Saturday, April 25

Adrian saves point at Loftus Road

QPR 0 West Ham 0

No sign of nouveau Hammers fan David Cameron at Euston, but Big Joe, Fraser and Matt do turn up to collect our massively overpriced £55 tickets. Perhaps Dave is already at White City ready to take on the QPR fans…

Inside Loftus Road we enjoy a cup of molten tea in the four-person-wide concourse and learn that Reece Burke is making his league debut, in for the injured Reid. While Kevin Nolan appears to be playing as a (very) false number nine. "You're only here for the fair play!" chant the Hammers fans at the Rangers' supporters.

WHU gain a corner early on but typically it turns into a Rangers attack, as Noble loses the ball and Sandro drives into the area to fire a shot against Adrian’s legs. West Ham force another corner and young Burke has a header hacked away by a defender. Burke does well all afternoon, winning his headers and looking generally composed on his debut.

The Irons look fairly composed for the first half hour with Valencia shooting wide after outpacing the ponderous Dunne. As always, Adrian looks committed and races from his goal to remonstrate with Joey Barton, sparking a chorus of “Barton, Barton, you’re a ****!” from the West Ham fans. Don’t think Joey will be tweeting that philosophical gem.

Suddenly we’re in trouble on 22 minutes when Zamora plays the ball on to Jams Collins’ raised hand and it’s a penalty. But Austin strikes the ball down the middle and Adrian makes an easy save to huge cheers from our end. “That’s why you’re going down!” chants the away end.

The second half begins with Rob Green responding to generous applause from the West Ham fans with a crossed arms Hammers sign. The game is very poor though and resembles Championship fare, with the Rangers fans curiously quiet in a must-win game. So dire is the game that a mournful chorus of “Oh Christian Dailly you are the love of my life!” breaks out.

Cole comes on for Jarvis and has a Jurassic battle with Richard Dunne. Valencia is brought down on the edge of the box. Cresswell produces another quality free kick that is heading for the top corner until Rob Green produces a superb save to tip it over the bar. At the other end Zamora uses his experience to outmuscle Burke and then slice a shot wide.

West Ham break and Nolan plays a good ball through to Downing. But Rob Green wants the ball more and rushes from his area to hack clear. Rangers force a corner and Dunne has the ball in the net, but only after Adrian has been jumped into by Caulker so the goal doesn’t stand. West Ham win another free kick on the edge of the box and this time the chip over the wall eludes Nolan.

Zamora is subbed by Rangers as we chant, “We love Bobby more than you!”

Then comes what should be the match-winning moment. Valencia outpaces Dunne on the left, races into the box and plays a low ball across the box into the path of Kouyate, who blasts over an empty goal.

Moments like that make us all believe we’re going to lose it in the last minute again. Adrian parries Henry’s force shot as QPR sense their chance. They almost do win it as Phillips fires in a tremendous shot from the corner of the box, but Adrian produces a world-class save.

At least we’ve shown a bit more commitment in this game and although the quality has been poor it’s an away point, though it should have been three. The Rangers fans don’t even seem that annoyed a result that will probably send them down.

We retreat back to Euston Square and in the best result of day find the Exmouth Arms, which has more craft beers than you can shake a pint glass at. Matt ponders which team has the oldest ground in the league that had hosted football continuously, Big Joe prepares for his train trip to rural Shropshire and Frasr looks at the big picture. And then there’s a text message from Dave Cameron saying it was a good away point for West Hampstead against Queens Park Raisins.

TEAM RATINGS: Adrian 8; Jenkinson 6, Burke 6, Collins 6, Cresswell 6; Jarvis 5 (Cole 5), Nolan 5, Noble 5, Kouyaye 5, Downing 5; Valencia 6.

David Cameron: Are you Part-time Percy in disguise?

David Cameron has just confused his claret and blue sides, claiming that he supports West Ham and not Aston Villa at a campaign event. He now blames it on Natalie Bennett-style "brain fade" and says that of course he supports Aston Villa. Obviously it's very easy for a chap to confuse West Hampstead and Aston Villains or whatever their names are… especially as George says they don't even play with a proper-shaped oval ball.

Flying So High: West Ham's Cup Finals now in paperback

Something to take your mind off our recent form. A print version of my 2012 e-book Flying So High: West Ham's Cup Finals is now available. It includes chapters on the 1923 'White Horse' Final (where we definitely have a case for a replay as spectators were all over the pitch, which was also covered in hoof prints); Bobby Moore's side beating Preston 3-2 in the 1964 FA Cup FInal and winning the Cup Winners Cup' in 1965 on a glorious night at Wembley; Bonzo picking up the FA Cup in 1975 after Alan Taylor's double; Trevor Brooking's header bringing Cup glory in 1980; taking Liverpool to a replay in the 1981 League Cup Final after Ray Stewart's nerveless last-minute penalty at Wembley; the Play-Off Final wins of 2005 and 2012 and the Greatest FA Cup Final of Modern Times in 2006 when we drew 3-3 with Liverpool (I forget who won on penalties). It's also been praised by David 'Psycho' Cross who tweeted, having read the 1980 chapter: "Great recollection and detail. Clearly a huge Hammers fan." Click on the link to peruse.

Friday, April 24

Big Sam lays into the players

Sam Allardyce has used his Evening Standard column to criticise the players. He's noticed what we all spotted, that the work rate and desire against Stoke and Man City just wasn't good enough. 

Big Sam writes: "The bottom line is the players just haven’t delivered what they should have done in recent weeks. I have to accept my responsibilities but they have to do the same. It’s massively disappointing for me and if the players don’t share that disappointment then professionally, that is very poor. I have defended our performances against Leicester, Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham but I haven’t been able to do that in our most recent two matches against Stoke and — in the first half at least — Manchester City last weekend." 

Nine of the side that lost to Man City last week played in the 2-1 victory over City at Upton Park so we know that they can produce. The players owe us a decent performance at QPR tomorrow and if they don't do it, Allardyce, for all his innate caution, should bring in a few kids who will have something to prove. Yes, they might make mistakes, but no-one is going to criticise them too much if they're trying their best and want to play for the shirt. 

Wednesday, April 22

Cheap seats!

Good news that West Ham are reducing season ticket prices for the first season in the Olympic Stadium, with the cheapest seats going for £289 and children's season tickets a very reasonable £99. It's not quite the completely altruistic gesture it might seem, in that it also makes solid business sense as the club is unlikely to fill an extra 20,000 seats at current prices. But even so, with most clubs charging obscene prices when with the massive new TV deal they could afford to let everyone watch for free, this has to be progress. Though it will be interesting to hear if the prices for existing season ticket holders are also going down.

Meanwhile the Guardian has a worrying report claiming that the Olympic Stadium deal might contradict European Union state aid laws, as Boris Johnson and the London Legacy Development Corporation did not obtain 'prior approval' from the European Commission. If the deal was challenged it seems it would be the LLDC and Boris who would be first in the firing line, though in a worst case scenario the Guardian claims the club could be asked to contribute to the £138.9m drain on the public purse. Still, West Ham and the LLDC insist the deal complies with all regulations and you'd hope that the combined business brains of Karren Brady, David Sullivan and David Gold have got this one watertight. Though after Tevezgate, like most West Ham fans, I'm always worried when M'Learned Friends get involved in football…

Monday, April 20

A stroll in the sun for City

Manchester City 2 West Ham 0

Any team on a bad run of two wins in eight will always end it against West Ham. So no surprise about the result at the Etihad.

Luckily I’m on a train to Waterbeach while the game is live on TV, so have to rely on the MOTD highlights. A free kick just wide from Kolarov indicates the early pressure from City. City’s breakthrough is a classic own goal from James Collins. Jesus Navas (hang on, isn’t Jesus Andy Carroll?) wins a header against Cresswell and fires in a cross towards James Collins. The defender has to get something on it, but from 18 yards out slices the ball up in the air and in off the bar like a Ginger Pele, only at the wrong end. 

It’s not quite as good as Iain Dowie’s own goal at Stockport, but it’s up there with the all-time greats. It’s a freak goal of course, and typical of the luck of a team that’s been struggling since Christmas. 

West Ham then have a chance as Valencia does well to dispossess Demichelis and plays in Cole. But Hart has come off his line quickly and blocks Carlton’s effort on the edge of the box.

City then get a second from a West Ham free kick. Cresswell’s punt into the box is cleared and Downing picks up the ball on the right, trying to play a square ball to Song. Toure nips in to win the ball and City break at speed with Navas and Aguero exchanging passes for a classy second.

My main fear at half-time is that it will be a thrashing. At least we keep it down to 2-0 and it becomes almost too easy for City. Silva has to go off after a nasty clash with Kouyate's elbow, though it looks unintentional and more a result of their contrast in heights. West Ham, with Nolan on for Cole and Jarvis replacing Song, create three late chances. Nolan finds Jarvis on the left and he produces a good cut back only for Downing to take too long with his shot. Valencia then produces a great dribble from the left, beating two City defenders and flashing the ball across goal, with Nolan just failing to prod it in. Finally a suicidal backpass from Jesus Navas presents Nolan with a one-on-one, but again Hart is out quickly to block what should have been a goal. So a little hope in our late rally.

But Big Sam is worryingly deflated after the game and Jason Roberts makes some good points on Match of the Day about the uncertainly of the managerial situation causing some players to drop their performance levels by ten per cent. If so then that’s a disgrace, but as a former pro Roberts presumably knows how footballers react. The media won’t let this situation go away and surely it’s time for the chairmen to either say Sam is going or give him a new contract.

Meanwhile it’s now two wins, six draws and eight defeats in the 16 league games since Christmas. That run has included Chelsea and Arsenal home and away and difficult games against Man City, Man United, Liverpool, Southampton and Spurs. But even so, it’s extremely worrying. The next two matches are against strugglers QPR and Burnley, and if we don’t play with 100 per cent commitment we’ll lose.

Friday, April 17

Monk fishing

The Daily Star printed a story claiming that West Ham are considering Gary Monk as manager. He's clearly a promising young manager, a Londoner and doing a great job at Swansea. But would he really be the answer? He's had one and a half seasons managing Swansea, where he was previously captain and knew the club. He also took over a good side that had won the League Cup and been largely built by Brendan Rodgers and Michael Laudrup. At a new club he might find things more difficult and would we want him to have his first bad patch the season before the Olympic Stadium move? Yes, he'd come cheaper than Big Sam, but we don't want to recruit solely on that basis.

It's worth considering the replacements we might have had had Big Sam gone last year; Malky Mackey, who would have been caught up in a racist/sexist/homophobic/anti-Semitic text scandal and Gus Poyet, who after a great end of season at Sunderland failed to inspire this time and ended up getting sacked. Despite the post-Christmas slump this has been a promising season with better football and some good signings. Allardyce virtually guarantees we stay up next season; any new manager would have to offer an improvement on that.

Wednesday, April 15

Chelsea after Cresswell while Cole remains indestructible

More bad news this week. First Liverpool were claimed to be trying to hi-jack West Ham's move for Carl Jenkinson (valued at £10m by Arsenal) and now yesterday's Evening Standard claims that Chelsea are considering bidding for Aaron Cresswell, with Man City also interested. Cresswell has been just about our best player this season and is a bargain at £3 million. Every player has his price, but even so to lose him would send out the wrong signal for next season.

Meanwhile there's more problems on the injury front. Diafra Sakho has aggravated an existing thigh injury against Stoke (should he have played at all?) and will be out for several weeks, while Enner Valencia was trodden on by a Stoke player and could be absent against Man City. Which would leave Carlton Cole as our only recognised frontman at City. You do have to admire Carlton's durability; at various points he's been ranked behind Dean Ashton, Bobby Zamora, Freddie Piquionne, Demba Ba, Robbie Keane, Victor Obinna, Andy Carroll, Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia, but is still at Upton Park and still getting his share of games.

The side badly needs shaking up at City but we're running out of options. Certainly Morgan Amalfitano should get a game and maybe Nene and Matt Jarvis too. Diego Poyet might also be worth a chance as he's young and hungry. The biggest enigma is Alex Song, who started well against Stoke but faded again, having been our best player earlier in the season. According to the Sun he wasn't happy at being subbed. Is he unfit, out of form or resigned to moving on?

Sunday, April 12

Arnie terminates Hammers' hopes of three points

West Ham 1 Stoke City 1

Best part of the day is showing Terry and David, my mum’s Stokie relatives, the sights of the East End. First it’s Ken’s CafĂ© where they find the bacon egg and chips almost as palatable as oatcakes and then a stroll to the Central, where I explain the rubble in the beer garden is surely a distressed design feature introduced by hipsters (possibly). We sup from plastic skiffs in a garden full of Stoke fans drinking from pitchers of ale and Terry bumps into a pal from Leek. Then it’s on to the ground to take in the pre-match atmosphere.

The game has an end of season atmosphere in the sunshine and the crowd is unusually subdued as the Stoke fans ask, “Is this a library?” West Ham have a good opening 15 minutes. Collins gets his head on a corner and Kouyate blazes across the goal. After 12 minutes Valencia is fouled by Whelan on the edge of the area. Nigel offers to bet Matt £100 that we’ll score. Being a vicar’s son opposed to all vices, Matt foolishly declines, as Aaron Cresswell curls a screamer into the top corner. A great start for the Hammers.

Instead of capitalising on an early goal we allow Stoke into the game as Moses and Walters get in dangerous crosses and N’Zonzi and Adam dominate midfield. Moses hits a shot wide and manages to injure himself in the process. A swift break just before half-time sees Valencia do well and Kouyate scuff his shot wide of the post.

The second half is our worst performance of the season, with the entire side donning flip-flops and the midfield disappearing. Song and Noble have faded after a promising start and Downing has hardly been in the game. Arnautovic has the ball in the net from Adam’s through ball, but it’s disallowed, correctly, for offside. Allardyce takes off Song for Nolan in a bid to restore some leadership. Sakho goes off injured and is replaced by Cole after 59 minutes, which doesn’t help us. Cole’s nuisance value does allow Kouyate to burst through and hit a decent shot that Begovic parries, but it’s our only effort of the half.

Stoke enjoy an astonishing 65 per cent of possession in the match as we try to sit back and play on the break. Valencia isn’t fit to last the game and is replaced by Amalfitano after 78 minutes. West Ham receive another warning as Ireland Crosses and Diouf hits the inside of a post with a header. Cole has a rare header wide from Downing's cross and then it's back to Stoke domination. It looks like we might limp home to an undeserved win until the five minutes of added time. West Ham are second to the ball all afternoon and the lack of pressing is terrible. The players don’t look like they’re playing to save Big Sam’s job and it seems astonishing that this was the side that beat Man City and Liverpool.

We escape again as Ireland crosses for Arnautovic to net, only for the goal to be again ruled out for being marginally offside. It’s into the fifth added minute and we lose two headed challenges, allowing Arnautovic to run at our defence, outspeeding Reid and Cresswell and finishing well with a shot into the corner in the corner. The away end erupts and it’s a deserved equaliser. It’s hard to even be disappointed, as we’ve so manifestly not deserved to win.

“On the positive side, we’re now safe on 43 points,” I quip.

At least there’s another drink in the Central afterwards and the chance for the Stokies to see Amir Begovic getting into a black people carrier in the car park. We can’t switch off with six games to go, and this was an unprofessional performance.  Some of the team might be new to the Premier League but other teams have that problem too. Players should be dropped/rested and posteriors kicked before we play at Man City.

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

Saturday, April 11

So before they come to break down the door…

Rather bizarre to have Sam Allardyce saying in the Evening Standard that his job has been linked with Rafa Benitez, David Moyes, Marcelo Bielsa, Steve Mclaren, Slaven Bilic, Eddie Howe and Gus Poyet this week. He also produces some Rafa style facts, including the claim that he would have been sacked if West Ham had had a bad run like this at the start of the season — though the evidence from last season suggests Gold and Sullivan tend to stick with managers mid-season. The sooner we get the managerial situation sorted the better as it's taking up too many headlines. Meanwhile there are rumours in the Mirror that Liverpool are trying to hi-jack Carl Jenkinson…

Terry and David, two of my relatives on my mum's side from Stoke, are coming down today to sample the full Upton Park experience of Ken's Cafe, the Central and Black Lion, so let's look forward to a dour goalless draw. Although today's Guardian says Peter Crouch needs just one headed goal to match Alan Shearer's PL record. Let's hope he stays on the bench.

Wednesday, April 8

Andy's Angel of the North

Here's something to cheer us up… Andy Carroll has had a 15-foot tall replica of the Angel of the North sculpture installed in the garden of his Chigwell mansion. Should go well with Billi's pink decor. If Big Sam visits and spots a big Iron bloke with outstretched wings he may well draft him in to the side to solve our problems up front. The Angel might not be that mobile, but he would be a lot less injury-prone than Andy and Enner.

Saturday, April 4

Hammers out-Foxed by King

Leicester City 2 West Ham 1 

Playing away against the bottom club in a must-win game for Leicester, what could possibly go wrong? Not much we can do about Cambiasso's opener after 12 minutes, as the ball rebounds off Collins and the Leicester man fires home a superb volley from the edge of the box. West Ham almost equalise immediately as Schmeichel makes a great save after Kouyate shoots from Sakho's knock-down. Then it's back down the other end and a penalty to Leicester after Jenkinson upends Ulloa. Adrian is off his line but produces a fine save from Nugent's penalty. West Ham come right back into it after that and after Nolan heads a great chance wide from Downing's cross. Then Song plays in a deep cross, it goes over the head of a Leicester defender and Kouyate chests it down to fire home into the corner. A well-taken goal from the big man.

In the second half, fired by a noisy crowd, Leicester come at West Ham and miss several chances. But the impressive Kouyate hits the post from Sakho's knock-down and Downing sees a deflected shot brilliantly tipped over by Schmeichel. Cresswell clears one off the line and it looks like we're going to get a point until the 86th minute, when a left-wing cross causes mayhem in the box and Andy King manages to divert a mishit shot in off Adrian's hands. There's still time left for Adrian to make a good one-on-one save from Vardy.

A big win for a desperate Leicester and looks like a decent game, but that's no use to us. West Ham have to target wins from the Stoke, Burnley and Everton home games and hope to pick up points from at least one of the games at QPR, Villa and Newcastle, assuming we'll get tonked at Man City. Otherwise our season is going to end with a whimper.

Wednesday, April 1

The sad story of Jack Collison

Very good piece in Monday's Guardian on Jack Collision. Sadly he's now without a club having been released by Ipswich following yet more injury problems. The article by Jacob Steinberg really gets over the pain and frustration he's been through following a freak injury at Wigan. Jack looked like developing into a really strong goalscoring midfielder in 2008-09, starring in a 4-1 win at Portsmouth and getting the winner against Manchester City three days before his injury.

He showed tremendous bravery playing against Millwall two days after his dad died in a motor bike accident and helped West Ham get back to the Premier League with his two goals at Cardiff in the Play-Off Semi Final of 2012. But his career has cruelly been hampered by that knee injury. Jack reveals that he played in the Play-Off Final with a jab and "could hardly move." Let's hope he can make some sort of recovery and eventually get back to playing again. And if he doesn't he's now doing a degree in sports writing through the PFA. Best of luck for the future, Jack.