Sunday, February 25

Quality of Mersey overwhelms West Ham

Liverpool 4 West Ham 1

With Salah, Firmino and Mane in irresistible form we never expected West Ham to get much out of this and so it proved. It was a nice touch to have t-shirts for the away fans commemorating the 25th anniversary of Bobby Moore's death, though that was about as good as it got. Indeed, it was a rather a strange selection from Moyes as it was a big ask to being in Evra for this one and playing Mario and Lanzini together while dropping Antonio diminished the Irons' threat on the counter.

Salah hit the post early on although the Hammers could easily have taken the lead when Anautovic's brilliant chip was tipped on to the bar by the fingertips of Karius. But it was Liverpool who scored first, Can getting above Evra to head home a corner. Arnie had another long-range effort saved but once Salah poked home after great work by Oxlade-Chamberlain it was all over. Mario failed to control Adrian's clearance, allowing Can to play in Firmino for the third, while the excellent Robertson set up Mane for the fourth with a rampaging run down the left. The one plus for West Ham was that sub Antonio took his goal really well, following a fine tackle and through ball from Kouyate.

The Hammers are back to three points above the drop zone and have to get something from much more winnable gams against Swansea and Burnley. One other moan — I really don't like our 'Man City' sky blue away kit. We conceded in the 97th minute at Palace wearing it and it really doesn't look like a West Ham kit.

Friday, February 23

Fonte on his way

So Jose Fonte has been sold to Chinese Super League club Dalian Yifeng for a reported €5 million. It's strange to lose Fonte now, when he can't be replaced until the summer and it leaves West Ham reliant on centre backs Reid, Ogbonna, Collins and Rice, with Kouyate and Evra as emergency cover. It's a decent fee for a 34-year-old who cost £8 million, but Fonte always looked better in a five-man defence and might have prospered in a Moyes side. 

The sale gives the impression of simply being a way of moving on an embarrassing reminder of David Sullivan's gaffe, when he said, "my kids begged me not to sign Fonte and Snodgrass". Fonte himself described those comments as "ignorant" and a man who won a European Championship winners' medal with Portugal was entitled to a lot more respect from his chairman. Yes, the Hammers perhaps signed him after his legs had gone a little and Fonte wants regular football in order to make the World Cup. But he would still have been a good player to have on the bench for the rest of the season.

Tuesday, February 20

No one likes Arnie, he does care

Enjoyed Marko Arnautovic's TV interview after the Watford win when he opined: "I want just to show the critical people, all the people who don’t think I’m good, that I’m good and I want to give everything for this club, that’s why I play football. I’m surprised some people don’t like me. I think I have a good heart, so they should like me!" At least Gary Lineker and Danny Murphy on Match of the Day assured Marko that they liked him.

There's a thin line between genius and madness in sport and in his excellent book What Sport Tells Us About Life, Ed Smith wrote a whole chapter on the subject, centring on Zinedine Zidane's insecurities. Arnie clearly plays better when he thinks the world is against him. Having gone to the Stoke away game it certainly seemed to me that some of the Stokies didn't like Arnie too much — simply because he'd left for West Ham, a club he said was bigger than Stoke, then gave a crossed Hammers salute on the pitch and celebrated ostentatiously in front of the Boothen End when he scored. 

A healthy dose of alienation could keep Arnautovic scoring until the end of the season. Arnie, just because you're not paranoid, it doesn't mean they're not all out to get you… 

Friday, February 16

Eight things Moyes has done right at West Ham

David Moyes isn’t perfect, but he’s been a pleasant surprise since taking over from Slaven Bilic. It’s not always been attacking football and he could improve by using substitutes earlier and not running Antonio into the ground, but Moyesy has certainly done a lot of things right since arriving to mass derision on twitter. Here are eight of positives so far:

Arnie looked lost as a winger when he first arrived and wasn’t getting shots in. Moving him inside has proved inspired as he’s much more involved and able to use his physique. The tough love tactic of telling him, “if you don’t run you don’t play” has worked well too, with Arnautovic now constantly harassing defenders.

After Adrian came in for the ineligible Joe Hart against Man City, sticking with the Spaniard sent a clear message that if you play well you stay in. It was a tough call as Hart needed first team football to make the World Cup, but Moyes wasn’t scared to make it. Adrian is a big character who seems to inspire the men in front of him, whereas Hart was often causing panic with a mix of great saves and rickets.

In addition to Hart, Moyes has also at times dropped Carroll, Hernandez, Ayew, Arnautovic, Noble and Antonio. The message has been that no-one can walk back into the side, however big their reputation.

Extra training sessions and an emphasis on fitness have paid off. The team that lost at home to Brighton and Liverpool didn’t look fit enough for the Premier League. Now they are getting results against the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal through hard work.

After Masuaku’s cameo against Watford Moyes and his team quickly identified that Arthur could beat a man and cross. Rather than see him as a rival to Cresswell at left back Moyes deployed Masuaku as a wing back where his dribbling could trouble defences. It was all going well until Arthur’s rush of phlegm against Wigan.

Playing Masuaku as a wing back allowed Aaron Cresswell to move inside as a third centre back and he looked much more assured in this role. Even though Cressy has had to move back to left-back with Msuaku’s suspension, this was a good piece of tactical innovation.

Dropping and fining Antonio for arriving late at a team meeting proved Moyes was serious. It was more dopiness than insubordination from Michail as he went to the wrong hotel, but it set a good precedent that players were responsible for organising themselves.

Moyes has done well to praise the fans from his first home match against Leicester. There’s been no Allardyce-style ear-cupping. Instead he’s emphasised how much he’s enjoying life at West Ham and the similarities between East End/Essex and Glasgow’s no-nonsense culture.

Wednesday, February 14

That Sullivan statement: A more professional approach to transfers?

Some of the protests seem to be getting through to David Sullivan to judge by his video statement on the club website. It’s significant that he has pledged to restructure the transfer system, though the proof will be in what happens next summer. It’s not identifying targets which has been the problem, so much as not getting them after negotiations and not having a strategy of what type of player to go for. Sullivan says he will be “delegating” transfer dealings and less open about targets, and appears to have acknowledged that he shouldn’t be so involved. David Moyes has also said much the same thing, which is progress if it happens.

The co-chairman also claims that West Ham won’t be signing players the manager hasn’t seen, which makes you wonder why we ever did this in the first place. I’m sure Sullivan does want West Ham to win things — the problem has been that he’s tried to do it on the cheap. Many fans thought that sacrificing the Boleyn for Stratford meant we’d now be making £50m signings, although that was never likely. He doesn’t really address the total outlay issue and we need to know what the budget will be for next summer. Even a few more Arnie-type players at £24m would help.

The video is also significant in that it contains an admission that all is not perfect with the new stadium and says the club will try to address this. Though Sullivan does make a decent point when he says that the stamping sound generated at home games can be very effective. But we need to know more about the chance of a claret carpet and maybe squaring off the seats.

At least some effort has been made by the owners to address fans’ concerns. Is it just a PR job? We all hope not.

Sunday, February 11

Chicharito and Arnie see off Hornets

West Ham 2 Watford 0

The Overground is closed and so too is the Best Café, awaiting refurbishment. So it’s off to meet Matt and Lisa at Gerry’s Kitchen, which is closed, due to “operational issues”. So we head off for hasty noodles at Chopstix in the Stratford Centre, where my daughter Lola joins us as Matt rues the loss of Ayew. Then it’s through Westfield’s The Street to the London Stadium, which we half expect to find closed after a late bid for stewards fell through.

We meet Michael, fresh from a visit to Ken’s Café, Fraser who is ready to sack the boardroom, Scott, and Nigel, who’s been on a pre-match tour of hipster bars in Hackney Wick with his Watford-supporting cousin and has seen a German power metal band with The Gav. The game starts with a minute’s applause for Vic Keeble (Nigel asks the venerable Fraser if he saw him play) and the atmosphere remains positive and behind the team throughout. Hernandez goes down on his knees praying before kick-off, though hopefully not for a move.

Adrian has to make a smart early save from Mariappa. But it’s an encouragingly attacking line-up and the returning and newly-blonde Arnautovic makes an instant impact with a mazy dribble past four men in the box and is unlucky not to get a penalty. Antonio is finally being played on the left and is showing glimpses of his old speed. Arnie has an effort saved and Chicharito heads home Mario’s free kick only to be ruled marginally offside. There couldn’t have been more than one of his green eyes beyond the last defender.

The Hammers make the breakthrough on 38 minutes as Antonio leaves his fullback standing and crosses for Chicharito to head home, rising above a prone defender. Did he get away with a nudge? We'll take the goal, anyway.

The second half sees Watford have more possession, but Collins gets his head on most crosses, Zabaleta has another great game, Ogbonna makes a fine saving challenge and the Irons defend with discipline. Chicharito just fails to round the keeper on the break, and Deulofeu has a free kick parried by Adrian.

Referee Scott makes some dubious calls and Michael is reduced to Shakespearian insults, hollering, “Damn your eyes!” Two young boys in the row in front of us start imitating him, shouting “Damn your lies!” thinking perhaps it’s all part of thespian protest against the board. By the Burnley game Michael will have taught them the Complete Works.

The second goal comes at just the right time on 78 minutes. A short corner to Antonio is blocked and Cresswell fires in a low cross that rebounds off a defender straight back to Arnie, who shifts feet to prod home.

Moyes is, as ever, slow to use his subs as Antonio and Arnie tire and look in danger of getting injured again. Evra stays on the bench, but eventually Byram comes on and instantly almost gets on the end of a cross in the box. Hugill comes on for the last five minutes and immediately endears himself to the crowd after clattering a defender and manically closing down defenders.

It’s a welcome win after last week, and comes against a side that just scored four against no-hopers Chelsea. Then comes our trek to the Refreshment Rooms where no-one has told the two staff there’s a match on. We eventually get served as Michael the non-Whovian produces a photo of himself with Doctor Who legends William Russell and Carole Ann Ford taken at the Who Shop earlier that morning. Then it’s the most complicated round ever of a London Stout, Amstel,  Meantime, Blue Moon and Camden Hell’s.

So it’s two weeks off now and time for Lanzini to get closer to fitness. WHU are now on 30 points. Two wins and a few draws from the final 11 games should be achievable, we hope, while Moyes is talking of aiming for the top ten. And only a trip to Anfield next…

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 7; Zabaleta 8, Ogbonna 7, Collins 7, Cresswell 7; Noble 6, Kouyate 6, Mario 6 (Byram 6); Antonio 7, Arnautovic 8 (Rice n/a), Hernandez 7 (Hugill n/a).

Wednesday, February 7

Evra kicks off at Irons

Just informed my pal Matt he'd better not shout at Patrice Evra, though if Patrice can get to the crowd at the London Stadium he'll have done well. And if he does reach Row 44 we'll let Nigel sort him out. No doubt his signing from Marseille (where he kicked a fan in the head during the warm-up, as you do) will cause howls of outrage on some sites, but he's obviously not being signed to take us to "the next level". Yes Evra's 36, but he's won everything there is and if Moyes wants a bit of cover for Cresswell until the end of the season then let him have him. He'll certainly bring a bit of creative tension to the pre-match warm-ups.

Tuesday, February 6

Sacking the board

It's been a shoddy week with Masuaku's ban for spitting, Henry's sacking for racist generalisations, some botched signings on deadline day and a defeat at Brighton all combining to cause massive unrest among the away fans, who these days are the real hardcore fans with 21 plus priority points.

Well, firstly it's very unlikely that the board (ie Sullivan and Gold) will resign in the short-term. They get more publicity from West Ham than anything else and appear to be in it for the long haul. I've interviewed David Gold and his feeling for the club seems genuine, whatever mistakes have been made. Though to give them some credit, the choice of Moyes has been vindicated so far, as he's made a difference. They can't live off saving the club forever, even though they did undoubtedly do so when the Icelandic owners went bankrupt. But the other risk is that there's no guarantee we won't get worse owners and as someone commented on these pages, the fit and proper persons test is no protection.

What might be achievable in the short term though are several changes. Firstly installing a professional director of football and removing David Sullivan from transfer dealings. Whatever Sullivan is doing isn't working. We need a new head of recruitment anyway and he should work with the manager to sign players who would be recruited by the new director of football. And we don't need any signings from the chairman.

There should also be a thorough review of attitudes to race within the club as Tony Henry might have been reflecting attitudes from elsewhere. If he had such glib attitudes to 'African" players how did he get through the recruitment process and are others thinking in this way? 

There should also be a club policy of not undermining managers and not discussing current players like Robert Snodgrass in the media. Karren Brady should be told to drop her column in the Sun as it cost us the Slimani loan and offended Snodgrass. While the Sullivan boys should be told to never discuss transfer deals on twitter until they are done.

We also need to know more about moves to make the stadium more like home. For example, what happened to Slaven Bilic's proposal of having a claret carpet around the pitch? If the landlords won't go with this then I'd be happy with navy blue, particularly if we had it as our third kit.

The other thing that would help restore some trust would be an honest assessment of how much extra income the stadium generates and how much is meant to go on transfers. And finally, not mentioning unrealistic names like Bacca, Lacazette, Batshuayi and Carvallho unless the deal is done.

Sullivan and Gold would still be in control, but all these moves might give us a bit of claret and blue glasnost. 

Sunday, February 4

Irons well-beaten by Seagulls

Brighton 3 West Ham 1

After the week we've had it's not really a surprise to lose this. Murray sprung West Ham's offside trap too easily to get behind Collins for the first. Credit to the Hammers for a first-half comeback though, with Hernandez scoring a great goal after a dribble across the box. Byram even missed a good headed chance to put West Ham ahead.

But the Irons looked jaded after the break. It took  world-class shot from the corner of the box from Isquierdo to beat Adrian in the top corner for the second. The third originated with a poor pass out of defence from Collins, but was again a great shot. Brighton had chances to get a fourth as Adrian saved well from March, while Moyes waited too long to bring on Hugill. This was a game where could have used the new defensive midfielder the club failed to sign.

However, I'm not sure the "sack the board!" chants while we're still drawing will help the team, even if it has been a shambolic week and the way the club does transfer business has to change. Sullivan and Gold could leave tomorrow, but we still can't bring back the Boleyn and there's no guarantee our new owner might not be someone like Mike Ashley or a Russian oligarch or US investors who see it as a franchise. Sullivan and Gold are unlikely to resign so let's see how much they spend in the summer — or indeed if they sell up.

We can expect the odd away defeat between now and the end of the season. Defeat here ends a six game unbeaten run. If West Ham can go on a similar spell things will be ok — if not then we could yet plunge into the drop zone. The good thing is that after the Watford game there's a two week rest. Fonte, Reid and Antonio are back in the squad while we should be boosted by Arnautovic after the break, followed by Lanzini and Masuaku returning. We have seven home games out of the remaining 12, so if we do go down we'll deserve to if we can't get at least three wins out of them. Watford now becomes yet another vital game we need to win.

Friday, February 2

Race storm, player unrest and missed signings

It's an embarrassing morning to be a West Ham fan. "Race storm engulfs West Ham" was the headline on the front page of last night's Evening Standard and today's papers have more coverage of Africa-gate. Jacob Steinberg in the Guardian writes that Tony Henry's alleged comments about not signing African players have been a topic of much discussion in the dressing room. Credit to Cheikhou Kouyate for putting an "African and proud" selfie up on Instagram, which was liked by Pedro Obiang, Arthur Masuaku, Adrian and Manuel Lanzini. 

So we now have a rift between the players and club. Henry's position is surely untenable, but the worrying thing is who was copied into his email and who else knew about this. There's also the issue of who leaked the email to the press and what their motivation was. The Sun reports that the FA is investigating and can ask to see all emails and documents relating to recruitment.   

Meanwhile we're learning more about a number of failed deadline day signings. The Dendoncker saga doesn't appear to be the club's fault as the player wanted to come, but Anderlecht changed their mind about selling. 

West Ham were also trying to sign Leicester's Slimani writes the Guardian's Jacob Steinberg, but the deal was apparently scuppered because Leicester's owners had taken offence after Karren Brady wrote a piece in her Sun column claiming that Leicester's chairman was seen settling a large bill at "London's most expensive wine shop". She had since apologised and the matter was thought to have been resolved. It's a petty reaction from Leicester, but also a sign that Brady needs to be much more discrete about matters affecting West Ham. For example, her column recently had a needless dig at Robert Snodgrass who is still a West Ham player.

New signings Joao Mario and Jordan Hugill must wonder what they have got themselves into. Still, apart from the racism claims, the player unrest and the botched signings, the transfer window went rather well. 

Thursday, February 1

Give Hugill a chance

Firstly, let's give Jordan Hugill a chance. It's not his fault if the club has messed up more high-profile targets like Slimani and Smolov. No-one has heard of our £8m signing, but he's certainly going to have a better attitude than some of our stars, having come into the game late. He played non-league football before joining Port Vale and then Preston. Indeed, he worked as a barman at the Dickens Inn in Middlesbrough while turning out for Marske United, so if it doesn't work out he might be useful on the concourse beer stands. 

Moyes used to manage Preston so presumably has kept a close eye on their players. At Everton he signed unknown Seamus Coleman from Sligo Rovers for £60,000 so we have to hope he has done his homework here. Looking at Hugill's signing-on video he seems genuinely pleased to be in the Premier League. He's netted ten times for Preston this season but is presumably intended to take the weight off Arnautovic through his strength. Jamie Redknapp for one thinks Hugill will run all day and might surprise a few people. And he'll make team Hugills a lot easier.

The big disappointment has been missing out on a defensive midfielder. Not least Anderlecht's Leander Dendoncker, who sounds like something you might find on the shelves of an Ann Summers store. Shelvey could have offered something different too. But Joao Mario looks a decent loan signing on Tuesday's evidence and gives us a Lanzini alternative. Moyes has been saying for weeks that it's a bad time to buy so mass signings were never likely, although only two in is certainly underwhelming. 

As for departures the club had no choice but to sell Sakho, Yes he's a good player but he so clearly wanted to leave that his presence must have been affecting morale. And do we want to keep a player who doesn't celebrate scoring? It's risky to have sold Ayew to a Premier League rival for £18m (rising to £20m with add-ons), but frankly I never thought we'd get our money back on him. Ayew has scored the odd goal but has never really convinced as either a winger or striker and it's a good price for a squad player. We now have to hope Antonio and Arnautovic return quickly.

Finally the increasingly circus-like atmosphere has seen director of transfers Tony Henry rightly suspended after a leaked email in the Daily Mail showed him allegedly saying that the club doesn't want to sign any more African players, and later telling the Mail this was because they have a "bad attitude" and "cause mayhem". Well no, players have a bad attitude because of their personality not their race. If this is true, then he has to go. Nurse, the screens.