Monday, September 30

Highway to Hull

Hull City 1 West Ham 0

Thankfully I was taking advantage of the good weather and climbing Glaramara in the Lake District while we lost at bloody Hull. Looks like WHU have a mountain to climb too. Will we ever score away again? The Match of the Day evidence showed that Hull won a ridiculous penalty when Joey O'Brien looked at Robbie Brady in a threatening manner. West Ham should have had a penalty when Vaz Te's cross was handballed. Tomkins had a header cleared off the line and Rat shot just over the bar, but let's not delude ourselves, Hull, also hit the post, Jussi made one fine save and Maiga cleared a shot on to the top of his own bar. 

How to improve our away record? Might be an idea to throw some players at the problem. How about playing Maiga and Petric or Vaz Te and Petric together as twin strikers or playing both wingers from the start and surprising a home side by attacking from the off?  We're left desperately hoping that Andy Carroll returns after Christmas. Big Sam's cunning plan has come unstuck from day one because all the crosses in the world aren't any use if you don't have the players who can put the ball in the net and we've gambled everything on an injury-prone striker, good player that he is. Fourth from bottom now. Looks like a long season.

Wednesday, September 25

Vaz wraps it up

West Ham 3 Cardiff City 2 (Capitol One Cup)

It’s the smallest queue ever at Ken’s and inside the ground it’s just Fraser and myself in a crowd of 18,611 for Big Sam's 100th game. Nigel’s in Brighton, Matt’s doing family stuff in Widecombe, Lisa is at John Hegley, and Michael the Whovian is recovering from his Warsaw knees-up.

Luckily we get there early, as WHU score after 20-odd seconds. Morrison cuts in from the left and curls a lovely finish beyond Cardiff’s reserve keeper Lewis. After eight minutes we’re two goals up as after good work by Maiga, Jarvis prods the ball over the line. Leo Chambers was involved in the build up and the right-back looks promising, showing a good touch and ability to overlap. “Andy who?” texts Lisa.

Mind you, Cardiff have made 11 changes from the weekend and hardly appear to know each other. Maiga almost chases down a chance but shoots wide. The keeper makes a good save from Vaz Te and Collins misses an open goal. Matt refuses to believe my text that it’s the greatest game ever seen, replying, “West Ham can still lose from here, believe me.” He might be right, as on 44 minutes Noone cuts in from the right and sends a brilliant shot past Adrian. Undeserved, but they’re right back in it.

Cardiff are much better in the second half and instantly force Adrian to make a sprawling save. Collison has a great long-distance volley saved and Jarvis fails to find Vaz Te as we seem certain to get a third. Sure enough Peter Odemwinjie has left QPR’s car park and pokes home after our defence unravels. “Two-nil and you f••ked it up!” chant the Cardiff fans.

Diame comes on for the influential Morrison, Petric has replaced Maiga at half-time, and finally we realise we’re in a game. It looks like extra time until two minutes from the end when Collison crosses and Vaz Te, who has looked hungry after his transfer window embarrassment, rises to head home. Phew. Even so Cardiff contrive to miss a great chance in added time.

We head to the Boleyn after the game, where I haven’t been since 1980, though quite possibly Fraser’s dad and my granddad used to drink there in the days of cockney knees-ups. Despite the sticky carpet it has lovely old wooden interiors – ripe for a gastro-pub makeover if this was Islington. Though don’t think the clientele here – decidedly earthier than the Central — would quite appreciate seared polenta.

My first pint of John Smith is horrible, but after a trip to the heaving front bar, where Bubbles is on the stereo, I’m astonished to discover London Pride from a hand pump. Real ale in close proximity to Upton Park after another five-goal thriller ends another strange, but ultimately satisfying, evening in E13. 

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6, Chambers 7, Collins 6, Tomkins 6, McCartney 6, Taylor 5, Collison 6, Morrison 7, Jarvis 7, Vaz Te 7, Maiga 6.

Monday, September 23

They've lost Di Canio…

So Paolo Di Canio has fallen victim to his own 'revolution' at Sunderland. There can't be many industries where you allow a manager to spend £19 million on new capital equipment and then give him just five weeks to get it all installed. Sunderland knew Di Canio's character and methods when they employed him so you have to ask why Ellis Short has panicked after a mere five games.

I'd agree with Big Sam that PDC's been sacked far too soon, although at the same time I can't see his tactics would have worked at West Ham. Criticising Premiership players in public bruises their egos and was never going to work, and how long would he have lasted before falling out with David Sullivan and David Gold? They didn't like it when Steve Clarke was apparently disrespectful towards them and they certainly wouldn't have appreciated a Di Canio tantrum. While Karren Brady would have questioned selling one expensive team and replacing it with another, though she might have liked economising on the ketchup.

Part of Paolo's problem is his failure to appreciate that not all players are as ultra-dedicated or talented as he was (give or take the odd training ground walkout) and many require different man-management. Paolo has been tremendous entertainment value during his brief managerial career but we should perhaps be grateful that he didn't begin his learning curve at West Ham.

Sunday, September 22

The pain of Baines

West Ham 2 Everton 3

In Ken’s Café Nigel is dispensing Independent articles about David James’ spell in Iceland and wondering, “if he can afjord it”. Matt’s brother Adam is over from Australia with his daughter Rhianna for a feast of strikerless football. Big Joe arrives from Shropshire, DC and the wee man make a fleeting appearance as the café empties and Carol says she’s looking forward to putting her feet up and watching Masterchef. Meanwhile Michael the Whovian is in Warsaw watching a classical music concert, as you do.

Matt and his brother arrive early in the ground to sample the pies, which at £3.50 are the same price as the programme, “and about as nutritious”.

We play well in the first half. Everton’s only effort on target is a fine snap shot from Mirallas that Jussi tips away. Maiga still looks lightweight and short of confidence, but Mark Noble has a great half, Morrison shows tidy feet, Diame is busy on the right and Jarvis causes problems. It’s a much better performance than against Stoke and we look up for it.

West Ham take the lead on 31 minutes when Jarvis makes a good run inside on the left, eventually finding Morrison who shoots in after a heavy deflection off Jagielka. We pressure Everton’s midfield and have the better of the half. The defence plays with great spirit, epitomised by a tremendous recovery and saving tackle from O’Brien.

There are reports of poor microphone technique from Jeremy Nicholas’s replacement when he interviews Dean Ashton a half-time, but no other worries apart from the fact that CQ has forgotten her lucky aniseed balls (though does dispense healthy bananas) and Matt is wearing his lucky Dukla Prague away shirt, the one that bought us such good fortune in the Avram Grant season.

It all changes in the second half as Martinez brings on McCarthy and Lukaku for Everton. Lukaku causes problems from the start as Everton dominate and the ball fizzes around our box and Reid makes a great tackle to cover for a Collins error.

Collins brings down Barkley on the edge of the box, in a similar position to that from where Pennant scored for Stoke. Leyton Baines duly fires a world-class free kick into the top corner before running to the Scousers in the away section.

Allardyce reacts by bringing on Petric for Maiga and he immediately does more than Maiga in the whole game, nearly causing a chance with his closing down and then winning the ball back when it seems to be going off for a goal kick, finding Nolan who is bought down. Penalty! Mark Noble fires home. Suddenly it feels like we’re going to gain a spirited win. CQ updates Michael by text and he’ll be dancing the streets of Warsaw.

“From Stamford Bridge to Upton Park, Stick your blue flag up your arse!” roars the Bobby Moore Stand. Matt has to explain to his niece Rhianna that it is in fact, “stick your blue flag up your vase”.

Only then Noble brings down Barkley on the edge of the box and having already been booked for an earlier pull he’s off after 83 minutes. Still, it’s not as if Baines will pull out another world-class finish. Ah, he does, pinging it in off the other post this time.

2-1 UP 3-2 DOWN
“At least we’re the only team in Europe not to concede a goal from open play this season,” remarks Mystic Matt. Down to ten men we have to respect the point, but Big Sam has replaced Jarvis, our main outlet with Vaz Te, and two minutes later Lukaku finds Mirallas on the right of the box and sprints for the return, bravely heading home and getting clattered by O’Brien in the process. There goers the European record. I find myself swearing in front of minors, though it’s enough to test the patience of two Vicar’s Sons.

At least Morrison still wants the ball when we’re 3-2 down and looks like he’ll be quite a player. But with ten men it’s too much to claw back the game and we slump to another defeat. Though you have to say the performance was much better and if we can keep Petric in the side and not suffer any more stupendous free kicks, we might surely pick up some points. Everton look a good side and have traded well with the signings of Lukaku, Barry and McCarthy. 

The Vicars’ Sons leave for autographs so it’s just Fraser and myself marching to the Black Lion where we respect the pints of Doombar and Broadside. We can at least reflect on a great game after the Southampton tedium. Though if only we’d managed to get Lukaku on loan our season might be looking much more hopeful.

PLAYER RATINGS: Jaaskelainen 7, O’Brien 7, Rat 6, Reid 8, Collins 7, Nolan 6, Diame 6, Noble 8, Morrison 8, Jarvis 7, Maiga 4.

Saturday, September 21

Still striker light

Not wholly convinced by Big Sam's defence of signing Downing but no striker in yesterday's Evening Standard, where he writes: "What would have been said if Stewart had gone to Newcastle or somewhere else instead of us and we had still missed out on a striker which would undoubtedly have been the case because we didn’t have enough money to buy the quality we wanted?"

The fact is we'd have had £6 million more to throw at the problem if we hadn't signed Downing. The club knew all summer that Carlton Cole was going, we only had Maiga in reserve who is not a centre forward and that Carroll was injury-prone (and in fact injured!), so surely we could have found a big man somewhere, even from the lower divisions or Europe? Part of the problem seems to have been concentrating on proven PL players who were unlikely to say yes to us such as Ba, Lukaku and Defoe. It's not easy signing players, but you do think our scouting network should have had some alternatives.

Thursday, September 19

Jeremy Nicholas resigns: Mr Moon has left the stadium

Jeremy Nicholas has resigned as match day announcer after 16 years. He was asked to take a 60 per cent pay cut to save costs, so in the circumstances it seems Mr Moon had no choice but to leave the stadium. Can't imagine he was on big bucks anyway, so it seems a very shortsighted move by the club. You'll be missed Jem.

Dicks in My Rude Boy X1

A lot of tittering on Twitter over the fact that Rod Fanni was playing for Marseille last night. Can't think why, but here is my favourite Rude Boy X1:

David Seaman (Arsenal)
Rod Fanni (Marseille)
Julian Dicks (West Ham)
Neil Cox (Middlesbrough)
Danny Shittu (QPR)
Rafael Sheidt (Celtic)
Doudou (QPR)
Chiqui Arce (Paraguay)
Uve Fuchs (Middlesbrough)
Bernt Haaas (West Brom)
Stefan Kuntz (Germany)

Manager: Arthur Cox (Newcastle)
Stadium: Wankdorf Stadium, Bern.

Wednesday, September 18

In praise of Jussi

Our defence showed real character at Southampton, though most of our attacking play was pretty joyless. But let's give full credit to Jussi Jaaskelainen for a superb performance at the age of 38, and credit to Big Sam for signing him too.

I'm currently reading Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski and they cite Allardyce's signing of veteran Gary Speed for Bolton as a testament to Big Sam's use of Moneyball-type stats. The figures showed that the 35-year-old Speed was covering just as much ground as younger players such as Gerrard and Lampard, even though everyone else thought he was past it. He then went on to have some excellent seasons at Bolton.

It seems amazing that Bolton were prepared to drop Jussi and sell him and that no-one else came in for a proven international goalkeeper. When you think that Dino Zoff won a World Cup Winner's medal for Italy at 40, age shouldn't be too much of an obstacle for a great goalkeeper. So well done to Allaydyce and his team of Stattos for spotting an undervalued keeper going on a free.

Devonshire flu?

An ominous silence on Andy Carroll's injury. Hopefully we'll have an update soon otherwise it might be a case of  of Devonshire Flu revisited. Back in the early 1980s Alan Devonshire missed a game with 'flu' and wasn't heard of again for two years. Though he did return to mastermind our third-placed finish in 1986.

Sunday, September 15

Saints stifled

Southampton 0 West Ham 0
The World’s End seems an appropriate pub to watch this in after Andy Carroll’s injury. Matt and Lisa are at St Mary’s, singing in the rain. A scrappy first half in terribly wet conditions is what Big Sam would have hoped for. Diame uses his power to cut in from the right and fire against the keeper, Jussi makes a great save with his legs from Osvaldo. Nolan does have the ball in the net with a fine curling shot after Jarvis’s shot is blocked, but the whistle has already gone. Morrison also curls an effort just over. Big Sam goes mental as Schneiderlin’s two-footed lunge at Diame goes unpunished. Maiga still looks isolated and off the pace up front.

In the second half the Saints increase the pressure. Lambert hits the post with a header from a corner and Jussi excels, thwarting Lallana in a one-on-one and turning aside Lambert's curler. His best save is a superb one-handed stop from Schneiderlin. It’s another resolute performance from the defence with O’Brien, Reid and Collins excelling, though the lack of creativity going forward (does Collins have to lob every free kick into the mixer?) is worrying. Vaz Te comes on as the false centre forward to replace Maiga — Spain watch out. Bizarrely we nearly win it when Noble pulls the ball back low for Collins to blast a great chance over the bar. Matt concludes: “We will wring out our clothes and respect the point.”

More soporific than Super Sunday but a decent away point and magnificent stuff from Jussi, although the worrying thing is we haven’t scored for three games and without Carroll our whole strategy unravels. And West Ham have won only one in 16 of their last away matches. Points away are good if we can win at home. But can we conjure a goal from somewhere, anywhere, against Everton?

Friday, September 13

Andy Carroll's plantar fascia

Big Sam's column in the Evening Standard details all the bad news on the injury front. Andy Carroll has not injured his achilles but his plantar fascia — which sounds like something Her Indoors would get from the garden centre. but is in fact the band of tissue which runs under the foot. Andy needs rest and one-to-one attention and Big Sam isn't putting a date on his return, though it might be quicker than from his previous heel injury.

Meanwhile Joe Cole has torn a hamstring and Stewart Downing's leg has ballooned while Diarra is it for the season. And to cap this, new signing Petric isn't match-fit having be training on his own and needs there weeks of intense work, so won't be playing at Southampton o presumably against Everton.

All of which leaves a big opportunity for Modibo Maiga. He had a terrible game against Stoke but I thought he did OK in the Cardiff and Newcastle games and had a decent pre-season. That solo goal he scored against Southampton last season proves he has potential. More than anything though we need to tweak Big Sam's rigid system. Petric is apparently a Berbatov-type player and Modibo isn't a target man so we surely need to stop aiming at a big man who isn't there and play a more refined game on the ground. James Collins will have to stop lofting every free-kick into the box and Matt Jarvis needs to play it in low. And in the absence of Carroll we need Nolan to keep chipping in with some goals and Vaz Te to get back to the form of two seasons ago. Big test at Southampton on Sunday, which could shape our season.

Thursday, September 12

Di Canio on Geordie shore

Scary night at Steve Harper's testimonial for Newcastle. Paolo Di Canio, fresh from lambasting his Sunderland players, took to the pitch to play pantomime villain. The game also saw appearances from former Hammers Lee Bowyer, Kieron Dyer and a silver-haired Robert Lee. Not sure if Dyer lasted the 90 minutes… though Di Canio did try to red card the ref and survived a late tackle from Joey Barton.

Tuesday, September 10

Big Fat Frank's 100th cap

On the day that we discover Andy Carroll is crocked Frank Lampard is set to win his 100th cap, just to make it worse. I have to admit that Big Fat Frank has turned out to be a half-decent player. West Ham's history could have been a lot different if we'd kept Lampard for a few more years. I blame Redknapp and Terry Brown initially for selling Rio Ferdinand and letting Lampard think we were a selling club. Then you have to blame Terry Brown for panicking after we only just stayed up and sacking Redknapp and his assistant Frank Lampard Senior for unspecified reasons, and then replacing them with the untried Glenn Roeder. Had Frank's uncle and dad stayed in charge at West Ham he'd surely have been at West Ham for at least two more seasons by which time his goalscoring from midfield might even have propelled the club towards a cup or two. Though obviously he wasn't as good as Scott Canham…

Petric signs

At least we've made an emergency signing of unattached Croatian Mladen Petric. The club website claims he scored five times for Fulham in ten starts last season, though on Wikipedia he's listed as scoring five times in 23 games. Seems to have had a decent career in the Bundisliga with Borussia Dortmund and SV Hamburger though. He's 6ft 1ins tall, so at least has some physical presence, and scored the winner for Croatia when they beat England 3-2 at Wembley. Though on the downside he's 32 years old. Can he replace Andy Carroll? If not we may end up with a relegation struggle. Would be interesting to know what Fulham fans made of him and why he moved on at the end of last season. Meanwhile let's hope that Carroll recovers fast and that he doesn't become another Dean Ashton.

Oh Carroll!

AAAAAAARGH! If it can go wrong it will go wrong. Welcome to our world Andy Carroll. The big man has broken down on his first day in training with a new heel injury and the Sun claims he might be out for a period of months. And all after the club plastered Carroll's mug all over the e-mails suggesting we buy tickets for the Everton match. Makes the signing of Stewart Downing instead of a striker seem even more bizarre. OMG — Kieron Dyer, Richard Hall, Simon Webster, Stewart Robson — please don't let our record signing join the list of legendary injury-prone West Ham stars.

Thursday, September 5

Carlton not coming home

You couldn't make this up. Now the Daily Mail claims we're not re-signing Carlton Cole because he's not fit enough. Must have been training in Ken's Cafe…

Ricardo Vaz Te writes…

Dear Big Sam,

During the transfer window I might have accidentally made a statement to the press stating that I did not wish to play for a useless team managed by a big fat gaffer who does not appreciate my incredible talent. 

What I meant to say was thank you for so many starts when I only scored three goals and drove Michael the Whovian to Davros-like fits of rage. I will of course be delighted to fit into any system devised by your tactical genius and especially enjoy floating out wide as a winger come striker but not really being either and firing in crosses at a striker who isn't there. I  think you should fire Stewart, Joe or Matt and not me as they all lost control of this task.

Thank you for the opportunity Lord Allardyce,

Ricardo Vaz Te

Tuesday, September 3

Carlton returns…

Meet the new striker… same as the old striker. Carlton Cole is having a medical at West Ham. Updates soon… Carlton mate, we always believed in you, erm, apart from the last three months when we wanted someone better.

Striker light

Well, a very underwhelming deadline day from the Hammers despite Jack Sullivan tweeting that there's a 30 per cent chance his dad can pull off a big deal. We're left hugely reliant on the injury-prone Andy Carroll, with only Maiga and Vaz Te (who doesn't want to play for us) as back-up and neither of them the target man Big Sam requires for his system. Young Elliot Lee is an option but is inexperienced and not a big man either.

It's not as if there were no strikers about — Villa signed the big Czech Kozak, West Brom got Anichebe and Sessegnon, Palace loaned Cameron Jerome, Cardiff found Peter Odemwinjie loitering in their car park, Sunderland loaned Borini and Everton loaned Lukaku. Demba Ba would have been exciting, but was never likely to happen with Arsenal also interested. Not saying all these strikers would suit the Hammers, but the feeling is that if we hadn't blown the wages money on Downing we could have outbid some of these clubs. Downing might be a decent winger but our priorities seem wrong here. Crosses are no use without strikers and WHU already had £9 million Matt Jarvis.

Quite funny that Vaz Te didn't get his move to Norwich. He'll have to eat some humble pie in Ken's Cafe and avoid Big Sam's granite work tops to get his place back. Meanwhile we're stuck scrabbling around for free agents and one rumour is we might even return to Carlton Cole. We didn't always believe in CC and he's not the player he was under Zola, but as a deputy for Carroll he's maybe the best we can find until January.

It's not been a bad window overall with Carroll, Rat, Downing, Whitehead and Adrian arriving to strengthen West Ham, it's just that the squad looks dangerously light up front.

Monday, September 2

Ricardo Vaz Te: He leaves when he wants?

So Ricardo Vaz Te is frustrated at West Ham. We'll always remember his contribution in the Championship, but his statement rather glosses over the fact that he received plenty of chances last season. Vaz told the press: 

“I am frustrated at West Ham. Last season I was asked to change positions for the team, even though I had just scored 24 goals. I followed my instructions to the best of my ability as the club always comes first. Even though I was injured for three months, no other player made more assists than me and no other winger scored more goals than me. Despite this, it has been made obvious to myself that I am not in the manager’s plans. It is with a heavy heart that I submit a transfer request and look to join a club where my approach to the game will be appreciated.”

Three goals isn't that much to brag about and when not injured he played in most games last season, making 24 appearances. The signings of Downing, Jarvis and Cole seem to be the catalyst for this, though ironically, with Joe Cole out for six weeks he'd surely have had some opportunities coming up. There are some who suspect he is a Championship not a PL player, though I'll reserve judgement on that. 

His comments seem a bit of a hissy-fit after two games and he could certainly show a bit more respect to the club that saved his career. Big Sam suggests he's been "tapped-up" and Palace are said to be interested. BS doesn't like challenges to his authority, though has sensibly said if he doesn't leave the door is never closed. If Vaz Te's move doesn't come off today then he might have to embrace the old-fashioned concept of fighting for his place. 

Sunday, September 1

Out-passed by Stoke…

West Ham 0  Stoke City 1
Bit of a Clockwise-style journey to this one. We leave our holiday in north Wales at 9am and after a long journey through Welshpool on to the M54, M6 and M1, arrive on Holloway Road to discover that Archway tube is shut and the game has started. Though thanks to my lovely WAG Nicola for driving beyond the call of duty. By 3.15pm I’m on the tube at Holloway Road and at Upton Park by 4pm outside a strangely silent Boleyn Stadium. Matt texts that it’s "a half that may never be repeated" at half-time.

Only problem is all the East Stand turnstiles are closed, but eventually I’m let in to the away end and through a gate into the East Stand. The stewards and police seem baffled that I should want to catch the last 35 minutes of a dire match.

There’s an ironic cheer from Matt, Lisa, Michael the Whovian and Fraser upon my tardy arrival. A quick resume reveals that Stoke have been the better side and we’ve not had a shot on target, while Jussi has made a fine double save to keep WHU in it and Maiga missed a good headed chance from a Jarvis cross. Joe Cole is injured, Vaz Te is mutinous, Noble is playing terribly and so is Nolan, Downing has switched wings to no effect and been subbed by young Ravel Morrison and Maiga is having a ’mare. Apart from that everything else is OK. Only Collins has played well. Should I run for the Silverlink now? I’ve arrived just in time to see The Vicar’s Son harangue Maiga for some terrible control.

Morrison has one good run before misplacing a pass and that’s about it. Jarvis pulls back a couple of good low crosses that no-one anticipates. We look way off form and lost without Andy Carroll. With eight minutes to go Nolan loses possession and after the resulting Stoke attack is cleared Diame gives a free kick away on the edge of the box. Almost inevitably Stoke sub Pennant wafts a fine free kick over the wall and into the bottom corner.

Delilah and “We’re Stoke City we’re passing the ball!” echo from the delirious away end. Outpassed by Stoke’s Adam and N’Zonzi on our own pitch. The four minutes of added time passes easily enough for the Potters.

West Ham’s response is minimal though O’Brien does waft a shot over after being found by Maiga. Mark Hughes punches the air at the final whistle having out-thought Big Sam.

The post-apocalyptic décor of the Central’s beer garden suits our mood as we sip fizzy lager, cider and Guinness in the craft-ale free war zone. Seems like they had Bashar Assad in as the landscape gardener.

The absent Nigel, cycling in France, texts "I hate WHU". Fraser smokes a cigar and reflects, “I don’t think four points will be enough to stay up.” While Matt wonders if it’s the worst West Ham home defeat he’s ever seen as we delve into out mind palaces of excruciating games. “At least when we lost under Grant we could always say that Parker played well…"

“Nolan’s had a worse week than David Cameron,” sighs Matt, though strangely Michael suggests that in 30 years time a Middle-Eastern global war crisis might be remembered more than a West Ham home defeat. West Ham have certainly decided against any first-strike pre-emptive attacks today.

Outside the stadium we catch a glimpse of a smiling Mark Noble in his black Range Rover signing autographs. Michael the Whovian ignores him as he’s no Jonathan Spector. It’s rare for Nobes to have a terrible game but his form today was worrying. And it seems utter madness that our game plan relies on a big striker like Carroll and we have no alternative having spent £6 million on another winger.

Still, it could have been worse – I might have seen the whole 90 minutes.