Tuesday, March 8

Avram Grant's a football genius?

West Ham 3 Stoke 0

“We came from Canning Town because the tubes are down!” A few old songs might have to be rewritten thanks to the never-ending closure of Upton Park tube this season. It’s a free game for Academy members, so I have to persuade my daughter Nell and her friend Fernanda that a two-mile hike from West Ham to Ken’s Café is all part of the fun. At least Stratford should be open every week in 2013.

Inside Ken’s is Jeremy Nicholas, partaking of a light luncheon with Mr Moon. Jem makes a cryptic allusion to the fact it’s the tallest line-up West Ham have ever fielded. Then it’s on with the girls to the Newham Bookshop where we buy a Wimpy Kids book for Nell and an Ian Dury biography for myself.

Within the stadium we discover that Avram Grant has changed a winning side, dropping O’Neil and Jacobsen for Piquionne and Da Costa to add some height to the side to counter Stoke’s set pieces. Matt, Nigel, Fraser and myself all agree that this is ridiculous tinkering and that we shouldn’t worry about the opposition and instead play the side that gave the best performance of the season last week against Liverpool.

Stoke play reasonably well for the first 21 minutes. Nell amuses herself by taunting “Jermaine Peanut” on Stoke’s wing.

We take the lead in bizarre fashion. Noble plays a through ball and Wilson and Begovic leave the ball to each other. Their indecision is final and Ba nips in as the ball trickles towards the goal. He still has to outpace Wilson and use his strength to bundle the ball home.

Phew, at least the girls have seen a goal, unlike the Birmingham debacle that was Nell’s last game. It’s as soft as the own goal against Wolves, but even Nigel applauds, despite the lack of aesthetic appeal in the build-up. We could get to love route one at the Academy.

After 28 minutes we go 2-0 up with another goal Stoke would be proud of. Da Costa springs from the turf to head home powerfully from Hitzlsperger’s free kick.

“They just can’t cope with our direct football!” I suggest.

“Avram Grant’s a tactical genius!” confesses a bemused Matt.

Hitzlsperger has a rocket tipped over the bar and Piquionne should make it three when he pokes the ball wide after Ba’s shot is deflected to him, but we’ll take 2-0 at half-time. Seems we can’t stop scoring. Tomkins, Da Costa and Upson have been commanding at the back and Parker inspirational as ever. Blimey.

Mark Ward’s on the pitch at half-time wondering if the Hammers will let Stoke out of jail. The Potters improve and Delap forces a low save from Green. Pennant is replaced as Pulis gambles on Matty Etherington, who gets a nice round of applause.

Nell and Fernanda shout “Come on you Irons!” and then chat and relax with the optimism of youth, thinking that West Ham can’t possibly blow a two goal lead. Us adults know differently.

Matt starts to get very agitated with our dropping back. Fuller comes on and then Kenwyne Jones, who loves playing against us. Immediately Jones heads just wide.

But we’re roused from complacency by that near miss. Carlton Cole has had a good game leading the line, and after another Stoke mix-up has a lob tipped away by Begovic. A few minutes later he produces a mazy dribble in the box and has a clever shot tipped past the post by Begovic.

We put the game to bed after 83 minutes. The ever-energetic Parker overlaps down the right, takes the ball from O’Neil and cuts it back to Freddie, whose shot is blocked and rebounds to Hitz Man Tomas. Der Hammer does just that and nearly takes the roof of the net off. Never mind passing the ball into the net. If in doubt blast it is a technique I can endorse from my games of five-a-side at the Sobell Centre. Hitzlsperger leaps into the Bobby Moore Stand and we’re 3-0 up with a new cult hero.

Amazingly we then keep a clean sheet and Jeremy Nicholas announces at the end that we go out of the relegation zone.

After the match it’s a trip to the Who Shop and a long bus journey to Canning Town, via a fire at Stratford station forcing us to travel the other way to Waterloo. But despite essential engineering works we get home as happy Hammers. Three wins in a row? Grant as a master tactician? Fourteen goals in four games?

As England’s Graham ‘Turnip’ Taylor once asked: “What sort of thing is happening here?”


matt said...

now Avram is agreed to be a tactical genius, maybe he could sort the Tubes out in his spare time. That fire alarm (not actual fire) at Stratford meant it took as long getting home as it will from the Stoke on Sunday...

Pete May said...

We could easily take The Knowledge along with Pottsy and Alan Dickens after our epic travels this season...