Can West Ham make it three wins from the last four Premier League visits to Goodison Park?

Once again the Premier League resumes after the second halt for an international break. I dislike the stuttered start to a season brought about by these interruptions, but for those of you who enjoy seeing England play these World Cup qualifiers you won’t have long to wait for the next ones as after just four more games the campaign will once again be held up by another stoppage.

Anyway, on Sunday we visit Goodison Park for our eighth Premier League game. Our promising start has faltered a little, and it was disappointing to concede a 95th minute goal to lose our last game at the London Stadium to Brentford. At that point in the game it was only one point dropped, as it was in our last home game against Manchester United when failure to convert a 93rd minute penalty lost us another point. To counterbalance this of course, we ourselves scored a 95th minute winner at Leeds to gain two additional points in time added on, so the net result of the extra time played in our last three games is zero; two points gained and two points lost.

So we are where we deserve to be perhaps with eleven points from seven games and a positive goal difference of +4 to be sitting in ninth place in this early table. Everton are fifth just three points above us. If we can beat them then we will move above them. But previous visits to Merseyside have shown that this won’t be easy.

The Toffeemen have begun the season well under new manager Benitez. They have only lost once, but their four wins haven’t been the most difficult fixtures – away at Brighton was quite impressive, but home victories over Burnley, Norwich and Southampton, three of the bottom four teams at this stage, were games they might have expected to win. Hopefully we will prove to be a much tougher proposition!  

Historically they have been a bit of a bogey side for us, and statistics show that they have won more games, and scored more goals against us than against any other team in the Premier League era. Having said that recent history has shown some improvement, and we have won on two of our last three league visits to Goodison Park.

At this point I’ll pose a teaser for you. Who was the last Englishman to score a goal for West Ham at Goodison Park in either the league or one of the cups? I’ll give you a clue – it was in March 2008 in a 1-1 draw. There were actually seven Englishmen in the starting eleven that day. Since then we have scored 15 goals there but none by someone from England. The names of those goalscorers to take you down memory lane over the last 13 years – Kovac, Da Costa, Ilan, Spector, Piquionne, Zarate, James Collins, Antonio (OK I’ll admit he could be classed as English and was at the time, but now he’s qualified for Jamaica), Sakho, Payet, Yarmolenko (2), Arnautovic, Snodgrass, and finally Soucek who scored the late winner last season on New Years’ Day.

I wonder if a player qualified for England can score for us at Everton on Sunday? Of course there are fewer to choose from these days. In the last game against Brentford there were just three in the starting line-up, Cresswell, Rice and Bowen, and another two (out of nine) on the ‘bench’ – Dawson and Johnson. Without research I suspect that there are some other teams with fewer than that though. How times have changed!

Regular readers of this blog will know that my West Ham memories stretch back to the late 1950s. I have been thinking back over all the years of games against Everton trying to recall some of the best ones. One of the most exciting and memorable evenings was the FA Cup tie at Upton Park in January 2015 when the game was tied 1-1 after 90 minutes. In extra time Lukaku scored his customary goal against us, before Carlton Cole was brought on as a substitute with about ten minutes of the 120 to go, and scored within a minute or so. 2-2 at full time and we were leading in the penalty shoot out after Everton missed one of their early penalties and Downing (with the fifth one) had the opportunity to win the game, but his penalty was saved by the Everton keeper Robles. Successive penalties were scored after that until it was the turn of the goalkeepers. Then Robles penalty hit the bar, leaving Adrian to step up. He memorably threw his gloves to the floor before striding forward to smash in the winner. 9-8 on penalties. What a game!

Another game I remember well (for a different reason) was a 2-2 draw in the 70s. I was standing on the North Bank when an Everton player called Ronnie Goodlass scored from about 50 yards (from a high bouncing ball) over the head of Mervyn Day – I was right behind it. I think that game ended 2-2 with Pop Robson scoring a couple for us.

And one of the best games I can recall, also at Upton Park was earlier in the seventies when we won the game 4-3. I think we had 10 Englishmen on the field that day, but two of our goals were scored by Clyde Best from Bermuda, who did score some cracking goals for us.

Looking at the bookmakers’ odds for the game on Sunday, Everton are narrow favourites at 6/4, we are around 15/8, with the draw at 23/10. My fun bet for this game is for West Ham to win 1-0 and the goal to be scored by Aaron Cresswell (an Englishman for a change!). The odds for this are 200/1. I can just picture a free kick about 25 yards out in the last few minutes, and Cresswell lifting it over the wall into the top corner. What are the chances? And by the way the answer to my teaser was Dean Ashton. What a super player he was before his career was cruelly cut short.

West Ham Will Be Buzzing: But Can They Bring The Bees To Their Knees?

The Hammers first meeting of the season with one of the newly promoted sides. The bees will surely be flying higher than either the hornets or canaries.

Today sees a first ever top tier clash between West Ham and Brentford, and the first in any competition since the 1992/93 season. Although the Bees had enjoyed one previous spell in the old First Division – a war interrupted run between 1935/ 36 and 1946/47 – the Hammers were languishing in midtable Division 2 obscurity at the time.  

Among many pundits pre-season favourites for the relegation places, Brentford have equipped themselves well so far. Showing the determination and resilience necessary to make a go of it in the Premier League, and following in Leeds footsteps as the season’s surprise package. Prior to last weekend they had conceded just two times, but it was their refusal to be overawed by Liverpool, and to come from behind twice in a 3-3 draw, that rightfully earned the plaudits.

For the Hammers, today is the second instalment of the Sunday after the Thursday before schedule that will run until Christmas. A routine victory against Rapid Vienna in the week left them sitting comfortably at the top of Group H. That it has been achieved with a largely second-string selection is a bonus and all the more satisfying. Considerably reducing the risk of fatigue and injury from having to play twice per week.

The Europa League game saw another man of the match performance from Declan Rice. What a top class player he has become. I will admit to being one of those who initially thought he could only ever make it as a centre back – how wrong was that? It is not only his commanding performances on the pitch that would be missed but also his obvious role in encouraging the superb team spirit that currently surrounds the club.  

It is unlikely there will be any surprises in the West Ham starting line-up for the game. The only uncertainty is at right back where both Vladimir Coufal and Ryan Fredericks may be unavailable. Fortunately, Ben Johnson can provide sound defensive cover, even if he still needs to offer more going forward. It was interesting to see that Brentford had targeted Alexander-Arnold as the weak link in Liverpool’s defence last week and I wonder if Thomas Frank sees any similar point of weakness in the Hammer’s backline. Both full-backs may need strong support from their respective midfield partners.

As last year’s set-piece kings, West Ham have carried much less of a threat this time around. One of the highlights in midweek was seeing Craig Dawson really attacking the ball at corner kicks. Dawson and Tomas Soucek were a handful for defences last season and corners were a productive source of goals. Kurt Zouma is the better defender than Dawson (and has a reasonable goal-scoring record of his own) but we have yet to see any aggression from him in the opposition box.

The Rice/ Soucek dynamic also looks in need of tweaking. The desire to get Rice forward more is understandable, particularly now he has started to weigh-in with a few important goals. But it does appear to have dampened Soucek’s party piece of arriving late in the box with purpose. There were signs of the old Soucek in the second half at Leeds and hopefully the manager and coaches are working on getting the right balance between the two.

A win today could move West Ham up to third or fourth place, depending on the scale of victory and what happens in the subsequent Liverpool-Manchester City clash. Not that victory is assured against a side who are as well organised and hard working as Brentford. Breaking down compact and organised defences is something we still seem to struggle with. Excellent counter-attacking has become a West ham core competency but that extra touch of magic to unlock packed defences remains elusive.

How Brentford approach the game will be fascinating. Last weekend’s barnstorming game with Liverpool was something of an anomaly for them, deviating from the cautious, disciplined style that had gone before and earned them three clean sheets – no doubt polycotton ones at a 50% saving in the Brentford Nylons great autumn sale, not arf!

Not knowing what to expect makes this game difficult to call. Surprisingly West Ham supporters have suddenly become accustomed to winning games, particularly at the London Stadium. But against an athletic, all-action opponent who don’t know when they are beaten, it will be a tough test.

In the past this fixture has thrown up some crazy score-lines including 7-4, 8-3 and 7-2. I’ve a feeling this one will be a tighter affair. I can see it being edge of the seats stuff right to the final whistle, with the Hammers finally winning out by the odd goal. COYI!   

A Rapid Turnaround as West Ham are back in Premier League action less than 72 hours after another Europa League win

The last time we faced Brentford in the Football League was in a second tier game (ironically called League Division One) in 1992-93. This was the very season when the Premier League came into existence, but we had missed out following relegation from the top flight (called Division One) in 1991-92. Yes that’s right we went from Division One to League Division One after dropping out of the top tier! I guess the naming was confusing at the time. It’s now much simpler of course with the second tier called the Championship.

Anyway, following a goalless draw at Griffin Park in December 1992 we won the return at Upton Park the following April by four goals to nil. Our goalscorers that day were Martin Allen, Peter Butler, Kevin Keen and Trevor Morley. It was the first of four winning games to end the season in second place and gain automatic promotion into the Premier League on goal difference.

Prior to the two fixtures in that season you have to go back to February 1954 for the last meeting between the sides when we lost 3-1 with our goal scored by Dave Sexton. Older readers may remember the name – Dave Sexton subsequently had a successful managerial career managing Chelsea, QPR, Manchester United and England Under 21s among others.

Coming up to date, Brentford have made an excellent start to life in the Premier League sitting in ninth place after two wins and three draws in their opening six games. Victories over Arsenal and Wolves and creditable draws against Palace, Villa and Liverpool with just a single goal defeat to high flying Brighton represent a good return for the team who were favourites at the beginning of the season to be relegated. One of the many interesting statistics I’ve read this week is that Brentford have only been trailing for a total of 25 minutes this season to date. Apparently that’s the fewest in the Premier League. Is there anything they don’t keep statistics for these days?

Our performance against Rapid Vienna on Thursday wasn’t spectacular but another professional showing to top Europa League Group H with the maximum six points from our two opening games. Defensively we have been particularly impressive, restricting our opponents to just one shot on target in the 90 minutes (and that was from some distance). Dinamo Zagreb had no shots on target against us if I remember correctly. Rice scored in both games and was perhaps man of the match against the Austrians, although I thought that Craig Dawson ran him close. By scoring in both games, Rice became the third West Ham player to score in his first two European appearances for the club – the others were Brian Dear in 1965, and David Cross in 1980.

In the other game in Group H, Dinamo Zagreb went to Belgium and comfortably beat Genk 3-0, so it would appear that our next two matches home and away against the Belgian side shouldn’t present us with too many problems, and we are well placed to top the group if we can keep us this form. And I don’t have any doubts that we can achieve this. Leicester on the other hand have just one point from two games in their group, leaving their European hopes hanging by a thread.

David Moyes continues to have a selection headache with so many players pushing for a place in the starting eleven. But just like his opposite number at Brentford, he has made the least changes to the starting line-up in Premier League games this season (just three).  My best guess this time is for the following unchanged line-up: Fabianski; Coufal (Johnson if Coufal not fit), Zouma, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Rice, Soucek; Fornals, Benrahma, Bowen; Antonio.

I’m not sure that any of the others have done enough (yet) to make them a shoe-in for the starting eleven, although I have a feeling that once Areola gets a run in the team he will keep his place. He looks a high class keeper to me. Dawson is very unlucky to be left out, but I feel that the extra pace of Zouma, and the combination with Ogbonna makes them the first choice pairing at centre back.

Given Brentford’s excellent start to the season, and the fact that we had a European game on Thursday night, I’m surprised that the bookmakers make us such overwhelming favourites to win the game. We are around 17/20 whereas Brentwood are quoted at about 18/5 to collect three points. This won’t be easy and I don’t believe there will be a lot in it. I’ll go for a 3-2 West Ham win (odds of 28/1) and for my fun bet this time I’ve gone for Antonio and Toney both to score, with Rice and Jansson both to be carded at 100/1. What are the chances?  

Rapid Strides: West Ham Ready To Set The Pace At The Top Of Group H

The Hammers continental campaign continues with the visit of Rapid Vienna to the London Stadium. A home victory will allow West Ham to take control of the group.

European football makes its long-awaited return to the east-end tonight as West Ham look to build on their successful start in Zagreb and stay on course for the knockout stages of the Europa League.

Group stage cup football is a new experience for the Hammers and although it may lack the jeopardy of sudden death elimination, it does provide a guarantee of at least three home fixtures for fans to enjoy. It will be interesting to see how that impacts the attendance – I would expect a crowd somewhere north of 40,000 for today’s visit of Rapid Vienna.

Finishing top of Group H and avoiding the Preliminary knockout round, when third placed teams from the Champion’s League groups drop into the competition, would be a huge bonus. Win the three home games and that would be a big step through to the last sixteen.

The progress of Premier League clubs in the Champion’s League has not bothered me much in recent years but I’m now hoping they all qualify from their groups. I will happily trade the schadenfreude of their elimination for not having to face home opposition in the latter stages.

The game against Rapid Vienna will be West Ham’s first competitive encounter with Austrian opposition. Rapid are the most successful club ever in Austrian football having won the league thirty-two times, and the cup fourteen times. They twice reached the final of the European Cup Winners Cup but lost on both occasions.

Having finished second in the Austrian Bundesliga last season they have struggled for results in a hectic start to the new season. Tonight, will be their twenty-first competitive fixture – against West Ham’s ninth. Rapid were eliminated from Champion’s League qualifying by Sparta Prague but then went on to beat teams from Cyprus and Ukraine in reaching the Europa League group stage, where they lost their opening game at home to Genk. They have also struggled for domestic league form and currently sit eleventh placed out of twelve teams.

David Moyes will want to get the home campaign off to a storming start in front of an expectant crowd. It needs the selection of a strong side although there could well be starts for squad players such as Alphonse Areola, Ben Johnson, Issa Diop, Craig Dawson, Alex Kral and Manuel Lanzini. Perhaps the biggest question is whether the club’s lone striker Michail Antonio is given a start or is kept as emergency standby on the bench.

Possible line-up: Areola, Johnson, Zouma, Diop, Cresswell, Rice, Kral, Vlasic, Lanzini, Benrahma, Bowen

The Europa League promises to be a great experience for the club and its supporters. It may also be a more realistic route to Champion’s League qualification than a top four Premier League finish at this point in time – although, there is, of course, still a long way to go. A win today will be another step for the Hammers in staking their claim at the top of the group. Accepting that no game is ever easy – and nothing can be taken for granted – I still forecast a clear West Ham victory here tonight – by two or three goals. COYI!