Friday, September 22

Five tactical dilemmas for Bilic against Spurs

Seems like there's a number of tactical considerations for Slaven before Saturday's big game against Spurs…

WILL MARK NOBLE RETURN?
Nobes had a fine game against Spurs last season and knows how important beating Spurs is to the fans. But even if he is West Ham through and through Mark is now 30 and has played since he was 17. He was restricted by a hernia last season but doubts remain about how much longer he has left at the top level. Kouyate and Obiang currently look the best central midfield pairing so Noble might be better used as a late substitute and an older head in midfield.

SHOULD WEST HAM GO FOR A FOUR OF FIVE MAN DEFENCE?

With James Collins out for a month Angelo Ogbonna will probably be recalled. Three at the back has stopped teams getting behind our defence and made Fonte look more assured, though it's left the attack a little undermanned. There's a case for having Reid and Ogbonna as a partnership, dropping Fonte and thus allowing Carroll and Hernandez to play as a pair, with Antonio and Arnautovic out wide and Kouyate and Obiang anchoring the midfield.

CAN CARROLL AND HERNANDEZ PLAY TOGETHER UP FRONT?
Chicharito has looked wasted out wide-ish, though he still managed to hit the bar against Huddersfield. Perhaps Slaven should just tell Carroll and Hernandez to stick together and never mind the defensive consequences. Certainly if West Ham play a four-man defence it could allow them to thrive as a partnership. The alternative is to drop one of them to the bench. Ether Andy or Javier would be a second-half sub who would scare the opposition.

WITH NO LANZINI SHOULD ARNAUTOVIC PLAY A MORE CENTRAL ROLE?

Manuel Lanzini isn't going to play against Spurs and it doesn't look like Kouyate and Obiang will create a lot. Marco Arnautovic is a player who can produce the unexpected so perhaps he should step inside at times and assume a more central role behind the strikers. He can also shoot from long range so could trouble Spurs.

WHAT ROLE FOR  ANDRE AYEW?
Ayew might be hit and miss in his Hammers career so far, with no-one quite sure what his best position is, but he does have energy and has the knack of scoring goals — two already this season. He could be an option should Bilic drop a striker and play a five-man midfield or play a role as an impact sub.

Wednesday, September 20

Arthur and Arnie say 'hasta la vista' to Bolton

West Ham 3 Bolton 0 (Carabao Cup)

It's into the Clyde Best Cafe with Lisa and her pals Mark, Sue and Bolton fan Alan, a man who once compared Big Sam's creation at Bolton to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and who's rather optimistically wearing his "walking down the Manny Road to see the Burnden Aces" t-shirt.

We're joined in the stadium by a tardy Matt and Fraser, who watched the West Brom game via Canadian TV, where they probably think it's the Caribou Cup. Although the ground's half full the 35,806 attendance is still more than the capacity of Upton Park — pretty impressive for a League Cup fixture.

The Hammers get off to a great start after three minutes as Arnautovic's free kick is headed in by Ogbonna. The Irons should get more as Arnie shoots at Howard's legs and Ayew hits the outside of the post when he should score after good work by Sakho. The lively Arnautovic then misses a great chance by volleying wide when clean through.

Thankfully the game is put to bed after Noble finds Arnautovic on the left with the great ball and the Austrian winger sets up Sakho for a well-taken second. Though Diafra still upsets Fraser by not celebrating with any great joy. Beevers heads straight at Adrian late on but that's indebted Bolton's only chance.

The second half sees the home side content to play out time. Haksabonovic, who has looked a neat little player on the right, is replaced by Nathan Holand, who looks like an old-fashioned winger and immediately forces a corner. Substitute Earing fails to look golden or provide any aid for Bolton.

Chicharito comes on and gets cross with some clatterings from Wheater and Beevers. "I don't like Chicharito's body language, he's looking a Little Pead off," quips Matt.

Arnautovic stops the ball in the box and can produce the unexpected. Arnie has a little bit of arrogance and a short fuse, which may well make him a bit of a cult figure with the WHU fans.

It's left to Mystic Matt to work his magic. "Masuaku just hasn't got it, he's having a really poor game," he suggests. Arthur promptly wallops a 30-yard screamer into the top corner. "Messi-uako!" exclaims a penitent Matt.

Bolton might be bottom of the Championship, but it's still a decent win and a good run-out for Rice at centre-back and several other squad players. We've looked comfortable all game, which makes a change.

Then it's off to the King Edward where we end up discussing West Ham winning the World Cup, as you do. Job done and on to the next round.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 5; Byram 5, Rice 6, Ogbonna 6, Masuaku 6; Haksabanovic 5 (Holland 5), Kouyate 5, Noble 6 (Quina 5); Arnautovic 7, Sakho 6 (Hernandez 5), Ayew 5.

Monday, September 18

Keeping Carroll fit

Some revealing comments from Slaven Bilic in his Evening Standard column about how the club and new physio Gary Lewin are trying to keep Big Andy fit. This season they have ensured that he trained for a month before playing, which seems sensible after he was rushed back last season and then injured in the Europa League. 

And rather counter-intuitively, Bilic adds, "In the early stages of his rehabilitation we pushed him a little bit harder, if he felt something we told him to go through the discomfort." Bilic also says that there are days when Carroll has to go to the gym rather than be on the training pitch and mentions Paul McGrath and Ledley King as examples of players who trained minimally but could still perform on match days, though it's easier for centre-backs. If all that fails a friend has been treating verukas by applying gaffer tape, and perhaps this might hold Andy together too.

Carroll had a storming game against Huddersfield and has now played two matches in succession. Admittedly it's still not clear if Chicharito and Carroll can function together, though it could work in a 4-4-2. While another option is having either of them on the bench to give the team a real goal threat late in games. Let's hope Andy is rested against Bolton (two games in a week may prove too much) and continues to be available for Spurs as he makes a difference. 

Sunday, September 17

Drawing drawing West Ham

West Brom 0 West Ham 0

We might have been lucky to make it as last on Match of the Day, but a point is a point even in a rubbish game. It's West Ham's second clean sheet in succession and a draw against a Pulis side is certainly an improvement on last season's 4-2 capitulation. 

Looking at the lowlights, the Hammers had the better chances. Obiang hit the bar with a tremendous 50 yard lob over Foster's head (he should be told to shoot more often) and there were calls for Foster to be sent off after he clattered into Hernandez, who was running on to Andy Carroll's deft flick. Foster had two defenders behind him so he wasn't the last man, but with the current guidelines there was a case for dismissal rather than a booking for a foot-up out-of-control challenge. Apart from that a couple of fine blocks by Reid and a tenacious run and shot by Antonio were the game's only other noteworthy incidents. The Hammers can certainly play a lot better, but the first three defeats results have to come first.

Arnautovic saw some action as a sub and Slaven now has some interesting tactical dilemmas, trying to fit in Arnie and Lanzini. Can Carroll and Henandez play together up front? Should Noble return?Probably not as Obiang and Kouyate now look our best midfield enforcers. And with Collins injured at WBA should we revert to a back four or stick to three centre-backs where Fonte looks much more comfortable? All good problems to have as Bilic prepares for Bolton and Spurs.

Tuesday, September 12

Obiang and Ayew give Slaven a birthday boost

West Ham 2 Huddersfield 0

First off it’s into the (Clyde) Best Café with my daughter Lola, newly returned from Paris though it can’t match Stratford, where we dine on egg, chips and beans. Matt and Lisa have seen the Under-18s lose and Nigel’s been touring Iceland while missing the West Han friendly against Man City — next year he hopes to go to Lidl. Meanwhile Michael the Possible Whovian is so pleased at purchasing 12 Hartnell-era Doctor Who pictures inbetween the matinee of Loot and watching Gyles Brandreth in Hamlet, that he’s celebrating with a beer, having discovered that the Best Café is licensed.

Then it’s on to the stadium where the new search procedures actually seem to speed things up and Michael enjoys a pint of Irons bitter in the concourse as we bump into West Ham author Brian Williams admiring the London Stadium’s many toilet facilities. We’re joined by Fraser (who thinks Palace were a little slow sacking De Boer as he’d have fired Big Sam after half a match), Alison, super chef Scott and Steve the Cornish postie. The PA is playing Motorhead’s Ace of Spades as we take our seats, much to the delight of headbanger Nigel.

HITTING THE BAR
The side Bilic has picked looks more balanced with three at the back and the Hammers start off with intensity. The returning Andy Carroll shoots across goal in the first minute. Great work by Antonio on the right sets up Chicharito for a certain goal only for the Mexican to lean back and hit the bar. Late on Kouyate miscues another good chance. 

But the side certainly seem to be playing for Slaven on his 49th birthday. Antonio is looking really pacy, Carroll is a big physical presence and Zabaleta, playing almost as a right-winger, really gets stuck in with a committed performance. Obiang is solid in front of the back four and Kouyate is doing well in a more advanced role, while three at the back ensures Fonte looks a lot more comfortable.

A surreal note to the evening is that the scoreboard is asking us to take a holiday in sodden Florida. The second half sees Huddersfield gain in confidence and we’re starting to have visions of an FC Astra-style smash and grab. But the Hammers stick at it, with a Town defender almost scoring an own goal and Antonio sending in numerous crosses. 

BREAKING DOWN THE WALLS OF HEARTACHE
Bilic replaces Hernandez with Ayew, which is met with puzzlement by most fans. Or does he 
know something we don’t?

Finally we get a piece of luck. On 72 minutes Obiang’s shot takes a huge defection and loops over Lossl. The stadium erupts with relief.

Five minutes later Antonio wins a corner and from the resulting melee, Fonte prods the ball forwards and Ayew reacts well to fire home. He goes down on his knees to celebrate. We never doubted you for a minute, Captain Bilic.

CLEAN SHEETS AND GOOD HABITS
“Another six goals and we’ll be out of the bottom three,” quips Nigel. There’s still time for Sakho to come on to some boos and Tom Ince to hit the bar for the visitors. Matt starts to get a little irate as the Hammers threaten to lose their clean sheet, but we survive and Joe Hart has his first clean sheet in 23 games.

We even manage to find the Railway without mishap. Spurs will be a much bigger test, but the whole side played well against a team that hadn’t conceded a goal so far. Yes, Huddersfield might struggle, but his was the performance that Bilic and his men needed. And now we’re just four points off Europe…


PLAYER RATINGS: Hart 6; Zabaleta 7, Reid 6, Collins 7, Fonte 6, Cresswell 6; Antonio 8, Obiang 7, Kouyate 6; Hernandez 6 (Ayew 7), Carroll 7 (Sakho 5).

Monday, September 11

Best to arrive early

Sounds like it's best to arrive early tonight as there's a new security process in operation where the fans will be searched before they cross the Olympic Park bridges. Judging by the "teething problems" last season, we should probably factor in some extra time for this and then seeing if the new cards work. Meanwhile we're up against a plucky newly-promoted side and relying on the fitness of Andy Carroll. What could possibly go wrong? Irons!

Sunday, September 10

More media rumours…

An interesting piece by Jacob Steinberg on West Ham in today's Observer, headlined "Sullivan salvo has truly burst fading Bilic's fragile bubble." Steinberg writes that "an increasingly demob happy" Bilic is "living on borrowed time" as the PR wars begin and that "there is little chance of his contract being extended beyond this season", while a defeat by Huddersfield could see the axe fall sooner. He covers the club's recruitment problems and adds, "Sullivan has assumed the role of director of football, which means he shares culpability with Bilic for the mess." Another point he makes is that it remains to hard to work out what style Bilic wants from his team: "Are they solid and physical? Are they a counterattacking team? Do they favour possession? One thing is indisputable; they cannot defend." Click on the link to read the complete piece.

Saturday, September 9

Did Slaven take a swipe at Sullivan?

The papers have made a lot out of comments made by Slaven Bilic about David Sullivan. Faced with a press conference bringing up questions about "the Dildo brothers" Bilic said he found the comments made by Sporting Lisbon's director funny, which seems fair enough in the sense that we now have grown adults discussing playground insults (will it now be known as Dildogate?) And having worked in the adult industry for decades, you'd think Davids Sullivan and Gold are pretty immune to cheap insults by now. Blic also said that "David Sullivan likes to talk", while adding the proviso, "It's his right to be able to." He made a pretty good attempt at defending his pursuit of Carvalho, saying that he turned down other options because Carvalho was his main priority and he didn't want to be disracted by other names. 

The comments that did betray a certain amount of irritation with Sullivan were these: "I am expecting if he [Sullivan] says something about me to call me, to say this and not go through you guys, although that is best for you." Bilic is right that Sullivan mentioning the club had the chance to sign Sanches was unhelpful and the club shouldn't be discussing who they go for in public. But that's unlikely to change  Throughout their ownership there's been a history of Sullivan making over-honest or controversial comments and then Gold doing a PR job to smooth things out. The best antidote to all this will be getting some points on the board.

Thursday, September 7

Crisis club West Ham?

There's rather a febrile atmosphere around West Ham at the moment. The inelegant dispute with Sporting Lisbon rumbles on with director Nuno Saraiva referring to Davids Sullivan and Gold as, "the Dildo Brothers" (rather a cheap insult as Ann Summers and co seem quite wholesome compared to the ways some owners have made their money) and claiming no offer was made for William Carvalho; while Sky Sports has published emails from West Ham showing a bid appears to have been made. Sullivan and Gold are threatening to sue while there are reports Sporting Lisbon plan to report West Ham to FIFA for making an illegal approach. 

Meanwhile there's the inevitable injury crisis. Manuel Lanzini withdrew from the Argentina squad with a re-occurrence of his thigh injury and is likely to miss the Huddersfield game while Ayew and Fernandes are doubtful too. 

Then there's the managerial situation with Bilic under more pressure after David Sullivan said he turned down chances to sign Renato Sanches and Gzegorz Krychowiak because he is happy with the current squad. If Bilic does go it will be because last season saw some of the least productive signings in the club's history (Zaza, Tore, Calleri, Nordtveit, Feghouli, Snodgrass and Fletcher have all departed while Fonte has disappointed). The five players signed this window really have to produce to save Slaven. 

There are even claims that some West Ham fans are planning a protest during the Huddersfield game — which seems a bit premature even by the standards of social media-fuelled indignation. Let's at least get a few home defeats in first before we do that and we can hardly return to Upton Park now it's rubble.

But having said all that remember it's just three away games into the season. If we're bottom after ten games it will look ominous. Right now there isn't much a couple of wins wouldn't put right.

Tuesday, September 5

Hart stopper

Hopefully Joe Hart might benefit from getting a couple of wins under his belt with England. He didn't have a shot to save against Malta but a clean sheet of any kind must feel a relief after being blitzed in West Ham's defence and conceding ten. He was a little slow to react to Slovakia's early goal last night but did produce a vital reaction save from Nemec's volley when the score was 1-1. Two wins will help his confidence, whatever the standard of the opposition. 

You feel a little sorry for Hart at West Ham at the moment as he's not had a settled defence to play with. Bilic has switched left backs between Masuaku and Cresswell, Reid was injured in the warm-up at Southampton, and Fonte and Collins have both played one game apiece.  At 30 Hart's reactions must still be sharp and he should be coming to his peak as a keeper. What he needs is to play in a winning side with a settled defence and feel good about himself again, then hopefully we'll see the best of him.

Monday, September 4

West Ham Fans' Verdict in the Observer

My summary of West Ham's transfer window can be found in the Observer by clicking on this link. What's striking looking at the views of the fans of the other clubs is that most of those sampled feel they've had a decent window. Only the fans of Brighton, Newcastle and Crystal Palace seem a little underwhelmed. Which proves that the Premier League is more competitive than ever. There's also a trend of spending more on younger players, while West Ham have gone for the older end of the market, which is a risk. Clubs like West Brom, Watford, Stoke, Swansea and Leicester have all recruited well, meaning it's more important than ever that our four big signings of Hart, Zabaleta, Arnautovic and Hernandez (and possibly 18-year-old Haksabonovic) produce the required form quickly. 

Sunday, September 3

Did Bilic reject Sanches?

Some strange revelations from David Sullivan. He claims that Slaven Bilic turned down the chance to sign Bayern Munich's Renato Sanches on loan — whom many observers feel is the bargain of the window for Swansea — and also Paris St Germain's Polish star Grzegorz Krychowiak, now on loan at West Brom. According to Sullivan, Slaven said, "he is happy with the squad he has." It's odd that we talk about our targets in public so much and places more pressure on Bilic should Sanches do well. Meanwhile Sporting Lisbon director Nuno Saraiva claims, in very colourful language, that West Ham were not offered William Carvalho in the last hours of deadline day. The Daily Telegraph reports that West Ham may take legal action over his comments. At least the soap opera of the window is now over and we can get on with some football. 

Friday, September 1

A tale of two strikers

So while one striker Difara Sakho was taking himself to Rennes for an unauthorised medical and then turning up at Chelmsford Races, the other striker Andy Carroll was in court seeing a geezer from Romford jailed for six years for pursuing him on a motor bike with an accomplice and appearing to point a gun at him as they attempted to steal his £22,000 wrist watch. Just another day at West Ham… 

Window shopping via Chelmsford Races

Well, a mixed transfer window for the Hammers, though credit to Diafra Sakho for making a determined bid to be this year’s Peter Odemwinjie. After first flying to Rennes for a medical the club hadn't agreed to, he returned to England and turned up at Chelmsford Racecourse where his agent Mark McKay had a horse running — it won and Diafra's £100 bet earned £550. Sakho then had a meeting with West Ham where, according to the Daily Mail, he discussed his 'personal problems' and might be on the verge of signing a new contract. 

Predictably the Hammers failed to get William Carvalho. It always looked unlikely he'd want to move to the London Stadium and we're still fairly well stocked with defensive midfielders in Kouyate and Obiang. On paper we've bought four players with a proven PL pedigree. Hernandez looks a great finisher and a steal at £16m, while despite his red card, Marko Arnautovic should offer something different up front. But on the evidence so far there are questions about how Joe Hart's confidence has been affected by letting in ten goals and if Zabaleta's experience can mask his declining pace. Montenegro superkid Haksabonovic is one for the future at £2.7m.

We've done well to shift seven players from last season's disastrous spree. Tore, Arbeloa, Calleri, Nordtveit, Feghouli, Fletcher and Snodgrass have all gone, as have Valencia and Randolph. Though I would have liked to have seen Feghouli given another season, while playing Snodgrass out of position and then selling him after just 15 games sums up the panic buying mentality. But thanks to Middlesbrough for paying £11.5 million for Randolph and Fletcher. So the net spend is around £20 million, which isn't that great in today's market. 

In theory West Ham have solved some of last season's problems for the short-term — though in practice we need results fast. 

Thursday, August 31

Who's getting Sakho in the morning?

Some extraordinary goings on with Diafra Sakho. it was reported he'd gone to Rennes yesterday to have a medical, even though the clubs have not agreed a fee. Is he trying to become the Peter Odemwinjie of this transfer window? David Gold has tweeted "Diafra Sakho is not for sale in this transfer window he is an integral part of our first team squad and will play a part in our recovery." Further reports claim Crystal Palace are now interested in making a £10m bid. 

It's strange if he's trying to force a move as he's finally fit and has figured as a sub in all three league games and scored against Cheltenham in the League Cup (though he didn't celebrate much, which now looks significant). He's now told Sky Sports News: "I want a fresh start and want to go back to playing regular football. I have no issues with West Ham or West Ham fans. This is purely a footballing decision. I want to go back to France."

After taking the club's wages for a season when he was out with a back problem you'd think Diafra owed us a little more loyalty. West Ham certainly need cover for Hernandez and Andy Carroll and it's going to be very difficult to find a replacement if Sakho goes. On the other hand do we want an unhappy player around the club until January? We'd surely be better off giving Martinez a chance.

Tuesday, August 29

Four games for Bilic to save his job?

In today's Evening Standard, Ken Dyer, who normally gets his West Ham facts right, writes that the West Ham board have given Slaven Bilic four games to save his job. He has been told that results must improve in September, with three home matches against Huddersfield, Spurs and Swansea (plus a League Cup tie against Bolton) and an away match at West Brom. 

In defence of Bilic, he's not been able to field a full team yet. Players returning from injury like Antonio, Kouyate and Lanzini will benefit from getting some game time at Newcastle and a two-week international break. Winston Reid and even Andy Carroll might be back for Huddersfield. It also has to be remembered that new signings Hart, Zabaleta, Arnautovic and Hernandez have had only had three games (two for red card Arnie) to learn how to play in this team.

But what I do want to see is some evidence that Bilic knows how to organise a defence. He inherited a fairly solid back four from Sam Allardyce, but last season saw us looking shocking defensively and ten conceded in three games this time tells its own story. There's a lack of pace at the back and perhaps it's time to turn to a five-man defence again so teams can't get behind us. While creatively we have to find a way of feeding Hernandez with chances.

Slaven clearly feels we need a new defensive shield in the form of William Carvalho. If Carvalho doesn't arrive then Kouyate and Obiang might be a better bet than the promising young Declan Rice and 30-year-old Mark Noble.

The other thing we need to see is a lot more desire from the team. The board were apparently alarmed by what they saw on Saturday, and rightly so. The players now need to do what Newcastle did, close down the opposition relentlessly and show they want to play for the manager.

Monday, August 28

Snoddy blames Slaven for his departure


Interesting to read Robert Snodgrass's comments after joining Aston Villa on loan. He blames Slaven Bilic for his poor form, insisting he was either a right winger or a number 10.  “I went to West Ham and I had a manager that played me out of position. To be honest with you it was very tough to take, " Snodgrass told the press. "I spoke to the manager and said to him, 'You wanted me to try and replace Payet, it's not my position'. I couldn't have made that any more clear. When I spoke to him this season I said 'I need to play my position, I need a run of games in my position'." 

There are two sides to every story of course, and players are always looking for excuses, but Snodgrass doesn't appear impressed by Bilic's man-managemnt: "I haven't enjoyed not knowing what's happening. Nobody's spoken to me at West Ham really and it's a weird feeling. I've always had a British-based manager who has talked to me and had a good relationship with, so to have that feeling back is a good feeling."

Which all seems to indicate the Snodgrass was a £10m panic buy and wasn't used correctly when at the club. He's not a great player, but he is normally a useful one, and we should have seen more from him than we did.

Sunday, August 27

Giving goals to Newcastle

Newcastle 3 West Ham 0

This is getting worrying. Three away games to start was always going to be difficult, but we really should have got something from a match at struggling Newcastle. Bilic seems to have lost the art of selecting the right side. Declan Rice has done really well, but playing four games in a row is a big ask for a kid and surely a game this important called for the experience of Obiang or Kouyate in midfield? It was young Rice's mistake which led to Toon's opener and he was taken off at half-time. While Fernandes was a strange selection with Obiang, Kouyate and Sakho on the bench.

At least Lanzini came on for the second half and Cresswell and Hernandez did produce a great double save from Elliot in a decent ten-minute spell after the break. But as Bilic said, for 80 minutes of the match West Ham were not good enough. It was terrible marking for Clark's goal and the offside rap failed for the third. The side just couldn't cope with Newcastle's closing down.

The Irons have two weeks to regroup and need to get some points from Huddersfield at home and the match at West Brom and then the two home games against Spurs and Swansea. If not we'll be in a relegation struggle and the board may press the panic button and dispense with Slaven. 

Saturday, August 26

Should Sakho start at Newcastle?

Slaven Bilic has, for once, the option of playing a extra striker at St James' Park. Diafra Sakho has made a strong case for inclusion through hitting the bar at Southampton before Hernandez scored and then scoring one and making one at Cheltenham. Sakho and Hernandez might be an effective combination to judge by their performance together at Southampton. It would mean playing Antonio in a wider role and possibly dropping Ayew, but it's an option for Bilic. Though it's perhaps more likely he will go with just Chicharito up front and bring on Sakho in the second half. If Sakho really has recovered from his back problems then it will be like having a new striker in the squad. If WHU can choose from Hernandez, Sakho, Antonio, Ayew and Carroll for strikers then it's a great improvement on the bad old days of Jonathan Calleri. 

Friday, August 25

Snoddy goes to Villa

The recruitment policy at West Ham appears to be make it up as you go along. Robert Snodgrass has signed on a season-long loan for Aston Villa, so the replacement for Dimitri Payet has now been replaced by Marko Arnautovic after seven months. Seven of last season's signings have now departed.

Presumably the club spend a long time scouting potential signings and the manager must have faith in the players he buys. So why shift Snodgrass after just 15 games? Is that long enough to judge a player? Admittedly he didn't impress last season, but he came into a struggling team, was often played out of position and would surely have improved this time round. The same player had scored nine goals for Hull in the first half of the season.

Perhaps Snodgrass might be the sort of player who excels at teams like Leeds, Norwich and Hull but doesn't cope well with not being the star man. But he's not really had a chance at West Ham. As it is we've spent £10 million on a player who has played 15 games — which is bad business by anyone's standards.

Thursday, August 24

Job done at Cheltenham

Cheltenham 0 West Ham 2 (Carabao Cup)

Off to the Oxford Arms in Camden to watch this one with Fraser, eschewing the delights of Champs in Ilford, and Matt who has decided not to return his season ticket in protest at the sale of Sofiane Feghouli. Michael the Whovian is away scouting in Sweden and Nigel's mourning the silencing of Big Ben. 

The Liverpool game is on the main screens for the plastic Scousers so we watch the Hammers game on a side screen accompanied by a commentator gushing about Emre Can, which is all a little surreal. Cheltenham compete well as Matt reminisces about watching famous West Ham League Cup defeats in pubs full of MUFC fans. 

West Ham nearly go ahead when Ogbonna has a great header cleared off the line and Flatt saves well from Sakho's close range prod. The breakthrough comes on 40 minutes when Sakho controls Noble's through ball to swivel sharply and poke past the keeper. Three minutes later Sakho finds Ayew on the right and as Flatt leaves him acres of space to shoot at he rolls the ball across the Flattt-footed keeper and into the net. 

Late on Pell's effort flashes across the Hammers' goal but generally the Irons remain in control for the rest of the match. And there's a very nice sunset over the stadium. The passing is disappointing in the second half and nobody really wants to fill their boots. On the positive side Sakho has looked sharp and scored his first goal since the final match at Upton Park, Rice has played a full 90 minutes, Byram has got some crosses in from the right and Fernandes has at least tried to get some moves going from out wide. Plus Kouyate comes on for the last 17 minutes and will hopefully get some action at Newcastle. 

"We'll remember this as the start of our 50-match unbeaten run," quips Matt as we leave. Outside we find a fleet of fire engines — we seem to have missed a fire in a building site, so engrossed have we been in the Carabau Cup. Or maybe it's just celebrating West Ham fans setting off flares.

So it's Bolton at home in the next round and at least the athletics hasn't cost us a place in the League Cup. Now comes our first six-pointer of the season at Newcastle…