Ravel Morrison: Revived prodigy’s introduction to life with the under-21s suggests he could be Hodgson’s Brazilian wild-card

It was on the 16th October 2012, exactly a year ago this week, that Ravel Morrison lined up for Birmingham under-21s in the Professional Development League Two North in a match against Derby.

It was a match who Lee Clark, the manager who had dropped Morrison from his first-team due to a lax attitude and poor professionalism, set Morrison as an ultimatum, a last chance for the youngster to prove that he held a desire to make a success of his loan spell in the Midlands or to be sent back to West Ham with a poor reference and more evidence that his burning potential was on the way to waste.

Fast forward to this week and it is equally surprising and relieving to see the effervescent role he has played in England’s Under-21 European Championship qualifiers with San Marino and Lithuania.

Handed his first call-up to the squad by manager Gareth Southgate, Morrison not only delivered on the pitch, providing an imaginative, energetic performance against San Marino before scoring twice on Tuesday night against Lithuania, but he has also delighted on the training ground, scoring with an audaciously brilliant chip and showing his excellent talent as he gelled with the squad during shooting practice.

As Roy Hodgson and the seniors tried to cultivate an image of confidence and relaxation ahead of their vital World Cup qualifiers, Morrison, on the adjacent training pitch, split a defence with a superb through-ball to provide the winning goal.

The onlooking Dan Ashworth and Trevor Brooking, heads of the FA’s development team, burst into fits of laughter, he had set-up the opposite team in a moment of typical tomfoolery and had done his unique best to lighten the tension growing over both teams.

On the same night that the seniors qualified for the World Cup, Morrison was helping the under-21s, breaching the Lithuanian defence within 2 minutes before adding an exquisite second on 71 minutes. Picking up the ball just inside the visitors’ half, he breezed past two defenders before beating the ‘keeper with a step-over and slotting into the empty net. Gareth Southgate acknowledged Morrison’s excellence but chose to emphasise the contribution of the whole team.

Perhaps Southgate had become accustomed to his quality, he had witnessed first-hand his brilliance on the training pitch and had watched him score a similar goal against West Ham the previous week after all. This was nothing new to the under-21 coach and to probably everybody involved with the 20 year old’s progression, who will be merely relieved to finally see the former Manchester United starlet produce regularly on the pitch.

During his time at Carrington, Morrison was held in such high regard by United staff that they saw him as the best talent to emerge at the club since Paul Scholes. It was his bristling potential that convinced United’s academy coach Phil Brogan to sign him up as an 8 year old and then reflect so effusively over the player last week on the radio. His talent was never in doubt, though unfortunately his attitude and character was.

Despite being an integral part of their 2011 FA Youth Cup win, impressing immensely in the semi-final victory over Liverpool, he compromised his chances of a first-team breakthrough by consistently missing training sessions.

A charge of common assault, a narrow aversion of a prison sentence for witness intimidation and a £600 fine for criminal damage came off the field and with Sir Alex Ferguson and his staff growing increasingly exasperated, they decided to get rid of him, selling him to West Ham for a vastly-reduced £650,000 fee in January 2012.

“I think leaving Manchester was, in retrospect, one of the best things that could have happened to him to enable him to focus on his career. I think there were negative influences he needed to get away from” said Brogan.

It was what led Morrison to the nadir of the under-21 fixture of a year ago. “We faced problems with his behaviour off the field” said Hammers captain Kevin Nolan of Morrison’s first few months at Upton Park where he was restricted to just 9 minutes against Leeds United before being shipped out to Birmingham in the summer of 2012.

Again, after just 3 matches, he managed to exasperate his manager with poor-timekeeping and application towards his professional life, though Clark was persistent, sitting him down for a “watershed” chat about his future ahead of the reserve game with Derby.

It worked, Morrison produced a display that Clark described as “unplayable” and he was duly restored back into the first-team. He went on to make 26 appearances, producing a majestic display in a 0-4 rout of Crystal Palace as well as a scintillating performance in a draw with Millwall and he returned to West Ham finally grasping the reality of professional football.

That spell at Birmingham gave him time to reflect on what it takes to be a player on a week-in, week-out basis,” Sam Allardyce said. “The rough and tumble of the Championship taught him a lot.”

The West Ham boss bought into Morrison’s improvement by giving him the majority of the club’s pre-season programme, to which the faith was repaid with 6 goals, including one in a League Cup tie with Cheltenham Town. He was handed his first Premier League start, moved into central-midfield, in the game at Southampton then more goals followed against Everton and Cardiff, before his contribution to the 0-3 win at White Hart Lane.

“The penny has finally dropped” according to Allardyce and the coach has been vindicated for gambling a chance on the troublesome 20 year old who is now producing displays of fearless enthusiasm, wondrous imagination, fine balance and elegant technique, all complimented with a ruthless cutting edge.

Morrison’s current form has indicated he could be ready-made for Roy Hodgson’s new-look senior England team that has tossed away cautious pragmatism in favour of exuberant abandon over the last couple of games.

Montenegro and Poland were both overcome with some fluid, assertive football and the breakthrough of Andros Townsend, earning his first caps after only just breaking into the first-team squad at Spurs, has become the epitome of the youthful boldness and valour that Hodgson now seemingly wants his side to play with.

Morrison fits perfectly into that bill and has shown the intelligence to convert seamlessly into a box-to-box midfielder after learning the game as a free-running winger, it is a versatility that will prove vital to any team, as well as the match-changing ability to “do things out of the ordinary” according to Southgate, a trait that saw the coach compare him to Paul Gascoigne.

“I genuinely believe he could become good enough to play for any team in the world, including Barcelona” said Morrison’s former coach Brogan and it is clear from the testimony of anybody who has worked with the midfielder that the talent, the balance, the effortless way of gliding past opponents with a blend of arrogance and self-belief has always been there.

Now crucially, and much to the relief of Lee Clark, Sir Alex Ferguson and co., the understanding of professionalism and required sacrifice is there too.

A year ago, when a start in the second tier seemed out of touch, it is not unthinkable that should he continue his wonderful form for West Ham and his England age group, Hodgson may pluck Morrison from the under-21s and take him to the World Cup in Brazil next summer.

 

Written by Adam Gray

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West Ham: Big Sam rekindles big Premiership spirit

West Hams last campaign in the Premiership was nothing short of disastrous under Avram Grant. A squad with a strong spine, which included four England internationals, plummeted out the league with a whimper.

It was announced Sam Allardyce would oversee the Hammers 2011/2012 Championship campaign. Tipped to win the league by the bookies, the club secured promotion in the 87th minute of the Play off final, after missing out on automatic promotion. Sam Allardyce has always been tagged with the ‘long ball’ tactic and style of play. West Ham were guilty of that in the Championship, a league in which you need to go more direct at times to get out of.

As the Premiership campaign burst into life, West Ham faced a season where the objective was to simply stay up. West Ham fans didn’t care how the club did it, as long as Premiership football was secured for 2013/2014. This objective was made equally as important, after the news West Ham were awarded the Olympic Stadium, and will move in for the season 2016/2017.

Key signings helped the club try to achieve safety. Momo Diame, Matt Jarvis, Jussi Jaaskelainen and James Collins all played a big part as West Ham started strongly. The signing of Andy Carroll proved to be a pivotal coup for West Ham, linking him up with best friend Kevin Nolan. The powerful striker scored an abundance of goals and was a real asset.

As the season began to mould into shape around Christmas time, it was beginning to look as if West Ham would need a huge dip in form to drop into the bottom 3. The Hammers sat 12th, 8 clear of safety, winning 6 of their opening 18 games. However being West Ham, survival was never going to be as clear cut as it seemed.

That dip in form arrived just after Christmas. Carroll was ruled out for 2 months, while on the pitch, the side picked up 11 out of a possible 36 points. A number of clubs were grappling for their lives in what was shaping out to be one of the closest relegation battles in years, and now the East London club were watching over them nervously.

Joe Cole was a January arrival from Liverpool, just in time for West Ham to hit the ground running. A strong finish to the season saw the club secure a top half finish in their first season back in the Premiership. 10th place and 46 points was a great effort by all. Winston Reid had won the player of the year award. Big Sam had certainly got the best out the team.

The most impressive thing? The style of football. At times, they went long, but if a team had someone with the presence of Andy Carroll up front, it makes sense to give him a high ball to bring down. However, the club played some lovely football on the floor as well, having the ability to switch between two different styles.

Allardyce had made a team who were broken and defeated, into a solid and well organised unit, who were difficult to break down and top half Premiership side. All in the space of two years. The dreadful away form was disguised by the blistering home form. Four defeats all season at Upton Park had made the ground a fortress.

Sam Allardyce receives a lot of criticism, but in a close fought Premiership relegation battle, which towards the back end of the season included the entire bottom half, he deserves the plaudits for making sure that a newly promoted side weren’t to be deeply involved in the mire. While, he had the experience in the team, the key was being able to get the best out of them. The Hammers look resolute for the first time in a long time.

It’s difficult to say if Big Sam will ever get more praise than he receives, but the job he has done in two years at West Ham deserves credit, as the ‘Happy Hammers’ are smiling again.

 

Written by Tom Winch

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Special Feature: The Top 10 Best Premier League Matches Ever

Over the last 20 years, we have been privileged to see so many brilliant players and wonderful goals illuminate the Premier League, leading to a plethora of breathtaking football matches. But which of these games stand-out, leaving an ever-lasting imprint on our memories?

The following is a list of my top 10 games of the Premier League era. As with previous lists, there were a mixture of commodities to determine the rankings, such as how defining the game was in relation to the season, for one or both teams, the shock factor, the dramatic element and, of course, the goal-laden excitement.

 
10. West Ham 5-4 Bradford City: February 12, 2000

A memorable game that saw the talented, but controversial Paolo di Canio play the leading role.

The drama started after just 5 minutes, when the Hammers ‘keeper Shaka Hislop was stretchered off with a broken leg. He was replaced by third choice custodian, Stephen Bywater, who was making his Premier League debut. He went on to have a nightmare afternoon.

Bradford arrived at Upton Park deep in the relegation mire, but their attacking efforts were rewarded after 30 minutes, when Dean Windass headed home from a Peter Beagrie corner, with the young Bywater left rooted to the spot. Trevor Sinclair and John Moncur quickly reversed the scoreline, before the somersaulting Beagrie levelled it up for the Bantams on the stroke of half-time.

In a dramatic second half, the error-strewn Bywater gifted Jamie Lawrence two goals to give Bradford a 4-2 lead, but it was then that Di Canio stole the show. He was denied three penalties (and to be fair to him, he would have won all 3 on any other day) in the space of just a few minutes. After the third had been turned down, the Italian made his way over to the dugout in a petulant demand to be substituted by manager Harry Redknapp.

A few minutes later, West Ham were finally awarded a spot-kick, after a foul on sub Paul Kitson. Di Canio, who had now returned to the action, then engaged in a comical tussling match with a young Frank Lampard, who had the ball ready to take the penalty. After a minute or so of jostling, the reluctant Lampard stepped aside and Di Canio converted from the spot.

The promising Joe Cole made it 4-4 on 70 with his first ever Premier League goal, and Di Canio made amends to Lampard in the final minute by setting him up for the winning goal to cap an eventful day’s play!

Despite the defeat, Bradford went on to survive relegation (for one more season at least!) following their last day win over Liverpool.

 
9. Manchester United 1-6 Manchester City: October 23, 2011

City’s title-winning credentials were emphatically displayed as arch-rivals United were crushed in their own back-yard. And, like the previous game on this list, the mood was set by an enigmatic Italian.

City had started the campaign with a more attack minded mindset, and took the game to United. Mario Balotelli started the fireworks (not literally, thankfully, this time!) by opening the scoring on 22 minutes, before famously revealing his ‘Why Always Me?’ t-shirt.

Jonny Evans was sent off just after half-time for bringing down Balotelli 20 yards from goal, and City took advantage. Super Mario and Sergio Aguero both netted from close range following fine work from the brilliant David Silva, and although Darren Fletcher pulled a goal back for United, sub Edin Dzeko added a 4th, before City notched twice on the break in stoppage time; Silva and Dzeko completing the rout.

It was a significant statement of intent from City, who duly went on to win the title. The defeat was United’s joint worst in Premier League history.

 
8. Tottenham 3-5 Manchester United: September 29, 2001

In one of the best comebacks in Prem history, United stunned Tottenham with 5 second-half goals on a scintillating afternoon at White Hart Lane.

Spurs started strongly, and the late Dean Richards marked his debut in fine style with an early goal, before Les Ferdinand made it 2 with a clinical finish, following a fine through ball from Gus Poyet. Just before half-time, Christian Ziege headed home from close range, after being left unmarked at the far post by everybody’s favourite Sky Sports pundit, Gary Neville.

United were transformed in the second half, though. Andy Cole reduced the arrears with a header, before Laurent Blanc met a beauty of a David Beckham corner to score his first United goal. The visitors were rampant, and it was no surprise when goal machine Ruud van Nistlerooy made it 3-3, again with a header.

Spurs were stunned, even more so when United completed the turnaround; Juan Sebastian Veron, with probably his finest moment for the club, smashing home from inside the box following good link-up play with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The icing on the cake came with 3 minutes left, as Beckham made it 5 with a stunning strike from 25 yards.

 
7. Liverpool 4-4 Arsenal: 21 April, 2009

Fernando Torres (when he was good) was the catalyst for the home side, netting twice in a game that see-sawed like none other seen in the Premier League.

Andrei Arshavin, who also used to be quite good, outshone him with a 4 goal blast that was still somehow not enough to seal the 3 points for Arsenal. It was the Russian who put the Gunners ahead on 36 minutes, side-footing home a cut-back from Cesc Fabregas, though Torres levelled matters with a fine header just after half-time.

Yossi Benayoun scrambled Liverpool into the lead on 56 minutes, though Arshavin feasted on their defensive ineptitude with a quick-fire double (67,70). With one of his best ever Prem goals, Torres made it 3-3, superbly controlling a cross before twisting to hit a 25 yard strike past Lukasz Fabianksi, but Arsenal retook the lead in stoppage time, Arshavin combining with Theo Walcott on the counter attack to score his 4th.

That still wasn’t the end of the drama, though, as Benayoun hit goal number 8 of an eventful night just seconds later.

The draw did put Liverpool momentarily back on top of the table, but any realistic ambitions of winning the title had gone.

 
6. Man City 2-3 Fulham: 26 April, 2008

Fulham were mathematically relegated at half-time of this fixture, but a superb second-half comeback was the catalyst for a remarkable great escape.

City were yet to establish themselves as a force at the top of the table, but still had a bunch of talented players. Stephen Ireland opened the scoring with a fine 25-yard curler, and Benjani (remember him?), doubled their lead following a sumptuous through ball from Elano on 21 minutes.

Half-time scores elsewhere were not looking good, and with a woeful away record, the Cottagers looked doomed. But they continued to attack, and were rewarded when Diomansy Kamara scored from close range, past a fresh-faced Joe Hart on 70 minutes. Fulham were then awarded a penalty nine minutes later, following a shove on sub Erik Nevland, and Danny Murphy stepped up to score at the second attempt after Hart had saved his initial effort.

After Fulham ‘keeper Kasey Keller had miraculously denied Martin Petrov, the visitors came forward looking for a winner. In dramatic fashion, it arrived in the last minute, Murphy playing the perfect through ball to Kamara, whose rifled finish sent the away fans into delirium.

The win gave fresh belief to Fulham, who survived the drop with a last day win at Portsmouth. It was a fine achievement by Roy Hodgson’s men, who built on their escape to qualify for Europe the following season.

 
5. Wigan Athletic 3-2 West Ham: May 15, 2011

Wigan came from 2 goals down to relegate West Ham in this crucial relegation dogfight at the DW Stadium.

Going into the game, the Hammers’ survival prospects looked slim, but not insurmountable. Failure to win would be fatal, but Wigan themselves needed the points to keep their hopes of staying in the division alive.

It was the visitors who made the better start, Demba Ba glancing home a free-kick on 12 minutes. He doubled the lead on 26, notching on the goal-line after Thomas Hitzlberger’s free-kick has been headed towards goal by James Tomkins.

With Birmingham losing, West Ham fans began to believe, but their hopes were dashed after a second half-collapse. Charles N-Zogbia halved the deficit for Wigan with a wonderfully pinpoint free-kick, before substitute Conor Salmon equalized on 68 minutes.

With a point no good for either side, the finale was end-to-end, and it was Wigan who nicked the crucial 5th goal on 94 minutes, N-Zogbia cutting inside onto his left foot before firing underneath the body of Robert Green, to the delight of Roberto Martinez and the Wigan fans.

Wigan went on to secure survival on a dramatic final day with a win at Stoke. West Ham, at least, bounced straight back by winning the Championship play-off final the following season.

 
4. Arsenal 4-4 Tottenham: October 29, 2008

Two stoppage time goals gave Harry Redknapp’s Spurs a share of the spoils in this thrilling North London derby at the Emirates Stadium.

It was Redknapp’s first game in charge since leaving Portsmouth, and his new charges were off to a great start when David Bentley opened the scoring with a sensational 40 yard volley. Arsenal were level on 37 minutes, though; Mikael Silvestre heading home a Robin Van Persie corner, with the erratic Heurelho Gomes caught in no man’s land.

Arsenal took the lead a minute after half-time through skipper William Gallas, and Emmanuel Adebayor poked home on 64 minutes to increase the lead. Darren Bent capitalized on a Manuel Almunia error to make it 3-2, but the two goal margin was quickly restored through Van Persie.

The real drama came in stoppage time. With the Spurs fans flocking to the exits, Jermaine Jenas scored what looked so likely to be just a consolation with a fine left footed strike. But, unbelievably, just seconds later, a looping 30 yard volley from Luka Modric cannoned off the post, and Aaron Lennon was first to the rebound to send the home crowd into stunned silence.

 
3. Newcastle United 4-4 Arsenal: February 5, 2011

Newcastle became the first side in Premier League history to come back from a 4-0 deficit with a sensational second-half comeback against Arsenal.

The Toon were blitzed in the opening 10 minutes, with goals from Theo Walcott, Johan Djourou and Robin Van Persie, and the Dutchman netted his second on 26 minutes to put the Gunners in total control.

But the balance of play changed in an astonishing second period. Abou Diaby was sent off on 48 minutes, following a clash with the lovable Joey Barton, and it was he who scored from the penalty spot to give Newcastle a consolation on 68 minutes. After seeing a close-range strike wrongly ruled out for offside, Leon Best finally got on the score-sheet on 75.

The unthinkable became possible when Barton converted his second penalty, following a questionable Laurent Koscielny foul on Mike Williamson, with 7 minutes remaining to make it 4-3, and the unthinkable fight-back was complete with a stunning first time volley from 25 yards by Cheick Tiote with just 3 minutes remaining.

 
2. Manchester City 3-2 QPR: 13 May, 2012

“An amazing, amazing day, the like of which we’ve never seen!” – so said an understandably excited BBC commentator on the most dramatic afternoon of football in Premier League history.

Both Man City and QPR went into the game at the Etihad with something to play for. QPR needed a draw to cement their place in the Premier League, whilst City needed the three points to cap a remarkable turnaround in fortunes to win the title.

In a game of such magnitude, despite it looking, on paper, to be a home banker, no City fan was expecting it to be easy. But surely no-one could have predicted the eventual conclusion would play out as it did!

There was little goal-mouth action to speak of, until ‘keeper Paddy Kenny spilled a Pablo Zabaleta strike into his net 5 minutes before half-time.

To QPR’s credit, they started the second half well, and Djibril Cisse equalized following an error from Joleon Lescott. Despite going down to 10 men, when Joey Barton was sent off for a kick at Sergio Aguero, QPR moved into a shock lead on 66 through Jamie Mackie.

City continued to attack, but Kenny was equal to everything. It seemed destined that the title was going to elude them, as Man United were winning at Sunderland, but a headed goal from sub Edin Dzeko and a calm finish from Aguero, both in stoppage time, won the title and sparked mass hysteria on a truly unforgettable day!

 
1. Liverpool 4-3 Newcastle United: 3 April, 1996

This surely has to be the greatest game in Premier League history. Matches the City-QPR game for drama, and the quality of the two sides was of the highest standard.

Both teams went into the game with title aspirations. Newcastle had slipped from the summit after holding a large advantage for the majority of the season, but still had games in hand over Manchester United. Liverpool, meanwhile, were outsiders for the trophy but would increase the pressure on the top two with victory.

Liverpool struck first. Stan Collymore received the ball on the left wing, before crossing superbly for Robbie Fowler to head home at the far post for goal number 27 of his extraordinary season.

The lead was short lived, however, as Les Ferdinand equalized on 10 minutes. Faustino Asprilla waltzed into the box and squared the ball to Ferdinand, whose shot on the turn had enough power to beat David James in the Liverpool goal.

The visitors expertly hit Liverpool on the counter attack for their second goal just 4 minutes later. Upon receiving the ball in the middle of the park, Ferdinand sent David Ginola away with a superbly clipped through ball, and the Frenchman outpaced Jason McAteer to clinically convert past James, to the delight of Kevin Keegan in the opposing dugout.

Three goals came in quick succession in the second half. Liverpool equalized through a Fowler rocket after a cross from Steve McManaman, but Newcastle were soon back in front, Asprilla netting with a beautiful chip after James decided to rush 30 yards from goal. Liverpool were undeterred, and Collymore levelled an absorbing contest at 3-3, netting from close quarters following a teasing ball from McAteer.

Both teams chased a winner, and it was Liverpool who got it in the final minute. After a period of interplay between John Barnes and Ian Rush, the ball was laid off to Collymore, who smacked it past Pavel Srnicek to send the Kop into ecstasy, and leave Keegan slumped in despair.

The defeat had huge ramifications at the top of the table. Newcastle’s form suffered and Man United went on to reclaim the Premier League title.
Games that just missed out

There was a long list of games to choose from, meaning that some classic encounters have missed the cut. Man United’s dramatic 4-3 win over rivals City, their goal-filled 8-2 thrashing of Arsenal and their last gasp 4-3 win over Everton in 2004 were close omissions. Staying with United, their back-to-back defeats against Newcastle and Southampton in 1996 were considered, whilst Arsenal’s 9 goal North London thriller with Spurs, their 3-3 draw with Leicester and the Kanu-inspired 3-2 win over Chelsea were not far away.

Other close calls included Wolves’ dramatic comeback against Leicester in 2003, the 11 goal bonanza between Portsmouth and Reading, Spurs’ 4-3 win at West Ham in 2007 and the 4-4 between Norwich and Middlesbrough in 2005.

 

Written by Nick Wolf

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Manchester United vs West Ham: Match Preview

Manchester United fans have RVP to thank for sparing the club from yet another disastrous F.A Cup campaign when he popped up in the last minute of normal time to secure a REPLAY and another chance to qualify fro the 4th Round.

The Red Devils, fresh from adding another three points to their EPL total at the weekend v arch rivals, Liverpool, will want to take revenge on West Ham for knocking them out of the World’s Oldest Cup Competition in 2001 thanks to a Paolo Di Canio goal. Sir Alex Ferguson will have a relatively full squad to pick from for tonight’s crucial encounter. An essential decision because it’s been 9 years since MUFC last won the F.A Cup and the hunger to be victorious again is the added motivation this term.

They are the favorites with Betfair willing to pay out 1.31, while MyBet are offering a close 1.30 for a United win. For more great betting odds, see https://sports.bwin.com/en/sports/4/betting/football.

The likes of Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand who have never won the F.A CUP-(Ashley Cole of CFC has won 7) will be fired up for this particular game. The former who is coming back from a short injury layoff will see this game as a chance to get back into reckoning for future games and regain form/fitness. Sir Alex will shuffle the pack as he has one eye on the very important meeting with Spurs at WHL on Sunday.

West Ham, on the other hand, will hope James Collins recovers from injury and rekindles the form that saw him power two unstoppable headers past David De Gea in the Manchester United goal. They were in fact on the verge of scoring an important rare victory over their more illustrious opponents until Giggs-RVP came to the rescue for Sir Alex’s charges.

Big Sam will even be more encouraged by the return of Momo Diame who has been the Hammers’ best player this season. He had a fine game in the League fixture earlier this season and will carry the hopes of Est London in a few hours. The return of Joe Cole will further bolster the attacking verve of the East London outfit. His 2 assists were the reason why West Ham led until the last minute 10 days ago. Marouane Chamakh, Wellington Paulista et al will also be raring to go tonight at the Theatre. If Collins loses his fitness battle, then New Zealand’s Winston Reid will play in his stead. If you’re going for a West Ham win, then Pinnacle are your best bet, who are willing to pay out 11.57. The odds are against the Hammers however, as bwin‘s 35/4 odds displays.

According to Sky Sports, Manchester United will most likely be without Captain Nemanja Vidic, Ashley Young and Jonny Evans who have minor injuries and have to be monitored closely. But the return of Nani, Anderson and Wazza might prove to be an added incentive for the red army. It is the centre of defence that might be of concern to SAF.

The goal concession rate has been a source of worry and it may continue tonight as Evans and Vidic, all towering CBs are out. Smalling must play out of his mind today to ensure MUFC book a date with Fulham in the 4th Round.

 

Probable Starting 11

MANCHESTER UNITED: DDG, Jones, Smalling, Rio, Buttner, Anderson, Carrick, Valencia/Kagawa, Nani, Rooney, Chicharito.

WEST HAM: Jussi, Demel, Collins, Tomkins, Potts, Diame/Diarra, Noble, Collison, J.Cole, Nolan, C.Cole

 

Written by Ohireime Eboreime

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West Ham: Noble Deserves England Call-Up

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West Ham United fans will certainly echo Mark Noble’s suggestion of wanting to play for England after the midfielder revealed he hopes to be called up to the first-team squad very soon.

Noble, 25, told BBC Sport that he was happy with how this season has gone at Upton Park and that he may soon expect an phone call from Roy Hodgson.

“I’ve just got to keep playing as well as I can for West Ham, and hopefully that will happen,” he said. “I’m probably playing the best football of my career.

“I’ve got ambitions and goals and to be involved in something like [the World Cup) would be fantastic, but I’ve got to prove myself first.”

Noble is currently part of a select few that will be hoping Hodgson takes note of their performances before the next England international friendly against Brazil in February.

Noble has been central to West Ham’s climb up the Premier League this season and, despite scoring just two goals in 11 games, the 20 goalscoring chances he has created puts him up there with the best in the league.

Under Sam Allardyce, Noble has been transformed into a box-to-box player yet his main asset is still his delivery – boasting an 83.87% pass accuracy record, according to the Betfair football tips page.

With his ability to assist the strikers a key part to his game, Hodgson may well feel Noble is a secure replacement of captain, Steven Gerrard, when the Liverpool star finally retires a couple of seasons down the line.

Gerrard is England’s main provider, having set up three of England’s goals at Euro 2012 and recently Steven Caulker’s finish in Sweden.

Granted, West Ham fans will admit Noble is not yet the standard of Gerrard but given some international minutes there is every chance this former U-21 captain can make a huge impact in the first-team squad.

 

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English Premier League: How have the promoted teams fared so far?

Premier League trophy

When Southampton, Reading and West Ham respectively got promoted to the premier league all three clubs knew that they would have a battle on their hands if they wanted to stay in the “big time”.

Speculation surrounded all three clubs, would they be like the Derby of 2007/2008, who endured an absolutely torrid season or would they, be more like the Swansea of last season and impress those who doubted them.

Now with seven games into the season, (or in Reading’s case six) it is now time to judge how well each promoted team has started.

 

Southampton


Although they currently sit fourth from bottom, elements of Southampton’s game have impressed many people in the footballing world.

They’ve gone on the offensive in virtually every single game so far, with players such as Jason Puncheon, Ricky Lambert and Jay Rodriquez all performing impressively. However, their defence has let them down, having conceded twenty goals already this season.

Southampton have already played both of last season’s top two, Manchester City and Manchester United, losing 3-2 against both sides, both due to late goals after the Saints led.

In many ways, these matches have summarised Southampton’s start, plenty of attacking intent and prowess, but defensively, far too weak.

Their matches have proved to be entertaining, but with such a leaky defence, Southampton’s first Premier League campaign in seven years, could be very brief indeed.

 

Reading

Brian McDermott’s side are currently one of only three sides who are currently winless in this season’s Premier League campaign so far. However, three draws against Stoke, Newcastle and most recently Swansea have given the Royals some hope. Before the season, many pundits believed that one thing Reading needed to do if they wanted to stay up was to make the Madjeski stadium a fortress.

So far, although they are yet to win a game, only Tottenham Hotspur have won at the Madjeski, while Reading themselves have managed to score a respectable four in three games there, and eight in their six Premier League matches, including two away at Chelsea, in an eventual 4-2 defeat.

With Pavel Pogrebnyak already having four goals to his name so far this season, it shouldn’t be too long before Reading break their winless streak, and when they do they could very well do more than simply stay up.

 

West Ham


Out of all three of the promoted sides, the Hammers are arguably best equipped to deal with the top flight due to the wealth of Premier League experience in the squad. Now having played seven games, the East London side have looked generally good upon their return to the league they were relegated from just two seasons ago.

The loan signing of Andy Carroll from Liverpool has looked to be a good choice, with Carroll impressing on his debut against Fulham, rekindling his relationship from his Newcastle days with Kevin Nolan.

Although they have showed signs of defensive frailties, particularly in their 3-0 loss away at Swansea where James Collins and James Tomkins were run ragged by the Swansea attack, the Hammers’ fans will generally be pleased with their side’s performances and results this season.

Now with Andy Carroll back fully fit, and Mohammed Diame, Kevin Nolan and Mark Noble all looking industrious in central midfield, I see no reason why West Ham can’t finish well clear above the relegation zone this season.

 

Written by Joshua Sodergren

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West Ham vs Arsenal: Match Report

West Ham vs Arsenal

The last time West Ham scored against Arsenal was from the spot kick from controversial Italian maestro Alessandro Diamanti.

A London derby is always one to savour, Arsenal vs West Ham two clubs with contrasting football styles makes it even more sumptuous. Arsene Wenger with strong belief in attacking football with quick play from left to right, while Sam Allardyce with the proper long ball tactics with one giant centre forward winning the knock downs for the midfielders.

Arsenal were quickest out of the box, with their usual tip tap football, stretching the home with short swift an accurate passes. The home team just contented with soaking up the pressure, with Andy Carroll causing all sorts of havoc to the defensive pair of Mertesacker and Vermaelen .

The game took a twist when former Wigan midfield enforcer DIAME brought something out of his bags of tricks with a moment of genius to put the Hammers in front. The Senegalese ghosted past Aaron Ramsey before unleashing an unstoppable shot past Mannone sending the home fans to 7th heaven.

This sent Arsenal back to the front foot with Oliver Giroud coming close on a couple of occasions. Arsenal three man midfield of CAZORLA-ARTETA-RAMSEY were finding it hard to break up the Hammers defence ,but when DIAME miscontrolled the ball in the part of Arteta, it was 1-1. Arteta and Giroud robbed Diame off the ball, the Frenchman sent a long pass to Podolski who simply returned the favour and with a striker instinct the misfiring striker toe-poked before Jussi could get his hands on it, a good time to get an equaliser.

The second half was much of the same, Arsenal did the tip tap, West Ham did all the defending . Santi Cazorla was trying to impose himself into the game while Arteta was at his usual self. West Ham kept hoofing the ball to Andy Carroll. Arsene Wenger looking for his 350th win in the Premier League threw in contract rebel Theo Walcott for the ineffective Gervinho.

Arsenal had a big penalty appeal turned down by Phil Dowd,when Ramsey was chopped from behind, all appeals turned to Dowd’s deaf ear. Nolan broke through so clearly offside the linesman must need a new contact lens to see that was off. He tried to cut back Mertesacker but the German stood his ground and saved Arsenal from falling behind.

Another goal-mouth scramble by West Ham paved way for an Arsenal counter. The impressive Giroud sent Walcott clear with a surgical pass, the English clamouring to be played in the centre forward sent another message to the Arsenal bench with a delicious finish.

West Ham had the opportunity to level matters immediately but the Arsenal defence were on-guard, Mertesacker and Jerkinson doing more than enough to hold the Hammers. Still trying to clear the smoke from Theo Walcott’s goal celebration, Arsenal broke again.

Walcott to Cazorla , the Spanish blessed with a cannon of shot in both feet sent Jussi Jasskelainen stranded with another peach of a goal, from then on it was game over. Arsenal kept monopolising possession with no real urgency to find the fourth goal. They had to thank Mannone for putting up a fine save from Matt Taylor’s swerving shot. Not even the arrival of Carlton Cole gave the attack any bite.

The yellow jersey we wore has always been bad luck, the only victory it produced was away to Twente in the Champions League qualifier.

When Diame scored for West Ham I feared it was Dejavu. It’s three points from Upton Park, a ground that hardly share points.

On a final note, it was good to see Le Boss switching formation during the match, brought on Koscielny for Poldolski , Jenkinson and Santos as wing back, Vermaelen and Koscielny as centre backs and Mertesacker as a sweeper just in front of Mannone.

 

Written by @Gingerstiff

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Scout Report: Robbie Hall (West Ham)

Robert Hall while on loan at Oxford United.

“Robbie Hall, Robbie Hall, Robbie Robbie Hall!” sang the Oxford faithful.

It was a cool Autumn evening in 2011 and Plymouth were the opponents. He’d just scored his second goal to make it 2-1 and his fifth in six games.

The cross came in from Damian Batt and Hall’s quick movement of his feet allowed the West Ham loanee to guide the ball with his left past the despairing Jake Cole in the Plymouth goal.

Oxford went on to win 5-1, but Robbie Hall was very much the man of the moment, and the man of the match.

Hall has also represent England at U16, U17, U18 and U19 levels. He was a member of the England side that won the 2010 UEFA European Under-17 Football Championship in Liechtenstein and has an excellent goalscoring record at that level with eight goals in sixteen appearances.

So it was no surprise that in Spetember 2012, the 18 year old made his Premier League debut. He came on as a sub for Guy Demel in the 78′ minute in the 3-0 hammering of Fulham.

Hall has been likened to a young, left footed, Jermain Defoe. Now, we all know that no player has ever become the exact same player as one they have been compared to, but Robbie does have the same attributes as Defoe did at his time at Bournemouth.

He’s a fox in the box, who’s nippy and is in possession of a powerful, yet accurate, shot.

The only real weakness of Hall’s game is his lack of strength and he tired massively at the end of games during his spell at Oxford United. Strength will come with age, and he will certainly be hitting the weights over the next few years.

Can Robbie Hall reach the heights of Jermain? Only time will tell. But the future is certainly bright for young Robbie.

He’s a Premier League player in the making.

 

Written by Youcef El Barhdadi

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Transfer Deadline Day: One of the Greatest Sport Shows on Earth

Clint Dempsey posing with the Tottenham jersey

The greatest shows in World Sport: The 100m Olympic Final; a World Cup Final and even a Rugby World Cup Final. Add the Premier League transfer deadline day to the list.

Panic buying, the rapid adjustment of plans or simply pre-planned deals that owners felt were better to complete just hours before the deadline – maybe for the sake of Sky Sports.

Whatever the reason for intakes and outgoings on the final day of this summer’s transfer market, it meant for a fascinating show which gripped the majority of the football nation.

Maybe not quite on the scale as an Olympic final, but it can’t be long before Jim White and co. are on a stage in Wembley giving viewers the last-minute deals in front of a packed stadium. The FA would probably be up for entertaining this, any chance is a good chance when it comes to ticket revenue.

Whether it was revamping an entire squad or adding the final players which could tip a teams season either way, clubs around Europe were frantically rushing to get deals done before the infamous 11pm, or 12am or 1am deadline.

Unless of course you are Alex Ferguson, who doesn’t get involved in the last-minute-mayhem, he could probably be seen yesterday afternoon on the 19th hole of a Carrington golf course. 110m was spent by Premier League Clubs yesterday, bringing the summer figure to 490m. That is just short on 2008’s record amount but then again the country is in recession.

Below is PitchSideTalk’s take on the last day of the transfer market. The highs, the lows and future predictions on the deals that were done.

 

Queens Park Rangers: A few more signings on the last day ended a summer in which QPR added eleven players to their reformed squad, and all for just £18m.

Despite the London club showing intent in the market all summer, their most influential day may have come on the last, with the biggest shock being the signing of Esteban Grenero from Real Madrid.

The Spanish International, 25, was part of Jose Mouriniho’s La Liga title-winning team last season and could have had a host of English Clubs interested in him.

With the additions they’ve made, Hughes will struggle to find an excuse if they fail this season – every team takes time to gel but they should be solid long term, a team destined to be a big club in London.

Total Spent: 18m, Players In: 11.

 

Tottenham Hotspur tend to take centre stage in the Transfer Deadline show, so much so that in previous years they have ignored the deadline and just made up their own rules.

However, with Harry Redknapp not operating at Chigwell anymore, many expected a quieter end to the summer. That was to be proved wrong and Levy Time once again prevailed.

Two huge signings for Spurs: The first, Hugo Lloris, France’s first choice goalkeeper and priced at £8m an absolute bargain. The second, the signing of Clint Dempsey, was maybe the biggest shock of the day.

The American playmaker was destined for Anfield before briefly heading to Villa Park and then finally it was announced Tottenham had hijacked any other offer. Spurs have spent big this summer and will feel Champions League is a must achievement for Andre Villas-Boas this season.

The Portuguese manager now has the attacking options that only Chelsea and the two Manchester Clubs can beat. No pressure then.

Total Spent: £57.5m, Players In: 6.

 

Done Deal: Berbatov completing his late move to Fulham.

 

Best Deal: Dimitar Berbatov’s £4-million move to Fulham could well prove the deal of the year. No one would describe his time at Manchester United as consistent but the forward still notched 48 goals in just 108 appearances, many of which coming from the bench.

He will add class to a much depleted Fulham side after losing Clint Dempsey and Moussa Dembelle.

 

Losers: Whether Arsene Wenger was simply adopting Alex Ferguson’s policy or he was in fact begging those above him for money they weren’t prepared to spend, there was little activity around the Emirates on the last day and an insufficient amount over the entire summer.

Losing Robin van Persie seems destined to be the basis of debate over the next few months and only time will tell whether intakes Corzola, Podolski and Giroud can fill the void he left.

 

Thoughts/Comments Welcome.

 

Written by Alfie Long

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