Thursday, February 27

Wet Monday night in Basingstoke

Pottsy's autograph as obtained by Matt… We're not worthy!
Had a number of excited texts from my mate Matt the Anorak of Fire, who was watching the Development Squad play Reading in Basingstoke on Monday night. Was he taking Lisa on a belated Valentine's Day treat? Puts Part-Timers like me to shame. Hammers legend Steve Potts was sitting in the row in front of him. Pottsy's boys secured a 2-0 win with a blinding Elliot Lee volley and a second from Blair Turgott. Plus Matt had a chat with Pottsy himself it seems, no doubt discussing his amazing goal against Hull City. Matt also informs me that Lucas Neill has signed for Watford at the age of 35 - surely he's older than that?

Saturday, February 22

Four in a row!

West Ham 3 Southampton 1

In Ken’s Café Nigel’s looking forward to seeing Eddie and the Hot Rods later, while Matt’s not slept all week because of roadworks outside his house but is promising to remain positive. Michael the Whovian remarks that it’s the third anniversary of the death of the Brigadier, aka Nicholas Courtney. Let’s hope the lads can do it for the Brig. While Michael’s mate Nick, who lives locally, but isn’t going to the game, has arrived simply to experience the ambience of the East End literary salon that is Ken’s.

In the stadium Southampton immediately impress with their passing game and only a good interception by Demel stops an early goal. Rodriguez looks impressive on the left and Lallana is busy. West Ham go behind on eight minutes after a fairly soft free kick is given. Yoshida outjumps McCartney to score an easy goal.

Matt tries to stay positive and, perhaps delirious after lack of sleep, encourages Matt Taylor when he gives the ball away. It pays off as a few seconds later Nolan chips the ball over the top, Shaw doesn’t follow his man and a possibly offside Matt Jarvis pokes the ball through Boruc’s legs. It gets better. Three minutes later Downing wins a corner. Carlton Cole hits the post with his header and then reacts quickest to swivel and half-volley home after Yoshida makes a mess of trying to clear. That’s six goals for CC since he returned. Before the break Lambert outjumps Collins to head against the post.

Southampton dominate the first 25 minutes of the second half. Ramirez skins Collins to shoot over the bar and then Lallana shoots hastily wide. West Ham’s only threat is when Taylor makes a great run down the left to get a dangerous cross in.

The Irons are playing like the away side, but soon punish the Saints’ wastefulness. Noble makes a great interception to find Downing on the left. His inviting cross is touched back by Carlton Cole and Kevin Nolan scores with an acrobatic overhead kick. Another great finish from the clucking captain.

“The mugging rate in Newham must have just soared,” muses Michael. After his sinus operation Michael’s nose has just about stood up to the pressure.

We nearly get a fourth when sub Diame cuts inside to wallop the bar. Despite Southampton's possession, Noble has had another great game and Nigel's 'Nobes for England' theory is starting to sound possible. Three minutes of added time is seen out and incredibly it’s four wins out of four. On possession Southampton deserved at least a point, but Hammers are resilient these days and for once have been clinical up front.

The day is rounded off by a trip to the Central with Fraser and Michael, which is still stocking Old Speckled Hen (admittedly in the fridge) as that woman offering dvds does her rounds of the punters. Michael looks forward to an evening at the theatre watching Candide, insisting that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds and that Kevin Nolan is the West Ham captain therefore he is the best West Ham captain. Thirty one points… Two more wins and a couple of draws should do it.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6, Demel 7, Tomkins 7, Collins 6, McCartney 6: Jarvis 7 (Diame 6), Taylor 6, Noble 8, Nolan 7 (Reid 5), Downing 7; Cole 7.

Unravelling Ravel's deal

A welcome statement on the Ravel Morrison loan deal in yesterday's Evening Standard. Big Sam is quoted saying: "It's completely unfounded. I think the rumours or allegations will be made probably by Ravel's representatives. But there is no truth in the fact I have sat with Ravel Morrison and tried to press him into signing with any agent, never mind mine. It's his choice, his decision, not mine. Unless they (players) ask me, which he didn't. I haven't had a discussion on Ravel signing with Mark Curtis, no. I think the world that revolves around Ravel is quite unique in terms of the publicity he gets but there we go."

Friday, February 21

Come on you Lions…

Thanks to Matt and Lisa for revealing that Andy Carroll has just tweeted a picture of two lions being walked on the beach where he is presumably still warm weather training. His tweet reads: "2 lions being walked like dogs on the beach 50 yards away from me! #waytooclose." Could well be a possible addition to the history of bizarre West Ham injuries. Can already see those "West Ham striker mauled by lions" headlines… Stand well back, Andy!

Thursday, February 20

Things can only get better?

Well the lads are back from their warm weather break in Dubai and things are looking a lot better after three successive wins — though the last one was decidedly lucky and we can never underestimate West Ham's ability to implode. But it's looking like a vindication of the board's decision to stick with Sam Allardyce and as he said, now the injured players are back results are improving.

Clearly there are some fans who never wanted Allardyce to be appointed –  which is understandable given his 'long-ball' reputation – and whenever West Ham lose they demand he be sacked. There's a debate to be had about whether BFS can provide the quality football that will fill the Olympic Stadium — and if Ravel Morrison is eventually sold it won't help — but sacking him halfway through this season would surely have left the club looking as silly as Fulham now do. Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski has a good chapter on managers and I'd agree that the effect of changing them is overstated and that most rash decisions end badly, result in panic appointments and destabilise clubs. Tony Pulis at Palace is possibly the exception to this rule — but imagine the outrage if we'd appointed him!

The evidence of the fighting draw at Chelsea and the three wins is that the players are still behind Allardyce and showing character to get results. The key game was at Cardiff, and had that been lost heavily after the 5-0 and 6-0 defeats, Allardyce could well have gone. But credit to the likes of Matt Taylor, who while not the most gifted of players, has shown resolve to help dig out results.

Adrian has become a dominant goalkeeper and has given confidence to the whole defence. Having Tomkins and Collins available has solidified the back four, McCartney has done his usual understated job and while Demel has looked slow at times, having him in the defence seems to make us much harder to beat. Mark Noble is playing well and when Carroll returns after the Southampton game it will be another massive boost. And after Diame's run from the halfway line to score against Norwich you'd hope he might be getting back to last season's form. Southampton is a difficult game, but if West Ham can keep the momentum going we might even be able to relax on the final day at Man City.

Sunday, February 16

The unravelling of Morrison

Interesting article by Daniel Taylor in today's Observer on "the unravelling of Morrison at West Ham" and his potential loan move to QPR. Taylor claims that Morrison has felt under pressure from Sam Allardyce and Kevin Nolan to sign with the agent Mark Curtis — claims that West Ham strenuously deny. Curtis represents or has links links with Allardyce and several West Ham players such as Kevin Nolan, Andy Carroll, James Tomkins, Jack Collison, Matt Jarvis and Adrian, reports Taylor. The article doesn't say who is currently Morrison's agent, but presumably he'd be keen to keep a potential England player of the future. Some kind of statement from the club is surely necessary to clarify what's going on here. Click on the link to read the piece.

Saturday, February 15

Ravel without a cause?

Seems like Ravel Morrison will soon be loaned to QPR, with Harry Redknapp saying that Morrison can be his new Di Canio (mind you he said that about Adel Taarabt). Something has clearly has gone wrong in Morrison's relationship with Big Sam, with the pair clashing over his fitness and Ravel reportedly tempted by Fulham's interest in the transfer window. 

Earlier in the week Allardyce said: "Ravel is still complaining about the problem that's he had from before Christmas - that he's got a rumbling groin problem. He says he feels it occasionally. Instead of gritting your teeth and getting on with it... he's not the type. Lots of players throughout the country will be playing with a similar type of injury that the medical team say 'you can carry on, it's not a problem'." 

So it's strange that he appears ready to turn out for QPR. He'd be a very good person to bring off the bench in our remaining games, providing the imagination West Ham sometimes lack in breaking down defences, so presumably there must be something in his attitude that means Allardyce wants to loan him out. Morrison still has the ability to be a West Ham great and has scored five goals in the first half of the season, but unfortunately appears to have more baggage than the arrivals section at Heathrow. If Harry Redknapp does coax some form out of him, it will leave West Ham with a big decision to make.

Wednesday, February 12

There's only one Ginger Pele!

West Ham 2 Norwich 0

Disaster! Ken’s Café is shut as Carol and co are away on holiday — hopefully not on a trip to the Somerset Levels. There are huge queues outside the Ercan chip shop and Nathan’s Pies, but the Friends café by the Newham Bookshop proves to be a good find – and produces an omelette and chips in ten minutes, eaten under a gazebo in the Tardis-like garden.

Inside the stadium Michael the Whovian has turned out after a sinus operation wrapped in scarves, felling groggy and disoriented, which is frankly how most of us feel during a home game. While Matt has ditched his Dukla Prague away kit for a 1960s replica home shirt and Fraser has reprised his Dexys coat and cap.

The crowd is officially 35,153 but with a lot of empty seats, many fans apparently put off by the tube strike that hasn’t now happened. Norwich pass the ball reasonably well and create the better chances, while West Ham look jaded. Early on Redmond dances past Demel and crosses for Hooper to head goalwards, only for Adrian to make a fine reaction save. The keeper produces another great save after 18 minutes as Snodgrass races clear after a ball over the top. Adrian appears to hesitate but manages to block the shot by staying big,

Jarvis finally has a tame shot saved as West Ham rally a little. Only Noble is having a decent game in midfield. Nigel arrives half an hour late clutching a baguette and tempting providence by saying that victory could see us climb to tenth. Carlton Cole turns and shoots into Ruddy’s arms and WHU at least muster a few attacks. But there’s still time for Adrian to pull off a third fine stop from Tettey, diving to turn away his shot from the edge of the area.

It’s too much for the Vicar’s Son next to me: “Taylor is having a nightmare… how bad is Demel? Why can’t Downing cross it properly? What is Collins doing?” The only good thing is that we’ve kept a clean sheet for another half a match and the defence is still blocking and showing signs of team spirit.

At half-time we predict the final result. Some of the lads predict an away win but I opt for a 1-0 win with a late goal, thinking that Norwich might rue those three missed chances.

West Ham start off the second half slowly too, and Adrian has to produce another Superman-like save from Hooper. Matt’s pledge to stay positive lasts 30 seconds. West Ham create a chance with a quick free kick from the right, but Nolan tries to beat one man too many and fails to get a shot in. The crowd are getting noisier under the lights, trying to rouse the Hammers. Borriello is on for Cole but looks way off the pace, jumping for headers when the ball in nowhere near.

Diame comes on for Jarvis after 61 minutes and Taylor is replaced by Nocerino after 77 minutes. Our chance to win it comes when the previously anonymous Nolan finds Diame with a great lay off in the box, only Mo shoots at Ruddy when a chip might have beaten him. That’s better though.

Looks like we’re going to have to respect the point. In the 84th minute just as I’m thinking that Diame is not a winger and wondering why he is he playing on the left, Mo cuts inside to send over an inviting cross. James Collins gets in front of Ruddy to glance the ball home for his first goal of the season. “There’s only one ginger Pele!” chants the joyous Bobby Moore Stand. Never in doubt – apart from the four great saves from Adrian and the previous 84 minutes.

The ref adds four minutes, and Noble sensibly takes the ball into the corner. Diame has made a difference with his strength and running ability and as Norwich press he takes the ball from his own half and runs into the Norwich box, before poking home a deflected shot. Blimey – 28 points!

Fraser, Matt and Michael respect the pint
It’s more a mugging than a victory, but when Man United were playing badly and winning last season everyone said it was the sign of champions. You have to feel sorry for Norwich, though also praise West Ham’s resilience.

We miss Jeremy Nicholas on the PA at this point, Upton Park is not the same without him declaring: “We go above Crystal Palace! We go above Stoke! We go above Aston Villa! We go above Hull! We go above Swansea! We’re tenth!”

Michael must be worried about more nose bleeds. Four clean sheets in a row for the first time since 1986, and three successive wins for the first time since the Great Escape of 2007.

A surreal evening ends with even more incredible happenings. There’s bottles of Old Speckled Hen in the Central. Real ale in the Central? Our luck really is in. Nigel suggests that we should put Adrian in charge of flood defence as he’s good at stemming the tide. There’s no doubt about it – we’re leaving our charge for the Champions League late, but another three wins and a couple of draws and we should survive.

TEAM RATINGS: Adrian 9, Demel 5, Collins 7, Tomkins 6, McCartney 6, Downing 5, Nolan 5, Taylor 5 (Nocerino 5), Noble 6, Jarvis 6 (Diame 7), Cole 5 (Borriello 4).

Monday, February 10

West Ham sell the Boleyn Ground

Sad news that West Ham have sold the Boleyn Ground to developers the Galliard Group. Had to happen once we moved, of course, but Upton Park is a place of so many memories for all of us. It's going to be a mix of housing, retail and community buildings. There might be a Bobby Moore Memorial Garden and there's going to be a poll of fans to name certain buildings after West Ham players and events. How about Terminator House, Psycho Mansions or the Mad Dog Kennels anyone?

Sunday, February 9

Clucking Kevin sees off Villa

Aston Villa 0 West Ham 2

I’m watching The Invisible Woman, a film about Charles Dickens’ affair with the actress Ellen Ternan, as my silenced phone starts to vibrate with incoming texts. Is it Hard Times after A Christmas Carroll or Great Expectations? Have to wait till the end of the film to discover it’s the latter as West Ham (Grad)grind out a result.

It’s another double from Kevin Nolan and we’ve won two in a row for the first time this season. The Match of the Day evidence shows West Ham missing a couple of good chances in the first half as Downing misses the ball from Jarvis’s cross and then Jarvis bursts through only to shoot wide under heavy pressure from Baker. In response Villa go close with a Lowton volley wide.

Borriello comes on for the second half and according to the press accounts does well. WHU instantly take the lead after the break. Downing turns Bertrand one way then another and crosses for Nolan to produce a great improvised backheeled finish. Kevin goes off clucking to the away fans. A minute later he does it again. The West Ham skipper shows more desire than Delph to win a tackle on the edge of the box and calmly pass the ball into the corner. A piece of pickpocketing worthy of Oliver Twist.

I was all for dropping Nolan and taking the captaincy away from him after the Fulham game, but if he keeps this up he’s going to pay the fans back for those silly sendings off. Andy who?

West Ham have some luck when sub Allbrighton clatters the post and the ball rebounds off Adrian’s heel to safety. Benteke hits the angle with a looping header but our defence holds out to keep another clean sheet. And believe it or not we now have 12 clean sheets, more than any other team in the division. Not even a black coffee stain on James Tomkins’ duvet, a speck of dust on Adrian’s pillow, or a drop of Peri-Peri sauce on Big Sam's black satin sheets.

It would be very like West Ham to now lose at home to Norwich after this, but we’ve put ourselves in a great position. A third win in a row and we’ll definitely be looking towards mid-table.

Friday, February 7

Oh Carroll

So the independent arbitration tribunal has upheld the FA's decision not to revoke Andy Carroll's red card.  It still seems ridiculously harsh and as Big Sam says in the Evening Standard, Carroll deserved a free kick in the first place and  "this decision has proved that you can get something you don't deserve by simulation." Flores' rolling around the pitch clearly influenced Howard Webb (who failed to send off De Jong for that infamous kick on Xabi Alonso in the 2010 World Cup Final) into believing that Chico had been struck in the face. The key evidence is surely that Carroll is looking at the referee to appeal for a foul as he swings his arm, which brushes Flores' head rather than strikes it. But it's gone now and the team has to get on with coping without Carroll — even if it is tempting to start painting "Andy Carroll is Innocent OK?" on East London walls and Get Sham 69 to record a song about it. Carlton Cole has netted five times since his re-signing so is worth a start, and perhaps Borriello could come on for the second half at Villa. If he's a quality international striker now is the time to prove it.

Thursday, February 6

Just arbitration for the claret and blue?

Looks like West Ham are going ahead with legal action, which might ultimately lead to the  Court of Arbitration for Sport. Not good to see the law involved, but it's hard to argue with David Gold's comments: "We are hugely disappointed at the outcome of the process.The last thing I want to do is going to some kind of legal issue because I think it is a footballing issue. But we are fighting for our lives. If we were mid-table we would probably get on with it but we are fighting for our lives to retain our Premier League status and we owe it to our fans, we owe it to ourselves. We are upset, we feel we have been badly treated. Most judgements are not made by three people, they are made by 12 - that's why they are called juries."

Chico Chico what's the score?

Chico Flores has been winding us up again on Twitter. The Swansea thespian writes: "I'm a bit tired of the strong insults from the West Ham fans. Whoever doesn't see the aggression in that action is blind. They should be more preoccupied with the ugly way their team play football always making very long passes and never quick short passing… They should be worried about that before caring about such evident things. Ok West Ham 2-0 Swansea... Swansea 24 points, West Ham 22 points. Hahaha. Smart!! Good luck." 
We'd look forward to booing him next season if Swansea weren't going down… And the fact Kevin Nolan's second was West Ham's first headed goal of the season rather belies the long-ball argument, as does, say, Noble's great through ball to Jarvis in the first half. In any case, Andy Carroll heading the ball isn't against the rules — though simulation and ungentlemanly conduct is. 

Meanwhile there are press reports that West Ham are considering legal action over the verdict and with so much money depending on Premier League survival you can hardly blame the board for looking at this option, even if the PL clubs have all signed up to abide by the appeals procedure.

Tuesday, February 4

Sweet FA

Terrible decision from the FA not to rescind Andy Carroll's red card - it's surely all a conspiracy to get us relegated. He's actually looking away when his arm swings round. Both Michael Laudrup and Match of the Day pundits and all the press thought it very harsh too. A case of the FA not wanting to lose face by criticising Howard Webb. And what about the simulation? Now all we need is for the Italian duo to turn out to be third-party owned… Have to hope either Carlton Cole or new Italian striker Marco Borriello do it against Villa, Norwich and Southampton now. Anger is an energy, as John Lydon once sang. And now Swansea have sacked Michael Laudrup. Perhaps Chico should be acting manager…

Sunday, February 2

Andy Carroll is innocent, OK?

West Ham 2 Swansea 0

Nigel and CQ arrive in early in Ken’s Café jet-lagged from a romantic mini-break in Boston, where they’ve been watching the Boston Bruins ice hockey team. I’m with my daughter Nell and her friend Fernanda, fortified by Pret a Manger sandwiches at Kings Cross and a Kit-Kat in Ken’s before the 12.45pm kick-off. Carol’s holding Michael the Whovian’s hand as he counts out his change, while Matt’s musing about the missed opportunities of the window and claiming that Rat has deserted a sinking ship. Big Joe arrives with Big Phill from Leigh and various sundry comedians.

Inside the stadium it’s an encouraging start from West Ham. Noble plays a great ball into Jarvis but Downing can’t connect with his cross. Carroll is winning balls in the air and Nolan is sticking close by him. West Ham take the lead after 26 minutes. McCartney crosses from the left and Carroll meets the ball with a cushioned header into the path of Kevin Nolan on the edge of the area. The Hammers skipper controls the ball on his chest and produces a good finish into the corner before resurrecting his chicken dance.

Swansea’s best chance then falls to Bony from a long ball by Jonjo Shelvey (the Voldemort lookalike also gets a reprise of the chant, "Harry Potter he's coming for you!"). Bony looks certain to score until James Tomkins produces a magnificent tackle to deny him at the last. Had he timed it wrong it would have been a penalty and red card.

Carroll, chests down and volleys wide, but is looking confident and has been a nuisance to the Swansea defence all half. For once it’s West Ham who score right on half-time. Keeper Tremmel rolls the ball out to Williams, but Carroll closes down the Swansea defender to win a corner from nothing. That’s better than Maiga has done in a whole season. From Downing’s corner Carroll does really well to jump high and cushion another header into the path of Nobby Nolan. Shelvey has deserted his post and Nolan’s header is well placed into the corner. Matt reveals it’s West Ham’s first headed goal of the season, which is bizarre for a supposedly direct side. 

The Irons start off confidently in the second half as Carroll finds Jarvis, who rounds the keeper and crosses to force a hasty clearance. Then the game is transformed by the battle of the man-buns as Carroll leaps with Chico Flores. The Swansea man is all over AC and as they fall to the ground Carroll tries to disengage himself. He appears to be trying to appeal to the referee, but as he swings his arm round it catches the top of Chico’s head, who promptly falls to the ground and rolls over clutching his face as if he’s been hit by both Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. It’s an accidental clash but Howard Webb gets it all wrong and sends him off. Sod it. Carroll’s suspended for most vital three games of the season. Surely it must be rescinded?

Nell and Fernanda hear lots of interesting new words. Can West Ham hold on for half an hour? Chico is booed whenever he touches the ball and the sending off fires up the crowd. Carlton Cole comes on to provide an outlet and Stewart Downing uses his footballing intelligence to hold the ball up. The defence blocks in similar fashion to the game at Chelsea, with Tomkins and Collins again excelling. With 11 minutes left Winston Reid comes on to make a welcome return to the defence. Swansea make it easier by always playing a short passing game against ten men. Their best chance is when Bony volleys over.

Slowly the game edges into added time. Nocerino comes on and looks confortable on the ball. “Chico Chico, what’s the score?” chants the home crowd.

A fine 2-0 win and vital three points, particularly as Sunderland, Cardiff and Stoke all win. My kids for a quid party retreats to the Who Shop where a Whovian West Ham fan is asking if he can go back to the 1923 Cup Final (might be a bit pushed to find room for the Tardis on the pitch mate) and if he can then go forward in time to see if we stay up. We round the day off with a trip to the Newham Bookshop for pens and literary banter.

A satisfying win almost ruined by a silly red card. Our season may well depend on the FA rescinding Carroll’s sending off.

TEAM RATINGS: Adrian 6, Demel 6 Tomkins 7 Collins 7, McCartney 7; Downing 7, Noble 7, Taylor 6 (Reid 5), Nolan 8 (Nocerino 5), Jarvis 6 (Carlton Cole 5); Carroll 7.

Rat deserts sinking ship?

Razvan Rat has cancelled his contract by mutual consent following the signing of Armero. Strange, as he looked a good player who could get in decent crosses early on, but hasn't played well since returning against Crystal Palace. And he clearly didn't fancy ranking behind McCartney, O'Brien and Armero. Wonder what he did to upset Big Sam?