Monday, May 21

Pellegrini's (Iron) Maiden appearance at the London Stadium?

Thanks to my pal Fraser for keeping up to date with Chilean daily paper La Cuerta, which has been reporting on the possibility of Manuel Pellegrini joining West Ham as our new gaffer. Apparently unfamiliar with the Hammers, they’ve settled on describing WHU as, "a team fanatically supported by Iron Maiden." 

"Good to know we have some kind of international reputation," comments Fraser, who wonders if we’ll see Manuel (and heavy metal fan Zabaleta?) down the Cart and Horses soon. He also wonders if Pelly will bring his star player from Hebbei China Fortune with him as it would be nice to see Javier Mascherano again.

However, Fraser does point point out that La Cuerta is "not exactly known as a paper of record, most readers buy it for the large selection of female nudes featured daily. I guess it’s a bit like Sullivan’s Sport (is that still going?)."

Sunday, May 20

Farewell Ginger Pele?

So it's probably goodbye to James Collins, the Ginger Pele, fans' favourite and a great servant to West Ham. The press stories about him being dumped by email seem to be a bit of media spin, as he already knew he was being released and the email was apparently only a written confirmation. Though the latest reports on BBC and Sky now state that his contract ends next month and the new manager will have the final say on whether he is retained.

Mark Noble made a public plea for the club to keep him at the end of the Everton game. Should we keep Ginge? In purely football terms, probably no, as he's 35 in August, he only played 13 games last season and is increasingly injury-prone. So a younger signing to play alongside Ogbonna, Reid and Rice would make sense. Though in terms of morale, his presence would help both the fans and dressing room, so on that basis he should surely get another year's contract. He plays like he cares and that's pretty incalculable in monetary terms.

Whatever happens, his second spell at the Hammers has seen Collins feature in six eventful seasons. Two of his most memorable performances for me were his role in the 1-0 win at Old Trafford during the 2006-07 Great Escape season and a towering game against Man City when we beat them 2-1 at Upton Park under Big Sam. In between his two spells with the Irons James also played in an Aston Villa side that finished sixth. 

Collins played like he enjoyed defending, getting in tackles and putting his head on crosses. It's a lost art — Rudiger showed a little of that ability for Chelsea in the Cup Final yesterday — and we need more proper defenders. While let's not forget an epic ginger beard (he was likened to Gandalf by Garth Crooks) and the fact he was always the last player off the pitch after thanking the fans. If he does go, he'll be missed.

Saturday, May 19

Managerial limbo at West Ham

Always a dangerous business taking a five-day trip to the Lake District where everything is offline. Returned to find West Ham have lost one manager and might be on the point of appointing an A-list manager in Manuel Pellegrini or, less likely, Rafa Benitez. 

Firstly, David Moyes did a decent job and was treated somewhat shabbily. He'd turned Arnautovic into a striker, clamped down on discipline in instances like those of Antonio and Carroll and done what he was asked to do in keeping West Ham up and ultimately finishing a respectable 13th. Yes, he was defensive-minded and very slow to use subs, but it would have been interesting to see what he could do with his own signings. He would probably have taken us on to be a top eight club in the fashion of Everton, which would have provided some much-needed stability. 

It seemed David Gold wanted Moyes to remain as manager, but it's Sullivan (and Brady?) who now have the main say. When he discovered that Shakhtar Donetsk gaffer Paulo Fonseca was round at Sullivan's gaff having talks, Moyes told the board to stuff their job. Ultimately Fonescu used the episode to get a better deal at his existing club. Moyes' preference for ending the culture of leaks and wanting control of transfers might also have counted against him. He should have been told to his face if the club no longer wanted him and the whole thing has been handled with a predictable lack of class. 

Dumping a middling manager is a high-risk strategy unless we can get the fabled A-list gaffer. Rafa Benitez would be classy (if also a little defensive) but has a history of complaining in public about troublesome chairman and would demand £100 million to spend and cost £6 million in compensation which might out off our parsimonious board. No arguing with what he achieved at Liverpool and Newcastle though. 

The latest likely gaffer appears to be Manuel Pellegrini, who earned he nickname of 'This Charming Man' at City and is a dignified operator. He's won the league at Man City and has done great things at Villareal and Real Madrid. At 64 he's a little old, but he would certainly be an exciting appointment as long as he's capable of working with an interfering chairman. 

And if that doesn't happen we should surely look at promising younger bosses like Eddie Howe (whom Nigel's mum thinks is a nice young man) and Huddersfield's Wagner who would certainly be our most musical boss. 

The next few days could be vital in the history of West Ham United. Unless it's all an elaborate bluff and we're just waiting for Tony Pulis…

Sunday, May 13

Lanzini and Arnie see off Everton


West Ham 3 Everton 1

It’s in to Ken’s Café for old time’s sake with Michael, Lisa and Nigel, where we are greeted by the much-missed Carol and don’t have to take a numbered ticket. The stadium is now a mass of Barrett bunkers, but in Ken’s  the egg, chips and beans is as good as ever and Michael’s big breakfast arrives disturbingly early. No-one does mushrooms like Ken we learn, as a replenished Michael then dons his Spector shirt to become the Spector at our end of season feast. Last time he wore that shirt we lost a stadium.

We take a gentle bus ride to Stratford and walk to the London Stadium to join Fraser, Alison and Steve. The Irons play well in the first half, again looking more relaxed with safety assured. Mario fires just wide of the post and Pickford makes a great save when Noble looks certain to score. 

Masuaku is clogged and has to go off, with Moyes replacing him with Fernandes rather than a striker, although to be fair Edmilson has a workmanlike game. West Ham take the lead when Arnautovic inadvertently dummies and Lanzini gets behind the Everton defence to finish well.

We’re joined by a tardy Matt at half time, sporting a black shirt with a Union Jack on it, which is the old Thames Ironworks kit. The second half kicks off and just as Mystic Michael is saying that Arnautovic is looking off the pace, Arnie powers through the Everton defence to fire a thunderous effort past Pickford. The keeper should have done better, and Arnie seems to enjoy it as in the first half he’s been apparently kicked in the goolies by the Everton custodian, with the referee taking no action.

The Hammers have several chances for a third. Arnie has a header ruled out for offside, but suddenly Everton are back in it as Adrian makes a sensational save and then Niasse pokes home after defensive hesitancy. Zabalata of all people makes several bursts into the box in search of the elusive third. The game is sealed when Lanzini chips a sumptuous shot over Pickford. There’s still time for Ginger Pele to come on and get a rousing reception on what might be his final Hammers appearance. The Everton fans seem to want Big Sam sacked in the morning, while Fraser is ken to wave goodbye to David Moyes

We stay for the lap of honour as for some reason Sweet Caroline plays on the PA and then Heroes, which is stretching it a little for surviving a relegation fight, though we have finished a respectable-sounding 13th. Strangely there’s no sign of Sully or Lady Brady on the pitch.

Joined by Gavin and Ilona we take a marathon-like short cut to the Railway past the giant bell and along Champions Avenue, eventually reaching the Railway, where the service has reached Central-like levels of delay. 

So in a dramatic bid for colour for the blog we retreat to the Cart and Horses, where Iron Maiden played one of their first gigs. The pub doesn’t make too much of the Iron Maiden connection apart from the huge picture of Maiden on the stage, Run for The Hills on the PA and 57 signs around the bar. But it’s a decent boozer and Gavin and Nigel discuss Diamond Head and the geographical origins of British heavy metal bands. Could we finally have found a decent pub after two years of searching in Stratford?

It’s been a long day and an even longer season. But it’s now over and with Arnie, Lanzini and Mario playing well today we just might have glimpsed a slightly better future, if only the board will invest. Have a good summer all Hammers fans. It's been emotional.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 8; Zabaleta 7, Ogbonna 6, Rice 7, Cresswell 6, Masuaku n/a (Fernandes 6); Kouyate 6, Noble 7, Lanzini 8 (Collins n/a), Mario 7; Arnautovic 8.

Friday, May 11

United held in London Stadium stalemate


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West Ham 0 Manchester United 0

It makes a change to be at a game where we don’t have to worry. There are gaps in the seats in the Betway Stand and it seems that with the Hammers safe some fans have opted to stay at home. It’s two years since the last game at the Boleyn and Matt and myself are wondering if we can get compensation for extraordinary rendition to Stratford followed by two years of torture. We’re joined by my daughter Lola, a tardy Nigel, Michael and Fraser (who luckily hasn’t read Moyes’ comments in the Standard about being overloaded with strikers) and Scott and Nicola, with Alison away suffering from the survival bends and Steve having gone postal in Cornwall.

It actually turns out to be an entertaining goalless draw with the pressure off. Arnautovic looks to have the beating of Smalling and gets an early shot away. Adrian has to make a springing save to palm away Lingard’s shot. Valencia is proving too fast for Masuaku on the left and from his cross Adrian has to make another good save from Sanchez before deflecting Shaw’s shot on to the post with his leg. West Ham’s best effort is when Arnie dribbles down the right and crosses for Mario to flick wide.

At half-time Nigel has a nugget about this being the first time since nineteen sixty something that a south coast side finishing in the top half of the table hasn’t been either Southampton or Portsmouth. Matt, fresh from a trip to watch hipster side Dulwich Hamlet, has an even more interesting piece of trivia about Boreham Wood FC actually being from the differently-spelt Borehamwood.

The second half half sees Lingard have a swerving shot well-saved by Adrian. A positively demob-happy Moyes makes a substitution as early as the 65th minute when he brings on Andy Carroll, though he annoys Fraser by taking off Masuaku who can at least cross, but to be fair Arthur has been disappointing tonight. Lola starts to appreciate the aesthetics and says it’s the best goalless draw she’s seen. Carroll and Arnie almost link up in the box but it’s cleared. The crowd also generates a decent amount of noise, perhaps inspired by the memories of Upton Park. Declan Rice has a fine game and is cheered for one mighty tackle on Sanchez. Towards the end there’s a flare up after a foul by Pogba, with Nobes a little lucky to stay on after raising his hands to Pogba’s face.

So it’s a decent point against the PL runners-up and an improved performance after the Man City game. We retreat to the Railway for pints of Doom Bar and a quick reminisce about the “Big Fat Sam went to Spain in his Ford Fiesta” song. Bring on Big Fat Sam and Everton on Saturday and then it’s all over.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 8; Zabaleta 7, Ogbonna 6, Rice 7, Cresswell 6, Masuaku 5 (Carroll 5); Kouyate 6, Noble 6, Lanzini 6, Mario 7; Arnautovic 7.

Thursday, May 10

Goodbye to Boleyn

Hard to believe it was two years ago tonight that David De Gea couldn't hold Winston Reid's header and West Ham were beating Man United 3-2 in the much-missed Boleyn Ground. Looking at the line-ups most of the West Ham players are still here, which makes you realise how much they have underachieved in the last two seasons. 

Only Randolph, Sakho and some bloke called Payet have left. Antonio, Ogbonna, Reid, Cresswell, Kouyate, Noble, Lanzini and Carroll are all still with us. The players were not to blame for the new stadium problems or various injuries, but having finished seventh that season they should surely have a achieved a lot more. Do they have the desire to prove they can be as good again next season? Let's have a bit more of that spirit tonight. Irons!

Wednesday, May 9

Ayew sale doesn't look so bad now

Selling Andre Ayew to Swansea is now looking like a master-stroke. When Ayew had a fantastic game against West Ham to inspire a 4-1 win back in March it looked like Swansea were heading to safety and West Ham had made a big mistake in selling to a relegation rival. But Ayew has failed to score for the Swans since his return and the side is winless for eight games since beating the Hammers. Last night's home defeat to Southampton means relegation looks a near certainty. 

Ayew was overpriced when West Ham signed him for £20 million. He was a decent PL performer who could cross and score the odd goal, but to my mind he was a £10 million player at best. For £20 million you expect a quality specialist in either midfield or attack. No-one ever seemed sure what Ayew's best position was. So getting the club's money back when he returned to Swansea for £20 million was decent business. Although the money should have been spent on signing a quality forward rather than the untested £8m Jordan Hugill, but this is West Ham after all.