Sunday, November 30

All's well that ends Cresswell

West Ham 1 Newcastle 0

In Ken’s Café Matt’s been on the night shift and is being revived by cheesy chips. Michael the Whovian is discussing Braintree trivia over fried bread, bacon and mushrooms, while Jo dispenses her wisdom about the daily papers. Nigel arrives late for his takeaway tea, fresh from a Procul Harum gig.

Within the East Stand we take a selfie for two Dutch fans from Delph, as Mark Noble receives massive applause for breaking West Ham’s Premier League appearance record.

Strangely, Big Sam has preferred Jarvis to Zarate. It’s a pretty dire first half. Perez twists past Collins to fire wide after three minutes and later flicks a shot wide. Downing has one tame shot saved and that’s it; neither goalkeeper is forced to make a proper save. Nigel starts to turn a whiter shade of pale as Fraser, fresh from his creative writing course, ponders on how to turn this dire material into a thriller.

“You’re not Geordie anymore!” the away fans sing at Andy Carroll.

“Andy Carroll — he left ’cos you’re shit!” suggest the Irons’ aficionados.

Tomkins makes one great tackle and our back line looks solid but that’s about it. Carroll gets a couple of decent flicks in, but Downing doesn’t look fully fit yet, Amalfitano has a poor game and Jarvis fails to get crosses in as both sides cancel each other out. We really miss Song in midfield and Valencia and Sakho running down the channels. The most exciting event of the first half is the announcement that Mr Moon is in the stadium.

At half-time we’re reduced to talking about our holidays. Matt announces that he’s taking a trip to the Galapagos Islands, as Nigel asks, “Do they play turtle football there?”

The second half begins with Cresswell blazing wildly over from 30 yards as Downing and Carroll await a pass.

“What did he do that for?” asks Matt.

”It’s not as if he’s got any sort of goalscoring record…” suggests Mystic May.

The game looks to be meandering towards a goalless draw as Kouyate swipes at a shot from the edge of the box on 56 minutes. He mishits the ball hopelessly, but it drifts through to Aaron Cresswell, who has continued his run, and the left-back expertly pokes past Elliot. The full-back peels away in front of the Bobby Moore Stand as the ground (and Mr Moon) erupts in relief.

“Always said he’d come good,” says Matt.

“Never in doubt!” I agree.

The half livens up. Newcastle bring on Cisse and Cabella, only for Sissoko to be sent off for first kicking the ball away and then kicking Andy Carroll. It’s always difficult to play against ten men…

Zarate arrives after 70 minutes and holds the ball up well in the box only to be let down by a lack of support. Then he fires in a stinging shot that Elliot does well to parry.

Collins and Tomkins stay strong at the back as the Vicar’s Son gets very irate as we don’t sub a visibly tiring Andy Carroll and our corners turn into Newcastle breaks.

Zarate almost breaks for the third but is let down by a lack of pace. But we hold on to grind out a very welcome three points. I forgo the Central to go on a Jack the Ripper Tour at Aldgate with Her Indoors, and at times it’s been murder today. Not the sort of good football we’ve been used to this season. but a different sort of character was needed today and we’ve stopped the Geordies’ run of six successive wins. More of the same required against West Brom and Swansea now.

Adrian 5; Jenkinson 6, Collins 7 Tomkins 7, Cresswell 7; Kouyate 6 (Nolan 5), Noble 6, Amalfitano 5, Jarvis 4 (Zarate 6), Downing 5; Carroll 5.

Friday, November 28

Big Sam and Big Andy get loved up

Is there a budding Mills and Boon novelist lurking in Big Sam Allardyce? Earlier this month he celebrated the power of love in relation to Andy Carroll and fiance Billi Mucklow: "Andy has now got a different life - romance has blossomed. It can be very good for a footballer when they settle down off the field. When you have a relationship, you start building on that relationship by the fondness you have for each other. I think that can only be good for Andy and his football." And after the Everton defeat Sam announced approvingly: "He has had so much work done on his life. Andy has a fiancee who is the owner of a gym, a yoga gym. So as he has been striving for fitness, he has spent some time there with her." So inspired by love and yoga can we expect Sam to write a bodice-ripper where Andy accepts gifts (or at least a knock-down) from a tall dark stranger (James Tomkins) and scores the winner against Newcastle?

Tuesday, November 25

You only drink red wine!

An Arsenal fan threw red wine at the Man United bench on Saturday. Lucky it wasn't a rolled-up copy of the Guardian. Not looking forward to dodging the flying ciabattas and oyster shells when West Ham play at the Emirates… and hear the Gooners may well be tooled up with Pilates mats.

Monday, November 24

Keira Knightley is a Hammer

Thanks to Phill Jupitus for sharing a video of Keira Knightley on NBC in America telling chatshow host Seth Myers that she's a West Ham fan. It turns out that Myers is a West Ham fan too, having been to a "soccer" game at Upton Park when he visited England. The pair discuss how unusual I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles is for a football anthem as it's all about dreams fading and dying. Knightley also says she can't believe our good start to the season. Hope to see Keira in Ken's Cafe on Saturday. And she's welcome to join us in either the Central or the Black Lion afterwards as long as sure buys her round… Click on the link to play the clip.

Sunday, November 23

Mersey beat

Everton 2 West Ham 1

Looking at the Match of the Day evidence West Ham can count themselves a little unlucky to have lost this one. Early doors Carroll played a great ball out wide to Jenkinson who fired in a dangerous cross while Naismith went close for the Toffees. Lukaku's opener saw a shot deflected off Winston Reid and the scorer was clearly offside. Looks like the introduction of Jarvis and Zarate improved the attacking options for the Hammers, with Zarate playing a one two and twisting inside to fire home an equaliser that was hugely deflected by Phil Jagielka. Everton's winner stemmed from Howard flapping at a Zarate cross, a huge clearance and West Ham being caught with too many men forward as Osman ghosted in to convert Eto'o's cross.

We still nearly equalised when Jarvis crossed and Collins stabbed the ball at Howard late on, before Eto'o missed a great chance for the home side. Seems to have been a bad-tempered game with Mirallas clattering Amalfiitano late and sparking a fracas with Reid being booked; after Amalfitano was crocked again another shoving match ensued where James Tomkins went down holding his face when he'd been pushed in the chest by Mirallas. No place for that James and not worthy of a player in claret and blue. But overall with five men out and Noble limping off injured we ran Everton close and several squad players such as Zarate staked a claim. Now we need to get some bodies back for the Newcastle match.

Saturday, November 22

Same old West Ham…

Rather a worrying team line-up at Goodison Park. The international break has deprived West Ham of Downing (who never looked fully fit for England in his 45 minutes against Scotland), Song, Sakho, Valencia and Kouyate. That's the core of the team that has performed so well this season. Looks like we'll be playing a five man defence with Cresswell and Jenkinson as wing backs. Cole and Caroll are starting up front, though won't have anything like the pace of Sakho and Valencia down the channels and Nolan is not going to get around the midfield like Song, though he might add some goal threat. It promises to be more like the West Ham of last season though at least Big Sam is still playing two up front. We'll do well to get something out of this.

Friday, November 21

West Ham Man

Did anyone notice that the infamous picture tweeted by Islington South MP Emily Thornberry of White Van Man in Rochester featured a West Ham badge on one of the England flags? Thornberry rapidly had to resign from Labour's front bench. Politically at least, with the Emirates Stadium being in Islington, she is probably an Arsenal fan. Patronise West Ham Man at your peril…

Tuesday, November 18

Jimmy Jimmy!

Interesting to see former Hammer (though he never played a game for us) Jimmy Bullard saying "F••k!" 30 times during the Bush Tucker Trial on I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! He played for West Ham from 1999-2001 under Harry Redknapp, having been signed from Gravesend. Once saw him training with Paolo Di Canio, Lampard, Ferdinand, Carrick, Defoe and co and thought he looked a good player even then. He went on to have a fine career with Peterborough, Wigan and Fulham and is definitely one we missed out on. His cheeky personality would have gone down well with the fans too. Actually, he coped pretty well with the underwater lizards, crabs and snakes and won four stars. Makes you wonder what he must have encountered in the portacabins at Chadwell Heath…

Friday, November 14

Matt Taylor reaches for the stars

See Dr Matt Taylor has successfully landed a probe on the comet 67/P. Presumably he left West Ham because it wasn't rocket science launching the ball towards Andy Carroll…

Thursday, November 13

Messi plays at West Ham

My fellow season-ticket holder Matt was at West Ham last night for Argentina's 2-1 victory over Croatia and reports that Lionel Messi looked pretty tasty: "Messi was fantastic, great vision and technique and surely the best left foot the game has ever seen. He'd be a great addition to the Hammers' bench." How fitting that he should finally play upon the Upton Park turf that has been graced by other world-class players such as Christian Dailly and Hayden Mullins. Ex-Hammer Javier Mascherano was playing and Carlos Tevez came on for the last half an hour. Matt also reports lots of Argentina fans in Ken's Cafe sampling the finest English cuisine. Meanwhile the Daily Mail ran the headline "Messi signs for West Ham (fan)" above a picture of Lionel signing autographs. Maybe he'll join us for real once we're in the Champions League.

Tuesday, November 11

Is this our best ever bench?

One interesting aspect of Saturday's draw was the quality of West Ham's substitutes. We had Carroll, Nolan, Tomkins, O'Brien, Amalfitano, Cole and Jaaskelainen all warming their posteriors. That's seven players who have all at one point held down a first team place. Surely the strongest set of subs we've had in Premier League history and a good sign of the depth of the squad.

Sunday, November 9

Drawing drawing West Ham

West Ham 0 Aston Villa 0

In Ken’s Café Michael the Whovian has just returned from a theatre-watching trip in New York. He’s seen Les Miserables and Showboat, musicals possibly based on former West Ham teams, and is now looking forward to the 90th birthday party of Doctor Who and Coronation Street legend William Russell. We’re joined by Matt and Lisa and CQ and Nigel, who seems quite chipper despite AC/DC’s drummer being nicked for (allegedly) being on the Highway to Hell. Phill and Big Joe make a late appearance. While inside the stadium Fraser is modelling his early Dexys black woollen hat and the fans are thankfully not requested to strip off in aid of Feel ’Em Friday.

We’re playing a team that has lost six in a row with Benteke suspended so what could possibly go wrong? Quite a lot, we fear, as it’s all going too well at West Ham. Before the match there’s a minute’s silence for Remembrance Sunday. Early on Agbonlahor uses his speed to get round Collins and shoots over from a good position. But apart from that it’s West Ham pressure. Collins has a header saved from a corner, Valencia makes a great run down the left and his cross results in Baker blocking Noble’s goalbound effort.

An Adrian punt is missed by Villa’s Cissokho and Sakho races down the right and crosses; the ball rebounds off a defender to Downing who hits a rising shot towards the top corner only to be foiled by a great reflex save from Brad Guzan. Weimann then shoots into the chest of Adrian, but the half ends with a great move between Jenkinson and Song setting free Downing on the left, only for Stewie to blaze over. The curse of the England call-up… There’s still time for a bizarre “we shall not be moved!” chant from the Villa fans, so elated are they to be drawing at a Champions League(ish) club.

At half-time Nigel’s mention of the tree-walk at Kew inspires a discussion of vertigo, something many West Ham fans are suffering from this season. CQ dispenses her lucky aniseed balls for the second half.

Cleverley shoots just over, but that’s the last Villa threat. Nolan replaces Kouyate, who’s had a quiet game, after 66 minutes and Carlton Cole comes on for Valencia after 75 minutes. Cole immediately has an effect swinging in a great cross that Sakho heads over. It’s the sort of chance Diafra’s scored with all season and there goes his chance of a Premier League record of seven goals in seven starts. Sakho then flicks a more difficult headed chance wide. Downing shifts over to the left wing and starts to combine well with Cresswell and gets in a steady stream of crosses. The crowd really get behind the team too in the latter stages, whereas last season they might have started complaining, which is encouraging.

Carlton Cole stays on his feet despite being tripped by Baker in the box, who injures himself in the process. Bizarrely the ref gives a free kick to Villa. Downing gets in a decent cross to the far post and Jenkinson sends a header straight at the keeper.

On 92 minutes we send on Andy Carroll. You could argue that his injury has helped West Ham develop into a better team, with two strikers playing on the ground, but I’m still glad to see him back and he certainly gives another option up front. The Villa defenders certainly appear worried by AC. Downing gets in another fine cross, Carroll rises to head goalwards and Guzan pulls off another great save. That would have been a story. Still we come forward. A West Ham corner causes further panic as Song is blatantly brought down in the area. Michael the Whovian is so incensed he nearly Sonics the ref. The ball breaks to Downing who gets in a cross from the right and Carroll gets in another header that the keeper holds.

Respecting the pint in the Central
The Villa players celebrate at the final whistle and we retreat to the Central where we respect the pint. I’m not too despondent. We go fourth at least for a day. We’d have lost this game last year and the unbeaten run continues. Villa were possibly playing for their manager’s job and at some point their bad run had to end. We’ve created chances today and have been unlucky not to get two penalties.

The Central now stocks IPA (though not from a hand pump) and we amuse ourselves by looking forward to Andy Carroll’s stag party. Matt suggests that Hayden Foxe, Trevor Sinclair and Razor Ruddock will all be invited. It’s a two -week break now and despite the draw we can reflect on West Ham’s best ever start to a Premier League season. And hopefully having Sakho, Valencia, Cole and Carroll challenging for the striking positions will improve us even more.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6; Jenkinson 6, Reid 6, Collins 6, Cresswell 6; Song 6, Noble 6 (Carroll 6), Kouyate 4 (Nolan 5), Downing 7; Sakho 5, Valencia 6 (Cole 6).

Friday, November 7

Whole new ball game

It's not often you find our lads naked on page three of the Sun. But on pages 2-3 of today's paper West Ham players are pictured with just footballs covering their tackle. The Sun has teamed up with Movember in support of Feel 'Em Friday, the campaign to get geezers checking themselves for testicular cancer. West Ham's Dylan Tombides died of the cancer and his brother Taylor is pictured with naked Hammers Downing, O'Brien, Nolan, Noble, Cole, Carroll, Collins and Tomkins.

Strangely there's no sign of a naked Big Sam though. Clearly the paper thinks Andy Carroll has the most sex appeal as he also appears on the front of the Sun with the headline "Carroll kicks off Feel 'Em Friday: See Andy And His Hammers Team Mates With No Kit On." Well, Karren Brady did promise to improve the Hammers' bottom line. Let's hope we produce plenty of naked aggession against Villa after this, that our rearguard stays firm and we thrust Villa closer to the bottom.

Thursday, November 6

Hodgson visits Downing street

Good news that Stewart Downing has deservedly made it into Roy Hodgson's England squad. Not only has Downing scored twice this season (one more than the whole of last season) he's also had four assists – making Sakho's equaliser at Hull with a great disguised pass, taking the free kick from which Winston Reid scored and playing in Amalfitano for the third goal against Liverpool, and of course making Valencia's goal against Stoke on Saturday. He's also taken corners against Man United, QPR and Burnley that have resulted in goals. In addition he's hIt the post at Burnley and got Wayne Rooney sent off for a wild lunge. Stewart had some good games and some rubbish games last season, but always looked very much a confidence player. The great thing about playing Downing in the midfield diamond role is that he sees so much of the ball. If one pass doesn't come off he quickly has the chance to try another, rather than being isolated on the wing and dwelling on any mistakes. It's been a hugely productive season so far for the Middlesbrorough-born midfielder. The challenge now is to maintain that form.

Wednesday, November 5

Winston Reid: We want you to stay!

You probably can't believe the Daily Star, but they claim that Winston Reid is poised to sign a new deal with the Hammers, and snub Arsenal, Man United and Liverpool in the process. The defending in the Premier League has been pretty terrible this season (as witnessed at the Library last night) so it would be no surprise if these top clubs were interested. Let's hope there's some truth in this and Winston sees his future with us…

Sunday, November 2

Battling Hammers' Britannia fightback

Stoke 2 West Ham 2

Before the game it’s a pre-match pint or two of Peddy with my second cousin Terry and his pals Paul, Ed, Keith (in shorts), Andrew, Adam and Mark in the Gardeners Arms. All very agreeable, followed by a walk past the incinerator, over the canal and past the Oatcake Boat to the Britannia Stadium.

Inside the Boothen End it’s the usual raucous atmosphere as the home supporters howl whenever Song puts a tackle in. Though thankfully Big Phil hasn’t run naked round the stadium yet, which he promised to do after N’Zonzi scored on Wednesday night against Southampton.

Stoke have the better of the early exchanges with Moses and Bojan prominent. Valencia doesn’t look suited to playing as a lone striker and has obviously never come up against a defender like Ryan Shawcross. His appeals to the referee go unheeded and we rarely threaten. West Ham’s only chance is when Song’s one-two plays in Downing, who shoots wastefully past the post. “If Downing can play for England so can I!” chant the gleeful home fans.

The injured Winston Reid has to be replaced by Tomkins early on. Stoke take the lead with a messy goal after 33 minutes. A Cameron cross causes confusion in the box and Bojan’s shot spins off Collins into the path of Moses who prods home from nearly on the line. Adrian makes a great save with his feet to prevent Diouf making it two just before half time, as the City fans salute Bojan with a song about how he prefers Stoke to Barcelona.

Big Sam brings on Carlton Cole for Amalfitano at half-time to give us some threat up front. But the game looks over after 56 minutes. Cresswell dawdles on the left and Walters nicks the ball past him to send in a fine cross that is glanced home by the diving Diouf.

The wind whips up and swirls around the Britannia. Looks like we’ll do well to keep the score down. “If it were boxing the ref would have stopped it,” suggests Phil the Potter in front of me.

But suddenly West Ham are back in it. Alex Song dives in two-footed and should really be carded, but the ref waves play on. Stoke mess it up though, as Moses gives the ball away. Downing races down the right wing from his own half and plays in a fine cross. Valencia scores with an expert diving header, stooping to place it in the far corner. The Stoke fans go mental, insisting they should have had a free kick as the Hammers fans' sing, "Oh Enner Valencia!"

Bubbles comes from the away end as the Stokies suggest, “You can stick your f***ing Bubbles up your arse!” City almost make it 3-1 as N’Zonzi is denied by Adrian and Diouf heads wide from free kick. But there’s a new belief about West Ham now. Valencia weaves in from the left and plays in a low cross towards Stewart Downing who wallops the ball home with his right foot. He peels away and is engulfed on the touchline. Seems like Downing really is better than the wannabe internationals in the Boothen End.

We almost nick an unlikely win as Valencia is foiled by the onrushing Begovic. Stoke pile on pressure in an end-to-end final 15 minutes. But Collins is immense and Tomkins does well too. Adrian is regaled with chants of “Cheat! Cheat!” when he goes down winded in the box, before recovering  to make another crucial late save. Last season we’d have crumpled, but getting an unlikely point at the blustery Britannia where the crowd is always on to the ref is a sign of West Ham’s new resilience.

My train journey back to London is much happier than it might have been, even if Arsenal have edged us out of fourth place on goal difference. Bubbles and “Two-nil and you f**ked it up!” echo around the concourse as the happy Hammers fans return to Euston. We’ve had some luck with Song’s challenge not being punished, but there’s a new belief about this side. Seventeen points from ten games – we’ll take that.

TEAM RATINGS: Adrian 7; Jenkinson 6, Reid 5 (Tomkins 7), Collins 8, Cresswell 5;  Song 6, Noble 5 (Nolan 5), Downing 8, Kouyate 5, Amalfitano 5 (Cole 6); Valencia 7.