West Ham’s Seaside Shuffle Can End The Brighton Hoodoo And Gate-crash The Top Six

As the final curtain is faced, a few lingering regrets remain that more could have been achieved in an otherwise well above average West Ham campaign

If you were in an elevator and someone asked: “what sort of season did West Ham have?” you might reply that while it was well above average, it maybe wasn’t as good as it might have been. A reflection of how our expectations had shifted over the course of the season.

When the season started and with a first ever European league-based campaign to contend with, any top half finish may have been considered a reasonable outcome. Indeed, my own prediction was that West Ham would finish tenth – expecting the routine of Thursday – Sunday football to take its toll on league form.

But by the year end, having breezed through the Europa League group stages, and sitting fifth in the Premier League, the dreams were flying much higher. A shrewd investment here and there at that time and anything might have been possible. That we were left scratching our heads at no January activity is now consigned to Hammer’s folklore.

In hindsight, the club hadn’t recruited well in the summer either. Kurt Zouma was an excellent addition but he turned out to be the only practical upgrade to David Moyes preferred starting eleven. Nikola Vlasic and Alex Kral failed to come anywhere close to the required standard and while Alphonse Areola looked a decent enough deputy, he remained behind Lukasz Fabianski in the pecking order.

From a historic perspective, the season has been well above average, regardless of what happens today. Since the Premier League was reduced to 38 matches, West Ham have only exceeded 56 points (the current total) on three occasions (2020/21, 2015/16 and 1998/99. They have finished with a positive goal difference just twice (2020/21 and 2015/16) and for a side with so few striking options, scoring 59 goals (the current total) has only been bettered in those same two seasons. A win today would bring up a tally of seventeen victories, the highest apart from last season’s nineteen.

Despite that decent win percentage, it is the points dropped against the likes of Leeds, Burnley, Southampton and Brentford and the two avoidable defeats to Manchester United that might ultimately take the wind from the sails. That, plus the self-inflicted failure to get past Frankfurt in the Europa League semi-finals. After a promising first half of the season it is a disappointment not to make it to 60 points. In truth there have been few sparkling performances and too many victories when we ‘weren’t at our best’.

The final day of this year’s Premier League season must be a broadcaster’s dream. It is rare for the title, plus Champions League and relegation places to remain up for grabs on the day the curtain comes down. By comparison, our own battle for 6th or 7th place is consigned to an outlying stage, well away from the main arena. No helicopter hovering over the South Downs ready to deliver the final Europa League qualifying certificate at the final whistle.

Qualifying for the Europa League again would be a massive bonus in that it comes with another route to Champions League qualification. But the Europa Conference should not be sniffed at and may represent the best opportunity the club has next season to end its long overdue silverware drought.

The history of today’s fixture might suggest one of those mysterious gypsy curses that inhabits football. Since Brighton were promoted back to the top-flight in 2017/18, West Ham have failed to beat them in nine attempts – with the last six all ending in scoring draws. It is really no more than coincidence that can easily end today.

The Seagulls are a hardworking and well organised side with several very good players (Trossard, Cucurella, Bissouma, Sanchez) but this season’s home record is less than impressive, with only four wins on the board. Apart from the top three, they have had more possession than any other team but it rarely goes anywhere with only an average of one goal per game to show for it. In theory, such an opponent should be ideal for a West Ham side who thrive on the quick breakaway and have been scoring relatively freely.

As well as our own efforts at the Amex Stadium, though, the Hammer’s fate will also be determined by the the result of Manchester United’s visit to Crystal Palace. Top six hopes may well end up to be pie in the sky – even if the Hammers beat the Seagulls, they need the Eagles to do them a good Tern!

Once the season is over there will be little time for reflection. Transfer speculation is already gathering pace and the frenzy will ramp up even further as the window opening ceremony approaches. I have already counted over thirty players linked with a move to the London Stadium. It will be a telling time for the club owners to demonstrate their ambitions. A time when the squad needs both a refresh and a net increase in quality and numbers.

Until the dust has settled we won’t know if we have witnessed a brief run of overachieving seasons (on the back of several exceptional players and a great team spirit) or whether there is true progress taking place. Is the club moving in the right direction? Without wise investment it will be just another false dawn.

A very big well done to the players, manager, and coaches for a highly satisfactory season and making West Ham massive. Their effort, determination, and commitment cannot be faulted. As for today’s game, West Ham can finally put the Brighton hoodoo to rest with a 2-0 awayday bonanza. COYI!

Can West Ham defeat Brighton for the first time in ten years?

Yet another excellent season for West Ham will end on Sunday when we visit Brighton for the final game. If we can beat them and at the same time if Palace can beat or draw with Manchester United, then we will replicate last season’s sixth place and have another tilt at the Europa League. But if that doesn’t happen, we’ll have to settle for seventh and entry into the Europa Conference. With a squad limited in size that is still some achievement.

We’ve only qualified for European competitions in two successive seasons once before (1964-65 and 1965-66) but that happened as a result of winning the competition in the first season. This time we have qualified as a result of league positions in both campaigns which is unprecedented and fulfils David Moyes (and the fans!) wish to be challenging towards the top regularly. Who would have thought it just two years ago? In May 2020 we hadn’t played for a couple of months, and we were still 4 weeks away from resuming our battle against relegation where we eventually finished 16th in the middle of July.

Before a ball had been kicked this season, I made my traditional predictions as to how the season would pan out. I return to it here. Six out of the top seven finished in the top 7 but my predictions mirrored the Morecambe and Wise sketch with Andre Previn – not necessarily in the right order! Some of my bottom six forecasts were correct but I got quite a few predictions horribly wrong such as Leeds, Everton, Tottenham, Palace and Brentford. 

1. Manchester City, 2. Chelsea, 3. Manchester United, 4. Liverpool, 5. Leicester, 6. West Ham, 7. Arsenal, 8. Leeds, 9. Everton, 10. Tottenham, 11. Aston Villa, 12. Brighton, 13. Wolves, 14. Newcastle, 15. Southampton, 16. Burnley, 17. Norwich, 18. Watford, 19. Crystal Palace, 20. Brentford  

With around a quarter of the season to go I calculated how the teams in the top eight would finish if they maintained their average points for the season to that point in their final fixtures and this was the result:

Man City 92, Liverpool 90, Chelsea 80, Arsenal 73, Tottenham 67, Man Utd 66, West Ham 61, Wolves 58 

At the same time I made my own forecasts of the results in the remaining games and how the top 8 league table might look.

Man City 93, Liverpool 91, Chelsea 83, Arsenal 73, Tottenham 70, West Ham 62, Man Utd 62, Wolves 56 

With just one game left this is how it looks.

Man City 90, Liverpool 89, Chelsea 71, Tottenham 68, Arsenal 66, Man Utd 58, West Ham 56, Wolves 51 

Of the top eight Man City, Liverpool and Tottenham  have performed in the final quarter on a par with their results in the first three quarters of the season whereas the other five have not, including ourselves.

Nevertheless, we can be more than pleased with how this season has turned out whatever happens on the final day. Can we beat Brighton? Since Brighton were promoted to the top flight five years ago the last six fixtures have all ended in score draws, and the three before that were all Brighton victories. We were close to winning the reverse fixture earlier this season but were denied victory by a very late equaliser. I remember the last time we did beat them. Ricardo Vaz Te scored a memorable hat trick in a 6-0 thumping at Upton Park in our promotion winning season ten years ago.

It’s about time we beat them again. I’ll go for a 2-1 West Ham win and Palace to beat Manchester United by the same score to ensure we finish sixth and qualify for the Europa League once again. What are the chances?

Can West Ham end an eight game winless run against the Seagulls at the London Stadium tonight?

In my article prior to the game against Manchester City last weekend I highlighted the gulf between the top three and the rest. The game itself confirmed what I believed. A score of 2-1 suggests a close game but that wasn’t really the case. Unfortunately we were not at our best and never really got going. Despite Jack Grealish, Kevin de Bruyne and Phil Foden being unavailable City were still too good in an attacking sense, and defensively they gave little away with Declan Rice’s long range effort being the only time I can recall Ederson needing to make a save before our goal.

We showed our hand before kick-off with Masuaku replacing Bowen suggesting we were worried about City’s attacking threat down our left hand side, as opposed to letting them worry about our potential going forward. But City were just too good and attacked from all sides. The heavy snow falling made the conditions difficult but while we were only a single goal down we were still in the game. The second goal finished us off but Lanzini once again produced a last second wonder strike (just as he did against Tottenham in the 3-3 draw) to make the score look more respectable, although there was no time left to go searching for a dramatic late equaliser.

But it wasn’t all bad, and in the past we might have folded and lost a game like this by a wider margin. The consolation is that despite two consecutive defeats we still retained our position in the top 4, even though the gap to the top three has grown. And even if we manage to lose a third game in a row, which I certainly hope we don’t, we would still be no lower than fifth in the table. Nine points from our last five games is a better return than all the teams in the Premier League apart from the top three and Arsenal immediately below us in fifth place.

The fixtures come thick and fast for the next month or so beginning with this evening’s visit from Brighton. We have faced them in the last four seasons since they came into the Premier League, and we have yet to beat them in eight attempts. Those games have usually been relegation battles, or at least lower-half of the table fixtures, but this time around we are both in the upper reaches with Brighton currently occupying ninth place after a bright start to the season.

They beat us in the first three games but the last five have all ended in draws. Three of those five draws have come in the corresponding fixtures in the last three seasons at the London Stadium. We had to come from behind twice in the home game last season, whereas the season before we relinquished a two goal lead. And in the season before that we were two down before an Arnautovic brace earned us a 2-2 draw.

The last time we beat them was in the later stages of our promotion winning season in 2011-12 when a superb Vaz Te hat trick was part of a 6-0 thrashing. I remember the game well – we were three up in the first ten minutes or so (Vaz Te had scored two of them) and he completed his hat-trick in front of the Bobby Moore end with an overhead kick.

Said Benrahma appeared on the front cover last season’s programme, but some are suggesting that he may not be in the starting eleven this time around following a bit of an exchange with David Moyes as he was substituted in the City game. I’ve seen some calling for Lanzini to start in that position but we’ll have to wait and see. I wonder if there are injury concerns, especially re Cresswell? Squad rotation has certainly been successful in the European games, but the manager has probably made fewer changes in the league games than most – he seems to have a very definite idea of his starting eleven for these matches.

Historically West Ham v Brighton fixtures go back to 1903, but we didn’t face them in any football league games until 1978 as we have often been in different divisions. The overall record is very even at 18 wins apiece and 19 draws. Graham Potter has done a superb job for the Seagulls but after their bright start they have faded a little, failing to win any of their last eight league games – always a worrying statistic for West Ham fans! But they have drawn a lot of games and have only lost three (we have lost four). So Brighton have failed to win any of their last eight league games, and West Ham have failed to win any of their last eight fixtures against Brighton. Will one of these runs be broken or are we heading for another draw?

With the last five meetings between the clubs ending in draws, and Brighton’s recent draws this season, a draw would seem a likely result. Bookmakers make us favourites to win with odds of around evens, but a 1-1 draw is the favourite in the correct score odds at around 11/2. I am convinced we can end our long run of failing to beat them, but it is likely to be a close game. Brighton has a mean defence with just 14 goals conceded in their 13 games, a figure only bettered by the top three and Wolves. But they have only scored 12 which is fewer than everyone apart from Norwich, Southampton and Tottenham. It is the failure to convert chances into goals that frustrates many Brighton fans and led to some booing following their 0-0 draw at home to Leeds last weekend.

There have been fewer goals in Brighton Premier League games this season than in those involving all the other clubs (except Wolves). So don’t expect us to repeat the 6-0 win of the last time we beat them. I forecast a West Ham victory by a single goal margin, possibly 1-0. What are the chances?