Thursday, December 31

There's only one Ginger Pele!

It's great news that James Collins has signed a new contract, as I'm sure Big Sam would have loved to lure him to Sunderland and lots of other clubs would have been interested in him too. Ginge has been magnificent in recent games, holding the defence together at Swansea and Villa and having a storming game against Southampton. For all the technical ability of today's young stars a lot of them seem to be lacking in character; Ginge has that in abundance and through sheer effort and leadership he's inspired the men around him. On this form he has to stay in the team, even if it means dropping £10 million Ogbonna. And that ginger beard must intimidate most strikers before a ball is kicked...

Tuesday, December 29

Christmas Carroll boosts Hammers

West Ham  2 Southampton 1

Strange happenings on the way to the East Stand. Matt, Michael and Nigel report spotting a fan taking a dump under a Southampton fans'  coach — in the very same spot where Michael the Whovian dropped my Christmas card against Stoke. You’re shit, aaaaargh… Matt is so put off by the sight that he forgets to recycle his papers in the nearby container. So Upton Park will be seeing some new faeces in the transfer window.

Southampton should be out of sight by half-time. The Saints take the lead after a lovely backheel from Mane starts the move that sees Long cross low and Tadic bundle the ball in off Jenkinson. Collins then has to make a magnificent block to deny Davis and then shows some proper leadership by rollicking Zarate, Jenkinson and most of his team-mates. Jenks is out of position replacing the injured Cresswell at left back, Song is off the pace, Noble is misplacing passes and Zarate is having a frustrating game.

When the PA announces that Mr Moon has left the stadium the Saints fans respond, rather wittily, with “Mr Moon, he left ‘cos you’re shit!” Davis shoots just wide for Southampton and Adrian makes a couple of fine saves including a tip-over from Fonte’s header. Boos can be heard as West Ham keep playing balls into touch.

It’s so bad, Fraser quips at half-time, “Can we have Allardyce back?” Bilic makes some sensible changes, switching Jenkinson to right back and putting Tomkins at left back, then bringing on the returning Carroll and Lanzini for Zarate and Song. We immediately look a lot better and the crowd respond. Collins has a header cleared off the post and then Andy Carroll takes the ball off Tomkins’ foot to blaze over when he should score. 

It’s hard to know how much longer is left as the scoreboards are still not working and presumably Karren Brady didn’t get enough Xmas Amazon vouchers to cover the cost of a replacement. But Hammers keep pressing while Collins and Tomkins are solid at the back. Ginge plays on after injury and gets a rousing "One Ginger Pele!" chorus. Great news he's signed a new contract. Meanwhile Matt remains strangely positive after his sojourn in California, even after Valencia is scythed down and the ref completely ignores it.

We equalise on 69 minutes with a bizarre goal. Antonio runs into the box, takes a tumble and then a defender’s clearance bounces off his head into the net. And it’s not even Twelfth Night. A lucky goal but deserved on our second half performance. Ten minutes later it gets even better. Valencia crosses, the ball loops of a defender and Antonio heads on to the underside of the bar. Andy Carroll, sporting a new braided ponytail, does well to take a step back and head into the unguarded net before running into out corner of the East Stand. Never in doubt.

“Oh when the Saints go 2-1 down…” chant the gleeful Bobby Moore Stand.

Antonio then makes a thrilling run from the edge of his own area, outpacing the Saints’ defence but firing way wide. Shows his potential though and on a different night he might have had a hat-trick.

We hold on through four minutes of added time and at the whistle Bilic hugs every player. Our first win in nine, though we’re now unbeaten in six. And a much better return of four points from the two post-Christmas games, whereas last season we lost both of them. And a proper floodlit atmosphere to prove what makes the Boleyn so special. Irons!

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 7; Jenkinson 6, Collins 8, Ogbonna 6, Tomkins 7; Zarate 5 (Carroll 7), Song 5 (Lanzini 6), Noble 6, Kouyate 6, Antonio 8, Valencia 6 (Obiang 5).

Monday, December 28

WHU half-time verdict in the Observer

Check out yesterday's Observer for my half-time fans verdict on West Ham's season so far. Click on the link to read.

Drawing drawing West Ham

Aston Villa 1 West Ham 1

So Boxing Day ends with WHU's fifth successive draw. The latest injury victim is Jelavic who was replaced in the starting line-up by Valencia. A fine goal from Cresswell gave West Ham the lead in first-half added time. Found by Kouyate, Aaron drilled a great shot into the bottom corner from the edge of the area. Yet we allowed Villa back into it with a fairly soft penalty. Ogbonna should have been stronger,  but allowed Gestede to get in front of him and then tumble. Kouyate had headed Valencia's deflected shot on to the bar in the first half and Valencia went close with a late free kick that was tipped round the post by Guzan. Adrian also had to make a couple of fine saves. But we should really be beating a bottom-og-the-table team that hasn't won in 17 games, though there again it's the sort of game we used to lose. Now it's on to Southampton…

Tuesday, December 22

So here it is Merry Christmas everyone

A Happy Christmas to all blog readers, wishing you lots of Christmas Carrolls and Alan Dickens. Though before you enjoy the festive season too much, think of my pal Nigel's words about the Boxing Day trip to Villa Park: "We next play a team that haven't won in living memory and are bottom of the league. What could possibly go wrong?"

Monday, December 21

Another 0-0 at Swansea…

Swansea City 0 West Ham 0

Managed to see the second half of this in the Auld Triangle while preparing for our neighbours' party. Looked a pretty rubbish game, with Swansea having 73 per cent of possession. But there was still some encouragement in a determined defensive performance, with James Collins outstanding. With no Christmas Carroll (Andy's strained his groin) and also lacking Sakho, Payet, Lanzini, Moses and Reid this was a game for the squad to make up with teamwork what we lacked in class. 

Jelavic didn't get much of the ball and looked like he had no pace on the rare occasions he was played through, though Antonio tried hard and sub Enner Valencia produced a powerful shot that was tipped over the bar. A couple of first-half Zarate efforts were our only other efforts. It was so dull that Matt, Michael and Fraser in the pub were reduced to trying to name 1970s bands that had reformed with all their members still alive.

Adrian produced a superb save to deny Ki in the second half and Swansea ha a penalty shout, but otherwise Tomkins, Ogbonna, Collins and Cresswell looked comfortable. That's our third 0-0 in a row, which is some sort of West Ham record, but Bilic will be encouraged by the defensive solidity. West Ham haven't won in seven, but on the other hand we've drawn five of them. 

With Carroll and Lanzini hopefully returning on Boxing Day and Payet due back in the New Year we'll surely get that win soon. An away match at a relegation-threatened side was never going to be easy, it might not have been pretty, but it's sell encouraging to be picking up points.

Friday, December 18

Brought to book in Newham

It's not too late to do your Christmas shopping in the Newham Bookshop, London's best independent bookshop in Barking Road. And nice to see my Guardian piece on West Ham leaving the Boleyn Ground is now on display in their front window, next to Harper Lee and Mary Beard. Now that's literary credibility…

Thursday, December 17

Stamford Bridge is falling down…

So that's the third manager West Ham have got sacked this season; Brendan Rodgers went soon after Liverpool lost 3-0 at home to the Irons and Dick Advocaat resigned as Sunderland boss after blowing a two-goal lead against the Hammers. And now Jose Mourinho has gone. He always looked in trouble after West Ham beat struggling Chelsea 2-1 back in October. Haranguing the ref in his dressing room at half-time was particularly unnecessary and he deserved to be sent off — and when Danny Dyer was then seen taking both the moral high ground and the proverbial out of Jose in the stand you know he had problems. Of course it would be wrong to gloat about Chelsea and Mr Abramovich's problems, so therefore I'd like to offer a helpful suggestion. How about re-employing Avram Grant to finish off the job Jose started? He does after all have plenty of experience of taking London clubs into the Championship…

Wednesday, December 16

Flying So High: West Ham Cup Finals

If anyone's looking for Hammers-related Christmas books then there's now a print version of my e-book Flying So High: West Ham's Cup Finals. It has extra chapters on the 1976 Cup Winners' Cup Final and 1981 League Cup Final as well as accounts of West Ham's FA Cup wins of 1964, 1975 and 1980, the White Horse Cup Final of 1923, the 2006 FA Cup Final, the 1965 Cup Winners' Cup Final and the 2005 and 2011 Play-Off Finals. From Vic Watson to Geoff Hurst, Ticker Boyce, Alan Sealey, Trevor Brooking, Paul Konchesky and Ricardo Vaz Te all in one book.

Tuesday, December 15

Cherry picking with Junior Stanislas

Interesting interview with Junior Stanislas in the Independent. The former West Ham winger has really come good for Bournemouth in recent weeks after hardly playing last season, scoring twice to earn a point in a 3-3 draw with Everton, taking the corner that led to in the Cherries' winner at Chelsea and then scoring direct from a corner against Man United. I remember seeing him score his first league goal for West Ham against Sunderland in 2009 when he arrived in the team at the same time as James Tomkins. He also scored twice against Millwall in the League Cup and made 45 appearances for the Irons. He was perhaps sold too quickly by Big Sam, but has clearly benefitted from sampling the lower leagues with Burnley and Bournemouth. Click on the link to read.

Sunday, December 13

Keepers on top in entertaining draw with Potters

West Ham United 0 Stoke City 0

In Ken’s CafĂ© the Whatever Happened to The Likely Lads’ Christmas Special is on the TV as another likely lad, Michael the Non-Whovian, regales Nigel and his mate Michael the Plymouth Fan with the tale of how the Lord High President of the Time Lords (aka actor Donald Sumpter) was spotted in the East Stand. If he really is a Time Lord perhaps Donald could extract Lionel Scaloni from his timestream a second before he boots the ball towards Steven Gerrard in the 2006 FA Cup Final…

Meanwhile messages are coming through from Matt in California, who appears to have spent a little too long in Haight-Ashbury and now thinks that referees are beautiful people and that every West Ham injury happens for a karmic reason.

On the way to the ground, Michael manages to drop my Christmas card under a Stoke coach— the Stokies will probably assume it is a cryptic message from the ICF. Inside the East Stand we meet Fraser, who is wearing his best Dexys Mac and planning to write the final 4000 words of the first section of his novel after a cockney knees-up in the Central.

We’re without Payet, Lanzini, Sakho, Moses and Reid, while James Collins comes into the defence in preference to Jenkinson and Antonio and Song start. Kouyate has a long-distance shot parried by Butland early on, but after that Stoke have a good half-hour with Afellay prospering against the unprotected Cresswell. Van Ginkel pokes a great chance wide and then Arnautovic meets Affalay’s cross and prods it just wide under  pressure from Ginger Pele Collins. This gets a few Delilahs going in the away end.

Antonio has one surging run on the right only to dither in the box, but slowly West Ham come back into it at the end of the half. Noble has a penalty claim after picking up a poor Shawcross pass and surging into the box. Before the break Zarate dribbles in from the right, the ball breaks to Song, who finds Cresswell on the left. Aaron's cross nearly reaches Antonio, who is thwarted by a desperate Stoke clearance.

Half-time sees Nigel get out his lucky banana and Matt text to say his whale watching trip has been cancelled due to stormy weather, therefore, he quips, "no chance of seeing Benni or Mido." West Ham really give it a go at the state of the second half. Ogbonna’s long ball sees Antonio acrobatically volley only for Butland to make another good stop. Butland shoves Carroll's header wide. Stoke’s Arnautovic has a free kick deflected against the bar and then Creswell’s cross-shot has to be palmed away by the excellent Butland.

It’s turning into a really entertaining goalless draw as the festive crowd holler Bubbles and “Come on you Irons!” Zarate makes some fantastic dribbles into the box and steps into Payet and Lanzini’s boots, while Antonio is causing problems when switched to the left. Song appears close to returning to the form of last season, while Andy Carroll is looking fitter and more mobile, laying the ball off well and enjoying a good battle with Shawcross.

Both sides make attacking substitutions, with Valencia coming on for Song and strikers Diouf and Walters on for Stoke. Old boy Glen Johnson crosses for Diouf to shoot, only for Adrian to make a great stop with his feet. With ten minutes to go in a finely-poised game, some strange people are leaving early, causing a row in front of us, as Zarate plays a one-two with Antonio and dribbles across the face of the area and fires a great effort against the foot of the post. That would have been a great goal. From the second phase of that attack Tomkins crosses, Carroll wins the header and Valencia’s poke towards goal is smothered by the City keeper again.

Antonio gets a big round of applause when subbed and he’s the sort of trier the crowd will take to. His best performance since Twelfth Night. Stoke almost win it at the end as Arnautovic finds Diouf but Adrian pulls off another great save. The excitement lasts to the end as in the fourth minute of added time Butland spills a cross; Tomkins heads back into the box and Kouyate’s header is cleared off the line. West Ham might not have won in six, but it’s been a game where both sides have given everything and West Ham are deservedly applauded off.

So it’s the long walk to Plaistow with Nigel and Michael the Plymouth Fan, and then on to dinner at WHU legend DC. Fraser and Michael the Non-Whovian head to the Central, with Michael set to see Chas and Dave live, though the real attraction is the support, Darts. An entertaining game and at least the points are still ticking over in the midst of an injury crisis. Swansea away next and if we play with this spirit we might finally get that win.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 8; Tomkins 7, Ogbonna 6, Collins 7, Cresswell 6; Antonio 7 (Jelavic 5), Song 6 (Valencia 6), Noble 6, Kouyate 7, Zarate 8; Carroll 7.

Thursday, December 10

Winston out; Chadwell Heath kicked into touch

Nurse, the screens. And now Winston Reid is out for six weeks, having suffered yet another WHU muscle strain in training. All we need is a few teacup injuries and a bout of Devonshire Flu to round off the week. At least Bilic has identified the problem. He's brought forward West Ham's move to a new training ground at Rush Green to get away from Chadwell Heath. He tells the Evening Standard about the Chadwell Heath pitches: "With Reid’s injury, for example, they are slippery on the top but rock hard underneath, and it is a bad combination. We can live without the great dressing room, the kitchens and the free area for now." Though it does make you wonder why, in a multi-million pound industry, we've been risking our prize performers on iffy training pitches. And think I've just felt a tweak myself. Could be doubtful for Stoke now…

Wednesday, December 9

Lanzini and Moses crocked

Will the last fit player left at Chadwell Heath please turn out the lights? More bad news from the treatment room: Manuel Lanzini is out for six weeks with a thigh injury sustained in training and Victor Moses, who pulled up in the first half at at Old Trafford, could be out for a similar spell. So West Ham now have Payet, Sakho, Lanzini and Moses out, though slightly better news is that Enner Valencia might be in contention for Saturday's match with Stoke.

Still, it's a big opportunity for the likes of Carroll, Song, Zarate, Antonio, Jelavic and Obiang to come in and perform. What is clear is that without Payet and Lanzini we'll lack our main sources of creativity and might have to grind out more results with set-pieces and hopefully some headers from Andy Carroll.

But at least the defence is fit and another possible formation to counter our lack of attackers might be five at the back with Reid, Ogbonna and Tomkins in the middle and Jenkinson and Cresswell as wing-backs. It's a big test of the squad against Stoke now and the important thing is Bilic doesn't allow the team to use the injuries as an excuse for easing up.

Sunday, December 6

Is this the Emirates?

Manchester United 0 West Ham United 0

Away in Rye in Sussex celebrating our wedding anniversary for this one, but did manage to get the score after climbing St Mary's church tower and Ypres Tower and visiting the Mermaid Inn. Watching Match of the Day on a romantic Sunday morning it's clear West Ham had the best chances and were unlucky not to win. Moses hit the keeper in a one-on-one chance early on following Noble's fine through ball, Zarate headed against the post after De Gea fumbled a cross and Winston Reid hit the post with a great header from a corner.

The best chance of all came in the second half when from Antonio's first-time cross, Andy Carroll found Zarate with a great flick only for the Hammers striker to skew a great chance wide. Adrian did have to produce one great save from Fellaini and Martial hit an effort just wide late on for United. But generally it was a fine performance with Reid having a great game at the back, Tomkins lending solidity at right back and Song returning to add bite in midfield. Nice to see Antonio get 53 minutes on the pitch too after Moses went off injured. All this was achieved without the injured Payet, Sakho, Valencia and Lanzini, so it's a good sign of the strength in the squad.

Matt's been watching the game in California and texts: "Local Man United fans are dancing in streets of Monteray at the result." Match of the Day also showed a couple of incidents that could have resoled in red cards for Fellaini's over-the-top tackle on Tomkins and Schweinsteiger elbowing Reid in the face. Credit to the West Ham fans for chants of "Is this the Emirates?" and "Is there a fire drill?" at the end. And misfiring United were booed off by some of their own fans. Two points dropped, but undefeated at Arsenal, Man City, Liverpool and Man United is an exceptional achievement. Irons!

Wednesday, December 2

We're not getting Sakho in the morning

Diafra Sakho will be out for four to eight weeks, having torn a thigh muscle in the draw with West Brom. This is another big blow after the Payet and Valencia injuries, as his running across the line has been integral to Bilic's five-man midfield. Though he looked tired against WBA and with hindsight you wonder if he should have been rested. 

WHU have Andy Carroll to come in, but he's a less mobile player and we need to play to his strengths by getting the likes of Moses, Cresswell and possibly Antonio into crossing positions and perhaps playing a slightly more direct game. I'd also like to see Nikica Jelavic given a chance. He has a decent scoring record of 30 goals in 45 games for Rangers, 16 in 59 for Everton, and 13 in 46 for Hull City and is still only 30. The other option might be to move Victor Moses into a striking role. 

But it's still looking pretty thin up front and a loan move for a striker will surely happen. Sadly even the indestructible Carlton Cole is too old to do a job for us now, though he did help make a great comedy goal for Celtic against Inverness Caledonian Thistle last weekend, falling over and bamboozling Danny Devine into an own goal. Click on the link to view.

Tuesday, December 1

Wrecking balls at Upton Park

Very good piece in the Observer by Daniel Taylor, centring on West Ham leaving the Boleyn Ground. He points out that a third of all clubs have now left their traditional stadiums and that a lot of memories will be lost and businesses closed down. Looking at West Ham's move he covers all the right people around Upton Park, including Ken's Cafe, the Boleyn, the Black Lion, the Newham Bookshop, Nathan's Pies and Eels and Gary Firmager of OLAS. Plus a mention of Hammers in the Heart too. Well worth a read, even if it does make you a little misty-eyed. Click on the link to read.