Sunday, December 17

West Ham's power surge sees off Stoke

Stoke City 0 West Ham 3

It’s off to the Gardener’s Arms to meet my cousins Terry and David (my mum came from Stoke and married an Essex Man) for a pre-match pint of Pedigree. All is going well until a rumour in the gents says there’s been a power cut at the ground. “We’ve not had a power surge up front for years!” quips a Stoke fan. “Anyone know a Sparky?”

We arrive at the stadium and loiter by David Gold’s Rolls Royce accompanied by lots of bemused and locked-out fans. Matt texts to suggest, "Couldn't they just burn oatcakes for power?" Eventually it’s announced the kick off will be at 4pm. At least it creates a good atmosphere as many fans have opted to stay in the pub for an extra pint. 

“One greedy bastard!” greets Marco Arnautovic as we take our place in the Boothen End, where an inflatable duck is being passed around. "He left 'cos you're s••t!" suggest the Hammers' fans. 

Shawcross heads a Stoke free kick on to West Ham’s post and from the rebound Msuaku breaks as the Stoke fans holler for a foul on Shaqiri. Arthur finds Lanzini who makes a great run from his own half into the box and goes down under a challenge from Pieters. The ref awards a penalty, though TV replays show that although the Stoke man lunged in Manuel appeared to dive. Noble dispatches it calmly enough.

Noble goes off injured and on comes Rice, but West Ham are still looking composed at the back and Arnautovic is a constant threat on the break. He powers through to shoot against Butland and after good control fires over the bar. Stoke’s best effort is a curling effort wide from Shaqiri.

West Ham start to look really threatening after the break. Arnautovic heads a free kick on to the top of the bar. Masuaku plays a great ball to beat Stoke’s offside trap and Arnie seems certain to score only to cut inside Wimmer and shoot into the side netting.

“Arnie is a wankpot!” chant the Stokies, in a novel form of northern abuse. The Austrian striker then enrages the locals further by giving the crossed Hammers salute and beating his Hammers badge. As the Stoke defence stands off, Arnie the curls an effort on to the bar.

At 1-0 Stoke are still in it, as Shawcross sends a header just over the bar. The inevitable soon happens though, as Arnautovic plays a one-two with Lanzini and glides post a static City defence to fire the Hammers into a 2-0 lead. He goes down on his knees in front of the Boothen End and receives yet more dogs’ abuse. The bloke behind me is so angry he makes my pal Matt sound like a vicar’s son.

Arnie is then subbed as Stoke fans throw scarves at him and Mark Hughes has a go too. One thing Arnie does have is plenty of attitude as he walks off down the tunnel to a pantomime villain’s chorus of boos.

“Jingle bells jungle bells, jingle all the way! Oh what fun it is to see West Ham win away!” chants the sizeable away section.

Stoke’s defence seems to go completely absent as the home side lob long balls on to Collins’ head and the Hammers break at will. Sub Hernandez dribbles across the box to set up Sakho with a great chance that instead of heading in he misses with a combination of poor control and a backheel wide. But the third soon arrives as the excellent Lanzini plays through Sakho, who this time takes it well, setting off huge “Hughes out!” chants.

The Stoke fans then join in with the West Ham fans’ chorus of “Sacked in the morning!” 

“Is there a fire drill?” ask the Irons' fans. The whistle blows and it’s a great West Ham win. It feels a little like intruding on private grief as I accompany the despondent Terry, Dorothy, David and co back to the Gardeners. A huge plume of smoke from the incinerator seems to sum up a bonfire of the Potters’ dreams. We were feeling the same earlier in the season after the Brighton and Liverpool games. But Moyes has turned it round. In the end this could have been five or six and he’s proved that his teams can attack as well as defend.

All we need now is to take thousands of booing Stoke fans to games to fire up Arnie. It looks a lot more promising for the rest of the season.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6; Zabaleta 7, Collins 7, Ogbonna 6, Cresswell 6, Masuaku 7; Noble 7 (Rice 6), Obiang 7, Lanzini 8; Arnautovic 8 (Hernandez 6), Antonio 6 (Sakho 6).

Thursday, December 14

Resilient Irons grind out a point against Gunners

West Ham 0 Arsenal 0

It’s a rendezvous at Eat in Westfield to meet my daughter Nell, who has just come from the Tate and is expecting to see further works of art at the London Stadium. Then down the bleak concrete concourse to H Block where Gavin and Ilona are awaiting their tickets. We’re joined inside by Michael the Possible Whovian, Fraser, Alison (who is not a jinx), Scott and Joe. Steve the Cornish postie has been feeling dizzy after the shock of West Ham beating Chelsea and is spending more time at home with his red delivery slips, while Nigel misses the game just because of some historic vote in Parliament. Matt and Lisa are looking for a bar that isn’t showing Real Madrid in Granada.

Early on Arthur Masuaku gets in a quality cross that Arnautovic heads home, only to be ruled offside by an arm and a leg. After that Arsenal’s pretty passing patterns start to dominate but West Ham carry on from the Chelsea game defending stoutly. The cold seems to have muted the crowd a little and also the football.

Iwobi hits the outside of the post from a tight angle, but it’s a game of few chances. Half an hour in you think this is where a Bilic team would have conceded a goal on the break, but the Moyes defence is looking a lot more solid, reverting to a straight line of five without the ball as Masuaku drops back alongside Cresswell.

Arnautovic lobs on to the roof of the net at the start of the second half but from then on it’s more Arsenal possession. Ogbonna has a storming game at the back and renders Giroud anonymous. Wilshere blasts a half-chance over and Adrian makes a decent save from a Sanchez free kick.

“This is how it’s going to be watching a Moyes team,” mutters Fraser, observing two banks of five and dreaming of the ghost of Martin Peters past. It’s not pretty, but then desperate times have called for desperate measures. The team looks much fitter and harder to beat and even Ozil and Sanchez are looking frustrated.

Moyes shows a strange reluctance to use subs until Hernandez replaces Antonio, while the crowd get going with Bubbles to raise the side. The Irons even almost snatch it in the last couple of minutes. After some sloppy Arsenal defending, Noble finds Hernandez with a clever reverse ball. Chicharito wallops it against the bar with the ball bouncing on the line and away. Really he should have scored.

The whistle blows and four points against Chelsea and Arsenal, plus a narrow loss at Man City, is definite progress. Now come four games against lower level teams and a different sort of test. Can we do it on a cold Saturday in Stoke?

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6; Zabaleta 7, Ogbonna 8, Reid 7, Cresswell 7; Obiang 7, Noble 7, Lanzini 6, Masuaku 7; Arnautovic 7, Antonio 6 (Hernandez 6).

Wednesday, December 13

Too much information from Mr Sullivan

David Sullivan has been fortunate that the great win against Chelsea has distracted somewhat from the comments he made in Saturday's Guardian. It's fine being honest, but there's no point in undermining players who are still on the club's books. Sullivan told the Guardian's Jacob Steinberg, "The manager said he wanted Fonte and Snodgrass. My kids begged me not to sign them." Snodgrass, on loan at Aston Villa, responded with a tweet reading, "Thanks for your support Mr Chairman." While Fonte told the Daily Telegraph, "It's ignorance. I'm not gong to say anything. It's not going to change who I am. I'm going to keep being the good professional I am."

It's a row that never needed to happen. West Ham are certainly going to need Fonte again this season. To his credit Sullivan does admit in the same interview that he's made mistakes and he shouldn't have made it public that Slaven Bilic turned down Renato Sanches and Grzegorz Krychowiak in the summer window. As co-owner he's entitled to an opinion. But the discussion of the club's transfer policy in public by Sullivan and his sons should stop, particularly when it concerns current players. David Sullivan should either leave the PR work to the more discrete David Gold or allow a PR person to sit in with him at interviews who would have the power to tell him when to stay quiet.

Monday, December 11

Stick your blue flag up your…

West Ham 1 Chelsea 0

It’s into the Clyde Best Cafe at 11.30am with my daughter Nell, who has come along to bring the Hammers some needed luck. Over paninis we perform the great ticket exchange handing out tickets to Michael, Steve the Cornish postie, Nigel and CQ. Matt and Lisa are away scouting in Granada while Alison’s away with friends of Jeremy and replaced by Joe.

It’s a late dash to the stadium and a big alarm as the programmes have sold out (luckily I find a seller in the stadium at half-time.) Moyes has sent the right signal by keeping Adrian in goal, while Noble comes in for the injured Kouyate.

West Ham take the lead after six minutes when Arnautovic plays a one-two with Lanzini, skips round Christensen and calmly curls it into the bottom corner. He then leaps in to the fans earning a booking, but helping him get onside with the claret and blue faithful.

Have we just made Chelsea angry? Reid gets away with a tug in the box, Hazard volleys across goal. Adrian has to make smart saves from Kante and Zappacosta's long-range efforts and deals with a series of crosses confidently. But Arnautovic and Antonio work really hard up front and threaten on the break as Arnie is thwarted by a handball in the box the ref misses. While Arthur Messi-uaku is immense on the left, causing Chelsea’s world class defenders no end of trouble with his mazy runs. Creswell is tucking inside as a third centre back at times and plays a lot better too.

Indeed, the rest of the game is something of a revelation. It’s not pretty but the Hammers work tremendously hard. Obiang is immense in midfield, nothing like the poor performer against Brighton and Liverpool, while Noble isn’t far behind in terms of snapping into tackles. Reid throws himself at everything and Ogbonna is a stalwart performer too.

The crowd buy into it. Moyes seems to have discovered that part of the West Ham Way is putting in a shift and the fans respond with rousing choruses of “Come on you Irons!” Bubbles and, of course, “Stick your blue flag up your arse!”

I’m convinced that we’ll inevitably concede with a few minutes to go, but Chelsea’s chance goes when the possibly offside Morata fires wide. There’s a nervous five minutes of added time to endure but Nigel and CQ pass round the lucky pastilles. The super-spirited Hammers hold out to huge cheers. It’s a lovely moment for the much derided David Moyes.

Matt texts from Granada to report that they are flamenco dancing in the streets of Alhambra and having a San Miguel on Adrian. Private Fraser says he never doubted Captain Moyes for a minute, while Michael looks happier than a man who’s just penned a Marc Almond musical as he says hello and waves goodbye to the Blues.

Then it’s off to Hackney Wick and down to Christchurch with my wife Nicola for a romantic mini-break on our wedding anniversary and a full dissection of West Ham’s win. We even find a few Hammers fans on the train to Dorset. Another huge test coming up against Arsenal, but this result could change WHU’s season.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 7; Zabaleta 7, Reid 8, Ogbonna 7, Cresswell 7; Obiang 8, Noble 7, Lanzini 7, Masuaku 8; Arnautovic 8 (Sakho 6), Antonio 7 (Ayew 6).

Friday, December 8

Adrian should start against Chelsea

If the press reports are correct then Moyes is going to start with Adrian in goal against Chelsea. It's the correct decision, bearing in mind what the Hammers boss has said about not picking players on reputation. Adrian had a great game at Man City and though it's tough on Joe Hart, he's been making too many errors. If you get the shirt and do well you stay in. Moyes has already picked Arthur Masuaku after an impressive cameo against Watford and he needs to make the point that no one is too famous to drop. The same terms should apply to the forwards; if Antonio, Hernandez, Ayew, Carroll (though there's an ominous silence about his knee injury) or even Martinez come in and play well they keep their places. 

Wednesday, December 6

Review: Home From Home by Brian Williams

Here’s something for your claret and blue Christmas stocking. Brian Williams’ Home From Home uses the format of contrasting games from the final season at the Boleyn Ground with games during the first season at the London Stadium. It’s written in the same urbane tone as Brian’s previous book Nearly Reach The Sky, and comes littered with quips such as, “Phil Jones was horizontal for so long there was enough time to have screened the first four episodes of Star Wars.”

Williams is no fan of Stratford. He books for the London Stadium late and finds himself breathless in Row 73 at the back of the stand, looking down at what appears to be a Subbuteo pitch. Home From Home records all the initial problems with stewarding, standing fans, Chelsea hooligans and West Ham playing crap. Things improve a little after a consultative meeting with Baroness Brady (which is described very amusingly and I’d have paid good money to see) as Brian and Di are moved forward to Row 54, saying goodbye to incontinent minors, self-appointed experts who go to one game a season and the Super Furry Coat Boys from Billericay in identical parkas. He does admit that the London Stadium starts to feel a little more like home after beating Spurs and that the Martin Peters Gents is pretty good. Though the white elephant in the room remains the running track.

Another good feature is the interviews with opposition fans of West Brom and Swansea on their stadium experience, along with West Ham figures such as Blowing Bubbles Monthly’s David Blackmore, blogger Sean Whetstone, Graeme Howlett of Knees Up Mother Brown and a great emotive piece on her childhood spent standing by the players’ tunnel from Upton Parklife's Jacqui Hughes. And to declare an interest, there’s even some nice words about myself in the section on the Newham Bookshop, for which I owe Mr Williams a round of popcorn.

It’s also a very effective love letter to the Boleyn, with lots of detail on trips to the Overdraft pub, the Stevie Bacon burger bar and of course the matches, including that epic final win against Man United and a French midfielder who sounds quite good. Fans of all clubs might appreciate this book as it’s a lament for the way football is changing, with nearly two thirds of league clubs having left their old stadiums and their old communities. Home from Home certainly gets over just how painful such a move can be.

Tuesday, December 5

Whatever will be will be we're going to Shrewsbury

So we're away to Shrewsbury in the FA Cup. The only time I've seen West Ham play at Shewsbury was a 3-0 defeat in a division two fixture at Gay Meadow, back in 1979. Somehow a West Ham side containing Trevor Brooking, Alan Devonshire, Billy Bonds, Alvin Martin, David Cross, Ray Stewart, Paul Allen, Geoff Pike, Stuart Pearson, Jimmy Neighbour, Frank Lampard and Phil Parkes managed to lose 3-0 to the Shropshire side's yokel heroes. In contrast to West Ham's footballing icons, Shrewsbury boasted players like John Dungworth. They thoroughly deserved their win too. 

On the way home the FA Cup draw came on my pal Will's car radio and West Ham were drawn away to WBA. We confidently predicted we'd lose that one. We didn't and West Ham went on to win the FA Cup. So there you go, all West Ham have to do is lose 3-0 to Shrewsbury again and we'll win the FA Cup. Though there might be a flaw in this argument…