Wednesday, May 31

Absolutely Pablo: a good start to WHU recruitment

Finally it seems West Ham have solved the right-back problem by signing Pablo Zabelata. Assuming he can avoid Alvaro Arbeloa-like fitness problems, the likeable Argentine seems to be the strong character the defence requires. He's already made a good start verbally, mentioning the 2006 FA Cup Final and suggesting that West Ham need to adopt a new mentality in order to win trophies.

During his nine years at City Pablo became a cult figure and seemed to understand what the fans wanted. He learned much about City's culture through playing pool with his wife and chatting to fans in the Barleycorn pub. So perhaps he'll pop in to Crate, the King Edward or the Railway… He described beating Man United in the FA Cup Semi-Final and winning the league though Aguero's goal "in a very City way" as his career highlights. 

City's owner has also suggested that Zabaleta will make a great manager one day and young Sam Byram will learn from training with him. The 32-year-old might be slowing a little, but he's surely the sort of committed tackler and experienced campaigner the fans will appreciate.

Friday, May 26

Calleri, Arbeloa and Tore released

A good start to clearing out some of the squad players. West Ham will save a lot in big wages for Arbeloa and Tore, both of whom hardly played, while Calleri never looked like a Premier League striker. Now the question is what do we do with that money?

Thursday, May 25

End-of-season West Ham player ratings

Regrets we've had a few, but not too few to mention…

ADRIAN: 6/10 Some erratic form saw him dropped for five months but returned looking solid and played a big part in survival.

DARREN RANDOLPH: 5/10 showed some good form after being given the number one spot but his confidence went after a number of unforced errors.

SAM BYRAM: 5/10 Still suspect defensively but dug in and looked more solid at the end, while always threatening on the overlap. Will benefit from this season’s experience.

ALVARO ARBELOA: 1/10. Always injured bar a disastrous appearance as a sub against Arsenal. We expected much more from a World Cup winner.

AARON CRESSWELL: 5/10 Lost half a season through injury and then a worrying dip in form.  Started to improve and get some trademark crosses in towards the end.

ARTHUR MASUAKU: 6/10 Had a ’mare at WBA but upon his return from injury looked really assured going forward and briefly kept Cresswell out of the side.

JAMES COLLINS: 6/10 His pace has faded but still inspired the side with his leadership qualities late on. And some impressive shirt-giving away at the end of games.

WINSTON REID: 6/10 Injury disrupted his season, but always committed and hopefully his operation will clear up a long-standing problem with his knee.

ANGELO OGBONNA: 6/10 Long-term injury curtailed his season and needs to play in a settled formation, but still a quality player.

JOSE FONTE: 5/10 Started poorly, but in a five-man defence looked much more solid and made some great blocks.

MARK NOBLE: 6/10 Not a great season, but played through the pain barrier with a hernia and produced when it mattered against Spurs and netted those vital pens against Hull and Burnley. Still Mr West Ham.

PEDRO OBIANG: 7/10 Made the defensive shield position his own before injury, won lots of tackles, made some goals and even scored at the Saints.

CHEIKHOU KOUYATE: 7/10 Played out of position most season but did a job wherever he was asked to play. Vital goals against Chelsea and Swansea.

HAVARD NORDTVEIT: 3/10 Not a right back, but looked better in his defensive midfield role at the end of the season. Still a major disappointment though.

MIKHAIL ANTONIO: 8/10 Was never a right-back either, but shone in a poor side and always gives maximum effort. Our top scorer, his highlight was making all three goals against Palace.

EDIMILSON FERNANDES: 6/10 Did well at wing-back and though at times bypassed against the bigger teams, looks promising in midfield.

DIMITRI PAYET: 0/10 Scored a superb goal against Boro and still made the most chances for WHU despite leaving in January. But can’t be forgiven for going on strike and playing at 80 per cent.

MANUEL LANZINI: 8/10 Made the playmaker position his own after Payet left. Scored some vital goals and always a pleasure to watch. Though if he gets injured we’re really stuck.

SOFIANE FEGHOULI: 6/10 His four goals suggest there’s something to build on. Still erratic, but on his day can make a difference with his crossing.

ROBERT SNODGRASS: 4/10 Hasn’t got going, despite impressing with Hull. Hopefully a good pre-season might help him thrive with the Hammers.

GOKHAN TORE: 1/10 Did make the first ever league goal at the London Stadium, but generally looked poor and then injured for the whole season.

ANDY CARROLL: 6/10 Great when he played, and scored an unbelievable goal against Palace. But as ever, he’s hardly ever fit. After four seasons of injuries we can’t rely on him anymore.

ANDRE AYEW: 6/10 Bad injury early doors, but now started to bag some goals though he still misses a lot of easy chances. Do we know what his best position is?

SIMONE ZAZA: 3/10 Not helped by that silly buy-after-14 games clause, but never looked like scoring. Then left and scored a worldie against Real Madrid.

DIAFRA SAKHO: 2/10 Scored at Man United but apart from that missed the whole season with his back problem. Will he ever be the same player again? Our best striker when fit.

JONATHAN CALLERI: 3/10 Impressed with his work rate late on and played well against Spurs, but generally just doesn’t look like a natural finisher or a Premier League striker.

ASHLEY FLETCHER: 3/10 Signs of promise and scored at Man United in the League Cup. But only ever gets a few minutes here and there and has to get a goal during his cameos if he is to compete.

THE POST: 10/10 Had an amazing game against Hull and looked solid throughout the season.

Wednesday, May 24

Stop! Hammer Time

Appeared on the Stop! Hammer Time podcast last night with hosts Phil Whelans and Jim Grant and Wagner and Hammers blogger (possibly a niche market that) Don The Hammer. Click on the link to listen to our exclusive ramblings on Andy Carroll's groin, the Burnley Cricket Club invasion, Ayew's tribute to our player of the season The Post, Zabaleta, possible new strikers, Enner Valenica, Gary Breen and much more.

Big Sam drops out

So Big Sam is retiring from management to "savour life" and go travelling. Wonder if when he hits the hippy trail he'll come across the West Ham Way?

Sunday, May 21

We're top of the bottom half!

Burnley 1 West Ham 2

A welcome win at Turf Moor — and a surprising one given the eight players West Ham had out — which takes the Irons to 11th in the league, top of the bottom half. That's a fairly credible finish given the problems we've had this season. 

The side was down to Harry Redknapp's 'bare bones' and showed some character to bounce back from going behind to a softish Vokes goal. Feghouli will get some confidence from scoring the equaliser from Ayew's clever flick and Ayew could hardly miss his free header after Fernandes's shot was palmed on to the bar by Heaton. Andre now has six goals which is quite respectable from an injury-ravaged season, even if he has tended to miss as many as he scores. Nice to see Ogbonna return and Declan Rice get his debut in added time too. 

At the end of the season West Ham have only lost one in seven and it's that form that has kept us out of the relegation scrap — though interestingly there's only six points separating eighth to 17th places. It's been emotional. And now we go again next August…

West Ham fans' verdict in the Observer

My Fans' Verdict on West Ham is in the Observer today, gave them five out of ten. And apologies for the wildly optimistic pre-season prediction that West Ham would finish sixth… written at the height of Payet-mania post Euros. We had a genius midfielder and a new world-class striker in Zaza. What could possibly go wrong? Click on the link to read. Now all we have to do is win at Burnley without Antonio, Carroll, Obiang, Kouyate, Reid, Noble and Sakho.

Saturday, May 20

Ricardo Vaz Te — he scores when he wants!

Hard to believe that yesterday was five years since West Ham beat Blackpool in the Play-off Final to secure promotion. Back in the days when we always believed in Carlton Cole, Kevin Nolan was hitting thumping volleys against the bar, Ricardo Vaz Te was the scoring sensation of the Championship and Nigel got to dance to Hi Ho Silver Lining

Friday, May 19

IIheanacho would be a great West Ham signing — but would City sell him?

The Daily Mail claims that West Ham are considering a £20 million bid for Manchester City's Kelechi Iheanacho. While today Slaven Bilic has emphasised that we're after quality rather than squad players this summer. 

Iheanacho would be a great signing as he's only 20 and despite invariably coming off the bench, he always seems to find the net when he plays. The Nigerian international has  scored 12 in 42 appearances for City, though many of those appearances have been for only a few minutes. Indeed, he made Aguero's equaliser after coming on against West Ham last season. 

Though you can't really see City selling him, even if they do already have Aguero and Jesus up front. But it could be Guardiola brings in another Galactico and Iheanacho's deemed expendable, in which case he'd be a very good signing. Though presumably a lot of other clubs would be interested too. And surely he'd cost more than Andre Ayew?

Wednesday, May 17

Would Zabaleta solve West Ham's right back problem?

There's a lot of rumours that Pablo Zabaleta will be joining West Ham when he leaves Man City at the end of the season. He's had nine years at City and won the title twice plus the FA and League Cups and has been a great player for them. The Argentine defender also seems a nice bloke to judge from the interview after City Beat West Brom last night and he was given the bumps by his team-mates. 

On the downside, he's coming towards the end of his career and will be 33 next January. And remember we signed a 33-year-old World Cup-winning right back in Alvaro Arbeloa at the start of his season, only for him to disappear down a black hole somewhere near Hackney Wick. 

Though to be fair, Zabaleta's played a good number of games for City in all his seasons and scored eight goals. He's also the sort of experienced defender whom Sam Byram might learn from and his presence might calm our jittery defence. Any views on his possible signing?

Monday, May 15

Quality of Mersey too much for lacklustre Hammers

West Ham United 0 Liverpool 4

Inside the Best Café Alison has my 1987 A-Z that she’s returning, perhaps a little tardily. The London Stadium site is covered by Stratford Marshes and a railway depot, while there’s a football stadium in E13. Scott is demolishing a big breakfast and possibly the plate too as he prepares for heavy lifting duties at work and I’m introducing my pal’s 14-year-old son Bruno, a Man United fan ripe for conversion, to egg chips and beans.

In other news Matt, Lisa, Michael and Nigel have returned to Ken's Café to greet Carol and have even been granted a rare appearance from Ken outside his inner sanctum. They take the bus to the game with young Billy and report that only half the main stand is now left standing, through Carol and Ken are getting some good trade from the building workers. Steve the Cornish postie makes it just after kick-off, having earlier seen Tony Cottee and Tony Gale having pre-match refreshments in Billericay.

West Ham start reasonably well and nearly take an early lead as Calleri does well to find Byram in the box, only for the defender to fire wastefully wide. Fernandes then has effort parked by Mignolet. But in the bright sun the game soon adopts an end-of-season feel as the Hammers seem content to be staying up and we miss the bite of Kouyate and Noble in midfield.

It takes a full 19 minutes before the gentleman behind us hollers, “get up you tart!” at a prostrate Liverpool player. Liverpool look more urgent and an early warning comes as the unmarked Matip heads against the bar from a corner.

Liverpool take the lead after 35 minutes as Coutinho plays a great through ball that dissects the Irons’ defence and Sturridge shimmies round Adrian to score and do his silly surf dancing celebration. It could be his last goal for Liverpool before he joins West Ham and gets injured… Byram has just about played Sturridge onside, but it’s not a goal we should concede with three centre backs.

Still, a goal before half-time might change things. It should arrive as Lanzini’s corner fizzes across the area and Ayew arrives unmarked at the back post a yard out from goal. He swings at the ball with his left foot instead of his right and somehow hits the post, then falls over and prods the ball against the post again. Miss of the season from our £20 million striker.

Liverpool come out determined to finish West Ham off after the break. Adrian has to make three fine saves in succession during one move. It’s two as Wijnaldum wallops the bar and from the rebound the ball reaches Coutinho who skips past Nordtveit, Collins and Reid to shoot home from the edge of then box.

Bilic takes off Fonte and reverts to a back four. Sub Feghouli at least looks hungry and starts to take men on, winning a corner. As his corner comes in Reid is smacked in the face by Wijnaldum’s elbow and the Liverpool man also handballs it. As the West Ham players appeal for a penalty they make the mistake of not playing to the whistle as ref Neil Swarbrick inexplicably ignores a player with a head injury and allows the Scousers to break. Coutinho waltzes round Collins to stroke home. It gets worse as more terrible defending from our coalition of chaos sees Adrian block Lallana’s shot and Origi nets the rebound. This should put off young Bruno for life.

“Oh well, we might have lost 4-0 but at least I’ve got an out-of-date A-Z,” I tell Alison.

We decline to stay for a lap of dishonour in front of an empty stadium. Better news is that my navigation successfully takes Fraser, Michael, Nigel, Bruno and myself to the Railway pub via Penney Brookes way (last time we ended up in Leyton). At least the Railway has Doom Bar, staff in West Ham shirts, Mrs Flipper’s burgers and lots of claret and blue branding.  After my departure Nigel moves on to the Cart and Horses in a bid to make this blog and is hugely impressed by the Iron Maiden memorabilia.

It’s been a long season and signings need to be made. The London Stadium has seen us concede five and four goals at home to Man City five against Arsenal and four against Liverpool. At least we’ve beaten Spurs, but this finale was horrible.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6, Byram 4, Fonte 4 (Fletcher 4), Collins 5, Reid 6, Cresswell 5; Fernandes 4, Nordtveit 4, Lanzini 5; Ayew 4 (Snodgrass 4), Calleri 5 (Feghouli 6).

Friday, May 12

Antonio signs, Nobes out

Good news that Antonio has finally signed his new contract and on the past two seasons' form he deserves his £70,000 a week. Part of the deal seems to be that Antonio is allowed to do some more silly dance moves in a special WHU video to mark the occasion. He comes across as quite a character and after seeing the compilation of his greatest goal celebrations you do wonder if he might have a career in movies as a Jim Carrey-like figure once he ends his career. 

Though I'm still not quite sure how Antonio and Ayew fit into the same side when they both play similar roles. But building a team around Antonio and Lanzini seems a pretty good start for next season.

Meanwhile it's also been revealed that Mark Noble is having an abdominal operation and will miss the last two games. Typically Nobes has played while in pain without anyone knowing in order to help the club. With Kouyate also having an operation on his long-standing wrist injury, West Ham could be pretty thin in midfield against Liverpool on Sunday.

Wednesday, May 10

Mr Moon has left the stadium

Well, it's one year since Bobby Moore turned out the floodlights and Mr Moon left the Boleyn Ground for the last time. That season was the subject of my book Goodbye to Boleyn (see right) and in many ways it seems much longer since West Ham left Upton Park and Michael the Whovian dyed his hair claret and blue. 

Since then we've seen dodgy green carpet, aggro against Chelsea, iffy stewarding, popcorn, Antonio at right back, Zaza failing to hit a cow's backside with a banjo, Dimitri Payet going on strike, Man City and Arsenal putting five past us, Andy Carroll scoring that sensational bicycle kick, a near-relegation struggle and ultimately the fans proving that they can be noisier than at Upton Park in the epic win against Spurs. 

It was a year ago today that we were racing for the last tube from East Ham in the manner of the fall of Saigon. There are probably still bemused and heavily-bearded Hammers fans wandering the streets of Upton Park refusing to believe the 2015-16 season is over. Boleyn, we won't forget you.

Monday, May 8

Adrian is deservedly back as West Ham's No 1

One thing that has emerged from the epic win over Spurs is that Adrian is definitely back as West Ham's number one goalkeeper, having kept three clean sheets in succession. After three fine saves against Stoke he made a couple more crucial stops against Spurs, diving well to deflect away Son's low shot and reacting brilliantly to block Kane's effort with his foot. He looked assured all night and had an air of confidence that encouraged the whole defence.

Darren Randolph is a decent keeper too, but his confidence has looked shot of late and Adrian San Miguel del Castillo has deserved his chance. The Spanish Iron proved what a fine keeper he can be in the previous two seasons. I'm not convinced we should be in the market a new goalkeeper in the summer unless they're of the standard of Butland, Forster, Heaton, Pickford or Hart. Adrian looked pretty cool in his all-orange kit too and has clearly been working at his game during his five months on the bench. While another shut-out ensured the crowd enjoyed a few well-deserved San Miguels after the match. 

Saturday, May 6

Tottenham Hotspur, it's happened again…

Winston and Ginge keep Spurs in their pockets
West Ham 1 Spurs 0

The concourse is full of fans shouting “Irons!” and there's no mistaking the mood of expectation, bouyed by Irons ale. Our team tonight is Fraser, Michael, Lisa and a tardy Nigel, who has been delayed speculating if West Ham can hold on to London East. He arrives to find himself next to a tourist fan wearing a half and half scarf. Wonder if they do them for West Ham and Millwall? 

Alison’s away on a hen night not watching the Chippendales and is replaced by sociologist turned student landlady Roz, who sensibly declares what great seats we have. Scott’s got a bet on Lanzini to score in a 1-0 win after 58 minutes that will win him £5000. While Matt’s had to work and is watching in a boozer with lots of Spurs fans.

From the kick-off the Hammers appear up for it against Spurs as tackles clatter in from both sides. It’s a surprise that it’s 19 minutes before we hear “get up you tart!" from the gentleman behind us.

Ayew plays in Lanzini for an early shot that he fires wide, but the signs are promising, as Kouyate and Noble out-muscle Spurs in midfield. Though Noble is lucky to only to get a yellow for one lunge, The key moment comes after 25 minutes, when West Ham repel three Spurs shots. Adrian Spills Kane’s shot, Fonte makes a brilliant block as the ball falls to Alli and then Adrian tips away Kane’s effort with his foot.

After that Lloris takes out Lanzini on the edge of the box and Kouyate shoots wide from the rebound. Bizarrely the ref doesn’t punish the Spurs keeper.

West Ham gain a lot of belief in the second half. Adrian has to save from Son, but it’s still tight as Ayew shoots over. The 58th minute comes and goes without Scott wining his five grand. But Lanzini does oblige seven minutes later. Cresswell plays in a cross, Ayew scuffs it off a defender and the ball falls to Lanzini, who gleefully shoots home. Manuel runs to the corner and is enveloped by fans and players as a hoarding collapses. As the ground celebrates paramedics rush to help prostrate fans. Lucky Andy Carroll isn’t playing as he might have become the first WHU player to meet his demise thanks to a hoarding.

West Ham’s three centre backs look really solid with Ginge making several heroic clearances as he channels Gandalf minus staff. Calleri almost makes it two after winning the ball from Alderweireld, as his effort is tipped away by Lloris.

“Come on you Irons!”, Bubbles and “Tottenham Hotspur, it’s happened again!” echo around a ground that suddenly feels like Upton Park under the lights. Many thousands of people seem to be considering having a party when Tottenham effed it up.

You know we’re probably playing in a parallel universe when Calleri, who has given Alderweireld and Vertongen a real battle, goes off and receives a standing ovation.

There’s still time for Fletcher, on as a late sub to get through only to see his effort deflected wide. The final whistle blows after five nervy minutes and the London Stadium erupts. Finally we have that big scalp and Bilic has silenced any doubts about his position. We’re not only staying up, West Ham go up to ninth, and might be making a late charge for the title.

For the first time ever there’s a chorus of Bubbles on the Overground from Hackney Wick and chants of “Irons!” at Highbury and Islington tube. Strange days indeed.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 7; Byram 7, Reid 7, Collins 8, Fonte 7, Cresswell 7; Noble 7, Kouyate 8, Lanzini 8 (Fernandes n/a); Ayew 7 (Snodgrass 6), Calleri 7 (Fletcher n/a).

Friday, May 5

No place like home for the Hammers?

Yet another two-page feature in the Guardian today on the London Stadium issues, asking if it is, "a terrible experience or a step forward?" The feature mainly rehashes the stories that have already been covered this season, though writer Jacob Steinberg admits that many of the stewarding problems have been resolved. As he says, the undeniable truth is that the success of the move depends on West Ham becoming a better team on the pitch. 

What I would like to have seen is more coverage of how the stadium might change in the next few seasons. Can the cost of moving the retractable stands be reduced, is there any leeway for having square advertising hoardings and might it be possible to sneak a few extra rows of seats in towards the half way line? 

The atmosphere has improved since the Palace win, as Tony Pulis noticed after the West Brom game. As the piece says, the new pitch is only five yards longer than Upton Park. Getting results against Spurs and Liverpool would go a long to proving the players are adapting to it. 

Thursday, May 4

Can Calleri come good for the Hammers?

As ever Slaven is waiting on Andy Carroll's fitness and quite possibly a verdict in Jarndyce and Jarndyce. So it looks like West Ham will be starting with Jonathan Calleri up front against Spurs even if Carroll makes the bench. 

It was interesting to watch Calleri's performance from behind the goal at Stoke. Early on Calleri hit a good chance over the bar. But physically he was pretty good up against a pair of bruisers like Ryan Shawcross and Bruno Martins Indi. He showed good strength to shield the ball and find his man in the move that lead to Ayew's overhead kick being brilliantly saved by Butland. Calleri also did well to get down the right and play in a dangerous cross that rebounded back to the Argentine striker, only for him to bizarrely try to score with a rabona. Well, at least it shows he's confident… In the second half it was Calleri's mishit volley that fell to Lanzini, whose effort was saved by Butland's feet. 

So Calleri put himself about a bit and did a decent job for the team, without ever looking like a natural goalscorer. if we had Carroll and Sakho fit he's the sort of player who might benefit from a loan to a Championship side. Might it be different if he gets a goal to boost his confidence? At the moment it seems if you're fit you get a game up front for West Ham. So we have to hope that Bilic's faith in Calleri is finally rewarded.

Wednesday, May 3

Does Bilic really have two games to save his job?

The Guardian has gone big with a story claiming that Slaven Bilic has two games left to save his job. Writer David Hytner claims that he performances against Spurs and Liverpool will determine Bilic's future. Does he have contacts on the board? The Guardian notes that the "club's hierarchy" are conscious of how West Ham have struggled against all the big sides at the London Stadium. Though it's quite strange these rumours should appear now, with West Ham unbeaten in four matches and at last finding a little defensive stability.

Certainly decent performances against two big sides would help engender a sense of optimism for next season as we've yet to see any evidence that West Ham can move to the 'next level', unless its above the scoreboard. Hytner also cites the failed Antonio as right back experiment and the poor signings. Fernandes and Masuaku can probably be cited as limited successes so far. Ayew has scored five times and might prove successful if Bilic can find his true position. Fonte, Feghouli and Nordtveit have started to show a bit of form after early struggles. While Snodgrass hasn't fitted in yet, Calleri is looking a little better but no goalscorer, Fletcher has hardly played, and Zaza, Arbeloa and Tore (the player Bilic really wanted claims Hytner) were out and out failures. Not a great record overall from 12 signings. 

But it's been an exceptional season with the move to Stratford and the Payet strike, and I'd be inclined to keep Bilic in charge for next season once we secure survival. He's still got some credit from finishing seventh in his first season. Slaven must have learned a lot about himself and his players this season and surely our summer recruitment can't be as poor this time around. The players can certainly help him by giving two top sides a decent game.