Can West Ham register three away wins in a row without conceding a goal when they visit Selhurst Park?

Two of the most controversial aspects of modern-day football had a big influence on our defeat to Liverpool on Wednesday evening. I’ve written about them many times in the past but once again I’ll return to the difficult (to get right) topics of offside and handball.

Let’s start with offside. It is virtually impossible when it’s a close call for a linesman (or assistant referee as they call themselves now, although they don’t assist much really) to be able to be 100 percent certain that a player is offside at the exact moment a ball is played. Bearing in mind that a professional footballer can run at approaching 8-9 yards in a second, then just one-tenth of a second could mean a difference of a couple of feet in distance. So now we have a man in a VAR cabin somewhere who draws lines across the pitch to decide if a player is offside. And on this occasion Jarrod Bowen’s toes were definitely in an offside position. But how can we be sure that the lines were drawn at the exact moment that the ball was played? A fraction of a second less than one-tenth (0.1) and possibly up to one-hundredth (0.01) could make all the difference as to deciding if the lines are drawn at exactly the right moment.

But why do we have to go through all this? The offside rule was devised over a hundred years ago to prevent goal-hanging. The position of Bowen on the pitch could not remotely be described as goal-hanging. We were denied a wonderfully taken goal because Bowen’s toes were offside forty or so yards from goal, and that’s only if the lines were drawn at an exact moment that nobody could confirm was spot on. I’ve campaigned for years (but to no avail because I have no influence) that offside should be confined to the final 18 yards of the pitch, that is in the penalty area (with the line extended to the touch line) only. Play wouldn’t be as condensed as it is now; there would be more room on the pitch if defenders didn’t push up so far to try to catch people offside. That’s not the point of the game is it? Anyway the ‘goal’ was ruled out but nobody could possibly be sure that it was the correct decision. Why do football authorities make the laws / rules of the game more complex than they need to be?

If it was changed so that only the final 18 yards would count for offside there would be less controversy, but it could still exist. So let’s go further. Instead of looking for any part of the body that can legally play the ball being a fraction offside let’s go back to the theory of giving the advantage to the attacker. If any part of the attacker’s body is in line with any part of the defender’s body then it is not offside. We would still have some controversial decisions but the numbers of them would be reduced.

My second bugbear, and once again I have written about this before is handball. Thanks to TV we all saw a Liverpool defender handle the ball in his own penalty area, not once but possibly twice in the same movement. The current rule suggests that it is not handball if a player puts his hand down as he falls and then touches the ball with it. But was this the case here? I’m not so sure. Surely the referee couldn’t be sure at full speed. A definite case for VAR to refer him to take another look with the camera angles available. We are all biased as fans and want decisions to go the way of our team. On TV, Peter Crouch, whilst admitting he had a foot in the Liverpool camp, said that he would have been disappointed to not get the award of the penalty if this had been a West Ham player handling the ball. The referee may not have changed his mind if he had looked at the screen but surely he should have been advised to look?

Controversies such as these happen every week and we will never eliminate them entirely. But surely we must look at ways to try to minimise the numbers. The argument goes that they even themselves out over the course of a season. I wonder if any studies have been done to compare controversial decisions and which way they go according to the size of club involved? Perhaps it is just my imagination but it seems to me that bigger clubs seem to benefit more than smaller ones? Earlier this season Brighton lost a game 2-1 to Tottenham with at least four decisions that all went against Brighton, for which the refereeing authorities have apologised. But there is no question in my mind that Brighton should have at least three more points and Tottenham three fewer. That could make all the difference in respect of qualifying for Europe next season.

If Bowen’s goal was incorrectly ruled out and we had been awarded a penalty late in the game then we might have one or perhaps three more points than we have now. We are still not mathematically safe from relegation. We could in theory go down as a result of bad decisions in the Liverpool game (we won’t, trust me – but we could!).      

Who will go down this season? It’s still a tough question to answer, but it’s getting clearer as the weeks go by. A few weeks ago, today’s opponents Palace were in the mix and they decided to dispense with Patrick Vieira and replace him with the oldest manager around who had decided to give up managing last season. But Roy Hodgson taking over once again at Selhurst Park has taken the Eagles out of the equation and they are now safe.

I quoted the Opta Supercomputer prior to last weekend’s matches; their figures for percentage chances of relegation at that time were:

Southampton 93.6%, Everton 74.0%, Leeds 46.7%, Forest 46.3%, Leicester 34.3%, West Ham 2.1%, Bournemouth 1.6%, Wolves 0.5%

One week and two games later the figures have changed to:

Southampton 97.6%, Forest 74.4%, Everton 57.8%, Leicester 46.4%, Leeds 23.5%, Bournemouth 0.5%, West Ham 0.4%

Wolves have now disappeared from the figures and both Bournemouth and West Ham are as good as safe. In my article prior to the Bournemouth game I wrote “It’s any three from five now – Southampton, Leicester, Forest, Everton and Leeds. It can still change of course, but I’ll stick with that.”

There seems little reason to change my view now. Bournemouth have won four of their last six matches and we have won three, with twelve and ten points respectively. The bottom five have all won just once (Leeds, Forest and Leicester all with 4 points from those six games), or not at all (Everton, 3 draws and Southampton, 2 draws). If they didn’t improve their points tally per game (they all have 5 to play) then none of the five would overhaul West Ham even if we didn’t collect another point. One or two might raise their game and do better but I doubt that three of them will. We have six games to play and I suspect we need perhaps another win to be sure, but I’m hoping for better than that.

I reckon our manager will once again start with the same eleven, although personally I’d like to see a change of goalkeeper. I was disappointed with the goals we conceded in the week with a lack of closing down for the first and, despite it being a good shot, disappointment that Fabianski was beaten from that distance. And it’s always disappointing to concede a headed goal direct from a corner. What happened to the marking? Paqueta’s goal must be a contender for our goal of the season for the team move and superb powerful shot.

Palace are one of the teams that we can overtake to improve our final league position this season; in fact we would go above them if we win this game. They have ten points like ourselves from their last six games – there are only six teams in the Premier League who can better that haul from their last half a dozen games.

We have a good recent record visiting Selhurst Park, only losing once in the past eight visits there and winning five times. We haven’t lost two games in a row in this calendar year (yet), and David Moyes has won as manager in five out of five visits to Palace. This is Palace’s sixth home London derby of the season and so far they have only picked up one point. If we can keep a clean sheet it would be the first time we have done so in three consecutive away Premier League matches for more than nine years apparently. Despite their resurgence under Hodgson, Palace have only won one of their past nine home league games. With all these statistics you’d think we’d be well placed for another three points today. But it doesn’t necessarily work out like that, does it?

I have good memories of my first visit to see West Ham at Palace. I visited Selhurst Park to see West Ham play there in October 1971 and we won the game 3-0 with goals from Clyde Best, Billy Bonds and Ade Coker. It came after an improved run of form that season where we didn’t manage to score a goal in our first four games and were bottom of the league, and then only lost once in the next 16 games (in all competitions) to climb into a mid-table position.

After winning 4-0 in our last away game at Bournemouth, and 1-0 at Fulham in the away game before that, can we win and keep a clean sheet for the third match in a row? Of course we can!  

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!

Mid-term report as West Ham make a trip to the Palace

If the season had gone to plan with no postponements due to COVID then Boxing Day should have signalled the mid-point of the Premier League season. However the fixture at home to Norwich on 18 December was called off, so we didn’t complete our 19th game of the 38 match season until last Tuesday when we comprehensively beat (what I thought was) a poor Watford team by four goals to one, our third win by that score in the first half of the season.

Normally one would expect that in the first half of the season a team would play against all the other 19 teams first and then play the reverse fixtures in the final 19 games. This season that hasn’t happened, partly because of the postponement of the Norwich game, but also because the fixtures scheduler arranged for us to play against Southampton twice before we faced Watford. I’m not sure of the reasoning behind this (perhaps something to do with Christmas?) but the fairest way for a season to be arranged is surely to play all 19 opponents first and then start again with the reverse 19 matches. In years gone by it wasn’t always the case, but in recent seasons it has. In any event we have reached the halfway stage having played nine games at home and ten away, though we have yet to face two games against bottom club Norwich.

We enter 2022 in a very creditable fifth place in the table, although two teams below us could go above us if they won games in hand (Tottenham and Manchester United). Nevertheless with the injuries that have piled up in key positions in the past month, most of us would have been more than happy to have reached the mid-point of the season where we are.

On the basis of league table positions alone, we have faced much tougher fixtures at home than when on our travels. The nine teams we have played at the London Stadium are currently in the following positions in the league (2,3,6,7,9,10,11,13,14) which has an average of 8th. Ironically we have managed famous victories against four of the five highest placed visitors, but on the other hand have failed to beat the four lowest placed teams with draws against those in 10th and 11th, and home defeats against those in 13th and 14th. Our home record is therefore 4 wins, 2 draws and 3 defeats.

Our travels have taken us generally to teams lower in the league at this stage (1,4,8,12,13,15,16,17,18,19) which has an average of 12th. We have lost the 3 games against the teams in the top half, but are unbeaten against the 7 teams we have faced from the bottom half of the table (5 wins and 2 draws). Our overall away record is therefore 5 wins, 2 draws and 3 defeats.

Of course the second half of the season will be in reverse with tougher fixtures away from home and easier games at home based upon the current standings. Of the remaining 10 games at home, 6 of them are against the current bottom 6 teams, and only Manchester City and Arsenal are from the top 7. What we must do is match last season’s performances against the weaker teams. I would like to think that we could win up to 8 of these games, and then it would depend upon our performances away from home to see our final finishing position. 31 points from the second half of the season to match the 31 from the opening 19 games would result in 62 points, which is exactly what Tottenham managed last season finishing 7th. We finished 6th of course with 65. So much will depend on the injury situation (particularly in defence positions), whether we can pick up two or three exciting acquisitions in the forthcoming transfer window, winning home games against teams below us in the table, picking up valuable points on our travels, and the unknown effect that COVID might have in the next few months of the season.

Exciting times ahead – my prediction is for 34 points from our remaining 19 games to end the season on 65 points, an exact match of last time, and hopefully a place in the top 6 once again.

Of course I’ve only looked at the league so far, and in a week’s time we will begin our FA Cup campaign at home to Leeds. We have to wait until March for our resumption in the last 16 of the Europa League. I hope that we can go a long way in both of these competitions too. We performed so well in the EFL Cup with very difficult draws, and the loss to Tottenham came at a time when injuries had hit us hard.

Transfer rumours are already underway. I’d like to see a couple of left sided defenders (perhaps a left back and a centre back comfortable on the left) both with pace. For me the pace is important.  And also an out and out goalscorer would be more than useful; in fact a necessity if we are to maintain our challenge on all fronts. Personally I’m happy with the players we have in midfield. I wonder if it will be possible to unearth the players we need in these difficult times? We seem to have a very promising crop of Academy players at the moment, and we can hope that one or more will break through too at the top level.

Which brings me to the game against Palace. First time around the game ended 2-2 at the London Stadium in our third game of the season in August. The impressive loan signing from Chelsea, Gallagher, scored twice as Palace came from behind in that game. They have had a decent start to the season and sit comfortably in mid-table. Their highlight was an unexpected 2-0 win at Manchester City who are once again having an excellent season on top by 8 points at this stage.

Palace are one of the teams where the draws column exceeds both wins and losses. Their figure of 8 draws is equal to Burnley and Newcastle and exceeded by only Brighton and Southampton with 9. They have a decent goalscoring record with 27 goals putting them equal 7th in the Premier League at this stage. They haven’t failed to score at home since being held to a goalless draw against Brentford in August.

I have a feeling that they will struggle when the African Nations Cup comes around in January as a number of key players will be lost to that competition. But that’s in the future and their current form of 7 points from their last 5 games is equivalent to our own.

We are favourites with the bookmakers to win the game at around 13/10, with Palace at 2/1 and the draw about 12/5. A 2-2 draw to match the reverse fixture is around 14/1, but my forecast, a 2-1 Hammers win comes in at around 17/2. These are the games we would love to win to maintain our challenge for the top 6. What are the chances? A Happy New Year to all readers of Under The Hammers; let’s hope for three points for a great start to 2022!