Wednesday, January 18

Striker light

Good piece in the Guardian today by Jacob Steinberg on West Ham's astonishingly poor record of buying strikers under Sullivan and Gold. It mainly repeats what's been said on various fan sites before, but the stats are pretty damming. We've had "32 mishits in seven years" and no West Ham striker has ever scored more than 20 goals in a Premier League season. There's a clear pattern of buying cheap gambles that often don't work out. Only Sakho, Carroll (when fit) and Demba Ba have proved successes. Among the flops are Mido, Benni McCarthy, Modibo Maiga, Wellington Paulista, Maroune Chamakh, Robbie Keane, Mladen Petric, Marco Borriello, Nikica Jelavic, Emmanuel Emenike, Jonathan Callleri, Simone Zaza and a host of other names we'd rather forget. Click on the link to read the while piece.

Monday, January 16

Is Sam Byram the right back West Ham have been looking for?

One of the most encouraging aspects of Saturday's win was the form of Sam Byram when he came on for the second half. We've not seen him since he injured his hamstring against FC Astra back in August, when he was taken off on a bizarre motorised stretcher car that looked like something from Wacky Races. 

Against Palace Byram looked comfortable on the ball and was immediately looking to get forward and also offered defensive cover for Feghouli on the right. It was a remarkably composed performance from a player returning from a long-term injury. He nearly scored with a dipping volley and also got in a couple of fine tackles at the back. Sam played with a bit of fire too and had to be separated from a Palace player at the end. Leeds fans really rated him, and although he needs to do some work on the defensive side of his game, he looked like the natural right back we've been missing. The Hammers still need to buy another right back to provide competition, but Byram returning is a major boost.

Sunday, January 15

Who needs Payet when we've got Andy Carroll?

West Ham 3 Crystal Palace 0

Plenty of colour before the kick-off. Nigel reports choruses of “F**k off Payet!” in the shouty tunnel near the Carpenters Arms, while he’s discovered a plaque marking the meridian line near the Builders Arms. Michael’s been to Upton Park to see the rubble of the East Stand and had lunch in Ken’s CafĂ© after picking up his signed Clyde Best book from the Newham Bookshop. Steve the Cornish postman is here to deliver a missive to Mr Payet, along with Scott and Joe, while Alison is rumoured to be in Maldon on strike wondering if the East Stand can match her ambition of a game without any glare from the sun (it can’t).

It's not a great first half. Feghouli releases Noble who gets in a cross that Andy Carroll volleys over the bar when he might have hit the target. At the other end Tomkins prods a dead ball across our goal-line, prompting a chant of “James Tomkins he’s one of our own!” But the positive signs are that Lanzini looks up to make the playmaker role his own and the side is working hard. Big Sam will be satisfied with a goalless first half.

At the interval I suggest that if Carroll scores Big Sam will be hoist by his own petard. “It would take a very strong petard to hoist Allardyce,” quips Nigel.

Bilic takes off Ogbonna and brings on Byram, reverting to a back four and pushing Antonio further forward. Young Byram has a fine game, getting forward well and also making some solid tackles.

Suddenly West Ham look fired up. Carroll fires wide almost from the kick-off. Feghouli starts to play really well, getting in a great cross that Tomkins heads away under pressure from Carroll. Feghouli then beats two players and wins a free kick. From the dead ball Big Andy fires into the side netting. A great ball from Obiang finds the overlapping Byram who sends a half volley just past the post. “Come on you Irons!” chant the fans as we start to find some belief.

After 68 minutes Noble finds Antonio who gets behind the Palace defence to send in an inviting cross and Feghouli has the desire to prod the ball over the line. The Algerian winger then kisses the turf — unlike his goal against Domzale where he kissed the plastic by mistake. Great moment for Feghouli, who is looking a different player when he’s confident.

“I never doubted you for a moment, Sofiane…” declares Mystic Matt. 

Will Big Sam’s men come back and sneak a point? Andy Carroll makes some great defensive headers and Collins and Reid are solid. Then on 79 minutes Lanzini finds Antonio who crosses into the box. Andy Carroll winds himself up like a medieval siege engine, connects perfectly with the ball and propels a missile into the top corner.

The ground erupts as Andy slides towards the corner flag, nearly taking the East Stand with him. Now that gives the stadium a bit of history. “Dad, how did he score with a backward kick?” asks a disbelieving Nell. Who needs Payet?

Suddenly our ‘soulless corporate dome’ is rocking to “SUPER SUPER SLAV, SUPER SLAVEN BILIC!” All the rubbish we’ve suffered this season seems to disappear, as finally, thanks to a certain Gallic prima donna, the club appears united once more. For the first time the London Stadium is starting to feel like a home. And Slaven must be moved by the support. He's a decent man who has supported Payet all the way and has not deserved the events of the past week.

West Ham stop another Palace foray and suddenly Antonio is running from his own half. He finds Lanzini who races towards the goal pursued by two defenders. With supreme nonchalance he produces a Payet-esque dink over the keeper and runs into the arms of the fans to celebrate, earning a booking, but who cares?

The team’s performance suggests that Dimitri had become a big pain in the dressing room. Antonio has set the tone by playing through flu and making all three goals.

For once there’s a happy hubbub on the way to Hackney Wick. After putting my daughter Nell on the train, I take the Overground back to Stratford, escaping the Stop/Go signs and making it to the King Edward, where Nigel, Michael, Matt and Fraser and joined by Gavin, who’s been to the club shop, getting a track suit for Stanley and quite possibly buying up all the Feghouli shirts he can find. All the Payet shirts have been removed. Strange days indeed. We might have lost a player and found a team.

PLAYER RATINGS: Randolph 6; Antonio 8 (Fletcher n/a), Ogbonna 6 (Byram 7), Collins 6, Reid 7, Cresswell 6; Feghouli 8, Lanzini 8 (Fernandes n/a), Noble 6, Obiang 7; Carroll 8.  

Friday, January 13

Dimitri Payet: You've lost that loving feeling

Back in February 2016 Dimitri Payet was interviewed on BT Sport. He said of his relationship with the West Ham fans: "It was very quick, after just a few months. They took the time to know me as I did them. It gave me a lot of confidence… I felt they they trusted me and were showing it by supporting me all the time. Today I often say, it is a love story. It's the first time in my career I have a song with my name. For me it's a love story." He described being close to tears at the reception upon his return against Liverpool and said, "I think it amplified even more my love story with the fans." 

Today it's a case of, to quote the Stranglers, "Oui, c'est la folie." 

Slaven Bilic certainly looked hurt, having protected Payet this season and celebrated on the table when he scored for France last summer. Now Payet is on a love strike and playing away on football's equivalent of Tinder.

I think we'll see a big reaction from the players against Palace as they try to prove they don't need Payet. Perversely, it could be what WHU need to play as a team rather than a group of disparate signings.

Thursday, January 12

We've lost Payet

Slaven Bilic has announced that Dimitri Payet doesn't want to play for West Ham anymore. The manager says Payet is "refusing to play for us" and this explains why he was only on the bench against Manchester City, with Slaven increasingly worried about his attitude. It's surely time to let him go because we don't want a discontented player at the club and it will affect the morale of the rest of the team. 

Payet hasn't been the same player this season, so let's get £30 million for a soon to be 30-year-old, save £120k a week and strengthen the rest of the side. Not having Payet as a get out of trouble option might make the whole team play better and inspire Manuel Lanzini to become he main playmaker. 

Payet arrived with a reputation as a temperamental player, but Bilic handled him well last season, though now we're seeing the other side of his character. To some extent his frustration is understandable. He was promised a tilt at the top six again and a world-class striker, but once we only got Zaza and Calleri it was always likely he'd end up wanting to go. West Ham had a world-class player in Payet but blew it through a summer of poor transfer dealing. 

Although Dimitri's gone about leaving in entirely the wrong way by apparently refusing to play, which is a sackable offence, though it never happens in football as no club will write-off a valuable asset. Payet should put in a transfer request if he's unhappy and remain professional on the pitch and in training. He's leaving with no class and will now be booed if he ever returns. You can understand Bilic saying, "I feel let down, I feel angry." But a hard line doesn't usually work, as West Brom have shown with Saido Behahino, who has lost value while frozen out by Tony Pulis.

We'll never forget Payet's goals or those moments of skill in 2005-06, but now the time has come to say au revoir. 

Wednesday, January 11

Hogan's heroes?

West Ham have had a £12.5 million bid for Scott Hogan turned down by Brentford, with the west London club holding out for £15 million. We're buying at a bad time and will undoubtedly have to pay over the odds for a Championship player. The 24-year-old Hogan had a decent season for Rochdale and then one and a half decent seasons for Brentford, but he would still be a gamble, particularly as he's already had a cruciate ligament injury. 

We should remember that Ashley Fletcher prospered with Barnsley in League One but is taking time to adjust to the Premiership. On the other hand, having come up the hard way, starting at Woodley Sports and playing for Haifax Town, Stockbridge Steels, Ashton United and Hyde, Hogan might have an Antonio-like hunger that some of our bigger players don't have. It's been a disastrous summer in the transfer market, so let's hope that at some stage we get lucky.

Monday, January 9

Martin Samuel on the Boleyn as Bernabeu

Martin Samuel's Mail on Sunday piece, "Upton Park was never the Bernabeu - Now the London Stadium is being used as an excuse for West Ham's failure", has certainly provoked a lot of comments in West Ham sites. Upton Park was something of a fortress last season, mainly because of the high-octane emotion of it being the last season at the Boleyn. But historically, as Samuel points out, the likes of Man United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City used to regularly beat us at the Boleyn. 

Yes, he ignores the understandable anger of West Ham have fans who were lead to believe the retractable stands would be much more efficient and there would be far fewer transition problems, but Samuel also has a point that West Ham would have been accused of a lack of ambition if they hadn't tried to match the 60,000-seater stadiums of Arsenal and eventually Chelsea and Spurs. The stadium is imperfect and needs more redevelopment — it might take a decade or so to get it right —  but the biggest problem is surely bad results and poor signings; if we'd won 5-0 on Friday there would be a lot less talk about the faults of the stadium. We all miss Upton Park but it's the players who are losing matches. Click on the link to read Samuel's full article.