Can West Ham Be Hungry Like The Wolves?

What in heavens name was he thinking? For some reason only apparent to himself, our chairman chose to go on TalkSport on the morning programme of Jim White and Simon Jordan and proceeded to put his foot in his mouth. As a public relations exercise it was up there with Prince Andrew’s recent interview on Newsnight with Emily Maitlis. In both examples (Sullivan and the Prince) they were either very poorly advised, or more likely, they weren’t as clever as they thought they were. If there were any Hammers fans left who had any time for our chairman before the interview then I reckon there are fewer now. I even spotted on the internet that it even gave rise to a “GoFundMe” set up by a West Ham fan asking for humorous comments, and raising money for the Bobby Moore fund – “Mr Sullivan needs 50K to fly West Ham to Everton”.

At least there was some cheer in the week when West Ham “Reserves” thrashed Hull City to progress to the next round of the Carabao Cup where we will face an away tie at Everton, who, as I write this, sit at the top of the Premier League with nine points from their three games, after a 2-1 win at Palace. Were our talented fringe players trying to play their way into the Premier League starting line-up, or putting themselves in the shop window?

I don’t hold out a lot of hope of going any further in the competition, but having said that, few fans had a lot of hope when we went to Arsenal last weekend. But after dominating the second half, a combination of failing to take our chances, and poor defending let us down again, and we left North London with no points from a decent performance.

Of course this is West Ham. So the bad news doesn’t stop there. 45 minutes before kick-off in the League Cup tie, our manager and two of our players found out that they had tested positive for Covid-19 and had to go home at once. They are currently self-isolating and unable to take any part in this weekend’s game.

There doesn’t appear to be any progress on the transfer-in front either with no new bodies in positions where they are desperately needed – we all know where they are! Perhaps they will all appear next week with the club keeping quiet about the impending signings. I won’t hold my breath though. In the chairman’s radio interview he appeared to be blaming David Moyes for this. In fact he appeared to blame everyone (including the fans) for the state we are now in (except the board!). Is it really any wonder that there seems to be a reluctance on behalf of footballers who might want to join our club?

My earliest memories of our opponents today go back to the late 1950s when they took advantage of a new innovation at the time, namely floodlights. They were one of the top teams in England at the time and they invited a series of top overseas teams to come over and play in friendly games. Football matches were barely shown on TV then with the exception of the FA Cup Final and England internationals, but they managed to persuade the BBC to broadcast the games. I was very young at the time and in bed, but managed to set up a mirror that enabled me to watch via open doors in the bungalow I lived in. Wolves also won the first FA Cup final that I can clearly remember watching when they defeated Blackburn 3-0 with two goals from a player I recall as Norman Deeley.

Despite their success in the fifties and early sixties they went into decline but have recently bounced back, and in the past couple of seasons they (together with Leicester, and perhaps Everton) look like they will provide the biggest threat to the elite six in the Premier League. In competitive head to head matches in history, Wolves are one of the clubs against whom we have a positive record, beating them more often than they have defeated us. In the past two seasons that hasn’t been the case however, with four consecutive Wolves wins. We haven’t managed to score a single goal in those games and have conceded eight.

So far this season Wolves have won one (2-0 at Sheffield United) and lost (unluckily I believe) 3-1 at home to Manchester City. We had better be prepared at the very start of the game – the two goals against Sheffield United were scored in the first six minutes. We are not usually known for our start to a game. We also need to be aware of Jimenez who has been a prolific scorer for them and has scored in each of their opening two games. He has also scored three times in his past three Premier League appearances against us. One statistic that I read was that no Wolves player has scored a goal in each of their opening three top flight fixtures since Derek Dougan (remember him?) did way back in 1973. He will never get a better chance of equalling that record, and you’d think that this was a banker bet for this game.

On the other hand we have never failed to score in our first two top flight home games for even longer – going back to 1971. So we are bound to score then, aren’t we? My prediction is for us to build upon our promising performance against Arsenal and draw 1-1, with Antonio equalising an early goal from Jimenez. What are the chances? It would be a good result as I believe Wolves are an excellent side, destined for a top six finish.

As a club we create a lot of our own problems, don’t we? But it’s not always us. The season hasn’t started well. No points, no new signings, no decisions going our way from officials or VAR, no opposing players (who played for us) penalised for leading with their elbow, no opposition goals chalked off for dangerous (high) boot, no penalties awarded for obvious handball, no marginal offsides going our way. And we are only two games into the new season! At least the handball rule has been clarified this season! What a nonsense that is! We need all the luck we can get. Perhaps it will start to go our way in this game. Fingers crossed.

Mission Improbable: Sullivan’s Message Self Destructs As Hammers Prepare To Face Wolves

David Sullivan’s ill-advised, grotesque, and conceited radio interview casts an even deeper shadow at West Ham’s as they seek to book their first points of the season. Apparently, it is all everyone else’s fault!

Imagine this. You are the unpopular owner of a struggling Premier League side. You have recently sold a promising academy graduate much to the dismay of your fans. Your team has made the poorest possible start to the new season and are now one of the favourites for relegation. There are well-known and long-standing weaknesses in your squad, but you have failed to invest any money in the transfer market, even though the window is soon to close. What do you do: (A) Knuckle down, identify and recruit the desperately needed reinforcements, find creative ways to raise the necessary finance and hope to restore confidence; or (B) Go on national radio, blame everyone else for your perennial shortcomings and plead financial hardship?

No surprise then, that with a trademark lack of self-awareness, David Sullivan opted for route B. His interview with talkSPORT managed to combine the worst of Prince Andrew, Gerald Ratner, and Donald Trump – “I have so many wingers, literally, eight wingers. I have them all over the place. They’re virtually useless.”

Bottom line is that Sullivan considers himself blameless for the club’s current plight, despite the evidence ten years or more of erratic, short term mismanagement.

In Sullivan’s eyes, in fact, it is the fault of supporters for demanding he appoint a big-name manager and a Director of Football. That he appointed a washed up one with unrealistic ideas on how to compete in the mid to lower echelons of the Premier League – and then compounding it by taking on that manager’s best buddy as DoF – was not, it seems, relevant. He had no control (and, therefore, no responsibility) for the Pellegrini/ Husillos signings. It is now David Moyes fault for the absurd idea of wanting to sign players who would improve the first team, not just to put bums on the bench and allow the club to claim it had been active in the transfer market.

We can only speculate on what was he hoping to achieve by such a PR catastrophe? Did he imagine he would win us over by going on air? Any remaining shred of credibility that remained could now only be found by forensic science. There is no way back from here and it’s about time ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter’ replaced ‘The academy of football’ as the club’s strap line.

Despite frantic speculation, it is still all quiet on the transfer front as the clock ticks down to just over a week to go. As far as the outside world is concerned, the only newsworthy story of interest is whether Declan Rice will be eventually sold to Chelsea. Some news media, notably the Star and Express, are on a mission to make sure this happens. I am under no illusion that Rice will spend his whole career at West Ham, but it would be madness to sell him this late in the window. What over-priced, over-aged replacements would be we contrive to bring in with the money raised?

Elsewhere this week there was a comfortable EFL Cup success at home to Hull City, but not before the drama of Moyes, Issa Diop and Josh Cullen all being sent into isolation after testing positive for COVID-19. It’s a long time since the Hammers recorded four positive results in a single week. One anonymous source (@ExWHUtealady) tweeted that the three had previously shared one Ann Summer’s ‘Willy Soap on a Rope’ that are supplied complimentary in the Rush Green showers. All are unavailable for Sunday’s clash with Wolves, although apparently Moyes still intends to deliver his usual managerial address via Zoom. Perhaps images of him prowling the technical area of his lounge can be beamed onto the giant screens.  

On Sunday, it will be Chalk versus Cheese at the London Stadium as the downbeat Hammers face an effervescent Wolverhampton Wanderers for the fifth time since the visitors returned to the Premier League in 2018. West Ham have lost all of the previous encounters and failed to score on each outing – with an aggregate score of 0-8.  

There have been various comings and goings at Molineux during a close season that saw Jota, Doherty and Costa all leave to be replaced by Fabio Silva, Semedo and Hoever. However, Wolves still have Moutinho and Neves to pull the strings in midfield while Traore and Jimenez will be confident of causing alarm in the shaky Hammer’s backline.

For West Ham, it would be no surprise to see the same formation that performed well, but returned empty handed, from Arsenal. In Diop’s absence, the only alternative is a recall for Fabian Balbuena. Otherwise the back five is likely to be unchanged. Midfield protection will again be the responsibility of Rice and Tomas Soucek.

There could be scope for changes, though, in the forward three where Sebastien Haller and Andriy Yarmolenko made midweek claims for starts by showing they are more than good enough for League 2. I still struggle to see how and where Yarmolenko fits into a Premier League side. Despite his undoubted technical skills and accomplished finishing his lack of pace and work rate (particularly in tracking back) make him something of a luxury.

The situation with Haller is more complicated. In the right setup he will score goals but not unless he gets far better support. In addition to the much discussed defensive problems, we don’t have anyone with the right attributes to play just off the striker. In fact, the team have regularly struggled to get bodies into the box from open play – with only Soucek and Jarrod Bowen providing support to Michail Antonio. I feel that Bowen’s enforced defensive duties have detracted significantly from his goal threat in recent games, a situation that needs to be remedied if we are to see the best of him. Without doubt more goals are needed across the front three and we cannot continue to rely on Antonio’s heroics. Maybe a front three of Bowen, Haller and Antonio can be made to work.

It is difficult to know how much off-field calamity influences what happens on the pitch. It cannot be a force for good to have such disharmony coming down from the top. Own goals are never welcome in football and even worse when you find they are knocking them in in the boardroom. My only hope tomorrow is that the players can isolate themselves from the off-the-field mayhem and reproduce the effort and commitment that was shown at The Emirates. If they can then some sort of result is possible, even if it may not be very probable.

Alright, we’ll call it a draw.

The Wolves Are At The Door: It’s All Kicking Off At West Ham

The post-apocalyptic Premier League era kicks off at the London Stadium with West Ham playing host to high flying Wolves in a whole new ball game.

I will be honest but I never believed this day – the resumption of West Ham’s 2019/20 league campaign – would ever actually happen. Now it is here, I confess to being nervously apprehensive. The immediate fate of our club is to be decided on the outcome of nine relegation threatened matches played over five short weeks. Survival is contingent on the level of readiness and the appetite for a fight – characteristics that have rarely been freely associated with the Hammers for much of their recent history.

Mark Noble says “we’ve worked hard and the boys look ready”. No doubt, other club captains have been saying the same thing. Is it likely that our preparations have been as good as or better than others? Arguably West Ham have technically better players than their relegation rivals, but will David Moyes be able to instil the right levels of motivation, effort and organisation to quickly recover the momentum that he says was building before the shutdown?

It is over three months since West Ham last played – about as long as a normal close season – but with only a few weeks to prepare for battle. Yet unlike a new season which will kick-off again in the same circumstances as the last season ended, this time, so much has changed – it really is a whole new ball game!

Empty echoing cavernous stadiums, atmospheric TV crowd noise, cardboard cutout supporters (aka Arsenal fans), free to air TV, more badges on the shirt than Bear Grylls, nine bottoms on the bench, five available subs and a designated goal celebration zone. I eagerly await the choreographed Tik Tok inspired celebration routines from Michail Antonio. A far cry from the congratulatory pat on the back and manly handshake that Bobby Moore would have expected back in the day.

This new normal will be far more of a squad game than it had been pre-virus – if fitness is to be preserved and niggling injuries avoided (what are the chances?) The squad still has a surplus of midfield players but an absence of suitable cover at the back and up front. Injuries to key players will have significant repercussions.

Today’s starting lineup is difficult to call and contingent upon the availability of Angelo Ogbonna and Noble. Speculation from in-the-know club insiders is that Declan Rice may need to slot in at centre back if Ogbonna is absent – rather than risk the wayward Fabian Balbuena – but can that be possible if Noble is not ready to partner Tomas Soucek in central midfield? Going into the game with just one anchor in midfield would be asking for trouble it needs two from Rice, Soucek and Noble to play that role.

Fingers crossed that we can avoid seeing Noble and Robert Snodgrass on the pitch at the same time, and that we have seen the very last of Carlos Sanchez. It would also be an opportune time for the likes of Felipe Anderson, Jack Wilshere and Pablo Fornals to earn their corn. I will be intrigued to see how Moyes approaches substitutions, something that he is often reluctant to make use of. Not one after the hour and the other four in the 87th minute I hope.

Back in March the collective endeavour of Antonio, Sebastien Haller and Jarrod Bowen was starting to look promising and I am looking forward to seeing them pick up where they left off today. There is plenty there to cause the visitors problems and, just as importantly, to keep their wing backs occupied when we are not in possession.

Although, I do not know all the background to the Jeremy Ngakia kerfuffle, it has all the hallmarks of a very West Ham cock-up. With justifiable concerns over the fitness of right back alternatives – Ryan Fredericks, Ben Johnson and Pablo Zabaleta – for such an intense run of games, the services of the want-away Ngakia may well be crucial between now and the end of the month.

Today’s opposition, Wolverhampton Wanderers had been experiencing a tremendous season prior to the March shutdown. Seventh in the league and still with an interest in the Europa League, it will be no surprise if Nuno Espirito Santo (the best name in football management) has his players fully fired up for the restart. You will remember that we were originally due to play them on a Sunday afternoon in the wake of an arduous midweek journey to play a Europa League tie in Greece. In my opinion, and in the interests of fairness, they should have been compelled to take an equivalent difficult trek in the days leading up to today’s fixture.

I’m not sure I am totally onboard with the notion that the greatest Wolves threat is posed by Adama Traore, at least not consistently. He alternates between being the master of running the ball out of play at dazzling speed, and spells of being mesmerisingly unplayable – an Antonio with ball control, but without the aerial threat. Of course, it is the West Ham way for players such as these to save their best for games against us.

For me, it is the Portuguese trio of Joao Moutinho, Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota that make Wolves tick and present the greatest danger. Add in Raul Jimenez (a Mexican striker more suited to English football) and our players must take heed of that sage old advice to stay alert. Far too frequently our defenders play like they are statues, and we must ensure that none are toppled today.

The welcome return of football brings with it the vagaries and inconsistency of refereeing decisons. It did not take long for the restart to become embroiled in officiating controversy, with the failure to award a clear goal to Sheffield United at Villa Park on Wednesday evening. I can just about accept the chance in a million occlusion experienced by Hawkeye, but what were the referee and VAR doing? Like someone who relies entirely on GPS to reach their destination, they had no clue what to do when the technology failed them. Technology is meant to ‘assist’ the referee, not take all the decisions for them. Today’s allocation from officialdom are Anthony Taylor (ref) and David Coote (VAR).

Each of today’s four games will have a significant impact on the bottom of the table. With West Ham on third, I wonder if the outcome of events at Watford and Brighton will affect the mood at the London Stadium? Hitting the ground running has never been more important. Lawro thinks West Ham will win (1-0), Charlie Nicholas sees it as one apiece. On this occasion I will be completely ruled by my heart and opt for a 2-0 home win.

Football Is Back. Controversy Is Back. West Ham are Back

West Ham entertain Wolves at an almost deserted London Stadium. Who can possibly predict the outcome?

More than 100 days have elapsed since we last played a Premier League game. When I write these articles I like to predict the outcome. But what evidence have we got to go on? I have to admit I haven’t got a clue what to expect.

I tuned in to watch the Aston Villa v Sheffield United game on Wednesday evening. It wasn’t a football match that I would normally have any interest in viewing, but I guess I had a token interest as Villa are one of our rivals in the relegation stakes. I don’t particularly like Sheffield United, but this was a game I wanted them to win.

I juggled between watching on Sky Sports Main Event with the artificial crowd noise, and the alternative where you could hear a few shouts in the echoing stadium to see which I preferred. I had a slight preference for the crowd noise which sounded like it was straight from the FIFA computer game. Perhaps it is. Whoever operates this got rather over excited however by turning up over enthusiastic crowd noise for pathetic attempts on goal which were nowhere close.

When I switched to the lack of crowd sound, the first thing I heard was a player (I think from Sheffield United) shouting at his teammates about “f***ing second balls”. And then came the defining moment of the game. The young Villa keeper was pushed into his own net. We didn’t need Hawkeye, VAR or an assistant referee or linesman to tell us that the ball had crossed the line. But inexplicably a goal was not given. I thought that perhaps Michael Oliver had accidentally put on his Mickey Mouse watch instead of the Hawkeye one? His wrist didn’t “buzz” and the keeper cleared the ball as if nothing had happened.

Apparently the goal-line sensor failed to register and Hawkeye later apologised. The seven goal-line cameras surrounding the goal were supposedly occluded by the keeper, the defenders and the post. So where was VAR when it could have stepped up to the plate? The VAR referee was possibly asleep due to the lack of any excitement in the game when he clearly needed to tell Oliver to stop the game and look at it on the monitor. And surely linesmen should use their eyes and not rely purely on technology? Social distancing went out of the window as the Blades players demanded to know why the goal was not given.

In lockdown we’ve become familiar with new technology such as Zoom. It’s a pity the technology failed us by not zooming in on the goal! Apparently it was the first time in over 9000 games that it had failed. What a joke! I couldn’t really care less about Sheffield United possibly missing out on a European place, but one of the teams at the bottom (even ourselves) could possibly be relegated on goal difference and Villa could stay up. Of course there are many dodgy decisions in the course of a season and you don’t get relegated on the strength of one of them. But if we go down by the narrowest of margins I’ll remember this game.

But enough of that, what will happen when we face Wolves? We actually have a positive historical record against them, but we have lost the most recent fixtures. Looking at the bookmakers odds, Wolves are favourites to win the game, based I suppose on the season to date, but the favourite in the correct score market is the one that I’ll predict, and that is a 1-1 draw. I have to admit that I have nothing really to go on but a point wouldn’t be the worst outcome for us in this first game back, although naturally I’d prefer three.

One Wolves player I worry about is Adama Traore, who with his pace can cause us massive problems down the flanks. He has always had great pace but in the earlier part of his career he flattered to deceive, except when playing against us. However in more recent times he seems to have added an end product to his game and he is possibly the player we should fear. Ironically when the game was originally scheduled to be played I seem to recall he was injured.

Wolves are seventh in the league and the seventh highest scoring team. We are not far behind as far as scoring goals is concerned in tenth, but the fact that only Southampton, Norwich and Villa have conceded more goals than we have is the main reason we sit sixteenth in the table, out of the relegation zone on goal difference alone.

Current form doesn’t really apply because of the enforced break, but looking at the last five matches played by the bottom six teams, Brighton, Watford, Norwich, Bournemouth and ourselves all have four points from those games, and Villa have one. Southampton and Newcastle would appear at the moment to be out of the scrap, but I’m hoping that with some poor early results, they too can be dragged into it.

It seems that we are virtually injury-free and David Moyes has a full squad to choose from. Of course we have different rules and five substitutes can be utilised out of nine sitting suitably spaced out on the sidelines. I’ve no real idea what the starting line-up will be but it would be good to think back to the Southampton game and the attack made up of Haller, supported by Antonio and Bowen, who looked very threatening. I’m sure that Anderson will have a key role in the remaining matches, perhaps coming on later in games as teams could be tiring due to lack of match practice and the potential heat of games played in June and July. Fornals and Wilshere can also play important roles in unlocking opposing defences, and I hope that Yarmolenko can play his part too.

So here goes, I’ll predict an attacking starting line-up, although whether the manager will prefer to be more cautious I don’t know.

Fabianski; Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Rice, Noble; Soucek; Antonio, Haller, Bowen.

As I said earlier I’ll predict 1-1 but hope for better. In case something untoward happens and the season is curtailed early as a result it is important that we don’t lose and fall into the bottom three. This weekend, of our key rivals, Norwich have a very winnable game at home to Southampton, Watford beat Liverpool in their last home game so won’t be perturbed by facing Leicester, Brighton haven’t won for ages but are at home and face a very average looking Arsenal team, Bournemouth are at home to a possibly disinterested mid-table Palace, and Villa are also at home against Chelsea. I have written this article prior to any of those games being played so don’t know the outcome. Let’s hope that the results go our way, and we can hit the ground running.