The Game’s afoot…..again
Author: Emily Pulham. Published: 20 June 2020 at 10:11am
Written by : Dennis Watling
It’s the second coming of the football season. Social media and WhatsApp groups are awash with start of season sentiments, Lightning Seeds’ ode to the beautiful game Life Of Riley is being played on Absolute radio this morning and NOWTV sports subscriptions are through the roof. New seasons are usually optimistic for Hammers; even a season opener at home to City was met with optimism. Reality often his us in the face by mid-October either via an injury crisis, a run of poor results, or usually a mix of the two. Alas, West Ham fans need to face reality of a relegation battle from the get-go. But how will we fare in the new normal of football?
A relegation battle in a large empty stadium is no fun task. Observing the Bundesliga, it’s quite obvious that home advantage is null and void, with inconsistent results and many surprise away wins taking place. For example, Mainz 05, whilst not the most successful club, are renowned for their carnival atmosphere at home games. The lack of fans is reflected in their form, they had a shock 2-0 win over Frankfurt, playing them off the park, only to lose 1-0 to relegation rivals Augsburg at home a week later. However, could the lack of a normal home environment work in our favour? Regardless of the negative fan opinion of the London Stadium, the team has rarely looked confident at home in our four seasons there, and against only Norwich, Man United and Southampton this season have we taken all three points. Could we be the team to benefit from this change?
What’s more, we could be typical West Ham and survive by having three worse teams go down, much like we did under Moyes last time. Then, we survived with a much weaker squad, however, the strength in depth has only marginally improved. That being said, it is argued we were the best team to get relegated in 2003, so how the squad compares is largely irrelevant. The strength of our relegation rivals, however, is up for debate.
Norwich City: Quite frankly they need a miracle, Pukki and Cantwell are the only two names that spring to mind with quality in front of goal and Tim Krul sadly is a mistake waiting to happen. Entertaining, but doomed.
Aston Villa: They have a talented, if not inexperienced squad, and games in hand, albeit against opposition fighting for Europe. If they return with better form they could easily improve their position but looking at their squad they lack firepower; Wesley has been a huge disappointment. It will be a close call but I think we’ll see them in the Championship next season.
Bournemouth: Arguably THE underperforming side of the season. With Wilson and King they have bags of goals, but defensively they’re all over the place. Many fans have been calling for Ramsdale to be considered for England’s no.1 and he may be key to their survival. Too good to go down? Please refer to our 02/03 season. Jury is out on this one.
Watford: As ever they are heavily reliant on talismanic striker Troy Deeney, a real-life Karl Fletcher figure. But as Liverpool found out Sarr is lethal on the wing and Ben Foster still has the ability in goal to keep even the best strikers at bay. Pearson has pedigree in relegation battles which could be key to their survival. Expect them to survive.
West Ham: With Bowen on the wing and Antonio and Haller in sync, we would have backed ourselves to survive following the momentum coming out of the Southampton game. We were desperately unlucky away to Arsenal & Liverpool. But we are West Ham and we have Scotland’s answer to Mr. Bean as our manager. Anything can and will happen. If the big players step up (looking at you Anderson and Lanzini) we should comfortably keep our heads above water when compared to Norwich and Villa. It’s the rest we will be fighting with, but I back us to survive, and it could come down to the final day against Villa.
Brighton: A real wildcard in this debate. Have a very good attacking system under Graham Potter who worked wonders in Sweden, but will they have the grit to grind out results a la Sam Allardyce and Tony Pullis? Got the luckiest point I’ve seen in years against us in Jan, fortune favour the bold they say. Whilst they should have enough about them to stay up, they have a terrible run.