Sunday 30 October 2016

A Half of Two Halves!

As the saying goes (sort of) it's been a game of two contrasting periods. The Hammers dominated the first 20 minutes and could well have taken the lead on a couple of occasions but for fine defending from Seamus the Coal Man et al. Dimi Payet band Manny Lanzini both carved out good chances but couldn't quite convert.

However, for the latter part of the half Everton have been in the ascendency with Ross Barkley denied by an amazing Adrian save. However, perhaps the key moment was when Pedro Obiang was hauled down by Gueye but Referee Anthony Taylor bottled it and produced only a yellow card. Gueye had pushed Michail Antonio in the face a few minutes prior to that in a challenge that surely also warranted a yellow card. Hmmmm.

Either way, it's 0-0 at the break, but the  good news is that the Hammers look back to their usual selves again! Promising...


Payet Prepares to Chew Toffees (again)

Last season there were many results to savour as Slaven Bilic's men  recorded victories over all the 'big' six in the Premiership. However, perhaps the most satisfying was the win at Goodison Park as the Hammers came back from 2-0 down with 12 minutes to play to record a stunning 3-2 victory. Dimitri Payet led the charge one suspects motivated by a desire to avenge Everton for the James McCarthy foul that caused him to miss two crucial months that ultimately was a key factor in SuperSlav's men just missing out on a champion's League place.

That win was West Ham's first in 16 games against Everton, having lost ten of the previous 15 encounters and drawn five. Everton enjoyed an excellent start to life under new manager Ronald Koeman and currently lie in sixth spot. However, the Toffees have lost form over the past few games with only two points from their last four games so the Hammers will fancy their chances of snatching another rare Goodison win.

Key to their chances will be whether their new back three set up can prevent Romelu Lukaku from continuing his incredible form against West Ham whereby he has scored in each of his last eight games against the East Londoners! However, Winston Reid is back to top form and has the perfect skillset to manage Lukaku's pace and power. Meanwhile, West Ham have their own physical powerhouse up front in Michail Antonio who has moved into the centre and will look to torment Seamus the Coalman and the rest of the Everton back line.

Andre Ayew looked lively after coming on as a substitute during Wednesday's win over Chelsea and will look for more game time today. Edmilisen Fernandes is likely to start after his excellent performances of late and what's the bets that he let's fly from distance again today after his midweek scorcher! We expect just one change from the side that overcame Chelsea, with Adrian returning between the sticks. 

last season's Goodison win
One thing that won't happen is for West Ham to fall foul o0f the ex-player curse, as Enner Valencia is only on loan at Goodison. In reality, that would have been an outside bet as the Ecuadorian has continued to struggle since his move and has not managed to score in his 4 appearances for Koeman's side. As ever, he continues to bang them in at international level and you have to wonder if he would be more successful plying his trade in a less physically demanding league - undoubtedly something that will be considered when his season long loan concludes.

Paddy Poormaker has Everton at 4/5, with the Hammers at 7/2 for a win. Mystic Mark Lawrenson reckons it'll be a 1-1 draw and for once we are inclined to agree and go with a draw at 14/5. Don't forget the early kick off!



Thursday 27 October 2016

Unbelievabubble! But who was our best player on the night?

What a night! As we commenced a series of really tough fixtures, a win - and in such convincing fashion - was exactly what we needed. While all the media attention today has focused on the crowd unrest in the final minutes of the game, the fact is that the atmosphere in the new stadium was Boleynesque in intensity, and Chelsea simply couldn't handle it!

Right from the get go Slav's side went for the jugular, passing with a fluency that has been rare so far this season. In midfield Noble, Obiang and Kouyate were everywhere, harrying and hassling Chelsea and preventing them from getting any momentum. Up front, Michail Antonio once again demonstrated his loyalty to the cause as he played as a lone striker and simply murdered Terry and Luiz! At the back we looked assured with Cressy looking back to his best. Young Edimilison Fernandes found himself at right back this week but again looked comfortable. In goal, Randy is really pressing for that #1 spot.

And just desserts arrived with Kouyate's stunning goal - I suspect I wasn't alone in initially thinking that it was Antonio who headed the ball as it was like one of his trademark screamers, but it turned out to be Mr dynamic himself in Cheik Kouyate. We went frustratingly close a few times and were denied an obvious penalty before young Fernandes set the place alight with his wonder strike.

Chelsea huffed and puffed, but in reality we looked solid and can be annoyed to have conceded right at the death. So it's Man U away in the quarter final - on this form? No problem!

Who did you think was out MOTM? Why not vote in our poll (top right).


Monday 24 October 2016

Slav-Watch: is Bilic an endangered species?

Slaven Bilic has endured a tough start to his second season in charge of West Ham. While last year everything he touched seemed to turn to gold, this year his side have struggled prompting all sorts of rumours that he might be heading for the exit door. Prior to the Palace game he was the Premiership manager that the bookies had down as favourite for the push, but two consecutive (narrow) victories and he looks in a safer place.

However, a look through the Hammers upcoming fixture list suggests that he is likely to come under considerable pressure again over the coming weeks. Between now and the second week of December we have seven games during which we face six of the current top seven!

First up come a rejuvenated Chelsea who will be looking to end the Hammers interest in the League cup. The bookies have West ham at 7/2 against to prevail, while Chelsea are 4/5 on to progress even though the Hammers are the hosts! Yesterday's 4-0 mauling of Man United demonstrates the threat Chelsea can pose to West Ham's reconstituted defence.

After that comes a series of challenging Premiership games - Everton (A), Stoke (H), Spurs (A), Man United (A), Arsenal (H), Liverpool (A). With 10 points from 9 games and currently sitting in a lowly 15th in the table, the Hammers could easily find themselves sliding back into the relegation zone unless they can pull some unexpected results out of the bag.

Everton away has been a disastrous fixture over the years until Superslav's troops pulled off a thrilling comeback to win 3-2 at Goodison last March. The bookies don't fancy a repeat as the Hammers are 4-1 against for the win, with a draw quoted at 5-2. In all honesty, you'd grab a draw right now!

On the face of it, Stoke at home holds the best promise for a win. After a dreadful start to the season, just like West Ham, Stoke are back to winning ways having won two on the bounce. However, with improved attacking options and Aaron Cresswell in the mix West Ham will be hoping to grab all three points.

Spurs away is always a crazy game. While Hammers fans have to concede that the current crop at No Heart Lane are their most talented in decades, without Harry Kane they can misfire up front. whatever happens, it'll be a high tempo London derby where anything is possible. Perfect stage for a piece of Payet perfection?

Then comes Man United away. Jose Mourinho's side are a variable feast right now but the Hammers have not won at Old Trafford since Tevez's 2007 delight. Last year's draw could so easily have been a win for West Ham as LVG's misfitring side were there for the taking, but the post (twice) and a referee who didn't see Schweinsteiger's blatant penalty-deserving foul on Winston Reid denied the Hammers what would have been a deserved victory. However, the new Zlatan and Pogba boosted Man united side will be a more severe test.

Then we receive Arsenal to the London Stadium. Joint top and freescoring (as Champions league opponents Ludogorets found out last week in a 6-0 thrashing) this year Wenger's troops hope to seize the Premiership for the first time since moving to the Emirates. However, as Middlesboro demonstrated on Saturday, it's still quite possible to frustrate the Gooners and who can forget last season's opener. Maybe this one is a game to reintroduce Reece Oxford into the fray - at the very least the threat will cause Mesut Ozil to have nightmares that he might be totally bossed again!

Finally, the run of horror fixtures comes to an end with a visit to Anfield. After last year's 50 year-ending win, the place will hold less fear for Slav's boys. However, Klopp looks to have reawoken the Red beast and Liverpool are the in form side in the Premiership just now.

A key consideration is what sort of points haul will be needed to keep the Davids happy with SuperSlav's leadership? After 15 games last year, we were placed in sixth with 23 points.It's hard to see 13 points amassing from our next six games to haul us back to those dizzy heights!

A cup exit twinned with a return to the relegation zone would likely pile the pressure on. However, two or three half decent results would almost certainly keep things ticking over and allow for key absentees to return. However, if we can get close then the January transfer window will also surely see plenty of action at the London Stadium as a host of loanees may depart to free up squad places for new recruits. With Burnley and Hull at home in the lead up to Christmas, we can still turn our season around.

If Slav can navigate the next seven games with success then you sense that he could be our manager for the next decade.


Sunday 23 October 2016

Miserable Moyes Back to His Best

David Moyes got just the boost he needed in injury time yesterday as his Sunderland side were denied a hard earned point by Winston Reid's stunning strike just 7 seconds from the end. The incident provided Moyes with an ideal opportunity to demonstrate his considerable curmudgeonly talents, indulging in a delicious piece of righteous indignation as he growled about 'interfering with play' highlighting how the referee had been visibly uncertain and looked to his linesmen for guidance.

In reality, West Ham were very fortunate that the goal was allowed as two Hammers players (Calleri and Kouyate) were offside and clearly impeding the Sunderland goalkeeper's view of proceedings.

SuperSlav may well point to the overall performance in which Sunderland rarely threatened and could have been three goals down after 25 minutes, but the truth is that West Ham remain without a cutting edge up front and looked like they could have played out there for days without scoring. The sooner Sakho, Carroll and Ayew are available the better. 

On the plus side, our defence looks tighter again - something that will be put to the test over our next six games where we face a remarkably tough series of fixtures. After Chelsea in the cup, we have Premierships matches with Everton (A), Stoke (H), Spurs (A), Man United (A), Arsenal (H), Liverpool (A). The three points from yesterday will be vital as we still sit in a lowly 15th and look likely to nosedive over the coming weeks where points will surely be at a premium.

So it's a case of tough times ahead, but there are encouraging signs of late as Winston Reid is back to his best and the three man centre back formation looks tight. Adrian has survived his wobbly period and looks sharp again. Obiang and newbie Fernandez offer options in midfield. While many fans have been really disappointed with this year's transfer arrivals, fit-again Sofiane Feghouli looks to be the most impressive of them and added an extra width when he came on yesterday.

Bilic likes to play as the underdog and catch teams on the counter - there will be plenty of opportunities to test that strategy over the next six weeks!


Saturday 22 October 2016

Bilic Looks to Youth as Hammers Seek to Finally Get Season Started

SuperSlav has made an unusual change to the starting XI for the visit of Sunderland with 20 year old Edimilson Fernandes starting - presumably taking the Manny Lanzini attacking midfield role. Fernandes arrived during the Summer in a 5 million deal from Sion in Switzerland and has impressed to the extent of grabbing 2 substitute appearances in recent games before today's starting debut.

It's unclear how West Ham will cover the full back positions with no natural left or right back in the starting line up? With the 'clinical' finishing of ex-Hammer Jermain Defoe leading the line for David Moyes' Sunderland, Slav will need to be wary of a smash n grab raid from the Black Cats.

Up front, Simone Zaza will hope to build on last week's improved performance against Crystal Palace and get his Hammers goalscoring career off to a start. With the return of Andre Ayew and Diafra Sakho now imminent, he will need to kick on very soon if he is to retain a starting place in Bilic's side.

We are going for a 2-1 home win, with Defoe netting for the Cats.


The Team is: Adrián, Ogbonna, Reid, Antonio, Fernandes, Kouyaté, Lanzini, Noble, Obiang, Payet, Zaza.

Substitutes: Spiegel, Collins, Oxford, Feghouli, Nordtveit,  Calleri, Fletcher.

Saturday 15 October 2016

Bilic goes Bold for Palace Trip

Slaven Bilic has responded to the current pressure by selecting his an attack-minded starting XI regardless of fitness! That means starting berth for Aaron Cresswell with Michail Antonio asked to slot in at right back once again. Not surprisingly, he has persisted with the three man central midfield in the hope that it will protect his leaky defence. Simone Zaza gets another chance to show what he can do...Lanzini gets the nod ahead of Feghouli et al.

West Ham starting XI: Adrian; Antonio, Reid, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Noble, Obiang, Kouyate; Lanzini, Zaza, Payet .


Bilic facing Choices Aplenty As Pardew Holds the Aces

This time last year who would ever have thought that 'Little' Crystal Palace would have the audacity to pinch James Tomkins from our squad? As the best to emerge from our academy in the past decade, Tomkins is West Ham through and through and seemed to be one of the key players to lead our charge as we dabbled with our identity by moving to a new stadium.

Alas, We let Tomkins go and have sorely missed his versatility both as a mobile centre back but also as a makeshift but reliable right back. As we prepare to play against Tomkins' Palace today how fortunes have changed with Palace unbeaten in five while Slaven Bilic's troops are out of sorts and look battle weary.

In truth, Pardew has built an excellent squad at Palace and they are now formidable opposition especially up front where they have pace aplenty out wide and in the centre Benteke is on fire after an International hat trick. .

Last time out Bilic opted for a more defensively solid set up with Pedro Obiang as a third central midfielder to patrol the large spaces of our Olympic Stadium. Selhurst Park is considerably more compact but with Palace in such good attacking form it looks like Bilic will need to keep things tight and switch to a 4-3-2-1. Palace are less strong at the back which may tempt Slaven to try a more offensive 4-2-3-1 formation but given our limited options up top just now, maybe a conservative approach is preferable. Questions are starting to emerge about the form of both Kouyate and Noble, but it's hard to see Slaven dropping either at this stage.

The return of Aaron Cresswell will bring some cheer to Hammers fans but he is unlikely to be ready for 90 minutes of Wilfried Zaha and, in reality, will probably join proceedings in the final quarter. We expect Angelo Ogbonna to start at left back with the Collins-Reid Combo in the centre to try to stifle the physical presence of Christian Benteke.

Up front, there are some hard choices to be made. Simone Zaza is surely running out of time as Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho near their respective returns, but for now Ashley Fletcher is the main competition. Bilic has been talking up Zaza in midweek, so it looks like he will start. Payet and Antonio will likely provide the support, with Lanzini or Feghouli joining things later on. 

predicted Starting XI: Adrian, Arbeloa, Collins, Reid, Ogbonna, Obiang, Kouyate, Noble, Payet, Antonio, Zaza.

Tough times at West Ham right now - SuperSlav would surely settle for a point if it was offered right now!


Tuesday 11 October 2016

Hammer Foils Narcos Kingpin

More International snoozerama last night as England stumbled home after a 0-0 draw against Slovenia with a frustrated Michail Antonio stuck on the bench. Antonio's capacity to shake things up with his uber-direct aggressive style and aerial prowess seemed just the thing that a listless England needed, but Gareth - nice guy - Southgate was playing it much more conservatively on his first outing as stand in manager.

The real Pablo Escobar
Meanwhile, out in South America, Enner Valencia was banging them in again for his native Ecuador. Scoring twice and having another cleared off the line against Bolivia, Enner was on top form as his contributions matched those of Bolivian striker Pablo Escobar!!! One would have thought that Pablo was the one name off the menu for those blessed with the Escobar surname but not so in Bolivia where perhaps they don't get the popular Netflix show Narcos!

What is perhaps more intriguing, however, is the remarkable disparity between Valencia's strike rate at international level (18 goals in 33 games) compared to his tenure at West Ham (10 goals in 66 games). Valencia is 3.6 times more likely to net for Ecuador than the Hammers, but why???

One likely element is his relative lack of physicality - despite being at West Ham for three seasons before moving on loan to Everton, he still finds it hard to hold on to possession against Premiership defenders and at 5 foot 8 inches is small even for a wide attacker.

The relatively narrow pitch at Upton Park may also have limited his success as he thrives on the extra space at International venues. Perhaps things might have been different at the Olympic Stadium but we won't know for at least the rest of this season - except when the Everton Bogeymen come to visit on April 22nd next year.

Meanwhile, it's back to business for the Hammers as we prepare for Palace away at the weekend. Hopefully the break will revitalise our side and we might see the return of some of our absent players with both Andy Carroll and Aaron Cresswell looking at making the bench...COYI!!!


Monday 10 October 2016

Another Hammers Striker Slips Through the Net

Maguire nets again in front of a sell out crowd in Ireland
One of the lingering gripes amongst Hammers fans about the Allardyce era was the reluctance to give youth an airing. Allardyce apologists may well point to the infamous FA Cup thumping up at Notts Forest, but in reality there were very few chances for upcoming talent under Big Sam.

Sean Maguire was brought to the club in 2013 after a prolific season as a striker for Waterford United in the League of Ireland first division. After two years in the development squad, during which he went on loans to Sligo Rovers and Accrington Stanley, 21 year old Maguire was let go in 2015 after a sum total on zero appearances for the first team.

Now he's back in the spotlight. After a stint with Dundalk - last year's winners of the Airtricity Premier League, he is now banging in the goals for high flying Cork City. with an impressive 16 goals in 23 games so far this season, Maguire is now 22 and starting to reach his potential. So much so that a host of clubs in Europe are monitoring his situation, including Sint Truidense and Genk.

Which brings us back to the Hammers. Despite all the talk about the Reece's and Josh Cullen, they have not contributed so far to this season's endeavours and must be getting itchy. Cullen is enjoying first team football at Bradford where he has been compared to Zinedine Zidane, while the Reece's occasionally make the bench even though our defence has been seriously underperforming.

It's hard to feel that we have found the right balance between youth and experience, but if anything we appear to be still much too cautious.

Good luck to Sean Maguire. Once a hammer, always a Hammer!



Saturday 1 October 2016

Clock Ticking for Zaza...

Slaven Bilic's prematch press conference was a pretty sombre affair this week as he tried to find some positives amongst the chaos that is West Ham right now. Speaking about his striking options, he likened Simone Zaza to Denis Bergkamp! However, having witnessed Zaza's performances to date, including how he has struggled to hold onto the ball in possession, most Hammers fans will struggle with this particular analogy!

Signed on a £4million season long loan from Juventus, Zaza has failed to score so far and Bilic has protested that he needs more time. However, the deal includes a mandatory £20 million buy-out clause that will apply after a specified number of games. The big question is therefore how many games?

Some rumours suggest that this is a mere 14 appearances - in which case Christmas is likely to see the Italian's 'trial' come to a premature end unless he can start producing the goods. His general contribution to our attack is quite modest such that he needs to justify his selection with goals. So far, he has fluffed his lines and with Big Andy likely to be back for the Crystal Palace clash on October 16th. Moreover, Slaven Bilic indicated that Diafra Sakho will be available soon after.

It looks like today is a make it or break it opportunity for Zaza.


Payet and the Price of Failure

I curse you to win 2-0......
With only one result in six games and four straight losses, the visit of Middlesborough to London stadium is just what the misfiring Hammers need. With a Premiership low averaging only 5 shots per game, it may just be possible for the chaotic West Ham defence to keep the Boro out. The key will be to stifle Alvaro 'the beast' Negredo who poses their biggest attacking threat. However, after just a single shot on target against Southampton last week, Payet et al will really need to up their performance if they are to get a much needed win.

Slaven Bilic has commented on Dimitri Payet's perspective upon the club's disastrous start to life at the new stadium by repackaging his being 'unhappy' as an example of the passion that is needed to get back to winning ways. However, it's hard not to feel that the Hammers lowly position and the general negativity around the club and it's supporters is likely to impact upon the midfield maestro's willingness to listen to the many suitors out there who would gladly splash considerable cash for his services.

While Bilic will be hoping to keep Payet on board through the January transfer window, the likelihood of him staying beyond this season if the Hammers don't make the Champions League seem slim. As such, Slaven's lads will need to start putting points on the board as soon as possible as we are already ten points of Arsenal in fourth spot and have not had the toughest start in terms of fixtures.

Let's give Stewart Downing a warm welcome - he was a big part of establishing us as a stable Premiership club when we first returned to the top flight. 

The bad news is that Mystic Mark has backed us to win 2-0.