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 The Hammers Stroll Past A Brighton B-Side Beside The Seaside? We’ll Have To See!

Tiddely-om-pom-pom! A depleted Brighton side provide the opposition as West Ham look for a seaside shuffle into European qualification.

There may well be special circumstances this season, but it seems very odd (and wrong) to be playing a league game immediately after the FA Cup Final has finished. For so long, Cup Final day was where everything stopped and the outside world went eerily quiet. Weekend chores were set aside early so we could settle down in front of the Grandstand with some tins of Ind Coope Long Life beer and a party pack of Hula Hoops for company.

West Ham players will barely have time to finish tweeting their Cup Final congratulations before kicking-off at the Amex Stadium in a bid to rescue European hopes . Although the top four dream would appear to have slipped tantalisingly out of reach there is still much to play for – a place in the top six and finishing above Tottenham for starters.

It is always tempting to want to blame someone else for your own shortcomings, but it in the end it was three defeats in the last four games that burst the West Ham bubble. That’s not to say a clandestine conspiracy by the sordid six to ensure top four dominance for themselves is out of the question. We still await news of their punishment for breaching Premier League rules!

The thinness of the Hammers squad was ultimately the undoing. Was it ever likely to be strong enough to mount a sustained challenge with the injuries and suspensions? Even in in a normal season, let alone one as compressed as this one has been. A late rush of injuries to key players just became impossible to manage.

For me, the absence of Rice has been the most crucial, particularly in the defeats to Newcastle and Everton. Others may argue that not bringing in a striker in January was the key factor but I do understand the manager’s stance on that one, unless an overseas loan could have been arranged. A permanent deal from the bargain bucket (think Jordan Hugill) would only have made a sizeable hole in the summer’s budget, and for questionable benefit.

The parlous state of the squad is a direct consequence of woeful oversight at Board level for many years. Paying over the odds for unsuitable vanity signings, with lengthy and inflated contracts, and with little or no re-sale value has proved a disastrous strategy. That when there were inspired signings (Payet and Arnautovic), insult was added to injury by allowing them both to leave for well below market value.  At the same time, the academy has been experiencing years of famine.  Aside from the good fortune of picking up Rice when he was rejected by Chelsea, the last academy graduate of any note was James Tomkins.

The game with Everton proved exceptionally frustrating. The Toffees are a notorious bogey-side for the Hammers and once they had been gifted an early goal it was always going to be a struggle to find a way back. It was a typical Everton away performance and the Hammers, not for the first time, lacked the individual flair to unlock a massed and well marshalled defence. The two clear opportunities that did arise, for Said Benrahma and Vladimir Coufal, were left unconverted.

The Everton goal highlighted the weakness still present in centre of the Hammer’s defence. For all his strength, bravery and aerial prowess, Craig Dawson has clear limitations on the ground that explain why he was plying his trade at Watford. Most certainly a decent squad player but not a mainstay for a team hoping to be regular European contenders. With an ageing Angelo Ogbonna, central defence is one more area requiring reinforcements in the summer – along with keeper, left back, striker and, indeed, others.

End of season games can be wildly unpredictable as more teams start to take their foot off the pedal, peruse the travel green list and stock up on Ambre Solaire. With Brighton having secured Premier League safety in the week it will be interesting to see how they react. More so in light of the rush of blood that saw two red cards in their fixture at Wolves last week, leaving them short of a captain and two leading goal scorers.

Brighton under Graham Potter are something of an enigma. It is quite unusual for a club on such a limited budget to strive for attractive possession football. I have been suitably impressed at how comfortable even their lanky defenders are on the ball. It is a lack of goals that has typically let them down. Bissouma and Trossard are very fine players as was Lamptey in the early part of the season before his injury. In seven matches since returning to the top-flight the Seagulls have yet to lose to the Hammers, and have scored every time.

The major hope for today is that it will mark the return of Rice to the midfield. Not only for his own undoubted talent, drive and contribution but also because it releases Tomas Soucek to get further forward. Seeing Ogbonna and Aaron Cresswell on the team sheet would also be an enormous bonus.  Apart from those injury concerns the outstanding call is between Jarrod Bowen and Benrahma for a starting berth. I think it goes to Bowen

As usual the bench will be very light on game changing options. When Andriy Yarmolenko and Ryan Fredericks are your big hopes, it does not auger well.

A big game for the Hammers, less so for the depleted Seagulls. Similar circumstances, perhaps, to when we faced a depleted Swansea at the end of the 2015/6 season and lost 4-1 at home, eventually costing the chance of a top six spot. Hopefully, we are made of sterner tough this time around. If Brighton play their normal possession game it should allow space for the West Ham runners to exploit on the counter attack. In theory, it should make them an ideal opponent. My prediction is that greater desire can break the Brighton duck with a comfortable 3-1 victory.