Sunday, August 30

He tattoos what he wants…

Let's salute Hammers fan Jon High. Before yesterday's game at Anfield he tweeted that if West Ham won he would get a tattoo to mark the famous occasion. A man of his word, Jon, clearly on a High, has now tweeted a picture of said tattoo…

Saturday, August 29

We want four! Hammers end Anfield hoodoo in style

Liverpool 0 West Ham 3 (three!)

Crisis what crisis! Never in doubt we'd end our 52-year Anfield hoodoo by winning 3-0 at Anfield. Listened to the game on Radio London and could hear some great chants of "Diafra Sakho he scores when he wants!" as Sakho scored the third in added time. What a bizarre season so far, winning at the Emirates and Anfield and slumping at home to Leicester and Bournemouth.

That 2-0 half-time score had me thinking of the FA Cup Final, but this time we don't f**k it up. Perfect start when Lanzini scored after three minutes and then some poor play by Lovren let in Lanzini to cross for Noble's second. A bit hairy when Noble was sent off (Countino had also been red-carded in the second-half) but what a fantastic result when you consider West Ham were without Jenkinson, Adrian, Valencia, Zarate, Carroll, Collins and O'Brien and had a bunch of teenagers on the bench. Last time we won at Anfield on September 14 1963 I was in very short trousers, Doctor Who was yet to be broadcast and the Beatles had just released their first LP. Time to Twist and Shout!

Watching Match of the Day it was good to see Slaven Bilic mastering his English gaffer metaphors, saying, "we parked the bus but we left the hand-brake off." Leaving Liverpool looking like the bus at the end of The Italian Job. MOTD singled out Lanzini for special praise and he did a great job harassing the Liverpool defence and tracking back on the right. It seems a 4-3-3 formation worked much better, with Lanzini and Payet supporting Sakho and Noble, Obiang and Kouyate shielding the defence. Both red cards were harsh; Coutinho was bamboozled by a piece of Payet skill and Mark Noble was fouled and then played the ball — hopefully his sending off will be rescinded.

Liverpool only had three chances with Firmino hitting the post, Milner blasting wide and Lovren hoofing over. We also saw Cresswell force a save and Reid head over and ended the game with a flurry of corners. And what a great finish by Sakho for the third in the 92nd minute.

Tough on my pal Big Joe who has been going to Anfield for years but missed this one because his in-laws were on holiday, but what a result. Irons!

Maiga leaves for Saudi Arabia

Was at The Importance of Being Earnest at the Vaudeville Theatre when the news came through that Modibo Maiga has left for Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia. As my pal Matt quipped by text, "to lose Kevin Nolan may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose Modibo Maiga as well looks like carelessness." The news that Maiga is leaving presumably means that Spurs' Emmanuel Adebayor is close to coming to the club on loan, otherwise we're really short up front. Felt a little sorry for Maiga, who was often played alone up front. He actually scored a good goal against Bournemouth and will be remembered for his goals against Chelsea and Spurs and a great individual effort against Southampton — overall though it just hasn't worked out.

Friday, August 28

Are West Ham heading towards a crisis season?

Arrived back from my holidays to find a changed WHU world — Nobby Nolan has gone, Sakho has been bailed by the Old Bill, Zarate has picked up an injury in training and Valencia has been complaining about the WHU medical staff, only to hastily retract his comments. Meanwhile David Sullivan has upset Charlie Austin by saying he has a dodgy ligament in his knee. Appreciate the need to be cautious in signing injury-prone strikers, but by speaking publicly Sullivan has alienated a potential signing. All of which is giving us the air of a crisis club. 

Finally sat down and watched Match of the Day and it's hard to legislate for Cresswell and Jenkinson making such calamitous errors against Bournemouth. Both looked good players last season and will improve this time, but it's clear they need more support from midfield. Surely having seen what happened against Leicester, Bilic should have changed the narrow midfield diamond formation to something more like a conventional 4-4-2 or 4-5-1? Perhaps we're also missing Alex Song who had such a fine first half of the season last time out and Stewart Downing who could stop out wide and play in the middle. The other worrying factor is that we have accrued endless silly red cards — so far Sakho, Tomkins, Collins, Adrian and Jenkinson have all been sent off, which shows a lack of discipline in the side.

Unlucky injuries, sendings off and home defeats is not a great recipe… The Guardian review of the Bournemouth match mentioned the prospect of relegation, which is surely a bit premature, but the gamble of replacing Allardyce is looking a risk at the moment (Benitez was within three hours of taking the job, claims the Daily Mail this week.) Though we achieved a great win at Arsenal, Bilic and the team are still learning and should we get anything at Liverpool it will all look a lot better. Though not having won there since 1963 that's a big if…

Thursday, August 27

Nolan leaves Hammers

Back from my holidays to the news that skipper Kevin Nolan is leaving West Ham by mutual consent. Clearly Slaven Bilic has seen enough to know that Nolan is no longer a force at Premier League level and in truth he didn't look up to it last season and was seemingly picked out of sentiment.

But let's remember that Nolan has always come across as a decent human being and could have chosen to sit out this season in the reserves on a massive salary, so credit him with wanting to play and being willing to take a pay-cut to do so. At 33 he could still do a decent job for a Championship side.

Overall, Nobby Nolan did an effective job in his four seasons at the Hammers. Never the most mobile or speedy midfielder, he was signed by Sam Allardyce for his leadership qualities and goalscoring abilities. It's significant that the spirit of the side improved markedly after he signed and he was brilliant at the dark arts of influencing referees and appealing for penalties.

Nolan's goals also contributed to the club's promotion and it's often forgotten that he could have been the hero of the Play-Off Final against Blackpool, having hit the bar with a great effort before playing a part in Vaz Te's winner.

When he was scoring he was worth a place in the side, but the decline in his stats tells the story of a player coming to the end of his career. He scored 13 goals in WHU's Championship season, ten PL goals in season 2012-13, seven in 2013-14 and only one goal last season. He always tried his hardest for the club though and it wasn't his fault if he was picked when past his best last season. Good luck at your new club, Kevin.

Sunday, August 23

Winning friends and losing matches

West Ham 3 Bournemouth 4

Luckily I'm on holiday in Salzberg, Austria, for this one. Spent the morning taking a very scary cable car ride to the top of Untersberg, an Alpine mountain that is 6000ft high. Only like the Hammers it seems I've peaked too soon. And now we've got a mountain to climb.

Matt and Nigel send various texts detailing us going 2-0 down pulling back to 2-2 and then losing 4-2 with Jenkinson getting sent off. "Both full backs have been abysmal," is Matt's verdict. There's even more shocks when Modibo Maiga scores to pull back a consolation goal. "That's how you get to be first on Match of the Day," suggests Matt. "If anyone tells you there were any positives for West Ham take it with a pinch of Salzberg."

This is worrying. Bournemouth are a confident side and Wilson who scored a hat-trick is a good striker; but after a great win at Arsenal we've lost two at home to lower level teams. Bilic said he's restore the West Ham way but this is more reminiscent of the erratic form of Ron Greenwood's sides post-1966, winning friends and losing matches. The team will take time to gel, but even so, this result suggests a struggle.

Nigel's player ratings say it all really: Randolph 6; Jenkinson 2, Ogbonna 5 (Tomkins 5), Reid 5, Cresswell 2; Nolan 3 (Jarvis 4), Obiang 4, Noble 5, Payet 5, Kouyate 6, Sakho 5 (Maiga 6).

Sunday, August 16

Back to reality as Hammers out-Foxed by Leicester

West Ham 1 Leicester City 2

As the tube arrives at Upton Park there’s sense of sadness at the thought that this is is the last time we’ll be starting a season at the Boleyn. And does the clock still stand at ten to three, Rupert Brooke style? No, the sexist “Don’t kill your wife let us do it!” sign above the dry cleaners in Green Street has lost its clockface entirely, as if time has stopped altogether in E13, which is probably a matter for Michael the Whovian.

At the station I’ve bumped into my old schoolmate Steve who still travels up from Cornwall for home games, a sign of the strange devotion our not often successful team inspires. Inside Ken’s CafĂ© Matt and Lisa are attending their second game of the day having already seen the under-18s at Little Heath and been in close proximity to Martin Samuelson, while Michael is looking forward to Bakkhai at the Almeida, which is presumably some play about a Greek full-Bakkhai

WHAT A STREAMER
For some reason it’s “claret and blue day”. As the teams come on claret and purple streamers cascade from above the stands. Are they the remnants of an Ann Summers’ gift-wrapping outlet? One gets caught in the roof of the East stand and stays there all game.

West Ham have a decent first 20 minutes as a free kick from Payet sees Morgan head against his own bar and Sakho volleys over after a Zarate shot is blocked. But slowly Leicester come into it. Vardy and Jenkinson are causing Jenkinson problems and the speedy Vardy is booked for clattering into Adrian. On the other flank Mahrez skins Cresswell and forces a good save from Adrian. The Hammers’ custodian then makes a decent save from Huth only for the ref to give a goal kick. Adrian makes a “shush” gesture to the Bobby Moore Stand.

It all goes wrong on 27 minutes. Reid doesn’t get close enough to Vardy, who crosses. Young Oxford has lost Okazaki and the Japanese striker produces a brilliant back-heeled volley. Adrian saves but the new City striker heads the rebound home. Ironic considering Vardy’s recent linguistic issues with a Japanese punter.

Ten minutes later we’re 2-0 down as Allbrighton gets down the left and despite five defenders in the box Mahrez arrives to fire home. “We’re Leicester City we’re top of the league!” chant the away fans.

West Ham rally a little before the break. Payet plays in Sakho who lobs wide but is also brought down by Schmeichel’s outstretched arm. Could easily be a penalty.

Bilic takes off Reece Oxford at half-time and brings on Obiang. Oxford has done some good things, but at 16 he’s still learning the game and this will be part of his education. A "Cologne Hammers" banner hangs from the Bobby Moor Stand and you wonder if they think it is worth it. 

But Obiang has a decent game and brings some good tackling and pace to the holding role. The Irons look a different side with Zarate hugging the left touchline and Payat more influential. Zarate comes infield to finds Noble, who crosses into the box. Payet’s first shot is blacked but the rebound is played into his path by Kouyate and the Frenchman sidesteps a defender to score a classy goal. Suddenly the crowd are up for it again.

In a spell of sustained pressure Zarate nearly scores the goal of the season after a mazy dribble but takes on one man too many. Leicester look dangerous on the break though and Drinkwater should make it three but fires over. Matt has his first Premier League tirade of the season at the hapless Jenkinson: “Don’t foul him… he wants the free kick… How difficult is it for Jenkinson not to foul him?”

The dependable Huth clears everything at the back for City. Our best chance comes when Payet’s header finds Sakho who volleys at Schmeichel who makes an instinctive save with his chest. There are only three minutes of added time, which is odd considering Leicester’s timewasting.

JEEPERS KEEPERS
Adrian goes up for one final corner, leaving an empty goal, which seems an unnecessary risk. When the ball is cleared the Hammers’ keeper lunges in foot up and boots Vardy in the chest. Adrian’s eyes are on the ball but it’s a dangerous challenge by a player who’s not used to being outfield and the ref has little choice but to send him off. So that could be three games out with suspension. “Let’s hope Robert Green has his bags packed,” suggests Fraser. Jenkinson has to go in goal for the last seconds.

As I head towards East Ham tube there’s a familiar rumble of discontent that could have come after any home defeat of the last 40 years. “Typical West Ham… How can we beat Arsenal and lose to Leicester… that was disgraceful… I bet Allardyce is sitting at home laughing…”

In truth Leicester look a half-decent side, but we’ve struggled against the basic tactic of using Vardy’s pace. The full-backs have looked poor defensively, although the second half performances of Zarate, Obiang and Payet were encouraging. But Sakho was isolated up front and we still need reinforcements and typically we now have a self-inflicted goalkeeping wound. A definite reality check after the Arsenal win.

TEAM RATINGS: Adrian 5; Jenkinson 4, Reid 6, Ogbonna 5, Cresswell 5; Oxford 5 (Obiang 6), Payet 7, Noble 6, Kouyate 5 (Lanzini 5); Zarate 7 (Maiga 5), Sakho 5.