5 Points From The Recent Weekend

Sorting through the garbage from the Premier League weekend and wondering how our on-loan players are faring.

Five Things EPLCity Slickers 2: The Sequel

At this stage last season Manchester City sat at the top of the Premier League with a 100% record from the first 5 games before successive defeats to West Ham and Tottenham took the spring out of their step and resulted in an indifferent (by their expectation) 4th place finish, and snatching the final Champion’s League spot. This year they are again top of the pile with a flawless record and even though it is “early doors” (©Big Ron) it is difficult to see who is going to stop them this time around. In Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero they have probably the best player and best striker in the league backed up by a very deep and talented squad and a manager who really does look like he is making a difference. Their city neighbours, on the other hand, resemble a cross between the Harlem Globetrotters and a circus freak show without any real tactical plan; a little like Chelsea last year you might say. Chelsea themselves require a lot more rebuilding before they can mount a serious title challenge while Liverpool and Arsenal will veer from the sublime to the unconvincing. Tottenham will act all mouth and no trousers again and along with Everton, as the new Southampton, will be tussling for Europa League qualification.

Light Blue Touch-Paper and Retire

On Guy Fawkes night, the 5th of November, the fixtures computer has paired West Ham with Stoke City and on the evidence of recent defensive performances we could well see some fireworks that day. There has been much debate on West Ham forums as to whether our own poor defending is down to individual blunders or collective incompetence. I tend to believe that the two are related and that haphazard organisation is often (but not always Arthur) the catalyst for mistakes. One imagines that having already conceded 4 goals twice this season Mark Hughes would have spent much of the week preparing his side to stand firm against the expected Crystal Palace aerial threat from set pieces and yet they surrendered two routine goals in the first eleven minutes. Unless both the Stoke and West Ham defenders get a rocket before the two teams meet the game might yield a whole youtube bloopers compilation by itself.

Goals with a Lustrous Finish

Speaking of rockets that is how a shot from outside the box that whistled into the back of the net was once described. Or else it might have been a screamer, unstoppable or a piledriver. These were all good masculine sounding words that conjured up the image of a glove free warrior with no shinpads, crepe bandage barely concealing a gash on the head, ploughing through the mud and letting one rip with his Gola Speedster boots. Now a commentator feels that they are allowed to describe a goal as ‘sumptuous’ as with the Jordan Henderson strike at Stamford Bridge; what next – gorgeous, luscious, lavish, opulent, orgasmic, splendiferous….? The long range shot is more often than not top contender in the goal of the week/ month/ season compilations but give me a slick passing, quick movement team goal any day. It was good to witness a few of these over the weekend. Also good to see converted Right Back, Michail Antonio still leading the goal scoring charts which in the absence of the illusory 20 10 goals a season striker is most welcome. For teams that do have functioning strikers there were further goals for Costa, Lukaku, Deeny, Kane, Rashford and Iheanacho while Leicester look to have done shrewd business in recruiting Slimani from Sporting Clube de Portugal.

The Not-So Special One

I was among many who believed that Manchester United under Jose Mourinho would be a force to be reckoned with this season. Instead they appear to be a ramshackle assortment of spare parts that have been assembled without access to the necessary instructions. If you scan through the list of names of the teamsheet it might look impressive at first glance but it is not a team rather a collection of individuals, some of whom are well past their best. The manager gives the impression of being perplexed about the whole business. There was a perfect description of Jose’s demeanour in a recent Guardian article which I repeat below:

“More recently José Mourinho seems to have decided the best approach at Manchester United is to spend his first few weeks standing on the touchline looking crumpled and sad and heroically betrayed, like a man on the hard shoulder of the M6 staring balefully across the nearside lines above his raised bonnet, rain gluing his shirt to his back, phone dead, credit card maxed out, kids living in Bicester, golf clubs repossessed, 800 units of polyester carpet samples scattered across the back seat.”

Naturally, the 3 defeats in a week for Manchester United are not the fault of Jose himself but are down to poor refereeing and Luke Shaw. In the game against Watford (good team!) they were second best in the first half and it looked ominous when Watford surrendered the initiative during the second period yet the Hornets showed great spirit and resilience to claim all 3 points from their largely uninspiring opponents.

Loans and Miscellany

Most Premier League teams have players out on loan at other clubs. This can be to give younger players experience or simply to remove some cost from the wage bill. It is well known that at any time Chelsea have something like 30 players loaned to other teams. As far as I know West Ham have 10 players out on loan so let’s take a look at what they were up to at the weekend. Enner Valencia had his first run out for Everton as a 66th minute replacement for Lukaku and was caught offside just the once, so encouraging signs so far. Neither Reece Burke nor Kyle Knoyle took part in Wigan’s goalless draw with Fulham (my assumption is that Burke was injured); Martin Samuelsen was a 90+3 rd minute time-wasting substitute for Blackburn in their 4-2 win against Rotherham but there was no place in the squad for Stephen Hendrie. Josh Cullen played 90 minutes for Bradford as did Lewis Page for Coventry in their respective drawn games but there was no game time for George Dobson (Walsall), Luca Belic (Motherwell) or Doneil Henry (AC Horsens in Denmark). The most notable action from any of these games being a hovering drone stopping play for several minutes in the Bradford – Bristol City game.

WBA v WHU: The Numbers Game

The numbers are in and they just don’t add up.

NumbersA few numbers from the game at the Hawthorns:

“0” or zero = The number of points we’ve picked up in our last three games. It is also the number of our drawn games in the league this season (last season we drew 14 – no team in the Premier League drew more games than us)

1 = our position in the running order on Match of the Day, though not for the reasons we would like. It is also the number of times WBA have previously beaten us 4-2 in a league game (on 19 April 1965 – Ronnie Boyce and Geoff Hurst scored our goals in front of 13,713 at the Hawthorns). It is also the number of league games we have won this season. It is also the number of times in the whole of last season where there were exactly six goals in a league game we played in.

2 = The number of times in the past week where there were exactly six goals in a league game we played in.

3 = the position Slaven Bilic occupies in the betting for Premier League managers to lose their jobs.

195 = the number of days since WBA last won a league game at the Hawthorns.

581 = the number of days since WBA last scored four goals in any competition (it was in the FA Cup on Valentines Day 2015 v us!)

5 = the number of league goals scored by Michail Antonio this season. All five goals have been headers.

11 = the number of headed goals scored by Michail Antonio since the beginning of last season – more than any other Premier League player

20 = the number of total goals scored in our five matches this season (more than any other club). Incidentally, 116 = the number of total goals scored in West Ham Premier League games last season (more than any other club). So we’ve started this season as we were last season, the favourite of the “neutral spectator” (whoever he is!), but not a team for the “purists”)

40 = the number of times in history we have beaten WBA. After this weekend it is also the number of times WBA have beaten us.

18 = our position in the league table following this weekend’s games.

12 = the number of times in our last 15 league matches where we have conceded at least two goals.

53 = the number of goals we will score this season if we continue at the same rate (last season we scored 65).

99 = the number of goals we will concede this season if we continue at the same rate (last season we conceded 51)

152 = the total goals that will be scored in games involving West Ham if we continue at this rate (last season 116 which was the highest in the Premier League)

West Ham figures first in the following section:

71%-29% – our dominance in possession of the ball in the game
23-8 – our dominance in shots
5-6 – slight advantage to WBA in shots on target – very important if you want to score goals!
613-253 total passes; 552-185 completed passes; 90%-73% pass success – so once again we had far 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! In fact our pass success percentage was only bettered by one side in the whole Premier League on Saturday, Arsenal at Hull. So it is really nonsense as an indicator for success in the game.
14-12 tackles; 86%-75% percentage of tackles won.
5-9 corners; 13-25 crosses – the crosses were the complete opposite of last week against Watford but we still managed to lose the game.
9-10 fouls conceded – we committed one fewer than our opponents.

The really important statistic is that at one stage we were 4-0 down and lost the game 4-2.

Four of our next six matches are at home against Southampton, Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Stoke. On paper not the most difficult of fixtures, facing four teams who are currently in the bottom half of the table like ourselves. Two away games in the period are at Palace and Everton.

If we really are to kick-start the season then I’d like to see at least 13 points from those six games, making 16 from 11 games. This would probably just move us into the top half of the table. Win all six and we would be on 21 points after 11 games, 1 point ahead of the same period last year. Not very likely on current form! 8 points from the six games would put us on 11 from 11, averaging just one point a game which is relegation form.

Bearing in mind that the next four games after this batch of six are against Tottenham, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool (three of them away from home), then a poor return from the highlighted six games would almost certainly leave us in a relegation dogfight, not what was expected after last season.

This Week in Hammer’s History

Picking the cherries from the week 19 – 26 September in Hammer’s history.

This Week Hammers HistoryAt the weekend a TV commentator was holding forth about a certain player’s return from injury which was another 4 weeks away “or so I’m told” he added pretending to be well connected. What he really meant was that he had read it on it the internet, or perhaps it was a researcher who had read it and then told him so. Anyway, here is what I’m told happened this week in Hammer’s history.

Despite having embarked on the occasional continental tour in the past, the 23 September 1964 saw West Ham’s first ever competitive European match with a visit to Ghent in Belgium to play a European Cup Winner’s Cup first round first leg tie with La Gantoise. The match ended in a slim 1-0 victory for the Hammers with Ron Boyce heading the winner in the 52nd minute from an Alan Sealey corner. The goal made all the difference in the Hammer’s march across Europe as a result of a stuttering 1-1 draw in the return leg at Upton Park two weeks later. As a side-note, La Gantoise subsequently changed their name in 1971 to KAA Gent and in 2015 won their first ever Belgian League title; making it through to the knockout stages of the Champion’s League the following year before being beaten by Wolfsburg.

in 1981 (22 September) a Paul Goddard hat-trick in a 4-2 win against Southampton saw West Ham retain top spot in the (old) First Division. A 1-1 home draw against eventual champions Liverpool, just four days later, saw us slip down to second place never to return to such dizzy heights again that season.

The week naturally has had its setbacks including a routine League Cup defeat against lower league opposition in 1994 with a 2-1 defeat to 3rd Division Walsall (although we did rescue this one in the second leg) and in 1997 we were on the wrong end of a 4-0 drubbing at Highbury against a Denis Bergkamp inspired Arsenal.

Notable successes were a 6-2 home victory over Leicester in 1974 where we had started the day at the very bottom of the table and a 3-1 win against Brendan Rodger’s Lverpool in 2014. You can see the goals from this game below (avec un commentaire formidable francais).

 

Today’s featured game, however, is one of few bright spots from the 2010/11 Avram Grant season when on 25 September 2010 West Ham recorded their first Premier League victory of the season at home to Tottenham. I can remember listening to this game on the radio as I was taking my son to University in Exeter for the first time on that day. A gritty and determined West Ham managed to inflict a 1-0 defeat on visiting manager Harry Redknapp. It was an unusually exuberant West Ham performance who scorned many chances to score before Frederic Piquionne headed the only goal of the game from a Mark Noble corner.

Robert Green had a fine game in goal including a spectacular save to keep out a goal bound Luka Modric strike. Green was fresh from his embarrassment at the 2010 World Cup and this match went some way to rebuilding his confidence.

No surprise that Keiron Dyer left the field injured during the course of the game but it was an impressive and sweet victory that had us all (momentarily) confident that good times were just around the corner.

Green, Jacobsen, da Costa, Upson, Gabbidon, Dyer (Barrera), Parker, Noble, Boa Morte, Obinna (Kovac), Piquionne (Cole)

This week’s West Ham birthdays:

20 September John Charles (d 2002)
20 September Frank Lampard Snr (68)
22 September John Moncur (50)
23 September Jonathan Calleri (23)
26 September Alan Stephenson (72)
26 September Tommy Taylor (65)

WBA 4 v 2 WHU

Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?

Embed from Getty Images

I watched the events from the Hawthorns unfold via the excellent offering on Sky, Soccer Saturday with the talented Jeff Stelling hosting. Who would have thought that a group of ex-footballers watching TV screens interspersed with goal flashes from around the grounds would make for such entertaining viewing? It works mainly because of the skill of Stelling, whose research and ability to add humour to his very quick statistical recall, makes him for me the most impressive football pundit. Added to the chemistry of the four regular ex-players, Le Tissier, Merson, Thompson and Nicholas, then for me it is as interesting a way to follow football on a Saturday afternoon as I know without actually being at a game.

The BBC have tried it with Final Score, and if I didn’t subscribe to Sky Sports then it would be an OK alternative, as would Five Live on the radio, or the commercial station, Talk Sport. But Soccer Saturday is my choice. I interspersed this with watching my second favourite sport, the Channel 4 horse racing from Newbury and Ayr, which included the Ayr Gold Cup.

Le Tissier was assigned what he termed the “dubious pleasure” of the West Brom v West Ham game last Thursday, and admitted that he thought he’d drawn the short straw, not expecting many goals. He described the first half goals as the game unfolded as “comedy defending”. He was particularly scathing about Masuaku’s high clearance “into the clouds” which ended closer to our goal than when he kicked it, and his inexplicable hand ball giving away the penalty for the first goal. He thought Ogbonna was the chief culprit for the second Baggies goal when he should have put the ball into row Z, and the third goal was poor marking generally with Masuaku totally switched off.

Three down at half-time so I had a quick look at social media to brush up on my knowledge of Anglo-Saxon expletives from some of our cultured followers. Jeff Stelling stated what we have been saying for some time about the nonsense of possession statistics when he confirmed that we had 72% possession in the first half. We were three down in goals though! I went into “clutching at straws mode” and thought back to the week after my birthday in February 2011 when we were three down at half-time at the Hawthorns and fought back to draw the game. And of course the concept of comebacks wasn’t completely alien after last week against Watford, although of course the boot was on the other foot then.

The fourth goal was described as “Sunday morning” or “amateurish” as Albion broke away to score from our corner. To some extent I can understand how it happened as we were going for broke, but just one player staying deeper was all it would have probably taken to prevent the goal. At four down we gave it a go, although Albion decided to take it easy at this stage. A Payet free kick hit the angle of crossbar and upright and only just stayed out, then Antonio scored his fifth goal (remarkably all headers) of the season. Payet was brought down in the penalty area, and with Noble already substituted, Lanzini placed the resultant penalty kick low into the corner to reduce the deficit to 4-2. We didn’t make too many clear cut chances from there; just one more might have induced panic in the Baggies’ defence. Collins had a shot well saved by Foster but that was it.

Four defeats in five games means we have only three points, when I would have hoped for somewhere in the region of 7-9 to ensure we were keeping up with the life in the fast lane. At least I had an evening out to look forward to. We went to see the Illegal Eagles. No, not the Crystal Palace FC tribute team, but the excellent band, who were one of the best tribute acts I’ve ever seen, and would recommend them to anyone who likes the Eagles.

I came home just in time to see us have top billing on Match of the Day for a change, but not for the reasons I would hope for. Matt Le Tissier had painted the picture well in the afternoon, and the game was just as he had described. I can’t tell you why we are defending so poorly and many fans think we are already gone.

But those of you who are old enough may remember 1985-86. That season we had just four points after five games, three of which were at home, and sat seventeenth in the table. Two further draws meant just six points from seven games. Of course we finished in third place, eight points clear of fourth, and only narrowly missed out on being champions. But to do that we went on a run of 12 wins, 6 draws and no defeats prior to Christmas. Then we had another run in the second half of the season where we won 11 games out of 13. I don’t believe we are good enough to emulate those days, but we’re also not as bad as some might say.

5 Things Learned From West Brom

Picking over the pieces of the roadkill that was West Ham’s visit to the Hawthorns.

5 Things WHUA drama or a crisis?

Yesterday I mentioned that media had painted West Ham as though the club were teetering on the brink of a precipice at the edge of an abyss. There has been little good news surrounding what should be a milestone in the club’s history either on or off the pitch. Personally, I believe it is far too early for hysterics and we are not the first team to get a new season off to a slow start; you only have to look at Chelsea last year and Everton and Tottenham in years gone by. That is not to say a slow start cannot become a crisis if the issues are not addressed and there do seem to be some serious concerns regarding the professionalism of the club at the moment.

What doesn’t kill you may not make you stronger!

None of our new signings have killed us but there is little evidence so far to suggest that they have made us stronger. There were a lot of new arrivals during the summer and although none of the names made me excited I was prepared to be surprised by some astute recruitment on the basis that I didn’t know much about Dimitri Payet before last season either. Until yesterday I had been quietly impressed with Arthur Masuaku and I think that Sofiane Feghouli could become a useful and regular starter. I don’t want to write players off so early but I have yet to see what either Zaza or Calleri have to offer. Zaza looks to lack the mobility required by an effective lone striker need and Calleri looks just as lost as Enner Valencia at the moment. There is going to be an issue with Zaza if he doesn’t show his worth quite quickly with the apparent clause that makes his transfer permanent after a specified number of games.

Defend from the front; attack from the back.

We give every impression of being a team made of separate components rather than being a single unit. Sure there have been individual mistakes but there is also a collective weakness, whether physical or mental, running through the team. We were promised a reaction after the Watford defeat but didn’t get it. I do not understand why we do not play with a proper defensive midfielder but continue to rely on the Noble-Kouyate partnership to muddle through even though they have been proved wanting in this role before; when full backs push up the central defenders become stretched and a huge gap appears between them without any cover dropping in. This league is meant to be the pinnacle of world football featuring the most expensive and highly paid players available. Yes good players can adapt to play slightly different tactical roles (or it may be necessary in an emergency) but otherwise the modern game has become very specialist and a top level club shouldn’t be playing players out of position as often as West Ham do.

A lack of focus and style.

It is very difficult to pinpoint what our style of play is meant to be. Possibly Slave Bilic is looking to adopt the Croatian style of play which has been the mainstay of their national for some years; get it forward quickly for wide men (wingers or full-backs) to spray in the crosses to a big central striker. If that is the case it is not working. For a start we do not move the ball quickly at all (at least not forwards) which limits the ability for the wide players to get into good crossing positions before the defence shuts down the space. The tactic also has the danger of being as one-dimensional as a Big Sam team and unless you find a big man who is also quick and mobile it limits options. There have been some great goals in the Premier League this year as a result of quick passing, movement and interplay; often on the counter attack. Difficult to see West Ham repeating this with the current set up. We have some flair players but have shown little penetration.

We bossed the stats though!

We absolutely smashed the Baggies on the stats yesterday. More possession, shots, successful passes, aerial duels and tackles won and dribbles made. Just a shame about that one inconvenient statistic of goals scored.

I Wouldn’t Bet On It 8 – Ouch!

Fingers burned last week but today’s betting slip still has West Ham’s name pencilled in on it.

Fancy A BetLast week we studied the form and decided that the odds were generous on a West Ham victory against Watford. So we lumped on. As a lifelong fan I should perhaps have known better. With 35 minutes of the game over we looked on course to at least double our stake of 24 points and be showing a healthy profit. If you had looked on the betting exchanges at around 3.35pm you could have virtually named your odds on a Watford victory and there would have been plenty of opportunity to get in excess of 100-1 in-play.

But as we all know it didn’t happen so we lost 24 points, which became 25 when our accumulator failed miserably with just two correct predictions. So our balance now stands at 75.4 points.

Today I’m going to try a different type of football bet. There are so many bets that you can place on football matches these days, and you can have fun trying out some other variations. One that can keep you interested for much of a game is betting on there being at least x number of goals in the game. For the purposes of this week’s betting I’ve had a look at the odds of there being at least 3 goals in the game in each of the Premier League games this weekend.

If you had to guess which of our four main leagues has provided the most games percentage-wise where three or more goals have been scored which one would you go for? The Premier League is at the top – there have been three or more goals in the game in 21 of this season’s 40 games, putting it ahead of the other leagues (the Championship has had the least).

 

1

Odds

 

Chelsea v Liverpool

29

4/6

 

Hull v Arsenal

22

8/11

 

Leicester v Burnley

19

4/5

 

Man C v Bournemouth

23

1/2

*

WBA v WHU

19

5/4

*

Everton v Middlesbrough

17

Evens

 

Watford v Man U

25

5/6

*

Palace v Stoke

19

6/5

 

Southampton v Swansea

19

Evens

 

Spurs v Sunderland

17

4/6

 

1- total goals scored in the 8 games involving these clubs (4 each) this season

Odds – Paddy Power odds quoted for over 2.5 goals in the game (i.e. 3 or more)

The table above shows you can get even money or better on four of the ten games. Not surprisingly the bookmaker has done its homework and those four games are generally the ones where the teams have scored the least goals. The exception is the Tottenham game where I guess they are expecting more goals than has been scored so far by Spurs in particular.

The game that really took my eye was the one involving our trip to West Brom, which gives the most generous odds, meaning this is the game expected to produce the least goals. This is not surprising in that West Brom (managed by Pulis) have scored the least goals in the Premier League this season with 2 and have only conceded 3, meaning their four games have only had five goals scored in total. On the other hand there have been 14 goals in our games, although we have only scored five of them.

If you study the West Brom recent games, say the last ten of last season and the first four of this, then there have been three goals or more in just 3 of their 14 games! Conversely if you look at the equivalent for West Ham then there have been 3 or more goals in 13 of our last 14 games (the only exception being the home game v Bournemouth this season). If you look at West Brom v West Ham head to head in the twenty-first century, then 9 of the 18 league games played have had three or more goals in them.

It’s very easy to see why this game has been picked out as the one with the least chance of producing at least three goals, but there are factors (mainly West Ham ones) which indicate that this may be a good bet.

I am therefore staking 16 points on our game at West Brom to produce three or more goals (36). In addition I will stake 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 (25.7).

The figures in brackets are the potential winnings. Our total stake is 20 points reducing our balance to 55.4. If the three selected games can each produce three or more goals then we would collect 61.7 points from our single bet plus the accumulator.

What are the chances?

Matchday: West Brom v West Ham

An unexpected Saturday fixture sees the Hammers entertained (!) by Albion at the Hawthorns.

Away at West BromThe consensus in the media, social and otherwise, on the current West Ham predicament and the evidence of 4 Premier League games (and an ignominious Europa League exit) is that we are teetering on the brink of the precipice at the edge of the abyss.  The vultures are circling and the fat lady is already practising her closing number.  The capitulation against Watford was indeed shameful where we not only took our foot off the gas but parked up on the hard shoulder (is that what they call the area around the outside of our pitch?) for a picnic and a refreshing glass of blackcurrant Rabona (I mean Ribena!).  The tendency of West Ham to become all passionate against the big boys but fake arousal against the smaller fry is not a new one (remember the final two home games from Upton Park) but it really should not be tolerated from a very highly paid professional team.  Nonetheless, a few good performances and wins can easily put the season back on track and there is no better opportunity to start than away to the beleaguered, low-scoring Baggies.

“Okay, we have done it for some of the time this season but you have to do it all the time. That is what serious football at this level is all about; to do it minute after minute, day after day, week after week. That is the key. I’m expecting a big-time response at West Brom. We have to dig in and, if we do that, I fear no-one.”

– Slaven Bilic

All of the noise coming out of the Hawthorns this week has been about the take-over of West Brom by the Chinese businessman, Guochuan Lai, and speculation over the future of manager Tony Pulis (or Nok So Long as he is referred to in the boardroom).  I am not a fan of the Pulis brand of football but he seems a decent enough chap and I am sure realistically he knows that his days are numbered whatever happens on the pitch.  The new owners will want to introduce their own style and culture into the club and can foresee the scenario where the Assistant Referee holds up Number 5 to denote added time and someone runs on with a portion of Chicken Chow Mein.  All in all I think it is a good time to be playing them.

Head to Head

The all-time head to head record between the two clubs is a very even one.  West Ham have won the last two Premier League meetings at the Hawthorns including a commanding 3-0 victory last time out.  If West Ham were to win today it would be only the second time in the Premier League where they have recorded three successive away victories against the same team (Fulham was the first).  These last two victories over Albion, however, were separated by the 4-0 drubbing received in the FA Cup 5th round tie in February 2015; whatever happened to (Tuesday and so slow) Brown Ideye?  The more regular outcome in recent fixtures between the two clubs has been the draw and that must be the minimum requirement from this afternoon. An emphatic win would be the ideal way to celebrate Billy Bonds 70th birthday though.

P W D L F A Sequence
Home 50 25 11 14 102 72 DDWDDD
Away 50 14 11 25 57 91 DDLWLW
Neutral 1 1 0 0 3 0
Total 101 40 22 39 162 163

A former Hammer who has fond memories of West Brom is Brian Dear who scored 5 goals in 20 minutes against them in 1965.  Brian celebrates his birthday tomorrow when he will be 73 years old.

“I think the players are more affected by not getting a new iPhone than they are about whether there is a change of ownership!”

– Tony Pulis

Team News

The long term injuries remain the same and so Ayew, Carroll, Sakho and Cresswell are all continued absentees.  Mark Noble has recovered from a hand injury and is available for selection.  I would be very surprised if James Collins kept his place (Ogbonna to start) and imagine Sam Byram’s place would be under threat if Alvaro Arbeloa was considered ready for first team action.  I think Bilic will stick with Adrian in goal and that Zaza will start again up front.

That leaves the midfield and the enigma of how to combine the available assortment into an effective unit.  Personally, I would start with a proper defensive midfielder (which means one from Oxford, Obiang or Nordtveit) to provide extra protection to the back four.  Antonio and Payet should be certain starters and that leaves another two from Kouyate, Lanzini, Noble, Tore and Feghouli; none of whom qualify on current form as automatic picks.

My preferred eleven for a welcome 2-0 victory would be:

Adrian

Byram  Reid Ogbonna Masuaku

Oxford

Antonio Kouyate Payet Lanzini

Zaza

West Brom are likely to have Solomon Rondon back for this game which is unfortunate as he seems to be their only credible threat; although on our day we can make even a Spurs reject like Chadli look like a world beater.

The Man in the Middle

Today’s referee is the self-important Mark Clattenburg.  Don’t expect at the end of the game to say to your mates “tell you what I didn’t notice the referee today.”