Canary Test Set To Check Toxic Atmosphere At West Ham

The European dream is dead, long live the European dream. West Ham must shake off the midweek woes to seize qualification opportunity

Expectations are funny things. Had the prospect of top six finishes and Europa League semi-finals been dangled in front of us two years ago we’d have thought fate was having a laugh. A season free of relegation anxieties would have been the optimistic extreme of our hopes back then.

But mysteriously we find ourselves in the depths of despondency following midweek failure to barge past Eintracht Frankfurt to book a place in the Europa League final. As it is, the results don’t lie. West Ham didn’t have the wit, the guile or the luck to overcome the Germans. Frankfurt are no world beaters, but over two legs they were comfortably the more accomplished side.

I had felt quietly confident from the opening exchanges in Frankfurt that all was not lost. The Hammers started with purpose and the uphill task of overturning the first leg deficit looked a possibility. Until a moment of madness from Aaron Cresswell changed the whole complexion of the game. You can argue why him in that position, but his red card was for a challenge he simply didn’t need to make. So much for experience!

Craig Dawson might also have done better to prevent the only goal of the game by sticking with his man, but after that rarely threatened. It would always be difficult with ten men to score twice and the changes from David Moyes came far too late. Never mind time wasting ball-boys, Said Benrahma and Andriy Yarmolenko should have been introduced much earlier in the second half. What was there to lose?

While the disappointment was obvious and the emotional reaction understandable, I was still flabbergasted to see Hammers fans calling for the manager to be sacked after the game. Perhaps it was only a vocal minority, but the lack of perspective is staggering. While we remain a (relatively) low budget, short arms, deep pockets club I can think of no better candidate for manager.

It’s back to league action this weekend and the big question is how will the players recover from the low of Thursday’s events? Where will the performance measure on the Iain Dowie’s Bouncebackability Scale? Of the games remaining the visit to Norwich is the one most of us would have put down as a banker three pointer on our run-in calculators. Interesting that after Manchester United’s collapse at Brighton yesterday, finishing sixth is back again in our own hands, making victory today essential.

The not so good news from yesterday was Wolves 97th minute equaliser at Stamford Bridge. There was a feeling that West Ham could end up finishing 7th by default even if they failed to pick up any more points. That unexpected bonus for Wolves now puts that in doubt.

Although many may have pooh-poohed the Europa Conference while Tottenham were in it, I think it is important to compete regularly in European competition if the club really is going to progress . It will bring experience, raise profile, and is another chance of silverware. It would also tick up the all-important UEFA co-efficient.

Norwich are effectively, if not yet mathematically, certain to return to the Championship for next season. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see them back again in a year’s time if they invest the parachute payment wisely. Aside from being a bit of a whiner, Dean Smith is a decent manager, but then so too was Daniel Farke. They may need to find a more suitable brand of football if they want to enjoy a longer stay in the Premier League.

As usual Moyes won’t make many changes for the game, mainly because he doesn’t have too many options. I wonder whether Cresswell will be replaced by Ben Johnson and I would prefer to see Benrahma starting in place of either Manuel Lanzini or Pablo Fornals. It would also be nice to see one or two youngsters used from the bench if we get our noses in front, but won’t hold my breath on that one. Ex-Hammer Sam Byram is likely to featuring in defence (at centre back according to some reports) for the hosts.

The Hammers recent form is hopeless as is our record before and after European ties. It will also require heaps of character to recover from defeat in Germany. Despite all that I will allow the heart to rule head once more. West Ham set to bounce-back with 3-0 win!

After the disappointment of Thursday night West Ham return to league action aiming to secure enough points for another European adventure next season

We sat down to watch the second leg of the semifinal with Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday evening hoping for a repeat of the outcome when facing the same opponents in Europe in 1976. For 19 minutes it was going ok and from then onwards nothing went right.

From Cresswell’s moment of madness to going further behind to nothing falling our way it was a frustrating watch. You could not fault the effort of the players but sadly it was not to be. So now we return to league action.

The Premier League is now approaching the climax and qualification for Europe next season will now extend down to seventh, so there is still a lot to play for. Having had a taste for European football this season and performing so admirably with a limited squad we would be massively disappointed not to feature in it in the 2022-23 campaign, even if it is the Europa Conference League.

We must not give up in our quest to qualify via our finishing league position. It is our last chance. If we finish sixth then that would mean the Europa League, or seventh would be the Europa Conference. The worst ending to such a superb season would be missing out on a European trophy this time and finishing eighth in the league. That would be a massive disappointment.

We currently sit in seventh place in the Premier League table, and it is looking increasingly unlikely that we will be able to improve on that. Our only hope is that both Brighton and Crystal Palace can do us a favour by beating Manchester United in their remaining two games. We would then need to win two of our last three games to equal United on points. Our goal difference is currently two better than theirs and if they were to lose both of their games and we were able to beat Norwich and Brighton, say, then this would extend to at least six. If we were (by any chance) to lose to Manchester City we would need it to be by five goals or less.

But sixth place does not seem realistic really (although I remain hopeful) and we must do better than Wolves to retain seventh to qualify for Europe. The Molyneux outfit have been very poor recently losing four of their last five games. They trail us by three points but have four games to play as opposed to our three. We both face Norwich in the run-in but Wolves other three games are as difficult on paper as they could be, away at Chelsea and Liverpool and at home to Manchester City. I’d like to think that if we can beat Norwich this weekend then a six points differential will be one that Wolves cannot possibly make up even if we didn’t collect any further points. That assume last they lose this weekend. Our goal difference is six better than theirs so that would be worth another point too provided we don’t lose any games by too many!

Wolves travel to Stamford Bridge this weekend but the home side still have a lot to play for and won’t want to lose third spot. It goes without saying (given our quest for Europe) that I hope Chelsea win the game. Provided we don’t slip up against the Canaries and win the game then Wolves would need to get at least seven points from their final games which include fixtures against Liverpool and Manchester City. Of course anything can happen in football as Manchester City found out on Wednesday night, but we would need to slip up badly and Wolves would need to considerably outperform their recent form for us not to be playing European football next season.

The current league table – top 8 (games remaining in brackets):
Man City 83 (4)
Liverpool 82 (4)
Chelsea 66 (4)
Arsenal 63 (4)
Tottenham 61 (4)
Man Utd 58 (2)
West Ham 52 (3)
Wolves 49 (4)

The form table (last 5 games of the top 8 in the current league table):
Man City 13
Liverpool 13
Tottenham 10
Arsenal 9
Chelsea 7
Man Utd 7
West Ham 4
Wolves 3

The remaining fixtures give you the opportunity to work out what you think the final finishing positions will be:
Man City: H – Newcastle, Villa
Man City: A – West Ham, Wolves
Liverpool: H – Tottenham, Wolves
Liverpool: A – Southampton, Villa
Chelsea: H – Wolves, Watford, Leicester
Chelsea: A – Leeds
Arsenal: H – Leeds, Everton
Arsenal: A – Newcastle, Tottenham
Tottenham: H – Arsenal, Burnley
Tottenham: A – Liverpool, Norwich
Man Utd: H – no games
Man Utd: A – Brighton, Palace
West Ham: H – Man City
West Ham: A – Norwich, Brighton
Wolves: H – Norwich, Man City
Wolves: A – Chelsea, Liverpool

Norwich can play freely now that they are relegated, and sometimes teams in that position can be dangerous opponents. But surely we won’t let it slip now and will pick up the three points necessary to put us in a very strong position for a seventh place finish. Two consecutive seasons in Europe has only happened once before (1964/5 and 1965/6) and would be a tremendous achievement for our club, especially considering where we were when David Moyes arrived for the second time.

Here’s hoping for a good ending to the season starting with three points at Carrow Road. What are the chances?