Go West: The FA Cup Fourth Round Tie That Neither Manager May Really Try To Win

When the manager was putting together the storyboard for Season 2 of the David Moyes show, he may well have visualised a few games that would stabilise the perilous league position followed a crowd pleasing run at this year’s FA Cup. Unfortunately, it hasn’t quite gone according to script.

After a run comprising one win, one draw and two defeats in the league, West Ham sit precariously just outside the relegation places – on goal difference only. Perversely what might in other times be seen as the comfort of a game in hand over our relegation rivals, could realistically see the Hammers drop into the bottom three after it is played next Wednesday.  Equally, Moyes boast of an unbeaten home record will have been thoroughly tested by next weekend. The manager’s dilemma then is what permutation from his slow and ageing squad does he send out to face West Bromwich Albion in Saturday’s FA Cup Fourth Round tie? The strongest possible side and risk further fatigue to worn-out limbs or adopt a cautious approach and risk stoking the fires of supporter outrage? Either way, the options are few!

Three weeks into the transfer window and it is still more talk than action at the London Stadium – the return of Darren Randolph being all there is to show from the alleged ‘working all the hours efforts’ to bolster the squad.  I suppose it is typical of the Used Car Salesman approach to running West Ham that no ‘oven ready’ list of new recruits had been drawn up prior to the window opening – despite the desperate position the club finds itself in. For the past two or three years many of us have been banging on about a general lack of pace and athleticism throughout the squad; and specific weaknesses at full back and in central midfield. Any chance that the message has finally got through to those charged with running the club?

Adding to the foolishness of the situation is that two of the most promising academy players (Nathan Holland and Conor Coventry) have already been shipped out on loan to lower league sides. Maybe all well and good for their long term development but they could have played some part in proceedings between now and the end of the month.

Perhaps the most interesting dimension to the weekend’s game is the return of the manager formerly known as Super Slav. Since leaving the Hammers, Bilic had a brief unsuccessful stint at club management in Saudi Arabia before being appointed Head Coach of West Bromwich Albion during the close season. It has been a promising start for him at The Hawthorns, although a recent alarming dip in form (no wins in eight games) has significantly tempered Albion’s billing as runaway promotion certainties. They have been very difficult to beat but have been prone to drawing too many games. The distraction of a cup run may not be the highest of priorities for them right now.

This will be West Ham’s sixth meeting  with Albion in the FA Cup dating back to 1913 when Southern League West Ham beat First Division Albion in a first round second replay at Stamford Bridge. There were further upsets in 1933 and 1980 when the Second Division Hammers eliminated their First Division opponents while Albion were easy winners in 1953 and 2015 – scoring four goals on both occasions. Hammer’s fans with long memories will need no reminding that it was the 1980 victory that launched West Ham on the road to Wembley, and our most recent trophy success. Sadly, there will be very few players with the genuine quality of Parkes, Stewart, Lampard, Bonds, Martin, Devonshire, Brooking, Allen, Cross and Pearson available this time around.

Quite what line-up Moyes will go for, with an eye on two important Premier League games in the following week, is impossible to call. Can old-timers Pablo Zabaleta, Mark Noble and Robert Snodgrass really feature in four games in ten days? If not, who can replace them? We are probably looking at starts for Carlos Sanchez, Albian Ajeti and Fabian Balbuena. Hardly the glamour of the cup! It is no wonder that FA Cup attendances continue to fall when there is no telling just how seriously clubs will be taking the games. I am not expecting too much!

One-nil to the cockney boys!

Forty Years Of Hurt Never Stopped Us Dreaming: Will West Ham Be Up For The Cup This Time Around?

Time to enter HA9 0WS into your GPS system as the Hammers set off on the Road to Wembley from the modest surroundings of the Priestfield Stadium.

The FA Cup 3rd Round marks the final opportunity of the season to generate a sense of optimism. By this midway point, we have a reasonable idea as to how the league placings will pan out and, for most teams, the Cup offers a last chance of true glory. Finishing the season in 10th rather than 14th place in the table may deliver greater financial rewards but that is largely academic to supporters.

Historically, the dream of glory has been a short-lived one at West Ham and, although past performance gives favourable odds for progressing beyond the 3rd Round, it is a less than 40% chance of the Hammers being in the 5th round draw. Reach as far as the semi-finals, however, and the omens are much better.

Looking back at the club’s FA Cup exploits since the 1958/59 season (i.e. when the modern football  era begun in my own mind) this is our elimination record:

3rd Round                  22 times
4th Round                  16 times
5th Round                  9 times
6th Round                  9 times
Semi Final                 1 time
Losing Finalists        1 time
Winners                    3 times

What we have to remember is that for the majority of those 61 seasons West Ham have actually been doing their best to win all FA cup games – the same cannot be said for some of the more recent seasons. Over the years the relative importance placed on the competition by fans and clubs has diverged significantly – and not only at West Ham.  Although the idea of owners ‘instructing’ managers to throw cup games is a ludicrous suggestion, the fact that achieving the highest possible Premier League position is where the managerial bread is buttered is sure to influence thinking and thus, team selection.

I suspect that David Moyes will want to put out a ‘strongish’ today side – if only to keep the fans onside during his second honeymoon. He will face some tricky decisions as he endeavours to steer the side away from the relegation battle with a squad thin in numbers and quality in certain key positions (and then there is that £2 million no-relegation bonus to consider.)  Does he risk Lukasz Fabianski and Sebastien Haller, for whom there is inadequate competent cover, and can Mark Noble and Robert Snodgrass handle another game so soon after their impressive efforts on New Year’s Day? Perhaps a place for one or two young sets of legs from the Under 23s can play a part – Nathan Holland or Connor Coventry, for example. Hopefully, we have seen the very last of Roberto and Carlos Sanchez.

I must confess to knowing next to nothing about Gillingham. They are a mid-table League 1 side – so thankfully nowhere near as good as Oxford United. From their record it appears that they neither score nor concede that many goals. That prising open well organised, packed defences and coping with quick counter attacks are not West Ham core competencies, it leaves plenty to be concerned about – especially if any complacency creeps in or the team are not up for the physical challenge often associated with lower league opposition.

We will be spared the delight of VAR today as it is only in operation at top flight stadiums in the 3rd to 5th rounds of the competition. That all sounds very inconsistent to me. What are the chances of a contentious handball decision in the build up to a Gillingham goal that VAR would have certainly disallowed? At least, if there are any goals, we will be able to celebrate with gay abandon without the fear of virtual intervention. In the absence of a virtual assistant all decisions will be the sole responsibility of Andrew Madley from West Yorkshire.

It is, of course, a serious topic but I can’t help detect a sense of irony that kick-off times this weekend have all been delayed by one minute as part of FA’s mental health awareness campaign. If anything has produced a negative effect on my wellness over the years, it has been following the Hammer’s cup exploits.  Conversely, having experienced three FA cup wins during my supporting career, it is difficult to over-estimate the magnificent ‘high’ that accompanied each one.

This year it will be 40 years since the last of those successes, and 14 since the closest near miss. What are the chances of marking that 40th anniversary with a repeat performance – around 40/1 according to the bookmakers!

As a Premier League club, we really should be expected to overcome League 1 opposition – but shock results are part and parcel of the Cup’s attraction. Several top-flight clubs have already gone out to lower league opponents and we don’t need to be joining them. This is not going to be an easy game and the attitude must be right to back up the obvious superior technique. Everyone in claret and blue will need to graft – there is no room for lightweights in this type of fixture. With the correct preparation I fully expect to see our name alongside ball number 29 when the 4th round draw takes place on Monday evening.

Minnows and Banana Skins

A look back as West Ham battle it out with non-league opposition.

FA CupNever mind the largely predictable World Cup qualifiers, today also sees the arrival of the First Qualification Round of The (Emirates) Football Association Challenge Cup. Still packed with romance for the clubs at the lower end of the football pyramid, dreams of Wembley, or at least a Third Round meeting with a Premier League team, will be at the back of many a non-league player’s mind as they rub in the pre-match White Horse Oil this afternoon. The big question up and down the country is can the ‘minnows’ from Ashby Ivanhoe, Brimscombe & Thrupp or Sporting Bengal United find their way into the bag along with the big boys next January?

Littered in West Ham’s FA Cup history have been numerous ‘potential banana skins’ with sadly far too many of them turning out to be real. The litany of tame surrender to lower league teams includes defeats by Tranmere, Torquay, Newport. Plymouth, Hereford, Wrexham, Grimsby and Mansfield (if you were to include League Cup defeats then you have a list longer than a James Collins clearance!).

To date, however, we have yet to suffer the embarrassment of defeat to a non-league side and here we look back at our unconvincing yet ultimately successful encounters with clubs from outside the top 4 divisions.

FA Cup 1971/ 72 4th Round (Southern League Premier Division v First Division)
9 February 1972 Hereford United 0 v 0 West Ham United
14 February 1972 West Ham United 3 v 1 Hereford United

Hereford were fresh from dispatching First Division Newcastle United in the Third Round. Following a creditable 2-2 draw at St. James Park they won the replay 2-1 in the Herefordshire mud with a spectacular Ronnie Radford goal that still gets shown on FA Cup specials now. I can’t tell you much about the first game at Hereford’s Edgar Street ground other than it ended goalless. Jeff Powell in the Daily Mail wrote: “‘Hereford blew a rich, ripe, agricultural raspberry at West Ham and all the football they represent. Colin Addison’s part-timers reduced West Ham to a rabble, scrambling to prevent Hereford’s historic FA Cup run escalating into the sensation of our time.”

Five days later the teams met again at Upton Park. Due to an industrial dispute involving power workers (or it may have miners) the game kicked off at 2:15 on a Monday afternoon – Hereford’s players having to take a day off work to play. I can remember bunking off school to watch and many others had a similar idea with over 42,000 crammed into the Boleyn Ground that day. The opening exchanges were evenly contested with both sides going close but a Geoff Hurst goal just before half time served to settle the nerves. After the break, Hurst notched two more before Hereford scored a late consolation goal through Billy Meadows. Hereford winger Dudley Tyler later joined West Ham for a then non-league transfer record of £25,000.

West Ham who had played the same eleven in both 1972 games against Hereford went on to lose 4-2 away to Huddersfield Town in the 5th round.

Ferguson, McDowell, Lampard, Bonds, Taylor, Moore, Redknapp, Best, Hurst, Brooking, Robson

Hereford exacted their revenge two seasons later beating us 2-1 at their ground after a 1-1 draw at Upton Park; but by then had been elected to the Football League.

FA Cup 1991/ 92 3rd Round (Football Conference v First Division)
4 January 1992 Farnborough Town 1 v 1 West Ham United
14 January 1992 West Ham United 1 v 0 Farnborough Town

Farnborough Town beat Torquay United in a 2nd Round replay to set up a home tie against West Ham. As Farnborough’s stadium had a capacity of less than 2,500 they agreed to switch the game to Upton Park. West Ham were struggling at the bottom of the First Division (and would ultimately be relegated in last place) and so this was as slippery as banana skin’s came. Farnborough were able to match West Ham in an evenly contested affair with few chances at either end. Just after the hour though Mike Small laid the ball back to Julian Dicks who rifled home right footed from just inside the area. Cue the customary defensive panic as Farnborough strived for an equaliser which eventually came when a goal bound shot was handled on the line by Dicks. Miklosko almost saved the resultant penalty from Dean Coney but the ball squirmed across the line to force a replay.

Miklosko, Breacker, Dicks, Gale, Potts (Morley), Thomas, Bishop, McAvennie, Small, Keen, Slater

With home advantage (!) for the replay and Kenny Brown drafted into the midfield West Ham were far more dominant in the second game. Apart from some early Farnborough chances it was mainly West Ham pressure with corner after corner but with few clear cut goalscoring opportunities. With the game looking to drift into extra time the Farnborough keeper flapped at yet another cross only for the ball to cannon of a defender and set up a simple chance for Trevor Morley to net the winner; to the palpable relief of the Upton Park crowd.

Miklosko, Breacker, Dicks, Gale, Foster, Thomas, Bishop, McAvennie, Brown, Morley, Slater

After seeing off 4th Division Wrexham, following a replay in the next round, the Hammers went out as 5th round losers to 2nd Division Sunderland – the eventual losing finalists.