Opposition Q & A

This weekend West Ham welcome Stoke City to the London Stadium for a Monday Night game. We will be looking to future cement our tenure in the Premier League with a win against a team who are looking increasingly likely to go down. Ahead of the game I spoke to long time friend and hard core Stoke fan Neil Adams, currently living in exile in Thailand, to discuss Stoke’s current malaise and the game.
Hi Neil. It’s not looking too good for Stoke at the moment to say the least: are you resigned to going down, or as it’s so close do you think you can still escape?
After the home defeat against Everton a couple of weeks ago, I have been resigned to going down. Our last games are against teams who will also be scrapping for survival, so I just can’t see us staying up. 4 points adrift and terrible goal difference. Of course, there’s always hope!

Like West Ham you have parted company with your manager, albeit at a later stage of the season, are you glad to see him go? How do you sum up the Hughes years? What went wrong in the end for him?

Yes, glad to see him go. A lot of Stoke fans seem to have forgotten that he actually brought some great football to the Potteries during his second year and made a couple of decent signings. He initially, at least, greatly evolved our football from the Pulis era, which was what most Stoke fans were crying out for. But that petered our and the last season and a half were dire and he was lucky to last as long as he did.
What went wrong? Just about everything. He spent a lot of money on some poor signings – Wimmer, Imbula, Berahino, Jese – without improving the squad and our defence went to pieces. The same back four who have been tight and resolute under Lambert were a disjointed shambles under Hughes, leaving us with a shocking goal difference. And despite his attempts to bring in a decent striker, we are left with a well-past-his-best Crouch, a barely premiership standard Diouf and two sulky ‘big name’ signings who don’t even make the squad half the time due to various misdemeanors or personal problems off the field (Jese and Berahino). At least Diouf tries, which is what many of the shop window signings seemed to have stopped doing under Hughes. No attack, poor defence, Apart from that, perfect.
I should mention 2 defining moments that signalled the end for Sparky. One was his decision to ‘throw in the hat’ by fielding a weakened team away to Chelsea (we lost by a demoralising 5 goals to nil) so that his best players would be fresh to face relegation rivals Newcastle at home a few days later. We lost that one 0-1 and were abject. The gamble backfired badly. The other was the classic ‘dead man walking’ quote from Hughes just before he left: ‘if they sack me, who else is going to do the job?’ Brilliant!

I expect you wish you had held on to Tony Pulis, even though he did not appear to be a fan of the type of football played by the Great Stanley Matthews?
Not at all. I don’t think most of us could have stood another season (let alone another 4) of Pulis-ball. He was just what we needed when we went up in 2009 and I believe most Stokies are grateful for what he did for the club. But his style of football became unwatchable and he seemed unable to evolve his style of play. Ask any West Brom fan!

How do you rate Paul Lambert so far as your manager?
Well, he’s a slight improvement, but it’s come too late. He has brought a new determination to the team, more discipline, and tighter defence. But his record of one win in 10 shows he is no magician. He made some poor decisions, like playing Charlie Adam against Everton (he got sent off as expected and we lost as a result), but at least he is making sure we go down with a fight.

What do you reckon to the job David Moyes has done for West Ham, and in football generally?
I think Moyes is one of the many merry-go-round British managers who do a below average job, get sacked, then turn up somewhere else and do another below-average job. You are welcome to him!

Who have been the players that have lived up to expectation this season, and conversely who have disappointed?
You mean at Stoke? Shaqiri (just), Joe Allen (our best, most hard-working player), Jack Butland and loan signing Kurt Zouma. Martins Indi has recently come good and new signing Moritz Bauer has done well. Everyone else has disappointed, but special mention must go to Berahino and Jese Rodriques,

What have been the highlights (if any) and lowlights of the season?
Beating Arsenal 1-0 early in the season gave us all hope but that really is about it. The rest has all be one long and very low lowlight.

Apart from Marco Arnautovic, are there any West Ham players who you would like to see at Stoke?
Ha! Very funny! You can keep Arnautovic, too! He had some great games at Stoke, but some poor ones too, and his shooting was wayward a lot of the time. He can shine, yes, but he is not a team player and his self-centred, brattish attitude sometimes lets him and the team down. We’ve got enough of those characters at Stoke already. To be honest, I don’t see any West Ham player doing much to improve our squad. No offence, but you haven’t exactly lit up the Premiership this year, have you?!

The top of the table seems settled, but who’s going down this season, and where do you see Stoke and West Ham finishing?
I think West Ham will stay up. Stoke, Southampton and West Brom down.

It’s a big 6 pointer between us on Monday night, what’s your prediction for the:
Team/formation/score?

I predict a frustrating draw, 1-1. I think Stoke will stick with this line up:
Butland
Johnson Shawcross Indi Pieters
Sobhi Allen Ndiaye Bauer
Shaqiri
Diouf

Well many thanks to Neil for his thoughts. He doesn’t seem to believe that Stoke have any chance of staying up! I think he is being a bit optimistic on Stoke’s behalf going for a draw, I think we should be able to back up our away thrashing of them with a good win. 2-0 to the Hammers. COYI!

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