I’m not a betting man but after last weekend’s results I would have put money on neither of today’s managers surviving for another seven days. Change felt inevitable as the mood with supporters reached an all-time low. The respective Board’s, however, had other ideas and opted to stick rather than twist.
Perhaps it was the looming cliff-edge drama and jeopardy of today’s death-match encounter that was difficult to resist. A gladiatorial struggle of titanic proportions at the London Coliseum where, as the final whistle blew, all attention would switch to the Chairmen in the stands to deliver their thumbs-up or thumbs-down verdicts. Maybe both will end up being thrown to the lions – but whether even Millwall would be interested is another matter!
I’ve long believed there are many similarities in the malaise that infects West Ham and Everton as they struggle to emerge from the shadows of more illustrious neighbours. Each with a strong and committed fanbase who have repeatedly been let down through the hubris of successive owners unable to come to terms with the reality of their situations. Preferring to believe that big city stardust empowers them to throw money at ostentatious signings rather than do the hard-work of building extensive scouting networks. Signing established second-rate players with fancy Youtube reels (and fancy agents) – who don’t interest the bigger clubs – in preference to unearthing emerging young talent before they become known. The idea of performing detailed analytical research and fishing in less known waters is considered necessary only fit for low-budget clubs such as Brighton and Brentford.
No surprise that Everton and West Ham lead the rankings for the most Premier League defeats ever. The Toffees have the edge for now with 424 to the Hammer’s 420 – although the West Ham total has been achieved in four fewer seasons.
We can only speculate how the conversation might have gone in the midweek board meeting at West Ham where the final decision was to do nothing, other than open another packet of hobnobs. Their logic, it seems, being that a manager who has been on a downward spiral for well over a year, who has picked up just one point from the last twenty-one available, who either bought disastrously or has been unable to incorporate expensive players into his game-plan, should be given one last chance – against the only team in the division that is equally incompetent – to prove he still has what it takes to turn things around. It makes absolutely no sense.
There was one report in the week that the Board didn’t want a change of manager to take the limelight away from the planned tribute to David Gold which will take place before kick-off today – it’s what he would have wanted. If true, it takes bizarre decision making to a completely different level.
Yesterday’s signing of Danny Ings was completed with uncharacteristic speed by West Ham. These things generally take weeks of posturing, dithering and negotiation. I suppose it reflects that someone, somewhere is starting to act with a sense of urgency. It raises questions again as to who is making the recruitment decisions at the London Stadium these days. My guess is that Sullivan in cahoots with Mark Noble are now calling the shots.
Ings has a decent Premier League goalscoring record having rattled home 68 goals in 188 appearances – or the equivalent of 141 lots of 90 minutes if you allow for substitution time. Surprisingly he has never scored or been on the winning side against West Ham (in thirteen attempts) but has scored more goals against Everton than against any other opponent. For lovers of symmetry, his 68 goals put him 68th in the rankings of all-time Premier League scorers.
How high up those ranking he is allowed to progress – can he join the one hundred club – will depend on how he is utilised. Stick him up top all on his own without support and he can do no better than those who have came before. He is an intelligent footballer and needs others to play off and to combine with. The well-worn, old-hat, outdated 4-2-3-1 as deployed by Moyes encourages none of that. Attempting to second guess the manager’s team selection leaves most supporters scratching their heads and I’m not expecting any revolutionary change of approach. It is by no means certain whether Moyes will abandon the habit of a lifetime and start with Ings, or leave him on the bench until we are a goal down?
One player who does have a record of scoring against the Hammers (three in five and no defeats) is Neil Maupay. His goal separated the two teams in the return fixture back in September and that remains his only strike of the season to date. Will he get he nod today or will Lampard pin his hopes on the aerial threat of Calvert-Lewin?
With the imminent departure of Craig Dawson, West Ham look alarmingly short of numbers at the back should Kurt Zouma and Nayef Aguerd continue to be plagued by injuries. It will be useful to have Zouma back in action today to finally get the preferred partnership with Aguerd finally up and running. Aguerd looks an accomplished defender but needs someone more dominant aerially alongside him.
With all that is at stake the game it does not promise to be a classic, free-flowing exhibition of the beautiful game. Whoever scores the first goal – if there are to be any – will no doubt shut up shop and look to choke the game with petty fouls and endless pretend head injuries. Neither side is over-burdened with creativity suggesting a dour, desperate, niggly affair to be settled by a lucky deflection, defensive howler or reckless red card. Whether the Hammer will ultimately shatter the brittle Toffee, or the Toffee will cause the Hammer to get stuck fast (Thanks, Mike) is impossible to predict. The forecast is an afternoon where endurance triumphs again over enjoyment. COYI!