The GoatyGav Column

Sorting By Priorities

It’s a subject that I’ve spent quite some time discussing on WHTID over the years but one that I still believe is current, relevant and very important. How much importance should the Cups, and more specifically the League (Carabao) Cup, be given by Pellegrini and the team?

When you trace Tottingham’s rise as a team you can almost pinpoint their League Cup victory as a turning point in their progression to a regular top four side. Some may argue that’s not true and that their side started to move up the pecking order a number of seasons after lifting the ‘Carling Cup’, as the competition was known in 2007-08, but, for me, they, notably, grew in squad strength from that point forward.

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Although not in the League Cup Chelsea also had a ‘crossing of the Rubicon’ moment after they won the F.A. Cup in 1996-97, following up that victory with League Cup honours the following season and going on to attract investment from Mr Abramovic.

At present our squad is stronger to the point where we’re able to field strong starting line-ups while giving some senior players a rest. In past seasons I wouldn’t have said this was true. The risk of losing senior players in the early rounds was bigger due to the fact that we’d already racked up a lengthy injury list to a squad that had less depth.

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Outside of the progression of the club there’s also the kudos and excitement, in my mind, of playing under the floodlights in European competition. I don’t care what they say about the Europa League I love being involved in it. Childhood memories of sitting by the radio listening to West Ham’s Cup Winner’s Cup exploits still gives me butterflies and goose pimples. I want that feeling again and a League Cup win would deliver it.

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It’s not like a Cup win would be a pipe-dream either. With so many of the top six clubs fielding weaker sides in the earlier rounds a good cup run for any other Premier League side would be a distinct reality should that team decide to prioritise a set competition. Get to the Semi-Final and, who knows, we could go all the way.

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At present we have a manager who has given West Ham increased pulling power with respects prospective players. This would be greatly enhanced should the OS/LS/London Bowl (I look forward to the day the naming rights are sold for a set period of time and we can settle on calling it one name) play host to teams in Europe.

The League Cup, barring the Wartime League Cup which I’m not sure counts, is a competition that West Ham have never won. I’d like to see that put right. Now I’m, by no means, suggesting that the League Cup is in any way a bigger or better competition than the F.A. Cup however there are, by comparison, some advantages for the lesser domestic competition. Firstly you play less rounds to get to a final. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, a League Cup win can be less detrimental to a season than it’s more illustrious and historical alternative. To reach an F.A. Cup final you have to keep producing over the course of, almost, an entire season. This season’s League Cup is over on the 1st March, 2020. The oft described ‘distraction’ can be out of the way at an earlier stage allowing focus to be placed back on League form. In fact a win in the first major domestic competition of the season has often proven a huge boost to team confidence.

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Don’t get me wrong. I’d sooner be sat here this time next year with another F.A. Cup win than with League Cup honours however, insofar as priorities are concerned, I really want us to be gunning for a great run – starting with Oxford United away on the 24th September.

Come On You Rip Roarin’ Irons!

Match Report

Let's Celebrate Our Best Performance in Years

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I have rarely looked forward to a first match of the season. It was my first as I was in Edinburgh for the Man City game. We usually have entertaining matches against Norwich. Anyone else remember the match in the 1990s when Matthew Rush scored two corkers? Or Steve Jones netting a couple of seasons later?

I won’t go through the whole game as David Hautzig has done it all already, but when I left the stadium with my Norwich supporting friend, I was absolutely buzzing. Apart from the first twenty minutes this was one of the best home performances I have seen in many a year. It was a real team performance with no real weaknesses on display. To be frank, a 6-0 victory wouldn’t have flattered us. We were that good. My Norwich friend was especially impressed with our central defence – yes, really!

For me, two things stood out. Firstly, the performance of Seb Haller. I thought he was outstanding, ot just for scoring his third goal on this third appearance, but for his all-round game. He won header after header, was dextrous on the ground, ran at their defence, held the ball up, brought others into play and shot whenever he had the opportunity. For the first time I feel we have a striker worthy of the name.

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Secondly, our play down the left was simply outstanding and got better and better as the game went on. When we were at Upton Park there was a guy in the crowd who would delight every time Hayden Mullins misplaced a pass. “You’re useless Mullins,” he would shout, at least a dozen times a match. Today, the guy behind me did the same for Arthur Masuaku. “You’re the worst left back we’ve ever had at West Ham,” he screamed at one point. I turned round and said there’s some stiff competition for that accolade. He laughed. A minute later Masuaku laid on the cross from which Haller scored. I turned round, he smiled coyishly so I asked him if he could shout out something derogatory about Yarmolenko… But seriously, Anderson, Lanzini and Masuaku gave the Norwich right back an absolutely torrid time in the second half with their little flicks and one-twos. It was a delight to watch. And a mention for Anderson who was superb in defence as well as attack. I’m sure everyone will remember his mazy run across the pitch having won it and then won it back on the touchline. A goal at the end of that move would have been the icing on the cake.

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Mark Noble was also outstanding in midfield and deserved the very loud standing ovation he received when he was subbed towards the end.

But let’s put in a word for the Norwich City keeper Tim Krul. You could easily make a case for him being man of the match, having saved at least three dead cert goals. An outstanding performance by him. Norwich are a nice team to watch. They pass very well and keep possession, but they’re a very small team and seem, well, just a little bit too nice. However, they barely had a shot on goal in the first half and Ogbonna and Diop made it seem as if their talismanic goalscorer Pukki wasn’t even on the pitch. The one shot he did have ended up tamely in Fabianski’s hands.

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Finally, a word on Chicharito. Reports are that he is on his way to Seville. If true, this leaves us dangerously short up front. Seb Haller is a player who has had a few injuries in the past and if he gets injured at all, we only have Ajeti in reserve unless we bring in Xande Silva, but he’s injured too, I think. I suspect Pellegrini has told the owners that he doesn’t want unhappy players in the squad. But yet again we seem happy to let a player go on the cheap, at only £6.5 million.

But let’s just rejoice in a superb performance. What a pity we have the international break next weekend. Roll on Villa on the 16th!

PS And a clean sheet

PPS It was great to see Yarmolenko celebrate with the West Ham physios after his goal. And well done to the referee for not booking him.

David Hautzig's Match Report

West Ham 2, Norwich 0. Smooth And Clinical.

Last year, I was at The LS for our fourth match. Wolves. In block 214, there was palpable anxiety about losing our fourth match in a row to start the season. With tougher matches ahead, the prospect of losing seven straight was staring us in the face. Even in the final season at Upton Park we had those two August losses at home to Leicester and Bournemouth (Maiga scored against the Cherries. Just throwing that in there for effect). Then there was the amazing story of Adebeyor simply not showing up for a planned medical. The August spiral towards the abyss was on again in full force.

That’s what these four points mean. Today was more about curiosity and a bit of excitement. Not the normal Fear & Relief cocktail that is often served up to begin a new campaign. Sure, a loss to a newly promoted side would shock only a few. Pukki netting at least a brace? Of course. Lanzini rupturing his appendix trying a Rabona the day after his new contract is confirmed? Shrug them shoulders. Except nothing went wrong, and a whole lot went right.

The visitors started the match brightly. They pressed high up the pitch, forced West Ham to make quicker and less accurate passes than they obviously wanted to. Leitner and Aarons in particular looked lively. And I have to say, I preferred the purple to those neon yellow kits. West Ham, on the other hand, chased the ball rather aimlessly and without purpose. Not the beginning the natives would have wanted.

Despite the sluggish start, the first chance of the half belonged to West Ham. Lanzini got on the ball near the penalty spot and touched it to Yarmolenko on the right. The Ukrainian tried to draw a penalty by going down after trying to get the ball back to Lanzini, but the referee had none of it. West Ham then won their first corner of the afternoon but Lanzini’s delivery went over everyone. A minute later Anderson was sent in with a good through ball by Yarmolenko, but a key tackle by Zimmerman deflected Anderson’s shot out for a corner. Haller may have a word with his new teammate as he was rather open in the center of the eighteen yard box.

As someone who has watched a lot of Ice Hockey in my life, I’m used to seeing a hard challenge on a player answered by an even harder challenge later on against the original perpetrator. So when Haller went in hard on Zimmerman in the 21st minute for what should have been a yellow card offense, I had visions of some Norwich substitute plowing into our record signing sometime later in the match. The pain of that challenge manifested itself a few minutes later when Masuaku broke down the left and sent a low cross to Haller, who was steaming down the center. Zimmerman could not keep up, showing the effects of Haller minutes earlier. For years we have lacked a true, mobile number nine who can get on the end of those. Not anymore it seems. Haller guided it past Krul.

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West Ham 1
Norwich 0

Norwich came inches away from an equalizer in the 31st minute. Aarons was sent down the right with a terrific looping pass from Trybull. After beating Masuaku, Aarons sent a cross right into the path of Cantwell. But the ball was just behind the young Englishman and his header went over the bar.

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I am a big fan of Anderson. Whenever he gets on the ball with any space around him, you give the match your full attention. But he still needs that voice in his head reminding him that this is the Premier League, and you don’t often get time to consider your options. So when he beat the hobbled Zimmerman in the 37th minute and went to the races into the box, his decision to hold his run, not shoot, and look at the scenery doomed what could have been a solid shout for a second goal.

West Ham 1
Norwich 0

The second half began with fits and starts. A good run by Lanzini that was not followed up by any run at all from Haller, and a shot off the bar by Cantwell that was eventually flagged offside.

Yarmolenko is often slagged off on social media. But at the end of the day he is a skillful player, and with all skillful players that return from long term injuries they need both physical rehabilitation and a run of games. In the 55th and 56th minute, we got our first glimpses of what that skill can bring to the table. First, Noble sent a pass over the Norwich defense that Yarmolenko one timed off the post. Just when the worry that such a missed opportunity would come back to haunt us, he got another. It started with a terrible back pass from Cantwell that Yarmolenko latched onto. He passed to Noble, who then tried to find Haller in the box. That pass was deflected back into the path of Yarmolenko. He must have liked the feel of his volley moments earlier, so he tried it again and the home side doubled their lead. The extra treat came right afterward when he ran to the bench to thank the West Ham physio team. Possibly the first time I’ve ever seen that happen.

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West Ham 2
Norwich 0

West Ham, through a careless header by Fredericks, could have invited serious stress in the 67th minute when the young right back gave the ball right to Pukki. The man with five goals to his name could only muster a soft shot right into the waiting arms of Fabianski. Moments later Fredericks almost atoned when he tested Krul with a shot from a tight angle that was palmed away for a corner. The ensuing set piece landed on the skull of Diop but his shot was cleared off the line by Amadou.

Norwich almost got back into the match in the 76th minute when Lewis beat Fredericks on the left and sent a ball over a diving Fabianski to Aarons on the right. But Ogbonna was there to cover, giving Fabianski the time needed to get back into position. It eventually led to a Norwich corner, but Masuaku did his job well and cleared the ball from danger.

It should have been a three goal lead for the Hammers in the 77th minute when Lanzini was the recipient of a cross instead of the delivery man. Masuaku found the Argentine in the center of the box, but Krul made a brilliant save and put ball over the bar for a corner. Moments later it was again Krul to the rescue with a double save on Anderson and then Haller. Minutes after that Anderson did a bit of magic to send Haller into the box, but a clumsy challenge from Trybull that should have resulted in a penalty was waved off. Then it was Snodgrass with a low shot that Krul saved with his leg. The next wave came from a header by Diop, but that didn’t beat Krul either.

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The third goal did not come, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Pukki did what he could in the 90th minute when he tried to re-direct a cross from Lewis, but his header was soft and easy pickings for Fabianski. Two minutes later McLean threaded a pass in between Ogbonna and Masuaku that Drmic got his foot on. Fabianski was livid. Nine times out of ten he scores. Not today.

Final Score
West Ham 2
Norwich 0

Deep breath. And another. One more.

Seven points from our opening four matches is about as good as any reasonable West Ham supporter could have hoped for. The operative word there is reasonable. Yet as good as the point tally is, it’s seeing West Ham play well and win the kind of matches we so often disappoint in. Today could have been 5-0. Easily, in fact. From a neutral’s perspective his performance in the second half could have earned Krul the Man Of The Match. Anderson was fantastic, Haller physical and clinical, Lanzini silky smooth, Masuaku had perhaps his best match in Claret and Blue, and the Diop – Ogbonna partnership looked sharp.

Other than expressing frustration that there is no match next week when I’m over for work, I really don’t know what else to say. I’m not equipped for such positivity.

I’m going to do some yard work to clear my head.

Lineup Prediction

West Ham v Norwich City Lineup Prediction

Subs: Fabianski, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Wilshere, Ajeti, Fornals, Snodgrass

I’d be surprised if this wasn’t the lineup tomorrow, although it’s very possible Angelo Ogbonna could continue to dispace The General. Pablo Fornals is really pushing for a start, but unless he came in for Yarmolenko it’s hard to see who gives way.

I’m really looking forward to this game, so much so that I’m going to arrive really early, so if you see me mooching around the concourse feel free to say hello!

Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A with Norwich City

West Ham celebrate their recent away win against Watford by welcoming Premier League returnees Norwich City to the London Stadium. We will be hoping that we can improve on our last home performance against a rampant Manchester City. Ahead of the game I spoke to Richard Voisey from Norwich City fanzine City of Yellows to discuss everything Claret and Blue and Yellow and Green.
Hi Richard: back in the Premier League after a 3 year absence – congratulations! At what stage of last season did you hope/think you would get promoted?
The real sense of belief that we could gain promotion was destroying Leeds United at Elland Road, 3-1 away in front of the Sky cameras and 36,000 fans at the beginning of February. United couldn’t get near the ball. Also at that point, City had only lost once in 18 games.

You certainly impressed us with your victory against on the opening day, and your performances against Chelsea and Liverpool, you must be thinking that this is all a breeze?
We are an attacking team that scores goals as well as conceding plenty. From three games, six for and eight against tells its own story. No Norwich City fan believes this will be easy. Daniel Farke wants results and not just plaudits. The key positives are that we have created chances and produced more at Liverpool than any opposition side during the whole of last season.

Tell us a bit about your manager Daniel Farke, he certainly seems to have you playing in a positive manner. How does he compare to your most recent managers, Chris Hughton, Neil Adams, and Alex Neil?
Chris Houghton was boring in the Premier League and his teams were not worth watching, Neil Adams is a true gent but was naive as a manager with woeful tactics. Alex Neil turned our season around to produce a magical promotion and success at Wembley at Middlesbrough with the ‘Smoggies’ being swept aside. Alex Neil has since been candid in admitting he was underprepared for the Premier League and made silly mistakes. He is making a good job at Preston, would have learnt a lot from the experience and I hope he gets them up. Farke is a class act. Excellent communicator, a brilliant relationship with the players and fans and has my total respect. With minimal funding, he and Stuart Webber have turned the club around in double-quick time.

What will be the main priorities for Norwich this season to ensure that they manage to stay up?
The club are prepared for relegation both contractually and financially. It would be nice to stay up and build a long term residence in the Premier League. We will need to pick up regular wins against sides outside the top six.

You’ve bought a couple of players during the close season, including our own Sam Byram, which of these players do you think will manager to become mainstays of the team?
I expect all of the new signings to be fringe players unless needs must. Only one in the new group has the potential to hold down a shirt. Defensive midfielder/centre back, Ibraham Amadou should we need to tighten up at the back. Sam Bryram, based on what I have seen is only ever likely to be cover for Max Aarons.

Are there any areas that you think have not been strengthened enough?
We have two centre backs out of action at the moment in Zimmermann and Klose. Hanley is getting some stick from fans although Amaddou could provide cover. Pukki back up is provided in Swiss International Josip Drmic, although he is also injured. That leaves us with Dennis Srbeny, who can’t score and unproven youngster, Adam Idah. If Teemu Pukki is injured, City can turn off the lights and lock up Carrow Road.

Which West Ham player would you like to see turning out for the ‘Canaries’, and why?
Haller would be my top pick. A superb finisher who has proven his quality at finishing in France, Netherlands and Germany.

We were certainly impressed by your centre forward Teemu Pukki, you must be pleased that he seems to have brought his goal scoring form with him to the Premier League? How does he compare to Dean Ashton, who of course graced Carrow Road and Upton Park for a few years before injury forced him to retire?
It is such a shame that Dean’s injury finished his career far too early. He would have gone to produce a glittering club and country legacy. Both players were/are natural finishers. Ashton was more robust and operated as a traditional number 9. Pukki is unselfish, works his socks off, backtracks to cover colleagues and peels off defenders. He does not need to look up when shooting. A proven International finisher for Finland. We are so lucky to have him.

What are you most looking forward to seeing, and what could you well do without coming across again in this first season back in the Premier League?
I prefer the Championship, 46 games and hope that you can win every game. The fanbase is also more genuine. There is plenty of Norwich City blog and forum chat at present about ticket allocation now ‘plastics’ have joined the fray. I don’t want to be thrashed in any games, want to be competitive in every game and hope injuries to key players do not disrupt what is a very thin squad.

Where do you think Norwich can realistically end up at the end of the season?
Somewhere between 10th and 20th

What position do you think West Ham will finish?
Somewhere between 10th and 18th

Who are your picks for the top four positions in the Premier League?
1st Manchester City, 2nd Liverpool, 3rd Arsenal, 4th Tottenham

Although it’s early, who are your favourites for the drop?
Sheffield United, Watford and Newcastle would be nice. My wish list would be Manchester United, Liverpool and Everton!

How do you think Norwich will line up against West Ham this weekend? Prediction for players and formation.
The same 11 as used against Chelsea subject to injuries. Pukki upfront, Stiepermann behind him, Cantwell and Buendia wide midfielders, Leitner and Tryball central. Handley and Godfrey centre backs with Aarons and Lewis as flying fullbacks. Tim Krul between the sticks. Amadou and Kenny McLean could force themselves into the first 11?

Are you confident that Norwich can have a successful return to the capital? Prediction for the score?
I have hope with head and heart that a City can head home with a result. 2-1 for the Canaries.

Well many thanks to Richard for his time. He does seem particularly optimistic about this fixture, but I am hoping for another three goals this weekend from West Ham, and so it’s another 3 – 1 victory. COYI

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