The Lawro Challenge Update 1

The first update to the season long challenge sees Lawro bring up the rear.

Lawro Crystal BallIt is just possible that maybe this predictions malarkey is not as easy as it might at first seem if the first week’s attempt is anything to go by.  Naturally, we both did better than the luckless Lawro but that really isn’t such a proud boast is it?  We have to believe that our indifferent performance was a down to an interrupted pre-season causing a lack of match fitness and that we will be far sharper in the coming weeks.

Below is the current state of play based on our own scoring system of 1 point for the correct result plus 2 bonus points for the correct score. As you can see we all got at least half the games completely wrong although Rich has managed to sneak into an early one point lead

  Lawro Geoff Rich Actual Lawro Geoff Rich
Hull v Leicester 0-2 1-2 1-2 2-1 0 0 0
Burnley v Swansea 1-1 2-1 1-1 0-1 0 0 0
Crystal Palace v West Brom 2-1 3-1 2-1 0-1 0 0 0
Everton v Tottenham 1-1 0-2 1-1 1-1 3 0 3
Middlesbrough v Stoke 1-0 1-1 0-0 1-1 0 3 1
Southampton v Watford 2-1 1-0 2-0 1-1 0 0 0
Man City v Sunderland 2-0 4-0 3-0 2-1 1 1 1
Bournemouth v Man Utd 0-2 1-3 0-2 1-3 1 3 1
Arsenal v Liverpool 1-1 2-2 1-1 3-4 0 0 0
Chelsea v West Ham 2-0 2-0 2-1 2-1 1 1 3
6 8 9

New TV scheduling means that the weekend starts here on a Friday evening this week with the Zlatan circus at Old Trafford and ends on Sunday with the Hammers hoping to find 11 fit players to put out against Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth.  Worryingly, all three of us are forecasting a home win to christen the league debut at the  Olympic/ Tesco/ London stadium.

    Lawro Rich Geoff
Friday 19th August Man Utd V Southampton  2-0 2-1 2-1
         
Saturday 20th August Stoke V Man City  1-2 0-1 0-2
  Burnley V Liverpool  0-2 1-3 1-1
  Swansea V Hull  2-1 2-0 0-0
  Tottenham V Crystal Palace  2-0 2-0 3-0
  Watford V Chelsea  0-2 1-2 1-1
  West Brom V Everton  1-1 1-1 0-1
  Leicester V Arsenal  1-1 2-2 1-3
         
Sunday 21st August Sunderland V Middlesbrough  1-1 1-1 1-0
  West Ham V Bournemouth  2-1 3-1 3-1

Astra Giurgiu 1:1 West Ham

Drawing a blank on a European awayday.

Reece Burke v AstraOn Tuesday, Manchester City went to Romania to face the team currently sitting in second place in the Romanian League, Steaua Bucharest. City thrashed them 5-0, missed two penalties, and quite frankly could have run up a cricket score. Steaua, like their close Bucharest rivals Dinamo, have dominated Romanian football with forty-one league titles between them, shared almost equally, and are the two biggest teams in the country.

Two days later we visited the same country and traveled forty miles south of Bucharest to play against the Romanian champions, Astra Giurgiu, who won the title for the first time last season. This season they are in some disarray and have made a poor start, currently occupying ninth place in the league. Astra themselves have spent the majority of their existence in the lower leagues, and are considered to be a much smaller club than the two big Bucharest teams. We could only draw 1-1.

The result could have been so much better. Shortly before the Astra equaliser we missed a golden opportunity to extend our lead to 2-0 which would effectively have put the tie to bed.  Substitute Marcus Browne’s breakaway was excellent but his unselfish pass across the goal still left Antonio with a bit to do. I reckon he would still have been disappointed to miss the target though. It’s amazing how often missed chances lead to a goal shortly afterwards at the other end and this is exactly what happened a minute or so later. Slack defending at a corner, with Byram seemingly retreating from his original position covering the near post cross, and Collins making an uncharacteristically flimsy challenge for the ball, allowed our opponents an equaliser that perhaps they deserved for their spirited fight back in the second half.

……we looked increasingly vulnerable when Collins came on and we changed to a back three.This gave our opponents the initiative and was perhaps a tactical error by our manager.

In the opening period headers from debutant Calleri and Antonio, who looked more comfortable in an attacking role, almost gave us the lead. Then just before half time an Astra defender inexplicably handled in the area. The referee spotted the infringement and Noble calmly netted the spot kick, his twenty-eighth successful conversion from the spot from thirty-one attempts, including fourteen of the last fifteen.

When comparing our result to that attained by Manchester City it emphasises how far we are away from challenging at the very top. However there was not a lot in the Astra Giurgiu performance to suggest that they should block our path into the group stage when we meet them in the return in Stratford next week.

Defensively our young back line of Byram, Oxford, Burke, and the more experienced Ogbonna coped quite well, but we looked increasingly vulnerable when Collins came on and we changed to a back three. This gave our opponents the initiative and was perhaps a tactical error by our manager. Obiang was tidy as a defensive midfielder and plays a similar role to Nordtveit. Bilic seems to prefer our new recruit whereas personally I like Obiang and I think it will be a loss if he is on his way out as persistent rumours are suggesting.

In attack, Calleri looked as if he could be useful, although it was difficult to tell in this one game. The jury is still out on Tore although he looked a little better than he did against Chelsea. Carroll is Carroll and needs better service to benefit from his strengths. Antonio looked quite good playing in an unaccustomed attacking role! He was certainly our most promising and dangerous offensive player. Valencia continued to run down blind alleys.

I look forward to seeing us attack teams with Ayew, Carroll, Payet, Feghouli, Lanzini, Kouyate, Noble and Antonio, although how many of those will, or can be, fitted into the team (or even matchday squad) at once remains to be seen. Because of injuries that is a long way off, and it will be interesting to see if the club has the willingness to invest in further attacking players, especially recognised goalscorers, before the transfer window “slams” shut in a couple of weeks time. Surely if Valencia and Sakho leave then it is a must.

Setting The Scene: Away to Astra

The tension builds as West Ham seek to build a winning first-leg foundation.

Europa League AstraWest Ham have travelled to Romania for tonight’s Europa League qualifying play-off first leg tie against the Black Devils of FC Astra Giurgui (Kick Off 19:15 BST). It was Astra who ended the Hammer’s European dream last season with a 4-3 aggregate win in our only previous encounter with the current Romanian champions. Previous meetings with Romanian opposition in Europe competition (where we have yet to record an away victory) saw UEFA Cup elimination to Steaua Bucharest in 1999 and victory against Poli Timisoara in the 1980/81 Cup Winner’s Cup. Coincidentally, Astra recorded their first league win of the season last weekend against bottom side Poli Timisoara.

Until 2012 Astra Giurgiu were known as Astra Ploiesta until the club was moved 130km to the south by the current owner despite long running protests from Barry Hearn. This would be the equivalent of Reading moving to Southend and a far greater upheaval than our recent relocation from Upton Park to Stratford. The move heralded Astra’s first ever Romanian championship victory.

“We have a big job to do against the Romanian champions. I know there are many players from last year and a lot of international players. For me they played a good game against Copenhagen at home and I know how good the teams from Romania can be.”

– Super Slav

Despite the game sandwiched between our tame defeat at Chelsea and the opening home fixture with Bournemouth it is expected that the Hammers will field a strong side in order to secure Europa League group stage qualification. It seems that Ayew is now out for an extended period and joins Lanzini, Cresswell and Sakho on the recuperation ward. Under The Hammers sources (i.e. we read it on the internet) suggest that Payet and Nordvelt have not travelled with the squad but that new boy Callieri managed to grab a spare seat on the plane. Arthur Masuaku is not yet eligible but no news, as yet, on the whereabouts of Sofiane Feghouli.

How we line up will be awaited with interest particularly the thorny full-back situation with Byram being our only available specialist in that position. I searched to Google to see if there was any possible academy replacement but all I got was “Page Not Found” (or at least out on loan along with Hendrie). Involvement from at least one of the Reeces tonight would be very welcome along with a role for the unfortunate Antonio as a midfield attacking threat.

“The decisions were scandalous and disgraceful. The errors of Artur Dias did not happen due to dishonesty. He needs to leave refereeing or ask to be excused from our games.”

– Porto President Pinto da Costa on tonight’s referee.

The man in the middle tonight is Artur Dias of Portugal who was once described by Porto’s President as scandalous and disgraceful following his performance in a Benfica – Porto derby game. We managed to avoid a repeat of last year’s red-card-fest in the previous round so fingers crossed that discipline is maintained.

My prediction for what it is worth is that our Romanian duck will endure with a scoreless or low scoring draw.

Match Preview: West Ham v Astra Giurgiu

What’s in store in Romania for West Ham’s European adventure?

west ham v astra 2015Last year our brief foray into Europe ended in the third qualifying round at the hands of Astra Giurgiu of Romania when they beat us 4-3 on aggregate. We held a comfortable 2-0 lead in the first leg when it all went wrong and they pulled back to 2-2. We put out a weakened team in the return leg as we were due to begin the Premier League season away at Arsenal just three days later.

We meet them again this season in the play-off round this time. If we can get past them over two legs then we will be into the league group stage with six guaranteed matches on Thursdays before the end of the year. This will have quite an impact on our league games and it will be interesting to see if we have the squad to cope if it happens.

The Premier League television requirements were not particularly kind to us with our opening league game last Monday evening at Chelsea, followed by this game on Thursday evening, and then we face Bournemouth in our opening home league game next Sunday.

Three games in a seven day period including a trip to Romania will be tough. Added to this is the return with the Romanians a week after the first leg then a daunting away trip to Manchester City on the next Sunday, and there is a real challenge for the team / squad at the beginning of the season.

“We should beat them over two legs quite comfortably to gain revenge for last season’s elimination and move into the group stage.”

Our opponents don’t come into the game in the best of form (a bit like ourselves I guess). Their league season began on 23 July when they suffered a 4-1 home defeat to the current unbeaten league leaders Dinamo Bucharest. A week later they drew 0-0 away from home, and then suffered their second home defeat 2-1 on 6 August. Last weekend they recorded their first league win of the season beating the bottom club who haven’t picked up a single point this season 3-1. Two of their three goals in this game came from the penalty spot, so perhaps they are as adept at “earning” penalties as Leicester!

Astra, the southernmost team in the country, were the Romanian champions last season (they finished first in the regular season and also following the championship round played by the top clubs) and qualified for the third qualifying round of the Champions League as a result, but were eliminated by FC Copenhagen. After drawing 1-1 at home in the first leg they were soundly beaten 3-0 in Denmark, and as a result stepped down to play in the Europa League. They have a tiny stadium holding just 8,500.

Steaua Bucharest (much larger stadium capacity 55,000), the reigning champions from the previous season, finished as runners-up to Astra in last season’s Romanian League. They are currently in second place in this season’s competition, five points clear of Astra after just four games. On that basis then form-wise they are currently a better team than our opponents.  Despite finishing fifth in the last regular season they moved up to second place after the championship round. As a result they, too, qualified for the third qualifying round of the Champions League but they performed better than Astra beating Sparta Prague over two legs. They progressed to meet Manchester City in the first play-off round on Tuesday. City thrashed them 5-0 in Romania despite missing two penalties.

We should beat them over two legs quite comfortably to gain revenge for last season’s elimination and move into the group stage. But we are West Ham. Who knows?

5 West Ham Things from Week One

Looking back calmly now the dust has settled.

5 Things WHUThe growth of the angry fan-base continues unchecked.

West Ham have long been known as a loyal and passionate set of supporters. They travel home and away in their numbers, get behind the team, develop a long suffering gallows humour and recognise good performances by the opposition when they see it. More recently with growth of social media a far more fickle element have attached themselves to the club – and are happy to shout about it. Their resting start is angry and knee jerking and they seem to hate almost everything that happens at the club. Perhaps this is not the game or club for you.

Square Pegs do not fit into Round Holes.

For as long as I can remember West Ham managers have taken pleasure in playing players out of position. The logic seem to be that if one of my best 11 players got injured I will put the 12th best player in regardless of his skill set. It is the type of thing that we would do in our Sunday morning football teams where the worst players were put out of harms way at full back. It seems that the same can happen in the modern multi-million pound era. It may be that Slav does not rate Michail Antonio as a winger and so has bought 3 more players to play in his position. For me, Antonio’s raw energy, power and unpredictability make him a very difficult attacking opponent – like Carlton Cole but with pace, mobility and goal scoring ability. He is no full-back though. Nearly all the supporters can see this.

The referees still have it in for us.

It is well documented how many points we were denied last year by incorrect decisions by the men in black/ blue/ yellow or whatever they are wearing this season. Step forward Anthony Taylor who saw fit to give Adrian a straight red against Leicester last year for accidentally kicking Vardy. On this occasion he allowed the eventual match-winner, well known thug Diego Costa, to go completely unpunished after raking his studs down our keeper’s shin. Now maybe (just maybe) it was not intentional but a high proportion of fouls are like that. It was late, mistimed and rash. Had Costa not already been booked he would most certainly have received (at least) a yellow. The referee absolutely bottled it. No doubt. I see that Chelsea manager, Conte, had a touch of the Wengers and didn’t see the incident but somehow concluded that Taylor had been right in taking no action.

Our forward players do not suit the style we tried to play.

Before the game Slav had talked of Plan A and Plan B for the game. Plan A was almost certainly a reprise of the games at Arsenal and Manchester City last year. This relied on containment and hitting the opposition on the break. The containment part probably worked quite well aside from individual mistakes leading to the two goals. However, we did not have the personnel on the pitch for the quick counter. If you are going to successfully utilise Andy Carroll you have to play his strength which is crosses into the box – a set piece ploy rather than the break where you are relying on mobility and pace. Although Valencia tries his best his close control is too weak to be effective in the English game. The inability to freshen up our attacking options (so far) is our Achilles heel (or is it Andy’s heel).

Beware the injury curse has moved with us.

Ever since Arnold Hills refused to buy lucky heather from the wife of a Millwall docker in the early 1900s West Ham have lived in the shadow of an injury curse. Often new signings are injured in pre-season never to re-appear so at least Andre Ayew went one better in lasting 34 minutes before going lame. Optimistic reports are that the injury will not keep him out too long and that he may even return for the Bournemouth game. I hope the club are acting on our dire injury situation and have made sure that there are sufficient beds in the new treatment room at Rush Green.

5 Things We Learned From Matchweek 1

The topics and talking points that created an impression this week.

Five Things EPLThe Fixtures Computer can still produce underwhelming results.

With all the money, glamour and razzmatazz that surrounds the newly re-branded Premier League, the fixtures computer still managed to contrive a good few uninspiring pairings for the opening day; particularly for the Saturday afternoon slot whose temptation included Middlesboro v Stoke, Burnley v Swansea and Palace v Albion. Only the die-hard neutral could take any interest in what is quite typical Saturday 3pm fare in the TV era. In the end I settled for the lesser of many evils and watched Everton against Spurs in the hope of an Everton rout. In the event of Europa League group stage qualification, Saturday games will be a stranger to West Ham this season and it’s going to be a toss up between watching the games or going on a paint drying course.

Mistakes by the ‘Elite’ Referees continue to influence the outcome of games.

It didn’t take long for Mike Dean to clock up the first big refereeing mistake of the season when he awarded Leicester a penalty an the chance to draw level in the early kick off at Hull. With Hull holding a slender half time lead Tom Huddlestone tackled Demarai Gray just outside the area and Dean inexplicably awarded a penalty – video referee anyone? Leicester appeared to get the ‘rub of green’ last season from officials and maybe they are benefiting from big club favouritism. I also noticed a couple of blatant dives by Manchester United players that went unpunished at the weekend – and no, Jim Beglin, expected that you might be tackled does not justify diving to the ground. And then of course there was Diego Costa…..

TV commentators still mainly talk “b*ll*cks”.

I don’t know what I was hoping for. Possibly that they had a commentators team building offsite during the close season and decided that their “mission statement” wasn’t to hear the sound of their own voice. A return to Kenneth Wolstenholme’s laconic and frugal commentary style and ditching the co-commentator would suit me just fine. We are there to watch the game in front of us not to be impressed by your knowledge of statistics or where players went for their holidays. Today’s commentary team seem to select a theme or their potential man of the match ‘early doors’ and no amount of contradictory evidence is ever going to change their minds.

We are going to have to endure a season long Zlatan-mania.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has had a great career, is a personality and a wonderful entertainer. Whether he can contribute during a full Premier League season (do United have to play away at Stoke on a wet Tuesday night in February?) remains to be seen. He seems like a Meadowlark Lemon/ Harlem Globetrotter type of signing to me; more about image and marketing than on-field ability. Nevertheless he featured in the Sunday game at Bournemouth where he produced one flick-on for Rooney before unleashing a mishit goal scoring shot which was subsequently converted into a ‘wonder strike’ by the close-to-orgasm commentary team. If Zlatan lasts the pace we could get mightily annoyed by the hype.

Does Eric Lamela wear eye make-up on the pitch?

Eric Lamela is a much more expensive version of our own “jewel” Manuel Lanzini. Lamela was purchased at huge expense at a time when the cash from Gareth Bale’s transfer was blocking the corridor outside Daniel Levy’s office at White Hart Lane. After a couple of indifferent seasons Lamela is look to be worth at least half his transfer fee and at the weekend popped up with a headed equaliser at Everton. The big question for me was that it looked like he had applied new-romantic style eye liner before the match. I know that modern day footballers can be rather effete compared to their predecessors but there is a line surely; the rot set in when Keith Weller pulled on a pair of white tights.

Chelsea 2:1 West Ham

Pouring through the debris of the season opener. A blunt attack, lack of ambition and more weak refereeing.

Costa ThuggeryWhen we elect a government to run the country we have accept that they will make decisions on our behalf. We can of course voice our disapproval but we have to wait until the next election before we can influence any changes (unless of course there is a referendum on a particular matter!). Football managers are not elected by supporters but I have a feeling that when Big Sam’s contract was not renewed, if there had been an election at the time then Slaven Bilic would have had a large majority. And in his first term of office he guided us to a very respectable seventh place in the Premier League, narrowly missing out on (some would say we were robbed of) a place in the Champions League, with a style of football that the majority approved of.

So we move into the second season and get through comfortably into the play-off round of the Europa League and then have to visit Stamford Bridge for the opening league game. I looked at Twitter about an hour before the kick off to see the players that had been selected, and was horrified to read the meltdown taking place by various individuals and West Ham groups before a ball had been kicked. The language was about as bad as it can get, the main attacks being on the manager’s team selection. Apart from all the words used to describe Bilic personally, the emphasis was on Antonio being picked at right back, Ogbonna being left out, the selection of Reid, Valencia (another subjected to vicious personal attacks), and Payet being left on the bench. Almost unanimously there was a call for Byram, Ogbonna and Payet to start and Antonio to play instead of Valencia in attack.

“It was therefore a complete surprise against the run of play when Collins scored with a superb shot, only his ninth career goal, but his fourth against Chelsea!”

Our supporters at the game were singing the Super Slaven Bilic song after about a quarter of an hour so were they taking an alternative view to the tweeters? We started promisingly for about ten minutes and then Chelsea gradually began to take over. Ayew had not really got into the game when he was injured on the half hour and Tore came on to replace him. Our defence were quite comfortable in the first half but we were unable to achieve anything in an attacking sense.

It all changed 50 seconds into the second half when Antonio got caught out of position and gave away a penalty. He was substituted, and the tweeters were happy that the point they had been making about Bilic’s insistence to play him at right back had been proved. Byram provided better cover from a defensive viewpoint. Although I am not a fan of most statistics in games, the Sky caption on 70 minutes that revealed shots on goal to be 14-1 in Chelsea’s favour was very telling.

It was therefore a complete surprise against the run of play when Collins scored with a superb shot, only his ninth career goal, but his fourth against Chelsea! Ah, that’s why he was picked! It was our first shot on target and came after 77 minutes. It would have been a most undeserved draw, and West Ham managed to do what they often do, conceding an 89 th minute goal. But Costa should not have been on the pitch when he netted the winner. He had already been booked when he raked his studs down Adrian’s leg, and should have perhaps had a straight red for that alone.

I take no pleasure in predicting a 2-1 defeat prior to the game. In truth I was expecting both sides to be better than they were. From a defensive viewpoint, when Byram was introduced we looked sound, although the distribution when we had the ball at the back was often poor.

“Let’s hope we learn some lessons from this match and put on a decent performance in Romania on Thursday.”

Only Kouyate of the midfield trio had a decent game in my opinion, but up front we were totally lacking in ideas. Carroll and Valencia didn’t have particularly good games although they were poorly served, and Tore looked like he was a complete stranger to the game.

What a disappointing opening! I had a quick look at Twitter before retiring to bed. It was once more in meltdown. The “told you so” brigade were once again in full force using the foulest language imaginable, hiding behind the anonymity provided by the internet. Yes, it was a poor performance. Yes, even the manager, with the benefit of hindsight, might have selected a different team.

This is my 59th season of supporting the team. This is what West Ham are all about. You never know what you are going to get from one game to the next. Let’s hope we learn some lessons from this match and put on a decent performance in Romania on Thursday.