West Ham visit Brentford, still not mathematically safe in the Premier League, but with one eye on an important game in the Netherlands next Thursday.

How many games have we played in the Europa Conference League this season? 13. Unlucky for some as the saying goes but not for West Ham. We’ve won 12 of them and drawn one. If we can maintain the unbeaten record next Thursday when we visit the city of Alkmaar in the Netherlands then we can get ready for our first European final since 1976. I think we can do it. It could go either way though.

I thought that we were OK on Thursday night. The players seemed nervous to me (or was it Moyes-induced caution?) in the early stages but once AZ had taken the lead with that long range shot it got better. I think if Areola were to face that identical shot again then on almost every occasion he would save it. Everyone is quick to get on his back and I’ve seen many calls for Fabianski to be recalled for the return leg. Not for me. In my opinion Areola is a better keeper and should retain his place and get a consistent run in the league games too. But I know many will disagree with my opinion. It’s strange isn’t it how keepers are rotated by most managers in league and cups to give the perceived number 2 game time? When a team reaches a final or perhaps a semi-final the manager will often revert to choosing his favoured number 1 keeper. I wonder if our manager will do the same for the second leg in view of Areola’s error? It would be harsh and wrong in my view. When he was England manager Ron Greenwood used to rotate Shilton and Clemence as he couldn’t decide who was the better keeper. It’s a shame that Phil Parkes was around at the same time as those two. I reckon he was just as good.

I’m also a big fan of Said Benrahma too. Not everybody’s cup of tea but he would always be in my starting eleven. That’s not to say I don’t find him frustrating at times though. I believe he has the potential to be a better player than we have seen in West Ham colours. I’m not sure the manager likes him particularly; I’m sure he would love to play Fornals in that position more – he’s more of a Moyes-type player. Again, not for me. He gives the ball away too much for my liking without posing much of a threat in an attacking sense. True Benrahma does lose the ball at times but he is always looking to create chances for himself and others. He was my man of the match on Thursday. I had no doubts when he stepped up to take the pressure penalty either. The successful conversion of that spot kick meant his penalty taking record for the clubs he has played for is now 12 out of 12. He doesn’t miss. I liked the way he combined with (the improving) Paqueta. Perhaps they can begin to reproduce the link that was formed between Payet and Lanzini in 2015-16? 

Today is a different matter when we visit the GTech Community Stadium. What is it with teams beginning with Br? We can’t seem to play well against Brighton or Brentford. Perhaps we are fortunate that we haven’t had to play Brondby, Braga, or Bruges in Europe this season? When Brentford visited the London Stadium in the final game of 2022 we had not won a league game since 24 October when we beat Bournemouth 2-0, though of course the season was interrupted by the World Cup. We had played very winnable games at home against Palace and Leicester but had lost both of them. The 2-0 loss to Brentford made it three home league defeats in a row. Following the win over Bournemouth in October we were actually in the top half of the table (well just that is in 10th). By the time Brentford had beaten us we had fallen to 17th, just outside the bottom three, and with just one point from the next two games we were actually in the relegation zone. We’ve hovered around there ever since, usually just above, and visited there again following defeat at Tottenham.

We’ve done enough since (without being totally convincing for much of the time) to ensure that we are safe. Ok not mathematically yet, but it would take an extraordinary set of results to see us go down. At the start of the season who would have believed that we would not be mathematically safe from relegation in the middle of May with just three games of the league season to go? Of course Southampton are now down and it would take a massive goal difference swing for Leeds to go past us now, but the others in contention could all in theory still overtake us. But looking at their fixtures it is highly unlikely.

Geoff made a good point in his article published yesterday about how we only took two points from our remaining eight league games in the 1975-76 season when we reached the European Cup Winners Cup Final. I’ll expand on that and say that in that season we made possibly the most dramatic fall in league position in the top flight that has ever been seen. We beat Ararat Erevan of the USSR in the second leg of the second round on November 5th and then we drew 1-1 with Coventry the following Saturday to go to the top of the league. By Christmas we had fallen to sixth place, and after then we only won one more league game in the whole of the rest of the season (a 1-0 win over QPR on 24 January). Incredibly just one win in 21 league games plus an early exit in the FA Cup in the third round, eventually finishing 18th! (22 teams in the top division at that time). Despite that we had excellent comeback performances in the quarter final and semi-final rounds in Europe to reach the final where we lost 4-2 to Anderlecht.

Can we blame our indifferent league performance on our involvement in European competition this season? I don’t think so but in the Premier League we have won 10 of our 35 games for a win rate of 29%, whereas in Europe we have won 12 out of 13 and drawn the other one for a win rate of 92%. Very different quality of competition of course.

There is now a lot of merit money on offer based on final league positions. We are currently 15th which would earn a payout of £13.2 million if that was our final position in the Premier League. But that would increase or decrease by £2.2 million for each step either up or down. Prize money is important in the Premier League and also the European Conference. We have already won over £10 million for our performances in Europe so far and another £5 million will be added if we get to and win the final (runners-up get £3 million). But there is also the added bonus that winning would give entry into the Europa League next season and the financial rewards on offer in that. Whilst the money is important, as a fan I’d just love to see us win a trophy. It has been a long time! Too long!

I expect to see quite a few changes to our starting line up for the game today even though we are not yet mathematically safe with perhaps Fabianski, Johnson, Emerson, Downes, Fornals and Ings and possibly one or two others starting the game. Brentford still have a very remote outside chance of qualifying for Europe next season despite only winning two of their last nine games which means that they are very unlikely to do so. They will be fully up for the game though. But will we?

Will It Be Yet Another “Nil Points” Against Brentford For Euro Bound Hammers?

The seduction of the Europa Conference Final will overshadow this weekend’s contractual obligation derby in west London. Moyes will be keen to rest key players.

In the end the AZ Almaar team that turned up at the London Stadium were not quite ‘as advertised’. In the pre-match build-up their reputation had escalated from being ‘no mugs’ to becoming an amazing fast raiding side who would weave intricate patterns around the pitch. In practice, they were rather pedestrian. If there was an element of Brighton about them, it was early Potter vintage and not the free-scoring De Zerbi incarnation.

Nevertheless, David Moyes had predictably treated the threat with the utmost caution. If AZ were a side who liked to break the press by tempting an opponent to commit, Moyes would counter that by refusing to press at all, and reverting to the favoured default low block. There’s nothing that takes him higher than an overdose of caution.

Ultimately, it took the gift of a poorly conceded goal to stir West Ham from their stupor. Several players were hoping for a foul, Tomas Soucek was slow to close down, and Alphonse Areola was embarrassed by a tame shot that he should easily have dealt with. It was to the Hammers credit that they eventually turned the match around, but the feeling at the final whistle was of an opportunity missed.  The visitors looked uncomfortable in the face of any physical challenge, and even a modicum of adventure would surely have allowed West Ham to establish an unassailable first-leg advantage.

Instead, we are left with a tie that could go either way in the second leg. A game where Moyes is banking on his team’s resilience to reach the final. Now, I’m all in favour of resilience, but isn’t an attribute that would be called for against heavyweights such as Manchester City or Real Madrid – not against relative Dutch unknowns. A big spending Premier League side should be looking to overcome teams like AZ through the excellence of their football rather than resilience.  

Sandwiched between the two European Conference semi-final encounters is a bothersome end-of-season affair at Brentford’s Gtech Community Stadium. Mathematically, West Ham could still end the season in the bottom three but the alignment of fortunes required for that to happen are as improbable as the United Kingdom winning the Eurovision Song Contest.

Brentford are already assured a top ten finish which is a remarkable achievement by manager Thomas Frank and his players. In certain aspects of style, there are uncanny similarities between the way Brentford and West Ham approach games. Neither is too bothered about the chore of ball possession and both favour launching it long as the cornerstone of attacking ambitions. In terms of attitude, however, the teams are streets apart. Brentford approach games without fear of any opposition, press higher up the pitch, and routinely setup with two dedicated strikers. Indeed, Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumo are pivotal to Brentford’s success. If and when Toney receives the threatened lengthy ban for betting rule breaches – why has this taken so long – it will be a major blow.

The trade-off for this reckless sense of adventure is being more open at the back. No-one has made more saves in the Premier League this season than the Brentford keeper, and only Bournemouth and Everton have faced more opposition shots. Despite this, they have conceded five goals fewer than West Ham – and scored 14 more.

There’s plenty of speculation that Moyes will rest a number of players for tomorrow’s game. It would be foolish to play Michail Antonio given that he is the only player in the squad capable of playing the Moyes striker role. He may also choose to omit Kurt Zouma, Declan Rice, and Jarrod Bowen. Very likely we will see a 5-3-2 starting eleven along the following lines: Fabianski, Johnson, Kehrer, Aguerd, Cresswell, Emerson, Downes, Soucek, Paqueta, Ings, Cornet  

When West Ham made it to the final of the European Cup Winners Cup in 1976 they took just two points from the final eight league games. It feels like similar territory that we are now in. Survival may well be mathematically confirmed this weekend and after that there will be just the one prize.

The Hammers have yet to take a point off Brentford since their promotion to the Premier League. The chances on ending that run tomorrow seem remote. But maybe there’s the chance of a scrappy end-of-season draw. COYI!

East London Football Club Seeks Winning Formula: Will Swap For A Claret Ribbon

West Ham’s desperate search for a win continues as they travel to Brentford in the FA Cup. Will we get an inspiring fight to the finish or a typical tame surrender?

I just entered ‘Road To Wembley’ into my new AI powered SAT-Nav software and was directed to “take the 3rd round exit at Brentford.” You can’t argue with the algorithm!

If I interpreted David Moyes press conference wisdom correctly, he stated that, as a manager, success in the Premier League is the most important thing, but that a good cup run is equally important. I’m glad he cleared that up. The pressure of the alleged three match ultimatum must clearly be getting to him.

Whatever happens today, it is unlikely to have much bearing on Moyes’ future. Winning will be meaningless if the crucial games against Wolves and Everton both end in defeat. In the same way, losing today will not harm his prospect of he follows it up with two wins. We can only speculate on what the owners would view as an acceptable return from those two games. Four points at least I would imagine.

We should be encouraged that Moyes is now talking about trying to find a winning formula. After all, its only a year since it was lost. How far away from achieving it is a matter of opinion. There did seem to be a greater sense of spirit and purpose in the performance at Leeds but much more needs to be done. Clearly the return of Kurt Zouma and Nayef Aguerd at the back will help enormously, but it will not solve the full-back conundrum. And if the manager needs Gianluca Scamacca to get into the box more, he needs to set up for better service and support.

Moyes has also recently changed his tune on the likelihood of January signings – having previously said the cupboard was bare. The decision may well have been taken out of his hands in the light of his precarious position and the less than spectacular impact of the summer arrivals. The club has painted itself into a corner. Replacing a manager with just a few days remaining in the window would be far from ideal timing.

Moyes’ FA Cup record in his two spells at West Ham has been as indifferent as those that went before him. A 4th round defeat away at Wigan (League 1), a 4th round loss at home to West Bromwich Albion (Championship) and exits away to Premier League rivals Manchester United and Southampton, both in 5th round ties.

In the years since the 1980 FA Cup final victory against Arsenal, West Ham have been knocked out of the competition at the following stages: 3rd round (12 times), 4th round (12), 5th round (8), 6th round (8), semi-final (1) and final (1). In the last ten seasons they have only made it as far as the 6th round once, in 2016. Will we ever see the claret ribbon fluttering on the famous trophy again?

This season’s third round opponents are Brentford who will be looking for a fourth straight win against the visitors. In the previous three games West Ham were overcome by the aggressive pressing and powerful running employed by the Bees. A different attitude and approach will be needed today if a different outcome is to be secured. The best hope of victory may be to rely on the ancient unwritten rule that a team that has just beaten you in the league will lose in the return cup tie a few weeks later.

West Ham and Brentford have met just once before in the FA Cup – a 4th round tie in 1927. Third Division Brentford held First Division West Ham to a 1-1 draw at Upton Park and the two teams met again four days later at Griffin Park. Despite having four England stars in the line-up – Vic Watson, Jimmy Ruffell, Ted Hufton, and Stan Earle – the Hammers were soundly beaten 2-0 by their lively opponents. Syd King Out!

For the older generation the excitement of the 3rd round cup was as much part of the new year landscape as frozen points at Upminster. It was a time to varnish the rattle, re-align the badges on your bobble hat, and order a brand-new jar of Bovril. Now the competition only comes alive in the later rounds, when the metaphorical twin towers are in close touching distance.

Moyes’ pre-match comments suggest he will be rotating his squad for today’s game. it is understandable that he will not want to risk further injuries with key games coming up. But if he really is trying to rediscover that elusive winning formula, he needs to be doing it with his first-string players. His stock is already close to flatlining with supporters and a half-hearted approach today will not be tolerated.

Maybe just as important to how the match unfolds is the approach Thomas Frank takes to the game. The Bees are currently buzzing. Will he want to give certain players a rest or will he leave things alone to build on the momentum of wins against Manchester City, West Ham, and Liverpool.  

It is always difficult to call these games without knowing how much importance the coaches attach to the FA Cup. What is certain is that another low intensity, passive performance by West Ham will be routinely punished by the hosts. The only way to get a positive result will be to match Brentford physically. Will we be up to it and up for it? COYI!

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?