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).

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