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West Ham United v Newcastle United

Filed: Friday, 22nd December 2017
By: Preview Percy

It's not that Preview Percy hates Christmas as such. It's more a case of him hating, well, everything really. Here he takes time out from the laying of anti-personnel mines as a precaution against carol singers to take a look at the visit of Newcastle United. God bless us one and all......

Saturday we return to League action where we will host Newcastle United. Kick-off is 3pm. Trains? Stratfordageddon sums it up if you use Greater Anglia/TFL Rail. Leave early if those are your routes. Like about 10 minutes ago.

I believe that this weekend’s opponents are the first team that we will have played twice this season, having journeyed up there back in August when we were on the end of a 3-0 defeat. Since then we have crossed in league position, the swap taking place last weekend.

Their current form has only exacerbated the supporters’ hatred (and that’s not too strong a word in this case) for owner Mike Ashley, though one suspects that, to someone whose idea of fun is to get slaughtered and throw up into pub fireplaces, it’s all water off a duck’s back. In any case he’s in the middle of negotiations to sell to a Dubai-based outfit called PCP Capital Partners. The main person behind PCP is one Amanda Staveley who has an interesting past. Staveley was instrumental in arranging the deal that allowed Abu Dhabi’s torturer-in-chief to turn Man City into a reputation laundering machine. She was born in Yorkshire so expect the Geordies to refer to her as “Welsh” based on their previous granting of Cockney citizenship on High Wycombe’s Ashley. The deal, should it go through, would not be the first time that Staveley has come close to getting a board position at a football club. About 9 years back she was part of the team that was responsible for a deal that would have seen Liverpool end up in the hands of Dubai. As a result of that she would have ended up on the board at Anfield.

The deal is said to be worth something like £300m and has been “close to completion” for some time now. “Before Christmas” is another phrase that has been bandied about quite a lot – though without mentioning a year it has to be said. There are a couple of potential flies in the ointment when coming to a valuation. Firstly there is the HMRC investigation that had tax men knocking on doors – including our own – in a manner that suggests there are too many people in that particular Government department watching reruns of “The Sweeney”. The short chubby one knows more about this stuff than I do but a lot of people raised eyebrows at the wording of the statement released by HMRC at the time of the raid which seemed to contain a large element of presumption of guilt, something I am sure Newcastle’s learned friends will be poring over in some detail. HMRC already scored an o.g. over the arrest of Ashley right hand man Lee Charnley. He was later released without charge, allegedly because he had not been a director of the club at the time of the alleged offences. Newcastle’s appeal against the legality of the searches failed however. which means that PCP will almost certainly be seeking warranties from Ashley against any future tax bills that might arise out of the HMRC investigation.

The second cloud on the horizon is the aforementioned current form of the team. That win against us back in August was the start of a three game winning streak that saw them rise to 4th place. Since then though they have won just the once (at home to Palace) and picked up draws against Liverpool, Southampton and West Brom. The point against the Baggies came slap bang in the middle of a 9 game run, the four either side ending in defeat, most recently at the Library last weekend. That sort of form is worrying to the average supporter shelling out forty quid for a match ticket never mind an investment business with £300m at stake.

Benitez made changes for the Arsenal match at the weekend, notably between the sticks when Rob Elliott replaced Karl Darlow following errors by the latter in earlier games. Darlow’s run in the team followed errors by Elliott in the match against Watford. The Avram Grant Olympic Rest Home For The Bewildered’s resident Geordie, Preview Alastair, informed me a while back that Benitez wasn’t over-happy with the goalkeeping talent available to him and had asked for a new custodian last summer. However, a quick chat with the work-experience kid of as yet-to-be determined gender wearing a hoodie who seems only able to communicate with some strange grunting noises confirmed that whilst two further keepers, Mat Sels & Tim Krul left the club in the summer (Sels to Anderlect on loan and Krul on a free to Brighton), no reinforcements in the green shirt department were forthcoming, leaving the aforementioned Eliott and Darlow plus rated but still inexperienced Freddie Woodman as Benitez’s only options in that department. Preview Alastair’s personal preference would be for Elliott, suggesting that it’s a bit soon to be risking Woodman, though a few correspondents would throw the youngster in. Darlow is few people’s first choice and these is talk that he might be on his way – much as there was in summer.

In midfield Harry Potter arch enemy Jonjo Shelvey will be missing for this one as he serves his second suspension of the season. His likely replacement is Isaac Hayden. Havden arrived from Arsenal a couple of years back but has struggled to make a starting berth his own since promotion so Shelvey’s absence will be considered an ill wind in his household.

Some sources suggest that Shelvey’s absence will place more responsibility for the creative side of things on Mikel Merino, especially if Hayden and Preview Alastair’s favourite player Mo Diame are booked in to carry the defensive side of things. Merino arrived on a loan deal that obliged Newcastle to sign the player permanently after a certain number of games. The original loan fee was £2.7m with a further £6.5m due when the deal was made permanent. I dunno about you but that has all the hallmarks of a manager having to do clever stuff with a transfer budget that the owner thinks is big but everyone else thinks is fresh air.

One of their main problems that has contributed to their current position would appear to be a lack of goals.They have two top scorers at present, both on three goals in the league out of a total of 16 scored. And remember three of those came against us. Dwight Gayle’s 25 goals in 45 league appearances since arriving from Palace is a reasonably healthy return on paper, until you consider the fact that the bulk of those appearances came in the Championship. He is joined at the top of a not very tall tree by Joselu. If you are wanting one of those 25+ goals a season strikers these days you usually have to stump up a decent fee. Certainly more than the £5m that fetched the player in from Stoke during the summer. See previous comment on budgetary constraints. Joselu is one of those players who has been capped at international level by a non-existent country. In this case the semi-autonomous Spanish region of Galicia is the “country” in question. He played in the 1-1 draw against Venezuela last May but I suspect if they ever get round to arranging another match he may find it difficult to get released.

And so to the League Cup. Yeah I suppose it might have been nice to have given it more of a go but under the circs I can’t get over upset about going out at this stage. The first week or two of January are already daft enough without adding two legs of a semi-final to the mix. I think I will give Mr Moyes this one. I understand the view that this might have been a “winnable” competition but a month or so into his tenure with the club he clearly has to prioritise things at the moment. Let’s fast forward a season and look into my crystal ball for a moment. Let’s assume we’ve had a reasonable start to 2018-19 – say upper mid table and far enough away from the trapdoor for it not to be a concern unless we lose half a dozen on the trot. We make the League Cup Quarter Finals and get a similar draw made by selecting numbered dwarves jumping off trampolines into a grid (Have that one on me guys). If we look as disinterested in the match THEN I would be a bit annoyed. Benefit of the doubt as far as I’m concerned.

Of the four on the injury list the usual three (Fernandes, Fonte and Byram) are all long term. The fourth, Kouyate may be close to a return, “slight doubt” being the order of the day on the usual listing sites. We will be without the suspended Lanzini. Note Stuart Pearce’s reaction – “we have to support efforts to eradicate diving”. Refreshing. I was put in mind of the Luis Suarez case a few years ago. After yet another dive Brendan “The English Klopp” Rodgers came out in public and stated categorically that Suarez never dived. The laughter had barely died down when Suarez admitted that he had dived in the match in question. Whereupon the player was fined by his club. Not for diving, mind, but for going public! Stay classy Mr Pearce. Meanwhile I look forward to a glut of Liverpool and Man City players enjoying suspensions in future.

The other selection issue will revolve around want-away Diafra Sakho. It is rumoured that he is cheesed off at not starting league matches due to a £50,000 bonus being payable for each start. The club are denying that the bonus is the reason for his non-appearance in the starting XI each week. That the player has personal issues is no real secret and a move away will probably be best for all concerned – though £15m is being seen as being a bit rich by one or two of the more likely bidders for his services who, tellingly, are of Championship rather than Premier League level. Might have to knock off a few bob for the sales guys – oh and don’t forget to sort out a replacement while you are at it as we’re not exactly overflowing with options up front.

And so to the thorny subject of the prediction. The defeat in midweek won’t have made any significant dent into the confidence levels and they are on a bit of a ‘mare of a run (though that particular fact is more of a “bad thing” given our reputation as “sequence busters”). Counter that with the fact that we will miss the creative input Lanzini brings to the party and I’m edging towards a more cautious wager this week than one might countenance from what, on the face of it, is an eminently winnable fixture. With that in mind I will pop down to the premises of Winstone The Turf Accountant and place the £2.50 I was going to chip in to Sakho’s Salary Shortfall Fund on a 1-1 draw.

Enjoy the game and have a good Christmas. Or don’t. I’m really not that bothered either way.

When last we met at the Boleyn: W 2-0 (Premier League September 2015)

Being newly-promoted this is their first visit to the Olympic Stadium. At the Boleyn when last we entertained them. Payet opened the scoring early in the first half and doubled the lead in the second putting in the rebound from a Moses effort that came off the bar. The short chubby one described the performance as “comfortable”. Preview Alastair described his team as “woeful”. It was difficult to argue with either description.

Referee: Lee Mason

His disgraceful performance in the away trip to Southampton was one that will live long in the mind. Utterly incompetent from start to finish.

Danger Man: Mikel Merino

Nominated by Preview Alastair as their most creative player on a good day, though it would have been Shelvey had he not been on the naughty step.

Percy’s Poser

During the week we asked you for ways to make the League Cup draw even more complicated that in already is. The best answer out of the digital hat came from Ms Michaela Craggs of Watford who suggested that the draw be placed in the hands of the Brexit negotiators, the home side being decided by dropping numbered balls on a map of Ireland and seeing what side of the border they land on. The whole programme to be presented by Cheryl out of Bucks Fizz. Michaela wins a year’s supply of Women’s Strawberry-flavoured beer which her father has kindly agreed to pay for. Well done Michaela!

For this week’s poser we ask: Which member of the cast of Auf Wiedersehen Pet is actually a West Ham Fan. First name out of the digital hat with the correct answer wins a weekend in Gateshead - “Where Sex Is In Its Infancy”. Second prize is a whole week there.

Good luck!

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

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