Wednesday, December 30

Two-nil in our Cup Final

West Ham 2 Portsmouth 0

We’re in Hertfordshire with Her Indoors’ mother, and the only train running is the Stansted Express. At Tottenham Hale the tube resembles a scene from Day of the Triffids. It’s a shambling Sunday service and only one shop open at a post-apocalyptic Liverpool Street.

But at least there’s a Christmas Carol in Ken’s Café, plus Matt, Lisa, Big Joe and Littler Jo and lots of chips. Although Nigel’s in Richmond Park with his mum and Fraser’s at Wolverhampton races. Little Billy from the Café is going to the debtors' derby as a surprise Christmas present, poor sod.

Before kick-off there’s a little cheer for Hammers legend Hayden “he never lets you down” Mullins. Franco is in the side despite the Independent claiming he had suffered a “freak training ground injury”.

It’s an ugly relegation battle in the first half. There’s the obligatory early injury. Noble goes off and is replaced by Jimenez, leaving us looking lightweight in midfield.

We look nervous at the back and Green drops a cross. Jimenez is fluffing passes and raises the ire of the vicar’s son next to me: “Show some heart Jimenez! He’s like the cowardly lion!” he exclaims, wondering if West Ham will ever find the yellow brick road or be purchased by the Wizard of Oz.

Pompey are playing with just one man up and are also pretty dirty — the odious Michael Brown and Dindane are both booked for scything fouls.

“Small team from Millwall!” sing the Pompey fans. “Is that all you bring away?” chant the Irons.

Diamanti plays in some fine crosses from deep and eventually we win a penalty. Franco is blocked and the ball breaks to Jimenez who is hacked down by one Hayden Mullins. Allesandro has the arrogance you need to be a Premier League player, and never looks like missing from the spot.

Collison should have made it two before the break when he steers the ball wide of an empty net after the as always excellent Parker squares the ball across goal.

Early in the second half Diamanti has a deflected shot brilliantly saved by Begovic. But then we sit back and Portsmouth attack much more once Kanu comes on. Piquionne has a shot saved by Green and then almost profits from a dodgy back pass to Green.

“We’ve got three players who are defensive liabilities in Franco, Jimenez and Diamanti,” bemoans Matt. We can’t see why the half-paced Franco is allowed to stay on. He’s clearly not fit and Nouble would at least run around more. At least Zola brings on Behrami for Diamanti to add some defensive work rate.

It’s end to end though and we have a much better final 20 minutes. Parker and Kovac are both working hard and winning tackles. Collison shimmies and has a low shot saved by the keeper. Sub Behrami sees the ball squirm just wide of the post. Jimenez bizarrely fails to shoot when the opportunity is there and then has a free kick tipped over. But at one goal we can never be sure.

Then on 89 minutes Jimenez swings in a great free kick and Kovac rises like a great blonde Father Christmas to beat Mullins to the ball and thump a superb header into the back of the net, before leaping into the arms of fans in the Bobby Moore Stand as if he'd always dreamed of scoring for the Hammers as a boy in Prague.

“We never doubted him!” says Matt.

“Where was Nigel when Kovac scored his first home goal before becoming a West Ham legend?” I ask. "And when we finally kept a clean sheet?" Before the game you'd have got better odds on Tiger Woods keeping his sheet untarnished.

It’s been a strange game for Jiminez, who has looked lightweight and diffident but made both goals. Nouble at last gets to come on in the first minute of added time.

An ugly game but a great win for the Irons, and we’re now four points off the bottom and out of the relegation zone. We had to get three points today because we never win at Spurs.

Merry Christmas Bob Scratchit, Tiny Tim (or is it Kevin Keen?), seven-year-old Freddie Sears and Gianfranco Zola! And perhaps the enlightened Ebenezer Scrooge is now thinking of making an offer for West Ham.

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