Tuesday, April 10

Hammers comeback covers the cracks

West Ham 3 Birmingham 3

We’ve never been served so fast it Ken’s Café. It’s 4pm and brunch for my kids for a quid comes within five minutes. Then it’s on to the Newham Bookshop where we buy Sugar Girls by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi, a history of the Tate & Lyall factory in Canning Town and two books from The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. A good start to the day, it's just the football that might be the problem.

At the unlikely time of 5.20pm we join groundhopper Nigel telling tales of “Stand up if talk bollocks!” chants at Barnsley, Whovian Michael and Fraser, complete with cigars, in the East Stand. Matt is still in Uzbekistan, and texts to say: ”Greetings from Bukhara heart of the Silk Road.” "Is he at Macclesfield, home of the Silkmen?” I quip.

My eleven-year-old daughter Nell asks why the crowd groan when Carlton Cole’s name is read out and I explain the goal ratio of CC compared to Ricky Lambert. There are early warning signs as Green parries a Birmingham shot and then Davies heads wide. We go behind after 27 minutes when McCartney plays a loose pass and Mutch surges past Faye to fire into the corner. Robert Green is badly at fault. “Daddy, why didn’t Robert Green move?” asks Nell.

It gets worse. Three minutes later a foul in midfield goes undetected and then City play in ex-felon Marlon King, who has found a Shard-size gap through our central defence and expertly shoots past Green. Bugger. It’s just like Reading. Then McCartney goes off and is replaced by Danny Collins after a clash of heads. Matt texts: "In Uzbekistan they know how to deal with those who fail dismally." 

As both Lola and Nell have Harry Potter books with them I ask them if there’s a spell to help us beat the blue forces of Valdemort. Thirteen-year-old Lola comes with an incantation that will make the City players die, but that seems a bit extreme, even for 2-0 down at home. 

The crowd and West Ham are sparked into life by the early calamities. Maynard curls an excellent shot against bar and then from Noble’s corner Tomkins heads on and Vaz Te glances home another header. Just the fillip we needed for half-time, all we have to do is keep it at 2-1 for two minutes of added time.

Ah, but we fail to win the next tackle in midfield and concede a corner, Nolan heads clear but Burke volleys into the ground and the ball bounces horribly over our defenders and into the corner. It’s slightly lucky but if we’d kept a man on the line it would surely have been cleared.

Matt texts: “Tamerlane the Earth-Shaker massacred five million in India – doubt if he would have forgiven Big Fat Sam for another failure.” I text back to say we’re going to win 4-3.

Allardyce has clearly done some earthshaking at half time, having possibly thrown several tea urns, unread Olympic stadium dossiers and a pile of Karren Brady books at the players. Lansbury replaces Maynard and we start with new intent. Nothing to lose now. Nolan is playing as a near-striker and looks much better further up the field. West Ham bombard the Brum penalty area. 

Lansbury has a good penalty appeal turned down and then Cole is held back and the incensed Lansbury races back to remonstrate with the referee and is booked. At least we’re playing with some spirit. The crowd sense this and are the noisiest they’ve been all season with chants of “Come on you Irons!” and “Claret and Blue Army!” Show some passion and the fans will always get behind a West Ham team. Patronise them and pick fights with them and it’s professional suicide.

Birmingham’s Zigic comes on to chants of “Does the circus know you’re here?” Our vital second goal comes after 70 minutes when Nolan is given space to feed the ball back to Cole who does well to swivel and shoot into the corner.  “I thought you said he wasn’t any good?” says Nell accusingly.

With the lights on it’s a proper game. Not pretty, but at least this is what we thought we were buying into with the Allardyce regime – unrelenting effort and never giving up. Collins balloons several crosses in to the area, but we miss the accuracy of McCartney. "We just need a lucky pen,” says Mystic May and Nigel offers him a blue Biro. Vaz Te looks a threat and Big Sam goes forward crazy, taking off Noble for Baldock. Cole volleys just over. And then Collins fires wide.

The breakthrough comes a minute from time when Lansbury’s shot hits the raised arm of Burke. Vaz Te puts the penalty straight down the middle and scores in front of a heaving Bobby Moore Stand. We almost win it when Lansbury miscues a late chance.

“That was the best atmosphere I’ve ever heard at West Ham,” says 13-year-old Lola. It’s been a reminder of why we come to West Ham, in the hope of six-goal thrillers and being entertained. Not much use to our hopes of automatic promotion though, unless Reading lose to Brighton and Southampton, and the first half saw some catastrophic defending. But in the second half a sign there’s some spirit in the side that might take us though the play-offs.


Phil Nichols said...

Nothing much to add Pete... We've clearly run out of steam. What has ultimately done for us is the lack of a decent regular goalscorer. Cole started well but now looks like someone needs to put him out of his misery. Carew, Baldock, Maynard have all ultimately been a big let down. What is Fat Sam's best XI. Who knows? Hammer of the Year? Noble for me, with Green a close second. Faye, Tomkins, O'Brien mentioned in dispatches.

Pete May said...

Yes, slightly unlucky in Reading winning 18 out if 24 but we should have been able to put together that sort of run with a decent scorer. Cole's had too many injuries and is now a journeyman striker - Maynard and Baldock have promise but haven't delivered. Vaz Te best hope of a goal. Agree on Hammer of the Year choices - and can't bear to think of possible play-off defeat and losing Tomkins and Noble.