Hammers Have An Old Score To Settle With The Bees: Moyes Will Be Buzzing

Yesterday’s results leave the door open for West Ham to snatch successive top six finishes. Can they take advantage with a revenge win over recently rallying Brentford?

Cast your mind back two years to the same stage of the 2019/20 season, and you will remember that West Ham were languishing in 17th place in the Premier League. They had accumulated a meagre twenty-seven points from the thirty-one games played. With three of their relegation rivals each having a game in hand, the future looked bleak at the London Stadium.

It has been a phenomenal turnaround that the Hammers now find themselves in touching distance of a second consecutive top six finish and a Europa League semi-final. Even if those ambitions are eventually thwarted, it is a scenario that would have been beyond the wildest dreams of the most claret-and-blue spectacled optimist back in June 2020.

Huge praise must go the manager, coaches, and a fantastic group of players for this improvement, built around hard work, commitment, and organisation. It’s a great time to be a Hammer. But as supporters we are never fully satisfied. Our minds are always filled with the ‘what ifs’ and ‘might have beens’. While marvelling at the team’s stellar improvement, I am yet to be convinced that behind the scenes changes have made the progress required to create a legacy beyond the tenure of the manager and the current crop of players. The key to this is a planned and sensible recruitment strategy and a far more productive academy. The jury is still out on both of those – although I won’t let it spoil the enjoyment of the moment.

Harping on about the lack of transfer activity ends up sounding like a broken record. But the implications don’t go away. We are essentially the same side as last season plus Kurt Zouma. Games have been played without a recognised striker and now we must negotiate a Europa League quarter final without a recognised left-back. It’s just so very seat of the pants.

It is apparent this season that fourth spot is up for grabs for anyone able to demonstrate the correct level of consistency. Tottenham made a couple of astute signings in January and are now firmly in the driving seat. West Ham did nothing and have ended as plucky losers as far as that particular prize is concerned. While finishing fifth or sixth would be no mean feat, I can’t help feel it could have been better.

The other regret from the season are the needless points that have been dropped in sloppy circumstances. Losing twice to Manchester United when they both should have ended in draws, for example. And the below par performances that resulted in home defeats to bottom half sides – Southampton, Leeds, and today’s opponents, Brentford.  

The home fixture against Brentford in October was especially frustrating. There’s no doubt the visitor’s deserved their first half lead as a bright and intense opening caught the Hammer’s cold. Having taken the lead, though, the visitors fell back on the dark arts of time wasting and going to ground at every opportunity. Arguably a pragmatic approach for a side on a limited budget newly promoted to the Premier League. Once West Ham had equalised it felt there would be only one winner in the match, but there was to be a sting in the tail. A pointless free kick conceded in the depths of added time, uncharacteristic lapses in marking, a poor parry by Fabianski, and the ball was lashed home for a Brentford win. The Bees leapfrogging the Hammers in the process to move up to eighth.

Brentford have successfully kept their heads just above relegation trouble since then and can now look forward to a second season at the top level. A recent improved run of form was capped with a thrilling and emphatic 4-1 victory at Stamford Bridge last weekend. They will prove uncompromising opponents once again today.

If West Ham are to match last season’s points haul, they will require fourteen points from the final seven games. Four wins, two draws and a defeat would achieve that. Looking at the fixture list, today must feature near the top of the winnable games. As Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal are still to come, we cannot risk our one defeat at the Brentford Community Stadium.

With the second leg Europa League tie against Lyon coming up on Thursday, some have suggested there might be a spot of squad rotation today. I don’t see Moyes going for that myself and, in any case, he doesn’t have too many options anyway. Perhaps there will be recalls for Vladimir Coufal at right back and Manuel Lanzini in midfield. Lanzini is a player who can be hit or miss, but when he is deployed deeper it does allow Tomas Soucek more opportunity to get forward. It also takes some of the pressure off Declan Rice as the default instigator of almost every West Ham attack.

The defence must stay on high alert to counter the movement and physicality of Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumo. Thankfully, Craig Dawson and Zouma have established a strong and solid partnership that has exceeded all expectations and should be equal to the task. Toney hasn’t quite lived up to his goalscoring reputation, and although he is the host’s leading scorer, five of his eight have been from the spot. I am delighted to see Christian Eriksen back playing football again. I wish him the best, even in defeat.

I expect it will be a tough, physical game. The hosts will start with intensity and on the front foot. Moyes will need to prepare his men for the initial onslaught – no slow start can be tolerated this afternoon. It will be an intriguing encounter which I predict West Ham will sneak 1-0. COYI!

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?