Spotlight on the Officials

A quick look at some of the decisions made by the referees this weekend.

RefereeingTraditionally it has always been said that if you don’t notice a referee in a game of football then he’s had a good game. To some extent this is true. Referees and their assistants do have assessors in the stands at every game feeding back on their performance so in theory their decisions (or non-decisions) are scrutinised carefully. But if a referee doesn’t get a mention in a newspaper or media report on a game then he should normally be pleased. Although some do court the attention and believe they are on a par with the players in providing the entertainment.

All officials will continue to make mistakes (as we all do in life), and until some form of video technology is introduced then these errors will continue to be highlighted, and can have a significant outcome on the results of games. The concept of using video referees in the stands is something that is gaining momentum, and something I am wholly in favour of. The technology is there, although we have to be careful how it is used. I will expand upon how it can be introduced at a later date, but I believe it is urgently needed to minimise the errors made by the officials. I have heard that generally they are in favour themselves and would welcome the help it would give them. In the meantime I have noted a few issues that have come up even at this early stage of the season.

Last weekend Jon Moss took charge of the Watford v Chelsea game. Apart from missing one of the most blatant handballs you will ever see when Cathcart handled from a corner, Moss also failed to send off Costa for simulation (diving to most of us) after he had booked him for dissent earlier in the game. This meant he was still on the field when he shouldn’t have been to score the winning goal late in the game. Ring any bells? Oh yes Anthony Taylor failed to send him off for his disgraceful challenge on Adrian, after he had previously booked him for dissent just a few days earlier. The result of all this? Chelsea have got six points this season after two games when some might argue they should only have two. Those points might be very important in the final analysis. I remember Mr. Moss well for what I believe were important decisions against us at Leicester last season and at Tottenham the season before. 95th minute penalties if I recall correctly?

“Perhaps the first on Drinkwater was debatable, but the second was cast-iron, stonewall, nailed-on, or whatever you would like to call it.”

Tony Pulis’ teams have I believe, got away with American Football style blocking in the penalty area at set pieces for some years. Perhaps they aren’t the only ones, but Stoke always stood out for me in this respect, and latterly West Brom are the same. Last weekend from a corner, Berahinho was detailed to “look after” the Everton keeper (Stekelenburg?) and backed him into the net as a corner came across allowing McAuley a free header to score. Not the first time the Albion have used this ploy. It was so obvious to see on TV but did Mr. Swarbrick see it? Apparently not.

I’ve always thought that Mark Clattenburg reminded me of somebody but I didn’t realise who until I saw him shake hands with Koscielny of Arsenal at the end of the game at Leicester. Last season Leicester were awarded a scandalous number of penalties and followed this up with one in their first game of the season at Hull. But I wonder if Mr. Clattenburg has cottoned on to this, as he denied them two fairly clear-cut spot kick awards in the game against the Gunners. Perhaps the first on Drinkwater was debatable, but the second was cast-iron, stonewall, nailed-on, or whatever you would like to call it. He was possibly the only person who saw it who didn’t think so. Perhaps he is single-handedly giving Leicester their comeuppance for some “dubious” penalty awards in the past year.

Well done to Mike Dean who appears to have started a one-man crusade against holding in the penalty area at corners. He awarded two penalties for this infringement in the Stoke v Man. City game and is to be congratulated in his stance to try to eradicate this nonsense from the game. But he doesn’t appear to have been backed up by referees elsewhere even though it was an issue they were going to tackle this season. Unless this is applied consistently then it will continue to spoil games. It will be interesting to see if Mr. Dean keeps it up, or if he gets criticised by the assessors for this.

My award for referee of the week goes to Craig Pawson who refereed our game v Bournemouth. I have been critical of him in the past (Arsenal last season) but felt he was spot on throughout the game and got most decisions right. He tried to let the game flow, but stopped it when he had to. He certainly made fewer mistakes than many of the players on view.

5 Things from Matchweek 2

Assorted observations and time wasting from this week’s Premier League

1.     Sledgehammer seeks nut.

In football, as in life, when a perceived problem is identified the authorities like to introduce a new law (or a new interpretaion of an old one) which is then applied zealously across the board with no room for common sense.  In the FA’s crosshairs this time are the shenanigans at corners and player dissent.

Five Things EPLThe hottest pundit “talking point” of the weekend were the two penalties awarded by Mike Dean in the Stoke v Man City encounter as a result of pushing and shoving in the area.  Certainly in most games neither incident would have been punished and yet in both incidents the offending player was clearly impeding an opponent.  In fact what was Sterling thinking when he had already seen Shawcross pulled up earlier in the game for a similar episode.  It will be interesting to see how this pans out as the letter of the law would result in numerous penalties in each game (just like Rugby).

Many players have already found themselves booked in the “crackdown” on dissent.  In our own game Arter of Bournemouth and Winston Reid both fell foul of the new ruling although neither had erupted into a nything like a twisted Vardy-esque red faced tirade.  Maybe another approach to this problem is refs stopping making bad decisions.

2.     Old Hammers, they fade and die

A few ex-Hammers were plying their trade in the Premier League over the weekend.  Former favourite and Basildon boy James Tomkins got to make his debut as a second half substitute for Crystal Palace at White Hart Lane.  It was not up there with the greatest dream debuts as Wanyama headed the winner just seconds after Tomka coming on.

The Tyne – Wear derby pitched number 2 pantomime villain, Jermaine Defoe against Stewart Downing.  A quiet day for Defoe who apart from one half chance where he might have done better he was unable to make any impression.  Downing in his usual manner spent most of the match getting rid of the ball as quickly as possible if there was any danger of a challenge looming.  At least he was able to pick up a win bonus.

3.     The many lives of Diego Costa

As former referee Howard Webb explained “Diego Costa was lucky to be playing at all on Saturday and lucky to still be on the pitch to score the winner.”  So having escaped dismissal and scoring a late winner against us there is a repeat performance just one week later against Watford.  He was booked once more for dissent by Jon Moss who then saw fit to turn a blind eye to blatant simulation before he once again proved to be a late match-winner.  This is not the first blatant dive that has gone unpunished in the first two weeks of the season.  Perhaps the new focus on interference at corners has taken the referee’s eye off the simulation ball.

4.     Black Cats nine lives to be put to the test again

Some things never change and yet again Sunderland have decided to sit out the first part of the season like a pole-vaulter who believes the early rounds of competition are beneath him.  The usual routine is to secure an early berth in the bottom 3 until the new year, replace the manager and then embark on a rip roaring, roller coaster escape ride to safety.  Early signs are that David Moyes is not equipped to threaten that tradition and so should be ready to dust off his CV come the Spring.

5.     The Manager’s New Clothes

Managers get far more screen time during TV coverage these days and as a consequence I have been drawn to a sartorial comparison of their matchday apparel.   There are two main camps in manager attire; those who like to turn out suited and booted and those who prefer the hands-on tracksuited look.  Here are my first thoughts of the men strutting the technical area catwalk at the weekend.

Of the suits, Ranieri was by far the smartest and almost immaculate; with an honorable mention to the increasingly distinguished Mark Hughes.  Pardew sported the look of an inebriated uncle at a wedding having just danced the macarana while Conte was had that flustered local government official look.  Appropriately for the Sunday match, Moyes and Karanka had dressed ready for Chapel while Slav is more ticket tout or used car salesman.

Klopp with BrainsTony Pulis is the standard bearer for the tracksuiters, complete with embroidered initials in case he forgets who he is,  and is joined by Klopp and Howe.  The loose limbed Klopp is one of those people who will look untidy no matter what he wears and he somehow reminds me of how Thunderbird puppet Brains would look should he be infected by an out of control growth hormone.

For completeness we should also mention the smart-casuals whose numbers include Dyche and Pochettino, both of who could easily pass for the manager of a fast food restaurant.

All change: Trains, missing seats and standing orders!

Travel difficulties and the matchday stadium experience.

Rail MapWe set out from Bury St Edmunds at noon looking forward the third opening game at the London Stadium. The Domzale game was the first, Juventus came next, and now the first home league game. We drove to Epping, parked the car, and boarded the westbound Central Line train at around 1.15 anticipating arrival in Stratford 30 minutes later.

Within minutes we knew this would not be the case. A message (from the driver) informed us that the train would be going no further than Leytonstone due to an incident at Mile End. No problem, no doubt we can get a bus from there we thought. The train reached Loughton at 1.30 and we all had to get off; it was going no further. And no trains would be going beyond Loughton until further notice as there was a person on the track at Mile End.

We milled around on the platform and discussed the problem with fellow supporters who we didn’t know, who became known to us as Paul and his son, Owen, and Rich. After a short conversation Paul said his car was parked close to Loughton Station so we could drive to a nearby overground station. Five of us set off in his car without a destination in mind as we drove away, and used mobiles and google to try to work out the best route to Stratford.

Google and tfl suggested Chingford to Hackney Downs, walk to Hackney Central and then train to Stratford. Parking was easy in Chingford on a Sunday, train connections arrived with no delays and the walk in Hackney was via a footbridge which apparently reduced the walk from 600 metres to 200 metres. We were there in plenty of time for the game.

The atmosphere beforehand was good, Bubbles was loud, and we settled down for what turned out to be a dull, uneventful game. Geoff’s article “Five Things We Learned From This Week’s West Ham Game” tells you all you need to know about the game itself.

Stand upThe stadium still has some teething problems. There was the continued issue of those who wish to watch the game whilst standing. The club had to reduce the capacity to 57,000 for safety reasons because of the refusal of a number, mainly in the lower tiers, who insisted on not using the seats provided for them. I can understand their frustration as in my younger days I preferred to stand at football games and did so for many years. I can also see the other side of the issue – people who wanted to sit but who were in seats behind those who were standing. “We’re West Ham United, we’ll stand if we want” those on their feet sang, some of whom didn’t appear to be taking much notice of the game itself.

The stewards moved in en masse and tried to reason with the standing supporters but no luck, they weren’t sitting for anyone. On my journey home I read social media where some of those standing were boasting of how they had seen off the stewards and got their own way. I also read others who had written that the stewards were mainly just taking seat numbers. They went on to say that, if the club were true to their word and wanted to eradicate the standing, and hence get a safety certificate to increase the potential crowd numbers, they would be writing to the “transgressors”. It would be a warning to them that if they refused to follow instructions then their season tickets would be withdrawn, and they would effectively be banned. Some were apparently ejected from the ground during the game, although I don’t know how many. The row continues on social media, and will no doubt still be an issue on Thursday.

56 people who had bought seats found that there were no seats for them to sit on – an administrative error I heard. They sat on the concrete or stood I suppose? The club apologised and said the seats would be there on Thursday.

Apparently the attendance was 56,977 leaving just 23 unfilled seats. There were many more than 23 with no occupants so these must have been the 3,000 that were reduced from the original expected 60,000. The club had obviously spread these around the stadium but some news reports were mischievously (I thought) trying to emphasise supporters not turning up. Perhaps the Mile End incident was another factor?

I was interested in the figure of 23 short of a whole thousand. On seven different occasions last season the official attendance at our home games was recorded as exactly 34,977, 23 short of 35,000. Incredible coincidence don’t you think?

5 Things About Bournemouth At Home

Five things that we learned from the home fixture this weekend.

5 Things WHUIt’s our new stadium now; there is no going back.

It certainly wasn’t the greatest performance but getting off to a winning start was a definite bonus.  Having a “they haven’t won yet since they moved to Stratford” tag hanging over us would have been bad for morale and blood pressure.  I suppose you get the same three points whether you grind them out or win them effusively so, for now,  we should put them in the bank and move on.  It moves us up to 10th spot and in the old days we would have been more than happy to be on the first page of Teletext.

Empty seats
Picture from BBC Match Report

The atmosphere at stadium seemed decent enough at the start but became subdued as the game failed to take off.  The occasion and injuries may have been contributory factors but are things we need to deal with.  Very strange that in setting a new club record home attendance of almost 57,000 it was reported so negatively on the BBC which used a zoomed in photo of a small empty bank of seats to illustrate their story.

No Payet, No Outlet, No Penetration

There were a few very smart periods of play during the game with crisp passing and movement but which then fizzled out with no end product is this what Slaven Bilic frowned on last season as “playing too sexy”?  There was no sexy foreplay from Havard Nordtveit who treated the ball as something nasty that he wanted to be rid of, and as far away as possible, whenever it came into his possession.  We know from last season that we struggle to create when Payet (and perhaps Lanzini to some extent) is missing.  In the 8 games where he was absent last term we won just once and scored only 6 times – scoring 59 times in the 30 league games where he played.

Without Payet there is no outlet, no-one to pull the strings or bring a semblance of control.  The lack of a frontman who can contribute more than two touches at any one time does not help.

It’s good to have some full-backs back

.Looking at he positives out of the game I think we can be pleased with the performances of the two full backs.  Arthur Masuaku is a solid addition to the squad and looks more than a stopgap for the enforced absence of Aaron Cresswell.  Maybe not quite as adventurous going forward but seemed to be defensively sound.  There was also an assured performance from Sam Byram who as well as defending well is always looking to use the ball the ball wisely.  He does seem to be an avid collector of yellow cards having received 5 in a total of 8 appearances.  He could well have received two in the same passage of play yesterday as he twice sought to take one for the team within a few seconds.  May well be suspended before the clocks go back.

The man who has no imagination has no wing(er)s.

Our manager is a man who likes wingers.  It is how they play in Croatia and why we now have half a squad of them.  Both Antonio and Tore blew hot and cold yesterday but then that is often the way with these guys.  It seemed to me (unsurprisingly I thought) that both were more effective when playing on their natural foot even though Tore has spent much of his career playing on the right.  It reminded me of when Trevor Sinclair was played on the left in a bid to secure an England call-up.
The major bonus with Antonio is that he is always likely to come up with a goal and despite a couple of chances where he might have done better it was his headed goal from a perfect left wing Tore cross that made the difference on the scoresheet.

Possession is nine-tenths of running down the clock.

We have never been the strongest at keeping possession and running down the clock.  Having just seen Middlesboro do it so effectively in the closing stages of the Tyne-Wear derby it was noticeable how difficult it is for West Ham.  The stats may show that the team with less possession wins but it is dangerous to adopt it as a tactic in the last few minutes where the opposition are desperately in search of an equaliser – even with 10 men.  Invariably we give the ball away cheaply and the simple task of keeping it in safe areas of the pitch is beyond us.  We did have two chances for a breakaway during the time.  The first where Mark Noble appeared to be running in treacle which came to nothing and the second where Calleri really should have added a second.  Ultimately it took a fine Adrian save and desperate Reid block to keep things even.

Match Scene: West Ham v Bournemouth

The latest in the series of first ever games at the new stadium.

West Ham BournemouthSo after the actual opening game and the official opening game we are finally getting down to the real business of the opening league fixture at the new Stratford stadium.  In the process we will be setting a new club record home league attendance surpassing the 42,322 (including my teenage self) that were squeezed into Upton Park for the 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur in October 1970.

Today’s visitors may now have taken on our pre-state aid mantle of everyone’s second favourite team following their unlikely (usually termed as fairy-tale) rise from the lower reaches of the league pyramid to the very top table of English football.  A creditable mid-table finish last season did nothing to diminish the reputation of bobby-dazzling Bournemouth manager, Eddie Howe – only signing Jordan Ibe for £15 million has been able to do that.

“You can’t expect seven goals in any game nowadays but they happen, I expect us to be much more concentrated and much more solid than we were in that game.”

– Super Slav

Head to Head

There is only a 7 match history between the two teams.  The first meeting was a 5th round cup tie in 1929 against the then Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic was followed by a 60 year wait for re-match against an AFC Bournemouth side managed by Harry Redknapp.  Last season’s match at Upton Park was the first Hammer’s defeat in the series; the full record is shown below:

P W D L F A Sequence
Home 4 3 0 1 12 6 WWWL
Away 3 1 2 0 5 3 DDW
Total 7 4 2 1 17 9

Team News

Rumours circulating on the internet suggest that every West Ham outfield player, with the exception of Mark Noble, is unavailable through injury for this game.  Our usual inside Under The Hammers sources were too busy taking out the bins to either confirm or deny the reports which have, in any case, been made up in a poorly disguised attempt to get visitors to the site.

“The obvious threat is with Andy Carroll’s aerial ability and that is a threat we are going to have to try to counteract.  “He is slightly different and is quite unique in this day and age. If you go back 10 to 15 years, there were a lot of similar type strikers in a similar mould and, in the Premier League, the majority of those players have gone.”

– Eddie Howe

Longer term injuries continue to plague Ayew, Cresswell, Lanzini, Sakho and Feghouli and none will be available for consideration today.  Physio Room also shows Payet and Nordtvelt suffering from knocks but there is nothing on Kouyate who sat out the midweek match in Romania, again with an apparent knock.  More speculative chatter, which to be honest would be no big surprise, is that Andy Carroll is broken again – once again proving that he is ‘unplayable’.  I also came across comments by Slaven Bilic about not rushing Payet back to the action following his exertions at the Euros so maybe he is still a little tired, bless!

Former Hammer, Junior Stanislas, who has just signed a new 3 year deal with Bournemouth is absent from their squad (with a scary sounding inguinal hernia injury) but new signing Marc Wilson, formerly of Stoke City, may make a first start.

The Man in the Middle

Today’s potential short-sighted official is Craig Pawson from South Yorkshire.  Pawson, who as luck would have it is a Sheffield Wednesday supporter, took charge of the two exciting home draws against Manchester City and Arsenal last term.  You may remember it was Pawson who did the double dirty on Manuel Lanzini in the latter match by incorrectly disallowing a headed (what would have been opening) goal and then denying a blatant penalty following a foul challenge by Bellerin.  Suffice to say that Craig owes us one.

I Wouldn’t Bet On It 4

The latest instalment of our regular betting for fun column.

Fancy A BetBefore embarking on this week’s column I will recap on the last bet where I placed 1 point on there being exactly 3 goals in the Chelsea v West Ham game last Monday. This fun bet was correct, although I would have preferred that we scored the late goal, not Costa, who I don’t believe should have still been on the field anyway. This brought our balance up to 95.1.

This week I will be concentrating solely on our game against Bournemouth today. Just looking at the Paddy Power website (many other bookmakers are available on-line) there are 138 different markets that you can bet on in this one game of football! But before looking at a selection of the possible bets I’ll look back on the results of the seven Premier League games played yesterday.

Of the three possible results in a game of football, home, away or draw, the favourite result came up four times (wins for Man. City, Tottenham, Chelsea and Everton), whereas the least favourite result was the outcome in the other three (wins for Burnley and Hull, and Leicester drawing with Arsenal). The second favourite result didn’t happen in any of the games.

“I’m massively confident of a victory today so I’ll stake 10 points on a West Ham win at 21/20 (20.5).”

A one point bet on each of the 7 favourite results would have resulted in an overall loss of about half of your total stake despite getting 4 of the 7 correct. A one point bet on each of the second favourite results would have meant a total loss of all your stake money. A one point bet on each of the 7 least fancied results would have resulted in almost doubling your money despite only getting 3 correct results. So on Saturday your best bet was to go for the least predictable results unless you were clever enough to mix and match and correctly predict all seven (very unlikely!).

The point being made is that correctly predicting the outcome of football matches is extremely difficult. That’s why I bet for fun only with modest stakes. I generally do better on horse racing bets and my modest bet yesterday was a fiver on Heartbreak City in the Ebor at York at 12-1. So I had a smile on my face yesterday afternoon, but with just £5 staked it wouldn’t have been heartbreak if I had lost.

So what fun bets will I be making on today’s game? The odds setters at Paddy Power haven’t done their homework properly because there are some stupid / hilarious odds on offer for the first goal scorer in the match. Some selected odds are: Sakho, favourite at 5/1, Ayew and Emenike available at 11/2, Lanzini at 15/2, Diego Poyet at 16/1, Song and Cresswell at 25/1, and you can even bet on Jenkinson or Joey O’Brien at 40/1. I think I’ll steer clear of all those! What nonsense and very poor from Paddy Power to not bring their database up to date.

I’m massively confident of a victory today so I’ll stake 10 points on a West Ham win at 21/20 (20.5). With those odds the bookmakers believe there is a less than 50% chance of us winning but I believe our chances are better than that and therefore think that offers me good value.

Then for pure fun I’ll stake the following:

1 point on West Ham to win and both teams to score at 13/5 (3.6)

1 point on West Ham to score 3 or more goals in the game at 11/4 (3.7)

1 point on West Ham to win 3-1 at 14/1 (15)

1 point on Mark Noble to score the first goal and West Ham to win 3-1 at 100/1 (101)

1 point on West Ham to win and Mark Noble to score anytime at 7/1 (8).

The figures in brackets relate to the return if the bet is successful.

If we win the game then I’ll be in profit just from the win bet alone, even if all the others lose. The five fun bets will give me additional interest when watching the game even though the chances of them winning are less likely. If we don’t win the game then I’ll lose all 15 points staked. But my stakes will be low so it won’t bother me at all. My biggest disappointment will be the fact that we haven’t won the game or collected the three points on offer in a game that I believe we should win.

I start on 95.1 points so the 15 points staked will reduce my balance to 80.1. Not particularly sensible betting perhaps but fun all the same.

Preview: West Ham v Bournemouth

We’d much prefer to be beside the seaside as Bournemouth become the very first league visitors to our new Stratford home.

Home to BournemouthIf you qualify to play in Europe after a successful Premier League campaign then you must expect the games to come thick and fast. And that is exactly what is happening. Less than a week ago we began the league season with a 2-1 defeat at Chelsea. Just three days later we were drawing 1-1 in Romania. And less than 72 hours will elapse before we take to the field for the very first home Premier League game in front of 57,000 spectators on Sunday at our new stadium.

For the second season in a row the fixtures computer has arranged for us to play Bournemouth on the same weekend in August. And both times the game has been in London when many of our fans may have preferred a trip to the seaside in the summer, rather than on a cold January evening as was the case last season. But if we think the schedule is hectic this year we need to remember that last season the home Bournemouth game was our fifth competitive home game of the season and our ninth game overall!

Last August it was a nightmare game from a defensive viewpoint as we conceded four times in a seven goal thriller. A great game for the neutrals as Slaven Bilic said, although I doubt there were many neutral spectators at Upton Park on that hot Saturday afternoon. Jenkinson and Cresswell both chose the same day to play their worst games in a claret and blue shirt, but neither will be playing this time of course. And virtually everybody in the ground on Sunday will be hoping that Antonio is not selected to occupy the right back position, although most will hope he is in the team!

“But if we think the schedule is hectic this year we need to remember that last season the home Bournemouth game was our fifth competitive home game of the season and our ninth game overall!”

Of course one look at the early league table reveals that this game is one of the season’s first six pointers with both ourselves and our visitors pointless after our opening matches. We scored three goals against them in both games last season and we are looking for another three goals and three points to open our account this term.

This is the twenty-fifth season of the Premier League so nobody younger than thirty will remember the old days when the top tier was called Division One. We did not participate in that opening season of the Premier League in 1992 as we had been relegated after finishing bottom of Division One the previous May in the famous bond scheme season that provoked ugly protests. It was these off field matters which many believed contributed to many poor performances on the field. So despite relegation from Division One we still found ourselves in Division One which was the name given to the second tier at the time, which is now known as the Championship of course.

Interestingly, in that season, which culminated in promotion to the Premier League for the first time the following May with a last day victory over Cambridge, we had our first home game on 22 August, a day later than this year. On that day we went down to Charlton by a single goal of the game in front of just 17,000 at Upton Park. For the next home game a fortnight later fewer than 12,000 were there for the visit of Watford, and the home attendance continued to fall game by game hitting a low of just over 10,000 for the visit of Sunderland in October, when we recorded a 6-0 victory. How times change when we consider that many are disappointed with the restriction to just 57,000 on Sunday!