A remarkable two years as we look back on West Ham’s progress in that time.

Tonight West Ham face Southampton in the fifth round of the FA Cup hoping to take another step towards winning a trophy

It has been quite an amazing couple of years for West Ham. Just two years ago as coronavirus (we didn’t call it COVID 19 then I don’t think) was beginning to attract more attention and we were all washing our hands more regularly (no lockdown or social distancing at that early stage) there we were battling relegation. We had already been dumped out of the FA Cup by Championship side West Brom, as well as on the end of a 4-0 thrashing in the EFL Cup by lowly Oxford United.

Our last home game before the (2019-20) season was suspended on 13th March was on 29th February 2020 was against Southampton, almost two years to the day before we meet them again in the fifth round of the FA Cup this evening. We beat them 3-1 that day, climbing out of the bottom three in the process, and rising to 16th in the league. We only played once more (a 1-0 defeat at Arsenal) before the season resumed on the 19th June (we lost to Wolves on that day too).

On that Leap Year’s Day two years ago, Jarrod Bowen put us in front, scoring his first Premier League goal on his full debut when he lifted the ball over McCarthy in the Saints goal from Pablo Fornals’ fine through ball. Southampton equalised with a goal from Obafemi but we restored our lead before half-time when Sebastien Haller beat McCarthy to Antonio’s cross that hung in the air and scored from close range. Antonio then increased our lead to 3-1 early in the second half, gathering Fornals’ pass and sliding the ball past McCarthy. It was our first win in eight matches. As we sat in the cold February sunshine little did we realise how long it would be before we could return to the London Stadium to see our team again. In front of empty stadiums we picked up 12 points from our final seven games to avoid relegation.

Football continued to be played in front of empty stadiums in 2020-21 and after losing our opening two games, we began to see a new West Ham. By 27 February 2021 (just one year ago) we had only lost a handful of games and sat proudly in 4th place in the Premier League table. I was one of the lucky ones in the ballot to be among the crowd of 10,000 to witness our final home game of the season when we comfortably beat Southampton 3-0, Pablo Fornals once again having a big influence on the game, scoring twice in the first half before Declan Rice wrapped up the scoring late in the game. That meant we finished 6th at the season’s end, narrowly missing out on the top four but qualifying for a place in the Europa League.

Fast forward another year and we sit in fifth place in the Premier League with just eleven games of the league season to go. We are also in the Europa League knockout stages, where we have been paired with La Liga side Sevilla, as well as the Fifth Round of the FA Cup tonight. What a transformation in just two years! None of us can honestly say we saw this coming when we went into lockdown two years ago.

It will not be easy for us tonight. Southampton have been in excellent form lately, and their 11 points from their last 5 league games is bettered by only two teams (Liverpool with 15, and Newcastle with 13). In fact they have only lost once in their last ten league games (3-1 at Wolves), a run (5 wins and 4 draws) which has seen them climb from 16th (just above the relegation places) to 9th, sitting vary comfortably in mid-table.

They needed extra time to knock out both Swansea and Coventry in the last two rounds, but now we’ve reached the stage where the winners of this tie will progress into the last eight, I would expect both teams to field close to first choice sides. They certainly should because at this stage we are only three wins away from a place in the FA Cup final and the chance to lift a trophy. Of course we remember the last round very well, only just surviving to get past Kidderminster thanks in the main to Declan Rice.

Ron Greenwood Taking Home The FA Cup in 1964. Will This Be David Moyes in 2022?

Southampton’s fine recent form sees them installed as favourites to win the tie by the bookmakers at around 13/10. The odds on a West Ham win are around 2/1 with 12/5 on a draw in 90 minutes. Betting on cup games is always a precarious business as you can never be sure how strong the teams will be. You’d like to think that being this close to a Wembley final would mean that teams are at full strength but that is not always the case.

In the next 19 days, starting with tonight’s last 16 game at Southampton we will play 6 matches, including home and away ties against Sevilla in the Europa League last 16, as well as three league games with visits to Anfield and White Hart Lane plus a home game against Aston Villa.

I wonder where we’ll be in three weeks’ time? We could be in the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup and the Europa League and still challenging towards the top of the Premier League. Or perhaps we might only have eight league games left of our season having gone out of both cups? Or perhaps even somewhere in between?

With the relatively thin squad available to choose from it is remarkable that we are where we are considering where we were looking back to just two years ago. But whatever happens in the next two weeks and then in the final weeks of the season it is interesting to hear David Moyes’ thoughts. At the Press Conference prior to tonight’s game these are some of his quotes:

“Every manager wants to win a trophy.” “We’re on a good track but the next couple of years will be an important time. We’re trying to build a team that’s getting stronger.” “I look more at how we’re going to continue to try to build the club and keep getting closer to winning trophies.” “We’ve made a swift move towards the top end of the Premier League. We’re involved in Europe, had a decent run in the Carabao Cup and we’re trying to get a good run in the FA Cup if we can as well”

Well done David Moyes and his coaching team. What a fantastic turnaround in our fortunes in just two years.

The lowest ranked club, Kidderminster Harriers, face one of the highest ranked teams, West Ham in a televised Round Four FA Cup tie

In my article previewing the FA Cup Third Round tie against Leeds last month I wrote a brief history of West Ham in the FA Cup covering the last 60 years. It didn’t make for particularly good reading apart from the three occasions when we lifted the trophy or reached the final and the odd season when we went some distance before falling to a top-flight opponent. There have been far too many occasions when we have been eliminated from the competition by teams from a lower division or even by sides from our own division who were performing poorly in the league and about to be relegated that season. And that is exactly why we were prime candidates for a TV slot this weekend.

We breezed past Leeds into the fourth round relatively comfortably but were unable to repeat the feat in the Premier League game at the London Stadium seven days later. The draw for Round Four has paired us with the lowest ranked club still left in the competition, Kidderminster Harriers, and a trip to the West Midlands where the average crowd of under 2000 will be increased four-fold for a visit from a team challenging at the top of the Premier League.

Our opponents are currently in the sixth tier of the English football pyramid and play at the Aggborough Stadium in the (Vanarama) National League North. They are currently enjoying an excellent season and sit in third place in their table just four points off the top and well placed to challenge for promotion into the (Vanarama) National League, which is the level immediately below the Football League. They attracted over 5000 spectators to their third round tie where they disposed of Championship side Reading.

They haven’t always been a non-league side; they won the Conference (as the National League was called previously) in 1999/2000 with Jan Molby (remember him from Liverpool?) as their manager and were promoted into the Football League where they remained for five seasons. Their highest finishing position was tenth in 2001/02, but they were relegated from the League three seasons later and have never returned, falling still further in the pyramid following relegation in 2015/16. They have reached the play-offs twice since then but didn’t manage to achieve promotion either time.

If you are old enough you’ll remember that we have faced them before in the FA Cup when they had their best ever run in the competition. It was Round Five in 1993/4 when we travelled to Worcestershire and came away with a 1-0 win. We then went out to (lower league side) Luton after a replay in the Quarter Final!

Kidderminster were a formidable non-league side at the time and were crowned the Conference champions that season. However they were denied a place in the Football League due to the Aggborough Stadium facilities being deemed not up to the standard required. After being champions again six years later they did successfully go up.

In that Round Five tie 28 years ago we scraped through thanks to a Lee Chapman header around 20 minutes from the end of the game. The West Ham line-up that day was Miklosko; Breacker, Potts, Martin, Rowland; (Martin) Allen, Bishop, Holmes, Marsh; Chapman, (Clive) Allen (sub Morley). After a poor start to that season our fortunes improved after Julian Dicks joined Liverpool in September in a swap deal that involved full back David Burrows and midfielder Mike Marsh coming to West Ham. To add more forward power Lee Chapman was bought from Portsmouth. It was a very different Premier League at the time with Blackburn, Newcastle, Leeds, Wimbledon, Sheffield Wednesday, QPR, Coventry and Norwich all finishing higher in the table than our 13th, with Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City all below us.

Of course none of our new recruits from this transfer window will be appearing because we didn’t sign anybody! My colleague Geoff covered our failure to improve the squad very clearly in his recent article. The FA Cup competition is almost certainly our best chance of winning a trophy this season so I hope that the manager puts out a strong side and takes it more than seriously. A lot of negative things have been written about West Ham in this transfer window and failure to beat Kidderminster will increase the levels of disappointment amongst the fans for a season that was going so well. But I’m sure we’ll be fine. We are not the West Ham of old and I’m confident that we’ll overcome our National League opponents comfortably and our ball will be in the cloth bag when the draw is made for Round Five.     

From Botched Transfer Slip Ups To Tricky FA Cup Banana Skin: West Ham Visit Kidderminster Harriers

With the fan furore following a disastrous transfer window fresh in the memory, West Ham will want to avoid further mishap as they visit non-league Kidderminster in the FA Cup

The extraordinary failure by West Ham to complete any business in the January transfer window has continued to reverberate among Hammers supporters since Monday’s deadline. Even allowing for years of bitter disappointment and the slippery nature of our owners, many of us were left incredulous that no much needed reinforcements to the threadbare London Stadium squad would be arriving.

Without any official explanation of what happened during those 31 days of January it was left to guesswork and supposition to fill the information vacuum. A litany of claims, theories, and hard-luck stories about time running out. I was very disappointed in David Moyes puff PR video on the official site where the manager trotted out the perennial ‘we tried our best, it’s a difficult window, everybody worked very hard’ mantra. I have always considered Moyes to be a decent, straightforward and honest chap who is above such corporate whitewash. While I hadn’t expected him to rage against the owners (as a Mourinho or Conte might have done) – he is far too diplomatic for that – he shouldn’t be the one making excuses on their behalf. His praise for the support received from the Board felt way over the top.

Moyes Declares Peace In Our Time Following Meeting With Herr Sullivan

The three probable record bids that are being talked about are likely nothing more than a smokescreen. If bids are made too late, are just enquiries, or set well below valuations, they may as well have never happened. I have read ‘reports’ that there was a real bid submitted for Darwin Nunez but too many people were involved to get it completed in time. Really? With the player away in Uruguay and all the agents who are known to be party to any deal, it came as a surprise that it couldn’t be completed in three hours?

I can accept that the nature of the January window means that most deals are completed in the final hours. But that’s not an excuse not to get the groundwork and preparation sorted well in advance.

The worry at the back of my mind is how the ownership conundrum may be impacting the club’s transfer activity. It is widely anticipated that Gold & Sullivan will wave farewell in 2023 once their obligations under the London Stadium deal come to an end. Indeed, it was reported that Daniel Kretinsky already has an agreement in place to buy the remainder of shares at an agreed price once that happens. Does that mean G&S are only going to be interested in essential maintenance between now and then? Is there any incentive for them to invest further or push forward? Although the Kretinsky deal may only be an option, it does cause concern at a time when the club is enjoying its best period on the pitch for several generations.

West Ham return to football action this weekend with a Saturday lunchtime FA Cup kick-off at Kidderminster Harrier’s Aggborough Stadium. On paper, one of the easier ties of the Fourth Round that pits the Hammers against the lowest ranked side left in the competition. In practice it will a difficult test for a club that is no stranger to embarrassing cup upsets.

Kidderminster are enjoying a successful season in the National League North (the sixth tier of English football) where they currently sit in third place. Tomorrow’s tie will be their seventh in this years Cup having already seen off Sporting Khalsa, Ware, Bedfont Sports, Grimsby Town, FC Halifax Town and Reading.

In the 3rd Round the Harriers came from behind to defeat Championship side Reading with an unusual winning goal where a Kidderminster player was sitting on top of the Reading keeper when the ball went in. An old fashioned goalmouth scramble with no VAR available to get Reading out of jail. VAR will again be absent today in a match which must end in a winner, with extra time and penalties if needed.

The only previous meeting between West Ham and Kidderminster was a 5th Round FA Cup tie in February 1994. The match played at a misty, muddy incarnation of Saturday’s venue. The Hammers squeezed through 1-0 thanks to a second half headed goal by Lee Chapman. The line-up that day was: Miklosko, Breacker, Potts, Martin, Rowland, Bishop, M Allen, Marsh, Holmes, Chapman, C Allen (Morley). Imagine having the luxury of three strikers in a Matchday squad of twelve!

Moyes will want to field a strong side for the game. One that will be up for the physical challenge against a highly motivated opponent. However, with Premier League games against Watford on Tuesday and Leicester the following Sunday, some rotation may be necessary.

Michail Antonio is a likely absentee after his international duty in the Americas with Jarrod Bowen taking over striker duties. It was unusual comment from Moyes to suggest that Bowen is the ideal replacement for Antonio as they are very different types of player. The only similarity is that neither is a natural finisher. And Bowen switching to the centre leaves an almighty gap on the right hand side of attacking midfield.

Moyes does have options in midfield where Mark Noble and even Alex Kral (is he considered good enough for this challenge) could allow Declan Rice or Tomas Soucek to be held in reserve. I’m hoping there is a recall for Ben Johnson in defence as it was a mystery why Ryan Fredericks was preferred to him at Old Trafford. I am also hoping that Kurt Zouma plays given that I have lost all confidence in the Craig Dawson/ Issa Diop partnership.

My predicted line-up: Areola, Johnson, Zouma, Dawson, Cresswell, Noble, Rice, Vlasic, Fornals, Benrahma, Bowen     

Despite West Ham’s vulnerability to shock FA Cup exist, they have yet to be eliminated by a non-League side. At least not since they were elected to the League themselves. There have, though, been several squeaky moments. Such as needing two games (both at Upton Park) to get past Farnborough Town in 1992 and the narrowest of victories against Emley in 1998. It is a record that should be extended this weekend. I’m not expecting an easy game but have to believe we have too much quality not to win by at least two goals. Perhaps there might even be an opportunity to see a couple of academy players from the bench rather than the usual tired, predictable substitutions we are usually treated to. COYI!

A Very Brief History of West Ham in the FA Cup in the last 62 years, as Leeds visit the London Stadium today

The Third Round of the FA Cup was one of the great footballing days when I was a boy. But that was some time ago (when I was a boy that is). Of course it was (and still is) the day when the minnows who have battled through the qualifying rounds and the two proper rounds join the teams from the top two tiers hoping to perform a giant killing act. As a West Ham fan for many years I have witnessed plenty of those but unfortunately in the majority of cases we have been on the wrong end of them.

My first FA Cup memory was in season 1958-59. The third round in early January 1959 saw me approaching my fifth birthday. We were riding high in the top half of the table in our first season in Division One following promotion (we eventually finished 6th) whilst Tottenham were languishing near the bottom (eventually finishing 18th). They beat us 2-0. The following season we met Huddersfield of Division 2 and drew the away game in Yorkshire 1-1, taking them back to Upton Park where they thrashed us 5-1! In 1961 (again in Round 3) we drew 2-2 at home to 2nd Division Stoke, and then lost 1-0 in the replay. In 1962 (round 3 yet again), despite being a top half Division One team, we crashed out 3-0 at lowly Plymouth. At this time I’d never known us play an FA Cup game beyond 13th January! After 4 seasons I knew what giant killing was all about. We had been humbled on every occasion by inferior opponents.

But in 1963 we reached the quarter final (disposing of Fulham, Swansea and Everton) before losing 1-0 at Anfield. We were really getting the hang of the FA Cup by now and the following season (aged 10) I witnessed the first of what I expected to be many trophies when we beat Second Division Preston 3-2 to lift the cup. I wasn’t there on that day, but the win took us into Europe and I was at Wembley the following May when we won our second trophy, lifting the European Cup Winners Cup beating Munich 1860 in the final. But in that year we reverted to type in the FA Cup losing 1-0 at Stamford Bridge in Round 4.

In 1966 we lost 4-1 in a 4th round replay to Blackburn (who finished bottom that season), and the following year we got no further than the third round losing 3-1 away at 3rd Division Swindon in a replay. In 1968 we got to round 5 where we lost 2-1 at home to Sheffield United who were relegated that season. In 1969 we had progressed to round 5 before we were unceremoniously dumped out 3-0 by lowly Mansfield, and in 1970, once again in the third round we were beaten by a team from a lower level going down 2-1 at Middlesbrough.

It’s not making great reading so far (1964 excepted) so surely it would only get better you would think. Wrong! 1971 was the year of the famous Blackpool night club incident (Google it if you don’t know the detail) when we went out 4-0 in round 3 to the team who were to finish bottom that season. Huddersfield finished bottom in 1972 but that didn’t stop them knocking us out in the third round (4-2), and in 1973 we went out in round 4 to lowly Hull City. 1974 was no better when we lost to third division Hereford in a third round replay.

But, lo and behold come 1975, and we were once again FA Cup winners beating second division Fulham in the final, thanks to a brace from Alan Taylor in the quarters, semis and final itself. But for the remainder of the 1970s, it was back to despair in the FA Cup losing 2-0 at home to Liverpool (round 3 1976), 3-0 at Aston Villa (round 4 1977), 6-1 (!) at QPR (4th round replay 1978), and (how low can you get!) 2-1 at 4th division Newport County – by now we were a second division side ourselves for the first time since I had started watching in 1958.

Incredibly, as a second division team we battled through to the final in 1980 where we won the FA Cup for the third time beating Division One Arsenal 1-0 with Trevor Brooking’s famous header. And for most (but not all of the next decade) our FA Cup performances were generally better than I had experienced before. In 1981 we lost in a third round second replay to lowly Wrexham (1-0), and in 1982 it was round 4 to another team from a lower division Watford (2-0). In 1983 it was 2-0 at Old Trafford in round 3, but the following year we reached the fifth round before losing 3-0 to (eventually relegated) Birmingham.

For the next two seasons we lost in round 6 to Manchester United and Sheffield Wednesday, and in 1987 it was Wednesday again in a fifth round replay. In 1988 we lost 3-1 to QPR in round 4 and the following year it was a sixth round replay where we went out 3-1 to Norwich. So, a slight improvement in the 1980s?

In 1990 we lost 1-0 in Round 3 to lowly (I keep using that word!) Torquay but the following year we reached the semi-final at Villa Park where thanks mainly to Keith Hackett we were denied a place at Wembley. The following seasons were not too great losing 3-2 at home to Sunderland (round 5 replay 1992), 4-1 to Barnsley (round 4 1993), 3-2 at Luton (round 6 replay 1994), 1-0 at QPR (round 4 1995), 3-0 at Grimsby (!) (round 4 replay 1996), 1-0 at home to Wrexham (!) (round 3 replay 1997), on penalties at home to Arsenal  (round 6 1998), 1-0 at Swansea (round 3 replay 1999).

We have done better in the 21st century (in not being the victims of giant killing!) going out to Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester United (4 times), Manchester City twice), and Arsenal. But there have still been some less than impressive performances losing to Fulham, Sheffield United, Watford, Middlesbrough, Stoke, Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest, West Brom (twice), Wigan, and AFC Wimbledon. The best performance was, of course, in 2006 when we unluckily lost the final in Cardiff to Liverpool on penalties after drawing 3-3 after extra time and conceding the late equaliser in normal time to Steven Gerrard when the ball should have been planted into the stands in the last minute!

Without carrying out a study of every club I am quite confident that we have probably lost in the FA Cup to “lesser” teams (that is those lower than us in the same division or from a lower division) on more occasions than any other team in the top tier of English football. And our record in the League Cup is equally poor. Nonetheless I am confident we will dispose of Leeds on our way to our 4th FA Cup win in 63 years next May. What are the chances?

West Ham’s FA Cup Wilderness Years And The Meaning Of Life: The Answer Is 42

It’s FA Cup weekend as West Ham face Leeds as hopeful fans dust off the claret ribbons and dream of parading along Wembley Way in May

Third round day in the FA Cup has long been one of the most eagerly anticipated dates in the footballing calendar. A day when top tier teams enter the mother of all cup competitions. A chance for lower league sides to pull off a shock win and for those clubs who rarely feature among the honours to dream of finals and silverware.

In its 150-year history, forty-three different clubs have won the FA Cup. Arsenal and Manchester United lead the way with fourteen and twelve wins respectively. West Ham are sixteenth in the list of all time winners with three wins to their name, the same as Sheffield Wednesday and one behind Bolton, Wolverhampton and Sheffield United. Two more wins and we catch up with The Wanderers, who have held the trophy five times.

I have been fortunate enough to attend two victorious Wembley finals (1975 and 1980) and a thrilling but ultimately unsuccessful one in Cardiff (2006). The wins have given meaning to a long and often frustrating West Ham supporting life. The most recent win is forty-two years ago now. It was a wonderfully sunny Saturday in May 1980 when the Hammers triumphed over Arsenal through Trevor Brooking’s early headed goal. It remains the last time a team from outside of the top division won the competition.

In the years since that momentous achievement, West Ham’s record for FA Cup exits is as follows: 3rd round (12 times), 4th round (12), 5th round (7), 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 on one occasion (2016). During those ten years, the Hammers have been eliminated by Manchester United three times and by Manchester City and AFC Wimbledon once each. The Wimbledon defeat one of the regular banana skins that have come the Hammer’s way – Hereford, Grimsby, Torquay, Wrexham and Tranmere among others.

The cup has been increasingly dominated by just 5 big clubs (not you, Tottenham) in recent years. In the Premier League era, only Everton, Portsmouth, Wigan, and Leicester have interrupted that dominance with a single win apiece.  

No chance of a giant-killing this weekend however as West Ham face an all Premier League clash with Leeds United. Although the Hammers record in top tier FA Cup encounters is not impressive, having won just one of their last nineteen.

This is the first time the two teams have met in an FA Cup tie since 1930, when the Hammers ran out 4-1 winners at Upton Park, all four goals scored by Vic Watson. Watson must have enjoyed facing Leeds as the previous season, he had scored six times in an 8-2 first division rampage. What we could achieve with someone like West Ham’s all-time leading scorer in today’s side.

Leeds fans have to go back even further back for an FA Cup final win. Their one and only success being the centenary final, fifty years ago, in 1972 – coincidentally, also a 1-0 win against Arsenal with Allan Clarke netting the only goal.

The big unknown, as ever in modern cup competition, is how the two managers approach the game. How to balance the supporter’s love of a cracking cup run with the demands and rewards of Premier League success. A situation made more intriguing by the fact that the teams meet again in the league next Sunday. An additional challenge for David Moyes being the re-arranged game against Norwich on Wednesday evening.

West Ham will once again be without Kurt Zouma, Angelo Ogbonna and Aaron Cresswell, while Said Benrahma is now away at the AFCON. There will perhaps be starts for Mark Noble, Nikola Vlasic, Alphonse Areola and maybe one or two of the academy hopefuls by way of rotation. Leeds also have a lengthy list of absentees and although Patrick Bamford is close to a return, he is unlikely to be risked in the cup game.

There will be no replays in the 3rd or 4th rounds this season with games going straight to extra time and penalties, if needed. VAR will feature in all games played at Premier League stadiums. The referee is Stuart Atwell while Peter Bankes is at mission control, Stockley Park.

Until the teams are known predicting the outcome is even more of a lottery than normal. I will go for 3-3 after extra time and West Ham to win on penalties. COYI!

Soucek Available as Hammers Bid to Reach FA Cup Quarter Final

If you read newspapers or social media to see what happened when we played at Craven Cottage at the weekend then you wouldn’t have found out very much about the actual football played. The conditions were awful, the rain was bucketing down and the pitch was slowly deteriorating as the game went on. It reminded me of our FA Cup tie at Stockport in many respects. We were playing a side that on form we should be dominating but in many aspects we were second best. Fulham actually play some neat football, but unfortunately they are likely to go down this season because of a lack of a cutting edge in the final third. Either team could have won the game with each of our Czech imports missing headed chances whilst at the other end all the Fulham players seemed to lose composure when a half chance appeared.

The major talking point came as a result of a West Ham free kick with seconds to go, when Lee Mason (on VAR duty at Stockley Park) drew Mike Dean’s attention to the fact that Mitrovic was on the floor, looking like he’d been felled by Mike Tyson, and suggested that he should go and view the incident on the screen at the side of the pitch. After reviewing the footage 23 times (that says enough in itself that it wasn’t clear to him!) he then produced a red card. Cue astonishment all round – it was obvious to anyone who understands the game that it was accidental. There has been about 99% agreement everywhere you view or read that the decision was a wrong one, and fortunately the red card was rescinded on Monday. The only real doubt that this would be the outcome was would the panel want to overturn a second decision by (supposedly) one of the top referees in one week? But common sense won the day (sometimes it doesn’t in football) and Soucek is available to play in tonight’s game. The sad thing is that a (top!?) referee should see an incident in a different way to virtually all other observers.

We face a Manchester United side that are having a good season, lying second in the league with a very good chance of retaining a position in the top four and qualifying for the Champions League. Of course we are sixth ourselves, only one point behind Liverpool (in fourth) and should be harbouring ambitions to achieve a top four place too. But with limited attacking options and little investment from the top of the club to remedy this we are very much outsiders in this respect and that’s why I believe tonight’s game takes on added importance. To achieve a top four league finish would require consistency of performance that may be beyond us with our current squad. Excellent though we have been in so many ways this season, our best chance of glory must realistically be to emulate what we achieved in 1964, 1975 and 1980, and that is of course to win the FA Cup.

Yes, a tough fixture tonight, but if we can come out on top then that would put us into the last eight, just one game away from the semi-final, and two wins away from a final appearance at Wembley. Sitting close to the top of the Premier League, with absolutely no chance of going down with 15 games of the season to go is a position we don’t often find ourselves in, but that is where we are. That is why we should be focussing 100% on putting out our best team and trying to win the FA Cup.

As a fan I know that I’d prefer an appearance in the FA Cup final to a sixth or seventh place finish in the Premier League, which is realistically the best we are likely to achieve. Of course our owners may feel differently and prefer the idea of finishing as high as possible in the league, with an extra £2m in prize money for each incremental position achieved. If players need to be rested at any time then I’d prefer this to be for league games whilst we still have an interest in the cup. Of course I’d like to think we could achieve a top 4 finish and a visit to Wembley for the Cup Final, but that may be too much of an optimistic dream. We definitely have a better chance of winning tonight with Soucek available now, and that one piece of news might help to drive us on to achieve a shock result. It wouldn’t be the biggest shock in the world for the team lying sixth to overcome the team in second place, but the bookmakers have decided that it would be. The Red Devils are 8/13 to win the game, whereas we are 21/5, with the draw around 16/5.

The odds against us winning were even greater twenty years ago on 28 January 2001 when we went to Old Trafford to face them in Round 4 of the FA Cup, but that didn’t stop Paolo Di Canio beating the offside trap to put the ball past the raised hand of Barthez which culminated in a famous 1-0 victory.

MUNWHU1The odds against us winning were even greater twenty years ago on 28 January 2001 when we went to Old Trafford to face them in Round 4 of the FA Cup, but that didn’t stop Paolo Di Canio beating the offside trap to put the ball past the raised hand of Barthez which culminated in a famous 1-0 victory.

I’m also old enough to remember an even more famous win against them in the semi-final of the cup in 1964, on our way to winning the trophy. We faced them the week before the semi-final in a league game at Upton Park. They beat us 2-0 despite resting most of their first team, including the trio of Best, Law and Charlton, whilst we had our first choice team playing. The following Saturday at Hillsborough we lined up with the same XI whereas they brought back their top guns expecting an easy victory.

That season Manchester United finished second in the league whereas we were a lowly 14th. But that didn’t stop us progressing to Wembley comfortably in that one-off game with two goals from Ronnie Boyce (seen being chased by fellow team members after scoring one of the goals in the semi-final) and another from Geoff Hurst. Boyce only scored 29 goals in 341 appearances for us but he knew about scoring important ones, as he also headed the winning goal in the final minute of the Final when we defeated Preston 3-2.

My prediction for tonight (optimistic hat on as usual) is for the game to end 1-1 after 90 minutes, 2-2 after extra time, and then for us to win 4-3 on penalties (despite our lack of penalty practice this season!). What are the chances?

Season In The Sun: West Ham Craving Joy And Fun Of FA Cup Success

Dust down those claret ribbons as Hammers plan to head all guns blazing towards first silverware for over forty years

I’m not sure I like the idea of knowing the next round’s cup opponents before the previous one has been played. It removes a layer of excitement and spontaneity from the equation. Still, it is was it is, and the Hammers have been given a fourth-round tie against Doncaster, which they are expected to win, followed by a fifth-round visit to either Manchester United or Liverpool, where history provides far less room for optimism.

Not that they should fear anyone in their current mood, particularly in a season characterised by a peculiar levelling-up (or is it a levelling-down) in the Premier League. At the halfway stage, West Ham join with Leicester, Everton and Southampton as would-be usurpers, threatening to break the traditional stranglehold of the rich six – at least for the European places, if not the title itself.

Seasons in the sun are rare at West Ham and, where they have occurred, have come in the form of sunny spells rather than prolonged periods of cloudless blue skies. A cluster of cup wins in the 60’s, the excellent side of 1980-82, the boys of 86. All good times but far too short-lived. The most recent good in parts season was 2015/16, where the emotional departure from the Boleyn was married with the match-winning genius of Dimitri Payet. Even then, it was as good as it promised and how quickly it all fell apart afterwards.

At this season’s midpoint, the Hammers have amassed their best ever return of Premier League – what might have been possible with even half of Leicester’s ten penalties? It does feel like an over-achievement, though – but the players and coaches should all give themselves a huge pat on the back, as is appropriate in these socially distanced times. But where does it go from here?  It would seem impossible to maintain the same momentum through the second half of the season with such a small squad of players. Despite all the noise in the media, I’m not picking up any positive vibes about reinforcements coming in – at least the type who can make a difference. The dark clouds of boardroom incompetence may soon be casting their unwelcome shadows over us.

Back to today and it is the magic of FA Cup action at the London Stadium courtesy of a visit from Doncaster Rovers, currently among the frontrunners in League 1 under the management of Darren Moore – but having recently sold arguably their best player, midfielder Ben Whiteman, to Preston North End.

It is completely unfair on my part, but I always think of Doncaster as one of a group of anonymous teams from the lower leagues (like Rochdale, Scunthorpe, Lincoln or Rotherham) who might occasionally get the odd season in the second tier but are more at home bouncing between leagues one and two. As we know for experience, though, that is no barrier to giving the Hammers a very hard time of it in cup games.

Fans of football trivia might be interested to know of Rovers’ claim to fame as one of the teams involved in the world’s longest ever football match – a Division Three North cup replay in 1946 which lasted a grand total of 203 minutes. Coincidently, their opponents that day were Stockport County, who, of course, West Ham defeated in the previous round of this year’s cup.  The Stockport-Doncaster game had been locked at 2-2 after ninety minutes, and followed by a scoreless extra time period of 30 minutes. No penalty shoot-outs back then and the match then entered a ‘next goal’s the winner’ phase. However, there was no further scoring and when the sun went down the game was called off due it being too dark to continue. Doncaster eventually won the second replay 4-0.

The only player I know of who has served both West Ham and Doncaster is Rufus Brevet. Brevet played over 100 times for Rovers at the start of his career before finding his way to East London, via QPR and Fulham. He made 28 appearances for the Hammers (scoring once) between 2003 and 2005.

David Moyes has committed to playing a strong side in the Cup and has said that he wants to win it for Mark Noble. That sounds like it means another start for Michail Antonio (in the absence of there being any other striker available) although fringe players such as Noble, Andriy Yarmolenko, Fabian Balbuena, Issa Diop, Ryan Fredericks and Ben Johnson might be in line for a start.

Lifting the cup at Wembley would be a fitting climax to Noble’s career, but I can only see it working if he comes on as a late substitute in the final. Teams start to take the cup a lot more seriously from the sixth round onwards – moving closer to their strongest elevens.

Maybe having to play Manchester United or Liverpool in the fifth round isn’t as bad as it might sound, their minds are likely to be engaged elsewhere on league titles and European competition.  Strangely, they will be more concerned about not losing to each other than will about West Ham.

To set up a trip to the north-west, though, we must first see off Doncaster. I would be lying if I said I knew anything about the way they play, but if Whoscored can be relied upon, they are a passing team, good at through balls, favour attacking down the right, take their chances, are proficient at holding onto a lead and at coming back from losing positions. Weaknesses are aerial duels and conceding free-kicks in dangerous positions.

I have to believe that West Ham will win this game, but they will be hoping to achieve it without extending themselves unnecessarily – there are just so many important games on the horizon, starting with a trip to Palace on Tuesday. West Ham to score one or two headed goals and clinch that fifth round trip to the north-west. COYI!

The last 16 of the FA Cup beckons for the Hammers

Doncaster Rovers stand in the way of a fifth round tie at Anfield or Old Trafford

It was a bit like the London bus story. I waited a long time to get a score prediction correct in a West Ham game this season, and then two came along together. I didn’t think the West Brom game would be as straightforward as some were predicting, but without reaching the heights we were good enough to win. It’s the sign of a decent side to win games when not at our best and there have been a few like that recently. But Moyes and the coaching staff seem to have improved the fitness levels of the players, and made us a very hard team to beat, by not easily conceding goals. The Pereira shot was the one defensive blemish in five games, which is so unlike the West Ham we are used to watching.

The final whistle in Tuesday’s game meant that the halfway point in the season was reached with 32 points from 19 games, which must be some sort of record in modern times, certainly as far as in the 25 seasons we have been in the Premier League. The equivalent 19 matches in the last campaign yielded 20 points, so we are 12 up at this point. The 19 league games to come brought 19 points last season, so I wonder if we can improve on that by another 12 points, which would take us up to 63 by the end. That’s exactly what it would take to set a new points record for the club in the Premier League. 63 points last season would have resulted in a fifth placed finish. It’s a big ask, but I’m sure our performances can improve further.

With DON3relegation now a virtual impossibility, will the club just want to push on and attain as high a league position as possible, or will we be making more of an attempt to land a trophy, namely the FA Cup? Looked at from a purely financial viewpoint, each incremental finishing position in the Premier League is worth around £2 million more than the position below it in prize money. The team that wins the FA Cup receives prize money of £1.8 million. It is easy to see why the owners of clubs are more interested in league positions than winning cups.

But it need not be like that. We should be aiming for the double. That is not to say that we are going to win the Premier League, but we should be aiming for as high a finish as possible, whilst at the same time trying our utmost to win the FA Cup. Ask the fans what they would prefer, a visit to Wembley or finishing sixth in the league? OK, so the current pandemic will probably mean that fans will not be at the final, but we’d surely like to win the cup, something we haven’t done for 41 years, wouldn’t we? I know I would.

DON2A place in the fifth round is certainly within our grasp, and that would be followed by a difficult (but not impossible to win) tie at Anfield or Old Trafford. Winning that would put us in the last eight and anything could happen from there. Just two more wins to reach the final and three to win the trophy. Perhaps I’m an optimist, but that should surely be our ambition? An excerpt from today’s match programme shows that Declan Rice agrees with me.

DON1Our opponents today are flying high in League One (4th), just three points from the top and will themselves be aiming for promotion to the Championship. They have won four of their last five league games, so they are in good form. But so are we. We are unbeaten in our last five league games and have collected eleven points in those. Let’s hope that we don’t underestimate lower league opposition as we have done so frequently in the past.

Historically Doncaster have beaten us on more occasions than we have won the encounters. I was at Upton Park the last time we met them in a Championship game in 2012. The game ended 1-1 with Kevin Nolan scoring our goal. Nolan also scored the goal that earned us a 1-0 win earlier that season. The campaign ended well as we were promoted via the play-offs, whilst Doncaster finished bottom and were relegated to League One.

What will happen today? Can we expect another tight affair, as has been the case in our recent games? Can we keep another clean sheet? I’m going for a hat-trick of correct score predictions and looking for a 2-0 win, and a place in Round Five. What are the chances?

A Stockport State Of Mind: Hammers Attitude Key to Avoiding Hatter’s Horror

A tricky Monday night trip to the frozen north sees West Ham needing to overcome the Hatters to stay in the hat

It’s FA Cup time again and even though finding enthusiasm the competition each year gets a little harder it retains a special place in the hearts and minds of many supporters. I have had the good fortune to attend three FA Cup finals (and one League Cup final) and the experience of a day out of Wembley is difficult to beat – although one of mine was in Cardiff. It would be a great shame if the current generation of Hammer’s supporters never got to enjoy one – even if it means watching it an empty stadium.

Once it was the greatest event on the domestic sporting calendar, that left the streets eerily quiet as 20 million or more settled down to seven hours of coverage with Frank or Des on Grandstand. A time when you crowded around a transistor radio on Monday afternoon just to be among the first to hear the draw for the next round. Much of that excitement is lost forever.

For clubs like West Ham, though, the Cup is surely one of the best chances of bagging some  silverware. With a favourable draw, winning six games in a row is not an impossible dream. Why then do managers not give the competition the same respect that the fans demand? Is it better to have ‘Finished 9th’ on the managerial CV than ‘FA Cup Winners 2020/21’?

The irony is that it was the big clubs with European obligations who started the trend of fielding weakened teams in the Cup. For reasons unknown, everyone else followed suit as if your managerial standing was diminished by fielding your strongest side. That the top sides had far better reserves to call on seems not to have registered, but the records show that five of the big six (not you, Tottenham) have won 25 of the 28 finals since the start of the Premier League.

If there is any romance left in the Cup it is generally to be found in the 3rd round, where non-league clubs, like today’s opponents, Stockport County, get the opportunity to go toe to toe with the big boys. It is their day and they really have nothing to lose. Jim ‘The Giant Killer’ Gannon will have no problems in motivating his players for a game that might be the highlight of their careers. The question is, will the new found spirit and determination in David Moyes side survive the expected onslaught on a cold winter’s night in Greater Manchester?

As far as I know, despite being on the receiving end of many giant-killing shocks, the Hammers have never lost to a non-league side in the FA Cup – although, it has been a close call on several occasions as I discussed in this post from a few years ago.

Although Stockport are now plying their trade in the National League they have a long history within the Football League pyramid. Originally elected to the league in 1900 they experienced their first ever relegation to non-league in 2011, from which they are now striving to return. Off the top of my head I wasn’t aware of their Hatters nickname – a reference to the town’s hat-making industry.

Since West Ham’s victory at Everton, the already thin squad has become even thinner with the departures of Sebastien Haller and Robert Snodgrass. Haller made his debut from the bench for Ajax last night, while Snodgrass has gone off to face certain relegation under Fat Sam at the Hawthorns. Good luck to them both.

The internet is once again awash with transfer speculation, from the fanciful to the farcical. I doubt whether many of those linked so far would actually qualify under the new visa regulations, which will make picking up bargains from minor European leagues far more difficult in the future. If there is any activity it will typically be a last minute cliff-hanger as Sullivan makes a desperate dive through the closing window with a bunch of IOUs. This leaves our slender hopes of progression even more in the hands of Michail Antonio’s hamstrings. West Ham: the original one-horse club – as already extravagant noises are being made about the possibility of deploying Andriy Yarmolenko or Said Benrahma as a false nine.

Moyes has stated it will be a strong side that he puts out tonight although there are reportedly potential Covid absentees. I’m sure he will also prefer to give some bench-time to a few of his over-worked regulars, including Antonio, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek and Angelo Ogbonna. A similar approach worked well enough in the early League Cup rounds (against Charlton and Hull City) and should be good enough, technically, to ease past Stockport.

As ever, though, these games rely as much on attitude as they do on footballing ability. Respect the opposition and ensure there is no room for complacency and it should be ok. The 3rd round has already had one shock with Crawley defeating Leeds. Hopefully, that is enough to appease the banana-skin deities leaving passage through to the next round assured. I will go for a 2-0 and the satisfaction of the owners banking the £82,000 winner’s cheque – should be enough to pay for a squad player for a couple of weeks.

Fred Perry, Tess Daly, Norman Foster, Joan Bakewell, Ricky Hatton, Tina From Coronation Street, John Mayall, Captain Darling, Mike Yarwood … your boys are gonna take a hell of a beating!

Can West Ham win at Edgeley Park for the first time at the eighth attempt?

Or will this be another game to add to the long list of ignominious FA Cup exits for the Hammers?

How many of you reading this can remember the last time West Ham beat Stockport County? No, me neither. It came in an FA Cup 4th round tie at Upton Park in January 1958. We won the game 3-2 with two goals from Eddie Lewis and another from Vic Keeble. We were in the second tier of English football at the time and finished that season as Champions and were promoted to Division One. Stockport were in the third division. We went out in the next round losing at home to Fulham.

We had actually played them in the FA Cup before way back in 1935. We were in the second tier then, too, and we drew 1-1 at home in a third round tie, and then lost the replay 1-0. Stockport were also then in the third division.

Our record against them in the League Cup is equally poor. In 1972-73 we faced them in the third round. That was one of our better seasons in the top tier, as we finished sixth in Division One. Stockport were a Division Four team at the time but still beat us 2-1 with Clyde Best scoring our goal. Don’t be fooled and think we fielded a weakened side. On that Wednesday evening we had Bonds, Moore, Brooking, Pop Robson and all of our other first team regulars, only making one change from the side that had played (and won) a league game the previous Saturday.

Then in 1996-97 we met them in the fourth round and that was the only time I’ve seen Stockport play. It was at Upton Park and we could only draw 1-1 with Florin Raducioiu scoring our goal. Once again we fielded our “first team” as we did in the replay three weeks later. I can remember watching that game on TV, obviously chosen as the broadcasters could see a potential upset and they weren’t wrong. It was a night to forget for Iain Dowie, as not only did he head a goal (into his own net!) but he also broke his ankle. Julian Dicks scored our goal but we went out of the competition losing the tie 2-1.

An ignominious record in cup ties against Stockport is matched by some poor results in the few league games in which we’ve met them, as we have not very often been in the same division. Our record in away games in the north west at Edgeley Park is played 4, lost 3, and drawn 1, 0-0 back in 1937. So in 7 away visits in the league and cup ties we have lost 6 times and drawn once.

These days Stockport have sunk even lower in the football pyramid and are now in the National League. They are having a decent season and currently sit in fourth place, but some distance behind the runaway leaders, Torquay. In a very tight division they are hoping to get back into the Football League, although it would almost certainly only be via the play-offs.

In modern times teams in the Premier League (and sometimes lower leagues too) don’t treat cup games with the same respect as was once the case. League positions and the money that accompanies them are considered more important than chasing trophies, even though to win a cup only requires a successful run in a handful of games. Stockport on the other hand will almost certainly field a full strength side in a bid to claim a Premier League scalp. The broadcasters see the game as a potential upset too, and the TV cameras will be at Edgeley Park on Monday evening hoping to see one.

In my 60 plus years of following West Ham we have appeared in four FA Cup finals, winning three, and losing (unluckily) once to Liverpool in our last appearance in a penalty shoot out in 2006. Some of the teams who have knocked us out of the competition in those 60 years include Huddersfield (twice), Stoke (twice), Plymouth, Blackburn, Swindon, Sheffield United (twice), Mansfield, Middlesbrough, Blackpool, Hull City, Hereford, QPR (3 times), Newport County, Wrexham (twice), Watford (twice), Birmingham, Torquay, Sunderland, Barnsley, Luton, Grimsby, Swansea, Tranmere, Wigan. Last season we lost at home to West Brom (then in the Championship). It makes grim reading, doesn’t it? I could produce a similar list for teams that have beaten us in League Cup ties in the same period too.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a successful cup run and go back to Wembley? The last time I was there to watch us in an FA Cup Final was in 1980 (when I was 26, 40 years ago) when we famously beat Arsenal 1-0 with Sir Trevor’s header. That was the third time that we had won the trophy. I wasn’t expecting that more than 40 years later we would have not won it again.

Those three triumphs were days to remember and easily recalled all these years later. Our league position is comfortable with (almost certainly) no relegation fears this season. I’d love it if we gave it a good go this time. I’m not holding my breath though. But I reckon we can get through this tie. Let’s hope that we don’t add it to the long list of embarrassing FA Cup exits.