I have to admit to being quite nervous about the Hammers reaction to defeat by Liverpool before they travelled to Villa Park on Wednesday night. After too many years of disappointment, my default setting, when it comes to supporting West Ham, is locked permanently at ‘fear the worst’. That they not only won, but did so with such aplomb, and with one of the most accomplished performances for some time, was mightily impressive. If courage, composure and determination is the new ‘West Ham way’, then it gets my vote!
If the previous Sunday was a reality check for the Hammers, then Wednesday was reality Czech for Villa. The two bargain signings from the Czech Republic has proved to be some of the most inspired transfer business in West Ham history.
Vladimir Coufal handed out a defensive masterclass by completely neutralising the threat of a dejected Jack Grealish. Ably assisted by the surprise inclusion of Ryan Fredericks the message was clear for all, stop Grealish and you stop Villa. Coufal has quickly become a West Ham cult hero. A tough, determined, and resolute master of the full back craft, full of running, skill and experience – and without the reckless tackles than has so often lead similar characters into troubled waters.
Tomas Soucek just gets better and better. Not only part of one of the best defensive midfield partnerships in the league, but also superb in the air at both ends and continuing to weigh in with priceless goals. The man never stops running. Even for the second West Ham goal – a rapid Hammer’s counter-attack – it was Soucek who turned up right on top of the keeper in case the ball was spilled from Jesse Lingard’s shot. There should also have been a first West Ham penalty of the season when he was clearly (and obviously) tripped in the area by McGinn during the first half. Perhaps VAR had popped out to the toilet.
In truth, there were excellent performance right throughout the team even though, not surprisingly, it was Lingard who grabbed most of the plaudits and headlines with his two-goal debut performance – a first for the Hammers since Tricky Trev did the same against Everton in January 1998. The addition of Lingard brought a much better balance to the West Ham forward play and his level of understanding with those around him was impressive for such a new arrival. Now we wait to see whether that level of performance can be maintained.
The frenetic Premier League programme eases off after this week’s round of games as European competition starts up once again to fill the vacant midweek spots for the seven English clubs still involved. Does having longer breaks between matches offer any advantage to a team looking to sneak up on the rails?
This weekend it is another London derby with a visit to struggling Fulham at Craven Cottage – our last away derby of the season. Many years ago, West Ham would publish the Unofficial London Championship in the matchday programme, based on the results of the derby matches. In the season to date, despite being top London club, the Hammers would only be midtable if such a competition existed, having already lost to Chelsea and Arsenal. Fulham have been defeated in all three of their home derby matches so far, and will be favourites to make it four in a row tomorrow. The Cottagers are currently on an eleven game winless run in the league and are also winless in their last nineteen top-flight London derbies – those are the kind of statistics that would worry a West Ham fan of old but things are different now ……….. aren’t they?
It does look grim for the three clubs at the bottom of the Premier League table as the teams above them start to pick up wins, appearing to leave Sheffield United, West Brom and Fulham. Of the three, it would be good to see Fulham (and Scott Parker) pull off an unlikely escape – they are, probably, the best placed to do so given current points total and relatively modest negative goal difference. As long as any revival waits another week.
It should be more of the same from West Ham as far as team selection is concerned. Most of us were surprised to see Fredericks named in the starting lineup at Villa Park, but I expect him to make way for Jarrod Bowen tomorrow – unless David Moyes feels that Bowen needs a bit of a longer rest. Other than that, it should be business as usual.
The Fulham danger man will again be the industrious Lookman, although he is unlikely to be taking any more penalties. New signing Maja may make his debut for the hosts following his move from Bordeaux if Parker decides not to stick with the lumbering Mitrovic. Perhaps it’s just me, but I really don’t get what Loftus-Cheek offers. Amazing that he has ten England caps to his name.
Despite their long winless run, Fulham have drawn a good few matches – including games against Liverpool, Tottenham, and Southampton – and they have not been shipping a lot of goals of late. So we might expect the game to be a tight affair, and one where the Hammers must be alert to an early period of home pressure. West Ham are the form team, though, and should have more than enough quality to add another victory to their impressive 2021 tally. West Ham to win 2-0. COYI!