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.