Friday, July 17

Tomkins finally sees off Maltesers

Green Street in July
West Ham 1 Birkirkara 0 (Europa League Qualifying Round)

It’s frankly astonishing to see Green Street packed with 33,048 fans on July 16. Always thought the close-season was overrated. Inside Ken’s Café Matt is causing a twitter storm by tweeting that I’m wearing my 19-year-old Dagenham Motors West Ham shirt as a tribute to Slaven Bilic, claiming that it’s the newest item in the May wardrobe. Mind you, this is coming from a man in a ‘lucky’ Dukla Prague away shirt that has so far seen us relegated at Wigan and a 0-9 aggregate defeat to Man City. And it's the same colours as the Birkirkara kit.

Meanwhile Michael the Whovian suggests that young full back Lewis Page is always getting turned, while I suggest he should be booked. We’re joined by a full house of Lisa, Fraser, The Gav and Nigel, who has hot-footed it from the taxi in which the Lib Dems held their leadership contest. Not sure what the summer games will do for our health though, as Michael tucks away his first big breakfast of the season with specially sautéed mushrooms from Carol and Matt and Lisa (fresh from the Helsinki derby) opt for cheesy chips.
Nice retro programme
At least we've got our pre-season striker crisis in early. Sakho is suspended, Carroll injured and Valencia only just returned from the Copa America. So we're down to Modibo Maiga (remember him?).

The game is predictably one-way in the first half. Maiga gets in a good cross that Amalfitano controls only to shoot over. Modibo puts a header over after a decent Jarvis cross and then produces a good save from the Haber after Tomkins heads across goal. Should have kept it down though. Cresswell goes close with a free kick. Modibo, who looks a bit stronger these days, is proving a nuisance though, and near the break hits the post with a fine effort from the edge of the box. Nolan also goes close with an overhead kick after the keeper parries a cross.

We lose momentum in the second half. Zarate looks busy and wants the ball, but when he over-elaborates and is tackled, the Maltesers break and Lilius fires just wide. Kevin Nolan goes off and the first — rather unfair — boos of the season can be heard around Upton Park. “Is it too early to say ‘Bilic out’?” I ask Fraser.

Young Martin Samuelson comes on for Amalfitano and plays it simple on the left. He doesn’t look like he wants to take on his man, but displays a good touch on his competitive debut. Bilic makes a Big Sam-style substitution, taking off Maiga and replacing him with the diminutive Elliot Lee when surely we need two strikers on against a team that has parked the bus. Plut comes on for the the Birks, providing some mild amusement in the week that Pluto was photographed (still suspect they might find some of Gary Strodder's clearances on the surface). Ten minutes before the end a row of eight fans in front of us all leave. Clearly they don't know West Ham.

After 90 minutes it looks like we’re going to face a cup final in Malta. Thankfully Mystic Matt moves into action as Samuelson wins a corner. “Our corners have been terrible all night and look at that, that’s another poor one…” Only the keeper lets the ball sail over his head and Tomkins chests home. Never in doubt.

A poor game against limited opposition, but in what still feels like a pre-season friendly we’ve got a win and there’s the likes of Kouyate, Jenkinson, Payet, Ogbonna, Obiang, Valencia, Sakho, and Carroll to return. Though Nigel thinks I’m being Panglossian, whoever he played for.

We head off the Central where they have finally stocked up on bottles of Old Speckled Hen. Nigel brings in a life-threatening chicken and chips takeaway, Matt asks questions about a Herzog film (strangely the woman selling dodgy dvds doesn’t have it) and buoyed by a spirit of summer lightness we drink three rounds. As we leave the staff at the Central are setting up the breakfast tables for the hostellers staying above the pub — who says West Ham don't put up Kirkirkara in style? Seems like the lucky vintage West Ham and Dukla Prague away shirts have finally worked their magic. Just.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 5, O'Brien 5, Tomkins 6, Reid 5, Cresswell 5; Jarvis 6, Noble 5, Nolan 5 (Poyet 5), Amalfitano 5 (Samuelson 6); Zarate 6, Maiga 6 (Lee 5).

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