Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A with Liverpool

Tonight West Ham welcome a flying Liverpool in the midst of an incredible season to the London Stadium, where we can but hope not to get a thrashing. Ahead of the game I spok e to Duncan Oldham, the editor of Liverpool FC fanzine koptalk to talk about the game and the season.

Well last season was a great one for you, but this one looks as good, if not better. Surely you must be certain the league is wrapped up?
I was 15 years old the last time we won the league. It’s such a big deal for me and our club to finally win another title. I just can’t tempt fate, even though it looks fairly obvious what the outcome is going to be. I refuse to say it’s ours until it’s officially secured. I can’t bring myself to answering this question as I’d like to!

Also you are on an unbeaten run, would you take an ‘Invincible Season’, over the Champions League?
No, I don’t understand our fans who say they would rather have an ‘Invincible Season’. Silverware is far more important to me. The Champions League is massive. It has to be more important than going unbeaten.

Jurgen Klopp must be right at the top of the list of Liverpool managers. Where do you place him on the list?
Calls from fans for a Klopp statue are a bit premature to me. There’s no doubt he’s a genius and that he is up there with some of the best managers we’ve had. However, without sounding too mean, I think he needs to secure more major silverware to be considered a ‘great’. He is, however, going in the right direction and I think he will achieve that elite status one day.

Which of the current crop of players will make it on the long list of Liverpool greats?
There’s so many great players at the club these days. Alisson, Van Dijk, Mane, Firmino and Salah have to be up there as too does Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson.

I was a big Kenny Dalgleish fan, but it’s Mo Salah a better player?
No. I think they’re very different and to me, Kenny is one of our greatest players of all time and I don’t think anyone comes close to him.

I suppose you must also be delighting in Manchester United being seemingly knocked off their perch for a long time?
As much as I hate United, I am a football fan and I think they deserve much better than what they’ve got. The manager is out of his depth but I also think those above him are too. Long may it continue, of course, but I personally like to see a competitive league. Can’t believe I just said that!

Assuming you will win the League, which they clubs will join you in The Champions League next year?
I’m assuming nothing! But, surely it will be City, Leicester and Chelsea. I really hope Rodgers achieves that. Seeing another club in the competition is good for the game I think.

Is the reappointment of your old rival David Moyes the right one to keep West Ham up this season, and for the future?
I’d like to say I was shocked at his appointment but your owners never fail to surprise me. I think you deserve so much better. I hope he keeps you up but if he does, I don’t see him really taking you much further.

Following up from that, who are your picks for relegation?
Norwich, Bournemouth and Watford. Can I just add that I hope Leeds secure promotion. I think they’re a well supported club and that the league is better when Leeds are in it. Leeds vs Manchester United is one of my favourite fixtures on the calendar.

How will you line up against us on Wednesday? Team/formation?
I think it will be similar to the one deployed at Wolves Mane, of course, won’t be involved.

Are West Ham going to burst your balloon? Prediction for score?
No. We should have this one. Wishing you and your readers all the best. I hope you stay up!

Well many tanks to Duncan for his time and thoughts. I think he is probably right with his prediction, but no prediction from me. COYI

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Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A with The Toffees

This weekend West Ham welcome a rejuvenated Everton to the London Stadium, where David Moyes will be looking to put one past his old club, and the rest of us will be hoping that we can once again return to winning form. Ahead of the game I once again chatted to my old mate and lifelong Everton fan James Coke aka the disabled chef to talk about the current state of play at Everton, and our course our Saturday’s game.

Hi Jim. It seems like a case of déjà vu: when we chatted a couple of seasons ago, we had both appointed new managers: us David Moyes, and you Big Sam, and whilst we have reappointed Moyes, you have eschewed the chance to hire Big Sam again and have gone for Carlo Ancelotti. I expect you will be wishing that you would have got El Alledici back? How do you sum up the first half of the season?
I was all set for the return of wee Davie, before Don Carlo was pulled out of the hat by Moshiri and his less than silent partner Usmanov (8th richest man in the UK). He’s set for a £2+m bonus to keep us up – which he will. What with his undoubted reputation I’m sure he’ll sort the wheat from the chaff (we’ve got a lot of the latter) and move on from there. Again like previous seasons we bought poorly and were a tad unlucky with injuries to Gomez and Gbamin, but TBH we were poor under Silva and too one dimensional. Some of the defeats were so frustrating like Norwich at home that it was difficult to watch before Big Dunc saved us bounding down the touchline, hugging ball boys and bringing a bit of belief back to the club. As long suspected there are too many players on outrageous sums of money unprepared to step up to the plate and Ancelotti will change that. As for Sam, well he was part of that problem. The club parachuted him in with no long term strategy and a blank check book – it was like appointing Mike Read from EastEnders – everyone just went run-around! If he’d returned Liverpool would have seen an exodus of its population like never before.

Since Moyes’ departure, you’ve had a few managers appointed that have only managed to stay for a short period: is Ancelotti going to prove to be different?
Well I hope so. I’ve eulogised and slagged them all off on here chatting to you outside of Big Dunc – who is course untouchable, so appointing Carlo is a big statement. I’m hoping he hasn’t just jumped on the Everton gravy train for the money but I doubt it. There’s a real project going on with the new stadium, Usmanov and his billions and of course the sleeping giant that is Everton. He’s got to sell a few lame donkeys but a bloke with his pedigree and knowledge can surely this time be only good news and get the right players and maybe some fabled silverware…… eventually. However being a glass over-flowing type of person, I’ve said that about every incoming Everton manager so don’t rely on my sage musings.

Less of the herb talk please Jim! One of your big problems seems to be that you have spent an inordinate amount of money in the past few years, to little avail, and therefore the owners must be loath to hand out more to each new manager?
To right – it is just embarrassing!! I know you’ve got to have a presence in the market and speculate a bit but our wage bill is staggering and many of those players are out on loan or just not at the races. Sigurdsson is a case in point. He was great last season but disappeared last August and still coins £100k+ a week. The ones that do put in a shift are the DCL’s who are on £20k. Carlo has got to find that nice balance. I hope he dips into the youth set up more and prunes that big blue bush as it is weighed down by dead wood!

Having said that, where if anywhere does Carlo need to strengthen your team?
We probably need another left back, centre half and a striker. Jonjo Kenny needs to also return from Germany as Coleman I sense is nearing his end. Ellis Simms is doing the business in the U21s scoring goals and robbing defenders of their dignity as if he was taking candy from a baby! I’d definitely promote him and a few of the other lads, but we’ll probably sign another No10 or winger. I somehow doubt Ancelloti would have joined unless he’d been offered a big war chest so I’m sure we will be linked with a few.

I assume we both reckon that your city neighbours are going to win the league? That must stick in the craw!
I’ve given up caring now. The 5-2 drubbing was bad enough, but when their under 13s turned us over in the cup – that was the ultimate humiliation. I’m sure they will win the league. At times they have been unplayable but they can grind out results as well.. Some bloke on an Everton forum started a rumour that they were all on crystal meths which was a bit far fetched, but I’m sure VAR was created by one of their supporters as they appear immune from its ravages.

Which teams are going to join them in the other Champions League positions, in order?
2. City
3. Spurs
4. Leicester

Who will be relegated?
18. Bournemouth
19. Villa
20. Norwich

Where will Everton and West Ham finish the season?
I think we can only improve so I’m looking at 6th whilst I think Moyes’s and Stubbsy if he takes the job as assistant can get West Ham up to 9th. However there’s no ‘gimmies’ in the Premiership as I once stated on here so who knows. Obviously when we play you I hope we win, but I have some great memories of Moyesey and wish him all the best and hope he gets a fair run as your supremo as I think he’ll do alright at the London Stadium.

6th!Very optimistic! By the way how are your plans to return from Devon to London to watch Everton play in the capital going?
Well this was the first game I was travelling up by train but couldn’t get one of the wheelchair spaces (each train has 2) which incidentally cost a small fortune, so I didn’t bother. Any form of travel when you are confined to a wheelchair is an issue, especially as I don’t drive now and it takes loads of planning as well you know. Getting a ticket is not normally a problem and facilities for wheelchair users are great in most Premiership grounds since the law change but getting there is another thing if you live 200+ miles away. Thank fully as you know Exeter City have filled the void. It’s great footie and we thrashed Argyle 4-0 in the derby, which was barn stormingly brilliant! That’s one trip I will be making in March when we reconvene at Gnome Park down in Cornwall.

Let’s get back to the Big Hitters:How are Everton going to line up against West Ham this weekend? Team/formation?
Pickford – Sidibe – Digne – Mina – Holgate – Sigurdsson – Davies- Bernard – Walcott – Richalison – DCL

After narrowly beating us at Goodison back in the autumn, are you confident that you can complete the double over us this year? Predictions for score?
Dude I accept the coup de grace was delivered late by Gylfi’s belter but that was one of our better days and we should have won by more. I reckon this one will be very tight although I see you’ve got a few injuries. Accordingly Carlo’s nemesis though is Moyes. He never beat him when he was at Chelsea and Moyes will be desperate not to lose this one. 1-1….after we’ve battered you and been robbed by VAR.

Well many thanks to Jim for his time and thoughts once again. 1 -1 seems a fair prediction, but I live in hope and will take us to beat them 2 – 1. COYI

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Book Review

Opposition Q&A with The Blades

This weekend West Ham travel up to South Yorkshire to play against one of the seasons surprises – Sheffield United. We of course are all buoyed by our perfomance against Bournemouth, and will be hoping for more of the same. Ahead of the game I chatted to Sam Parry of the Sheffield United Blog Dem Blades to discuss the season and the game.
Hi Sam. First, congratulations on your start to the season. Sheffield United sit 8th in the table at the midway point – you must be delighted with how you’ve played back in the Premier League? Could things have gone much better?
It feels a little otherworldly at the moment; however, there has been some continuity. Since Chris Wilder took over, we’ve won two promotions. We’ve had consistent success for three and a half years, so the actual winning part feels quite normal. But then I look at the league, realise where the club has come from, and it’s just an incredible spell of fandom. The crappy days, watching us lose 0-3 to Southend at Roots Hall, only heightens the highs we Blades are feeling now.

Obviously your players must have been at the top of their games so far, which of them have stood out for you so far?
The whole team has been on it, hence why we’ve barely changed the starting eleven all season. If I have to isolate a couple, it would be John Fleck and Enda Stevens (I want to add Jack O’Connell and George Baldock and Lys Mousset and David McGoldrick too!). Fleck is our central midfielder, and he’s an excellent ball carrier and dribbler, he can play the tippy-tappy game, he makes defence-splitting passes, and most importantly, he works so hard. (I think West Ham were linked last season.) Enda Stevens is just a phenomenal left back who we picked up from Pompey when they were in League 2. Recently I interviewed Michael Doyle (former Blades captain; the one who did the pearly king walk after we beat you in the cup on pens) and he played with Stevens at Portsmouth, he said that Stevens always had the quality for the PL.

I suppose that most of your success comes down to coaching, so you must be equally delighted with your manager – Chris Wilder?
Full disclosure: I live and work in London. I work with no Sheffield United fans – the nearest thing is a London-born Liverpool fan – and nobody cared about our promotion to the premier league. But now it’s absolutely cockle-warming to hear the praise from the Arsenal and Spurs, and City and United fans – ALL of that is down to Chris Wilder. And people clock it on Match of the Day every week; it’s brilliant. He seriously, seriously (can’t emphasise this enough), seriously improves players. Not just their performances, but from a fan’s eye view, the natural ability of players too.

The way you’ve been playing I don’t expect you’ll need much improving, but are there any areas you think could need a bit of back up in the transfer window?
Competition is what we need. Wouldn’t mind that Van Dijk off of Liverpool too.

By contrast, West Ham have had an awful half of the season after a promising (if short-livedd) start, I don’t suppose you were shocked by Pelligrini’s sacking. Do you think of David Moyes’ appointment, and will keep us up this season?
Nobody’s shocked about sackings any more, are they? I think Pellegrini would have kept you up and I think Moyes will keep you up by 3/4 margin on his predecessor. But I’m reticent to give strong opinions about the managers of other teams. I don’t watch enough of West Ham; I don’t know a lot about Moyes previous stint. So I shall avoid slagging off either Moyes or Pellegrini too much….BUT, if you ask me “Pellegrini or Moyes?”, then my response would have to be “No thanks!”

Talking of relegation, who are your current picks for relegation, at the beginning of the season you chose Norwich, Newcastle, and Watford?
Happy to stick to that prediction! (Not looking to bad, eh?)

Who are going to occupy the top four positions?
Liverpool, City, Leicester, Spurs.

Where are Sheffield United going to end up? You must be pretty confident of staying up already, and where do you think West Ham will finish?
I should be confident on 29 points, shouldn’t I? But I’m a pessimist. Until we have 40 points, I’ll take 17th! Honestly, I don’t know. On paper, you should finish lower mid-table, but perhaps you’re like an inverted version of the Blades: great players don’t make a great team. We’re seven points ahead of you guys now; I think I’ll be planning a European tour if we’re 7 points ahead of you on the last day of the season!

Who have been the best players that you have seen so far this season? At home, and on your travels?
My answer to that question without hesitation is Virgil van Dijk twice.

Var has made viewing of games a bit different, especially when prematurely celebrating a goal, has it made things better?
For pretty much every goal we score, I think of VAR and pause any celebration. There are some good reasons for introducing VAR, some reasons which I could support, but the way the PL has introduced the system is symptomatic of an organisation who cares more about the generalist, armchair fan than people who turn up. It’s really quite sad.

How will you line up against West Ham on Friday? Prediction for team and formation?
It’s always 3-5-2, and we’ve barely changed the team around all season. Barring injuries it will be:
Baldock, Basham, Egan, O’Connell, Stevens
Lundstram, Norwood, Fleck
McGoldrick, Mousset or McBurnie

You got a draw against us at our place, are you confident that you will turn us over back at Bramall Lane? Prediction for score?
Honestly, that game was one of our toughest. Particularly the first half. I think that Pellegrini got his tactics spot-on (probably by judgement, but possibly by luck). Yarmolenko and Anderson pushed up high and pinned back our wing-backs, and we struggled to create anything in the first half. (We were much better in the second half). So what does that teach me? You can hurt us, you have a new manager…but I’m still confident. We’ll be up for it after resting eleven players against Fylde in the FA Cup. 2-0 Blades (sorry!).
(We’ve got this far without mention of Carlos Tevez!? I think I speak for all of us when I say that hatchet six feet under.)

Well many thanks to Sam for his time and comments. I do like to see promoted teams (not Leeds if they come up) doing well. But I’m back to my usual over optimistic self, and will go for a 1 – 2 away win. COYI

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Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A with Brighton

This weekend West Ham, after losing at home to Liverpool mid-week, welcome Brighton to The London Stadium, in a game that West Ham will have identified as one of those in our current run of fixtures that we are more likely to pick some points. Ahead of the game I spoke to Scott McCarthy from WeAreBrighton to discuss the game, and the season.

Hi Scott, This season looks like a massive case of deja vu, with both of our clubs languishing at the bottom of the table: how would you sum up the season so far?
Up until Christmas, it was going very well. We were playing good football and you could have made a very strong case that we should have had at least 10 more points on the board from games that we’d either been very unlucky in or that we’d done stupid things to throw away, such as early red cards in defeats against Southampton and Aston Villa and poor game management seeing us concede last minute goals to Burnley and Villa. The hope was that Graham Potter would learn from those games and adapt his style to suit the Premier League, where you do have to be a little more pragmatic. Sometimes, if you’re beating Burnley 1-0 at home with 90 seconds left to go, you don’t need to pass the ball out from the back or go on the attack. Worryingly, the opposite seems to be happening and Potter is getting more and more entrenched in his views of how football should be played. Since we drew with Chelsea on New Year’s Day, we’ve been diabolical. Confidence is bereft and what we desperately need is to grind out a 1-0 victory to get our season back on track. You’d back a Chris Hughton side to do that, but it’s hard to see Potter settling for a much-needed result over having 70% possession.

How is life under the new Graham Potter regime at Brighton? How do you compare him to your most recent managers?
His attacking philosophy is obviously chalk and cheese compared to Hughton. The closest fit we’ve had to Potter is Gus Poyet; both were wedded to their way of playing, both left fan frustrated at times because of it but both also delivered some startling and memorable results. They both also seem to hate Glenn Murray. Poyet was happy to let him go on a free to Crystal Palace in favour of wasting £2.5m on Craig Mackail-Smith and Potter hasn’t started Murray since September in any competition. None of our strikers have scored a goal since Neal Maupay in our 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace back at the start of December, and yet Murray is still getting only 10 minutes here and there. That’s another thing that is starting to grate. You’ve got a clinical finisher who has been our top scorer for the past three seasons, why not use him?

Which players have stepped up to the mark this season so far, and which players have disappointed?
Dan Burn has been impressive at left back and it’s probably not a coincidence that since he broke his collarbone against Chelsea, we’ve lost three and drawn one of our subsequent games. Aaron Mooy has also been a revelation and turning his loan permanent for just £5m is an absolute bargain bit of business, especially in today’s overinflated marketplace where he’s worth at least three times that. Nobody has really disappointed through their own fault. I’ve already mentioned Potter’s reluctance to use Murray and the same goes for Shane Duffy, who has found himself going from Player of the Season in 2018-19 to sitting on the bench every week because he can’t play a 20 yard diagonal pass. Seeing our best two players from the past couple of years reduced to the bench has been sad, especially as they still have something to offer.

In the last couple of days of the transfer window to you envisage buying any players? Where can Brighton look to improve their squad?
With Potter’s steadfast refusal to use Murray, we desperately need a striker – but then again so do about 14 teams in the Premier League. Tony Bloom is always reluctant to buy in January and I can’t see anyone major coming in.

West Ham have followed Brighton’s lead from last year and dumped their manager mid-season. Do you think they have made the right decision, and have they appointed the right man in David Moyes to keep us in the Premier League, and for the future?
I think David Moyes will keep you up, yes. West Ham’s squad should be more than good enough to survive presuming he can sort your defence and goalkeeper issues out. Last time we saw David Martin play, he was at Millwall and managed to throw an off-target Solly March free kick into the back of his net in the last minute of our FA Cup Quarter Final at the Den. I was absolutely astounded that he’d got a move to the Premier League, even as a backup. The bigger question is where do you go at the end of the season? Moyes probably doesn’t fit ‘the West Ham way’, but it looks from the outside that you try and appoint managers who do and then end up having to sack them with relegation a real threat. Solid, Premier League bosses like Sam Alardyce and David Moyes who comfortably keep you up are then sneered at. It’s a tough one as West Ham are one of the bigger clubs in the Premier League, but as we’ve seen with the likes of Everton it isn’t easy to turn into a side who is comfortably in the top eight or nine every season.

Assuming that Liverpool have got the league sewn up, who are your picks to join them in the Champions League spots for next season?
Leicester City, Manchester City and Spurs. Although Jose Mourinho’s appointment at Tottenham has been a disaster for me personally. I had a significant wager on Spurs, Liverpool and City not to be involved in a 0-0 draw all season which was looking very good until Mourinho arrived and began parking the bus. Sadly, that should get them into the top four.

Who are your favourites for the drop?
Norwich were shocking when we saw them and Villa are relying solely on Jack Grealish to survive so should injury or suspension befall him, they’ll be deep in trouble. Before last week, I’d have said Bournemouth but the fact that they turned us over 3-1 at the Vitality Stadium doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence in our own hopes of avoiding the drop.

Where are Brighton and West Ham going to finish the season?
West Ham I can see pulling clear to finish 12th or 13th. We look to be on a downward spiral and right now, I’d accept anything above the relegation zone. 17th.

How will Brighton line-up against West Ham at the London Stadium this weekend? Team/formation?
Absolutely no idea. Every week Potter changes the starting line up and the personnel, almost as if he’s picking the team out of a raffle hat. We’ve lined up with four centre backs, six central midfielders and three wingers in games this season – and we don’t even play with wingers.
The only thing I could say with any certainty is that Murray won’t start. Which is great news for you, given his outrageous record against the Hammers.

Finally are you feeling confident that Brighton will be able to get another positive result against West Ham this time out? Prediction for score?
My heart says a 1-1 draw as we’ve enjoyed our previous couple of visits to the London Stadium. My head however says 2-0 to West Ham. Make of that what you will!

Well once again, many thanks to Scott for his time and expansive thoughts. Well his despondency has given me the confidence join him, and go for a 2 – 0 victory for the Mighty Claret and Blue. COYI
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Book Review

Opposition Q&A with The Saints

This weekend West Ham travel to the South coast to take on a Southampton team who are disappointing their fans as much as West Ham are us. Before the game I spoke to old friend and Saints season ticket holder Simon Lacey from Dance Company New Adventures, who are currently on tour in LA to compare woes.

Well we are both having a terrible first half of the season. Where in particular have you been lacking so far?
Where do I begin. Defence, midfield and attack for starters. There is no obvious structure for the team and how it is all meant to work; no link-ups, no sense that anyone knows where someone else will be for a pass, no movement of the ball in midfield that has the intention of setting up chances. Just look at the ratio of goals we have scored from the opponents defensive errors, set plays (JWP take a bow) and individual skill (Djenepo in both instants for our 1-0 away wins at Brighton and Sheffield Utd) as opposed to goals scored from team play.

Despite your position, have there been any particular moments that give you hope for the future?
Djenepo has the ability for individual moments of brilliance as noted above, JWP is the best English dead ball exponent since Becks – witness the latest against Watford, scratches head for anything more to say in answer.

The consequence of being at or near the bottom leads to speculation that the manager’s position is at risk – what are your thoughts on Hasenhüttl? Should he go, or should you persevere with him?
In terms of leadership I’m more depressed that the working class turkeys in the midlands and the the north voted for Christmas in the shape of that Eton toff Johnson; London should seek independence! The jury is out on Hasenhüttl – after a decent second half of last season under him the expectation was more of the same or better. I don’t see a great tactical mind and some of his selections raise eyebrows. Some of it is down to what he has to work with but you see clubs with similar or worse squads doing better.

What about Maunuel Pelligrini, do you think he will still be West Ham manager at the end of the season?
I doubt it but don’t really know where it all has gone wrong. Maybe too many of the squad are not that interested as there is definitely talent there. I like him but if results don’t pick up soon I think a P45 beckons.

Which players, if any have had a reasonable season so far? Conversely who have played below par?
I am glad you say reasonable as I couldn’t name anyone that has had a really good season. Ings has scored a few, Djenepo has his moments and Bertrand has been fine but only one member of a v brittle defence. Below par: Pope, Vestergaard, Cedric, Bednarek, Valery, Romeo, Adams and Redmond for starters.

How do you think VAR has performed so far?
Inconsistently and mostly to Liverpool’s advantage so in that respect no different from referees. It only really works for offsides as that (like goal-line technology) is a factual thing bit still some strange interpretations of second stage and which bit of body is in an offside position I think. Ridiculous that ref can’t check the monitors and the unwillingness to overturn decisions to protect the on-field ref (just makes him seem even more of a Jonah)

Which teams have surprised you with their performances so far this season?
Sheffield Utd and (winces) Leicester.

As usual who do you think/hope is going to win the league this season, and who will join them in the Champions League next year?
Hope anyone other than Liverpool – think Liverpool. City, Leicester and either Chelsea of Spurs to join them in Champions League.

Who are your favourites for the drop at this halfway stage?
Norwich stone-wallers I’d say, Watford very likely and gonna plump for Bournemouth, particularly with their injury situation in key areas

How will Southampton line up this weekend? Team/Position?
McCarthy, Cedric (RB), Stephens (RCB), Bednarek (LCB), Bertrand (LB), Ward- Prowse (CM), Hojberj (CM), Djenepo (LM), Redmond (RM), Ings (CF), Long (F) i.e. 4-4-2. Possibly Boufal or Romeo for Djenepo. Possibly Obafemi or Adams for Long.

Are you confident of a Southampton victory? ‘Cos I’m confident of a West Ham defeat? Prediction for score?
I’m confident of nothing at St Mary’s despite winning the last 2 (Watford and Norwich admittedly). We tend to play better against teams that look to attack rather than those that are content to spoil and break-away so I’ll go for 2-1in hope but just as likely to be 1-2 in reality.

Well many thanks to SImon once again for his time, and giving up the chance to stroll along Venice Beach to think about West Ham’s travails. I agree with his prediction, I obviously hope it goes our way, but would also be a bit shocked if it did. COYI

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