Can West Ham make it five home wins in a row for the first time in more than ten years?

How many of us (West Ham fans) would have thought at the start of the season that when it came to the fixture at home to Bournemouth, just a week from the end of October, with the World Cup looming up next month, and with almost one-third of the season completed, that we would be sitting below them in the Premier League table? West Ham, with a sixth and seventh place finish in the top-flight in the last two seasons versus a newly promoted Bournemouth side. Surely, with what was believed to be a very successful summer transfer window, with the recruitment of current internationals (German and Italian defenders, a Brazilian midfielder, and an Italian centre forward), we would be maintaining our challenge to the top teams, whereas our south coast opponents would be languishing towards the bottom?

Yet here we are with 11 points from 11 games whereas the Cherries are two points in advance of us, both of us having won three of our opening games, but they have drawn four and lost four, whereas we have drawn two and lost six. In fact, all three of the promoted teams have done relatively well (so far) with Fulham sitting in the top half of the table, Bournemouth amongst a cluster of mid-table clubs, and even Forest, despite sitting in the bottom three, beating our midweek conquerors Liverpool at the City Ground on Saturday.

After beginning this campaign with a 2-0 home win over Aston Villa, Bournemouth then lost three games in a row conceding four at Manchester City, three at home to Arsenal, and then a record-equalling nine at Liverpool. Sixteen goals conceded without a single goal scored meant cheerio Scott Parker, and since then Gary O’Neill has been in caretaker charge.

He began with a goalless draw against Wolves, an excellent 3-2 comeback win at Forest after being two down at half-time, a creditable 1-1 draw at Newcastle, another goalless draw at home to Brentford, a 2-1 home win against Leicester, and then a 2-2 draw at Fulham. Two wins and four draws in his first six games in charge, an excellent CV if he was hoping for a permanent appointment, was then spoiled by an (unexpected?) 0-1 reverse at home to fellow south coasters Southampton in midweek. Nevertheless, the midfielder, who spent two and a half years at Upton Park, turning out 48 times for the Hammers around ten years ago, has steadied the ship, and must be a contender for the role in the longer term if he can keep them away from the bottom.

This is our seventh season at the London Stadium. Do you remember our very first Premier League game here in August 2016? On a sunny Saturday afternoon Bournemouth were the visitors and we ran out 1-0 winners when Michail Antonio headed a very late far post winner. But we haven’t had it all our own way against the Cherries in top-flight games, and in fact they lead 4-3 in wins in Premier League matches.

We head into this game (our 85th Premier League match on a Monday, more than any other team I read) with 12 fewer points than at this stage last season (11 compared to 23) after 11 games. In our first 11 games last season we had won 7, drawn 2, and lost 2, so we are some way behind where we were last time around, and have some catching up to do if we are to equal the seventh-place finish in 2021-22.

Our recent home form has been good, winning our last four competitive games. We haven’t won five in a row at home for more than ten years now. Much is made of David Moyes’ poor record as a manager against the big boys, but conversely he has never lost a game in charge against Bournemouth. Is that a good or a bad sign?

I wonder what starting eleven he will select for this game? Is Aguerd ready for consideration yet? He must be close now, but they are hoping to give him a couple of under 23 games first I read. Perhaps Cornet and Dawson will be ready after their recent injuries, although it seems unlikely that Paqueta will be risked unless he is 100%. One player I definitely want to see is Flynn Downes. He has impressed me immensely in the games where he has been given the chance, he adds some solidity to our midfield, and enables Declan Rice to go forward more, something he did superbly in his man of the match performance at Anfield in midweek.

A win would equalise our top-flight record of wins against our visitors, but more importantly we would leapfrog them in the table. Yesterday’s results meant that we slipped down to seventeenth in the table, but it is so congested that a win would take us into the top half (10th) with 14 points, just two points adrift of eighth-place Liverpool, and four below Fulham in seventh.

This game won’t be as easy as some might predict, but I reckon we’ll do enough to achieve that fifth competitive home win in a row. 3-1? What are the chances?

West Ham at Anfield, plus abuse of officials setting a poor example to the junior game

I thought that Jurgen Klopp was very restrained on the touchline in our game at Liverpool on Wednesday night. He had previously “lost it” last weekend at assistant referee Gary Beswick and was sent off for his outburst. He did apologise and has vowed to try to contain his behaviour. To be fair he hadn’t been sent off before, but this time he really overstepped the mark. Some of his fellow managers, including our own gave him support. Frank Lampard for example does not seem to believe there is a link between the behaviour of managers at the top level and the abuse that referees get at junior levels. David Moyes believes that managers can “lose their heads” in a game and change their character from their true selves.

As someone who watches junior football I believe Klopp has a responsibility to set an example like all elite managers and players should. Like it or not, young players copy what they see the professionals doing. And parents on the touchline will copy what they see too. The abuse given to referees at junior matches can be quite appalling. Klopp’s conduct leads to parents reacting in the same way, because I guess, they think it’s OK. It’s not. Referees at grassroots level are giving up in droves because they can’t stand the abuse. The FA revealed that last season 380 players were banned for attacking or threatening officials in English grassroots football. I hope Klopp gets a significant touchline ban.

Players surrounding the referee when a decision goes against them is another issue that needs addressing. In the days of Alex Ferguson Manchester United players were notorious for this kind of behaviour. The same is true of their players today, and the club have been charged for failing to control them in last Sunday’s game against Newcastle when they surrounded the referee like a pack of dogs. Their current manager doesn’t agree believing it wasn’t that aggressive. Of course West Ham have now been charged with failing to control players after they too surrounded the referee (Peter Bankes) during last Sunday’s draw at Southampton when he body checked Jarrod Bowen as he attempted to tackle Perraud just before he scored. I’m not sure we can learn too much from the game of rugby, but the insistence that only the captain can approach the referee to question decisions is one that perhaps we could follow. Similar situations surrounding referees happen in junior football too. Would it happen if they didn’t see players at elite levels doing it? I don’t believe it would.

Back to Wednesday night’s game at Anfield. To only lose 1-0 and miss a penalty in the process is a sign that we are, perhaps, not too far away from getting back towards our form of the last two seasons. We restricted Liverpool to a handful of chances, and Fabianski was equal to the challenge when necessary. The amazing statistic that we are the lowest scoring Premier League team in the first half of games this season (only scoring 2 so far) was maintained during a first half where we were threatened to be overrun in the early stages. But a much improved second half performance could have, and perhaps should have resulted in us getting a point out of the game.

I thought that Declan Rice had a tremendous game, doing his usual stuff, plus thrusting forward and setting up attacks more than he has done in recent times. I believe that one of the reasons for this was the inclusion of Flynn Downes from the start. Every time I see Downes he impresses me with his strength when tackling and challenging for the ball, his positional sense, and his great habit of finding a team-mate when passing the ball, unlike one or two others in the team. I hope he gets a run in the starting eleven.

We still find ourselves in the bottom half of the table two points above the relegation zone, but only five points below seventh place where we finished last season. Three of the next four games before the break for the World Cup are at home to Bournemouth, Palace and Leicester with a trip to Old Trafford sandwiched in between. We have a good opportunity (on paper) to move into the top half before the break. Ten points from those four games would be good. What are the chances?