Tuesday, March 31

We're all going on a European tour?

Intriguing piece in the Daily Mirror suggesting that West Ham might sneak into the Europa League through the Fair Play League. Places are allocated to Europe's three fairest countries and that currently includes England, with West Ham the fairest team in the Premier League. Ron Greenwood would be proud of that and it is surely proof we're not a long-ball team. A Europa League place would mean the season starting on July 2, though at least it would mean no more pre-season friendlies at Stevenage. Mind you, judging by how playing in the Europa League has affected Newcastle and Everton in recent seasons, perhaps we should start kicking a few people.

Saturday, March 28

If West Ham were a chick flick, which one would they be?

Liked the blog comment from Frankieboyhammer after the Sunderland game, who wrote: "Panned out like a chick flick, nothing happened for 80 minutes then a happy ending." Not sure which chick flick West Ham should be, though Bridesmaids and Ten Things I Hate About You might suit some recent seasons. Plus of course Clueless and possibly When Harry Met Slaven and Sleepless in Stratford. Any more suggestions?

Thursday, March 26

In praise of the Ginger Pele

Thought James Collins was the man of the match on Saturday. The West Ham website has some good stats, revealing that Ginge made 18 clearances, 12 with his head, won four aerial duels and made one successful tackle. It was a poor game, but what West Ham needed was character to get a result, and Collins has that in abundance. He never seems to complain when left out of the team for Reid and Tomkins, but always comes in and does a great job. He had another great game in West Ham's win over Manchester City earlier this season. The whole side showed character to battle their way to a result against Sunderland and what is often overlooked by his detractors is that under Allardyce the team spirit is the best it's been since the days of Alan Pardew. The side look like they want to play for each other and the manager. Hopefully now we have the confidence of a win the style will return too.

Tuesday, March 24

The appealing Kevin Nolan

Say what you like about Kevin Nolan, but watching the highlights of the Sunderland game on Match of the Day, you do realise how good he is at appealing to referees. First he was held back by Larrsson while going for Matt Jarvis's cross. After this happened he sank to his knees, raised his arms to the sky King Lear-style and then theatrically pummelled the turf with his fists.

In the second half he was held back by Vergini only to be incorrectly given offside because the ball had came off O'Shea. Nolan adopted the shocked expression of a man whose house had just been razed by rampaging Vandals and Visigoths, running to the referee, imploring for justice with his hands and declaring "it came off him!" When our Kevin retires you do feel he might have a career in the dramatic arts ahead of him.

Monday, March 23

Diafra Sakho: He scores when he wants!

West Ham 1 Sunderland 0

It’s an early dinner in Ken’s CafĂ© with my no-longer kids for a quid daughter Lola. Michael the Renaissance Man and Matt discuss why we shouldn’t have video evidence in games, which seems to be mainly because it would spoil the flow of the game and more importantly Matt wouldn’t be able to shout at the refs anymore. Lola asks where Marlon Harewood is now and Matt is able to inform us he’s at Hartlepool.

Then it’s on to the Newham Bookshop where Lola buys Ghostwritten by David Mitchell for her mum’s birthday. Though I always thought he was an old Fulham player. Or was that John Mitchell?

Inside the stadium we learn that Fraser has been advised by his doctor to avoid over-excitement, but West Ham games will be fine. While Nigel looks very pleased with the return of his West Ham hat that I rescued from a District Line train after the Chelsea game.

Sunderland look better motivated under new gaffer Dick Advocaat, and give West Ham a couple of early scares. Jermain Defoe, who’s frequently reminded that he’s not a popular man by the Bobby Moore Stand, crosses and Wickham produces a good volley that is blocked by Adrian. Kouyate is then caught out of position as a flick sends Defoe clear, but Small Paul Ince volleys over the bar.

West Ham dominate the rest of the half, even if it’s a scrappy game. A fizzing centre from Downing is just missed by Jarvis in the middle and then Sakho heads Cresswell’s cross wide. Jarvis produces a great cross into the box only for Nolan to be held back by a defender. Song produces a good long-range shot that Pantilimon does well to push wide.

The second half sees Nigel change his claret West Ham hat for a claret and blue hooped version in a desperate bid to bring WHU some luck. Carlton Cole comes on for Jarvis and does a decent job up front, holding up the ball and being a nuisance for the Sunderland centre backs.

Cresswell produces another fine cross and Sakho heads wide when he should score. A Collins punt into the box sees Nolan blatantly held by Vergini, but the ref gives offside even though the ball flicked off O’Shea.

The stadium clock stops and then moves backwards towards a singularity. Michael the Whovian believes it’s a time rift in E13.

Adam Johnson comes on for Sunderland and is promptly reminded by some members of the crowd that West Ham have a very good kids-for-a-quid ticketing scheme for games such as this. He brings more threat to Sunderland though and Van Aanholt’s long-range shot produces a good save from Adrian.

At least Matt never gives up hope (much), apart from the odd tirade at Downing and the ref. I reassure Lola that West Ham will still win, without really believing it. But then Jenkinson finds Noble, whose first pass is blocked, but as Nene climbs over Larrsson, the ball comes back to Nobes who dinks a great ball through to Sakho. Diafra finishes confidently into the corner, as Upton Park erupts with relief. “Diafra Sakho he scores when he wants!” sing the fans. Nene has got away with a foul, but we deserve a break after recent weeks.

The clock stopping has helped. We think there’s ten minutes left but actually there’s only three minutes of added time, as Big Sam brings on Joey O’Brien to waste some time. Poor game, great result. The side should regain some confidence from this and start looking up rather than down again.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6; Jenkinson 6, Collins 7, Kouyate 6, Creswell 6; Noble 6, Nolan 5 (Nene 5), Song 5, Downing 6, Jarvis 5 (Cole 6); Sakho 7 (O’Brien n/a).

Friday, March 20

Hamstrings, shoulders, knees and toes (and that's just West Ham's injury list)

Well, the good news is that Carl Jenkinson will be able to play against Sunderland and Carlton Cole is fit again. Not so good is the fact that James Tomkins has had an operation on his dislocated shoulder and will be out for several weeks, Enner Valencia is still recovering from his teacup-induced toe injury and Winston Reid is out along with Andy Carroll. Even Doneil Henry has managed to get injured while on loan at Blackburn.

So it looks like Kouyate and Ginger Pele will be our centre backs again. Allardyce should surely give Amalfitano a game as at least he's fresh after his suspension. The options would be a five man midfield of Amalfitano, Nolan, Song, Noble and Downing with Sakho alone up front, or playing Cole and Sakho together and dropping a midfielder. Plus there's always the enigma that is Matt Jarvis. He created two of our best chances against Arsenal but also blazed over a good chance and in the second half consistently crossed straight at defenders again. He's great at finding the space to get crosses in, yet always seems to hit the first defender. At £9 million we've yet to see his proper value and it looks like he'll move on in the summer.

As for Sunderland, we have to assume Jermain Defoe will get his usual rousing reception and score, so we'll need at least two. After that at least the international break will give WHU time to get some players fit. On a more positive note I'm taking my elder daughter who has only seen West Ham lose three times in 33 home games and whose last game was the 3-1 destruction of Liverpool. Let's hope she brings us some luck and a much-needed three points.

Tuesday, March 17

Managerial merry-go-round

Plenty of gossip in the papers today. Following the sacking of Gus Poyet at Sunderland the Daily Mail claims that Poyet and his representatives spoke to West Ham last summer about the possibility of replacing Sam Allardyce. The Mail also claims that Poyet advised his son Diego to join West Ham rather than Sunderland. Meanwhile the Daily Telegraph claims that West Ham are set to pursue David Moyes in the summer after putting his old Everton scout Tony Henry in charge of summer recruitment policy. The Daily Mirror suggests that although Dick Advocaat has been appointed manager of Sunderland for the rest of the season, the Mackems want Big Sam as their long-term choice.

It's doubtful that Diego Poyet would have been an upgrade on Allardyce and I'm not sure if David Moyes would be either. Both men overachieved with initially functional football and reached one cup final each, though Allardyce could argue he did so at Bolton and Blackburn, smaller clubs than Everton. But clearly there's a lot to to play for in the last nine games, both for Big Sam and the team. Meanwhile it's a shame Sunderland couldn't have kept Poyet in charge for another week. We have to beware the "new manager bounce" effect that might boost a group of players keen to impress a new boss. If they could just go 4-0 down at half time again please that would do nicely.

Sunday, March 15

Kicked up the Arsenal (again)

Matt, Michael and Lisa arrive at the Library
Arsenal 3 West Ham 0

There’s an ominous start to the day as even Fraser has gone down with injury, though we're not sure if a teacup is involved. So it’s down to myself, Matt, Lisa and Michael The Fan of the World’s Longest-Running Science Fiction Serial Whose Name I Forget. After cups of tea at my gaff we arrive at the Emirates to discover Matt Jarvis has grown a beard during his extensive spell on the bench. We later learn that Adrian has dislocated a finger in the warm-up but bravely plays on.

Arsenal start off dangerously with Walcott running on to Ozil’s flick and Collins robbing him with what at the time appears to be a great tackle, though looking at the replays it looks like it might have been a penalty. But West Ham defend well for the first 15 minutes and Jarvis is having some joy on the left. Noble plays a great pass through the defence to Jarvis, who crosses for Noble to connect well with a volley that Ospina scoops wide of the post.

The West Ham fans enjoy themselves by singing “We hate Tottenham more than you!” and  “Big Fat Sam went to Barcelona in a Ford Fiesta/He came back with Alex Song and said f**k off Iniesta!

The rest of the half sees a series of Arsenal chances. Chambers crosses for Ramsey to prod towards the roof of the net only for Adrian to tip it over. The Hammers’ custodian then produces decent saves from Walcott and a Sanchez volley. He then parries an Ozil effort towards Walcott who slices wide.

The half moves into added time and just as it looks like a good defensive performance will see us go in level Arsenal produce yet more high-tempo tippy tappy stuff from Ozil and co, as Giroud takes the ball off Ramsey and powers a great cross shot into the net. Nothing the heroic Adrian could do about that. Bugger.

West Ham at least have a go at Arsenal for the first 30 minutes of the second half. A Jarvis cross sees the ball stuck a couple of feet from the Arsenal line, but it’s scrambled clear. Sakho, alone up front, wins a corner with no support from the midfield as Big Sam goes mental on the touchline. From the corner a clearance lands at the feet of Jarvis who volleys horribly over.

Referee Chris Foy has to go off injured, inspiring a great chant from the West Ham fans of “You’re not fit to referee!”

Ramsey shoots wide for the Gunners. Alex Song, aided by Noble, is having a fine game in midfield but we need to get something from this dominant spell. Instead WHU produce a series of botched short corners, an overhit free kick into the arms of Ospina and a series of Jarvis and Downing crosses that fail to find their man.

We know Arsenal will suddenly up a gear. Song misplaces a pass and Collins has to retrieve the situation by booting the ball away for a throw-in. From the throw Giroud is too quick thinking for our defence, producing a clever dummy and playing a one-two with Aaron Ramsey for the midfielder to prod home on 81 minutes.

‘Two-nil and you still don’t sing!” chant the away fans, morphing effortlessly into “Three-nil and you still don’t sing!” as a six-man moves ends with Cazorla crossing and the unmarked Flamini drifting into score at the back post.

Kouyate at least makes a late surge from defence to fire over and at the final whistle takes the trouble to walk over to the West Ham fans and give his shirt away. Arsenal look a quality side, but when we’ve had chances with corners, free kicks and crosses we’ve failed to produce any quality.

We walk back to May Mansions where north London is full of beer, beer and more beer (and crisps and peanuts), which is at least a notch up on the Central. We’re up against a team that has just lost 4-0 at home next week. What could possibly go wrong?

TEAM RATINGS: Adrian 8; O’Brien 5, Collins 6, Kouyate 6, Cresswell 5; Jarvis 6 (amalfitano 5), Nolan 5, Song 7, Noble 6 (Nene 5), Downing 5; Sakho 6.

Saturday, March 14

Down to the bare bones (and that's just Enner)

Not sure what sort of team we'll be able to put out at the Emirates. Enner Valencia's out after his teacup upset and now James Tomkins has hurt his shoulder in training. Winston Reid is also still injured, Jenkinson isn't allowed to play against Arsenal, and Carroll is crocked for the rest of the season. So it looks like O'Brien, Kouyate, Collins and Cresswell at the back and maybe Amalfitano (who is at least available again after his stupid suspension) and Nolan in midfield. Not sure if Nene is fit to play 90 minutes, but he could be a useful sub to support Sakho. The last time we won at the Emirates Robert Green gave a ten out ten performance, so we might need something similar from Adrian today. Whatever the score we can assume that Allardyce won't be throwing any teacups — the chances of our players injuring themselves on them would be just too great.

Thursday, March 12

Toe no! Enner in bizarre injury

Not what we need going into the Arsenal game. Enner Valencia has cut his toe quite badly after stepping on a broken cup at home and could miss the match. He joins the latest in a long line of bizarre Hammers' injuries. This season Andy Carroll managed to cut his finger with a knife making lunch, though at least he didn't miss any games. Billy Bonds also once injured his toe, tripping over his slippers and falling downstairs. Steve Lomas injured his shin walking around Disneyland and Roy Carroll hurt his knee when he got tangled up in a goal net collecting balls in training. While in 2001 Hayden Foxe broke his finger after getting it caught in another player's bib. And that's before we mention Trevor Morley and Devonshire Flu…

Thursday, March 5

Who put the pen on the contract page? Winston Winston Reid!

Much better news today is that Winston Reid has signed a six-year contract with WHU for an estimated £65k a week wages. All it took was the threat of torture from Big Sam. Some good business by the club in recent weeks, signing Tomkins, Noble and Reid on long-term deals. And proof Winston sees us as a better option than those small north London clubs Spurs and Arsenal.

Stick your blue flag up your…

West Ham 0 Chelsea 1

It’s surprisingly easy to get served in Ken’s Cafe an hour before kick-off, with Matt and Lisa opting for isotonic cheesy chips and Michael the Whovian Playwright, who doesn’t normally eat in the evenings, opting for just the one big breakfast. Matt is still smarting from the cancellation of Billericay FC’s league fixture on Monday night. Fraser is away attending a Creative writing class on police procedure, presumably checking on how to arrest West Ham’s post-Christmas decline.

Meanwhile news comes through that the slightly injured Song is on the bench and Kevin Nolan is back in the side. We must be doing badly, as there’s talk of how we need Kev’s leadership.

Costa scoops over early on, but then West Ham have a good spell and come right back into the game, with Noble excelling in midfield. Reid has to go off early though, with a tweaked calf muscle, and is replaced by the Ginger Pele. West Ham win a corner and Courtois has to rush from his line to block Kouyate’s shot.

Terry is outpaced by Valencia and earns a booking for a cynical pullback reminiscent of an elderly nightclub bouncer. Kouyate then prods the ball across the Chelsea box and Sakho goes for the ball with his wrong foot as the chance disappears. Zouma has to go off for treatment after a clash with Kouyate and the Chelsea fans are regaled by a chant of “You won’t let him on the train!”

Just as we’re in the middle of a really good spell, Chelsea break and the classy Hazard finds Ramires on the right. Collins steps up to play offside but no decision is given and the unmarked Hazard heads home on 22 minutes. It’s rather like Kevin Nolan’s disallowed ‘goal’ at Man United. There’s not much in it, but the replays suggest the Chelsea man is just offside.

Shortly after the goal the late Mystic Morris arrives, protesting about the District line. It’s nearly two for Chelsea when Costa is through on goal but Jenkinson gets back to make a fantastic tackle. If he’d timed it wrong it would have been a penalty and a red card. We’re still creating chances though. At the other end Jenkinson gets in a superb cross and Sakho heads it down, only to be thwarted by a decent save from Courtois. Diafra really should have scored.

West Ham reallygo at Chelsea in the second half, even though Matt’s positivism only lasts 22 second before his first expletive. Kouyate makes the first of several surging runs from midfield and finds Sakho, who turns to slice wide.

“Don’t put this in your blog, but Nolan is in danger of being the man of the match,” suggests Nigel. Bizarrely, he’s right. The West Ham captain has been much more involved than usual, playing sensible balls, getting in tackles and organising the midfield against the likely Champions.

Downing is having a storming second half on the left and after his run and cross Sakho prods towards goal, Courtois parries and Nolan just fails to score in a big goalmouth scramble. Chelsea break quickly and Ramires shoots against Adrian’s post and the ball rebounds into the keeper’s arms. A good game for the neutral, if there are any, as “Stick your blue flag up your arse!” rings round Upton Park.

Adrian then has to make a fine save from Ramires’ header. Downing finds Sakho with a good through ball on the left and the West Ham striker, experiencing an off night, shoots against the keeper. Valencia’s shot is spilled by Courtois and Cahill has to make a saving tackle to prevent Sakho scoring.

Kouyate makes a fantastic run from the half way line, plays the ball to Sakho and is body checked on the edge of the box by John Terry.  Referee Andre Marriner, who has performed like a man in fear of the wrath of Mourinho all night, is fooled by Terry falling to the ground clutching his head and elects not to give the Chelsea captain a second yellow. The Bobby Moore Stand is reduced to the withering criticism of, “We want Mark Clattenberg!” surely the most unlikely chant ever to be heard at a Premier League ground.

Chelsea almost get a second as Cresswell clears off the line and West Ham have a penalty claim for handball ignored and Sakho heads a Downing cross over. Chelsea seem to block everything and celebrate at the end like it was this gritty performance that has won them the league. We’ve pushed them to the limit, but it’s another good performance without points.

We retreat to the Central where the TVs are off, but there is the entertainment of seeing backpackers ushered to their rooms (“But I thought it was the Central hotel? Where is Oxford Street?”) There’s even some bottles of Old Speckled Hen as we discuss if Costa is the ugliest player in the league (Michael thinks he is). 

This was much better than the Palace game and we’ve played well against all the top sides at Upton Park. Surely our luck is going to turn soon?

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6; Jenkinson 7, Reid 5 (Collins 6), Tomkins 6, Cresswell 7; Nolan 7, Noble 7, Kouyate 8 (Nene 5), Downing 7; Sakho 5, Valencia 6.

Wednesday, March 4

Sullivan versus Allardyce Part 97

There was an extensive feature on the perceived tension between David Sullivan and Sam Allardyce in Saturday's Guardian. Not a lot of new information, just the quote from Sullivan claiming that he signed Sakho and another generic quote from Sullivan that, "they're not geniuses, managers." Though the comparison between Modibo Maiga and Sakho, both similar-priced players from the French League, is interesting. 

Perhaps there is a power struggle. But what the papers don't seem to consider is that both parties might actually be happy to wait until the end of the season to make a decision. With eight of the last nine games against the bottom ten a strong finish should still be attainable and BS is not short of self-belief. The board didn't judge Allardyce on half a season last time, when he could have gone after the 6-0 defeat at Man City, so it seems consistent to judge the season as a whole this time too. Click on the link to read the piece.

Four-game ban for Jedinak

Mile Jedinak has received a four-game suspension for his elbow on Diafra Sakho on Saturday, and rightly so. It was hard to see the incident in real time but looking at it on Match of the Day it was a nasty and dangerous elbow to Sakho's face. Had Jedinak been sent off it wouldn't have made much difference to the game as it was in the dying minutes, but even so it would have been satisfying to see a red card and Palace go down to nine men. Let's hope Diafra's confidence isn't affected by getting an unnecessary clumping.

Tuesday, March 3

Hammer horror

Sam Allardyce appears to be a fan of maverick FBI man Jack Bauer in 24. At today's press conference he said of the Winston Reid situation: "He has an exceptionally good offer on the table but he won’t make a decision either way. We cannot get a decision out of him, unless we torture him. Cocktail sticks under the nails or ring up Jack Bauer, I’m sure he could get the answer out of him." 

If this all sounds like something inspired by George Orwell's 1984 it probably is. As my fellow season ticket holder Nigel noticed, at one point last season our back line contained Winston, O'Brien and Rat, who all feature in Orwell's dystopia. Big Sam is watching you, Winston.

Monday, March 2

Dylan Tombides in the Observer

Good piece about Dylan Tombides by Daniel Taylor in the Observer. It really got over how brave Dylan was just to train, let alone play while undergoing chemotherapy for testicular cancer. It was something of a medical miracle that he managed to make his West Ham debut as a sub in a League Cup tie against Wigan and fly to Oman for the under-22 championships. The full-page feature should generate support much welcome for the Dylan Tombides Foundation. Click on the link to read.