Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A with Wimbledon

This weekend West Ham fans will travel to the far end of the District Line to Kingston , the latest venue of AFC Wimbledon, hoping to make it through to the 5th round of the FA Cup. Ahead of the game I spoke to Rob Aitkenhead of The Womble Underground Press to discuss the game and his thoughts on AFC WImbledon’s past and immediate future.
Hi Rob, first off do you consider Wimbledon FC before they were disgracefully sold off and upped sticks to Milton Keynes and your club to be one and the same? Enlighten us if you wouldn’t mind.
The legal entity that was Wimbledon FC limped on beyond recognition, to be later wound up. I do consider AFCW to be a continuation, in the sense that the majority of the fanbase crossed over. I still see many of the same fans I saw at WFC matches in the 80’s, which confirms that the spirit of the club can be found where those fans are. The atmosphere at Kingsmeadow was as near as we could get to recreating Plough Lane.

Although a few years have passed since you gained promotion back to the Football League it’s still an amazing feat. Up there with the old Wimbledon winning the FA Cup, and Leicester winning the Premiership. Assuming you have been supporting AFC Wimbledon from the off, did you have any doubts you would make it back?
You assume correctly, it was an easy transition for me, I could never have gone to MK or defected to Fulham. I had no doubts that we could be successful, and did harbour hopes of league re-entry. I had faith in the volunteer army, and still do now.The only question at the reformation is one which is still valid now: Just how far can we go under our chosen ownership model? Have we reached our level?

Can you also tell us about your ground situation, I seem to recall there are plans to return to your spiritual home on Plough Lane – I guess on the old dogs track, as I’m sure there are now flats on the old site of Wimbledon’s ground.
The greyhound stadium is flattened, the site mostly cleared, and drainage work in progress. You can view the progress via the AFCW website, if interested. Within a couple of years, we might have at least a partly finished ground back where it all started.

As Wimbledon itself is one of the poshest places in South London, and South West London is Rugby Union heartland, where are your young fans going to come from in the future? Or was it always ever so?
Time will tell. The new ground bounce might help hook a few. There are some egg chasers who follow football too! I’m not posh and I dont do egg chasing.

Wally Downes spent a couple of years at àWest Ham as one of our coaches, but there can’t be many people who are more Wimbledon than him: how has he been doing since he became your manager?
He’s doing OK considering the mess he has inherited. He would need to be a miracle worker of biblical proportions to save us from relegation though. We needed him earlier to stand a chance Out of the names mentioned when the job was advertised, there isn’t anybody I’d have preferred over him.

Although winning the FA Cup has been the pinnacle of your success, would you prefer a long cup run or a promotion this season?
Wouldn’t we all love a cup run? I see zero chance of that for us, and as for promotion, have you seen the table lately?

I seem to remember a nightmare game for us at Upton Park on my birthday about 20 years ago, when we went up 3 – 0 inside 10 minutes or so, and ended up losing 3 – 4. Any horrible memories come to your mind regarding West Ham /Wimbledon games?
No, I don’t associate West Ham with horrible memories even if we lost to them, This accolade is usually reserved for Coventry, Oxford, dour teams like that!

Who are the players that are going to be a danger to West Ham at the weekend, and are going to be important to you for the rest of the season?
I can’t pick one from the current crop, that’s how bleak things are currently. I expect nothing less than total annihilation. Best we could hope is to park the bus and try for a money-spinning replay!

Conversely where are the weaknesses in your team that West Ham could exploit?
All over the pitch! With the possible exception of our latest loanee goalkeeper who probably doesn’t deserve a share of the general criticism!

How are you going to line up against us?Formation/players?
Who knows, with this shower. Will some of our sick-notes honour us with their presence, pull their finger out and actually do the job they are paid to do?

What are you hoping for against West Ham on Saturday? Are you going to able to sneak a win? Prediction for score?
Even if you put out a weakened team you should win easily. I’d try a 3-0 scoreline in West Ham’s favour, even if our sick-notes miraculously put in a shift!

Apart from this weekend good luck for the future.
Likewise!

Well many thanks to Rob for his time, he doesn’t sound too optimistic about Wimbledon’s chances, so I will have to agree with him, but I’m just hoping for a victory rather than a thrashing. Assuming Manuel will rest a couple of players I think we will probably let in a goal and get a victory with a two or three goal cushion, so going for 1 – 3 West Ham. COYI

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Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A with Bournemouth

This weekend West Ham fans will travel to the south coast to see if we can follow up that great win against Arsenal with one against AFC Bournemouth on Saturday. Ahead of the game I spoke to Peter Bell of CherryChimes to discuss the game and season so far.

Hi Peter, although you are not currently getting the results that saw you reach the dizzy heights of sixth in the table at the end of October, you must be pretty happy with how your season has gone so far? What have been the highlights and lowlights?
There have been a few highlights. I would say the 0-4 away win at Watford was the most satisfying. We have always had a good rivalry with the Hornets and to do them on their own turf was a pretty good feeling.
If I had to pick a bad experience it would have to be the this recent run that the team have been on as a whole. Since beating Fulham away in October it’s been pretty much downhill all the way. usually we pick up some points against the top six, but we haven’t looked like being competitive at all when we take the field against the big guns and the injuries to Adam Smith, Lewis Cook and Simon Francis have really hurt the team’s performances.

The transfer window is yet again upon us, and the rumours are starting to fly around, is there any area of the squad that you think needs strengthening?
Well, we have brought in two players already which is great for us in the January window. I think Nathaniel Clyne is the sort of player we should be signing as an experienced international player and he’ll improve the right side. I am not sure if Dominic Solanke will be an immediate hit but we needed another striker with Defoe going out on loan. I’d like to see another central midfielder come in but I expect any further movement will be out going and may include Marc Pugh who has been a fantastic servant for the club.

I’ve seen, as no doubt you have that Bournemouth have put a £70Million price on Callum Wilson, is that a slightly overvalued price? Who would you be particularly loathe to see leave this January?
I think it is hard to justify any prices these days. How much does it cost to buy an experienced Premier League striker who is getting better and scoring regularly this season? Bournemouth can almost name their price if they really want to sell. I would say £70m is a fantastic deal, but I’ll believe it when I see Chelsea bid that much. Bournemouth would turn down anything south of £50m though as Wilson is so important to the way the team plays.

On the other hand who wouldn’t you mind seeing depart to pastures new?
If we could get better players in to replace numbers in the summer then I’d say time is up for a few players that have served the club well. Artur Boruc, Charlie Daniels, Harry Arter, Marc Pugh and Jordan Ibe are all players that I would say might be under threat come next summer. At the moment Eddie Howe won’t want to lose anyone as the squad isn’t that big.

Are you sticking with your early season prediction for Manchester City to lift the Premier League Trophy? Who are your picks for the top four slots?
I still think the title race is open. Money and history tell me that Man City are still likely to do it, but I’d be really pleased if Liverpool could win the title. I like Jurgen Klopp and would like to see Liverpool finally do it. They’ve waited long enough.
I’ll go – Champions Liverpool, 2. Man City, 3. Spurs, 4 Chelsea

Likewise you picked out Cardiff, Huddersfield and Newcastle for the drop – any changes to these?
I can’t see Huddersfield finishing anywhere but 20th, it’s tougher to pick the others. I want Fulham to survive but Ranieri has to start winning games soon. I just can’t see them doing enough though so Fulham 19th, and I have a feeling that Newcastle will catch and overtake Cardiff to leave the Welshman in 18th place. So I reckon, I’ll have got two out of three from my early season prediction.

What do you think of Manuel Pellegrini’s tenure as West Ham manager so far this season?
He had a rough start but he has certainly got the Hammers playing well now. he had to get them to enjoy playing at the London stadium and once he had achieved that, he started to do okay. I think the signing of Felipe Anderson was key and it looks like Declan Rice has improved the solidity of the team not to get beaten. It seems a far cry from the London stadium last season with all those ugly protests. But I am sure many West Ham fans still aren’t happy.

What positions are Bournemouth and West Ham going to finish the season in?
Well pre-season I said 14th for Bournemouth and I’m coming back round to that idea now unfortunately. West Ham should be a bit stronger but I don’t think the Irons will be good enough to get above Everton and Leicester so I’ll say ninth.

How are Bournemouth going to line-up against West Ham this weekend?
It should be back to a familiar line up, although Adam Smith is still likely to play at left-back. I expect Wilson will be back for this one. We know how much West Ham fans like his hand in the goals!

Begovic
Clyne, S Cook, Aké, A Smith,
Brooks, Gosling, Lerma, Fraser
Kin, Wilson

In the Premier League era, since your promotion you are just shading us in terms of results: are you going to continue this on Saturday? Prediction for score?
I’d make West Ham favourites with the recent form with Bournemouth. But from what I recall it is only clubs from the top six that have taken all three points from Dean Court this season so I don’t see it being easy for West Ham. I’ll go for a 1-1 draw.

Well thanks to Peter for his time, for my part I think we shall even up recent results between our two teams, and will go for a narrow 1- 2 away win. COYI

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Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A with Arsenal

This weekend West Ham welcome Arsenal to the London Stadium for an early Saturday afternoon kick-off. Ahead of the game I spoke to two colleagues and die-hard Arsenal fans Matthew Coulter and Matt Jenkins to garner their collective thoughts on this weekend’s game, and the season so far.

We’re at the halfway stage of the season how do you sum up your season so far?
It was going really well until our December blip against Liverpool which showed how far we are off making a genuine challenge. However, Unai Emery has only been there since July and this is a work in progress. People outside the club don’t really realise the huge range of problems he took over from. At least we are doing better than last year so with the new manager there is improvement.
It’s been an interesting season for us given the changes at management and coaching level. After a tough start in which we lost at home to Man City and then away to Chelsea, there was a great recovery and we went on a very long unbeaten run until just before Christmas. We currently sit in fifth place and are in the fight for top four which is our target. Overall, Arsenal fans are still very optimistic about Emery and are happy with what has been achieved so far but there remain huge concerns about our defending or lack thereof! There are questions about whether many of the current players we have in defence are capable of showing the necessary improvement and concerns that we lack the funds to bring in new players that are better – we aren’t currently linked with any in this January window.

Were you part of the increasingly loud group of fans that were demanding the end of the Arsene Wenger’s reign last season?
Yes – which is sad. He had worn down the most loyal of supporters by the end and it was definitely time for Arsene to move on. He had been fantastic for us in the early years of course when he brought in so much talent which transformed the club. However, his inability to bring in untapped talent (such as Henry or Vieira) and build a defence effectively caught up with him in the end. But thanks Arsene for the memories and thank you leaving us Lacazette and Aubameyang.
Arsene Wenger was a huge part of the club and achieved so much during his 22 years with the Arsenal. He built some fantastic sides and played with a philosophy that truly encapsulated the meaning of the phrase ‘the beautiful game’. The last few years were difficult because the fan base was so divided and any poor performance or result brought about an extremely toxic atmosphere at The Emirates and on the road. Personally, I think it would have been the right time to go after one of the more recent FA Cup victories – certainly after his 2017 victory over Chelsea in which he became the most successful manager in FA Cup history with seven wins. I, along with many others, was disappointed when he stayed on and found it hard to watch him put himself through it as much as anything because there were no signs that he could change it. It was the right decision for him to go and once it was announced, the atmosphere around the club changed and fans were able to show their appreciation for all that he had done during the last few games of the season. It was such a shame we lost a Europa League semi-final against the eventual winners Athletico Madrid as that would have been a fitting send off to a great man.

Now that you’ve replaced Arsene Wenger with Unai Emery, are you pleased with the progress he has made so far? Is it a question of the grass looking greener for you, or is it too soon to make an informed judgement?
See above – still a little soon but the signs are good. At least the fans are united.
There was always the concern that things would get a lot worse before they got better as hilariously experienced by Manchester United after Ferguson left! So far, under Emery, there have been signs of improvement in the ground we cover, the pace and intensity of our attacking play and we have made a few good signings most notably in the form of Lucas Torreira. Injuries as of late have been damaging to us particularly in the defence which is where we are weakest. We have lost Rob Holding who was our most consistent performer in the centre of defence for the season and have missed Bellerin at right wing back both as a defender and as a key part of the way we build attacking play down the flank. Bellerin and five others have made a welcome return to full training but it remains to be seen whether the game at the weekend will come too soon for them or not. We have made progress and the fans are on the whole pleased so far but it is still too soon to make a fully informed judgement. Emery will need a couple of transfer windows to get in more of the players that he needs to fully implement his ideas and take us to the next level.

The transfer window is upon us, are there any areas that you think you urgently need to improve?
Defence, central midfield.. although things are better but we need a player to support Torreira, who is great, in the middle of the park.
As previously mentioned – defence! We brought in a stop-gap signing in the form of Stephan Lichtsteiner to provide cover for Bellerin but at the age of 34 he has really struggled to adapt to the pace of the Premier League. Koscielny is 33 and returning from a serious injury which cost him a place in the World Cup winning France team and claimed that he would probably have left at the end of last season. Sokratis has shown improvement but it is still too early to tell with him – he likes a rugby tackle though and it amazes me that he is yet to see red in an Arsenal shirt! Most Arsenal fans are of the view that Mustafi is not at the level required and Kolasinac offers a lot going forward but has made a number of defensive errors this season. The most important position for us to strengthen is centre back so we are looking at attacking wide players –some things don’t change!

Going back to John Radford, and taking in players such as Liam Brady (by the way what a great goal scored by Brady in the game highlighted in Dan’s preview: great to see him celebrating against his former team), Ian Wright, Davor Suker, Marouane Chamakh, (the list is endless) right up to Jack Wilshire, Arsenal have traditionally managed to sell off their aged/’past it’ players to West Ham: which of your current squad would you like to offload to us?
Yes indeed – well you can have Mesut Ozil and Xhaka if you can afford their wages. Hope it works out for Jack by the way.
There would be no shortage of Arsenal fans that would personally volunteer to help Mustafi pack and move house if you want him?! Not that he would have far to go – the offer would stand for any place in Europe! You also currently have Fabianski, Nasri, Perez who were once Arsenal players as well!

I said the list was endless! Which of West Ham’s players (if any) do you wish you could entice to make the opposite journey?
A fit Jack Wilshere would be welcome back – I have always admired Mark Noble’s commitment and tackling – something we have sometimes missed. Do you have any good centre halves?
I read an article linking us with Reece Oxford the other day! No doubt that is just clickbait. I always liked Mark Noble but it may be a bit late in his career for him to make a move and it would be a shame for such a loyal player to West Ham to not finish his top level career with you.

How do you rate the appointment of Manuel Pelligrini as West Ham’s manager and his tenure so far?
Thought he was going to be great for you but he disappointed at first so it is wait and see. He is a proven winner and might come good for you.
Pelligrini is certainly a manager with a great record but I thought he’d retired! West Ham had a difficult start to the season but have recovered very well with some great results along the way against strong opposition. There has definitely been improvement under him from what I have seen so it seems to be working out well so far.

Which teams have impressed you the most this season at The Emirates? Who is going to win the League, and which teams will occupy the Champions League slots?
Manchester City… Liverpool, them and hopefully us – so Chelski miss out. It will be tough for us.
Obviously Manchester City on the first day of the season looked very strong and beat us 2-0. We had a chance at 1-0 which we didn’t take then they turned the screw and got the second which killed the game off. We beat Spurs at home in the league in the best performance of our season and were unlucky to lose 3-2 away at Chelsea in the second game of the season. Liverpool came at a point where Emery had had some time to work with the players a bit and came away with a 1-1 draw which we probably shaded but was a reasonably fair result. I did however make the journey to Anfield a couple of weeks ago and watch them dismantle us in a 5-1 game that could have been more in fairness. Whilst the best performance against us was by Liverpool, I think they will finish second with City winning the league. That lot up the road look like they won’t be too far behind but I can’t see them finishing higher than third. Fourth place is probably the biggest battle in the Champions League race with Chelsea three points ahead of us and United making up the ground having replaced their manager. Any of those three teams could take fourth and I’m going to stick my neck out and say we can pip Chelsea!

What position do you think Arsenal will finish the season?
Hopefully 4th..
As above, our target and hope is fourth and are very much in the race. I don’t see us finishing any lower than fifth as the Manchester United revival has so far been against poor opposition and we are yet to see if they can sustain it in the longer term.

Where will West Ham finish the season?
They have recovered well – so top half.
It seems the top 6 will win a lot of their games this season so teams below that will lose a lot of points but it will be quite tight below that and teams may finish higher than the total points they get will typically see them finish in other seasons. West Ham are currently tenth, a point behind Watford and Wolves who have both been quite consistent over the season but West Ham can certainly finish above them. Leicester seem likely to stay where they are. There are some decent teams just below with Everton likely to improve as the season goes on so they pose a threat. – 9th.

Most West Ham fans will have great memories of: being the last and first away teams to win at Highbury and the Emirates respectively, I personally would say the 1980 Cup Final was the most memorable West Ham game I attended: any particular West Ham/Arsenal games that you can recall?
I was at all of those games – the 1980 cup final – aaargh! You deserved that one and Brooking with a header too!
Too many victories to mention them all! – but the stand out for me was the FA cup reply in 1998 – a fantastic backs-against the wall performance from 10-man Arsenal. Bergkamp was sent off for elbowing Lomas in the face and then Anelka scored a wonderful goal just before half-time. Eventually won on penalties. Arsenal went on to win the Double that year.

How are Arsenal likely to line up against West Ham this weekend, players/formation?
He is running out of fit centre halves so 4-4-2.. but Unai may switch to 3 – 4 – 1 -2 (just to confuse you!)
_We have been playing with three at the back supported by two wingbacks recently but it is difficult to know who will be fit in defence at this stage. We often play with two in the middle and a front three with Lacazette through the middle. Ozil is fit again but is likely to be on the bench.

Leno Bellerin, Sokratis, Mustafi, Monreal, Kolasinac,> Torreira, Xhaka> Aubamayeng, Lacazette, Iwobi._

Are you feeling confident about the result? What’s your prediction for the score?
Yes – we normally do well and it will be an open game. 2-4 to the Arsenal.
Relatively! We often play well on the road and have had some good results against West Ham over the years but they are always very close at your place as it’s still an intimidating place to go given the passion of your fans. It was 3-1 to Arsenal at The Emirates and I can’t see us keeping a clean sheet so I will go with West Ham 1-2 Arsenal.

Well thank you to the two Matthews for their time. I think they are both being a bit optimistic about the result, and so I think that we will further dent the progress of Unai Emery this weekend. It’s also about time we returned to scoring three goals a game, so 3 – 1 West Ham. COYI

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Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A with Burnley

After that hiccup against Watford, West Ham picked up their winning form with that exception display against Southampton. This weekend West Ham will attempt to extend our record haul of points in a month when we travel to Burnley for our last game in December. Ahead of the game I once chatted with hardcore Burnley fan Tony Scoles, editor of Uptheclarets to discuss his thoughts since we last played them at the London Stadium less than two months ago when we beat them 4 – 2.
Hi Tony, Merry Christmas. It’s only 8 weeks since we last met up. At the time we were pretty close to each other in the table, yet West Ham have managed to put a decent run together since then. What are your thoughts on Burnley’s performance at this halfway stage of the season?
Firstly, I hope you have had a good Christmas. Yours was certainly better than ours football wise and your performance last night at Southampton was something of a concern to us. We don’t want you to be playing quite as well as that. It’s difficult to believe that we are twenty points short of last season at this stage. I know we seriously overachieved in 2017/18 and I don’t think anyone could have expected a repeat of that. But I don’t think any of us expected this either and the one big difference from last year is the number of goals we are conceding. We’ve actually scored more goals than we had at the half way stage last season, only one but that’s more, but the figure in the goals against column is nearly three times higher. Suddenly, where we were hard to beat, teams aren’t having to work very hard to score against us.

Do you retain confidence that Burnley will be able to haul themselves back out of the relegation zone?
When you are in the bottom three at this time of the season there has to be a major threat that you can go down. Having said that, you also need to have the confidence that you can recover the situation. Prior to Boxing Day, we’d just turned in good performances at Spurs and Arsenal but came home with nothing. Then we had that Boxing Day disaster against Everton and it feels like we are back to square one.

The FA Cup is upon us next week. Would you trade your Premier League spot for an FA Cup win? Are you hoping that Sean Dyche will field a full strength team, or do you want him to rest players during this intense part of the season?
Sean Dyche usually tells us there will be changes for a cup game but he’ll be selecting a team strong enough to win. We then, usually, lose, and we’ve gone out of cup competitions in the Dyche era to far too many lesser teams. Last season we were sent to the Etihad to play Man City but a year earlier we were beaten by then non-league Lincoln. There doesn’t appear to be much interest in the FA Cup now from Burnley fans. I think we would have to reach the sixth round at least for there to be much enthusiasm for it.

Any change to your prediction of Man City ending up the champions this season? What are your predictions for the top four places?
It’s amazing but just a few short weeks ago I couldn’t see anyone else winning it, and now they are down in third with both Liverpool and Spurs above them. They are seven points behind Liverpool and play them next week. A Liverpool win would take them to a point where it would be difficult to catch them. City are a hell of a good side, still the best for me, so I’ll stick with them for now at least. Those three will surely be the top three and I’d add Chelsea I think for the fourth place. Manchester United will push now they’ve finally got rid of the horrible Jose Mourinho but I suspect they are too far behind.

Who are going to be the teams ultimately relegated?
Two of the current bottom three, hopefully, and by that I mean Fulham and Huddersfield. Hopefully they will go with either Cardiff our Southampton.

I won’t ask you which of our players you would like to see turning out for you, but are there any areas that you think need urgently improving during the transfer window?
The answer on current form might be all eleven but I think we need a strong, mobile midfield player in our side and we need a quality striker although the latter is probably out of reach for us. What really needs improving though is our ability to defend against teams.

How will Burnley line up this weekend against West Ham? Team/formation?
This used to be the easiest of questions to answer, it was usually a case of same again, but that’s no longer how it is. Injuries to key players have forced us to change and we’ve employed a back five in the last three games. All I can say with any certainty is that those two key players Steven Defour and Robbie Brady will again be missing as will right-back Matt Lowton. He was recalled on Boxing Day but got his fifth yellow card and will now be suspended.

Are you going to be able to reverse your recent run of results this Sunday? Predictions for the score?
It has to be a definite yes to that question because we have to start getting results. A clean sheet would also help. I’d like to say 6-0 but I’d settle for a 1-0 or 2-0 win. And I hope you will be supporting the team playing in claret and blue.

Many thanks to Tony once again for giving up his time this Christmas. I have to say that I cannot agree with his prediction for the result though. We are playing with with a great deal of flair and, notwithstanding the Watford result, efficiency at the moment, and I cannot see Burnley troubling us too much. Let’s finish 2018 with a flourish: 0 – 4 West Ham. Happy New Year to you all. COYI

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Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A with The Saints

After failing to continue our winning streak, West Ham travel to St Mary’s to face a Southampton team who will be boosted by their mini-revival and two consecutive wins for a post Boxing Day game. Before the game I spoke to old friend and Saints season ticket holder Simon Lacey from Dance Company New Adventures to discuss the game and the season past present and future.

Hi Simon, when we spoke last (about this fixture), it was just after Mark Hughes was appointed, now he has just been sacked. Given your position, I assume you are in accord with this move by your board?
Virtually nothing until he was appointed but delighted on his past record and what I have seen so far. The most impressive thing has been the attitude and the team work when without the ball. We have been right up there all season in chances created but had been woeful at defending in all areas. Under Hughes (and Pelligrino) to be twice be up against the glory hunter Gooners and then concede two equalisers would have meant going onto lose without a shadow of a doubt, to go on and score a third and win speaks volume for change of attitude and belief.

I reckon you have had about 12 managers over the past 10 years, apart from Mauricio Pochettino who out of those would you have liked to stay a bit longer?
Koeman at the time, but having said he always honoured his contracts walking out of the last year to join a supposedly bigger club in Everton changed that wish and I therefore enjoyed his and their failure. I would not have sacked Puel either having taken us to a cup final that was lost due to incompetence of officials and a top 10 finish. Adkins and Pardew did good jobs but their dismissals were right for different reasons.

What do you know about the new manager Ralph Hasenhuttl, and are you happy with his appointment?
Virtually nothing until he was appointed but delighted on his past record and what I have seen so far. The most impressive thing has been the attitude and the team work when without the ball. We have been right up there all season in chances created but had been woeful at defending in all areas. Under Hughes (and Pelligrino) to be twice be up against the glory hunter Gooners and then concede two equalisers would have meant going onto lose without a shadow of a doubt, to go on and score a third and win speaks volume for change of attitude and belief.

What do you think about Manuel Pelligrini’s appointment and tenure as West Ham manager?
It was a positive step in terms of him being I believe a coach who encourages the best in terms of style of play. He is also a thoroughly decent guy; witness how he responded (or didn’t) to being sacked by the glory boys of City. Signing something like 11 new players in the summer was always going to mean a tricky start but some of the them, most obviously Anderson, are and will be real assets and great to watch if they can be kept. If the club is happy to be genuine contenders for 7th with the chance of a 6th finish and winning cups or getting finals then I don’t; see why he can’t be manager for some time.

Actually while we’re talking about managers, what are your thoughts on Jose Mourinho’s sacking by Manchester United?
My thoughts are I’ve heard and read enough. There was more pages in my daily paper on his sacking the day after than on Brexit and don’t get me started on that joke! The press and media perpetuate the fallacy that all football fans want to hear about is the big six glory hunters and top of that list are United closely followed by Liverpool. I’m more interested (apart form my own team) in hearing e.g. why Watford are doing well this season or how the Irons’ new signings and regime are doing than how sad it is that Spurs don’t know how to build a new stadium or the woes of United and managers post-Ferguson.

It looks like it’s going to be a decent title fight this season, who do you think will end up as champions, and who will fill the other Champions League places?
1) City, 2) Liverpool, 3) Spurs, 4) Arsenal

Who on the other hand are your favourites for relegation?
Perm any three from Fulham, Huddersfield, Cardiff and Burnley with the latter most likely to escape.

What positions do you think Southampton and West Ham will occupy at the end of the season?
After last season and our start to this, one place higher than when we finished last season (17th) seemed good just over two weeks ago but we can aim a bit higher since the new manager’s appointment but not above 10th, say 12th. Irons between 8th and 12th.

The transfer window is almost upon us, where if anywhere will Hunddenstal look to strengthen?

Hasenhüttl will hopefully have a player or two that he has worked with before to bring in and, like him as manager, I will never have heard of. It is suggested that Gabbiadini will go (Newcastle want?) as he has not featured in last two games; I’d be sorry for this but if so then another striker is needed. We are strong in holding/defensive midfield but would like to see another attacking wide player (Elyanoussi hasn’t stepped up yet) – Lallana return would be ideal and can’t see him getting much playing time at Liverpool. We have decent seasoned full backs with young academy back-ups but 5 centre backs none of whom totally convince – so this might mean selling and buying. Very happy with goalkeeper and reserve.

You have been unfortunate to have lost a host of really good players over the past few seasons (mainly to Liverpool and Man United), which of those loses do you regret the most?
Van Dyke, Mane and Lallana most, followed by Shaw. Another beef, all I’m hearing now is, “is Van Dyke now the best defender in the world or the premiership?” He was the best defender in the Prem for the 2 seasons he played for us without this being acknowledged, because he is now with one of the big 6 glory boys, the press & media are now taking note. Footnote: Van Dyke, Mane, Lallana, Clyne (Liverpool), Shaw and Schneiderlin (United) – what have they won since their moves other than a higher wage packet? Answer: sweet FA!

Are there any current players that you would not be averse to seeing depart this January?
Wesley Hoedt and Fraser Forster would be top of the list. Steven Davis is a club legend but deserves a possible move back to Rangers if it means him getting proper playing time; he would go with all Saints fans appreciating his time with us in many ways.

Which if any West Ham players would you like to see playing for Southampton and why?
I don’t know many of the new ones well enough yet but obviously Anderson as he is real class and would be an asset to the glory boys as well as any other Prem team. I am a Wilshere fan and saddened that his ankles or body keep breaking down. At his best he is such a dynamic and astute creative presence that he would be very welcome IF FIT. Declan Rice for his obvious potential. Andy Carroll (JOKE!)

How will Southampton set out against West Ham on Thursday? Formation/Team?
I guess same as last two (wins): McCarthy, 3 at the back in Bednarek, Yoshida & Vestergaard (Stephens as possible replacement), L wing back Targett (Bertrand if fit now or on bench), R wing back Valery (Cedric if back fit), holding midfielders Hojberg & Romeo (Lamina for latter now if fit again), Redmond and Armstrong wider midfield and Ings up front. Some of the changes may happen with the Xmas fixtures coming up but maybe not for this game – we have City next!

I seem to remember us beating you 2 – 1 after trailing in the Christmas fixture 3 years ago: are you confident you can get a positive result against West Ham this time round back at your place? Prediction for the score?
No result would surprise me but there is a distinct positivity around – at home to Arsenal was a massive turn-around and then away at Huddersfield was fun – so I think we are probably just favourites. I will predict plenty of goals e.g. 3-2

Well many thanks to Simon for his time during this busy spell. Somewhat chastened by Saturday’s defeat, I am going to rein in my wild predictions, but still go for a sneaky away win: 0 -1 West Ham. COYI

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