Dan Coker's Match Preview

Match Preview: West Ham v Doncaster

The Predictor League for Doncaster Rovers is open. Enter your team HERE. Deadline is 1pm on Saturday afternoon.

Blast from the past

West Ham United have never met Doncaster Rovers in the FA Cup before. Indeed, the two teams haven’t previously met in any form of knockout competition, so today’s focus falls on a previous league encounter between the two clubs.

The Stargazers were number one with ‘I See The Moon’, Alastair Sim was in UK cinemas in An Inspector Calls and, in a month which also saw the births of Willie Thorne and Jimmy Nail, Ted Fenton’s West Ham United took on Peter Doherty’s Doncaster Rovers in a Second Division match on 20th March 1954. The Hammers won the match 2-1 in front of 14,655, courtesy of goals from 20-year-old winger Harry Hooper (pictured below) and Glaswegian inside-left John Dick. Irish centre-forward Fred Kearns made his 48th and final appearance for the Irons ahead of his move to Norwich – he had scored 16 goals for the club.

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Doncaster would go on to finish 12th in the Second Division while the Hammers would end the 1953/54 season in 13th place. Leicester topped the Second Division, Wolves won the title and West Brom lifted the FA Cup.

West Ham United: Peter Chiswick, George Wright, Harry Kinsell, Derek Parker, Malcolm Allison, Danny McGowan, Harry Hooper, Dave Sexton, Fred Kearns, John Dick, Jimmy Andrews.

Club Connections

West Ham United and Doncaster Rovers have shared a decent number of players over the years. These include:

Goalkeepers: Stephen Bywater, Perry Suckling, Ike Tate, Tony Parks.

Defenders: Lucas Neill, Arthur Banner, Bill Green, Fred Shreeve, Rufus Brevett, Paul Marquis, Elliott Ward, Edward Wagstaff, Matthew Kilgallon, Albert Walker.

Midfielders: John Moncur, Stan Burton, Tommy Tippett, Ed Smithurst, Jack Kirkaldie, Josh Payne, Billy Linward, George Ratcliffe, Danny Williamson, Kevin Horlock.

Strikers: Jimmy Dyer, Fred Dell, Mike Newell, Brian Deane, Frederic Piquionne.

Grant McCann played for West Ham and managed Doncaster.

This week’s focus though is on a player who played for West Ham before moving to Doncaster. Herita Ilunga was born in Kinshasa, Zaire (now DR Congo) on 25th February 1982. He came through the ranks at Amiens in France before moving to Rennes. Ilunga, a left-back, left French football without making a senior appearance and moved to Espanyol, playing for their B team in the Spanish third division. Ilunga returned to France with Saint-Etienne in 2003 and spent four seasons at the club. He joined Toulouse in 2007 for a fee of £1.8m, briefly playing Champions League football with the club, before moving to England the following year.

The 26-year-old Ilunga joined Alan Curbishley’s West Ham United on a season-long loan in September 2008 – Curbishley resigned the day after Ilunga signed as George McCartney’s replacement. Ilunga made his debut under caretaker manager Kevin Keen on 13th September 2008 in a 3-2 defeat at West Brom. He played in every Premier League and FA Cup game under Gianfranco Zola in 2008/09, missing only the League Cup defeat at Watford. Ilunga scored his first goal for the Hammers in a 3-0 FA Cup third round win over Barnsley at Upton Park on 3rd January 2009. His second goal for the club also came in the FA Cup, an equaliser in a 1-1 home draw with Middlesbrough in the fifth round on 14th February 2009 – future Hammer Stewart Downing scored for the visitors in this match and also netted in the replay as Boro won 2-0 at the Riverside.

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Ilunga made his loan move permanent for a fee of around £3m towards the end of the 2008/09 campaign as the Hammers recorded a ninth-placed finish. He scored his third and final goal for the club in a 3-1 League Cup third round defeat at Bolton on 22nd September 2009. The Irons struggled in 2009/10, finishing 17th – Ilunga was ruled out for the rest of the season after picking up an injury in February. By the time he returned at the start of the following season, Avram Grant had taken over the managerial reigns – he started ten league games in 2010/11 but none of them from January onwards after the loan signing of Wayne Bridge.

West Ham were relegated and Ilunga looked to have been given an opportunity to resurrect his Hammers career by new boss Sam Allardyce, who started him in the first five games of the 2011/12 season. A series of poor performances, however, led Allardyce to sign the player Ilunga had originally been brought in to replace as McCartney returned to the club for a second spell. Ilunga’s last game for the club was the 2-1 home defeat to Aldershot in the League Cup first round on 24th August 2011. Ilunga had scored three goals in 73 appearances for West Ham United – two of these three goals, both scored in the FA Cup, can be viewed in my video below.

With the signing of McCartney, initially on loan, and the alternative option of Matty Taylor, the Hammers were well covered at left-back resulting in the 29-year-old Ilunga joining fellow Championship side Doncaster in a three-month loan move. He made his debut for Dean Saunders’ Donny in a 3-0 defeat to Leeds at the Keepmoat Stadium and made 15 appearances during his loan spell. He returned to West Ham in January 2012 but his contract was terminated by mutual consent within less than a fortnight. Ilunga returned to Doncaster in March 2012, signing a short-term contract – he made four further appearances for Rovers, taking his total for the club to 19, without scoring. His final appearance for Doncaster came in a 4-0 loss at Leicester on 7th April 2012. The club were relegated in bottom place while the Hammers were promoted via the Play-Offs.

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Ilunga was not retained by Doncaster at the end of the 2011/12 season and remained without a club until he signed for Ligue 1 side Rennes in January 2013. He spent six months with Carquefou in the third tier of French football the following year before moving to Creteil of Ligue 2 (second tier) in 2014. He retired in 2016, following Creteil’s relegation, after two seasons with the club. Ilunga, now 38, was appointed to the commission for training and development at the Confederation of African Football (CAF) in September 2017.

Referee

Tomorrow’s referee will be Merseyside-based Robert Jones, who will take on his third ever senior Hammers appointment – his only other matches involving West Ham’s first team were the 4-0 defeat at Oxford in the League Cup third round in September 2019 and, most recently, our 1-0 win over Fulham in November.

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Jones has refereed one other FA Cup match this season, that being Manchester City’s 3-0 home win over Birmingham in the third round.

The VAR Official is Yorkshire-based Martin Atkinson.

Possible line-ups

Arthur Masuaku is on the sidelines for West Ham United.

Doncaster, currently fourth in League One, have beaten FC United of Manchester, Carlisle and Blackburn to reach this fourth round tie. 21-year-old goalkeeper Ellery Balcombe joined on loan from Brentford earlier this month. 25-year-old Welsh Under-21 international Joe Wright is back and available; 37-year-old centre-half Andy Butler is in his second spell at Doncaster and is also manager of the women’s side, Doncaster Rovers Belles. Tom Anderson, 27, is the captain and came through the ranks at Burnley. Cameron John, 21, is a product of Wolves’ Academy.

25-year-old Brad Halliday and 27-year-old Reece James formed the midfield pair in the last round at Blackburn, but both are naturally full-backs – the latter appeared as a substitute for Wigan when they knocked David Moyes’ West Ham out of the FA Cup at the fourth round stage in 2018 and is available after suspension. Jason Lokilo, 22, was born in Belgium and is of Congolese descent; he signed from Crystal Palace last year. 20-year-old Taylor Richards is on loan from Brighton and scored the winner in the previous round at Ewood Park. Elliot Simoes, 21, is an Angolan international currently on loan from Barnsley.

With Arsenal loanee Tyreece John-Jules ruled out for at least two months with a serious hamstring problem, manager Darren Moore could start 24-year-old Fejiri Okenabirhie up front – the England C international was also on the Gunners’ books as a youngster. Moore may not have enough players to name a full bench of nine substitutes.

Possible West Ham United XI: Randolph; Johnson, Dawson, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Rice, Noble; Yarmolenko, Lanzini, Fornals; Antonio.

Possible Doncaster Rovers XI: Balcombe; Wright, Butler, Anderson, John; Halliday, James; Lokilo, Richards, Simoes; Okenabirhie.

Enjoy the game – Up The Hammers!


Talking Point

Ifs, Buts and Goals

Guest Post by Oliver Schneider

Ifs and buts and goals

For years I was sceptical of the wisdom in frugal investments in veteran strikers, cast off by the bigger boys, or unproven imports; most of which underwhelmed or failed. Why don’t we just spend the money, get one proven top goal scorer instead of lots of smaller purchases that ultimately failed I thought over and over again.

Step forward Sébastien Romain Teddy Haller, proven in the Bundesliga, top dollar paid, guaranteed goals right? No, he barley lasts two seasons and is sold off at a huge financial loss after a disappointing goal scoring tally. Had Haller scored anywhere near his 1 goal every 2.5 games rate that he had for Frankfurt, we may well be sitting pretty in a European place right now.

Even when we do secure (and I use that word loosely) a top striker e.g. Tevez, even that turns into a fiasco.

I’m not criticising as this is most likely is a mix of poor management at the top, inadequate finances at times and lots of bad luck. It could also be that we somehow upset the footballing gods in the past and are now cursed in that position.

Imagine if Dean Ashton hadn’t suffered an ultimately career-ending injury with England. When aged just 21, he looked as close as you could get to the complete striker, scoring 20 in 27 games for Crewe before making his way to us via Norwich. A lethal combination of strength, power, technique and finishing. I read somewhere that likened him to a bear performing ballet. Incidentally Ashton recently turned 37 two years younger than Zlatan Ibrahimovi? and could feasibly still be playing for us now!

Or imagine if we had signed Jamie Vardy for £1m, which according to Big Sam we just missed out on the opportunity to do so before he moved to future Premier League Champions Leicester City.

Either of those two ‘what if’ scenarios would in my opinion bagged us an extra 10 goals per season. Looking at the historic league tables since 2006, those goals would probably have prevented relegation in 2010/2011. Our goal difference was -27, Wigan in 16th place had a GD of -21 and Blackburn a place above had a GD of -13. Using the rudimentary, approximate correlation of goal difference to final league position and my assumptions, we would have finished two places above safety and relegated Wolves. Admittedly Vardy didn’t hit the ground running at Leicester but this is a hypothetical analogy.

Where do we find ourselves now? No recognised out-and-out first team striker; a magnificent, yet injury prone right-back, wait right-midfielder, wait winger, wait striker shouldering the burden of being our sole frontman; and scrabbling about in the foreign leagues trying to unearth a hidden gem. Sound familiar?

I don’t know when or how we upset the God of Shooting Boots, but it would be nice if we could appease him.


Talking Point

The West Ham Match Day Experience

Guest post by Florida Hammer

One of the more contentious issues in West Ham United history recently has been the complaint of the London Stadium as a suitable venue for our beloved football club. Many supporters have deemed it unfit for purpose, I suspect many older supporters due to their long-standing romance with the Boleyn Ground will never warm to the London Stadium under current circumstances.

When you try to nail down the source of this angst from long-time supporters, I feel it may be due in large part to the bare surroundings near the London stadium causing the poor matchday experience. I have only been to the current West Ham football ground once for a live match (in November 2017) and personally found the walk to the stadium a rather bland experience. There’s just nothing there to intrigue, excite and energize supporters walking in for the match. In fact, the entire surroundings are rather underwhelming of a purpose-built facility for sports and entertainment. On a personal level I might have found the entire match-day experience a big disappointment if not for my amazing hosts Heedsy & Iron Liddy along with the amazing folks that I met from West Ham Till I Die inside the stadium that evening. In true British fashion I was treated to some amazing hospitality, of course plenty of alcohol but most of all excellent company and new friendships that produced a wonderful experience I will always treasure. I feel sad for all those that don’t have a Heedsy & Iron Liddy to accompany them for every matchday.

In comparison my last proper West Ham matchday experience prior to the London Stadium was of course at the Boleyn in 1984 just before my family emigrated to the USA. It was memorable to me for various reasons but more so because I remember walking to the Boleyn from my uncle’s home in Plaistow. And no matter where you started your journey coming up via the Barking road or simply taking the train to Upton Park the moment you stepped onto Green Street the entire experience was one of a kind. The sounds, the sights, the smells were all a unique flavor of East London that would just smack you in the face. All of a sudden, you’ve entered a mental state between fantasy and reality, much like the Twilight Zone. There was something so right with the world when you made that walk onto Green Street on the way to the Boleyn.

However if you play devil’s advocate though and offer some deeper thought It really is difficult and possibly a bit unfair to compare the London Stadium with the atmosphere on Green Street and at the Boleyn, it’s an apples to oranges comparison at this point as the London stadium area is simply devoid of the character and resources we experienced at the old home. Rather than continue to complain and moan about the whole experience I encourage a discussion on what we can do to improve the current atmosphere and surroundings of the stadium. Collectively I’m sure we can gather a host of options to present to the hierarchy at the club.

Over here in the USA (pre-Covid) when walking to a sporting event or concert you would see an amazing array of food and drink options everywhere. Most common at these events people are “tailgating” which is a time-honored American tradition that often involves consuming lots of alcoholic beverages, grilling burgers and hot dogs. Tailgating creates an environment that can produce a gourmet chef out of a mere ordinary man with his home-made ribs smoked to perfection so that the meat just falls off the bone. You also have kids throwing the football and participating in pick-up games, you have newly created friendships that transcend the fiercest of rivalries. Tailgate parties occur in the parking lots at stadiums and arenas, before and after most games and concerts. In many cases tailgating often involves the passing of culinary traditions between father and son, often with ordinary people braving some of the harshest of blizzard like conditions to add to the entire Stadium going experience. Many die-hard tailgaters will readily eat flesh colored sausages with blue colored fingers in arctic like temperatures (see Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings & Green Bay Packers fans).

Tailgating produces that unique energy and excitement that every fan/supporter wants to feel prior to walking into a sports stadium. It is precisely this feeling we need at the London Stadium to add much needed character and atmosphere. It makes you wonder why our current ownership never considered or tried to invest in the infrastructure approaching the stadium to recreate what the supporters had on Green Street. An opportunity has sadly gone begging for our owners to reach out to vendors such as the Rib Man, Ken’s Café or Nathans Pie & Mash shop and bring them over to Stratford and place them on the approach to the London Stadium. I just don’t get why it’s so difficult to arrange for some trendy food trucks to be parked outside the stadium with a nice seating area and tent coverings provided for each food truck. It would have merely taken a small investment in the infrastructure and inventory for various vendors to serve their unique offerings to our energized supporters.
All ideas and opportunities are somewhat moot in the age of Covid. Many of us can’t really leave our homes without fear of the consequences these days, but there is going to come a day at some point the owners and commercial team at West Ham will have to produce the full stadium experience to maintain the strong level of support our team currently enjoys from the supporters.

I wanted to take a moment to thank Jimmy, Dan, Hamburg Hammer, Nigel and all the other amazing writers that continue to keep this blog ticking. We are living in unprecedented times right now and you folks have worked so hard in continuing to produce new material for discussion. Somehow against the odds you all continue to keep us entertained and informed. As such you have my utmost respect. Let’s look forward to the time when things slowly get back to normal, we can hopefully start to attend live sporting events, fly around the world and just live a normal life.

In the meantime, I urge everyone to continue staying healthy and safe in your various locations around the world.


Book Review

NEW BOOK: They Played with Billy Bonds by Tim Crane

Guest Post by Tim Crane

_With the launch of They Played with Billy Bonds – The West Ham Years_, Tim Crane continues his series of books which started in 2014 with They Played with Bobby Moore and continued in 2017 with They Played for John Lyall. Tim shares his journey of tracking down and interviewing the 102 (yes 102!) first team Hammers who played with the great Billy Bonds.

The starting point for the book was a letter to Billy Bonds in September 2019, asking his permission to set out on the task of talking to each and every one of his 102 former teammates. The following day, Billy called to say; “If you’re mad enough to do that, of course I’ll support you!” The day was September 17 – Billy’s birthday. Yet, another measure of the man.

The first consideration was centred on who would write the foreword for the book. The obvious two candidates were Billy’s very close friends of 50+ years; Sir Trevor Brooking and Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson. Billy’s response was unequivocal. “Ask them both!” Naturally, Sir Trevor and Pop obliged and the book benefits from their heartfelt contributions.
One of the most pleasing features in the book from me is the fact that Billy took the time to discuss each and every one of his teammates. It took several phone calls over many hours and I believe it has never been done before in any book. Each and every one of the 102 player profiles in the book begins with a quote from Billy himself.

The book preserves a special time in the Club’s history – that period between 1967 and 1988 – when two FA Cups and a promotion were won and Captain Billy also led the team out in both a European and League Cup final. For Billy personally it was a time when he won four Hammer of the Year awards, A PFA Merit Award and an MBE.

The 375-page hard back book is awash with over 500 photographs from player archives, and more than 100,000 words from those who knew Billy best of all. The outpouring of affection is both powerful and enduring. Frank Lampard senior springs to mind. No Hammer made more appearances with Billy Bonds than two-time FA Cup winner Frank Lampard snr. Yet his reflections of Billy centred on something entirely different. “One of my greatest achievements at West Ham wasn’t winning those two FA Cups, it was getting Bill out to the opening of my pub, The Britannia!”

There is a poignant insight into the close friendship Harry Redknapp shared with Billy during his early years at the Club, but this is not a book for those looking for controversy. It centres solely on Billy’s playing days and you can expect tales of Buccaneering Billy, fit as a butcher’s dog Billy, no-nonsense Billy, Card school Billy, warrior Bill, the great protector, the family man and the heart-on-sleeve, never- say- die claret and blue Trojan. Harry’s own tale of Billy’s encounter with Everton’s Johnny Morrissey is a corker but laughter turns to sadness when Harry reflects on the reality of a 26-year silence between the former pair of muckers.

It is remarkable to observe that Billy played with Geoff Hurst and Tony Cottee, with Ronnie Boyce and Paul Ince, Clyde Best and Leroy Rosenior, Bobby Ferguson and Phil Parkes, and with Frank Lampard snr and Julian Dicks. In the words of Tony Gale, “Billy Bonds played in all eras.”

The book is a truly global effort with some great names from West Ham United’s lofty history such as Ade Coker in Seattle, Yilmaz Orhan in Las Vegas, Clyde Best in Bermuda, Bertie Lutton in Melbourne, Tommy McQueen in Glasgow, Bobby Howe in Seattle, Ted MacDougall in Florida, Keith Coleman in Cyprus, John Sissons in Cape Town, George Cowie and Neil Orr both in Australia and even Joe Durrell, Mark Smith and Alan Dickens in Stepney, Plaistow and just off the Barking Road! I even managed to track down the super elusive former Hammers’ keeper, Tom McAlister. It was well worth the wait.

There is some wry humour throughout the book, too. Julian Dicks dares to call the Club legend a “Pussy” because he only got sent off twice! While Frank McAvennie recalls how Bill introduced him to a nip of Brandy before a match. “Tell Bill I’m raising a glass to him right now!”

The stories are timeless and will never change. When we have all flipped our mortal coil there will always be a place to go to read about the endeavours and achievements of the great Billy Bonds and his 102 teammates.

The day he called to say how much he enjoyed the book was my own winning cup final moment.

They Played with Billy Bonds – The West Ham Years is available from the author at via his website www.thewesthamyears.com. Tim also sends an occasion newsletter to over 150 ex Hammers and you are most welcome to receive it. Send your email details to tcrane183@gmail.com.


David Hautzig's Match Report

West Ham 2, West Brom 1. Yeah. Winning Today Was Special Because...You Know.

The Predictor League for Doncaster Rovers is open. Enter your team HERE. Deadline is today at 1pm on Saturday afternoon.

Today was supposed to be a day of the FotMob app dinging with updates, and short snippets of satellite radio in my car in between customer appointments. But then a project with a deadline that required some immediate attention landed on my phone, and lo and behold I rescheduled my day and sat myself down in front of my Mac. That did allow me to put the game on my IPad, but 100% attention was not in the cards. So hopefully you will all get what you get and not get upset.

Big Sam teams are known for solid defending on set pieces. In the 8th minute, West Ham won a corner. The delivery from Cresswell was excellent, but Dawson put his header wide despite having time and space. Five minutes later it was Albion on the attack after West Ham lost possession. A long ball over the top…..duh, it’s a Sam team…. set Grosicki free behind the West Ham defense. But his control wasn’t good enough and he had to lay the ball back for Pereira, whose shot went high over the bar.

West Ham won a corner in the 22nd minute after some good footwork by Benrahma. He rolled a pass to Cresswell, who put the ball into the box where it met up with Coufal. His shot from inside the box deflected out for the set piece, but Johnstone punched it away from danger. Minutes later Cresswell ran towards the box and cut a pass back to Lanzini, but his shot lacked pace and floated harmlessly into Johnstone’s hands.

Midway through the first half, Tony Gale said that Albion were “beginning to make it horrible” for West Ham. Pressing, defending deep, and being physical enough to be an ice hockey team. But the Hammers had a chance to make life horrible for Sam in the 34th minute when Ajayi took down Antonio just outside the Albion box. But Lanzini’s attempt floated over the wall and hit the top of the net. Close, but no Cohiba.

Benrahma is in the side to do fancy stuff. Yes, he needs to track back and do at least some defensive work. But it’s his ability on the ball, to create an opportunity when none appears to be there, that will have West Ham fork over north of twenty million pounds this summer. In the 41st minute he did a bit of that and at least got off a good shot that Johnstone gathered up. But as the opening half wound down, he did it again and this time the end product was there. After some good footwork to the left of the Albion eighteen yard box, Benrahma sent the ball across to the other side for Coufal. The bargain of the season one timed the ball back in front of goal where Bowen was waiting to direct it into the back of the net.

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Halftime
West Ham 1
West Brom 0

The opening minutes of the second half showed Albion’s best passage of play of the evening to that point, but after being teed up by Pereira in the box Gallagher’s shot fizzled into the arms of Fabianski. But just moments later, West Ham conceded their first goal in over seven hours when Pereira struck the ball beautifully from twenty yards out to beat the West Ham keeper. VAR looked to see if Gallagher impeded Fabianski’s vision of the shot, and determined he had not.

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West Ham 1
West Brom 1

Albion did not rest after their equalizer, winning a corner in the 55th minute. Benrahma cleared, but there was a new purpose to Big Sam’s men. But West Ham came close to retaking the lead when Antonio laid a pass for Lanzini inside the Albion box. Lanzini shot from ten yards out, but O’Shea got in front of it for the block. Seconds later Rice tried a long shot that just went wide. Moments after that it was Rice again sliding the ball across the face of goal. It needed just a little nudge. It didn’t get it.

As the clock hit the 66th minute, Tony Gale said West Ham would be annoyed if they couldn’t win against a team in the bottom three at home. Perhaps the players felt something similar. Cresswell started the play with a good delivery into the box that Yarmolenko headed back to Antonio, who whipped the ball past Johnstone with his right foot.

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West Ham 2
West Brom 1

In the 73rd minute West Brom won a free kick…and my boss Alex called. I turned the volume down on my IPad, but admitted I had it on. No sense in making some nonsense up if I screamed when all he said was Cabernet, right? To his eternal credit, Alex even offered to enable my paranoia and superstition and stay on the line until the final whistle. As a New Orleans Saints fan, he was still hurting from the other night so it was a grand gesture on his part. It wasn’t needed.

Final Score
West Ham 2
West Brom 1

32 points. Thirty. Two. Points. We are winning the games we normally think we should win, and we are winning a few we normally think we will lose. As much as I loved the thrill of the final season at Upton Park, something about this season is more endearing. It feels like it’s being built on something, instead of riding that wave of emotion. And the magic feet of that guy who now plays for Marseilles. Whatever. There’s a solidity. A firmness. Maybe even a plan.

That would be different.


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