Sunday, October 30

Nothing doing at Goodison Park for jaded Irons

Everton 2 West Ham 0

Watched this one in the Whittington Stone with Matt and Lisa over a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. One great save from Adrian in the first half and a couple of efforts at goal from Payet and Lanzini as West Ham made a good start, plus an Obiang chance over the bar when he should have scored. But the second half was a big disappointment. Not sure what Reid was doing for the first goal, as his failure to win the ball allowed Bolasie to cross to the unmarked Lukaku, who is contractually obliged to score against us. Winston had initially given the ball away and Adrian could only parry Coleman shot, followed by fatal hesitation from Reid and Cresswell allowing Bolasie to beat them to the loose ball. Everton's second saw West Ham again lose possession in a sloppy fashion and Kouyate wasn't tight enough to goalscorer Barkley. 

We had our moments. Noble had a great effort tipped away at 1-0, sub Ayew was thwarted by a good tackle and Antonio failed to capitalise when through after Williams' mistake. A comfortable win for Everton in the end though and we're still in trouble. Subs Zaza and Feghouli made West Ham worse and as Matt pointed out, we are ten games in without a striker who has scored. Yes, the side looked tired after their efforts on Wednesday, but we could have got something from this if the performance level of the whole side hadn't dropped. Stoke now becomes a six-pointer.

Saturday, October 29

Goodbye to Boleyn out on Nov 15

Delighted to say my new book Goodbye to Boleyn is out on November 15, published by Biteback. It tells the story of West Ham's final season at the Boleyn Ground and the first games at the London Stadium. Plus chapters on the pubs of Upton Park, Ken's Cafe, the Newham Bookshop and lots of memories of Bobby Moore, Trevor Brooking, Paolo Di Canio, Christian Dailly (the love of my life), Two Bob Ray and Smooth Steve in the Central, sticky carpets in the Boleyn, blokes singing on pool tables, Bill Remfry, Mr Moon, my pal Matt's lucky Dukla Prague away shirt and the whole match day experience that was Upton Park. Phill Jupitus has very kindly supplied a cover quote: “Essex scribe and literary Hammer Pete May writes with humour and eloquence about the most turbulent year of change at the Boleyn since Ken’s Café got a tub of Flora.” Click on the link to pre-order.

Friday, October 28

Should stadium security be such a big story?

West Ham are rightly banning 200 fans identified as throwing missiles and confronting the Chelsea fans on Wednesday, and hopefully Chelsea will do the same to their offenders. But the press do seem to be making a lot out of the stadium security story. Does it warrant two and a half pages in the Guardian and three pages in the Sun and Daily Telegraph? The security line did hold and there was no actual fighting, while outside the ground trouble appears to have been largely prevented. The scenes shown on TV looked terrible, but the riot police moved in within 60 seconds and the idiots doing the taunting and throwing will be easily identified on the closed circuit TV pictures. Yet now we have rent-a-quote MPs suggesting the ground should be shut.

There's also a press myth that there has been constant trouble among the 57,000 fans at the London Stadium. The four arrests against Middlesbrough are often cited, though two of these were apparently for touting and smoking cannabis and that's a lot fewer arrests than we used to get at Upton Park. There was very limited trouble between a few home fans over standing up at the FC Astra and Watford games and some problems with holding the segregation line against Watford, but that's it. 

Manchester City fans smashed up the sinks in the away end at Old Trafford on Wednesday and it gets much less coverage. There's been trouble at other grounds and last season's Europa League Final that has mostly gone unreported. I've seen punch-ups and riot police round the back of the old East Stand at Upton Park on many a night. Remember the Millwall League Cup game? It wasn't a haven of tranquility. Could it be that some sectors of the press resent the public funding that has gone into the London Stadium and want it to fail?

Though it's fair to say that there are problems with the design of the stadium. At present it seems you can walk all the way around it and it needs more effective barriers between the stands. The area of empty seats between the home and away fans didn't work either, as the fans involved in the trouble simply ran across it. The stewarding has to improve and LS185 is at least using more experienced football stewards now. The police will get their Airwave radio soon which will improve security. We should also remember that Wednesday night was a cup game with many people attending who are not season ticket holders. At league games the club should know exactly who is seated next to the away fans and be able to confiscate the season tickets of any miscreants. 

And yes, the fans too have to accept their share of responsibility for behaving well. There were always going to be problems in the first season at the new stadium; but separating the home and away fans should not be insurmountable, nor should excluding the small minority of West Ham fans who still want some 1970-style aggro.

Thursday, October 27

Fernandes gives Chelsea the blues…

West Ham United 2 Chelsea 1 (EFL Cup)

Outside the stadium there are bizarre messages on the big screen informing us about “post-match egress”. 

“It’s as if the stadium signage has been written by Boris Johnson,” suggests Matt. 

Wordsmith Lisa says egress means exit. And later it turns out some fans have perhaps misread the instructions and been a bit too egress-ive.

Then it’s time to shift Steve the Cornish Postman’s ticket as Roz from Laindon who is inside the stadium uses her mobile to direct myself and her partner’s son Dean to a rendezvous outside Gate H in a race against time reminscent of Hunted.

It’s the best atmosphere we’ve had in the London Stadium as West Ham kick off against a strong Chelsea side. The away fans chant “Your ground’s too big for you!” Noble clatters into his first tackle and Kante fires too close to Randolph, but West Ham’s strikerless formation is soon causing Chelsea’s back three all sorts of problems.

West Ham take the lead after 11 minutes. A Payet corner is headed clear, Mark Noble plays it back in from the left and Cheikhou Kouyate rises above Terry to power home a fantastic header from the edge of the area. We’ve started with real intensity.

Lanzini’s run finds Payet having a decent shout for a penalty as Antonio fires wide from the melee. Then Randolph has to be alert to tip over Chalobah’s rising shot.

Strange things are happening on the screens. Fraser wonders why the big screens are telling us to, “Stand up if you love the darts.” Surely that’s banned? And then we spot an advert that has misspelled accommodation.

Antonio is excellent, turning David Luiz and setting up Lanzini who pokes wastefully wide. Terry has to foul Antonio yet again and Payet has a whipped free kick tipped away by Begovic. Then Obiang unleashes a thunderous effort that Begovic saves at full-stretch. "Can we play you very week?" ask the crowd.

Willian looks dangerous at times though and Chelsea should equalise as Batshuayi fires over and Oscar prods wide before the break. But West Ham are deservedly winning and it’s been a great first half. The whole side has performed well, Noble has played like the game really means something to him, and it’s much more like the team that turned out at at Upton Park last season.

There’s not much to moan about at half-time as Nigel munches an executive box-style prawn sandwich and then his lucky banana. Michael’s using his theatrical away season ticket so I text to tell him the first act has been staged very successfully with Antonio outstanding.

The second half sees the Hammers running at Chelsea again. Antonio beats Luiz and plays in Payet whose shot is blocked by Begovic. Noble manages to recycle the ball to Edimilson Fernandes on the right, who steps inside a defender to fire low into the corner with his left foot. The London Stadium erupts. Seems like our ground’s too big for Chelsea now. Nigel suggests that there’s something in the air tonight, Fernandes.

For the first time the whole stadium seems to sing as one in a chorus of, “Stick your blue flag up your arse!”

Payet and Antonio break again and Noble fires wide at the end of the move. A worried Conte brings on Hazard and pantomime villain Diego Costa. Willian slices wide after being set up by Costa and Hazard hits the bar as Chelsea try to save the tie. But the Irons still threaten on the break and sub Andre Ayew heads just wide from a superb Payet cross.

Costa slices wide, but then it’s sadly apparent that there’s trouble at the away end.  A Chelsea fan breaks through the stewards and taunts the West Ham fans, while elements in both sets of fans seem intent on getting through the line of stewards, seats are being thrown and there also seems to be trouble in the concourse. It’s stupid because the fans doing this will get lifetime bans. Keeping the fans separate should be a pretty basic task, as it was at the Boleyn. Surely some sort of barrier in the concourse could be erected to isolate the Trevor Brooking Stand?

The media hasn’t helped by writing so much about the likelihood of trouble, but its no excuse. If your idea of a good time is to spend the latter part of the match trying to get at the away fans then we don’t want you at West Ham. We all know the headlines will be about this now and not a great game.

Sub Zaza sets up Payet who shoots too close to Begovic. Cahill pulls a scrappy goal back for the Blues at the end, but it’s still a great victory and performance from the Irons. And for all the idiotic actions of a few hundred Herberts, it’s also a sign that a London derby under the lights at the new stadium can generate an atmosphere that isn’t that far off the intensity of Upton Park.

We retreat to the King Edward VII where we have to convince the bouncers we are West Ham fans (Nigel produces his WHU lanyard) and are joined by Gavin, who has just got Trevor Brooking to sign a Dinamo Tbilisi programme and over a pint of London Pride controversially suggests that he prefers real ale to craft beer. The game is being portrayed as world war three in the media. We hear the draw for the quarter-finals and disappointingly discover that it’s Man United away. Just have to get to the semis the hard way now.

A great performance on the football pitch if not in the stands.

PLAYER RATINGS: Randolph 7; Ogbonna 7, Reid 8, Kouyate 8; Fernandes 8 (Feghouli 7), Obiang 8, Noble 9, Payet 8, Lanzini 7 (Ayew 6), Cresswell 8; Antonio 9 (Zaza 6) .

Tuesday, October 25

Should West Ham have kept Victor Moses?

It's nice to see Victor Moses finally getting a run as a right wing-back for Chelsea and playing really well in the demolition of Man United. With hindsight, you do wonder if West Ham should have tried harder to keep him after his loan spell ended last season. 

Moses was unlucky with injury and then the sudden emergence of  Michail Antonio. But he started off brilliantly, having an inspired home debut against Newcastle and running from the halfway line to make Payet's second goal. He also scored away to Manchester City and Blackburn. Victor made 15 league starts for the Hammers, though latterly he was restricted to coming of the bench. 

For the same money that West Ham spent on Tore and Feghouli we could probably have done a deal with Chelsea and Moses could have been competition for Antonio and filled in as a wingback too. Let's hope that decision doesn't haunt WHU tomorrow night against Chelsea.

Sunday, October 23

Winston wins it for the Irons!

West Ham 1 Sunderland 0

It’s into the (Clyde) Best Café with Nigel, Michael and Matt, who’s seen the kids at Little Heath in the morning. We’re also joined by my brother-in-law Drew and his ten-year-old son Jago, attending his first match. Jago quizzes us on who is the greatest player we’ve ever seen and after going through Christian Dailly and Steve Potts, we agree it’s probably Messi or Ronaldo. Then it’s a late trek past gridlock at gate G and into the stadium just after kick-off.

West Ham start confidently and have a good 35 minutes. Payet goes close three times; shooting just wide, drawing a save from Pickford and then hitting the inside of the post. Fernandes is getting forward well as emergency left wing-back and on the right Antonio’s pace is causing problems. Zaza goes close with an audacious overhead kick. Defoe gets in a softish shot and you can see Sunderland coming into it more as West Ham’s failure to score brings back the old doubts

At half time Drew buys Jago a bargain £3.50 box of popcorn, which he is going to throw at the players if they don’t score soon.

Khazri gets clear early in the second half but shoots too close to Adrian. For the rest of the half West Ham attack but lack creativity, with even Payet struggling. Antonio crosses too low into the first defender on several occasions and is hooked for Feghouli. The Albanian man plays with urgency, but like Antonio struggles to beat the first defender with his crosses.

Young Jago learns some interesting new phrases such as “get up you tart!” from the man behind us. Though he’s pleasingly willing on West Ham to score. Zaza is surprisingly replaced with Calleri and Ashley Fletcher gets on for the last 10 minutes. Fletcher makes one good break down the left only to cross to a defender. The crowd get going with some “Come on you Irons!” as we get more desperate.

Moyes brings on more defenders and this one has a goalless draw written all over it. We’re into the fourth minute of added time when Noble wins a corner. From the short corner Payet finds Winston Reid, who manages to get the ball from under his feet on to his left foot and fires through a crowd of players past the unsighted Pickford. The London Stadium erupts in relief as Winston runs to the corner. Calleri looks like he might be offside but as we quip, he seldom interferes with play. Never in doubt!

It’s going to be a long journey home for the Sunderland fans. Fraser, Matt, Michael and myself retreat to the King Edward V11. It’s a nice old-fashioned boozer with low beams, although the central heating is turned up to 11 and after an impromptu sauna over a pint we retreat into the beer garden, where a mural tells us the pub was built in 1904 and was originally the King of Prussia before changing its name in a fit of pre-Brexit patriotism.

We discuss what was our worst ever home win and decide that it wasn’t today as we played well for the first 35 minutes; the general consensus is that it was the 2-1 win against Hull’s ten men. Fraser and Michael head off in search of the hipster bar on the roof of the Stratford Centre (it’s only open in the summer they discover) while Matt and myself opt for the Overground where a drunk fans sits slumped in front of the doors before falling off the train at Canonbury.

We’re unbeaten for three matches now and kept a clean sheet for two since Obiang came into the side. Not a great game but the result meant everything today and the good thing is the Irons never gave up. Now we can start looking upwards.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6; Antonio 5 (Feghouli 5), Kouyate 5, Ogbonna 5, Reid 7, Fernandes 6; Noble 6, Obiang 6, Lanzini 5 (Fletcher 5), Payet 7; Zaza 6 (Calleri 5).

Friday, October 21

Time for Zaza to shine

It was encouraging to see Simone Zaza going over to the West Ham fans after the win at Palace and throwing his shirt to them. He's finally looking like part of the group. 

The latest news on Andy Carroll is bad. His knee injury was only meant to keep him out for four to six weeks but two months later he's still not training. Diafra Sakho is still unfit and Fletcher and Calleri are inexperienced, so we need Zaza to come good. 

Simone had a fine game at Palace working really hard and doing the unglamorous stuff of holding up the ball and winning headers. He's still scuffing his shots at times and when he did break through appeared to hesitate when he could have got a quick shot in. But that's a sign of a player lacking confidence. If he can just get one goal off the proverbial posterior then he'll probably look a completely different player. 

It's often forgotten that even Trevor Brooking struggled when he first got into the West Ham side and some of the crowd got on his back. You don't get to play for Juventus without knowing where the goal is. Let's hope Sunderland are obliging opponents and Zaza zaps the net.

Wednesday, October 19

Simply the Best

Hammers in the Heart reviews Clyde Best's new autobiography The Acid Test…

The title The Acid Test refers to an anonymous letter Clyde Best received threatening to throw acid in his eyes when he ran out on to the Upton Park pitch. As one of the first black players in British football, Best suffered terrible racist abuse in the 1970s. He recalls that northern grounds such as Leeds and Everton were often the worst, but rather than react, he would try to respond with his feet or head. Best recalls scoring a brilliant winner at Goodison Park after an afternoon of monkey noises and abuse.

Clyde’s father was a big influence on his outlook: “He said I owed it to everyone to make a go of my career, that what I was doing would serve as a barometer for generations to come.”

Best also has a lot of affection for manager Ron Greenwood, who told him: “The football doesn’t care what colour you are.” He was supported on the pitch by the likes of Bobby Moore, Billy Bonds, Geoff Hurst and Harry Redknapp.

It’s a different footballing world Best describes, where as a teenager he flies in from Bermuda on a Sunday and makes his way to the Boleyn Ground, not realising it will be shut. He’s directed to Jessie Charles, the mother of another black Hammer, Clive Charles, and ends up lodging with her in Plaistow.

Best recalls the long train journeys from Euston to the north where players and fans mingled. His first car was a Morris Minor (bought from Harry Redknapp’s brother-in-law) and after reserve games all the team would stop for fish and chips. When West Ham visit Bermuda on a summer tour he invites them to his family house, where they want roast beef rather than any local cuisine. Even when he marries Best only makes it to Ilford, rather than the mansions of today’s players.

With his heavyweight build Clyde looked about 25 when he broke into the West Ham side in 1969; but actually he was only 18. Reading The Acid Test makes you realise just what potential he had. In the 1971-72 season he formed a great partnership with Geoff Hurst, scoring 17 league goals and 23 goals in all competitions. He played in the epic League Cup semi-final against Stoke that went to four games and has never forgotten beating the Manchester United side of Law, Best and Charlton.

Had Hurst not been sold to Stoke the following season Best might have really developed as a club legend, but without Hurst’s experience he struggled, although he returned to find to net 12 times in the 1973-74 season (including a couple of memorable goals in a 4-3 win over Everton that this fan remembers watching from the North Bank).

When Alan Taylor, Billy Jennings, Keith Robson and Bobby Gould arrived in the 1974-75 season, Best, still only in his mid-20s, found opportunities limited and was heartbroken not to make the bench for the 1975 FA Cup Final.

Such was his affection for West Ham, he refused to sign for anther English team and left for the North American Soccer League in the United States with Tampa Bay Rowdies, where black players were much more readily accepted. He had scored a very respectable 47 goals in 186 league appearances for West Ham. A year later Best had a frustrating season at Dutch side Feyenoord before returning to the NASL where he played with many of the greats of the 1970s.

After retirement he set up a dry-cleaning business, had three years with the Bermuda FA and was awarded the MBE. Clyde comes across as a humble, grounded character in this book, with a real affection for his time in the East End. Some said he was too gentle as a centre forward, but he writes, “being remembered as big, strong and gentle? That’s OK by me.”

The current generation of black players should all be grateful for what Best went through. As Clyde’s father told him: “If I could make it better for black people coming in to the game that was success enough in itself. I honestly believe I was chosen to play football.”

The Acid Test by Clyde Best, is published by deCourbertin, price £12.99,

Sunday, October 16

Lanzini wins it for battling Hammers

Crystal Palace 0 West Ham United 1

Watched this one at the Coach and Horses in Stoke Newington High Street, which serves a fine pint of Hophead Dark Star. It all feels a bit ominous at the start, slipping to second from bottom and coming up against Pards and James Tomkins at Selhurst Park. But from the kick-off there's a determined attitude to this West Ham side. 

Playing three centre backs works really well; Kouyate is excellent and Reid and Ogbona get in countless brave blocks and headers up against Benteke. Noble makes some fine interceptions, Obiang does his usual steady job and wing backs Antonio and Cresswell threaten on the break. It's a huge psychological boost to see Aaron in the line-up again and early on he gets forward to fire into the side netting.

West Ham survive a scare when Zaha shoots wide when well placed, but take the lead after 19 minutes. Obiang plays a fine ball wide to Cressy, who interchanges passes with Payet before getting in a wicked low cross that Lanzini flicks home at the near post. 

It seems the Hammers have held out until ref Martin Atkinson points to the spot when Ogbonna tangles with Benteke, though it looks harsh. Luckily Mido appears to have been giving Benteke lessons in taking penalties as the Belgian giant scoops it horribly up and wide. "First bit of luck we've had all season," texts Matt from the River Dene in Basingstoke. Thirty seconds later Benteke strikes the outside of the post with a header.

In the second half West Ham almost double their lead as Zaza and Lanzini break, Manuel tries to round the keeper and Payet gets a shot in from the rebound. Antonio has a header cleared off the line from a corner. The ball is still in the box and Cresswell goes down. There's contact but instead of a penalty ref Atkinson books Aaron for simulation.

Within a minute Cresswell's arm brushes Zaha in a race down the left wing. Ridiculously, Atkinson gives Creswell a second yellow. Seems like luck has deserted us again. But West Ham battle on with ten men and the maligned Zaza has a hardworking and effective game up front, winning headers and taking the pressure off the defence in his best performance or the Irons. The tiring Payet is replaced by Fernandes and even Calleri does his bit by winning a free kick late on. 

It's down to Adrian to produce a great hand over the top to deny Wickham and after a nervous four minutes of added time we cling on to win. That could turn our season. We go 15th! Irons!

Saturday, October 15

Was Slaven too honest with Tomkins?

Slaven Bilic writes about the sale of James Tomkins in his Evening Standard column and if anything it seems that Super Slav was too honest with Tomka. He should surely have reassured him that he was vital to his plans and would play at least 30 games a season. Instead Bilic writes: "He wasn't a whole season regular in the team, though. I want to say that he never made any problems but we had a few talks and I couldn't guarantee he would play week in and week out." 

Had we held Tomkins to his contract he wasn't the sort to create problems, so it's just a shame Slaven wasn't a little more disingenuous. His honesty was admirable, but sometimes you have to do everything you can to keep a player and as Slaven himself writes of Tomkins, "he didn't really want to go." I just hope we're not haunted by the sale of Tomkins come May. 

But having said that, Reid, Ogbonna, Collins and Oxford should be good enough centre backs if they can find anything like their best form and perhaps the return of Cresswell and recall of Obiang will restore some much-needed stability to the back four.

Thursday, October 13

Aaron Cresswell's magic…

Great news that Aaron Cresswell is back in the squad for the Crystal Palace match. We've missed him more than any other player and restoring his partnership with Payet on the left could be crucial for improving West Ham's fortunes. Not only can he defend better than people realise, Cresswell's crossing will also benefit Andy Carroll when he's back in the side.

We'll be re-united with James Tomkins on Saturday and I hope he gets a big cheer from the Hammers' fans. The decision to sell him still looks like a massive mistake. James might have wanted regular first team football but he should have been held to his contract; ironically he would have played in virtually every game this season because of injuries. Having a local lad in the team raises the morale of the crowd and his loss also seems to have affected Mark Noble. It's going to be tough against Benteke and a rejuvenated Andros Townsend, but let's hope memories of our 3-1 win at Selhurt Park last season inspire the lads. Irons!

Tuesday, October 11

Calleri deal and Tore out

There's a long piece about the loan of Jonathan Calleri to West Ham in today's Guardian. It seems that the team WHU signed Calleri from, Deportivo Maldonado, is a tiny club in Uruguay that plays before 300 fans, but buys big name players and then loans them out. Calleri never played for Maldonado, being quickly loaned out to Sao Paulo. Maldonado is owned by unknown foreign investors and it's all very complicated, but you can read the full article via the link.

Meanwhile Gokhan Tore has injured his thigh and is out for five weeks. West Ham have spent a lot of money on loan fees this season; a reported £4 million on Calleri, £2.5 million for Tore and £5 million for Zaza. They are all foreign players new to the PL who will take time to adapt, but at the moment it's looking like £11.5 million has been squandered on three players we may not sign permanently.

Saturday, October 8

This is the Enner…

Not often a West Ham striker is seen on a stretcher buggy being pursued by police in a World Cup qualifier. Some extraordinary footage on the BBC News of Enner Valencia on a stretcher buggy being pursued by running Old Bill who want to speak to him about alleged unpaid alimony to his ex-wife. This all happened towards the end of the Ecuador versus Chile qualifier. It just needs the Benny Hill Show music… though at least Enner's Everton's problem for the time being. Next week he exits stage left pursued by a bear. It's also interesting to note that the Ecuador stadium has even bigger running track than the London Stadium. Click on the link to view.

Friday, October 7

Culture club

Normally the only Brand you want to see associated with West Ham is Russell. Karren Brady has caused some some social media huffing and puffing after appearing to say that West Ham had "no culture" when she arrived. But she was speaking at a Sports Business Summit so we should expect some corporate speak and Brady has tweeted to say that she was referring to the lack of a business culture, which I'm prepared to accept. 

Her full words are reproduced in the Evening Standard: “There were two interesting things about the club. One, it had £100million worth of debt. Two, it had no what I would call culture. At football clubs we don’t make anything, we don’t manufacture anything, we don’t really produce anything other than more players. So getting the culture right, being a place where something is expected of you, having discipline, planning and process and strategy. That wasn’t there.” And she did also say: "The [London] Stadium is not what makes a football club – it’s the people who support it.”

Whatever you think of it, the club certainly has a strategy now, and an extra 22,000 paying fans. Though as in politics, it's events, dear boy, that we have to watch out for. The club might be better at making money but it's the old-fashioned business of spending it badly that appears to be the problem this season — signing too many players with no experience of the Premier League who have mainly under-performed.

Sunday, October 2

Perfect Payet goal lifts the Hammers

Hammers 'goal' disallowed for push on Valdez
West Ham 1 Middlesbrough 1

The (Clyde) Best Café serves egg, chips and beans with disturbing alacrity and Nigel and Matt say the real coffee is actually quite decent. Then it’s a 20-minute dash through an estate, under the tunnel and towards the Orbital.

Having dropped Zaza we’re playing no strikers, possibly as a tribute to Sam Allardyce. After four minutes Byram goes for a diving header and looks like he’s pulled a hamstring. There’s a big cheer as a bizarre Wacky Races-style vehicle enters the pitch and carries poor Sam off. Arbeloa comes on.

Fischer fires just past the post for Boro, but after that it’s a decent first half from West Ham. Obiang, in for Lanzini, stiffens the midfield, Reid and Collins make some fine defensive blocks, Ogbonna is solid at left back and the side works much harder than in previous games. Seems like the team bonding might have worked. Everything comes down the left and Payet gets through to produce a good save from Valdes (who is he most decorated player on the pitch, says Matt). Dimitri has another effort just wide. Noble fires past the post and goes even closer when he chips an effort on to the bar having been set up by Antonio.

After half an hour we’re joined by Alison’s sister Roz who has been having her eyebrows groomed — which may well be preferable to watching West Ham in recent weeks.

Today is better though. A relegation struggle seems to create a much better atmosphere at the London Stadium as the crowd make a lot of noise to try and inspire the Irons. The main downside is the performance of Tore. He repeatedly loses possession and looks lightweight. When he balloons an effort over the bar  the normally mild-mannered Nigel launches into an expletive-laden rant at the Tore-ible winger. We’ve not seen Nigel this angry since he almost missed out on Deep Purple tickets.

Having got to the break level we then concede from a corner after 51 minutes. Antonio allows Stuani too much space to get in a header that is cleared by Noble, but has already crossed the line.

But West Ham keep going and Zaza, on for Tore, works hard. To their credit the fans stick with West Ham and are rewarded with a sublime goal. Dimitri Payet gathers the ball on the left, spins away from Barragan, then slaloms across the box beating four defenders. He appears to have gone too wide but with the keeper and defence off balance threads the ball into the far corner. The stadium erupts and Dimitri runs towards Slaven. We’ve just seen the goal of the season. “We’ve got Payet!” echoes around Stratford.

A fine through ball from Zaza sends Payet through again and he’s stopped by a professional foul on the edge of the box. The free kick comes o nothing and then the game goes back to a stalemate. Zaza and Antonio shoot wildly over the bar and after Antonio beats his defender for speed he’s left facing the keeper from a tight angle but blazes over. Forshaw has an impressive game for Boro in midfield and the Smog Monsters worry us a little in the five minutes of added time.

But it ends a draw and while that’s disappointing at least it stops our losing sequence and will instil some confidence.

Michael (who has been tea-total for September but is now back on the booze), Fraser and myself head off to the bar at the Theatre Royal, where Michael is watching Glasgow Girls, perhaps a musical tribute to Frank McAvennie. The Workshop Bar does a nice fruity IPA in White Rock and it’s a lovely old theatre. So not too bad an end to the day, even if there has apparently been some crowd trouble in the Park, perhaps caused by Matt and Nigel lobbing statistics at the Boro fans.

We still have to get a result at Palace, but this suggests the team is at least getting back to something like last season’s level of desire. Two weeks’ break now and Cresswell will soon be fit and maybe even Big Andy. Will that Payet goal prove a turning point?

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6; Byram n/a (Arbeloa 6). Reid 6, Collins 6, Ogbonna 6; Kouyate 6, Obiang 7, Noble 6 (Lanzini 5); Tore 3 (Zaza 6), Antonio 6, Payet 8.