Monday, December 15

Drawing drawing West Ham…

Sunderland 1 West Ham 1

We’re in Lewes on a mini-break to celebrate our wedding anniversary for this one. Strangely Her Indoors has eschewed an afternoon at the Stadium of Light in favour of staying the White Hart, where Thomas Paine once formed the Headstrong Society for the Julian Dicks types of his day, a trip round Lewes Castle, tea at Anne of Cleves’ house, an Italian dinner and Sunday climbing Mount Caburn followed by a pint of Harveys best bitter in the Snowdrop.

Upon returning to London my recording of Match of the Day reveals a decent away draw. Jenkinson has a volley well saved by Pantilimon early on, though Sunderland go ahead with a Gomez penalty after Johnson collapses when brushed by James Tomkins. Never a penalty. West Ham show a bit of character to equalise, as Downing cuts in from the right and fires a deflected left-foot shot into the corner.

After that it appears to be a game that could have gone either way. The hapless Altidore somehow contrives to miss a cross from Larsson while just a couple of yards from goal and Winston Reid is lucky to get away with a handball in the box.

Andy Carroll scoops a delicate chip on to the roof of the net, while Downing finds Cresswell on the overlap, but the keeper smothers his effort. Adrian makes a decent stop from Fletcher and a brilliant tip over from Wickham’s fierce shot. At the end Andy Carroll almost wins it for the Irons, sidefooting the ball just wide of the post.

It’s the sort of game we might have lost season, so as Big Sam says, we’ll respect the point against the league’s draw specialists. Got to be happy with 28 points collected from 16 games.

Friday, December 12

Everton away in the FA Cup

Was feeling optimistic about our FA Cup chances until we drew Everton away, a ground where WHU never seem to get anything. But let's hope it's like 1980, when West Ham were drawn away at West Brom, then a high quality side, and I confidently predicted we'd be knocked out in the third round. But a great performance by Phil Parkes in goal resulted in a 1-1 draw, we won the replay and went on to win the Cup. Though knowing West Ham we could easily win at Everton and then get knocked out by the likes of Blyth Spartans.

Sunday, December 7

Barcelona, we're coming for you!

West Ham 3 Swansea City 1

Ken’s Café is covered in seasonal tinsel as myself, daughter Lola and her pal Fernanda dine on isotonic sausage, egg, chips and beans. We move on to the Newham Bookshop where Vivien tells us that Russell Brand will be dropping in to sign copies of his book Revolution, presumably a tribute to Big Sam’s re-invention of West Ham this season.

Matt is in the Galapagos Islands watching turtle football, while Nigel is away at a family event. So it’s down to the diehard contingent of Michael the Whovian, fresh from William Russell’s 90th birthday party, Fraser and the returning prodigal Iron, The Gav.

West Ham dominate the first 15 minutes but then Swansea score with their first break. Montero makes speedy progress down the left and pulls the ball back for Bony to calmly slot home. Bony — whom West Ham could have signed instead of Andy Carroll — runs over to our corner to do a silly dance. Soon the Swansea fans are breaking into a chorus of Land of my Fathers.

West Ham wobble a little as Adrian has to punch away another effort from Bony after good work by Sigurdsson.

But slowly we re-impose ourselves on the game as Nolan fires wide from Jenkinson’s cross and then has an effort saved by Fabianski. Alex Song is making a difference controlling the midfield, though Valencia rarely connects with Carroll and doesn’t look fully fit yet.

The Irons equalise as Jenkinson fires in an inviting cross. Andy Carroll gets a run on the ball and smacks home a sensational header. Good moment for the big man after all those hours of toil in Billi’s yoga studio.

West Ham start the second half with more pressure. Sakho, on for Valencia at half time, looks hungry and makes a difference rolling in an inviting cross that is cleared for a corner. .  A swift Swansea break sees Bony rattle the bar. But on 66 minutes Carroll meets Downing’s corner with another fine header that Britton can’t clear off the line. 2-1 to the Cockney Boys.
After robbing Williams he hits the post with a great effort and we wonder if it might prove costly. Then Sakho appears to handball on the left of the box, but forces his way through to hit the post again as Fabianski rushes out. There’s some contact with Sakho, though it doesn’t look a sending off as there’s a covering defender. But the ref red cards Fabianski and awards a retrospective free kick to West Ham on the edge of the box.

As ever we struggle slightly against ten men and a substitute goalkeeper. O’Brien and then Collins shore up the back line. Michael leaves with five minutes to go, as he has to get to the British Film Institute to watch the earliest British science fiction film ever made. “Don’t miss a goal!” we warn.

Sure enough, Carroll wins another aerial challenge allowing Sakho to race through the middle and thump a half-volley past the keeper. Great goal.

“Diafra Sakho! He scores when he wants!” salutes the Bobby Moore Stand. Then come chants of  “We’re gonna win the league! and “Barcelona we’re coming for you!”

“Typical,” texts Michael. Matt and Lisa are presumably dancing in the streets of Galapagos as West Ham win this Darwinian battle of life. Nell and her friend Fernanda (soon to move to Stratford and surely a new Hammers convert) chant, “We want more! Make it four!”

A chorus of Bubbles starts in the corner of the Alpari and carries on round the whole ground. We survive six minutes of added time and it’s three wins in a week. We go above Southampton and Man United. We’re THIRD! It’s starting to feel like this is going to be a special season.

TEAM RATINGS: Adrian 6; Jenkinson 7 (O’Brien 5), Reid 7, Tomkins 6, Cresswell 6; Nolan 6, Kouyate 6 (Collins 5), Song 7, Downing 6; Valencia 5 (Sakho 8), Carroll 8.

Friday, December 5

Spreading the goals around

With Kevin Nolan and James Tomkins having scored at West Brom, it means West Ham have had 11 separate scorers in the league this season. That's got to be a sign of a good team when the goals are spread around. Encouragingly defenders Cresswell, Tomkins and Reid have all scored a goal. Midfielders Downing, Amalfitano (twice each) Noble and Nolan have all made the onion sack bulge, while strikers Sakho, Valencia, Cole and Zarate have scored 13 between them. Now we just need Carroll, Collins, Song, Kouyate and Jenkinson to hit the net.

Wednesday, December 3

We're gonna win the league!

West Brom 1 West Ham 2

A season ago this was the sort of game we'd lose 1-0. It looked like it might happen again after the unmarked Dawson rose to head Albion ahead. Yet the character in this West Ham side showed through again with Nolan getting a poacher's goal after Carroll's overhead kick was saved. Then in first-half added time James Tomkins headed home Downing's corner for his first goal in two years. The second half sounds like one of the grittier performances from last season, with the Hammers having little possession but defending resolutely. But we'll take that while Noble, Sakho, Song and Valencia (though he did come on in the second half) are not in the starting line-up. Last season a few West Ham fans held up that "Fat Sam Out Killing WHU" banner. This season they were chanting, "We're gonna win the league!" and "Barcelona we're coming for you!"

Twenty four points… we're almost safe! Texted the result to Matt, holidaying in the heights of Quito, Equador, where Mr and Mrs Valencia will presumably be dancing in the streets, and looking forward to the highlights on Match of the Day tonight. We're only two points behind Southampton in third spot and three points behind Man City in second place. How times change.

Tuesday, December 2

Stop! Hammer Time

Scurrilous thoughts on all things West Ham related can be found on the Stop! Hammer Time podcast, recorded before the Newcastle game. Includes contributions from myself, Don Peretta and Pete Ward and is ably marshalled by comedian Phil Whelans, who also does a mean Dickensian Big Sam impersonation. Click on the link to listen. There's also a live podcast with George Parris and Kriss Akabusi on Wed Dec 3 at the Horse and Stables pub in Lambeth, click on the link for tickets.

Sunday, November 30

All's well that ends Cresswell

West Ham 1 Newcastle 0

In Ken’s Café Matt’s been on the night shift and is being revived by cheesy chips. Michael the Whovian is discussing Braintree trivia over fried bread, bacon and mushrooms, while Jo dispenses her wisdom about the daily papers. Nigel arrives late for his takeaway tea, fresh from a Procul Harum gig.

Within the East Stand we take a selfie for two Dutch fans from Delph, as Mark Noble receives massive applause for breaking West Ham’s Premier League appearance record.

Strangely, Big Sam has preferred Jarvis to Zarate. It’s a pretty dire first half. Perez twists past Collins to fire wide after three minutes and later flicks a shot wide. Downing has one tame shot saved and that’s it; neither goalkeeper is forced to make a proper save. Nigel starts to turn a whiter shade of pale as Fraser, fresh from his creative writing course, ponders on how to turn this dire material into a thriller.

“You’re not Geordie anymore!” the away fans sing at Andy Carroll.

“Andy Carroll — he left ’cos you’re shit!” suggest the Irons’ aficionados.

Tomkins makes one great tackle and our back line looks solid but that’s about it. Carroll gets a couple of decent flicks in, but Downing doesn’t look fully fit yet, Amalfitano has a poor game and Jarvis fails to get crosses in as both sides cancel each other out. We really miss Song in midfield and Valencia and Sakho running down the channels. The most exciting event of the first half is the announcement that Mr Moon is in the stadium.

At half-time we’re reduced to talking about our holidays. Matt announces that he’s taking a trip to the Galapagos Islands, as Nigel asks, “Do they play turtle football there?”

The second half begins with Cresswell blazing wildly over from 30 yards as Downing and Carroll await a pass.

“What did he do that for?” asks Matt.

”It’s not as if he’s got any sort of goalscoring record…” suggests Mystic May.

The game looks to be meandering towards a goalless draw as Kouyate swipes at a shot from the edge of the box on 56 minutes. He mishits the ball hopelessly, but it drifts through to Aaron Cresswell, who has continued his run, and the left-back expertly pokes past Elliot. The full-back peels away in front of the Bobby Moore Stand as the ground (and Mr Moon) erupts in relief.

“Always said he’d come good,” says Matt.

“Never in doubt!” I agree.

The half livens up. Newcastle bring on Cisse and Cabella, only for Sissoko to be sent off for first kicking the ball away and then kicking Andy Carroll. It’s always difficult to play against ten men…

Zarate arrives after 70 minutes and holds the ball up well in the box only to be let down by a lack of support. Then he fires in a stinging shot that Elliot does well to parry.

Collins and Tomkins stay strong at the back as the Vicar’s Son gets very irate as we don’t sub a visibly tiring Andy Carroll and our corners turn into Newcastle breaks.

Zarate almost breaks for the third but is let down by a lack of pace. But we hold on to grind out a very welcome three points. I forgo the Central to go on a Jack the Ripper Tour at Aldgate with Her Indoors, and at times it’s been murder today. Not the sort of good football we’ve been used to this season. but a different sort of character was needed today and we’ve stopped the Geordies’ run of six successive wins. More of the same required against West Brom and Swansea now.

Adrian 5; Jenkinson 6, Collins 7 Tomkins 7, Cresswell 7; Kouyate 6 (Nolan 5), Noble 6, Amalfitano 5, Jarvis 4 (Zarate 6), Downing 5; Carroll 5.