Rock, Paper, Hammer, Toffee: It’s Trial By Combat At The London Stadium

The indefinite force meets the incapable object in today’s battle of the fast-falling, crisis torn clubs. And it’s a last-chance throw of the managerial dice for Moyes and Lampard

I’m not a betting man but after last weekend’s results I would have put money on neither of today’s managers surviving for another seven days. Change felt inevitable as the mood with supporters reached an all-time low. The respective Board’s, however, had other ideas and opted to stick rather than twist.

Perhaps it was the looming cliff-edge drama and jeopardy of today’s death-match encounter that was difficult to resist. A gladiatorial struggle of titanic proportions at the London Coliseum where, as the final whistle blew, all attention would switch to the Chairmen in the stands to deliver their thumbs-up or thumbs-down verdicts. Maybe both will end up being thrown to the lions – but whether even Millwall would be interested is another matter!

I’ve long believed there are many similarities in the malaise that infects West Ham and Everton as they struggle to emerge from the shadows of more illustrious neighbours. Each with a strong and committed fanbase who have repeatedly been let down through the hubris of successive owners unable to come to terms with the reality of their situations. Preferring to believe that big city stardust empowers them to throw money at ostentatious signings rather than do the hard-work of building extensive scouting networks. Signing established second-rate players with fancy Youtube reels (and fancy agents) – who don’t interest the bigger clubs – in preference to unearthing emerging young talent before they become known. The idea of performing detailed analytical research and fishing in less known waters is considered necessary only fit for low-budget clubs such as Brighton and Brentford.

No surprise that Everton and West Ham lead the rankings for the most Premier League defeats ever. The Toffees have the edge for now with 424 to the Hammer’s 420 – although the West Ham total has been achieved in four fewer seasons.

We can only speculate how the conversation might have gone in the midweek board meeting at West Ham where the final decision was to do nothing, other than open another packet of hobnobs. Their logic, it seems, being that a manager who has been on a downward spiral for well over a year, who has picked up just one point from the last twenty-one available, who either bought disastrously or has been unable to incorporate expensive players into his game-plan, should be given one last chance – against the only team in the division that is equally incompetent – to prove he still has what it takes to turn things around. It makes absolutely no sense.

There was one report in the week that the Board didn’t want a change of manager to take the limelight away from the planned tribute to David Gold which will take place before kick-off today – it’s what he would have wanted. If true, it takes bizarre decision making to a completely different level.


Yesterday’s signing of Danny Ings was completed with uncharacteristic speed by West Ham. These things generally take weeks of posturing, dithering and negotiation. I suppose it reflects that someone, somewhere is starting to act with a sense of urgency. It raises questions again as to who is making the recruitment decisions at the London Stadium these days. My guess is that Sullivan in cahoots with Mark Noble are now calling the shots.

Ings has a decent Premier League goalscoring record having rattled home 68 goals in 188 appearances – or the equivalent of 141 lots of 90 minutes if you allow for substitution time. Surprisingly he has never scored or been on the winning side against West Ham (in thirteen attempts) but has scored more goals against Everton than against any other opponent. For lovers of symmetry, his 68 goals put him 68th in the rankings of all-time Premier League scorers.

How high up those ranking he is allowed to progress – can he join the one hundred club – will depend on how he is utilised. Stick him up top all on his own without support and he can do no better than those who have came before. He is an intelligent footballer and needs others to play off and to combine with. The well-worn, old-hat, outdated 4-2-3-1 as deployed by Moyes encourages none of that. Attempting to second guess the manager’s team selection leaves most supporters scratching their heads and I’m not expecting any revolutionary change of approach. It is by no means certain whether Moyes will abandon the habit of a lifetime and start with Ings, or leave him on the bench until we are a goal down?

One player who does have a record of scoring against the Hammers (three in five and no defeats) is Neil Maupay. His goal separated the two teams in the return fixture back in September and that remains his only strike of the season to date. Will he get he nod today or will Lampard pin his hopes on the aerial threat of Calvert-Lewin?


With the imminent departure of Craig Dawson, West Ham look alarmingly short of numbers at the back should Kurt Zouma and Nayef Aguerd continue to be plagued by injuries. It will be useful to have Zouma back in action today to finally get the preferred partnership with Aguerd finally up and running. Aguerd looks an accomplished defender but needs someone more dominant aerially alongside him.

With all that is at stake the game it does not promise to be a classic, free-flowing exhibition of the beautiful game. Whoever scores the first goal – if there are to be any – will no doubt shut up shop and look to choke the game with petty fouls and endless pretend head injuries. Neither side is over-burdened with creativity suggesting a dour, desperate, niggly affair to be settled by a lucky deflection, defensive howler or reckless red card. Whether the Hammer will ultimately shatter the brittle Toffee, or the Toffee will cause the Hammer to get stuck fast (Thanks, Mike) is impossible to predict. The forecast is an afternoon where endurance triumphs again over enjoyment. COYI!

A Shot In The Dark: West Ham Travel To Wolverhampton For The Six-Pointer Goal-Shy Derby

A mighty six-pointer battle beckons at Molineux between two teams struggling to create and convert goalscoring opportunities. Who will take the three points and who will end up bottom three?

Another week, another game, and the prospect of another ninety minutes where David Moyes deploys exactly the same tactics in the hope of a different outcome. Yet again, we are faced with the familiar conflict of wanting West Ham to do well but recognising how hopeless the cause is without a change of manager.

A record of one point from a possible eighteen doesn’t lie. Previewing a match is becoming increasingly difficult when nothing ever changes. It is like being assigned to produce a weekly update on the fortunes of Sisyphus who in Greek mythology was consigned to roll a huge boulder up a hill for eternity.

Everything that is wrong with the current setup on the pitch has already been said over and over again. But for the sake of using up some column inches, let’s have a recap. The squad has been allowed to become too old. And it contains a serious lack of pace throughout. The over-riding game plan is not to lose – except against top teams when it is not to lose by too many. The keeper is among the worst with his feet in the league – yet the hurried pass back is one of our top-rated moves. The centre-backs most often look uncomfortable with the ball at their feet. The full-backs lack Premier League quality – and, in any case, are deployed far too narrow. There is nobody in the squad capable of playing the wing-back role effectively. Any attempt to press has been abandoned in favour of a ridiculously low block. There are never enough players in front of the ball to launch incisive counter-attacks. Movement off the ball is terrible and contributes significantly to poor passing success and ball retention. Players rarely take the ball in their stride or play on their toes . Imagination and creativity is missing in the final third. Wide attacking players are given too much defensive responsibility. The lone striker ends up isolated and gets drawn too deep or too wide, through a lack of support. Throw-ins are an invitation to return the ball immediately to the opposition. Corners either fail to beat the first defender or are floated into the keeper’s arms. There may be more. Other than that, we are in great shape.

There are many things in life that defy explanation – the ability of electrical wires and coat hangers to tangle themselves up, the reason your fingers get wrinkled in the bath, the surprising popularity of LInkedIn – but the owner’s belief that Moyes is the man to turn the season around trumps them all. The current trajectory leads to just one destination – the Championship!

Relegation can be in no-one’s interest. The only reasons to own a football club are for prestige and asset value. Both would take a battering by demotion to the second tier. The indecision over Avram Grant still rankles as one of the worst episodes of recent West Ham history. But the Board had terminated the services of both Slaven Bilic and Manuel Pellegrini by this stage of their final seasons – Bilic after eleven games in November 2017, Pellegrini after nineteen games in December 2019. Act NOW please, or we will never escape this hole!


Such indecision was not on show at today’s opponents, Wolverhampton Wanderers, where a managerial change was made prior to the World Cup break – eminently sensible timing for any struggling club.

The Wolves owners, who I believe are Chinese, have a strange obsession with the Iberian peninsular when it comes to player and manager recruitment. In the apparent absence of any available Portuguese managers, they were forced to turn their attention on this occasion to Spain when appointing Julen Lopetegui who had recently been sacked by Sevilla.

Another unusual aspect of the appointment is that in Lopetegui and Nuno Espírito Santo before him, they have now employed two former goalkeepers as manager. That is quite a rarity with the only other ex-keepers I can think of who have managed at the top level in England being Mike Walker and Nigel Adkins. Keepers area rather like drummers in rock bands. You obviously need to have one, but they are far too crazy and unpredictable to make any wider contribution.


Performances this season suggest today will not be a high scoring encounter. Wolves have scored just five times at home in the league, West Ham have managed just six away. The overall comparison of this season’s scoring and shooting stats (West Ham first) show: Goals (15 v 11); Shots (240 v 202); Shots on Target (62 v 56); Shots on Target % (25.8 v 27.7). West Ham have had the sixth highest number of shots in the league but have the worst on target percentage of anyone. A reflection of laboured ineffective build-ups that end with speculative long shots.

Some have seen signs of improvement in the past few games, but I have yet to be convinced. Those with a glass half full, might already be talking about being unbeaten in two. Although any 3rd round cup win is welcome, would it have ended that way if Frank hadn’t taken the unfathomable decision to rest so many key players.

I didn’t see Wolves cup tie at Liverpool where they are said to have played very well and would have won had it not been for VAR. I did catch them against Manchester United and it was apparent that they still lacked a cutting edge. No more obliging opponent than the Hammers for them to sharpen that on.

What to expect today? I’ve no idea, and really don’t know what to hope for so the current madness can be brought to a rapid conclusion. How about an unimagined 3-3 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!

Time To End The Creeping Paralysis That Sees A Wretched West Ham Sleepwalking To Disaster

They dillied they dallied, they dallied and they dillied, lost the plot and don’t know who to phone. There’s increasing despair as the West Ham Boardroom doubles down on the manager’s dithering.

Cast your mind back to the middle of January last year. West Ham were fourth in the league, had just breezed past Leeds in the FA Cup and were now hosting the Yorkshire side again in a Premier League fixture at the London Stadium. The injury ravaged visitors outran, outfought and outthought a complacent Hammers side to record a famous victory. It was a win which turned out to be the last for Bielsa as manager of Leeds. He was sacked the following month at the end of a run that earned just one point from the next six games.

But the rot had also set in for West Ham. Their style had become predictable and one-dimensional. Everyone knew how they would play and took steps to counter it. The opportunity to freshen up and strengthen key positions in the transfer window was overlooked. David Moyes only had eyes for the lovesick pursuit of Jesse Lingard – yearning to recreate the magic of twelve months earlier.

The season ended with a whimper. The desperately small squad of players was run into the ground. A meagre haul of five wins and nineteen points from the remaining sixteen games plus a disappointing semi-final exit in the Europa League was deflating. By the end, topped of with a lame surrender in Brighton, the spirit that had been built over the previous two seasons lay in tatters.

While we cannot complain about the size of the transfer spend in the summer it was completed so late in the day and without any apparent plan or pattern to the recruitment. The promised new philosophy of pursuing an RB Leipzig style model of signing emerging unknown talent did not materialise. Instead, we got a mixed bag of big-money exotic names, not on the radar of the ‘bigger’ clubs, plus a handful of squad fillers. It hadn’t worked for Pellegrini, so let’s try it again!

Since the season started we’ve seen no attempt by Moyes to change his approach or try anything new. Talk of a more possession based style of play has never been followed up on the pitch in any meaningful way. Passing is wayward, movement is lacking, and options are few. Quick, flowing passing moves are a thing of the past.

Caution remains the Moyes’ watchword and as the goals have dried up the team have retreated further into their shell. Some say that it is down to fitness, but I am not convinced by that argument – Declan Rice commented in the summer as to how brutal training is under Moyes. To me, the decline in running stats is the result of abandoning any pretence at pressing in favour of the lowest of low blocks. It is the new normal to have all but one or two players regularly operating behind the ball. Opportunities for transition are lost and possession is invariably given away.

Throw in the critical lack of pace and creativity and the Hammers have become a blunt force in attack.  Possibly the slowest team in the Premier League, the ability to effectively counter-attack is no longer a threat. Without any truly creative players, attacks default to ludicrously slow build-ups that end up with hopeful crosses floated into the keeper’s arms. When your greatest goal threat is Craig Dawson from a corner, you know you are in trouble.

Expecting Moyes to repair the current slide by doing more of the same is delusional. It is staggering that the owners didn’t see that. Using the World Cup to make a clean break would have been perfect. Loyalty can be admirable, but it only makes sense if there were clear and obvious signs of improvement. In the real world, performances have been getting progressively worse for almost a year now. The squad needs surgery in the transfer window – how much longer can we play without a competent left-back – and Moyes cannot be trusted with supervising that. The answer to our problems really isn’t to sign Michal Keane.

It can only be a matter of time before Moyes gets his marching orders. The longer it’s left and the more desperate the situation becomes, the more chance that the owners will be forced into a short-term fix. Another firefighter parachuted in to preserve Premier League status rather than a new broom who can move the club forward. So far the names banded about range from those likely to be wanting bigger gigs – Tuchel, Pochettino, Enrique – to the ever-presents on the familiar managerial merry-go-round – Benitez, Dyche, Hassenhurtl, Bielsa. Surely there must also be other younger, more progressive coaches out there waiting to be discovered.

To complicate matters further West Ham will now almost certainly be competing with other clubs in the search for a new manager. By the time you read this Lampard at Everton and Rodgers at Leicester may already be queuing to pick up their P45s. Dithering in the boardroom could prove to be very costly.

I have already unconsciously written off today’s visit to Leeds as a lost cause. Making it a sixth league defeat in a row with West Ham firmly entrenched in the bottom three by the end of the day. While the hosts may still display the same laissez faire approach to defending as they did under Bielsa, it is doubtful whether the Hammers have the firepower or sense of adventure to expose and exploit it. In attack, Leeds have explosive pace which will thoroughly test the ancient limbs and leaden feet of the West Ham defence. The one positive note is that Nayef Aguerd may finally make his first Premier League start in tonight’s game.

My guess is that Moyes will revert to a back four tonight with Dawson partnering Aguerd in the continued absence of Kurt Zouma. Moyes will have seen his change of shape against Brentford as a failed audacious experiment and revert to his familiar Moyes 4-2-3-1. No-one is going will be shocked by a Tomas Soucek recall and to see one of Gianluca Scamacca or Michail Antonio isolated up front. This may all sound disillusioned, but that’s where we are.

I’m not going to predict an outcome for the game. Sadly, it is probably in the best interests of the club if we actually  lose this game to trigger the inevitable. No-one can survive six defeats in a row. Or can they? COYI!

West Ham Play Host Brentford: Will David Moyes Finally Reveal A Plan Bee?

Episode 2 of David Moyes Turns The Season Around sees an increasingly sluggish West Ham attempt to resist the boisterous Bees of Brentford

Today’s football news has been dominated by the sad passing of Pele, one of the greatest players and ambassadors to have ever graced the beautiful game. It is futile to compare players across generations where the game has changed so much, but he was right up there with the finest – the very best in the eyes of some. His was a different era – one of robust shuddering tackles, hefty laced-up footballs, ploughed field playing surfaces – and Brylcreem. May he rest in peace!

The Christmas period also saw the demise of yet another of England’s 1966 World Cup heroes with the farewell of George Cohen. It was interesting to read some of the comments in his obituary where he shared the advice received from his first ever manager at Fulham in 1957. It included several gems that are particularly pertinent in the context of the stodgy fare currently being served up at West Ham: “Football is a game of movement, it’s about width and depth”; “… he taught me how to run on to balls, keeping the game fluid, rather than waiting to receive the ball.” Such ancient wisdom is enough to leave us scratching our heads!

Meanwhile, the David Moyes Doomsday clock has ticked ever closer to midnight following his team’s defeat to Arsenal on Boxing Day. He’s now the cartoon character clinging on to the edge of a sheer cliff as the rocks and dead branches in his grasp fall way one by one. It’s only a matter of time. Even the owners must recognise no attempt has been made to improve or change the style of play, despite the huge investment they have made. It must be obvious they have a manager who, despite the relative success of the past two seasons, is no more than a one hit wonder.

It would be considered madness for any manager to carry on peddling the same tired, predictable style once it has been rumbled by every one of his opponents. The shortcomings have been obvious to supporters for many, many months and even the band of backslapping pundits are finally waking up to it. It may have worked for a while but is now well past its best before date. If there had ever been a master plan to develop a more possession based game, there is no evidence that it has left the drawing board.

Moyes may well highlight the failure of the expensive summer recruits to impress at the London Stadium, but equally there is a huge disconnect between the players signed and the style of football served up. If Lucas Paqueta’s first touch defence splitting through balls are meant to be our salvation, was the less than pacy Gianluca Scamacca the ideal striker to be on the receiving end of them? Even if Moyes is capable of change, he has left it too late.

One of the names routinely touted as a future Moyes replacement, until he signed a new contract, was Thomas Frank, manager of today’s opponents, Brentford.

Frank is unusual in managerial circles in that he did not have a professional career as a player. He has done a tremendous job keeping his low budget team competitive since its promotion to the Premier League. Alongside Brighton, Brentford have demonstrated the type of admirable, far-sighted recruitment strategy that West Ham can only dream of.

Personally, I’m less sure that Frank would the right man for a team like ours – one that theoretically has aspirations to be regularly knocking on the door of European competition. He’s better than what we’ve got but not the long-term answer, for me. Maybe I do him a mis-service and he is more than capable of adapting to circumstances and handling teams with greater resources.

There is a romantic halo effect that surrounds plucky Brentford, especially after their recent heroic win at Manchester City. Yet their reality is an aggressive and muscular outfit which favours aerial dominance, long balls, rapid pressing and set piece mastery. There’s a hint of Stoke City about their physical approach except they are more attack minded than the Potters ever were – spearheaded by the excellent pairing of Toney & Mbeumo up front. I was banking on Toney serving a lengthy ban for his betting misdemeanours by now, but it was not to be.

There’s a real possibility that the Brentford front two will rip the Hammers sluggish rear-guard to pieces with their pace, power, strength and running; and that the West Ham midfield will be overwhelmed by the Bees aggressive pressing. It worked a treat against Tottenham last week until they ran out of steam and had to settle for a share of the points.

Going into the game, West Ham have lost five of their last six league games and badly need to stop the rot. It’s impossible to second guess what the dithering Moyes will do given his reluctance to change what hasn’t worked in the past. Another slow and cautious start to a game could be fatal. I have long advocated a style of 4-3-3 where the front three are closer together, more fluid and not over burdened with defensive duties. The midfield three (e.g, Flynn Downes, Declan Rice and Paqueta) must take on the responsibility for cutting off the supply to the Brentford front-men. Unfortunately, the back four, whatever selections are made in the absence of Kurt Zouma and Nayef Aguerd, will continue to have a rickety makeshift look to it. Is it now also time for Alphonse Areola to come into the side?

As we reach the final match of the season all we can look back at is a very unsatisfactory year in league matches. The record for 2022 to date is P 35, W11, D6, L18, GF 39, GA 46 – earning only 39 points. Slightly ahead of relegation form but on a downward spiral. Away from home the record is particularly disturbing. Just 4 wins, 2 draws, 11 points and 13 goals from 17 games – with 4 of those goals coming in a single game against relegated Norwich City. Depressing stuff all round.

The year started with a win, so can it end with one?  I feel we might end up with a point apiece, allowing the managerial can to be kicked down the road a little further. Prolonging the misery and uncertainty for a week or two more. All I can offer is COYI and wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

The Hammers Are Back: A Breath Of Fresh Air Or A Bad Dose Of Qatarrh?

The road to recovery is meant to start here. To do so the tortoise must beat the hare and David Moyes must shatter his shocking record away to top six sides.

West Ham return to Premier League action today in aspirational ‘turn things around’ mode as they make the short, and historically fruitless, trip across London to face league leaders Arsenal.

The Hammers entered the World Cup break with a bleak run of tame home defeats that saw them lose to Crystal Palace, Leicester, and Blackburn Rovers. Many believed it was a sequence that would see the end of David Moyes, but the board have decided to stick with him, in the hope of a miraculous upturn in fortunes. What fresh ideas they seen in performances to date can only be speculated upon. Yet they seem convinced he is the man to throw off his hard-wired caution and lead a charge back to the European table?

The worry for me is that we are entering a period of uncertainty and paralysis. The manager on life support hoping to survive day-to-day by scraping enough points to stay out of the bottom three and avoiding any embarrassing thrashings. It is a recipe for greater caution, not for a renewed sense of adventure that might get the best out of the expensive new signings.

How the six-week break will impact matters is impossible to tell. Some had the chance to take relaxed winter holidays while others experienced the thrills and heartache of representing their countries in Qatar. How will the World Cup hangover play out – not just for West Ham but for all teams?

Unlike the COVID break in 2020 there will have been no opportunity to work as group on fixing the many things that have been going badly. There was no obvious new approach on show in the recent friendly matches. And you will remember that West Ham lost the first two games when post-COVID matches resumed in June 2020.

The task that faces the Hammers today is a daunting one, regardless of their poor record in this fixture. Arsenal are five points clear at the top of the table having played eight of their fourteen games away from home. At The Emirates, they have won six out six. Conversely, West Ham have just one win and one draw to show from seven matches played on the road. The game will be a contest where pace and fluidity meets slow and predictable. Mismatches don’t come much bigger than this!

Moyes has selection dilemmas both front and back today. The roll call of injured and doubtful players includes Kurt Zouma, Nayef Aguerd, Aaron Cresswell, Maxwell Cornet, Michail Antonio and Gianluca Scamacca. If I were to be cynical, I’d suggest Moyes already has this down as a home win, and will not risk anyone who is not fully fit. His tactics will be driven by damage limitation, holding on to the point if that is at all possible.

On the other hand, the Gunners will be close to full strength apart from the missing Jesus who was injured in Qatar. I have mixed feelings about Arsenal. It is a club punching above its weight which at times can be a joy to watch. But under Arteta they are too fond of the dark arts for my liking. Expect at least one penalty with Saka and Martinelli going to ground faster than a paranoid fox.

I fully expect Moyes to play with a back five today – with the makeshift set of players that are at his disposal. It will be sitting deep and hoping to snatch a goal from a set piece. Moyes will have been making careful notes when Japan beat Spain in Qatar with less than 18% possession. A shot on target will be a momentous event.

I am conflicted right now. I never want West Ham to lose any game but equally don’t see any future scenario where the Hammers are a competitive and entertaining outfit under the current manager. Let’s not forget his abysmal managerial away record against top six sides.

Boxing Day success for the Hammers seems implausible. It would require David to slay Goliath, the tortoise to beat the hare, and Jack Reacher to fight off five hoodlums in the bar room parking lot – all rolled into one. Hats off to Moyes if he can pull something out of the fire but even the Moyesiah wouldn’t have chosen Arsenal away at Christmas as the starting point for his resurrection.

It is difficult to see any other outcome other than a comfortable defeat. I really hope that’s not the case but it’s what history and reality suggests. COYI!

The David Moyes Doom Spiral: Is There Any Way Back From The Brink?

As with politics, almost all managerial careers in football end in failure. Are these the final days of David Moyes reign at West Ham or will he launch a counter-offensive as his side take on Leicester City?

It’s been a bad week, so far, at the London Stadium. Quite possibly the limpest performance of the season against Crystal Palace was followed by an ignominious exit from the Carabao Cup at the hands of Blackburn Rovers reserves.

The once muted murmurings surrounding the future of David Moyes in the West Ham hot seat has incrementally risen towards a disturbing crescendo. What was once a small hardcore of supporters ideologically opposed to his appointment in the first place, has grown to an increasing number of Remainers progressively move across into the Leave camp. Is the Grim Reaper of football gaffers heading in his directio?

I’ve never considered Moyes credit with the club was about saving us from relegation. In many ways he is an odd choice to pick as a firefighter in that his brand is more about building effort, stability, and organisation than the spirit and passion demanded of relegation battles. Instead, it is the consecutive top seven Premier League finishes and the ensuing European campaigns that have caused his spell as manager to stand out.

By almost all measures, the 2020/21 season was West Ham’s most spectacular Premier League effort ever.  For the period coinciding with Jesse Lingard’s loan spell there was a swagger and fluidity on display that was as thrilling to watch as it was effective in winning matches. But for the injury to Declan Rice on England duty there would surely have been an excellent chance of Champions League qualification.

Sadly, those heights have not been repeated and today look as far away as ever. Moyes was bewitched by what Lingard added to the team and his transfer strategy became obsessed with a permanent deal. By the time it was obvious that Lingard would stay at Old Trafford no alternatives had been lined up with similar strengths. Aside from Kurt Zouma, the summer 2021 transfer window was a disaster. I don’t go along with the view that Nikola Vlasic was not given a chance by Moyes or was played out of position. He simply didn’t have the attributes for the intensity and physical nature of English league football. He failed at West Ham, just as he had failed at Everton. He is much better suited to the Italian game.

Despite everything, the following season still showed a creditable outcome. Seventh place in the Premier League and a Europa Cup semi-final was certainly an above average West Ham season. Cracks were starting to show in the league though, as form flatlined dramatically after Christmas. In mitigation the demands of Thursday – Sunday football should not be underestimated. Not just from the perspective of player fatigue in a small squad, but also due to the limited time that is left available for match preparation.

The huge mistake of the 2021/22 season was not strengthening in the winter transfer window. The Lingard fixation continued to dominate thinking and the opportunity to boost the squad by bringing in new blood was lost. By the second half of the season, there was a sense that West Ham were no longer a surprise package, the tactics were one dimensional and opposition coaches found them easy to counter. The team were becoming stale and despite raising their game for impressive European performances against Sevilla and Lyon, a rot had set in.

That brings us finally to this season, which has been a shocker by any definition. Significant amounts of money were spent on transfers, even if most of the business was completed too late in the day to start the season well prepared. Overall, the summer signings looked decent enough on paper and the squad had a far stronger look to it. But that added strength has failed to materialise on the pitch – and will continue to do so while the manager insists on stubbornly sticking to the same tactics, just with different names on the shirts. Where Moyes initial success was understandably pragmatic – getting the best from limited resources – he has lately been attempting to shoehorn more talented players into the same style, even though it clearly doesn’t suit them.

No matter how encouraging the summer purchases appear to be, the types of players that weren’t signed are equally pertinent. Despite the drawn out and ultimately fruitless pursuit of Lingard, no-one with similar attributes (which clearly were a Moyes priority) was eventually brought into the squad. Further, no left back was signed even though a long-term replacement for Aaron Cresswell had been apparent for many, many months. The last-minute signing of Emerson as the left sided defensive backup has every hallmark of a panic buy.

Received wisdom is that integrating a host of new players into a team will always a challenge. I cannot argue with that. It is the reason why bringing in a few in January or doing the summer business early would have made clear sense. Indeed, I think many would cut the manager some slack if it looked like a more progressive, less passive style was evolving. But it hasn’t, it is more of the same. The style has remained the same, and perversely the execution has become worse. It is an unfortunate fact of modern footballing life that standing still means going backwards

The negative approach of defending deep and in numbers, the poor passing and ball retention, and the dearth of movement and fluidity through the middle, all continue to be alarmingly apparent. With everyone behind the ball, who is there left to pass to? The imbalance between hard work and flair has created a side that is pedestrian, and which expects its attacking players to spend more time focused on defence, than threatening the opponent’s goal.

The only player in the squad capable of running with the ball (and having it under control) is Declan Rice. None of the other attack minded players have either the ability or the pace to do so reliably – only Moyes believes Manuel Lanzini can still offer this. The upshot is there is no obvious out-ball to relieve pressure or to build attacks when possession is won, a further contributing factor to poor ball retention. There just seem to be so many structural faults in the side right now, and no plan to address them.

To make matters even worse, notoriously slow starts have been added to the matchday playbook. Are the first half of games written off – hoping, perhaps, to snatch something late on with the energy conserved in the first forty-five minutes? This has happened far too frequently, in too many games, for it not to be an intentional tactic.

Clearly, it is not my decision whether the manager stays or goes. That is down to the board. Previously, they have waited and waited before pulling the trigger, but there are now obvious parallels to the last days of Bilic and Pellegrini. Although loyalty is an admirable quality, the question the board members must ask themselves is: “does Moyes have what it takes to turn things around?” It’s not a simple question of fighting for survival – surely finishing anywhere in the bottom half would be regarded as serious failure after the investment that has been made. It is about having the right man in place for the longer-term development of the club. A man with progressive ideas who is not stuck with outdated ways. I would be quite happy for Moyes to prove he can do it, but to my mind, it would require a scale of conversion rarely seen outside of road trips to Damascus.

I have read elsewhere that those inside the game believe it would be madness for West Ham to sack Moyes. It’s a valid point of view to take if you are looking from a distance only at past performance. The pundit community mostly operates as a mutual back-slapping fraternity insulated from supporters who might consider entertainment just as important as results. The common pundit line is one of players letting down the manager – which does raise the question as to whether the level of solidarity in the dressing room has decayed since the departure of Mark Noble?

Timing is the other issue that the Board must consider. The imminent break for the World Cup feels like the perfect opportunity for a club thinking of a managerial change to make a move. It allows the new man time to settle in, work on new ideas and prepare for any adjustments required in the transfer window. Is it an opportunity too good to be missed?

Whatever the Board’s current inclination – and noises to date are that they are in support of Moyes – today’s game against Leicester will be an nervous affair. It will not be lost on the opposition that another frustrating start by the home side is likely to produce a toxic atmosphere inside the stadium. It will be in their interests to play on that.

Brendan Rodgers is another manager who has struggled of late in his attempts to evolve to a more possession based style of play. For a few seasons the Foxes were the team most likely to disrupt the ‘big six’ but have lost their recently way due to financial difficulties and player departures. Signs of recovery have started to show after a dreadful start to the season, and they have conceded just one goal in the last five league outings. They certainly carry enough of a threat – in the form of James Madison, Youri Tielemans and Harvey Barnes – to worry a hesitant and accident prone Hammers.

Despite everything, I cannot join those hoping that a West Ham defeat will lead to a change of manager. I will always want them to win every game they play and will not cross that line today. But I’m not sure what to expect. A new mindset from Moyes? A more front-foot approach from the team? Or another slow start and an uprising in the stands? The finger nails will be taking a battering. COYI?

Can West Ham win four successive home Premier League games for the first time in more than 20 years?

29 May 2004 is a date I always remember. Even though it is more than 18 years ago I cannot forget the long drive home from Cardiff after Palace had beaten us 1-0 in the Playoff final. It was a game I was convinced we would win to return to the Premier League but it was not to be. Fortunately we had a better result in the Playoffs the following season beating Preston 1-0. We did get relegated once again a few years later but only spent one season down before Sam Allardyce brought us back once again via the Playoffs beating Blackpool 2-1 at Wembley.

We’ve retained our place in the top flight since 2012 and Palace were promoted a season later and we’ve faced each other regularly since then. In those 9 seasons (18 games) we have won 7, Palace 5, and there have been six draws, so fairly evenly balanced.

There has been a certain symmetry to the results in that time. For example in 2013-14 Palace won both games 1-0. The following season we won one each with the away side winning 3-1 in both games.

In 2015-16, the final season at Upton Park we again won away 3-1 before drawing 2-2 at home in one of the final games. I will always remember that match for Payet’s wonder free kick.

In the next three seasons we were unbeaten against Palace winning three and drawing three before Palace won both games by a 2-1 score line in 2019-20.

The last two seasons have seen us drawing the home games 1-1 and 2-2, but winning away 3-2 both times. Our last meeting was on New Years Day when we led 3-0 at half time and held the lead until the 83rd minute. Two late Palace goals made for a closer finish than should have been the case.

If we win this game then it will be our fourth successive home Premier League win. That hasn’t happened for more than 20 years. If we look at all competitive fixtures then a win would be our seventh in a row and that hasn’t happened for 23 years.

David Moyes has only lost once as a manager in 14 games v Palace, and The Eagles have a poor away record in the Premier League this season, and also in Vieira’s time as their manager. I also noted that Zaha hasn’t scored a goal or registered an assist in any of his seven away games against us.

Going back to consecutive wins, what a great performance in the Europa Conference League where we have won eight games in a row, including six in the league, the only team to achieve a 100 per cent record in the competition. Perhaps not the strongest group but you can only beat teams up against you and we have done so with a largely second team, emphasising the improved strength of our squad. It was good to see so many Academy players given an opportunity.

For today’s game my preferred starting lineup would be:

Areola; Kehrer, Dawson, Zouma, Cresswell; Rice, Downes; Paqueta; Bowen, Antonio, Benrahma.

I wouldn’t mind if Aguerd was in the team; he has looked impressive in the games he has played but perhaps Moyes doesn’t believe he is quite ready yet. It seems that Dawson may be on his way soon, and Aguerd will take his place alongside Zouma (who was excellent last week) in the centre of our defence.

I suspect my lineup won’t happen as the manager will almost certainly find a place for Soucek (definitely), Fornals (probably), and Scamacca (quite probably).

Every statistic points to a West Ham win, and as we often score three against these opponents I’ll go for 3-1, especially as both teams seem to score in these fixtures. 

In Like Flynn: Changing The Guard For The Visit Of Palace

Will David Moyes stick with caution and his old favourites or adopt the spirit of adventure and enterprise that his players can now offer?

Thursday evening’s game against FCSB turned out to be a far more entertaining spectacle than originally anticipated. Even the manager and coaches on the West Ham bench seemed surprised how well their scratch Hammer’s XI had performed. Who knew that fluidity, movement, passing the ball through the middle and early purposeful delivery from the flanks could reap such rewards?

The performances of Oliver Scarles, in particular, but also Divin Mubama generated plenty of welcome and well-deserved praise for the youngsters. As ever the club were not slow to jump on the bandwagon extolling the virtues of the ‘Academy of Football’. Yet reality tells a different story. Of an academy whose output has been sporadic at best since that golden age around the turn of the century. Hopefully, a bumper crop is on the way and it would be great to see at least two youngsters on every bench, who are given experience at every opportunity.

There can be no argument as to the effectiveness of our Europa Conference campaign to date. The group may not have offered the sternest of tests, but games still need to be won. And six out six ain’t bad! The competition now represents the most direct path to a first major title since 1980 – and a third consecutive season of European football. The most significant obstacle on the way will undoubtedly be Villareal – currently joint favourites alongside West Ham to lift the trophy in early June. Avoiding them until Prague would be good!

If you look at current UEFA coefficients, there are six clubs remaining in the Conference ranked higher than West Ham. The Hammers have climbed to 48th in the overall rankings – not bad going for a side that has only competed in two of the five seasons that qualify for points. The six higher ranked clubs being: Villareal (18th), Basel (34th), Braga (35th), Lazio (38th), and AZ Alkmaar (44th).

There is a long break now until the 9 March 2023 before the first leg of the Round of Sixteen kicks-off and we will not know who the opponents will be until 24 February. With three of their teams remaining in the hat, probability dictates that a trip to Turkey could well be on the cards.

Europe has added a lustre to an otherwise muted season for David Moyes and his team. Many appreciate the Moyesiah’s fine work since his second coming and the fact that we can realistically talk of three consecutive seasons of European football is testament enough to that. But it is clear that his approach is becoming stale. Change is needed but is happening far too slowly now that his team are no longer an unknown quantity. It really has to be time to throw off the caution both in personnel and tactics and introduce a measure of adventure into the game plan.

There is amazing consistency in the preferred side and formation that I see suggested online by significant numbers of West Ham fans. It is along the lines of: Areola – Kehrer, Dawson, Zouma, Cresswell – Downes, Rice, Paqueta – Bowen, Scamacca, Benrahma (or Antonio). Can they all be wrong? Time to give it a try? I think so!

It would be a travesty if Flynn Downes does not start in his natural position, alongside Declan Rice tomorrow. Some games might need the extra height that Tomas Soucek brings as auxiliary defensive cover – this is not one of them. Downes has much more to his game; full of energy, strong in the tackle, plays on his toes, and moves the ball quickly and accurately. Every side needs a handful of players with such no-nonsense attributes. He could also prove to be the perfect foil for Lucas Paqueta, creating the space required for the Brazilian to flourish.      

West Ham go into tomorrow’s home fixture against Crystal Palace as the lowest placed of the seven London clubs. I doubt any of us expected that after thirteen games; or that the Hammers would have lost over half of the league matches played. Two wins from the two matches remaining before the break would paint a healthier picture but we will start the game no more than three points off the relegation places.

Crystal Palace sit two points better off than the Hammers, having played one game less. Their record of won four, lost four, drawn four typifies a mixed bag of fortunes and results – they have yet to win away this term. In fact, their position closely mirrors a typical Palace season, (since their return to the topflight in 2013) which usually sees them finishing in a narrow band between 10th and 14th.

Current manager Patrick Viera is the Eagles eighth since their Premier League return. His illustrious career as one of the Premier League’s finest midfild players gives him an aura that has yet to translate to managerial success.  Admittedly he inherited an ageing squad from Roy Hodgson but while he has attempted to address that, results on the pitch have yet to show much improvement. It is said that Viera has adopted a more possession based approach, yet the stats show them marginally behind West Ham on that measure.

For the eighth season running, Wilfried Zaha will pose the greatest Palace threat, unless it is one of those afternoons where he gets wound up and spends the entire ninety minutes complaining – an early encounter with Craig Dawson might do the trick. Elsewhere Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise are capable of providing dangerous but inconsistent moments, while old warhorse Jordan Ayew will spend his time looking for trouble and scowling angrily at anyone who crosses his path.

It’s been four seasons since West Ham last beat Crystal Palace at home. So, high time that authority was exerted and the natural order of things restored. A 3-1 home win. COYI!

Sliding Tackles – What If West Ham Had Beaten Eintracht Frankfurt?

The European Conference League group stages splutter to and end for West Ham with a dead rubber tie in Bucharest. Can they raise the enthusiasm to make it six wins out of six?

Seeing Eintracht Frankfurt make it through to the last sixteen of the Champions League made me wonder what might have happened in a parallel reality had things worked out differently in last seasons Europa League semi-final. What if Aaron Cresswell hadn’t had a rush of blood to the head in the 19th minute, didn’t receive a foolish red card, and West Ham had gone on to overturn the one goal first-leg deficit? A footballing Sliding Doors moment, or Sliding Tackles, in this case.

Granted it would still have required the Hammers also to overcome Glasgow Rangers in the final – no foregone conclusion if pre-season friendlies were anything to go by – but how might our boys team have fared in the glare of Champions League floodlights? Could they have emulated the admirable success of Frankfurt or would it have been the abject failure of Rangers?

Frankfurt probably got lucky in being drawn into one of the weaker or, at least, more balanced of groups – but that should not detract from their fine achievement. Their squad is not radically different to the one we met last May and net summer spending was a modest €6 million. West Ham target, Filip Kostic departed for Juventus while the largest outlay was the permanent signing of loanee Jens Petter Hauge (the player Cresswell had fouled) who was promptly loaned out to Gent in Belgium. Kostic’s replacement was another reported Hammer’s target, Luca Pellegrini, signed on a season long loan from Juventus. In addition to their impressive Champions League exploits, Frankfurt also currently sit a creditable fifth in the Bundesliga.

So what if West Ham had qualified for the Champions League? Would it have been easier to recruit new players in the summer, get the first choices in early and have a reasonably settled side before the season started? Or would the usual haggling and dithering have been just the same?

Despite never being wholly convincing, the Hammers Europa Conference campaign has mostly been a walk in the park against the also-rans of the Denmark, Romania, and Belgium leagues. How might they have fared in group games against the likes of Marseille or Sporting Lisbon? Or against one of the qualifiers from either Italy or Germany – as it would not have been possible to be drawn against Tottenham? Would we have seen the same negative away day tactics that have become the norm in domestic matches against ‘bigger’ clubs?  

Many unknowns but my feeling is that dropping down to the Europa League would have been the most likely outcome. We can never know and the best we can now hope for is another shot at the Europa League next year. It remains the easiest route to the holy grail of Champions League participation for a club like ours.

I’m sure we were all shocked when the cunning David Moyes plan of ‘not trying to score until going a goal down’ failed once again to pay dividends at Old Trafford. Do you think he has spotted a pattern yet? We will have to wait until Boxing Day when his team visit Arsenal to see how Plan B is coming along.

Back in the present reality, there is a meaningless final Conference League group game tonight as West Ham travel to play FCSB, the club formerly known as Steaua Bucharest. Apparently, a West Ham win would be the first time any club has won all six games in this particular competition’s group stages. Even the most desperate manager would be embarrassed to put that on his CV!  

By all accounts it will be a mix of second string and youth players representing the Hammers tonight. According to one unverified source, the only first-team squad members travelling to Romania were Areola, Randolph, Ogbonna, Coufal, Ashby, Johnson, Aguerd, Downes, Coventry, Fornals and Lanzini. So that could very well mean Darren Randolph doing a Les Sealey turn up front!

Still no sign of Maxwell Cornet who was last seen wandering the labyrinth of corridors in the West Ham treatment facility – searching for the way out. You can check out, but you can never leave!

I should be looking forward to seeing a few youngsters getting a run out in tonight’s game – unleashed, I think, is the technical term. Hopefully it will be for more than three minutes of added time, although with the U21s rock bottom of the Premier League 2 perhaps we shouldn’t be getting too excited. But it would be a great experience for the lads involved.

Very difficult to generate any real enthusiasm for the game with all jeopardy removed, but hoping it’s an enjoyable trip for any travelling fans. West Ham to win 2-1. COYI!