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’.

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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

All The Young Dudes

Is there any place for optimism from within the youth ranks?

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In a similar way that North Korean leaders insist on fancy titles such as ‘Peerless Leader’ or ‘Great Sun of the Nation’ our club has adopted as its own the moniker of the ‘Academy of Football’. While initially this was attributed by the football press in recognition of West Ham’s proficiency in coaching young players it has in recent year become more of a self-proclamation.

The development of Moore, Hurst, Peters and Brooking set the standard back in the 1960s but there then followed, with the odd exception, a long unproductive period for the youth system until the arrival, over the course of just a few years, of (Rio) Ferdinand, Lampard Jr, Cole, Carrick, Defoe and Johnson. That the potential of the golden generation was dismally squandered is a painful tale of woe that we won’t go into here.

Awash with pre-season optimism there was much chatter that part of West Ham’s glorious future; along with a new stadium, a reinforced squad and European football was a new crop of youngsters that would soon be knocking on the first team door. As the early season has developed most of these dreams have turned out to be like beautifully wrapped Christmas presents that turn out to be very disappointing once opened. But can our young players give us real hope for the future?

In an article I read before the season started Slaven Bilic described the difficulty of introducing young players in the modern Premier League. My interpretation of what he was saying is that it was a risk not worth taking in a scenario where a few bad results can have fans (and owners) clamouring for your head; just like we have now!  For young players, the more normal route is to spend time out on loan to get experience and see how they cope. Ferdinand, Lampard, Carrick and Defoe all had successful loan spells whereas Cole and Johnson went straight into the West Ham first team.

At the present time we 8 youngsters out on loan; Burke, Samuelsen, Cullen, Knoyle, Page, Belic, Dobson and Hendrie. Of these only Burke (who is now out injured following a hernia operation), Cullen and Page are getting regular first team football and of these only Burke is playing with a Championship side. Arguably the more exciting prospects (at least in terms of expectation) are still at the club compridsing Oxford, Martinez, Browne and Quina.

The Reece Oxford situation is very strange. An impressive debut against Arsenal over a year ago followed by a more difficult game at home to Leicester and he has only started one Premier League game since. The midweek EFL cup tie would seem to have been the perfect opportunity to give him another opportunity but instead a central defensive position was given to midfielder Nordtveit. It is easy to conclude that speculation about his future is playing a part in selection and my instinct is that he won’t remain a West Ham player for the long term.

Toni Martinez appears from the statistics to be a natural goalscorer something which typically our own academy has found it difficult to produce (Cottee being the last with Defoe having been snatched from Charlton) and how we could do with one of those in the first team at the moment. On the evidence to date it is difficult to see how Martinez and Fletcher would be worse striker choices than Zaza and Calleri.

Domingos Quina came to West Ham as a very highly rated and sought after player. Two substitute appearances against Domzale and nothing since; to the point that he doesn’t appear in any squad on the Official West Ham website. Marcus Browne also had a Europa Cup cameo but has not been considered since including being overlooked for the EFL Cup; and showing his disappointment on Twitter. Martin Samuelsen looks an extremely talented individual but, for whatever reason, he has not been getting regular game time on loan; either at Peterboro last year or at Blackburn, so far, this season.

When West Ham won the FA Youth Cup in 1999 only Bywater, Cole and Carrick went on to have top level careers. Many young players drop by the wayside and there is no reason to suspect that the current crop will be any different. There is nothing better as a supporter than witnessing a youth team player breakthrough into the first team. Obviously they need to have the talent but it would be disappointing if chances were not given simply because the manager is risk averse.  I would like to believe that there are 3 or 4 regular first teamers in the current youth setup.

Another title that has been given to successive North Korean leaders is ‘Great Defender’. Now that would be a novelty this season; but maybe we already have one sitting on the bench.

Counting Sheep – 6 – The Letters G and H

I’ve Started So I’ll Finish

Counting SheepOk, I’m not Magnus Magnusson and certainly have no thoughts of ever appearing on Mastermind, but I do like Magnus’ catchphrase – it is one that I tend to follow in all aspects of life, that is, if I start something I do have to finish it. This series of articles began when I couldn’t sleep at night and instead of counting sheep to help me drop off I selected teams of West Ham players whose surnames all started with the same letter.

I’ve picked five to date, “B”, “C”, “D”, “F” and “Vowels”. For today I have racked my brain (sounds worse than it was) trying to think of all the players I’ve ever seen in a West Ham shirt whose surnames begin with G. I’ve managed to jot down 12 names, but they wouldn’t make the best team as three of them, Green, Grotier, and Gregory (who was the first Hammers keeper I ever saw) were goalkeepers. I then moved on to H, and this time managed 13 names with only one keeper (Hislop), but virtually no defenders. So at this point I decided to make my second combined team utilising the letters “G” and “H”.

Therefore my all-time West Ham “G” plus “H” Team in an attacking 4-2-4 formation are:

Green (R)

Green (B)

Gale

Gabbidon

Harley

Holland

Hutchison

Goddard

Greaves

Hurst

Hartson

 

So who else did I think of that I’ve left out? The other keepers I’ve mentioned were omitted, although this position wasn’t the easiest part of selecting my team, plus Grice, Gordon, Gould and Garcia from “G”, and Harkes, Heffer, Howe, Holmes, Hales, Harewood and Hughes from “H”. I certainly had plenty of attacking options but fewer defensive ones. I think Ray Houghton may have made the first team once or twice perhaps, but although he went on to have a great career in football elsewhere, I can’t remember watching him play for us.

Perhaps I’ve forgotten someone really good. Can you pick a team of “G”s plus “H”s to rival mine?

And who would manage the “G”s plus “H”s? There’s only one candidate I believe, the legendary Ron Greenwood.

West Ham 1 v 0 Accrington Stanley

Between A Rock and A Hard Place.

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Before the game against Accrington Stanley, Slaven Bilic found himself caught between a rock and a hard place. He was in a predicament, a quandary, he was on the horns of a dilemma, between the devil and the deep blue sea. Whichever way you look at it he couldn’t really win. All managers in this position cannot win.

Should he select the best possible team to try to ensure a comfortable victory and boost the confidence of players that have lost four games in a row? Or should he give all the fringe players in the squad the opportunity to stake their claim for a place in the team? If we won the game easily then, well, that is what you should expect at home to a mid-table league two side. But, if the unthinkable should happen, and we went out of the competition that gives us the best possible chance of winning a trophy, then he would be slaughtered by the media, the fans, and possibly his employers, too. You have to remember too that he knew that before this game it would only take five wins for us to lift the EFL cup, and qualify for Europe for the third season in a row.

As it turned out he chose a team close to the second option with only Nordtveit, Ogbonna, Masuaku, and Zaza in the starting eleven of the team who started the last game at the Hawthorns. None of the retained four played well at the weekend, and Masuaku had one of the worst games in the history of West Ham defenders, and there have been some candidates for this honour over the years. If we’d had an alternative fit left back I’m sure he would have been included. I read one tongue-in-cheek article today suggesting that Dicks and Bilic should dig out their boots and play. What is perhaps surprising is that two renowned defenders from our past cannot seem to coach our present defenders.

Having chosen the fringe player option I particularly liked the pairing of Obiang and Edimilson, making his debut along with the experienced Arbeloa. The surprising omission from my point of view was that of Oxford. If ever there was an opportunity to give this brilliant prospect some game time then surely this was it. I hope that he doesn’t get too disillusioned with his lack of opportunities. You never know how much to believe in what you read in the media nowadays, but I would hate to see him leave us, as he must be one of the brightest up and coming talents in the game.

The joint-chairmen today issued a lengthy statement acknowledging some of the issues surrounding the stadium in respect of the three s’s, segregation, stewarding and standing, although the latter was cleverly referred to as “appropriate grouping of likeminded supporters”! This game was not the one to test if any improvement has been made in any of these areas. That will come when we get back towards a full stadium at the weekend. Only 39,877 were present to witness yet another dismal performance. Note the attendance ending in “77” yet again.

This report of the game hasn’t so far mentioned anything that happened. That is mainly because very little did actually happen! Shades of visiting minnows in cup competitions in the past came to mind. Why do we seem to find it so difficult to see off teams that we should be beating comfortably? After a totally lacklustre first half, anybody visiting from planet Mars, could not distinguish which team were Premier League and which were League Two.

Lanzini and Payet were introduced at the beginning of the second half to replace the ineffective Feghouli and Tore and the game livened up a little. Later in the half Antonio replaced Calleri, but despite getting well on top as the League Two side tired we were still unable to break them down. As extra time approached Masuaku left the field on a stretcher, and we were down to ten men. Six additional minutes were signalled by the fourth official, and a shot from Obiang brought a magnificent save from the keeper.

As extra time beckoned (which is what extra time does!)we were awarded a free kick in a central position 25 yards from goal and up stepped the imperious Dimitri Payet to score yet another trademark goal in the 96th minute to take us into Round 4. Accrington Stanley put up a brave performance and restricted us to just four shots on target.

But if you are going to be beaten then to lose to a moment of brilliance is perhaps the best way. It might have been a different story if we had to face extra time with just ten men, but Payet ensured that it didn’t happen.

The draw for Round Four took place shortly after the end of the game, and of the ten Premier League teams left in the competition, eight have been drawn to face each other with some mouth-watering ties. We are at home to Chelsea.

  • West Ham v Chelsea
  • Man Utd v Man City
  • Arsenal v Reading
  • Liverpool v Tottenham
  • Bristol City v Hull
  • Leeds v Norwich
  • Newcastle v Preston
  • Southampton v Sunderland