Tuesday, December 30

Zarate on his bike?

There seems to be some confusion about who signs our players. Looks like Mauro Zarate is on his way to QPR in a loan deal and claims David Sullivan brought him to the club. Zarate told the Daily Mirror: “I now have the chance to play for a coach who has faith in me and will not allow his personal feelings to get in the way of what is good for the team. I respect the other strikers at the club who have done a good job. But I believe my record entitles me to respect and I have not had that from the manager. The chairman has confidence in me. I know this because he brought me to the club. But for this reason the manager has refused to play me. He did not want me."

Meanwhile the Sunday Times reported that David Sullivan had signed Diafra Sakho and not Sam Allardyce, after Sakho was first recommended by Karren Brady's brother. Sullivan is quoted as saying: "It was the last day of the transfer window and Sam didn't have a transfer target, and as much as he didn't want Sakho, I said let's take him."  Not sure how happy Big Sam will be about this and you can see why Sullivan normally leaves the PR duties to David Gold. 

Personally I don't care who targets our signings as long as we get good ones, though the manager should surely have the final say. Many people have an eye for a player, maybe even chairmen, and scout Graham Carr makes a good job of signing French players at Newcastle. 

Though the Zarate and Sakho cases rather contradict each other. If Big Sam won't play the chairman's alleged signings then he'd have to freeze out Sakho too, yet he's played him in nearly every match. Zarate looks a decent player and has scored twice in eight games, though he comes across as a something of a prima donna. It would be hard to argue that Sakho and Valencia should have been dropped on their early season form (though Enner's form is dipping now), while Andy Carroll has returned looking fully fit and Carlton Cole has scored twice when called on. Zarate was always going to struggle for games, particularly when he's playing a similar role to the in-form Stewart Downing, though ironically he might have played while Sakho is in Africa. If he's not happy then surely it's best he goes and we free up the wages for another squad player.

Monday, December 29

Kicked up the Arsenal…

Nigel's red nose day — or is it the ref?
West Ham 1 Arsenal 2

We’re in Hertfordshire post-Christmas, so it’s a train from Bishop’s Stortford to Liverpool Street, then a visit to the Newham Bookshop having been summoned on twitter by Vivian to meet Stef from the Bishopsgate Institute. Then it's on to Ken’s Café. where Nigel has found a flashing red nose in his stocking, Michael the Whovian is still trying to remove a brain crab from his temple and Matt says we’ve never lost a game when Alex Song was captain, only to be out-anoraked by Fraser, who points out that Song captained the Irons for the defeat at Old Trafford. Matt’s Christmas has been ruined. Meanwhile Fraser is a happy man having received a West Ham dressing gown from Santa.

Jenkinson isn’t allowed to play because he’s on loan from the Gunners so Joey O’Brien deputises. Suddenly you realise just how much we miss Carl’s crosses, as O’Brien, sound enough defensively, slices the ball into the Trevor Brooking Stand and later sub Demel balloons one into the Bobby Moore.

West Ham start off well, with Downing forcing a corner after five minutes. The ball is headed clear and Alex Song fires home a fine volley from the edge of the box. We’re all celebrating before realising that ref Neil Swarbrick has disallowed it on the grounds that Sakho was in the line of vision of the goalkeeper, even though he never touched the ball. Refs are supposed to give the attacker the benefit of the doubt these days and even Arsene Wenger later admits that it should have been allowed. Even worse it ruins Song's spectacular non-celebration of his goal. Though personally I'd have preferred him to run to the away end and flick some V-signs, though I might be biased.

Hammers continue to attack with Amalfitano prominent and Tomkins volleys a good chance over the bar when he could have controlled it and shot. But then Arsenal break, Cazorla makes a run into the box, Reid kicks the ball into Cazorla’s legs and falls over and Cazorla tumbles over the prone defender. Swarbrick points to the spot and Winston is clearly incensed — it looks a completely accidental coming together to me. Cazorla duly converts the penalty and the crowd chant “One-nil to the referee!”

Just as Matt is saying we need to consolidate and not panic before the break, Oxlade Chamberlain weaves into the area and crosses through Reid’s legs. Tomkins has lost Welbeck and the son of Stan Welbeck of the Bomb Disposal Squad (that joke is copyright Nigel) converts. Two goals in three minutes just before half-time.

It looks bleak at the break, but our morale is raised by Nigel dispensing CQ’s lucky aniseed balls. It seems to work as West Ham exert plenty of pressure after the break. Sakho gets in a cross from the right and Mertesacker makes a great header to deny Carroll. From the cleared corner Amalfitano finds Tomkins who does really well to ride a tackle and chip in a cross that Kouyate (inspired by a rollicking from Michael) converts via the shoulder of Debuchy.

It’s turning into a good game for the cameras, as Arsenal still look immensely dangerous on the break. Sanchez finds Cazorla and Adrian makes a good one-handed stop. Kouyate then gets in a great cross from the left and Sakho just fails to connect as the volume rises from the home fans.

Arsenal look much stronger with Koscielny back alongside the big effing German Mertesacker.  Szczesny dominates his box, repeatedly catching crosses aimed at Carroll. Welbeck runs from the halfway line, outpacing Tomkins and producing another fine stop from Adrian. The West Ham keeper then produces a brilliant stop with his feet to deny Oxlade Chamberlain’s header and another decent save to deny Sanchez.

Valencia comes on for a worrying cameo, where he repeatedly tries to take on too many men rather than play it simple, causing the Vicar’s Son to wonder if he’s effing Modibo Maiga in disguise. Amalfitano appears to be brought down in the Arsenal area and Michael the Whovian gets angrier than Davros after a failed  reality bomb plot. Carroll heads back to sub Kevin Nolan who gets in a meaty shot that is held by Szczesny. Adrian, all in white, advances for a corner and from the resulting break Andy Carroll has to mop up at the back. The Hammers’ custodian advances again for a free kick. Arsenal clear, it’s headed back into the box and Valencia mistimes his jump to head on to the roof of the net rather than in. Game over.

We retreat to the Central and try to look at the positives, in addition to Mike getting some cheap West Ham dog bowls, a Hammers rug and a puffer jacket from the club shop. We’ve worried Arsenal so much in the second half that Wenger has brought on two full backs in Chambers and Gibbs to boost his defence. Adrian has had a great game and Andy Carroll looks hungry, though Song and Sakho didn’t look entirely fit and our defence was at fault for the second goal. A reality check today, but at the halfway stage we still have 31 points and lie in sixth place. That’s progress. Though now we have to beat West Brom to ensure we don’t come down with the Christmas decorations.

TEAM RATINGS: Adrian 8; O’Brien 5 (Demel 5), Tomkins 6, Reid 6, Cresswell 6; Kouyate 7 (Nolan 6), Song 6, Amalfitano 7, Downing 6; Sakho 6 (Valencia 4), Carroll 7. 

Friday, December 26

I Don't Want to Go To Chelsea…

Chelsea 2 West Ham 0

It’s off to the Faltering Fullback to watch the game on the tele. Matt and Lisa have been watching Doctor Who on Christmas Day and suggest that we might all be the victim of brain crabs pumping us full of anaesthetic as they eat our brains; this is all just a dream and in reality we are bottom of the league and still pumping long crosses at Modibo Maiga. Though the Sky league table does seem to suggest we’re fourth – or is it a dream within a dream?

The London Pride and Truman Swift and both good, though we need alcoholic stimulants in the first half. Song and Sakho are rested and Nolan, Noble and Kouyate never trouble the fluid midfield of Chelsea as Hazard, Willian and Oscar link up really well. While Valencia has pace but is frequently knocked off the ball and Downing is peripheral on the right wing. Andy Carroll might have got Billi pregnant but receives little service and never looks like scoring here.

Chelsea dominate as Willian shoots over and Adrian saves well from Cahill. Just as we’ve done the hard part defending well to concede a corner, we switch off as Chelsea take it quickly. Costa gets a header in and Terry scores from a yard out. Oh for some 19th Century defending. Costa then misses a great shot prodding it over the bar and Ivanovic performs a terrible dive in the box. It’s a relief to get to half-time only one down.

The Irons have a better start to the second half, forcing a couple of corners, and Song and Sakho are finally brought on.  But when Kouyate fails to control the ball in midfield Chelsea break again and Costa runs at three defenders, twisting expertly to score with a low shot after 62 minutes.

Song makes a big difference in midfield and is involved as Courtois has to dive at Valencia’s feet. It looks a routine home win as Adrian and Winston Reid keep the score down, but in the last five minutes the Irons finally get forward. Song finds Amalfitano on the left and the sub skilfully twists inside a defender to hit the post. Morgan also has a header wide of the post, but that’s it against Chelsea’s 28 efforts and some great saves from Adrian.

We never looked like we believed we could win this one and Chelsea look very likely to be Champions, with Mystic Matt predicting they will win the league by six points. Nigel texts to say that he's putting the Champions League breakfast in Kew on-hold. Matt and Lisa leave to prepare for a trip to the ballet at Sadler's Wells, inspired by Eden Hazard's elegant dives. Now we have to recover quickly and batter Arsenal’s suspect defence in two days’ time.

Wednesday, December 24

Style counselling

Some interesting stats on Match of the Day 2 about West Ham's game. There's been a few more short passes, but the percentage of so-called "long passes" has remained almost the same as last season. What has changed I think is that we now play two strikers and a midfield diamond. Crosses tend to come in from much further upfield through the fullbacks and are not diagonal balls played in from just over the halfway line. Last season we sent in countless crosses to no-one in particular, now we have strikers who are strong in the air. The great advantage of this side is that we can mix it up, playing both short and long, on the ground and in the air and have better players in most positions. While in most games we've always looked like scoring, whatever the style, which is surely the sort of entertainment most fans want.

Monday, December 22

Observer Christmas round-up

My half-season fans' summary can be found in the Observer by clicking on the link. My fellow season ticket holder Nigel is still in shock that I only gave the lads a mere nine out of ten.

Sunday, December 21

A Christmas Carroll

West Ham United 2 Leicester City 0

Early doors my daughters have to be taken to the Olympia Horse Show. Declining the offer to stay for the jumping, I head for the match. It’s been a long time since my match day route has begun from West London, probably 1985-86 in my Westbourne Park tower block days— could this be a sign?

Inside Ken’s Cafe Michael the Whovian is awaiting his big breakfast, while Nigel’s been to Chichester where his B & B was being run by the daughter of Philip Jackson, the sculptor who made the Moore Hurst and Peters statue and the Bobby Moore statue at Wembley. Matt is back, tanned from his trip to the Galapagos Islands, and now hoping to watch West Ham’s evolving brand of turtle football, quips Nigel. Though he is still a little bemused that Lisa chose to ignore the sign to the municipal stadium and visit a turtle breeding sanctuary instead.

Leicester play fluidly for the first 15 minutes and don’t look that bad a side, with Schlupp impressing and Reid having to make some timely blocks. Sakho volleys wide after being found by Nolan but that’s our only chance until Downing crosses low from the left and Andy Carroll balloons the ball into the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand in front of an awning goal.

It looks like it might be a frustrating afternoon until the 24th minute, when Paul Konchesky plays a back pass straight into the path of Andy Carroll. This time he scores with a lovely dink over the keeper and runs to the Alpari to perform a Strictly-style knee slide.

“Paul Konchesky he’s one of our own!” chant the mischievous elements in the Bobby Moore Stand.

It’s not over yet though. Tomkins fluffs a clearance and Vardy finds Mahrez who fires in a stinging shot that Adrian does well to fist over.

The game looks to be settled ten minutes after half-time though, as Sakho’s header finds Stewart Downing. He controls the ball cleverly before turning inside to send a sumptuous curler in the corner. A screamer from Stewie. Leicester's bearded goalie Hamer looks like he'd rather be selling overpriced cereal to Shoreditch hipsters than having to face shots like that in E13.

Bubbles, “Barcelona we’re coming for you!” and “We’re gonna win the league!” echo around the stadium.

It’s quite a scrappy game overall and West Ham relax too much towards the end, though Song has had another superb game despite several clatterings. Sub Enner Valencia makes a weak attempt to block a pass and from the cross Adrian produces a stunning save from Nugent’s volley. Leicester play with some spirit and keep attacking. Late on Adrian produces another brilliant save to deny Ulloa. And a claret and blue sunset illuminates the sky.

Sub James Collins has to produce a great clearing header too. There’s still time for Matt to produce a Maiga-style rant at Valencia for old times’ sake, but we see the game out and soon If the Kids Are United is playing on the PA and the happy Hammers fans depart knowing that we’ll be in the top four at Christmas. First time that’s happened since 1985-86. For once we haven't messed it up against the bottom side. 

We depart to the Central for a swift pint of IPA where groundhopper Nigel announces that he’s flown over Livingstone’s ground last week while Matt recalls the time he went weekend shopping in Leicester even though the game was moved to a Monday night because he’d already bought the train tickets. Fraser says he never doubted Big Sam. Then it’s on the bus and DLR to Poplar for Bob and Jane’s Christmas drinks and some splendid Talisker Black Storm whisky.

West Ham being in the top four is not humbug. Merry Christmas, Mr Allardyce! Merry Christmas Mr Carroll and Mr Downing! God bless us, everyone!

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 8, Jenkinson 6, Reid 7, Tomkins 6 (Collins 6), Cresswell 6; Kouyate 6, Nolan 5 (Amalfitano n/a), Song 8, Downing 8, Carroll 8, Sakho 6 (Valencia 5).

Thursday, December 18

We're getting Sakho in the morning

More good news this week. Alex Song was quoted as telling a French newspaper that he would like to extend his stay at West Ham, while Diafra Sakho has been round to David Sullivan's gaff and signed an improved contract taking his wages from 15 grand a week to 25 grand a week. Seems like Sullivan has acted quickly to ensure there are no financial grievances that might encourage clubs to sniff around Sakho. While Carlton Cole tells tonight's Standard that he's happy to be a squad player because he supports West Ham and just wants us to win. And if he did knock on Big Sam's floor complaining, "he'd probably knock me out!"

Monday, December 15

Drawing drawing West Ham…

Sunderland 1 West Ham 1

We’re in Lewes on a mini-break to celebrate our wedding anniversary for this one. Strangely Her Indoors has eschewed an afternoon at the Stadium of Light in favour of staying the White Hart, where Thomas Paine once formed the Headstrong Society for the Julian Dicks types of his day, a trip round Lewes Castle, tea at Anne of Cleves’ house, an Italian dinner and Sunday climbing Mount Caburn followed by a pint of Harveys best bitter in the Snowdrop.

Upon returning to London my recording of Match of the Day reveals a decent away draw. Jenkinson has a volley well saved by Pantilimon early on, though Sunderland go ahead with a Gomez penalty after Johnson collapses when brushed by James Tomkins. Never a penalty. West Ham show a bit of character to equalise, as Downing cuts in from the right and fires a deflected left-foot shot into the corner.

After that it appears to be a game that could have gone either way. The hapless Altidore somehow contrives to miss a cross from Larsson while just a couple of yards from goal and Winston Reid is lucky to get away with a handball in the box.

Andy Carroll scoops a delicate chip on to the roof of the net, while Downing finds Cresswell on the overlap, but the keeper smothers his effort. Adrian makes a decent stop from Fletcher and a brilliant tip over from Wickham’s fierce shot. At the end Andy Carroll almost wins it for the Irons, sidefooting the ball just wide of the post.

It’s the sort of game we might have lost season, so as Big Sam says, we’ll respect the point against the league’s draw specialists. Got to be happy with 28 points collected from 16 games.

Friday, December 12

Everton away in the FA Cup

Was feeling optimistic about our FA Cup chances until we drew Everton away, a ground where WHU never seem to get anything. But let's hope it's like 1980, when West Ham were drawn away at West Brom, then a high quality side, and I confidently predicted we'd be knocked out in the third round. But a great performance by Phil Parkes in goal resulted in a 1-1 draw, we won the replay and went on to win the Cup. Though knowing West Ham we could easily win at Everton and then get knocked out by the likes of Blyth Spartans.

Sunday, December 7

Barcelona, we're coming for you!

West Ham 3 Swansea City 1

Ken’s Café is covered in seasonal tinsel as myself, daughter Lola and her pal Fernanda dine on isotonic sausage, egg, chips and beans. We move on to the Newham Bookshop where Vivien tells us that Russell Brand will be dropping in to sign copies of his book Revolution, presumably a tribute to Big Sam’s re-invention of West Ham this season.

Matt is in the Galapagos Islands watching turtle football, while Nigel is away at a family event. So it’s down to the diehard contingent of Michael the Whovian, fresh from William Russell’s 90th birthday party, Fraser and the returning prodigal Iron, The Gav.

West Ham dominate the first 15 minutes but then Swansea score with their first break. Montero makes speedy progress down the left and pulls the ball back for Bony to calmly slot home. Bony — whom West Ham could have signed instead of Andy Carroll — runs over to our corner to do a silly dance. Soon the Swansea fans are breaking into a chorus of Land of my Fathers.

West Ham wobble a little as Adrian has to punch away another effort from Bony after good work by Sigurdsson.

But slowly we re-impose ourselves on the game as Nolan fires wide from Jenkinson’s cross and then has an effort saved by Fabianski. Alex Song is making a difference controlling the midfield, though Valencia rarely connects with Carroll and doesn’t look fully fit yet.

The Irons equalise as Jenkinson fires in an inviting cross. Andy Carroll gets a run on the ball and smacks home a sensational header. Good moment for the big man after all those hours of toil in Billi’s yoga studio.

West Ham start the second half with more pressure. Sakho, on for Valencia at half time, looks hungry and makes a difference rolling in an inviting cross that is cleared for a corner. .  A swift Swansea break sees Bony rattle the bar. But on 66 minutes Carroll meets Downing’s corner with another fine header that Britton can’t clear off the line. 2-1 to the Cockney Boys.
After robbing Williams he hits the post with a great effort and we wonder if it might prove costly. Then Sakho appears to handball on the left of the box, but forces his way through to hit the post again as Fabianski rushes out. There’s some contact with Sakho, though it doesn’t look a sending off as there’s a covering defender. But the ref red cards Fabianski and awards a retrospective free kick to West Ham on the edge of the box.

As ever we struggle slightly against ten men and a substitute goalkeeper. O’Brien and then Collins shore up the back line. Michael leaves with five minutes to go, as he has to get to the British Film Institute to watch the earliest British science fiction film ever made. “Don’t miss a goal!” we warn.

Sure enough, Carroll wins another aerial challenge allowing Sakho to race through the middle and thump a half-volley past the keeper. Great goal.

“Diafra Sakho! He scores when he wants!” salutes the Bobby Moore Stand. Then come chants of  “We’re gonna win the league! and “Barcelona we’re coming for you!”

“Typical,” texts Michael. Matt and Lisa are presumably dancing in the streets of Galapagos as West Ham win this Darwinian battle of life. Nell and her friend Fernanda (soon to move to Stratford and surely a new Hammers convert) chant, “We want more! Make it four!”

A chorus of Bubbles starts in the corner of the Alpari and carries on round the whole ground. We survive six minutes of added time and it’s three wins in a week. We go above Southampton and Man United. We’re THIRD! It’s starting to feel like this is going to be a special season.

TEAM RATINGS: Adrian 6; Jenkinson 7 (O’Brien 5), Reid 7, Tomkins 6, Cresswell 6; Nolan 6, Kouyate 6 (Collins 5), Song 7, Downing 6; Valencia 5 (Sakho 8), Carroll 8.