Tuesday, August 30

Transfer window thoughts

My thoughts on the transfer window can be seen in Sunday's Observer. It's all been a bit scatter-gun so far. Zaza should be a good signing, although would we have bought Ayew if Zaza was already secured? Masuaku looks a decent left back and Fletcher is promising, while we haven't seen Fernandes yet. But so far Tore, Nordveit, Calleri and Feghouli don't look significant upgrades on what we already have. But still, there's long way to go. Click on the link to read.

Monday, August 29

Sterling appreciates as Hammers lose at City

Manchester City 3 West Ham 1 

Watched this one at the Wellington at Waterloo with Fraser, Matt, Lisa and latterly Michael the Thespian, hotfoot from a matinee. Matt and Lisa have been looking at conceptual art at the Tate and are wondering if West Ham really exist while the City fans agree that we're not really here.

City should be three or four up at half-time as their tiki-taka stuff bypasses West Ham's five man defence. Playing three centre backs doesn't work as it just leaves more space for City's runners from midfield. We go a goal down early on as Nolito gets free of Antonio on the left and crosses for the unmarked Sterling to stroke home. City double their lead from a free kick as Fernandinho is left unmarked to head in. De Bruyne misses a gaping goal and Masuaku is lucky to avoid a second booking. West Ham's best effort in the first half results from Noble's through ball to Antonio and then Fletcher heading over from Tore's cross.

West Ham improve after the break as Byram comes on for Tore and Antonio plays further up the pitch. We unexpectedly pull a goal back as Masuaku does really well to beat his man and get in a cross and Antonio rises above Clichy at the back post to head home.WHU threaten to sneak an equaliser by forcing several corners and Aguero is very fortunate the ref doesn't spot his elbow into Reid's throat. But City always threaten on the break and seconds after Nasri hits the post Sterling produces a clever finish in added time to make it a deserved 3-1 to the impressive City. But at least we showed some spirit in the second half.

Last season we got a point at Chelsea and won at City, so minus Payet we've gone backwards in our first two away games, though Chelsea and City have both improved. Best news of the day is that Big Sam has called up Antonio to the England squad. A two-week break beckons and a chance to integrate Zazu and get some players back.

Sunday, August 28

Zaza zoom

We've finally got the statement striker the club has been after all summer in the form of Simone Zaza. Loaning him for a season with an option to buy probably suits all parties. And his season's fee of around 5 million Euros isn't that different to Calleri's. Zaza certainly looked pretty tasty in the Betway Cup against us and thinks our stadium is "beautiful". Simone has won the league with Juventus, played for Italy in the Euros (best not mention that penalty) and is a genuinely A-list striker. I'm looking forward to seeing his left foot in action and after the Ayew and Carroll injuries it should give everyone at the club a lift. And he now joins our Z-list of strikers in Zarate, Zamora and Zaza.

Friday, August 26

Brexit for the Hammers

West Ham United 0 FC Astra Giurgiu 1 (Europa League)

Stratford station is struggling to cope with 60,000 fans at commuter time, but after a ten-minute wait on the stairs it’s through the Stratford Centre to the Best Café, which Matt suggests was named after Clyde. In a bid to add colour to the blog Matt and Lisa have been on The Line sculpture tour from the Greenwich Peninsula to Stratford, looking at a Damien Hirst but sadly no Geoff Hursts.

We follow a group of fans down the back streets and go through a warren of back streets, railway lines and tunnels that eventually lead to the Orbital and the stadium. It makes Nigel’s legendary short cut from Green Street to the Black Lion seem a model of directness.

West Ham have yet another injury in Mark Noble and Masuaku is cup-tied, though £5 million new signing Edimilson Fernandes is introduced to the crowd and manages to avoid injuring himself stepping on to the pitch, which is promising. Without nine players, it’s basically a West Ham second X1 and we are overstocked with holding midfielders in Nordtveit, Obiang and Kouyate.

After good work by Reece Burke on the left Calleri fluffs a one-on-one with Lung and that appears to unnerve West Ham. It’s a stolid first half as West Ham struggle to create before Nigel arrives late from the office. Just before the break Bryam doesn’t seem sure what to do on the right and plays an ambitious crossfield ball to Burke. Reece miscontrols with his head, Astra break and from the cross Teixeira has drifted beyond Byram to slot home past Randolph. “What was Byram doing? Why can’t Burke control it, he’s a f**ing professional footballer! Where was our defence?” rails Matt at the unfeeling heavens, pointing out that the scorer couldn’t get anywhere near West Brom’s first team.

At least West Ham have to go at Astra in the second half with Valencia on for Nordtveit. Calleri has a header tipped away by the iron Lung, though he should have scored, and Reid heads wide from a corner. Sub Ashley Fletcher replaces the toiling Argentine and makes a big difference, immediately winning a free kick after running at the defence. Valencia’s free kick is a decent effort but, as they say, a nice height for the keeper.

There’s another big chance as Fletcher turns to shoot against the keeper. Astra indulge in some terrible time wasting (with Lung getting booked for taking forever to take a goal kick) and rolling around the floor, which certainly helps to rekindle the noise among the crowd. The weak ref earns a hearty chorus of, “The referee’s a wanker!”

Tore is dribbling into trouble and the crowd are getting on to him, while Antonio is trying too hard and not getting in quality crosses. It’s all too much for the Vicar’s Son: “What was that? Get it on target! What’s Bilic doing? What is the point of bringing on Collins up front, that’s embarrassing!”

Four minutes of added time lead to the inevitable conclusion. “That’s four games we haven’t beaten Astra in,” concludes Matt. Last season’s work has been undone and we’re not going on a European tour. The first defeat and the first boos at the London Stadium.

“It’s just like walking into a room full of really angry men,” says Alison behind us, reprising her 1988 remark made after walking into the Chicken Run after a long exile in Spain.

“We’ll win at Man City now,” I suggest, rather over-optimistically.

“Oh well, it’s only a game,” says a man on the bridge to Stratford.

“But not a very good one,” replies Fraser.

Michael the Whovian is absent watching The Roundabout at The Park Theatre, so I text him to say that at our show the direction and staging were poor while our cast corpsed on stage.

There's a laser shining from the stadium up into the sky that appears to be the board calling for help from Batman. After a 20-minute walk we find the Railway on Leyton Road, which is a good traditional pub that serves Doom Bar, and console ourselves discussing the smallest clubs we’ve seen West Ham at, coming up with Macclesfield, Crewe, Shrewsbury and Barnet among others

Better news is that we might be on the point of signing Zaza from Juventus, though it could be a mistake and we end up getting 99-year-old Zsa Zsa Gabor.

We desperately need to get bodies fit and someone who can score goals. And to take the positives, we don’t have to play Astra again for at least another season.

PLAYER RATINGS: Randolph 6; Byram 5, Reid 6 Ogbonna 5, Burke 5 (Collins n/a); Nordtveit 4 (Valencia 5), Tore 5, Obiang 5, Kouyate 6, Antonio 5; Calleri 4 (Fletcher 7).

Wednesday, August 24

Sinkhole in Green Street

My pal Michael found this hole in Green Street rather poignant when he visited last Sunday…

Tuesday, August 23

Should we play Andy Carroll in midweek games?

So another injury for Andy Carroll. We feel for him, but it seems Bilic is losing patience.  He said after Sunday's game: "Andy is Andy. He's dedicated now to training, to everything, it's a big blow for us, a big question mark also and big frustration with these things that are happening to him. The worst situation is when you plan, then you can't count on him. All the time." 

With hindsight, the medical team and Bilic should have been much more cautious with him. He played against Chelsea on Monday and then came on as a sub at FC Astra on Thursday, which appears to be more than his body can cope with. I'd always opt for a seven-day gap between his games in the manner of managers who nurse older players through the season. We have the squad to rotate now. It's also possible Carroll has a high pain threshold and because he's brave plays on through injury when he should go off. 

Let's hope he's only out for four weeks. Andy looked in great form against Juventus, and I really hope he can make a success of his time at West Ham. But after this latest blow, he really does have to prove he can stay fit for the rest of the season.

Monday, August 22

Antonio makes history for the Hammers

West Ham United 1 Bournemouth 0

First-off it’s a cultural tour of Stratford where I discover that the Best Café on the Broadway does a Ken’s Café-style egg chips and beans (though sadly there’s no shouting of numbers at the customers). Then it’s a journey down The Grove to view Iron Maiden’s old local the Cart and Horses and then the Railway on Leyton Road, which has a pie and mash and Mrs Flipper stall in the beer garden.

Inside the stadium Michael announces that he‘s been to Ken’s Café. He found it was closed as Ken and Carol were doing the catering for a music festival, but did have an audience with the E13 legends. He also reports that there’s an RAF helicopter parked outside the Boleyn in preparation for the filming of Final Score.

Nigel’s returned from cycling in Burgundy and behind us there’s Alison, her nephew Joe with a pre-hipster beard and Steve from Cornwall who decided at 1.30am that sleep was for wimps and drove up to London. We’re also joined by Nigel’s old mate who used to sit with us at Upton Park, the bloke from the Treasury whom he bumped into at a Stranglers concert.

At first I think Matt is joking when he says Andy Carroll is out for six weeks. But no, a long-term Andy Carroll injury is as sure a sign of football returning as half and half scarves, Mourinho mind games and Wenger parsimony. It seems Andy’s done his knee in during a substitute appearance in Romania. We didn’t even need to bring him on. His last big injury came after playing in midweek at Southampton so surely it would have been safer to rest him at Astra?

Payet is missing too, with a slight knock. Matt worries that this means he’s going to be sold. You wonder if Harry Redknapp will be returning as we’re already down to the bare bones; our squad is minus seven players in Cresswell, Lanzini, Payet, Ayew, Carroll, Feghouli and Sakho.

Bournemouth’s Adam Smith has a tame effort saved and Matt wonders if he was a free market transfer. The first half is memorable only for a decent Valencia effort saved by Boruc. And for Nigel asking us to name the number one 1979 hit from the Charlie Daniels Band. The answer is of course The Devil Went Down to Georgia. For the Cherries Jordan Ibe inexplicably opts not to shoot when through and a great shot by Joshua King is acrobatically tipped over the bar by Adrian.

The side work hard with Masuaku and Byram solid at the back, but Noble and Kouyate struggle to create much, Tore doesn’t get quality crosses in and lone striker Valencia is outnumbered. The atmosphere is more raucous for a league match though, and it helps to have away fans, even if they are chanting, “Is this the Emirates?”

In the second half it takes some heavy-handed stewarding down in the corner by the Bobby Moore Stand to rouse the crowd with hearty cries of “We’ll stand when we want!” as the stewards eject a persistent stander and it all threatens to kick-off.

Michael suggests that Tore might be the next Vaz Te. The game increases in intensity as Antonio crosses and Tore fires a difficult chance into the side netting. Antonio switches  wings with Tore and our formation looks more effective. 

Harry Arter (Scott Parker’s brother-in-law) brings down Kouyate after 77 minutes and is sent off for a second yellow card. Finally West Ham have two strikers as Calleri and Fletcher come on.

It looks like it might still end 0-0 until five minutes from time, when Antonio beats his full back but overhits the cross. Tore retrieves on the left, skilfully beats his man and stands up a superb cross for Antonio to rise above Charlie Daniels and head home. The isle really is full of noises as the fans celebrate the first league goal at the London Stadium. Good end to a difficult week for Michail, who’s finally playing in his correct position.

“One-nil up against ten men what could possibly go wrong?” asks Nigel.

As added time arrives Bournemouth send in a long throw, King gets in a shot and Adrian makes a brilliant save. From the follow-up Winston Reid makes a fantastic block with his head. Phew. Bournemouth’s next long throw sees them lose the ball and Mark Noble set Calleri clear. He cuts inside the defender well but then shoots wide when it should have been 2-0.

Respecting the non-pint
But it’s a gritty win in the end and credit to Adrian for making two outstanding saves. Four years after London 2012 more history has been made at the Olympic Stadium. Fraser, Michael and myself make some more history after that by persuading Nigel to try a hipster bar at Hackney Wick. Crate is too crowded to get served so we try Tank. Indeed, huge tanks of craft beer stand behind the bar. Nigel asks if they do pints. “That’s so last century,” quips Camra-member Michael as we sip our two thirds of a pint glasses of Howling Hops ale. Yes, Tank is so hip it is no longer respecting the pint.

Then it’s on to Number 90, where the lads drink pints of 'Shithouse' and Grolsch and we sit by the canal and watch the Hoegaarden garden barge moor, which is all very different to the Central. In the gents we discover there’s a man handing out towels. We concur that the person handing out towels in the gents at the Central would have had the worst job in the world.

We retreat on to the Overground happy with three points and slightly bemused by Hackney Wick’s Sweeney-esque aura of gentrification. We’re up and running at our new home.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 8, Byram 6, Reid 7, Collins 6, Masuaku 6; Nordveit 5 (Fletcher 5), Antonio 7, Noble 6, Kouyate 6, Tore 6 (Obiang n/a), Valencia 5 (Calleri 5).