Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A with Cardiff

This weekend West Ham travel to South Wales to play against a Cardiff team still apparently reeling from the tragic death of Emiliano Sala before he had even played a game for them. Ahead of the game I once again spoke to Paul Evans from Cardiff City Blogsite Mauve and Yellow Army to discuss the upcoming game and the season so far.
The last time we spoke we were about a third of the way through the season. Now with only nine games left how would you sum up your 1st season back in the Premier League?
If I’d been asked that question about six weeks ago, I would have said not too badly, but events have cast a shadow over the season and, after it initially appeared that the team had shown strength in the face of tragedy, recent games suggest that it is now having the effect many predicted.

What do you think seeing your ex-manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær turning around Manchester United? Do you wonder how he would have performed with a mass of great players in Cardiff? Or do you think that maybe you could persuade ‘The Special One’ to come to Cardiff now that he is out of a job?
Ole signed one or two players who have done well for us (e.g. Morrison and Pilkington), but he was a disastrous appointment. I can remember him addressing the crowd before his first home game, against West Ham as it turned out, and thinking what is this doing for our opponents – we lost 2-0 that day and it was a sign of things to come.
Based on what he is doing at Manchester United, I think he’s got some good tacticians with him there. It was impossible to tell what Ole was doing from one week to the next with us and I don’t there were many City fans unhappy to see him go, but, to be fair, he has shown over the last two or three months that he isn’t as bad as his spell at Cardiff suggested he was – as for Mourinho, we’ll let someone else have him!

Talking of managers how do you rate Neil Warnock’s year? Is he hampered by not having a good enough squad, or has he not maximised the potential of the players you’ve got there.
I think, generally speaking, Neil Warnock has has a good year, but I’ll qualify that to some extent in my answer to one of the other questions you’ve asked.

What have been your highlights, and lowlights of the season so far?
Last time we were in this league we beat eventual Champions Manchester City and came out on top against Swansea in a derby. I don’t think there has been anything to match that so far this season, so I’d go for scoring winners in added time to secure our only two away wins so far at Leicester and Southampton. A persistent lowlight of the the season for me is the way we have been so passive against top six sides – i’m not expecting us to be turning them over on a regular basis, but we have seemed in awe of them which is unlike us. More specifically, we were awful against Huddersfield in January and barely any better last week against Everton.

The title looks like being a two horse race: who do you think will end up as top dogs, Manchester City or Liverpool? Which two teams will join them in the Champions League positions?
Manchester City are the class act of the division for me and Liverpool were unable to quite shake them off during their poor spell around the turn of the year – I think Liverpool have probably lost their title chance with recent 0-0 away draws.
Who joins those two in the Champions League next season is a tough one. For me, Spurs are the best of the other four, but there is a bit of a frailty to them lately, Arsenal are the weakest judging by their games with us and what I’ve seen of them on the telly, but are hanging in there, Chelsea are having one of their “walkabout” phases and I’m not wholly convinced they are back to something like their best and, instinctively, I’m against any group of players that “down tools” in the way that Man United’s did in the first half of the season, but, if I had to pick two from four to make it into the Champions League, I’d go for them and Spurs.

Where do you think West Ham will end the season?
Not a clue! Anywhere between seventh and about fifteenth – you’ve been very inconsistent and, after the amount spent in the summer and the managerial appointment you made, I think I’d be quite disappointed with the season so far if I were a West Ham fan

You intimated when we last spoke that it would be difficult to stay up this season. Looking at your upcoming fixtures you do have to play four of the teams near you, but you also have to face both Manchester teams and Chelsea: are you going to be able to escape the drop? If so, which of the teams above you do you think will join Fulham and Huddersfield, both of whom look truly doomed, in being relegated?
We’ve also got to play Liverpool in those last nine matches, so, a combination of our fixture list, the loss of the talismanic Sol Bamba and the way we’ve played in our last three matches makes me very pessimistic (I see Saturday as our first truly must win game of the season). There’s also the awful Emiliano Sala situation (which is now, sadly, turning into the squalid row about money that it always threatened to be) which, leaving the emotion of the whole thing aside, has seen us pay a club record fee for someone who is never going to score us a goal or win us a game.
Therefore, although £15 million is not a fortune by the standards of this league, it is getting towards half of what we had spent on other new players since getting promoted.
This brings me on to what I would call a weakness of Neil Warnock’s – excepting Sala, his buys when spending big money by Cardiff City’s standards is not impressive. Warnock has chosen to create a squad which, in terms of natural ability and technique, is the worst in the division in my opinion, but has tried to bridge that gap through things like strength, character and team spirit. For much of the time, this approach has looked like it had a chance of working, but the number of times we’ve conceded three or more in a game (eleven) is testimony to the risks behind an approach which leaves us virtually nowhere to go if plan A isn’t working – “Warnockball” played badly has absolutely nothing to commend it at all.
We’ve done well to be the one of the three expected relegation sides that may still confound the pundits, but, in truth, I’m fairly sure we’re going down now – that was a big win for Brighton last weekend because it means that we need two wins to get past them, Southampton have definitely improved under Hasenhüttl and we could never go to Old Trafford and perform like they did, so Burnley’s recent downturn might offer a little hope (they were the worst side I’ve seen us play this season), but we need to get points on the board before we can start to make them panic and it’s hard to see us doing that at the moment.

If worse comes to worst and you are relegated, what should your priorities be for next season?
To hear our manager talk, our budget for this season was peanuts, but that’s not true, so I’m not one of those City fans who think we’ll do something akin to what Stoke did last summer if we do go down. I think it’s more likely that we will be competitive in the transfer market without being extravagant. Whatever happens though, the truth is that we have an ageing squad and a midfield which is likely to be rocked by loan players not returning and Aron Gunnarsson moving on. That all makes me think it would be a good time for Neil Warnock to retire to his farm in Cornwall so that we could bring in a new, more modern thinking, manager who would, hopefully, make improving our truly abysmal record of recent years when it comes to developing our own players a priority.

Which /Cardiff City player will get your vote for player of the season, and who else has had a look in?
Last time we were in this league, goalkeeper David Marshall was, far and away, our best player and this time around Neil Etheridge would be my nominee for that award (that tells you all you need to know about the nature of our two Premier League campaigns!). Honestly, I find it hard to come up with other contenders – Bruno Manga has his backers, as does Bamba and I’ve liked the rare shafts of skill provided by Victor Camarasa at times, but it has to be Etheridge as far as I’m concerned.

How will Cardiff City line up against West Ham this weekend?
Neil Warnock finally seems to have lost patience with a set of wingers that have been too flakey week in, week out for this division, so it’s hard to predict a side – Sol Bamba’s season ending injury means we’re down to two specialist centre-backs, but I still believe that a side with three centre-backs (Lee Peltier can play there), a couple of wing backs, three central midfielders and either two strikers or a striker and number ten would give us the solidity that we can lack when we play wingers. However, I think it’s more likely our team will look something like:-

Peltier Morrison Manga Bennett
Paterson Gunnarsson Ralls Camarasa

Prediction for the score?
Your inconsistency gives me a little hope, but, based on our home form since Manchester United beat us 5-1 just before Christmas, you can probably expect one of your most comfortable wins of the season – I’ll go for 0-2.

Well many thanks to Paul for his time once again. I think I will agree with him and also go for a 0-2 victory to West Ham. COYI

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Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A with Fulham

This weekend West Ham entertain West London rivals Fulham, who seem to be tottering on the edge of relegation. Ahead of the game I spoke to lifelong Fulham fan Nick Lines to discuss the season so far and the coming game.

Thanks to Nick for his time. Apart from this game I wish Fulham well, as it’s always a good away trip to The Cottage. However I do feel that we should be able to see them off this weekend. I going for 2- 0 to West Ham. COYI.

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Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A with Crystal Palace

West Ham got their season back on track with that Monday night draw against Liverpool, although if the lino had his eyes on the game we could have claimed a deserved victory. Recently we have seemed to follow up a good performance with a crushing defeat. Hopefully we can buck this trend this Saturday against a Crystal Palace team, who over the past few years we have held the upper hand against. Ahead of the game I spoke to old friend and South Londoner Colin Prevatt, brought up within spitting distance of Crystal Palace Park, but now wisely residing in Trinidad.

First of all give us the news from Trinidad? Is our old mate Jack Warner still living it large, or has he been extradited to USA to spend a few well deserved years in prison yet?
Carnival is only a few weeks away so most people are gearing up for the greatest show on earth, increasing exercise activity to be able to manage all the parties and the two-day masquerade celebration which is now copied the world over. Mind you, with the ongoing crisis in Venezuela, T&T is on alert as we are only 7 miles away from our South American neighbour. Jack Warner is still at large and continues to fight extradition to the USA. He has maintained a relatively low profile for a while now, however, he has recently been making overtures to former political allies in an effort to revitalise his career in politics.

The last time I saw you, was when you were over for an FA Cup final a couple of years ago, when you ultimately fell to Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United. Memories of that day?
After missing out on a trip to Wembley back in 1990, there was no way I was not going to be that final and I’m grateful to my friend Horace McDonald for arranging a ticket for me. I felt very proud to tell the immigration officer at Gatwick that I was there for the FA Cup Final who was amazed that I had travelled all the way from Trinidad. It was a great day and the Palace fans certainly outdid those from ManU with that sea of red and blue. Disappointed not to win especially with Jason Puncheon scoring with just a few minutes remaining. However, we lost focus and didn’t close out the game professionally. Rooney was given too much space and should never have been allowed to advance as far as he did in setting up the equaliser.

How is the coverage of the Premier League in Trinidad? Do you get to see Palace regularly or is it a constant diet of Man Utd and Liverpool (with I expect now the odd game featuring Manchester City)?
We get full coverage of all Premier League matches – every game is shown live via the Premier League TV’s overseas broadcast. So whoever you support – no problem. There’s also live matches from La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1, the Dutch Eredivisie, Chinese Super League, this list goes on!

Since your outing to Wembley three years ago Crystal Palace have discarded Alan Pardew as their manager, and had a couple of other incumbents: any that you wish you had stuck with? Are you happy with Roy Hodgson?
No, not really. Frank De Boer didn’t have the right players to implement his style at Palace, so Steve Parish was right to admit his mistake early on and get Roy Hodgson in. Roy has done a good job with the squad he has and the injuries sustained over his period in charge. My main concern is that his substitutions are invariably too late to be effective. Generally, Roy has to be commended for the disciplined formations which makes the team hard to break down.

How do you rate Manuel Pelligrini as West Ham’s manager?
Seems to be getting grips with what’s needed for West Ham to progress. Obviously did well with Man. City in winning the League, but that was with an established squad. His current stint will certainly be a sterner test. He likes to play with style and he should do well with the likes of Felipe Anderson and Lanzini when he’s fit.

What do you think of the current Crystal Palace squad? What are it’s particular strengths and weaknesses?
I’m generally happy with the squad given the limitations within we have to work. Guaita is an improvement on Hennessey and the defence is solid – Tomkins has been our most consistent and reliable player. (Still wonder why y’all sold him). AWB has been outstanding at right back. We could do with some more creativity in midfield and Cabaye is missed. Max Meyer will improve as he gets stronger and more accustomed to the Premier League. Happy to have Batshuayi in the squad – he looks to have the close control on the ball that our other forwards lack. He will also give Benteke the competition he needs earn his place in the starting line up. Our strength is our pace on the counter-attack, however, we need to be more clinical in front of goal.

Given that Wilfred Zaha will be suspended this weekend, any West Ham players that you wish were suspended to balance it up?
Is Wilf He’s Just Too Good For You Zaha suspended? I haven’t heard or seen anything yet to confirm that but if so West Ham fans will be relieved! Accordingly, I’d wish Felipe Anderson was suspended – he’s fast and skillfull on the ball, especially when putting his gloves back on! Also Declan Rice could do with picking up a virus.

It’s been a surprisingly close title battle this year round, seeing as how Man City were so dominant last season. They currently sit on top of the table on goal difference having played a game more, are they going to win the League again? Are Liverpool going to blow their good chance? Prediction for top four teams in order?
I’d like to see Liverpool win this year, however, Man City seem to be grinding out the results. Hopefully Liverpool will overcome this current “blip”, develop momentum to the end of the season and prevail on top! Top four: Liverpool, Man City, Tottenham, Chelsea.

It looks like both of our teams will be safe this season – are you surprised by that? Where do you think we will both finish?
Both Palace and West Ham have underachieved for far. Both should finish comfortably mid-table and West Ham even up to 7th with a good run of wins after Saturday.

How are Crystal Palace going to line up against the Mighty Claret and Blue this weekend? Predictions for line up & formation?
4-4-1-1 with Ayew just behind Benteke if Wilf is suspended. 4-3-3 if Wilf plays. This will probably be a 4-5-1 with Roy electing to let the Hammers have the ball and going on the counter-attack with the speed of Wilf and Townsend.

Are you feeling confident that you can beat West Ham on Saturday? Prediction for the score?
Quietly confident now that we seem to have our scoring boots back on. 3-2 with some help from Michail Antonio!

Well thanks to Colin for taking the time out from his day on the beach to enlighten us with his thoughts. We all know a bit more about Trinidad than before, I will also let him get away with his boast that Trinidad had the first Carnival. Perhaps I was wrong about Wilfred Zaha being suspended this weekend, as apparently if you contest the ban you can delay it until after the hearing. Hopefully with a bit of help from Michail Antonio West Ham can themselves get back to winning ways, I’m going to go for a 1 – 2 away victory. COYI

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Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A with The Wolves

After that shocking defeat to bottom of League 1 Wimbledon at the weekend West Ham travel with their tail between their legs West Ham travel to North Birmingham where they will face Wolves who just managed not to lose their FA Cup tie against Shrewsbury. Ahead of the game I once again chatted to Tom Baugh, the editor of Wolves fan blog to discuss the upcoming game and to get his assessment of their first season back in the Premier League.

Hi Tom, the last time we spoke it was just after the start of the season, where you had got off to a steady start. Since then you have done amazingly well, you must be delighted with how the season is progressing?
Yes, it’s been very good. We’ve been in the top half pretty much all season, pulled off some incredible victories and generally been competitive against everyone. Like West Ham, we’re a club with rich traditions but things haven’t been this good for nearly 40 years. Long may it continue.

You mentioned earlier that you were surprised a bit by the pace of the game in the Premier League, but your team seems to be coping extremely well: in fact I would say that you are one of the paciest teams in the league. Who has stood out so far of your players?
I think the pace thing was just an adjustment for the players but credit to them they’ve quickly worked out what the Premier League is about and looked comfortable. It’s been a real team effort and I’d single out two players who typify that sentiment – Raul Jimenez and Matt Doherty. Jimenez plays the lone forward role beautifully and without his goals and assists, we’d have struggled. We’ve got to pony up £30 million in the summer to buy him from Benfica and I sincerely hope we take up that option. It’s been a pleasure to watch Matt Doherty for the best part of a decade just get better and better and better. He must be one of the best attacking full backs in the division now. They don’t call him The Irish Cafu for nothing!

Now that you have played everyone in the League, which teams/players have impressed you the most so far this season at Molineux?
Watford randomly trotted into town and completely dominated. I was impressed with Doucoure that day and can see him getting a big move. Lamela looked amazing for Spurs when they won at Molineux and Mooy did a similar number on us in a depressingly routine defeat to Huddersfield. From the big guns, Hazard was very sharp for an hour before we came back to beat Chelsea and Salah was the major difference when Liverpool beat us in December.

Ignoring the match when you beat us, which have been the highlights of the season so far?
Ha, it was sweet to get that late winner I must admit. But in truth it was anyone’s game in that second half and the ball wasn’t running for you in those early fixtures. Other than that glorious afternoon in the sunshine, two games stand out for different reasons – the 3-1 win at Wembley against Spurs and the 4-3 over Leicester the other week. Both performances underlined the resilience of the team and the quality within the group proving Wolves belong in the Premier League.

We are of course in the transfer window – any particular parts of your squad need improving?
I’m happy for us to hold fire and go again in the summer if it means getting the right players. Nuno likes a lean squad and it’s served us well for a season and a half. Injuries could catch us out of course so I wouldn’t be against another forward and some cover/competition at right wingback.

I don’t suppose there is any need for you to reiterate your praise for your manager, but you might as well give us your half-season report on his performance.
We’ve got a good one haven’t we? There were a few question marks after a four game losing run, but he tweaked the shape in midfield and we’ve gone on again since. With the exception of the top two, I wouldn’t swap him for any other coach in the league.

Steve Bull or Derek Dougan?
Got to be Bully. 306 goals mate. Admittedly I never saw The Doog, but Bully smashed 50 in consecutive seasons, dragged us back from the brink of oblivion and even walloped one in against the Scots on his England debut. As an aside, he also came to a birthday breakfast for my dad’s 60th birthday, carried the cake in and stayed for hours so I’m aggressively biased. Doog did it in the top flight I suppose but again, before my time.

You picked Man City to win the title back in September, are you sticking with your prediction? Which teams are going to fill the remaining Champions League slots?
Man City are still the best team in my opinion so I’ll stick to my guns, but looking at Liverpool’s position and remaining fixtures they’ve got a big chance. Beyond those two, Spurs and Man Utd for me. Arsenal have greater intensity under Emery but aren’t quite there and I can see Utd moving ahead of Chelsea now they’re playing with smiles on faces.

Who are your current predictions for the three relegation places?
Huddersfield are gone aren’t they? I keep expecting Fulham to pick up the pace but it ain’t happening. Cardiff have done well but are still in the bottom three, which says a lot. I’d go with those three with Burnley and Newcastle counting their lucky stars.

Where are Wolves going to finish the season, and where do you predict West Ham will finish?
I suspect we’ll be in and around one another as we have been most of the season. 7th to 12th is basically total guess work so I’ll say 8th and 9th and let you decide which order.*

How will Wolves lines up against West Ham on Tuesday night? Team/Formation?
Probably a 352 with Patricio in goal, a back three of Bennett, Coady and Saiss (with Boly suspended), Jonny and Doherty wingbacks, Neves, Moutinho and Dendoncker in midfield with Jota and Jimenez up top.

As I eluded to earlier you managed to snatch a winner on the break against us at The London Stadium back in September: will your extra rest after our respective FA Cup fixtures help you gain victory back at your place? Prediction for score?
Yes, I’m sure those extra two hours will really turn it in our favour :) Should be a good game. A lot to admire about West Ham this season and I’m a big fan of Anderson in particular. Impossible to have the first idea about how it will go so I’ll stick my backside on the fence and say 1-1.

Thanks again to Rob: Wolves have been a breathe of fresh air this season, and I always like to see promoted teams do well. After that appalling loss at the weekend, it would be perverse to predict a win, so I will join him in going for a 1 – 1 draw. COYI

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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.

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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