Friday, September 30

Six steps to improve West Ham

There's a lot more to say, like sorting out our best centre back pairing, but here are my six steps that might improve WHU's fortunes…

MAKE A DECISION ON ZAZA
Apparently there’s an obligation to buy Zaza after a small number of games, rumoured to be 15 (who negotiated that?). He certainly hasn’t looked worth £25 million so far. But is he a confidence player? If either of the scuffed shots he had cleared off the line against FC Astra and Southampton had gone in would he suddenly have gone on a scoring run? Zaza scored one in three over three full seasons in Italian football and broke into the international side so he can’t be too bad. It’s pretty clear he can’t play with Calleri as they go for the same balls. Could he play with Fletcher? With that obligation to buy after 15 games we have to make a decision quickly.

STRENGTHEN THE DEFENSIVE SHIELD
Our defence has come under so much pressure because Noble and Kouyate haven’t looked as dynamic as last season. There’s a clear case for bringing Obiang into the midfield to help shield the back four and perhaps playing all three. That would mean Lanzini dropping to the bench and coming on against tiring teams.

PLAY A SPECIALISED RIGHT BACK
Better to play Arbeloa or Byram at right-back rather than Nordtveit. (Thankfully Bilic has given up on the Antonio experiment.) At least we’d have one full back playing on their natural side then, even if whoever plays on the left will be on their wrong foot.

IMPROVE THE TEAM SPIRIT
A team meal was a good idea even if it generated a few headlines and boosted the profits of McDonald’s. The side just don’t look like they’re fighting for each other at the moment and it’s surely a case of two many new arrivals over the summer taking time to bed in. Somehow Bilic has to inspire them and up their work rate.

REINTEGRATE SAKHO AND GET CARROLL FIT
Diafra Sakho is coming towards fitness and we know he’s a great finisher when motivated. Whatever has passed behind Bilic and the player in the past we need him as an option. And when Carroll returns we’ll at least have a focus to our attack and a Plan B when things go wrong. Without Andy we made Accrington Stanley look brilliant in the air.

STOP BLAMING THE STADIUM

The side should be able to scrap and fight wherever they play. Terry Venables once said with footballers you have to take their excuses away. Too many WHU players are hiding behind the stadium excuse. Watford and Southampton have shown us it’s possible to play well on what is a great playing surface, even if it is bigger than Upton Park.

Wednesday, September 28

Team bonding West Ham style

Meanwhile the Daily Mail and the Sun have reports of a West Ham team bonding session on Monday night. First the lads went to Signor Sassi restaurant in Knightsbridge for a 'quiet dinner'. Shame they didn't invite Hayden Foxe and Frank McAvennie too as they know a bit about bonding sessions… Some interesting gear too. In the pictures James Collins looks like the Lord of Stratford Manor with his ginger beard, tweed jacket and flat cap, while Andy Carroll is wearing white trousers that might be Albert Steptoe's long Johns. Some of the lads then went on to the Cirque le Soir nightclub and at it seems made quite a night of it as the Sun prints a picture of Andy Carroll and Aaron Cresswell getting some sports nutrition at McDonald's at 7am. 

Normally you'd say they should have been in bed early with a hot water bottle. But these are desperate times and if having a few Sherbets and a McDonald's is what it takes to unite the team then perhaps that's a good thing. Part of the problem seems to be that we have recruited a lot of players from around the world who all speak different languages and hardly know each other and we didn't look like a team who would fight for each other on Sunday. A big night out might at least improve the banter and give us something that smells like team spirit.

Big Sam undone

So Big Sam has been undone by greed. An England manager on £3 million a year shouldn't need to do deals with 'businessmen' from Singapore to be a 'keynote speaker' at £100k a pop. If it's too good to be true chances are it's a Daily Telegraph sting. Allardyce was clear he was going to notify his employers of the offer, but it's unlikely they would have ever agreed. 

It's also worrying that West Ham have been dragged into it, with Sam mentioning ways of 'getting round' the FA's third party ownership rules and bringing up the Enner Valencia deal. He did say that West Ham had bought the 'whole player', though some clarification from the club is now essential as to what type of deal it was and how much the agents received. David Sullivan is quoted in the Sun saying: "Valencia's economic rights were wholly owned by Pachuca when we bought him. Sam is wrong. But he didn't know much about the actual transfer deal other than wanting the player. We have not broken any rules on third party ownership."


For a man who often spoke about perception, Allardyce seems very poor at understanding how certain things will be perceived. He didn't seem to understand that ridiculing the West Ham way in his first press conference would immediately alienate the fans, as did his ear-cupping against Hull, or that the England manager has to be above grubby deals and can't be indiscreet about Roy Hodgson or the players or offer advice on ways around FA rules with people he's just met and had a social drink with. 


You do wonder why Allardyce was so foolish two weeks into the England job and why his agent Mark Curtis didn't stop him and was instead trying to bump up Sam's fee. And the sad part is that if he sticks to football he's a decent manager, not to everyone's taste admittedly, but he just might have instilled some more self-belief into the England side. Now England are in turmoil too. 

Monday, September 26

Saints go marching in against shambolic Hammers

We can see you sneaking out…
West Ham United  0 Southampton 3

The best part of the day is a pre-match Ruby Red ale at Hackney Wick’s Tank with my near-neighbour Will, who’s a Saints fan, and my daughter Nell who has a hipster Coke.

Inside the stadium Nigel’s away discussing the new Bridget Jones film, but Alison and Scott are back from New York, perhaps wishing they were still watching the New York Jets, particularly as the sun is in our eyes all game and they said that wouldn't happen at the reservation centre.

The first half is uninspired with neither side getting in a shot until Saints take the lead after 40 minutes. Antonio and Nordtveit go to sleep, and Bertrand crosses for Austin to get in front of his man and flick home. Adrian prevents a second from Cedric just before the interval.

Bilic subs Lanzini for Feghouli at half-time. We mount some pressure and Zaza dives to try and get a penalty, receiving a yellow card for simulation. Soon it’s 2-0 as Reid and Kouyate dither in the middle and lose the ball. Tadic is unmarked and rounds Adrian to score.

Adrian has to make a further great save to keep us in it and there’s a brief rally. West Ham have a strong shout for a penalty as Feghouli’s shot is blocked by the arms of a defender. Van Djke clears off the line from Zaza’s scuffed shot and Antonio crosses for Payet to shoot wide when he should score.

WE'VE GOT MORE FANS THAN YOU
But there’s no disguising that Southampton are better than us as they threaten every time they break. Adrian has to make another couple of great saves and Nordveit a fine saving tackle before Antonio loses his man and Ward-Prowse sneaks in to score the third in added time

“We’ve got more fans than you!” chant the Southampton fans at the rows of empty white seats.

Still, it’s not as if anyone’s travelled 5351 miles to see it. Oh hang on, that’s Steve ‘North Bank Norman’ Rapport who’s travelled all the way from San Francisco, writing on Facebook, “Well, that was fun.” Things are so bad Matt is going to have to resurrect his lucky Dukla Prague away kit.

Hammers getting tanked…
Will and myself stop for two thirds of a pint of IPA in Tank before I’m refused admission to Crate for wearing a West Ham shirt, even though I plead that Matt was reading Ferment magazine about Colorado beers at the interval and that no one is going to be dancing on the tables after a game like that.

It’s been a thoroughly dispiriting performance though Saints fan Will diplomatically suggests that our relegation talk is premature. Not on this form though. There’s a real lack of tempo and urgency to our game, which is mystifying as these players did so well last season. And it can’t just be adapting to the new stadium. We have to make changes and get some more hunger in the team — bring in Fletcher, Obiang, Oxford, Fernandes, anyone really. And we have to get some confidence back from somewhere. Nurse, the screens.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 7; Nordveit 4 (Fletcher 5), Reid 5, Ogbonna 5, Arbeloa 5; Antonio 4, Noble 4 (Fernandes n/a), Kouyate 4, Payet 5, Lanzini 4 (Feghouli 5); Zaza 4.

Sunday, September 25

Hammers versus hipsters: Crate expectations

Friday's Evening Standard has another report on the Hammers versus Hipsters fixture at Hackney Wick. Canalside bar Crate has been handing out flyers saying that people wearing "football merchandise" will only be served before the game and that chanting is banned. I can see that fans jumping in the canal at the Bournemouth game is going too far, but in the colder weather that's unlikely to happen, at least as long as we don't lose to Southampton. Surely Crate needs to accept that it's on to a nice little earner with football fans and might have to be a little less family friendly on match days. The beer's excellent  so my policy will be to do up my jacket to conceal my West Ham shirt, arrive on a paddle board and start growing a beard. And as an alternative the nearby Howling Hops Tank bar also does very good ale and seems slightly more accepting of fans.

Friday, September 23

Who can replace Arthur?

More disastrous news on the left-back front. Aaron Cresswell is still a long way from fitness and now Arthur Masuaku is out for six weeks with the ankle injury sustained against Accrington Stanley. No idea who will replace him. Arthur might have had a 'mare at WBA but he's looked a decent buy in his other games. We could perhaps shift Byram or Arbeloa to left back, but they'd be playing on their wrong foot, while Ogbonna might be able to do a job there. Or Bilic could play three centre backs and two wing backs. Pretty worrying for Sunday as Southampton have payers like Tadic and Redmond who can do a lot of damage from the flanks. We've certainly had no luck this season, losing Cresswell, Ayew, Carroll and now Masuaku. Nurse, the screens.

Thursday, September 22

Sir Trev at the Newham Bookshop

One for your your diaries… Sir Trevor Brooking will be signing copies of Andy Hooper and Lee Clayton's Farewell to Upton Park (Trev wrote the foreward) at the Newham Bookshop in Barking Road, E13, before the Southampton game on Sunday at 12.30pm. Though we'd best all avert our eyes walking past the bombed out Boleyn Ground… personally I'd much rather it was demolished in private with some dignity rather than blown up for a movie.