The Master Tactician takes his troubled charges to the East side of London this weekend. It’s an old fashioned Saturday, 3pm knees up versus Manuel Pellegrini’s Hammers – with pie, mash & a bucketload of jellied eels thrown in.
Like many of you, I still feel rather numb following Sunday’s spectacular ‘no show’ of a second half. It’s a tad early for the ghost of Christmas past, but a chill ran down my spine as the stultifying dullness was being played out in front of us. This felt a lot like watching another Steve’s Newcastle United. You know, the one with the slightly disturbing smile, silly cod Dutch accent and little ginger tuft of hair.
McLaren & Bruce are both largely failed managers. The former has already (all but) relegated us, the latter looks like he’s ambling down a similar path.
The major positive compared to that dreadful 15/16 campaign, is that this group of players largely appear to want to give it a go. Unfortunately, that’s not nearly enough. Our lack of goal threat, coupled with a ‘rabbit in the headlights’, tactically inept manager have us already beginning to look ‘terminal,’ I reckon.
What of our hosts, this Saturday?
West Ham currently find themselves with a fair-to-middling thirteen points, in tenth position. Having been brutally beasted by the Champions on the opening day of the season, they’ve improved some, but have still only toiled to a pretty mediocre set of results.
Their highlight thus far, was a 2-0 home win over Man United. However since that fixture five weeks ago, they’ve only managed to pick up two points from clashes with Bournemouth, Palace, Everton and Sheffield United. These type of matches (as we well know) can be season defining. To progress, you need to despatch the teams around you, so it’s probably fair to say they are in somewhat of a mini crisis.
Who better than Stevie’s Mags to play when you absolutely need a result?!? We are after all, the gift that keeps on giving.
The last time we visited the London Stadium, we were in a decent run of form. Sean Longstaff was suddenly being hailed as the ‘next big thing’, and a ‘head to head’ with the Iron’s Declan Rice was eagerly anticipated. The latter came out on top, that day. He notched the first goal in a straightforward 2-0 victory, whilst our wunderkind exited stage left with an injury which ended his promising season.
There will be no repeat this weekend, as Sean finds himself in absentia for three games, following his out of control challenge on Neves last weekend. He’s by no means hit the heights of the previous campaign’s cameo, but his absence will be felt. We do have Hayden back following similar recklessness, but it’ll be a central midfield full of graft and short on craft.
Prediction Time – sponsored by Prozac.
I believe we’ll need to score to get even a point, and that of course is the main issue. Around €100M was spent in Deutschland on Sebastien Haller and Joelinton this Summer (!), but it’s the Hammer’s French striker who looks the more likely. He currently has four goals to our Brazilian’s solitary effort. He’ll be up for this one, Wor Joe? less so…
We’ll battle and aim to be compact, but teams are getting wise to this. You really just need to press Newcastle and be patient. With little to hurt the opposition at the sharp end, gradually we’ll be pushed back and the pressure will finally tell. Whether it’s an error such as Wolves’ equaliser or a decent strike like Alonso’s at Stamford Bridge, we’ll usually succumb, eventually
I’m therefore going for 1-0 to the home side. This will then be followed closely by Mr Bruce breathily abdicating all responsibility. The Football Gods literally hate us, don’t they?
Nick Clark