Since I first went to Upton Park in November 1958 I have seen many great games of football where West Ham have been playing. And Thursday night’s great win over Seville is yet another of the superb matches. The Europa League experts who had never previously been eliminated by an English club in the competition were beaten in extra time with the second emotional winner scored in a week by our Ukrainian Andriy Yarmolenko. But there were great performances all around the field, from the magnificent save by Areola when the score was 0-0 to the tireless Antonio up front, and all the players in between.
Great credit to David Moyes and his coaching staff for the past two seasons, but one area that has been improved immeasurably is the fitness of the whole squad of players. While the Spaniards were making every substitution available to them, we kept almost every player from the starting eleven on the pitch for virtually 120 minutes. And which team were by far the stronger in extra time? Which team wanted to win the game without resorting to penalties? Undoubtedly it was West Ham.
In the last 63 years my favourite ever West Ham game remains the 1976 European Cup Winners Cup semi final second leg that I watched from the North Bank at Upton Park on a night of torrential rain on April 14th 1976. A packed 39,000 plus crowd witnessed a great comeback when we overcame a 2-1 deficit from the first leg in Germany with goals from Keith Robson and two from a majestic performance from the brilliant Sir Trev. There was an electric atmosphere that night and it was repeated with 60,000 in the London Stadium on Thursday.
Friday’s draw gave us the intriguing and enticing possibility of a repeat semi-final against those same opponents from 1976. But first we must overcome Lyon of France, whilst the Germans must beat the tournament favourites Barcelona in the quarter finals. The French team have been disappointing in their domestic league and are currently tenth in mid-table, although their European performances have been much better.
Today’s game against Tottenham comes up very quickly after the extra time exertions of Thursday night and winning will be a difficult task. Friday night’s surprise win by Leeds at Molyneux strengthens our potential to finish in the top seven, although at the moment my understanding is that only the top six will qualify for European competition next season. But if one of the top 4 wins the FA Cup then qualification could fall as low as seventh place, so we are hoping that Manchester City, Chelsea or Liverpool lift that trophy in May. Of course we can ensure qualification if we win the Europa League!
We have a decent record against Tottenham in recent times having won our last two Premier League games against them, but both of those were at the London Stadium. At White Hart Lane we have only won two of the 19 encounters the last one being three years ago when Michail Antonio scored the only goal to inflict Spurs first home defeat at their new stadium. Antonio has scored six Premier League goals against Tottenham, more than he has netted against any other opponents. But it remains to be seen how fit he is after 120 minutes on Thursday night when he was a doubt for that game. Those of you who remember when they used to publish an unofficial London championship in the programme many years ago might like to know that in this season to date Tottenham are currently bottom, having lost five of their seven games.
Tottenham have had a bit of an up and down time so far this season, and it would be great to beat them in this game, but they are understandably the bookies odds-on favourites to win. A draw wouldn’t be the worst result for us looking at the remaining fixtures this season, perhaps 2-2? What are the chances?