Sunday, September 24

Hammers show spirit but too late to deny Spurs

West Ham 2 Tottenham 3

Steve the Cornish Postie has already provided plenty of colour for the blog by posting his ticket to the wrong address, but after some frantic knocking on my neighbours' doors, I'm able to hand it over to Lisa by the H Block sign. Hopefully West Ham's delivery will be better. 

Matt and Lisa are preparing for a week of living Danishly, Ryan Air permitting. I explain that The Little Book of Hygge recommends comfy socks, slippers, a warm fire and generally relaxing like the West Ham defence. They report huge queues in the Clyde Best Cafe where they've been caught out by the early kick-off. Nigel's opted for a pre-match pastie costing the price of his house while I've found a reassuringly cheap £2.50 egg and bacon sandwich for my daughter Nell at the burger bar by Tank in Hackney Wick.

The big team news is that Carroll is dropped to the bench. For the first half an hour West Ham match Spurs for intensity and probably have the better of the game. Arnautovic is foiled in the box by a fine tackle (and some shirt tugging) from Aurier while Kane misses a good chance at the other end. The key moment comes when Antonio goes off with a groin strain and is replaced by Andy Carroll.

HAMMERS GET KANED
On half an hour big Andy is still feeling his way into the game as he plays a blind pass inside. Kouyate gets out of the way and the ball falls to Eriksen. The Spurs playmaker releases Alli, who has got behind Cresswell, and his cross is flicked in by Kane who has lost Ogbonna. 

"We just need to keep it to 1-0 at half-time," announces Mystic Morris, just as Kane doubles Spurs lead. More hesitation leads to Eriksen and Kane playing in Alli on the left, who fires against the onrushing Joe Hart. Kane has lost his marker again and taps home the rebound. 

At half-time Nigel and myself discus the Climber's Traverse of Bowfell, and West Ham have been left a similar mountain to climb. It gets worse as Kane hits the post from a free kick and as the ball is half-cleared Eriksen shoots home first time. It looks like being another Man City-style 5-0 home drubbing at this stage as Hart saves well from Kane again.

But at least West Ham show some spirit. Zabaleta for one never stops trying, and there's some hope when Fonte flicks on a corner and Chicharito stabs home with his first shot. A good poacher's goal. It starts to get a bit tasty when Aurier is sent off for a second yellow after clattering Carroll. To give Big Andy some credit, he's kept going after his early error and is drawing a lot of fouls. 

PENALTY SHOUT
Chicharito draws another save from Lloris with a stinging drive. "Come on you Irons!" cries a revived crowd. Masuaku has come on for Fonte and plays wide on the left. With three minutes left Arthur gets in a superb cross that Kouyate thumps home with a towering header. 


The Hammers really give it a go for the last seven minutes, forcing corners from which Reid and Noble blaze over. There's a good case for a late penalty as Carroll is nudged when going for a header and then a late melee after Carroll is fouled again. There's not huge contact, but at Southampton just such a decision was awarded against West Ham. But Spurs hold out and despite the signs of team spirit, we can't give quality teams three-goal leads. So Swansea become yet another must-win match.

PLAYER RATINGS: Hart 6; Zabaleta 6, Fonte 5 (Masuaku 6), Reid 6, Ogbonna 4, Cresswell 5; Noble 6, Kouyate 6; Antonio 5 (Carroll 6), Hernandez 7, Arnautovic 6 (Ayew 6). 

Friday, September 22

Five tactical dilemmas for Bilic against Spurs

Seems like there's a number of tactical considerations for Slaven before Saturday's big game against Spurs…

WILL MARK NOBLE RETURN?
Nobes had a fine game against Spurs last season and knows how important beating Spurs is to the fans. But even if he is West Ham through and through Mark is now 30 and has played since he was 17. He was restricted by a hernia last season but doubts remain about how much longer he has left at the top level. Kouyate and Obiang currently look the best central midfield pairing so Noble might be better used as a late substitute and an older head in midfield.

SHOULD WEST HAM GO FOR A FOUR OF FIVE MAN DEFENCE?

With James Collins out for a month Angelo Ogbonna will probably be recalled. Three at the back has stopped teams getting behind our defence and made Fonte look more assured, though it's left the attack a little undermanned. There's a case for having Reid and Ogbonna as a partnership, dropping Fonte and thus allowing Carroll and Hernandez to play as a pair, with Antonio and Arnautovic out wide and Kouyate and Obiang anchoring the midfield.

CAN CARROLL AND HERNANDEZ PLAY TOGETHER UP FRONT?
Chicharito has looked wasted out wide-ish, though he still managed to hit the bar against Huddersfield. Perhaps Slaven should just tell Carroll and Hernandez to stick together and never mind the defensive consequences. Certainly if West Ham play a four-man defence it could allow them to thrive as a partnership. The alternative is to drop one of them to the bench. Ether Andy or Javier would be a second-half sub who would scare the opposition.

WITH NO LANZINI SHOULD ARNAUTOVIC PLAY A MORE CENTRAL ROLE?

Manuel Lanzini isn't going to play against Spurs and it doesn't look like Kouyate and Obiang will create a lot. Marco Arnautovic is a player who can produce the unexpected so perhaps he should step inside at times and assume a more central role behind the strikers. He can also shoot from long range so could trouble Spurs.

WHAT ROLE FOR  ANDRE AYEW?
Ayew might be hit and miss in his Hammers career so far, with no-one quite sure what his best position is, but he does have energy and has the knack of scoring goals — two already this season. He could be an option should Bilic drop a striker and play a five-man midfield or play a role as an impact sub.

Wednesday, September 20

Arthur and Arnie say 'hasta la vista' to Bolton

West Ham 3 Bolton 0 (Carabao Cup)

It's into the Clyde Best Cafe with Lisa and her pals Mark, Sue and Bolton fan Alan, a man who once compared Big Sam's creation at Bolton to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and who's rather optimistically wearing his "walking down the Manny Road to see the Burnden Aces" t-shirt.

We're joined in the stadium by a tardy Matt and Fraser, who watched the West Brom game via Canadian TV, where they probably think it's the Caribou Cup. Although the ground's half full the 35,806 attendance is still more than the capacity of Upton Park — pretty impressive for a League Cup fixture.

The Hammers get off to a great start after three minutes as Arnautovic's free kick is headed in by Ogbonna. The Irons should get more as Arnie shoots at Howard's legs and Ayew hits the outside of the post when he should score after good work by Sakho. The lively Arnautovic then misses a great chance by volleying wide when clean through.

Thankfully the game is put to bed after Noble finds Arnautovic on the left with the great ball and the Austrian winger sets up Sakho for a well-taken second. Though Diafra still upsets Fraser by not celebrating with any great joy. Beevers heads straight at Adrian late on but that's indebted Bolton's only chance.

The second half sees the home side content to play out time. Haksabonovic, who has looked a neat little player on the right, is replaced by Nathan Holand, who looks like an old-fashioned winger and immediately forces a corner. Substitute Earing fails to look golden or provide any aid for Bolton.

Chicharito comes on and gets cross with some clatterings from Wheater and Beevers. "I don't like Chicharito's body language, he's looking a Little Pead off," quips Matt.

Arnautovic stops the ball in the box and can produce the unexpected. Arnie has a little bit of arrogance and a short fuse, which may well make him a bit of a cult figure with the WHU fans.

It's left to Mystic Matt to work his magic. "Masuaku just hasn't got it, he's having a really poor game," he suggests. Arthur promptly wallops a 30-yard screamer into the top corner. "Messi-uako!" exclaims a penitent Matt.

Bolton might be bottom of the Championship, but it's still a decent win and a good run-out for Rice at centre-back and several other squad players. We've looked comfortable all game, which makes a change.

Then it's off to the King Edward where we end up discussing West Ham winning the World Cup, as you do. Job done and on to the next round.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 5; Byram 5, Rice 6, Ogbonna 6, Masuaku 6; Haksabanovic 5 (Holland 5), Kouyate 5, Noble 6 (Quina 5); Arnautovic 7, Sakho 6 (Hernandez 5), Ayew 5.

Monday, September 18

Keeping Carroll fit

Some revealing comments from Slaven Bilic in his Evening Standard column about how the club and new physio Gary Lewin are trying to keep Big Andy fit. This season they have ensured that he trained for a month before playing, which seems sensible after he was rushed back last season and then injured in the Europa League. 

And rather counter-intuitively, Bilic adds, "In the early stages of his rehabilitation we pushed him a little bit harder, if he felt something we told him to go through the discomfort." Bilic also says that there are days when Carroll has to go to the gym rather than be on the training pitch and mentions Paul McGrath and Ledley King as examples of players who trained minimally but could still perform on match days, though it's easier for centre-backs. If all that fails a friend has been treating verukas by applying gaffer tape, and perhaps this might hold Andy together too.

Carroll had a storming game against Huddersfield and has now played two matches in succession. Admittedly it's still not clear if Chicharito and Carroll can function together, though it could work in a 4-4-2. While another option is having either of them on the bench to give the team a real goal threat late in games. Let's hope Andy is rested against Bolton (two games in a week may prove too much) and continues to be available for Spurs as he makes a difference. 

Sunday, September 17

Drawing drawing West Ham

West Brom 0 West Ham 0

We might have been lucky to make it as last on Match of the Day, but a point is a point even in a rubbish game. It's West Ham's second clean sheet in succession and a draw against a Pulis side is certainly an improvement on last season's 4-2 capitulation. 

Looking at the lowlights, the Hammers had the better chances. Obiang hit the bar with a tremendous 50 yard lob over Foster's head (he should be told to shoot more often) and there were calls for Foster to be sent off after he clattered into Hernandez, who was running on to Andy Carroll's deft flick. Foster had two defenders behind him so he wasn't the last man, but with the current guidelines there was a case for dismissal rather than a booking for a foot-up out-of-control challenge. Apart from that a couple of fine blocks by Reid and a tenacious run and shot by Antonio were the game's only other noteworthy incidents. The Hammers can certainly play a lot better, but the first three defeats results have to come first.

Arnautovic saw some action as a sub and Slaven now has some interesting tactical dilemmas, trying to fit in Arnie and Lanzini. Can Carroll and Henandez play together up front? Should Noble return?Probably not as Obiang and Kouyate now look our best midfield enforcers. And with Collins injured at WBA should we revert to a back four or stick to three centre-backs where Fonte looks much more comfortable? All good problems to have as Bilic prepares for Bolton and Spurs.

Tuesday, September 12

Obiang and Ayew give Slaven a birthday boost

West Ham 2 Huddersfield 0

First off it’s into the (Clyde) Best Café with my daughter Lola, newly returned from Paris though it can’t match Stratford, where we dine on egg, chips and beans. Matt and Lisa have seen the Under-18s lose and Nigel’s been touring Iceland while missing the West Han friendly against Man City — next year he hopes to go to Lidl. Meanwhile Michael the Possible Whovian is so pleased at purchasing 12 Hartnell-era Doctor Who pictures inbetween the matinee of Loot and watching Gyles Brandreth in Hamlet, that he’s celebrating with a beer, having discovered that the Best Café is licensed.

Then it’s on to the stadium where the new search procedures actually seem to speed things up and Michael enjoys a pint of Irons bitter in the concourse as we bump into West Ham author Brian Williams admiring the London Stadium’s many toilet facilities. We’re joined by Fraser (who thinks Palace were a little slow sacking De Boer as he’d have fired Big Sam after half a match), Alison, super chef Scott and Steve the Cornish postie. The PA is playing Motorhead’s Ace of Spades as we take our seats, much to the delight of headbanger Nigel.

HITTING THE BAR
The side Bilic has picked looks more balanced with three at the back and the Hammers start off with intensity. The returning Andy Carroll shoots across goal in the first minute. Great work by Antonio on the right sets up Chicharito for a certain goal only for the Mexican to lean back and hit the bar. Late on Kouyate miscues another good chance. 

But the side certainly seem to be playing for Slaven on his 49th birthday. Antonio is looking really pacy, Carroll is a big physical presence and Zabaleta, playing almost as a right-winger, really gets stuck in with a committed performance. Obiang is solid in front of the back four and Kouyate is doing well in a more advanced role, while three at the back ensures Fonte looks a lot more comfortable.

A surreal note to the evening is that the scoreboard is asking us to take a holiday in sodden Florida. The second half sees Huddersfield gain in confidence and we’re starting to have visions of an FC Astra-style smash and grab. But the Hammers stick at it, with a Town defender almost scoring an own goal and Antonio sending in numerous crosses. 

BREAKING DOWN THE WALLS OF HEARTACHE
Bilic replaces Hernandez with Ayew, which is met with puzzlement by most fans. Or does he 
know something we don’t?

Finally we get a piece of luck. On 72 minutes Obiang’s shot takes a huge defection and loops over Lossl. The stadium erupts with relief.

Five minutes later Antonio wins a corner and from the resulting melee, Fonte prods the ball forwards and Ayew reacts well to fire home. He goes down on his knees to celebrate. We never doubted you for a minute, Captain Bilic.

CLEAN SHEETS AND GOOD HABITS
“Another six goals and we’ll be out of the bottom three,” quips Nigel. There’s still time for Sakho to come on to some boos and Tom Ince to hit the bar for the visitors. Matt starts to get a little irate as the Hammers threaten to lose their clean sheet, but we survive and Joe Hart has his first clean sheet in 23 games.

We even manage to find the Railway without mishap. Spurs will be a much bigger test, but the whole side played well against a team that hadn’t conceded a goal so far. Yes, Huddersfield might struggle, but his was the performance that Bilic and his men needed. And now we’re just four points off Europe…


PLAYER RATINGS: Hart 6; Zabaleta 7, Reid 6, Collins 7, Fonte 6, Cresswell 6; Antonio 8, Obiang 7, Kouyate 6; Hernandez 6 (Ayew 7), Carroll 7 (Sakho 5).

Monday, September 11

Best to arrive early

Sounds like it's best to arrive early tonight as there's a new security process in operation where the fans will be searched before they cross the Olympic Park bridges. Judging by the "teething problems" last season, we should probably factor in some extra time for this and then seeing if the new cards work. Meanwhile we're up against a plucky newly-promoted side and relying on the fitness of Andy Carroll. What could possibly go wrong? Irons!