Peterborough is shut when my train arrives at 6.15pm. Groups of forlorn West Ham fans loiter by the splendid cathedral able only to find a McDonald’s and Nando’s open. Still, it’s always good to visit a new stadium. This is my 63rd league ground, not that I’m counting.
The Posh’s London Road stadium is a throwback, one new stand but terracing at both ends and Matt, Lisa, Mike and myself are sitting in the antique stand with minute wooden seats and a close-up view of Sullivan and Gold in the Director’s Box. Big Joe got us the tickets, but has bizarrely chosen to go to Sri Lanka rather than East Anglia via Sandy and St Neots.
We’re behind Sam Allardyce, who stands in his technical area like a curmudgeonly character from a Samuel Beckett play, all mysterious arm twitches and finger signals at his players.
Peterborough come at us like it’s their cup final, which it clearly is for Grant McCann, and we rely on the excellent Faye and Tomkins at the back to repel the early thrusts, though the home side are unlucky when Taylor hits the bar.
We come into it more in the later stages of the half, Taylor has a cross spilled by the keeper, Vaz Te gets a couple of good runs in and we force some corners without ever really looking like scoring.
WE PLAY ON THE FLOOR
There’s a mutinous mood among the West Ham fans on the terracing. First come the chants of “Two up front!” followed by “We’re West Ham United we play on the floor!” and “Paolo Di Canio!”.
A West Ham fan near us rushes up to the police line to shout at Allardyce and Sullivan “Carlton Cole couldn’t trap a ball with two feet!”
The home fans treat us to “Kevin Nolan’s a wanker!” for some reason, while the mood in the away terrace turns more jovial as the Irons fans discover the joy of jumping, singing “If you ‘ate Millwall jump up!”
It’s goalless at half-time, though in the last minute of the first half Tomkins is injured making a fantastic block to prevent a goal and Faye is subbed for Collins after a clash of heads with Taylor.
Things improve greatly in the second half. Faubert is on for O’Brien giving us more attacking threat. The breakthrough comes after 52 minutes when McCartney finds Taylor and his cross is headed home by Vaz Te. Quite an achievement to direct the ball back across the keeper with that Mohican on his bonce.
Four minutes later O’Neil is given space to run at the Posh defence and unleashes a 25-yard curler into the corner – a great goal and a sign he's making a full recovery from a horrible injury.
FERGIE FERGIE WHAT'S THE SCORE?
The West Ham fans ask Robert Green what the score is, but he makes a don’t tempt fate gesture to much laughter. He’s then regaled with career advice of “He’s West Ham till he dies!” and “Sign in the morning he’s gonna sign in the morning!”
Green then proves why he’s England class with a fantastic save on the line from Freklington to prevent Posh coming back into it. Nolan who has closed down everything tonight and had one of his better games for club tries a back-flick shot that hits the bar and would have been goal of the season.
Possibly under instruction from the fans, we play on the floor and bamboozle Peterborough with some flowing 15-pass moves, though several end with Faubert’s wayward crosses. Or is it the result of Big Sam’s lectures on perception, reality and the unbearable lightness of being four points behind Reading?
O’Neil’s experience proves crucial in retaining possession and we see the game out comfortably. The fans “Ole!” every pass and McCartney, Vaz Te and Nolan all go close. Cole has admittedly worked hard all game though he’s completely lost his confidence in front of goal, hesitating when another opportunity for the third comes along.
The away fans in the terrace chant "Is that all you bring away?" at the West Ham fans in the stand, who chant back “We forgot that you were here!” We’re actually enjoying a game at last. Peterborough are taunted with ”Fergie Fergie what’s the score!” and "We filled your ground for you!"
Matt asks “Is there a fire drill?” as the coppers next to us despair and rush out for more doughnuts, and one of them actually smiles.
The final whistle blows and at last we’ve got that win, leaving Reading just one point ahead and playing us next.
Yes, we should beat a club with the meagre resources of Peterborough, but no game is ever easy. And all those who’ve wanted to sack Allardyce this week might note that we’ve now equalled the club record of eleven away victories in a season achieved in 1922/23 and 1957/58. When was a West Ham side last difficult to beat away from home? For all the worries about the style of play at home, to transform our away form in such a fashion is it has to be said a fantastic achievement. Now we have to deliver at Upton Park.