1 min: Peeeeeeep! Newcastle kick off, hoick the ball long, Andy Carroll flattens Soucek with a windmilling elbow and gets a talking-to from the referee. There was a VAR check on a possible red card, which would have been quite the start to a new season, but Carroll isn’t even booked.
Alan Smith calls Newcastle’s Andy Carroll-Callum Wilson frontline “a big-man little-man scenario”, which seems a stretch when Wilson is 5ft 11in.
Out come the players, and up go the bubbles. Football ahoy!
At the start of his interview with Sky David Moyes executes the most forced smile. It’s as if there’s a thread attached to each corner of his mouth and it’s being pulled by assistants lurking just off-screen. Anyway, he hopes his side can carry on their good form from the end of last season.
Well we hope so. We’ve got basically the same group of players, and if we can show the same form we finished – since we came back from lockdown especially we showed good form … We’d started to win well in some of the games, and do a bit better here, so we’re hoping that can continue. We’re probably only six weeks away from when that finished. It wasn’t long ago. We had a quick break, we’re all back at it. Overall they’re all fit and ready to go.
He’s asked how team spirit is, after a difficult pre-season:
We’ve actually I think had a very good pre-season. We had time away, the players were in good spirit, obviously because we finished the season strongly. I think we’re quite good. I mean, the group. There may be other things you’re alluding to, but the group within the dressing-room has been really good.
Steve Bruce seems chirpy:
There’s nothing quite like the addition of two, three, four players – five players! – into the squad and of course it gives everyone a lift, whether you’re the coach, the supporters more importantly and especially one that is a centre-forward of course. I’m delighted with what we’ve done. Now we need to take the work onto the pitch. There’s nothing quite like a signing or two to brighten the spirits of everybody. Let’s hope we can get a couple of results along the way to brighten everybody up.
Sky haven’t turned their attention to this game yet, excited as they still are about Liverpool’s narrow victory over Leeds. I can confirm that there are some footballers at the London Stadium, and they are preparing for a game of football.
Aaron Cresswell’s anticipated return is West Ham’s only change to the team that drew 1-1 with Aston Villa on the last day of last season. Ben Johnson drops to the bench – the other six substitutes were all also on the bench at the start of their last game. So from the 18-man matchday squad for the Villa game Cresswell comes in, Conor Coventry drops out, and the other 17 names are the same.
The team sheets have been handed in, and tonight’s star performers will be as follows, with highlights including debuts for Jamal Lewis, Jeff Hendrick and Callum Wilson:
West Ham: Fabianski, Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Soucek, Rice, Bowen, Noble, Fornals, Antonio. Subs: Balbuena, Yarmolenko, Felipe Anderson, Lanzini, Haller, Johnson, Randolph.
Newcastle: Darlow, Manquillo, Fernandez, Lascelles, Lewis, Shelvey, Hayden, Hendrick, Wilson, Carroll, Saint-Maximin. Subs: Joelinton, Ritchie, Krafth, Fraser, Almiron, Gillespie, Sean Longstaff.
Referee: Stuart Attwell.
Well then. It’s hard to know what to make of this game, between two teams that have taken very different approaches to this transfer window (so far). West Ham have not exactly transformed the squad that flirted with relegation last season, with the permanent transfer of Tomas Soucek, who signed from Slavia Prague initially on loan in January, the only action their chequebook has seen. They will be hoping to carry their decent form from the end of last season into the start of this one, though last weekend’s 5-3 friendly defeat to Bournemouth doesn’t inspire an enormous amount of confidence and they seem to have a few issues with their squad, particularly at full-back.
“They were good towards the end of the season but we have a chance that’s for sure,” said Newcastle’s Steve Bruce as he looked forward to this game. “We took four points off them last year and had one of our best displays away from home down there. Whether that will stand us in good stead this season? I hope so. Let’s see.”
Let’s see indeed. Newcastle have had rather more encouraging dealings with Bournemouth in the final days of the summer break, bringing in Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser, and hoping both rediscover their free-scoring, wildly-creative form of 2018-19 rather than recreating the less inspiring action of last season. They’ve also added the experienced Jeff Hendrick and the youthful Jamal Lewis to their squad, and have memories of winning 3-2 (having led 3-0) at the London Stadium last November. The teams’ last 11 encounters have featured 34 goals and very little boredom, so we’ll hope for more of the same this evening. Whatever we get, welcome!