Tuesday, April 25

An evening with Alan Devonshire

PHOTO: AtTheMatch Business, Sport & Football Networking Event sponsored by Moving Forward Sports

Enjoyed meeting Alan Devonshire at last night's AtTheMatch networking event. Devo, who’s currently managing Maidenhead United, held a Q & A session with Simon Maurer and had much to say about his West Ham days.

As a schoolboy the West Londoner was almost signed by Crystal Palace’s Bert Head, but new manager Malcolm Allison cancelled the contract offer without seeing him play. Alan’s dad talked him out of quitting the game at that point. Playing for Southall with “defenders kicking the s**t out of you” was the making of Dev as a player, he revealed. It was at Southall that he learned to ride tackles and develop his brilliant dribbling skills. He went from famously being a forklift truck driver at Hoover to playing for West Ham in the old Division One and winning the FA Cup in 1980 and the Division Two Championship in 1981.

WEST HAM'S GREATEST SIGNING
At £5000 he was probably West Ham’s best ever signing. It was a big step up for the young left-sided midfielder. Alan recounted how he was on £120 a week, soon increased to £500 a week. On his first day’s training he fainted in front of Billy Bonds and Trevor Brooking. He still has great respect for Bonzo and Trev and remarked that the most successful players are often the nicest, while it’s the lesser ones who are arrogant.

He recounted having, “One of those games where everything came off” against Everton in the 1980 FA Cup semi-final and joked that he wished people would remember his goal as well as Frank Lampard’s header. Dev also took the audience through the lows of his career such as his knee being clattered from both sides in an FA Cup tie against Wigan and missing 18 months with a terrible injury. He lost his speed after that, but modified his game through playing one-twos rather than dribbling and had a brilliant season in 1985-86 when the Boys of ’86 came third in the league.

Devonshire told the audience of football folk that John Lyall was a brilliant man manager and that Lou Macari was his worst gaffer. He particularly objected to having to run on hard surfaces for Macari, feeling this would aggravate his dodgy knee. Alan refused to sign for Sheffield United after learning that Dave Bassett planed a pre-season trip to an army camp and opted for Watford instead, where he ended his career.

DEV'S TILT AT THE TITLE
Dev was joined on stage by his record goalscorer at Maidenhead, Dave Tarpey. Alan says his players deserve promotion from the National League South — they’re currently top.  As a boss he’s managed Hampton & Richmond and Braintree Town as well as Maidenhead twice. He has something of the John Lyall philosophy and goes for, “players who can surprise me.” Devonshire is not a fan of possession stats and believes that, “it’s what you do with the possession that counts.” He also thinks that young players can be over-coached and, “you have to learn the game yourself” as he did at Southall.


The proudest moment of his career was playing for England against West Germany and having a fine match despite a 2-1 home defeat. While his fondest memory of the Boleyn Ground was when the fans cheered off the side after a 1-0 home defeat against Leeds. “For other crowds the result was all that mattered, but the West Ham fans could see we’d given everything.”

Sunday, April 23

Hammers hold Everton in game of few chances

West Ham 0 Everton 0

The most entertaining part of the day is a pre-match trip to Upton Park for the Bike To Boleyn send-off from the World Cup statue. They’re cycling from Upton Park to Stratford as part of the campaign to keep the World Cup Statue in Barking Road. Bubbles sounds rather good sung by a choir, there’s a local drum group, a couple of blokes who have cycled round India and homemade carrot cake on sale. Then it’s on to the Newham Bookshop to sign a copy of GoodbyeTo Boleyn for a pair of Everton fans.

On reaching the (Clyde) Best CafĂ© political anoraks Matt and Nigel are bemoaning May’s timing and discussing the Gorton by-election, now postponed until the day of the general election. Meanwhile Michael the Whovian has returned from his audience with Maggie Smith, who has predicted West Ham need 39 points. The falafel wrap is rather good (though obviously not as good as Carol’s), while Matt goes for haloumi with chips and in a desperate attempt to make my own blog I’ve visited the Chinese supermarket in the Stratford Centre and smuggle some spicy tofu into the stadium.

It’s another summery afternoon in the London Stadium as we join Fraser, who appears to be in Everton’s away kit with his yellow trousers and jumper and has had his cigar case frisked while entering the ground. Behind us are Steve the Cornish postie and Maldon Irons Alison and Scott.

DEFENCES ON TOP
Nothing much happens for 90 minutes and the blonde Barnets of Masuaku and Fernandes are often the most exciting things on display. The problem might be that Nigel has forgotten his lucky banana.

Adrian has been restored as number one and almost make a ricket when he mis-controls a tricky throw-in from Fernandes but manages to leap on the loose ball. Lone strikers Calleri and Lukaku look isolated for both sides and the teams cancel each other out. “It’s not a ladies match!” intones the unreconstructed gentleman behind us.

West Ham get the first shot in after half an hour when Nordtveit, restored to midfield, gets in a long range effort that Stekelenburg saves pretty comfortably. Collins gets in a header from Lanzini’s excellent cross and beats the turf in frustration as he misses the target.

KING ARTHUR
West Ham show the more attacking intent in the second half. Fernandes dithers when he should shoot and Lanzini has a shot blocked by Jagielka’s head. Lanzini turns inside to deliver another shot on target and after Sakho earns a late corner at the end Fonte fails to get in a solid header at he back post.

Yet the mood among the crowd has been surprisingly positive and they’ve done well to get behind the team. Playing three centre backs has kept WHU solid at the back with Ginge outstanding and dominating Lukaku. While Masuaku has had a great game on the left and played almost as an auxiliary midfielder. Fonte makes several forays into midfield from the back three and the maligned Nordtveit even earns a “well done Havard!” from Matt (words we never thought we’d hear). Havard has a storming second half, winning the ball well and setting up numerous attacks.

Bilic says we’ve had “11 lions” on the pitch and considering the players missing (Ogbonna, Obiang, Carroll, Antonio, Noble, Snodgrass, Feghouli and Byram) it’s not a bad result to take a point off a team that’s currently fifth. The Hammers are now unbeaten in three and although not completely safe yet, with Swansea and Hull winning it was vital to get something from this game. It’s the first scoreless draw at the London Stadium and a clean sheet is a welcome change. Now let’s get a result at Stoke.


PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6; Fonte 6, Collins 7, Reid 6; Fernandes 6, Kouyate 5 (Cresswell 5), Nordtveit 6, Lanzini 6, Ayew 5, Masuaku 8; Calleri 5 (Sakho 5).

Friday, April 21

Oh Carroll

As Rupert Brooke once wrote in his poem, The Old Vicarage, Grantchester: 

"Stands the church clock at ten to three? 
And is Andy Carroll still suffering from injury?" 

Northing defines the start of an English summer better than another Andy Carroll injury blip. His abductor muscle is playing up again and Andy's out of the Everton game. Carroll's groin injury is proving costly — in recent weeks he's missed games against West Brom, Watford, Chelsea, Swansea and now Everton. Apparently he felt his groin go again while mishitting the ball for Ayew's opener at Sunderland, but again he's played on too long. Part of the problem is that Carroll is a bit like Monty Python's Black Knight and will always play on regardless of loss of limbs.

If it's not a big injury it's these small niggling ones and it's all so frustrating because when he gets a few games under his belt AC's looked in great form. The club really has to sign a striker who can stay fit for next season, much as I like the big Geordie.

There's no Antonio and Ayew doesn't look like a solo striker. So it seems Calleri or Fletcher will come in against the Toffees, with Sakho only fit enough to play 30 minutes from the bench. Calleri must be brilliant in training for Bilic to rate him so highly, but he just hasn't looked like a finisher at all this season even if he did put in a shift against Swansea. Could be time to give another chance to Fletcher.

Meanwhile we'll have to cope with the inevitable Lukaku goal against us. Now there's a striker who can stay fit…

Thursday, April 20

Why do West Ham keep losing the lead?

Fabio Borini's goal for Sunderland was scored in the 90th monute ;ast Saturday. It's been a much banded statistic that West Ham have lost 20 points from winning or drawing positions this season. 

Slaven Bilic must be reluctant to take his dog out in case he loses the lead. There also a worrying stat in Sunday's Observer that has West Ham top of the league of errors leading to goals, with 12. Though as virtually every goal results from some sort of error, it's a hard stat to quantify. The team has come from behind a few times, most notably at Southampton, but by my reckoning we've only won seven points from losing positions.

Does the fact West Ham lose the lead so often betray a lack of character or fitness? Certainly the number of soft-tissue injuries might indicate there's something wrong with the medical team. Payet's indifference to tracking back might not have helped morale in the first half of the season, but generally it seems to be more about individual errors and substandard players in the wrong positions rather than a collective problem. 

There was a tendency to lose leads last season too, but this season it's been far worse. The goalkeeping position hasn't helped generate any confidence in the rest of the defence. First Adrian was dropped for rickets against Watford and Stoke and now Randolph has started to make regular errors. Right-back has been a problem all season with either Antonio or Nordtveit played out of position or the inexperienced Byram thrown into the Premier League when he doesn't look quite ready. 

While the loss of Ogbonna has been a blow too and Fonte has taken an awfully long time to get any kind of understanding with the rest of his defence. If you add in the fact that Cresswell hasn't looked as good since returning from a pre-season knee injury then you have problems right across the back line. Consequently whenever the side takes the lead the players look terrified of losing it.

Certainly another goalkeeper and right-back would add to the squad for next season. Meanwhile for the final five games the side has to show the collective determination that resulted in a clean sheet against Swansea.

Tuesday, April 18

Zola out, Redknapp in

Some clubs seem to specialise in hiring former West Ham managers. First it was Crystal Palace replacing Alan Pardew with Sam Allardyce. Now Birmingham City have sacked Gianfranco Zola and replaced him with 70-year-old Harry Redknapp. 

Looking at Zola's managerial record, it seems that, with hindsight, Sullivan and Gold were correct to sack him — though not to replace him with Avram Grant. He was a lovely fella and a great player and at times he had West Ham playing a pleasing brand of football. But he didn't participate in transfers — that was left to director of football Nani who gave us the likes of Savio — and his West Ham side had struggled in his final season and rrely had a Plan B. His subsequent managerial career has seen him fired at Watford (though they did reach the Championship play-off final in his first season), Cagliari, Al-Arabi and now Birmingham, where disastrously he took them from seventh when Gary Rowett was fired to just above the relegation zone.

I'm quite pleased to see Harry and his car window back in the game, even if he did do too well at Spurs for our liking. He's statistically West Ham's most successful manager since John Lyall with his fifth-place finish and is the man who gave us Di Canio. And of course he likes a deal. There's been some great speculation online about his likely SOS X1, including Terry, Berbatov, Robbie Keane, Crouch, Defoe and just about everyone else. Wonder if it's too late to rule out a swoop for Carlton Cole, last spotted having visa problems in Indonesia? Or even a bid for Razor Ruddock?

Sunday, April 16

All square at the Stadium of Light

Sunderland 2 West Ham 2

Another game where West Ham have twice lost the lead. It's a decent away point on paper, but I've lost count of the number of points West Ham have thrown away from winning positions. The Hammers had the ideal start. Byram got in a good cross, Carroll mishit across goal and Ayew kept his head to poke home. Five goals in eight ages is now looking like a decent return from Ayew, although he also volleyed over when well-placed later in the game.

Just when it looked like the Irons might control the game Khazri equalised direct from a corner — Sunderland's first goal in 701 minutes of football. Anichebe was possibly fouling Randolph on the line, but the West Ham keeper also wasn't strong enough and there was no defender on the far post to clear.

Hammers had another great chance to win after James Collins headed in Snodgrass's corner two minutes after the break. But Sunderland showed good spirit to come back into the game. When Byram was sent off for a second yellow (his first booking was a silly off the ball foul) after 82 minutes you knew it was likely to all go wrong. In the 90th minute Randolph dropped the ball under pressure from Anichebe and Borini stroked home. To give the ten-man Hammers some credit they did survive ten minutes of added time due to Billy Jones' head injury.

So Byram and Noble will be suspended for the Everton game, with Ogbonna, Obiang and Antonio out for the season. Bilic also needs to look at the goalkeeping position after another uncertain display by Randolph. Though as results panned out we gained a point on Swansea and Hull, and at 14th the Irons are now nine points clear of the Swans with five games left and a better goal difference. Let's hope we can get a result against Everton to finally dispel any lingering fears. 

Friday, April 14

Bike for Boleyn before the Everton game

You can bike from the Boleyn Ground to the London Stadium before the Everton game on April 22. It's all part of the Bike From Boleyn campaign to keep the World Cup statue of Moore, Hurst and Peters at Upton Park. Meet at 11am at the World Cup statue on Barking Road for music, celebration and a 12.45pm send-off. Stephen Timms MP will be attending to support the campaign. Bikes can be provided for those who don't have them. Check out the Facebook page at bikefromboleyn or twitter @bikefromboleyn.

Thursday, April 13

Antonio out for rest of the season


More bad news is that Michail Antono is out for the rest of the season, It looked a serious injury when he pulled up against Swansea and you wonder if he was rushed back too soon. Antonio has managed to perform consistently well in a poor side and will be a big loss. 

So what do West Ham do without him? Calleri is surely not the answer. He worked hard, but again looked a striker short of all confidence against Swansea, failing to shoot when he had a view of goal and putting another volley wide when found by Lanzini's cross. 

It's a good time for Sakho to be fit again, as he might possibly provide some Antonio-style energy running into the channels. Andy Carroll needs someone with fizz alongside him and it's also a chance for Andre Ayew to prove he's worth £20 million and continue from his improved performance against Swansea. 

The key thing though will be mental attitude. West Ham have to keep the determination they displayed against Swansea and not allow another injury to stop a decent end to the season.

Monday, April 10

Five positives for West Ham from Saturday's win


A CLEAN SHEET FOR RANDOLPH
Darren's confidence has looked low after letting in saveable long-range shots/crosses against Leicester and Arsenal. So the first clean sheet in nine games will help him, as will the fine tip-over he made from Narsingh's shot.


BETTER FROM SAM BYRAM
Sam looked a lot steadier at right back and had a sound game defensively. He seems to benefit from having an older player like Collins alongside him and it was a great moment at the end when he blocked Sigurdsson's late run and was congratulated by Randolph, Collins, Noble and Kouyate. 

LEADERSHIP FROM COLLINS
Ginge might be a bit slower these days but he was tremendously solid at the back, making a great clearance off the line, getting his head on crosses or booting the ball into Row Z when necessary.

SNODDY GETS AN ASSIST
Robert Snodgrass got his first assist in a West Ham shirt after ten games, laying the ball off for Kouyate to fire home from distance. He's been underwhelming so far, but worked hard defensively and looks better on the right. In his last ten games for Hull he scored three and had two assists, so there should be more to come from him.

AYEW LOOKED LIVELY
Without Andy Carroll in the side Andre Ayew finally looked a threat. He was unlucky with a first-half effort that produced a great save from Fabianski and another effort stopped by the keeper in the second half, though he should perhaps have kept his shot lower. But he showed us more of his pace and was often incisive in breaking with Lanzini. 

Sunday, April 9

Battling Hammers see off Swans


West Ham 1 Swansea City 0

Inside the (Clyde) Best Cafe, Nigel and Matt are discussing the anniversary of the 1992 general election and Slaven saying that Andy Carroll is "feeling his groin", are arf. While Lisa has opted for a falafel wrap (surely not as good as Ken’s cheesy chips wrap?) and CQ, on a romantic lunch date with Nigel, announces herself well pleased with her eggs on toast. Steve the Cornish postman arrives from the night train to collect his ticket, before leaving to meet Joe’s fiancĂ© from Memphis, Tennessee, in a moment of rare Chuck Berry credibility.

The walk to the stadium seems less dystopian in the bright sunlight. Alison and Scott join us, but Michael The Whovian is away at a Q & A session with Maggie Smith. He says she reckons 39 points will do it. Among a shirt-sleeved crowd it doesn’t exactly feel like a relegation six-pointer as Alison wonders who was the idiot who booked seats facing into the sun.

KOUYATE KID
It’s a tense, scrappy game, but West Ham at least snap into tackles. Early on Antonio stands up a decent cross and Snodgrass’s header is saved on the line by Fabianski The Hammers go close again when Noble finds Ayew, who swivels to shoot and is unlucky to see the Swansea keeper parry his effort wide. Then Antonio’s hamstring goes chasing a poor Randolph kick and Bilic replaces him with Calleri, which is strange with Sakho and Carroll on the bench.

“Slow it down!” cries an ironical Mystic Matt, only to inspire the Irons’ breakthrough. Noble finds Snodgrass who lays the ball off to Kouyate. He’s a long way out but Cheikhou fires an unstoppable effort into the bottom corner, before racing into the fans. He’s booked for his celebration, though as our seats are so far from the pitch he should surely be commended for his Usain Bolt-like dash.

SUPER SLAV
West Ham have several chances to settle it in the second half. Ayew crosses for Byram to ripple the side netting and Lanzini dives in the box to earn a booking. Calleri’s cross falls to Ayew and Fabianski has to make another fine save, though Andre could have kept it lower. Snodgrass looks irate at being subbed, but his replacement Feghouli’s first touch ends with a cross that almost creates a goal

It takes until 61 minutes for the gentleman behind us to shout “Get up you tart!” as Jack Cork goes down. Turns out he can’t get up and subs Montero and Llorente inspire a mini-Swansea revival. James Collins has to make one great clearance off the line. Matt suggests that the super-bearded Collins is looking more and more like a fiery Victorian preacher threatening damnation on the souls of all those fornicators who support Millwall.

Narsingh has a decent shot tipped over by Randolph and you sense Swansea might snatch something. But the Hammers threaten on the break as Lanzini bamboozles Hernandez and crosses for Calleri to volley wide when he should score.

PLAY IT AGAIN SAM
"Super Slaven Bilic!" goes ground the stadium. The tension is summed up right at the death as Sigurdsson gets free only for Sam Byram to come across and make a fine tackle. Sam’s had a steadier game today and is hugged by Randolph, Noble, Collins and Kouyate as if they’re celebrating a goal. Smells like team spirit.

Finally the whistle goes and Slaven crouches with his fists clenched in the manner of Bruce Forsyth on The Generation Game. It’s off to the giant bell to meet Swansea fan Huw, who is remaining philosophical as he announces that the London Stadium is the 105th ground he’s seen Swansea lose at. Now that’s a stat. It’s on to Tank at Hackney Wick, where despite a pitcher of pale ale Fraser remains unimpressed by hipsterville.

A big result for the Hammers. We’ll take an ugly win and a clean sheet. Another three points and we should finally be completely safe.

PLAYER RATINGS: Randolph 6; Byram 6, Collins 7, Fonte 6, Masuaku 6; Snodgrass 6 (Feghouli 6), Noble 6, Kouyate 7, Lanzini 6, Ayew 6 (Fernandes 5); Antonio 5 (Calleri 4).

Friday, April 7

Will Bilic be sacked if West Ham lose to Swansea?

So much for the vote of confidence. The Daily Telegraph claims that West Ham board are looking at plans to sack Slaven Bilic and employ a 'continuity manager' should West Ham lose at home to Swansea. 

Like most fans I like Slaven "and all that kind of thing," but if West Ham went down he would have go, though now is not the time to change. There's no Craig Shakespeare figure at the club to take over who might make a difference and if Bilic was sacked the continuity manager would have a mere six games left with the same squad and injury list. West Ham were ultimately well beaten at Arsenal but the spirit still looked to be there, if not the class.

It's been a difficult season for Bilic with the stadium move and the Payet saga, but in another sense he's also been lucky. Had Sam Allardyce sold James Tomkins, played Antonio at right-back, made a number of dodgy signings and lost five in a row there would have been open revolt from the fans and he'd have been gone by now. Luckily the West Ham fans still have an emotional attachment to Bilic, which they never had with Big Sam, though it's being tested at the moment. Ideally we'll stay up with Slaven in charge, regroup next season and then see if the real Bilic is the manager who finished seventh or the manager who struggled to stay up. 

So the Swansea game is vital for Slaven's future. The Evening Standard had five suggestions to turn round the Hammers' season, among them changing goalkeepers. After Randolph's error for the opener at Arsenal and Leicester's first goal, I'd restore Adrian. Plus stick Ayew on the bench and play with Snodgrass or Feghouli on the right to get some service in to Andy Carroll and have Sakho ready to come on as Plan B alongside AC. Big Andy does seem to enjoy playing against the Swans and represents Bilic's best hope of getting the result he and West Ham need. COYI!

Thursday, April 6

Kicked up the Arsenal

Pre-match with David, Lisa, Matt and Nigel
Arsenal 3 West Ham 0

It’s round to May Towers for pre-match festivities. David the Gooner has arrived with tickets, Matthew the Gooner has come with cans of John Smith, Hammers Matt and Lisa arrive with a bag of Doom Bar, while Nigel the Kew Gardens Iron brings his own lager. We’re up against an Arsenal side without Koscielny and with a third-choice goalkeeper. What could possibly go wrong?

We arrive at their soulless corporate dome. Is this the Emirates? It’s a good view from my padded seat above the half-way line, while Nigel’s at the end and Matt and Lisa in the corner. West Ham have an early sight of goal when Antonio wins a free kick on the edge of the box. Lanzini’s effort dips over the bar and Arsenal’s rookie keeper Martinez remains untested.

Welbeck fails to connect with Sanchez’s clever through ball in front of goal but generally the Hammers defend well in the first half, without showing much going forward. Kouyate looks effective in front of the back four and Masuaku copes fairly well with Walcott. Late on Fonte and Collins get in a couple of great blocks to deny goal bound shots late on before Randolph has to pluck a Welbeck header from under the bar. The West Ham fans break into a chorus of “My name is Ludek Miklosko!” The Gooners around me remain unhappy with ref Martin Atkinson, though for me he’s having a pretty good game.  What’s been poor is that we haven’t got any balls in to Carroll to test their defence.

ANOTHER FINE MESUT WE'VE GOT OURSELVES INTO
Snodgrass replaces Antonio (rushed back too soon?) but the second half appears to be going to plan as Collins make a great block tackle to deny Ozil. But it all goes wrong as the West Ham defence correctly claims handball against Walcott. The ref ignores the claims, Fonte fluffs his clearance and Ozil strokes in a cross come shot. Distracted by Sanchez, Randolph gets a hand to it but can’t stop a saveable shot. The Emirates erupts with relief.

Randolph redeems himself a little with a fine save from Welbeck, but Ozil then comes to life, playing a one-two with a Sanchez back-heel and pulling a great ball back for Walcott to get ahead of Byram and prod into the corner. Game over, man. "Red Army!" chant the one fans, so happy they forget to fight over Wenger's future.

Bellerin goes close after a great ball from Sanchez while Lanzini finally forces Martinez to make a good save. Arsenal’s strength is shown by bringing on Giroud, Ramsey and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Giroud scores with a great curling shot, as he always does against us. There’s time for Sakho to get a run-out, Fernandes to test Martinez again and Byram to concede a penalty that the ref doesn’t give.

FIVE DEFEATS IN A ROW 
Post-match inquest
We trek back to my gaff, dispirited but slightly relieved it hasn’t been an absolute tonking. A small consolation is that of our remaining eight fixture this was the most difficult.

Pete’s Bar is busy until 11.30pm, as Nigel tries to name his first-choice West Ham X1 and discovers there’s only six players in it, and one of those is Trevor Brooking. Gavin gets agitated about the geographical inexactitude of the Ludo Miklosko song and our group resort to groundhopping anecdotes about the Lewes Dripping Pan, Dulwich Hamlet and Virtus Entella (ask Matt, it’s the Burton Albion of Serie B).

Thank goodness Swansea and Palace lost, though we’re just three points ahead of Hull. Swansea now becomes an absolutely must-win game.


PLAYER RATINGS: Randolph 5; Byram 5, Collins 7, Fonte 6, Masuaku 6; Ayew 4, Kouyate 6, Noble 5 (Fernandes 5), Lanzini 6, Antonio 5 (Snodgrass 4); Carroll 5 (Sakho 5).