the best defender in the world is one of our most potent attacking threats. We haven’t seen too much of Arbeloa yet but for a player of such experience he looks to have poor positional sense. Likewise for a player who spent a good few season in a decent Bundesliga side, Nordtveit seems to be completely lost (at sechs and siebens you might say) and his distribution is woeful. Tore and Calleri look dreadful and if there is an exit clause on their respective loans then it would make sense to terminate them now. Zaza did put in some effort (at least in the first half) but looks wanting as a Premier League lone striker; did he have the ball under control at any point in the game? Without knowing the structure of his loan it would be a brave man to trigger the apparent ‘must buy‘ clause. I will cut some slack for Fletcher and Fernandes as I guess they were bought for the future rather than today and would be willing to give Feghouli a few more more chances. We will not know whether Ayew can make an impact for several weeks yet.

Players out of Position

As soon as I saw the team announced my heart sank. I understand that we had a left back problem and playing Arbeloa there may have been the only option available. However, Nordtveit at right back was just plain stupid (even if it was marginally less stupid than playing Antonio there earlier in the season). Why do we so frequently play players out of position in supposedly the best league in the world and expect them to perform. It didn’t take long to recognise that Bertrand was going to be a big threat for Southampton;and why did Nordtveit just give up running for the first goal? I’m not sure the midfield players know who is supposed to be playing where and we continue to defy convention by playing without a proper holding midfielder. With Kouyate drifting right and Payet keeping left there is no threat coming through the centre.

Where Will the Goals Come From

We have just the two tactics for scoring. High balls into the box from open play or set pieces and hope that Antonio will get on the end of one; or a Payet free kick. That it was obvious that the Southampton defence could cope with Plan A for the rest of the week appeared to bypass everyone in claret and blue. For Plan B, no amount of diving won any free kicks in a dangerous enough position for Payet to take advantage. Yes, we probably should have had a penalty in that brief 5 minute spell were we showed a little spirit but otherwise very little was created. No quick interplay and no openings created to bother the keeper. I am not a believer in most football statistics but 6 games and no goals from a striker is quite worrying.

Matchday: West Ham versus Southampton

Will the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness deliver a change in fortune at the London Stadium?

West Ham SaintsIf there is a Hitchhikers Guide to the Premier League it would no doubt describe Southampton as ‘mostly harmless’. Like the city they represent the club is largely unremarkable with just a solitary FA Cup win to show for their trouble. I worked in Southampton for some years and it is about as interesting as watching a reality TV show of a group of Belgians putting their CDs in alphabetical order on a damp Sunday afternoon. A club like ours, and its supporters, who are dreaming dreams would unlikely list the Saints as one of their main competitors. Yet over the past few seasons they have performed rather better than us; and this at a time when their demise has been repeatedly forecast as, time and again, players and managers have looked for a speedy exit up the M3 towards the brighter lights of London and the North West. The likes of Clyne, Lovren, Chambers, Shaw, Wanyama, Schneiderlin, Lallana, Bale, Mane, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain have all eschewed the unfashionable red and white stripes, and a picnic in the New Forest, for something more exciting. Southampton come into the game on the back of a first League win (Home to Swansea) and an EFL victory against Palace. The ‘resurgent’ Hammers will be flying high after seeing off the mighty Stanley.

“We have two massive games coming up and this is a great opportunity for us to get out of the trouble we are in. The reaction has been there in training and we always train hard. We have to do that in games and for 90 minutes. I am expecting us to be really good on Sunday.”

– Slaven Bilic

Last season’s home game was the quintessential ‘game of two halves’. Southampton completely dominated an abysmal West Ham in the first half and should have had the game easily won at half time but went in just one goal to the good. The introduction of Carroll and Lanzini at half time helped turn things around and West Ham went on to record their only Payet-less victory of the season with a 2-1 margin. The game also witnessed Antonio’s first goal for West Ham when a clearance rebounded from his head and into the goal; I wonder if this strike is counted in his headed goals statistic?

Head to Head

The head to head situation between the two team is a relatively even one with West Ham just shading it overall but with a very strong home record.  Of the last 12 encounters Southampton have won 4, West Ham 3 with 5 draws.  The last home draw was the Championship game in 2012 where Matt Taylor was needlessly sent off in the melee that followed West Ham being awarded a penalty.

P W D L F A
Home 47 26 11 10 86 46 WLWWDL
Away 48 10 16 22 57 81 LDDDLD
95 36 27 32 143 127

Team News

Arthur Masuaku has joined the other long term injured on the treatment table and so we are once again without a left back.  The worst case scenario in unfathomable team selections would Arbeloa moving to the left and Antonio taking his place on the right. I have heard some say that Ogbonna can play at left back but he doesn’t look like one to me.  The threat and pace of Shane Long (rarely given the credit he deserves) should not be underestimated.  Last season it was playing Jenkinson at left back in the first half that contributed to our poor first half showing.  Arbeloa on the left and Byram on the right looks the best option.

“He (Payet) is a very good player on the free-kicks, but our players also have many qualities and it will be difficult for West Ham to defend these players.”

– This Year’s Southampton Manager

For all the difficulties at the back, the balance in the midfield and a striker who looks capable of scoring also occupy the mind.  Noble and Kouyate sharing defensive midfield duties clearly doesn’t work and it is surprising the manager doesn’t see this or the importance of a specialist holding player in a setup where the fullbacks are meant to push forward.  Upfront neither Zaza nor Calleri look like they have seen a goal before.  It is difficult to explain away their performances off as settling in problems but some perseverance is necessary.

My predicted team:

Adrian (last life)
Byram  Reid  Ogbonna  Arbeloa
Nordtveit
Antonio  Payet  Kouyate  Lanzini
Zaza

Southampton are without Rodriguez but have Charlie ‘Dodgy Knee’ Austin available who is guaranteed to score; albeit in a 3-1 defeat for the Saints.

The Man in the Middle

Today’s referee is Jonathan Moss from West Yorkshire who was branded as the League’s most error prone official last season.  Moss took charge of West Ham on 5 occasions during 2015/16 (including the Blackburn cup game) and sent at least one player off on each occasion; 2 West Ham players and 4 opponents.  He was the referee for the away game at Leicester which was packed full of inconsistency and controversy.   In 4 games this year he has brandished 19 Yellow and 1 Red card.  The odds on seeing a penalty and red card today would seem to be high.

West Ham v Southampton Preview

Batten down the hatches for ‘The Perfect Storm’.

Embed from Getty Images

Last season we were very closely matched with Southampton. As we have been for the past few years. You will recall that they were promoted from the Championship automatically in 2011-12, when we came up via the play-offs. They won the game at St Mary’s that season and we drew the return at Upton Park on Valentines Day. Their three point margin over us in the two games effectively was the difference, as they finished the season on 88 points, two ahead of our 86. It meant that we had to go through the play-offs, which with hindsight was brilliant, and meant a great day out at Wembley.

In the first season back in the top flight we were the best performing of the three promoted sides, finishing tenth, five clear of the Saints in 14th. This included a comfortable 4-1 victory over them at home and an Andy Carroll goal in a 1-1 draw in the return. The following year we beat them 3-1 at home and drew 0-0 away. Move on a year and they got the upper hand with a win at Upton Park, and there was another goalless draw at St Mary’s.

Last season it was one win apiece. Antonio scored a remarkable goal as he was prostrate on the floor after a mazy run equalising the Southampton opener. Then Andy Carroll netted the winner with his head after Antonio’s header had rebounded from the woodwork. It was Antonio’s first ever Premier League goal and it came less than nine months ago. He has come on so much since then, being one of the first names on the team sheet, and recently called into the England squad. Apart from being leading scorer in the league he has scored the most headed goals of 2016, and his five headers this season are more headers than any team in the Premier League has scored. In fact he has scored five of our seven league goals.

We lost the return 1-0, despite playing against ten men throughout most of the second half. They ended the season one point ahead of us in sixth place. Some footballers seem to specialise against us. Rooney and Lukaku are two that come to mind, and Yoshida of Southampton is another. When he scored the only goal of the game it was only his third ever Premier League goal, but it was his second against us. I noticed that he was left on the bench for their last game when they recorded their first victory of the season, beating Swansea 1-0.  We need to watch out if he gets on today. We also need to watch Charlie Austin. I’m sure he will relish putting two fingers up to our directors box if he scores after one of our joint chairmen publicly questioned his fitness last season. Mr Sullivan askedwhether it was sensible to fork out £15 million for an injury prone player. What about Andy Carroll?

We wouldn’t normally expect many goals in any Southampton game. There have only been ten in their five games this season and they have only scored four of them. On their travels they are not prolific scorers; last season they only managed to score twice in five of their away games, despite winning seven times. As a comparison we scored at least two goals on eleven occasions away from home in our seven victories.

The referee Jonathan Moss has sent off at least one player in each of the last six West Ham games he has officiated in. In the last two seasons he has also on two occasions that I can recall given a penalty against us in the 95th minute, denying us a victory each time (Tottenham and Leicester). Both penalties awarded were dubious to say the least.

So what will happen this afternoon? We desperately need a victory to kick-start our season. Let’s hope we can be tighter at the back and win the game by perhaps two or three goals to one.

Slaven Bilic described our situation in his press conference as “the Perfect Storm”. It is the title of a film about a fishing expedition from the 1990’s. It is also an expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically. The move to a new stadium? The injuries? The new players? Bad luck? Poor defending? After every storm comes a calm. Let us hope that the storm has passed and we can now look forward to a brighter future.

I Wouldn’t Bet On It 10 – Close but no Cigar!!

Going for goals galore with this week’s biscuit tin money.

Fancy A BetIn midweek I continued with the three goals or more bets that were so successful last weekend, and as I expected the EFL Cup to produce goals I placed two four-game accumulators, one on Tuesday and one on Wednesday.

On Tuesday I staked a 1 point accumulator on the games at Forest, Brighton, Everton and Leicester at 7.85/1 (8.85). We were let down by just one game (Everton v Norwich) where only two goals were scored. On Wednesday I staked a 1 point accumulator on the games at Swansea, Tottenham, West Ham and Northampton at 5/1 (6). Once again we were let down by just one game, the one at the London Stadium! Our guarantee was that if just one of the nights was successful then we were in profit, but despite six of the eight producing three or more goals, we just missed out.

Our balance is now 115.1.

This week we will try something a little different that still relies on goals. Betfred offer a number of “Goals Galore” coupons that pay fixed odds based on both teams scoring at least one goal in a match. Depending upon the number of games you choose, fixed odds are paid at varying rates. On their Goals Galore Bonus coupon, which we shall try out this week, they pay 9/2 for 3 correct, 9/1 for 4 correct, and 16/1 for 5 correct, going right up to 5000/1 for 15 correct.

So, dipping our toe in the water for the first time we’ll try a 3, 4, and 5 match entry with 2 points staked on the 3 matches, and one each on the 4 and 5 matches, making a total stake of 4 points. I haven’t tried this bet before so we’ll keep the stakes low to begin with.

So 2 points for both teams to score in the following 3 matches at 9/2

Bournemouth v Everton

Brighton v Barnsley

Bolton v Bradford

Remember we need both teams to score in each game to win (11).

For the 4 match entry we’ll add QPR v Birmingham to the above 3 matches, so 1 point staked at 9/1 (10).

For the 5 match entry we’ll add Fulham v Bristol City to the above 4 matches, so 1 point staked at 16/1 (17).

So if both teams score in the first three matches we win 11 points. If the first three come in, and the fourth match also has both teams scoring we will add 10 more points. And if both teams score in the first 4 matches and the fifth comes up trumps we add another 17 points.

If both teams score in all 5 matches we win a total of 38 points, but if any of the six teams in the first 3 games fail to score then we lose.

Total stake 4 points. Balance now 111.1. What are the chances?

The Lawro Challenge – Week 6

Whose tea leaves make the most sense in the latest round of match predictions.

Lawro Crystal BallLast weekend we were very close with Rich and Lawro each predicting seven correct results, whereas Geoff just took the honours with five correct results plus a correct score. Rich continues to lead with 43, with Lawro on 36 and Geoff on 33.

Speaking ahead of the latest round of matches Geoff said that he was “delighted to have regained ground.  A corner has been turned and will now look to make great strides, change gears and narrow the deficit even  further before the international break.  This massive result provides a firm foundation to build on as I redouble efforts to kick start my campaign.”

This week’s predictions below:

 

Rich

Geoff

Lawro

Total after 4 weeks

36

25

29

Score in week 5

7

8

7

Total after 5 weeks

43

33

36

 

 

 

 

Predictions – Week 6

 

 

 

 

Rich

Geoff

Lawro

SATURDAY

 

 

 

Man Utd v Leicester

2-1

1-1

2-1

Bournemouth v Everton

2-2

1-2

1-1

Liverpool v Hull

4-0

3-0

3-0

Middlesbrough v Tottenham

1-2

1-3

0-2

Stoke v West Brom

1-0

2-1

1-1

Sunderland v Crystal Palace

1-1

2-1

2-1

Swansea v Man City

1-3

0-3

0-2

Arsenal v Chelsea

2-1

2-1

1-1

SUNDAY

 

 

 

West Ham v Southampton

2-1

2-0

2-1

MONDAY

 

 

 

Burnley v Watford

2-2

1-2

2-1