Saturday, January 18

Giving goals to Newcastle…

West Ham 1 Newcastle 3

It’s an early train to Essex to meet writer Ian Sansom (whose Dad played in goal for Chelsea in the 1950s) at the Secret Nuclear Bunker in Kelvedon Hatch, where he’s recording my thoughts on Essex for his forthcoming Radio 4 programme. The thought occurs that the Secret Nuclear Bunker might be the best place to watch West Ham from for most of the season, with its sirens, siege mentality and Protect and Survive booklets. Though James Tomkins might like to consider it as an alternative to Sugar Hut, as the door policy is much more relaxed.

Then it’s a train from Brentwood back to East London. In Ken’s Café Nigel is very excited by the fact that he sat next to Rory Gallagher’s brother at an Irish Embassy do. Michael the Whovian reveals that he was in fact born in Newcastle, while a picture of Tom Hanks on the wall inspires a discussion of his films. We have to tell Matt to keep his voice down as he discusses Tom Hanks in Saving Mr Banks and the literary oeuvre of Mary Poppins.

Matt Taylor is playing as an emergency right-back as Demel, O’Brien and McCartney are all injured. West Ham have a decent first five minutes as Noble plays a couple of fine passes and Taylor ghosts in to head wide from Jarvis’ cross. But Newcastle and Cabaye then start to dominate midfield and Remy fires inches wide.

Newcastle take the lead after 16 minutes. Taylor loses the ball in midfield to Gouffran, who runs at the defence and passes to Cabaye. The Frenchman skips inside a weak Rat Challenge and calmly slots it into the corner.

The Toon double their lead on 33 minutes as Rat fails to track back with Sissoko and Collins is pulled out wide. The cross drops over the head of the poorly-positioned Taylor and Remy does the rest.

Only a fine one-handed save from Adrian prevents a third and the crowd start to turn as West Ham stand off the swift-passing Newcastle midfield. Collison looks out of his depth and Diame is over-elaborating and losing the ball and we don’t seem to have anyone screening the back four or pressing their midfield save for Mark Noble.

Yet suddenly West Ham are back in the game. Rat’s cross is chested down by Carlton Cole, who pokes the ball at Krul with the ball rebounding off the keeper and in off Williamson. We could easily be 3-0 down yet now we’re back in it.

Allardyce makes a change at half-time, bringing on Morrison for Collison, though Adrian has to immediately save from Luic Remy.

But Morrison plays one great ball, Diame improves and the crowd give it a go. Matt Taylor gives and goes with Stewart Downing on the right and races down the right wing to send in a perfect low cross. Carlton Cole must surely score but somehow pokes the ball wide of a gaping goal. That could be crucial. It was a great run by Taylor too, who has looked good going forward but way out of position in defence.

Big Sam makes a brave substitution taking off Diame for Carroll and playing Cole and Carroll together up front, with two wingers and only Morrison and Noble in central midfield.

Andy Carroll wins a lot of headers but the other players aren’t reading them. Then comes the moment where he’s surely destined to score against his old club. Downing’s cross is palmed away by Krul and the ball falls to the big Geordie to swivel and volley somewhere towards that Chinese probe on the Moon. Not as easy as Cole’s chance, but a sharp and match-fit striker might have put it in.

West Ham then lose some momentum as Allardyce replaces Jarvis with Joe Cole, who doesn’t have the pace anymore to patrol up and down the wings.

It’s all over in added time when Carroll brings down Ben Arfa on the edge of the box. Cabaye fires in another brilliant free kick at Upton Park. If only we had someone who could do that. Newcastle look a good side but we have to get some points at home.

Nigel heads off to see Twelve Years a Slave, which compared to watching West Ham is relatively feelgood. We look at our remaining 16 fixtures and decide we have to win seven of them, which doesn’t look easy. At least Tomkins and Nolan will be back from suspension now, but we’re running out of games. We need some home wins and quickly.

TEAM RATINGS: Adrian 7, Taylor 6, Collins 6, Johnson 5, Rat 5, Downing 7, Diame 5 (Carroll 5), Noble 7, Collison 5 (Morrison 6), Jarvis 6 (Joe Cole 5), Cole 6.

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