After last week’s painful thrashing at the hands of Manchester United West Ham travel to Southampton for the second of our four away game start to the season. Our recent results against them have been a bit mixed, but we did come from behind to beat them 1-3 at St Mary’s last season. I spoke to season ticket holder and lifelong fan Simon Lacey from Dance Company New Adventures to discuss the game.
What are your expectations for Southampton this season? Will you finish just above West Ham for the 5th consecutive season?
Somewhere between 7th and 10th and expect West Ham to be between 10th and 13th
Which three teams do you think will suffer relegation and who will lift the title this season?
Brighton, Swansea, Palace for the drop, Man City champions
How do you rate West Ham’s manager Slaven Bilic as a manager?
Like him as a person as honest and seems to relate well to other managers, don’t rate his tactical astuteness and ability to shape or reshape a team
Early days yet, but what league position can West Ham realistically achieve this season?
What do you think of the news that Southampton has a new foreign interest on the board?
The previous owners did nothing wrong and just about everything right so would have rather had no change even if it meant no extra money to spend. Time will tell on the new owner and, as ever, the supporters will just have to take the rough or smooth.
Southampton have also recently appointed a new manager, who will be your third manager in 3 years, will he be able to sustain the success that the last couple have been able to bring to the club?
I would have kept Puel for another year but we seem to be the best at appointing managers (like the purchase of good players for great price); witness 2 of the last 3 managing top 7 clubs in last year’s Premiership so optimistic for more of the same.
If you could have any current West Ham player in your first team who would you choose and why?
That’s a tough one but probably Lanzini as he is the one that seems to offer something different, or possibly Winston Ried as seems fairly reliable (not Jose “give a penalty” Fonte!)
What do you think of Southampton’s ‘Transfer Window’ deals, do you think you have finished your summer trading yet?
We always buy players I have never heard of and they do very well so same applies to Bedanarek and Lemina; expect there will be at least one more but we tend to fall under the gossip radar unless its fallen greats trying to illegally poach our players; on that subject we should keep Van Dyke whether he plays or not and the FA/Premier League should transfer embargo Liverpool.
Which Saints player(s) will be key to your hopes this season?
Gabbiadini up front, Ward-Prowse to run games more from midfield, Forster to warrant his new deal after last season’s amateurish and command his box in all ways and the joker in the pack, Boufal to come good.
How do you expect Southampton to setup against West Ham on Saturday/ Team/formation prediction?
Same as last week against Swansea in terms of formation i.e. 4, 2, 3,1 that become sort of 4, 2, 2.5, 1.5 but Boufal may start instead of Redmond and Lamina for Davis or Ware-Prowse; could also start Austin for Gabbiadini and Bertrand went straight down the tunnel when subbed so MacQueen or Targett for him at left back if any injury i.e Forster, Cedric, Stephens, Yoshida, Bertrand, Romeo, Lamina, Boufal, Ward-Prowse, Tadic, Gabbiadini. Couldaldo
Prediction for score?
My thanks to Simon for his thoughts on the fixture and his prediction. Dance fans can catch up with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures on “New Adventures” :http://www.new-adventures.net
I’m hoping for a repeat of last year’s victory, but will accept a draw, 1-2 to the Hammers Let’s hope we can secure our first goals and points of the season. Come on you Irons!
1st April 1907 – Edward VII was on the throne, Henry Campbell-Bannerman was the Liberal Prime Minister and the first taxicabs with taximeters had just begun operating in London. West Ham United, meanwhile, were defeating Southampton 3-2 in front of 8,000 at The Dell.
The Hammers recorded victory on the South Coast with goals from 23-year-old centre-forward Harry Stapley, 22-year-old half-back Len Jarvis and 25-year-old inside-forward Lionel Watson. Trialist John Patten and 22-year-old Frank Jefferis replied for the Saints but it was the Hammers who took maximum points back to London. This was one of two goals Patten scored for Saints from four matches but it still wasn’t enough to win him a permanent contract. Jefferis would go on to win two England caps and the 1915 league title with Everton.
Stapley (pictured right) was born in Tunbridge Wells on 29th April 1883 and was considered something of a coup when, as an amateur player, he accepted an invitation to play for the Hammers in late 1904. A schoolmaster by trade, he had resisted the lure of professional football throughout a distinguished football career with Manor Park Albion, Bromley, Norwich CEYMS, Reading and Woodford Town. Slightly-built for a centre-forward, he topped West Ham’s scoring charts for three consecutive campaigns and, after then moving up in the world to join Second Division Glossop, he was the Derbyshire club’s top scorer for seven successive seasons. His duties as a teacher prevented him from travelling to midweek matches but he became the private tutor and cricket and football coach to the Hill-Wood children (the family long associated with Arsenal); Stapley served as private secretary to Sir Samuel Hill-Wood when he became MP for High Peak. Harry Stapley died in Glossop on his 56th birthday in 1939.
West Ham United would finish the 1906/07 Southern League First Division season in fifth position, while Southampton would end up 11th in a campaign which saw Fulham top the division, Newcastle win the Football League title and The Wednesday win the FA Cup. Stapley would finish as the Hammers’ top scorer with 22 goals in 37 matches.
Southampton: George Clawley, John Robertson, John Eastham, Horace Glover, Joseph Harris, James Bowden, Sam Jepp, Fred Mouncher, Frank Jefferis, John Patten, Wally Radford.
West Ham United: George Kitchen, Bill Wildman, Bill Taylor, Tommy Allison, Len Jarvis, Frank Piercy, Dave Lindsay, Billy Grassam, Harry Stapley, Lionel Watson, Fred Blackburn.
Jose Fonte and Michail Antonio travel to the home of their former club. An array of West Ham United’s good, bad and ugly have also turned out for Southampton:
Goalkeepers: Richard Wright, George Kitchen.
Defenders: Richard Hall, Christian Dailly, Joe Kirkup, Wayne Bridge, Neil Ruddock, Bill Adams, Ian Pearce, Darren Powell, Albie Roles, Horace Glover, Calum Davenport.
Midfielders: Jimmy Carr, Bobby Weale, Luis Boa Morte, Nigel Quashie, Eyal Berkovic, Robbie Slater, Peter Cowper, Paul Allen.
Strikers: Vic Watson, Justin Fashanu, David Speedie, David Connolly, Ted MacDougall, Henri Camara, Alex McDonald, Frank Costello, Fred Harrison, Walter Pollard, Arthur Wilson, Jimmy Harris, Jack Foster.
In addition, George Kay played for the Hammers and managed the Saints while Harry Redknapp and Alan Pardew have managed both clubs.
Today’s focus is on a striker who had a period with Southampton in between two spells with West Ham. Iain Dowie was born in Hatfield, Hertfordshire on 9th January 1965. He was rejected by Southampton aged 16 and later went to the University of Hertfordshire to study for an engineer’s degree. On completion he became an employee of British Aerospace, whilst playing football at non-League level for Cheshunt alongside his brother Bob. He left Cheshunt to improve his fitness and signed for St Albans City, then moved on to Hendon. While playing for Hendon, Dowie was spotted by Luton who signed him in the 1988/89 season, when they were in the First Division. An old-fashioned centre-forward, he had a brief loan spell at Fulham before establishing himself as a first-team player at Kenilworth Road in the 1989/90 season, when his eight goals in 29 league games helped Luton finish seventh.
On 22nd March 1991, with Luton still in the First Division and Dowie still a first team regular with seven goals from 29 games that season, he agreed to drop a division to join Billy Bonds’ promotion-chasing West Ham United for a fee of £480,000. He proved himself to be a competent deputy for the injured Trevor Morley as his four goals in the final 12 league games of the season helped secure the team’s promotion as Second Division runners-up. The 26-year-old Dowie made his Hammers debut in a 0-0 draw at Hull the day after signing and scored his first goal on his home debut, a 3-2 win over Barnsley at the Boleyn Ground on 1st April 1991. He scored in his next two home games as well, a 2-0 win over Swindon on 20th April and a 1-1 draw with Newcastle four days later, before making it three goals in a week in a 3-1 defeat at Blackburn on 27th April. When the 1991/92 First Division season began however, Morley had returned to fitness and Dowie found himself on the sidelines until his £500,000 move to Southampton on 3rd September 1991 after less than six months at Upton Park.
Dowie played alongside Alan Shearer and Matthew Le Tissier – two of the country’s highest regarded players in the early 1990s – and scored nine goals in 30 league games to ensure that Ian Branfoot’s Saints finished high enough for a place in the newly formed Premier League, while the Hammers were relegated in bottom position from the old First Division to the new First Division. His good form continued into the 1992/93 season, despite the sale of Shearer to Blackburn, as he scored 11 league goals. His tally dropped to five goals in 39 games during the 1993/94 campaign, though Southampton avoided relegation again, and he managed another five goals from 17 league games in the 1994/95 season before manager Alan Ball decided that he wanted younger partners for Le Tissier in attack, signing Gordon Watson and Neil Shipperley while dropping Craig Maskell and selling Dowie to Crystal Palace for £400,000 in January 1995. Dowie had scored 30 goals for Southampton from 122 matches in just over three years at The Dell.
Dowie could not save the Eagles from relegation from the Premier League and returned to Upton Park in September 1995 in a deal which saw the late Jeroen Boere move to Selhurst Park. The 30-year-old Dowie made his second Hammers debut under Harry Redknapp in a 3-1 home defeat to Chelsea on 11th September 1995 and scored his first goal back at the Boleyn in a 1-1 draw with champions Blackburn on 21st October. He scored the only goal of the game at Sheffield Wednesday the following weekend before grabbing a late winner against former club Southampton on 16th December. He bagged the Hammers’ first goal of 1996 in a 2-1 New Year’s Day defeat at Manchester City and notched an 85th-minute winner in a 3-2 home win over Coventry on 31st January 1996, a match which saw the debut of Frank Lampard Junior.
Dowie scored the equaliser in a 1-1 home FA Cup fourth round draw with Grimsby on 7th February 1996 but the Hammers would lose the replay 3-0 the following week. He tapped in the opener in a 2-0 home win over Middlesbrough on 9th March and made it three goals in as many games by bagging a brace in a 4-2 home triumph over Manchester City. Dowie ended the 1995/96 campaign with nine goals from 39 appearances in all competitions and was voted runner-up to Julian Dicks in the Hammer of the Year voting as West Ham finished in the top flight’s top ten for the first time since the famous 1985/86 season.
1996/97 was to prove less fruitful, with Dowie’s only goals coming in a Hugo Porfirio-inspired 4-1 victory over Nottingham Forest in the third round of the League Cup, a match in which Dowie notched a double on 23rd October 1996. Redknapp had broken up Dowie’s previously successful partnership with Tony Cottee (who had moved to Selangor of Malaysia) but his experiment with foreign imports was not paying dividends – neither Florin Raducioiu nor Paulo Futre, both summer signings, would be in east London by the end of the winter. Dowie ploughed a fruitless furrow up front in the bleak winter of 1996/97 and had to bear the frustrations of supporters who also had to contend with loan flop Mike Newell when Dowie was injured in January before the signings of John Hartson and Paul Kitson breathed new goalscoring life into the claret and blue strikeforce. Dowie’s nightmare own goal at lowly Stockport also dumped the drenched Hammers out of the League Cup in a fourth round replay.
Dowie remained in east London until January 1998, fourteen months and 32 matches after his last goals for the club. He departed, alongside left-back and fellow Northern Ireland international Keith Rowland, in the deal which brought Trevor Sinclair to the Boleyn Ground from QPR. Dowie, who left at the age of 33, had scored 15 goals in 95 appearances in all competitions across both his spells with West Ham United. Twelve of these goals can be seen in my video below.
Dowie spent three years at QPR, ending his career playing in defence and as player-manager of the reserves. He was also caretaker manager of the club for two games in the autumn of 1998. He retired having also won 59 caps for Northern Ireland, for whom he qualified to play through his father, scoring 12 goals. He became manager of Oldham in 2002, knocking Glenn Roeder’s West Ham out of the League Cup at Upton Park, before moving to former club Crystal Palace in December 2003, taking the Eagles from 19th place in Division One to the Play-Off Final, where Dowie again engineered a victory over the Hammers. He took over at Charlton in the summer of 2006 but left before Christmas and became manager at Coventry in February 2007 only to leave a year later. He returned to QPR in the summer of 2008 but was sacked after just 15 games. Alan Shearer named Dowie on his coaching staff at Newcastle when he took over for the final stages of the 2008/09 campaign.
Dowie was named as the temporary ‘Football Management Consultant’ of Premier League Hull City on 17th March 2010 but the Tigers would be relegated with one game left to play. Now 52, Dowie works as a commentator for Sky Sports News. His niece, 29-year-old England international striker Natasha Dowie, plays for Boston Breakers in the American National Women’s Soccer League.
Saturday’s referee will be Lee Mason from Greater Manchester. Mason refereed the Hammers once in 2016/17 – the 1-0 home win over Hull when he awarded the Hammers a match-winning penalty – but took charge of two West Ham matches the previous season, those being the 0-0 draw at Swansea in December 2015 and the 3-0 win at West Brom in April 2016.
Mason refereed three Premier League matches involving the Hammers in 2014/15 – the 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa, the 1-0 home win over Sunderland and the 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford when he sent off Wayne Rooney, denied the Hammers a penalty when Morgan Amalfitano’s cross struck Radamel Falcao’s arm and disallowed Kevin Nolan’s last-minute strike for a marginal offside. Mason was also the man in the middle for our 1-0 FA Cup win at Bristol City in January 2015. He also officiated in four of our games in 2013/14, sending off two of our players (Mark Noble against Everton and James Tomkins at Cardiff) and disallowing a perfectly good Stewart Downing equaliser at Crystal Palace.
Southampton and England left-back Ryan Bertrand has been passed fit but Virgil van Dijk remains unavailable.
West Ham United could welcome back Michail Antonio from injury, while Aaron Cresswell could claim a starting berth. Cheikhou Kouyate, Manuel Lanzini and Andy Carroll could return at Newcastle next weekend.
So here we are at the beginning of a new season. All our hopes and dreams that we’ve been cultivating over a long baron summer simmering away nicely.
Well mine were this time last week. So much so I invested ten of your English pounds on us coming away from Old Trafford with a victory. I wasn’t dizzy enough to think it was a certainty but, with the buzz of our fine acquisitions over the summer, felt there was a possibility (along with the fond memories of the Emirates on opening day two seasons ago when we weren’t given a hope). And with my bookmaker of choice offering me 10/1, I was well prepared to give them a wedgie and run off with cash.
And now, where my hopes and dreams were sailing last week, I’ve got the hump. Not because I lost a tenner, I always gamble responsibly because Ray Winstone tells me to, but because I didn’t get the feeling the players held up their side of the bargain in the hopes and dreams stakes.
There was a high level of negative faces, poor body language and a sense (to me) that this was a game three quarters of the way through the season, not an opening day.
The manager should be having to calm his players down on day 1, the over exuberance and excitement of starting a campaign after the rigours of pre season threatening to be their undoing. But I didn’t get that. I got the feeling of lethargy and in some cases half heartedness.
Don’t get me wrong I know we were playing a team that is likely to be serious title contenders, but what worried me is that I felt we could have got slapped with the same scoreline by a lesser team.
And yes I know we were missing 5 players that are definite first XI starters but surely the 5 who got an opportunity to show themselves off should have done so? Or looked like they were trying to?
I don’t often agree with the ‘rent a controversial quote’ style of punditry employed by Gary Neville but he was 100% right to call out Arthur Masuaku.
His whole demeanour was that of a training ground game rather than a tough season opener at Old Trafford. He just didn’t seem to be taking it seriously.
If I feel that, what message does it send out to his teammates? And just as important, the slightly talented opposition who started to act like ravenous lions bearing down on 3 legged, eyesight not what it used to be, slightly elderly antelope.
And then there is Diafra Sakho. A man who clearly wanted to leg it away from the London Stadium last year and who, on Sunday’s evidence, hasn’t changed his mind.
Yes he only played a bit part, but when he came on he just looked disinterested. His expressions and body language reminded me of a former West Ham forward who, when it appeared he wasn’t giving 100%, was given the treatment by the fans – Luis Boa Morte.
Javier Hernandez didn’t stop running and trying (slightly conjuring up memories of a certain C Tevez), and his frustration was clear for all to see in the last 20 minutes as he felt alone doing that in the final third.
I really don’t like being negative here, especially on week one of the season, but I sincerely hope either a) I’m wrong, was watching a different game to everyone else and should go and have a sit down in a quiet room with a cup of tea or b) we get to see a team that appears to want to match our expectations.
Regardless of the result, we expect to see passion. Pulling on the jersey is not a chore, it’s an honour.
Next time we shall talk fluffy kittens, bouncing puppies, and how picking blackberries in a meadow on a summer’s day makes the world a better place.
A 4-0 defeat is tough to take at any time. When excitement and expectation ahead of the first kick of the season is still at play it’s even more of a let down. That said did any of us really expect to go up there and win? After a few days of reflection, and with emotions running at a far lower level, it’s good to have a more detached ‘hindsight’ view.
The tactics were quite plain to see. Try and contain by sitting deep and protecting the defence. The sight of Chicharito completely isolated in his ‘lone furrow’ role in the first half was frustrating watching but there was a plan. Not necessarily the right one IMHO – but a plan nonetheless.
So half time arrived and we were getting battered but still only one goal down.
For me the second half was better viewing. Yes – we were still being outplayed in the most part but there were occasions where we started to move the ball quickly with some incisive, one touch stuff, that was better viewing for sure. Problem with that was the defence became more exposed and it lead to 3 more goals. Lukaku loves playing on the break. He loves playing on the break even more against us. I know his second goal didn’t come by this route but, let’s face it, he could have got 5 on Sunday afternoon. So would it have been better to continue to sit rigidly and keep the score down? Not for this Hammer. It’s not ‘The West Ham Way’ but, more importantly, it wouldn’t have been the right approach for that particular situation. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and as I sit here typing it’s clear, to my mind, that we should have ‘had a go’ from the first whistle. Lessons to learn there by my reckoning. By having a go I really don’t mean in an Ossie Ardiles or Kevin Keegan ‘completely abandon defence’ way – just don’t sit so deep your’re practically on your own goal line. There were some positives to take out of the game btw but more of that later on.
Last season we saw the addition of squad players in the transfer window. For the right, or wrong, reasons it was a case of quantity not quality. I fully understood those reasons. A bigger squad of players was considered a key requirement but then we got drawn against our bogey European part time team again and that was that. So many squad additions became more of a burden than a boon.
This time around it is a completely different story. Player positions that needed strengthening were recognised and the club worked hard to bring in the right quality to improve, not simply grow, the squad. On that score the club has certainly delivered.
So, with all four new signings taking the field at Old Stretford, the appetite was well and truly whetted. Let’s consider that for a second. Four completely new players to the team all thrown in at once. “Ah yes but they played together pre-season,” I hear some mutter. Doesn’t count for me. Pre season is about fitness and the intensity of a game with points at stake cannot be replicated. Results and performances have little relevance before the first official whistle of the season. So numerically not on the same scale as 2016-17 but four from eleven is a big percentage of the team all the same. Here’s the rub. A team with so many new additions really needs time to gel. I’m constantly hearing, from virtually every football pundit, that time is not a luxury afforded you in the Premier League. Be that as it may you can’t ‘demand’ understanding and confidence amongst, and with, team-mates. It takes time and, for me, Sunday was more about players looking like strangers than it was individual poor performances. Don’t get me wrong, there were some howlers with the defence leading the hit-list of culprits (Masuaku looks like the man who started last season again, not the one who finished it, and Reid clearly hates playing Lukaku), but it’s going to take a few games before the team starts to buzz again IMHO.
“The bite and fight in this lad is on a Mike Tyson level”
On to those positives I mentioned earlier. If you were to list those positives Declan Rice’s performance would have to be right at the top. Frankly the academy product showed other players the desire and hunger that they should have been displaying. The bite and fight in this lad is on a Mike Tyson level. And not without quality either. You only have to compare Obiang’s passing to his and you can rest your case. Young players not getting played because they make costly mistakes? Yeah – right. Go compare in this game Mr Wenger? This was a Premier League game not a Sunday afternoon stroll and Declan Rice seemed to be one of the few that understood that. Of the others who ‘put in a shift’ Chicha stood out. We’re going to love this player. The only thing that’s a little frustrating is his passing, and speaking to a Manchester United mate of mine it’s clearly a common theme amongst fans of clubs he’s played for, but his crossing certainly is not . If he could have only been on the other end of his own sublime ball from out wide in the second half we’d have halved the deficit and, perhaps, played with a bit more confidence in the last quarter of the game. My advice – work harder to get there Chicha ;) .
“Young players not getting played because they make costly mistakes? Yeah – right. Go compare Mr Wenger?”
“If he could have only been on the other end of his own sublime ball”
I’ve not even mentioned the players we were missing. For me the most creative, most powerful and most combative weren’t able to take the field and that was a huge contributor. But that’s not the point I’m trying to illustrate here. A good cake depends on quality ingredients and this group are going to improve us from a flat Victoria Sponge to a ‘Great Bake Off’ contender. It’s just going to take some patience and careful, expert, mixing, rolling and baking (not sure the analogy carried through there but you know what I mean ;) ). I have a strong belief that all four additions this Summer are going to be great. In contrast to 2016-17, come May, we’re going to be gutted to see the end of the season.
Lastly a big thanks to Iain for the opportunity to contribute here. Looking forward to ‘chatting’ and exchanging views with some of the ‘blast from the past’ names I recognise and others I’ve yet to ‘meet’ on WHTID.
The current squad boasts higher profile and arguably more skilful/celebrated players such as Lanzini and Hernandez, but in terms of sheer power, physical presence and functionality we literally only has one player like Kouyate. He is a powerful box-to-box midfielder, with the ability to add steel and coherence to the midfield unit and get forward to grab some important goals. He is also blessed (or some would say cursed!) with a wonderful adaptability, being able to play as a holding midfielder, a centre-back or even at right-back. But it is in this box-to-box role that he has the greatest impact. It was noticeable last season how crucial his midfield presence is to the team and how we suffered when he was absent or played out of position. That is a subjective observation on my part, but it would be interesting to see how many points we dropped in his absence last season (especially during the ACON campaign last winter). However, his importance is surely reflected in the fact that his pending surgery, at the end of last season, was delayed until after the home victory over Spurs that assured our PL status.
It was this observation that led me to suggest last season that we needed to recruit another player of similar qualities in the January window to provide cover/competition for the Senegalese international. And it seems that Bilic has reached a similar conclusion and is doing something about it with the pursuit of William Carvalho and, according to various social media sources, a number of alternative, midfield power houses targets (if the deal for the Sporting Lisbon man stalls). In truth, the insipid performance last Sunday was a typical ‘in absentia of Kouyate’ display, with the midfield losing possession far too easily and lacking the sheer power and drive to seriously trouble our opponents. It was more apparent due to the quality of the opposition, but in the PL we will continue to drop points to less accomplished teams if our midfield unit continues to play like that. Indeed, it speaks volumes that the introduction of 18 year old Declan Rice, as a substitute, only served to emphasise the palpable lack of confidence, technique and sheer application demonstrated by much more experienced team mates. There are a number of senior players who should be taking a long, hard look at themselves after Sunday’s debacle. I can tolerate losing to the likes of Man Utd away, but for god’s sake make a fight of it, if not for the players own professional pride then for the sake of the wonderful travelling claret and blue army!
I could not travel on Sunday, due to health reasons, but observing the match on Sky Sports, the experience was all too familiar from previous such bygone fixtures. It was observed during the Sky commentary that statistically it was a case of the PL club with the highest number of winning opening fixtures versus that with the least. I do not feel any pressing compulsion to clarify ‘which club is which’ in this particular case! Indeed, why is it that so many times over the years, and stretching back to the days of the football league, West Ham invariably look less fit and unprepared for a new season than their opponents? Certainly, that is how it appeared to me on Sunday. The team looked like a rapidly assembled collection of strangers (which I suppose they were to a certain extent, with four debutants), who are still half-way through pre-season. The Manchester United players looked far fitter and sharper, not to mention organised, more motivated and hungry for the ball. What happened to all the careful pre-season fitness work and the cohesion that should have accrued from the matches in Austria and Germany? It was called the ideal preparation, and probably it was in terms of avoiding injury, but was it actually a demanding enough programme and did we suffer on Sunday as a consequence?
The player I felt most sorry for was undoubtedly Hernandez, he really did apply himself up front and tried until the final whistle. However, ultimately you have to feed a goal poacher like the Mexican international and on Sunday the service was virtually zero. I also felt that Arnautovic grafted for the team and made some intelligent forward runs, but the crucial early balls forward were either not there or too easily intercepted. Zabaletta played like he still had the likes of Vincent Company to cover his adventurous and pulsating excursions down the right flank and duly got caught out of position on occasions (especially in the build up to Man Utd’s first goal). Hopefully, the return of Antonio and the addition of the likes of Carvahlo will rectify that problem. Alternatively, especially away from home, we might look again at implementing three at the back and give Zabaletta and Cresswell the licence to go forward more readily. But at least in Zabaletta’s case he did apply himself and make the necessary effort, even if he did not reap the rewards on this occasion. I would also give Sakho the benefit of the doubt, he only played two or three games last season and has endured a considerable injury lay off. I am not surprised that he is looking to ease his way back in to the action in those circumstances. By rights, he should be doing that with a run of U-23 appearances, but with Carroll still out and Bilic apparently choosing not to sign another striker, I suppose ‘needs must’. It is better to judge him after a few more appearances, not at this early stage of the season. similarly, Reid looked unfit and decidedly out of sorts, I would not be surprised if he is struggling with a niggle or, alternatively, he has just come back too soon. Hart did fair to middling and, as stated, Rice was excellent, but rest of the line up really did not win any battle honours on the day.
Still, never mind, upwards and onwards. On the bright side, our next fixture is distinctly winnable (if we can sort ourselves out on the training ground this week); we have some key players coming back in the shape of Antonio, Lanzini Carroll and Kouyate, who will improve us significantly; the existing new signings should benefit from another week of training and better build understanding with their teammates; the caravahlo deal is hopefully still in the pipeline; and it is possible there could be further additions, especially if Snodgrass is sold/loaned out. Who is favourite to come in? Well, as I said, at the time of writing, the grape vine has it that Bilic does not want to sign another striker (lets hope that Sakho and Carroll’s fitness justifies that decision). That is fine if it means that Martinez will be in the frame for a first team debut at some point. I suppose Bilic also reasons that Antonio and Ayew can both play as auxiliary central strikers if circumstances necessitate, which is a fair point. If Snodgrass does exit we will need another wide player. We have Antonio and Arnautovic and promising youngsters like Holland, Samuelsson and Quina as cover. I feel that those three should take a step nearer the first team this coming season (although most thought the same about Burke and Cullen) and they should be encouraged to do so.
So, I reckon one additional wide player is necessary and the favourite seems to be Jota of Brentford Town. A Spanish winger, who was their creative font last season and has the very handy tendency of weighing in with his fair share of goals. The player allegedly wants the move to the London Stadium and has resisted overtures from Newcastle Utd (The frozen north does not appeal apparently!). So, the scene looks set for a deal, possibly on deadline day? A new defensive/box-to-box midfielder is likely to be signed if recent reports are to be believed. Lets hope it is the option that we all prefer. Apart from Ogbonna, we lack pace in central defence and is that surprising with both Fonte and Collins still at the club. Rice can play at centre-back, but at this stage of his career is he ready for that position; or would he better deployed in midfield? I am still to make my mind up on that point. In my view Burke should have stayed and provided cover. Remember this is a young player with a number of competitive first team appearances under his belt and he looked the part in pre-season. Still it is notable that the Burke/Cullen loans to Bolton are only until January, so it could be that they will be recalled and figure in the New Year. We shall see? I suppose the safest option is to sell Collins and sign another centre-back, but they did seem reluctant to do that, presumably in the knowledge that they have three such outstanding prospects as Rice, Oxford and Burke emerging from the Academy. However, this evening the news story broke that we are interested in signing Man City centre-back, Mangala. I cannot say that I am very keen on that potential deal, but lets see what transpires.
So, we have hardly ‘hit the ground running’ but it is correct to preach patience and look at the bigger picture in terms of the new squad gelling in the coming weeks. Talking of poor starts to a season, I was reminded recently of the 1974-75 season. It was the early post-Moore/Hurst period and we were in a difficult transition to the succeeding Bonds/Brooking era. In addition, Lyall had just succeeded Greenwood as manager, with the latter becoming General Manager responsible for scouting/transfers amongst other wider club matters. In 1973-74 we just avoided relegation with a 18th place finish, accumulating 37 points from 42 matches, and we started the following season poorly with defeats versus Man City (A – 4-0), Everton (H – 2-3), Newcastle Utd (A – 2-0), Sheffield Utd (H – 1-2) and Spurs (A – 2-1). By mid-September 1974 we were languishing at the foot of the table with 3 points, gained from a 2-0 home victory over Luton Town and a 0-0 away draw with the same opponents. Believe me things looked very grim indeed at that point!
Yet, Greenwood worked his magic and regenerated our prospects with the acquisition of Billy Jennings, Keith Robson and Alan Taylor, as they quickly gelled with the likes of Gould, Paddon, Brooking and Bonds to create a new exciting unit. The change signalled itself as a single, advanced swallow in the form of the 6-0 home demolition of Tranmere Rovers in the League Cup. And summer quickly followed with goals and exciting displays in a run of league victories over Leicester City (H- 6-0), Birmingham City (A -1-3) and Burnley (A – 3-5), amongst some very memorable performances/results. In fact, up until 28 December 1974, we only lost another two matches. Admittedly, the ‘wheels did come off’ results wise in the New Year, but we finished in a relatively comfortable 13th place and by then the 1975 cup run had fully gripped our attentions.
1974-75 will always be one of my favourite seasons, primarily because of the way our season turned around, the quality of our football and that memorable Cup victory over Fulham. I know that performance/progress in the PL is crucial these day, but this example does serve to illustrate that it is not always wise to get too depressed based on initial results because the fortunes of clubs can and do change for the better. Some times beyond the scope of what fans imagine possible at the time of the opening defeat(s).
Lets hope for all our sakes that these prove ‘wise’ and not ‘famous last words’ on our prospects for the 2017-18 season.