Can West Ham snatch an unlikely point at St James’ Park against the Premier League’s draw specialists?

I am often intrigued by a debate amongst football fans about the size of their club. The ‘my club is bigger than yours discussion.’ Newspaper journalists and the media in general will often refer to x being a big club, or will a certain player want to join a ‘bigger’ club. But what is a big club? A club that is considered big today may not have been at some time in the past. Is it the fan base, average attendances, revenue, trophies won in history, or honours gained in recent times, or one or more of many other criteria that you could toss into the mix? A club that is considered big today may not have been at some time in the past. It’s all quite subjective really.

I watched a TV quiz show recently where contestants had to decide if clubs had won more FA Cups than Ipswich Town (one win in 1979). When the name Old Etonians came up the contestant scoffed. But Old Etonians reached the final of the FA Cup six times in the nineteenth century winning it twice and supplied a number of players for the England national team, including three in one match against Wales in 1879. Old Etonians were once a big club, but not now of course.

Few of us would argue against Newcastle United and West Ham United being big clubs at the present time. (Our fans sing that we are not just big but massive of course!). But if the criteria was based on trophies won in recent times then perhaps we would not be considered quite so big. West Ham last won a major trophy in 1980 when as a second tier side we beat Arsenal in the FA Cup final on that sunny May day when Sir Trev stooped to head the only goal of the game.

Newcastle have won four league titles, six FA Cups, and like ourselves have won an Inter Two Bob Cup and a European trophy. In fact they have won the ninth highest total of trophies by English clubs (we are about 18th on that list). But Newcastle’s last major domestic trophy was in 1955, though their last major trophy was when they won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1969.

Both of us took steps towards rectifying the lack of recent honours this week. We beat Derby County fairly comfortably to move into the last 16 of the FA Cup. In theory we only need to win three games from here to reach the final at Wembley, and four to actually lift the trophy. But the draw has not been kind to us and our task has been made harder with a trip to Old Trafford in Round Five.

Newcastle are much closer to landing a trophy having beaten Southampton in a two-legged semi final to reach the final of the EFL Cup where Manchester United stand between them and achieving their aim. A rejuvenated Manchester United could put paid to both our hopes.

After battling relegation for much of last season the Magpies recovered well in the latter stages, and in this campaign they have turned it around to such an extent that they currently sit third in the Premier League with just under half of the season to play, and are among the favourites to be playing Champions League football next season. The Saudi-led takeover of the club is a massive contributing factor of course, but Eddie Howe deserves a lot of praise for building a team capable of challenging the top teams in England.

On the other hand as a complete reversal of last season’s fortunes we sit in sixteenth place just one point above the bottom three and in need of some good results in the second half of the season to ensure that we are still in the Premier League next season. Following the death of the Queen earlier in the season the reverse fixture was postponed so we have not yet faced the Magpies yet.

As so often seems to be the case we are once again hindered by injuries. In the transfer window that has just closed I think we signed two players, Danny Ings, a recognised Premier League goalscorer, but who is apparently injured already, and a young Brazilian who has gone into the Development Squad. Around nine players left the club in the window including some promising Academy graduates who barely got a chance to show what they could do in our colours. The manager must believe we have a big enough and good enough squad to move up the table. Many would disagree.

On form we don’t really have much of a chance in this game, do we? Third at home to sixteenth. I read that the Geordies have been trailing in games for just 80 minutes in total in their 20 league games to date, fewer than any other team. They haven’t conceded a single goal in the first half in any of their last sixteen Premier League games! They have only conceded 11 goals in total in 20 games, five fewer than league leaders Arsenal, and by far the best defensive record in the top flight. They have only lost once, a 2-1 defeat to Liverpool with the winner coming in the 98th minute. Nick Pope, (allegedly a target of West Ham last summer?), has kept six consecutive Premier League clean sheets. When did we last win an away game?

Just 3 points separate Leicester in 14th (on 18) and Southampton at the bottom (on 15). The points table for the last five games for the bottom 7 clubs is as follows (none apart from Wolves perhaps pulling up any trees or averaging a point a game):

Wolves 7, West Ham 4, Leeds 3, Southampton 3, Leicester 1, Bournemouth 1, Everton 1.

All seven teams are averaging less than a point a game for the season as a whole so far which is a figure that is generally enough to avoid relegation, and at this moment they would appear to be the teams who will produce the three who go down, although Forest and Palace are not too far above, and invariably a team that is not involved in the scrap at the bottom has a poor run at the season’s end.

The odds on a Newcastle win (3/5) are not as short as you might expect given the relative form of both teams and their league positions. The draw is only 11/4 with a West Ham win at 5/1. I reckon the best chance of us getting anything from the game is to play for a 0-0 draw. That’s probably what David Moyes has in mind too, as he seems to for so many of our games, particularly on our travels. The odds on the game being goalless are around 8/1, unlikely despite the fact that Newcastle have played six such games out of the 20 so far this season, Palace (twice), Brighton, Manchester United and Leeds featuring in 0-0 draws. Wolves, Bournemouth and Manchester City all held the Magpies to a scoring draw, and their solitary defeat at Liverpool should really have been a point apiece too, but the referee in that game seemed to continue playing until the Reds scored their winner deep into added time.

It’s time for Paqueta to demonstrate why he is preferred to the suspended Guimaraes in the Brazil national team; in fact time for so many to perform. Quite what Areola and Downes have to do to get an extended run in the league team is beyond me, but the manager will no doubt select some players in the team that many of us would not. I fear the worst but hope for a 0-0 draw, and being optimistically greedy how about snatching a late winner for three points in a 1-0 win? What are the chances?

He Came In Through The Transfer Window: Can West Ham Steal A Point At St James’ Park

An underwhelming transfer window is followed by the long trip north to face high-flying Newcastle United. Do David Moyes ambitions stretch beyond the hope of a desperate goalless draw?

Another January transfer window has come and gone and once again supporters are left frustrated and disappointed at the lack of imagination and planning involved. Our high-flying bubbles had begun to fade and die at the same stage last year when the club failed to build from a position of strength. What will be our fate in this time of weakness? West Ham have fiddled as their relegation rivals splashed the cash for survival!

Once the dust had settled on the closing window, the only new signing was Danny Ings, an intelligent but injury-prone striker. A player who will provide additional options in attack even if his best days are behind him. But any opportunity that offers is offset by the departure of Craig Dawson, probably the Hammers most dependable central defender over the past couple of seasons – and one of the principle goal threats at the other end. Agreeing to Dawson’s request to return north for personal reasons was a reasonable one. But not bringing in a replacement is the latest in a long list of negligent and short-sighted decisions. Particularly considering the injury records of the remaining defenders.

Following Dawson out the door went three academy graduates – Harrison Ashby, Pierre Ekwah, and Emmanuel Longelo. Only time will tell how well these young players develop or whether some were motivated by money rather than opportunity. It would have been good to have given them an opportunity in claret blue – everybody loves an academy graduate – but that, it seems, is too risky for the cautious one. I saw a statistic that Divin Mubama’s four minutes against Arsenal is the only game time seen by an under-22 player for West Ham this season. Interestingly, the next ‘worst’ is Newcastle where Elliot Anderson is the only under-22 to have been given a run out – although he has played 100 minutes more than Mubama.

When West Ham last played Newcastle United in mid-February 2022, the Hammers sat 4th in the Premier League while the Magpies languished in 17th place. Today the positions are almost exactly reversed. Newcastle reaping the reward of ditching their own dinosaur manager, Steve Bruce, and bringing in the more progressive, Eddie Howe. Plus of course having access to large piles of grubby Saudi cash which has allowed them to invest £250 million in the squad over the last three windows.

With a League Cup final place already booked and an outstanding chance of Champions League qualification, it is shaping up to be a fantastic season for the Magpies. Howe has made astute signings and teased the best from the talented but underperforming players already at his disposal. It is impossible to begrudge the loyal and passionate Newcastle fans their whiff of glory but it still beggar’s belief that representatives of the brutal and murderous Saudi regime are considered to be fit and proper owners of a British football club.

There was a leak yesterday of what might become future government legislation for the regulation of football. Some way to go before we discover how that might turn out or what powers the independent regulator (surely, it has to be known as OFF-SIDE?) might be given. The leaked documents suggest that all clubs would need to reapply for a licence, but is that really going to happen without extended and costly legal challenge should a licence be revoked? The new rules will, no doubt, be introduced just in time to prevent a consortium of Dr Evil, Kim Jong-un and Prince Andrew taking over at the London Stadium.

Newcastle’s on-field success this season has been built around the most frugal defensive record in the league and a whole laundry full of clean sheets . They have conceded just 11 goals in total and none at all since a late Southampton consolation on November 6. It’s a record that offers scant hope for a misfiring West Ham attack. Especially where David Moyes primary target will be to add to the tally of six 0-0 draws that Newcastle fans have already witnessed this term.

Early reports are that West Ham will be without Kurt Zouma, Danny Ings, Gianluca Scamacca, and someone called Maxwell Cornet. It has proved fruitless to speculate in the past about Moyes baffling team selections but I’m guessing he will stick with three at the back and a massed defence for this one. It will largely be the same side that won at Derby but with Lukasz Fabianski back in goal (for some reason), Declan Rice replacing Flynn Downes and Lucas Paqueta in for Pablo Fornals.

As long as the game remains scoreless, West Ham incursions into the opposing third will be as sporadic and half-hearted as usual, with possession hovering around the 30% mark. If Newcastle score, it will be more of the same as the Hammers seek to keep their powder dry until the final ten minutes. At least, that is what experience suggests will happen. Unless, of course, this is the week that Moyes finally unleashes his brand-new possession-based football experiment.

The glimmer of hope is that the hosts will be without influential Bruno Guimarães following his midweek red card – interesting that Paqueta gets the nod ahead of him for the Brasil national team. And there’s no longer the possibility of Jonjo Shelvey being called up for a once in a blue moon stormer! That still leaves plenty of threats to the Hammers goal, however, in the form of Wilson, Almiron, Willock, and Saint-Maximin.

This weekend is the start of a tough run of games for West Ham. Newcastle is followed by Chelsea at home and Tottenham away. How many of the 20 points needed to survive are they likely to pick up from that lot? No better than zero to three is my guess. Would that be enough for Moyes to keep his job? Does he then get out of jail again by scraping a narrow win over Forest? It’s going to be a long hard slog. COYI! 

West Ham United face wealthy Newcastle United – the Hammers hoping to reverse recent form in this fixture

You don’t have to be too old to remember the days towards the end of the twentieth century when Manchester City were in the third tier of English football around 25 years ago. They climbed back into the top tier by early in this century but they weren’t exactly pulling up trees with mid-table finishes for four seasons from the time they moved into their new stadium in 2003.  

However in August 2008, the club was purchased by the Abu Dhabi United Group. The takeover was immediately followed by many bids for high-profile players. There wasn’t a massive improvement in performance compared to the previous season despite the influx of money however, with the team finishing tenth, although they did reach the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup. During the summer of 2009, the club took transfer spending to an unprecedented level, with an outlay of over £100 million on players. Mark Hughes was replaced as manager by Roberto Mancini and City finished the season in fifth position in the Premier League, narrowly missing out on a place in the Champions League, and competed in the UEFA Europa League in season 2010–11.

Continued investment in players followed in successive seasons, and results began to match the improvement in player quality. City reached the 2011 FA Cup Final, their first major final in over 30 years, where they beat Stoke City 1–0, the club’s first major trophy since winning the 1976 League Cup. In the same week, the club qualified for the UEFA Champions League for the first time. Strong performances continued to follow in the 2011–12 season with the club scoring two goals in injury time to complete a last-minute title victory to deny their city rivals, City’s first in 44 years.

And just look where City are now. After that title success they have since been Premier League champions four times, and runners-up on three occasions. A further win in the FA Cup, six League Cup titles, and runners-up in the Champions League last season. They are strong favourites to win the Champions League this time around, and their 5-0 win over the Portuguese champions away from home this week put them virtually into the last eight.

In October 2021, Newcastle United, precariously placed near the foot of the Premier League, was bought by a group led by the Saudi Arabian government’s sovereign wealth fund. It is widely reported that the purchase made Newcastle the richest club in the world. So are Newcastle about to become the new Manchester City in the next decade or so?

Spending in the winter transfer window has been the spark that has lifted them out of the relegation zone. They are now four points clear of Norwich (who are 18th) as a result of 11 points from their last (unbeaten) five games, a record bettered in the top flight by only Manchester City (13), Liverpool (13) and Wolves (12). That’s impressive considering their opening 18 games this season yielded only 10 points. In comparison we have 7 points from our last 5 games.

They visit the London Stadium with an impressive record here too, where they have won 75% of their visits in the Premier League, and are aiming for their third consecutive away win at our ground. In fact Newcastle’s most wins in away games in the Premier League have come against us with 10, which is more than they have achieved against any other club.

Our season has been going in the opposite direction although we are still clinging on to fifth place with just 13 games to go (7 at home and 6 away). Arsenal, Wolves and Tottenham in 6th, 7th and 8th can all go past us with success in their games in hand so it is imperative that we start to pick up more wins to retain any chance of emulating last season’s sixth place finish or even better it.

We won 7 of the first 11 league games this season but have picked up the three points for a win in only 5 of the last 14. We have at least scored a goal in every one of the 12 league games we have played at the London Stadium this season, a feat we haven’t achieved before. And Newcastle on the other hand haven’t scored more than one goal in any of their away league games this season. So if this statistic were maintained we won’t lose!

We have scored 44 league goals so far giving us a ranking of 4th, but the 33 goals conceded puts us at 10th in that category – even bottom of the table Burnley have conceded fewer than we have, but on the other hand they are 19th when it comes to goals scored. The return of Zouma should help our defensive record, although Diop, so out of touch in some recent games, had perhaps his best performance of the season at Leicester, and both he and Dawson had sound performances. It would be harsh to leave either of them out. It was in the full back department (on both sides) where our weakness was found out in that game.

In Jarrod Bowen we have a player in superb form in both scoring and creating goals, but so many others appear to be out of form, or at least not at their best in recent games. Declan Rice has been his usual consistent impressive self but these two can’t win games on their own (as hard as they try!) and some of the others must step up to the plate.

David Moyes needs to turn the tide in home games against Newcastle where he has lost the last three. I think he will. It’s about time that Newcastle’s impressive recent run came to an end, and wearing my optimistic hat I forecast a 3-1 win that will lift us back into the top four. Hopefully we can stay there if Manchester United fail to win at Leeds on Sunday. It’s games like this one where three points will go a long way in us maintaining our challenge at the top. What are the chances?

Bring Back That Winning Feeling: Can Moyes Liven Up Listless Hammers For Geordie Challenge

A crucial period for West Ham’s season begins with the visit of rejuvenated Newcastle United to the London Stadium. Can they see off the big spending Magpies?

A large part of winning football matches is the belief that you are going to win when you step out onto the pitch. As West Ham prepare for Saturday’s early kick-off against Newcastle, the sense is that the Hammers have lost that winning feeling, just as the Magpie’s have suddenly found it.

Last week’s draw at Leicester was a perfect example of the current apprehension at the club. In itself, a point at Leicester is no disgrace, but after taking an early lead against a side seemingly bereft of any attacking ideas, the reluctance or inability to press home the advantage was a disappointment and would ultimately cost a couple of points.

Quite what Aaron Cresswell was thinking in conceding that blatant penalty just before the break is a mystery, but it proved the ideal half team talk for the host’s manager. It came as no surprise at all when Leicester bagged their second to edge in front. Barnes had been giving Vladimir Coufal a torrid time in the second period and, not for the first time in recent weeks, Cresswell lost his man as Pereira ran in to score. Thankfully, we managed to show some character in the closing moments as Craig Dawson shouldered home a late corner.

The next two home games against Newcastle and Wolves, followed by a tricky FA Cup trip to Southampton, will now set the tone for the remainder of the season. The threadbare squad has to rediscover its spark if they are to make anything of it. Otherwise the season might fizzle out with Europe the only lifeline.

At least, we were able to watch from the sidelines as the Europa League Knockout Round got underway. There were good wins for Rangers, Sherrif and Sevilla in the first legs but the other ties remain on a knife edge. Some way to go before West Ham know their Round of 16 opponents. The Spanish sides by far the greatest threat.

A run of three successive league wins has pulled the visitors clear of the relegation places, which increasingly look to be a foregone conclusion. The cash rich Geordies were able to throw money at the problem without the usual concerns that buying a few duds, or spending on short term fixes, will hamstring them in future windows. A stark contrast to West Ham, at the other extreme, who preferred to risk a huge opportunity rather than invest on much needed reinforcements because they might be less than perfect.

No doubt, we will see Newcastle competing for honours at some point in the future, but with a whole new squad of players and after two or three managerial changes.

As things stand, David Moyes may have the fewest realistic options for team selection than any other manager in the Premier League. Reportedly, Kurt Zouma is available again after his mystery illness to is tipped to replace Issa Diop, who to be fair, put in a very good performance at the King Power.

Personally, I would prefer to see Ben Johnson replace Coufal and have no idea why Ryan Fredericks is seen as the first choice replacement at right back. Fredericks sole attribute is his pace, yet is so reluctant to use it. With a team shape that relies on the full-backs for width, none of them get forward frequently enough or far enough to be consistently effective.

Other than that, it is down to the weekly permutation of any 2 from 4 to play alongside Jarrod Bowen in attacking midfield. The Hammers did look a livelier once Said Benrahma and Nikola Vlasic replaced Manuel Lanzini and Pablo Fornals at Leicester, but all four have both positives and clear shortcomings. Benrahma potentially offers the greater creativity and goal threat but his decision making remains woefully erratic.

By default, the out of sorts Michail Antonio must continue up front. My preferred team would be: Fabianski, Johnson, Zouma, Dawson, Cresswell, Rice, Soucek, Bowen, Fornals, Benrahma, Antonio.

West Ham are becoming increasingly dependent of Declan Rice and Bowen, the only two candidates for Hammer of the Year. Despite their brilliance, we should not ignore how their changing roles have impacted other areas of the Moyes machine. Rice’s greater freedom showing up Tomas Soucek’s limitations once you take away his goals, despite the good defensive work he continues to offer. Bowen has been given/ taken up more central and forward positions in the most recent games. This is understandable from an attacking perspective but has reduced defensive cover on right hand side, exposing Coufal’s lack of pace to a wider audience. A couple of tweaks from the coaching side may well be necessary.

West Ham versus Newcastle games have a history of plenty of goals. Saturday’s game is likely to be no exception. In a fit of desperate optimism I take the Hammers to match their opening day success and run out 4-2 winners. COYI!