Saturday, December 15

A Christmas Carroll?

Managed to blag a neutral ticket for the Fulham game today, so preparing to drink white wine once my butler has ordered it. Feeling the biting cold outside you wonder if it might be wise to start with Andy Carroll, as Perez is still doubtful. Playing in a suspect defence on a freezing evening you wouldn't fancy a big Geordie lump like Andy coming at you. Carroll won the Anderson free kick from which Hernandez scored last week and presented the Palace defence with a new problem. Their preoccupation with Andy also gave Anderson and Hernandez more space. Expect we'll see something of him today whatever formation Pellegrini opts for. Come on you Irons!

Wednesday, December 12

Felipe Anderson: we've got our talisman back?

There was something of Di Canio and Payet in the memorable moment where Felipe Anderson took a touch and curled the ball into the top corner against Crystal Palace. For quality and audacity it ranks up there with Di Canio's volley and Payet's free kick against Palace and solo goal against Boro. Yes, he's had bad games and has infuriated at times this season with his poor corners and running into trouble. But at his best Anderson's capable of producing moments that linger in the memory on cold winter nights. Five goals in six games is pretty good going (he wasn't a great goalscorer at Lazio) and what's impressive is the way Felipe seems to find the time and space to release other players — there was one memorable back heel that released Masuaku on Saturday. West Ham fans have always responded when they have a maverick genius in the side and we might just have found another one. 

Tuesday, December 11

The hand of pod

LBC presenter Iain Dale's podcast featuring West Ham authors Robert Banks, Brian Williams and myself (the Dailly, Breen and Repka of the soccerati world) is now up and available on the link here at Iain Dale's Book Club. In it we discuss all things West Ham, including greatest players and teams, but fail to solve the Northern Ireland backstop issue (unless we use Steve Lomas that is). Click on the link to play. Enjoy.

Monday, December 10

Come on feel the noise

Almost unnoticed, the noise levels are going up at the London Stadium. It's not the Boleyn and the athletics track is still a big problem, but the crowd is getting louder. Watching Match of the Day there's a huge chorus of Bubbles going round the stadium as Chicharito finds Anderson who curls it into the top corner. 

It certainly helps that the crowd is behind a manager who plays attacking football and that a new talisman has arrived in Anderson. There was a massive roar after Fabianski saved a penalty against Cardiff and even when Man City hammered WHU 4-0 the crowd were still noisy and behind the team. The rhythmic clapping and stamping also has quite a primeval effect and must intimidate the opposition. It's one way round the vastness of the LS bowl. 

In our third season the fans are starting to accept it's too late to go back to Upton Park. "Is this the Emirates?" asked the Palace fans. No, it isn't anymore. The London Stadium is now full of "oles" (never advisable with our defence though) and it's starting to almost have a feelgood factor. All this, and we might even get our claret carpet in the January sales at Westfield.

Saturday, December 8

Three wins in a row for Irons as Super Anderson sinks Palace

West Ham 3 Crystal Palace 2

Pre-match lunch is at the Best Cafe where Matt and Lisa are happily completing the Cardiff programme quiz, as we all struggle over which West Ham striker scored a hat-trick away to Cardiff in 2003 (it was Jermain Defoe).

They then leave early to visit the club store where they presumably plan to buy a discounted Moyes tracksuit for Fraser. Nigel arrives for a late bacon sarnie before we head off down Carpenters Road and a lucky chocolate bar for Nigel from the shop that sells cans of beer at £3 a go.

Hernandez hits the keepers' legs and Perez fires a shot across the face of the goal early on, but Palace score with their first chance from a free kick. The West Ham defence tries to play offside but Declan Rice has held back and from Tomkins' header McArthur has the simple task of poking the ball past Fabianski. The Palace fans go into their silly chant and ask, "Is this is the Emirates?"

Anderson always looks creative but it's a mediocre first half from the Hammers, with Noble giving the ball away and Zabaleta having a poor match. Not even Matt's unprecedented encouragement of Arthur Masuaku helps. It's almost two when Milivojevic hits the bar with a free kick late on.

SUPER SNODDY
The injured Perez (he has a bloody foot looking at his twitter pic) is replaced by Andy Carroll at half time. The Hammers come out a different side and once again score three in quick succession at the start of the second half. As a cross is headed out by a defender Snodgrass strikes a lovely half-volley into the top corner. It's a great moment for the revived Scotsman who rushes to the Bobby Moore end with feeling. There's even a chant of "Super Robert Snodgrass!" What would have been the odds on that a year and a half ago?

Palace come back as an attacking force and at 1-1 Fabianski has to make a smart save from Meyer. It gets better as Carroll wins a free kick on the edge of the area. Anderson's free kick is parried and Hernandez pokes home a high spinning ball. It's a poacher's finish and a lot of strikers would have put it over.

FORTRESS LONDON STADIUM
The third arrives with a sumptuous effort from Anderson, Bubbles is sounding around the stadium as Chicharito finds the the Brazilian alchemist, who strokes the ball like a golfer into the top corner. The atmosphere is cracking now and it's starting to feel more like home. A great Masuaku cross is nearly converted by Chicharito and it's turned into a great if nerve-wracking match. The crowd indulge in more "oles!"

But then Nigel makes the elementary mistake of asking "When was the last time we won three in a week?" with 17 minutes to go. Schlupp immediately heads in from a corner.

Andy Carroll does well keeping the Palace defence occupied and Obiang replaces Anderson in a rare piece of caution from Pellegrini. There's still time for the improved Zabaleta to get stroppy with Zaha after the winger accuses him of diving and then four added minutes. Palace look a decent side but we hold on to huge cheers and then Twist and Shout. Nigel goes home to decorate his Christmas Tree a happy man.

Three wins in seven games and 21 points. We go tenth!

PLAYER RATINGS: Fabianski 6; Zabaleta 5, Diop 6, Balbuena 5, Masauku 6; Anderson 8 (Obiang 5), Noble 6, Rice 7, Snodgrass 7; Perez 5 (Carroll 6), Hernandez 7 (Diangana 5). 

Thursday, December 6

Coping without Arnie

The news that Marko Arnautovic is out for a month with his hamstring injury is certainly a blow to the Hammers. He's been playing with a niggling leg injury for some time and you do wonder whether he should have been rested for Tuesday's game. But the options for replacing Marko are looking a lot better than they did a few weeks ago. Lucas Perez confirmed that if he's given chances he'll finish with his brace against Cardiff. Arsenal fans say he wasn't given much of a chance by Wenger and although he sometimes looks ponderous outside the box he's scored four times from limited appearances so far.

The fact that Antonio scored his first league goal of the season is another boost, as he could be an effective makeshift striker. Particularly as he's confirmed in the Evening Standard that he finally feeling fully fit again. Antonio said: "It was not until the Man City game ten days ago that I really felt sharp, fresh and the 'old me' from two years ago. Up until then I had been trying to do the things I used to before, but just couldn't." If Antonio could get back to the form and speed of two years ago it would be like a major signing.

There's also good news in the fact that Hernandez has scored three goals recently. He won't make chances out of nothing like Arnautovic, but with service he'll score. While Andy Carroll is now on the bench, and although it will take him four or five games to get back to sharpness, he offers a massive aerial threat and would surely enjoy Snodgrass' whipped in crosses. Arnie is a special player and we'll miss him — but at least Pellegrini now has several options up front.

Wednesday, December 5

Perez double sees off Cardiff

West Ham 3 Cardiff City 1

It's in to the Clyde Best Cafe to meet Matt who is enjoying a halloumi baguette and recounting seeing the WHU kids lose on penalties in proper West Ham style. We're a little worried by the enforced defensive changes for tonight's side with Antonio as emergency right back and Ogbonna and Masuaku coming in. Then it's on to the London Stadium, where we pass a unicyclist on the Broadway (middle-class fans, eh?) and in the stadium meet Nigel and CQ fresh from a mini-break in Oxford, plus Fraser, Scott and Joe.

For the first 25 minutes West Ham play some good stuff, though often try one intricate pass too many. Antonio is getting forward a lot on the right and Arnie almost lobs the keeper following a fine ball by Anderson. Ogbonna's thumping header from a Snodgrass corner is tipped over the bar by Etheridge. Arnautovic shows brilliant pace to get past Bamba and beat the keeper only for Morrison to clear off the line. 

SUPER FABIANSKI
But having held out, Cardiff start to show more going forward. While the home defence wait for an offside flag Arnautovic makes a silly push on Hoilett and concedes a stupid penalty. Having seen WHU dominate the game so far the whole stadium starts to envisage a 1-0 home defeat. Thankfully Joe Ralls takes a weak penalty that Fabianski pounces on the ball to save easily. Lukasz even gets his own chant of, "Super Fabianski!"

Arnautovic pulls a hamstring trying to beat a defender. "That's him out for the season it's the West Ham way…" muses a pensive Matt. His humour isn't improved by Arnie being replaced with Perez rather than Carroll. "We're not going to win anything with Perez, and Masuaku on the pitch!" he declares. "Make a note of that," I suggest to Nigel. 

Matt is nearly proved right as Camarasa's free kick has to be punched away by Fabianski. At half-time Pellegrini needs to tell the Hammers to calm down and get back to playing football again. Fraser says confidently that if Cardiff can't score a penalty then they won't score at all. Nigel suggests that playing at the London Stadium isn't an advantage at all as we're better away. 


PERFECT PEREZ
The second half sees a big improvement. The breakthrough comes when Noble's chip is headed out by the Cardiff defence to Snodgrass. He dinks in a subtle ball that falls to Perez who volleys through the keeper. Cue much hilarity among our posse as Mystic Matt prepares to dine out on his misguided words. "I never doubted you Lucas," suggests the Vicar's Son. 

Five minutes later Noble finds Masuaku marauding down the left and slips a ball inside for Perez to fire home under the keeper, in another spectacular demolition of Matt's prophecy. He really deserves two assists. 

Seven minutes later Snodgrass gets a standing ovation from the East Stand when he takes a corner, a sign that the Irons fans are finally appreciating his workrate and left foot. Snoddy whips in a fine corner and Antonio gets between two defenders to glance home. That should do Michail's confidence some good. And it's the first time we've scored three goals in 12 minutes at Fortress London Stadium.

A CHRISTMAS CARROLL
The Hammers try hard for a fourth. Etheridge has to make a make a great double save from Rice and Ogbonna while Diangana comes on to perform an exciting cameo running at a tiring defence. He twice nearly scores, the second an excellent twist and turn well-saved by the keeper again. There's even time for an appearance from a rusty-looking Andy Carroll, who gets one header in and then shoots wildly over the bar.

There's some showboating from the lads and cries of "ole!" from the crowd as the second half is seen out in unusually relaxed fashion. Cardiff gain a flattering goal in the 95th minute as Ogbonna's header goes straight up in the air and the flapping keeper is partially impeded by Gunnarrson as Murphy heads home.

We retreat to the Refreshment Rooms (past the unicyclist again) for some welcome London Stout, Meantime and Blue Moon. Cardiff look a poor Premier League side, but it's now two wins in four days. Can we make it three against Palace?

PLAYER RATINGS: Fabianski 6; Antonio 7, Diop 5, Ogbonna 6, Masuaku 6; Rice 6, Noble 6, Snodgrass 7 (Diangana 7), Anderson 7, Arnautovic 6 (Perez 8), Hernandez 5 (Carroll 5).