Wish We Was At Home For Christmas? Injury Hit Hammers Hoping To Nick It Against Saints

There’s Boxing Day fare at last at the London Stadium. Who will shake off the Christmas hangover first as West Ham take on Southampton?

They have become a collector’s item in recent years, but finally West Ham prepare to host their first Boxing Day home game since 2013 when they face Southampton at the London Stadium this afternoon. It will be an opportunity for the Hammers to reinvigorate a faltering injury-hit spell that has exposed the inadequate squad depth that most of were already aware of.

In the Boxing Day fixture of 2013, West Ham took a second half lead through Carlton Cole against high-flying Arsenal only to concede three times as the north Londoners ran out 3-1 winners. A defeat that left the Hammers struggling in 19th place in the table. The two-goal hero for the visitors that day was Theo Walcott who may well feature in the visitor’s line-up today. The West Ham team, under the management of seasonal ‘jovial’ fat-man Sam Allardyce, was as follows: Adrian, McCartney, Tomkins, Collins (Rat), O’Brien (Demel), Jarvis, Nolan, Noble (Taylor), Diame, J Cole, C Cole

For a West Ham Boxing Day victory, we must go back a further four years to 2009. With the elf-like Gianfranco Zola in the hot seat, West Ham beat bottom of the table Portsmouth by two goals to nil – an Alessandro Diamanti penalty and a late header by nobody’s favourite Czech, Radoslav Kovac. The Hammers all-star line-up was: Green, Faubert, Tomkins, Upson, Ilunga, Collison, Kovac, Parker, Diamanti (Behrami), Noble (Jimenez), Franco (Nouble)

Today will be the fourth time West Ham have come up against Saints on Boxing Day. In 1983, a goal by Danny Wallace was enough to give Southampton (who would finish the season as runners-up to Liverpool) the points at Upton Park against John Lyall’s rebuilt side: Parkes, Stewart, Lampard (Donald), Walford, Martin, Devonshire, Orr, Cottee, Whitton, Brooking, Dickens

In 1968, it was honours even at The Dell when two goals by Geoff Hurst (one from the spot) was enough to earn a 2-2 draw for Ron Greenwood’s side: Ferguson, Bonds, J Charles, Cushley, Stephenson, Moore, Redknapp, Boyce, Hurst, Lindsay, Peters

The only West Ham Boxing Day win came in a 1935 Division 2 clash at The Dell with the Hammers winning 4-2. The game was a return fixture with the two sides having played out a no-score draw at Upton Park on the previous day.

Injuries will play a key part in today’s game. The long-term absences of Angelo Ogbonna and Kurt Zouma are well documented but mystery surrounds the fitness of Aaron Cresswell’s back. Internet rumours suggest that he will be missing for some time and is certainly not likely to feature today. One positive coming out of Wednesday’s Carabao cup exit, however, was that Vladimir Coufal was able to serve his one match suspension. He and Ben Johnson will fill the full-back slots with Craig Dawson and Issa Diop filling in between. A defence that was once as hard to crack as a Brazil nut now looks highly vulnerable. An uncertainty that appears to permeate throughout the team.

Sadly, the Covid virus and all its variants have not issued a Christmas truce and the number of players missing the game through positive tests will not be known until the teams are announced. Michail Antonio is a reported non-starter and the social distancing enforced by his absence of goal celebrations might yet turn out to be a positive if he has not infected any team-mates. Several online previews are predicting Andriy Yarmolenko to lead the line in Antonio’s absence. I hope that is not the case and that Jarrod Bowen is given the job following an impressive midweek performance – we need Dasher rather than Prancer! This would allow only a second Premier league start for Nikoli Vlasic.

The visitors also have injury concerns of their own. Adams and both the Armstrongs have been long term absentees while Forster may return in place of Caballero in goal. Chelsea loanee Broja is a likely starter having shown that his running can unsettle the Hammer’s backline when he came on as substitute in the game at St Mary’s in September.     

The game might easily be billed as the out-of-form derby. West Ham have just one win from the last six fixtures while Southampton have not tasted victory in any of their last six. The Hammers have won the last four home games against Saints, scoring three times on each occasion. A repeat would be most welcome if momentum is to be regained. It is needed to boost the top six ambitions that many of us have now developed. It was perhaps inevitable that the hectic schedule would eventually reveal just how thin the squad is for a team hoping to compete for honours. It was very bad luck to lose two quality centre backs but everyone knew about the lack of cover at striker and left back. Both need to be addressed early in the transfer window if the season is not to fizzle out with the new year fireworks.

Today, I think we will scrape through 2-1. COYI!     

Some Christmas memories of the late 1950s and 1960s as West Ham entertain the Saints on Boxing Day

I can’t remember the last time we had a home game on Boxing Day, but I don’t think it has happened since we have been at the London Stadium. As a young boy I used to love going to Christmas games at Upton Park, and just like in modern times, they used to cram as many games as they could into the festive period. The first one I ever went to was actually on Christmas Day. Yes that’s right on 25th December. The Year was 1958, and my second ever visit to Upton Park on that day was for the visit of Tottenham. We beat them 2-1 with goals from my first favourite footballer, Johnny Dick and Vic Keeble. I believe that this was the very last time that West Ham played a game on Christmas Day. For good measure we visited White Hart Lane the following day and beat them 4-1 this time.

My next Christmas visit to Upton Park came on Boxing Day two years later (1960), but this wasn’t such a happy trip. Once again the visitors were our ‘friends’ from North London – this was their double season and they beat us 3-0. The following year (1961) Blackburn came down on Boxing Day and beat us 3-2. Two years after that on 26 December 1963 I witnessed one of the most remarkable games I have ever seen. Blackburn were once again the visitors and people never believe me when I say that it was a fairly even game – but they beat us 8-2! Two days later with just one change to the starting line up we went to Ewood Park and gained swift revenge with a 3-1 win. Johnny Byrne scored two goals that day – he was a magnificent footballer and goalscorer in his time with us – he hit 10 goals in a five game purple patch that culminated in the victory over Blackburn, and 25 league goals in the season (in 34 appearances), just eclipsing his 24 goals in 33 appearances the season before. He formed a formidable partnership with Geoff Hurst who was in the early part of his career.

On Boxing Day in 1966, we thrashed Blackpool 4-1 and the following day we went to their ground and won 4-0. Not surprisingly, Blackpool were relegated that season after finishing bottom of the table. The following year (26 December 1967) I saw one of the best ever games I can remember at Upton Park. We were 2-0 down to Leicester in the first 15 minutes or so, and then we fought back to win 4-2. Brian Dear scored a magnificent hat-trick and the other West Ham goal was scored by a very young Trevor Brooking wearing the number 9 shirt in his debut season. Four days later we visited Filbert Street and beat them again by exactly the same score (4-2). Brian Dear scored twice that day and Trevor Brooking scored again. Both times the score would have been much greater but for the performance of a teenage Peter Shilton in the Leicester goal who showed even then what a player he would become.

Draw specialists Southampton are today’s visitors. They have drawn 8 league games this season, the same as Palace, Brighton and Burnley. All four of those teams could be much higher in the table if they had managed to turn some of those draws into three points, but all four are currently in the bottom half. As I write this, one-third of the Boxing Day games have already been called off due to COVID, and only 6 of the 9 remain. But there could be more by the time kick-off arrives.

All these postponed matches make the league table harder to decipher with teams such as Arsenal having played 18 matches, whereas Tottenham have only played 14. We currently sit in fifth place having played 17, but both Manchester United and Tottenham could overtake us if they win games in hand. The form table from the last five games shows why we have been joined by others in the race for a top four place. We have picked up 5 points in that time, compared to Arsenal (9), Manchester United (10) and Tottenham (11).

I was one of the lucky 10,000 in the ballot to witness the final game of last season against Southampton when we won the game very easily 3-0. Pablo Fornals scored a couple that day and Declan Rice scored one where he just kept running with the ball, similar to a goal he subsequently scored in Europe this season against Dinamo Zagreb. If we had our best team available I would expect a similar outcome today, but injuries (and perhaps tiredness?) have taken their toll. The performance in the midweek defeat in the Carabao Cup against Tottenham wasn’t too bad, and one player who stood out for me in perhaps his best game in a claret and blue shirt was Vlasic. I think he played well enough to retain a place in the team.

So what chances a 3-0 repeat victory today? Despite our recent indifferent league form we are slightly odds-on to win the game at 5/6, and 13/1 to win 3-0. What are the chances?