West Ham United travel across London to face Brentford on Sunday. Can they avenge their defeat at the hands of the Bees at the London Stadium in October?

Are you old enough to remember 14th April 1991? That’s 31 years ago next Thursday. For all Hammers fans under the age of about 40 I’ll relate what happened that day. On that Sunday afternoon West Ham were playing Nottingham Forest in the 1990-91 FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park. We were a second division side at the time whilst Forest were in the top flight. Earlier in that week a new rule had been implemented in football – the ‘professional foul’ rule – referees were instructed to send off players deemed to be denying a clear goalscoring opportunity.  

Tony Gale, the West Ham United defender was given his marching orders during the first half of the game with the game still goalless. The decision by referee Keith Hackett to send Gale for an early bath for his challenge on Forest midfielder Gary Crosby has become infamous, as it was the first occurrence of a player being red carded for a so-called ‘professional foul’ for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity. The sad thing about the incident, apart from the fact that it ruined a game of football was that by no means was it a clear goal scoring opportunity. Far from it. In retrospect Keith Hackett regretted his decision to send Gale off, and both have said that if it happened today VAR would immediately have overturned it.

Move on almost exactly 31 years to our Europa League semi-final against Lyon on Thursday evening. In time added on for stoppages at the end of the first half history repeated itself. This time it was Aaron Cresswell who was dismissed in a very important game for allegedly denying a clear goalscoring opportunity. It was perhaps a foul, and Cresswell was perhaps naïve in putting his arm on Dembele’s shoulder, but the way the Lyon forward tumbled was, in my opinion cheating, but worse than that the referee fell for it and brandished the red card, despite it not being a clear goalscoring opportunity. Earlier in the build up to the very same move there was a blatant foul on Bowen, much more obvious than the one that sent Dembele tumbling theatrically to the ground. Where was the VAR review?

Our first half performance hadn’t been that great but Benrahma, Bowen, Fornals and Antonio were looking lively and with the game still goalless at the time there was all to play for. It took an excellent defensive performance in the second half and a Bowen goal to achieve a 1-1 draw at the end – I think we all would have settled for that at half time. It gives us a chance next week in the second leg in France, but personally I am still fuming at the overall performance of the referee which was at best incompetent, and at worst, disgraceful.

Once again we face a Sunday afternoon 2pm kick off to follow our exertions on Thursday evening, with less than three days to recover for the players. I know it’s comparable to Wednesday evening games being followed by another on a Saturday but somehow it seems more onerous psychologically.

On Sunday 3rd October 2021 we faced Brentford at the London Stadium just after we had beaten Rapid Vienna 2-0 in our second Europa League match on the previous Thursday evening. We lost the game 2-1. Jarrod Bowen had equalised Brentford’s first half goal with about ten minutes of the game to go and we pressed for the winner. But in the fourth minute of time added on Wissa scored for Brentford to inflict our second home defeat of the season.

Brentford, who were the favourites at the start of the campaign to finish at the very bottom, have had a decent season and quite probably they will be the only one of the three clubs promoted from the Championship last season to survive as Norwich and Watford are strongly placed to make an immediate return to the second tier. They currently have 33 points, nine clear of the drop zone, and had an excellent 4-1 win at Stamford Bridge last Saturday. Once again this is a game where we must chase three points to maintain our position to challenge at the top of the table.

For the teams involved in chasing the top places in the last round of matches, we beat Everton, and there were wins for Tottenham and Wolves. But Manchester United could only draw, and both Chelsea and Arsenal were well beaten so there are still more twists and turns possible in the next couple of months.

I have updated my analysis of the current positions which are shown below. The defeat for Wolves at Newcastle last night is included.

The current league table – top 8 (games played in brackets) as at Friday 8th April 7.30pm:
Man City 73 (30)
Liverpool 72 (30)
Chelsea 59 (29)
Tottenham 54 (30)
Arsenal 54 (29)
West Ham 51 (31)
Man Utd 51 (30)
Wolves 49 (32)

The form table (last 5 games of the top 8 in the current league table):
Liverpool 15
Chelsea 12
Tottenham 12
Man City 10
Arsenal 9
West Ham 9
Man Utd 8
Wolves 6

Remaining fixtures:
Man City: H – Liverpool, Brighton, Watford, Newcastle, Villa
Man City: A – Leeds, West Ham, Wolves
Liverpool: H – Man Utd, Everton, Tottenham, Wolves
Liverpool: A – Man City, Newcastle, Southampton, Villa
Chelsea: H – Arsenal, West Ham, Wolves, Watford, Leicester
Chelsea: A – Southampton, Everton, Man Utd, Leeds
Arsenal: H – Brighton, Man Utd, Leeds, Everton
Arsenal: A – Southampton, Chelsea, West Ham, Newcastle, Tottenham
Tottenham: H – Brighton, Leicester, Arsenal, Burnley
Tottenham: A – Villa, Brentford, Liverpool, Norwich
Man Utd: H – Norwich, Brentford, Chelsea
Man Utd: A – Everton, Liverpool, Arsenal, Brighton, Palace
West Ham: H – Burnley, Arsenal, Man City
West Ham: A – Brentford, Chelsea, Norwich, Brighton
Wolves: H – Brighton, Norwich, Man City
Wolves: A – Burnley, Chelsea, Liverpool

Despite our game on Thursday being less than 72 hours ago, and the fact that Brentford won the reverse fixture at the London Stadium following West Ham playing in Europe with a similar time for recovery, and the Bees emphatic victory at Stamford Bridge last weekend, we are still marginal favourites to win the game at around 13/8. The home side are around 17/10 with the draw at about 9/4. At our best we should beat Brentford, but will we be at our best?

All of our rivals have a good chance of picking up points this weekend. Manchester United face an out of form Everton, Arsenal face an even more out of touch Brighton who have picked up just one point in their last 5 games. Chelsea visit Southampton who have gained just one point from their last 4 games, and Tottenham visit Villa who have lost their last three games. But last night Wolves visited Newcastle and lost so that was one good result for us. A win on Sunday will be important for us to keep up our challenge at the top. What are the chances?

West Ham Will Be Buzzing: But Can They Bring The Bees To Their Knees?

The Hammers first meeting of the season with one of the newly promoted sides. The bees will surely be flying higher than either the hornets or canaries.

Today sees a first ever top tier clash between West Ham and Brentford, and the first in any competition since the 1992/93 season. Although the Bees had enjoyed one previous spell in the old First Division – a war interrupted run between 1935/ 36 and 1946/47 – the Hammers were languishing in midtable Division 2 obscurity at the time.  

Among many pundits pre-season favourites for the relegation places, Brentford have equipped themselves well so far. Showing the determination and resilience necessary to make a go of it in the Premier League, and following in Leeds footsteps as the season’s surprise package. Prior to last weekend they had conceded just two times, but it was their refusal to be overawed by Liverpool, and to come from behind twice in a 3-3 draw, that rightfully earned the plaudits.

For the Hammers, today is the second instalment of the Sunday after the Thursday before schedule that will run until Christmas. A routine victory against Rapid Vienna in the week left them sitting comfortably at the top of Group H. That it has been achieved with a largely second-string selection is a bonus and all the more satisfying. Considerably reducing the risk of fatigue and injury from having to play twice per week.

The Europa League game saw another man of the match performance from Declan Rice. What a top class player he has become. I will admit to being one of those who initially thought he could only ever make it as a centre back – how wrong was that? It is not only his commanding performances on the pitch that would be missed but also his obvious role in encouraging the superb team spirit that currently surrounds the club.  

It is unlikely there will be any surprises in the West Ham starting line-up for the game. The only uncertainty is at right back where both Vladimir Coufal and Ryan Fredericks may be unavailable. Fortunately, Ben Johnson can provide sound defensive cover, even if he still needs to offer more going forward. It was interesting to see that Brentford had targeted Alexander-Arnold as the weak link in Liverpool’s defence last week and I wonder if Thomas Frank sees any similar point of weakness in the Hammer’s backline. Both full-backs may need strong support from their respective midfield partners.

As last year’s set-piece kings, West Ham have carried much less of a threat this time around. One of the highlights in midweek was seeing Craig Dawson really attacking the ball at corner kicks. Dawson and Tomas Soucek were a handful for defences last season and corners were a productive source of goals. Kurt Zouma is the better defender than Dawson (and has a reasonable goal-scoring record of his own) but we have yet to see any aggression from him in the opposition box.

The Rice/ Soucek dynamic also looks in need of tweaking. The desire to get Rice forward more is understandable, particularly now he has started to weigh-in with a few important goals. But it does appear to have dampened Soucek’s party piece of arriving late in the box with purpose. There were signs of the old Soucek in the second half at Leeds and hopefully the manager and coaches are working on getting the right balance between the two.

A win today could move West Ham up to third or fourth place, depending on the scale of victory and what happens in the subsequent Liverpool-Manchester City clash. Not that victory is assured against a side who are as well organised and hard working as Brentford. Breaking down compact and organised defences is something we still seem to struggle with. Excellent counter-attacking has become a West ham core competency but that extra touch of magic to unlock packed defences remains elusive.

How Brentford approach the game will be fascinating. Last weekend’s barnstorming game with Liverpool was something of an anomaly for them, deviating from the cautious, disciplined style that had gone before and earned them three clean sheets – no doubt polycotton ones at a 50% saving in the Brentford Nylons great autumn sale, not arf!

Not knowing what to expect makes this game difficult to call. Surprisingly West Ham supporters have suddenly become accustomed to winning games, particularly at the London Stadium. But against an athletic, all-action opponent who don’t know when they are beaten, it will be a tough test.

In the past this fixture has thrown up some crazy score-lines including 7-4, 8-3 and 7-2. I’ve a feeling this one will be a tighter affair. I can see it being edge of the seats stuff right to the final whistle, with the Hammers finally winning out by the odd goal. COYI!   

A Rapid Turnaround as West Ham are back in Premier League action less than 72 hours after another Europa League win

The last time we faced Brentford in the Football League was in a second tier game (ironically called League Division One) in 1992-93. This was the very season when the Premier League came into existence, but we had missed out following relegation from the top flight (called Division One) in 1991-92. Yes that’s right we went from Division One to League Division One after dropping out of the top tier! I guess the naming was confusing at the time. It’s now much simpler of course with the second tier called the Championship.

Anyway, following a goalless draw at Griffin Park in December 1992 we won the return at Upton Park the following April by four goals to nil. Our goalscorers that day were Martin Allen, Peter Butler, Kevin Keen and Trevor Morley. It was the first of four winning games to end the season in second place and gain automatic promotion into the Premier League on goal difference.

Prior to the two fixtures in that season you have to go back to February 1954 for the last meeting between the sides when we lost 3-1 with our goal scored by Dave Sexton. Older readers may remember the name – Dave Sexton subsequently had a successful managerial career managing Chelsea, QPR, Manchester United and England Under 21s among others.

Coming up to date, Brentford have made an excellent start to life in the Premier League sitting in ninth place after two wins and three draws in their opening six games. Victories over Arsenal and Wolves and creditable draws against Palace, Villa and Liverpool with just a single goal defeat to high flying Brighton represent a good return for the team who were favourites at the beginning of the season to be relegated. One of the many interesting statistics I’ve read this week is that Brentford have only been trailing for a total of 25 minutes this season to date. Apparently that’s the fewest in the Premier League. Is there anything they don’t keep statistics for these days?

Our performance against Rapid Vienna on Thursday wasn’t spectacular but another professional showing to top Europa League Group H with the maximum six points from our two opening games. Defensively we have been particularly impressive, restricting our opponents to just one shot on target in the 90 minutes (and that was from some distance). Dinamo Zagreb had no shots on target against us if I remember correctly. Rice scored in both games and was perhaps man of the match against the Austrians, although I thought that Craig Dawson ran him close. By scoring in both games, Rice became the third West Ham player to score in his first two European appearances for the club – the others were Brian Dear in 1965, and David Cross in 1980.

In the other game in Group H, Dinamo Zagreb went to Belgium and comfortably beat Genk 3-0, so it would appear that our next two matches home and away against the Belgian side shouldn’t present us with too many problems, and we are well placed to top the group if we can keep us this form. And I don’t have any doubts that we can achieve this. Leicester on the other hand have just one point from two games in their group, leaving their European hopes hanging by a thread.

David Moyes continues to have a selection headache with so many players pushing for a place in the starting eleven. But just like his opposite number at Brentford, he has made the least changes to the starting line-up in Premier League games this season (just three).  My best guess this time is for the following unchanged line-up: Fabianski; Coufal (Johnson if Coufal not fit), Zouma, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Rice, Soucek; Fornals, Benrahma, Bowen; Antonio.

I’m not sure that any of the others have done enough (yet) to make them a shoe-in for the starting eleven, although I have a feeling that once Areola gets a run in the team he will keep his place. He looks a high class keeper to me. Dawson is very unlucky to be left out, but I feel that the extra pace of Zouma, and the combination with Ogbonna makes them the first choice pairing at centre back.

Given Brentford’s excellent start to the season, and the fact that we had a European game on Thursday night, I’m surprised that the bookmakers make us such overwhelming favourites to win the game. We are around 17/20 whereas Brentwood are quoted at about 18/5 to collect three points. This won’t be easy and I don’t believe there will be a lot in it. I’ll go for a 3-2 West Ham win (odds of 28/1) and for my fun bet this time I’ve gone for Antonio and Toney both to score, with Rice and Jansson both to be carded at 100/1. What are the chances?