We Got The Saturday Lunchtime Blues: West Ham’s Tentative Improvement Faces Expensive Test

A more encouraging set of results needs to be quickly translated into league points. Do the Hammers have what it takes to see off extravagantly high-spending Chelsea?

If West Ham were a hospital patient the bulletin issued to anxious friends and relatives would read critical but stable. The outlook is not quite as bleak as it was a few weeks ago, but there was still a long way to go on the road to recovery.  

Recent form can be looked at in two ways. The optimistic view is that the Hammers have won three and lost just one in their last six games. Those with emptier glasses might point out that two of those wins were in the FA Cup against a deliberately weakened Brentford side and League 1 side, Derby.  Still winning games is good for confidence and that can never be a bad thing. It’s just that confidence needs to translated into league points very quickly. Failure to improve on the current rate of five points from six games would lead to almost certain relegation – with 33 points. Relying on the incompetence of others for survival is not a recommended strategy.

I do sense there has been some improvement in performances of late, even if it is largely imperceptible to the naked eye. Absences through Injury continue to play a debilitating part and certain positional weaknesses cannot be resolved from within the current squad. But signs that the collective spirit have been rekindled are heartening. Perhaps the return of Mark Noble behind the scenes has been a factor, diverting some of the non-playing pressure away from Declan Rice. Survival chances depend significantly on Rice continuing to put in the type of performance that we saw at St James’ Park last Saturday.

A huge positive from the Newcastle game was the team not capitulating following a dreadful opening five minutes. West Ham gradually fought their way back into contention and grabbed a deserved equalizer through Lucas Paqueta. It was possibly one of the most flamboyant goal celebrations ever seen from a Hammer, although while his backflip scored high for degree of difficulty, execution was let down by an unstable landing. I don’t recall if we were ever treated to a Robbie Keane cartwheel after either of the two goals he netted in claret and blue.   

The remainder of last Saturday’s game was reasonably even, although neither team worked the opposing goalkeeper particularly hard. The Hammers had their share of shots, but most were harmless long shots rather than skilfully crafted openings. A stunning last-ditch Moore-esque tackle from Nayef Aguerd was the highlight of the latter stages.

David Moyes substitutions were again disappointing as he opted to stick with the point in the bag with twenty minutes remaining, rather than risk pressing for a winning goal. Caution will always be his core competency.

Today’s visitors arrive on the back of equally unimpressive league form, having taken only six points from the last six games. Their only success was a 1-0 win against Crystal Palace in mid January. Despite (or perhaps as a result of) a profligate spending spree, they languish in 9th spot, nine points away from 4th place Tottenham. Chances of a top four finish are wafer thin and participation in next year’s Champions League will depend on how well they fare in this year’s competition – in which they visit Dortmund on Wednesday.

A factor in Chelsea’s favour is that manager Graham Potter has yet to lead a side to defeat against the Hammers. His record at Brighton was two wins and five draws – two wins and four draws against David Moyes.

We should expect a couple of changes from the team that started last week. Ben Johnson will take over from the injured Thilo Kehrer in the back three, with either Pablo Fornals or Manuel Lanzini the probable replacement for Said Benrahma in attacking midfield. Benrahma was particularly frustrating at Newcastle, getting into great positions and then dithering, over elaborating, or taking the wrong decision. He appears to struggle even more when there is a wing-back behind him.

Moyes has now reverted to a back three as his preferred defensive formation. It does have a more solid look to it but unless you have fast, fit wing-backs with great delivery – we don’t – it comes at the expense of attacking and creative options. The efforts and probing of Rice and Paqueta will be key for the Hammers today, as will the running of Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen.

For all Chelsea’s woes they continue to dominate possession in the majority of their games. And that is unlikely to change today. The danger for West Ham is retreating too far into their shells and leaving nine behind the ball in the all too familiar negative low block. It shows the opposition too much respect and it is obvious we look a better side when playing on the front foot. I still believe the team’s poor ball retention is as much to do with tactics and having too few options available as it is with technical ability.

The visitors have a wealth of potentially exciting talent to select from, but nothing approaching a team as yet. For Potter, a problem of too many individuals when his previous success was built on team ethic. My advice to him is stick with the floppy haired Cucurella instead of bringing in Chilwell today.

For some reason, Saturday lunchtime kick-offs have a reputation for being unpredictable affairs. While a draw would be the predictable outcome, perhaps the Hammers can enhance that reputation with a surprise three points. Otherwise it may be bottom three again by the end of the weekend. COYI!  

In a fixture famous for late goals can West Ham defeat big spending underachieving West London rivals Chelsea?

In last week’s article I predicted (or more correctly hoped for) a 0-0 draw. Within about 45 seconds I thought that was a forlorn hope, but fortunately VAR intervened as the ball had gone fractionally out of play when Newcastle thought they had scored within the first minute. But not to be deterred they came straight back at us and a minute or two later we were 1-0 down when Wilson ran on to a through ball that split our centre backs. I have to admit that at that point I feared the worst.

Not many teams score against the meanest defence in the Premier League (they have conceded far fewer than anyone else), particularly at St James’s Park. But the early setback seemed to spur us on and for much of the first half we were the better team and it was no surprise when Paqueta equalised from a corner well taken by our new corner taker Declan Rice. Is there anything that he doesn’t do well? The statistics at the end of the first half showed that we had eight shots compared to the home side’s two. Very promising.

The second half was more even but we held on well and by the end of the game we had collected a well deserved point in a 1-1 draw against the draw specialists. That was the Magpies tenth draw in 21 games. The shots count at the end was 10-8 in our favour and we were the better side in the expected goals (xg) statistic too. An excellent point in our fight for survival which we are very definitely still very much involved in. The point gained was very welcome but the most important thing for me was the overall performance which pleased me immensely.

In previous articles I have been analysing the position and current form of the bottom teams. I was concentrating on the seven sides closest to the foot but now I will extend it to nine as Palace in twelfth place are only six points clear of the relegation zone. The points of the bottom nine (all with 17 games still to play) are:

Palace 24, Forest 24, Leicester 21, Wolves 20, Leeds 19, West Ham 19, Everton 18, Bournemouth 17, Southampton 15.

The points gained in the last 5 games shows Forest well ahead of the rest, but we have now risen to third in this guide to current form:

Forest 11, Wolves 7, West Ham 5, Leicester 4, Everton 4, Leeds 3, Southampton 3, Palace 2, Bournemouth 1.

A couple of tough games coming up starting with the visit of Chelsea this weekend in the early kick-off. By the standards of recent times our visitors have had a poor season so far and are one of seven teams to relieve their manager of his position in the last six months. Graham Potter, after winning many plaudits for what he had done at Brighton, took over from Thomas Tuchel, but their fortunes have not improved whilst the Seagulls have continued with their impressive start and sit in sixth place, four clear of ninth placed Chelsea.

I read that everything seems to happen in the last five minutes of our Premier League games against Chelsea, more than in any other fixture. Each of the last three games has been settled by a goal in this time, and it has happened seven times overall with winning goals coming this late. Yarmolenko and Masuaku strikes stand out in my memory, but the finish of the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge earlier this season is one that was not good from our viewpoint. Do you remember that game played early in September?

Antonio scored the opening goal of the game about half an hour from the end before Chilwell equalised fifteen minutes later from a virtually impossible angle that Fabianski would have saved easily had he not advanced trying to narrow it even further. At 1-1 with the game almost over Cornet (remember him?) should have equalised but managed to hit the post before the ball went down the other end for Havertz to score what turned out to be the winner. We thought we had equalised in the last minute (Cornet again) but the goal was disallowed by referee Madley after a VAR check decided that keeper Mendy had been fouled by Bowen. Ridiculous in my view and many others thought the same too. Our manager described it as scandalous. That was one of the unlucky decisions that went against us in the early season games.

There’s a lot that annoys me about Chelsea. It goes back around 40 years when I was threatened with a knife in the Stamford Bridge stand at a Chelsea v Newcastle Division 2 game, when I was there with a Geordie friend. Back in 1983/4 neither of those two teams who now have some of the richest owners in the Premier League were in the top division. I dislike the fact that the Blues, bankrolled by billionaire owner Todd Boehly, have spent money outrageously in January, dwarfing that of every one of the teams in the German, Spanish and Italian leagues combined. More than the rest of the Premier League combined too. It just seems to be a continuation of the Abramovich era.

I find the spending outrageous, obscene even. It is not good for football. And at a time of a cost of living crisis too it seems even worse. There always used to be an argument that the vast amounts of money in the Premier League found its way down the leagues and into grass roots football. But does it? Somehow wealthy clubs such as Chelsea spending record-breaking eye-watering sums don’t get touched by Financial Fair Play. Somehow they manage to keep within the regulations. For me there must be something wrong with how the fair play rules are constructed. Nothing fair about it at all and the ruination of fair competition.

Despite their indifferent recent form (they have only picked up five points from their last five games – the same as ourselves), the visitors are favourites with the bookmakers to win the game at 5/4. A West Ham win and the draw are both priced at 23/10. I hope that we beat them. I think that we can. What are the chances of the game being settled once again with a West Ham winner in the last five minutes? I do hope so.

Can West Ham snatch an unlikely point at St James’ Park against the Premier League’s draw specialists?

I am often intrigued by a debate amongst football fans about the size of their club. The ‘my club is bigger than yours discussion.’ Newspaper journalists and the media in general will often refer to x being a big club, or will a certain player want to join a ‘bigger’ club. But what is a big club? A club that is considered big today may not have been at some time in the past. Is it the fan base, average attendances, revenue, trophies won in history, or honours gained in recent times, or one or more of many other criteria that you could toss into the mix? A club that is considered big today may not have been at some time in the past. It’s all quite subjective really.

I watched a TV quiz show recently where contestants had to decide if clubs had won more FA Cups than Ipswich Town (one win in 1979). When the name Old Etonians came up the contestant scoffed. But Old Etonians reached the final of the FA Cup six times in the nineteenth century winning it twice and supplied a number of players for the England national team, including three in one match against Wales in 1879. Old Etonians were once a big club, but not now of course.

Few of us would argue against Newcastle United and West Ham United being big clubs at the present time. (Our fans sing that we are not just big but massive of course!). But if the criteria was based on trophies won in recent times then perhaps we would not be considered quite so big. West Ham last won a major trophy in 1980 when as a second tier side we beat Arsenal in the FA Cup final on that sunny May day when Sir Trev stooped to head the only goal of the game.

Newcastle have won four league titles, six FA Cups, and like ourselves have won an Inter Two Bob Cup and a European trophy. In fact they have won the ninth highest total of trophies by English clubs (we are about 18th on that list). But Newcastle’s last major domestic trophy was in 1955, though their last major trophy was when they won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1969.

Both of us took steps towards rectifying the lack of recent honours this week. We beat Derby County fairly comfortably to move into the last 16 of the FA Cup. In theory we only need to win three games from here to reach the final at Wembley, and four to actually lift the trophy. But the draw has not been kind to us and our task has been made harder with a trip to Old Trafford in Round Five.

Newcastle are much closer to landing a trophy having beaten Southampton in a two-legged semi final to reach the final of the EFL Cup where Manchester United stand between them and achieving their aim. A rejuvenated Manchester United could put paid to both our hopes.

After battling relegation for much of last season the Magpies recovered well in the latter stages, and in this campaign they have turned it around to such an extent that they currently sit third in the Premier League with just under half of the season to play, and are among the favourites to be playing Champions League football next season. The Saudi-led takeover of the club is a massive contributing factor of course, but Eddie Howe deserves a lot of praise for building a team capable of challenging the top teams in England.

On the other hand as a complete reversal of last season’s fortunes we sit in sixteenth place just one point above the bottom three and in need of some good results in the second half of the season to ensure that we are still in the Premier League next season. Following the death of the Queen earlier in the season the reverse fixture was postponed so we have not yet faced the Magpies yet.

As so often seems to be the case we are once again hindered by injuries. In the transfer window that has just closed I think we signed two players, Danny Ings, a recognised Premier League goalscorer, but who is apparently injured already, and a young Brazilian who has gone into the Development Squad. Around nine players left the club in the window including some promising Academy graduates who barely got a chance to show what they could do in our colours. The manager must believe we have a big enough and good enough squad to move up the table. Many would disagree.

On form we don’t really have much of a chance in this game, do we? Third at home to sixteenth. I read that the Geordies have been trailing in games for just 80 minutes in total in their 20 league games to date, fewer than any other team. They haven’t conceded a single goal in the first half in any of their last sixteen Premier League games! They have only conceded 11 goals in total in 20 games, five fewer than league leaders Arsenal, and by far the best defensive record in the top flight. They have only lost once, a 2-1 defeat to Liverpool with the winner coming in the 98th minute. Nick Pope, (allegedly a target of West Ham last summer?), has kept six consecutive Premier League clean sheets. When did we last win an away game?

Just 3 points separate Leicester in 14th (on 18) and Southampton at the bottom (on 15). The points table for the last five games for the bottom 7 clubs is as follows (none apart from Wolves perhaps pulling up any trees or averaging a point a game):

Wolves 7, West Ham 4, Leeds 3, Southampton 3, Leicester 1, Bournemouth 1, Everton 1.

All seven teams are averaging less than a point a game for the season as a whole so far which is a figure that is generally enough to avoid relegation, and at this moment they would appear to be the teams who will produce the three who go down, although Forest and Palace are not too far above, and invariably a team that is not involved in the scrap at the bottom has a poor run at the season’s end.

The odds on a Newcastle win (3/5) are not as short as you might expect given the relative form of both teams and their league positions. The draw is only 11/4 with a West Ham win at 5/1. I reckon the best chance of us getting anything from the game is to play for a 0-0 draw. That’s probably what David Moyes has in mind too, as he seems to for so many of our games, particularly on our travels. The odds on the game being goalless are around 8/1, unlikely despite the fact that Newcastle have played six such games out of the 20 so far this season, Palace (twice), Brighton, Manchester United and Leeds featuring in 0-0 draws. Wolves, Bournemouth and Manchester City all held the Magpies to a scoring draw, and their solitary defeat at Liverpool should really have been a point apiece too, but the referee in that game seemed to continue playing until the Reds scored their winner deep into added time.

It’s time for Paqueta to demonstrate why he is preferred to the suspended Guimaraes in the Brazil national team; in fact time for so many to perform. Quite what Areola and Downes have to do to get an extended run in the league team is beyond me, but the manager will no doubt select some players in the team that many of us would not. I fear the worst but hope for a 0-0 draw, and being optimistically greedy how about snatching a late winner for three points in a 1-0 win? What are the chances?

He Came In Through The Transfer Window: Can West Ham Steal A Point At St James’ Park

An underwhelming transfer window is followed by the long trip north to face high-flying Newcastle United. Do David Moyes ambitions stretch beyond the hope of a desperate goalless draw?

Another January transfer window has come and gone and once again supporters are left frustrated and disappointed at the lack of imagination and planning involved. Our high-flying bubbles had begun to fade and die at the same stage last year when the club failed to build from a position of strength. What will be our fate in this time of weakness? West Ham have fiddled as their relegation rivals splashed the cash for survival!

Once the dust had settled on the closing window, the only new signing was Danny Ings, an intelligent but injury-prone striker. A player who will provide additional options in attack even if his best days are behind him. But any opportunity that offers is offset by the departure of Craig Dawson, probably the Hammers most dependable central defender over the past couple of seasons – and one of the principle goal threats at the other end. Agreeing to Dawson’s request to return north for personal reasons was a reasonable one. But not bringing in a replacement is the latest in a long list of negligent and short-sighted decisions. Particularly considering the injury records of the remaining defenders.

Following Dawson out the door went three academy graduates – Harrison Ashby, Pierre Ekwah, and Emmanuel Longelo. Only time will tell how well these young players develop or whether some were motivated by money rather than opportunity. It would have been good to have given them an opportunity in claret blue – everybody loves an academy graduate – but that, it seems, is too risky for the cautious one. I saw a statistic that Divin Mubama’s four minutes against Arsenal is the only game time seen by an under-22 player for West Ham this season. Interestingly, the next ‘worst’ is Newcastle where Elliot Anderson is the only under-22 to have been given a run out – although he has played 100 minutes more than Mubama.

When West Ham last played Newcastle United in mid-February 2022, the Hammers sat 4th in the Premier League while the Magpies languished in 17th place. Today the positions are almost exactly reversed. Newcastle reaping the reward of ditching their own dinosaur manager, Steve Bruce, and bringing in the more progressive, Eddie Howe. Plus of course having access to large piles of grubby Saudi cash which has allowed them to invest £250 million in the squad over the last three windows.

With a League Cup final place already booked and an outstanding chance of Champions League qualification, it is shaping up to be a fantastic season for the Magpies. Howe has made astute signings and teased the best from the talented but underperforming players already at his disposal. It is impossible to begrudge the loyal and passionate Newcastle fans their whiff of glory but it still beggar’s belief that representatives of the brutal and murderous Saudi regime are considered to be fit and proper owners of a British football club.

There was a leak yesterday of what might become future government legislation for the regulation of football. Some way to go before we discover how that might turn out or what powers the independent regulator (surely, it has to be known as OFF-SIDE?) might be given. The leaked documents suggest that all clubs would need to reapply for a licence, but is that really going to happen without extended and costly legal challenge should a licence be revoked? The new rules will, no doubt, be introduced just in time to prevent a consortium of Dr Evil, Kim Jong-un and Prince Andrew taking over at the London Stadium.

Newcastle’s on-field success this season has been built around the most frugal defensive record in the league and a whole laundry full of clean sheets . They have conceded just 11 goals in total and none at all since a late Southampton consolation on November 6. It’s a record that offers scant hope for a misfiring West Ham attack. Especially where David Moyes primary target will be to add to the tally of six 0-0 draws that Newcastle fans have already witnessed this term.

Early reports are that West Ham will be without Kurt Zouma, Danny Ings, Gianluca Scamacca, and someone called Maxwell Cornet. It has proved fruitless to speculate in the past about Moyes baffling team selections but I’m guessing he will stick with three at the back and a massed defence for this one. It will largely be the same side that won at Derby but with Lukasz Fabianski back in goal (for some reason), Declan Rice replacing Flynn Downes and Lucas Paqueta in for Pablo Fornals.

As long as the game remains scoreless, West Ham incursions into the opposing third will be as sporadic and half-hearted as usual, with possession hovering around the 30% mark. If Newcastle score, it will be more of the same as the Hammers seek to keep their powder dry until the final ten minutes. At least, that is what experience suggests will happen. Unless, of course, this is the week that Moyes finally unleashes his brand-new possession-based football experiment.

The glimmer of hope is that the hosts will be without influential Bruno Guimarães following his midweek red card – interesting that Paqueta gets the nod ahead of him for the Brasil national team. And there’s no longer the possibility of Jonjo Shelvey being called up for a once in a blue moon stormer! That still leaves plenty of threats to the Hammers goal, however, in the form of Wilson, Almiron, Willock, and Saint-Maximin.

This weekend is the start of a tough run of games for West Ham. Newcastle is followed by Chelsea at home and Tottenham away. How many of the 20 points needed to survive are they likely to pick up from that lot? No better than zero to three is my guess. Would that be enough for Moyes to keep his job? Does he then get out of jail again by scraping a narrow win over Forest? It’s going to be a long hard slog. COYI! 

From White Horse To Donkey Derby: Can West Ham Avoid A Shock At Pride Park

Even in the best of times West Ham are famed for shock cup upsets. Will the same fate await David Moyes beleaguered side when they face Derby County in tonight’s fourth round tie?

This year marks the 100th anniversary of West Ham’s first ever appearance in an FA Cup Final. A match that is etched deeply into English football folklore as the result of iconic images of PC George Scorey and his white horse, Billy, attempting to control the massive crowds who had descended on Wembley Stadium to witness its inaugural footballing occasion.

What is less well known is that the Hammers had reached that 1923 final by beating today’s opponents, Derby County, in a semi-final tie played a month earlier at Stamford Bridge. It is the solitary FA Cup meeting played between the two sides prior to today.

In a thrilling encounter, Sid King’s claret and blue army ran out as 5-2 winners. For those in need of a warm glow of nostalgia as an antidote to the current dismal and declining phase of Hammer’s history, here’s what the Daily Mail had to say about the performance:  

“West Ham have never played finer football. It was intelligent, it was clever, and it was dashing. They were quick, they dribbled and swerved, and passed and ran as if the ball was to them a thing of life and obedient to their wishes. They were the master tacticians, and it was by their tactics that they gained… Every man always seemed to be in his place, and the manner in which the ball was flashed from player to player – often without the man who parted from it taking the trouble to look – but with the assistance that his colleague was where he ought to be – suggested the well-assembled parts of a machine, all of which were in perfect working order.”

The Hammers, who were in the second tier of English football at the time, had made it to Wembley without having to face any teams from the top division.  In these troubled times, an equivalently benign draw would be the only route to an extended cup run this time around. The competition might have already seen several top names bow out early, but plenty remain who routinely have our measure.  As the 5th round ties will be dawn before tonight’s game kicks-off, it might be tempting to throw in the towel if we are paired against either Manchester clubs, Tottenham, or Brighton. And an in-form Derby will not be an easy obstacle to overcome in any case.

Derby seem to have spent most of this century staggering from one financial crisis to another and a points deduction and transfer embargo saw them slip into the third tier of English football at the end of last season. However, a lengthy unbeaten run now has them well placed to secure a speedy return to the Championship if performances are maintained.

The Rams enjoyed some memorable times in the 1970s, winning the old First Division on two occasions at the legendary Baseball Ground mud bath. Although they have only competed seven seasons in the Premier League, they have spent a total of 65 seasons as a topflight club – exactly the same number as West Ham. They have one FA Cup title to their name, beating Charlton Athletic 4-1 (after extra time) in the 1945/46 competition.

West Ham go into the game off the back of a seat of the pants victory over Everton last weekend. The Hammers were marginally the better side without convincing that any corner had been turned or that momentum was now with them. We can only speculate on what might have happened if the result had gone the other way. As things stand, we are likely stuck with the same manager and the same group of players for the foreseeable future. Whether they can cobble together the six or seven wins needed for survival remains to be seen.

It is possible, I suppose, that a surprise or two could be sprung before the transfer window closes tomorrow, but all I’m expecting is the arrival of the underwhelming Michael Keane. Sadly, we must pin our hopes on a slow, ageing, unmotivated, and injury-prone squad.

David Moyes will be without Kurt Zouma, Gianluca Scamacca, and Danny Ings when he makes tonight’s team selection, leaving Michail Antonio once again as the only fit ‘striker’. Will Moyes give Divin Mubama an opportunity? It is always difficult to know how well young players will step up but he looks to have an eye for the goal, good movement and the right physique. Has to be worth giving it a go – and not for just the last five minutes.

West Ham have a long history as FA Cup banana skin specialists. Only 12 months ago, they were lucky to get past non-league Kidderminster Harriers. It would only be an upset on paper if they went out tonight. It wouldn’t be the greatest shock and we’ve lost to far worse teams than Derby in the past. I’m just hoping it doesn’t end in a draw. COYI!     

Rock, Paper, Hammer, Toffee: It’s Trial By Combat At The London Stadium

The indefinite force meets the incapable object in today’s battle of the fast-falling, crisis torn clubs. And it’s a last-chance throw of the managerial dice for Moyes and Lampard

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!

The two teams at the bottom of the current form league meet when West Ham entertain Everton on Saturday

Just one week ago I sat down to write a preview of our game at Wolves that would bring up the halfway point of the season. The subheading to the piece was that the wrong result might mean that we could be in the bottom three. The inevitable happened, we lost the game 1-0, and we now sit in the relegation zone, with just goal difference stopping us from propping up the league.

A large portion of the article considered a potential change of manager and the reasons behind why this should happen. Nothing has changed and David Moyes is still in charge. A number of articles have been written this week suggesting that the manager needs to win this game against Everton to save his job. I hope we beat Everton as I hope we win every game, but if we do does this mean a reprieve? 

Without a doubt Moyes did a splendid job in the last couple of seasons leading us to European qualification as a result of sixth and seventh place finishes. But this time around it has gone wrong. Is it surprising? There is a theory held by many that a football manager’s life cycle at any club is probably three years. After that it is often time to move on. Think Mourinho, think Conte, think so many managers. Some have lasted longer, think Benitez or Pochettino, but did it get any better after the third year in the job. Even Guardiola had a relatively poor fourth season at Barcelona and then moved after three successful seasons at Bayern. At Manchester City season four was a comedown after winning the league in seasons two and three, but he still continues to be relatively successful and perhaps disproves the theory.

Rebuilding a team on a regular basis is surely the key to bucking the trend. Guardiola has done this to some extent as did the two managers in recent times who built long lasting success at their clubs. Ferguson and Wenger built new teams when they deemed it was necessary. This is surely the only way to succeed.

Perhaps this was Moyes intent with the summer spending spree? But it hasn’t worked has it? The players he has brought in do not appear to be suited to West Ham, do not appear to be suited to Moyes favoured playing style, and do not appear to be suited to the Premier League. Were they his choice? There are many reasons for our disappointing first half of the season but so many of them are surely down to the manager.

Ironically Moyes himself could be said to disprove the three year theory in his time as manager of Everton, consistently achieving top eight finishes, although his fourth year in charge was possibly the low point. Somehow he turned it around. Can he do the same at West Ham? Bookmakers’ odds on the next manager to leave suggest that he won’t be given the chance. We shall see.

In last week’s article I highlighted the eight teams at the foot of the table at present as the ones involved in the relegation fight whilst stressing that some could escape and others could be drawn in. Of the eight, three won last weekend and five were beaten. The points for the bottom eight now reads:

Forest 20, Leicester 17, Leeds 17, Wolves 17, Bournemouth 16, West Ham 15, Everton 15, Southampton 15. 

Forest in particular are on the up whilst just two points separate the bottom seven. The form table for the last six games:

Forest 11, Wolves 7, Leicester 6, Leeds 5, Bournemouth 3, Southampton 3, West Ham 1, Everton 1. 

That makes desperate reading for the two teams meeting at the London Stadium on Saturday. I wonder if both, one, or neither of the two managers will be in charge of their team in the game after this one? At the time of writing they head the betting in respect of next managers to leave with Moyes 11/10 favourite and Lampard 5/2, with Marsch next at 12/1.

Current relegation odds make interesting reading:

Bournemouth 1/3, Everton 8/11, Southampton Evens, Wolves 11/4, Forest 11/4, Leicester 7/2, Leeds 4/1, West Ham 5/1.

Bookmakers fancy seven other teams as more likely relegation candidates than West Ham. Are they right? If they are then we are likely to finish 13th. We shall see.

This is a game that will undoubtedly be described as must win. But the points spread of the bottom 7 means that it is probably not the case. Nevertheless 3 points will be more than welcome.  Will we get them? Will Everton? Will the points be shared?

As I finish this article on Thursday evening I still await confirmation that we are signing Danny Ings. Without doubt he is a proven goalscorer although I note that many of our fans on social media describe this as a desperation signing. He is not exactly in the signings category promised to us but forgive me if I am wrong, these are desperate times. He obviously likes playing in claret and blue having previously played for Burnley and Villa. I just hope he is given the service, because if he is he will score goals. It was interesting to note that our odds on being relegated, and Moyes odds to be next Premier Manager to leave both lengthened on the news.

A Shot In The Dark: West Ham Travel To Wolverhampton For The Six-Pointer Goal-Shy Derby

A mighty six-pointer battle beckons at Molineux between two teams struggling to create and convert goalscoring opportunities. Who will take the three points and who will end up bottom three?

Another week, another game, and the prospect of another ninety minutes where David Moyes deploys exactly the same tactics in the hope of a different outcome. Yet again, we are faced with the familiar conflict of wanting West Ham to do well but recognising how hopeless the cause is without a change of manager.

A record of one point from a possible eighteen doesn’t lie. Previewing a match is becoming increasingly difficult when nothing ever changes. It is like being assigned to produce a weekly update on the fortunes of Sisyphus who in Greek mythology was consigned to roll a huge boulder up a hill for eternity.

Everything that is wrong with the current setup on the pitch has already been said over and over again. But for the sake of using up some column inches, let’s have a recap. The squad has been allowed to become too old. And it contains a serious lack of pace throughout. The over-riding game plan is not to lose – except against top teams when it is not to lose by too many. The keeper is among the worst with his feet in the league – yet the hurried pass back is one of our top-rated moves. The centre-backs most often look uncomfortable with the ball at their feet. The full-backs lack Premier League quality – and, in any case, are deployed far too narrow. There is nobody in the squad capable of playing the wing-back role effectively. Any attempt to press has been abandoned in favour of a ridiculously low block. There are never enough players in front of the ball to launch incisive counter-attacks. Movement off the ball is terrible and contributes significantly to poor passing success and ball retention. Players rarely take the ball in their stride or play on their toes . Imagination and creativity is missing in the final third. Wide attacking players are given too much defensive responsibility. The lone striker ends up isolated and gets drawn too deep or too wide, through a lack of support. Throw-ins are an invitation to return the ball immediately to the opposition. Corners either fail to beat the first defender or are floated into the keeper’s arms. There may be more. Other than that, we are in great shape.

There are many things in life that defy explanation – the ability of electrical wires and coat hangers to tangle themselves up, the reason your fingers get wrinkled in the bath, the surprising popularity of LInkedIn – but the owner’s belief that Moyes is the man to turn the season around trumps them all. The current trajectory leads to just one destination – the Championship!

Relegation can be in no-one’s interest. The only reasons to own a football club are for prestige and asset value. Both would take a battering by demotion to the second tier. The indecision over Avram Grant still rankles as one of the worst episodes of recent West Ham history. But the Board had terminated the services of both Slaven Bilic and Manuel Pellegrini by this stage of their final seasons – Bilic after eleven games in November 2017, Pellegrini after nineteen games in December 2019. Act NOW please, or we will never escape this hole!

Such indecision was not on show at today’s opponents, Wolverhampton Wanderers, where a managerial change was made prior to the World Cup break – eminently sensible timing for any struggling club.

The Wolves owners, who I believe are Chinese, have a strange obsession with the Iberian peninsular when it comes to player and manager recruitment. In the apparent absence of any available Portuguese managers, they were forced to turn their attention on this occasion to Spain when appointing Julen Lopetegui who had recently been sacked by Sevilla.

Another unusual aspect of the appointment is that in Lopetegui and Nuno Espírito Santo before him, they have now employed two former goalkeepers as manager. That is quite a rarity with the only other ex-keepers I can think of who have managed at the top level in England being Mike Walker and Nigel Adkins. Keepers area rather like drummers in rock bands. You obviously need to have one, but they are far too crazy and unpredictable to make any wider contribution.

Performances this season suggest today will not be a high scoring encounter. Wolves have scored just five times at home in the league, West Ham have managed just six away. The overall comparison of this season’s scoring and shooting stats (West Ham first) show: Goals (15 v 11); Shots (240 v 202); Shots on Target (62 v 56); Shots on Target % (25.8 v 27.7). West Ham have had the sixth highest number of shots in the league but have the worst on target percentage of anyone. A reflection of laboured ineffective build-ups that end with speculative long shots.

Some have seen signs of improvement in the past few games, but I have yet to be convinced. Those with a glass half full, might already be talking about being unbeaten in two. Although any 3rd round cup win is welcome, would it have ended that way if Frank hadn’t taken the unfathomable decision to rest so many key players.

I didn’t see Wolves cup tie at Liverpool where they are said to have played very well and would have won had it not been for VAR. I did catch them against Manchester United and it was apparent that they still lacked a cutting edge. No more obliging opponent than the Hammers for them to sharpen that on.

What to expect today? I’ve no idea, and really don’t know what to hope for so the current madness can be brought to a rapid conclusion. How about an unimagined 3-3 draw? COYI! 

West Ham at Wolves – the game to bring up the halfway point in a disappointing season

The wrong result and we could be in the bottom three

By 5 o’clock on Saturday West Ham will have reached the halfway point in our Premier League season, a couple of weeks later than in a typical campaign when this normally arrives between Christmas and the New Year. Has the break for the World Cup been beneficial following our poor run of results prior to the tournament? With just one point from three league games since then it would not appear to be the case. Although we did finally win a game last weekend with our 1-0 victory away at Brentford (reserves?) to progress to the fourth round of the FA Cup for a meeting with Derby County.

We will have played all the other teams in the Premier League apart from Newcastle, a game that was postponed following the death of the Queen. We will have played Wolves twice following our 2-0 home win earlier in the season. 19 games, 9 at home and 10 away. Whatever the outcome of this nineteenth game we will not have averaged a point a game which is a rough benchmark for retaining a place in the top flight for the following season. At the moment we have just a paltry 15 points from 18 games and sit outside the relegation zone on goal difference alone. By 5 o’clock on Saturday we could be in the bottom three if we don’t win the game and other results go against us. Everton in 18th face Southampton at the bottom. If we lose to Wolves and Everton win then we would be just one off the bottom in 19th. This demonstrates the importance of this game plus the one next week when Everton visit the London Stadium. Two losses in the next two matches would be almost unthinkable and would surely see a managerial change.

It’s a sad state of affairs for a team that has won eight consecutive games in the Europa Conference this season and finished sixth and seventh in the last two campaigns. Added to that the money spent in the summer (not very wisely it would seem) we would have expected to be in the top half of the table at the very least. But the truth is we would seem to have been found out and the manager appears to have a lack of tactical ideas to change things. The list of complaints against him from fans as outlined in my article prior to the league game at home to Brentford a couple of weeks ago is unchanged. They include:

  • losing the dressing room,
  • picking his favourites however poorly they seem to be playing,
  • a lack of tactical ideas,
  • no plan B or C,
  • setting up to not lose or to hold on for a win if we do get in front,
  • making strange substitutions,
  • making substitutions too late,
  • an inferiority complex especially regarding the top teams,
  • giving too much respect to the top teams especially when we are away (he has a poor managerial record against some top clubs never having beaten them away after numerous efforts),
  • turning good players into average ones,
  • buying players not suited to the club, the Premier League or his playing style,
  • opposition teams have now found us out and he has failed to adapt or recognise this
  • failure to give academy players a chance

Even at this stage in the season the Premier League table has a fairly predictable look about it. The so-called big 6 have been gate-crashed by Newcastle with the missing club being Chelsea who are having a poor season by their standards, currently down in tenth. It’s hard to look beyond Arsenal or Manchester City winning the title.

At this point there are four distinct groups of clubs in the table with the top two clubs in the first group on 44 and 39 points respectively. The second group, between third to fifth place, Newcastle, Manchester United and Tottenham are the leading chasers separated by just two points (35 to 33). The third group go from Fulham in sixth down to Palace in twelfth with just nine points between then (31 to 22).

Unfortunately, we are members of the fourth group like Saturday’s opponents Wolves. At the moment it looks like there will be eight clubs who are involved in the fight to stay up with not much to separate them. With still just over half a season to go it could change but at the moment the bottom eight are:

Leicester 17, Leeds 17, Forest 17, Bournemouth 16, West Ham 15, Everton 15, Wolves 14, Southampton 12

But taking a look at the form table (I’ve chosen the last six games) then the number of points gained by these teams in those is:

Leeds 8, Forest 8, Leicester 6, Wolves 5, Bournemouth 3, Everton 2, West Ham 1, Southampton 0.

The current league form highlights the predicament we are in; one we surely didn’t think we would be in as the season began. Our form in the second half of last season was perhaps a pointer as to what was about to happen, but perhaps we were fooled by the summer spending spree which seemed to give us a boost. International footballers (current or recent) from Morocco, Italy, France, Germany, Ivory Coast and Brazil were added to the squad but for one reason or another (add injuries and bad luck to the list of complaints against the manager?), the domestic season has so far been a massive disappointment.

Our overall record against Wolves in history is a positive one, and the recent record too, as we have won four of the last five games. But we did lose four in a row before then. But previous games mean little really. Bookmakers can barely separate us with Wolves at 13/8 very marginal favourites over ourselves at 17/10 with the draw at 11/5. That surprises me based on recent form, and much as I’m hoping we can collect a very important three points, I can’t see it happening. Two of the lowest scoring teams in the Premier League with just 26 goals between them (Leicester, also involved near the bottom have scored 26 on their own) are hardly likely to play out a 4-4 draw and I don’t believe there will be many, if any, goals. Perhaps two at the most in the game. Who will score them? I’ve no idea, but I hope we do. I’ll go for a close game, a 1-1 draw. That might just be enough to keep us out of the bottom three for the moment. But it might not. What are the chances?

East London Football Club Seeks Winning Formula: Will Swap For A Claret Ribbon

West Ham’s desperate search for a win continues as they travel to Brentford in the FA Cup. Will we get an inspiring fight to the finish or a typical tame surrender?

I just entered ‘Road To Wembley’ into my new AI powered SAT-Nav software and was directed to “take the 3rd round exit at Brentford.” You can’t argue with the algorithm!

If I interpreted David Moyes press conference wisdom correctly, he stated that, as a manager, success in the Premier League is the most important thing, but that a good cup run is equally important. I’m glad he cleared that up. The pressure of the alleged three match ultimatum must clearly be getting to him.

Whatever happens today, it is unlikely to have much bearing on Moyes’ future. Winning will be meaningless if the crucial games against Wolves and Everton both end in defeat. In the same way, losing today will not harm his prospect of he follows it up with two wins. We can only speculate on what the owners would view as an acceptable return from those two games. Four points at least I would imagine.

We should be encouraged that Moyes is now talking about trying to find a winning formula. After all, its only a year since it was lost. How far away from achieving it is a matter of opinion. There did seem to be a greater sense of spirit and purpose in the performance at Leeds but much more needs to be done. Clearly the return of Kurt Zouma and Nayef Aguerd at the back will help enormously, but it will not solve the full-back conundrum. And if the manager needs Gianluca Scamacca to get into the box more, he needs to set up for better service and support.

Moyes has also recently changed his tune on the likelihood of January signings – having previously said the cupboard was bare. The decision may well have been taken out of his hands in the light of his precarious position and the less than spectacular impact of the summer arrivals. The club has painted itself into a corner. Replacing a manager with just a few days remaining in the window would be far from ideal timing.

Moyes’ FA Cup record in his two spells at West Ham has been as indifferent as those that went before him. A 4th round defeat away at Wigan (League 1), a 4th round loss at home to West Bromwich Albion (Championship) and exits away to Premier League rivals Manchester United and Southampton, both in 5th round ties.

In the years since the 1980 FA Cup final victory against Arsenal, West Ham have been knocked out of the competition at the following stages: 3rd round (12 times), 4th round (12), 5th round (8), 6th round (8), semi-final (1) and final (1). In the last ten seasons they have only made it as far as the 6th round once, in 2016. Will we ever see the claret ribbon fluttering on the famous trophy again?

This season’s third round opponents are Brentford who will be looking for a fourth straight win against the visitors. In the previous three games West Ham were overcome by the aggressive pressing and powerful running employed by the Bees. A different attitude and approach will be needed today if a different outcome is to be secured. The best hope of victory may be to rely on the ancient unwritten rule that a team that has just beaten you in the league will lose in the return cup tie a few weeks later.

West Ham and Brentford have met just once before in the FA Cup – a 4th round tie in 1927. Third Division Brentford held First Division West Ham to a 1-1 draw at Upton Park and the two teams met again four days later at Griffin Park. Despite having four England stars in the line-up – Vic Watson, Jimmy Ruffell, Ted Hufton, and Stan Earle – the Hammers were soundly beaten 2-0 by their lively opponents. Syd King Out!

For the older generation the excitement of the 3rd round cup was as much part of the new year landscape as frozen points at Upminster. It was a time to varnish the rattle, re-align the badges on your bobble hat, and order a brand-new jar of Bovril. Now the competition only comes alive in the later rounds, when the metaphorical twin towers are in close touching distance.

Moyes’ pre-match comments suggest he will be rotating his squad for today’s game. it is understandable that he will not want to risk further injuries with key games coming up. But if he really is trying to rediscover that elusive winning formula, he needs to be doing it with his first-string players. His stock is already close to flatlining with supporters and a half-hearted approach today will not be tolerated.

Maybe just as important to how the match unfolds is the approach Thomas Frank takes to the game. The Bees are currently buzzing. Will he want to give certain players a rest or will he leave things alone to build on the momentum of wins against Manchester City, West Ham, and Liverpool.  

It is always difficult to call these games without knowing how much importance the coaches attach to the FA Cup. What is certain is that another low intensity, passive performance by West Ham will be routinely punished by the hosts. The only way to get a positive result will be to match Brentford physically. Will we be up to it and up for it? COYI!