This weekend we face a trip to the Britannia, where our credentials for this season will really be tested. Stoke City are always tough to play at their ground, and they’ve won two of their last four Premier League games – both at home. We’ve obviously won three of our last four so come in with our tails very high. Prior to the game, I got to ask the guys at oatcakefanzine.proboards.com – @oatcakesfc – a few questions going into the match. As always, a massive thank you and shout out for them for getting involved.
You’ve had a fairly average start to the season, and have lost more games than you’ve won, how have you taken to your start to the campaign?
Actually, 11 points from our first nine games makes it the second best start we’ve made to a Premier League season, but after finishing last season so well, there’s still a sense of disappointment at how we’ve started this one. Losing our first two home games – to Aston Villa and Leicester – were poor results and even draws in those two matches would have seen us with a similar points haul to the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Everton and just three behind yourselves. Expectations were maybe overly high amongst our support at the start of the season, but injuries are hitting us hard at the moment and the absence of Peter Odemwingie has been a real blow. That coupled with several players not reaching the heights of last season has made it a frustrating campaign up till now.
What have you made of West Ham’s start to the season?
Got to say it’s been pretty impressive, considering some of the teams you’ve been up against. Those results against Liverpool and Man City were very good and by all accounts you were unlucky not to get something at Old Trafford. You have the kind of points haul we were hoping for (and maybe expecting) at this stage from arguably a tougher fixture list.
How did you find your transfer window went this summer – how does the XI match up against that of last year for you?
In contrast to previous seasons, we did our business early this summer and most fans were quite satisfied with the players we brought in. The likes of Bardsley and Sidwell have been solid, dependable players at this level for a number of years and Mame Biram Diouf was a player we’d been chasing for twelve months. Bojan was a surprise signing from Barcelona and had a promising pre-season and by the time the window had shut we’d also brought in Moses and Assaidi so most fans were relatively happy. Unfortunately Bojan hasn’t settled into Premier League life so far, and there remain doubts as to where and how the manager will fit him into the team. Sidwell hasn’t really figured and both Diouf and Moses have been hampered by niggling injuries. The injury to Odemwingie has really hit us hard though; we saw a tantalising glimpse of what we could be with a fit PO, Diouf and Moses on the same pitch at Manchester City, but typically that was snatched away from us just minutes after Diouf’s brilliant winner. The way things stand right now though, we have to say that it’s not looking as though our squad has been significantly strengthened.
What did you make of West Ham’s transfer window?
Got to admit, the price for Enner Valencia looked a little steep, and there was a feeling that he was a player bought solely off the back of a good World Cup – which a few clubs have fallen for in the past. It’s early days, but he does look a good acquisition though. We can’t say we know much – or had even heard of – some of the other signings, but your results so far suggest that it was a very decent window. The signing of Alex Song looks a masterstroke doesn’t it? No disrespect, but you’d have thought the likes of Liverpool, Man United and obviously Arsenal could’ve done with a player like that.
What do you make of the transitions both clubs have made under their respective managers? You’ve played a lot more ‘proper’ football under Hughes recently, and West Ham have completely changed this season under Allardyce.
Some of the stuff we were playing during the second half of last season was great to watch at times and for Mark Hughes to guide us to our highest league finish for nearly forty years and our highest ever Premier League points total was a fine achievement. We’re struggling to replicate that form so far this season – in fact we’ve been really poor on occasion – but we’d like to think that the vast majority of our fans are behind him and will give him the patience he deserves after last season’s achievement. We’ve never really understood the long ball tag that Sam Allardyce has been given. He certainly brought enough flair players to Bolton and we can’t recall West Ham ever been overtly route one against us – then again, we don’t watch them every week! Your form this season suggests that he’s not a one trick pony though doesn’t it?
Robert Huth has been ruled out of your next two games, having already missed an awful lot of football recently, can Ryan Shawcross up his own levels of foul-play to make up for the loss of Huth’s? Seriously though, how big a loss will Huth be as he’s a rock at the back for you?
We’ve not had Robert Huth in our first team for nigh on twelve months now, and it looks like he’s going to be ruled out for even longer than two more games. In his place Marc Wilson has done reasonably well – he was a virtual ever present last season as we finished in 9th place – though he is prone to error at times which has seen him, this season in particular, come under some quite heavy criticism from our support. Geoff Cameron can also play at centre half, but we’d be happier if Mark Hughes could strengthen in central defence in January. A long-term injury Ryan Shawcross would be a disaster and doesn’t bare thinking about.
Victor Moses – regardless of that dive – has been in good form for you on his season loan from Chelsea. It’s early to call, but is he a player you’d be keen on getting on a permanent deal if possible?
Very much so, though that will all depend on the kind of fee Chelsea would be looking for and wages Moses would demand. It’s a pity really that we couldn’t have acquired his services earlier in the window and got him playing a bit more before the season started; apparently he only played about twenty minutes for Chelsea in pre-season, so he’s still a touch short of match fitness and those niggling injuries may be a result of that. Hopefully though he’ll see a long term future at a club like Stoke after not being able to make the breakthrough at a couple of bigger clubs.
Where do you think Stoke’s strengths and weaknesses will lie this season?
Our strengths and weaknesses haven’t really changed much despite Hughes’ appointment. We looked decidedly shaky at times in the two matches against Southampton, but we’re still a relatively tough nut to crack (unless Marc Wilson has one of his “moments”!). However, we still struggle – painfully at times – to score enough goals.
If you could pick one West Ham player to play for Stoke, who would it be and why?
The lad who’s banging in goals for fun, for obvious reasons.
A successful season for Stoke would be…?
Like most of our peer clubs, a top ten finish and a pop at one of the cup competitions, though our chances of one in the League Cup evaporated on Wednesday night.
What’s your prediction for the match?