Saturday, February 27

Antonio sees off Sunderland

West Ham 1 Sunderland 0

The big news in Ken’s Café is that Nigel’s doing warm weather training in Dubai, so Lisa has his ticket, and Matt’s met a barber who knows even more stats than he does. There’s a huge queue outside the Cafe, due to the 12.45pm kick-off and Michael the Whovian is way behind us with his big breakfast order. I’m with my daughter Nell, who’s worried we won’t get a table, but I explain that it’s an immutable law of Ken’s that one always materialises, as it does.

During our long wait we wonder if the venerable Fraser was at the 8-0 Sunderland match back in 1968, saying that Greenwood should resign as he only played four forwards. Turns out he wasn’t.

Our food arrives at 12.40pm. “I don’t care what they say about you Carol I think you do a fantastic job!” quips Mike, as she explains the vagaries of ticket-hunting fans and early kick-offs.

Nell’s impressed by the speed I manage to eat my eggs chips and beans, so I explain you can do anything with a kick-off as an incentive. “Treat everything in life as if you’re going to miss the kick-off and you won’t go wrong!” My aphorism appeals to Michael, who has moved to a separate table to begin demolition work on his big breakfast.

We arrive five minutes after kick-off, but haven’t missed much. I’m in Nell’s seat, which is the back of Row R in the corner, where you can’t even see the non-working scoreboard. Fraser says Big Sam was greeted by indifference, with the crowd’s ire reserved for Defoe. We think Sam might have been tempted to sign Paul Ince and Frank Lampard as human shields for this one too.

Sunderland are more difficult to beat now they’ve signed Kone, Kirchoff, Khazri and N’Doye. The game’s a scrappy affair with the crowd quiet after rushing their lunches. Khazri almost scores after some poor control by Adrian and then hits the top of the bar with a fine dipping free kick. In turn Noble has a thunderous shot tipped on to the bar by Mannone after being set up by Lanzini. You wish Nobes would try that more. We take the lead when Antonio wriggles through two defenders into the box and passes a curling shot into the far corner. A great effort and his fifth of the season.Mikail celebrates with a bizarre Homer Simpson "grass dancing" routine on the turf.

“You’re going down with Adam Johnson!” chant the Bobby Moore Stand.

Antonio has a snap-shot saved by Mannone and then it’s half-time. “You don’t want Carroll to come on against Sunderland because he’ll try too hard and get injured,” says Matt, “or Liverpool, or Newcastle.”

“Or anyone, really,” I add.

Michael makes a determined sortie to accost Irons-supporting actor Donald Sumpter, Lord High President of the Time Lords. He’s not interested in an interview with Michael’s friend Toby, but is available for read-throughs, so a bit of a result for our budding playwright.

The second half sees West Ham start slowly, and Sunderland create chances. Defoe volleys wide and Adrian makes a great save from sub Rodwell. Andy Carroll comes on for Emenike and makes things happen, though he should probably score when he volleys (or actually shins it, looking at the replay) Byram’s knock-down on to the bar. A couple of times Cresswell gets into the box only to fall over. But we see the game out thanks to good games from Ogbonna and Collins and a great late tackle from Byram to deny Rodwell.


Twist and Shout and Highway to Hell are on the PA after the final whistle as I try to extricate myself from the back of the stand. Not a great game, but we go up to fifth. “It was a bit like a Big Sam tribute game, really, a scrappy 1-0 win,” suggests Matt as we head to the Central. Big Sam is all over the BT screen in the pub, saying that Sunderland just need to be more clinical in front of goal. But it's West Ham who have respected the three points. We go fifth! And we're definitely safe on 43 points now.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 7; Byram 7, Collins 7, Ogbonna 7, Cresswell 5; Antonio 7, Noble 6 (Obiang 5), Kouyate 6, Lanzini 6 (Moses 6), Payet 6; Emenike 5 (Carroll 6)

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