Premier League | Upton Park | Tue 11 Feb | 7:45pm
The sporting equivalent of the London Bus Museum, Brooklands.
Defending is an art, and those who merely want to witness big scores every week should try basketball, but there is only so much blocking and tackling a fan can take at once, and if there was ever a fixture that looks like a cagey 0-0 draw in the making (and nailed on for three minutes of non-highlights at the end of Wednesday’s Match of the Day, with Simon Brotherton desperately trying to put a spin on a couple of half chances) it is this.
WEST HAM FORM
- Aston Villa 0-2 West Ham (Prem)
- West Ham 2-0 Swansea (Prem)
- Chelsea 0-0 West Ham (Prem)
- West Ham 0-3 Man City (LC)
- West Ham 1-3 Newcastle (Prem)
- Norwich 0-0 Man City (Prem)
- Cardiff 2-1 Norwich (Prem)
- Norwich 0-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Norwich 1-0 Hull (Prem)
- Fulham 3-0 Norwich (FAC)
These two sides are deadlocked in virtually every way: on 25 points in 15th (West Ham) and 16th (Norwich) place; on one win, one loss and one draw between them in their three last meetings; and historically, where West Ham have bested 15, Norwich 14, and there have been 14 draws.
Even their recent form is near inseparable: both have shown their battling defensive qualities with 0-0 draws against the top sides (West Ham holding Chelsea; Norwich getting a grip on Manchester City) and bagged the odd win after a shaky month or two. Add in the fact that the Hammers have been pretty flat at Upton Park this season (winning just three), while the Canaries have been underpowered away from Carrow Road (picking up just eight points from 12 games), and you’ve got all the signs of a movable rock meeting a stoppable force.
Goalscoring, or lack of it, has been the key problem for these sides this term: only Crystal Palace have notched fewer than Norwich, who are averaging a deflating 0.76 per game, and simply don’t have the firepower to get more than one ahead of their opposition at any time. Allardyce’s men’s average isn’t hugely better – 1.06 per match, with Kevin Nolan their top poacher on six – but after two decent wins on the bounce over Villa and Swansea that halted an awful run, they might fancy home advantage will be enough to edge this one.
But the Canaries seem sturdier defensively to the leaky outfit that were conceding by the tractor-load earlier in the season, and West Ham are the Premier League leaders in clean sheets (12) with new keeper Adrian and Winston Reid key to their rigidity.
So we’re anticipating parity here… almost immediately ensuring a dazzling 7-6 goalfest.
The home side are still missing Joey O’Brien, Mo Diame, Joe Cole and Ricardo Vaz Te, while Norwich’s injury list reads like Lord of the Rings: Elliot Bennett, Gary Hooper, Jonas Guiterrez, Robert Snodgrass and Johan Elmander are all still without return dates from big knocks; Jonny Howson and Michael Turner should recover from smaller knocks towards the end of the month; Ryan Bennett is now knockless.
Player to watch: Kevin Nolan (West Ham)
An obvious candidate, perhaps, but talismans (or is it talismen?) don’t come much more talismanic than Allardyce’s lieutenant. It’s no coincidence that getting himself stupidly send off on New Year’s Day and missing four games plunged West Ham into a tailspin, and neither is it mere chance that captain Nolan’s return dovetailed with the East Enders picking up six crucial points in a week.
Against Villa, his stats were a perfect lesson in quality over quantity – Nolan converted 2 goals from 2 tries, created 2 chances himself and completed 2 tackles from 2 attempts – and the Scouse bustler tends to blossom in the kind of six-pointer hothouse expected at Upton Park on Tuesday.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Norwich 3-1 West Ham (Prem, Nov 13)
- West Ham 2-1 Norwich (Prem, Jan 13)
- Norwich 0-0 West Ham (Prem, Sept 12)
- Norwich 1-2 West Ham (FAC, Jan 06)
- West Ham 1-0 Norwich (FAC, Jan 05)
The cold February Tuesday night of myth and cliché is where the grit and graft of the English gaffer supposedly comes into its own, and it doesn’t get much more gritty than two of Britannia’s finest sluggers, Allardyce and Hughton, going toe-to-toe. They have fought thricefold in the past: Hughton KO’d Big Sam in Norwich back in November, winning 3-1 thanks to a trio of second-half goals after spending much of the early rounds on the ropes; Sam edged it 2-1 at Upton Park in January 2013 after a number of controversial refereeing decisions, while their September 2012 meeting was a split decision (0-0). We’ll stop with the boxing analogies now, but suffice to say that like Russian cruiserweight Denis Lebedev’s face after it was rearranged by Guillermo Jones recently, it might not be pretty.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- West Ham are unbeaten in their last 10 home games against bottom-half teams (W5 D5 L0).
- West Ham have kept clean sheets in 6 of their last 8 home matches against bottom-half sides.
- 9 of Norwich’s last 11 matches have had fewer than 3 goals as have 14 of their 16 trips to bottom-half teams since the start of last season.
- Norwich have lost the first half in 7 of their 12 away matches this season.
Best Bet: Correct Score 1-0 @ 7.75
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Like the excellent London Bus Museum at Cobham Hall, Brooklands (a delightful and educational day out for all the family) expect buses parked at both ends, with several other buses in between those buses. 0-0.