West Ham United visit the Hawthorns for the second time in just nine Premier League games on Saturday having hammered the Baggies 3-0 on their last visit in April. Like Albion, the Irons have jsut one Premier League victory to their name this season, a 1-0 home win over Albion’s latest vanquishers, Bournemouth, and are really from losing 4-2 at home to Watford last time out having been 4-2 up. But for both sides, it is events off the pitch that have been the subject of media interest in recent days.
Albion have one more point than their visitors, who have lost their other three games in the league, while West Ham’s European expedition ended a little earlier that they would like after losing at the
Olympic London Stadium to Romanian side Astra Giurgiu in the final play-off round before the Europa League group stages. They beat Solvenian outfit, NK Domžale, in the previous round and have won just two of their eight games in all competitions since their campaign started way back on 28th July.
The events in the stands at last weekend’s defeat to Watford have made more headlines that the game itself. Some West Ham fans were fighting with their own, as well as with some opposition fans. There appear to be issues with segregation, but the biggest bugbear seems to be that age-old problem, well a 20-year-old problem I guess, of standing in seating areas. It seems that at the Boleyn Ground, standing in the Bobby Moore stand was the norm, and was tolerated – not so at their new home. Stewards tried to force all fans to sit down, one reason being that if they can get fans seated, they may be able to get a safety certificate for an attendance of up to 66,000 rather than the 57,000 that they are currently operating to. There is a bit of a blame game going on between the club and the stadium operators, but it’s kept the journalists busy. I’m sure all visiting supporters will be allowed to stand in the Smethwick on Saturday, of course!
Another thing to keep the journalists fully occupied this week has been the future of Tony Pulis. An apparent spat between the Welshman and Chairman-to-be, John Williams, over transfers fueled speculation that Pulis might decided to make a quick exit as he did from Palace back in 2014, but reports from the Pulis camp suggested that would not be the case. However, his future remains in doubt as commentators interpreted that piece of news as Pulis saying that he wanted his contract paid off – the prospect of the Chinese takeover had only served to fan those fires with the feeling that new owners might want a new man in charge.
When Pulis was spotted sitting with QPR Director of Football, Les Ferdinand, at Loftus Road on Tuesday evening as the R’s were hammered 6-0 by Newcastle, the hacks joined the dots and decided that west London would be his next destination. Rangers’ incumbent, Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink has been in charge for less than a year and, despite the result this week, is not really under any pressure. Ferdinand was quick to deny that there was any truth to the link, but he would wouldn’t he – Pulis and Hasselbaink are both under contract. But why was Pulis watching QPR – he could’ve been at the Etihad to watch Man City who Albion face in a few weeks’ time, albeit that game was ultimately postponed.
And then on Thursday, the takeover was finally confirmed and new owner, Guochuan Lai, was quoted on the website: “I’m delighted to complete the acquisition and to become the next steward of the Club. I would like to thank Jeremy Peace for his leadership over the last 15 years and for laying the strong foundations for the next stage of the Club’s development. I am excited to have the opportunity to support the Club’s Chairman, John Williams, and the team in building the Club over the years ahead.”
Now is the “team” a generic term used to mean all the people working for the club, or has he purposely omitted a mention of his Head Coach? Surely, if he wanted to cool speculation over the future of Pulis, he could’ve easily mentioned him in the statement?
I said in my Window Reflections article that, while I am no fan of Pulis, I felt that it was probably in the best interests of the club for him to stay in charge until at least the lead up to the next transfer window. Since then, however, the speculation around his future has intensified and there has been no public sign of a reconciliation between Pulis and Williams that may have served to reduce it. And maybe I’m reading too much into Guochuan Lai’s statement, but it’s just another squeeze on the bellows that are fanning those flames of speculation.
So could this weekend’s game be Pulis’s last in charge at the Hawthorns? Perhaps not, but I would be surprised if the Welshman is still in charge come the end of the season, if not the end of the year.
With neither side showing any form, it’s a tough one to call. West Ham have the capability to open a side up with the likes of Payet and Lanzini as they proved back in April, and with a Pulis side unlikely to attack with the same abandon as Watford did last weekend, I think the visitors will nick it.
|West Ham United||L||D||W||L||L||L|
All competitions; most recent game on the right
30 Apr 2016 – Premier League
West Brom 0
West Ham United 3 (Kouyaté, Noble (2))
14 Feb 2015 – FA Cup 5th Round
West Brom 4 (Ideye (2), Morrison, Berahino)
West Ham United 0
Albion’s Record against West Ham United
|Premier League Record|