Can West Ham win at Carrow Road for the first time since 1973?

I can add little to my co-blogger Geoff’s summary of the midweek game at home to Burnley. I had the feeling early on that it just wasn’t going to be our day when Pope (surely England’s best custodian?) pulled off two saves in quick succession from Soucek and then Antonio. And when he used his feet to save when Haller looked bound to score with his first touch after coming on, it was confirmed in my mind that we weren’t going to score. From that point on we ran out of ideas, and we needed some new bodies on the pitch towards the end to try to salvage a point. Unfortunately our manager didn’t seem to agree. I despair sometimes at his use (non-use?) of substitutes and throwing on Ajeti with a few minutes to go was too little and much too late. Burnley are a well-drilled organised team who can retain a 1-0 lead better than most. Even with a depleted team everyone knows their jobs, and they could easily contain our attacking ideas (non-ideas?) which mainly consisted of high balls into the box for them to head away with ease.

We are fortunate that Norwich are as good as down (albeit not mathematically yet), and that neither Bournemouth or Villa can seem to win a game of football. For me, Brighton are absolutely safe (again not mathematically), so it comes down to two out of Bournemouth, Villa, Watford and ourselves to join Norwich in the Championship next season. This round of fixtures could be more important than many think.

We have a poor record away at Carrow Road which is emphasised by the fact that Pop Robson scored the winner the last time we won there. And Pop Robson is now 74 years old! He scored the winning goal in a 1-0 victory on 10 February 1973, over 47 years ago! We finished sixth that season whilst Norwich narrowly escaped relegation. The following season (1973-74) he scored again in a 2-2 draw in Norfolk. That season the Canaries finished bottom and were relegated (together with Manchester United) while we finished fifth from bottom, the same positions that the two clubs now occupy. Seventeen winless games is a shocking record, and failure to halt that poor run could be significant in the relegation tussle. As eight of the last 13 games between the sides have ended in draws, and the away side has not won any of the last 11 Premier League encounters, history would seem to be pointing us towards a drawn game, perhaps 2-2 again? Apparently Norwich are the only side in the top 5 European leagues to fail to claim a single point when they have fallen behind in a game, so scoring the first goal would be good for us. But hold on a minute, haven’t we dropped 24 points from winning positions, more than any other team in the Premier League?

Despite the teams near the bottom failing to pick up many points since the re-start, they have an opportunity with this weekend’s fixtures. Watford could win at home to Newcastle, and both Bournemouth and Villa have home games against Leicester and Palace respectively. Should they win those, and if we go down at Norwich then the cushion of safety that was beginning to appear would disappear and we would be back in trouble. That is the worst case scenario but I still don’t think we will go down even if that does happen. I’m normally very optimistic, but if it happens like that this weekend, then our last two home games against Watford and Villa will take on added significance.

After being a Tottenham and Manchester United fan the other evening (for one night only), this weekend I’ll be supporting Newcastle, Palace and Leicester. With four games to go the table shows both ourselves and Watford on 31 points (with goal differences of -19 and -22 respectively), Bournemouth on 28 (-27), and Villa on 27 (-29). Our goal difference is healthy at the moment compared to the others and effectively is worth an additional point.

Whatever happens we won’t be in the bottom three with three games to go. But with the wrong results from our viewpoint we could be by the time that we play our next game at home to Watford next Friday evening. Having said that, even if both Bournemouth and Villa win on Sunday I would like to think that they will lose in the next round of fixtures when they travel to away games at Manchester City and Everton respectively. Let’s hope that we can break the Carrow Road jinx, win comfortably, and as a result move one step closer to safety. It won’t be as easy as that and I’ll be happy with any kind of win, however ugly. Perhaps 2-1? Even a repeat of the 1973-4 2-2 scoreline would edge us a further point towards safety.

The Wacky Relegation Races Continue: West Ham Seek Survival As Best Of The Worst

West Ham remain outsiders for relegation but without big changes it is only putting off the inevitable. Points from Norwich will provide breathing space but survival will be down to the inadequacies of others.

After an encouraging 4 point haul from consecutive games with Chelsea and Newcastle, the stage was set for West Ham to all but confirm their Premier League status against a much weakened Burnley on Wednesday evening. Alas, it was not to be and the visitors ended up leaving the London Stadium with a comfortable three points.

The manner of defeat perfectly illustrated the Hammer’s shortcomings which, even if relegation is avoided this season, will require extensive surgery to avoid a repeat next time around. While Burnley resembled a well-oiled machine with a structure, discipline and work ethic that compensated for their missing personnel, West Ham look like a collection of wayward individuals who have been bound together by sticky tape and string.

In fact, Burnley came with little ambition but when they get their noses in front, they are a very difficult team to breakdown. Not that there weren’t decent chances – some fine saves by Pope early on as well as two glaring misses by Michail Antonio and Sebastien Haller. Frustratingly, the home side had run out of ideas well before the final the whistle. The Hammers seemed convinced that hopeful high balls into the area were the route to success despite all the available evidence that Burnley’s defence would simply nod these away with ease. The manager didn’t see fit to change things and without any creative spark it was all so predictable. Plan B as far as it went was to bypass midfield completely.

Oh for the sorcery of a Devo, Berkovic, Benayoun or Payet right now! I guess that might have been Manuel Lanzini, but his injury has well and truly done for him. And quite why Jack Wilshere hasn’t been given an opportunity since the re-start is baffling. Indeed, David Moyes whole approach to substitutes is baffling, especially in the current circumstances with games come around every three or four days. The manager seems incapable of thinking on his feet and when things are going wrong, he is the last to see it.

We can all make mistakes and my assertion prior to the game that a starting place for Andriy Yarmolenko was justified saw me lured by Absent Player Paradox – that sense that the powers of an injured player increase exponentially in proportion to the time that he has been missing. Compounded by two promising cameo performances, it soon became clear that as a starter he really is too slow and too reliant on circus tricks and flicks. Similar exaggerated expectations are now starting to build over the possible return of Robert Snodgrass.

As is so often the case, the goal conceded to Burnley was a catalogue of collective incompetence. Yarmolenko went missing in action, failing to support his full-back; Ryan Fredericks was poorly positioned to prevent the cross; and Aaron Cresswell’s attempt to win the ball was even less than half-hearted. Even Lukasz Fabianski might have done better.

For some bizarre reason, successive West Ham managers have considered competent full-backs as an optional extra. The old Sunday park football concept of that’s where you play your worst footballers – the kid who turns up each week to cut up the half-time oranges. The current duo simply don’t cut the mustard and only one – depending on which side Jarrod Bowen is playing – gets consistent support from his wide midfield partner. The question is, are there any better alternatives – Ben Johnson or Arthur Masuaku?

The weekend trip to Norwich is the second of the supposed winnable games that will ensure top flight survival. Thankfully, Bournemouth and Aston Villa continue to show little sign of life and if safety is reached it will be by default, as it was in the Zola season. The record at Carrow Road is not a good one. For the last league win you need to go back to February 1973 when a Pop Robson goal was enough to give a West Ham side (containing Bonds, Moore, and Brooking) a narrow victory. The seventeen league games since then have resulted in nine defeats and eight draws.

Norwich are effectively relegated, but a West Ham win today will seal their fate mathematically. They may see the game as a last hurrah! The Canaries do pass the ball well but overall lack both pace going forward and a cutting edge – although the same could be said about the Hammers (apart from the passing the ball well bit). The home side’s form has been terrible, having lost each of their last six matches, yet anyone viewing this game is a ‘gimme’ may be in for a surprise.

I have said before that you cannot hold David Moyes responsible for the many weaknesses in the West Ham squad but, after 15 games or so in charge, he should have done far better on organisation, teamwork and fitness. His two signings, Bowen and Tomas Soucek, have been among the best performers in recent games and along with Fabianski, Antonio and Declan Rice at least look as though they belong in the Premier League. A good manager is paid to make the most of what he has got – to create a style of play that overcomes the weaknesses in the squad. This is where Moyes has fallen short.

What changes can and will be made this weekend is anyone’s guess. A return for Mark Noble? Arthur Masuaku on the left of midfield? Another chance for Lanzini as playmaker? An opportunity for Wilshere to prove his fitness? More game time for Haller who might even look like he is interested this time? Time to put some trust in Ben Johnson? There are options, just not too many obvious ones!

Following on from VAR duty on Wednesday, Kevin Friend has been given the whistle while Simon Hooper will be on patrol at Stockley Park. The eye in the sky was called upon twice in the week: correctly ruling out a second Burnley goal for a genuine offside; and confirming that is should only be yellow card only for Tarkowski’s challenge on Bowen – that one could easily have gone either way.

When in doubt or he can’t be bothered, Lawro always falls back on a 1-1 scoreline, as he does on this occasion. At time of writing, Charlie Nicholas has not unveiled his crstal ball. West Ham often serve up their better performances for those times when I am the least confident – and this is definitely one of those times. My sense is that Norwich will start brightly but easily run out of steam if they do not get any immediate reward. If the Hammers keep their shape and concentration during the initial exchanges they can grow into the game and exploit the Canaries frailty defending crosses. This will by no means be a classic, but I will stick my neck out for a 2-1 away win.