Friday, August 26

Brexit for the Hammers

West Ham United 0 FC Astra Giurgiu 1 (Europa League)

Stratford station is struggling to cope with 60,000 fans at commuter time, but after a ten-minute wait on the stairs it’s through the Stratford Centre to the Best CafĂ©, which Matt suggests was named after Clyde. In a bid to add colour to the blog Matt and Lisa have been on The Line sculpture tour from the Greenwich Peninsula to Stratford, looking at a Damien Hirst but sadly no Geoff Hursts.

We follow a group of fans down the back streets and go through a warren of back streets, railway lines and tunnels that eventually lead to the Orbital and the stadium. It makes Nigel’s legendary short cut from Green Street to the Black Lion seem a model of directness.

West Ham have yet another injury in Mark Noble and Masuaku is cup-tied, though £5 million new signing Edimilson Fernandes is introduced to the crowd and manages to avoid injuring himself stepping on to the pitch, which is promising. Without nine players, it’s basically a West Ham second X1 and we are overstocked with holding midfielders in Nordtveit, Obiang and Kouyate.

After good work by Reece Burke on the left Calleri fluffs a one-on-one with Lung and that appears to unnerve West Ham. It’s a stolid first half as West Ham struggle to create before Nigel arrives late from the office. Just before the break Bryam doesn’t seem sure what to do on the right and plays an ambitious crossfield ball to Burke. Reece miscontrols with his head, Astra break and from the cross Teixeira has drifted beyond Byram to slot home past Randolph. “What was Byram doing? Why can’t Burke control it, he’s a f**ing professional footballer! Where was our defence?” rails Matt at the unfeeling heavens, pointing out that the scorer couldn’t get anywhere near West Brom’s first team.

At least West Ham have to go at Astra in the second half with Valencia on for Nordtveit. Calleri has a header tipped away by the iron Lung, though he should have scored, and Reid heads wide from a corner. Sub Ashley Fletcher replaces the toiling Argentine and makes a big difference, immediately winning a free kick after running at the defence. Valencia’s free kick is a decent effort but, as they say, a nice height for the keeper.

There’s another big chance as Fletcher turns to shoot against the keeper. Astra indulge in some terrible time wasting (with Lung getting booked for taking forever to take a goal kick) and rolling around the floor, which certainly helps to rekindle the noise among the crowd. The weak ref earns a hearty chorus of, “The referee’s a wanker!”

Tore is dribbling into trouble and the crowd are getting on to him, while Antonio is trying too hard and not getting in quality crosses. It’s all too much for the Vicar’s Son: “What was that? Get it on target! What’s Bilic doing? What is the point of bringing on Collins up front, that’s embarrassing!”

Four minutes of added time lead to the inevitable conclusion. “That’s four games we haven’t beaten Astra in,” concludes Matt. Last season’s work has been undone and we’re not going on a European tour. The first defeat and the first boos at the London Stadium.

“It’s just like walking into a room full of really angry men,” says Alison behind us, reprising her 1988 remark made after walking into the Chicken Run after a long exile in Spain.

“We’ll win at Man City now,” I suggest, rather over-optimistically.

“Oh well, it’s only a game,” says a man on the bridge to Stratford.

“But not a very good one,” replies Fraser.

Michael the Whovian is absent watching The Roundabout at The Park Theatre, so I text him to say that at our show the direction and staging were poor while our cast corpsed on stage.

There's a laser shining from the stadium up into the sky that appears to be the board calling for help from Batman. After a 20-minute walk we find the Railway on Leyton Road, which is a good traditional pub that serves Doom Bar, and console ourselves discussing the smallest clubs we’ve seen West Ham at, coming up with Macclesfield, Crewe, Shrewsbury and Barnet among others

Better news is that we might be on the point of signing Zaza from Juventus, though it could be a mistake and we end up getting 99-year-old Zsa Zsa Gabor.

We desperately need to get bodies fit and someone who can score goals. And to take the positives, we don’t have to play Astra again for at least another season.

PLAYER RATINGS: Randolph 6; Byram 5, Reid 6 Ogbonna 5, Burke 5 (Collins n/a); Nordtveit 4 (Valencia 5), Tore 5, Obiang 5, Kouyate 6, Antonio 5; Calleri 4 (Fletcher 7).


mj said...

Talking of Doombar, the Black Lion was really empty a couple of hours before kick off. Seats available everywhere!

Pete May said...

Might be worth a visit! How did you get to the ground from there?

mj said...

Straight down the road past Plaistow station straight down past west ham park to Stratford high street. About 35 minutes trek to the turnstiles. I grant you it's a walk but it's easy to get served

matt said...

Well, I thought our leader May showed all the leadership West Ham lacked on the pitch and in the transfer market, with his choice of pre-match caff and after-match pub. If he made any blunders, it was in not going straight from caff to pub, but insisting on watching the match in between.

Pete May said...

The May regime is trying to restore traditional West Ham values like losing at home to unfancied Romanians Matt. The Black Lion sounds a good possibility MJ, I prefer to have a pint after the game but doesn't sound that much further than the half hour walk to Stratford pubs.