Wednesday, April 8

We're all going on a Europa tour?

West Ham 2 Sunderland 0

“Now don’t be upset if West Ham lose,” I warn my eight-year-old daughter Nell, who’s qualified for a free ticket today as an Academy member. “We’re without Collison, Behrami, Cole, Parker and Kovac,” I explain, wondering how we’ll field a side.

There’s a healthy turnout in Ken’s before the match, Fraser, Matt, Jo, Mike, Nigel (showboating by mentioning a planned trip to Banbury FC) and lucky omen CQ (who has a hundred per cent record in her two games so far this season). Nell is quizzed on her Sylvanian Families Collection by Jo, and fortified by isotonic sausage, egg, chips, beans, bread and butter.

We’re in the Doctor Martens Stand this week, just above the Centenary Stand goal. Anton Ferdinand receives a nice cheer as the teams are read out. It’s a scratch side, and early on Sunderland have the better chances with Leadbitter shooting wide and Cisse, fresh from his arrest outside a lapdance club as is de rigueur for a Premiership striker, producing another tip-away from Rob Green.

But we dig in, Neill makes some telling tackles in the unfamiliar position of midfield enforcer, Stanislas runs at their defence on the left flank and has a shot blocked, and Tristan looks as if his brain still knows what to do, even if his body is lagging behind.

“Daddy, why aren’t they singing 'Dirty northern custards' at Sunderland?" asks Nell, having seen us beat them 2-0 in 2005.

Neither team looks like breaking the deadlock and you can see it going the way of the WBA goalless draw,

But just before half-time Boa Morte takes the ball from Rob Green’s throw, plays the ball to Di Michele takes the return and accelerates into the Sunderland box, before squaring to 19-year-old Junior Stanislas to score an easy goal on his first start for the Hammers. He’s the first Junior to score for the Hammers since Frank Lampard. It’s also great to see Boa Morte finally playing with some confidence. Blimey.

At half-time a rainbow appears on the pitch above the sprinklers and maybe thee will soon be a yellow brick road to Europe too.

It gets better in the second half. Tristan has a shot saved and from the resulting corner James Tomkins heads home. His marker, Anton Ferdinand, looks as if he’s longing for the joy of East London and Faces nightclub.

“You’re going down with the Shearer!” chants the Centenary Stand.

Upson has another header saved by their keeper. Tristan lobs just over. There’s a long stoppage when Spector lands awkwardly after winning a header and lies unconscious on the pitch. Tough on Specs but a sign that this squad is plying for each other

The rest of the game is almost a stroll. Collins clears from the line and Cisse fluffs a late chance. "Why is Frank Lampard fat?… Is it true Chelsea ain’t got no history?” asks Nell, as the Irons’ fans regale us with a litany of anti-Chelsea ditties.

“We’ll easily survive eight minute!” says Nell, with the optiism of youth, unaware of the Wimbledon or WBA home debacles. For the eight minutes of added time she chants a mantra of “Sunderland are going to see!” And they do. We’re seventh! Jeremy Nicholas plays Twist and Shout as the sun streams down. And Tony Carr's incredible Academy is still working. We've blooded Stanislas, Tomkins, Sears, Collison, Payne and Noble in recent seasons.

There’s still time to visit the WHU shop, and then the Newham Bookshop and purchase a Horrid Henry Book (John says the Belgian Irons have been I today dreaming of a Europa Cup tie in their home land) before visiting the Black Lion to see Fraser, Matt, Jo and Mike. News arrives that Mystic Morris predicted Tomkins would score seconds before he did. Matt also says that some ignorant bloggers had earlier in the week suggested that West Ham might lose every game from now on. As if.

“Daddy, I told you Sunderland were rubbish,” adds Nell over a J20. Time to console some sad Makems at the bar as Fraser buys me a pint of Buffer. And to consider that with Spurs having lost to another last minute clanger there’s a considerable buffer between us and the north London upstarts.

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