West Ham 1 v 1 Middlesbrough

A review of the Middlesbrough game, and the season to date, as we go into the second international break of the season

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Part One – I Was There

What makes a great goal? Goals can be scored in a variety of ways. A spectacular volley, a long range screamer, a team goal scored as a culmination of a number of passes, a mazy dribble where a player goes past a number of defenders before slotting the ball home, a deflection, an element of luck, a tap in; these are just some of the ways that a goal can be scored. A goal can seem greater if it is scored in an important match, or if it is a critical goal in a close match, as opposed to say one of the goals scored in a one-sided game.

And, after Saturday I will add a further enhancement. To actually be there when the goal is scored rather than just seeing it on TV adds to the greatness of the goal for the person viewing it. But however it is scored doesn’t really matter because at the end of the day, every one counts as a goal; you don’t get anything extra based on the degree of difficulty.

When I wrote my book, Goodbye Upton Park, Hello Stratford, at the end of last season, I devoted a chapter to describing the great West Ham goals that I could recall. My favourite one of all time was scored by Martin Peters v Leicester in November 1968. I stood on the North Bank behind the goal that it went in. It was a length of the field move from the goalkeeper, and culminated in a spectacular volley.

I also loved a goal I witnessed on Boxing Day 2001. We had a corner at the North Bank end taken by Sebastian Schemmel. He played the ball in the air to Joe Cole standing near the corner of the penalty area on the same side that the corner was taken. With two touches and masterful ball control, without the ball touching the ground, Joe volleyed the ball to the opposite side about ten yards from goal just beyond the six yard box. Trevor Sinclair took off and with an acrobatic scissor kick blasted the ball into the corner of the net.

Trevor scored many spectacular goals. He scored the goal of the season (and possibly the most spectacular of all time) for QPR v Barnsley before he joined us. And he scored many for us as well, including a magnificent volley against Charlton on Boxing Day again, in the year 2000.

On Saturday Dimitri Payet added to the list of great goals I have witnessed when, starting close to the touchline, he dribbled around five Middlesbrough defenders, and calmly put the ball in the net. It wasn’t just the incredible skill involved though; to some extent it was the importance of the goal. Coming on the back of four straight defeats we really needed to win this game. And although we didn’t do so, at least we stopped the rot and picked up a point against one of the teams in the lower reaches of the table.

The atmosphere in the stadium was tremendous throughout the game, and I suspect that the decibel level reached when we saw the ball nestled in the net was as high as anything I have ever experienced at a football match. I actually lost my voice on Saturday evening. But a goal is a goal. It just counts as one goal.

Around five minutes earlier, Middlesbrough had a corner which was headed straight in. To concede goals in this manner should not happen in my opinion, and if Mark Noble is meant to cover the post, then at least he should be in front of the line and not behind it. Goal line technology went against us here because I suspect that the referee and linesman, both of whom had poor games in my opinion, didn’t realise that the ball had crossed the line.

It is a goal that should not have happened but it did. I hate it when we concede a goal in this way. But it counts as one goal, just as Payet’s wonderful effort does. Those of us who were there will remember Payet’s goal for a long time, but I suspect we won’t remember the Middlesbrough one.

5 Things From West Ham v Boro

What are we to deduce from the latest West Ham travails against Boro?

5 Things WHUSlav Loves to Try Out New Positions

New father Slaven Bilic can’t resist trying out a new position. This time we had Antonio playing the role of lone striker, Ogbonna moved to left back and Tore……….,well Tore was also on the pitch somewhere although it wasn’t totally clear what he was supposed to be doing. To be fair Antonio made as good a fist at his new role than any of the specialists employed so far this year, and at least brought some energy to the party. Also Ogbonna was good enough defensively at left back although was unable to offer much going forward. The re-shuffle saw Byram return, albeit temporarily, at right back with Abeloa joining Lanzini on the bench.

Tempo and Approach

Of all the Premier League football I have seen this season no other team plays with such a slow tempo as do West Ham. I am never too bothered about possession statistics but if you are conceding possession then the response needs to be pace and movement. We have not demonstrated either of these attributes except maybe in very short bursts. To me it is impossible to deduce what style of play we are actually aiming for. Our two most dangerous players Payet and Antonio are generally out wide leaving no creativity in the central areas with a huge gap behind the lone striker. It improved to some extent when Lanzini came on but even then we failed to exploit the momentum following Payet’s wonderful equaliser.  We clearly didn’t bring the kitchen sink in the move from Upton Park.

You Have Scored One with No Passes

I have not looked to see what the statistics were for pass completion. They might be quite good but all passes are not created equal. My guess is that our most common combinations are Noble back to Collins and Collins to the opposition. For a team who have centre backs with such poor distribution it is ironic that we use them so frequently as the springboard for our attacks. Not that it is entirely their fault as their are few options available by either the central midfield players or static frontmen.  Years ago Ron Greenwood used to say that West Ham play on their toes; this is definitely not the case at the moment. Several times what looked like promising attacking positions ended up with the ball back with Adrian. Even free kicks around the half way line end up going backwards. It is a very strange tactic. I don’t recall from the game any sequence of quick passing that engineered an opening or a half chance; even against one of the weakest sides in the division.  The ability to pick out players in space is well below standard and, as for the kick for touch from the kick-off, that was straight from the Graham Taylor coaching manual..

At Last a Defensive Midfielder

I was pleased to see Pedro Obiang start. Partly because I don’t believe he has been given much of a chance since he was signed and partly because we have desperately needed a dedicated defensive midfield player. I though he acquitted himself pretty well performing better both with and without the ball than anything we have seen fro Nordtveit. Although it was only Boro, the defence looked more solid yesterday apart from the lapse at the corner; whose idea was that goal-line technology? I hope Obiang gets a run in the team with possibly Fernandes coming in to provide some spark in a more attacking central midfield role.

A Chance Would a Fine Thing

If you ever played Sunday morning park football you may remember that a high percentage of goals were the result of the hopeful ball forward where either the defender misjudged it or the striker muscled him out of the way. Like a cruder version of Leicester tactics and the game plan that we now seem to have adopted but without players of the right quality. I still can’t see a future for Zaza but, in mitigation, the way we are playing is never going to suit his style; even Dennis Bergkamp would have struggled. We created no chances from open play and had to rely on a stunning solo goal to salvage something. OK, so Noble was unlucky to hit the bar, Antonio should have done better when he did muscle his way through but other than that there were just a few pointless long range balloon shots. The Boro keeper could have brought a book along to keep himself occupied. Carroll might be an upgrade on Zaza but our best hope is for both Ayew and Sakho to return physically and mentally prepared.

I Wouldn’t Bet On It 11 – Let’s Have Another Go at Goals Galore

What to do with all the loose change from down the back of the sofa?

Fancy A BetLast week we tried out the Betfred “Goals Galore” bonus coupon that pays 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 tried, 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.

We selected the following games:

Bournemouth v Everton
Brighton v Barnsley
Bolton v Bradford
QPR v Birmingham
Fulham v Bristol City

It would have been difficult to have made worse selections! Despite both teams scoring in 31 out of the 46 games in the four English Leagues we only managed to select one match where both teams scored (at QPR), and even managed to select the only 0-0 draw out of all the games (at Bolton).

But we’ll have another go at this and try two batches of four games, each at 9-1, and then all eight games at 100-1. So we need both teams to score in the following games:

Group One:
West Ham v Middlesbrough
Leeds v Barnsley
Preston v Villa
Sheffield W v Brighton

Group Two:
Reading v Derby
Rotherham v Newcastle
Bury v Scunthorpe
Chesterfield v Bradford C

One point stake on each group, and one point stake on all eight games. Total 3 points.

And to finish I am convinced that West Ham will end their poor run in the game against Middlesbrough, so I’ll stake 5 points at 11/10 on a victory for us.

The balance at the start of the day was 111.1, so with a total of 8 points staked we are now down to 103.1. If everything goes our way today (a very long shot) we could win 131.5 points, but we’ll be up on the day with a West Ham victory on its own.

What are the chances?

Matchday: Hammers versus Boro

It’s only Boro but still preferable to being dragged around the shops.

West Ham BoroWhen the fixtures computer is busily whirring and blinking away today’s fixture is one you would happily see scheduled for the Saturday before Christmas when other duties might take precedence over the football. It might come as a surprise, therefore,  to discover that a match between West Ham and Middlesbrough, played almost 20 years ago, is still featured in the premier book of world records. But it is indeed the case and there for all to see in Guinness style black and white indicating the all-time world record for the most people simultaneously blowing bubbles:

“On May 16, 1999, a total of 23,680 people in the soccer stadium blew glycerine bubbles into the air for 1 minute. The mass bubble-blowing event took place prior to West Ham United F.C.’s home Premier League fixture against Middlesbrough F.C., at the Boleyn Ground, Upton Park, London.”

It is with a sense of pride that I continue to count myself as a world record holder but am equally surprised that the club’s PR department have failed, as yet, to mount a new challenge as another consequence of increased capacity. It seems that in the reported crowd of 25,902 for that 1999 end of season encounter there were 2,222 party poopers unwilling to stake their claim for posterity in the record books.

Today’s opponents Boro were elected to the Football League some 20 years before the Hammers but have pretty much kept their heads down ever since. Their one success was when Steve McLaren’s side triumphed over Sam Allardyce’s Bolton in the 2004 League Cup; what an enticing advertisement for the beautiful game that must have been.

“He (Zaza) is definitely a good player who came from a big club to a new country. New players need time. If we go back and think about Dennis Bergkamp, who needed – I don’t know – a year?”

– Slaven Bilic

Despite the lack of success, Boro have had some notable ex-players include Brian Clough who scored a phenomenal 204 goals in 222 matches for his hometown club, the little Brazilian Juninho and Fabrizio Ravenelli. Ravenelli is, I believe, still the only player ever to score a hat-trick on his Premier League debut (against Liverpool in August 1996) but despite his goals and Juninho’s trickery Boro were relegated in that same season; in part due to having 3 points deducted for failing to turn up for a fixture with Blackburn Rovers.

Head to Head

My initial instinct was that we would hold a healthy advantage over Boro in the head to head battle before remembering that we never travel well that far north. Accordingly it has been a fairly even contest. Our home record against them though is good having lost just once in the last 12 encounters (April 2000).  A particularly depressing match sticks in my memory from April 1989 where Boro were 2-1  victors (a pair of Bernie Slaven goals) in a quintessential six-pointer that ended with the two clubs partners in relegation.

P W D L F A Sequence
Home 30 17 6 7 47 30 DWDWWW
Away 30 7 7 16 29 53 WLDWLL
Neutral 1 1 0 0 1 0
61 25 13 23 77 83

Team News

Still no sign of any of the long term injured with Nordtveit facing a late fitness test following a knock; I can tell you now he is not fit to play at right back and so I am hoping common sense will prevail with Byram making a welcome return. From what has been said it looks like we will be persevering with Zaza up front as Slav sees him morphing into Dennis Bergkamp; although I can only see this being achieved by extensive surgery. It would be interesting to know the details of the loan deal, and the mysterious must-buy clause, as there has to come a point where everyone recognises he is not a Premier League footballer.

It is critical today that we find at least some kind of order and organisation in the midfield; Payet and Antonio and 3 others is the best I can suggest but I do hope for a dedicated defensive midfielder.

The other unknown is how many are still hungover from the midweek outing. As the ‘Gareth Keenan Investigates’ style inquest into the fallout has yet to be commissioned all we have are twitter rumours to go on.

Stewart Downing struggled to make an impact in the Championship last season because he was too good for the division.

– Aitor Karanka

Middlesbrough have no significant injury worries which means a return for the timid one-season-wonder Stewart Downing. Boro also have City flop Alvaro Negredo leading the line and he will be pleased to pitting his wits against the League’s most generous defence.

The Man in the Middle

Today’s headset wearing, card waving, whistle blowing official is Neil Swarbrick from Preston. He was in charge during our visits to Sunderland (where he sent off Lens) and Newcastle last year and so must be seen as something of a North-East specialist. He is best known for the mistaken identity red carding of West Brom’s Gareth McAuley in April 2015.

The Lawro Challenge – Week 7

Attempting to out-predict the BBC predictor and in some cases failing miserably.

Lawro Crystal BallWe have only had six weeks so far, so if we equate this challenge to a 38 lap race (9.5 miles on a running track), then we have only completed 1.5 miles so far. We therefore have a long way to go, but the field is already beginning to be stretched. Rich is obviously intent on running the sprint finish out of the other two by setting a fast pace and has already opened up quite a lead. But has he set off too quickly? We all remember the tale of the hare and the tortoise.

On the BBC website Lawro has now lost two of his six weekly prediction encounters. Firstly he was beaten by WWE star and Hollywood actor, Dave Bautista, who hadn’t heard of some of the Premier League teams, and then last week it was the turn of the world number one darts player, Michael van Gerwen to beat him. To boost his confidence this week they’ve put him up against comedian and actor, Elis James. James took part last year and only got one result and no scores correct to give him the honour of being the lowest scorer in the whole season.

  Rich Geoff Lawro
Total after 5 weeks 43 33 36
Score in week 6 9 4 8
Total after 6 weeks 52 37 44
Predictions – Week 7      
Everton v Crystal Palace 3-2 1-1 2-1
Swansea v Liverpool 1-3 1-2 0-2
Hull v Chelsea 1-3 0-3 0-2
Sunderland v West Brom 1-1 1-0 2-1
Watford v Bournemouth 1-1 2-0 1-1
West Ham v Middlesbrough 4-1 3-0 2-0
Man.Utd v Stoke 3-1 3-0 2-0
Leicester v Southampton 2-2 2-1 2-1
Tottenham v Man.City 2-2 1-2 2-2
Burnley v Arsenal 1-3 0-3 0-2

West Ham v Middlesbrough Preview

Looking forward to seeing off the Boro and starting to climb the table.

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When I think back on all the games of football I’ve seen West Ham play, and the number is now approaching 1000, I find it very hard to recall many memorable games against today’s opponents. I was just four years old when we clinched promotion to the top flight in April 1958 when we beat Middlesbrough 3-1 at Ayresome Park with goals from Keeble, Dick and Musgrove. We were Division Two champions scoring over 100 goals in the process, and we were back in Division One after an absence of 25 years.

I know nothing about the game but I do remember my dad and my uncle, and various other friends of theirs celebrating long into the evening. The party at my nan’s house in Canning Town carried on long after I had been despatched to bed, but it was really the catalyst that got me into following West Ham’s results more closely the following season. Just a few months later I visited Upton Park for the first time.

Perhaps the most memorable game against Middlesbrough that I can recall was one that I watched on TV, when a Marlon Harewood goal in the FA Cup semi-final clinched our place in the final against Liverpool in 2006.

I never saw a league game against Middlesbrough until I was 20 years old because we were in the top Division and they weren’t! When they were finally promoted in 1974, after a gap of 20 years, they ran away with the Second Division title with Jack Charlton as their manager. So on a cold November day I added them to my lengthening list of clubs I’d never seen us play before, and we duly beat them 3-0. It was the first game in an unbeaten run that saw us reach fifth place by Boxing Day, although this was another of those “coming down with the Christmas decorations” seasons that saw us eventually finish 13th, although of course we were distracted by winning the FA Cup that year!

The following November we beat them again at Upton Park, but in the next two seasons we lost to them at home, and at the end of 1977-78 we were relegated ourselves. We didn’t meet them again until we were promoted back to Division One in 1981, when we beat them 3-2 but they were relegated themselves after finishing bottom, and we didn’t meet up with them again until the end of the 1980s.

We have had 20 home league games against them in my 58 years of watching West Ham and we have only lost four times, the last one being in April 2000, when in the penultimate game of the season they beat us 1-0. It was a bit of a crazy season in some respects. I particularly remember us putting five past Coventry the week before the Middlesbrough defeat. There was also the infamous 5-4 win over Bradford City where we came from behind when Di Canio and Lampard fought over taking a penalty, and we were also thrashed 7-1 at Old Trafford.

I always hate long sequences of not losing to a particular team, and Middlesbrough will believe that they have every chance of their first win at West Ham for over 16 years this weekend. But they don’t come here in the best of form either. They have only won once themselves in their first six games, beating local rivals Sunderland. They have drawn against Stoke and West Brom, and lost their last three games, to Palace, Everton and Tottenham.

I am confident that we can begin our resurgence and start to climb the table. With Swansea playing Liverpool I would hope that by 5 o’clock on Saturday we will be out of the relegation places and above both Swansea and Middlesbrough as we go into the second international break of the season.

After the break we visit Palace, then we have a home game against Sunderland. These are important games for us to pick up points, because after that we have a comparatively tough run of fixtures, where four of the next six matches are away at Everton, Tottenham, Manchester United and Liverpool, with just two home games versus Stoke and Arsenal.

Our biggest victory over Middlesbrough that I can recall was in the final game of our record breaking Premier League season of 1998-99, when two goals from Trevor Sinclair, and one each from Lampard and Keller gave us a 4-0 victory and a finishing league position of fifth place. Ever the optimist I am hoping that we can turn around our woeful start to the season and record a 4-1 victory today. What are the chances?

Counting Sheep – 7 – The Letters J, K and L

Cheating a little now as we compile the alphabetical Hammers challenge.

Counting SheepWhat began as a cure for insomnia on warm summer nights has begun to turn into a bit of an obsession. It all started with me trying to select teams of West Ham players whose surnames all started with the same letter.

I’ve picked six to date, “B”, “C”, “D”, “F”, a combined “G” and “H”, and “Vowels”. Moving through the alphabet my next letter was J, and I managed to write down 10 names including two keepers. The letter “K” was slightly easier and I managed to write down the names of 13 players. But I was worried about the strength of team I could pick from these two combined, so I wrote down all the “L”s I could think of and managed 14. Putting all three together I reckon I have a team to match any of those previously picked.

Therefore my all-time West Ham “J” plus “K” plus “L” Team in a 4-4-2 formation are:

Johnson (G)
Lampard (F senior)
Lampard (F junior)

So who are some of the notable names omitted? Jaaskalainen, Kurucz, Leslie and Lama are four keepers, plus Jenkinson, Jacobsen, Roger Johnson, Jimenez, Jarvis, Steve Jones, Kirkup, Kilgallon, Kitchener, Keen, Kovac, Robbie Keane, Kanoute, Keeble, David Kelly, Lindsay, Lazaridis, Lansbury, Llungberg, Lutton, Rob Lee, Elliott Lee. I remember seeing all of those at one time or another; some were better than others!

But, perhaps I’ve forgotten someone really good. Can you pick a team of J/K/L surnames to rival mine? I reckon one or two of my generation would have had Vic Keeble in their side, although I suspect not too many would select Roger Johnson or David Kelly, or even Robbie Keane on his performances for us, although he certainly had some career playing for others plus internationally.

And who would manage the J/K/L’s? There’s only one candidate I believe, John Lyall.