Friday, April 19

Hammers go out with battling draw against champions

West Ham 1 Bayer Leverkusen 1 (Europa League)

In the Best Cafe Nigel and CQ have arrived early and been served kebabs, but for Matt, Lisa and myself it's a battle against understaffing and no hot drinks on offer. Matt and Lisa opt for chips in the absence of Halloumi mushrooms, while I go for the falafel. After a lengthy wait we head to the London Stadium in a storm, accompanied by Big Sam, who is wearing just a replica Prague final shirt as he is possibly the hardest (and coldest) man in football fandom. 

We just make the kick-off, but experience a sold-out programme disaster. Our party is joined by Michael the Bard of Stratford, who has possibly been detained in a room full of bad people, or at least political satirists, while Fraser is watching in Romford on a very expensive Now TV feed.

The crowd are up for another impossible comeback telling Bayer that we know what we are. The Hammers start off with real intensity. Fabianski has to parry an early shot from Tella, but the rest of the first half is all West Ham.The Irons take a 13th minute lead when the returning Bowen whips in a fine cross, with Antonio beating defender and pink-clad keeper Kovar to head home and spark pandemonium. 

The side is everything it wasn't against Fulham. Ward-Prowse has his best game in ages, playing further forward and snapping at the Bayer midfield. Kudus is causing the Germans real problems with his dribbling, Alvarez is back to his best mopping up loose balls and  Antonio is so worrying the Bayer defence that the already booked centre back Kossounou is hauled off after 29 minutes. Leverkusen look rattled and repeatedly pass into touch or to claret and blue shirts.


West Ham's best chance of levelling the tie comes when Kudus does really well to whip the ball in from the left and Bowen volleys against Kovar's leg. Bowen plays in another lovely cross that Antonio misses by a bootlace. Leverkusen are getting battered even if Antonio is getting nothing from ref Martinez. Billy McKinlay is red carded on the bench and a melee erupts among the payers as the ref loses control.

Bayer are definitely pleased to get to half-time only a goal down. Nigel eats a lucky star biscuit but elects to save his lucky banana for later, while CQ unpacks a veritable orchard of apples from her bag. We're joined by Steve the Cornish Postie, who is delivering himself back to Cornwall later by the night train. 

We figure Leverkusen will improve in the second half and they do after bringing on subs Frimpong and Boniface. West Ham's best chance comes from Bowen pouncing on a defensive mistake and crossing across the six-yard line only for the other forwards to arrive just too late. There's a rousing chorus of "You're not fit to referee!" as the ref makes a series of bizarre decisions. Carolyn hands out lucky liquorice, which proves it takes all sorts.

But Bayer are exerting more control on the game and Frimpong forces a decent save from Fabianski. It looks ominous when Frimpong gets behind the defence in na one-on-one only to fire wildly over the bar when he could have squared it. 

Just as it looks like West Ham will at least become the first team to beat Leverkusen this season Frimpong gets in the box in the 89th minute and despite being surrounded by defenders gets in a shot that takes a hefty deflection off Cresswell to nestle past Fabianski. He's clearly relieved as he runs to the bench and the red and white army bounce up and down in the away end.

It's cruel but the fans respond in the right way with a rousing chorus of Bubbles. Sub Ben Johnson has a decent shot wide in added time, so it ends 1-1 and we're out of Europe. But it's a performance to be proud of and the fans rise to applaud the team off. The players have given everything, though again we've lost to a team with a bigger squad.

Nigel and CQ head off to east of Ipswich, while the rest of us yomp in the rain to the Eagle, though Matt has forgotten his waterproofs, compass and survival bag. 

There's only Guinness or Newcastle Brown on offer, but at least Matt gets to reminisce about his latest trip to see Frenford FC play in the Essex Senior League, where the keeper was sent off for handling outside the area. This produces a stream of consciousness as we recall Adrian once going up for a corner and getting sent off for an ill-advised high kick. 

Oh well. We've enjoyed our three years in Europe, which is a credit to Moyes, though to again qualify we're going to need to get a lot of points from a difficult final five games. Paqueta and Emerson will be back at Palace and now we have to give it everything in the league. Irons!

PLAYER RATINGS: Fabianski 7; Coufal 7 (Johnson n/a), Zouma 7, Aguerd 6 (Ogbonna 6), Cresswell 6; Soucek 7, Ward-Prowse 7, Alvarez 7 (Cornet n/a); Kudus 8, Antonio 8, Bowen 8. 

Monday, April 15

There's only one F in Fulham

West Ham 0 Fulham 2

The best result of the day is giving four signed copies of Massive to Pete from Philosophy Football at Hackney Wick station. He's a man who has played both walking and three-sided football, a sport where you can lose to two sides, an idea that might interest West Ham. Inside the stadium I'm joined by Michael, Lisa, Nigel and Carolyn, while Fraser and Matt are across the park in the cold shadows of the West Stand. 

West Ham have a good eight minutes. Coufal bursts through to fire at Leno and Antonio blasts the rebound wastefully over the bar. Kudus shoots wide and Paqueta hits the side-netting. But Fulham score with their first attack after nine minutes. Dinos Mavropanos does one of his long leg stretches to try and control the ball, but only plays it straight to Pereira, who scores with ease.

That goal deflates both team and crowd. Fulham create a host of chances with Willian crossing for Pereira to shoot wide, Fabianski saving well from Willian and Iwobi shooting wide. Even the applause for the tenth anniversary of Dylan Tombides' death from testicular cancer in the 38th minute sees a header gathered on the line by Fabianski.

West Ham look very jaded after playing in Germany on Thursday. Playing Ings up front with Antonio in a wider role isn't working. Paqueta is having a game where nothing comes off, Alvarez is off the pace, Ward-Prowse is struggling to contain Pereira and Mavropanos has made one of those mistakes that still blight the game of a promising player. 

At half-time Nigel takes a unilateral decision to eat his lucky banana. It doesn't work. The second half sees more Fulham chances, as Muniz tries a clever backheel and Fabianski makes a brilliant low stop to deny the lively Iwobi. 

Sub Soucek adds a little more bite to the West Ham midfield and Paqueta has a header blocked from a corner, before Ings fires way over. But a second goal seems inevitable. It comes when Paqueta tries to beat three players, gets tackled and Iwobi breaks. He crosses for Pereira to stroke home, having lost Ben Johnson.

George Earthy comes on for his league debut and has a couple of good touches, before he collides with Alvarez and goes down with a nasty head injury. He's down for a long time and is stretchered off and taken to hospital, as the Fulham fans show a lack of class by chanting while he's down. Earthy has thankfully now been sent home. 

The inevitable defeat happens and the only good result is we try a new rout to the Eagle via Stratford International, which is a Dave Brailsford-style marginal gain. Here we meet Matt and Fraser, though the bad news is that the fridge is out of East London Pale Ale and it's down to John Smiths or Guinness. A discussion ensues about the last band to play live on Top of the Pops, with Nigel saying he can't explain if it was the Who or not, while Lisa is making her mind up about Bucks Fizz. Matt enjoys himself by asking us to name all the winners of the Bundesliga, which we can't.

This defeat has been easier to take in some ways, as we never looked like winning after the first goal. At least we get to watch Arsenal blow their chance of going top against Aston Villa and learn that Bayer Leverkusen have scraped a 5-0 win to win the Bundesliga. Let's hope they behave thoroughly unprofessionally and go out on the lash all week. A chastening home defeat when we could have gone sixth. Whether Moyes stays or goes, the need for a bigger squad is clear.

PLAYER RATINGS: Fabianski 7; Coufal 6 (Johnson 5), Mavropanos 4 (Zouma 6), Aguerd 5, Emerson 5; Alvarez 5, Ward-Prowse 4 (Soucek 6), Paqueta 5; Kudus 6, Ings 4, Antonio 6 (Earthy n/a, Cornet n/a).

Friday, April 12

Late errors and bookings prove costly

Bayer Leverkusen 2 West Ham 0 (Europa League)

The armchair fans gather at Mayhem Corner to watch this one on my sofa. Nigel and Carolyn, Matt and Lisa, Nell, Nicola and Vulcan the border terrier are all present as the Hammers try to get a result in Germany without Alvarez and Bowen. The level of hospitality rivals the Eagle, with crisps, peanuts, Matt and Lisa's Neck Oil and Camden IPA, plus Nigel and Carolyn's Peroni and alcohol-free Carlsberg helping up prepare to face a team that hasn't lost in 41 games. Before kick off there's time for some electoral banter and Nigel to quip that the new party campaigning to save Canvey Island's lake must be after floating voters. 

West Ham are sitting deep and do a pretty good defensive job in the first half. Fabianski has to make a flying save from Grimaldo and a low parry from Schick (you're Schick and you know you are?). Antonio is causing Tah problems and makes a great run down the left to set up a chance for Kudus, who shoots rather tamely at the keeper when he could have taken a touch. 

The Hammers do some pretty effective self-sabotage early on with Paqueta and Emerson both getting booked, meaning they'll miss the second leg, leaving Matt to rue our indiscipline. All this on top of Alvarez being suspended tonight for a silly booking against Freiburg.

Antonio has a claim for a penalty when he is tugged going for a Ward-Prowse free-kick. But West Ham's attacks are few and without Bowen we don't have much of a counter-attacking outlet. 

The second half sees more pressure as Fabianski has to make a fantastic fingertip save to keep out Schick's header. The overworked keeper then has to deny sub Hofmann in a one-on one. There's a late pinball flurry as Soucek twice clears from in front of the goalline. 

Just as it looks like the Irons have held out for a draw Bayer score with seven minutes left. A corner is cleared by Zouma, but Hofmann volleys home from the edge of the box with Kudus not getting close to him. 

Leverkusen are a patient side and in the 90th minute their unhurried approach spells disaster for the Irons. Ben Johnson and Coufal don't close down a short corner quickly enough and sub Boniface, who has stolen Maxi Cornet's blonde barnet, heads home, having lost Zouma. 

Right, so all we have to do is beat a team that hasn't lost all season 3-0 in the second leg, and do so without Paqueta, Bowen and Emerson. Leverkusen are going to win the Bundesliga so this isn't unexpected, but the difference in squad depth has told, with Matt remarking that offloading Kehrer, Fornals and Benrahma to pay Kalvin Phillips' wages has proved disastrous. 

We need someone like Cornet or Ings to step up to have any hope of progressing, which is a big ask. As Lisa remarks, out best hope is that Leverkusen win the league on Sunday and spend the next four days in bierkellers.

Wednesday, April 10

Swede dreams are made of this

Very pleased to appear on the West Ham Fans Sverige podcast last week talking about Massive: The Miracle of Prague and my life supporting West Ham. Had a good chat with Ulf, Peter and Jesper who are loyal supporters attending several WHU games each season, despite living in Sweden. Ulf even has a signed copy of West Ham: Irons in the Soul, which he purchased at the Newham Bookshop. We spoke about memories of Billy Bonds, Trevor Brooking and Julian Dicks, the Moyes in or out debate, the relevance of the win in Prague and much more. Click on the link to listen. It's good to know that the West Ham family extends all the way to Scandinavia.

Tuesday, April 9

The answer is blowin' in the wind

Wolves 1 West Ham 2

Well, West Ham were owed some luck with VAR after that ignored handball and dodgy penalty against Sheffield United, the blatant handball away to Freiburg, Ings' disallowed goal and the ignored handball against Burnley, and those two disallowed goals against Aston Villa. Ruling out Kilman's 99th minute equaliser for Wolves was harsh, if technically correct, and you can understand why Gary O'Neil was so incensed. Still, we'll take the win and VAR didn't go for us earlier in this game either.

It was a classic game of two halves with Wolves dominating the first and taking the lead with Sariba's penalty, though to my mind Emerson got a nick on the ball before Ait-Nouri fell to the ground. Doyle also goes close for the home side. The Hammers' only chance comes when Soucek treads on the ball after being set up by Bowen. 

West Ham improve dramatically in the second half with Antonio coming on for Soucek and Johnson replacing Coufal. Should Moyes have played Antonio from the start? Caution got the better of him, though it has to be said Paqueta, Bowen and Kudus looked effective as a trio before Christmas and there's no rule against keeping it tight in the first half in away games. When Bowen has to go off suffering a dead leg Moyes brings on Aaron Cresswell and moves Emerson into midfield, a move which brings dividends. 

Emerson had a seemingly good header disallowed for what seemed no more than a coming together with the Wolves man. But the equaliser comes when Emerson's cross is handballed by Max Kilman and Paqueta strokes home the penalty. 

Antonio makes a difference and Ben Johnson has a volley well saved by Sa. An unlikely winner arrives when James Ward-Prowse's corner drifted over Sa directly into the net, ably assisted by Storm Kathleen.

The downside is Bowen going off injured. But as this stage of the season any win is welcome and it's also our first double against a PL club. While on 48 points we're definitely safe...

Thursday, April 4

Clyde Best's old digs

Thanks to my Swansea supporting pal Huw for sharing this picture of Clyde Best's old digs in Dongola Road, Plaistow. This was his first house after arriving from Bermuda in the early 1970s. A bit different to Beckingham Palace or the Chigwell or Canary Wharf gaffs of modern West Ham players.

Wednesday, April 3

King Kurt earns hard-fought draw against Spurs

West Ham 1 Spurs 1

It's to the Eagle pre-match to meet Fraser, with Matt, Lisa and Nigel delayed by an ordering debacle at the Best Meze Cafe. Our party has been boosted by a recent tour of the London Stadium, viewing the hairdryers in the dressing room, which Nigel quips must be for the fringe players. We set off in a Borrowdale-style downpour to the ground, with Matt proving he is the hardest man in football by taking on the elements in just a skimpy hoodie.

There's a decent atmosphere for the visit of our fierce rivals and early on some good closing down by Kudus sees Bowen scuff wide from a good position. But after four minutes comes disaster. Maddison feeds Werner, Coufal backs off and the winger's cross is turned in by Johnson, who has escaped the attentions of Emerson. 

Spurs have an interesting throwback formation with a high back line and Johnson and Werner hugging their touchlines. Porro fires just wide as West Ham have a dodgy opening fifteen minutes.

But slowly the Hammers come back into it, with Paqueta and Maddison enjoying a lively battle. A tardy Michael arrives after a read-through with his cast in the wilds of north London, bringing some much-needed fortune. Bowen wins a corner, which he takes. His inswinger bamboozles the Spurs defence, Vicario is pre-occupied with Antonio, and Kurt Zouma tries to head home but sees the ball bounce into the net off his back. "ZOOOOOOM!" booms the crowd as the Spurs fans are not singing anymore.

Ward-Prowse gets a decent free-kick on target, only it's straight at Vicario, as the half ends 1-1. Strangely nobody is very keen on bringing on Kalvin Phillips to shore it up, while Nigel and Fraser opt to leave Nigel's lucky banana uneaten.

It's a lively start to the second half from West Ham. A poor pass from Bentancur sees Antonio's snap shot well-saved by Vicario. A key moment comes when, with Maddison claiming a free-kick, Ward-Prowse plays a great long ball to Antonio. Van de Ven slips and Micky is through, but seems to run out of puff and shoots at the keeper. Dinos has a header cleared off the line, though Antonio misses the rebound and is given offside.

Spurs have a lot of possession but at times try to walk the ball into the net. It's an enjoyably competitive game as the Hammers'  look determined to erase the memory of Newcastle. Zouma has a storming game and dominates Son throughout, while Mavropanos also defends well. Sours make five substitutions, while Moyes, perhaps stung by Saturday's mishaps, doesn't make a single change.

The four minutes of added time is end to end schoolboy stuff. A couple of dangerous West Ham corners, Udogie almost winning it for Spurs with a shot that is straight at Fabianski and a goalmouth melee with Bowen and Kudus. The last action of the game sees Soucek release Paqueta, who runs at the Spurs defence but instead of playing in the advancing Antonio, opts for a fancy dink that comes to nothing.

Still, a good point and the team played for each other tonight, with the tackles flying in and a lot of commitment against a top five side. We head to the Eagle, where Sinead has East London Pale Ale, Guinness, Corona and a half of John Smiths lined up on the bar. There's only time for one drink after the too late 8.15pm kick off, but there is time for our party to share Glenn Hoddle and Emma Freud anecdotes, as you do. Four points from Spurs this season isn't bad. Wolves away next and then the small matter of Europe. Irons!

PLAYER RATINGS: Fabianski 6; Coufal 6, Zouma 8, Mavropanos 7, Emerson 6; Soucek 6. Ward-Prowse 6, Paqueta 6; Bowen 7, Antonio 7, Kudus 7.