Match Thread

Match Thread: Manchester United v West Ham

Manchester United v West Ham
FA Premier League
Old Trafford
KO 6pm
TV: Sky Sports
Radio: WHUFC.com

Please use this thread to comment on the match as it progresses.


Dan Coker's Match Preview

Match Preview: Man Utd v West Ham

Blast from the past

Today’s blast from the past features a pre-war Second Division victory at the home of this evening’s opponents, Manchester United. It arrived on the 22nd of April 1933, a 2-1 win at Old Trafford in front of 14,958 spectators on the day Sir Henry Royce died at the age of 70 – car manufacturer Royce was the co-founder of Rolls-Royce.

The 1932/33 season was a tempestuous campaign in West Ham United’s history – it was the club’s first season back in the Second Division following relegation the previous campaign. The club were managed at the start of the season by Syd King but, two days after losing their ninth game of the season, King was sacked on 7th November 1932 having been reputed to have had problems with alcohol and having previously insulted a director at a board meeting after turning up drunk. King had taken the Hammers’ relegation the previous season so badly that it had affected his mental health and, a month after his sacking, he committed suicide by drinking alcohol laced with a “corrosive substance”. An inquest into his death concluded that he had been suffering from paranoia and that he had taken his life “whilst of unsound mind”.

A run of four wins in the last five games moved the club out of the relegation places with one game of the season remaining. This run included the Hammers’ only away win of the season, at Old Trafford against Manchester United. The winning goal in the 2-1 victory was scored by 24-year-old Arthur Wilson, a Newcastle-born inside-right, who many years later recalled the goal:

“It was a real belter from 30 yards. The ball hit the underside of the bar and struck the goalkeeper on the back of the neck before crossing the line. The force of the shot knocked him to the floor.”

Jackie Morton (pictured) scored the Irons’ other goal, while Neil Dewar struck for Manchester United. West Ham’s players were promised a continental tour if they managed to beat relegation – this did not materialise.

West Ham were by now under the management of Charlie Paynter – the second manager in West Ham’s history, Paynter first became involved with the club in 1897 and worked his way up from reserve-team trainer in 1902 to first-team trainer under King in 1911. Paynter remained West Ham manager for 18 years, from 1932 until 1950 when he was made an ‘ambassador-at-large’ and replaced as first-team manager by Ted Fenton.

The Irons finished 1932/33 in 20th place in the Second Division, just one point clear of relegation and having not been higher than 16th all season. Manchester United finished sixth but the Hammers’ Old Trafford triumph completed a double over the Red Devils after a 3-1 win at Upton Park the previous December. West Ham’s defence was also the poorest in the league, conceding 93 goals in 42 matches. The club’s top scorer was Vic Watson with 28 goals; 24 in the league and four in the FA Cup. The Irons did reach the semi-final of the FA Cup though, where they lost to eventual winners Everton. Stoke topped the Second Division and Arsenal won the league title.

Manchester United: John Moody, John Mellor, Henry Topping, Jimmy J Brown, Thomas Frame, Ernest Vincent, Tommy Manley, Ernest Hine, Neil Dewar, William McDonald, George McLachlan.

West Ham United: Pat McMahon, Alf Chalkley, Albert Walker, Joe Cockroft, Jim Barrett, Jimmy Collins, Jim Wood, Arthur Wilson, Vic Watson, Len Goulden, Jackie Morton.

Club Connections

West Ham United manager David Moyes returns to the club he managed for most of the 2013/14 season, while Manchester United coach Michael Carrick welcomes his first professional club to Old Trafford. A largely impressive list of players join the pair in having represented both West Ham United and Manchester United over the years. These include:

Goalkeepers: Roy Carroll, Les Sealey.

Defenders: Noel Cantwell, Patrice Evra, Fred Milnes, Jonathan Spector, Rio Ferdinand.

Midfielders: James McCrae, Bill McCartney, Paul Ince, Ralph Milne, Luke Chadwick, Ravel Morrison.

Strikers: Charlie Mackie, Billy Grassam, Stuart Pearson, Javier Hernandez, Ted MacDougall, Teddy Sheringham, David Bellion, Carlos Tevez.

In addition, Dave Sexton played for the Hammers before going on to manage the Red Devils. Lou Macari played for the Old Trafford club before managing the Irons.

Another ex-Hammers player to go on to manage Manchester United is the oldest living Hammer, Frank O’Farrell. Born in Cork on the 9th October 1927, O’Farrell dreamed of becoming a locomotive driver like his father Patrick and supplemented the wages he earned as a fireman on the Cork-Dublin main line by playing semi-professional football for Cork United. He replaced Tommy Moroney in the Cork side when Moroney joined West Ham in 1947 and later followed him to Upton Park – at the age of 20, O’Farrell was spotted by a West Ham scout named Ben Ives and signed for Charlie Paynter’s Hammers in January 1948.

After playing over 50 reserve matches, the 22-year-old O’Farrell made his debut for the Hammers on 28th September 1950 in a 2-1 win over Colchester in the Essex Professional Cup before making his league bow two months later under Ted Fenton in a 4-1 defeat at Notts County on 25th November 1950. A wing-half, he became a first-team regular in 1951/52, making 44 appearances as the Hammers finished 12th in the Second Division. His first goal for the Irons came in a 3-1 loss at Blackburn on 22nd December 1951. O’Farrell bagged his first Upton Park goal in a 2-1 FA Cup third round victory against Blackpool on 12th January 1952 and scored his first league goal in east London in a 3-1 win over Nottingham Forest on 22nd March 1952. He made his debut for Ireland on 7th May 1952 in a 6-0 defeat to Austria in Vienna.

The 1952/53 campaign saw West Ham drop to 14th, with O’Farrell making 42 appearances and scoring one goal, in a 3-2 win over Nottingham Forest on 18th October 1952. He also scored his first goal for his country as Ireland wreaked revenge on the Austrians by beating them 4-0 at Dublin’s Dalymount Park on 25th March 1953, O’Farrell scoring his side’s fourth with ten minutes to go. He scored his second and final goal for his country in a 5-3 defeat to France in Dublin on 4th October 1953.

O’Farrell married local East Ham girl Ann in 1954 in St Anthony’s Church in Forest Gate. He played 22 times without scoring in 1953/54 with West Ham finishing 13th, and made 29 appearances in 1954/55, scoring once in a 5-2 home thrashing of Bristol Rovers on 11th September 1954. The Hammers had finished eighth in 1954/55 but dropped to 16th the following season, with O’Farrell playing 47 matches. Both his goals that season were scored at the Boleyn Ground, the first in a 6-1 trouncing of Notts County on 3rd September 1955 and in a 3-0 Southern Floodlit Cup win against Crystal Palace on 10th October 1955.

O’Farrell’s final goal for the Hammers came in a 1-1 home draw with Liverpool on 3rd September 1956, with his last match for the club coming five days later in another 1-1 home draw, this time with Rotherham. Having scored eight goals in 213 appearances in all competitions for West Ham United, O’Farrell joined First Division Preston in November 1956 in a swap deal involving centre-forward Eddie Lewis. While at the club, he helped North End to the runners-up spot in the top flight in 1958; meanwhile in the same season, his former club finally achieved promotion back to the First Division.

O’Farrell made his ninth and final appearance for Ireland on 10th May 1959 against Czechoslovakia while he was a Preston player. He was forced to retire as a player due to injury in 1961 but swiftly became manager at Southern League outfit Weymouth. Four years later he took over the hotseat at Fourth Division Torquay and led the Gulls to promotion in his first season in charge before stabilising the club’s Third Division position in the following two campaigns. In December 1968 he was appointed as manager of struggling First Division side Leicester – he couldn’t arrest the Foxes’ slide though and the club were relegated but they did make a losing appearance in that season’s FA Cup Final, beaten 1-0 by Manchester City. Leicester missed out on an immediate return to the top flight by just two points the following season but O’Farrell led them to the Second Division title and promotion in 1970/71.

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Following this achievement O’Farrell (pictured above on the left with his assistant at Old Trafford, and fellow former Hammer, Malcolm Musgrove) was appointed as manager of Manchester United. Since winning the European Cup in 1968, the Red Devils had finished 11th in 1969, leading to Sir Matt Busby stepping down to be replaced by Wilf McGuinness. United finished the following season in eighth place and Busby returned to the top job midway through the 1970/71 campaign as the club replicated their eighth position of the previous season. After initial speculation that Jock Stein would replace Busby, it was O’Farrell who was named as the club’s new manager in June 1971. He started well and United were top of the table at Christmas and held a ten-point lead at one stage before seven successive defeats brought the club’s season crashing down and they finished, again, in eighth position. The softly-spoken Irishman struggled to control the increasing excesses of George Best and team morale suffered as a consequence. O’Farrell has said of the brilliant but mercurial Ulsterman:

“George Best was like every other player except that he was much more in the public domain. George Best was big news. There were times when I didn’t know where he was. He would be away for a couple of days, and I’d ring his digs and ring his house, but no-one knew where he was. Eventually he would come back, and the other players got annoyed when I picked him because they would think ‘Why has he been picked when we have trained and he has been away?’ Well, quite simply I had to pick my best players and the rest of the team weren’t good enough without George. A half-fit George Best was better than a lot of the team and I owed it to the fans and to the team to pick the best players. Every time I had reservations about picking George, I would do it anyway because I knew he could win you a game.”

After failing to win any of the opening nine matches of the 1972/73 season, United’s form continued to be patchy at best until a 5-0 defeat at Crystal Palace in mid-December 1972 finally resulted in the end of O’Farrell’s tenure at Old Trafford and he was replaced by Tommy Docherty.

O’Farrell became manager of Cardiff in November 1973, but quit in April 1974 to take the manager’s post with the Iranian national team who he led to the 1976 Asian Cup. He returned to Torquay as manager in November 1976, moving upstairs to become General Manager in March 1977 when Mike Green was appointed as manager. He became Torquay manager again in June 1981 before once more returning to his General Manager post on the appointment of Bruce Rioch in June 1982. He remained in this role until 1983, when he retired from football but continued living in Torquay and occasionally worked as a scout for Everton and Bolton. He also ran a nursing home with his wife and has been active in church affairs. Now 92 years of age, O’Farrell still lives in Devon and celebrated 60 years of marriage with Ann in 2014. Interviewed last year, O’Farrell said:

“Although I’ve had to give up driving, I’m generally well for my age and can’t have any complaints about my career or my life. Well, maybe there’s only one small tinge of disappointment – I never got to drive that steam train!”

Referee

Wednesday’s referee is 39-year-old Paul Tierney. The Lancashire-based official has refereed the Hammers on seven previous occasions. His most recent Irons appointment was our 2-0 defeat at Everton in October. He also refereed our 2-0 home win against Norwich in August and was in charge for our 2-0 defeat to Everton in east London in March 2019. He also refereed our 3-0 win at Newcastle in December 2018.

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Tierney’s first West Ham appointment was for the 1-1 draw with Everton in November 2015 which saw James McCarthy’s tackle on Dimitri Payet put the Frenchman out of action for two months (pictured above). His second Irons game was our 0-0 draw at West Brom in September 2017, when he chose to issue just a yellow card to Ben Foster for his late tackle on Javier Hernandez. He also refereed our goalless draw at Shrewsbury in the third round of the FA Cup in January 2018.

Possible line-ups

Manchester United are without Phil Jones, Eric Bailly and Axel Tuanzebe, while Luke Shaw is a doubt. Harry Maguire should be available. The Red Devils are still in the hunt for a top-four finish and will move into the top four should they avoid defeat; they have not ended a full round of fixtures in the Champions League places since mid-September.

West Ham United are without Robert Snodgrass while Ryan Fredericks is a doubt. The Hammers, who require one point to secure survival, have picked up just two points at Old Trafford in their last ten visits, stretching back to May 2007. West Ham are looking to complete their first league double over Manchester United since 2006/07 – the Irons won September’s reverse fixture 2-0. The Hammers have scored at least three goals in six different league matches in 2020, a joint high alongside Manchester City and Manchester United.

Possible Manchester United XI: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Lindelof, Williams; Pogba, McTominay; Greenwood, Fernandes, Rashford; Martial.

Possible West Ham United XI: Fabianski; Johnson, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Soucek, Rice; Bowen, Noble, Fornals; Antonio.

Enjoy the game – Up The Hammers!


Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A with Manchester United

West Ham fans have let out a collective sigh of relief over the past week or so, as our emphatic victories against Norwich and Watford, combined with the results of our fellow strugglers mean we are to all intents and purposes absolutely safe from relegation. We can now relax and hope our players can continue their recent form and finish off the season in fine style. Ahead of the game I spoke to Andy Cook lifelong Man Utd fan and founder of holdiay web site takethefamily.com to discuss the game and the season.
Hi Andy, Man Utd are currently sat in 5th position as we enter the last 2 matches of the season. What would constitute a successful season for you?
Earning the right to play in the Champions League next season. Finishing third would be a bonus.

After ringing the changes over the manager’s position since Fergie left, Man Utd seem to have finally settled on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, is he set to be there for the long haul? What did you think of the tenures of José Mourinho and Louis Van Gaal?
Yes, though ‘long-haul’ these day is all relative, with Watford already on their 4th manager this season. In contrast to Moyes, Mourinho and Van Gaal, Solskjaer has reminded the team how to play lively, attacking football and have fun. Everyone wants to be selected and make a difference, that wasn’t so evident with his predecessors.

Is your ex-manager David Moyes going to make West Ham a better team?
He certainly has passion and determination. And the results are improving. Not sure whether that’s enough though, see above.

It must be a bit galling for you to see your big rivals in Liverpool and Man City bossing the League over the past few years. Do you think you will be able to sustain a winning campaign in the Premier League next season?
Yes. And so could Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal based on recent form. I think it will be a lot more even next season among the top clubs. If our front-three continue to deliver, if Pogba and Fernandes continue to be great play-makers, if we shore up our defence…..then, yes, we could enjoy a very strong season.

Which two teams are going to join the above in the Champions League next year?
Chelsea and Manchester United. Leicester were favourites until very recently, the odds are now stacked against.

Which two teams are going to be demoted with Norwich?
Aston Villa and Watford, providing Bournemouth win at Everton.

West Ham have finally shrugged off their early season lethargy with a couple of decent displays, which if any of the West Ham players would you like to see at Old Trafford?
Antonio

Which Man Utd player gets your vote for player of the year, and who else was in the running?
Has to go to Fernandes for having a massive impact in the short time he’s been with us. In recent months the front three have shown great promise and Pogba looks lively post-injury break.

Which player(s) have disappointed?
Jesse Lingard. And David de Gea has let in a few shockers.

It looks like you’ve got your forward line sorted for the next few years, but do the other parts of the team need bolstering over the summer?
We’ll need to see if De Gea is ‘merely’ suffering a bad spell. If not, then we’ll need to sign. Our defense needs further bolstering too.

*Highlights and lowlights of the season?
The four-nil win over Chelsea at the start of the season is a highlight and the 3-0 recent defeat to Chelsea is the lowlight. Other highlights include beating Manchester City twice.

Any particular memories of Man Utd/ West Ham Utd games of the past?
Our 7-1 victory in 1999 stands out, the game had everything: coming back from behind, a trademark Beckham free-kick, a Scholes hat-trick that included a very cheeky back-heel and even super-sub Ole got on the score-sheet. Even West Ham supporters will enjoy highlights – check it out on Youtube.

I very much doubt that, and will certainly not be revisiting those highlights! I prefer to remember the Di Canio FA Cup game, or the final game at Upton Park, among many others. How will Man Utd line up against West Ham this week? Players/Formation please.
The changes they made for Chlesea didn’t deliver so they will revert back to their ‘usual’ formation. Martial, Greenwood and Rashford up front, supplied by Matic, Pogba, Wan-Bissaka and Fernandes. Lindelof and Williams are also likely to start. Other positions really depend on recovery from recent injuries.

West Ham will be looking to continue their current form of scoring 3 or 4 goals against you. Are you confident that you will be able to see us off, or are West Ham going to put the spanner in your end of season spokes as we have done a couple of times in the past? Prediction for score please.
I’m predicting a lively game, 4-2 in Manchester United’s favour. Yes, you have a good recent record against us. However, you’re 25 points adrift of us (and an extraordinary 56 shy of Liverpool!). We have the Champions League spot resting on this game, you don’t have the same need for victory. Good luck!

Many thanks to Andy for his time. Blown away with enhanced optimism I do actually think we can win this one, so I’m going to go for a 1 – 2 away win. COYI

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The GoatyGav Column

The Grief Mark Noble Has Endured

Perhaps it comes with the territory. Sometimes it might even be warranted. But those who’ve written off Mark Noble in the past have done so at their peril.

In my humble opinion it has been one of Mark Nobles best seasons. Arguably the post lockdown period has seen some of his finest performances of 2019-20 but beforehand he was looking extremely effective in his link-up role.

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Unlike many others I believe that Nobes will have a role to play on the pitch for at least another couple of seasons. He keeps himself in excellent shape and his dedication is a lesson to all. Perhaps he won’t start every single match but, even his biggest critics must admit that, when it comes to derby days, he’s the first name on the team-sheet.

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Experience counts for a lot. Insofar as leadership is concerned there are very few who can match Nobes on a field of play today. Those two facts give confidence to others, especially the younger members of the team, on the pitch. That alone supports the case for Nobes to continue playing, if not playing a full ninety minutes each match, until the point at which he is unable to continue any longer.

I am ashamed to admit that, in the past, I have been critical of Nobes. One thing I have observed about my criticisms, however, that they were all levelled at the player when he was being put in a holding midfield position. Throughout Nobes’ career, I feel, he’s always been most effective when playing further up the pitch. Since lockdown he’s occupied more advanced roles within the team which has been a positive and has seen a higher level of quality in his play.

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At the time I felt he wasn’t performing well he was in a team that were not moving to create options for him on the ball. The result tended to be that he would play the ball either sideways or backwards which became quite frustrating. In hindsight, and towards the end of that trough in his career, I started to realise that he was simply doing the job he was being asked to do but was also being made to look poor by the system of play and the players around him.

Now that Nobes has played five hundred first team games for the club he joins the very top echelon of West Ham legends. He joins the likes of Bobby Moore, Billy Bonds, Trevor Brooking, Geoff Hurst, Frank Lampard Snr, Alvin Martin and Steve Potts. Having led the team out in the final game at the Boleyn ground and the very first game at the Bowl he occupies a very special place in the club’s history that will remain in perpetuity. Not only that he’s also in a very small list of one club players who’ve played at West Ham over the last fifty years. Considering the frequency of player’s club moves, during the Premier League era, the ‘one club man’ feat is all the more impressive.

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Away from the pitch Nobes has a reputation as a genuinely decent person. Every fan who I’ve heard from, who have met Nobes, have nothing but positive things to report about their encounters. The example that Nobes sets for young players could not be better. I was listening to Jamie Redknapp on the post match analysis who spoke very highly of ‘Mr West Ham’ while giving the impression that he was proud to call him a close friend. He makes time for everyone and quietly goes about his business, be that for West Ham or work for good causes, without courting publicity. Come to think of it I can’t think of anyone who has met Nobes that has a bad word to say about him. The main point here is that our captain is someone who makes you proud to be associated to West Ham United.

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It’s interesting that Nobes is hesitant to commit to the pursuit of a coaching career at West Ham. The reason that he gives is that he is well liked by the fans and would hate for that to change. In essence he cares so much for the club, and the supporters, that it would hurt him grievously to be viewed any other way.

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All boiled down I hope that Nobes remains on the playing staff at West Ham for a long time to come. He deserves to see success with West Ham and I want that as much for him as I do for myself and my boys. After all… none of them have ever experienced a major trophy win in their lifetimes.

COYI!


The HamburgHammer Column

One Two Three and SAFE! West Ham sting tame hornets

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YES!!!!! Never in doubt! That’s pretty much job done. The cookie has been nibbled, the goose been cooked, the broth been boiled. Done and dusted. Sorted. In the bag. Not quite mathematically yet, as our resident teacher Dan Coker might keep reminding me, but come on!

Villa will not turn their entire crap season around all of a sudden in their final two games by winning them with gargantuan six-goal efforts while keeping clean sheets at the same time. (Can Villa even keep one clean sheet against Arsenal OR us ?)

Teams down the bottom simply don’t do that kind of thing. West Ham on the other hand have now won 10 from a possible 15 points over the last five games, 2 points per game on average – you are unlikely to get relegated with that kind of momentum in your dressing room.

In contrast Villa only got 4 out of 15 possible points, less than a point per game and very much relegation form.
That’s why great and greatest escapes only happen once in a blue moon.
And they always coincide with having momentum on your side.

Bournemouth lost all their momentum and also the fixture against Southampton yesterday – it means that they can no longer catch us.
Which, in theory at least, just leaves Watford and Villa from our selfish perspective. There is a tiny mathematical possibility for either of them to stay up while sending West Ham down.
However, I really wouldn’t want to be in their shoes at this point…I’d rather be West Ham now, thank you very much! ;-))

Our boys have really done their homework in those busy weeks, playing one game after another. Suddenly the boys are actually playing some neat football again, stringing passes together, scoring goals and generally looking like they have been working together on passing patterns and automatisms on the training pitch. The players no longer look like strangers when the game kicks off.

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Moyes has managed us well enough in this period, even in the games we lost we didn’t suffer a humiliating drubbing which is why our goal difference is now so vastly superior compared to the beleaguered bunch at the bottom, so that the clubs still fighting for survival below us not only need the mother of all miracles, but also shiploads of good fortune, plenty of four-leaf clovers and myriads of rabbit feet on top to still stand a miniscule chance of overtaking us in the table. Maybe with several dodgy VAR calls thrown in for good measure.

Not on your nelly! Or for our American friends: No way, Jose!
Nie im Leben, vergiss es! As us Krauts might say.

I was never a champion of mathematics at school, but it ain’t gonna happen for Villa and Bournemouth (or Watford), they can’t get to us anymore, we’re safe.

As you’re all aware, West Ham have gone through plenty of crap, mud and tears in their history, but being relegated in the current scenario now, despite our goal difference and all, would really be a step too far even for those barmy football gods who once conspired to relegate us with a 42 point tally almost 20 years ago, but the football deities certainly were wasted and high on cannabis that season, surely they are all grown up and mature now, so for certain they won’t dare playing with our emotions and collective blood pressure in this fashion ever again.

Talking of which, I was reasonably calm and in good spirits prior to the Watford game, I had already finished my grocery shopping for the weekend, had soaked up some sunshine down the local lake and after having a quick matchday meal of pasta, I put the kettle on to get ready for watching the game.

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Same West Ham shirt on and same claret and blue mug as for the Norwich game, but ONE quite significant change: One day prior I had changed the picture on the West Ham poster calendar which proudly graces my living-room wall, switching the picture from Cresswell to Ogbonna this time, I suppose it worked…Ogbonna had a textbook level performance at CB and deservedly got picked as MotM…;-))

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I had barely touched my mug of tea when Antonio had already put us 1:0 in front after six minutes with a nice finish. That was how a striker puts away opportunities. Clinical. Beautiful shot. Just what the doctor ordered.
And sooooo important. Watford had won their previous two games despite conceding first, but still I knew the goal was doing OUR confidence the world of good anyway. And so it proved.

Just four minutes later my screwdriver was once again airborne, defying gravity in celebration…another wonderful goal, this one even better than the first strike: Jarrod Bowen, one of the key players responsible for igniting our recent turnaround, putting one on a silver platter (or should that read gravy boat ? LOL) for our very own Czech Sous Chef, Tomáš Soucek, who rose high to fire in a bullet of a header as if they were going out of fashion. Top goal all around that one.

Soucek is fast becoming my favourite player and when you look at the way he plays, the runs he’s making, his intelligence when reading the game, the way he’s talking to his teammates during the game, the timing when jumping for headers, you can easily forget how young he is: 25 years, best years still ahead, with a wise head screwed onto a young body. Mature beyond his years. Soucek looks as if he has played in three World Cups already. If only we could keep him and Rice around for the next few years at West Ham, now, THAT would be a midfield anchor to build a team around! We’ll see…

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At 2:0 up I was already certain that Watford would struggle to come back from this, then Noble played a clever short pass back to Declan Rice (see how effective sideways and backwards passing can be ?) and with the kind of verve Thomas “The Hammer“ Hitzlsperger in his prime would have been proud of, Dec launched the mother of all belters, catching the Hornets’ goalkeeper wrong-footed and reduced to banging the grass with his fist in frustration. WHAT A GOAL!
3:0 up after 36 minutes! What happened to the team that couldn’t score for toffee all season ? Kidnapped by Martians ? Held hostage in a basement in Ipswich and replaced with proper footballers ?

What a nice sight it was to witness the sheer unadulterated joy on the faces not just of Declan himself but his teammates and the gaffer too, celebrating the goal. Absolutely delighted! I felt the same way.

My favourite scene of all in the entire game probably happened just as the ball was bulging the net when Rice scored, the reaction of his midfield partner Soucek who couldn’t help but throw his hands up to grab the top of his head, not quite able to compute what he had just seen.

Yes, Tomáš, that’s the geezer you could be playing alongside for the next few years if you sign for us and convince your new mate Declan he should stay for a while and become the next West Ham captain.

Just do your best there, Tomáš – we trust your ability off the pitch as much as the skills you have shown for us on the pitch already so far…

As for the Hornets ? Well, apart from one decent spell in the second half which brought them their consolation goal courtesy of Troy “Dodgy Knees” Deeney they were as placid, docile and sluggish as your common bumblebee on a nice summer’s day.

I know bumblebees can sting too if they feel threatened, but on the evidence of this performance Watford didn’t really look as if they even had a sting or wanted to play their football in the PL next season.

Gutless, showing not much fight, wasteful with their goalscoring opportunities. I can see them ending up as one of the relegated teams after all, bearing in mind who their final two opponents are…

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Another player deserving a mention is young Ben Johnson who had to come in at RB for Fredericks who seems to have picked up a calf strain in training.

I loved Johnson’s performance for several reasons. He stepped up at short notice in a high-stakes game. He didn’t look fazed or out of place. His game was neither spectacular nor flashy. It didn’t have to be. He is a defender. Forgive me, but I like my defenders to defend first and foremost.

IF they have that job covered, by all means, they may go and join the attack occasionally when it suits. But the play from our full-backs this season in general has been questionable, time and time again goals were conceded because opposition players have regularly exploited our Achilles heel willingly and expertly, catching our defenders off-guard far too often.

Johnson though looked solid at defending. That’s pretty much all I would expect my RB to do. Everything above or beyond that is a bonus in my eyes. Cut down on the number of goals we concede next season through mistakes made from the FB positions and we will win additional points and find West Ham in the right half of the league table.

It’s the one position we need to strengthen more than any other in the upcoming transfer window. Fredericks and Cresswell are decent backup options at PL level, but not automatic starters.

I reckon I will talk a bit more about players we should get rid of in my opinion and what positions we should look at in the coming weeks in one of my next columns once the season is officially finished.

Let me just say at this point that I would not want to see another gung-ho style overhaul of our squad with eight players leaving and five or six new faces arriving, we don’t need that. We need some consistency, calm and composure at the club now, smart heads and solid business which has to start with the gaffer who should be allowed to bring in his two or three main targets, whoever they are.

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Now, I ain’t privvy to the training sessions, I don’t hang around Rush Green twice a week, as much as I’d love to do that, so I have to go by what I read, what I hear from players in interviews, what I see on the telly when they’re interacting with teammates or the manager during games.

The players seem to have a lot of respect for Moyes, there can be no doubt they have been busting a gut out there on the pitch for him, so we would stay up and Moyes could be allowed to stay on this time around. (Allegedly he would have stayed even in case of relegation, but you never know if that agreement would still have applied once relegation had become reality rather than a mere posssibility.)

Moyes must be doing something right as the players look fitter, stronger, more durable. Antonio has been the best PL scorer throughout the Covid-19 period since the restart, he has been playing A LOT of football lately, still his hamstrings seem to enjoy his exploits on the pitch as much as our new wonder striker himself. Long may it continue.

I cannot begin to tell you how relieved I am that West Ham will still be playing PL football next season. This alone increases the likelihood of me still writing this column.

It just wouldn’t be the same, me writing my column after only reading a match report on German teletext, it helps to actually watch the game in full.

As always, hopelessly naively perhaps, I do hold at least some hope for better times next season, for a bit less drama at the club, fewer injuries, fewer off-pitch distractions, but a season to give us all around more joy, goals and points from our lads’ football.

I actually do appreciate the rollercoaster ride that supporting West Ham tends to resemble most of the time, I do even enjoy it in a weird, ever so slightly masochistic us-against-the-world kind of way, but I could really do with some less frantic turns and fewer loopings next time around – our season doesn’t always have to be like riding the Nemesis at Alton Tower ten minutes after having munched on an overpriced slice of pizza from a food stall vendor.

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There’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying the gentle ups and downs of the good old Octonaut every once in a while, you know ? A bit exciting, yes, but not overly bumpy and upsidedowny to a degree that would result in you feeling sick to your stomach and make you eat some of that pizza backwards…know what I mean ? ;-))

COYI!!!


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