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!