Monday, April 28

The Big Sam question

So the results of the Sam Allardyce poll are in with nearly 78 per cent of the 10,000 fans polled not wanting him to be retained. Asking for a straight yes or no answer in the poll was perhaps a bit simplistic, since my view would be that Allardyce should only stay if her can give certain reassurances. Firstly that he will resolve the Ravel Morrison situation and retain a player we could build a side around; secondly that he can play more expansive football next season; thirdly that we will not rely exclusively on one striker; and fourthly that he will have some PR lessons and if in doubt praise the fans rather than cup his ear to us.

In defence of Sam's record, he's done what is required. Gaining promotion at the first attempt was a considerable feat that few clubs achieve and survival (hopefully!) for two seasons has provided financial stability. We could have been in administration or League 1 by now if he hadn't got promotion. The majority of his signings have been successful overall, such as Jaaskelainen, Adrian, Demel, O'Brien, Collins, McCartney, Vaz Te, Nolan, Diame and Carroll (if we discount the injuries). But Downing and Jarvis haven't produced enough for £16 million and Maiga and Diarra have been disasters.

It's the style of football that most fans have a problem with. It's wrong to say that West Ham play exclusively long ball under Allardyce — apart from the odd Collins free kick— as much of the midfield play is on the ground and directed towards getting crosses in at Carroll. Some of the wing play has been half-decent, but the overall tactic of getting as many crosses as possible in towards Carroll's head appears to have been rumbled and there is no discernible alternative. It underrates Carroll's skill on the ground and is over-reliant on the fading Kevin Nolan and Big Andy not being injured. In away games the formation is predictable too, with WHU never using a second striker from the start and rarely attacking weaker teams from the kick-off. We've escaped relegation, but only just, and have lost seven out of nine.

The Olympic Stadium is a new factor too. Whereas we might have been content just to stay up at Upton Park, now the club has to gain an extra 20,000 fans. If the fans were united behind the manager it would be a start and that spells problems for Big Sam, as many will never accept him. I'm certainly no fan of the ridiculous sacking culture of the Premier League, but if Sam Allardyce can't provide reassurances on the points mentioned in the first paragraph and the board has identified a good candidate, then the close season will surely be time to make a change.

Results of Sam Allardyce poll

In a poll conducted by 16 West Ham related fan sites more than 12,392 people took part, and 77.95% of them have expressed the view that Sam Allardyce should not be retained as West Ham manager next season. 22.05% voted for him to continue in his job. The survey ran from Thursday and closed at 7pm on Sunday 27 April. It is thought to be the largest 'opinion poll' ever undertaken of a club's supporters.

The 16 sites taking part were Blowing Bubbles, Claret & Blues, Claret & Hugh, Ex-Hammers Magazine, Forever West Ham, Hammers in the Heart, Iron Views, KUMB
Moore Than Just a Club, Very West Ham, West Ham Fan, West Ham Online, West Ham Till I Die, West Ham World, WHU Stuff and

Of those who voted, 27% are season ticket holders, with a further 48% attending home matches. A quarter of the respondents never go to a game, but watch them on TV.

28% of those who voted live in London, 26% in the South East, and 12% in East Anglia. 14% who voted are overseas supporters.

KUMB readers provided 21% of the respondents, as did West Ham Till I Die. West Ham Online provided 12%. Of those who voted, a massive 4,850 people left comments. I am trawling through those at the moment and may publish some tomorrow. The points made in the comments which seem to be the most repeated are these...

* We should thank Sam for what he has done but he is not the man for the future of the club.
* Nobody wants a witch hunt but it is time for him to go
* Be careful what we wish for - he should not be sacked without a clear idea of who is to replace him
* Many people are threatening not to renew their season tickets
* Sam's style of football is too one-dimensional. There is no plan B.

The conclusions of the poll have been sent to David Sullivan.

NOTE: The poll was conducted by using the Survey Monkey polling software. Although it removes duplicate voting, it is not possible to be 100% certain that every single vote was valid. However, the per centages did not change much following the first 1000 votes. Throughout virtually the whole period the voting was within 1% of a 75-25 result. Only in the last 24 hours, following the defeat at West Bromwich, did the anti Allardyce vote gain an extra per centage point.

Sunday, April 27

Boing Boing Baggies

West Brom 1 West Ham 0

Thankfully I'm at some grass roots football while this is going on, watching Stevenage v Walsall with Matt in an entertaining 3-2 win for the Borough in front of a crowd of 2,900. The only stress is listening to the news filtering through from the Hawthorns before we fail to respect the map and get lost on the way back to the station.

Watching the game on Match of the Day, we have our chances. Diame finds Jarvis for a cross that causes panic early on and we apparently dominate the first ten minutes. That's no use though, as West Brom go ahead when Reid fails to come across and Amalfitano has forever to cross for Behahino to bundle home. WHU respond and Diame crosses and Carroll gets in a good header that Foster does well to save one-handed. Demel also has a shot well -saved. while Jones heads wide for Albion.

In the second half it's mainly Baggies' pressure as Berahino misses two great chances. West Ham come closest when Carroll gets a free header from a corner and flicks the ball on to the bar.

Big Sam's decision to bring on Carlton Cole but take off both wingers is greeted by chants of "You don't know what you're doing!" and it does seem bizarre not to leave anyone who can cross on with two big men up front. There's a banner in the away end reading "Fat Sam Out". I can understand the dissatisfaction and the sentiment, but it's a negative image to send to the players, who are after all Allardyce's men. The "Benitez out" banners in the Chelsea end didn't do the Blues any good last season, and it's surely better to keep the boos and banners to the final whistle.

Albion keep it in the corners and finally win at home. West Ham have lost four in a row and seven out of nine.Allardyce is honest enough to admit that we have to improve and he's the man who has to take responsibility, though whether he'll be around next season we don't know. Luckily Norwich, Fulham and Cardiff do us a favour by dropping points, but our season is ending with a whimper.

Thursday, April 24

Poll: Should Sam Be Our Manager Next Season?

Iain Dale at the West Ham Till I Die blog has organised a poll of West Ham fans on whether we should keep Sam Allardyce as manager. Here's what he says about it, so anyone wishing to take part please do vote.

Poll: Should Sam Be Our Manager Next Season?

Social media gives West Ham fans a voice. Sometimes that voice makes uncomfortable listening for those in power. Hundreds of thousands of us use social media to vent our views on all things West Ham most days of the week. It’s rare that we all come together as one but in a unique, probably one-off initiative, virtually all the most popular West Ham sites, blogs and forums have decided to come together and run a unique poll on Sam Allardyce's future. It asks one significant question...

Should Sam Allardyce be retained as West Ham manager next season?

The participating sites are listed below. Between the sites we probably have more than a quarter of a million unique users each month between us. Maybe many more. We hope as many supporters as possible will take part. You will also be asked how often you go to a game, your age and where you live, just to ensure transparency and so we can't be derided as armchair supporters who never watch a game.

Please only take part in this poll if you are a supporter of West Ham United Football Club. And please only vote once. Multiple votes will be rejected by the polling software. Each of the participating sites will publish the results of the poll simultaneously next week. The results will also be forwarded to David Sullivan, David Gold and Karren Brady. Please spread the word and encourage all your West Ham supporting friends to register their vote...


Blowing Bubbles
Claret & Blues
Claret & Hugh
Forever West Ham
Iron Views
Moore Than Just a Club
Very West Ham
West Ham Online
West Ham Till I Die
West Ham World

Monday, April 21

What is the West Ham way?

Some rather patronising comments from Alan Shearer on Match of the Day, with Shearer saying, "West Ham fans keep saying they're not playing the West Ham way. What is the West Ham way? Is that the way that's been so successful the last 40 years?"

It's pretty obvious to anyone with an interest in the club what the West Ham way is. It's the attacking and innovative football played by Ron Greenwood and then John Lyall, and to a later extent by Harry Redknapp. It might not have won stacks of trophies (though we can count the 1965 Cup Winners' Cup, FA Cups of 1964, 1975 and 1980, being losing FA Cup Finalists in  2006, third in 1986 and fifth under Redknapp in 1999 as achievements) but the feeling was you went home entertained after a match.

Over the years we've seen attacking and entertaining players such as Hurst, Peters, Brooking, Devonshire, Lampard, Carrick, Cole, Defoe, Di Canio and Tevez. I'm all for solid defending, scoring from set-pieces and playing with more steel and winning matches. But it seems disingenuous of critics to hide behind this "no-one knows what the West Ham way is" cliche. It's about being a mid-ranking team that might not win much, but more often than not sends the punters home entertained and occasionally produces a glorious upset. And playing more in the passing style of sides like Southampton, Swansea and Martinez's Everton rather than our current limited fare.

Sunday, April 20

Armero and a leg costs Hammers

West Ham 0 Crystal Palace 1

Ken’s Café is deserted in the sun as most fans opt for the pub. It’s down to Matt and Michael the Whovian with Nigel and Fraser appearing at the ground. My egg, chips and beans is to prove better than the game.

The best part of the game is the minute’s applause for Dylan Tombides after his brother and dad place his shirt on the centre circle. The applause in the 38th minute is another powerful moment.

Demel is sick so McCartney has to play at right back. The game begins with a curious end of season feel to it, which is unprofessional on West Ham’s part, as we could yet go down. Nigel suggests the game will be settled by one goal. Though Mystic Morris’ calculator also predicts we will stay up on 38 points.

Palace get eight defenders behind the ball whenever we attack, are well organised and difficult to break down. Bolasie looks dangerous against the out-of-position McCartney and Palace look the likelier side to score. Carroll clears off the line and Dann has a header deflected over the bar.

West Ham have a much better spell before time and start to play with more urgency. Diame has a fine shot tipped over. Carroll and Nolan combine to set in Diame who shoots at Speroni’s legs. Seconds later Downing gets in a good cross and Carroll’s header is saved one-handed by Speroni.

Downing and Jarvis switch wings and after a decent cress from Downing (who fluffs as many as he gets right) Carroll has a shot blocked when he might have connected better.

Then it all goes wrong in the 59th minute as Jerome wins a penalty after a rash lunge by Armero. Jedinak converts and the Palace fans'  sing “There’s only one Tony Pulis!”
The West Ham players lose confidence and have no Plan B beyond aiming for Carroll. Our need for a creative number ten looks ever more pressing. The Vicar’s Son next to me gets crosser and Fraser wants to sack Allardyce right now. Big Sam subs Jarvis, who has been doing better than Downing, and the move is greeted by chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing!” 

Sub Joe Cole drags a shot wide and the game peters out and ends with Palace’s fifth successive win. Though Diame has a good final ten minutes. Poor match and not good enough from West Ham.

At least I miss the Central’s non-existent craft beer range to go and see Bomber’s Moon at the Park Theatre starring the great James Bolam and Michael Moon out of EastEnders, which is more entertaining than the game.

The death of Dylan Tombides puts football in perspective, but even so, West Ham could easily lose their last six games. No room for complacency at all at West Brom.

TEAM RATINGS: Adrian 5, McCartney 4, Tomkins 5, Reid 5, Armero 4; Jarvis 5, Diame 6, Nolan 5, Noble 5, Downing 5, Carroll 5.

Saturday, April 19

Dylan Tombides RIP

Really sad to hear of the death of West Ham's Dylan Tombides after three years battling testicular cancer. He was only 20 and since his diagnosis did some great work raising cancer awareness. Saw his only brief first team appearance as a sub against Wigan in the League Cup in 2012. Let's give him a moving minute's applause today and then go out and win the game on his behalf.

David Gold's chopper

Thanks to Matt and Lisa for sending in pictures of their visit to the open day at The Chalet, David Gold's posh gaff in Surrey. Here's Matt with DG's helicopter and the West Ham hole on his golf course. All a long way from Goldy's old house at 442 Green Street.

Thursday, April 17

West Ham fans only 82nd in league table of fan suffering

West Ham are only 82nd in a league table of long-suffering fans, according to a study commissioned by the Makers of ITV4's new animated sitcom Warren United, starting on April 22. Rochdale came top, just beating Hartlepool and Exeter. While Man United came bottom as the club with the least-suffering fans, followed by Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea.The show’s producers commissioned statisticians at the English National Football Archive (ENFA) to compile a “Long-Suffering Fan Index”. ENFA’s top stattos crunched data from 220,000 match results since the first Football League season in 1888-9 to rank the current 92 Football League clubs by their lack of success, weighted by extra factors including the size of their average home crowds. In the Premier League we're not even as long suffering as Stoke City fans. Seems West Ham have ruined all those years of underachievement with the odd FA Cup win and promotion. Doh! Click on the link to read the complete survey.

Wednesday, April 16

Three-one to the Librarians

Celebrating Matt's programe purchase
Arsenal 3 West Ham 1

My gaff, uncomfortably close to the Emirates, has become a safe house for West Ham fans as Fraser, Matt, Lisa and Nigel, along with token Gooner Simon arrive for a pre-match bottles of Fuller’s Organic Honey Dew, Spitfire and Hobgoblin.

On the way to the Library there’s a major crisis by the bridge as Matt tries to buy a programme only to discover they’ve sold out. He hasn’t looked this desperate since they sold out at Wigan. He looks the most relieved man at the Emirates as we finally track one down outside the away end.

The away fans are in good voice reprising old favourites, “It’s quiet in the library!” and “Sixty thousand muppets!” We’re close to an Irons banner reading, bizarrely, “I’ve got chickens in my back yard.”

Nolan is out injured and Nocerino, sporting a swarm of bees on his chin, is in, as we play with two wingers. West Ham start well, looking sharp and knocking Arsenal off the ball, with Tomkins and Reid solid at the back and Diame, Noble and Nocerino winning tackles. We get in lots of good crossing positions with Jarvis and Downing, but as always, seem to fluff the final ball. Carroll heads well over and then Jarvis has a penalty appeal turned down when Sagna catches him. We can’t see it properly from our end, but Big Sam says he should have gone down, though personally I’m pleased some players remain honest.

Rosicky looks Arsenal’s best player and slowly the home side start to create chances. Podolski fizzes a cross across the box and Giroud beats our offside trap only to make a very weak flick when one-on-one with Adrian, allowing the keeper to save.

But we keep it tight and take the lead on 40 minutes. Nocerino makes a great burst down the right, fires at the keeper and as the ball bounces off him, Jarvis bravely heads home despite a flying Arsenal boot.

“Top of the league and you fucked it up!” rings round the gleeful away end. We start to dream of another famous win at the Emirates. We just have to keep it 1-0 at half-time.

All seems to be going to plan until two minute before the break, Downing has the ball wide on the right of defence and instead of hoofing it down the line slices the ball inside. It turns into a perfect pass to Cazorla, who finds Podolski. The big effing German, who always scores against us, swings his sledgehammer boot and it’s into the corner of the net. Bit of a Scaloni moment as the Muppets explode with relief.

We urge Downing to make up for it a minute later as he gets into another good crossing position, only to hopelessly overhit it. Still, drawing at half-time isn’t bad, though as Nigel reminds us, it was 1-1 at half time last season after we took the lead. Though I counter that we would have won if Dan Potts hadn’t been injured, as we were just coming back into it at 5-1 down.

We begin the second half looking quite comfortable, only to be undone by Vermaelen’s long ball ten minutes in. Reid and Carroll appear to get in each other’s way and Giroud sneaks behind them to control with one sublime touch and fire through Adrian’s legs. Bugger.

Arsenal start to ooze confidence again. Cazorla makes a great run and fires just wide and then Podolski’s free kick forces Adrian into a save.

From the away end we get a great view of Mertesacker playing really well against Carroll, though when it became obvious Carroll wasn't winning much in the air West Ham should surely vary their tactics.

Just as Sam is preparing to bring on Joe Cole and Vaz Te Arsenal score a third after 12 minutes from time as sub Ramsey heads down for Podolski, who has momentarily lost Tomkins, and fires home another fine finish.

Jarvis, who has played well on the left, and Downing are taken off, Carlton Cole comes on for the labouring Carroll and there’s a bizarre cameo from Vaz Te. Carlton Cole does well to find Vaz, only for him to balloon a cross towards the full moon. Vaz Te follows this by lunging in to a Gooner and trying hard to get red-carded.

Another misplaced pass from Diame inspires an outburst of Tourette’s from the gentleman behind us: “F**king learn to pass before you talk about signing for f**king Liverpool you f**king Bag of f**king s**t Diame!” Must be a Vicar’s Son.

At least there’s a rousing Bubbles at the end and we’ve played reasonably well, though no sign of Arsenal being tired after their 120 minutes against Wigan

We brave the cries of “Your ground’s too big for you!” from the Muppets on Drayton Park and head back to Pete’s bar. With real ale, herb tea and toasted maize on offer it’s a step-up from the Central, though perhaps I should offer them some iffy dvds as well.

A frustrating evening, but we have been away to a side that is back in the top four. It’s now important we get something from the game against Palace so we can finally relax.

TEAM RATINGS: Adrian 6; Demel 6, Tomkins 6, Reid 6, Armero 6; Downing 4 (Joe Cole 5), Diame 6, Noble 6, Nocerino 6, Jarvis 7 (Vaz Te 3); Carroll 5 (Cole 5).

Tuesday, April 15

Can we still snatch relegation from the jaws of safety?

Old habits die hard. It's still difficult not to glance at the bottom of the table and ponder what happens if West Ham lose all five remaining fixtures and finish on 37 points. For Norwich to catch us, they would have to win two games out of their run in of Liverpool, Man United, Chelsea and Arsenal, which is very unlikely. Cardiff and Sunderland have to play each other so neither can get full points, while Fulham would have to win three out of four to overtake us as we have a better goal difference. West Brom will surely lose away to Man City and Arsenal, while Swansea and Aston Villa have to make up four and three points on us. So it's unlikely we would go down, but mathematically possible. And if it can go wrong at West Ham it invariable]y does, so I'll still sleep much easier if we can get a point at the Library tonight.

Go go Mo Diame?

Mo Diame seems to have a very inflated opinion of his self-worth. He's been quoted in several papers as saying: "Two years ago I wanted to join a team with ambitions. Overall, my season has been okay, although I think it is not up to last season. I started badly, but gradually I got my bearings. Liverpool? I can't tell you if I will be a Liverpool player next season. But I think my name is still on their wanted list. I don't hide it, I'm ambitious and I want to join a top-six side. I am 26 years old and it's time to take that step."

He might have been on Liverpool's radar on last season's form, but not on this campaign's. Sure, he's improved in recent weeks, but Diame's still only scored four goals and been kept out of the side by Matt Taylor for a long spell, so he's a long way from being signed by the possible champions. And I'm not sure that mouthing off about other teams wanting to sign you when under contract is a great way to impress Brendan Rodgers either. 

Monday, April 14

Rush Green romance

My fellow season ticket holder Matt certainly knows how to show a girl a good time. On Friday afternoon he took his partner Lisa to Romford, and then on via a bus to Rush Green, to watch the WHU Academy Development Squad play Blackburn in what is possibly Grays' old ground. Matt seemed very happy to have spotted Colin Hendry, still with his blonde mullet intact. He reports that Joe Cole got a game in and signed a lot of autographs in our lads' 1-0 defeat, while young Jordan Brown played pretty well up front, although there was no sign of Vaz Te or Diarra, who was possibly busy preparing to serve drinks at David Gold's open day at his Surrey gaff last weekend.

Friday, April 11

Warren United

Went to the bloggers' screening of Warren United last night at the Prince Charles Cinema, the new football comedy starting at 10pm on ITV4 on April 22. It's about Warren Kingsley, a 37-year-old fanatical fan who supports Brainsford United, nicknamed the Meringues, a useless underachieving football team who haven't won any trophies since the Co-operative Tarpaulins Trophy in 1971— although in one episode they draw 0-0 with East Ham United (not at all based on West Ham). 

Brainsford United are managed by Fat Baz, voiced by Johnny Vegas, and owned by iffy Egyptians the Luxor Borthers. Strangely Warren's wife Ingrid, moody teenage daughter Charlie and son Harrison don't quite share his passion. The episodes I saw also featured talking police horses and characters such as Burger Al, a fast-food vendor who makes our Green Street vendors seem haute cuisineThe first three episodes are by Simon Nye, who wrote Men Behaving Badly, and the series is co-produced by Bill Freedman and Henry Normal, of Steve Coogan fame, so it has a good football pedigree. 

A hapless middle-aged man supporting an underachieving team? Nothing at all for us West Ham fans to identify with, but it is pretty funny from what I've seen and worth checking out…

Wednesday, April 9

Chelsea back in the 1890s

Good to see Chelsea launching endless long balls towards three strikers last night. Looked to me a bit like football from the 1890s. Another thought: wonder if Big Sam could do a Mourinho-esque sprint down the touchline?

Monday, April 7

Hammers pay the penalty…

West Ham 1 Liverpool 2

There’s confusion in Ken’s Café as Lisa has pre-ordered Matt’s chips and beans drizzled in cheese and he hasn’t arrived yet. The chips are kept warmish in Ken’s designer kitchen and eventually Matt arrives, enquiring about online delivery of full breakfasts to his home address. There’s no making plans for Nigel either, as he’s at his mum’s, and Fraser has fallen ill with a late injury caused by over-booing.

West Ham have a decent first half, containing Liverpool well and finding Downing on the flank with some good triangular moves. Nolan does a lot of good work off the ball and Carroll worries Liverpool in the air. Tomkins makes two good blocks with his feet and head from Suarez. Though the Liverpool striker only needs a second from a throw-in to chip a lovely shot against the bar from wide on the left. Matt suggests that the Bobby Moore Stand’s chant of, “Sign on with a pen in your hand” is so old it should be listed.

Just as the game looks like reaching half-time goalless Matt asks if we want to know his stat about Liverpool and first-half goals. We think we can guess. Gerrard plays a long ball to Suarez in the box, the Uruguayan turns inside Tomkins and chips the ball up on to Tomka’s hand. Possibly Tomkins’ hand moves towards the ball, though some refs might have thought it unintentional. But with Suarez in his face ref Anthony Taylor points to the spot and Gerrard converts. “We’re gonna win the league tra-la-la-la,” chant the Liverpool fans, recycling Brown Girl in the Ring.

But WHU respond well with Demel winning a corner. Andy Carroll jumps with Mignolet, the big man’s arm trails into the keeper’s face, he drops the ball and Demel shoots home for his first West Ham goal. The Liverpool players go mental as the ref consults the flagging linesman, but the goal is given. The Reds’ players then demand the ref looks at the big screen, perhaps because they’re fans of ads for solicitors. The goal should have been disallowed but it’s a timely boost for the Hammers.

At half time there’s a flood in the Gents urinal and someone quips, “we’re moving in two years so no need to fix it”. Same old West Ham – not taking the piss.

The key moment on the second half comes early when Diame crosses and Carroll hits the bar with a thumping header. Rodgers has brought on Lucas for Coutinho and reverted to a midfield diamond, which starts to work well for the Scousers. Then comes another dubious decision. Flanagan overlaps wide on the left. Adrian comes out gets a hand to the ball as the player falls and Luis Suarez (sorry, that should read the ref) gives a penalty. Gerrard doesn’t miss.

Liverpool dominate after that. Suarez again tries to appeal for a penalty as the ball bounces on to Armero’s arm and Michael gets very cross indeed, muttering about that little s••t wasting all that talent trying to con referees. He’s not been this angry since Doctor Who was cancelled in 1989.

Suarez chips on to the bar with a nonchalant flick of his boot and then has a low shot blocked by Adrian. Jarvis makes a difference and beats Flanagan for speed before sending in a lovely cross in the final minute. Only Cole gets in Carroll’s way and the ball falls to Downing on the edge of the box who wastefully fails to hit the target. There’s still time for Adrian to make a fine save from Sterling before the whistle blows. The players receive warm applause this time.

At least we’ve given the possible Champions a game and it’s a much better performance than against Hull. Michael and myself retreat to the Central, which is out of Old Speckled Hen and any form of drinkable lager, which, quips Michael, is rather like Monty Python’s cheese shop that sells no cheese. Michael then leaves to see a Ray Cooney farce at the Menier Chocolate Factory, his second of the day. 

Realistically, we didn’t expect too much out of this, though the side’s form was fairly encouraging for the trip to Arsenal and Reid is getting back to his old old form. A shame this game will be remembered for the refereeing, though my feeling is that Liverpool might now have the momentum to take the title.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6; Demel 7, Tomkins 6, Reid 6, Armero 6; Downing 6, Nolan  6 (Nocerino 4), Diame 6 (Cole 5), Noble 6, Taylor 6 (Jarvis 6); Carroll 7.

Sunday, April 6

Downing street?

There's been a lot written in the press about Andy Carroll playing against his former club Liverpool today, but it's a also a big day for his fellow ex-Red Stewart Downing. Downing was damned with faint praise in Alex Ferguson's My Autobiography, with Fergie saying,"He has a talent, but he isn't the quickest or the bravest." Downing had a typically frustrating time at Sunderland on Monday night, missing a chance to make it 3-0, and to me he looks the ultimate confidence player. There's no doubt he has skill, but he has yet to score for West Ham, so today would be a great time for him to get his first goal and go on a run of form.

Tuesday, April 1

We are staying up!

Sunderland 1 West Ham 2

It’s off to the Lucky Pub, the location of which can’t be revealed under the terms of the Shadow Proclamation. Matt is booed by his own fans (Lisa and Fraser) for ordering a blackcurrant and soda, while the rest of us stick to Whitstable Bay organic ale and a Carlsberg for Fraser.

Strangely Sunderland have dropped Adam Johnson and are playing five at the back. We start well as Downing whips in a good cross across the face of Sunderland’s goal. As Noble waits to take a West Ham corner after nine minutes there’s a Sky close-up of Nolan and Bardsley with their hands all over each other. Nolan’s antics help distract Sunderland’s keeper Mannone as the corner comes in and Andy Carroll rises brilliantly above O’Shea to power home a header through the keeper’s hands. Andy runs off with his Dambusters celebration. The Makems have been undone by a Geordie, much to the delight of the commentary team.

We have a decent first half. Taylor fires wide of the post when found by Downing and Diame gets in a shot straight at the keeper. Sunderland should equalise when Cattermole fires straight at Adrian, and then puts the rebound wide. We also escape a penalty when Howard Webb ignores Nolan’s elbow making contact with the ball. But generally West Ham defend well with Tomkins and Reid looking solid, although McCartney at times appears shaky. The streetwise Nolan is more impressive away from home and Noble and Diame are helping to launch counter attacks with Carroll causing problems.

There’s not even anything to boo about at half-time. Johnson comes on for Sunderland and Armero replaces McCartney for the Irons. It gets better after 50 minutes as Carroll jumps with Brown and deflects the ball to Mo Diame, whose slightly deflected shot drifts into the far corner to make it two. We can hear Bubbles coming from the away fans.

In the 61st minute Downing skips past Alonso and is through one on one with the keeper. He looks certain to score put plays the ball the wrong side of the post with his left foot.

As Downing misses Michael The Whovian Who Is Also A Very Cultured Man With Many Other Interests arrives in his dinner jacket, having removed his bow tie so that he looks like an extra from Brideshead Revisited. “There’s no need to dress for the occasion,” quips Matt. Turns out he’s MCing an event at a nearby club for thespians.

Will Downing’s miss prove costly? It seems so as Johnson scores a well-taken goal to put Sunderland back in it after 65 minutes. Michael moans that he has the anti-Midas touch with football.

The crowd get behind the home side and Adrian has to field an effort from Wickham and Borini hits the side netting. Downing is now having one of those inconsistent nights where he keeps losing the ball and is bullied out of the game by defenders.

“They’re not going to score, their confidence has gone in front of goal,” says the Zen-like Fraser as the rest of us panic that it might be a case of 2-0 and we f***ed it up. And then Roger Johnson comes on and we get even more worried, though again the big man proves effective.

Sunderland’s keeper Mannone even comes up for a corner after 89 minutes but West Ham are professional and see the game out relatively comfortably, despite an injury to Winston Reid. Thirty seven points! This should guarantee survival after looking odds on for relegation at Christmas, which is a big achievement by Allardyce and his men. 

Matt heads off to work the night shift while the rest of us transfer to Michael’s Actors’ Club. We pretend to be resting thespians as Fraser channels the spirit of Adam Faith. Then someone comes up to him and says he enjoyed his version of Ol' Man River. There’s Bombardier, Black Sheep and Fursty Ferret at the cheap bar and just to round the evening off for Pete The Other Whovian there’s Richard Franklin, aka Captain Mike Yates from UNIT, at the bar having a chat with Michael. We are not worthy, indeed. Premiership survival and a glimpse of the last surviving UNIT officer from the Jon Pertwee era of Doctor Who all in one evening.

After more pints than is sensible we retreat home to dream of mid-table respectability. The Lucky Pub has worked its charms again.