Saturday, May 30

Boering Boering West Ham?

Latest managerial rumour is that West Ham have made a second approach for Ajax's Frank de Boer. Quite like the idea of a straight-talking Dutch manager in the mould of Luis Van Gaal at Man United or Ronald Koeman at Southampton. Though perhaps we should steer clear of Marco Boogers…

Meanwhile we've also signed a reserve keeper in Republic of Ireland international Darren Randolph from Birmingham. Sounds an interesting character, his dad was a US basketball player, and he's just had a good season for the Brummies, playing 45 times. Darren is also an Irish basketball international himself, which could come in handy should we ever need a slam-dunk in the last minute.

Wednesday, May 27

West Ham gaffer: the candidates

Still no hard news on who will be in the Upton Park hot seat. Some of the names mentioned were always wildly over ambitious, and it's hard to believe there was ever much chance of Rafa Benitez, Jurgen Klopp or Carlo Ancelotti coming.

The early favourite is Slaven Bilic, who I'm not so sure about. He was a great player and would be a crowd-pleasing choice — and the first West Ham manager to speak four languages and play in his own rock band. Bilic was a good manager of Croatia too, although international management doesn't involve buying and selling players. As a club manager he's not been so great, getting sacked at Lokomotiv Moscow for finishing ninth and coming third in the league at Besiktas, though clearly a strong character capable of improvement.

Steve McLaren wouldn't be that popular, but has won the League Cup and got to the Europa League final with Middlesbrough. After the England job he led FC Twente to the Dutch title, a big achievement, but was less successful at Wolfsburg, resigned at Forest and got Derby to the play-offs only to blow it. But an upgrade on Big Sam's CV and he has also worked at Man United with Alex Ferguson.

The Marseille manager Marcelo Bielsa, has also been mentioned. He comes from Argentina and would be an interesting choice, but would have to learn English and adapt quickly to the Premier League. Another name was Roberto Di Matteo, who has resigned from Schalke, who has won the Champions League at Chelsea, but then Avram Grant nearly did that too. There's also Dick Emery, sorry, I mean Unai Emery, the Sevilla coach, linked with WHU by the Daily Mail and Michael Laudrup, who won the League Cup at Swansea but was sacked after losing at West Ham the following season.

With European football coming in July West Ham need to make an appointment soon, as we don't want whoever gets it to feel like they were third or fourth choice. The board have been considering candidates for several months it seems, so let's get it done quickly. Though maybe we should rule out John Carver…

Tuesday, May 26

We're all going on a European tour!

West Ham are in Europe and all without an in-out referendum. It's been confirmed that WHU have qualified for the Europa League via the Premier League Fair Play Table. It's a bizarre way to get in, particularly as an Allardyce team should have been much nastier and picked up more yellows and red cards. Proof the players didn't compete enough after Christmas, but still, we'll take it. First game is set to be played on, gulp, July 2. Just when we thought it was safe to relax for the summer. Like a lot of fans, my holidays are already booked so not sure how many games I'll be around for. Will we even have a new gaffer by then? But it beats the usual slog of pre-season friendlies at Stevenage, though we need to add to the squad quickly.

Sunday, May 24

West Ham and Big Sam fail to survive Survival Sunday

Newcastle 2 West Ham 0

I catch most of the Survival Sunday game in the Famous Cock Tavern and it’s a predictable end to the season. West Ham are Newcastle’s ideal opponents. Downing has a shot against the keeper’s legs in the first half and Newcastle have a couple of chances scuffed wide. In the second half, Newcastle want to win it a lot more. 

Our performance is typified when Cresswell appears favourite to win the ball but is outpaced and outmuscled by Janmaat, who nearly creates a goal. Alex Song is often brushed off the ball, and also seems to sum up WHU’s season, brilliant before Christmas but either injured or not putting a shift in once he decided he’s not going to sign for us.

Once Sissoko shows the desire to get between two defenders to score it’s all over. Cole heads way over and Nolan has a snap shot wide and that’s it from the Irons. Newcastle manage to break with four players free, only for Adrian to somehow prevent a goal with a great one handed stop. Newcastle guarantee safety when Gutierrez cuts in from the left to score with a deflected shot.

It’s been an awful end of season and the players certainly deserve stick for being unprofessional and not motivating themselves once safety was assured. Ironically, the side has stopped doing what an Allardyce side was meant to do; be dangerous at set pieces, get crosses in, work hard and know how to close out a game.

Soon after the final whistle the club announce the worst kept secret in football, that Sam Allardyce’s contract will not be renewed. Have the players realised he’s been going since Christmas? Would they have been more motivated had Allardyce been given a new contract at Christmas when the club was fourth? Who knows? Big Sam himself looks relieved and at the age of 60 says he plans to take a break from football. Or is this just his spin on being sacked? Certainly his body language has looked tired in the last two months.

It was always an uneasy marriage and Big Sam was often disastrous at PR with the fans. Saying he didn’t know what the West Ham way was when he first joined was a huge mistake and dismissing criticisms as coming from “deluded” fans talking “bollocks” made things worse and added to a public image of arrogance, as did the infamous ear-cupping to the fans after the Hull victory. There were little things too, like referring to “the West Ham fans” rather than “our fans”. And bigger issues like the fact that he kept Kevin Nolan in the side long after his form had declined.

On the other hand, disliking a manager is not necessarily a reason for getting rid of him. Nigel Pearson can be weird and unpleasant to journalists but has done a fantastic job at Leicester, while Sir Alex Ferguson had, at times, a distinctly nasty side to his character.

For his results, Big Sam deserves some credit and respect. It’s often underestimated how difficult it is getting out of the Championship. Only two out the last 12 clubs relegated have managed to come straight back up. Allardyce was left only Noble, Tomkins, Reid (who looked poor under Avram Grant) and Cole from the relegated side to build a team around. Had the team not gone up we might have ended up in the lower regions of the Championship like Bolton or relegated again like Wigan. Yet we saw West Ham win a final at Wembley for the first time in 32 years, so I’d like to thank Big Sam for that great day.

The football was never purely long-ball, otherwise the likes of Noble wouldn’t have been in the side. The side often played with two wingers, which was in principle exciting, though the likes of Matt Jarvis rarely found his man. At times it was rudimentary though, with the main game plan being the hope that Andy Carroll can win the ball and Kevin Nolan pick up the pieces. Yet there was a big improvement in the first half of this season, with some good signings, two strikers up front, and Downing a revelation in the midfield diamond. And perhaps the point was, we had to establish the team in the Premier League by any means necessary and now we’ve been there for three seasons.

Had say, Slaven Bilic, managed to get West Ham promoted, then finish tenth, thirteenth and twelfth, most fans would be saying he was a very good manager. It’s been a terrible end to the season, for which Allardyce must share the blame, but he has certainly left the club in much better shape than he arrived; in the Premier League, with a decent first eleven and Noble, Tomkins and Reid signed up to new contracts.

Yet what Sullivan and Gold will have also noticed this season was that whatever Allardyce does, some fans will never accept him. Some of the same fans who blamed Allardyce entirely for the club being in a relegation struggle and losing 6-0 at Manchester City in early 2014, then argued that the club’s rise to fourth was down to the influence of Teddy Sheringham and Big Sam getting lucky with injuries to Carroll and Nolan. If the manager takes the blame he should surely get the credit when things go well.


What the club now needs is a unity candidate. Someone who has looked up the West Ham Way on Google and will have all the fans behind them. Next season could be very difficult if West Ham are in the Europa League and it affects league form. We have to disprove the statistic that Allardyce teams go down after he leaves (like Bolton, Newcastle and Blackburn) and ensure we go into the Olympic Stadium as a Premier League team. 

Realistically, even if we play to our maximum potential, we will not finish above seventh without throwing massive sums of cash at the team. But with that stadium and the potential of the fanbase it’s also an enticing club for an ambitious manager. Sullivan and Gold once recruited Avram Grant; let’s hope they make a much better choice this time.

Fans' Verdict in the Observer

My Fans Verdict on West Ham is in the Observer today… click on the link to read my verdict on a pretty bizarre season. And now Hull City's whole season is depending on West Ham — which should give Steve Bruce a few more worry lines.

Thursday, May 21

Sam Allardyce's transfer record analysed

It's very easy to waste money in football. Liverpool's infamous transfer committee might have purchased Sturridge and Coutinho, but last summer wasted £100 million on Balotelli, Lovren, Lambert, Markovic, Manquillo, Lallana (who might come good) and co. Manchester City have also made lots of mediocre buys such as Mangala, Jovetic, Sinclair, Rodwell and Johnson while Man United are still trying to solve a problem like Di Maria. 

The manager of a club like West Ham has to be able to play the transfer market well to get an advantage over the top clubs. So it's interesting to see how Sam Allardyce's transfer record stacks up during his four seasons. Ignoring loan signings — and Jenkinson and Song certainly made a difference this season —  I've come up with the following, completely unscientific analysis: 

GOOD SIGNINGS: Nolan (first three seasons only), Taylor, McCartney, O’Brien, Demel, Vaz Te, Jaaskelainen, Diame, Collins, Adrian, Downing, Carlton Cole, Kouyate, Amalfitano (probably), Cresswell, Sakho. JURY OUT ON: Valencia, Poyet, Henry.

BAD SIGNINGS: Carew, Baldock, Maynard, Morrison, Maiga, Diarra, Jarvis, Carroll (on fitness record not form), Joe Cole, Rat, Zarate.

So it's 16 good signings, 11 bad and three inconclusive. You can't blame any manager for taking a chance on the talent of Ravel Morrison, even if it hasn't worked out. Enner Valencia  has undoubted skill, and will be a success if he can score more goals next season, while Andy Carroll, if he's ever fully fit, might yet become a good signing. The best value for money signings have been cheaper players like Cresswell, Adrian, Jaaskelainen, Vaz Te, Collins and Sakho. Sam's biggest clangers have been spending £9m on Matt Jarvis, £4 million on Maiga and £2 million on Diarra. Not a brilliant record, though considering most other managers drop a few rickets too and BFS had to rebuild the entire squad when he arrived he's not done that badly either. Any views on this?

Wednesday, May 20

Big Sam moving out

Big Sam's flat at Canary Wharf has been sold and he's moving out on Friday, tonight's Evening Standard reports. So either he's an astute player of the property market and he's decided that this is the top of the market, or he's anticipating the tin-tack after the game at Newcastle…

Sunday, May 17

Lukaku late show as Hammers blow it again

Hawaiian Hammers in the Bobby Moore Stand
West Ham 1 Everton 2

It’s our final lunch in Ken’s Café as Michael the Whovian sneaks to the front of the queue for another big breakfast as Matt, inspired by Everton’s selection of Zimabwean-born Galloway, wants to know the four other Zimbabweans to play in the Premier League. Meanwhile The Gav arrives and announces he is in an online dispute through controversially maintaining that John Radford is not the worst player West Ham have ever had.

There’s a photographer taking pictures in Ken’s (no press, please). And the bloke on our table says he used to mind the window of Bobby Moore Sports and that after the 4-0 defeat at Blackpool he told Ron Greenwood “You couldn’t sign a Christmas card!” causing chuckling from Harry Redknapp and co. He also has some interesting and unprintable revelations about certain former employees. Then Nigel arrives wondering why the bloke on the train was slagging off Cresswell, only to discover that it t was Ukip’s Carswell. Then sadly we have to leave the café and go into the ground.

There’s a couple of scares early on as Osman’s low shot is tipped past the post by Adrian and Lukaku fires over when he should hot the target. But West Ham come back into the game, with Song looking fitter than in recent games. Noble prods a shot wide and Downing has a rasping effort turned away by Howard. The ref also misses a clear handball in the box by an Everton defender. We suffer yet another injury as Collins goes off after 14 minutes to be replaced by Reece Burke.

It’s a fast game for an end of season affair with a few tackles flying in and Everton winning 4-1 on the bookings front. Looks like we might be winning that fair play Europa League spot.

The game gets going in the second half when Stones makes a great tackle to deny Valencia. After 62 minutes Downing does well on the right and picks up Song’s clever return to get behind the Everton defence and pass the ball into the corner. It’s well-taken and the end of a 14 game drought for Stewie. Surely we can’t blow this?

West Ham press for a second, but sadly it looks like Carlton Cole's legs have gone and Valencia still appears lightweight and hasn’t got enough goals this season to justify his fee. “Tim Howard’s beard grew another three inches while we were waiting to shoot,” suggests Nigel.

Following a West Ham corner Mark Noble fails to play a simple ball to Cresswell, gets dispossessed and Everton race down the field. Lukaku is allowed to cross from the right and Leon Osman, who always scores against us, gets ahead of Burke and Reid to control and acrobatically volley home.

The game looks to be ending in a draw but three minutes into added time we fail to respect the point yet again. McGeady beats Cresswell too easily on the right and Lukaku, who also always scores against us, gets beyond Burke, stooping to head home.

Hammers' fans turn to drink in the Black Lion
There’s a chorus of “You’re getting sacked in the morning!” at Big Sam from some home fans. Conceeding added time goals to Man United, Spurs, Stoke and Everton suggests a problem with fitness, concentration and workrate. And it’s the one thing Allardyce teams aren’t meant to do.

We are in no mood for the lap of honour, so head to the Black Lion, which is the best result of the day. My first point of Old Bob is slightly cloudy, but The Gav comes to the rescue with a round of Maldon Gold. It’s been a bizarre season; fantastic up till Christmas, but then, after injuries to Sakho, Carroll, Tomkins and Reid, we’ve produced relegation form (16 points from 20 games). And now it looks like we might be back in July for an undeserved European tour.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6; Jenkinson 6, Collins 5 (Burke 5), Reid 6, Cresswell 5; Downing 6, Noble 5, Song 6, Kouyate 6, Cole 4 (Nene 4), Valencia 5.

Thursday, May 14

Will West Ham end up with a B-list manager?

The Daily Telegraph and Evening Standard have printed stories saying that Big Sam will turn down a new contract even if one is offered to him. Hard to blame him as there's been a deafening silence over his future from the board and a constant stream of rumour about West Ham approaching big name managers. The worry is that, being West Ham, we have no manager for much of the summer and end up appointing a B-list gaffer in desperation (remember the wait before Glenn Roeder arrived?).

The list of targets has always seemed unrealistic: Jurgen Klopp and Rafa Benitez were never going to come and David Moyes and Steve McLaren have both publicly committed themselves to their current clubs (and would they have been an upgrade?). Promising young coaches like Gary Monk and Eddie Howe and likely to stay where they are. Tim Sherwood is prospering at Villa. Slaven Bilic would be popular but is unproven in the Premier League. Which leaves us with the likes of Gus Poyet and an ageing Harry Redknapp on the jobs market. Let's hope the board have a master plan in place.

Wednesday, May 13

How do you solve a problem like Mauro?

Mauro Zarate is clearly a skilful player, but also, shall we say, high maintenance. The Evening Standard reports that Zarate reacted so furiously to being left out of QPR's squad at Manchester City on Sunday that he was told to travel home to London alone. He has been suspended for two weeks and the club don't expect him to turn up for the final week.

Zarate has already fallen out with Sam Allardyce this season and was signed on loan for QPR by Harry Redknapp; who then tried to send him back to West Ham in a swap deal for Matt Jarvis. He's now clashed with Chris Ramsey - that's three managers in one season. So Zarate is now West Ham's problem again, and picking up reported wages of £40,000 a week, claims the Standard.

If Big Sam goes and West Ham have a new manager might the new boss be able to finally get the talent out of Zarate? Or is he our version of Adel Taarabt, a volatile individual doomed to waste his undoubted talent?

Sunday, May 10

Another away defeat at Aston Villa

Aston Villa 1 West Ham 0

So it's a predictable defeat in the David Cameron derby. Sounds like West Ham were on the back foot for the first half. Adrian produces a good save from Cleverley's fierce volley, but is beaten after half an hour following Grealish's good break down the left and Cleverley's tap in. Poor marking in the box, though a generally solid performance from Collins and Burke in keeping Benteke quiet. Valencia should be awarded a penalty, but for Nolan standing all over the keeper, which the referee spots first.

West Ham look better in the second half with Nene and Song on for the ponderous Nolan and Morgan Amalfitano. Nene fires just over and should surely be given a starting slot as at least he looks like he knows where the goal is. Song has had a back problem for weeks, but if fit he should start against Everton too.

From a West Ham corner Collins has a header tipped over the bar by Given. While Valencia has a headed goal disallowed for offside, which is probably just about correct, though the left back almost plays him onside. Agbonlahor gets clear late on but slices wide for Villa after good defending from Cresswell. So it's no wins in 11 away games for West Ham, which isn't good enough. Those injuries to Carroll and Sakho seem to have deprived us of all firepower. Roll on the end of the season.

Friday, May 8

Aaron Cresswell is Hammer of the Year

At least the new PM is a Hammers' fan (possibly)… and congratulations to Aaron Cresswell on winning the other election, the Hammer of the Year award. At around £3 million he was a steal from Ipswich and is proof that bargains are to be found in the Championship. And let's give Sam Allardyce credit too for signing him. Last season we were relying on the ageing George McCartney, right-footed Joey O'Brien and Matt Taylor for left backs. He's had a very consistent season, proving he can both defend and get forward with a stream of crosses. Another bonus is that he is now taking fantastic free kicks and scored a stunner against Stoke City, and almost repeated it at QPR. Running Aaron close must have been Adrian who has been excellent all season and a real character too, while Diafra Sakho has proved another bargain with a very creditable 13 goals. Now all we have to do is keep Cresswell away from Chelsea and Man City…

Wednesday, May 6

Champions of Europe in 1965

Good to see Ron Boyce and Ken Brown from West Ham's 1965 Cup Winners' Cup winning side outside the main stand on Saturday signing autographs. The retro programme and replica final programme also worked well (and loved the Double Diamond "The beer the men drink" advert). 

There's a chapter on the Final against Munich 1860 in my book Flying So High: West Ham's Cup FinalsWatching the dvd of the final again, It's a great game but it's also fascinating to hear how BBC commentary has changed. At one point Ken Wolstenholme declares, “This West Ham defence could stop an army of tanks!” Not a sentiment often expressed about West Ham. 

Football has also come a long way in its attitude to women. Poor old Ken is also completely bamboozled by the sight of a woman snapper on the touchline: “There’s a sight you don’t often see. There’s a lady photographer behind the West Ham goal… Now why don’t we have things like that at Wembley more often? Lovely blonde photographers like that make football a much better game.” At the end a mob of photographers rush on to the pitch with huge cameras. “And there’s our blonde girlfriend, let’s hope she gets a picture all to herself,” says Wolstenholme. What would he make of Karren Brady running West Ham today?

The dvd is also worth checking out for the choruses of "E-i-adio we've won the Cup!" borrowed from Liverpool fans, the brief pitch invasion after Alan Sealey's second goal and the promise of John Sissons, who should have been a great player.

After the game the Daily Mirror’s Ken Jones wrote: “Hammers have been called fools and dreamers. Today they are the wise and brave. Conquerors of Munich, and of all those who doubted their ability and scoffed at their elegant skill… perhaps only the beginning of West Ham as they showed to all of Europe that elegant and imaginative football can also be successful.” 

It wasn’t of course, this being West Ham it would be another ten years and several relegation struggles with there World Cup winners in the side before the club won another trophy. But happy days and a great May night at Wembley.

And on a sadder note let's hope Ken Brown gets his medals back as some tea-leaf has nicked them from his home in Norfolk. There's a £5000 reward for any information leading to heir recovery.

Tuesday, May 5

Jimmy Greaves

Sad news that Jimmy Greaves in in intensive care after suffering a severe stroke. I saw the tail-end of Jimmy's career  at West Ham in 1970, when he was part of the swap deal that took Martin Peters to Spurs. At 30 he should have had several years of goals left in him, but he was in the grip of alcoholism and retired at the end of the 1970-71 season. He did show glimpses of his class though; I remember watching him on Match of the Day scoring twice on his debut in a 5-1 win away to Manchester City on the muddiest pitch in history. He added nine goals in 30 appearances in 1970-71 and I saw him net a few at Upton Park.

As a TV pundit Greavesie was successful too, and while Saint and Greavesie might appear a bit naff today, that show's light-hearted approach to football created the climate that was to lead to Fantasy Football and Soccer AM.

But Greaves's biggest triumph in life has surely been beating alcoholism; he stopped drinking at the age of 38 and has remained sober ever since. And he wrote a hard-hitting autobiography, This One's On Me, on the subject when people didn't talk about such things. Let's hope he pulls through.

Sunday, May 3

Noble exacts penalty against ten-man Burnley

Celebrating Nobes' pen…
West Ham 1 Burnley 0

It’s into the large queue at Ken’s Café with my kids-for-a-quid daughter Nell, who usually brings us good fortune. Nigel uses all his experience to gatecrash my order with a job lot order including his bacon, egg and and chips and Michael the Whovian’s big breakfast with mushrooms added.

Carol reveals the café will keep going for a year after West Ham move as she feels there will still be Hammers making a pilgrimage to Ken’s. Matt's wearing his lucky Dukla Prague away kit and gleefully out-trivias Nigel with his oldest league ground in the country fact.

We have plenty of time to study our retro 1965-themed programmes as there’s a run on chips and we finally eat at 2.45pm. Michael even gives Carol a cheeky kiss as we leave after being chastised for some mystery misdemeanour.

Fan in lucky Dukla Prague away shirt
We’ve missed a generous minute’s applause before the game in memory or Rio Ferdinand’s wife Rebecca, but do arrive for the kick-off. Cresswell gets in a great early cross that Valencia should surely score from, only Enner appears to misjudge the flight of the ball. There’s a warning from Burnley though as returning ex-Hammer Matt Taylor gets in a decent cross from the left and Danny Ings heads over when earlier this season he might have scored. “Ings can only get better…” I suggest.

The work rate looks higher than the Stoke game, with Amalfitano an improvement on Jarvis and Nolan raising the crowd with some tackling back and decent touches.

Twenty-four minutes in Reece Burke finds Enner Valencia on the left, who does well to accelerate past Trippier and slips in Kouyate with a fine though ball. Cheik’s clever change of feet bamboozles Duff and the Burnley man gives away a clear penalty. But then Duff’s sent off as well, which looks very harsh. Referee Jon Moss should never have left Culture Club suggest Matt and Fraser, though surprisingly Nigel has actually seen Moss play and says Boy George is a rubbish singer.

“Oh no, West Ham have a penalty against a relegation-haunted side with ten men, what could possibly go wrong?” I mutter.

“It’s always difficult to play against ten men,” agrees Nigel.

Thankfully Noble strokes home the penalty, as Heaton dives the wrong way. A little close to the centre of goal but it does the job. Our first penalty scored this season.

Can West Ham get the crucial second against ten men and allow us to relax? No. Jenkinson finds Downing on the right and the winger’s good low cross is met by Valencia with a shot that produces a fi ne tip-over from Heaton. Enner should have kept his shot down though. Amalfitano cuts in from the right and has a booming shot brilliantly parried by Heaton. Burnley gain a rare corner and Barnes’ header forces Adrian to make a great save on the line to deflect the ball wide.

There’s another scare in the second half when Matt Taylor twists to get a shot in that Adrian tips away with his leg. When Taylor is substituted it’s nice to hear him get a big round of applause from the home fans.

Really it should be three or four nil by the end. We don’t play badly against a poor Burnley side, bar the finishing, and have an encouraging 22 shots in the second half, the most in the Premier League this season.

Burke does well again at the back and gets his second clean sheet, though at times his distribution out needs to improve, but that will come with experience. Good to se a young player finally coming through.

Amalfitano finds Cresswell who pulls back for Nolan to shoot too close to Heaton, who scoops the ball to Valencia, who is then blocked by desperate defending. Will Nolan be stuck on 99 goals forever?

Nene and Cole come on and we look better in attack. Cole heads a decent chance over with his first touch. Nene gets a good cross in towards CC and wins a corner. From the set piece Heaton palms the ball out to the edge of the box and Kouyate has a thunderous volley headed off the line by Shackell. Nene than produces a great dipping shot that Heaton tips over with an excellent save.

We survive added time for once and a win is what we desperately needed. I congratulate Nell on bringing us some much-needed luck and points.

After the game Fraser suggests we try the club hotel bar, which was open to all after the Stoke game. It isn’t today though, so it’s a foray into the Boleyn where the lads find their lager a little flat, rather like our post-Christmas season, but there is London Pride on sale. Nell asks why the carpets are permanently sticky? Not sure but it seems to an immutable law of physics where the Boleyn is concerned.

The Boleyn's finest customers
On the way back to the tube we spot Reece Burke driving away in a huge motor (he’s only 18!) and Carlton Cole signing autographs through the railings by the car park. And by the main entrance there’s 1965 legends Ron Boyce and Ken Brown signing programmes and posing for pictures. Good end to the day.

We’re on 47 points and if we can get to 50 that will represent progress. While the final game is at floundering Newcastle — could we be the team that sends them down? An exciting relegation struggle – but at least we’re not part of it.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 7; Jenkinson 6, Collins 6, Burke 6, Cresswell 6; Downing 6, Noble 6, Nolan 5 (Nene 6), Kouyate 6, Amalfitano 6; Valencia 6 (Cole 5).