Too Many Snakes And Not Enough Ladders. Pellegrini Does Not Have The Skills To Fix West Ham’s Problems

Can’t afford to get rid of him, can’t afford to keep to him? When will the tipping point be reached where even the Board realise that sticking with Pellegrini will end in disaster?

At this time of year, it is compulsory when commenting on football to mention that the games now come ‘thick and fast’ – even if the schedule is nowhere near as busy as it used to be. Most West Ham followers may associate more with thick than fast, however, when thinking about the Hammer’s recent struggles.

We expect football to be a game of ups and downs. It is part of its charm. But when the ups (intense and committed performances) are so few and far between, and when the downs (apathy, disorganisation, lack of effort, mistakes and surrender) are so commonplace, it becomes impossible to see an acceptable outcome. There is no light at all in our tunnel right now, and a target of 40 points looks way beyond reach unless drastic changes are made.

Yet, here we are with the Hammers hovering just above the relegation places (and potentially in the bottom three by the end of Sunday round of matches) and the Manuel Pellegrini sacking clock has reportedly been reset to zero – the manager once again has two games to save his job. Quite what return is required from those two games to earn a reprieve being a mystery known only to our can kicking Chairmen. In hindsight, it might have been kinder had West Ham lost at Chelsea.

I read elsewhere that the Board were ‘keeping their powder dry’ on the Pellegrini situation, whatever that is supposed to mean. To me, this would suggest waiting for a better time to act. It doesn’t mean dithering about until wholesale panic becomes an absolute necessity. Was nothing learned for the Avram Grant experience? Probably not, is the answer.

When Leicester sacked Claude Puel in February 2019 it wasn’t because they were in danger of relegation but because the football was poor and the players had clearly lost faith with his tactics. It was a decisive act from which the Foxes have not looked back. To write off season after season just to allow manager’s contracts (and compensation) to run down is indicative of owners who prioritise only money – and preserving the value of their investment. They do not have the financial or intellectual resources to run and develop a football club beyond keeping it afloat.

There are plenty of things wrong at the club – which we have previously written about at length as the team have steadily sunk towards the bottom of the table. While, the owners are clearly implicated for the lack of any true desire to reach ‘another level’, the Hammer’s current plight in the relegation mix is 100% down to the manager. Never mind the old net-spend chestnut, West Ham have an expensively assembled squad in Premier League terms – especially when the not inconsiderable wages are taken into account.

Chief scapegoat at the moment is Mario Husillos and while the director of football’s involvement in picking talent has been underwhelming I doubt it was he who instructed Pellegrini to: play someone who had scored prolifically in a front two as an isolated lone striker; persevere with two wingers playing on their wrong foot; keep faith for so long with a goalkeeper who is patently petrified of crosses; maintain a rigid attachment to the same formation week in week out, even though it clearly doesn’t suit the players available; only ever change the personnel and never the system;  not work hard enough in training on fitness or organisation; create the slowest team in the league who are incapable of moving the ball quickly; and refusing to budge on his inflexible tactics of the high back line and a patient build-up, regardless of circumstances or opposition. Standing on the touchline looking confused and admitting that you are baffled does not inspire any confidence – in players or supporters.

It was no surprise following the win at Chelsea that the performance level was not maintained at Wolves a few days later. Fitness levels are just not up to it, and with the one-man press, Michail Antonio, missing it was always going to be a struggle against a disciplined and hard working Wolverhampton side.

There are several obvious gaps in the West Ham squad (central midfield and full-backs in particular) but it is still good enough to stay up with proper and astute management. That is not to say that our recruitment has been smart. Not enough emphasis has been placed on unearthing developing talent – both from within the academy (which has a dismal record in recent years) and from outside. We have become a mirror image of pre-Pochettino Spurs who would sign random big name players – those who were not quite good enough for the truly top sides, but who acted as if they were – and hope they would magically gel into an effective team.

Our next manager needs to be all about discipline and team building, as well as delivering a touch of style. He is out there somewhere!

Speculating on what might happen on Monday night is difficult. Arsenal also find themselves in something of a predicament. They are also a team lacking cohesion; with a suspect defence but they do, at least, have pace and carry a goal threat. No doubt there will be the odd personnel change in the Hammer’s side but little else will be new. While Antonio is on the pitch and before he runs out of puff we may be able to compete and unsettle the visitor’s defence, but beyond that there is little that provides cause for optimism.

As someone who is now desperate to see the back of Pellegrini, I am conflicted as to what I want to happen. I never want to see the team lose but possibly it could be for the best. A new broom installed prior to the winter transfer window is a must in my eyes.

The game will be a third meeting this season with referee Mike Dean from the Wirral – he previously presided over the thrashing by Manchester City and also sent off Arthur Masuaku at Villa Park. His friend at VAR central will be Kevin Friend.

Lawro seems to have made his predictions during a drunken Christmas party binge and has gone for a 2-0 home win; while Charlie Nicholas sees it going the other with a 1-3 away win. The best I can hope is to stay on the fence with 2-2.

In-form West Ham (well last weekend anyway!) travel to face the draw specialists at Molyneux

I have to be honest, prior to last weekend’s game at Stamford Bridge, I didn’t really think we had a chance of avoiding a heavy defeat. Of course I always hope, but even at my most optimistic I couldn’t really see it coming. The only factor in our favour was the fact that Chelsea had a European game in midweek, and statistics show that teams are more likely to have a poor result the following weekend. Frank Lampard didn’t use that as an excuse, but I think he was more than confident of a victory before the game, and left out a couple of key players who had been playing very well lately, in Kante and Willian. By the time he eventually brought them on it was too late, and we were good value for the win.

Of course the game will always be remembered for David Martin’s contribution, followed by his Pat Cash impersonation at the end, climbing the stairs in the stand to greet his legendary father, Alvin. What a story that turned out to be! But for me the team played well as a unit, defending together, and attacking as one. The back four had good games, and that is three goals this season now for Cresswell. Rice and Noble had their best games for a while, especially Rice, who perhaps with a point to prove against the club who let him go, really shone in all aspects of the midfielder’s role.

I’ve always liked Snodgrass, especially for his wholehearted attitude, and he and Fornals, who also had probably his best game, were vital cogs in the midfield. Anderson was OK, whilst not yet demonstrating that he is at the top of his form (we’ve seen what he can do). One pundit summed it up perhaps when he said that, for all his talent, there’s a reason Anderson is at West Ham, and not at one of the very top clubs. But for me, Antonio was superb, showing exactly what he is good at, pace, power, strength, and endless running. And to think that a previous manager once played him at right back! I remember a game at Stamford Bridge where he played in that position too! But then the same manager didn’t have a clue how to use Snodgrass either.

Writing the article last week I referred to the gulf between the teams at the top of the table and those further down. In particular I mentioned three games, and three teams who were not even in the bottom three, ourselves, Newcastle and Brighton who were very long odds to win their games.

“We are 9/1 to win at Chelsea, Newcastle are 14/1 to win at home to Manchester City, and Brighton are also 14/1 to win at Liverpool. A 2,250/1 treble on three football matches shows just what the Premier League has become.”

Without being really hopeful, I had a small wager on each of the three teams to win their games, and had to do the treble too, as I would have kicked myself if the three most unlikely results had all actually happened, and I’d mentioned the very long odds without placing a bet. As it turned out I made a profit (thanks to West Ham of course) but the others put up good performances too, with Newcastle holding Manchester City, and Brighton only going down narrowly at Liverpool. Perhaps the top teams were all suffering hangovers due to their midweek European games.

On average this season to date, slightly more than a quarter of matches have ended as draws (38 out of 140 = 27%). Sheffield United and Arsenal have each drawn half of their 14 games, whereas this evening’s opponents, Wolves, have gone one further drawing eight. With four wins and just two defeats they stand at sixth in the table on twenty points, four ahead of ourselves. The two games they lost were 3-2 at Everton, and then 5-2 at home to a rampant Chelsea. Apart from those setbacks it has been a good season, although no doubt they would have wished to have turned some of those draws into wins, just as we would perhaps have liked to have turned some of our defeats into draws? A 0-0 draw away to Leicester on the opening day (a very good result in hindsight) was the only game in which they failed to score this season, and perhaps their highlight was a 2-0 win away at Manchester City.

Seven of their eight draws have been with a 1-1 score, including four of them at home to Manchester United, Southampton, Burnley and Sheffield United. If you like to bet on scores in matches then 1-1 would seem to be an obvious result, with the odds being 11/2 on that happening, although the favourite is 1-0 to Wolves at 5/1. If you fancy us gaining a second 1-0 away win in less than a week against one of the top sides, then you can get 11/1 on that. A West Ham win is 7/2, and an away victory with both teams to score is 13/2.

Let us hope that we can take the confidence from our victory on Saturday into this game, and if David Martin can keep another clean sheet then, stating the obvious, we won’t lose! Despite their good season, Wolves have only stopped the opposition from scoring in three of their games, whereas we have amazingly kept four clean sheets. Amazingly runaway leaders Liverpool have only kept two!

I fancy another 1-0 win, although I’d settle for a 1-1 draw. Last season the game at Molyneux was one of our worst performances. Let us hope for a much improved one today.

Bridge Over Troubled Waters: West Ham Finally Wake Up To Earn Pellegrini Reprieve

I’d rather be a hammer than a blue. West Ham defy the odds with a deserved victory to keep the customer’s satisfied – at least for the time being. What did we learn?

Oh! What A Surprise

I doubt that even the most optimistic of us saw this coming. I certainly didn’t, and had fully prepared myself for the worst – that adding yet another game to the demoralising win-less run was a mere formality. But it wasn’t to be. The West Ham of recent weeks had seemingly hired an unusually energetic and lively set of impersonators who would compete rather than capitulate. In the end it was a comfortable victory against a surprisingly subdued Chelsea side. The final margin of victory could easily have been wider, even ignoring the disallowed goal. It was a much improved effort all round. Better shape, improved intensity, space closed down and the ball moved far more quickly. Much was made of the change of keeper (and that was immensely important) but other factors contributed equally: Mark Noble sitting deeper alongside Declan Rice as a defensive midfield duo; Robert Snodgrass and Pablo Fornals working their socks off in the wider midfield positions; and greater mobility up front through Michail Antonio. The obvious question is, why did it take eight games and the onset of a sacking crisis for Manuel Pellegrini to finally make changes to his game plan? With an away game against Wolves coming up in a few days we will get the opportunity to see whether Saturday’s performance was a one-off reaction or the springboard for better things.

In Comes Startin’ Martin

David Martin’s Premier League debut at age 33 was the great story of the weekend. His emotion at the end of the game and the embrace with dad, Alvin, was a priceless moment. It is the first time I have seen him play and he looked more than a competent deputy. Handled well, was composed and communicated with his team-mates throughout the game. It must have been an enormous relief to the rest of the defence to know that disaster wasn’t lurking behind you. Quite what the manager and coaching staff have seen in training to prefer Roberto over Martin is a puzzle. The choice between the erratic flamboyance of Roberto and the unspectacular, competence of Martin should not be a difficult one, Señors. Neither can be regarded as a replacement for the injured Fabianski but only one will have the trust of his colleagues. Buoyed by the presence of a capable keeper and better protection from midfield the improvement in the performances of Angelo Ogbonna and Fabian Balbuena was clear. Admittedly, Chelsea offered little attacking variety but the defence did all that they had to do very well. A bonus takeaway from the weekend was confirmation, if it were needed, that Giroud would not make a positive addition to the West Ham squad.

The Beast Is Back

Michail Antonio rightly took many of the post-match plaudits for a performance that was pivotal to West Ham’s success. With Antonio you get exactly what it says on the tin – pace, power and directness. He unsettles and out-muscles defences, provides a willing outlet for team-mates and is prepared to chase down opponents once possession is lost. He may not possess the greatest of technical ability but so what? It doesn’t diminish his overall effectiveness and eliminates much of the predictability from West Ham’s attacking play – provided that he is used correctly. Antonio’s qualities have frequently been undervalued by successive managers at the club, who have regarded him as emergency cover across multiple positions, rather than to be used where he can do most damage. It would be great to see him deployed in tandem with Sebastien Haller – opposing defences would certainly know that they have been in a game.

How do you solve a problem like Felipe?

Felipe Anderson has become the most enigmatic of characters. I have to say I was pleased to hear that he had been moved to a central midfield position when the lineups were revealed. The failed tactic of using him and Yarmolenko stranded on the ‘wrong’ flanks has never worked since the start – and, what’s more, it denies space for the full-backs to exploit. Aaron Cresswell demonstrated this to good effect on Saturday culminating in an excellent goal. Ryan Fredericks was less inclined, and seems too nervous to venture forward beyond his midfield partner. I don’t subscribe to the view that Anderson is a lazy player but he is frustrating one. He is clearly not happy, has lost his early swagger and is not providing value for money as far as creativity is concerned. I wonder if there is a problem between him and Pellegrini? Unable to rely on the services of Jack Wilshere or Manuel Lanzini, West Ham need Anderson primed and ready if they are to make anything of the season. Yarmolenko’s brief cameo from the bench didn’t inspire any confidence, while the remainder of the bench was, as usual, completely uninspiring. With Haller already benched, why also include Albian Ajeti, rather than giving Nathan Holland the experience?

Falling Foul Of Jon Moss

A notable statistic from the match was that Chelsea did not commit any fouls – correction – were not penalised for committing any fouls. Jonathan Moss is well known as a ‘homer’ referee and he did not disappoint on this outing. I am sure he was quite relieved that his VAR pal was able to detect a technical infringement for the second ‘goal’. The decision may have been correct according to the letter of the current interpretation of the law.  But this ‘any arm contact is handball interpretation’ is a brand new concept – it is not the reason so many were keen to see the introduction of VAR in the first place. I can recall controversies with penalty and offside decisions but not with balls accidentally striking hands.  An infringement should be an infringement regardless of who does it and where on the pitch it happens. VAR remains a good idea but typical of the football authorities that it has been so poorly implemented.

Player Ratings: Martin (7), Fredericks (7), Ogbonna (7), Balbuena (7), Cresswell (7), Rice (8), Noble (7), Snodgrass (7), Anderson (6), Fornals (7), Antonio (8) Subs: Yarmolenko (5), Haller (6), Masuaku (6)

Manuel’s Labours: Pellegrini And West Ham Certain To Be Singing The Blues After Stamford Bridge Showdown

The tortoises travel across London to face the hares this afternoon. What are the chances of a fairy tale finish?

If there was to be a Manuel Pellegrini terrace song then surely it would be one of those old blues/ country numbers where his women’s done left him, his momma’s an alcoholic, the house has burned down and the dog has died. The protagonist reflecting on this as he awaits the padre to escort him to his execution.

After a week of intense speculation where the entire focus was exclusively on who the club are lining up as his replacement, it has been reported that our manager has been given two weeks to save his job. At least when Flash Gordon was given 14 hours to save the Earth he had a sporting chance of achieving it.

In their wisdom, the two Daves decided that kicking the can down the road a little more was the sensible course of action to take – seemingly prepared to write off the games against Chelsea and Wolves.  Maybe they believe it will make them appear more reasonable and thoughtful chaps – or else, save them a few weeks worth of severance payments. It is difficult to understand that anyone who has sat through a West Ham game in the past two months can’t see that the chance of Pellegrini turning around the fortunes of this aimless, dispirited, divided and disorganised squad are several times slimmer than winning the Euro millions. The more humane option would have been to put him quickly out of his misery; allowing someone new the chance to assess strengths and weaknesses before the transfer window opens in the new year.

If actually getting a new manager in place is going to take a few more weeks, then let the U23 manager take charge on a caretaker basis. From what I have seen (admittedly only highlights) it looks like he knows how to set up and organise his side with both pace, energy and enterprise – it’s not as if he could do any worse. It really is a bizarre club where the academy sides play an entirely different style of football to the first team.

The elephant in the room when it comes to appointing a new manager is, unfortunately, the lack of imagination present in those making the selection. I don’t believe for a moment that the Board have been scouring the European leagues to identify up-and-coming talent – a few phone calls to their favourite agent or a search on Google would be closer to the mark. There have been so many names bandied about it is impossible to know which are genuine contenders and which have just been made to gain attention.

Personally, I would like to see someone who can be a longer term fix – a younger manager capable of instilling the kind of style, ethos and unity necessary to compete in modern Premier League football. What we don’t need is another rescue mission from one of the a managerial dinosaurs who may know how not to lose, but has little idea how to win.

We like to clutch straws and take comfort where we can find it and I would be happy with an appointment such as Eddie Howe – should he have any interest in coming to the London Stadium. At least now when I see a headline claiming “West Ham keen to pursue 41 year old” it just might refer to a managerial candidate rather than the latest stand-in goalkeeper or central midfield target.

Speaking of young managers, today will see West Ham come up against a Chelsea side managed by old foe Frank Lampard.  It has really surprised me how well he has done so far this season. I did think he would make a good manager one day but that this job had come too early for him – particularly with the transfer ban in place. Like it or not, Lampard is intelligent, articulate and happy to learn and adjust as he goes. His team play fast and attractive football and work hard for each other.  The introduction of a number of young academy players must have exceeded all expectations at the club.

Quite how our own laggardly rabble will fare against such youthful exuberance doesn’t bear thinking about. It could be a very long afternoon – starting an hour before kick-off when Pellegrini announces his latest permutation from his group of apparent strangers.

I read one laughable report in the week that suggested a recall for Carlos Sanchez (with Declan Rice dropping back to replace the suspended Issa Diop). The rationale being that the introduction of Sanchez changed the course of the game last week. Good grief! The worrying thing is that there is a good chance that Pellegrini saw it the same way – a tactical masterstroke that just came too late to save the day.  Can you imagine a midfield of Sanchez, Noble and Snodgrass chasing the shadows of Kante, Mount and Willian? He may as well bring back Pablo Zabaleta to take care of Pulisic.

Unless there is something devilishly cunning going on beneath the manager’s calm persona, I don’t expect any revolutionary changes to what we have seen taking place over recent weeks. A token effort for 15 to 20 minutes or so followed by a collapse when the first goal goes in. The other great unknown being who will it be be picking the ball out of the net when that happens. Seeing Roberto on the team sheet again could cause spontaneous combustion across the east-end.

This week’s referee double act consists of Jonathan Moss (West Yorkshire) trying to keep up with play on the pitch and Andrew ‘Andy’ Madley (Huddersfield) on VAR duty.

Media pundits Lawro and Charlie Nicholas are being rather conservative in predicting a home win but only by 2-1 and 2-0 respectively. I can easily see this being a complete rout and annihilation – something close to the 7-1, which I believe would equal our worst ever Premier League defeat (away to Blackburn in October 2001). Despite all this negativity I will still be watching and be urging us on to win. Perhaps there can be a miracle (like the two Di Canio goals in September 2002) but I can’t see where that individual quality can come from these days. I usually look forward to games but will be more than happy when this one is all over.

Uh oh, we’re in trouble! Something’s come along, and it’s burst our bubble.

The transition from early season optimism to winter of discontent continues with yet another woeful West Ham performance. Takeaways and player ratings from the weekend.

It’s A Perfect Time To Panic

Just when you think things can’t get any worse, West Ham manage to dig deeper to serve up an even more incompetent performance.  New depths have been well and truly plumbed.  This is not a team who just happen to be going through a poor fun of form, but one that doesn’t seem to know what it is supposed to be doing. We have a collage representing the worst aspects of manager’s past: Zola, Roeder, Grant and Bilic. The enigma of an under-performing team and a manager who, it appears, has absolutely no idea what has gone wrong or how to change things.  Manuel Pellegrini admitted as much after the game.  Ironically, most fans have a good idea where the deficiencies lie – pace, width, organisation, fitness, commitment and motivation – even if we wouldn’t really know how to fix them.  But then again, we are not paid millions of pounds a year to do so. How quickly an opportunity to leap into third place has morphed into taking an unhealthy interest in the relegation placings.  Two points from the last five (not particularly difficult) games has to be cause for concern.  If Pellegrini can’t turn things around before Christmas, then someone else has to be handed the baton.

He Thought What?

One of the most perplexing reports that I read during the week was that Pellegrini’s believed that West Ham had played well against Sheffield United.  True, we had a few chances to win the game but then so did the visitors. The consequence of that assessment was the naming an unchanged side for the game against Newcastle.  A decision that set up a confrontation between the fastest winger in the league and the slowest full-back.  Do we actually scout the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition? The modern game is very different now and if a player is not quick, athletic and full of running he needs to have some very special talents to compensate.  Equally a manager needs organisation, tactical and motivational skills in addition to a smart CV.  All of these things are in short supply at the London Stadium right now. When Pellegrini was appointed the one negative assessment that I read from his time at Manchester City was that he had allowed fitness levels to drop off alarmingly in his second season.  Has the same now happened at West Ham?   Has the manager lost the dressing room – after all the London Stadium is a big place and his short term memory is quite possibly starting to fail now!

You’ve got to hold and give but do it at the right time
You can be slow or fast but you must get to the line
They’ll always hit you and hurt you, defend and attack
There’s only one way to beat them, get round the back

Rapper John Barnes on West Ham’s Attacking Limitations

Can We Play You Every Week?

Running through West Ham’s limitation each week’s after the latest disappointment is becoming like a scratched record stuck on repeat.  We must be the easiest team in the world to play against. Stay compact, get back into shape quickly and the Hammers will have no clue what to do.  Then simply hit them on the break and get numbers forward quickly.  The first inclination of any West Ham midfielder is a backwards or sideways shuffle that allows any opposition ample time to regroup behind the ball.  I am sure our pass completion for pointless five yard passes is an amazing stat.  In a well drilled side, players would know exactly what they are going to do before receiving the ball.  That just isn’t happening. Playing the ball into space for a teammate to run into is now a blue moon event with West Ham.  The team has become a band of flat-footed strollers, unable to create even the semblance of a chance in open play – irrespective of the amount of possession. Pellegrini has been talking of a reaction in next week’s game, but with Burnley also being soundly beaten at the weekend where would your money go as to who gets the biggest reaction?

It’s A Team Game

“Rarely, if ever, can a Premiership team have defended so poorly.”

“…. must take some of the blame for poor organisation and questionable selection. West Ham’s marking was shambolic at set pieces”

The above quotes were taken from a report when West Ham lost 4-3 at home to Leeds in November 2002 having been 4-1 down at half time – a match I remember well.  A second half recovery partially disguised the incompetence of the first, just as with Saturday’s game. West Ham could easily have been on course by the break to challenge Southampton’s 9-0 home defeat record, had Newcastle been more clinical in front of goal. There is no doubt that Roberto is well below average for a keeper at Premier League level – a cost saving gamble that backfired due to Fabianski’s injury – but he was not the sole reason we lost the game. Capitulation was the only thing that the team did collectively all afternoon. The team had no idea how to deal with pace and movement of the visitor’s attacking players. There was a definite improvement in the latter stages of the second half, but it never turned into an onslaught – even in those five minutes of added time where an equaliser was a possibility.  For most of the game the only attacking threat was Fabian Balbuena at corner kicks. Still no-one wanted to play anywhere near to Sebastien Haller. I agreed with much of Danny Gabbidon’s post match assessment.  The problems are as much about system as personnel – but then I have though the same for a long time. Sure, better players would be great, but the core competence of a manager is to find a system that gets the best results with the resources available.  This is just not happening and there is not even the slightest hint West Ham are attacking, defending or working together as a team. There is no direction, no ideas and no leadership.

Player Recruitment And The Academy

Having said that our problems are as much about system as personnel I do believe that the club’s recruitment policy is flawed – probably as a result of using agents rather than old-fashioned scouting to target recruits. Over the years there has been a procession of players who may be technically competent, but who lack the work ethic that a club like ours (in fact any club) needs these days to compete.  Players who believe that a move to a Premier League club (and the bright lights of London) on lucrative contracts is the pinnacle of their ambition. Successful players need the right mix of talent and application – not one or the other.  The West Ham academy has also failed to deliver consistently for many a long year. As fans we love to see youngsters coming through, but it is tempting to believe that successive managers have not given youth a chance.  There haven’t been that many who have slipped through the net, only to build successful careers elsewhere – so why are we not developing youngsters with right attributes.  I feel that there is some hope with the new academy guy,  Dmitri Halajko, who has been doing a great job in charge of the U23’s.  He seems to have the kind of progressive outlook that is sadly missing in the first team. It is quite unusual that a club doesn’t play the same style of football throughout all age groups – but maybe the youth coaches refuse to go shambolic.

Ratings: Roberto (4), Zabaleta (3), Diop (5), Balbuena (5), Cresswell (4), Rice (5), Noble (3), Yarmolenko (4), Snodgrass (6), Anderson (5), Haller (5) Subs: Lanzini (6), Ajeti (4), Fredericks (5)

Out Of The Wilderness: Can Pellegrini Lead Hammers To The Promised Land Of Cup Success?

Some may dream of spires but most West Ham fans will be dreaming of a first trophy win for 40 years.

It is the round of 32 in the Carabao League Cup.  Following this there are just three more matches before booking a date at Wembley (OK, four games if you include the two-legged semi-final).  It is yet another crack at finally ending a forty year famine in the West Ham trophy cabinet.  Several generations of Hammer’s fans have never experienced the joy of cup success.

When the 4th round draw takes place in Milton Keynes later tonight, there will be somewhere between 7 and 14 Premier League balls rattling around in the bowl.  If there are only 7 it will unfortunately mean the Hammers have already  been eliminated but I don’t see that being the case.  There was only one high profile exit from the Tuesday night ties (and a most amusing one at that) and it would be nice to see a few more upsets this evening – just not at Oxford.  And let’s get this one out of the way before we have a good laugh at Tottenham.

West Ham will have to negotiate the hostile Joey Beauchamp Trail on their way to Oxfords’s Kassam Stadium.  Named after the Hammer’s courageous 1994 summer signing, in commemoration of his 58 day West Ham career, it is known to be both treacherous and unforgiving.  Reading Beauchamp’s interview on how the commute made his time at Upton Park a living nightmare was very entertaining.  Apparently, the winger would have gone to the very top of the game if only he had known how to apply for a Young Person’s Railcard. I am looking forward to the Man Versus Wild re-enactment with Bear Grylls on Discovery Channel later in the year.

Tonight will be the fourth time that West Ham have faced Oxford United in the League Cup (1986 (H), 1990 (A) and 2010(H)) with each match going to the way of the home side.  In 1986 and 1990 both teams were playing their football in the same division, while in 2010 it was Premier League against League Two.  In that most recent encounter, Avram Grant’s side only managed to win the game through a scrappy stoppage time winner from Scott Parker.  It was, however, a springboard for an unlikely cup run that included wins against Sunderland, Stoke City and Manchester United before losing out in a two-legged semi-final with Birmingham.  The Hammers have famously never won the League Cup despite a couple of final appearances – something that can’t be said about tonight’s opponents who lifted it during its Milk Cup guise in 1985/86.

As with the majority of other Premier League managers, Manuel Pellegrini will seek to dabble with squad rotation for tonight’s clash.  With things going well in the Premier League and a top six clash with Bournemouth coming up at the weekend, Pellegrini will want to put out a team capable of doing just enough to win in normal time, without the risk of further injuries to key players.  With the League Cup being the most ‘winnable’ of domestic competitions, most fans will be looking for a side that is strong enough to guarantee progression to the next round.  More than anything, we dream of cup success – as we enter the longest barren spell in the club’s senior history (if you ignore the war years).

It will be interesting to see what type of lineup the manager goes for.  Maybe starts for the likes of Roberto, Pablo Zabaleta, Fabian Balbuena, Jack Wilshere, Robert Snodgrass, Carlos Sanchez and Albian Ajeti or the involvement of promising youngsters such as Nathan Holland, Ben Johnson, and Goncarlo Cardoso.  If Holland isn’t in the squad I will eat my hat (if I had one). It will be a difficult balancing act but hopefully Pellegrini is truly prioritising this competition, both in words and in deed.

A top half Premier League side should easily have enough in their locker to see off a mid-table League One side; even away from home with a smattering of fringe squad players – provided that the attitude is right.  These types of games have traditionally been a challenge for the Hammers – facing an opponent who will have nothing to lose.  With the recent bout of optimism around the club can we now start to measure Pellegrini’s West Ham by a different yardstick – one that reflects a far greater level of professionalism? I hope so.   West Ham to win by two clear goals.