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west-ham-1000x500When we lost 1-0 at West Ham in May 2015, a result that virtually assured we’d be relegated, I said with some relief that at least it would be our last ever visit to the Boleyn Ground where the viewing for away supporters was, to put it ,mildly, abysmal.

And so tonight, for the first time, we will play at the London (former Olympic) Stadium that has had nothing but criticism since it opened. Certainly in case of the viewing, the seats do appear to be too far away from the pitch and recently bread bin stand expert Paul Fletcher suggested it should be knocked down and rebuilt as a football stadium.

By tonight I’ll have more idea as to how bad it is or whether there problems have been exaggerated, but one thing for certain is that Burnley are going there with a real need to make a start on improving our away form.

One thing we haven’t got close to yet is picking up away points in the Premier League. We won just four in the 2009/10 season, did better with 14 points two seasons ago, but our record this season is very poor. In six games we’ve won just the one point, that in a 0-0 draw at Manchester United. We’ve scored only one goal and that came from a dubiously awarded penalty at Southampton when we were already 3-0 down. We’ve also conceded 15 goals.

Somehow, somewhere soon we have to start picking up away points and it would certainly give us a real boost if we could get some return from our London double header this week at West Ham and then Spurs next Sunday as the pre-Christmas fixtures come to a close.

The record is certainly something that the players are fully aware of but it’s not a statistic they would want to get too hung up on. Left back Stephen Ward said of it: “We’re not too pleased with it at the minute. It’s something we are looking to rectify.

“We don’t want to get too bogged down on it. It is what it is. We’ve not performed as well as we should have, or how we have been doing at home. We know we have the capacity of taking points on the road. It’s just about maybe getting that bit of luck and not giving ourselves such mountains to climb.”

Ward has missed just one game since winning back his place after the Boxing Day defeat at Hull last season; he was ruled out of the recent home win against Crystal Palace.

The Republic of Ireland international made is 51st appearance for the club in the Bournemouth win last Saturday and scored his first Turf Moor goal, giving us a 2-0 lead. His two previous goals, against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup and Huddersfield in the Championship had both come away from home.

His 52nd appearance is almost certain to come tonight but what the team might be is anyone’s guess. Last time out away from home Sean Dyche made a number of changes at Stoke. He believed it was a much better performance but he did revert back to the more familiar line up for the home game against Bournemouth.

With Johann Berg Gudmundsson ruled out for a third game with the hamstring injury sustained in the defeat against Manchester City, I think the only question will centre on the formation and whether he will go with a 4-4-2 system or play with just the one recognised striker which he did on Saturday.

We lined up: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, Dean Marney, Steven Defour, George Boyd, Jeff Hendrick, Scott Arfield, Sam Vokes. Subs: Paul Robinson, Jon Flanagan, James Tarkowski, Michael Kightly, Patrick Bamford, Ashley Barnes, Andre Gray.

West Ham ended last season in 7th place in the Premier League with 62 points. Putting that into perspective, they were only four points behind both Manchester clubs who had battled it out for the final Champions League place.

Much was expected of them this season in their new surroundings but it hasn’t quite worked out yet. They have a better away record than us, winning five points from eight games, but at home they’ve won just two of seven.

Problems have mounted both on and off the pitch. There have been reports of many problems at the new stadium for spectators to the point where new plans had to be put in place recently, but having beaten Bournemouth in the first home game of the season they have won only one more, and that a very fortunate victory against Sunderland.

That certainly won’t make it easy for us and they’ve been relishing this week for some time. Slaven Bilic spoke about it but this is the week when they believe their fortunes will improve with them playing us and then Hull at the London Stadium.

Incredibly, for a team that did so well last season, they dropped into the relegation places last Saturday. It was only for a day, the draw at Liverpool took them back up a place on Sunday.

They will also be boosted tonight with the news that Cheikhou Kouyaté is fit to return after a hamstring injury and Bilic could also decide to start with Andy Carroll up front which will give them an extra threat. Bilic has said he will make a late decision on Carroll who has been used as a substitute in the last two games.

One player ruled out is striker Simone Zaza who also missed the draw at Liverpool with a knee injury.

Their team at Liverpool was: Darren Randolph, Winston Reid, Håvard Nordtveit, Winston Reid, Angelo Ogbonna, Aaron Cresswell, Pedro Obiang, Mark Noble, André Ayew, Manuel Lanzini, Dimitri Payet, Michail Antonio. Subs: Adrián, Ashley Fletcher, Edimilson Fernandes, Domingos Quina, Marcus Browne, Alex Pike, Andy Carroll.

 

LAST TIME WE WERE THERE

 

We were fighting for our lives at the bottom of the Premier League. We were on a run of three successive 1-0 defeats and since George Boyd had scored the winner against Manchester City we had failed to score in the next five games.

In the previous game we’d lost 1-0 against Leicester to a Jamie Vardy goal less than a minute after Matt Taylor had hit the post for us and we knew that defeat at West Ham would all but condemn us to a Championship return.

That’s exactly what happened unfortunately, but much was down to the appalling decision by referee Jon Moss to send off Michael Duff midway through the first half. He was right to award West Ham a penalty, which Mark Noble converted, but the decision to red card Duff was mystifying. That it was overturned by the FA showed just that although it left us to play three quarters of the game with ten men when a goal behind.

West Ham came close to doubling the lead as we tried to come to terms with the situation and would have done but for a superb Tom Heaton save, but we then forced Adrian into an equally good save from an Ashley Barnes header.

Having resisted making a change following the card, Sean Dyche opted to play the second half with a 3-4-2 formation with Michael Keane replacing George Boyd and we gave it a really good go. Danny Ings twice got clear. On the first occasion he fired wide but then won us, or should have won us, a free kick in the D when he was fouled. This was the home team fouling so nothing given by Moss who, through his lack of fitness, had found himself some 50 yards behind play.

He did get one thing right; he yellow carded Stewart Downing for diving, but it proved to be a day of frustration for us as we just couldn’t find the equaliser we so needed.

We were all but down, but we did go on to score twice in the final three games, both from Ings, without conceding. That shocking penalty was the last goal we conceded all season.

The teams were;

West Ham: Adrián, Carl Jenkinson, James Collins, Reece Burke, Aaron Cresswell, Stewart Downing,  Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyaté, Morgan Amalfitano, Kevin Nolan (Nenê 79) Enner Valencia (Carlton Cole 82). Subs not used: Jussi Jääskeläinen, Joey O’Brien, Alex Song, Reece Oxford, Matt Jarvis.

Burnley: Tom Heaton, Kieran Trippier, Michael Duff, Jason Shackell, Ben Mee, George Boyd (Michael Keane ht), Scott Arfield, David Jones, Matt Taylor (Ross Wallace 81), Danny Ings, Ashley Barnes (Marvin Sordell 79). Subs not used: Matt Gilks, Steven Reid, Michael Kightly, Lukas Jutkiewicz.

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