Thank heavens that is the last of the early season pointless international breaks finished. I get it that we have to play for World Cup qualification but surely someone can devise a better way to do it. I don’t wish to deny San Marino, Andorra or any other minor nation of their opportunity to take part but surely there should be some kind of pre-qualification among lesser teams and then the top teams from pre-qualification leagues can then progress to face the bigger teams. Our very own FA Cup is an example of how this can happen. The top teams don’t enter the competition until the third round proper. There are a number of qualification rounds to win through before the non-league teams who are successful in those get to face the big boys.
Albania aren’t exactly a minor footballing nation, picking up quite a few points in the group, but San Marino? I watched some of this and quite frankly it was a farce. The commentators and pundits did their best to talk up the England team and Harry Kane, but it was nonsensical as a game of football, it was really just attack versus defence. I got no pleasure from the twenty minutes or so that I watched.
This was in contrast to the last Premier League game I saw where we denied Liverpool the opportunity to extend their long unbeaten record any further. I thought it was a magnificent performance that saw us leapfrog the Merseysiders to reach the dizzy heights of third place in the table. Unlike Mr Klopp I saw nothing wrong with our first goal. Goalkeepers have been a protected species for too long and I don’t see anything that says you can’t jump in front of them to put them off. And as for suggesting Cresswell should have been sent off I don’t agree with that either. His tackle clipped the top of the ball which lifted his leg to foul Henderson. To his credit the Liverpool captain made nothing of it and was soon back on his feet. A foul yes but anything more? Not for me. Perhaps I am a biased Hammer but others I have spoken to who support Arsenal, Fulham and Norwich didn’t agree with Mr Klopp either.
We have lost Angelo Ogbonna for a long period now, but personally I am happy with Craig Dawson alongside Zouma at the heart of our defence. There have been reports that we might renew our interest in Tarkowski in the forthcoming window. He is certainly a quality player, but do we need strengthening elsewhere first? Perhaps with our new Czech shareholder there will be an injection of finance to boost the transfer kitty? We’ve never been in a better position to challenge the top teams but the addition of two or three quality players would do us no harm in our endeavour to maintain that challenge in the league and the three cups that we can still aim for.
We visit Molineux today to take on a Wolves team that are in eighth place in the chasing pack where sixth to thirteenth positions in the table are separated by just three points. When I began to watch football as a young boy in the late 1950s Wolves were probably the best team in the country at the time, and were league champions in 1957-58 and 1958-59. One of my earliest football memories was our first home game following promotion to face the champions in our first home game of the 1958-59 season. I wasn’t there but I was excited to wake up on the Tuesday morning following the Monday night game to be told the result by my dad and to read of our 2-0 win in the morning paper.
The following season I was at our game against the champions – Saturday November 21st – so this weekend’s game is almost on the same date. My first favourite footballer Johnny Dick scored a hat trick in our 3-2 victory that retained our position at the top of the league. The following Thursday I went into St Mary’s hospital in Paddington to have my adenoids removed. And then in typical West Ham fashion we lost 7-0 at Sheffield Wednesday the following Saturday! How many times has a team at the top of the league lost their next game 7-0? Only West Ham could do that. That was a season when we went down with the Christmas decorations and finished in fourteenth place just four points above the relegation places.
Wolves went on to finish second in the table that season finishing a point below champions Burnley. They won the FA Cup too beating Blackburn 3-0 in the final and were so close to being the first team to achieve the league and cup double. If only they hadn’t lost to West Ham!
Other highlights from games against Wolves include an entertaining 3-3 draw in November 1970. Apart from surrendering a 3-1 lead my main reason for remembering this game was a Bobby Moore headed clearance that hit the referee square in the face that knocked him out cold. Moore picked up his whistle and blew it to stop the game. Bobby Gould, who five years later played for us tapped in the late Wolves equaliser in that game.
Two years later (yes in November once again!) we were 2-1 down at Upton Park in the last seconds of the game when a Bobby Moore cross was headed across the edge of the area by Clyde Best, and Trevor Brooking equalised with a stunning diving header from fully 15 yards. It’s always said that Trevor never scored with his head, but I can remember quite a few, including an important one in the European Cup Winners Cup in 1976 against Eintracht Frankfurt, and perhaps the most famous of all, the Wembley header in the 1980 FA Cup final.
Two years later once again in the month of November (are you picking up the pattern here?) we gave Wolves quite a thrashing (5-2) with five different goalscorers. The best goal of the lot, and one of the best free kicks I’ve ever seen was a result of Trevor Brooking flicking the ball in the air and Frank Lampard (senior of course) smashing a half volley into the bottom corner of the net.
I’ll deviate from the month of November with a final memory from the past to remember Liam Brady’s final game before retirement. After a fantastic career he spent his final three seasons at West Ham. Although he wasn’t quite the player he was at his peak, he was still great to watch with wonderful skill on the ball and magnificent passing ability. On as a substitute late in the game he picked the ball up midway in the Wolves half, moved forward, and unleashed a trademark left footed stunner that rocketed into the net, a fitting goal in his final ever game.
Last season we did the double over Wolves winning 4-0 at home and 3-2 at Molineux. What with our 3-2 win over Liverpool in our last game too, that seems to be the score of the moment and I’ll predict a win by that score today. We are around 7/5 favourites to win the game and around 22/1 to repeat last season’s score in the corresponding fixture. Jarrod Bowen scored in both games against Wolves last season, and is around 13/2 to score the first goal (same price for the last goal too) in the game, or 5/2 to score at anytime. One of those will be my fun bet. I might even combine Bowen scoring the first goal with a 3-2 win at odds approaching 200/1. With 12 points from our last 4 league games we are the form team in the Premier League. No other team matches that recent record. If Leicester can beat Chelsea in the lunchtime fixture, and if we can win at Wolves, then we would be level on points with Chelsea at the top of the table on Saturday evening. That would be good, wouldn’t it? What are the chances?