Thursday, October 28

Noble fight back

West Ham 3 Stoke City 1 (aet) Carling Cup

"I can't believe we're fighting to get into West Ham!" exclaims a fan in the melee outside the East Stand.

Someone at WHU has had the great idea of not opening all the turnstiles. It ends up with the operators just letting everyone in to avoid a major crushing incident. So we've lost cash thanks to a false economy. If this was the Apprentice someone would be fired.

We get in after five minutes just in time to see Kenwyn Jones score with a free header from Pennant's corner. Terrible defending again and Da Costa was nowhere near him. Thereafter Kovac hoofs into touch and the anonymous Benni McCarthy air kicks when well placed.

At half time Matt confesses to seeing Krapp's Last Tape by Beckett the previous evening. "So it's been Krapp for two nights running," he quips.

Meanwhile Fraser sports a beard and we wonder if he's refusing to shave until we score more than two goals in a league game. He'll look like ZZ Top by the end of the season.

Tomkins heads wide when Stoke's keeper fumbles in the second half. But things only improve when Grant finally makes three changes, bringing on Obinna, Behrami and Noble. Victor has a shot well saved by Begovic, but then shoots another 99 times when he should be playing the simple ball. Stoke mystifyingly take off Jones.

At least the 25,000 fans are magnificent in the second half, doing all they can to rouse the slumbering side.

We start speculating that Pards, Curbs, Roeder, Macari and Brooking are all available to replace Grant should we lose. But the previously disappointing Barrera looks better on the left and finally whips in a decent cross for Parker to head home at the near post and disappear into the Bobby Moore Stand. Yes!

Suddenly the momentum is with the Irons. At the final whistle Jeremy Nicholas plays Whole Lotta Love and a bit of Led Zep seems to inspire the lads.

Faubert has a good penalty claim denied by Howard Webb. Noble makes a fantastic run down the left to cut the ball back to Da Costa who fires home. We wonder if he'll be celebrating in Faces.

Then Nobes plays a great through ball for the enigmatic Obinna to score with some elan and then produce a triple summersault - a feat that would have given Frank Lampard Senior a double hernia.

The evening is rounded off by the Central having real ale - or at least bottles of Old Speckled Hen. They apologise for them not being cold and then offer ice in the glass. Clearly not CAMRA members then, although Malcolm Allison did once drink red wine in the Central, claims Matt.

We needed that. Three points at the Emirates and we'll be off the bottom. Although maybe that's the Old Speckled Hen talking. But we have seen the goal celebration of the season. Eamonn Dolan eat your heart out.

Giving goals to Newcastle

West Ham 1 Newcastle 2

It’s hard not to look back in Ongar when you support West Ham. We’re on our way to Bishops Stortford via the surprisingly rural-looking Chipping Ongar, with its ancient church and whitboarded or black beamed cottages, driving past a pink sunset over a flat expanse of fields that could almost be Norfolk (with the odd golf club and tanning salon thrown in). Only my sense of well-being is ruined by turning on the car radio.

It’s 1-1 at Upton Park and although Carlton Cole has scored early doors tapping in Piquionne’s mishit shot after Noble’s great through ball, the commentator claims that WHU have faded alarmingly, allowing Nolan to equalise when he latched on to Carroll’s knock down.

We stop at the Prince of Wales in Tye Green to watch the second half. My pint of Hadham Gold is better than the game.

We’re outnumbered in midfield and don’t have a shot on target, Behrami looks way off the pace and Upson goes off with a muscle twinge.

There’s no urgency, Grant does little to change things and it’s inevitable that Newcastle score the winner. Barton plays in a fine cross, Da Costa loses his man and Andy Carroll has enough time to drink ten pints in his torched motor before heading home.

For the rest of the game the commentator endlessly repeats the mantra that “West Ham have not scored more than one goal all season.”

Nigel’s text sums it up: “Dire. Didn’t have a chance after first 15 minutes. Parker 6 most of the rest 5 or 4 out of ten, Behrami 2.”

A thoroughly dispiriting performance. On this form we’re going down.

Saturday, October 23

Middle-class Iron outed

It's time to out myself. I'm missing the Newcastle game today to attend my brother-in-law Drew's 40th birthday dinner party in Westland Green, Herts.

Strangely, Drew failed to consult the football fixtures. This is after all, a man who got married on FA Cup Final day and wondered why that was the only week the church was free.

He has an Aga and a labrador and there will be chaps present who prefer fly fishing to football. It doesn't get any more upper middle-class than this. Never again wilI I be able to call out my number in Ken's Cafe without feeling like Sebastian Flyte. The shame…

Friday, October 22

Da Costa nicked

Just what we need. Manuel da Costa was nicked by police after a nighyclub incident in Ilford on Sunday. reports: "The 24-year-old Portuguese defender was arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of sexual assault and common assault. He was bailed to return to the police station in early December pending further inquiries. A Metropolitan Police spokesman said allegations had been made by a woman in her early 20s at an east London police station."

Footballers and nightclubs — when will they ever learn?

Wayne's world

So it looks as if we're signing Wayne Rooney then. We should have everything he needs. The Olympic Stadium, Sugar Hut nightclub in Brentwood, Essex Girls (and grans), lots of tanning salons for Coleen and a chairman who can slip him a free copy of the Daily Sport. Sorted.

No, it's isn't. He's just signed a new five-year contract with Man United when we thought he was on his way to Sugar Hut to meet the Gullivan brothers over cocktails.

Missed chances with Wolves

Wolves 1 West Ham 1

Like a reincarnated Dexys Midnight Runners, the team that meets in pubs has assembled in the Clarendon on Chapel Ash.

Nigel’s feeling a little emotional having seen Y&T last night in Birmingham, “the home of heavy metal”. He’s with his mate Adrian who never misses a Wolves match despite living in Lyme Regis. Matt and Lisa have stayed in her sister’s boutique spare bedroom in Birmingham, while I’ve arrived on the 11.23 from Euston, and Big Joe is lost to the prawn sandwich brigade.

The Clarendon’s bar staff take even longer to serve customers than in the Central, although the Banks’s Mild is a pleasant surprise.

We proceed to Molineux (as famously misspelt on the sleeve notes of Billy Bragg’s Don’t Try This at Home album when he reproduced the lyrics of God’s Footballer). It’s not a bad ground, with it’s yellow branding, although the corners need filling in.

Upson’s out with a pain in the neck so Ben Haim comes in at left back. We have a good opening five minutes when Dyer looks lively. Then it’s all Wolves in the first half and we’re lucky not to be 3-0 down. On ten minutes Green punches a cross much too weakly and Jarvis volleys home. Green is then serenaded with chants of “If Green can play for England so can I!”

He makes up for his aberration with a great tip round the post and a brave scramble to save in the box. We’re strangely lethargic and nothing like the side that beat Spurs.

At half time Matt is so dispirited that he seeks comfort in a falafel and hummus wrap — possibly the most middle class snack ever seen at Molineux.

We’ve been terrible and at the start of the second half, after Green nearly gives another goal away with a poor punch, the away fans begin a desperate chance of “We are West Ham’s claret and blue army!’

It works as Obinna makes a foray into Wolves’ box and is brought down for a soft penalty. It’s the luck we need. Noble blasts it home. We’re drawing without having had a shot on target.

Suddenly the game is transformed. A great though ball from the previously anonymous Boa Morte sends in Piquionne to thump the ball against the bar. Parkers starts to dominate the midfield and Wolves’ belief crumbles.

Carlton Cole comes on to form a three-pronged attack and nearly scores after weaving his way through the box, only to scuff his shot.

Kieron Dyer makes a couple of fantastic dribbles into the box only to live up to his Newcastle nickname of “Jigsaw” (goes to pieces in the box).

It’s turned into a great chance for our first away victory in the league since we won at Wolves in August 2009. Even Ben Haim is looking good and making runs into their box.

We’re in added time. “Look lively Piquionne!” exclaims Mystic Morris as Piquionne dribbles into the box, chests the ball and pokes home what should be the winner. The referee blows for handball, although the TV replays prove him wrong.

Still, a draw keeps our unbeaten run of six games going and is a relief after our terrible first half performance. Wolves, facing the Big Four next, are surely in more trouble than us.

On the train from Wolverhampton we’re endlessly told that “there are no refreshments on this train”, lest we batter the opposition fans with sugar sachets. The police come home with us and announce that no West Ham fans can get off at Birmingham as they’ve had intelligence of “pre-arranged disorder” between West Ham and Chelsea fans. Or maybe they’ve just heard that Nigel is driving through Spaghetti Junction.

The rest of the journey passes without a bundle or liquid refreshment. Still, at least we have the chance to reflect upon 90 minutes of pre-arranged disorder on the pitch, firstly from West Ham and then Wolves. We’re still bottom, but if we beat Newcastle then our season might turn.

Wednesday, October 13

Notes from Underground

The Chilean miners are slowly emerging from the underground tomb where they've been trapped for two months.

The first man up, possibly a close relative of Javier Margas, was rumoured to have asked "Have West Ham got a point yet?"

When he was told they had five he broke down and hugged his family as the crowd began to cheer wildly... although then someone had to break the news that we're still bottom.

Hammer blow

Good to see that UK Athletics is backing WHU's bid for the Olympic Stadium. The fact that we're committed to keeping the running track and are supported by Newham all adds to the the overwhelming East London legacy arguments.

Maybe we should thank Spurs for giving us a nightmare vision of the Totts getting 60,000 in Stratford. It will be sad to leave Upton Park, but if we don't some other chancers like Spurs will get it...

Wednesday, October 6

I predict a riot

David Sullivan has predicted there will be "civil unrest" in East London if Spurs win the bid for the Olympic stadium.

Quite right too. I predict a major insurrection with mass burnings of Chas and Dave records and every portion of lasagne in Stratford being chucked into the River Lea.

And how would Harry live with himself, becoming a cuckoo in our East London nest?

Still, it's quite possible EU human rights legislation might save us; we are, after all, an indigenous species being forced out of our homeland by an evil corporation. A Greenpeace flotilla on the Lea is a distinct possibility — and if it comes to direct action we could always chain Jonathan Spector and Julien Faubert to the stadium roof in protest.

Tuesday, October 5

England's England's number three!

Good news that Robert Green is back in the England squad. His call-up is fully deserved after some great saves against Spurs and Bolton.

He was treated somewhat shabbily by Capello after the USA game and deserved a match to redeem himself after his blooper. Had he come in for the Algeria game and kept a clean sheet his confidence would have been restored, while if he'd made any more errors Capello would still have had the option of dropping him.

Meanwhile Matty Upson and Carlton Cole are out and Danny Gabbidon's retired from Wales without bothering to ring Bryan Flynn…

Only one F in Fulham

West Ham 1 Fulham 1

What’s this? Upton Park tube station is open... The surreal atmosphere created by a functioning London Underground station is accentuated by another seismic shock on Green Street. Ken’s CafĂ© is closed due to a family wedding.

The Incas must have felt the same when their gods and human sacrifices failed to deliver them from the Spanish invaders. All the old certainties have vanished. The centre fails to hold, things fall apart. Ken’s is never closed on a match day.

This tealess Iron walks to the Newham Bookshop for a chat with John. Sad news is the passing of Gilda O’Neil, the writer of My East End and several novels. She was always a friendly presence at Newham Bookshop events and a proper old Eastender.

At least the regular contingent is back in the stadium. Fraser’s recovering from a trapped nerve in his neck — possibly from watching Robert Green pick the ball out of West Ham’s net 12 times in the first four games.

Dyer's out with a week-long case of the runs, so Barrera plays on the right wing. We start off reasonably well, with Noble having another fine game and Da Costa looking sharp at the back. But as the game progresses we slip into a strange lethargy. Sours gave us space to play, but against a Fulham side that keeps its shape, we struggle. Balls skid away on a wet surface and after last week’s fine performance we look disjointed again.

Piquionne has a header cleared off the line, but Obinna and Piquionne don’t look as mobile as they did against Spurs. The referee turns down what looks a good penalty appeal by Fulham when Pederson nudges Johnson in the box.

On 33 minutes Fulham take the lead. Davies’ pass takes a lucky deflection into the path of Dempsey, who has lost Upson and chips expertly over Green. Oh well, at least Robert wasn’t at fault this time.

Early in the second half Dempsey strikes the bar. It’s a let off and two minutes later we equalise. Hangeland passes out of defence straight to Boa Morte, who plays in Obinna on the left. Victor crosses and Piquionne scores with a confident header.

We should be going for the winner now, but instead the Hammers fade. The crowd gets frustrated with the ref and chant “Who’s the wanker in the blue?”, but really we can’t blame the ref.

Fulham should win it. Green saves well at Dempsey’s feet and then gets down brilliantly to parry Etuhu’s header.

Barrera shoots wildly when well placed for us, but Gabbidon is starting to look out of position at left back and we can’t get our passing game going at all. Cole comes on for Barrera, immediately shooting wide, and we play with a three-pronged attack

“I’ll be happy with a point out of this,” says Nigel."It's like under Curbishley when we'd score and then get worse."

It’s too much for the Vicar’s Son next to us: “Why can’t they stand up?… What is f•••ing happening? What is wrong with Gabbidon?… What’s the point of having Ilunga on the bench? It’s like watching Zola not doing anything until they score… What is the point of bringing on Stanislas with three minutes to go?’

We hold on to keep our unbeaten run of four games going, although we’re now bottom again on goal difference.

After the final whistle Grant is surprisingly upbeat after the game, saying he’s surprised by the speed of our improvement and in a piece of Panglossian spin claiming we almost won the game.

Still, with five points we’re certainly better off than a fortnight ago. There’s a fortnight’s international break and then winnable games against Wolves, Newcastle, Birmingham, West Brom and Blackpool to come.

By December we should know if we’re in for a relegation struggle or not.

Friday, October 1

Political football

Carlton Cole, Mark Noble and Scott Parker, sporting a natty Don Draper-style side parting, were at Downing Street on Thursday to present the club's joint bid to run the 2012 Olympic Stadium. Sure they had a lot to say about Keynesian economics and fiscal stimulus versus deficit-cutting... Carlton confessed to feeling a little out of his depth — don't worry CC that never stopped Nick Clegg becoming deputy PM.

And Spurs have responded to their defeat on Saturday by sneakingly putting in their own bid for the Olympic Stadium. Bunch of chancers...

Meanwhile we seem to be taking the bid seriously by ingratiating ourselves with top athletes. Robert Green is using Olympic coach Ayo Falola to improve his performances according to the Sun, while Matthew Upson is dating 800-metre hopeful Ellie Darby.