Sunday, August 31

Schneiderlin's Saints shatter slumbering Hammers

West Ham 1 Southampton 3

There’s plenty of kids-for-a quid activity in Ken’s café. I’m with my daughter Nell awaiting isotonic egg, chips and beans while DC is taking his son Finn to his first game and is also taking his missus Clare on another hot date, having previously taken her to Ken’s Cafe for a Valentine’s Day fixture. Our team is completed by Michael the Renaissance Man (and Whovian), Nigel, Fraser and Matt.

On the pitch the club announce a new signing — Alex Song has joined on a season-long loan from Barcelona. Not sure if he can cope with such a step up… presumably this could mean that Diame is departing. “We’ve only got one Song!” sings the crowd.

Worryingly, Southampton start off well, and don’t look much different to the neat-passing team of last season despite selling five top players. Tadic looks to have skill and Schneiderlin, Ward-Prowse and co knock it about nicely.

Cresswell has to clear the ball off the line, but West Ham improve a little and Zarate starts to win a few free kicks. We take the lead when Mark Noble scores with a long-range deflected shot after Zarate’s lay-off.

The ball fizzes across goal as Vaz Te fails to connect. But then we appear to settle for 1-0 at the break and invite more Saints’ pressure. Right on half-time Southampton win a free kick , O’Brien blocks and Schneiderlin shoots home the rebound.

A rare moment of half-time optimism
At half-time the consensus is that West Ham didn’t really deserve to be ahead.

The second half is dire. West Ham never get going and as one twitter user says, it seems like Southampton have three more players than us. We don’t close down their back four, don’t compete in midfield

Morrison comes on (“Is he the one in jail?” asks Nell) and at least looks confortable on the ball, though his fellow sub Diame seems to misjudge all his lay-offs. It’s too late though, and Southampton carry on passing WHU to death.

Schneiderlin puts the Saints ahead on 68 minutes after we fail to mark properly from a short corner that shouldn't have been given (Ramirez clearly heads it over). Then Pelle (who looks good for a bloke who starred in the 1970 World Cup) settles the game firing home after Adrian saves on 83 minutes.

What’s most worrying is the lack of leadership. No-one seems able to win a few tackles, get stuck in and fire up both crowd and team. Kouyate doesn’t look anything like the player he was at Palace last week and Valencia only gets 11 minutes.

“West Ham can’t lose!” says Nell.

“I’m afraid they can. Don’t worry, it will be good for our character,” I suggest.

Let’s hope DC’s son hasn’t emerged an avid Southampton fan.

We’re cheered up slightly by a visit to the Who Shop and then Peter Capaldi’s performance on Doctor Who later that evening. Am I supporting a good team? I don’t know anymore.

The only good thing is we have two weeks to regroup, get Valencia and Song fit and integrate the new players. Hopefully this was a one-off and the new signings will learn from it. But if we fail on the basics such as work-rate and passing then a struggle lies ahead.

TEAM RATINGS: Adrian 6; O'Brien 5, Tomkins 5, Reid 5, Creswell 6; Downing 5, Kouyate 5, Noble 6, Zarate 6 (Morrison 5), Vaz Te 4 (Diame 4), Cole 4 (Valencia 5).

Friday, August 29

The trials of Josh Payne

Interesting piece on the BBC website about Josh Payne, who played a couple of times for West Ham under Gianfranco Zola. After leaving West Ham he played for Doncaster, Oxford and Aldershot, but ended up spending six months in prison for ABH and assault after getting in a fight outside a Guildford nightclub. He now plays for Woking and appears to have learned from his mistakes, telling the BBC: "I knew I'd done wrong. I wasn't a man when I committed the crime - I thought I was, but I wasn't. I'm a lot stronger and wiser now… I appreciate football a million times more. I've made every mistake in the book. Of course I have regrets - I let a massive opportunity slip away." Click on the link to read.

Thursday, August 28

Discount on Bobby Moore: The Definitive Biography

Readers of Hammers in the Heart can get an exclusive disccount on Jeff Powell's excellent book Bobby Moore: The Definitive Biography, published by Robson Press. I enjoyed reading Powell's previous version some years ago and the new edition has extra chapters on the reaction to Moore's death and the reasons why he was so sadly ignored by the footballing establishment. To get your discount and purchase the book for £6.89 log on to the Robson Press website here and enter the code "hammersinheart".

Wednesday, August 27

Concentrating on the league…

The team that meets in cafes
West Ham 1 Sheffield United 1 (Capital One Cup)

Tevez masks are on sale in Green Street and in Ken’s Café Matt and Lisa announce that 15-year-old Reece Oxford is on the bench. Nigel’s discovered the East Stand is sold out and is having to slum it in Big Joe’s box, though he’s pleased to find that in the programme notes it’s claimed that Carlton Cole has been given “an 18-year contract.” Meanwhile Fraser has signed up for midweek evening classes and looks likely to miss our epic Capital One Cup run. Outside there’s a huge queue for pay-on-the-day tickets stretching into Green Street because the club hasn’t got enough staff on duty.

It’s a WHU side that has never played together before, with full debuts for Valencia, Sakho, Poyet and Burke. Ravel Morrison is out of the slammer and in the side, playing in gloves. The first half isn’t too bad. Valencia looks quite lively as he has a snap shot saved and Morrison has a free kick saved. Howard then makes a great save from the promising Reece Burke as a corner comes in. The lively Diame plays a fine ball in to Valencia, but the £12million striker fires straight at the United keeper.

West Ham take the lead on 40 minutes. Reece Burke pumps in a high centre and Sakho flicks a clever back header into the net.

Sheffield look workmanlike but no more, and it seems in the second half we’re opting for a routine victory. But then disaster strikes. A mundane centre is sliced by Winston Reid and the ball trickles past the wrong-footed Jaaskelainen. It’s United’s first shot on target.

It’s desperation time now. Morrison looks off the pace because he isn’t match fit and Vaz Te doesn’t do enough for a senior player. Poyet is reasonably solid in midfield though. Diame nearly plays in Valencia while substitute Downing produces a great save from Howard with a long-range shot. But the game moves into extra time. Our other sub Zarate gets involved, but always runs into trouble, prompting Nigel to wonder if he’s the new David Di Michele.

At least we’re getting good value for our ten quid. The Blades have one shot on target in extra time though sub Campbell-Ryce causes a few problems, while for WHU Noble comes on for Morrison. We force numerous corners, but every shot is blocked. And so it goes to penalties. We think the last time we saw a shoot-out was the 2006 FA Cup Final, which didn’t go too well. Perhaps out takers should wear Tevez masks to give West Ham a psychological advantage.

Noble scores confidently with the first penalty, but United respond with a penalty into the top corner. Downing almost fluffs his penalty,  Zarate produces a good finish and then young Diego Poyet has the courage to step up and send the keeper the wrong way (though surely Diame should have taken one?). At 4-4 Valencia steps up and fires to the left of the keeper, but it’s a nice height and Howard saves. Doyle shows no nerves as he sends United through.

’There goes our Cup Final breakfast at Nigel’s,” I muse.

“At least we don’t have to get to the semi-final and lose 9-0 on aggregate,” suggests Matt.

The only good thing about the evening is that the Central now has Greene King IPA on draught, though it’s delivered by gas and not a hand pump. Still, it’s progress. We haven’t played particularly well or particularly badly, but it’s still our best chance of Wembley gone. Guess we’ll have to settle for just one Cup this year then…

PLAYER RATINGS: Jaaskelainen 5, Demel 6, Reece 6, Reid 5, Potts 5; Diame 6, Poyet 6, Morrison 5 (Noble 6), Vaz Te 5 (Zarate 6), Valencia 5,  Sakho 6 (Downing 6).

Tuesday, August 26

The Tevez derby

Looking forward to the Tevez derby against Sheffield United tonight, and the Daily Mail claims that lots of Tevez face masks are going to be distributed to the fans. What's commonly forgotten about the affair is that West Ham paid a fine of £5 million and then £20 million compensation to Sheffield United and that United went down because they failed to beat Wigan in their final game. Their relegation to League One certainly hasn't been due to lack of money.

Another forgotten fact is that Tevez scarcely got a game under Pards and then Curbishley until after Christmas. I've never understood the ruling that Tevez helped us gain an extra three points as these things are impossible to quantify. Robert Green and James Collins were just as vital in the win at Old Trafford, while Green gave a superhuman performance to earn three points at the Emirates.

What's sad is that West Ham's Great Escape isn't appreciated because of the Tevez furore. Yes, we might have been lucky to escape points being docked, but West Ham still managed to win seven out of their last nine games. That has to be the greatest escape in Premier League history.

Sunday, August 24

Zarate kid storms the Palace

Crystal Palace 1 West Ham 3

The arrival of 24,242 football fans has taken the catering department at Selhurst Park by surprise. There’s only one outlet open and a huge queue. Oh and there’s no food or hot drinks so we make do with a dodgy plastic bottle of Carling. The West Ham fans in the tightly packed concourse amuse themselves by throwing beer around and singing “My Name Is Ludek Miklosko!” and “Big Fat Frankie Lampard!”

Inside the stadium it’s down to myself and groundhopping Lisa, as Matt has been working his Dr Feelgood-style “stop work whistle blow” nightshift, Nigel’s walking the Welsh coastline, Michael’s preparing for Peter Capaldi and Fraser is doing creative writing (presumably in which West Ham win trophies). It’s also a return to the narrow exits, wooden seats and pillars in your sightline that made last season’s 1-0 defeat so unpleasant.

Nolan has sustained a shoulder injury in training so Zarate gets a game. The home crowd is lively early on and a dangerous Palace cross is headed just over. The away fans respond with “Who’s the w**ker with the drum?”

After that West Ham look more assured though and take control of the game. Kouyate looks good from the start. He’s big and strong, wins tackles, makes several rampaging runs down the wing and as Big Sam says, looks like a young Patrick Vieira. Cresswell looks a decent left back and Mauro Zarate has quick feet, coming back into midfield to link with Mark Noble. He makes several decent dribbles, though luckily the ref Clattenberg misses a late tackle on O'Keefe that could have been a red card.

We are still missing chances though. Cresswell pokes wide and Zarate just takes one touch too many after a one-two and dribble sends him through into the box. Three West Ham corners waft harmlessly into Speroni’s hands.

Until the 34th minute it looks like we might pay for “not being clinical enough” as Sam says after every game. But then Noble’s shot spins up in the air and Zarate, showing great technique, volleys the dropping ball into the corner. He runs to the West Ham fans and might even get his impressive quiff ruffled in the celebrations.

Three minutes later something incredible happens. West Ham put together a fluent passing move in midfield and find Downing on the right wing. He cuts inside to arrow a beautiful finish into the far corner with his left foot.

The West Ham fans go mental and then enter into a rousing chorus of “Tony Pulis — he left ’cos your you’re s**t!” followed by “How s**t must you be we’re winning away!” There’s even a faint chorus of “We’ve got Sam Allardyce!”

Vaz Te then has a decent effort saved by Speroni. “I’ll be confident when it’s 4-0,” I tell Lisa.

After the pom-pom waving Crystals perform at half-time, WHU almost get a third as Tomkins hits the bar from a corner. Palace immediately go downfield, West Ham reject Chamakh is allowed too much space, and he fires a great finish into our net. Two-nil and we’ve f••ked it up?

Those dodgy wooden seats
West Ham have a dodgy ten minutes but Kouyate, Tomkins, Reid and co stay firm at the back. On 62 minutes Tomkins fires in a direct free kick, Vaz Te makes a nuisance of himself and the ball drops off a defender to Carlton Cole who volleys home with surprising alacrity.

“We never doubted you CC!” I tell Lisa, having a moment earlier suggested we need to get Valencia on for him. CC receives a rousing chorus of “Always believe in Carlton Cole!”

We see out the game pretty well, as Sakho gets a run replacing Cole and has a header tipped wide. Poyet gets seven minutes replacing Zarate. “Is there a fire drill?” wonder the West Ham fans as the Palace supporters drift away.

We retreat to Selhurst station in happy mood as Matt texts that the last time we beat Crystal Palace away Mike Small scored. Palace might be struggling, but it’s much better than last week, and with Valencia still to be integrated, this was a promising performance.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 5; O'Brien 6, Reid 6, Tomkins 6, Cresswell 6: Downing 7 (Diame n/a), Kouyate 7, Noble 7, Zarate 7 (Poyet 5), Vaz Te 6, Cole 7 (Sakho 6).

Saturday, August 23

A good time to be playing Palace?

Crystal Palace appear to be in disarray. Tony Pulis departed on the eve of the new season and now technical director Iain Moody has resigned and prospective new manager Malky Mackay (who briefly played for WHU and wasn't very good under Pards) has been kicked into touch over those terrible text messages. Any other team playing them might be optimistic, but Palace are playing West Ham and we have an awful habit of ending other team's crises. My fear is that caretaker gaffer Keith Millen will suddenly prove himself to be a tactical genius. Just for once though, let us please take advantage of a team that is floundering.

Friday, August 22

We can see you migrating out…

Karren Brady recently had a full page feature in the Evening Standard writing about the Olympic Stadium move. She writes: "We have been composing a robust plan to migrate our supporters in the clearest and fairest way possible." Migrate? It makes West Ham fans sound like a herd of wildebeest migrating across the great plains of Tower Hamlets, foraging for lager and stripping the area of chips and Bellybusters burgers, before perching on the towers of Westfield and eventually establishing a colony for the pack at the OS. David Attenborough may well be making a documentary on the proposed move…

Thursday, August 21

Sakho in the morning

While I was climbing up Ben Nevis (not easy after training on egg, chips and beans in Ken’s Café and Maldon Gold in the Black Lion) West Ham signed striker Diafra Sakho from Metz. The Senegal striker has banged in 43 goals in two seasons for Metz as they achieved successive promotions to Ligue 1. He’s unproven at the top level but clearly has an eye for goal. After last season’s travails we’re clearly stockpiling strikers, with Valencia, Zarate and Sakho filling the Carroll-shaped void and Cole, Maiga and Vaz Te possibly awaiting deadline day loan deals out. 

Also saw an interview with the £7million Cheikhou Kouyate in Saturday’s Guardian where he came across as quite a grounded footballer who has won the Belgian league four times. Defeat on Saturday was disappointing, but it’s still too early to judge until we have all our new signings on the pitch. With Cresswell, Jenkinson, Kouyate, Poyet, Zarate, Valencia and Sakho in the squad it’s going to be like a different team. Got my ticket for Palace and hoping it's better than last year when we lost 1-0 and sat on dodgy wooden seats with a minuscule exit and a halftime crush...