Monday, March 29

Fortune's always hiding…

West Ham 0 Stoke City 1

Steve ‘North Bank Norman’ Rapport has returned from San Francisco for his annual visit and the former Fortune's Always Hiding supremo is sitting in Ken’s Café nursing a cup of tea. Once he was the angriest man in the Chicken Run and famed for cries of “Remember goals West Ham? They were big in the Seventies!”. His karma has improved somewhat in the hotel California. Although who knows what exposure to WHU might do to him.

Phill has already suggested bringing some horse tranquillizer or ‘miaow miaow’ to sedate Steve before the game. Otherwise we might see the first ever case of spontaneous human combustion in the Boleyn Stadium.

The team news arrives on Tom’s mobile. “What? Kieron Dyer?” exclaims Steve, nearly dropping his bacon sandwich. “Zola’s having a laugh! Kieron bloody Dyer? He’s dropped Diamanti for Kieron Dyer? Spector at left back!!!?” Oh dear, the anger’s started.

Steve’s entourage of Michelle, Maddie and Tom lead him to his seat, retreat to a safe position in Green Street, light the blue touchpaper and wait for ignition.

In the stadium Fraser, Matt, Nigel and myself greet each other in the stoic manner of US troops about to land on a Pacific beach and endure 90 minutes of hellfire. Oh and David Sullivan’s reproduced his midweek rant in the programme just in case we missed it.

Still, Matty Etherington gets a nice cheer, the crowd seem behind the Irons and we’ve moved the advertising hoardings next to the touchline to prevent Delap’s throw-ins.

At least we look up for it and compete for every ball. Nigel is encouraged when five of our players dispute the ref’s awarding of a free kick. Noble is a more mobile and skilful version of Kovac and Da Costa is winning aerial balls at the back.

Kieron Dyer even gets a cross in that Mido heads way over. Mido does win some good defensive headers even if it seems to take half a game for the Incredible Bulk to then get upfield.

Parker plays in Cole, who is foiled by a quick block from Sorensen. Stoke send a free header wide but our best and worst moment arrives when Cole shots from the edge of box. Sorenson parries out to Mido who hopelessly miscontrols the ball and the chance is gone.

Faubert almost gives a goal away through dithering in his own half just before half time but thankfully we mop up the danger. We’re reasonably happy at half-time.

Most surprisingly, Kieron Dyer doesn’t emerge for the second half and Ilan is on. Stoke have endless throw-ins in our half and Delap launches the ball into our box. Kitson goes off after 67 minutes and on comes Fuller, who was sent off for fighting his own team-mate Andy Griffin last season.

The hoardings are playing really well against Delap but unfortunately they can’t counter our short throw-ins. Faubert’s throw-in finds no-one much and Fuller emerges with the ball a minute after coming on to jink inside Da Costa and then bamboozle Upson before firing into the net. He's been on the pitch two minutes.

The Stoke fans erupt and are soon singing Delilah and “We only score from long throws!”. Then they chant that we’ll be playing Millwall next season. It comes to something when we’re being patronized by Stoke fans.

On and there’s a blow-up doll being waved in the Stoke end. “They probably found it in our boardroom,” suggests one fan.

We make a spirited response but lack creativity. Times must be bad when Jonathan Spector is our best player — he’s showing determination and commitment on the left. Cole heads wide from one Specs’ cross and that’s about it. We fire high balls at Stoke’s massive defence and never get down the line. Diamanti comes on but looks devoid of all confidence after the chairman’s public rubbishing and fires a late free kick tamely into the Stoke wall.

We file out of the ground in numbed silence. Six defeats in a row. Hull have won and are level on points. Surely not selling all our players again? Or playing Doncaster at home?

In Ken’s Steve sits with his cup of tea mumbling "No creativity… what’s happened to Behrami… how did Mido miss… we never looked like scoring…” in the manner of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. He’s lost his anger, which is a bad sign. “It’s like when we stopped Fortune’s Always Hiding,” he says, "you can’t be funny about something that’s breaking your heart.” I just hope his therapist in SF can analyse this.

We drive to Michelle’s gaff near the new Olympic Stadium, ideal for watching West Ham versus Scunthorpe. News arrives on the Internet that Zola is considering his future. He can’t even resign decisively. We wonder if Ray Winstone might be appointed caretaker manager.

Trying to find my way to Bow Road down the deserted Wick Lane is as convoluted as West Ham trying to find the route to goal. The emptiness of the streets seems to match our long day’s journey into night.

Zola is a nice man but I doubt if he has the ability to cope when things are going badly or use the transfer market Harry-style. Sullivan’s public criticism seems to be a crude attempt to force him out and avoid paying £3.5 million compensation for firing him and Clarke.

But really there’s no point in Zola going now. Whom could we get for six games? Hughes or Bilic certainly wouldn’t come to a club that could be in the Championship next season. And Souness or Hoddle would hardly unite the fans.

For the moment we all need to stick together for the final six games. Sullivan should shut up and Zola should stay and try to salvage his managerial reputation by keeping us up. The players at least competed today and even they now know they are not too good to go down. Zola will surely be gone in the summer, but for now let’s hope for any lucky win to boost confidence, stick to one system and everyone at the club move in the same direction.

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